Strumpshaw Fen: A Murmuration

A bright afternoon with billowing white clouds sending smoky tendrils onto a base coat of sapphire blue, had slowly but relentlessly given way to a lowering sky of rain laden grey. The light that was so crisp two hours before was now retreating before the early gloom of dusk, bringing the day to what felt like a premature end. With the pattering of light rain, refreshingly cool, spotting our faces we sought sanctuary in the Hide. Here we could sit in relative comfort and watch the spectacle that was about to unfold. A true wildlife drama, one that would grace any Attenborough programme watched by millions, played out here to an audience of perhaps a dozen. A starling roost: a murmuration.

The dank murk seemed to have triggered an early gathering and by 3.30 there were already several thousand dark shapes, tightly massed, swirling over the reed beds. They twisted and turned as one, each bird reacting instantaneously to the movement of its near neighbours. The flock rippled and morphed;…

Strumpshaw Autumn

We’ve been here before. The first thing to happen as I arrived at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen was an encounter with one of the regular photographers. After the customary hellos, the conversation quickly nosedived into the negative; the same old lament that there was ‘nothing about, totally lifeless, didn’t take a single shot’. I’ve heard it so many times, and whilst it’s true that I’ve sometimes wandered around without troubling the camera shutter too much, I’m here to tell you that on this day there was plenty about. Lots of lovely wildlife and landscape to see and enjoy. In fact I didn’t even have to leave my car, for there opposite my parking berth was a blackthorn flush with ripe sloes; sore temptation for any hungry bird. I watched for an hour whilst several blackbirds, a robin, blue tit, great tit and a lovely male blackcap plundered the feast. You see folks, in my world birds don’t have to be rare or seldom encountered to provide interest and entertainment.

Moving on through the wood a…

Season's End

It seemed such a short time ago that I was tripping lightly along the boardwalk of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s unique reserve at Ranworth, heart full of the boundless possibilities of a vibrant spring as I arrived for my first volunteering session of the season. Then the recently cut reeds were only just beginning to regenerate, poking bright green shoots through the boggy ground festooned with yellow splashes of marsh marigold. Fresh buds of willow, sallow and oak were unperceptively but determinedly unfurling, Chiffchaffs sang in the alders, blackcaps warbled from hazel scrub whilst the azure sky of an April morn foretold of a likely busy day ahead.

Scroll forward six months and here I was walking the same trail, wearing the same boots, with the same shade of clear sky overhead. The season had been, as ever, entertaining, fulfilling and varied. Education and enlightenment was dispensed and received, picnics and laughter experienced and relished. But now things had changed. No birds…

Secrets of the Night

We watched the sun slide smoothly towards the horizon, melting into the far end of the tranquil, unrippled surface of the broad; a golden orb slowly sinking into the mirror like surface of the water. In the stillness that followed its disappearance, peace settled over this water land, broken only by the occasional echoing quacking of mallards, floating silhouettes now, or the fluting melancholy of a robin’s autumnal song. Before long the lower sky became a band of flame, flowing by degrees into darkening shades of dusk, faintly chilly now summer’s grip was loosening. Presently we heard the faint honking of grey-lag geese that gathered momentum as they flew in to spend the night roosting far out of harm’s way; a strategy adopted also by gulls, ducks and heraldic cormorants. The gloaming giving way slowly to the velvet blue of a night filled with faint starlight. But we were not here to just admire the sunset, my colleague and I had some work to do. …..

Ranworth Broad, a Norfolk Wildlife…

A Million Miles From Home

I read once of a couple who, having decided to shun the trappings of modern city life, fled to a remote Scottish Isle, finding themselves by degrees falling into complete harmony with the seasonal ebb and flow. In winter they would retire shortly after darkness fell in late afternoon, sleeping long and waking late; in summer they would make do with a mere three hours rest and not feel any the worse for it. So it is here in the Pacific coast rain forest of Costa Rice. We have no modern devices to distract us, no TV, no wi-fi, no bars, restaurants or street lights. All we have is nature, and this we are surrounded by. In fact after three days we find our cycle is already being dictated by the environment. It becomes dark at around 5.30pm and after an early dinner we can sit out for a short while watching lighting flash thunderlessly over the ocean before slumber beckons at 9pm. Our wake up call around 5am is provided by the Howler Monkeys beginning their blood-curdling Baskerville Hound…

Matters of the Heart

I watched a heart beating today, not my own or that of any fellow human being, but that of a tiny bird. A hummingbird, a White-throated Mountain Gem to be precise; such an apt name. This minuscule treasure was perched under the shelter of a rose arch, defending its patch of nectar rich flower border from would be usurpers. Between sorties to see off intruders with an indignant 'tick' and sip sugar rich liquid from the bountiful blooms, it would hold vigil from its favoured twig, twisting its head from side to side to allow its sparkling eye to search for potential rivals. So I carefully moved closer, wondering just how close I would be allowed to get before the little beauty gained alarm at something five thousand times it's bulk and thirty thousand times its weight. To my delight the answer proved to be about a foot, a mere twelve inches separating me from a true miracle of nature. From that short distance I could take in everything; the way the feathers overlapped like m…

Resplendently Humming

'Quetzal!' I exclaimed. No response, again: 'Quetzal!'  Not a flicker from Marino my guide who was intently peering through his scope at some small bird tazzing around in the tree tops. I tried again. 'Quetzal!' 'It's Queetzaal' he said, reluctantly peeling his eye from the scope. 'No, there's a Quetzal. There in that tree!' I pointed to a clump of green foliage that simply lost relevance against the curtain of mixed greens facing us.  'Oh, I thought you were practicing the pronounciation' he said in heavily accented English. Irony? Who would know?
And so, standing on a trail somewhere in the Costa Rican cloud forest, overlooking a sunlit valley, did our quest for this famous bird reach its comical end. We had been looking in and around an avocado tree for an hour or so, Marino occasionally giving a two toned call mimicking a singing male bird, but so far had drawn a blank. Not that the area was bird less, far from it; several colourfu…