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

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