My usual wandering colleagues and I decided to go to Stodmarsh last Wednesday. The signs of spring were all about us with queen bees searching for suitable nest sites, marsh frogs enjoying the sun on the side of the ditches and white nettle and blackthorn flowering.
We started out from the car park where we could hear blue tit, robin, song thrush, chaffinch and blackbird. The most noticeable sounds however were wren – we had at least three singing from the car park and then another three as we entered the woodland – a lovely song which made us stand and listen for some minutes in admiration, such a great song from one of our smallest birds.
In the woodland one of the first birds we saw were siskin, several females and a couple of brightly coloured males. These are one of my favourite birds, probably because they aren’t the most easily or often seen, and I always feel quite pleased and privileged to be in their presence. Chiffchaff and great spotted woodpecker were calling from the depth of the wood and long-tailed tit, great tit and coal tit (brilliantly spotted by Malcolm) all added to our pleasure. Wood pigeons flew off as we progressed along the trail. We were surprised to see so much water lying in the woodland area. I assume that they have been pumping water into the area as everywhere else we have been to recently has been very dry.
As we got to the edge of the wood coot, moorhen, pheasant, and tufted duck appeared from the reeds and a little further on a cetti’s warbler sang from deep in a nearby bush. As we approached the more open area there were greylag and mute swan on the field. There were many magpie and carrion crow throughout the day.
A female teal slept perched on a tussock, with several pairs of mallard nearby. Reed buntings were calling from the reed beds and several were spotted as we moved towards Marsh Hide, they sat high up near the head of the reed proclaiming their territory. A couple of female marsh harriers circled over the reed beds.
As we lunched in the hide (with apologies to those enjoying the peace and quiet) a peaceful scene was laid out before us. Many teal and lapwing, and several redshank were going about their day on the scrape. How quickly the scene changed when a peregrine shot across the view, waders flew up in all directions, the lapwing giving their alarm calls, flapping wings and trying to cause as much confusion to the hunter as possible. Unsuccessful, the peregrine flew away from us, low over the fields. Sometime later one of the other people in the hide noticed the bird on the edge of a nearby pool washing and preening, where it stayed for some considerable time.
Scanning the pool (with my newly repaired telescope) there were little egret, at least three dunlin, ten ringed plover, six ruff, then four black-tailed godwit flew in and landed right in front of us. Two were in almost full male summer plumage and the two looked more like the less gaudy females. Pied wagtail flitted on the edge of the pool feeding on small insects. A male marsh harrier flew past, then a second bird appeared. I watched the first bird, Irene followed the second and noticed it was a male hen harrier. When we met the other birdwatchers later on, one of them confirmed he had also seen a hen harrier, so another good spot by Irene – just shows what good training we are giving her – or is it the excellent week she has just spent in Scotland?
From the next hide we could see many more teal, over 20 snipe, several shoveler, a few gadwall and three grey heron. We walked on to the River Stour. Konik ponies are being used to graze the fields and the mares were trotting along through the wet grass whinnying as they went – quite evokative for a while, then after an hour or so pretty annoying when you are trying to listen for birds. Malcolm heard and then saw a green sandpiper fly up from one of the ditches, a water pipit was found weaving in an out of grass on one of the small muddy islands in the ox-bow lake area. Irene spotted two glossy ibis feeding on the far side of the field, their long beaks probing in the wet marsh for insects and other goodies. A couple enjoying the view across the fields from one of the benches pointed out a kingfisher to us. It was using a wire fence as a perch as it fished in the pool.
All too soon it was time to return to the car park and home, but yet another superb day out.