Wednesday, 21 January 2015

January at Thorpe Marshes

Chris Durdin, NWT Thorpe Marshes

Words that came to mind on Monday’s walk around NWT Thorpe Marshes were ‘bleak’ and ‘mid-winter’. To say there was nothing to see would overstate it: a sparrowhawk dashed through as the group gathered by the railway bridge; a Cetti’s warbler sang; the odd snipe zigzagged away from unfrozen pockets within the marshes. But overall, you couldn’t help but look forward to spring.

Yellow brain
At least that was true until we reached a patch of wet wood. I may be the regular guide here but there’s still lots to learn. I know I’m not good on fungi, so it was great to have participants on the regular monthly walk who do recognise them… and in a few minutes found and named seven species. Velvet Shank, Hairy Curtain Crust, Oyster Mushroom, Blushing Bracket, Southern Bracket, Yellow Brain and Smoky Bracket… none is unusual, but wonderful names, and quickly added to our knowledge of what’s here.

There were plenty of birds on the gravel pit, St Andrew’s Broad, which certainly helps to give the reserve year-round interest. As naturalists we often seek what’s unusual, at least locally: on Monday that was a group of three wigeons. 

Gadwall, photo by Liz Dack
Gadwalls are a more reliable sighting here, and there are about 100 of late. This dabbling duck likes to feed by waiting for diving coots to surface with waterweed and then snatching it. But with only a dozen coots, bullying opportunities are limited and they must feed for themselves. With a close view of a gadwall, perhaps through a telescope, much of the bird’s apparently dull, grey plumage is revealed as rather dapper black and white mottling. Flashes of white when loafing or swimming expand when gadwalls flap or fly: the distinctive white speculum, part of the trailing edge of the wing. Not that identification at Thorpe Marshes is a challenge: mallards all but disappear here in winter.

The NWT Thorpe Marshes Wildlife Report for 2014 is now online at on There’s also a link there to a gallery of photos of the reserve’s many dragonflies and damselflies, and pictures of the first-winter Mediterranean gull that’s on nearby River Green by Yarmouth Road, Norwich.

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