Monday, 24 August 2015

A trip to Titchwell

The sun blazed in a wide open sky, the blue stretching above the open landscape of marshes, pools and reeds of Titchwell on the north Norfolk coast. A stiff breeze ruffled the sea creating white caps and powering the wind turbines just offshore in endless cycles. The long stretch of sandy beach, exposed by the low tide had rivulets of water running through the little sand waves created by the receding water. The shells of razorfish littered the strand line, crunching under foot. Working back inland the marshes stretch as far as the eye can see beyond the sandy dunes. To the left of a gravel path large lagoons with shimmering wavelets host a multitude of birds. From the beach the lagoons become more freshwater, so that the first, nearest the beach, is almost empty in the low tide with just the odd pools of water and tufty, hardy plants. The third pool is totally freshwater and full of water, so that at this point most of the birds are concentrated here. Beyond it are large beds of reeds.

The freshwater lagoon

Owned by the RSPB the reserve has some fabulous, well maintained hides that present perfect opportunities to watch the goings on in the pools without disturbing the birds. The newer Parrinder Hide is a modern building with wide, open windows overlooking both the freshwater and brackish lagoons. For me I prefer the more traditional wooden hide, although this is still very open and light compared to many I have been in. Still, I love the smell of wood, the slight mustiness, the scratch of wooden benches on wooden floor, lifting the catches and hoisting open the windows to reveal the landscape beyond.

The freshwater lagoon has a maze of little islands and peninsulas of land covered in grass, its edges has thick lush green grasses and tall dense reeds. Everywhere there are birds. Common and sandwich terns roost on the islands; standing in the shallow water, heads tucked under wings are black-tailed godwits, around the edges even more godwits, avocets, dunlin and ruff are feeding, each with a different characteristic action, each as busy as the next fuelling up. 

A ruff feeding in the margins of the lagoon

Numerous teal also feed in the shallow water, their bills submerged as they filter food from the water. It is a cracking time of year to be watching ducks and waders. For the ducks, most are still in eclipse plumage. All appear brown and drab, the males having lost their bright plumage while they moult their flight feathers and are therefore more vulnerable to predation. For the waders there is a total mix, with many individuals still in their fabulous breeding plumage; the deep russet red, with almost tiger stripe barring on the flanks of black-tailed godwit; the deep black on the face, neck and breast contrasting with the golden yellow on the back of the golden plover; the black belly of little dunlin. Others are already into the greyer, more muted plumage of winter, and many more are in various stages between the two. Amongst these returning migrant waders is a species that has been one of the UK’s conservation success stories: the avocet. After the return of breeding pairs following an absence of 100 years in the 1940s, the creation of suitable habitat and protection has led to a substantial recovery. Now the sight of these distinctive black and white, long legged, birds sweeping their curved bill back and forth is thankfully much more common in many areas of our eastern coast. 

And to top off the day… a superb wood sandpiper spotted emerging from the vegetation in a secretive corner of the pool.

The distinctive avocet

Friday, 7 August 2015

A baby goldfinch and a baby Robyn

Into my 38th week of pregnancy and I was off work, resting, reading, cleaning; all those things you do in the last few weeks before all hell breaks loose. Each evening I would waddle the dog (I would waddle she would walk/run/swim) to meet Lee at work. On Monday I was heading that way following a rather cryptic text message, something about a baby goldfinch….

Arriving at BTO headquarters and I was greeted by Lee and a small plastic tub in which was said baby goldfinch. No more than 7 or 8 days old, feathers not fully grown and certainly not old enough to be out of the nest. The little chap and a sibling had been brought to the BTO by a concerned member of the public having found them on the ground. While a bird conservation charity the BTO is not a rescue charity. That said Lee is not the type to turn any animal away. While one of the little chicks was too ill, and died very shortly after, the other was healthier although hungry. Lee had contacted the local animal sanctuary who said they could if needed come and collect the little one either that evening or tomorrow. It would be a week or so before it would be ready to fledge, and in that moment, in my head I was thinking I still have a couple weeks before my own baby bird was due, I said ‘why don’t we take care of it!’ 

So we took him home (I say he but there is no way of knowing at this stage whether it is male or female) . We rang the animal sanctuary back and told them we would take care of the bird and for the next week we kept him in a small cage usually used to capture birds for ringing, and we fed him mushed up seeds, and some may say against better judgement we named him Carrot (as in 24 carat gold but it evolved into Carrot). By the end of the week he was hopping around the cage, twittering like crazy between periods of rest where he would bundle up and tuck his head under a wing. He would soon be ready, but we needed to make sure he could feed himself. 

Carrot the goldfinch

It turns out my own little bird was rather impatient, and not willing to wait till her due date, or at one point to even wait to get to the hospital! That weekend Robyn Evelyn came into our world bottom first. 

Even with the craziness that follows the birth of a baby, we kept an eye on Carrot. He was starting to feed by himself and would soon be ready to leave our nest. One evening and Carrot just like Robyn was impatient to get going; slipping between the small gap at the entrance to the cage and heading off into the big wide world without a backwards glance or stopping to say goodbye to his surrogate family. As they say that’s life, but that was not the end of the story. The next day and a little goldfinch appeared on our bird table. Carrot was back. He looked OK, a little hungry by the seems and ready for bed. He did not fly off when we approached and so we decided to bring him indoors for the night, just in case. A day later and he was again eagerly eating seed and once again ready for the off. Once again he beat us to it; nipping out of the cage and through an open window. This time when he did return to the garden he looked brighter and flew off when approached. Carrot had fledged and over the next couple of days we no longer saw him in the garden. As our own little Robyn bird starts out we can now only hope that Carrot has joined up with more of his kind and stays safe. 

Robyn Evelyn the newest addition to the Wild Barley family