Autumn is here already!
As far as many of the high Arctic breeding waders are concerned, it is with the first returning species visible on the fresh marsh. Species such as spotted redshank and green sandpiper are still in full summer plumage and are probably birds that have failed with their breeding attempts while the grey black-tailed godwits are mainly young birds that have not reached breeding age.
During the last couple of weeks we have been slowly dropping the water levels to provide feeding areas for these migrant species and the newly exposed mud has proved to be a wader magnet. Black-tailed godwits have been the most obvious arrival using the fresh marsh to feed and the saltmarsh for roosting. Our residential volunteer Graham completed a lagoon wader count this morning and recorded an amazing 706 ‘black-tails’ and 180 bar-tailed godwits! This is easily the highest count for the reserve beating 529 in August 2006. Apart from the godwits, there has been a really good selection of birds around. The fresh marsh has held 7 spotted redshank, 2 green sandpiper, 3 little ringed plover, 2 greenshank, 3 curlew sandpiper and 95 avocets. Most of the wildfowl have now started moult and disappear into the reeds but the red-crested pochard (1) and pintail (3) families are still present.
Bittern activity is slowed this week now that the showy female has moved her young further away from the path although both females are still performing feeding flights.
If you have visited Titchwell recently, you may have seen the fantastic pair of spoonbills that are wading around at the moment.
Any bird whose beak resembles a piece of cutlery is worth a view in my opinion, but what's also interesting is the ring around one of the spoonbills' legs. This is not just a fashionable anklet - it enables us to trace the bird's 'life history'. After a bit of digging, it was discovered that she (the bird is believed to be female) was ringed as a chick in Sevilla, Casa Neves, Spain back in 2007.
Since then, it seems that she has developed a fondness for English shores. The records show that she has been seen at various UK locations since last September; including Devon, Dorset, Hampshire and Norfolk.
It is always a highlight to see a spoonbill as they very rarely breed in the UK. In 1998, a pair bred successfully in Eastern England - the first for 330 years. There was also a successful breeding pair in the area last year. Although they are now predominantly a Mediterranean bird, they used to be more common in this country; particularly in East Anglia where they can be dated back to 1300. They were even known to be a tasty bird for the table (don't get any ideas!).
Hopefully the British weather won't make the spoonbills homesick for sunny Spain and they will be around to view on the freshmarsh for a while.
Still feeing the effects from my recent holiday I decided to have a long lie in on Saturday morning. I won’t mention the time that Dave called (the sun was well up) but he told me that there was an adult Caspian tern feeding on the grazing marsh pool right by the main path.
I managed to get all my birding gear together as quickly as I could and head out of the door. When I arrived, I checked in with Dave that it was still present and headed down the path. Between the visitor centre and the grazing marsh the bird decided to fly off and was seen heading for the beach. No sign of it when I got there and I later heard that it see seen heading west past Holme Dunes - you win some......
Caspian terns are certainly spectacular birds and pretty easy to ID. The combination of the large size (nearly as big as a herring gull), dark cap and massive blood-red bill make it unmistakable. Caspian terns are a rare visitor to the UK from southern-Europe and are often a difficult bird to catch up with as they can be very mobile. Looking through the reserve records, this seems to be only the 3rd time it has been seen here following singles in 2001 and 1988.
As Ray nears his target of 800 species, he proves that no stone should be left unturned when on the hunt for wildlife at Titchwell Marsh.
To get the best out of the reserve, there are plenty of events and lots of different areas to explore which can open your eyes to all sorts of wildlife.
This became even more apparent over the last fortnight, with 18 of the 31 new species I found coming from the moth traps. Moths from the traps are displayed to the public every Wednesday at 9am at our 'Marvellous Moths' mornings, where there are always new and exciting species unveiled. 2 of the 31 new species came from Thornham Point, 4 from the Meadow Trail, 4 from the car park and 3 from the west bank - there really is wildlife hiding around every corner! The pictured four-spotted chaser dragonfly (form praenubila) was found sunning itself in the car park, only a few feet from the only common cudweed plant I know of on the reserve.
On my walk to Thornham Point I passed many tall acrid lettuce plants and found 25 common jellyfish on the tideline, before eventually finding a common cuttlebone. An ichneumon fly, (netelia testaceus), was caught in the moth trap amongst dozens of moths. Many moth names such as barred yellow, large yellow underwing and figure of eighty are fairly obvious, but I can imagine a 19th century naturalist finding a moth and saying "I'm uncertain about that one" or "It looks like an obscure wainscot" and the names stuck!
However, all the new species have been up-staged this week by the experience of getting my first personal views of bittern chicks; and totally eclipsed by the caspian tern that spent an hour feeding on Bett's Pool.
The total now stands at 780 - isn't Titchwell brilliant?
Firstly, some advice...don’t go away on holiday as you are bound to miss something! I have just got back from a 2-week birding trip to the US to find out that there has been an explosion in bittern activity.
Just before I left, we had been recording an increase in bittern activity and suspected that there may be a nest just off the reserve. Fast-forward a week and much to the surprise of everyone on the reserve, two nests were confirmed with the first one having two large young that had already left the nest! Bitterns have a long breeding cycle with incubation taking 25 days and fledging upto 55 days although they will leave the nest to explore their surroundings from about 30 days.
As many of you are aware, bitterns are a very difficult bird to catch up with and to get good views can take lifetime. Over the last few years we have been very privileged to have a female bird that doesn’t ‘know the rules’ and has been seen fishing in the pools by the main path or flying back and forth during the middle of the day. Well this year they have gone one better. We have been very lucky to see one of the females feeding her two youngsters out in the open in the short rushes close to the main path. For most of the time, they remain hidden but as soon as she flies in, they stick their heads up and beg for food. Talking to our bittern researchers at HQ, seeing young bitterns being fed, out in the open is very rare so make the most of this special event and head down to the reserve.
The photo below shows one on the juveniles (on the right) begging the female for food.