Saturday, 11 January 2014

Slow start

It's been a slow birding start to 2014. Most of my spare time has been taken up in the care of these little guys who started arriving on January 3rd

I've managed to get round the marshes a few times and although the continuing mild weather has kept things fairly quiet, I've managed a few star birds the most notable being a Stonechat, a bird that was absent from the patch in 2013 apart from the distant possible in December. We used to have a small number wintering annually but the cold winters seemed to wipe them out. It's good to see them making a return. A Short-eared Owl was also noteworthy as they seem to be few and far between this year judging by the lack of reports on the local grapevine. Although Woodcock winter in our alder wood, it was a surprise to see my first of the year in flight across the open marsh. A Peregrine sat on a gate post was behaving more predictably.
Visiting friends were also delighted to see Chinese Water Deer, a new mammal species for them. They're so ubiquitous here that we tend to take them for granted, rather like the Marsh Harriers, that seem to be permanently on view somewhere across the marsh.

We'd been seeing a wing-tagged Marsh Harrier in the latter half of December but struggled to read her tag until New Years Eve. "CN" wasn't one of ours, although she was quite a local bird having been tagged at Belton a few miles away in July 2012. She had been reported at Horsey in September 2012 but had then gone "missing" until she turned up here. She's moved on again and all our current Marsh harriers are tagless.
This morning I did the BTO's Earlybird survey getting up before dawn, thankfully not too early at this time of year, and watching the bird feeders from the comfort of the bedroom window. A surprise was to see 6 Marsh Harriers lifting out of the reeds on the marshes as daylight broke, clearly a mini roost which I had been previously unaware of. 30 Greylags also came up off the marshes and headed westwards, birds which I had seen flying over whilst feeding the sheep on a couple of mornings this week without realising that they too are roosting on the marsh.
The digger is back at the moment but on routine Internal Drainage Board dyke maintenance. It leaves a trail of apparent devastation in its wake but its essential to keep the dykes from becoming overgrown and from silting up. The mud soon grasses over come the spring despite having a welly-trapping consistency at the moment.

The contractor is good enough to send us a particular driver who knows how we like our dykes done and does a good job in levelling the spoil. Unlike most farmers who want the sides of their dykes steep to minimise the land loss, we prefer our dyke sides to be sloping. This is better for the flora, which is one of the reasons we were accepted in to HLS, and has the added bonus of giving the sheep more chance of getting out of the dykes if they fall in. The digger is followed by an entourage of Black-headed Gulls, Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Starlings and Pied Wagtails who pick over the mud for hapless invertebrates. The driver tells us he occasionally sees Water Voles scurrying from the bucket as he dumps his load, although most are too deep in their burrows to be disturbed, and sometimes Pike and Eels too, although the latter are increasingly scarce.
After spending this afternoon, dismantling the sheep mothering up pens and mucking out the sheep shed, I am finally free to do some birding a little further afield tomorrow but not too far. There are two lambs to bottle-feed!

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