Tag Archives: marsh Harrier

The Butterfly Safari

We’re now travelling back in time. It’s back to Monday morning this time, to a time before the Sheringham Fish and Chips. I put the the postcode for Strumpshaw Fen into the sat-nav and was once again mesmerised by its capacity for random navigation and time travel.

It started off by leading me in what I thought was the wrong direction and then took a turn for the worse as we took in a selection of narrow roads with grass growing down the centre. It was like taking a trip into a time of more relaxed transport and I’m sure I saw a Hay Wain in the distance.

The main butterfly at the reserve is the Swallowtail. There were, according to reports, several still to be seen on the reserve. We also had hopes of seeing White Admirals and Silver-washed Fritillaries.

From the lack of Swallowtail picture in the header you may be able to deduce that things did not exactly go to plan. You may also search in vain…well, you’ll find out in good time. For now I will keep the tension building.

The first thing we saw as we crossed the railway line to the reserve was a bat, which fluttered down into a bush. They have Pipistrelles in the roof of one of their buildings, though they don’t usually fly in daylight. It might, we agreed, be suffering from the heat.

Pipistrelle Bat, Strumpshaw

Pipistrelle Bat, Strumpshaw

We took a walk through the woods, looked at the wire contraptions that used to shelter orchids, saw a few surviving orchids, pointed a camera at several butterflies and muttered bad words at my lack of success in actually photographing them. Ditto for dragonflies.

We did see a Marsh Harrier, but, to be fair, they are hard to miss. The Canadian lady who was in the hide at the time was ecstatic at seeing one, and the conversation moved on to her difficulties in seeing Polar Bears in Northern Canada. It was nice to think of a cold place while burning up in the middle of a Norfolk reed bed.

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Marsh Harrier over Strumpshaw Fen

Whilst listening to tales of the frozen north I noticed that a Comma had settled next to the path. As soon as I pointed the camera at it, it flew away. It’s a common butterfly and I have lots of shots of it, but it was still vexing to miss yet another shot.

I also missed a White Admiral – twice. We had good views of them, but they didn’t settle long enough for a photograph.

I was able to get some damselflies, some blurred dragonflies and, after returning to my primeval origins, hunt down a darter.

This is a Ruddy Darter. Probably.

These are Damselflies – possibly a Common Blue and a Blue-tailed.

Finally, as we sat under an ivy-covered tree, drinking tea and (in my case) restocking my calories with a big chunk of flapjack, I noticed a butterfly. It was the tomato soup red colour of a Comma, which was a poor second prize for a day of butterfly spotting in Norfolk.

However, as I zoomed in I noticed it was a completely different shape to a Comma.

And that was how we managed to take a photograph of a Silver-washed Fritillary.

That evening, after chips, we took a ride out into the marshes, where I enjoyed myself taking blurred photos of larks and pipits, missing a shot of a female Marsh Harrier and, eventually, getting some shots of sitting people and moored boats. They move slowly so I can manage them.

I’ll post them later as I have to go out now.

 

Good Day at Blacktoft Sands

I was tempted by the alliteration of “Bad Day at Blacktoft Sands” as I like alliteration and it sounds like a black and white cowboy film, which I also like. However, we had a good day, so that plan was doomed from the start.

It shows how things have changed over the years if I say that we saw a Marsh Harrier and a Little Egret, but didn’t see anything special. Marsh Harriers were down to a single breeding pair in 1971 but there are up to 380 pairs now and seem quite common if you go to the right place. Little Egrets have had a population explosion since the 1980s – from being a rarity we now have a population of around 700 breeding pairs and 4,500 overwintering. Give them a few more years and we’ll be complaining about them crowding other birds out.

The Marsh Harrier expansion is down to preserving habitat, changing habits and stopping people persecuting them, though they still have problems. The Little Egret, I’m afraid to say, might be due to global warming though a general expansion of range and protection of habitat may be helping.

The first notable birds we say were Tree Sparrows. They have declined by 96% since 1970, and we only seem to see them on the bird feeders at Nature Reserves!

We did see a group of Pochard, which was nice because numbers have been decreasing, plus a couple of Little Grebes, Widgeon, Teal, Greylag Geese and a few other things. I won’t list them all because lists aren’t that interesting, except to the people making the list.

As usual, the distance was too far for the camera, but fortunately some of the birds helped out by coming close. Buildings, being bigger and slower than birds, were more obliging, so I took a few shots of the buildings.

It’s a very watery place. The Ouse runs to the north of the reserve (connecting Goole docks to the sea). The Trent runs down the east side and where the two rivers meet they form the Humber, which is an estuary rather than a river. I didn’t know that until last week, I always thought it was a short river.

The white building is part of Associated British Ports and overlooks a wharf whilst the lighthouse at Whitgift is still in service and is a waymark for Goole docks.

 

To end the day we went to the Dolphin at Sutton on Sea for haddock and chips. I had a syrup sponge and custard. Julia had a banana fritter. Well, it was Valentine’s Day, and I thought she deserved a treat.

Big Day for Buzzards

I always like to look out for Buzzards on the way down to Peterborough as there are plenty of places to see them.

When I was a youthful birdwatcher, around 10 or 11 years old, I was fascinated by Buzzards, which were not as easy to see in those days. From Peterborough we had to go to Scotland, The Lakes, Devon or Wales before finding any. Even then they weren’t common.

Gamekeepers killed so many that they were confined to the north and west of the UK by the end of the 19th century. Things eased up a bit after the Second World War – said on the RSPB website to be due to a new enlightened attitude to birds of prey, though it might have been more to do with the decline in country estates and a lack of keepers.  At that point other factors came into play, such as lack of rabbits (due to myxomatosis) and problems with pesticides (which caused thin egg shells and reduced hatchability).

From the 1960s, with the withdrawal of the pesticides and the increase of rabbit populations, Buzzards started to recover. From the 1990s they started to expand. First I saw them in Derbyshire, then Sherwood Forest, then over Bulwell Golf Course…

Now I can see them all the way down to Peterborough.

Of course, they weren’t the only bird to suffer – Peregrines, Red Kites, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels, Marsh Harriers and other birds of prey all suffered. Red Kites were down to 10 pairs in the 1930s (up to 500 pairs by 2006 due to the reintroduction programme started in 1989). Marsh Harriers were down to 1 pair in 1971 (now up to 360 breeding pairs due to habitat restration). Peregrines slumped to 360 pairs in 1963 (now up to 1,400 pairs, often nesting on tall buildings instead of cliffs. You can watch them on a number of video links from Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield and Norwich if you don’t mind the detritus of dismantled pigeons around the nestlings.) Even Sparrowhawks and Kestrels declined significantly.

Things aren’t all good, though. Sparrowhawks declined again in the 1990s, though they are now stable. Kestrels are currently in decline. In both cases this is thought to be due to a decline in prey species. That’s the trouble with being a bird of prey, you can only expand to the limit of your food supply.

My count was three Kestrels, two hovering and one flying by the roadside.

I also saw eleven Buzzards. Yes, eleven. One in a tree followed by four perching on the lamp posts as the A52 comes up to the A1. There was another in a tree, two more on a field looking for worms (they have no pride) and an ninth as I neared Stamford. That one was flying, and I initially hoped it would be a Red Kite. If anyone had told the young me that I’d be disappointed to see nine Buzzards on a trip to Peterborough I’d have laughed. There were two more to come, one on a road sign (I’ve never seen them do that before) and one in a tree.

Finally, soaring over the site of an old Roman town, I spotted a Red Kite. Just the one, but it was nice to see.

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Red Kite over Northamptonshire

The Buzzard photo is from the lawn at Rufford earlier this week, and the Kite from Northamptonshire last summer.

No photos from today, as  you can’t do much photography at 70 mph.