Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Cley Catch-up: 7 May 2014

Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes
Walking around Cley Marshes with the warmth of the sun punching through my sweatshirt, it was strange to think that only a few short weeks ago a sweatshirt would have provided woefully inadequate cover against the biting North wind. But today was so lovely that it made all the trudging through the cold, bleak months worthwhile and left the grey shades of winter nothing but a distant and unwelcome memory. The natural world has burst into life and brings with it a tangible lifting of the spirit and a spring to the step; it seems at this time of year that anything is possible and every field, hedgerow or pool can harbour a surprise.

Looking around the reserve on such a beautiful day it is hard to visualise the devastation that was wrought during December and January. The only obvious reminders of those events are the re-profiled beach and the roadside area which still suffers from being strewn with tonnes of reed debris. So much hard work has been undertaken by reserve staff and volunteers that everything else now looks much as it did before the storm surge. Footpaths have been cleared, hides cleaned out and re-thatched, breaches in the retaining banks plugged, waterways unclogged and fences mended. In fact the destruction of fencing along the beach has provided an opportunity to realign the boundary to make much larger areas of untrodden shingle available for breeding waders whilst still maintaining plenty of space for people. I think it true to say that the reserve today is in good shape and looks splendid. The extent of underlying damage to the flora and fauna is yet to be determined however, and only time will show the effects of the flooding on the less obvious elements of the ecosystem.

Two pairs of marsh harrier have set up territory on the reserve, the first have been nest building within photographic range of Bishop's hide and will no doubt provide many opportunities for amateur photographers to capture that elusive shot of a food pass. The other pair were busy displaying over the reed bed on the newly acquired Pope's Marsh. The male of this second pair chanced his arm at one point and trespassed onto his neighbour's patch provoking a boisterous aerial display by the incumbent bird comprising much swooping from on high and high pitched calling. A treat to witness.

Little ringed plover, photo by David Pelling
It was encouraging to see wader numbers building up on the scrapes. Joining the ever abundant avocets were three pairs of little ringed plovers, a greenshank, several ruff and a group of thirty or so brick red black-tailed godwits. The avocets seem to have sorted out breeding plots and skirmishes were surprisingly few and far between. Not so the black headed gulls that were constantly beating one another up and dive bombing any hapless shelduck that had the audacity to paddle within range. Small individual episodes that collectively form a rich and varied mosaic of relationships between the inhabitants of these wildlife rich marshes.

People were out in force enjoying the warm spring sunshine; family parties, rambling groups, dog walkers, birders, artists and picnickers, each enjoying the reserve in their own way. There's room for all, and indeed without this essential human element the reserve would not be fulfilling its purpose as part of a Living Landscape - a wild space managed for the benefit of people and wildlife in equal measure.

Wheatear, photo by Bob Carpenter
My stroll around the reserve perimeter, punctuated as it was by frequent stops to pass the time of day and chat with visitors, revealed a pleasant sprinkling of summer migrants. Resplendent wheatears in crisp breeding plumage hopped around bare patches of ground close to the shingle ridge, pairs of sandwich terns made their way stoically westward towards breeding grounds at Blakeney and best of all in my book, a gorgeous yellow wagtail fly-catched its way across the Eye. All this set against a background of tootling redshanks, burbling lapwings, trilling skylarks and piping oystercatchers - it really is hard to beat a walk around Cley Marshes on such a vibrant spring day.

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