In January the Bird & Wildlife Group held the first of their planned, regular visits covering an area to the east and west of Burnham Marina and incorporating the local Riverside Park; the area, which the group is calling ‘Our Patch’. The plan is to record the birds, wildflowers, trees and any other wildlife seen at intervals throughout the year. They also aim to encourage others to enjoy the countryside and appreciate what’s around them and therefore these outings are open to any member of the U3A who would like to join them.
The winter had so far been mild and wet with very few frosts, no snow and no significant spells of cold weather. Today a light rain fell first thing and it remained calm and overcast for most of the day. Later a watery sun broke through but the temperature didn’t rise above 5°C. Several group members and two potential new members to the U3A spent over two hours walking the route and recording what they saw; there were some surprises.
We headed west beside the railway line where rosehips hung on the bushes to our right and another burst of red came from the new growth from a variety of cornus.
There is a stand of young trees that we couldn’t identify even though one member had thoughtfully brought along a guide to identifying winter twigs. Later in the year when the leaves have grown we hope to fill this gap in our knowledge. To the left stand some small oaks with their dead leaves still attached and some of the branches bearing a few oak galls. On the left also is one mature pine tree, approximately 20’ high and appears to have lost its top – that too has to be identified.
Ahead, and out of view, a flock of Brent Geese could be clearly heard ‘rronking’ to each other, and then we saw them and estimated 300-400. They landed in the field to our left and we revised our count to 700. More Brent Geese flew in and our number count increased to 1000. We spent about 30-minutes very close to them as we walked along the northern edge of the field and were well down the western edge before an angry couple came running across the field, arms waving vigorously, and frightened them away – of course the geese just landed elsewhere in the field although the large flock did split into about three factions, one remained in the field, one flew up river and the third, down river.
We passed, on our right, some mature oaks, mallow plants and several molehills. In the bushes we see a Wren and a Blue-tit, a Jay flew over and on the ground ahead of us, a Blackbird. As we headed south we could see flocks of Wood Pigeons and Magpies feeding on the lawns near a newly constructed bungalow; a lot of young trees have recently been planted there. Two Carrion Crows strutted in the field and then flew into the trees near Creeksea Barns. In amongst the Brent Geese there was a Black-headed Gull and an unidentified larger gull. In the grass beside the field Common Field-speedwell was in flower, this does flower all year round and there was a flowering Red Deadnettle, which is quite out of season. An ivy bush, to the right and further south, held on late to its flowering heads and we spotted early flowering Dandelions, or perhaps late as their flowering period seems to vary between guide books. Again on the right are flowering Gorse Bushes and hovering close into the bushes a myriad of small flying insects, probably midges, and below the Gorse, Arum Lilies were emerging.
A Great Tit could be heard singing in the trees announcing its arrival and a Robin too. There was the sighting of a Green Woodpecker as it flew to the safety of a distant tree.
Underfoot the ground was very wet and in the mud we tracked for some time the slots of a Muntjac Deer; none of us had before seen deer, or traces of deer, in this area.
Down by the river an Egret took off from the saltings and perched on a timber post. The tide was fairly high with little exposed mud. Two Oystercatchers and a Redshank fed on the shoreline and a flock of what was probably Dunlin flew up river. The dyke was full of water but empty of wildlife. Just before we turn north at the marina and looking east across to the mudflats beyond the marina entrance there were Dunlin and Lapwings, around 50, and in the water close to them many of the Brent Geese had landed. In the marina itself was one Little Grebe and a Redshank.
Burnham has just one large open space, Riverside Park. This park is an extensive area of mown and long grass and runs from the river in the south to the railway line in the north; it lies to the east of the marina. There is also copse planting and a wetland area. On the grass north of the river Daisies are in flower – late or early? Bristly Ox-tongues have their seed heads attached. On the rough grass, which in summer will be the meadow, there was a Green Woodpecker, 7 Blackbirds and many Magpies and in the Silver Birches near the ponds a flock of Wood Pigeons and nearby Starlings gathered on a bare tree. The reed beds yielded nothing except the sound of a Moorhen.
On what was formerly the Caravan Site there were bushes of Hazel with their catkins hanging, pollen falling off at the touch and the leaves just budding; nearby early sticky buds have formed on the Horse Chestnuts. We walked back adjacent to a dyke that is in urgent need of attention, on its southern bank grows Lesser Celandine, one now in flower, again early. Trees to the right have been untidily cut back; a lone Green Finch perched in them.
We were all thrilled by the arrival of such a large flock of Brent Geese, enjoyed following the Muntjac slots and the morning made us more aware of what there can be seen in this small area.
The next ‘Our Patch’ outing will be on Tuesday 17th February meeting in the marina car park at 10.30
Birds: (numbers in brackets indicate the highest number seen in one sighting) Brent Geese (1000), Blackbirds 8, (7), Wren (1), Jay (1), Blue-tit (1) Wood Pigeons 35, (20), Magpies 18, (11), Carrion Crows (2), Robin 2, (1), Green Woodpecker 2, (1), Black-headed Gulls (6), Egret (1). Oystercatchers (2), Redshanks (2), Dunlin 50, (40), Lapwings (50), Little Grebe (1), Greenfinch (1), Starlings (10)
Flowers: Gorse, Daisy, Speedwell, Red Deadnettle, Dandelion, Hazel Catkins, Ivy.
Other: Muntjac slots