Friday, 27 February 2015

New film - the Cley to Salthouse Living Landscape

New film on our YouTube channel - NWT's Nick Acheson on why the Cley to Salthouse Living Landscape is one of the finest in the UK.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Cley Catch-up: 24 February 2015

Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

The new centre at Cley Marshes, photo by Marion Riches
Cley Marshes is in the process of being transformed. The new education building is nearing completion and looks just great. I was shown around the interior today by proud centre staff and I was very impressed, not just with the facilities that will be available to the public but with the way the whole site now feels cohesive and an integrated whole. As well as being able to take advantage of state of the art interactive interpretation, visitors will be able to enjoy large open areas affording excellent viewing over the whole reserve. Much hard work is also taking place on the reserve itself with dredging of the main drains and the pool on Snipe's Marsh nearing completion, creating a better water management system and much improved areas for wildlife. New pools have been created at the south-eastern corner of the marsh, and these together with well managed flooding of the meadows adjoining east bank have provided excellent feeding and roosting areas for many species of wildfowl and waders that seem to be getting quite used to people walking along the raised footpath.

Today the sun shone from a perfect blue sky, it shone all day and gave a taste of spring. We're on the upward curve it seems and certainly nature responded to this unexpected but most welcome warmth. The marsh harrier pairs were flying together prospecting potential nest sites, shelduck were busy chasing each other and skylarks sang their sweet melodies over the Eye field. Even a few humans were tempted to eat their lunch outside on the picnic tables, proof if any were needed that winter is losing its grip.

Marsh harrier, photo by Barry Madden
My morning was spent walking the reserve perimeter and visiting the hides to see if anything noteworthy had turned up and to engage with anybody who fancied a chat about the reserve and its varied inhabitants. The scrapes were certainly well populated with many wildfowl and waders on show. At times these flocks would launch into the air startled by the presence of some avian predator. A sparrowhawk was a regular culprit and every so often a larger raptor in the form of a marauding marsh harrier would cause panic as it sailed low across the mud. The resident female marsh harrier is a real beauty and on one occasion passed very close attracting many admiring glances from those lucky enough to witness her fly past. It is always worth looking skywards when the birds on the scrapes take to the air en masse and whilst on my break in a crowded visitor centre one such eruption took place as a fine peregrine swooped east to west. There can't be many nature reserves where you can sit munching your lunch in warmth and comfort whilst watching a top predator hunting for its own midday meal.

Garganey, photo by Barry Madden
The afternoon was given over to looking for an early spring visitor in the form of a drake garganey that has been using the reserve for the last two weeks. The bird was not hard to find standing as it was on an isolated patch of raised grass. It was in the loose company of several other wildfowl species that were busy feeding, roosting and generally socialising on the relatively high water level on the newly acquired extension to the reserve. This handsome bird is a very early and most welcome summer visitor and will hopefully linger, attract a mate and breed in the prime habitat at its disposal. It obviously finds the surroundings to its liking and was well at ease snoozing on its chosen patch. Even with its head tucked into its back feathers the broad white flash over the eye was very prominent and provides an easily seen diagnostic feature. After its siesta the bird began feeding and there in the warm glow of the afternoon light its intricate colouring could be fully appreciated. A dark chocolate brown head demarcated by the aforementioned off-white head stripe which extends down its neck, light chocolate breast giving way to an underside of vermiculated greys draped with pointed scapulars. A most handsome bird.

Other ducks were using the flood and on show within yards of the appreciative audience could be seen shoveler sporting heads of metallic green and bronze, bandit masked teal, smart upending pintail, whistling wigeon and the ubiquitous mallard. Resplendent colour on this most uplifting of winter days.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Hilgay - Almost There

Nick Carter, Conservation Officer (Fens)

I checked the water level in the Hilgay lagoon yesterday and found it had risen to 11.57 (i.e. 1.57m above sea level) an increase of 7cm from the previous week. This means there is only 2cm to go to reach the target level of 11.59. With yesterday evening’s rainfall and more forecast for Thursday I am confident that we will reach the target very soon. The lagoon is now almost completely flooded with just a short stretch of the central island sticking out of the water.

The higher water levels have attracted a greater diversity of duck with wigeon, gadwall and shelduck joining the mallard and teal that have been around all winter. Diving ducks have also been in evidence with pochard and tufted duck both being present on the lagoon, together with up to seven coot.

The objective now is to reach the required water level and hold it for at least a month while the embankment is checked for stability. Over the summer water will be let out to keep the rest of the site wet for as long as possible.  In November abstraction from the river can start again to re-fill the lagoon, keep the internal ditch network topped up and flood the fields which will be turned into reedbeds. This flooding will help to kill off the terrestrial vegetation and aid the spread of reeds across the site. It will take several years for the reedbeds to be completed.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Snipe’s Marsh habitat works

Adam Pimble, Popes Marsh Warden 

As we make the transition from the cold dark winter months to the new warmth of spring, NWT will be taking advantage of a small window of opportunity to undertake some habitat management works within the reserve.  

During February we will be carrying out a small pool restoration project in an area called Snipe’s marsh. We have chosen to do these works between the dispersal of wintering wildfowl and the arrival of spring birds to prevent disturbance but still restore the habitat in readiness for the breeding season.

Snipe’s marsh is on the upland boundary of the Cley and Salthouse nature reserve running along the A149 just south west of the East Bank carpark. Snipe’s marsh was affected by the storm surge in December of 2013 where large amounts of vegetation debris which become mobile within the storm surge was swept and then deposited in this upland pool. Since this time NWT have been looking for the best time and opportunity to clear the debris and restore this pool back to a reed margined area of open water.

There will be large plant machinery undertaking this work and we expect it to take less than five days to complete.

Thank you for you continued support and we hope you will be able to enjoy watching wildlife using Snipe’s marsh after the restoration has been completed.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Hooray for Hedges!

Eilish Rothney, Warden - Trinity Broads Reserve

This month in the Trinity Broads we are focussing on hedgerows. In Britain,  I think we have got so used to the gradual removal of hedges that it is only looking back that we can see how much has been lost, and with the hedgerows goes all the wildlife associated them.

In Filby a team of volunteers braved the cold last Sunday to plant over 300 hedge plants, filling in “gaps” where once a hedge would have been. Elsewhere in Filby the Monday volunteers have been preparing ground to restore nearly half a kilometre of hedge.

As linear habitat hedgerows can provide essential cover and food for many animals to move around. Bats can use them to commute to hunting grounds and some species will feed directly off hedgerow foliage, “gleaning”. Newts may use them to move between ponds. The more varied the hedge species, the structure and the base plants, the better the hedge for wildlife. Native trees and shrubs are always best, with hawthorn providing flowers and nectar in spring and berries in the autumn, hazel catkins provide early spring pollen for a variety of insects and the hazelnuts later in the year sustain small mammals using the hedge. Other shrubs such as fieldmaple, blackthorn and dogwood add to the variety and can provide dense areas helpful to songbirds looking for nesting sites safe from predators such as magpies and domestic cats.

Other wildlife using hedgerows include bees, butterflies, shrews, bank voles and even harvest mice; and of course, the wonderful hedgehog. The lovely hedgehog is one of my favourite animals, but its population has shown a catastrophic decline from around 30 million in the 1950s to only 1.5 million by 1995; latest estimates show that it has declined further, down one third in the last 14 years. Neat and tidy gardens, use of pesticides, impenetrable fences and walls and hedgerow loss have all contributed their decline. Feeding on variety of things, Hedgehogs can be helpful by consuming slugs and insect pests.  Keeping gardens hedgehog friendly and planting hedges as sheltered pathways helps these lovely iconic creatures roam safely.  

Hedgehog, photo by Tim Lake

The collective name for hedgehogs is a “prickle” - let’s hope that we can encourage their numbers so they can become a common sight again.

We will be having another Hedge day on Sunday 15 March see the NWT Living Landscape website for more information

Monday, 9 February 2015

Cley Catch-up: 9 February 2015

Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

Today started with a rainbow, a double rainbow in fact that formed a perfect arch across Cley Marshes showcasing it nicely in a multi-hued frame. Where there's a rainbow you can bet rain is not far away and sure enough a gaze out to sea from the comfort of the Visitor Centre showed fragmented curtains of moisture descending from evil looking dark clouds being pushed fast along the coast by the prevailing North-easterly wind. 

 After a while (the time it takes to sip a cup of tea and catch up with birding gossip) the skies cleared somewhat allowing my volunteer duties to commence. So, what could a walk around the hides reveal today? First off a large group of dark-bellied Brent geese, originating from Russia or western Siberia, were busy cropping the grass in meadows bordering the coast road. As luck would have it a pair of the pale-bellied race (or species if you're greedy) which spend their summers in Greenland were the closest birds to the boardwalk and therefore allowed a good look and comparison with their duskier relatives. These birds, almost certainly a romantically tied couple, sported much lighter flanks and a pure white underside which was somewhat difficult to see as they waddled through the lush grass - such food source being the main reason the geese are here.

Pink-footed Geese, photo by Barry Madden
From the central hides another flock of geese were on show. These were pink-footed geese which occur all along the north Norfolk coast in winter feasting on discarded sugar beet tops. The birds use Cley reserve as a safe resting and roosting site between feeding sojourns to surrounding arable land. The freshwater pools also provide the birds with clean water to drink and in which to bathe. Their temporary presence on the reserve provides much interest, not least because there is always a chance that less common species may be associating with the hordes. Today there were rumours of the rossicus race of bean geese being present but despite a good search I failed to locate them. These birds that summer in far northern tundra, hence their familiar name of  'tundra' bean goose, are superficially quite similar to the pink-feet, but differ in having an orange band on the bill and bright orange legs. All very well if you get a good view of a bird unobstructed by flank high grass or one that has been foraging for food in thick mud. I had to make do with a lone grey-lag.

One thing we are seldom short of in this Norfolk of ours is wind, especially on the North coast in winter where the cold Arctic air is frequently swept into the county unabated across the broiling North Sea. These winds can be cruel, whipping the mud coloured coastal waters into a churning frenzy and causing destruction to all that dares to challenge its might. We have had a spate of strong northerly gales lately which have not only caused a 'wreck' of starfish, flatfish and shellfish whose desiccated bodies now litter the strand line, but have also forced a number of unusual gulls to make landfall between Cley and Sheringham.

 Second winter Iceland gull, photo by Barry Madden
So, after lunch I felt duty bound to try and track these white-winged nomads and was fortunate to be able to firstly find a second winter Iceland gull, at Salthouse. This bird did not allow close approach, but was easily noticed from quite a distance thanks to its off white plumage standing out brightly from its more brown mottled cousins; the herring and lesser black-backs that are more familiar inhabitants of these parts. Simultaneously there was another bird at Cley Coastguards, this a first winter individual which was altogether more creamy brown, lacking the light grey mantle of the Salthouse bird. These gulls are giving local birders the run around with their restless movements up and down the coast, but patience will usually pay off, or if you're like me simple blind luck.

Fulmar, photo by Barry Madden
Whilst at Salthouse I took the opportunity to drive further east towards Weyborne and was very pleased to notice a few fulmars busy prospecting narrow ledges of the sandy cliffs for the purposes of nesting later in the year. These tube nosed petrels have become far less common in recent years. Where once a reasonably sized colony of 200 or so pairs dotted the cliffs between Weyborne and Overstrand, now only a few pairs attempt to raise their single chick on these fragile, fractured piles of sand. Masters of the air currents it is fascinating to watch these birds ride the updrafts as they joust for prime breeding plots. Their speed, once taken by the prevailing wind, is breath-taking and represents a real challenge for the photographer, but now and again they will stall into the breeze and then the shutter whirls away hoping to capture the essence of this enigmatic ocean wanderer. It's encouraging to know a few pairs cling on to this southern outpost of their breeding range. Let us hope their efforts bear fruit.
So, despite the opening scene no crock of gold today at the rainbows end, but the wealth of birds on these wonderful NWT reserves more than made up for the absence of shiny metal.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Cley Catch-up: 3 February 2015

 Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

It's not all about rarities you know. I can't help thinking that the worth of a bird or insect or mammal is too often judged nowadays by its perceived scarcity and that this is a big mistake. Of course it is satisfying to catch sight of something unusual, but the danger with this approach is that you risk overlooking the commonplace, your wildlife bread and butter, in favour of some exotic creature that has lost its way. No, much better to stick to the stuff that made the effort to charm you in the first place, look at it afresh and really appreciate its value. Significantly more satisfying I feel.

Bearded tit, photo by Barry Madden
Happily I had no such problems at Cley Marshes today because as far as I was aware there wasn't a rare bird within a 10 mile radius. But there were some very lovely little chaps on show that whilst not exactly common, certainly wouldn't merit a twitch - bearded tits, or reedlings if you prefer (apparently more closely related to larks than tits). These rather gorgeous little creatures had decided to stop playing hard to get for a change and parade around in full show for all to admire. And admire I did, and at pretty close range. How wonderful to be able to fully appreciate these denizens of the thick reed beds as they foraged for seeds right next to the East Bank. They really brightened up an otherwise dull, grey vista with their restless antics just a few feet from where a small party of nature lovers had gathered. Now and then a bright male would fly in and perch in the reeds for a few tantalising seconds before joining its mates amongst the reed litter. At this time it was possible to fully appreciate the bright orange-brown plumage giving way to a pure blue-grey head set off by the striking dart shaped moustache. As the birds flew in on furiously whirring wings they would utter their diagnostic 'pinging' calls which must help them maintain contact amongst the dense stands of reed. Once they were all on the ground within sight of one another they remained quiet and simply shuffled around looking for seeds from within the tangle of accumulated plant debris. There have been reports of up to 40 of these lovely creatures on show recently – get there quickly before they decide to secrete themselves away once more.

Stonechat, photo by Barry Madden
Further along the beach towards Salthouse Marshes, I slowly walked along the fence line periodically flushing a female stonechat from post to post. She was a wary little madam who wouldn’t let me approach closer than a four fencepost length to begin with. As we became more comfortable with one another she allowed me to get a little closer teasing me with a quick flit away as soon as I raised my camera. We flirted with one another for the next five minutes before she relented and posed for a decent pic and once satisfied that she had done her bit for art flew away haughtily. Another quite common but very beautiful bird. There seem to be very good numbers of stonechats wintering around the reserve this winter. I’ve counted at least seven, and there are possible 10 or more. Apart from the aforementioned fence line, well frequented areas are the field just to the west of the boardwalk leading to the central hides, the area east of the beach road, especially on the lines of fence wire at the southern end, and the area close to where north hide once stood. Incidentally the screens and benches that have temporarily replaced the north hide now afford a very good view over North scrape and can be easily accessed from the beach.

Snow buntings, photo by Barry Madden
And then the snow buntings. Jewels that flight black and white as they nervously move from one feeding spot to another. It was hard to get close today; the birds seemed quite edgy although there was no obvious reason for their mistrust. One more unusual, but not rare, species that graces these sometimes seemingly barren shores during the winter months. Up to 50 or so of these visitors from the north have taken up winter residence along the shingle ridge and range between the respective beach car parks at Cley and Salthouse. They are sometimes joined by a few goldfinches and on occasion a small party of twite which is giving a lot of people a lot of pleasure.

So, all in all a good days haul, maybe not as good as the carrot cake and hot chocolate in the NWT Visitor Centre, but not too bad at that.