There is absolutely no doubt what the main highlights have been for visitors this week: Water Voles and Bearded Tits.
Water Voles are always a crowd-puller, and the family down at the pond have certainly been just that. They seem to have a cycle that goes something like Eat, Swim, Sleep, Repeat. If you're lucky, you will catch the Eat phase, when they will sit on a floating platform of vegetation or the wooden supports of the boardwalk, happily chewing at a tasty reedmace or reed stem, or even a blackberry form an overhanging stem. Sometimes they'll remain hidden, but you can often hear them chewing away and spot the tell-tale movement of the vegetation as they select their chosen stem.
Water Vole under the boardwalk by Stan Pyke
In the Swim phase of the cycle they can still be easy to spot, but not so easy to photograph, as they zip around the pond in search of another tasty morsel, or to seek shelter. But if you're particularly unlucky then the whole family be in the Sleep phase, safely hiding among denser vegetation or in a burrow.
If you catch the Sleep phase, then either wait and enjoy the Migrant Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies and Willow Emerald Damselflies, or come back a bit later and try again. Patience is usually rewarded.
Willow Emerald Damselfly by Steve Everett
The other star attraction in the autumn are the Bearded Tits, though can be even more frustrating in their behaviour. Your best chance of seeing a Bearded Tit is to get here early on a calm sunny morning and settle down in Island Mere, along the North Wall, or around South Hide (avoid wet and windy days, if possible when bearded Tit hunting). Then it's a case of waiting. You'll probably hear them quite easily, and may even catch a glimpse of one flitting quickly through the tops of the reeds. With luck, one will perhaps briefly in the open, or may even land on the path edge to collect tiny grains of sand. These are ingested to hep grind down the reed seeds that form the bulk of their autumn diet.
Male Bearded Tit by David Naylor
If you're looking for Bearded Tits along the North Wall, then you'll probably see one or two hunting Kestrels hovering nearby, and may hear the strident song of the Cetti's Warbler. At Island Mere you may be distracted by Hobbies hunting dragonflies, or spend a few minutes looking for Great Crested Grebes, Little Grebes or Pochards among the flocks of ducks and Coots. You may even be lucky enough to see a Marsh Harrier quartering (they're best seen around dawn and dusk at the moment), a Bittern or Kingfisher. One or two lucky visitors have even seen an Otter this week.
While spotting birds in the reedbed requires a combination of luck and patience, the Scrape should provide easier pickings. Continued management work on West Scrape usually pushes the birds closer to both East and South Hides, allowing you a good chance to study the intricate plumage details of ducks, such as Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall or Shoveler. You'll probably see a few Little Egrets or Grey Herons patiently waiting for a meal to pass within range, too.
Unusually for this late in the autumn, there is still a good variety of waders passing through, though they can be quite mobile and may move on quickly. Highlights this week have included Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, several Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Grey Plover and both Green and Common Sandpipers. Other waders include up to 40 Avocets, around 100 Black-tailed Godwits and several Dunlin and Ruff.
Among the more unusual birds seen this week have been Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters offshore, Short-eared Owl hunting over the Levels, then roosting on South Scrape, and several small flocks of Lesser Redpolls. Some of the latter were ringed during yesterday's Bird Ringing Demonstration, as were several Meadow Pipits and one or two Common and Lesser Whitethroats. These warblers are unlikely to be here much longer before they continue their journey to Africa. In their place, we may see the first Redwings arriving next week.
Lesser Whitethroat - a lingering summer migrant - by Steve Everett
Stan's no longer volunteering with us unfortunately
It's been a warm month. I'm not too surprised the waders are taking their time to head south - they can feed themselves up more in the extended warm spell.
Good to see a photo from the one and only Stan! Is he still with you?
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