Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Cley Catch-up: 23 April 2014

‘What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
W H Davies

Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes 

Skylark, photo by Barry Madden
Have you ever listened to a skylark? I mean really stood there craning your neck skywards to espy the small songster, cupped your ears to fully receive the stream of music pouring forth from the small dark speck floating effortlessly on the spring breeze? I must confess that it is not something I do often enough. The song is generally something of a background noise; an accompaniment to other activity. But not today. Today I did stand still and listen. Today I watched the bird slowly rising on quivering wings up into the clear April sky. Sweet music; myriad notes, individually indiscernible to my ear but collectively beautiful, became my focus for an all too brief couple of minutes. Then after uttering a few single plaintive calls the bird signalled an end to the performance, opened its wings fully and allowed itself to gracefully glide back down to earth. Heart lifting stuff made all the more welcoming because despite the attempts of the North Sea to obliterate all greenery under a carpet of shingle, a small but oh so valuable area of rough grassland has survived along the shingle ridge at NWT Cley Marshes. Here the skylarks cling on serenading us with their liquid melody.

The skylarks were just one spring songster on show at Cley today. Male reed buntings, resplendent in their fine black-fronted livery were delivering their short song from atop prominent bushes around the reserve. A sedge warbler, newly arrived from its sub-Saharan wintering grounds, could be detected chuntering away by the coast road whilst bearded tits, mercifully having survived the December floods, had returned to ‘ping’ their way through the thick mass of reed stems, frustrating any birder who wanted a good look at one. I saw four gorgeous wheatears (one of my favourite birds) on the Eye field and a steady trickle of sand martins and swallows made their way westwards.

But for a real experience of spring fervour Bishop’s Hide is the place to be. Here you have a great view of Pat’s Pool, the shingle ridge and the reed beds with the advantage of having excellent lighting conditions. At this time of year everything is a whirl with activity; the avocets are busy bickering over prime nesting spots, the shelduck are chasing each other in the quest for mates, lapwings are plunge diving over the scrapes at breakneck speed whilst marsh harriers gracefully glide over the reed beds. 

Marsh harrier, photo by Barry Madden
The harriers are always worth watching. There is a particular female bird that has the most wonderful plumage. Its bright creamy breast band and shoulder patches really catch the eye. They have certainly caught the eye of a more appropriate suitor and he was wooing his lady all day long. The pair put on a great show cruising high and low in the course of their courtship. Passing buzzards – and there were quite a number moving west during mid-morning – were unceremoniously sent packing as were stray harriers that chanced their arm. This pair look like setting up home reasonably close to the hide which means visitors will be treated to close views all through the summer. Maybe not such good news for the avocets though.

Speaking of Cley’s most noisy and belligerent bird, I counted over 150 on Pat’s Pool alone which gives as good an indication as any of the success of this nature reserve and the continuing health of the environment. It will be interesting to see how these birds fare over the coming months and the degree to which the salt water inundation has depleted food availability. If the strike rate of the birds I watched today is any indication then we have nothing to worry about – each bird seemed to snare a small titbit with every sweep of their elegant upturned bill.     

Cley Marshes is buzzing at the moment and full of birdlife. A stroll around the reserve will raise the spirits. So, why not pay a visit and harvest the reward of taking time to stand and stare.

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