Autumn, the season of change: summers end and the gradual descent into winter’s frosty grip; chilly, mist enshrouded mornings and foreshortened evenings, soon to be gaining daylight at breakfast and robbed of an hour at day's end. The season of colour: rainbow hued woodlands, hedgerows ablaze with scarlet berries. The season when the natural world is in a state of flux: frantic activity of mammals to store provender for the long, cold months just over the horizon; the last flurry of butterflies and wasps feeding greedily on ivy flowers; the movement of birds in numbers beyond count from north to south around the world. And it is these things that I have witnessed over the past little while.
Red Admiral on Ivy
Saturday 26th September - a brief trip to NWT Ranworth. A spell here, sitting nibbling a snack on the picnic area outside the visitor centre, was quite productive with a pair of hobbies and a pair of sparrowhawks spiralling above us in the clear skies of early autumn. The hobbies were intent only on catching winged insects on which to snack. The sparrowhawks, presumably a pair, were more intent on sparring, periodically stooping at each other and soaring together in tight circles.
Sparrowhawk PairNote the size differential with the female being much larger than the male
Here we watched a tight group of cormorants herding fish around the shallow areas of the broad, whilst a dozen of their fellows watched on from the safety of the tern rafts. When I worked here I used to watch fascinated at the coordinated way in which these oily birds hunted. Sometimes there were 30 or more moving around the perimeter of the broad in a tightly packed group. They would push the fish before them and then plunge en masse into the frightened shoal. The group would proceed in like fashion for 30 minutes or so before breaking up and flying to the trees on the far bank to digest their catch. Although the waters of the broad suffer greatly from eutrophication, it is nonetheless used extensively as a breeding ground for bream, perch and various other species and a subsequent nursery ground for thousands of fry; rich pickings for hungry cormorants, grebes, terns and the occasional osprey.
Great Crested Grebe with Perch
Tuesday 29th September - a walk along the dune system at Horsey. The high pressure system dominating the UK over the past week or so has resulted in a strong easterly airflow. This should have brought in lots of migrants that making their way south, get caught up in the stiff airflow and make landfall at the first opportunity after traversing the North Sea. When you weight but a few grams it is easy to get displaced. The birding grapevine has been awash with reports of yellow browned warblers spotted from seemingly every coastal back yard, with this promise in mind I spent the morning walking the dunes between Horsey and Winterton. I saw no minuscule yellow and green waifs or strays. Instead I had to content myself with excellent views of stonechats and a lone whinchat, whilst tinkling parties of goldfinches fed on the seed heads of marram grass.
Stonechat with Juicy Caterpillar!
Thursday 1st October – Gt Yarmouth/Gorleston. A sedate walk around the cemetery produced no sign of migrant activity other than a brief call of a yellow browed warbler that frustratingly failed to show itself. I should explain that Gt Yarmouth Cemetery is a very good spot for migrant birds as well as having some very interesting plant life. Nothing more sinister enticed us amongst the crumbling tombs. Later at Gorleston, turnstones were feasting on the carcasses of small crabs discarded by fishermen.
Other recent highlights from Strumpshaw Fen:
Little Egret Fishing