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Walk: a flying visit to Lackford Lakes

PUBLISHED: 15:45 17 March 2014 | UPDATED: 15:45 17 March 2014

suffolk mag march 2014

suffolk mag march 2014

Archant

David Falk, manage of Suffolk County Council’s Discover Suffolk project, hides out at Suffo;kl Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve

suffolk mag march 2014suffolk mag march 2014

It’s never too early for bird watchers. I’m parked in the company of a half dozen cars in front of the visitor centre at Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Lackford Lakes. The ‘Closed’ sign hangs on the entrance door waiting to be turned around, but rather than wait for a morning caffeine fix, or the latest news of what’s about, I head off to see what spring has to offer.

I pass an insect tower made of a tree trunk. It’s stuffed with tubes of elder, creating a refuge for solitary bees and ladybirds. I make my way past the tower and follow a path occupied by moorhens and mallards to the first of the reserve’s eight hides.

Orchid Hide looks out over the open water of the sailing lake. Inside the pine-scented hut I open a shutter and perch on a wooden bench to peer out at Canada, Graylag and Egyptian geese. I watch teal with their deep green eye swatches, widgeon with yolk-yellow caps and tufted ducks with beady eyes. On the far bank, I see cormorants posing on the low limb of a waterside tree.

I move on to Bill’s Hide and as I approach scare an Egyptian goose that barks in annoyance as it flies into the safety of the lake. I stop to study it through binoculars. It’s a strange design – large red eyes set in a fluffy head that appears to be stuck on a brown, caramel and grey body with bright red legs.

suffolk mag march 2014suffolk mag march 2014

Inside Bill’s Hide I spy on hundreds of lapwings. They are clumped quietly together, heads down. Clusters of coots traverse the water. Above, a heavy rhythmic beating of wings signals the arrival of a mute swan. It flies over the hide, tours the lake, and then decides to head off elsewhere.

Reed Hide provides a small lookout on to a small pond. The pond is backed by bulrushes and reeds and stuck with branches, which act as perches for kingfishers. It’s a pretty, colourful, scenic landscape full of shades of brown, green, orange, red and black, and with textures of straight upright stems, feathery seed heads, bulbous bulrushes, swaying birch branches and tangled brambles, all reflected in the mirror pond.

However, the hide disappoints with no new sightings so I move on to a two-storey hide with an elevated view on to Jason’s Pool and beyond. From my elevated viewpoint the lapwings fly into the air. They circle gently before descending like paragliders back to land. Other visitors in the hide whisper sightings to one another and then shuffle in and out, gently bolting and unbolting the door. Their footsteps drum within the hollow wooden hide and sound melodic against the constant backdrop orchestra of bird shrills, whistles, squawks, cries and chirps.

A well-walked path leads through a wood of coppiced hazel towards the very eastern end of the reserve. Here lies a long stretch of lakes: Long Reach, Hawker Pond, Plover Lake, Wilson’s Flood and Flempton Pool. At Bess’s Hide the sun shines bright across the water, reflecting a cloud-filled sky. It illuminates a pair of mute swans as they glide across the lake, their wings fixed in perfect form. A dabchick dives and bobs and I spot a pair of pintails near a male Goldeneye. The Goldeneye’s plumage is stunning – a deep emerald green head, a white cheek and a black back which barbs into a pure white body. It springboards into the lake, leaving a trail of bubbles.

suffolk mag march 2014suffolk mag march 2014

At Atlas Hide I watch a heron balancing statuesque on one leg on top of a floating raft. It preens itself sending puffs of feathers into the air. I see a goosander, an uncommon sight, and marvel at its sleek long body and dagger-like hooked red bill. Shovelers swing their broad bills over the water. Other birds seem to be pairing up – a seagull swims with a mallard, a gadwall with a coot.

At the far end of the reserve lies Steggall’s Hide. Inside there is a concentration of birdwatchers within a maze of tripod legs and I listen carefully as they exchange sightings. I’m informed this is the best place to see a bittern, but today I seem to see almost anything but.

It’s a good walk back to the visitor centre, now open and a friendly, bustling hive of activity. A member of staff, brimming with knowledge and helpful advice, greets me and guides me towards a circle of cushioned chairs facing a large panoramic window. It looks out on to a small pond but I head upstairs for longer views across the reserve.

Against the background happy chitchat from downstairs, I find a stool, avoiding mugs of coffee set on the windowsill and a sticker-covered telescope trained on a bird feeder. I unwrap a chocolate bar and scan the scene.

A blue flash catches the attention of another visitor and within an instant we are all focused on a kingfisher. It perches motionless above the pool, iridescent blue plumage, speckled head, red bill and orange front. Suddenly it drops like a missile into the water, and emerges with a silvery, slivering shape in its bill. It swings the fish from side to side then swallows it before repeating the show. It’s an excellent end to an excellent visit – Lackford Lakes never disappoints.

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