Monday, 30 September 2013

Cley Catch-up: 30 September 2013

Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

There is a subtle change in the air. The lazy, hazy soporific days of high summer are over to be replaced with something less certain, more dynamic and, for birders at least, perhaps more exciting.

The vestiges of summer cling on, but you sense there is a slowly building momentum of nature’s need to wind down, move on or batten down the hatches and dig in for the short days and chill to come.

This seasonal adjustment was aptly demonstrated at Cley Marshes today where the morning sunshine slowly gave way to low cloud and early autumnal gloom.  Gone now are the butterflies and moths that only a few weeks ago bedecked every bloom across the reserve. Gone too are the noisy, bickering avocets, the piping oyster catchers, screeching terns and chuntering reed warblers. They have been replaced by vanguard parties of moulting teal and wigeon, post breeding groups of dunlin, curlew and golden plover whilst those late emerging migrant hawkers live up to their name by patrolling the ditches and channels in search of prey.

Bearded tit, photo by Barry Madden
It is a time when things seem impatient and are keen to be on the move. Today bearded tits were ‘pinging’ their way urgently through the reeds and occasionally a family party would show itself as they moved from one area to another giving tantalising glimpses of their deep orange-brown plumage. The mewing calls of a buzzard made me look upwards and there spiralling over the reserve were a party of six that steadily moved north-west. Probably continental birds slowly making their way to their wintering grounds, or maybe local breeders looking for a change of venue; hard to tell in these times when the species has become so widespread in the county.

There were plenty of people on the move too. Several organised touring groups were filling the hides or scoping Arnold’s Marsh busy listing as many birds as they could find. I stopped to chat to all of them and was sometimes able to help with identification or to give advice on the most likely spot to give up a particular species. It’s what I’m there for after all. I always find it interesting to discover where these folk are from and why they make the pilgrimage to Cley Marshes. Invariably the response is along the lines of they visited as a young person and fell in love with the place or perhaps have heard so much about it they simply had to come see for themselves. Most are at least annual migrants to this ever-changing patch of our beautiful coastline; all of them happy to be out in the fresh air pursuing their favoured pastime.  

As I progressed around the reserve it became clear that the sea was an area that today would provide rich rewards for anyone even mildly appreciative of the natural world. Nobody could fail to notice the large numbers of birds enlivening the eerily flat calm North Sea. Brent geese, wigeon, teal, waders and red-throated divers were all heading west in a steady stream, whilst gannets and a few straggling sandwich terns and swallows headed east. The former assemblage moving into their wintering quarters, the latter coasting south to theirs. A couple of loitering arctic skuas, themselves migrating south, provided menace for any fishing tern. Nothing was permanent, all was transient. It pays to stand and stare at these wonderful natural spectacles when you are lucky enough to witness them, because in this most diverse of environments tomorrow it will all change.

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