There are pockets of Broadland that are almost inaccessible and cloak their secrets in a veil of thick reed or a screen of dense willow scrub. 'Move on, there's nothing to see here' is the message, 'do not disturb, no trespass, leave us in peace'. And for the most part these areas are pretty much left to their own devices. The otters, deer, foxes and water voles live out their short span without a human eye ever witnessing their daily struggles. The reed warblers, cuckoos, bitterns and harriers claim their territories, make their nests and raise their young seldom encountering the unwelcome sight of man. In this 21st century whirlwind we have created it is quite astounding that such areas exist, but they do; I know they do because I squelched my way through one earlier in the week.
As part of the Trinity Broads Partnership, Norfolk Wildlife Trust is working closely with Essex and Suffolk Water and the Broads Authority to manage and improve the area around Filby, Ormesby and Rollesby Broads, pristine and precious landscapes that are largely bypassed by the holidaying public. A special part of this hidden landscape is an area called Burgh Common which comprises several acres of wet reed marsh bordering a dryer area of open sedge and grass fen. Ideal habitat for all sorts of wonderful creatures. My task as one of a small team of volunteers is to undertake a swallowtail survey throughout the summer. On our induction slosh through the wellie sucking, peaty mire the first thing we saw was a basking grass snake dozing in the soporific warmth of the May sunshine atop a small pile of cut reed. A cuckoo called loudly from a nearby willow and we saw it well as it flew across the fen advertising its presence to any prospective mate. Reed, Cetti's and sedge warblers sang from the depths of the reed bed whilst tracks of red deer crisis-crossed the swampy ooze. Apart from nearly losing my rubber footwear a couple of times it was a good start I thought, and obviously the area has great potential. Watch this pace for updates throughout the summer.
Earlier that day I helped create new GPS survey points to map the distribution and relative abundance of aquatic plants growing within one of the smaller broads. Boat work this, but carried out in a beautifully quiet, seldom visited sanctuary reached by pushing our way slowly along a narrow waterway through tangled overhanging willow scrub. Our reward for a few bumps and scrapes was to be able to cruise sedately around an area of clear water fringed by emergent water lilies where damselflies chased one another and kingfishers waited patiently on a favoured perch. Coots, grebes, swans and mallards tended their young and long tailed tits buzzed their way through the surrounding tangle. Real Swallows and Amazons stuff and what better place could there be to while away a couple of hours? I do realise how lucky I am.
Mute SwanA territorial cob cruisin' for a bruisin'
These wetland excursions capped a rather busy few days volunteering. Wednesday afternoon saw me given a taster of what is involved in volunteering for the National Trust at Blakeney Point. To protect sensitive breeding birds along the shingle spit a no dogs policy is in force between May and August. Part of the role is therefore to police the area to advise transgressors in as diplomatic and sensitive a way as possible they are infringing the rules. Other invaluable work is to record the occupancy by little terns of the specially roped off breeding areas dotted along the point. It was a lovely sunny afternoon as we made our way along this isolated and beautiful arm of sand and shingle that juts out at an angle from the main coast, although deep grey clouds in the distance forbade of more turbulent experiences ahead. Hardly any people had chosen to make the 7 mile return yomp, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We did see several little terns, although sadly none seemed to have set up home within the fenced off zones despite dummy birds being placed there as a lure. Instead we discovered nests of a single black headed gull pair which had been built in the middle of the beach, together with those of two oystercatcher pairs. I hasten to add we did not actively search for these nests, rather they happened to be situated in the places we were watching for the terns. Lovely things to see nonetheless and we watched the incubating birds resettle from a safe distance.
Oystercatcher's NestIf nest it can be called, but very difficult to spot.
Thursday I led a walk around Cley Marshes to look at the breeding birds inhabiting the diverse habitats of the marsh. Highlights here were a hunting kestrel that managed to capture a vole just outside the central hides and close up views of singing sedge warbler, reed warbler and reed bunting, typical birds of the reed bed and scrubby margins. Later that afternoon I had the good fortune to watch 'Blondie' the resident female marsh harrier, she of the lovely variegated plumage, hunting low over the fresh marsh. It seems that either she has hatched her eggs and is actively seeking prey to feed her offspring or that the original nest has failed. The pair have been collecting nest material during the course of the week and it is not clear whether this is an attempt to bulk up the existing nest or to build a fresh one. Time will tell.
Kestrel With Prey
Moorhen With ChickThese cute balls of down are currently being tended by their parents
in the catch water drain alongside the coast road
Little EgretThese photogenic herons have a small breeding colony in the wood
opposite East Bank
Blondie - Looking Good Kid
In an attempt to open up the delights of nature to a wider audience, NWT are actively seeking young people (ideally aged between 8 and 18) to assist with family events throughout the summer. The idea being that young prospective naturalists will more easily engage with people of their own age as opposed to a rusting hulk such as me. It is a great way for youngsters to become more confident, learn social skills and become involved in wildlife conservation. If you know of anybody who may be interested let me know and I will provide appropriate contact details.