Barry Madden, NWT Volunteer
It always takes me by surprise how quickly the year turns. We enter January full of optimism, plummet down to earth through long, cold February nights, have a brief flirtation with the sun during early spring when everything emerges fresh and eager, only to plod through this cool, cloudy often wet and windy summer. Before you know it the solstice has come and gone and people are talking of their hope for an Indian summer. Another year has well and truly matured.
The visual evidence of how the season has sped by can now be seen very clearly at NWTRanworth Broad. Here a walk along the boardwalk will take you through lushly vegetated wetland where head high reed sways in the breeze, their ranks speckled with pastel pink valerian, purple spikes of marsh thistles, white umbels of milk parsley and yellow spires of loosestrife. In the wet swamp carr, woodbine, perfumed sweet, entwines with woody bittersweet and the Royal fern thrusts its spore laden fingers skyward. Rich summer profusion.
But it is perhaps the activity of the birds that indicates how we have moved from the frantic urgency of spring; the chasing, screeching, posturing and skirmishing, to the more focused task of fledging this year’s offspring. And the most obvious species to be encountered as you look out over the broad from our floating visitor centre are the grebes, terns and the swallows.
One pair of grebes are busy looking after a pair of humbug-striped chicks quite close to the observation windows where they can be observed catching fish to satisfy the incessant hunger of their prodigy. Great-crested grebes are good parents that in the early stages of the chicks’ development will keep them very close, warding off any potential predator. Unlike the mallards that let their ducklings scatter and swim wildly hither and thither: easy prey for herons, gulls and marauding marsh harriers. The parent grebes are now finding quite large fish to offer to the eager young ones who will raise their heads skywards to gulp the fish down head first. A couple of weeks ago one over optimistic parent gave a very large fish to one of the small chicks that gamely tried but ultimately failed to force it down its gullet. Being able to watch these dagger billed aquatics in such intimate detail is a true privilege.
The swallows enliven the immediate vicinity of the Visitor Centre during the summer months with their breath-taking aerial ballet. They nest under the eaves where they are totally protected from the rigours of the northerly wind and sheeting rain. Three pairs have taken up residence this year and can be watched hawking insects over the broad which they cram into the mouths of their well grown brood. They will breed again once the current nestfuls have fledged and may well try for a third time during August.
And then there are the terns; feisty, screeching, aerodynamic perfection. After a late start these graceful wanderers are now nesting on the specially constructed rafts, the adults making regular trips to Malthouse Broad to catch small fish for their newly hatched young. It is worth spending a while watching these sharp eyed birds swooping through the air, plunging into the water to remove a fish with clinical precision. For me they embody the spirit of this place.
Norfolk Wildlife Trust run lots of beginner and family events at Ranworth during the summer from pond dipping to moth trapping Have a look to find one that suits you.
Read more of Barry’s wildlife observations at www.easternbushchat.blogspot.co.uk