Barry Madden, NWT Volunteer
Easter has struck early and with it a new season has started at NWT Ranworth Broad. The welcome onslaught of visitors has been at times akin to a tornado touching earth; the visitor centre awhirl with holidaying families, keen birders and local people who, having spent a long winter imprisoned by winter's chill, have at last been released to savour the singular sense of light and space this slice of Broadland can offer.
Spring is bursting all around. The wet woodland surrounding the boardwalk from Ranworth village is resounding to the thrill of vibrant birdsong; wrens, robins, woodpeckers and chiffchaffs boldly staking out territories whilst hidden Cetti's warblers explode their loud clatter of notes from deep cover. Songthrushes pouring forth their sweet, varied repertoire from the mature trees on the higher borders of the reserve whilst marsh harriers and buzzards float lazily over the more stunted trees and reed beds of this special water world. An otter entertained some lucky visitors early on, briefly poking its broad, flat head above the surface of the broad before submerging with a flick of its thickly furred tail; thereafter a trail of bubbles and the harsh squawking of enraged black-headed gulls provided the only clue to its whereabouts. The sighting over in an instant but for a few the memory will linger.
At the eastern end of the trail, the wardens of the Bure Valley Living Landscape have completed their annual reed cutting. The reeds on either side of the boardwalk are cut and burned in alternate years to allow light and space for the multitude of special plants that flower here during the summer. This intensive management work is vital to ensure the reed bed remains in good health and is a small scale example of the work that is undertaken all over the Broads and along the North Norfolk Coast. By June the new reed growth will be chest high, buzzing with the vibrancy of insects and migrant warblers.
During these Easter holidays, the weather has, predictably, been unpredictable. A brilliant opening day gave way to showers and strong winds over the Easter weekend before a return to spring sunshine. But even during inclement spells beauty could be found with dramatic sunlit vistas of vivid spring foliage highlighted against an evil looking dark cloudscape. Rainbows as a backdrop to sun kissed bows of motor cruisers; surely the season in a nutshell. The latter, milder conditions with south-easterly winds brought delight in the form of three swallows that briefly flirted around the Visitor Centre on the last day of a changeable March. They were nowhere to be seen the following day, an April Fool's joke to all that thought they were 'our' swallows come back to reclaim their summer home. Patience! They will soon be here.
Of all the birds that epitomise Ranworth though, it is surely the great crested grebes that steal the show. At this time of year they are in peak condition, displaying to one another in full view of admiring onlookers. On a lunch break sitting quietly by the less watched portion of the broad, I was lucky enough to witness a courtship display by a pair that seem intent on setting up home in a sheltered bay. With no aquatic weeds available to them with which to perform their dramatic dances in this sadly polluted environment, the birds made do with a clump of debris plucked from a low growing bough. How wonderful to witness this intimate moment at such close quarters and be able to admire the birds in all their seasonal finery.
Although the grebes will soon build their flimsy floating platform and lay a clutch of real eggs, it was smaller more fat enriched fare that our younger human visitors craved. Chocolate Easter eggs: a prize for completing the regular Easter Eggsplorer quiz entailing an educational journey around the reserve answering questions on the varied wildlife that can be encountered during the year. This is always a popular activity and helps entertain the children whilst allowing mum and dad to take a breather. I didn't do the quiz, and to my shame didn't know the answer to some of the questions, but those eggs were delicious.
It is good to be here again and to feel part of something important. Spreading the message of conservation to the general public whose support for the work of NWT is crucial. The smiles on the faces of the visitors told of an enjoyable experience and that gives satisfaction enough for the first few days of what will, I’m sure, be a season full of wonderful wildlife and people.
Read Barry's blog at http://easternbushchat.blogspot.co.uk