One interesting aspect of visiting a place every week is that you get a real sense of how things change as a season progresses. It is sometimes quite surprising the difference a passage of only seven days can make. For example, last week at Cley Marshes it was all swallows and wheatears, this week it was house martins and whinchats. Last week only a few avocets were sitting, this week the marsh was covered in incubating adults. The grasshopper warblers that were entertaining visitors on my last visit could not be found today, but in their place were reed warblers and lots of newly arrived sedge warblers eagerly staking their claim to a suitable plot of bramble and reed scrub. Spring moves on apace.
Although wader passage is very light, there was still much entertainment to be had from Bishop’s hide this morning. Skirmishes were breaking out all over Pat’s Pool with shelduck, avocets, gadwall and coots squabbling over territory and mating rights. The belligerent avocets were also kept busy seeing off any marauding crow, heron or marsh harrier. A pair of Sandwich terns added their raucous calls to the melee and a brightly patterned ruff together with a few chestnut breasted black-tailed godwits enlivened the scene.
It was very interesting to observe the mating ritual of the closest pair of avocets. The female assumed a submissive posture, crouching low, almost submerging her head in the water whilst the male stood by her side rearranging his plumage, apparently oblivious to her soliciting. Presently, after an episode of strutting around his true love, the male alighted on the females back and mating occurred.
Then the most entrancing section of the dance, when immediately after the mating itself, both birds speedily high-stepped away from each other and commenced preening with total nonchalance. Perhaps it is morally questionable to subject these birds to the indignity of having this intimate moment captured digitally at seven frames a second, but such is the lot of a star bird at Cley Marshes.
After a spot of lunch, I accompanied Carl Brooker, Summer Warden, into the reed beds to set up the weekly moth trap. The forecast indicated a potentially good night for moths, and the number of species recorded here is impressive. Moth trapping is a highly enjoyable and addictive pastime, and during the course of the year Norfolk Wildlife Trust holds several Magical Moth events where members of the public can inspect the previous night’s catch. It really is a great introduction to the nocturnal inhabitants of this diverse area, and if you get a chance I would highly recommend taking a look.
Although the wildlife is constantly changing here on these coastal flatlands, one ever-present factor is the wind. Today a chill easterly breeze took the edge off the temperatures and forced more than one otherwise eager visitor to close the viewing hatch and retire to the Visitor Centre to imbibe well-earned coffee and cake. But, of course an easterly airflow at this time of year could well result in the appearance of stray continental or Scandinavian migrants; the old adage ‘the worse the weather, the better the birds’ could be put to the test over the next few days. In fact when I got home I noticed reports of red-footed falcons, black storks, a black kite and various other goodies in and around Norfolk, so Cley Marshes or Holme could well boast yet more really good birds over the coming few days. What better excuse than to get out and spend some time there over the Bank Holiday weekend.