Lynford Water

It had been a pretty dismal day, raining on and off, not really inspiring a desire to go outside. By the afternoon things seemed to be improving, the rain had stopped and while clouds still hung in the sky it was brightening. The clouds no longer looked ominous blue grey but were brightening to a more silvery grey with a hint of sun beyond. Now we ventured out, heading into the Forest and to Lynford Water. Right next to the arboretum, Lynford Water for many years was used for gravel extraction, during which numerous flint artefacts including handaxes were discovered. Not only that but in 2002 the remains of at least nine woolly mammoths, a woolly rhino, a bear and reindeer along with Neanderthal flint tools were discovered!  What they had discovered was a site where Neanderthal people had butchered mammoths some 60,000 years ago! It is one of the most important Neanderthal sites ever found in Britain. When extraction ceased completely a few years ago the site was restored with the creation of a variety of habitats including dry acid grassland, floodplain grazing marsh, reedswamp mosaic and reedbeds. Not only that the site was opened to the public. To be totally honest it is not the prehistoric history of Lynford Water that now brings me to the site, although it is exciting to think of woolly mammoths and Neanderthal humans living here. These days with the habitat restored it is the bird life which brings me, and many others to Lynford Water.

Barley enjoying Lynford Water. Photo Lee Barber

Wandering down the path from the car park, the pine trees of the Forest open out to reveal a grassland bounded by patches of dark green pine, some recently felled areas which are a tangle of branches, scrub and gorse, and the lakes themselves with small sandy beaches running into the smooth, dark water. From a stand of birch comes the song of a recently returned willow warbler; our first Norfolk swallows dip low over the water; the sound of siskins comes from the tall dark pines surrounding the open grass. The distinctive song of a chiffchaff reveals a bird carrying nesting material, pieces of reddish brown dried leaves stick out from its tiny beak. A little time spent watching reveals the start of a nest being woven amongst the grass at the base of a small tree amongst low gorse bushes.

Chiffchaff

We walk around the open grassland, its soil a little churned in places, small prickly plants of gorse and bramble, poking through the open soil and yellowy green grass. Yet more bird song, robins in trees, dunnock in the bracken and debris of the clearfell, and in the open grassy meadow… the call of woodlark. On a small thorny bush sits one of these beautiful, cryptically coloured birds. Once again a little time spent watching this bird and listening reveals a nest. The only reason we search for and approach the nest is because we have a Schedule 1 licence to do so. No one should approach a nest of this species without such a licence. Larks, as with many ground nesting species are notorious for leaving the nest at an early age, even before they can fly. An adaptation to help escape predators. These three were already starting to wander just outside of the nest cup itself, even though they had another week or so until they could fly.  A quick call brings a colleague with some kit and the chicks are not only ringed, but also colour ringed, adding to the project being carried out on this species in the Forest. The colour rings means that the birds will be uniquely identifiable in the field without having to recapture them. It is the first woodlark nest we have ever found on our own and not only that, based on the age of the chicks it is the earliest woodlark nest of the year in Breckland!

Three woodlark chicks. Photo Lee Barber

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