Paddling around the flooded paths at Strumpshaw Fen this morning, assessing the impact of salt water flooding in the aftermath of the surge tide, I noticed a a large brown bird skulking in the nettles at the edge of the path just 2 or 3 meters ahead. A pheasant (the usual suspect)? No, its stubby tail and long dark streaks down its back shouted "bittern"! In the blink of an eye it had vanished into the strip of reed at the river's edge, and I looked carefully for moving reed stems to tell me which direction it had gone. All was still, but then, crouching on the riverbank, I picked up a shape among the thick reeds just an arms length from my face, motionless, hunched, bill pointing up and its beady eye looking right into mine. At such close range this was obviously a small bird - a female. In 16 years at Strumpshaw Fen and 45 years of bird watching I had never been so close to a bittern. I remembered the camera in my pocket, and carefully took it out. She looked hungry, nervous, and ready to fly. The camera and I struggled to find and focus on the cryptic bird in the dense reeds but I managed a few shots before I quietly walked away and left her in peace.
Most of the paths at Strumpshaw Fen are closed today (Thurs 5 Dec) due to high winds and flooding. If you're planning to visit, we'd highly recommend waiting until the weekend. Some paths may still be closed tomorrow.
It's been another typically autumnal week on the wildlife front at Strumpshaw Fen, possibly with a hint of winter. Bitterns have been showing daily around the reserve, with an impressive 3 together at the fen hide today. Otters and kingfishers have also put in daily appearances. The biggest surprise of the week was a rare great white egret on monday - seen by a lucky few. The harrier roost has built up to 19 marsh harriers with a single hen harrier. With water levels still reasonably low, the usually elusive water rails have been showing well at the fen hide. Chinese water deer are also showing themselves, often in the mown areas of reed. These deer are not native to the UK but thankfully do not seem to harm any native species, and with the Chinese population under threat the UK population may even be globally important. The sunshine last saturday brought out what might be the last butterfly (a peacock) and dragonfly (a migrant hawker) of the year. The feeding station has been entertaining visitors with brambling, marsh tits and nuthatches starring among the commoner tits and finches.
The last winter visitor to arrive in the Yare valley is often the bean geese and the first 30 birds arrived at Cantley Marshes about a week ago, joining around 60 white-fronted geese and a few hundred pink-footed geese. Strangely, all these big birds can be hard to locate in the vast grassland landscape of Buckenham and Cantley Marshes, but are well worth tracking down. The sight and sound of hundreds of wild geese on a bright winter's day makes the search worthwhile.
If anyone knows there there is a big starling roost in Norfolk or Suffolk then please let me know as we are getting a lot of phone calls asking! Sadly we still do not have a significant starling roost but have been able to consol ourselves with some excellent orange-pink-purple sunsets.