Tuesday 24 January 2023

A crane with a rubber ring

Cranes started to recolonise the Broads in Norfolk more than 40 years ago, having been absent as breeding bird from the UK for some 400 years. A story and photos about one of those first birds to arrive has just come to light.

Patrick Lee emailed me (Chris Durdin) in January 2023. “I was given The Norfolk Cranes' Story (at) Christmas just gone and I greatly enjoyed reading it particularly as it brought back many happy memories. The cover alone brought back so many happy days of sailing Waxham Cut in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Crane with a rubber ring attached to its beak (Patrick Lee, 1979).

The main reason that Patrick wrote was that he knew about a bird mentioned in the book from first-hand experience, from the winter of 1979/80. This was very much the early days: cranes first attempted to nest at Horsey in 1981, and the first bird that fledged successfully was in 1982.

This is how John Buxton and I recorded it:

Cranes stay at Horsey, but don’t breed

Farmer Michael Kittle had captured a fourth crane at Irstead Hall on 7th October 1979, an exhausted adult. It had either nylon or a rubber object tangled round its bill – I didn’t see it myself, and accounts vary. Hilary Scott records that it was kept ‘in a wildfowl refuge with­out restriction until spring 1980’, this probably accounting for the fourth bird that joined the original three from 21st March 1980, then present in the Horsey area for at least 11 days to the 31st March.

… and this is the additional information from Patrick Lee:

“I was interested to see your reference to the Irstead crane with a rubber ring on its beak. We first saw this crane on the wet meadows adjoining How Hill marshes. Bob Smithson who was our Head Marshman kept an eye on it until it was finally captured on Irstead Hall Farm and the offending ring removed. The identity of the object was never confirmed but I think it was highly likely to have been part of a milking machine cup, however it also seems to have too small a diameter to have been this. The main thing is that the bird survived the ordeal of having it impaled for a few days.

“I enclose two picture attachments which may interest you, one of the offending article in place and the other with it removed. It is possible to see the mark on the beak where it was stuck.

Crane showing the mark on its beak where the object was stuck (Patrick Lee, 1979).

John Buxton’s notes make it clear that the bird with a rubber ring at Irstead was in addition to the cranes at Horsey. Another crane fits the general pattern of additional migrant birds in the area from time to time. There is no record of a bird at Horsey showing the same mark on its beak, though it would be easy to overlook. 

The full story of the natural return of cranes to the UK is in The Norfolk Cranes’ Story book. See www.norfolkcranes.co.uk for how to buy a copy.

 Chris Durdin

Friday 20 January 2023

Strumpshaw Fen, 20 January 2023

Six of us made up a speedily arranged ‘plan B Honeyguide social’ instead of a guided walk to Holkham that didn’t work out. We gathered near the reserve’s bird feeders where, after a little while, two marsh tits joined the constant flow of blue and great tits. No telescope was needed here, which was fortunate as a robin came and used it as a perch!

Robin on telescope, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen.

It was a cold day and Strumpshaw Broad was frozen over with no birds to see. We walked through the wood and at the far end found more marsh tits. By ‘sandy wall’ we were close to reeds and Ann was quick to find her trademark – cigar galls, looking like their name, located partly by the absence of a head of seeds on the stem. On the meadow to our left were three Chinese water deer.

We popped into fen hide where there was a buzzard on a bush and three mute swans by some partly unfrozen water. The wind was cold through the open hide flaps, so we didn’t linger.

Mute swans, from Fen Hide.

With the walk by Tower Hide shut, because of high river levels, we turned left towards the ‘woodland trail. On reaching the wood, a small bird flew and perched. Two telescopes – mine and Helen’s – revealed a mealy redpoll. Redpolls are usually very active so the sustained views were quite something, for a while a fluffy rear view but also a clear sight of the red on its forehead. Its eyes shut when we enjoyed a burst of sunshine and it stuck out its tongue, a strange thing to see. 

Mealy redpoll (digiscoped).

There was a great spotted woodpecker in the same area. We found a few redwings near here, one of which perched in a tree for telescope views, plus a mistle thrush’s rattling call and a single lapwing on the meadow across the road.

Turkey tail fungus.

In the wood, we found a few fungi, with birch polypore, turkey tail and candlesnuff fungus named with confidence. The candlesnuff fungi were on a cut-off tree trunk with a pool in it in which Ann pointed out rat-tailed maggots, the larvae of certain hoverflies.

'Rat-tailed maggot' under ice, a hoverfly larva.

Ann also pointed out a treecreeper and there was a mixed flock of redpolls and siskins high in the trees. It was nice to see our first snowdrops of the year. Back at reception, there was an opportunity to enjoy a hot chocolate and some heating while finding our first definite marsh harrier over the fen.

Four of us then moved into Buckenham Marshes. Having crossed the railway line, we scanned and found no less than eight Chinese water deer. The bird activity was towards the river, so we moved on. Skeins of calling pink-footed geese flew over. There were many tame wigeons close to the track and equally close shovelers. We had our best view of the big flocks of wigeons while standing in the welcome lea of the hide near the river: tight flocks numbering around 2,000 birds. Marsh harriers quartered the area towards the old mill. From the droppings and pellets on the bench, we weren’t the first to shelter here: a barn owl, perhaps.

Wigeons on Buckenham Marshes.

Scanning the many gates on the marshes, we failed to see a peregrine though did find three buzzards, one of which was exceptionally pale. We enjoyed a good view of a hovering kestrel while we walked back to the car park.

Chris Durdin

Valencia: bird ringing sheds light on wetland warbler survival

For many Honeyguiders, one of the highlights of our March Valencia trip is to attend a bird ringing session at Pego Marshes Natural Park. Ou...