Friday, 31 May 2013

Upton, Hicking and Cley in a week

Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

Over the course of the past week I’ve had the good fortune to spend time at three of Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s reserves. Being able to sample the diverse landscapes and associated wildlife of these special places has reinforced my belief that NWT is doing a fantastic job of conserving our open spaces, as well as connecting people of all ages and experience levels to their natural heritage.

Upton Broad and Marshes was the first port of call, where a happy day was spent in the company of a few friends walking around this unique area of fresh grazing marsh, fen and wet meadows. As part of the Bure Valley Living Landscapes initiative, much management work is being carried out here to create an environment better suited to the feeding and breeding requirements of wetland wildlife. Already the signs are good; we saw whimbrel, breeding lapwing and oystercatcher, a little ringed plover that was quite possibly one of a breeding pair, and the reed fringed dykes were alive with reed, sedge and Cetti’s warblers. We had a great view of a cuckoo calling from a dead tree, and the air was full of swifts, swallows and martins hawking flies low over the pools formed by the recent flood defence works. We stopped and watched the antics of these summer visitors, some of which actually swooped between us at knee height as we stood admiring their aerial skills. Birds of prey were also well represented with marsh harrier, buzzard, kestrel, sparrowhawk and a pair of hobbies all being seen within a 30 minute spell. But it wasn’t just about birds, because we also had views of Chinese water deer, stoat, rabbits and a party of seven lovely hares that were still engaging in their spring ‘boxing’. Larger insects were absent on this occasion, mainly thanks to the inclement weather, but I’ve been here when the woodland rides and footpaths, blanketed in wild flowers, are alive with butterflies and dragonflies; in fact Upton is one of the best places in the UK to see dragonflies during the summer. It would be easy to spend a few hours at Upton, the footpaths are extensive and there’s always something interesting to see. If you get a chance you should visit.

A few days later I was asked to assist the NWT Education Team, lovely friends, with an event at Hickling Broad NNR. Here, a group of students from Great Yarmouth College were being introduced to the varied habitats and wildlife of Broadland. My task was to talk about moths…unfortunately there wasn’t a single moth to be seen in the trap set the previous evening! No matter, Plan B kicked in, and we simply talked about the diversity of moths, their life cycle, feeding requirements and what would happen if they disappeared (disaster for blue tits). The students were also treated to a boat trip around the reserve, a butterfly walk, a pond dipping session and 30 minutes of dissecting owl pellets – a fascinating activity.  On this day Hickling also played host to a school party of younger children, that were having a great time rummaging nets in the dykes from the specially constructed platforms, then crowding around the trays to inspect their catch. This is what a nature reserve should be like – making areas accessible to all whilst being able to retain large areas for the needs of the indigenous flora and fauna.   

So, to Cley Marshes for my weekly stint sitting in the hides and walking around the reserve helping people with any identification issues, and talking generally about the work of NWT. We had the usual grey skies and wind, but as always a variety of birds, interesting conversations and an excellent lunchtime meal from the visitor centre.

Common sandpipers at Cley Marshes, photo by Barry Madden

This day was mainly about waders, with a lone wood sandpiper engaging the attention of most visitors as it took advantage of the flooded grassland on the ‘Serpentine’ off East Bank. Then a few of us had the rare privilege of being able to watch the courtship antics of a pair of common sandpipers from Bishop’s Hide. This pair chased each other across the south-eastern corner of Pat’s Pool for a couple of hours during the afternoon, piping loudly as they scurried over the muds. Sometimes they trotted very close to the hide, affording excellent views of their fine mottled plumage. It was tempting to harbour thoughts of them remaining on the reserve to breed, but they will no doubt move on in a day or two. Later in the day, a female red-backed shrike could be admired from the other side of the reserve, proving once again that Cley is simply one of the best places to see birds in the country.

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