A cold, bleak day on the Marsh today, with a stiff north-easterly breeze and rain forecast. I arrived with a bit of time before the volunteers arrived and so had a look along the track towards the seawall. The fields were still partly snow-covered and the track mostly a sheet of ice. All across the fields there were groups of birds, mostly fieldfares, usually very scarce at Farlington and mostly seen on passage, so some hundreds, as there were today was exceptional.
There were also small groups of skylark, lapwings and a single golden plover. All these birds have probably been pushed to the coast, where the snow cover is less as they need to get access to the ground to feed. Back at the Building I could hear several bearded tit in the reedbed and a singing Cetti’s warbler. An adult male peregrine flew across the fields a few times, flushing all the birds. Looking south I noticed four geese, that did not look like either brent or Canadas, a closer look showed them to be white-fronted geese, these are scarce visitors but these are typical conditions to bring them in. At least two of the birds were adults with black-barred bellies, unfortunately they did not land on the Marsh, although they circled the Deeps before appearing to drop into the Harbour.
Somewhat to my surprise there was a good turn out for the volunteer task and we decided to go coppicing sallows in the area around the spring north of the A27, this area is pretty well sheltered and even on days like today it is not an unpleasant place to work. We were cutting sallows that had not been cut for three or more years, a short rotation cut keeps them fairly low and dense which gives the best cover for wildlife and also makes them easy to manage.
The cut material is ideal for use in dead hedges, the dead branches are a habitat in their own right and will provide more wildlife cover as they decay. It also allows us to clear away the material without the need to burn it. I know fires are popular with volunteers but they bring their own problems. The ground under the fire is sterilised and then made very nutrient rich by the ash, the smoke is a pollutant and causes a nuisance near to roads and housing and we would have been hard pressed to clear as much material by burning as we did by hedging it.
I only worked until lunchtime then had a low tide count to do on the mudflats off the eastern and southern seawall, by this time the rain was starting and looking into the stiff, cold wind was not something I was looking forward to. I did see a good few birds thought including over a thousand dunlin beside Russell’s Lake. Otherwise there was not a lot, but it was good to get another great view of the adult male marsh harrier, which we had also seen just before we set off for the task. By the time I got back to the Building the rain was heavier and I met the volunteers just packing up for the day and who could blame them. From the Building I then saw another marsh harrier, this time a female, although not the one from a week or so ago as this had only a pale patch on the head and not the forewing, it was a female and probably a first winter. So I have now seen at least three different marsh harrier at Farlington this year. Incidentally the white-fronted geese take my 2013 bird yearlist to 117.
I ended the day in the office planning next year’s budget, as the rain turned to sleet and then snow I will confess that, for once, I was not sorry to be in the office!