After the warmth and bright sun of recent days it was something of a downer to find Cley shrouded in grey cloud with a keen northerly wind whipping across the marshes today. It was no surprise therefore to find Bishop’s Hide empty, but I needed to have a look at the scrapes to see if there was anything noteworthy to report to the Visitor Centre.
Was there ever! As soon as I opened the hide flap I was confronted with the sight of a lovely adult spoonbill standing sentinel like just a few yards in front of me. The bird spooked at my clumsy movements and I was too slow to take any snaps, but what a great way to start the day. Closer inspection of Pat’s Pool showed the water level to be much higher than of late and it seemed more water was still flowing onto the scrapes from the catch water drain system. I wondered why this might be and all was revealed when I spoke to the warden a little later in the day. There have been several spoonbills around the reserve lately, but they have mainly been frequenting parts of the reserve that are difficult for visitors to view. So, why not raise the water level on the more accessible parts whilst at the same time flooding the area with sticklebacks and various other tasty morsels that would prove irresistible to these stately birds. And it was obviously beginning to take effect with not only the spoonbill but grey herons and little egrets joining the party. A great example of how intimate knowledge of the reserve and its inhabitants can work in favour of all, allowing visitors to appreciate these nationally rare breeders at close range.
During the course of the day a quite respectable gathering of 11 spoonbills were using the marsh. Some of these were birds of the year recognised by their smaller pinkish coloured beaks and black edges to their primaries. These youngsters were constantly haranguing their parents, chasing them across the muds and begging to be fed. Others in the group simply loafed around standing motionless on one leg with their spatula bills tucked deeply under their wings. There's nowhere else in the country you can you see this kind of thing happening. We here in Norfolk are really quite privileged to be able to witness these intimate moments of nationally rare birds, and it is no coincidence that things of this nature regularly take place at Cley Marshes; the whole reserve is managed for this very purpose.
Little ringed plovers seem to be doing quite well this year. The pair nesting close to the visitor centre have moved their young further into the field allowing building work to commence on the new education centre. The workmen still regularly catch sight of the now half grown balls of down and it seems have also discovered a second brood nearby. Pat’s Pool is currently playing host to a third pair still sitting on eggs, and there may well be yet another on Whitwell Scrape. The fact that avocet breeding numbers are somewhat down may indirectly benefit the plovers that will be able to raise their chicks without falling foul of over-zealous pied dive bombers every few minutes.
The pair of marsh harriers are still busily feeding their young with the female of the pair, now affectionately referred to as ‘Blondie’ in recognition of her vivid cream markings, regularly being seen hunting the fields south of the reserve. She seems far more competent a hunter than the male bringing back quite sizeable prey, young rabbits, rats and similar sized offerings for her brood. The male, who may well be relatively young and inexperienced, doesn’t seem quite so able and as far as I have observed often appears in the vicinity of the nest empty-taloned. However I’m sure the young are being well cared for overall and will surely soon fledge adding yet another dimension to the Cley experience.