Sunday, 8 June 2014

Marsh round-up

It's been a while since I posted about comings and goings on the marshes. The past 6 weeks have seen much activity. One of the highlights has been the successful fledging of 2 Lapwing chicks last week and 2 Redshank chicks today. Our original 6 Lapwing chicks were whittled down to 2, almost certainly by a Stoat which my husband saw in the vicinity of one brood as the parents desperately dive-bombed it. We were never sure how many Redshank chicks we had as they were mostly invisible in the grass, their presence only revealed by the anxious calling of their parents as we passed by. I only ever saw one, most notably when I let the cows on to the marsh for the first time. The excited heifers did several laps of the marsh before charging on to the muddy margin of the scrape where, to my horror, I spotted a chick running as fast as it could in front of 56 rapidly closing cow hooves. Somehow it managed to dodge the feet including those of one cow that stopped to sniff it, and today it, and a previously hidden sibling, took their first flights from the scrape.
The first Hobby arrived back on the 29th April and have been seen almost daily since. For a few days a pair were using a telegraph post positioned at the head of 4 dykes on the marsh as a convenient vantage point to sally forth and grab newly emerging (probably Hairy) dragonflies. Fortunately for the Norfolk Hawkers which have just started appearing from the same dykes, the Hobbies seem to have changed their hunting behaviour.
Last year, I only heard Cuckoo on 3 occasions. This year, after their arrival on 27th April, I've heard them almost daily and there was still one calling this evening. Others have reported more Cuckoo activity this year and that's definitely the case here.
Much to my relief, our Turtle Doves reappeared on 25th May. The males soft purring gave me a lovely background soundtrack as I prepared sheep for the Suffolk Show over the Bank Holiday weekend and he was still going strong today. Yesterday I saw another locally at the Hillfield plant nursery and PYO so we seem to be in a good area for them. The Marsh Harriers are doing well too. It's almost impossible to scan the marshes without seeing one as they're now busy feeding chicks.
Other highlights have included a Black-tailed Godwit on our scrape, although soon driven off by the Lapwings doing a very good avocet-like act, and any time out in the garden is regularly enlivened by a strident peep as a Kingfisher announces it dashing presence along the dyke at the bottom of the garden. We have a family of Water Voles here too, who seem to be very tame and will munch unconcernedly on Water Soldiers while you watch

Flowers are starting to put on a show too with vibrant yellow flag iris in various places

The Common Spotted Orchids are appearing too both on the marsh and in our orchard

And the warm weather has brought out an increasing variety of dragonflies in addition to those mentioned above with Variable and Azure Damselflies, Four-spot Chaser and Black-tailed Skimmer.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Dorset Dawn Magic - the Morden Bog Short-toed Eagle

The last few weeks have been very busy, work, sheep, garden and home all conspiring to reduce blogging time to zero although managed to lever some birding time in somehow. At last, this weekend looked free for a relaxing time and a possible pootle up to the North coast for a look for the Black-headed Bunting. Things changed on Saturday morning when the pager mega-alerted with a Short-toed Eagle sitting in a tree in Dorset. My first reaction was "pale-buzzard". On seeing the photos my second reaction was unprintable, however the eagle had flown and I expected that like most raptors of that ilk it would vanish or just be seen flying over the occasional place every now and then. I relaxed and got on with the task of helping locate Marsh Harrier nests for an RSPB project.
Come the afternoon the eagle was reported once more and then it was found again sat in a tree at its original site. Sunday in Dorset was now beckoning but as the eagle continued to sit in its tree on and on into the evening it became increasingly obvious that Dorset at dawn was the place and time to be.
Rather conveniently, the eagle had chosen to turn up just 3 miles from my brothers house. Inconveniently, it turned out that my brother had gone away for the weekend so the option of a few hours in a comfy bed was sadly unavailable. So it was I found myself pulling up in a layby in Dorset where 4 other cars were already parked at 1.50am  hoping I was in the right layby (you can't be too careful these days). As all appeared well I removed my contact lenses and settled down on the back seat hoping to get a couple of hours sleep. My hope was ill-founded as more cars arrived with increasing frequency as dawn approached. When birders started chatting outside the car I gave up, put my contact lenses back in and realised that everyone was assembling by the gate. It was 10 to 4 and barely light. Hurriedly grabbing coat, bins and scope I joined the group as they headed quietly out on to the heath. Churring Nightjars welcomed us and then a Cuckoo joined in heralding the impending arrival of dawn. As we assembled on the ridge overlooking the eagles roost site the dawn chorus was in full swing but it was only light enough to make out the shapes of bare trunks against the dark pines. As the light improved a little more someone nearby announced that they thought they had the eagle. Following his directions I picked out a brown and white shape, the brown looking indeed like the fold of a wing against a white belly. It was only when the bird lifted its white head from where it had been tucked in its back was it possible to see that this was indeed the Short-toed Eagle, to the enormous relief of the gathered crowd.
As the light improved further the views became better but then the eagle was swallowed in a shifting mist, at times completely invisible, at times a ghostly shape. It was nearly another hour before the rising sun was strong enough to burn off the mist and give us a proper look at the bird in decent light.
The eagle spent the whole time I was watching it on one small part of one branch in one tree. Occasionally sleeping, occasionally preening, and looking around sometimes right at us with piercing yellow eyes in an almost owl like face. It attracted the attention of several of the local residents, being mobbed in succession by 3 Crows, a Jay, Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers, and a Mistle Thrush. In the gorse beneath its tree a pair of Dartford Warblers bounced about and Siskins called frequently. It was a magical site and well worth another visit when next I visit my brother.
By 7.45 I was feeling weary and headed back to my car. Here a flicking shape in the trees opposite became my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year and as I turned for home a Cuckoo flew across the road in front of me.