Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Nov 18th Strumpshaw Fen

It has been a windy day at Strumpshaw. It was a reminder of last night's storm, but at least the wind speed has dropped a little bit since then. For the wildlife, life continued as normal. Redwings were taking cover in the bushes, not from the wind, but from my camera. It seems redwings are camera shy! Outside Reception Hide, shovelers, teal, mallards, gadwalls and coots were taking refuge on the broad. Marsh harriers were soaring over the reedbeds, as if playing in the wind. A sparrowhawk and a kingfisher made the odd, brief appearance too.

Marsh Harrier
The highlight of the morning was an otter out hunting on the broad. It came from the channel to my right and swam round the back of the reedy islands, behind a cormorant on its post before vanishing down the far left channel. Though it wasn't as close to the hide as last week, it still gave an audience of visitors something to remember. Some of them had never seen an otter before, so they went away really happy.

Fading light over Fen Hide
After my shift ended, I decided to stay until dusk. I went for a quick walk around the woodland trail, past the pumphouse and along the river to kill some time, seeing only a flock of long-tailed tits and a little egret. By 2pm, I had made it to my destination at the Fen Hide where I planned to stay until nightfall. It sounds like a long time to wait, but I had a reason. I wanted to see one of Strumpshaw's secret natural events, the raptor roost. Raptor is another name for birds of prey and a raptor roost is when a large number of these birds come together to a spot where they will roost for the night. Every night, around 17 marsh harriers have been recorded gathering to the centre of the reserve with the occasional hen harrier. The sight of so many predators in the air at once is spectacular to see and I have a choice of either Tower Hide or Fen Hide to see it from.

Marsh Harrier
Chinese Water Deer
I chose Fen Hide as it was the closest and least muddiest to get back in the dark from out of the two. While waiting inside the hide with the wind battering all around, a Chinese water deer gave me something to look at as it grazed the reed stubble in the open strimmed areas between the reedbeds. The first hour past by quickly and I counted the first two marsh harriers, who were being mobbed by the crows. I also saw a bittern fly past. 3 o'clock came and went. In that time, four visitors popped in and ended up watching the roost with me. In this second hour, the marsh harrier numbers were growing and about 5-6 of them were spread out across the reserve.

Marsh Harrier mobbed by Crows
The light was fading and a short drizzly shower was blasted across the reserve by the strong winds. It didn't seem to bother the harriers as more and more arrived. I think I counted 10-17 birds circling the reedbeds, but I may have counted a few crows by mistake. It was getting trickier to see them and I ended up restarting the count every few minutes. There was a bright patch of orange sky in the corner of the setting darkness and a mini murmuration of starlings were dancing in the distance. It was quite a sight seeing so many harriers gliding in front of the backdrop of ever changing patterns created by the starlings. A heron came in and fished in the pool in front of the hide dappled by the colours of the sunset corner of sky. The Chinese water deer was joined by another.

Three Marsh Harriers in the air together
More and more harriers arrive
A glow in the dark
Grey Heron
Sunset over Reception Hide
One by one, the harriers began to drop down into the reeds in the centre of the reserve. I could not spot any hen harriers tonight, but with so many marsh harriers in the air together was still quite a sight to behold. Some of the harriers had green tags attached to their wings which means they were tagged in Norfolk, but I could not see the numbers on them to find out which bird it was. With such poor light conditions and with the birds being distant and always moving, my camera was having a hard time capturing it all. I can only describe in words how amazing this roost was after seeing it for the first time at Strumpshaw. I left the hide with just enough light to see where I was going and I made one last look at the sunset at Reception Hide before leaving for home.

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