Yesterday has got to have been the best day of the year so far.
It started off with Emma and I up to our elbows in water on the fresh marsh collecting mud samples to monitor the amount of invertebrate food that is availble to the feeding wading birds! On our way back a grasshopper warbler was 'reeling' from the reedbed near Fen Hide and the bittern was booming well. At the grazing meadow pool were were stopped by a visitor and shown a cracking drake garganey and a red necked grebe. All this before 9am!
Just after lunch, a local birder came into the visitor centre to say the the Iberian chiffchaff was showing well on the Meadow Trail but he had not heard it singing. Although very similar to a 'regular' chiffchaff, the song is completly different and is like a cross between chiffchaff and willow warbler with a mechanical flourish (I am rubbush at describing songs!) at the end. This is the first record for the reserve and the second one in Norfolk so far this spring. It had probably moved up from southern Europe in the last few days together with a woodchat shrike near Norwich and another Iberian chiffchaff in Kent.
The best however was left until last. Rob and I decided to have a look around after work to see if the rainstorm had dropped in a black tern or red rumped swallow. There were a few 'new' summer plumaged dunlin in and the drake garganey had hopped onto the fresh marsh. As we walked back my phone rang, BEE-EATER OVER THE VISITOR CENTRE, Dave shouted and we were quickly scanning the treeline. After what seemed ages, Rob picked up the bird hawking over the edge of the trees. We 'legged it' down the path and had fantastic views. A small group of visitors had gathered and we put out the news but unfortunatly the bird only stayed 10 minutes before flying off strongly west. Rob was very pleased he had stayed late as it was the first time he had seen a bee-eater in the UK.
If you haven't heard of a bee-eater they are truly stunning birds as you can see.
Not only have we been enjoying the early spring warmth but is has been a great period for insects.
Down on the beach in the last couple of days we have been seeing this cracking beast - the dune tiger beetle (Cicindela maritima). This beetle is one of the rarest species that occurs on the reserve and in the UK is confined to the Bristol Channel coasts, north-west Wales, Kent and Norfolk and is classed as Nationally Scarce. The beetle is coastal occuring in sand dunes and sandy beaches where is feeds along the upper edge on small insects. The peak time to see them is mid-summer and we monitor them by walking slowly along the beach on sunny, warm and calm days - it's a hard life I know!!
Now that the water in the pools around the Meadow Trail has started to warm up, there has been an emergence of the first damselflies. As a general rule, the first species is the large red damselfly but it should only be a few more weeks until the impressive brown hawker can be seen. As its name suggests, it is brown and can be found hawking around the willow bushes and pools alongside the main path!
Over the last few days we have been running the reserve moth trap outside the back of the visitor centre. Things had been a bit quiet with loads of 'little brown jobs' until this morning. Much to the surprise of Emma and Alice, who were opening the trap, this female emperor was hiding at the bottom! Emperor moths are widely distributed throughout Britain and can often be seen flying during the day and can be easily mistaken for a large butterfly. The moth flashes the large 'eyes' on its wings to scare off predators.
Moths are a facinating group and it is amazing what is flying around your garden when you are asleep. If you want to find out more info about moths and moth trapping, why don't you come to one of our reserve moth mornings. Throughout May and June we will be opening the trap at 09:30 outside the visitor centre and everyone is welcome. Why not bring along the family - you never know what we may catch.
Today has been so excitng and typify what spring birding at Titchwell is all about.
Lunchtime saw many visitors dashing for the west bank path as news came through of three common cranes heading west along the coast towards the reserve. The pagers were giving us almost minute by minute progress on the birds all the way from Cromer. By the time they were five miles from the reserve there were maybe forty or more expectant birders with binoculars raised scanning the skies for the first view of these magnificent birds. However, the expectant crowd found focussing on the task in hand quite difficult due to the constant distraction by several bearded tits 'pinging' and chasing right in front of where they were stood!
Five....ten....fifteen....thirty minutes passed with no crane sightings....it slowly dawned on the assembled masses that the cranes had either turned round before reaching the reserve or had landed in a field out of sight! The excitement and anticipation almost made up for not seeing the birds. ...oh well, there's always tomorrow!
Several little terns have been seen around the fresh marsh and common and sandwich terns fish off shore. Three cracking whinchats (first record for the year) and several wheatears are in the grazing meadow.
Most of our summer breeding species are now 'in' and in particualr we are pleased to see the arrival of 'Whitey' a reed warbler with a peculier white head.
This is Whitey's second summer on the reserve and since we saw him last summer he has been all the way to west Africa and back. Not bad for a bird that weighs half as much as a packet of crisps! We look forward to hosting Whitey for several years to come.
Image thanks to Richard Campey.