Strumpshaw, January

A cold and dull day at Strumpshaw in January but still we saw plenty of marsh harriers, beginning to pair up and flirt and show off, and a kingfisher (too quick for a photo), and plenty of ducks. Half of the reserve was flooded so we couldn’t get around a lot of it.

IMG_1951IMG_1957IMG_1961

IMG_1968
Marsh harrier
IMG_1969
Marsh harrier
IMG_1971
Ducks
IMG_1973
Mallards
IMG_1980
Coot
IMG_1984
Blue tit
IMG_1986
Blue tit
IMG_1994
Great tit

Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk, December

The last birding trip of the year was to RSPB Titchwell Marsh on the North Norfolk coast. Home to all sorts of shorebirds and harriers and winter visitors, it’s a known hot spot, though I was still surprised to find it so busy on a windy day (the Norfolk landscape is flat and there was no protection from the wind for miles.)

We watched a marsh harrier hunting in the sunset, spotted little ringed plovers, and followed a curlew as it danced in the mud, pulling up large worms.

Ringed plover or little ringed plover?

 

A marsh harrier hunts in the setting sun.

Curlew or whimbrel? I never can tell!

IMG_1666
A squirrel on the feeder.
IMG_1682
A quarrel

Winter Birds

It goes without saying that winter can be a tough time for wildlife, but when the leaves have fallen from the trees it becomes much easier to spot birds and follow the tracks and signs of other animals. We also do of course get to see different birds, those migrants who have come south for the warmer weather, so it’s an interesting time of year. If you’re just getting into birding, please don’t pack away your bins til spring, as there’s plenty to see if you can handle the cold weather.

Now I adore cosy nights in as much as any hygge-loving soul, but I also get fed up in winter with all the time I have to spend inside so I make a real effort to get out on dry days. Here’s the winter birds I’m looking out for in my local area this season.

download

Hawfinch – a rare sight and normally a notoriously shy bird, in recent years we’re seeing flocks. There has been a large influx from eastern Europe and twitchers are understandably galvanized. They feed on the ground so you’re more likely to spot them in winter.

download (1)

Redwing – a countryside winter roamer, the redwing has a striking red flank and can team up in flocks with fieldfares.

download (2)

Fieldfares – A more colourful thrush, the fieldfare is a winter visitor and can arrive in flocks. Look out for them amongst the hawthorn bushes.

download (3)

Waxwings – surely the most glamorous winter bird, with its glossy, waxy coat and little tuft of feathers on the head. If you’re going to follow any of the links in this post, please follow this one to see a lovely video of a flock of gorgeous waxwings feeding on rowan berries.

download (4)

Brambling – annoyingly for a bird that looks remarkably like a chaffinch, it actually flocks with chaffinches, so can be difficult to spot!

images

Snow Bunting – robins aside, is there a more festive bird? Snow buntings are buntings with white feathers on their underside and migrate from the Artic and Scandinavia in winter. Can be found in flocks along the coast.

download (5)

Robin – reliable robin, always present, but only really gets attention at Christmas, with good reason. The UK’s favourite bird.

download (6)

Goldcrest – an elusive garden bird, they join mixed flocks in the colder months and their tiny beak favours pine forests.

download (7)

Blackcap – quite dull looking and often overlooked, yet quite pleasing and fluffy. I saw one this morning as I drove through a very treed area.

download (8)

Shorelark – they like coastlines and sometimes wander into fields and are really quite rare in the UK.

Whats winter birds have you seen so far this season and what are you looking forward to searching for? 

 

FYI these are not my photos, just from the internet.

 

Starlings at Strumpshaw Fen (November 2017)

I had heard that large flocks of starlings have been seen most afternoons at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk and they had been murmarating in fairly large numbers to the delight of enthusiastic crowds – so we had to make the trek and have a look for ourselves.

For those unfamiliar with the term ‘starling murmuration’ – it is basically when large numbers of starlings gather together to roost and fly around in a strange pulsating rhythm. No one is completely sure why they do it but it’s probably because it offers them several advantages, such as safety in numbers, warmth and companionship (starlings are noisy and communicative birds.)

images

It’s hard to know how many birds classify as a murmaration (at Strumpshaw recently they’ve seen several thousands to 21,000) but it’s possible to get millions.

I managed to get a short video:

Starling flock & murmaration

Sorry for the poor quality – I don’t think me and my new camera are quite sympatico yet!

A few shots of the setting sun first of all:

IMG_1183IMG_1184IMG_1186IMG_1187IMG_1188

IMG_1185
The reedbed outside reception hide. Note the cormorant spreading its wings.

IMG_1189IMG_1190IMG_1191IMG_1192

IMG_1193
The first starlings begin to arrive.

IMG_1194IMG_1195

IMG_1199
The flock thickens

IMG_1200IMG_1201IMG_1202IMG_1204

IMG_1211
A marsh harrier in the distance spots the spectacle and hopes to catch a bite. A sparrowhawk also got in on the action later.

Red Squirrels and Nuthatches

A short post today containing some photos I took at Pensthorpe Natural Park in Norfolk this Sunday. We go there quite a bit as we have an annual membership so we’re getting to see the park in all seasons this year which is quite interesting. This is by no means everything that Pensthorpe has to offer – there are also eurasian cranes, flamingos, corncrakes, turtle doves, waterfowl, bearded tits, birds of prey, otters, so an awful lot of wildlife.

The woodland hide never fails to let me down – there were at least three nuthatches. There are around 5 or 6 feeders and you can get really close but what’s so impressive is how much activity there is – you don’t know where to look. I feel like a nuthatch is an autumn bird because it always seems to be photographed with an acorn in its bill.

 

Here are a few of the red squirrels. Pensthorpe has a captive breeding programme so you can see the red squirrels and their kittens up close before they’re released onto Anglesey as part of a reintroduction project.

Autumn Signs to Watch For

What’s not to love about autumn? The falling of the leaves; the darkening of the nights; the retreat of certain species and the emergence of others.

This post is about the first signs of autumn and what to watch out for.

Fungi

Probably one of the first signs of the changing seasons, fungi start to pop up in woodlands in late summer, especially after rain. But it’s not just woodlands – lawns, small patches of grass in cities, too, and even on piles of dead logs. Not knowing a damn thing about identifying fungi, I steer clear of harvesting any of it. If you are interested, however, you can learn about which species of fungi are poisonous and how to ID them in this helpful guide.


The deer rut

Now is the time of year that stags develop their antlers to fight other males and compete to attract a harem of females. The fights are an impressive display of power and fascinating to watch.

Turning Leaves

Leaves changing colour is a spectacular autumn sight. I remember holidays in the Lake District and the incredible display of yellow, green and brown leaves on huge trees around the lakes. It’s interesting to see which trees start to change first and how quickly, especially when half the tree still has green leaves. In fact, a project by the Woodland Trust called Nature’s Calendar wants us to track what trees we see changing colour and when to build a better understanding of how weather and climate affects wildlife.

Fruits, nuts and seeds

Trees use this season to disperse their seeds and reproduce. Blackberries come into fruit in late summer and early autumn and are a known marker of the changing season. Acorns, of course, are cached by squirrels and other mammals to store in their winter larders – but did you know that jays also do this?

download

Birds

Many bird species gather in flocks to spend the cold autumn evenings roosting together or preparing or recovering from migration. Geese flock in large numbers by the coast, rooks go to roost in large flocks in the evenings, and starlings start their murmations. The wildlife-friendly gardener will have thistles and late-flowering plants such as sedum to provide insects with sustenance for the long winter ahead, ensuring a supply for birds in the spring. Look out for the arrival of fieldfare and redwing.

Spiders

It can come as a shock in autumn to discover just how many spiders there are in the world – not just in the world, but in my house! The less said about spiders the better.

 

 

A September day at Strumpshaw fen

Today we went for a trip out in the windy autumnal weather to Strumpshaw fen in Norfolk. It’s an RSPB reserve famous for its bitterns, kingfishers and swallowtails (though of course no swallowtails this time of year). It’s largely a broadland habitat, with reedbeds and marshes, loved by bitterns, marsh harriers, otters and wader birds, but it also has an extensive woodland area and large meadow grazed by cattle.

Today in the Fen Hide we watched a bittern flying for quite a few minutes, marsh harriers circling way up ahead, and a water rail scuttling around in the shallows in front of the hide. Later in the Tower Hide we were impressed by a juvenile cormorant stretching its vast wings out. Fleetingly we saw a kingfisher flying along the river Yare and a few hobbies in the sky. Finally, near the end we came across a delightful little mole, who looked a bit lost on the gravel path and was trying to find out way back to the safety of the soil.

 

 

Montagu’s Harrier killed

Last month came the sad news that Sally, a Montagu’s Harrier featured on BBC Autumnwatch, had gone missing and presumably killed illegally. The bird was tagged and released into the wild on the show last year and researchers followed her migration to and from Africa.

The RSPB, who were monitoring Sally’s progress, lost track of her signal on 6 August around her Norfolk nesting site and believe she has been illegally killed. If a tagged bird dies from natural causes, the satellite track is not lost and the corpse can be found, so foul play is of course suspected. Birds of prey are often persecuted by gamekeepers and shooters in efforts to protect their grouse and game from birds they believe their profits would otherwise fall victim to. 

Sally and her mate Roger was one of only 4 breeding pairs in Britain, so she was incredibly rare and vital to raptor conservation in the UK. They had been breeding in Norfolk for 2 seasons and so far had successfully raised 5 chicks. Sally was 4 years old and could have bred til 20, so this is a significant loss to the population.

To all accounts, Sally was a remarkable birds; according to Mark Thomas of the RSPB:

“This year she timed her return migration to perfection, arriving back in Norfolk at the exact time as Roger and they met up once more over last year’s breeding field. Her satellite tag has been very reliable giving us a daily window into her life.”

Chris Packham noted:

“We cannot directly accuse the shooting fraternity of illegally killing this bird but the fact it disappeared under such mysterious circumstances is enough to raise suspicions.”

Anyone with any information is urged to call Norfolk Police on 101 quoting ref  12815082017.

My cat’s a murderer

It’s an ethical dilemma for conservation – you take in a rescue cat but it kills birds and mammals. Now there’s no way I’m getting rid of my baby girl Lyra and I’m not suggesting anyone does, but we should acknowledge that our domestic cats are predators and they kill birds.

The Mammal Society reports that cats kill around 275 million animals a year. There are around 8 million domestic cats in the UK, along with a further 1 million feral cats, and their kills break down as such:

  • 200 million mammals
  • 55 million birds
  • 10 million reptiles and amphibians

That’s an animal every 10 days per cat.

Don’t forget that this is just the number of dead creatures the cats brought home to their owners or were discovered within their patrol during the time the survey took place; the figures could be higher. However, judging by my cat’s attitude I doubt it’s much higher – she wants me to see her prize kills. She shows off about it.

It’s not all as bad as it sounds; the RSPB suggest that there is some evidence that cats tackle weak or sickly birds who would not survive another breeding season, and many other birds die through predation by other animals or from other causes, including starvation and disease. The RSPB says there is no evidence to prove that cats killing birds is having a significant effect on bird populations in the UK.

We can, however, make sure we manage things better. The advice:

  • don’t let your cat out at dusk or dawn
  • place bird feeders in high positions that your cat can’t reach
  • get your cat neutered so it doesn’t contribute to the stray cat population
  • place your nesting boxes out of the way of cats
  • keep your cat’s instincts active and satisfied through play with toys
  • attach a collar with a bell to your cat (they won’t be impressed by they won’t mind it and it will warn birds of their presence)

But what about when all your preventative measures fail and your cat’s just too good a hunter and catches a baby bird and tries to bring it indoors as mine did today?

Some advice taken from Help Wildlife:

Tick If the bird has been caught by a cat.
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat, regardless of its age, will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septacaemia. Urgent action is required here.

If, however, it’s a baby you manage to rescue and it doesn’t seem too badly hurt or bitten, hide it away in a bush and keep your cat inside – the baby’s parents will be nearby watching and will keep an eye on it so it can rejoin them when it has recovered from the shock.

 

Binoculars I rely on

Finding the right pair of binoculars for a fussy consumer like me is a time consuming business, one I don’t care to repeat again. Luckily, I got an excellent pair for my birthday this year, and so far they have been so reliable and handy for birding.

The Eyeskey Binoculars *** are waterproof, lightweight, and offer very clear vision at 10x magnification.  The reviews are very good for mid-range binoculars so if you’re on a budget I definitely recommend. The depth of vision isn’t as great as other binoculars but for birding the magnification is really impressive.

Comfy adjustable straps ✓

Easy to remove lens caps 

Lightweight design 

Affordable price 

Good magnification 

Comfortable grip 


 

 

*** FYI this is an affiliate link to the Amazon listing of this book.

#ad