Saturday, 29 November 2014

Murmurations on the marsh

Its been a mostly grey, wet, dismal November here in East Norfolk particularly at the weekends which hasn't tempted me to travel far. Apart from a brief foray to Sea Palling for a repeat look at the Humpbacked Whale, on its last day as it turned out, I've stuck to patch birding.
As it happens the patch (otherwise known as home) hasn't been at all bad. Raptors have been especially numerous, the star birds being two ringtail Hen Harriers regularly quartering the marshes and probably roosting here too as I've seen them coming up from the reeds heading out in the mornings to hunt. The local Kestrels have clearly had a good breeding season too as 4 or 5 can be seen in one sweep of the marshes, with similar numbers of Common Buzzards, the calls of which are now a regular feature of the marsh soundscape. Sparrowhawks regularly buzz the garden and a Peregrine caught my eye one day as it flew purposefully over the house. Marsh Harriers are ubiquitous as always.
The star bird in the garden however has been Tree Sparrow. One bird appeared on the bird feeders 15 days ago and was joined by a second the following day, surprisingly with a House Sparrow another rarity in our garden. The House Sparrows visit was short-lived but the Tree Sparrows, having always previously just been brief visitors for a few hours, have stayed. They are clearly roosting in the hedge that divides our sheep paddock as their cheery chirruping is a feature of early morning trips to the chicken house.

Winter visitors have been trickling through too with the occasional Brambling and small groups of Redwing and Fieldfare too.
Today I took the dog on a long circular walk across Thurlton Marshes to the New Cut and back across Thorpe Marshes. The arable fields of Thurlton Marsh had large open pools of water across them and these were a magnet for Lapwings and Golden Plover. I counted upwards of 1000 Lapwing and 190 Golden Plover, the largest numbers I can recall seeing in the area.

On Thorpe Marshes, on a marsh next to the main A143 Haddiscoe Dam, I found my first grazing flock of Pink-footed Geese of the winter with a single White-fronted Goose.

The absolute highlight of the week however has to be the starlings. We noticed a few starlings roosting in the rushes and reeds behind Thorpe Hall a couple of weeks ago. Last weekend I reckoned there were about 3000 of them in a mini murmuration. By mid week the numbers had doubled but tonight mini had become massive. I walked out to the edge of our wood to watch the spectacle. As dusk approached thousands of starlings began to gather on the electricity wires across the marshes in dense masked ranks that bowed the wires. As they started to swirl over the reeds, more and more birds were pouring in from all directions. Last year I watched a roost of what I was told were 15000 starlings at Island Mere, Minsmere but this was way bigger and simply mesmerising. The noise from thousands of chattering starlings was incredible. After whirling around for about 10 minutes the starlings plummeted en masse in to the reeds but as darkness fell I could still hear the birds as I returned to the house.

This is just a small section of the flock. The thick black line to the right of the picture is starlings packed on the wires.

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