Monday, 2 September 2019

Summer's last Hurrah


Bank Holiday Monday and I sit with my coffee in an East Coast town. An old boy pauses to speed smoke, sending out wafts of grey smog as he stares intently at the Vape shop opposite. A waitress in a fresh apron hurry’s by. The air is warming up, its going to be a sweaty one. My coffee has gone time to finish the dog walk. 

In the cliff top gardens there is a collection of fantastic beasts masquerading as windmills. Beyond them The Wash England's wildest place it's alive with fantastic beasts you just need to look. 


The morning expands and we head for the Kayak man's stall on the prom to rent a couple of boats for a paddle.


Summers last Hurrah on The Wash, a flat Sea merging into a clear pastel blue sky. In front of us a new pink outcrop pokes out into the sea as hordes of beach goers edge into the cool waters. My boys and I paddle on into summers end. 

My small east coast town faces west into the sunset, a chilled end of Bank Holiday crowds gather to watch the sun slide into the waters of The Wash with barely a ripple as a late water skier rips through the sea and Oystercatchers pipe in the twilight. Nature soothes the throng. 


Back in my street neighbours discuss the day, its been busy, all along the coast car parks have been full and everywhere cars have been abandoned blocking roads as day trippers like Eels heading for the Sargasso sea show an unstoppable desire to migrate to the soothing waters of the North Sea.



Sunday, 4 August 2019

Crab on the menu

We are in the middle of a series of big spring tides at the moment. This morning I walked along the West Bank Path at Titchwell, the Fresh Marsh to my east stuffed full of migrating Shorebirds including half a dozen delicate Wood Sandpipers delicately picking insects from the surface of the shallow lagoon. Out in the middle of the Fresh Marsh 14 Spoonbills were doing what Spoonbills seem to like to do best, sleeping. 

Wood Sandpiper, Titchwell Marsh
To my west was the expanse of saltmarsh that lies between Titchwell and Thornham Harbour, the incoming tide creating pools that reflected the bright blue August sky and which were rimmed by the purple flowers of Sea Lavender. A Curlew picked its way through this salty meadow and I paused to take a photo that would capture the bird and its high summer home. 

Curlew, Titchwell Marsh
As I watched the Curlew caught a crab in the tangle of submerged vegetation and held it firmly at the end of its long down curved bill, I wondered how it would manage to transfer the small crustacean, which was frantically and ineffectually waving it's limbs, down into its stomach. Several times it managed to manoeuvre the crab half way up its bill before having to start again as the crab wiggled back towards the tip of the bill and survival. Then with one last effort the Curlew suddenly had the crab at the top of it mouth and then it was gone, still wriggling down its throat. 

Curlew, Titchwell Marsh
The Cormorants in the dead trees in the reedbed by Patsy's Pool sat still in the early morning warmth their black feathers presumably exacerbating for the them the warmth of the rising summer sun. 

Cormorant, Titchwell Marsh

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Beach Life

Sitting on the edge of The Wash at Snettisham as the sun starts to drop down the western horizon and offshore children enjoy a summer sail in the Sailing Clubs Toppers, I am reminded what a wonderful place this is for people to come and relax. Parents are scattered along the beach chilling as their kids are taught to sail. In the distance I can see a large family group walking along the tide line occasionally skimming stones and throwing a stick for the family dog. A older couple walk past hand in hand with cameras round their necks in search of a sunset shot to share on social media. Everyone seems happy and contented in using this special place for quiet recreation and sharing it with others. 

Adult Ringed Plover on guard duty, Snettisham

Yet I am on tenterhooks, I have noticed on the shingle ridge to my left a young Ringed Plover, almost fully grown but not yet able to fly. It has wandered out of the section of beach that the Warden has roped off to protect ground nesting birds like Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers. Out here on the open beach, it can do under the watchful eyes of its parents what Ringed Plovers have always done, search for its food of small invertebrates amongst the seaweed and shells on the tide line. I'm worried because whilst it can run it can't fly and as I watch it and its two siblings I see a dog coming towards, us its presence even outside the fenced area enough to send two anxious adult Oystercatchers into the air noisily trying to distract the potential predator from their nest. 

Nearly fledged Ringed Plover chick, Snettisham

And this is the challenge that birds like these face, perfectly adapted for nesting on exposed beaches where the land edges into the sea, they are struggling to cope with increased human use of our coastline. Add in the effects of climate change meaning increased flooding in the breeding season and coastal erosion of their nest sites and the population of Ringed Plovers in Norfolk has nosedived by about 80% in recent decades. Suddenly this small trio of baby "Ringo's" are of much more importance. 

Adult Ringed plover and two well grown chicks, Snettisham

I stop and chat with the dogs owner who has got it on a lead and knows all about the Ringed Plovers and shares my concern for them. We have a pleasant conversation and then they continue on their way and I go back to dividing my attention between the Ringed Plovers and my son sailing lesson. 

Children learning to sail [and fall in], Snettisham

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Pyradmids in the Dunes

The undulating dunes at Holme are covered in a mix of of brambles and Marram Grass, in between these are desire paths carved out by generations of families heading to the long flat sandy beach and where these gaps appear wild flowers take their chance to grow and bloom. Today as we made our own beeline for the sea we passed hundreds of flowering spikes of Pyramidal Orchids. The Purple flower spikes colour accentuated by a backdrop of grey green Marram Grass fronds.

Pyramidal Orchids, Holme Dunes
This show of colour is just one of many that we get here in the sand dunes and on the saltmarshes on the north Norfolk coast. Hardy specialist plants like these orchids add their own signature to these tough environments where land and sea, saltwater and freshwater meet.

Once through the dunes we found a picnic site overlooking the sea and framed our view with a base layer of sand and Marram Grass and then the blue of the Wash with the occasional Sandwich Tern flying back towards the colony on Scolt Head Island to our east. Seal heads occasionally appearing glinting in the summer sun. In front of us the meditative sound of the waves rolling on and off the beach and behind us  the songs of Meadow Pipits and Linnets.

From land to sea, Holme dunes

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

A brief glimpse into the private lives of Urban Gulls


The hotel website said that I could have a room on their Business Floor for an extra £5 a night, and that here I would have one of their quieter rooms. So given that I had an important meeting the following morning, I decided to book one of these rooms, hoping perhaps for a slightly swankier experience. Instead I just got a slightly longer journey in the hotel lift to the sixth floor, where the rooms were quieter by dint of being further from the bustling streets of Birmingham city centre below.

As with many of these modern business hotels the rooms towards the top of the building can get very warm, as heat from the lower floors rises through the building. As I entered my room I saw that the cleaner had thoughtfully closed the curtains and left the window ajar to try and keep the temperature down in the room on what was a hot and sunny June day.

I’m a fan of natural light and fresh air, so having dumped my bag on the floor the first thing I did was pull open the curtains to let some daylight into the room and to take in the view of Birmingham’s city skyline.  Immediately I picked up on an insistent piping call and looked down onto the flat roof of a neighbouring building, here a gull chick stood covered in a dirty grey coat of downy feathers with its neck stretched forwards calling to its parents for food. As I scanned the surrounding rooftops and airspace I could see half a dozen adult Lesser Black Backed Gulls, either perched on rooftops or wheeling in the sky above them. The chicks calling worked and I watched as an adult dropped in to land next to it to feed it.
 
iphone wildlife photography, Lesser Black Backed Gull and chick
My ears having picked up on the begging calls of the young gulls now started to tune into the other big city sounds that I hand initially tuned out, the shouts of youths six floors down on the city streets, a police siren and Tanoy announcements from a nearby train station. Below me a city of a million people was going about its business, but up here amongst the roof tops there was a touch of the seaside as an Urban Gull colony went about its business.

For these “seagulls” the city rooftops act in much the same way as a place to nest as offshore islands do, they are safe and secure places free of ground predators and close to a source of food for the adult birds and their young.

As relatively recently as the late 1960’s Lesser Black Backed Gulls were still mainly a coastal species, but already a few pioneers were nesting in cities such as Bristol and it may well be that the birds I was enjoying watching from my high rise hotel room in Birmingham were descendants of these pioneer gulls that had followed the river Severn inland from town to town, eventually making their home in Birmingham with its abundance of safe rooftops to nest upon and a plentiful supply of food in the form of the waste that that we generate in our cities. So important are cities now for Lesser Black Backed Gulls that by 2000 a fifth of the UK population could be found nesting in Urban areas. More info here.

My Business Floor view of Birmingham
Not everyone welcomes the presence of these large gulls in their neighbourhood and a closer inspection of the surrounding rooftops showed spikes and netting presumably put in place to deter gulls and pigeons from taking up residence. But for me it was a pleasure to be able to take a step back from the big city and my preparations for the following day’s work and for a few moments enjoy a ringside view of my very own gull colony going about its timeless business.




Sunday, 17 June 2018

Seasonal Confusion

Saturday morning and in deference to my family tired after a busy week of work, school and after school activities I haven't set my alarm this morning, nonetheless I wake early and slip quietly out of bed and gather my birding kit together for the short drive to Titchwell. 

The first bird that I see as I turn off the A149 into Titchwell Marsh is a Barn Owl briefly gliding across the entrance track, a nice start to my visit.

The reserve is empty with just one other car in the car park, I start my usual early morning circuit heading down the meadow trail for a quick look at Patsy's Pool before heading back around the Boardwalk hoping for some flowering spikes of Marsh Orchids, there  are none, but lots of Ragged Robin and Yellow Flag Iris and it is great to hear and see a couple of Cuckoos as they chase each other around the reedbed and scrub. 

Curlew Sandpiper, Titchwell Marsh
I'd forgotten it was a big tide this morning and it is a pleasant surprise as I approach the Fresh Marsh that the first birds I see are a flock of Dunlin and the first bird in my binoculars field of view is a Curlew Sandpiper just moulting out of its breeding plumage. The Dunlin are great all chestnut brown backs and inky black bellies, I'm never sure at this time of year if the waders are on a late trip north or an early journey south, autumn or spring? Five black summer plumaged Spotted Redshank's add to the value and I have a quick scan and count of the mixed flock of winter plumaged Bar and Black Tailed Godwit, whilst a Greenshank fly's over calling.

Pyramidal Orchid
The fenced predator proof area is a noisy "chaos" of Black Headed and Med Gulls and I find three Little Gulls sitting on the edge of an island. It is good too to see Common, Little and Sandwich Terns here.Whilst a couple of wing pricked Pink Footed Geese walk across the marsh and add to the seasonal confusion is it Spring, Summer, autumn or winter?

Male Kestrel
In the afternoon we decide on a family to the Beach Hut at Brancaster, here we have a walk through the dunes get great views of a hunting male Kestrel and flowering spikes of Pyramidal Orchids which are nicely framed by the yellow flowers and dun coloured seed cases of Yellow Rattle.  On the next door beach hut a pair of Swallows are nesting under the eaves, last year it was a pair of Pied Wagtails and the year before that Swallows. We keep as much distance from the birds as we can so that they can make visits to their nest and I try my luck with some flight photography using a ancient lens and decrepit DSLR body whilst perched in a  Directors Chair.

Swallow

A great day.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Marsh Harriers Mating at Cley

I like visiting the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Cley Marshes nature reserve in part because it has become an occasional treat rather than somewhere I would visit at least monthly before children came along and limited my birding time.

The weather forecast yesterday looked pretty good and so we piled the kids into the car and headed east along the A149.
Male Bearded Tit, Cley
After coffee and cake in the Visitor Centre we walked out to the group of three hides in the middle of the reedbed. This was a quintessentially Norfolk scene behind us Cley Windmill and the Church,  in the reeds the pinging of Bearded Tits and the occasional explosive burst of Cetti's Warbler song. Once in the hide the sound of Avocet's "Klooting" calls hit us as we opened the windows.

Avocet's, Cley
A very pale female Marsh Harrier flew in and landed on the grassy bank on the far side of the lagoon and I got the scope on this for the kids to have a look at this "top predator". As we were admiring the bird a male Marsh Harrier flew in and mounted the female for a few seconds and then flew off. this was the first time I have ever seen Marsh Harriers mating and I managed a few hand held digi-scoped pictures with my little Panasonic Lumix hand held to my Kowa scope eyepiece.

Female Marsh Harrier, Cley
Marsh Harrier mating, Cley

Marsh Harrier mating, Cley

Marsh Harrier mating, Cley