The fact that Titchwell was getting more and more popular didn't surprise me at all. I for one was going down there three or four times a week, the start of an ongoing obsession. Not only were there a great variety of birds to see, I started to meet some excellent people who shared my interests. It was, and still is, a very friendly, relaxing place to visit. Not that I was relaxed in May 1983, I was really cheesed off. I'd had a phone call telling me there was a Baird's sandpiper on the brackish marsh. I arrived to be told that it had flown off over the saltmarsh, the same thing happened on the next four evenings. Not happy - this would have been a new species for me and with it the bonus of being a very rare springtime bird. I'd heard no mention of anyone seeing it the next day so had no expectations at all, and then there it was, slowly walking towards me along the muddy edge of the brackish marsh. I watched it all on my own for over 15 minutes before it went out of sight and I may well have been the last person to see it. There were no subsequent records.
On June 25th the phone rang again, this time it was for a female summer-plumaged Wilson's phalarope. Whereas my last rarity had taken me six days to find, this one, which finished off my set of phalaropes, took less than six minutes. What a lovely bird she was with pale yellow legs, a peachy flush on her upper breast and neck, a white rump and, probably her most striking feature, a broad black stripe that started in front of the eye and continued down the side of her neck. For any readers who do not know this family, it is the females who carry the brightest colours. Her behaviour struck me as being rather like that of a spotted redshank by spending a lot of time wading and only having short spells of swimming. These were two great birds, but what came the following year was even better.
With no let up in the northerly winds, new spring migrants have been thin on the ground this week although there has a few bright moments. The highlight was a spotted flycatcher feeding for much of the day in the shelter of the picnic area. They are getting much rarer these days so it always nice to catch up with one.
Spoonbill - Spanish colour-ringed bird (FJ9) feeding on the saltmarsh throughout the week
Red crested pochard - drake present all week but mobile
Little ringed plover - 5 on fresh marsh including a pair on Patsy's reedbed
Greenshank - 1 on Volunteer Marsh on the 17th
Little stint - adult on reserve 13th - 14th
Common sandpiper - 2 on fresh marsh on 15th
Montagu's harrier - possible female hunting over Thornham saltmarsh briefly on the 14th
Hobby - 2 hunting swifts on 16th
Wheatear - 2 present during the week
Spotted flycatcher - 1 in picnic area on 16th
17 days late to be precise! The first cuckoo was heard at Titchwell on 20 April but there was no sign of cuckooflower, a springtime plant named because it’s flowering time traditionally coincides with the arrival of the first cuckoo and the beginning of spring. It has taken another 17 days before its pale pink flowers came into bloom on the meadow trail.
So what’s going on? A cold March hot (or should that be cold) on the heels of a cold winter have stopped plants in their tracks. Many plants are up to a month late, waiting for a rise in temperature.
The cuckoo on the other-hand has arrived back from Africa around the usual time. Arrival dates vary between different parts of the country, but traditionally it is around 14 April (St. Tiburtius' Day). The first bird recorded in the UK in 2013 was on 31 March in Devon whilst here at Titchwell it was the 20 April.
So at long last we can enjoy cuckooflower, a plant that has many alternative names including lady’s smock which may refer to the slightly cupped nature of the petals, although there is another more suggestive explanation. The word `smock` was once used as a slightly suggestive term for a woman, and there may be allusions in the name to what went on in springtime meadows.
The plants lower leaves can be eaten as a substitute for watercress to which it is closely related (Brassica family) and is rich in vitamin C. No picking!
Neil Lincoln, Reserve Assistant
A spoonbill that has been kicking around the reserve for the last couple of weeks was finally seen well feeding on the saltmarsh over our Wings over Titchwell event last weekend and it turns out to be our old favourite FJ9. Originally ringed as a chick on 2007 in Spain, the bird has favoured the North Norfolk coast since it was first seen at Titchwell in April 2011. The bird spent much of the summer on the reserve and this is the first sighting this year.
Despite the unfavourable weather conditions, we ended up with a decent species list for Wings over Titchwell with 100 bird species on Saturday and 101 on Sunday. Adding the non avian species such as Chinese water deer, large red damselfly, water vole and 4 species of butterfy took the overall list to nearly 120.
8 species of raptor (marsh harrier, red kite, peregrine, merlin, hobby, kestrel, sparrowhawk, buzzard), 2 black terns, long eared owl briefly on the Meadow Trail and drake red crested pochard were the avian highlights. Sadly the Temminck's stint decided to do a moonlight flit on the Friday night but a full summer plumage male ruff was a stunning sight.
At the end of 1980, work started on a new hide at the north side of the freshmarsh. This hide was to be in memory of RSPB council member John Parrinder.
The first part of this job was to construct a double bank to screen the new footpath leading to the hide. Later, in 1981, the hide's foundations were put in and the hide was officially opened by Mrs Parrinder on March 20th the following year. This all sounds so simple but, from one or two people who helped to build the hide, it was pure hell. Alan Livingstone was one of Norman's team, he told me that each section had to be manhandled down the west bank and then over or through deep mud, the high winds, drizzle and snow just added to the pleasure. Carting barrow loads of hardcore was no fun either, I've only done that a couple of times and I can tell you that west bank seems never ending !
The work was back-breaking, smelly and incredibly dirty. It didn't put him off Titchwell Marsh, I bump into him quite often and although he tells these stories, knowing Alan I bet there were a few laughs as well.
A very recent coincidence happened when visitor officer Pernille Egeberg (originally born in Denmark) started to work here, Alan told me that he had worked a year in Denmark for her father, it's a small world.
The west bank hide, the island hide as we now know it, was started off later but finished much sooner than Parrinder hide. It was much easier, a Hy-mac cut through the bump next to the old war-time building and basically all that had to be done after that was to assemble the sections and build a bridge so that we all could get to it.
1981 saw the brackish marsh finally operating as intended and the reserve was all systems go.
Did the birds like all the hard work that had been put in? They certainly did. I remember talking to Norman at this time, he said that there had been an explosion of aquatic life caused by the old saltmarsh vegetation rotting away below the fresh water. What struck me was the noise, I had never heard so many birds calling over our marshes. Two birds have stuck in my mind from 1982, both on the freshmarsh, one was a lovely drake smew, the other was a Coscoroba swan. This South American bird was an escape from a collection and certainly un-tickable, this species is not a true swan. It is considerably smaller than any of our regular swans, has a bright red beak and black wing tips. The native mute swans took a real dislike to it, beating it up quite badly, not the way to treat an overseas visitor!