Monday, 27 February 2017

Feb 27th Cley

Avocets at Cley
It was a bit of a chilly, blustery morning at Cley today. There were a few short, drizzly showers during our visit, but it wasn't enough to put us off. The lack of birds, however, was a different story. Normally, a visit to Cley would produce a mini bird paradise with many species of waders, wildfowl and other great things and in large numbers too. Today, I'm afraid, was not one of those memorable visits. That said, there were still some birds on the reserve to see, so it wasn't a complete waste of time.

If there was a theme for today's visit, it would be black and white. Why? Because most of the birds we could see from the hides this morning were mostly black and white. Brent geese dominated one of these pools, covering the water and islands into a mass of black, grey and white bodies with more arriving to add to the mass by the minute. On another pool, it was a welcoming sight to see a flock of avocets back at Cley once again after returning from their wintering sites. They were pretty sleepy though, huddling together with their heads under their wings. That is until a marsh harrier appeared, forcing them move a few metres from their original spot. We also saw a few shelducks, gulls (mainly black-headed and the odd juvenile herring gull), lapwings, a handful of mallards, teal and gadwall and that was pretty much it really.
Brent Geese
Male Mallard
Female Mallard
Marsh Harrier

From East Bank, it was a very quiet scene. A few wigeon, greylags, teal, redshanks, curlews, shelducks, a heron, a little egret and a lot of space between them all. Yep, it was pretty empty with not that many birds to see than usual. At least the bearded tits kept us entertained with a game of hide and seek in which they won as they remained hidden in the reed beds, teasing us with their pinging calls. I only managed to get a brief glimpse of one popping up into the air for half a second before diving back down again. It was the only loser of the game.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Feb 22nd Strumpshaw Fen

This morning was a rather wet one. I was walking around the woods when it suddenly lashed down a downpour. I was slightly soaked in minutes as I made my retreat to the Reception Hide. I soon dried up under the hide's heater as I watched the wildfowl on the broad. A kingfisher made a brief visit in front of the hide and an otter showed up, but was a bit stealthy for me and my camera. It appeared along the reed bed edge at the near left channel of the broad, then I lost track of it as I reached for my camera. By the time I located the otter again, it was heading down the far left channel and disappeared.


Pointing out wildlife on a guided walk
Today, I was asked to help out with a guided walk. It appears I was the popular choice as wildlife expert for this walk, so of course I helped out. The rain eased off to begin with as we made our way into the woods and as a precaution, I kept my camera hidden to keep it dry and so I didn't use it much during our walk. I showed them the snowdrops and the fungi that I knew as well as pointing out the bird sounds we could hear. There weren't as many species calling as I had expected, but the group enjoyed hearing birds such as song thrushes, dunnocks, robins and long-tailed tits.
Blackthorn blossom
Hazel catkins
But then, as we left the woods and were walking along the river, the rain drizzled heavily for a few minutes before easing off to a near halt. We were a bit wet, but at least we had some great wildlife to look at. The meadows adjacent to the pump house provided us with views of stonechats, a brown hare bounding to cover, two Chinese water deer, two grey herons, a meadow pipit flying past and two mute swans. I was more pleased in seeing the hare, but everyone else seemed to be more at awe with the stonechats.

At Fen Hide, I showed them a couple of marsh harriers, another Chinese water deer, a water rail and a snipe. They were very impressed with my spotting skills with the snipe as it was well hidden in an area of reed stubble. No one even knew it was there, even a pair of my regulars who were in the hide before we invaded did not see it before I pointed it out. The snipe was no surprise to me, though, as there's usually one hiding in the stubble, it is just a case of knowing what your looking for. The thing about snipe is that their movements while feeding always gives them away.


We returned back at Reception Hide to end the walk. While some members of the group disbanded, others stayed on with me in the hide, hoping that a kingfisher would arrive. Sadly, the kingfishers did not show up for them in the end, but they weren't disappointed. They praised me for giving them a great experience and for teaching them all I know about the wildlife we saw. The weather may have been rubbish, but at least it has been a great outing at Strumpshaw for them.
Marsh Harrier

Monday, 20 February 2017

Feb 20th Minsmere

It was very warm this morning at Minsmere. It felt as if it was May than February. It was so warm, I actually had to take my coat off! Spring seems to have arrived early this year. The catkins are out and the bees were pollinating them. I even saw my first butterfly of 2017, a comma that was busy warming itself in the warm February sunshine. As if left on standby, these insects emerge into action from their winter hiding places as soon as temperatures rise a bit more than usual.

Honey Bee pollinating a Gorse flower
Hazel catkins
Mute Swans

 On the sightings board today, there were a couple of duck species written up there that are always worth looking for even though they are not exactly rare or anything. There were apparently some smew somewhere around the scrapes between the Wildlife Lookout hide and the pond. We went to the Wildlife Lookout first, but apart from curlews, snipe, wigeon, teal, a pair of mute swans and a kestrel, there was no sign of any smew from here.

Marsh Tit
Next up was a walk through the woods towards Island Mere Hide. The birds seemed to be preparing for spring as many were in full song, a secret language that is used in both claiming territory and attracting a mate. Many, though, were still traveling together in noisy mixed winter flocks as they search every branch in the canopy for a morsel to eat. We watched foraging goldcrests being joined by a growing flock of many species including marsh tits, long-tailed tits, blue tits, great tits, chaffinches and siskins. Treecreepers trilled their short squeaky songs from the trunks of trees, while a green woodpecker chuckled it's yaffling call from somewhere nearby. Minsmere's marsh harriers were also in full voice as they appeared to be already sky dancing, displaying high above us. I also saw this muntjac deer grazing, not taking any notice of us standing a several feet away.
Muntjac Deer
Gulls from Bittern Hide

From Island Mere Hide, the sun was shining right in our face and the surface of the mere was reflected to a blinding shimmer making in it harder to see for the most part. It was easier to see the snipe that were in the stubbled reedy pools right in front of the hide than the goosanders that I was hoping to see out on the water. The goosanders were hiding in the far corner of the mere, tucked out of sight behind a reed bed. Eventually, they did emerge into view and were moving closer and closer to the centre of this body of water, though because of the brightness of the sun, they were rather silhouetted. One of these saw-billed ducks did swim close to the shore in front of the hide, however, even from here the sun made it hard to see it clear enough. High in the sky, away from the blinding sun, I was able to spot a peregrine falcon soaring so high that it almost appeared as a dot in the clouds.
Marsh Harrier

Male and female Smew
After lunch, I heard that the smew were at a pool close to the pond near the visitor centre. A temporary viewpoint on an embankment provided Mum and I with some great views of a pair of these charming little ducks. The male stands out with its bright white plumage with black markings. A truly handsome looking bird. The female was not quite as handsome, but is best described as a redhead. Smew are winter visitors to the UK and Minsmere is a bit of a hotspot for them at this time of year. There is usually one or two about every February and March here. It is always a pleasure whenever I see one, especially if its a male. Even Mum thinks they are rather cute for a duck.

 I then went to the East Hide. There wasn't much to see out on the scrapes today. There were mostly teal, lapwings, a few black-tailed godwits, dunlin, shelducks, shovelers and redshanks. At this point the weather turned and grey skies and blustery wind replaced the glorious sunshine. The birds now look rather windswept, probably as surprised as I am to have the warmth of the morning sun being blown away by the afternoon's windy conditions.

Black-tailed Godwit
Herring Gull

On the way back, I saw a couple of stonechats and I found something special to keep the invertebrate hunter in me happy. This strange object that I am holding in my hand is a cuttlebone. This is not actually a bone. It is a chambered, gas-filled shell that is used for buoyancy control. A unique object and the only thing that remains of its owner. If the creature was alive, this object would be inside its back. But what's the creature you might ask? It is a cuttlefish, a squid-like animal that lives offshore around the UK's coastline. I would love to see a wild cuttlefish in the flesh, but unfortunately, I am not a diver or have any diving gear of any kind, so this cuttlebone is the next best thing.