Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Feb 10th Strumpshaw Fen

There was a short shower of rain as I arrived for my early walk. It was more of a light drizzle than anything else, it wasn't enough to put me off. I was searching for more of the 40 creatures that make up the Strumpshaw Birthday Challenge. One creature that I am searching for the most at the moment is the weasel. This is probably one of the hardest creatures on the list to find. Apparently, they regularly check out the platforms of the new pond area near the meadow trail entrance, but I still need a lot of luck to see one. Today, though, the weasel was a no show. At least the treecreepers were about and I got my decent shot of one for the challenge.

Bewick's Swans
After the treecreeper left, I came across a collegue who was wondering what the yellow flowers growing by the side of the path. I told her that they were coltsfoot, which are out very early this year. As we were dicussing the flower's identity, a flock of 30 Bewick's swans flew over us! Their soft honking chorused in unison as they went by, sounding more delicate to whooper swan honking. I managed to get just one photo of them as they went by. I have never seen Bewicks fly past Strumpshaw before. What graceful birds they are! A real highlight to brighten up this gloomy start to the morning!

Marsh Harrier (6)
I was starting to get a bit soggy by the time I reached Fen Hide, which has had a new layer of sand over the muddy path leading to it, meaning you can now walk to the hide with ease. From the packed hide, another of my target species showed up. Two marsh harriers were having a bit of a dispute over territory and were chasing one another off. Ok, so I see marsh harriers all the time here, but I still needed a shot for my challenge photo collection. I love marsh harriers. I started my voluntary work here thanks to these birds back in 2011, as I did nest surveys before I ended up helping out at the Reception Hide. They are like the eagles of the reedbeds, soaring over majestically. It won't be long until they start their courtship aerial dances again. I can not wait!

Female Siskin (7)
As I was in the hide, the rain stopped and the sun came out to play. It was still cold however, but at least I could quickly dry off in the sunshine. Walking back towards the Reception Hide, song thrushes were singing marvelously in the woods and I stopped to take this video of it (below). As I was recording, I suddenly heard twittering and wheezing calls and songs from a flock of siskins, yet another target on my list. Soon, I was surrounded by them and the sound of them was drowning out the song of the thrush. These small finches are winter visitors, but do linger on throughout the spring months. The males are a striking yellow-green with a black cap and bib, while the female is duller but streakier. They are attracted to the small cones of alder trees, so it is best to be checking these trees if you want to tick them off if you are doing this challenge too.

Male Siskin

Song Thrush

Marsh Tit (8)
Marsh tits are fairly easy to tick off the list, just watch the feeder area near the Reception Hide for a short while and one usually shows up. They are trickier to photograph though, as they tend to visit the feeders and logs for a brief second at a time. Blink and you can miss them. You are looking for a small (but not too small) brown bird with a black cap and bib. These birds are in decline across the UK, but are still more common than their identical cousin, the willow tit. Willow tits are sadly no longer found on the reserve, though there are people who still live in hope that they can find them here. If you find a brown bird with a black cap and bib at Strumpshaw, it is more likely to be a marsh tit.

Blue Tit
At Reception Hide, there were wildfowl everywhere. Canada geese, greylags, teal, mallards and coot were all out on the broad in front of me, but it was the gadwall and shovelers that made up the bulk of the numbers here. Ben, one of the wardens here at Strumpshaw, asked my collegue and I to count how many of these two species were on the broad. I handled the gadwall, while my colleague delt with counting the shovelers. Not an easy job when your subject is constatly moving or appearing from behind vegetation. I managed to tally around 74-78 gadwalls, while my colleague, after several recounts due to new arrivals, counted around 34-38 shovelers. I expect we will be counting ducks and not sheep in our dreams tonight!

Canada Goose
Canada Geese
Chinese Water Deer (9)
Before my shift was over, I was fortunate to add one more species to my challenge list. A Chinese water deer showed up twice within the last hour of my shift, grazing on the stubble of the strimmed area on the other side of the left channel. This one is a male, you can tell from those long tusks. Vampire teddy bear comes to mind yet again as I watch it make a quick scan to check if the coast is clear. They are truely prehistoric looking, like a sabre-toothed creature from a forgotten time. They seem to be everywhere on the reserve and you should have no problem finding one yourself. Just wait inside the hides or scan the meadow trail and you are bound to see one at some point.

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