Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Cley Catch-up: 3 March 2015

Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

The temporary cabin at Cley Marshes
Despite the metal barriers, diggers, piles of earth and plethora of hard hats, Cley Marshes is very much open for business. The nerve centre of the operation has temporarily been relocated to a cabin located in the car park. Here you will receive the familiar warm welcome, have access to a limited range of literature and most importantly be able to invigorate yourselves with freshly brewed tea and coffee and a variety of tasty snacks. It won't be like this for long and the plan is to have the whole replenished, revitalised and rejuvenated visitor centre up and running in a couple of weeks’ time, the currently projected date is 14 March. It's all quite exciting.

Once you cross the coast road however the sound of the building works soon fades to be replaced by the tranquillity of the nature reserve proper. Once sat in the hides all you can hear is the piping of redshank, the nasal cackling of shelduck and the tooting and whistling of teal and wigeon. And always the reeds rustling in the breeze. Today was another day of almost unbroken winter sunshine tempting birds and human visitors alike to show in numbers. It was a day of close encounters with some rather colourful and usually difficult to approach birds.

Redshank, photo by Barry Madden
Redshank are now busy pairing up, chasing each other around the scrapes and undertaking tentative display flights, their tooting calls echoing all around. I watched a pair amorously strutting after one another over the mud but it will be a few weeks yet before they place their scant nest in the middle of a tussock somewhere on the marsh. One bird seemed quite oblivious to my approach, seemingly more intent on probing the rich mud for small crustaceans. Strange really seeing as I walk around in a bright blue coat which can be seen from one end of the reserve to the other. A close up view of its intricately patterned plumage is seldom allowed, but when you get a good look at the subtle shading and mottling it brings home to you what a handsome bird it is. Aptly named, its orange-red legs blazed brightly in the strengthening late winter sun.

Ruff, photo by Barry Madden
Another wader that tolerated me and my coat creeping ever closer came in the form of a ruff that unusually had decided to have a snooze within 5 metres of the path bordering the coast road. I thought this bird must be sick or injured but it didn't seem to be incapacitated in any way - it simply needed a nap. A photographic opportunity not to be missed and another chance to have a really good look at a rather splendid bird. I've got a feeling this individual was a male on the cusp of developing the outlandish breeding plumage adorned by these dandies of the bird world. The breast feathering on this bird looked as though it was ready to bloom into flamboyant plumes of various shades which of course gives the species its common English name. When I returned for a second look a few minutes later it had moved on.

The bearded tits are still entertaining people along East Bank providing very close views to those with a little patience. People I spoke to were elated to see one so close, and several confessed they had never seen one before in their lives. What a way to break your duck with the sighting of a lovely male bird in full view a mere 10 feet in front of you.

Grey herons are amongst our earliest nesters and a small colony is busy setting up home in the small wood opposite East Bank. The birds are more social at this time of year sometimes flighting over the tree tops or as on this occasion taking part in a prenuptial gathering close to the nesting site. Seeing six of these birds standing side by side is quite remarkable, but they were visible most of the morning standing idly by the new roadside pools.

Herons, photo by Barry Madden

Blondie the marsh harrier, photo by Tom Whiley
And no visit to the reserve nowadays is complete without a sighting of our star bird, the glamorous lady of Cley Marshes, 'Blondie' our resident marsh harrier. She is a formidable huntress and flew in today with a half-eaten prey item, an unfortunate rat or wader of some description by the look of things. It seems that she and her mate will once again set up home in their favoured patch of reeds close to Bishop's hide where more close encounters can be anticipated as the season progresses.

So, it's business as usual here. Don’t be put off by the building works, come and visit Janine’s Snack Shack and say hello. And do take time to visit the reserve, who knows you may have some close encounters of your own to savour.

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