Saturday, 26 March 2016

March 26th Strumpshaw Fen

No, you are not mistaken, I was at Strumpshaw on a Saturday morning today. I wasn't on duty, but I was here as a visitor in search of a few species on my Strumpshaw 40 challenge list. News came to me of a pair of garganey at Tower Hide yesterday and as they can be there one day and gone a few days later, this was one bird on the list that I had to go see now or risk missing out on Wednesday. It was very windy this morning, so the chances were it was forced to stay and shelter at Tower Hide still.

Smooth Newt
I made my way towards the Tower Hide with the cold gusts of wind hitting into me. Everything seems to be taking cover from the wind, all except for this smooth newt which was taking a stroll on the Sand Wall path not far from the path leading to the Fen Hide. Walking along the river trail, I walked past a few visitors walking back from Tower Hide and I asked if the garganeys were about. The answer wasn't promising as no one seemed to have seen them yet today.

Little Egret (15)
At Tower Hide, I could not see any garganey, but I had a hunch that they were still here somewhere. There is an area of scrub on a spit of land where many teal and other ducks were sheltering in. If the garganey were here, they were more than likely deep in this scrub. I decided to wait for a while and see if they would emerge from hiding. While waiting, I realised that there was another of my targets here that I needed a photo of. Little egrets are common and stand out like a sore thumb with their white plumage, black legs and yellow feet. I am surprised that it has taken me this long to tick them off. About 20 years ago, this bird would have been a rarity, but these days, they have colonized and spread right across the country. It could be down to a warming climate that had triggered the little egrets to colonize and who knows, it could mean we could have more exotic bird species from Europe breed at Strumpshaw in the near future.

Marsh Harrier
I continued to wait inside Tower Hide. About 4-5 marsh harriers kept me entertained as they chased each other over the reedbeds on the other side of the broad. They even took it in turns to land on an open area of ground by the edge of the water, giving me great views of them. The harriers are starting to pair up now and they continue to display to each other in an aerial dance. Its amazing to think that five years ago, I spent an hour a week for a couple of months sitting in this hide recording their every movement as they paired up and built their nests. Its a nice reminder to those days of my first year as a volunteer at Strumpshaw as I watch these birds displaying well at this hide today.

Garganey (16)
The harriers were so active at Tower Hide this morning that I have them to thank for swooping low over that scrubby area and causing everything to rush out into the open water. This included the species I have come to see today. Amongst this fleeing flock of teal, shoveler and pochard were the garganey. The male stands out more than the female does with his white eye stripe and chocolate brown head. Out of all the duck species in the UK, the garganey is the only duck that visit us during the summer months. They are starting to arrive back from migration from Africa. Though the male is the most striking, they don't often hang around for long at Strumpshaw. Your more than likely to see female garganeys here than males and they can be very tricky to seperate from the other female ducks, but keep an eye out for a faint stripe above the eye. If you want to see a male, get to Strumpshaw as soon as you can, as you are never sure how long they will stay.

Tufted Ducks

Male Pochard
Female Pochard
Common Gull
With the success of seeing the garganeys, I left Tower Hide and popped into Fen Hide on the way back. The hide was packed inside. The Jack snipe had been spotted and some of the visitors were helping others find it for themselves. I managed to see it briefly move about before it melted away into the reeds. I couldn't find it again despite everyone saying that they could still see it. Even with their directions, I still couldn't see it.

Greylag with egg on nest
At Reception Hide, the greylags that took over the coot nest have now laid eggs. I could see at least two being exposed under the female. Then I noticed something else. She was in the process of laying another egg! The father was there comforting her as a white egg was being pushed out of her rear end. It was like watching a baby being born! It was both amazing and disturbing to witness at the same time! I am glad that I am a man. Egg laying looks painful! When I'll eat my Easter egg tonight, that sight will haunt me!

Look an egg!
Mother goose starts to lay a new egg with father goose comforting her!

                                                        Happy Easter everyone!!!!

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