Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Nov 30th Strumpshaw Fen

Frost on a Spindle berry
Strumpshaw was like a winter wonderland when I arrived just as the sun was rising. The landscape surrounding me was covered in frost and ice. I had to abandon my weekly weasel watch as my backside felt as if it was starting to get frozen to the bench after 20 minutes of fruitless waiting for one to appear. After peeling myself off the bench, I went for a walk down to the river. With the sun still rising itself over the tallest of trees on the reserve, the frost hadn't thawed yet and the various structures of ice jutting out from the plant life was absolutely beautiful. Berries were crystallised and leaves glitter with a silvery edging as the sun's early rays shimmer upon them with a warm glow. A spectacle that lasted only a short while.
Frosty Rosehips
Crystallised Guilder Rose berries 
Bramble leaves covered in frost
A frosty Reed head

Reed Maces dusted with frost
Sun rising over a frosty reed bed
Highland Cows in the frost

Along the river, apples litter the ground and were attracting many thrushes to feast on them. The thrush's activity was not going unnoticed as I witnessed a sparrowhawk make a plunge at them from nowhere and vanished within the trees as I arrived onto the scene. The hungry thrushes resumed on feeding as soon as the coast was clear. Amongst these birds were fieldfares, a large species of wintering thrush from Scandinavia. I also encountered a kingfisher very briefly at the sluices as well as seeing a great spotted woodpecker, a heron, siskins and a bullfinch this morning.


The frozen scene at Reception Hide this morning
It was a rather quiet at the Reception Hide this morning. This was mainly because the entire broad was frozen over save for one small opening at the far end where a pair of swans and some coot and mallards were making the most of to extract their weedy meals from beneath the surface. Though the majority of the scene was pretty empty and not that much happened on the frozen surface, there was however some moments of interest showing up here and there around and above the icy broad. A water rail made a short flight into the reed bed in front of us with a slippery landing, a Chinese water also showed up nearby for a quick feed, a pair of buzzards, marsh harriers and a kestrel patrolled the sky above the surrounding reed beds and a bittern appeared at the end of my shift as it flew in towards us to plunge itself into the reed bed in front of the right channel.

Mute Swans, Coots and Mallards at the opening in the ice
Marsh Harrier
Chinese Water Deer
Common Snipe
Carrion Crow on ice!

Marsh Harrier ready to roost!
Though my shift was over, I did not leave for home. Instead, I stayed until sunset. This was because some of the Strumpshaw volunteers were arriving for a get together like we usually do before Christmas. This evening we were here to watch the raptor roost. Their plan was to go to Tower Hide to see it, but I decided to sit in Fen Hide instead as I did not want to walk along the muddy river trail in the dark. While the other volunteers made their way to Tower Hide, I sat inside Fen Hide with some visitors who came and went with two remaining to watch the roost with me.

As the sun began to set, the raptor roost was at its early stages. At first it was rather promising with about four marsh harriers sitting on bushes and then four became five and then six. But then I somehow managed to lose track of them all, in which I mean I had lost them all completely! During this early stage of the roost, a strange buzzard-like bird flew past the Tower Hide. It was a bit distant to see what it was exactly at the time. But according to my colleagues at the other hide, they said they saw a female hen harrier flying past them! So I think that was what it was, which is amazing as hen harriers are rare birds these days.
Marsh Harrier
The sunset continues!
The sun continued to set, producing a pallet of vivid colours in the sky and on the reflected surface of the ice on the pool in front of the hide. A small murmuration of starlings suddenly appeared and though their numbers were not exactly enough to mesmerize me with a swirling mass of birds, they attempted to create the patterns anyway. A pair of Chinese water deer were seen grazing in one of the openings between reed beds even as the light faded to near darkness. The sound of squealing could be heard from all over the place as water rails claim their territories. And amidst the aerial commute of flocks of ducks and mobbing crows were the roosting marsh harriers. About ten of them were spiralling around a group of bushes at the centre of the reserve, gradually landing one by one, huddling together for warmth for another long, cold, wintery night.

Marsh Harrier circling to roost