Tuesday, 19 March 2013

February at Upton Broad and Marshes

Nigel Robson, Volunteer Bird Recorder at Upton Broad for NWT
Common Teal, photo by Steve Bond

Cold easterly winds and overcast skies that followed the snow in January continued throughout February. Bird activity in the reserve stayed constant, with waterfowl concentrated in two areas, the river lagoons and Great Broad.

At the lagoons, teal was easily the most abundant duck at some 200. The pair of pintails seen in January continued to appear, and a second drake joined the first at the end of the month. Two pairs of shelducks and a group of eight redshanks arrived early in the first week, and they may be expected to stay to breed in the area. However, no pairs of oystercatchers had come by the end of the month. Four dunlin passed through on the 27th. On the grazing marshes, other than regular visits by cranes, barn owls, marsh harriers and the wintering green sandpiper, there was little activity with no sizeable flocks of lapwings or golden plover noted. In some recent years, Bewick’s swans and a lesser number of mute swans have moved across from St Benet’s Level in February, but this did not happen this year (the Bewick’s at St Benet’s numbered 194 on 10 February).

Great Broad supported a close-knit group of some 50 pochards, mostly drakes, throughout the month. Numbers of tufted duck were consistently around 60. Teal were more mobile, sometimes over 200 and at other times absent altogether. A pair of shelducks settled in and may remain to breed nearby. A few shovelers, mallards and gadwalls were present during the month.

The apparent absence from the reserve of species that might be expected is always worthy of note. Usually one or two stonechats winter on the grazing marshes, favouring isolated patches of vegetation such as bramble, but this winter I have seen only a single bird once. Of less significance, I have not recorded water pipit this winter despite one having occupied the river lagoon area during the last two. Rarely in evidence during February were winter thrushes at the grazing marshes hedgerows, although some redwings were to be found in the wet woodland.

The means to manipulate water levels on the grazing marshes, vital to its conservation management, continues to be improved with alterations and adjustments to the dyke reticulation. In February, levels are normally raised to prepare for the forthcoming breeding season for waders. The objective is to retain areas of standing water (in foot drains and shallow pools) until the end of May, which should allow an adequate supply of invertebrate food to be available when chicks are raised. The unusually high winter rainfall has enabled the levels this February merely to be retained. The extreme wetness of the marshes, particularly when compared with the dryness at the same time last year, leads one to speculate that ground conditions this spring may be the most favourable in years. But with climatic influences so powerful and unpredictable, there can be no certainty of this.

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