Monday, 6 April 2015

The First Chiffchaff

It's Easter and it appears spring is all around. On a visit to Pensthorpe with a dear friend a few days ago, from the moment we entered the woodland to the time we left the reserve we could hear the same familiar call of spring and summer: "chiff-chaff... chiff-chiff-chiff-chiff-chaff". This was my first of the year and, for me, it is one of the harbingers of spring.

We had fun, as per usual, feeding their captive collection of wildfowl, but the real treats were when we reached the 'wild' end of the reserve and watched from hides and walked through woodland. A small muntjac trotted past us, seemingly oblivious to our presence. Oystercatchers also seemed to feel the vibe of spring, as what appeared to be one sneaking up on another, turned out to be a more amorous encounter...

Across the several lakes and from the hides at the scrape, we spotted numerous other waterfowl; tufted ducks in good numbers, avocets preening and dabbling, shelduck sporting their shocking red bills and lapwing beginning to perform their tumbling display flights with their beautiful bubbling call. Pretty little barnacle geese were also sunning themselves on the grass, and beneath the captive white naped cranes, we spotted two mottled brown eggs. Their is something joyous about witnessing these early stages of life being 'created', and seemed especially fitting for a trip preceding Easter weekend.

Another befitting Easter symbol was the tiny baby rabbit, which could easily have fitted on the palm of my hand, who could only be betrayed by his hiding place in the fork at the base of a tree by his two hind feet jutting out. Apart from that, in colour, it was perfectly camouflaged, so I hope it escaped the beady eyes of any passing predator. This bunny was just outside the woodland hide, where we were treated to flocks of chaffinches, listening to their spinking calls, greenfinches calling "zveeeeeee", the sweet drumming of a great spotted woodpecker who also momentarily flew into view, a treecreeper who came tantalisingly close to the viewing panel and many of the other usual woodland birds hoovering up seeds.

Walking through the woodland, we played a game of hide and seek with both chiffchaff and nuthatch, both of whom would fly into sight and disappear among the shadows of branches and twigs, making us doubt our own vision, until they would appear again, just a little further along and vanish almost as instantly. A small dynasty of goldcrest played the same game with us, softly calling in their high pitch tones, they would only betray themselves occasionally by zipping from one branch to another.

At the end of our visit, we decided to enter the aviary where turtle dove and bearded tits can be found. Never having seen either of these species in the wild, I find the purring of turtle doves strangely electrifying; so familiar, yet exotic compared to our other doves. Bearded tits I adore, and are one of the species that I long to see in the wilds of Norfolk. However, I couldn't resist an 'awww' shot of this couple snuggled together in front of the nesting reeds. I may make these my 2015 challenge to see in the wild.

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