Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Cley Catch-up: 24 February 2015

Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

The new centre at Cley Marshes, photo by Marion Riches
Cley Marshes is in the process of being transformed. The new education building is nearing completion and looks just great. I was shown around the interior today by proud centre staff and I was very impressed, not just with the facilities that will be available to the public but with the way the whole site now feels cohesive and an integrated whole. As well as being able to take advantage of state of the art interactive interpretation, visitors will be able to enjoy large open areas affording excellent viewing over the whole reserve. Much hard work is also taking place on the reserve itself with dredging of the main drains and the pool on Snipe's Marsh nearing completion, creating a better water management system and much improved areas for wildlife. New pools have been created at the south-eastern corner of the marsh, and these together with well managed flooding of the meadows adjoining east bank have provided excellent feeding and roosting areas for many species of wildfowl and waders that seem to be getting quite used to people walking along the raised footpath.

Today the sun shone from a perfect blue sky, it shone all day and gave a taste of spring. We're on the upward curve it seems and certainly nature responded to this unexpected but most welcome warmth. The marsh harrier pairs were flying together prospecting potential nest sites, shelduck were busy chasing each other and skylarks sang their sweet melodies over the Eye field. Even a few humans were tempted to eat their lunch outside on the picnic tables, proof if any were needed that winter is losing its grip.

Marsh harrier, photo by Barry Madden
My morning was spent walking the reserve perimeter and visiting the hides to see if anything noteworthy had turned up and to engage with anybody who fancied a chat about the reserve and its varied inhabitants. The scrapes were certainly well populated with many wildfowl and waders on show. At times these flocks would launch into the air startled by the presence of some avian predator. A sparrowhawk was a regular culprit and every so often a larger raptor in the form of a marauding marsh harrier would cause panic as it sailed low across the mud. The resident female marsh harrier is a real beauty and on one occasion passed very close attracting many admiring glances from those lucky enough to witness her fly past. It is always worth looking skywards when the birds on the scrapes take to the air en masse and whilst on my break in a crowded visitor centre one such eruption took place as a fine peregrine swooped east to west. There can't be many nature reserves where you can sit munching your lunch in warmth and comfort whilst watching a top predator hunting for its own midday meal.

Garganey, photo by Barry Madden
The afternoon was given over to looking for an early spring visitor in the form of a drake garganey that has been using the reserve for the last two weeks. The bird was not hard to find standing as it was on an isolated patch of raised grass. It was in the loose company of several other wildfowl species that were busy feeding, roosting and generally socialising on the relatively high water level on the newly acquired extension to the reserve. This handsome bird is a very early and most welcome summer visitor and will hopefully linger, attract a mate and breed in the prime habitat at its disposal. It obviously finds the surroundings to its liking and was well at ease snoozing on its chosen patch. Even with its head tucked into its back feathers the broad white flash over the eye was very prominent and provides an easily seen diagnostic feature. After its siesta the bird began feeding and there in the warm glow of the afternoon light its intricate colouring could be fully appreciated. A dark chocolate brown head demarcated by the aforementioned off-white head stripe which extends down its neck, light chocolate breast giving way to an underside of vermiculated greys draped with pointed scapulars. A most handsome bird.

Other ducks were using the flood and on show within yards of the appreciative audience could be seen shoveler sporting heads of metallic green and bronze, bandit masked teal, smart upending pintail, whistling wigeon and the ubiquitous mallard. Resplendent colour on this most uplifting of winter days.

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