Well most but maybe not all by from what I'm hearing have already heard about the national lock down, here on the Sands we closed our gates seven days ago and went into lock down knowing what was almost a certainty to come as it has now.

Nobody knows how long it will take for the country to get back to how it was but its likely that we will be talking about months before the reserve re-opens rather than weeks. I will just be clear though here and now, do not try to visit (I didn't enjoy Sunday afternoon repelling all borders trying to get onto the reserve passed the locked gates), do what the Government are telling everyone, stay home, exercise near to home, & do not travel especially to go birding. 

Work does go on to some extent though on the reserve as we do have livestock that need to be looked after so I can bring some news of what is happening on site to those who are interested, and I must say that I have had some lovely kind e-mails asking me to keep up peoples spirits by doing a regular blog, which I will gladly do as long as I am able. I would also just like to add that there are also people who read our blogs, twitter and facebook posts that are no longer able to visit due to their age and health issues rather than Corona Virus enforced isolation, these blogs are for as much their enjoyment and to keep both them and their carers going through tough times. And hopefully for those who work in the NHS and other key support services who are working so hard and in very difficult conditions it will bring at least a bit of cheer. 

So read and enjoy, hopefully we will be welcoming you back to enjoy the birds and wildlife just as soon as it is safe to do so. 

So here goes, I'll try and be positive........................

Last week before the new guidelines I kicked off the start of our breeding wetland bird survey by counting the number of male and female mallards on the reserve, such a beautiful duck when you take the time to look closely, both the males and females have their individual charm. Breeding mallard though are having a tough time at the moment with seemingly cold springs affecting chick survival, whereas the later breeding gadwall are increasing in number year after year and are now overtaking mallard as our most common breeding duck. 

Mallard - portrait of a drake

And a regal female

The estimate of breeding pairs btw was 26 - a good count this year compared to last.

I did however get a double bonus in the form of a lovely immature Mediterranean gull at Ousefleet, still not a regular bird on site despite their numbers increasing to amazing numbers down in the South of the UK. The second part of the bonus was that it was colour ringed, interestingly it was born in Poland 100 miles west of Warsaw at a place called Jakubka 

 With the weather drying out the wader numbers have declined a little but do vary from day to day with the last few days been marked by what seems to be a passage of black-tailed godwits through site, some days there's just 4 or 5 and then this morning there was 85 with birds arriving in small parties to join the roosting birds, all of these parties do their wicker-wicker-wicker call as though they are excited and announcing their arrival. 

There were a small number of birds on Singleton one afternoon that allowed some nice eye level views as they scoffed the small red muck worms. 

Small parties have been arriving today

This bird was ringed at Welwick saltmarsh in 2018 as an adult, it was then seen at Alkborough flats in spring 2019 and then Berney Marshes in Norfolk in May 2019 (maybe not breeding?), so it was interesting to see it this spring on its way north, its hardly got any breeding plumage. 

Not too many avocets at the moment but one or two trying to do a bit of pair bonding and nest scraping, these cool Northerly winds though will always delay their breeding until the weather changes to warmer temperatures. 

Avocet pair

This winter has seen some nice views of the waders and this is still continuing, its also given some nice behaviour watching with at the end of last week the ruff and redshank taking advantage of the food blown into one of the bays in front of Ousefleet hide, you could see the foamy scum on their feet and bills but they were certainly finding it productive as they walked up and down the strand line.   

Ruff showing some lovely breeding plumage feathers 

Ruff and redshank

And redshank with the foam on its bill and legs

Snipe too have been finding plenty of food around the lagoons and within the reedbed, they are such cryptic little waders and I love how the patterns on them blend in with the cut reed stems.

They have been often joined by by the oystercatchers who come and go from site as they feed up ready to breed. Curlew and dunlin have been pretty constant in numbers while on the high tides there has been a single spotted redshank, lapwing have been scarce with just one to tow birds. With the winds variable there could be a bit of wader movement on an off at the moment.   

Oystercatcher

The marsh harriers and buzzards have certainly been entertaining with plenty of harrier display around site, currently there appears to be a minimum of 9 pairs but I suspect there could be more. Buzzards are certainly still very much hanging around this year, it will be interesting to see just what happens with no one around, it may be that they will try to nest somewhere around the hides! 

Marsh harriers

Duck numbers and variety are pretty static with teal, shoveler, gadwall and wigeon and mallard on the dabbling duck front and then goldeneye, tufted duck and just the odd pochard representing the diving duck. All look pretty impressive though in their breeding plumage! 

Wigeon

Teal and gadwall

Shelduck having a real old tussle

A few herons starting to forage for food and at last more regular records of little egret, I can't believe that after the tides and all the sticklebacks that came in we haven't got a few more herons on site! While the bittern is still on the warmer days booming big. 

Lesser-black backed gulls seem to be arriving now from their southern European/African wintering grounds with two lovely looking adults on Xerox lagoon this morning. You often forget just how important the UK is for the conservation of many species of gulls, often vilified and disliked they wouldn't be half the problem they can be if there was the available natural food, I remember studying them on The Anglesey Skerries where the chicks were just being fed on earth worms. 

Lesser black-backed gull

Black-headed gulls are nice too 

Not many migrants around due to this Northerly air flow but that's no surprise and its still very early, quite a few chiffchaffs though singing out alongside the Cettis warblers. Plenty of reed buntings around the reed bed and certainly plenty of active bearded tits around the edges of the reedbed giving out their pinging calls to give their presence away. A female great spotted woodpecker was unexpected at this time of year feeding on the pollarded willows. 

Tree sparrows are still active around site and it looks as though it could be another good breeding season fingers crossed, while out on the grazing marsh the skylarks and meadow pipits are singing out loud and displaying - they can be early nesters but this year we have another huge tide series looming in early April!

Reed buntings always look nice in spring light

Meadow pipit out on the grazing marsh looking very dapper

The rest of the site is just starting to wake up with the first cowslips flowering on Horseshoe meadow and the dandelions are giving some much needed early pollen to the bees and other insects. 

a solitary bee

A bee fly? 

And another species of solitary Tawney mining bee?

As you can see the blackthorn flowers are also providing sustenance alongside the meadow as are the willows within the scrub, early flowers are so important to help give many of our declining insects a boost so they can build up their colonies or reproduce. We have lost so many of our local flowers that sites like this are vital, I just wish we could spread them around the local area a lot more, so many old common fields are barren of flowers as they have been sprayed out to produce just grass. 

Horseshoe meadow

Buff-tailed bumble bee (I think?)

I'll finish today with one of my favourite birds as many of our regular readers probably already know, the much under-rated stock dove, the hummingbird of the British farmland, they've been lovely in this recent good weather. 

 

 

   

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