The highlight of the month was undoubtedly the return of squelchy conditions, meaning that the Marshes are no longer in contravention of the Trade Descriptions Act. Flooding on November 17th led to 31 black-headed gulls and 17 mallard making use of the shallow water in Tonford field, and the following day the river was close to overtopping its banks in places. However, high water levels are extremely transitory, and six days later there was no standing water to be seen – and no birds either! Despite the wetter conditions, mud-loving snipe have been scarce, with a peak so far of just 15; the mild start to winter no doubt has something to do with this, enabling more birds to delay moving out of their summer quarters further north.
The same reason may account for the low numbers of some other species: just three little grebes were present on the river on November 1st, only two tufted ducks have appeared on Tonford Lake, meadow pipits have been scarce, though with eight on November 24th and there have been only two sightings of redwings so far. Colder weather already creeping in during the first few days of December may change the status of some of these species.
A single stonechat put in appearances, giving the impression that it is on its own and that the pair it consorted with earlier have either moved elsewhere or are tucked away in an unseen corner of the Marshes.
Flocks of tits are not often seen on Hambrook, but at least 12 blue tits flew through on November 30th, and we may well have missed the first part of the passage.
Herring gulls are finally reappearing after a total absence of nine weeks. Avian flu is hitting seabirds hardest of all, but they may have just altered their behaviour for a while, perhaps attracted to a new food source that didn’t require them to fly over Hambrook. At this time of year the adults have variable amounts of dark streaking on their heads that soils the summer purity of snow-white plumage.
The month got off to a very windy start, leaving the paths strewn with willow twigs and branches. Several species of willow grow on the Marshes, but one of the commoner ones is crack willow, with long, slender leaves. Having seen how much debris has been deposited on the ground (left), you will appreciate how the tree came by its name – its stems are remarkably brittle, cracking off almost at will. Willow branches have a remarkable propensity for re-rooting if they land on wet enough ground, and so this inherent weakness in their stems can help to propagate the species on marshland, in the process forming a clone of trees with identical genetic makeup.