Saturday, 23 October 2010

Halcyon day

A dreach sort of a day, with squally showers driven through by a northerly, but we decided to head to Wheatfen to combat cabin fever anyway. Joyously, our recent luck with immediate sightings on arrival at hides continued with a scintillating display from a large-ish male kingfisher. The dart of blue across the old mill pond by the thatch signalled the start of a command performance; hovering, fishing, preening, cleaning and circling the pond showed the consumate command of aerobatics from this little fighter pilot.

I've seen them before - they are reasonably easy to spot on the broads, especially from river level - but this was comfortably the most prolonged sighting I've enjoyed. For several minutes it sat low on a reed stem, scanning the water for prey, before hovering for a moment triangulating the line of attack, wings a-blur, then arrowing directly onto a small fish which it wold then return to enjoy on its perch. With the martins and swallows now gone (it's been a fortnight since I last saw any here) this creature of sunshine and gentle zephyrs seemed out of place in grey, windy autumnal dusk, but was no less welcome for that.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Twice Shy

Having not been there for maybe 15 years, I was very happy to return on a warm autumn day to the gem of Strumpshaw Fen. Although as the crow flies it is a mere 3 miles from us, the intervening River Yare means a 20 mile round trip via bike and ferry. The journey was more than justified, however, when within literally seconds of arrival I saw my first ever Bittern. Having never seen one despite bird-watching in Norfolk since a boy and having heard how rare and difficult to see they are, this seemed laughably easy; no hours of waiting, cold and cramped in a hide or reed-bed to glimpse indstinct brown feathers between brown reeds, it simply flapped across in front of us, nonchalantly and in full view, before perching atop the reeds. It stayed there for a good twenty minutes, periodically stretching up its thick neck as if to sun itself, so that we could have no doubt of the identification; unmistakably a Bittern. Apparently such sightings are now not uncommon at Strumpshaw, owing to the reed bed management that ensures ideal habitat, but it still felt exciting and a special moment.

Above the reed beds, a flock of rooks mobbed a Marsh Harrier. This would hitherto have been a highlight, but as we now see Marsh Harriers quite regularly, lazily hunting over arable fields and at Wheatfen, it went almost uncommented. In fact, these are often probably the same birds as can be seen at Strumpshaw, the river being no barrier to them, making either side of the river one territory from the proverbial birds-eye view. So now, when will I see a Bittern south of the Yare...?