Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Weeting Warden’s Diary: May

Simon Thompson: Summer Warden Weeting Heath NNR

A few weeks has made a massive difference to the landscape here at Weeting. The white blanket of snow has been replaced by a peppering of blossom against the long awaited green of spring. The chorus of sound from the pine belts at dawn is becoming progressively more complex with blackcaps, chiffchaffs, willow warblers and whitethroats adding their warbles to the line-up. My peaceful nights on the reserve are now being regularly interrupted by the eerie wailing of Weeting’s most eagerly anticipated arrivals; the stone curlews. 

Stone curlew mating, photo by Stephen Youngs

It’s been a tough start to the breeding season for stone curlews in the Brecks. Birds returning early in March were greeted with unseasonably wintery conditions and forced to struggle in the ice to find any quantity of invertebrate prey. The birds returning to Weeting Heath were much later arriving than we have seen in previous years, with no birds showing in front of the hides until Wednesday 10 April: around three weeks later than we might expect. Happily they wasted little time on arrival and got straight into breeding mode and several of our visitors witnessed and photographed mating on the following Saturday.

‘Upper-Right-Black’, photo by D & J Moreton
The stone curlews have been showing particularly well so far this season, with one pair setting up territory well within view in front of West Hide. The People and Wildlife team spent the morning at Weeting Heath two Thursdays ago and got perhaps the closest views of the season so far. Jessica shot a great video of a male known as ‘Upper-Right Black’ (not the most catchy of names but he has a very clear black ring on his right thigh) feeding just in front of the hide which you can see in her blog, ‘Encountering Stone Curlews’. We currently have very good numbers of stone curlews on the reserve and hope that they will all defy the odds and manage to raise young this season.

We have been having fantastic views of common crossbills from the car park over the Bank Holiday weekend. A group of nine regularly move through the pine belt and this weekend they were lingering in the tops long enough for excellent views. We had some visitors who had never seen crossbills before and come specifically to see them; a couple of hours and a few cups of coffee later they were treated to a twenty minute show from some very smart males and all from the comfort of our picnic benches.

A pair of spotted flycatchers have bred successfully very close to the west hide for the last two years and were perhaps the most photographed birds in Norfolk last year, continually darting out from their favoured perch to grab a passing insect on the wing. Hopefully they’ll be back in the next week or so and I’ll be listening out for their squeaking scratchy song and eeez-tk calls hidden within the layers of song that have become my personal dawn wake-up call.

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