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The Final Surprises Through My Zeisses / 18 A Shrike, Several Nightjars and Two Woodpeckers (1 Viewer)

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
You are welcome to join me on this eighteenth and final article of a series taking a look back over my shoulder at some sightings that have not only delighted us but startled and surprised us.

Way back in 1976 when I had my very first Zeiss Dialyt 10x40B we went to Suffolk in the south-east of England for a week, with ambitions to seek out some bird species that had until then eluded us in our native north Midlands.

Luck was with us in a big way very early in our visit when we roamed the heaths and scrub at the very head of Walberswick marshes, for it was here that we saw our very first Red-backed Shrike. What a fabulous bird, looking impossibly well-dressed with a warm buff breast, gorgeous rich brown mantle, a smart grey cap and a wickedly intriguing black bandit’s mask. To us it was stunningly exotic and over the next few days we always looked for it when in the vicinity but without success. Little did we realise how rare these would become in the UK during the coming decades.

Emboldened by this success we decided to really go for it and go hunting for other exotica in the evening. So we took our BMW R90/5 motorcycle and rode to Hollesley Heath late in the day to search for Nightjars in the twilight. Parking up near the road we walked gingerly down a track across the heath in the failing light. Walking past a solitary house we were scared out of our skins by a shriek cutting through the dim light from its roof, only to realise it was only male Peacock calling from up there. Slightly unnerved by this we continued along the track with the trees and scrub on either side growing denser with every step and suddenly, despite it being a windless evening, a leaf on the track scurried a few inches all on its own. Was this some kind of weird magic? The leaf moved again and seemed to rotate towards us and then, from underneath, there emerged the tiniest and cutest rodent we have ever seen. It was a Pygmy Shrew. It looked like a little ball of velvet about 50mm/2” long with a tail a bit longer than this. It was hard to make out its ears in the half-light as it looked up at us and seemingly had as much trouble making out our details as we did of its.

It was such an enchanting creature but with light getting dimmer by the second we moved on, and no more than 5 minutes later we heard our first Nightjar. The sound is often described as a ‘churring’ and that is not a bad description, but at the time I remember thinking the nearest sound to it that I had heard before was a cat purring. Moving off the track and towards the sound we were startled by a sudden clapping sound but remembered that this is one of the displays of Nightjars. Before we could absorb the excitement of being close to such an enigmatic species we saw one flying from behind a birch tree and as it flew over the clearing the white spots on its wings and tail were easy to see. And then it flew behind some more birches and disappeared from view. We could hear others churring in the distance but decided we had been gifted a wonderful experience and should leave the Nightjars in peace. Back on the track the light was so bad we couldn’t be sure of where we had seen the Shrew so we made our way back to our motorbike, taking care to not step on any leaves.

The following day we visited Groton Wood Reserve with the hopes of seeing a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We were familiar with the Greater Spotted from woods around our home town but had never seen the Lesser. Groton Wood was a fascinating place and at the time had dense beds of Bluebells, a flower evocative of spring in the UK. We didn’t see or hear any signs of woodpeckers of any size and in the early afternoon sat down on bank in a clearing to eat our lunch. No sooner had we bitten into our sandwiches when there came a flurry on the opposite side of the clearing and to our delight, from behind a tree there came two small woodpecker heads, emerging into view propelled by that jerky movement woodies have. After assessing us and deciding we were not threatening, two Lesser Spotteds came around the trunk of the tree and proceeded to examine the nooks, crannies and cracks of the bark. By this time we had forgotten our picnic and when the woodies departed about ten minutes later we had two collapsed sandwiches and two cold cups of tea to look forward to. As if we cared.

Back at Walberswick on our last evening there we walked up the back lane past Westwood Hall in the evening light with no target in mind, just to enjoy the atmosphere of this wonderful habitat. On the way back, when it was almost dark, we saw the strangest apparition. A dim, tiny light among the roadside vegetation. What on earth could it be? A little gentle parting of the vegetation revealed a Glow-worm, the first we had ever seen and a fitting way to draw the curtain down on one of our most wonderful holidays.

Thank you for joining me in these reminiscences and I wish you every success at creating wonderful nature observation memories of your own.

Lee
 
You are welcome to join me on this eighteenth and final article of a series taking a look back over my shoulder at some sightings that have not only delighted us but startled and surprised us.

Way back in 1976 when I had my very first Zeiss Dialyt 10x40B we went to Suffolk in the south-east of England for a week, with ambitions to seek out some bird species that had until then eluded us in our native north Midlands.

Luck was with us in a big way very early in our visit when we roamed the heaths and scrub at the very head of Walberswick marshes, for it was here that we saw our very first Red-backed Shrike. What a fabulous bird, looking impossibly well-dressed with a warm buff breast, gorgeous rich brown mantle, a smart grey cap and a wickedly intriguing black bandit’s mask. To us it was stunningly exotic and over the next few days we always looked for it when in the vicinity but without success. Little did we realise how rare these would become in the UK during the coming decades.

Emboldened by this success we decided to really go for it and go hunting for other exotica in the evening. So we took our BMW R90/5 motorcycle and rode to Hollesley Heath late in the day to search for Nightjars in the twilight. Parking up near the road we walked gingerly down a track across the heath in the failing light. Walking past a solitary house we were scared out of our skins by a shriek cutting through the dim light from its roof, only to realise it was only male Peacock calling from up there. Slightly unnerved by this we continued along the track with the trees and scrub on either side growing denser with every step and suddenly, despite it being a windless evening, a leaf on the track scurried a few inches all on its own. Was this some kind of weird magic? The leaf moved again and seemed to rotate towards us and then, from underneath, there emerged the tiniest and cutest rodent we have ever seen. It was a Pygmy Shrew. It looked like a little ball of velvet about 50mm/2” long with a tail a bit longer than this. It was hard to make out its ears in the half-light as it looked up at us and seemingly had as much trouble making out our details as we did of its.

It was such an enchanting creature but with light getting dimmer by the second we moved on, and no more than 5 minutes later we heard our first Nightjar. The sound is often described as a ‘churring’ and that is not a bad description, but at the time I remember thinking the nearest sound to it that I had heard before was a cat purring. Moving off the track and towards the sound we were startled by a sudden clapping sound but remembered that this is one of the displays of Nightjars. Before we could absorb the excitement of being close to such an enigmatic species we saw one flying from behind a birch tree and as it flew over the clearing the white spots on its wings and tail were easy to see. And then it flew behind some more birches and disappeared from view. We could hear others churring in the distance but decided we had been gifted a wonderful experience and should leave the Nightjars in peace. Back on the track the light was so bad we couldn’t be sure of where we had seen the Shrew so we made our way back to our motorbike, taking care to not step on any leaves.

The following day we visited Groton Wood Reserve with the hopes of seeing a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We were familiar with the Greater Spotted from woods around our home town but had never seen the Lesser. Groton Wood was a fascinating place and at the time had dense beds of Bluebells, a flower evocative of spring in the UK. We didn’t see or hear any signs of woodpeckers of any size and in the early afternoon sat down on bank in a clearing to eat our lunch. No sooner had we bitten into our sandwiches when there came a flurry on the opposite side of the clearing and to our delight, from behind a tree there came two small woodpecker heads, emerging into view propelled by that jerky movement woodies have. After assessing us and deciding we were not threatening, two Lesser Spotteds came around the trunk of the tree and proceeded to examine the nooks, crannies and cracks of the bark. By this time we had forgotten our picnic and when the woodies departed about ten minutes later we had two collapsed sandwiches and two cold cups of tea to look forward to. As if we cared.

Back at Walberswick on our last evening there we walked up the back lane past Westwood Hall in the evening light with no target in mind, just to enjoy the atmosphere of this wonderful habitat. On the way back, when it was almost dark, we saw the strangest apparition. A dim, tiny light among the roadside vegetation. What on earth could it be? A little gentle parting of the vegetation revealed a Glow-worm, the first we had ever seen and a fitting way to draw the curtain down on one of our most wonderful holidays.

Thank you for joining me in these reminiscences and I wish you every success at creating wonderful nature observation memories of your own.

Lee
Many thanks Lee for all these memories. Note for younger readers - keep a diary.
 

Pinewood

New York correspondent
United States
Hello Lee,

Many thanks for your memories. My Zeiss have allowed me to see downy woodpeckers, the region's smallest, hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, northern flickers, yellow bellied sapsuckers and rarely redheaded woodpeckers. My last redheaded woodpecker was an autumnal immature bird high up a tree. Fortunately, I had the 10x32FL handy, which gave me almost as good a view as someone else's 10x42 Canon IS.

Stay safe,
Arthur
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Hello Lee,

Many thanks for your memories. My Zeiss have allowed me to see downy woodpeckers, the region's smallest, hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, northern flickers, yellow bellied sapsuckers and rarely redheaded woodpeckers. My last redheaded woodpecker was an autumnal immature bird high up a tree. Fortunately, I had the 10x32FL handy, which gave me almost as good a view as someone else's 10x42 Canon IS.

Stay safe,
Arthur
Well done seeing all those 'peckers. We only have 3 in the UK, Greater and Lesser Spotteds and the Green. We regularly have Great Spotted Woodies coming to the fat-block bird feeder in our back garden which is very nice indeed.

Lee
 

Lisa W

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Beautiful memories superbly written, thank you for sharing them with us! I have really enjoyed reading through them.
 

Thotmosis

Well-known member
Netherlands
Off topic but I really like this BMW R90/5 motorcycles. True classics now. You can still see them here on Crete, driven by proud owners.
 

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