It’s been a successful breeding season for the birds of Cley. During June and July the scrapes were alive with Avocet chicks. Everywhere you looked there were freshly hatched broods busily foraging around the shallow margins picking small insects from the water’s surface. Scaled down versions of the adults, complete with small upturned bill, it is amazing how these tiny creatures begin feeding themselves almost as soon as they hatch. They seem quite fearless as they enthusiastically explore their surroundings in their quest for sustenance. The ever vigilant parents stand sentinel close by, ensuring their particular balls of down come to no harm. Their most frequent targets, posing real or often only imaginary threats, were marauding gulls, Marsh Harrier, Woodpigeon, Shelduck and Coot; not one was able to get anywhere near the chicks without a spirited and sustained attack. The Marsh Harriers took their quota of course, but it is testimony to the high quality of management activity across the whole site that so many of these iconic birds successfully hatched young. The unceasing efforts of the warden, and all other reserve staff have borne fruit; their dedication deserves high praise. In fact I heard some members of the public say just that as they delighted in the antics of a pair of chicks feeding close to Bishop’s Hide. It is very heartening to know the expertise of NWT staff is appreciated by members of the public whose support is so vital to the Trust’s work.
There has been much evidence of other breeding success. A walk around the reserve has often revealed young Lapwing and Redshank chicks tottering across the wet meadows where Grey-lag Goslings had formed a crèche off East Bank. Meadow pipits, Reed Buntings, Sedge Warblers, Reed Warblers, and Swallows all seem to have fared well, whilst the Marsh Harriers themselves raised three healthy offspring which have been much enjoyed by the visiting public.
But Cley is not all about birds. Largely thanks to the glorious warm weather of the last month it has been insects that have taken centre stage. The wealth of wild flowers covering the reserve provides breeding and feeding opportunities for a multitude of butterflies, moths, bees and other 6-legged creatures. At times the south facing beach slope has been awash with colourful 6-spot burnet moths, common blues and gatekeepers. The cessation of winter bulldozing of the shingle has allowed a very interesting plant community to develop all along this area, especially close to the beach car park. Here at times, the myriad thistles, trefoils and grasses have been covered with dancing butterflies. Today, a sprinkling of migrant silver Y moths were busy flitting from flower to flower; their ability to hover hummingbird-like enabling them to drink deeply from various tubular blooms that others were unable to exploit. Successful breeding of several species is evidenced by small armies of caterpillars busy munching away on their chosen foodplant. The larvae of peacock and cinnabar moth are on display for anyone wishing to look closely at ragwort and nettles, and I was lucky to see a painted lady caterpillar wriggle across the path in front of me. So much life, and it’s not there by accident. Sympathetic management based on decades of experience allows the reserve to flourish all year round. Much of this activity takes place away from the public gaze, or in the early hours and is therefore not always obvious. It is all geared to providing wildlife the best possible habitat, and people the best opportunity of observing what decides to call Cley Marshes home.