Twite by Janne and Hanna Aalto
Over the last few weeks, the reserve has been the venue for an increasingly rare sight in Norfolk – a wintering flock of twite.
The twite is a small finch and can usually be found feeding in mixed flocks with linnets on the saltmarsh and along the tide line on the beach. Although similar to linnet, twite can be identified by their pale bills, buff/orangey wash to the face and upper breast, pinkish rump (base of the tail) and a buzzy call in flight.
The decline in numbers in Norfolk has been very dramatic. As recently as the mid-1970’s, a flock of 1000 birds were recorded at Titchwell with the last big flock noted in 1990 of 300. The reasons for these declines are not fully understood but has probably been influenced by the loss of breeding habitat in northern England. Studies on these breeding populations have been underway to the last few years and this is where we need YOUR help.
Up to 50 birds have been feeding on the brackish marsh recently and many of them are individually marked with coloured leg rings. This enables the researchers to track individual birds and monitor their breeding success and wintering grounds. Many of the birds are carrying pink rings which identifies that they have been ringed in the south-east Pennines.
How can you help – if you see any of the colour-ringed twite on your visit, can you have a close look at the ring combination and report it to a member of the Titchwell team. The image below shows several of the birds currently present on the reserve.
Twite by Dave Curtis
The nights are getting longer and the days shorter but there is still lots to see at Titchwell Marsh if you plan your visit. One of the highlights as dusk approaches is the roosting harriers. Both marsh harrier and hen harrier use the reedbeds at Titchwell Marsh as a safe haven during the hours of darkness.
After a days feeding on the adjacent farmland and coastal marsh these birds arrive at the reserve before settling in the reedbed for the night. If it has been a clear and calm day this is often very late in the afternoon sometimes only 30 minutes before sunset. If the weather has been more inclement they tend to arrive earlier and attempt to grab a last minute meal by hunting over the saltmarsh and reedbed upto an hour and a half before sunset. Either way the best place to see this is from 'the hump' which is the raised piece of west bank path opposite the main reedbed pool.
In the past the winter roost was solely used by hen harriers and in the mid 1990's 5-7 birds were not uncommon. The marsh harrier at this time was an uncommon wintering bird in the UK and the breeding birds from Titchwell would have been in west Africa for the winter.
In recent years the roost composition has changed and in November 2009 we had upto 9 marsh harrier and 3 hen harrier. The marsh harriers have increased probably due to the larger breeding population and the milder winters.
Unfortunately the hen harriers have decreased and this is almost certainly due persecution limiting the breeding population. In fact in 2007 just 14 pairs were known to have nested successfully in England, whereas, in the absence of illegal killing, over 200 pairs could be supported.
To help protect this fantastic birds of prey why not pledge your support.
Well even if it doesn't happen, the recent cold snap has certainly made a difference to the birds. Over the last few days, with cold easterly winds and snow , there has been a significant increase in winter migrants. With food hard to come by, normally shy species are turning up in strange places.
Over the weekend there has been upto 20 common snipe feeding in the small ditch that runs alongside the main path near the visitor centre. Being the only unfrozen water they have been showing well crouching down to hide rather than flying off. The same ditch has also hosted a jack snipe, at least 4 water rails and 3 woodcocks. Many of these woodcock have probably moved in from Scandinavia but ringing recoveries show that some of our wintering birds come from as far as Russia!
Other highlights from recent days has been the large movement of thrushes, skylarks and lapwings all escaping the cold weather on the continent. On Sunday a single woodlark was seen flying west and a long-eared owl was found roosting in an ivy-covered tree near the visitor centre (no sign today).
If the weather stay cold you maybe lucky and get an avian Christmas present - a waxwing feeding in your garden. I am hoping Santa will bring me a Ross's gull on the fresh marsh!
Happy Christmas and New Year