Monday, 24 February 2014

The Return of the Mouse, the Blue Tits and Strumpshaw Fen

Nature Diary Pages for Strumpshaw
I always find new things when I visit Strumpshaw Fen, and yesterday was no exception. We saw lots of exciting things, including a few firsts for me (thank you people of iSpot for helping me identify them), but not the Chinese water deer we were hunting for, although we did find some possible evidence of them. On arrival, at the reception area, it's always worth a look to the water, and this time we were rewarded with a few shovelers and a number of gadwalls, both of which I have never seen before.
Male Shoveler

Female Shoveler
Gadwall (the one with its head up!)

We took a walk along the 'woodland path', a route I haven't taken since I was an undergraduate ecologist, and found some interesting organisms, including a Scarlet Elf Cup fungus, plenty of snow drops, and some flowering cherry plum blossom.

Scarlet Elf Cup

Cherry Plum Blossom

Long Tailed Tit

On reaching the path next to the river, we found some elusive deer footprints, and lots of low flying geese and ducks, a few of which obliged by forming amusing aerial positions for photographs.

Chinese water deer??

When we eventually reached the 'Fen Hide', we spotted a couple of circling marsh harriers; I always find them slightly hypnotic and addictive to watch. There's always tension and excitement when one disappears below the tree line, then majestically ascends again. There were also some teal on the water who were eventually joined by a black swan.

The light started to fade, so we began a meander back to the car, hopefully gazing across the grass for a glimpse of the Chinese water deer, but not today. We listened to the birds evening chorus, picking out the various tits and finches, and a couple of song thrushes even made an appearance. We had almost reached the car park when the sky erupted in noise, seemingly coming from all directions, and all of a sudden was blackened by the silhouettes of calling geese, hundreds of them, perhaps even thousands. A perfect end to the trip.

Song thrush

Huge flock of geese
To be honest, it's been a very exciting few days all around! Not only was Strumpshaw Fen amazing as always, our little wood mouse has made another appearance (he wasn't a snack for the owls, hurrah!). On going back to work today, there were little footprints in the bird box, then the little yellow and blue culprit appeared and started pecking away at the entrance hole to attract his mate, then later fluttered his wings inside the box too. All of which caused much amusement for my year 10 class. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for nesting blue tits!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Watermeadows walk

I have been very happy recently that all of the birds that seemed to have disappeared have come back to our feeders once more. Over the last few days we have had huge gangs of squabbling starlings, chattering goldfinches, territorial great tits who have chased off everything else they can, our usual pair of blue tits; a gold crest even flitted through the trees yesterday. Although, we haven't seen our little mouse for a while, I suppose it could have become dinner for the tawny owls we sometimes hear...
Our walks around our local water meadows have been rather interesting too, although nothing would pose long enough for a decent photo! There have been the usual volery of long tailed tits calling to each other and evading our camera at every turn. The robins and blackbirds have also been in good voice, laying claim to their territories. Wandering along we heard a very loud rattling song, it seemed to fill the entire meadow, until we narrowed it down to the very top of one of the trees. It seems to have been caused by a mistle thrush, who got very angry when a chaffinch flew past and landed close by. That's definitely a first spot in the watermeadows for us.

 Today we also decided to go detour to go along part of a summer walk, part of the meadow that is usually just too wet at this time of year. I wanted to check if there was any frog spawn by the little 'bridge' yet. No frogspawn, but there were lots of pond snails all stuck to one of the posts. We could also see where the recent weather had taken its toll. Blocking our path was part of an enormous tree, that we can only assume was blown down by the strong winds. It will be interesting to see what will make this its new home as the year progresses.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Local in-law patch

Shingle where it shouldn't be
It's half term, and to kick the week off, we have traveled down to Portsmouth to visit my fiancé's parents. Playing the motorway bird of prey game on the way there and back was quite rewarding this time - four buzzards and two kestrels on the way there, four kestrels on the way back. Luckily we had time for a spot of wildlife watching whilst we were there too.

Like Norwich, Portsmouth has been hit by the severe weather to some extent, which has brought shingle up from the beach, to the walkway, and into the gardens along the seafront.
One of several found in gardens

On our walk along the seafront, as well as looking at the 'devastation', we spotted some purple sandpipers foraging along the tide line and a whole host of bird watchers with spotting scopes, binoculars and cameras following these sweet little birds up and down. I plucked up the courage to ask what they were looking at, and it turns out that they had also spotted a rock pipit along the seafront too. One was kind enough to let me look at the purple sandpipers through his telescope.

Purple sandpipers

Whilst looking out to to sea, we also watched a cormorant diving in and out of the waves, but on turning around, we saw one of the most entertaining 'wildlife' moments... A feral pigeon sheltering in a canon...

When we reached the boating lake, there was a menagerie of gulls and mute swans all jostling for position, the most notable of which were the enormous greater black backed gulls which completely dwarfed the black headed gulls.

We left them to their squabbling and headed home before the heavens opened. But, despite the weather, there are signs of spring all around, crocuses and snowdrops coming into bloom and daffodils beginning to nod their colourful heads along the verges.

Now we're back in Norwich, we're hoping to make it out to one of our local patches before the week is out!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Weekend Wildlife

Spot the mouse!
An uninvited, but not unwelcome, visitor has made a home near our bird feeders this weekend. When we got home on Saturday afternoon, I looked out of the window to see if there was anything around. Nothing in the trees, so I scanned the floor for movement and spotted something. I was sure I was seeing things to start with, but there definitely was movement, which turned out to be a little mouse! I'm fairly sure it was wood mouse, but not completely certain. Apologies for the picture quality, it was taken through a closed window.

Wood mouse?
We also made it for our usual wander around our local patch. With all of the strange and very wet weather we've been having, the water meadows have been more 'water' than 'meadow' with fast flowing streams crossing the path in various places, causing some erosion of the path (and funnily enough, I'm teaching about erosion this week to my year 8s, talk about a real-life example).

Shortly after we had entered the path, we were surrounded by bird song, and flitting through the branches were long tailed tits, a large gang of them. There are a number of low and fallen trees near one of the streams; these beautiful little birds were taking advantage of the cover and high water level to bathe and preen. We watched them, spellbound, until we were startled by a very loud and manic screech of jays the other side of the path, possibly startled by the kestrel that had bolted overhead. We were out a little later than usual, so we did not see the full compliment of birds we would normally see, but we did glimpse a roost of magpies, and came out of the watermeadows to witness the sunset over the road.
Flock of roosting magpies
Erosion of the path due to rain water


Saturday, 8 February 2014

Bird watch & Bird box

For the past two years I have taken part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, and I have also run the Big Schools' Birdwatch at my school. You can see the species that we saw this year here as I recorded them in my nature diary.

I was super excited this year, as I had 22 students from years 7 - 9 take part, and more who came to see me a little too late. I made sure that I had established bird feeders just before the summer holiday to provide a variety of food for the birds to try to ensure that there was more to see this year than last year. We were lucky, instead of miserable drizzle and the few birds that we spotted last year, we had a beautiful clear day, and good views of lots of different birds. Although, I'm sure that there was a robin that waited until we had all turned our backs to come and have a nibble.

I was also lucky enough before the summer to purchase a bird box with integrated webcam, and it was attached to my lab, with a permanent video feed, in the last week of January. Only a week later, and I'm happy to report that we have already had some visitors! Two blue tits, presumably a pair, have been regularly checking out the box (every day this week), much to the delight of the classes I was teaching at the time. My tutor group and I decided that we should keep a diary of when they visited the box to see if there was a pattern; so far it's been anywhere between 8 am and 11 am. I just hope they decide to make it their home for the spring!

One of the blue tits that visited during the Big Garden Birdwatch, 26th January 2014

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

My Local Patch

Sunday 2nd February 2014

Walking around our local patch can always present some surprises. In the past we have seen a kingfisher on one of the streams, we have seen large flocks of magpies some 30 - 40 strong, we have witnessed low flying pairs of herons gliding overhead, and a terrified kestrel flying straight at us below the tree branches. At other times, we have a relaxing stroll, enjoying the familiarity of our surroundings and the sights and sounds of our usual residents.
View across the water meadows from the path

On entering the pathway off the A140, as always, we were surprised at how quickly the sound of traffic died away and we get absorbed into the apparent wilderness of the water meadows. The trill sound of a startled moorhen invisibly announces our arrival into its realm. On glancing towards where the sound has come from, we see some tiny movements low in the reeds, and are rewarded with the sight of a pair of tiny wrens. The air is filled with bird song, some we can identify, others we cannot. We can hear the loud and argumentative calls of blue tits, the 'teacher, teacher' songs of the great tits (it always feels like a few of the kids we teach have spotted us), and the musical chattering of gold finches. 

Robin singing
As we walk, we hear the territorial but beautiful songs of any number of robins, and see the white wing and tail flashes of a large group of chaffinches. We glance across the river to identify the cause of an almighty racket, and realise that it is, of course, a very vocal jay. A heron rewards us with a high fly-by, and it always feels that no sooner have we entered this magical place that we are heading home, over the bridge and into the dense trees. We hear the call of a stock dove, and spot a potential woodpecker nest hole to be checked out later in the year.
Possible woodpecker hole?

But we are soon reminded where we are when the houses and waterworks come into view on either side of us and suddenly out we burst onto concrete path and road. No daredevil squirrels overhanging the road high above today.

On arriving home, we realise that the bird food we put out only the previous day has gone down significantly, and, in an ironic twist, we have had more more birds and a greater number of different species than last Sunday when we took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch. Today, our visitors have included: a gold finch, our usual pair of blue tits and great tits, a coal tit, a pair of collared doves, a dunnock, a magpie and so many starlings. Yesterday, we also had a pair of stock doves. It seems the natural winter food stocks must be coming to an end. 
Stock dove