Sunday, 16 November 2014

A hare amongst the wigeons

Only the second time we've ever visited RSPB Buckenham Marshes (not far from our usual RSPB Strumpshaw Fen), and for the second time it was raining. That doesn't seem to put off the residents and migrants though. We hadn't walked far from the car park, when we heard the plaintive whistling of a wigeon. Just off the path, the other side of the stream were a little posse of male and female wigeon. They sat quietly for some time, then one starting making a strange reverberating sound, obviously irritated by his counterparts, and starting snapping at them. We decided to leave them be and carry on towards the single hide.

A hare began trotting, then bolting away from the path, and towards more unseen and unsuspecting wigeon, hiding in a hidden channel. As much as I don't like to anthropomorphise, I'm sure it ran at them intentionally, and for fun, as a huge flock took off, alarm calling, and landed further away on the opposite bank. Their alarm was not helped by a large and solitary marsh harrier flying lazily overhead, seemingly uninterested in an apparently easy meal.

From behind us we heard countless calls of 'jack, jack, jack', and upon turning around, were greeted with the sight of a mixed flock of jackdaws and rooks heading towards the telephone lines. Buckenham marshes hosts a large rookery (according to some sources, the largest in Europe), with tens of thousands of rooks and jackdaws. They settled all along the telephone wires leading from the train platform, and they continued along them for as far as the eye could see.

The final flourish was a flock of lapwings skimming over the ground and water, their wings flashing black and white as they flew and turned.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A Murmuration of...

Wondering where to go on Sunday to enjoy the glorious weather and the great outdoors, and to see a wildlife spectacle I had never seen before, I saw a tweet pop up from @RSPBMinsmere about their 50,000 strong murmuration of starlings. Decision made.

On arrival, we were helpfully told where to be and at what time we should be ready to view the spectacle. It left us with an hour to enjoy at least a small part of the reserve. We headed to the 'Island Mere Hide', where there had been earlier reports of otters and bewick swans. We saw neither, but were entertained by the huge rafts of coots, a few diving cormorants and a little blue tit intent on stripping bare one of the rushes. This little bird stayed there, continually pulling away at the 'fluff' the whole time we were in the hide, and after we had left.
 We made our way back to the 'Bittern hide' for 3:30 pm, ready to watch the starlings gather and begin their display. Despite being early, the hide was almost full when we arrived, and there was certainly no seating room available. We waited and waited. After there had been no movement, except for the occasional call from a hidden Cetti's warbler, we decided to head outside and take our chances watching outside the hide, dodging either side of tree branches obscuring our view. The afternoon had been so clear and bright that the starlings took a long while to begin their mesmirising display. Eventually, we saw a flock of black dots moving against the orange glow of the sky, and the white glow of Sizewell B power station in the distance. Humble beginnings for such a majestic display. We kept watch. Eventually, the sky behind us became filled with the sound of wing beats, a rush of wind, and a flock flew over our heads and over the hide across the wetland to join the already thousands-strong murmuration traversing the horizon. More, and more, and more smaller flocks joined the larger flock, until I was sure there were more than the 50, 000 reported the previous day. They danced across the open sky, this way, that way, creating wave like movements as each bird adjusted its position to those next to it. The marsh harriers who had been waiting patiently, like we had, drifted close to the edges of the murmuration, hoping for a starling snack. We saw none get caught.

A beautiful sight, a 'tick' for both of us, and that contented feeling of having seen something truly special, one of nature's spectacles.