Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Dec 17th Strumpshaw Fen

Every Wednesday morning, I volunteer at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. I have been doing this since 2011. And for the last three winters I know what to expect. Every December I have volunteered during my time at the reserve has been relatively quiet with the odd surprise instore. These surprises are usually something like an otter or a kingfisher or a bittern or even the odd female hen harrier. What I don't expect in December is to encounter more than one of these surprises. This is what has happend to me today.

Most Wednesday mornings I walk to Strumpshaw from Brundall train station. This means I walk past cultivated fields. Today, as I was making my way to 'Strumpy' I noticed a hare run across the stubble  of one of these fields. It is always a nice surprise to see a hare. But this was the start of these nice surprises.

View from Fen Hide
View from Reception Hide
 If you have never been to Strumpshaw, there are three hides; Reception Hide, Fen Hide and Tower Hide. This morning, after seeing the hare, I made a visit to Fen Hide before having to join my colleague for the morning to open up Reception Hide at 10am.

At first there was nothing at Fen Hide to begin with and I was thinking that I wasn't going to see anything. But eventually a Chinese water deer came out to feed within the gaps of the reedbeds behind the pool of water. This is a small deer introduced from China with tusks and a love for watery habitats. After he vanished behind a section of reedbed, a bittern was flying close towards the hide before making a u-turn and dive into another section of reedbed to my right.

Watching out of Reception Hide this morning was quiet, similar to what the Fen Hide was to begin with. There were coot and teal with the odd marsh harrier soaring around now and then, but time still seemed to drag on within the first hour. Just as I expected for wildlife watching in December.

I was at this point needing to go for the toilet. So I decided, as there was not much about, to visit the toilet block outside and had just stepped out the door when my colleague popped her head out of the door calling two things... "Sean! Otter!"
Outside was a dog otter hunting. But this was a short sighting as he vanished behind the reedy islands on the far right. We couldn't find him again, so toilet trip attempt number two was in action. On my successful return, my colleague called me over again. He was back and this time closer to the hide!
Our dog otter was searching the area of tiny reedbed islands near the front of Reception Hide. He was still in hunting mode, diving like a porpoise. The head goes under first. Then after looking like a brown hump, the back follows. And finally, the tail flicks upwards before sinking down into the deep. The movement is sleek and fast, effortlessly. You can follow a line of bubbles until it resurfaces again. Back down he goes again, and again, and again. Eventually, he comes up with a big fish, possibly a roach. He was eating it while in the water, munching it with sharp teeth. Once he finished eating, he continued hunting for more.

The otter left us again but reappeared several minutes later for one last brief moment as he went down the far left channel which took him towards Fen Hide. Between appearances, a bittern flew from my far right into the far reedbed, perching on a reed stem until it too vanished from view, melting away into the far reedbed. It came out from hiding near the end of my shift and flew further left before plummiting into another section of reedbed. Other highlights today; sparrowhawk, jay and marsh tit.

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