Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Cley Catch-up: 3 February 2015

 Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

It's not all about rarities you know. I can't help thinking that the worth of a bird or insect or mammal is too often judged nowadays by its perceived scarcity and that this is a big mistake. Of course it is satisfying to catch sight of something unusual, but the danger with this approach is that you risk overlooking the commonplace, your wildlife bread and butter, in favour of some exotic creature that has lost its way. No, much better to stick to the stuff that made the effort to charm you in the first place, look at it afresh and really appreciate its value. Significantly more satisfying I feel.

Bearded tit, photo by Barry Madden
Happily I had no such problems at Cley Marshes today because as far as I was aware there wasn't a rare bird within a 10 mile radius. But there were some very lovely little chaps on show that whilst not exactly common, certainly wouldn't merit a twitch - bearded tits, or reedlings if you prefer (apparently more closely related to larks than tits). These rather gorgeous little creatures had decided to stop playing hard to get for a change and parade around in full show for all to admire. And admire I did, and at pretty close range. How wonderful to be able to fully appreciate these denizens of the thick reed beds as they foraged for seeds right next to the East Bank. They really brightened up an otherwise dull, grey vista with their restless antics just a few feet from where a small party of nature lovers had gathered. Now and then a bright male would fly in and perch in the reeds for a few tantalising seconds before joining its mates amongst the reed litter. At this time it was possible to fully appreciate the bright orange-brown plumage giving way to a pure blue-grey head set off by the striking dart shaped moustache. As the birds flew in on furiously whirring wings they would utter their diagnostic 'pinging' calls which must help them maintain contact amongst the dense stands of reed. Once they were all on the ground within sight of one another they remained quiet and simply shuffled around looking for seeds from within the tangle of accumulated plant debris. There have been reports of up to 40 of these lovely creatures on show recently – get there quickly before they decide to secrete themselves away once more.

Stonechat, photo by Barry Madden
Further along the beach towards Salthouse Marshes, I slowly walked along the fence line periodically flushing a female stonechat from post to post. She was a wary little madam who wouldn’t let me approach closer than a four fencepost length to begin with. As we became more comfortable with one another she allowed me to get a little closer teasing me with a quick flit away as soon as I raised my camera. We flirted with one another for the next five minutes before she relented and posed for a decent pic and once satisfied that she had done her bit for art flew away haughtily. Another quite common but very beautiful bird. There seem to be very good numbers of stonechats wintering around the reserve this winter. I’ve counted at least seven, and there are possible 10 or more. Apart from the aforementioned fence line, well frequented areas are the field just to the west of the boardwalk leading to the central hides, the area east of the beach road, especially on the lines of fence wire at the southern end, and the area close to where north hide once stood. Incidentally the screens and benches that have temporarily replaced the north hide now afford a very good view over North scrape and can be easily accessed from the beach.

Snow buntings, photo by Barry Madden
And then the snow buntings. Jewels that flight black and white as they nervously move from one feeding spot to another. It was hard to get close today; the birds seemed quite edgy although there was no obvious reason for their mistrust. One more unusual, but not rare, species that graces these sometimes seemingly barren shores during the winter months. Up to 50 or so of these visitors from the north have taken up winter residence along the shingle ridge and range between the respective beach car parks at Cley and Salthouse. They are sometimes joined by a few goldfinches and on occasion a small party of twite which is giving a lot of people a lot of pleasure.

So, all in all a good days haul, maybe not as good as the carrot cake and hot chocolate in the NWT Visitor Centre, but not too bad at that.

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