Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Feb 17th Strumpshaw Fen

Marsh Harrier
It was a frosty morning at Strumpshaw today. The sun was out but the winter chill in the air remained. I went down to the Fen Hide for a short while during my pre-shift walk, seeing bullfinches along the way. The marsh harriers were showing early signs of their sky dancing displays, a warm up to the main event where males try to impress a mate. A pair of coots were starting to build a nest in the centre of the pool in front of the hide, a simple floating mass of reeds. Apart from the coots and harriers, there was very little about.

I left Fen Hide and decided to risk a walk along the river. For those who visit Strumpshaw during the winter months, you will know very well what the risk involves. The river is tidal and floods regularly (more so during the winter). This means it gets extremely muddy and can be tricky to walk to Tower Hide. It is best to wear wellies, but all I have is a pair of walking boots. Though some of the mud was still frozen by the morning's frost, I still found it difficult to navigate through it and my boots were caked in the stuff. You have to be brave or foolish to walk this section of the reserve at this time of year. I think I'm more of the latter!

Great Crested Grebe (10)
What was I risking a walk here for I hear you ask. Well, I was trying to find grebes for the Strumpshaw 40 Challenge. Both great crested and little grebes are on the list and the best place to look is on the river. At this time of year, grebes are displaying to each other. This is why I was walking through mud for, to see a displaying pair. I walked to the sluice gates before giving up without seeing a single grebe. I went back the way I came and guess what? I found one! A single great crested grebe. Not a displaying pair, but it will do.

Siberian or Common Chiffchaff? Waiting for ID confirmation
While at the sluices, I saw a chiffchaff low on a branch close to ground level! You may think it is early to see chiffchaffs, but actually, some do stay overwinter in the UK. As I was walking back, I saw another one coming down to forage on the ground by the edge of the muddy path. Now lately, there has been reports of a Siberian chiffchaff hanging around this area. It is pretty much identical to the common chiffchaff save for a few subtle differences, but it is best indentified through its call which is completely different to a common chiffchaff (though I personally don't know what it sounds like). I managed to get a photo of the chiffchaff and it could be the Siberian one. I will hopefully get it confirmed later, so check back later if you want to know the answer.
[Note: I still don't know what it is, but its looking more likely to be a common chiffchaff now.]
Female Reed Bunting
Back at Reception Hide, there was a lot of wildfowl and coots out on the broad. They consisted mostly of gadwall, shovelers, pochards, teal, mallards, greylags, Canada geese a couple of mute swans and Cobber the black swan. There were several buzzards and a couple of sparrowhawks circling high over the reserve this morning, too and I saw hundreds of gulls flying past in the distance, a flock that was spread across nearly half the length of the fen. It was quite cold inside the hide, a contrast to the warm sunshine outside. A reminder to always wrap up warm when you voulunteer in the hide whatever the weather is like outside!

Pochards and Coots
Cobber the Black Swan
Gulls everywhere

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