The dark nights are here, Hallowe'en and Bonfire Night are already quickly fading from the memory and Christmas is just a few weeks away. Chris Lusted gives you the lowdown if you're thinking about some new gear for yourself or a loved one.
"We are holding a Binocular and Telescope Day here on Sunday 23 November (10am-4pm). If you are looking for a Christmas gift and you're unsure about any aspect of binoculars, telescopes, tripods or other accessories, call in to see us. It is a chance to try our broad range of binoculars and 'scopes on the nature reserve, with the support of experienced and informed staff and volunteers. We may even have a surprise or two on the day!
In the meantime, here are a few of my top tips for the winter:
If you are unable to visit on 23rd, we also offer a one-hour personal demo service; please call us on 01492 584091 to book."
Our Cetti's Warbler (or one of them, as two have been reported) has become more vocal during the week. It's started to sing rather than just call, its 'explosive' song heard from some distance: if you're not sure what they sound like, listen here. The area around the Bridge Pond is best, and it has occasionally been seen - as Elliot Montieth shows with his photo taken last weekend. The Bridge Pond has also hosted a regular Kingfisher (visitors watched it for up to 20 minutes at a time today) and a Water Rail.
A Green-winged Teal was reported this morning, but there was no sign during the monthly Wetland Bird Survey, which did feature Scaup, Pochards, Goldeneye, Dunlins and up to 30 Black-tailed Godwits. A Rock Pipit was on the estuary, several Goldcrests are hunting insects in the scrub and at least one Chiffchaff remains - not a bad day at the office!
Skylarks have been heard most mornings this week - these are over-flying migrants, heading west as winter arrives from the north. Grey Wagtail and Great Spotted Woodpecker have also been seen daily, while a Blackcap and Pintail were here on Wednesday (5th). Two Whooper Swans flew east on Monday (3rd), while a Sanderling and Chough were reported last Friday (31st).
A couple of weeks ago, Starling numbers were building to several thousand, but since then have dispersed and there have been only a few dozen here this week. We'll keep our Facebook and Twitter pages updated if they return, as we know lots of visitors are keen to see this autumn murmuration spectacle.
The September drought broke in style on 4th October, and the water levels on the Shallow Lagoon rose an incredible 15 cm in just 3 days. This couldn't have been timed better for us, as some areas of the lagoon were starting to get a little dry and cracked, but everything is looking spot on again now, with plenty of areas of wet mud for the migrant waders, which are still moving through, to feed on. This year has been another great one for waders, as we've managed to maintain these muddy edges throughout the summer by allowing the water levels to gradually decrease, and we recorded 18 different species of wader in September - not bad going for a tiny site! In order to help give us more control over water levels in future years, we installed a pipe dam in the Causeway between the two lagoons a few weeks ago. If this drawdown doesn't happen naturally in future years, for example if we have a wet summer, this means that we can still achieve it artificially by moving water off the Shallow Lagoon and on to the Deep Lagoon.
This time of year always seems to be full of variety birdwise, with an overlap of summer, autumn and winter species all mixing in together. There are plenty of migrant waders still moving through, with curlew sandpiper, 2 spotted redshank, knot, up to 3 ruff and greenshank most days, and a little stint was seen on 8th October. The garganey appears to have finally left us, but been replaced by a female scaup. Water rails have increased in number, with their familiar squeals being heard all over the reserve, and we've also had a small influx of jays, no doubt hunting for acorns. A real sign of the onset of autumn was 6 whooper swans flying over on 11th October, heading south, but we've still a few summer visitors hanging on too. Two swallows were spotted on 5th October, and we're still seeing the occasional willow warbler in the scrubby areas of the reserve.
For the last couple of weeks, a Cetti's warbler, pictured left, has been heard regularly by the Bridge Pond (but catching a glimpse of it is another matter.......). This species is one of the beneficiaries of climate change - they were first recorded breeding in Britain in Kent in 1973, and have been spreading north and west ever since. Wouldn't it be great if one day soon they settle down in our reedbeds over summer, and we get to hear their explosive song throughout the breeding season?