Thursday, 21 May 2015

Nesting Birds on Holkham Beach

It is the season when birds of all shapes and sizes from the magnificent Red Kites to the smallest Treecreeper are beginning to build nests and lay eggs. While Holkham National Nature Reserve provides ideal habitat and protection for these birds some need even more help. Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers and Terns all nest on the beach where they are very vulnerable to disturbance and high tides. While many visitors come to the reserve to enjoy the breath taking expanse of beach and picnic, walk the dog, ride their horse or explore the coastline care must be taken to avoid disturbing these birds at this important time.

Oystercatchers make a shallow scrap in the sand and 
shingle in which to lay their eggs.

For many species Holkham offers one of the few unspoilt habitats left in the UK for these birds to breed. To protect them, the Holkham warden team search for nests and set up large enclosures around the nesting birds as any disturbance may cause the birds to abandon their eggs.

Birds which nest on the shingle often have very well
 camouflaged eggs. It is very easy to accidentally crush them.

You can easily help by keeping your dog under effective control during the bird breeding season (1st March – 31st July) and from stopping your dog(s) from entering any of the enclosed areas.

Jonathan Holt
Holkham Warden

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

How to spot a Water Vole

While everyone was enjoying the summer sun this weekend I was attending a Water Vole identification workshop in Cambridge. Why was this course so important? Well, here at Holkham NNR we are in the process of recording and surveying the Water Vole population. This is very important because since the 1970s there has been a 90% decline in Water Voles and they are now considered one of the most endangered and fastest declining wild mammals in the UK. They are threatened by habitat loss and particularly from predation by the introduced American Mink.

As part of the course we searched under
 bridges in the area looking for signs of Mink, 
Otter and Water Vole

Water Voles are very secretive, so the best way to find them is to look for signs of activity – feeding stations, latrines, burrows, footprints and paths.

Feeding stations – These can be spotted by the ‘lawn’ effect. They are most noticeable in summer when reeds, sedges and neatly chopped grasses, often cut at a characteristic 45 degree angle, can be seen at a few selected places close to burrow entrances. Water Voles need to eat 80% of their body weight every day, so a lot of time is spent feeding!

Holkham has lots of dykes, ideal habitat for
 these little critters.

Latrines - As with all mammals (and some visitors to the reserve!) poo is an ever-present sign of activity. Latrines are often located a short distance from feeding stations and burrows and are also used to mark territory.

In summer Water Voles feed on green vegetation making
 their droppings greenish, but in winter when they eat bark, 
roots and other plant material so their droppings are brown.

Burrows – Water Voles burrow into banks and form extensive and complicated tunnel systems. These can be on several levels to minimise the risk of flooding and at least one entrance will be below the surface of the water, for a fast escape if needed. If you stand quietly, you might hear their distinctive ‘plop’ as they dive into the water.

Unlike rats, Water Voles don't leave loose soil in front of
 their burrows.

Footprints in soft mud - It takes a keen eye and a lot of practice to spot Water Vole footprints. Their forefeet leave a distinctive star-shaped footprint. A slow Water Vole is a dead Water Vole – these little animals have runways through bank side vegetation, which they use to avoid avian predators and in autumn to carry food to the burrows for winter.

Water Vole tracks are 20-25mm long.

Water Voles have poor eyesight but their whiskers pick up the slightest vibration. If you are trying to see them, remain quiet and very still near a suitable steep-sided dyke with plenty of vegetation, and if you are lucky you might see a Water Vole swim past you.

This is the best photo we have managed to get of the 
elusive creature! Can you do any better? 

The Water Vole is a much-loved creature and is often remembered as ‘Ratty' in Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s book, The Wind in the Willows. With no mink on the reserve let’s hope Holkham NNR has a good population of Water Voles, I’ll keep you informed!

Happy Hunting

Jonathan Holt
Holkham Warden

Monday, 11 May 2015

The Rarest of Birds - Citril Finch

Yesterday marked a historic day for Holkham Nature Reserve Reserve as the rare Citril Finch was seen at Overy Dunes. First seen by Marcus Nash early on Sunday, news soon spread and well over a thousand people journeyed from every corner of the UK to see this European visitor. This is only the UK’s second sighting of this bird.

The Citril Finch displayed well for the hundreds 
of people who came to see it on Sunday.

Likely blown from northern Spain, across Biscay, Brittany and The Channel straight to Norfolk by the strong south easterly wind, this Alpine Finch is usually seen in the mountain pinewoods of the Pyrenees rather than the coastal dunes of Norfolk.

Last seen at 06:20 today (Monday 11/5/15), it is likely to have moved on, but our fingers are crossed for a reappearance!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Recent Sightings - April 2015

Birding this year at Holkham National Nature Reserve is amazing!

Spring is always an exciting time of year with winter visitors departing and summer migrants arriving and everyday is different.

Winter birds are defiantly taking their time departing, a late flock of up to 150 Pink-footed and a Bean Goose can still be found grazing in front of Jordan Hide most evenings. Up to 10 Ring Ouzels can be viewed in the sand dunes at Overy but they will soon be departing for their breeding grounds in Scotland. The distinctive ‘cue-cue-cue’ call of the Curlew can still be heard ringing around the reserve, but in a few weeks they will leave the reserve for their breeding grounds. However some birds are already departing, a flock of up to 40 Black-tailed Godwits have just left for their long journey to Iceland.

A lonely Bean Goose (centre right) surrounded by Pinkies.

More and more summer migrants continue to arrive day after day. Although showing only occasionally, I was lucky enough to see a Bittern from George Washington Hide - if you listen carefully you can hear its distinctive booming call most days. I also saw a Great White Egret haunting the dykes at Burnham Norton. It never ceases to amaze me how such a large, bright white bird can all but disappear in the reed beds!  Other summer migrants pouring in include Avocet, Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Grasshopper Warblers and Whinchat and there are still more migrant species yet to arrive, however none will travel as far as the single rare Green Winged Teal that has crossed the Atlantic from North America.

A brief glimpse of the Great White Egret as it flies 
between dykes in search of food.

Not to be outdone our spectacular birds of prey have also put on a good showing this month with 12 species being seen. At Holkham NNR you can usually enjoy great views of Barn Owls, SparrowhawksBuzzards, Marsh Harriers, and Red Kites but it was the amazing displays of a male Kestrel, Peregrine and Rough Legged Buzzard at the beginning of the month that really made it special. During our surveying at Holkham NNR we were treated to a circling Hen Harrier and later the same day a Hobby hunting for large insects over the marshes. This shows why Holkham NNR is one of the best reserves in Britain for seeing these magnificent birds.

A rare sight of a Red Kite (above) locking talons with the
 Rough Legged (below) for air supremacy over Overy Dunes.

The warm spring sunshine has meant that the Orange Tip Butterfly and the Large Red Damselfly have made their fist appearances on site. You might think that in a reserve as large as Holkham NNR, small fauna might go un-noticed but this is not the case, only a few days ago Andy found a rare Steatoda albomaculata spider hidden amongst the sand dunes. Only found in a few places in the UK this was a real discovery! Most exciting of all however was the sighting of an Otter at Norton. We hope to get more sightings and therefore more information about these elusive creatures and maybe even a photo - watch this space!

Steatoda albomaculata is a False Widow. While not as
 venomous as their Black Widow counterparts they can still give a nasty bite!

And finally, this weekend we were lucky enough to see the rare White-tailed Sea Eagle riding the thermals right over Lady Ann’s Drive, giving visitors a fantastic view before flying north towards Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire. This was soon followed by a Black Kite, which was hunting over the George Washington Hide before flying west. With typical ‘warden luck’ I wasn't there to see either of them!

Unfortunately this photo of a White Tailed Eagle is not
 from Holkham NNR but it does provide a great view of these 
huge (over 8 feet wing span!) rare and majestic birds.

Thanks to Andy Bloomfield for these wonderful photos.

Happy birding!

Jonathan Holt