Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Cley Catch-up: 20 November 2013

Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes
It always fascinates me to realise that most of the birds we see at NWT Cley Marshes during the autumn and winter originate from foreign lands. Very few of the wildfowl, gulls, geese, larks, pipit and buntings on show are likely to pipe, tweet or squawk with a Norfolk accent. Being geographically speaking at the front line, it is quite often possible to witness a great deal of visible migration around the nature reserve if you keep your eyes and ears open. 

Starlings, photo by Barry Madden
Today, against the rare but welcome backdrop of an azure autumnal sky, a regular stream of starlings were passing westwards in small flocks of perhaps 20 or 30. A casual glance and it would be easy to dismiss these as local birds moving to better feeding grounds, but over a period of an hour I saw several hundred headed determinedly in the same direction; such a consistent passage could only be immigration of Continental birds. The movement continued all day long. 

Regular calls overhead from skylarks flying southwards made me think these too were probably immigrants, a supposition confirmed when I watched small parties of these wonderful songsters arriving off the sea as I walked along the shingle ridge. These birds could also have been of Continental origin, or possibly even Scottish bred birds moving to our milder lowlands.

A sizeable party of pink-footed geese from Iceland or Greenland were using the fields to the south-east of the reserve to feed. The scrapes, brackish pools and drains were full of Russian teal and wigeon. Lapwings from the Low Countries and curlews from Scandinavia were probing around in the stubble behind the reserve centre. A few German blackbirds could be seen whisking across the reed beds en route to our berry-laden hedgerows. And black-headed gulls from the Baltic were busy searching for any form of dead or discarded sustenance on the tideline.

Taking advantage of the fine weather, I spent most of the afternoon around the western edge of the reserve. Here a fine kingfisher was feeding in one of the narrow channels; an almost unreal vivid blue whir amidst the dank and dying reeds. A local bird at last and surely the most beautiful. It disappeared as swiftly as it had entered the scene, but such a sight always lifts the spirits.
Black brant, photo by Barry Madden
However my main goal here was to try and track down a black brant (Eastern Siberia) amongst the large party of dark-bellied brent geese (central Siberia) that were feeding on the roadside fields. This proved to be a quite difficult task, not aided by the bird in question being hunkered down and obscured by vegetation. Eventually those gathered were put out of their misery and this rare but regular visitor to the Cley area began strutting around with its close relatives. Only then could the darker overall plumage, the diagnostic bright white flanks and prominent neck flash be fully appreciated. Having locked on to this vagrant, it was heartening to be able to point it out to curious members of the public that could not fail to be impressed by the large numbers of geese present, but were quite understandably unaware that Cley Marshes was playing host to yet another rare visitor.  

Golden plover, photo by Barry Madden
The Eye field played host to yet more visitors from abroad in the form of a sizeable party of roosting golden plover. These spangle-plumaged waders probably originate from northern Europe and provide an eye catching spectacle carpeting the grassland or gyrating across our wide Norfolk skies when flushed by some predator.

I ended the day, as always, in Bishop’s Hide watching the brightly coloured female marsh harrier preening itself atop an elder bush prior to spending the night roosting nearby; this another local bird and mother to the three youngsters that fledged last summer. They are nowhere to be found and haven’t been seen for some time. Why? Well, they are probably wintering somewhere in the Mediterranean. One way or another Cley Marshes represents a truly cosmopolitan nature reserve.

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