Speaker: Drew Lyness
Reporter: Sue Gale
If any of us needed inspiration to get out birding now that Spring is approaching, Drew certainly provided it. Although he said that his presentation was about birding for the love of birds (which it was) and in no way about a sell for particular reserves, it was inevitable that his enthusiastic account would make many of us keen to rush out and explore Strumpshaw and the Yare Valley. Of course, we can’t expect all of the exciting species he described to be there all of the time, or even every year, but this was a good description of the benefits to be had from thoroughly birding a local patch. For Drew, the mid-Yare valley is the place he chooses to visit when he has the time.
In the years since it has been run by the RSPB, Strumpshaw has developed from an area of coarse grassland into an extensive reedbed, with a mixture of woodland and meadow. Now you can expect to hear Bitterns booming in Spring and see March Harriers on the wing, but not all of the changes are in the ‘right’ direction. The mid-Yare used to house the only regular flock of Taiga Bean Geese in England, but we have seen numbers diminish over the last 10 or so years until this year was the first with none at all (although there was a surprise group of 12 at St Benet’s Abbey this year). None-the-less over the winter season you can still encounter hundreds, if not thousands, of Wigeon and Teal at Buckenham Marshes, sometimes giving an impression of ‘concentrated duck’! Only the Lapwings and Golden Plover flocks try to outnumber them. Those Marsh Harriers roost at Strumpshaw in numbers up to 40, and Drew recommended visiting on a windy evening, when all 40 might be seen in the air at once. Taking a thermal camera round the reserves at night had brought surprises, like the numbers of
Woodcock at Strumpshaw, gathering in groups to feed just after dusk, and the Jack Snipe spread out in the reedbeds and even in front of reception hide.
By the end of winter all of the visiting geese, notably Pink-footed Geese and White-fronted Geese, will have left the area, all leaving within a few days of each other as a rule. Looking upwards is good at this time of year as they pass overhead in great skeins, maybe joined by groups of Bewick’s Swans heading towards Great Yarmouth. March is also a time to look out
for the surprise visitors. This year brought a brief visit from a Dotterel, for example, and it’s worth inspecting the Wigeon flock for an American Wigeon. In particular Drew suggested keeping an eye out for a Penduline Tit. There have been three seen in the last 10 years, so look carefully at the ‘Bullrushes’, (Greater Reedmace) which they like to feed on. Listen for
their distinctive very high seeping call. In early April the Bitterns roost high in the reeds on platforms they construct themselves, but also fly high, often very high, in the evenings.
With April come the first signs of Spring, with returning Garganey and the sightings of Tawny Mining Bees. Hirundines appear overhead, and Cranes might be seen over the reedbed (they have this year). Scarce Chasers are one of the earliest dragonflies, and are not actually scarce at Strumpshaw. Gulls, including Little Gulls, may be seen, and Arctic Terns, and in April often
Brambling roost along the riverbank on their way north. As the spring progresses Wrynecks might be found on the river wall, and a Temmink’s Stint might rest on the broad at Buckenham, although they can be hard to see. Norfolk Hawkers and Swallowtail butterflies attract insect- loving visitors, or an early evening walk in late spring might be rewarded by drumming Snipe.
By late April/May Drew suggests that it might be hard to find new species for that annual list, but don’t forget the warblers! One evening Drew counted 80(!) singing male Sedge Warblers from the footpaths although that number had decreased to 20 the following day. He also recorded 15 Grasshopper Warbler territories last year at Buckenham. An early start is best to hear and hopefully see these more elusive birds. Even less common are the Savi’s Warblers, but there has been one every other year for the last ten years, although they may not arrive until July. If we are lucky, we might get another visit from a Bluethroat, but its always worth looking out for the unusual.
Many of us were not aware that Glow-worms can be seen at Strumpshaw on a summer evening! Other exotic visitors to look out for include Black-crowned Night Heron, and Honey Buzzard (4 records last year). Spotted Flycatchers have been regular if scarce nesters in the woodland so let’s hope they arrive again this year. Water Voles are seen by the lucky ones,
and Strumpshaw voles are unusual in that 50% of them are the dark coloured variety. Further along the Valley Cantley beet factory has settling pools that attract passage waders like Green or Pectoral Sandpipers. A couple of years ago a White-winged Black Tern delighted watchers
for a week or so, but sadly it fell victim to the resident Peregrine Falcons that nest on the factory. (One of our members visited a day too late and saw only a small pile of white feathers and a very fine bill!)
Autumn is a good time to look out for Ospreys on passage, as well as warblers making their way south for the winter. There have been a couple of records of Yellow-browed Warbler.
Ducks in moult are congregating on the pools, and Bearded Tits, residents on the mid-Yare reserves, become more visible, often flying very high in their family groups. Sometimes they simply return to the reedbed, but at others they may disappear in to the distance, presumably seeking new habitat. Migrant Thrushes like Redwing are often seen in the woodland or on the riverside paths, and finally the winter ducks and geese will return to fill our winter walks with spectacle, both visual and audible. Many thanks to Drew for such an inspiring and entertaining presentation.
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