Nature Quest: Visit a new reserve

RSPB Lakenheath Fen signA couple of weeks ago I managed to complete a second ‘Nature Quest‘ challenge as part of my efforts to fill 2014 with more wildlife and outdoor adventures.

After successfully watching winter wildfowl and waders as my first Nature Quest adventure, I decided to continue the theme with some more wetland and coastal birds as I took up the challenge of Visiting a New Reserve.

Wild Norfolk

Norfolk is a part of the UK that I have always wanted to visit to do some wildlife watching, and back in January I managed to make my first ever trip there. In between some other commitments, I managed to visit not one but three top RSPB reserves: Lakenheath Fen, Snettisham and Titchwell Marsh. The latter two had suffered damage during recent winter storms, but were still open and well worth a visit. You can find out more about these reserves and their wildlife, as well as other RSPB reserves, on the RSPB website.

Lakenheath Fen

View over water and reedbeds, Lakenheath Fen View over reedbeds, Lakenheath Fen

Despite it being quite a grey, chilly day it was nice just to enjoy the peace and quiet as we walked alongside the reserve’s reedbeds, listening out for birds although struggling to hear much above the wind! There were lots of animal signs though, with both muntjac and roe deer tracks along the path, and a clear deer trail (complete with prints) through the reeds:

Deer print Deer trail through reedbed

Other highlights included at least six or seven marsh harriers, close-up views of reed buntings outside the visitor centre, and a few redpolls and other small birds feeding in the trees.

We weren’t able to stay until dusk to see hen harriers coming in to roost, but great views of a pair of common cranes flying over was a real treat (and a ‘must-see’ species ticked off my Nature Quest list!). This reserve is also one of the few places in the country where golden orioles breed – clearly somewhere to come back to in the spring!

Wintry woodland, Lakenheath Fen Male reed bunting, Lakenheath Fen Wintry woodland, Lakenheath Fen

Snettisham

Snettisham is a reserve that I’ve often seen on TV, as the wader spectacles that can be seen at high tide are pretty famous. Unfortunately, I had to time my visit around other commitments so was only able to arrive as the tide was going out. There were plenty of waders out on the mudflats, but carrying my camera and scope for a long way in the pouring rain didn’t quite put me in the mood to linger and watch them for long.

Beach at RSPB Snettisham reserveAs I walked through the reserve, though, I spotted a bench dedicated to a lady who ‘had loved the place’ – I can’t remember the exact wording, but it did make me think about how we all have certain places that are very special to us. This was definitely somewhere to come back to another time, preferably when it was drier!

Despite the rain, I managed to see a nice male goldeneye, hundreds of greylag geese, a large flock of brent geese and lots of waders. Plus some volunteers cleaning litter from the storm-damaged beach – good job. Oh yes, and there were even friendly mallards who formed a ring around my car as I was putting my boots on…

Female mallard in the car park at Snettisham reserve Mudflats at RSPB Snettisham

Titchwell Marsh

Driving half an hour or so up the road from Snettisham, my final call of the weekend was to the RSPB’s Titchwell Marsh reserve. After a rainy morning at Snettisham I was starting to feel tired, hungry and in need of more birds. Luckily, Titchwell did not disappoint. With some fantastic new hides, a nice cafe and hundreds of birds, plus – finally! – a bit of sunshine, it soon became my favourite reserve of the three.

Blue skies over RSPB Titchwell Marsh Sun coming out after the rain, Titchwell Marsh

From one of the new hides (which, incidentally, have some of the best windows of any hide I’ve been in – clear plastic which, by the turn of a wheel, you can raise or lower if you want to open or close them… plus swivelly stools instead of long benches!), I spent some time watching avocets, teal, the odd little egret, redshank, godwits, ruff and many other waders, ducks and other birds.

Redshank feeding, Titchwell Marsh Avocet, Titchwell Marsh

Grey plover, Titchwell Marsh Shelducks, Titchwell Marsh

Ruff, Titchwell Marsh Storm damage to boardwalk at Titchwell Marsh

Although running out of time, I was determined to make it as far as the beach at the far end of the reserve, as I wanted to see the sea. Hurrying back, and now very hungry, I was left with two final treats of the day: a hunting marsh harrier, and my first ever brambling! Another tick for my Nature Quest species-to-see list.

Why visit somewhere new?

Although it’s nice to share my photos and experiences, my point here is not so much to recount what I’ve done, but more to reflect on the benefits of visiting somewhere new. There are several reasons why I’d recommend challenging yourself to discover a new reserve:

  • To have an adventure and broaden your horizons – I find it a little daunting to visit somewhere I don’t know, especially on my own. Even just successfully finding the place boosts my confidence a bit!
  • It can give you the opportunity to see a particular species or wildlife spectacle that may only be found in a few locations, and which you might otherwise miss out on. Although I didn’t manage to see the spectacle of thousands of waders pushed up by the tide at Snettisham, it’s definitely something worth going there to watch one day. It was also fantastic to be able to see wild cranes at Lakenheath Fen.
  • It gives you the chance to discover somewhere that could become a new favourite place.
  • Nearer to home, you might find places that you didn’t even realise were there, but which are well worth a visit!
  • It gets you outside in the fresh air… A good enough reason on its own!

The beach at Titchwell Marsh reserve

Over to you!

Once again, I’d like to encourage you to have a go at this Nature Quest challenge. You don’t need to go far from home like I did – there are bound to be lots of places close to you that are just waiting to be discovered.

Why not take a look at a few websites such as the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Natural England, the National Trust or the Forestry Commission, find a reserve or wild place near you, and get out there enjoying nature!

You can also read more about my experiences of discovering new reserves at Somerset Wildlife Trust – Exploring Somerset.

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