Thursday, 19 February 2015

Pensthorpe and the elusive nuthatch

Tufted duck

For the second time this week, we've made it to one of my favourite places. I love half term holidays. As always, I made sure I bought food to feed their captive ducks and geese; it's always good to make friends and have a horde of hungry water birds following you around for a bit...

The wilder side of the park is my preferred area though. The first lake you pass is called 'Old squaw lake', as always, plentiful in its numbers of tufted ducks, and this time there were a few pochard to be seen, as well as a great crested grebe.

After crossing the River Wensum, the trail heads into woodland and the first hide that you come to is usually fruitful if only in terms of numbers of birds if not in terms of diversity. My elusive bird this day was the nuthatch; this is the only place where I ever manage to see one. After scanning the feeders and seeing numerous chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, a few coal tits, woodpigeon, a stock dove and some mallards waiting below to see what would fall, we settled down for a wait. Luckily, one nuthatch did make itself known, although fleetingly at first and on the farthest feeder, staying to grab just one seed, then flitting back into the safety of the trees. Eventually, it seemed to gain confidence, came closer to the hide and stayed in the open for longer. Long enough for me to take a few snaps.

Male chaffinch
The walk through the woodland was pretty, although there proved few birds to be spotted until we reached the hides at the wader scrape. As often happens, the birders already present told us of what we'd only just missed: a peregrine falcon hunting lapwings. Unfortunately he didn't make a return whilst we were there, but there were plenty of water birds to be seen; a little egret strutting on its stilt-like legs, plenty of lapwing taking to flight and landing, teal, shelduck, oystercatcher, shoveler, tufted ducks, cormorants...

Making our way back to the entrance, we passed through the 'Millenium Garden', where there were great swathes of snowdrops in flower. There had been other bunches around the park, but these were the most we had seen. A sign that spring is truly arriving in Norfolk.

Full species list; 29 wild bird species spotted in all:
The wader scrape

  • House sparrow
  • Green finch
  • Blue tit
  • Great tit
  • Coal tit
  • Chaffinch
  • Nuthatch
  • Long tailed tit
  • Wood pigeon
  • Stock dove
  • Pheasant
  • Blackbird
  • Robin
  • Coot
  • Moorhen
  • Greylag geese
Little egret
  • Egyptian geese
  • Mallard
  • Lapwing
  • Shoveler
  • Tufted duck
  • Pochard
  • Teal
  • Shelduck
  • Oystercatcher
  • Little egret
  • Cormorant
  • Black-headed gulls
  • Great crested grebe

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Early spring at Strumpshaw Fen

Our very first visit to RSPB Strumpshaw Fen this calendar year, and an interesting visit it was too. There seemed not a single better thing to do on 'Valentine's Day' than go for a romantic walk in the mud, and very glad we were too!

On entering the reserve we immediately noticed that the snowdrops were suddenly in flower, and surrounded by the usual woodland birds around the reception hide, reveled in their sudden beauty amongst the brown leaf litter and bare trees. We chose to walk along the fen trail to get to fen hide, where it is always hit or miss - either you see nothing at all, or everything at once. On the boardwalk, a ginger flash flew out of the reeds and across the path in front of us to a chorus of alarming birds. A weasel, from its lack of a black-tipped tail, cheekily stuck its head out of the reeds on the other side of the path, then instantly disappeared, with no sound or trail to be heard or seen.

In addition to this lucky sighting, Fen hide was erring on the 'everything' side of things today, with a Chinese water deer happily munching its way through the vegetation, two sparrowhawks showing off and landing close to the hide and three marsh harriers performing acrobatics over the marsh for all to see.

Eventually leaving Fen hide and continuing on our trail before afternoon turned to dusk, we heard the distinctive drumming of a great spotted woodpecker; the first time I have heard this 'song' this year.

Around the rest of the reserve, we spotted moorhens, coots, shovelers, shelduck, greylag geese, robins, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits... and as dusk properly began to fall, we were able to watch those marvelously clever crepuscular animals flying to roost at Buckenham marshes; rooks and jackdaws in a great river across the sky, as far as the eye could see.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Unexpected otters on the Wensum

The last few weeks have been very busy, so much so that we haven't made it out on many nature walks. However, we have still managed a couple of walks around our local patch to quench our thirst to be outdoors.

Our most recent walk here was more exciting than most. We always walk to a clearing that allows us to stand on the bank of the River Wensum. Occasionally we see kingfishers patrolling their territory, other times we try to spot birds in the surrounding trees. This time, we saw ripples in the water, almost with a small wake behind whatever creature was making them. So, out of curiosity, we stopped and waited, standing perfectly still at the edge. It was dusk, so the visibility and light levels were far from perfect, and I wasn't (for once) carrying my camera either. As we watched, it became apparent that our mystery ripples were in fact two otters! They swam towards us, arching out of the water and diving under. They were hunting. One caught a fish and pulled it up onto the bank opposite where we were standing and proceeded to audibly munch its way through it. The other, having had less luck so far, continued hunting. We watched the bubble trail from his dive come closer and closer, until he popped his up no more than two metres from us. It was at this point he noticed us, and quickly dived back under and retreated to a safe distance among the reeds on our side of the bank, seeming to scent the air in our direction to figure out what we were.

We left them alone at this point, not wishing to disturb them further, and wanting to be on our way before darkness truly fell. A very exciting sighting though, and we have some evidence via a video taken on my husband's phone: Otters on the Wensum.