Sunday, 26 January 2014

Looking at the patch with a Warden's eye

On Saturday 25th, I met Ben Lewis at Surlingham Church Marsh to begin my new role as volunteer assistant warden at both Church Marsh and Rockland Broad. I was thrilled when Matt Wilkinson had asked me if I was interested in the part time role, which upon investigating could easily be balanced with birding and school. During an average winter month, I probably visit Church Marsh three times and Rockland Broad once. My role here requires a once per month check of water levels and vegetation length, WeBs count, safety check and the odd bit of maintenance. Yesterday was my induction, and after being issued with a saw and pair of gloves Ben and I set off round the muddy track to get a feel for the job description. I was lucky enough to explore off piste, which as well as learning a little about reserve management delivered my first Woodcock of the year here and around 10 Common Snipe. I can see now why the Snipe like it out here, although they would do well to avoid the cattle's tread. The corner of the reserve parallel to the small lake is proving particularly productive at the moment, with what was probably the largest mixed flock of Redpoll and Siskin present in the Alders, well over 50. Other bits of note included a Linnet over, c.180 Lapwing over and later that evening 76 Golden Plover South.
Rockland was quiet for birds, as if often is. 11 Tufted Duck, 2 Great crested Grebe and 14 Coot the best we could manage. Whilst there does not seem to be quite as much maintenance, pruning etc to do here, there are some complex conservation and land ownership issues which Ben made me aware of. 

So, I am now a warden of sorts, of my patch! Doesn't get much better. I have learnt and gained so much from watching wildlife at Church Marsh; it will feel good to put something back. Thanks to the guys at Strumpshaw for giving me this opportunity. 
I'll try to use the saw sparingly although the usual landscape photos may now be accompanied by impressive examples of my pruning 'skills'. 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Church Marsh on Saturday

A fairly nondescript January morning, light winds and a threat of drizzle and the temperature mild for this time of year. Selfishly, I would quite like to see some colder weather but I doubt our resident birds would agree with me. This benign Winter is giving the Barn Owls a chance to recover and should allow for a decent breeding season for many, should it continue.
I arrived to birdsong, whereas last year the trees and bushes would have been frozen and silent. Chaffinch sub-song was a first this year, and in full swing was a Mistle Thrush in the churchyard. One of my favourite bird calls, something distant and wild about this one. Another bird was seen near the ruins. Elsewhere on the patch were Skylark overhead, a smattering of Teal on the lagoon, a Song Thrush and Treecreeper. The best of the action was near the landspring, Church side. A small flock of Siskin were showing well, and in amongst them were a Goldcrest, Treecreeper and common Tits. The Siskin were so close I could hear every squeak and squeal they made, quite odd when you listen closely.
Soon after I had left for home, a nice fella I bumped into at the carpark, Clive, later reported on Birdforum that he had seen a Marsh and juvenile Hen Harrier. I really hope the latter sticks around, but tomorrow will be a test since the shooting will take place at the gun club. If I can get home from Sunday lunch in time I may attempt a roost watch from the hill. This would be a South Yare tick for the year, there simply aren't many out there!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Happisburgh then back to the patch

Made and early-ish start today and decided to head to the coast and take advantage of the glorious if chilly conditions. Happisburgh is always a favourite destination, and we were not disappointed for as well as blue skies and a bracing sea breeze we were treated to close views of 12 Snow Bunting on the cliff face 50 yards or so from the beach car park. The reported Black Redstart was easy enough to find on the rocks beneath Doggerts Lane, but he did not hang around long enough for a picture. I blame the local Robin and Stonechat for hassling him.

Late afternoon and a trip to the patch beckoned. I love the evening commute over Church Marsh and with it being January there were still a few obvious year ticks missing. Most pleasing were not 1 but 2 Barn Owl hunting either side of the river, one showing well from the hide. A Sparrowhawk was disturbed from its roost, silently gliding across the marsh to find a sheltered spot. A few Herring Gull flew over, and once the gloom had reduced the birds to dark shapes I relied on my ears to pick out Wigeon, Teal, Snipe, Water Rail and finally a Little Owl. A great selection. Glad the Little Owl/s are still around, for they appear to have vacated the trees behind the gun club for now; this individual was heard calling from somewhere behind the lake adjacent to the footpath that leads up the hill to the church.

The previous weekend, Debs and I made a genuinely early start and beat the crowds to the seals at Horsey. A few pictures below. We also saw a single Snow Bunting picking through the flotsam along with the expected but hardy Turnstones.
We stopped off at Barton Broad on the way home and enjoyed Goldeneye and Tufted Duck, nothing scarce doing however.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Patch bang wallop!

New Year's Day was an absolute shocker weather-wise after around 10pm, so bar a pub lunch Debs and I kept a low profile. Today however was a perfect opportunity to get the 2014 patch list up and running, albeit flying solo. This was a bird race, versus no-one.
Beginning at Surlingham Church Marsh, the bright sunshine meant the resident birds were seemingly more active than usual at this time of year. It did not take long to add Marsh Tit, Goldcrest (2) and wintering Siskin to the list. Looking across the river to Wood's End, an early contender for bird of the day: a Peregrine Falcon! Not recorded anywhere on the patch last year, back of the net! A real powerhouse in flight, a female I reckon. The Falcon had forced most stuff off the marsh, but a second treat in the shape of 15! Curlew circled and landed, a patch record smashed and to boot a tricky bird on the year list. Moving on round the muddy circuit, the expected species were added including Bullfinch (female), Lesser Redpoll, Treecreeper and Kingfisher. Heading to Wheatfen, I had amassed 40 species, the only 'dips' being Little Owl and Gadwall (elusive in Winter).

The warden agreed that it had been quiet of late, and the main focus of their work had been dealing with storm damage. I walked most of the circuit and saw very little, let alone new species. The Redpoll hotspot was silent. The 15 Curlew were seen again, circling over Rockland now. Into Tuck's (Surlingham) Wood and I fared a little better, picking up Song and Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and to complete the set Redwing.

I had hoped for a few Wildfowl species on Rockland Broad but as is par for the course there was bugger all on the water apart from a few Coot and Tufted Duck. A Marsh Harrier with a green tag on either wing was of note, this female bird from the ringing project based at Sculthorpe I understand. Walking back to the carpark past Hellington Beck Outfall, something inside me suggested a closer look at the water's edge was necessary. A Grey Heron was flushed, and then the bird of the day was found; a Grey Wagtail. These birds always look so dapper, and apart from an old Church Marsh record from a few years back I had assumed is this species no longer bred on the patch. Now, this could be a wintering bird, but upon close inspection this is ideal habitat; have I overlooked this species? The patch continues to throw up surprises, and another species not recorded anywhere last year. Now on 50 birds, 60 do-able?

Claxton Marshes handed me Short-eared Owls last Winter, no such luck so far this period but an early Barn Owl was out and about. Looking across the river, I cheekily added Golden Plover, Barnacle and Canada Geese. A group of 6 Linnet were a bonus. 2 more Peregine, how the hell did I miss them last year?!

Last stop with the light fading, Langley Dyke. The 2 birds I needed for a nice round 60 soon appeared.  A Little Egret was fishing the dyke, and a hunting Barn Owl flushed patch favourite Green Sandpiper! I waited until dark for a Hen Harrier, but instead was treated to the Corvid roost commuting overhead and a calling Little Owl- 61 at the finish!

I occasionally pine after a coastal patch, or at least a location closer to the sea. The chance of finding a rarity increases, passage birds in evidence, sea watching etc. But today reminded me why birding the broads as a patch is hard to beat. Quality and quantity on tap, you just have to find it!

Driving home got me thinking what I had missed, and would 70 species be possible? I think with colder weather it would. Birds out there that I missed today:

Pink-footed Goose
Meadow Pipit
Great-spotted Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker

And that would bring me to 70. Add to that (a mix of birds I HAVE seen and birds I KNOW are out there):

Common Snipe (an obvious miss today)
Kestrel (as above)
Cetti's Warbler
Reed Bunting
Hen Harrier
Short-eared Owl
Tawny Owl
Wild Swans
Jack Snipe
Long-eared Owl
Bearded Tit

and you're over 80 for a Winter's day south of the Yare. It would have to be an exceptional day, preferably more than one pair of eyes would help.

Apologies for the listing and extended musing, but this again got me thinking about targets for this year (cannot be arsed with a 2013 reflection, Red-flanked Bluetail and Surlingham Redstart nuff said).
This bit needs careful consideration so for now I will just type OSPREY and go away.