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What a difference a week makes! In stark contrast to last week it has been cool, overcast and had a moderate breeze from the North and East, dropping the temperature and insect life considerably.
The fen has had a selection of stand out species such as two cranes today, these flew in and landed in front of Fen Hide giving the visitor inside superb views along with a selection of comical shots as they stared eye to eye with a Chinese water deer. The other species of note was a ‘herd’ of 50 Bewick’s swans, again these flew over the reserve this morning, their beautiful soft calls alerted us to their presence. Other species which have been seen at the fen include marsh harriers displaying, although much reduced in the cooler air, bearded tit has been seen fleetingly in various places and an otter was seen from Fen Hide on Wednesday morning. Kingfishers have been busy on the river once again this week, they appear to be pairing up and sorting out boundary disputes, it looks as though there are at least four birds present. While at the river also look out for the great crested grebes, these are now in fine plumage and can be seen displaying if you are very lucky. A hen harrier was seen on Monday evening at a similar time to a bittern tuning up for the booming season.
The woodland continues to thrive with birdsong, all the regular species can be seen and heard on a walk through including; treecreeper, nuthatch. Marsh, blue, great and long-tailed tits, goldcrest, great-spotted and green woodpeckers, song and mistle thrush as well as redwings singing in number.
The wet grassland at Buckenham and Cantley has been busy again this week. The lapwing have one job in their mind and can be heard displaying throughout the day, similarly skylarks are also singing seemingly non stop at present too. Two short-eared owls have been seen on the other side of the river from Buckenham at Claxton, these can be seen from the riverbank behind the hide along with at least two barn owls too.
On the wader front 78 ruff, 86 curlew, 43 dunlin and a small flock of golden plover were all seen this week. A water pipit was noted at Cantley on Tuesday and the pair of peregrines remains in residence. Wildfowl numbers have decreased although there are still 300+ wigeon present and a pair of pintail were a nice surprise on Tuesday.
Insects have been few and far between this week and there was not a single butterfly seen. March can be a funny month for insects, one minute you think its spring-like the next it plunges back into winter!
The long range forecast shows the wind swinging all over the compass so I would not expect too much in the way of migration over the coming days, although as was proven this morning with the swans, there are still a lot of birds to head back #North before we start seeing migrants in good numbers. The forecast looks as if it could be good for the moth trap tonight and Friday night so it may be time to dust off the trap and get back to grips with the quakers!
Posted by Ben
A fine mainly sunny week with temperatures rising up to near t-shirt weather and a very spring like feel .
The bright sunshine had certainly caused the birds in the woodland to up their volume, today this included a very fine chorus from the redwing, this is usually a rare occurrence as they migrate North before properly singing. Other species which have been added to the woodland chorus over the past week include chiffchaff and blackcap, the woodpeckers have upped their tempo and the drumming has certainly increased along with the short but perfectly formed treecreeper song now ringing out all over the woodland.
The fen has seen increased harrier displays with talon grabbing and sky dancing becoming a daily occurrence. 19 marsh harriers were seen going into the roost on Tuesday and also two hen harriers were seen over the reedbed in the evening.
Male reed buntings are now in fine voice in the reedbed, these charming black white and brown species are easiest to hear right now as their subtle song can be lost in the cacophony of reed and sedge warblers later in the year.
Another of our favourite characters who is also gearing up for their ‘singing’ season are the bitterns, they have begun to ‘grunt’; this is essentially where the birds are building up their throat muscles so that they can perform their loud booming, this clearly takes a lot of effort.
Two cranes were seen around the fen Monday to Tuesday with four together on the ground at Buckenham on Tuesday afternoon, what a site and sound!
Cetti’s warblers are just entering their most showy period of the year, these are usually nearly impossible to see well, however at this time of the year they are singing to get noticed. This means with luck and patience very good views can be obtained of this illusive of reedbed bird.
A pair of garganey were seen sleeping at Tower Hide on Sunday afternoon, these wet grassland and reedbed ducks are usually some of the first long distance migrants to arrive.
The wet grassland has seen increases of passage waders such as dunlin and ruff where on Monday there were 109 and 60+ respectively. Shelducks have increased in number and the first returning avocets have graced the marshes, while the soundtrack of displaying lapwing and skylarks ring through the air. Another migrant of note was a little ringed plover from Buckenham Hide on Wednesday evening, there have also been at least two short-eared owls present.
The warm weather has produced our first butterfly sightings of the year with small tortoiseshells being the most abundant at present, these will soon be taken over by brimstones which have just started emerging. Three other species have also been recorded this week including peacock, red admiral and comma, taking the weeks tally up to five butterfly species.
A small number of grass snakes have also been seen in the woodland area, these will begin to be increasingly common if the weather continues.
In the coming week I would expect to have the first reports of sand martins, possibly even a swallow, there should be a large arrival of chiffchaffs very soon and blackcap numbers should also rise, there is also the possibility of a wheatear or two at Buckenham. There is an easterly wind for the weekend which will mean lower temperatures, this may slow the migration a little but it may well bring in something interesting from the East.
Another week of weather contrasts, we have had pleasant sunshine, cloud, lots of wind and a morning of rain, however the weekend is rumoured to be sunny and double figures which could make lots of birds and insects very busy.
Strumpshaw Fen has seen the return of the black-headed gulls this week, this is usually a good indicator of spring, their loud calls and territorial behaviour is always interesting to watch, they can be seen and heard getting prepared for the nesting season from reception and the first broad along the riverbank. We once had one of the largest colonies of black-headed gulls in Norfolk, however due to erosion of the reception islands the colony has now spread out a bit wider. Brash bundles have been added to the islands to encourage the reed growth and we hope the islands will return through sedimentation.
Little Grebes have returned to reception pool as have their larger relatives the great-crested grebes, these can be seen displaying, mainly on the river with their impressive courtship dancing and eerie calls. One of the first chiffchaffs of the year was seen on Tuesday along the riverbank, plenty more of these to arrive over the next few months, the first singing chiffchaff of the season is always something to look forward to.
The woodland is now alive with bird song, a quick walk through this morning produced all the usual tits singing as well as multiple treecreepers, nuthatch, song thrush, robin, blackbird and three great spotted woodpeckers all displaying to each other.
Marsh harriers have been displaying this week with many talon grabbing and sky dancing events occurring. The biggest (in two ways) surprise of the week happened last Friday; I was having lunch in Tower Hide when I noticed a bird of prey fairly distantly over the trees, it was a male goshawk. The bird was displaying and was clearly a very large powerful looking accipiter and is the first time I have seen this species on the reserve, it has also been seen in two other locations nearby so will hopefully stay for a little while for others to enjoy, my photos were too poor to post on here unfortunately.
The wet grassland sites of Buckenham and Cantley have been alive with birds over the past week, many returning waders have stopped off to refuel and enjoy the food at these sites. I visited on Sunday and managed to see 447 black-tailed godwit, 72 curlew, 1100 golden plover and 1050 lapwing at Cantley, these are impressive numbers, it is even a possible record number of godwits. There were also smaller numbers of ruff, dunlin and the first two pairs of oystercatchers returned, right on cue. A female peregrine was sitting in a tree watching over the bird filled reserve, I imagine its a bit like looking at a moving menu!
Insect news- The first brimstone butterfly of the year was seen yesterday at Strumpshaw, near the reception, also yesterday were a large increase in small insects such as flies and even a couple of mining bees. If the weather remains as predicted for tomorrow we could see more brimstones emerging, sparrowhawks and marsh harriers will continue displaying and the wildfowl and waders may well continue to move too.
A very mild week with almost warm sunny spells, apart from Thursday when it decided to rain a lot to coincide with the weekly work party.
Highlights from the fen included nine pochard and six tufted duck, so far they are this years peak counts. A bittern was seen on Tuesday morning, bearded tits have been heard regularly from the fen trail, while kingfishers have been seen from the sluice area. It has been the first week for a very long time without an otter sighting, they are hopefully busy preparing for this years youngsters. Marsh harriers have been busy skydancing, the females have been upping their anti as soon as a male appears on site, giving some impressive aerial displays as well as giving all sorts of interesting calls. A pair of goosander have been seen on and off for a few weeks now and this week they were still present, but only seen once on Monday afternoon. Surlingham Church Marsh held a female scaup on Saturday, this is a particularly good bird for the valley, especially considering the mild conditions.
The oddest sighting of the week was when a white-fronted goose decided to land with the greylags right in front of reception hide. The goose arrived, preened for about half an hour and then flew off letting those in the hide get especially good views of a usually shy species. (See image to the right)
The woodland has a lot of fungi on show at present, with the scarlet elf caps stealing the show; we have created a pile of deadwood by the woodland fingerpost, where there are at least four species of fungi present, hopefully in the future months this will also be a great place for grass snakes and other reptiles and amphibians, especially with a new pond being dug so close by.
Insects are just beginning to emerge, on Wednesday I saw my first hoverfly of the year, a marmalade fly, also the yellow dandelion like plant coltsfoot has spread its petals for the first time adding a splash of colour to sandy wall. The emergence of coltsfoot usually is an indicator that the first brimstone butterflies of the year are on their way and currently looking out of the window this afternoon would be a good time to go looking!
Buckenham and Cantley have seen a decrease in number of geese again this week, however they have seen an increase in classic late winter/spring species such as curlew, black tailed godwit and shelduck, it will not be long now before we start to see returning waders such as redshank and oystercatcher back for their summer stay. Skylarks are already in full song adding to that change of season feel.
Over the next week I would expect that if weather conditions remain similar, I would expect the volume and number of birds singing to increase, the first butterflies will start to emerge and maybe even early mallard ducklings will be seen. I would expect the first chiffchaff to appear any day soon, but the true migrants of spring are still quite far off at present
A fine sunny start to the week gave us t-shirt weather while working for the first time this year. This warm sunny weather broke on Thursday afternoon when all of a sudden 12 hours of rain hit us.
The fen has seen a busy half term week for people, luckily there were good viewing opportunities for some of our specialist species too, however nothing gave itself up easily. Kingfishers have been seen zooming up and down the river, bearded tits have been seen and heard from various areas around the reedbed. Bitterns have been quite shy this week with just two sightings in flight over the reedbed. Marsh harriers have been busy displaying when the weather suits them, with their calling ringing over the reedbed once again you cant help but get a spring like vibe. Other spring like hints include four summer plumaged great crested grebes back on the river and the first little grebe of the year on reception broad. The best otter sighting of the week was by two residential volunteers on Tuesday evening; they saw two otters ‘playing’ in the river while a barn owl drifted overhead in the same field of view. Two goosanders at Tower Hide on Tuesday, 29 marsh and a female hen harrier also roosted on the reserve at dusk. The 2 first pochards of the year have been in front of reception, two fine drakes, better late than never!
The woodland volume switch is slowly being turned up each morning, great spotted woodpeckers are drumming well now and all tit species are in fine voice all being supported by thrushes, blackbirds, chaffinches and the occasional outburst by a nuthatch.
As the weather improves the marshes at Buckenham and Cantley has subtle changes; the wildfowl numbers are still good, with 450 pink-footed geese seen this morning along with just a small flock 4 of white-fronted geese. Wigeon are still in good numbers along the track at Buckenham and the hares are getting prepared for their ‘mad March’ boxing contests.
The water level in the fen is now nearing its spring level, this level is between 550-600 on the reception gauge board. It is important to maintain the water level at this height until June so that reedbed species such as bitterns and marsh harriers feel it is a safe place to nest without getting flooded.
While on the watery theme there are some high tides due for the next week, so it will be important to check the tide times at reception before setting out along the riverbank. Hopefully the water level will remain unchanged and we wont get any saline water in the fen as a result of the high tides, however I fear that the trails may become a little more muddy as a result. All trails are currently open and in fair condition, come and enjoy a stroll around and see what you can find.
A much cooler week with icy Northerly winds and a few very light snow flurries amongst sleety showers. The reception broad has been 80% ice for the majority of the week, however the deeper channels have remained unfrozen.
The fen has seen otters on most days with two being seen from reception yesterday afternoon, bitterns and kingfishers have been a little more elusive, feeding in the deeper internal channels of the fen. Bearded tits were heard from reception this morning, a small flock pinging to the background of cetti’s warbler, water rail and alarm calling tits alerting me to a fine male sparrowhawk flying overhead. Duck numbers have increased in the fen; a flock of teal, gadwall and mallard can be seen from Tower Hide. A hen female harrier was seen on Tuesday morning and the marsh harriers continue to perform their aerial acrobatics over the fen. The best sightings of the week included a male goosander, present on the river or in front of Tower Hide, until mid week at least and secondly a small murmuration of starlings, perhaps 200 seen at dusk on Wednesday evening.
Buckenham and Cantley still have large numbers of wildfowl; 2500 wigeon, 470 lapwing, 170 white-fronted geese and two taiga bean geese remain on the marshes. Subtle hints of spring include 11 curlew, two shelduck and two dunlin.
All paths are currently open, however the riverbank loop past Tower Hide is still very muddy. With easterly winds from Siberia predicted for the next few days I would hope that there would be an increase in some of the more common winter finches such as bramblings, we could see a further increase of wildfowl, possibly an increase in geese and the outside chance of waxwings or a white winged gull such as Iceland gull... I’ll certainly be looking!
Wow where did that month go!
This week has seen a mix of bright sunshine and snow showers, today started at -2 and was very frosty, but cleared to reveal a beautiful big blue sky, lovely.
The typical winter birds are still present in much the same numbers, with redwing and fieldfare numbers increasing very slightly in the woodland. The nuthatches are beginning to make their presence very obvious by being very vocal, a territorial gesture for others passing by. The woodland today also held bullfinch, goldcrest and the usual tits including a good number of singing marsh tits. The first of the drumming great spotted woodpeckers was heard yesterday morning along with snowdrops standing tall to give brief hints of spring.
The fen sightings have remained largely the same as in recent weeks with near daily otter and bittern sightings, bearded tits have become more scarce with the colder weather, however a small flock can be found in the reedy ditch at Buckenham. Tower hide held 200 teal, a few gadwall, shoveler and mallards today, a welcome increase from recent weeks. Marsh Harriers remain on show throughout the day with our aberrant white bellied female being seen daily from reception hide, the male hen harrier was last seen on Saturday, but is almost certainly somewhere nearby.
Buckenham and Cantley have remained strong this week with a peak of 2400 wigeon, 50 golden plover, 130 lapwing, 100 white-fronted geese, 800 pink footed geese, but no sign of the taiga bean geese. Peregrines are still visible on the gate posts and a pair of mistle thrushes have taken up residence near the station at Buckenham. Up to four stonechats can be seen across the reserves at present, with a showy female at Buckenham hide and a fine looking male at the far end of Cantley.
The continuing cold weather along with Northerly winds could push some regular winter birds further south in the coming week. If you usually have siskins in your garden they may well be missing this winter, they certainly are on the reserve. Recent findings have shown that this is due to a bumper sitka spruce seed crop, this means that the birds are doing well and feeding happily on natural supplies elsewhere, maybe it will result in a bumper breeding season and more siskins to enjoy!
Although distant, the orange legs and bill of the bean goose stand out amongst the pink feet
The famous four are still being seen at Strumpshaw bearded tit, marsh harrier, otter, bittern, although the only one of the four which is appearing regularly in numbers is the faithful marsh harrier. A roost watch last Sunday produced 17 marsh and a single female hen harrier, while a fine male hen harrier was seen on Saturday from the riverbank. The wildfowl numbers are still very low at the fen, but with an incoming cold spell these may well rise. Winter thrushes have increased in the past two weeks, however they are still below the expected number, again these could increase with further cold weather and Northerly winds, they may also cause a waxwing or two to move.
Buckenham and Cantley are still producing some fantastic bird experiences. A count yesterday found 2 taiga bean geese in with the flock of 720 pink footed geese, this is a slight surprise seeing as the bean geese usually do not associate with other geese and it is also odd for just two to be present. Also on the marshes were 196 white-fronted geese, 632 lapwing, six dunlin, a single bewick’s swan and a winter peak of 2410 wigeon. 2 peregrines are still keeping a watch over the marshes as well as a large female sparrowhawk, 2 buzzards and 3-8 marsh harriers.
The trails are all open (except meadow trail) but the riverbank from the top of sandy wall past Tower Hide and Lackford Run are all quite muddy.
Cold weather is expected to reach us on Wednesday this week so we shall see what affect that has on the birds. I would hope that a few ducks move into the fen and Rockland Broad, with goldeneye, smew and goosander all possibilities, although we are more likely to see an increase in more common duck numbers as well as marsh harriers, snipe and possibly woodcock, it is possible that bittern numbers may increase too as they are forced out by frozen water....however we will see if it just media hype in due course.
The week started with water, lots of water! On Sunday night a large surge of water headed up the river Yare due to tidal locking at Great Yarmouth coinciding with predicted high tides. The result was water entering the fen over the entire length of the Lackford Run and at various places along the riverbank. The water rose within the fen to create one large continuous waterbody, even the relatively high banks inside the fen were overtopped. Luckily, thanks to our sluices working overtime we have managed to get the majority of the water out and are now back to normal fen level. Another positive is that the water that entered the fen was nowhere near as saline as the past 3 medium floods this winter.
The 2 pictures on the right show the trails after the flood, it explains why the trails can be muddy, as well as showing just one of the issues we face on the reserve due to the river, which lets not forget is the very reason the fen exists today!
Thanks to Jake Gearty for the photograph above.
Sightings this week have mostly been similar to previous weeks with one exception. A great northern diver was found at Rockland Broad on Tuesday afternoon, which is where it stayed until Thursday morning when it decided to take a mini tour of the Mid Yare Valley. The diver headed up the river past Strumpshaw pumphouse, took to the air and did a couple of laps of the fen before settling down on in front of the reception, where it carried out a strange plunge preening behaviour, before once again taking flight and heading back to Rockland Broad. To put this sighting into context great northern divers are relatively regular seabirds, more at home bobbing amongst the waves a mile or so offshore, so to have one this inland on the reserve is quite a treat. What’s more is that seeing the bird at close range without waves showed just how large these birds are, at greylag goose size you can certainly see where the ‘great’ part of their name comes from.
In other sightings the fen has continued to be fairly quiet for wildfowl, however on a short walk this morning I managed to see bearded tit, bittern, 15+ marsh harriers, a kingfisher on the river 8 Chinese water deer on the meadows and an otter in front of reception hide, so not a bad pre work stroll.
Buckenham and Cantley are still productive places for wildfowl with 1000+ of wigeon, pink footed goose and lapwings. With lesser numbers of golden plover, ruff and white fronted geese. There were 7 taiga bean geese at Cantley this morning, this is a vast decline, so it looks as if the flock has fragmented, but at least some are still present.
The media is saying that there will be a bit of a cold snap over the next couple of weeks so with a bit of luck we will see and increase in winter thrushes, wildfowl, finches including redpoll and if we are lucky there is a possibility that waxwings will make it here too.
Grid reference: TG3406 (+2km)
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