Monday, 20 February 2017

5. Lakenheath Fen

Reed bunting
A pale sky, blanket cloud filtering the Sun’s light as it tried to break through. The songs of robins, blue tits and great tits serenaded visitors as they tumbled out of their cars and into the reserve. Chatting to one of the volunteers in the visitors centre, we were told that bearded tits were showing well around the reserve, as were marsh harriers. With optimism, we set out to see what we could find. The staccato shouts of wrens coming from the sides of the visitor trails guided our way towards New Fen Viewpoint. A serenely calm pool awaited us, the surface disturbed only by two coots dabbling and diving, a few mallards and gadwalls and a great crested grebe proudly showing its red mohican above a white cheek. A trail through the reed bed, adjacent to the main path revealed more wrens. Cetti’s warblers began their appealing song whilst remaining deep within the vegetation. The whistling calls of a coil of wigeon passed overhead. Canada geese and mute swans graced the neighbouring pools and a great spotted woodpecker could be heard drumming in the surrounding trees.

Stonchat (m)
Despite listening keenly for bearded tits on our way to Mere hide, we were not in luck. The pool at the hide was just as calm as the previous viewpoint, this time with a coot, a moorhen and four mallards disturbing the placid water. A pair of wrens burst from the reeds, chasing each other along a corridor through the vegetation. Never before today had I really believed that the wren is the UK’s most numerous breeding bird. Almost as if they were respecting the silence, a flock of lapwings flew over the hide as we made our exit, their chunky square wings silhouetted against the brightening sky. At the hide and on the trail leading away were empty platforms offering grit to the invisible bearded tits.

On the trail to joist fen viewpoint, instead of bearded tits, we found a reed bunting picking grit from the path, flying only a few metres ahead each time we approached before eventually veering off into the safety of reeds and trees.

Great white egret
A footpath parallel to the reserve boundary, following the River Little Ouse gave an elevated view over the reserve and surrounding countryside. A pair of stonechats flitted between tall grasses and reed heads, almost bouncing up and down as they transferred from one stem to another. A kestrel hung in the sky, hovering, and then, missing its meal, rested in the woodland trees. The lakes beyond the river, looking away from the reserve boasted jewels of colour: shoveler, teal, lapwings, little egrets. The largest was the tall, yellow-billed great white egret, towering above the little egrets, despite being further away. Broken oyster shells littered the sides of the path. Back in the reserve, a whole gang of long tailed tits decorated the heads of tall reed stems and a single leafless tree amidst the rustling golden stalks. They jingled through like early blossoms drifting from the tree.

Re-entering the reserve trail, blue tits and great tits littered the feeders by the visitor’s centre and a kestrel perched on a tree in the car park. A pair of roe deer bade us farewell at the reserve entrance.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

4. Pensthorpe Natural Park

A brisk Valentine ’s Day walk in the dappled afternoon sunshine around Pensthorpe Natural Park gave us some unexpected sightings. Meandering through the wave garden, the bright white stars of snowdrops illuminating the leaf litter and bark chippings, heralding the beginning of early spring. A little egret similarly lighting up the opposite bank as we passed, balancing the great crested grebe on water, on our way to the wader scrape hides. Here, an oystercatcher pulled worms mercilessly from the bank, whilst rafts of teal dabbled and dived. A small coil of wigeon pulled at the grasses and a desert of lapwings pee-witted to each other, standing ankle deep in the water. A smattering of other ducks; shelduck, mallard and shoveler, brightened the scene. We crossed the River Wensum, startling a moorhen and a pair of teal, making our way up towards the wildflower meadow and woodland. Across the meadow, we saw our first bird of prey: a male kestrel quartering and alighting in a slender tree. A trio of redpoll landed unwittingly in a tree nearby.

Delving into the woodland, we were met by the evening songs of birds; blue tit, great tit, finches and others, alongside the disappearing white rump of a roe deer. The woodland hide had some unusual invaders amongst its usual visitors of tits and finches. Two male mandarin ducks waited below the bird feeders for seeds to drop. A muntjac deer joined the fray briefly before blending back into the surrounding trees. Leaving the hide, we were met by several roe deer hiding behind low branches, and a young deer, less shy than the others, eyeballing us from the safety of the trees. A buzzard mewed overhead.

Making our way back to the visitors centre, tufted ducks showed off their contrasting colours on the lake and were joined by a goosander, it’s streamlined shape standing out against the stockier forms of the ducks. A quartet of displaying oystercatchers heralded our way out of the park.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

3. Marston Marsh

Walking along the railway line near Keswick Mill, the air was filled with the plaintive song of the robin. In every direction, in every tree, there seemed to be another red breasted songster, advertising its presence to its competitors. The odd black bird chimed in, not wanting to be overlooked. The more we walked, getting further from the golf course and closer to the marsh and the surrounding stands of trees, the more variety in bird song we heard. A green finch calling its ‘tzveeee’ song from the other side of the railway line, blue tits chattering and seemingly shouting at us and each other, and long tailed tits ‘see-see-seeing’ companionably. Their stocky bodies and long tails stark against the bare twigs of the trees, making it very obvious where the old name of ‘barrel bird’ came from.

Once we were out on the open marsh and field, we strolled along the ‘path’ clinging closely to the River Yare. A little egret perched, preening its long white feathers, framed by the branches of the tree on which it sat, enjoying the sun as it broke through the cloud. The golden rays of winter sunlight brought the colours back to the landscape, picking out the green of the grasses, the gold of the reeds, the fawn of the trees and the yellow of the lichen encrusting them. There also seemed to be an audible difference in the level of birdsong. A song thrush began its beautifully repetitive song and a green woodpecker yaffled across the marsh, but stayed well hidden. Jay’s showed off their blue and orange flashes, reflecting strongly those wavelengths of the sun’s light. A collection of quiet birds, which may have been tree sparrows (they moved too quickly to get a clear look, but their heads looked wrong for house sparrows) and a charm of goldfinches heralded our way out of the reserve and back in Eaton. However, a parting gift was a crowd of redwings foraging in the grounds of the scout activity centre. Sometimes, you find good sightings in unexpected places!