Friday, 2 May 2014

NWT Upton Broad & Marshes: Birdlife, January to March 2014

Nigel Robson, Volunteer Bird Recorder for NWT and Mark Crossfield, NWT assistant warden for Bure and Ant

Oystercatcher, photo by Mark Crossfield
As the New Year arrived, waterfowl on the nature reserve’s wet grazing marshes during December remained at the unprecedented level of abundance. There were some 3,500 pink-footed geese in the area, many of which were grazing on the Fairhaven section of Upton Marshes on 1 January. A large flock of about 3,000 lapwings, with 200 golden plovers, occupied mainly the arable fields across the river on St Benet’s Level. 7 Bewick’s swans and 9 black-tailed godwits were seen on the reserve, and the following day ruffs peaked at 22, accompanied by two dunlins. A green sandpiper on 8 January was the only sighting until the Spring. In mid-January 2013, a fall of snow marked the start of three months of cold easterly winds during which time numbers of birds on the marshes remained constant. This January was unusually mild and wet, and by the middle of the month many of the birds had dispersed. Two shelducks and a redshank on 11th and two oystercatchers on 12th were possibly early arrivals at their breeding ground. Away from the marshes, Great Broad attracted higher numbers of teals than usual, with max. 606 on 11th, and ducks included a pair of pintails on 19th.

The latter part of winter was characterized by regular sightings of birds of prey - a peregrine, one or two buzzards, two hen harriers (one being a strikingly-beautiful adult male), kestrels, sparrowhawk and marsh harriers. Barn owls were noticeably less frequent than usual. 

Gadwall, photo by Elizabeth Dack

Through February and early March some of the potential marshland breeding species hung around - shelducks (max. 3), redshanks (max. 11) and oystercatchers (max. 2). A merlin was seen briefly on 28 February. Three stonechats on 4 March were the only ones seen during the winter. A bittern was beside the river on 20th. Although groups of lapwings inhabited the marshes throughout this time, it was only during the second half of March that territories were occupied by individual pairs. A pair of buzzards took up residence in the wet woodland. At the end of March, up to 50 gadwalls were present, most being on Boat Dyke Marsh. In the fen, chiffchaffs and blackcaps were heralding in the spring, and a pair of bearded tits was seen in the improved reedbed after an absence of many years.

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