Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Aug 15th Strumpshaw Fen

A friendly pigeon
After nearly a week of rain, everything seems a lot fresher than it has been. The grass is much greener and the great outdoors has never felt so alive. It is amazing to think that just a week before everything seemed pretty dead and dried to shades of brown. I sat at the bench by the blind beside the Reception Hide to rest from the walk from the train station at Brundall and to retrieve my binoculars and camera from within my backpack. As I was finding these items, the sound of wings flapping towards me startled me. I looked up and there was this white pigeon with grey patches perched right next to me. It appeared very used to people, but would back away whenever I tried to near my hand towards it. Did it belong to someone? I couldn't see any leg rings or anything.
Transfixed on the pigeon, it wasn't only until a large orange-brown shape moving across the back of the broad in the corner of my eye broke my focus. This fast moving shape turned into a bittern, flying from left to right low behind the reedy islands and vanishing down the right channel. Was this pigeon a lucky omen? I began my walk towards the Fen Hide. I was only a few metres away from the Reception Hide when the familiar sound of flapping wings caught my attention from behind me. I looked back and there was the pigeon again! It landed on top of a picnic bench adjacent to me. A few metres more and it happened again. Was this pigeon following me?

Great White Egret
I made it to Fen Hide without any further sign of stalking pigeons. However, it felt like this bird's luck powers after seeing that bittern has remained with me as there were two great white egrets waiting outside for me. They didn't hang around for long, though, as they both took off towards the river. Shortly after, I had completed the set in the heron species I'm likely to see at Strumpshaw today with the arrival of a little egret and then a grey heron. If that wasn't enough, I then noticed a fox prowling the short stands of green reed growth at the closest edge of the pool. It may sound odd, but during that brief moment I had managed to take my first ever photograph of a red fox! It may not be the greatest shot in the world, but I didn't care. Foxes have always been camera shy when I'm around, so I am over the moon to finally have gotten a photo of one. I waited for some time to see if it came back. It did, popping its head out of the side of a small yet tallish clump of reeds for an either briefer glimpse. No surprising then that there was no photo this time round.
Little Egret
Red Fox
Cobber the Black Swan
Common Lizard
My colleagues with Bertie the Pigeon
I returned back to Reception Hide and the pigeon was there again! I made a quick stopover at the office before starting my shift and I told site manager Tim about it. He filled me in with the pigeon's backstory. Apparently, this bird is called Bertie and was hand-reared by someone who for some reason decided to release it on the reserve along the river trail on Monday. As this bird has imprinted human beings as its kind, it followed visitors back and eventually made it to the Reception Hide, where it now prefers to hang around. Bertie is so used to people that he has been known to perch on them. As my colleague opened the hide up to the public this morning, he foolishly left the door open. As a result, Bertie came in and landed on a visitor's head, who happens to be my colleague's wife, who also happens to be afraid of birds when in close proximities of them. It took some strategy, but I eventually managed to grab the bird before panic levels risen to anything more than it was and I took Bertie outside, shutting the door behind me. It remained out there, providing some amusement amongst the families visiting the reserve.

With the drama inside the hide over, I was able to enjoy myself by watching the birds outside and answering questions about wildlife that was fired at me a lot today. A kingfisher delighted my colleague's wife and grandson for a good few minutes, hovering in mid-air and darting across the reedy islands, occasionally perching down on the posts at the centre of these isles. Two green sandpipers also made a short stop at these islands of reed for them to see. After my shift was over, my colleague and his family kindly gave me a lift to Brundall in time for the train home. Along the way, we had some great views of a buzzard feeding on the ground with a red kite swooping gracefully above it. Maybe Bertie was lucky after all?
Green Sandpipers
Cobber chasing a Mute Swan

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Aug 8th Strumpshaw Fen

Great White Egret (with Grey Heron)
As I only managed to get a brief glimpse of one flying past last week, today before my shift I made my way down to Tower Hide (not via the Lackford Run this time) to see if the great white egrets were more obliging. As soon as I entered the hide, there it was. Its large white body stood out of the crowd of herons, snipe, ruffs, lapwings, and eclipse-phased mallards, teal and gadwall. There was no way I could mistake it for anything else. Its dagger-like yellow bill also helps in indicating that it was what it was, but you would have to be bird-blind to confuse it for a little egret. Throughout my short visit to the hide, it didn't really do much, just standing there looking pretty. That was easy, I thought.

Ruff and Common Sandpiper
Little Egret
With success with the great white egret and with plenty of time to spare, I made my way back to see what the Fen Hide had to offer. More egrets was the answer. Little egrets. Five of them, standing around by the island of reeds surrounded by more mud than water. A grey heron towered above them all standing amongst them. Then, for no reason at all, five became one as the other four decided that it was time to move on. The sound of hungry young marsh harriers continued to fill the air as they beg for food to be dropped to them by their parents.

Great White Egrets
Pre-shift walk over, I made my way to join my colleague at the Reception Hide. As I was about to walk through the door, I noticed 6 more white bodies of egrets standing out like a sore thumb. One of them was far larger than the other 5. It was another great white egret! Then a second one joined it and the little egrets a short while later, making it my third great white of the day. I was having an egret fest! For the rest of the morning, they didn't move very far from the reedy islands. Occasionally, they would explore, but in truth, they didn't do very much at all. They were far from boring though.

Little Egrets
Ben (one of Strumpshaw's wardens) arrived as I was writing up today's sightings up on the board. He managed to spot a pair of garganey out on the broad, but they were behind the reedy islands and out of sight by the time I was able to join him. Typical! I kept a watchful eye out for them, hoping that they would reappear, but to no joy. I did, however, had more luck seeing a swallowtail fly over the broad and over the egrets. With such a warm summer, it has brought out the second brood of these fantastic butterflies. I was also lucky enough to see a kingfisher making two visits to the perches and post at the water's edge at the front of the hide.

'Fish Graveyard'
One corner of the broad has become a bit of a fish graveyard. Large bodies of pike float at the surface. While these hot conditions are good for insects, swallowtails included, it has different impact on fish. This broad is full of pike, most of them are really big and these large individuals prefer living near the bottom. As the water heats up for many weeks in the continuous summer sunshine, most of the oxygen in the water collects closer to the surface, leaving the water near the bottom of the broad to stagnate and for these larger bottom-dwelling fish to suffocate to death. It is a sad sight, but there is a plus side (hopefully). In previous years in which many of these predatory fish died out due to similar conditions, it left many of the smaller fish to thrive and by the following year, a boom in numbers of birds such as bitterns happened. Maybe this is just what we need?
One of the dead Pikes
Mallard feasting on a dead Pike?
While staring at the dead pike, I noticed that it was attracting the curiosity of the local mallards. The more I watched, the more I took note that these dabbling ducks were in fact feasting on the fish. Were these largely vegetarian wildfowl trading their diet for a fishy one? I doubt it. Their bills are not designed to tear off flesh. However, I think what they were eating were the scales not the fish itself. Just like giving a cuttlefish bone to a pet budgie, I think these ducks were pecking off the scales for calcium. Calcium is an important ingredient in developing new feathers and as these mallards were moulting, appearing rather scruffy, this could be a better guess than any.