Upper image: Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) Cley Norfolk UK GB February 2022
Lower photo: Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) Winterton Norfolk GB UK January 2022
'Wildlife roundup' published in the 'Tern' magazine by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust covering period January-March 2022 by Robin Chittenden
Birdwatchers and non-birdwatchers alike must surely think the plumage of the Red-breasted Goose is more aesthetically pleasing than your average goose. There is something about its rich mahogany frontage. These geese may be well know to many of you as regular fixtures in wildfowl collections, such as the one by Blakeney Quay, which are kept by (somewhat perversely) the wildfowlers. In real life they breed in northern Siberia and winter around the north-west side of the Black Sea, that is Ukraine and Romania, and if particularly cold or hungry can continue heading south to Bulgaria and occasionally Greece. Higher numbers are also starting to be recorded in Hungary so perhaps they could become more regular here if their wintering westward spread continues.
Almost every year the odd bird or two can mix with the regular wintering Dark-bellied Brent Geese, which also breed in Siberia, and accompany them to the UK. This winter two stuck it out for a bit in Essex, but one found it too much, and was discovered at the beginning of January at NWT Cley Marshes. Here it spent the next three months or so commuting with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese between Cley, Blakeney and Salthouse. These geese are savvy enough to be aware that on the reserve there are no particular threats, other than perhaps, the odd scary Marsh Harrier or Peregrine, so they can happy munch away on the grass sometimes within yards of the admiring humans.
There were certain fields and rough habitats this winter that had bountiful numbers of voles. You could tell that, not by carrying out some form of live rodent trapping survey, but just by witnessing the number of Short-eared Owls that survived the winter hunting them. There were at least four (probably more) at Winterton Dunes NNR (National Nature Reserve) and up to five around St Benet’s Abbey. And this, at Winterton, was despite the high numbers of people criss-crossing the dunes and the unbelievable number of dogs, off their leads, gallivanting over this reserve. These pressures though, seemed to have no impact on the Owls, in that they stayed for the whole winter. In fact many people who would presumably not normally pay much attention to birds were captivated by there buoyant butterfly like flight and their general confiding nature, which meant they would often remain perched as people walked by.
Nearby a Eurasian Eagle-owl at Ormesby St Margaret and another in Norwich hit the headlines. Although it could be possible for the Eurasian Eagle-owl to cross the North Sea from their European breeding spots none have so far been proved to do so. Photographs of these birds proved that both were escapees, and presumably happier for it. The Norwich bird had what looked like a leather strap attached to its leg and the Ormesby bird eventually shook a leg to reveal a leg-iron. With any future sightings it may be possible to determine their origins by scientific analysis of the feathers. So if you spot one try and collect a feather. The Eurasian Eagle-owl are said to be capable of preying on cats so perhaps cat owners should ensure their pets are kept in at night. Surely most do already, as apart from ensuring their cats safety, it will be helping to reduce the predation of wild birds and mammals by their pets.
Among the early birds to arrive here for summer and perhaps the most exotic looking, in the case of the drakes’ plumage, will perhaps come surprisingly to some, as it’s a duck. Birdwatchers eagerly hope to find the first Garganey of the year, which can often appear in February. Its not as easy as you might think though, as they are a rare breeding bird in the UK, with just over one hundred pairs, and only five were confirmed to breed in Norfolk in 2019. This gorgeous little duck, a similar size to the Eurasian Teal winters in Africa and Asia and breeds in Europe and Siberia. For some reason, this year, higher numbers appeared in southern Spain, and with the warm southerly zephyrs in March, greater numbers also turned up in the UK. Norfolk did not miss out, but the three pairs at NWT Cley Marshes, took the biscuit, as they seemed completely oblivious to their admirers gawping at them feet away from the slates in the hides. Never have I seen Garganey at such close range and seemingly without a worry in the world. What a joy.
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