Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Saturday and Sunday 16th and17th January

Bittern (c) JR
Here is the second of my “virtual” reports from the moor, based on conversations, texts and e-mails from a brilliant set of mobile roving correspondents.
Winter has finally arrived with harder frosts, some ice and a light dusting of snow. The cold, clear weather has also meant that the sun has appeared, relieving us of the unending grey gloom of the last couple of months. As is usual at this time of year the bird numbers have risen sharply with Lapwings and Golden Plovers present in their highest numbers this winter. Both species separately topped over three thousand in the latest WeBS count on Monday morning.
Lapwings and Goldies (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
Interestingly the cold conditions have not yet initiated the abandonment of the reed bed roost by the Starlings, but should the lagoons freeze experience from other years would suggest that the birds will go elsewhere. On Saturday and Monday evenings it was reported to be just as spectacular as normal and I have been sent some great pictures to prove it.
Starlings on Monday (c) Francis Josephs

Swans oblivious to the throng. Both above pics (c) Tom Nicholson -Lailey
As the cold bites and conditions out in the fields become more difficult we will certainly draw more birds down to the grain feeding along the track to beside and to the south of the hide. Correspondents all remarked that these numbers were still rising. As well as the Reed Buntings and Linnets that make up the bulk of the flock there are also Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Yellowhammers and still at least two Bramblings. As has become normal, this concentration of feeding passerines is attracting regular visits from one or other of the Sparrowhawks that scatters everything to the four winds.
Reed Bunting (c) JR

Flood on the MOD (c) Pete Roby
Water levels have continued to rise over the last week and now the moor is looking much more like a proper wetland. Saunders Field and the Hundred Acre fields out on the MOD land are now flooded. Most exciting of all is the rise in the water level on the Flood Field. Years ago it always attracted huge numbers of wildfowl, I remember one year when we counted over six hundred Pintail out there and another year when it drew in a flock of seventy four White-fronted Geese. It has not been possible to allow it to flood up properly since the re-profiling work was done on it, as the root and soil structure needed to become properly established, so as to withstand regular flooding. This year will be the first when it holds water again properly and I will be fascinated to see if it can still pull down substantial numbers of birds. It provides a quiet, undisturbed area for wildfowl that are flushed off the main part of the reserve to loaf, feed and rest. There will be considerable amounts of grass seed and invertebrate food available there this year.

The Flood Field as we like to see it (c) David Wilding

The issue of wildfowl and indeed wildfowling is a vexed issue. Landowners have a legal right to shoot ducks and geese over their land even when that land adjoins a nature reserve. This is the case for instance at Titchwell where a shooting syndicate owns the next door saltmarsh. But I am a little disappointed to find that a landowner can receive a substantial grant in order to make his land more wildlife friendly and then use the subsequent improvement to lure down more birds to indulge his interest in shooting them. So we now have a scatter of duck decoys out on the fields to the west of the path to the main screen. It all seems a little cynical to me, but perhaps I’m just being naïve. 
Unconvincing Decoys Noke Sides (c) Tezzer

Raptors are all being seen regularly and we have now had a Merlin record from this half of the winter. With the vast biomass of over a hundred thousand Starlings and over ten and a half thousands of ducks and waders it is not surprising. Often they are cleaning up the sick and the injured birds that are an inevitable part of such a concentration. Short Eared Owls are being seen regularly but have not yet taken to hunting in the late afternoon.
Kestrel lunching on Blackbird (c) Paul Greenaway

Bittern or Bitterns are being seen every day and in just four weeks or so we can start to listen out for booming. It happened last year but the consensus of opinion was that they didn’t boom long enough to suggest breeding. Nationwide one hundred and fifty six boomers were recorded last year and sixty four nests were recorded. Let’s hope that this year we can join that number.
Thanks to all my roving reporters and photographers and thanks too for kind enquiries as to my recovery. I may even get down to the moor this weekend if it’s not too icy and dangerous for a wobbly birder on crutches!
Siskin from elsewhere but needed for the 2016 Yearlist! (c) Derek Lane

Reports from: PG, PR, SR, JU, TN-L, TS, FJ and RSPB staff.

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