This morning I decided to enjoy a rare walk on Westleton Heath in search of woodlarks. This is a species that has been sadly in decline locally for a few years but seems to have shown a small resurgence this year. Woodlarks favour heathland and clearfell forestry areas, and we hope that recent work with the Forestry Commission to revert parts of Dunwich Forest back to former heathland may be showing signs of success.
Woodlarks are best looked for on sunny mornings in March and April when their beautiful song can be heard over Suffolk's heaths. They also beginning singing again in mid May after the first brood of chicks has fledged, and the arrival of warm weather this week has encouraged several local birds to sing.
I had only walked about 200 metres from my car when I saw the distinctive short-tailed shape of a woodlark flit up from the heather just a few metres away, followed quickly by a second bird. They landed a short distance away on the ploughed soil of the firebreak alongside the path and i could clearly see the broad white supercilium (stripe above the eye) as they sat and relied on their camouflage to try to keep hidden.
On returning along the same track a few minutes later, these two woodlarks were still sitting quietly in the same spot, while a third could be heard singing nearby. Returning to my car i heard another with it's fabulous lilting song drifting across the heath.
A woodlark in typical pose by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Elsewhere on the heath there were small flocks of linnets, a family party of stonechats, singing willow warblers and cuckoos, a hunting kestrel and a stunning male yellowhammer, plus several small copper butterflies. I didn't see any Dartford warblers, but several pairs are breeding on the heath - I just visit their territories. Nightjars have also returned and can be heard at dusk - our guided walks this year are on Sun 3, Sat 16, Fri 22 & Sat 30 June.
With so many good birds, it was a much commoner species that gave me the most memorable sighting of the day. Hearing a screaming swift I casually glanced up as i love seeing and hearing these fabulous birds. What i saw was two swifts that appeared to be joined together - or perhaps one swift with four wings! The lower bird glided on flat wings, while the upper bird flapped wildly as they glided for about 15 seconds before separating and heading off in different directions. There can be no doubt that I was intruding on an intimate moment. We all hear that swifts "do everything on the wing: eat, drink, sleep and mate." After birdwatching for 35 years, this is the first time I've ever witnessed them doing the latter. A truly special moment!
Back on the main trails at Minsmere, another heathland bird, the stone-curlews, continue to well from the end of the North Wall (please only watch them from the viewing area to avoid disturbance), and the two golden orioles have been relocated near Bittern Hide.