Nature Notes for April by Malcolm Cox

Barely believable, but a pair of Sea Eagles were seen nesting at Terrington Marsh
Barely believable, but a pair of Sea Eagles were seen nesting at Terrington Marsh
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April 1st, for me that is always an annual milestone. For me it’s the end of winter, we have survived the gloom and chill of the first three months and will have celebrated Easter.

We remind ourselves of the earth’s natural rhythms when ancients focussed on pre-Christian notions of the goddess Ēostre, to rejoice in renewal. So as you read these notes keep reminding yourself of the date.

Sir David Attenborough and a giant fossil bone

Sir David Attenborough and a giant fossil bone

It has been an especially interesting few days for me and Frau Cox. It all began about a week ago while digging out a garden pond. I had reached a depth of a metre and struck what I assumed was builder’s rubble. On closer inspection however it was clearly something out of the ordinary.

An hour later I had liberated a very large organic shape. After washing, a fossilised bone of mammalian origin rested on the dining room table. A couple of phone calls to Norwich Museum increased our excitement. The result of all this has been passed to the Natural History Museum in London where Professor Thomas Recks has confidentially predicted the lower leg bone of a diplodocus.

We understand that the Attenborough fellow has suggested a BBC4 special scheduled for the autumn. As the Chinese like to say “may you live in interesting times” And yet dear reader there is much more to come.

Terrington Marsh is one of those locations that is not regularly inspected by local birders. This is of course understandable, there are richer sites such as Holme and Titchwell. These hotspots where countless birds especially waterfowl and waders are concentrated are a more obvious lure. The wide open panorama of unmanaged wilderness at Terrington Marsh and elsewhere require a lot more effort from any ornithologist. One can spend several hours here and meet few people.

A diplodocus could have roamed  Marshland thousands of years ago

A diplodocus could have roamed Marshland thousands of years ago

And so it was last Friday when after a chilly afternoon of scanning with binoculars I was startled by the commotion among a mixed flock of wildfowl. Clearly something had disturbed their rest and relaxation. From such a reaction I assumed a passing peregrine. These days we are blessed with many more of these wonderful raptors than at any time since the 1970’s when the lingering effects of organochlorine pesticides reduced their numbers to a disastrous level. By April most over wintering peregrines have returned to more northerly breeding grounds.

With weary eyes I scanned the skies for evidence of the disturbance. I was near to giving up the search when not one obviously large dark shape caught my attention but two. The size and shape immediately discounted peregrine and then other potential raptors.

Fortunately by this time I had been joined by another birder. We watched for a few minutes before with disbelief both declaring, “Good Lord, a pair of Sea Eagles” (or words to that effect!). These huge birds are known to very occasionally over-winter far from breeding territories. Thanks to various protection schemes, mostly sponsored by RSPB these birds are now doing nicely in Britain’s far North West. From cautious re-introduction to the isle of Rhum four decades ago sea eagles are now well established and benefit the local economy. Quite where these visitors could have come from is anyone’s guess but Norway or the Baltic seems a likely source.

And now comes the really exciting part. Astonishingly the eagles we watched proved to be a male and female pair which from their behaviour are clearly well bonded and wait for it – have chosen an old scots pine to set up home.

After some disbelieving telephone conservations with the British Trust for Ornithology and Rarities Committee, a visit from greater minds than me have accepted this event.

Barely believable, sea eagles breeding in God’s own county although I am sure that in truly ancient times this may have been a regular event for example in Broadland. For readers who may not be quite so bird oriented I should add that this species is sometimes know as White-tailed eagle.

As this will obviously bring birders from far and wide we are currently, with, assistance from the landowner setting up protection and viewing arrangements. All this will obviously require much planning and funding. Some sort of charitable trust will need to be established but for the time being all donations in the form of cheques made payable to M A Cox will be most welcome. Naturally any donations will be properly forwarded in due course.

In the meantime can I request that anyone hoping for a view of the nest site contact me first as the landowner is uneasy about thousands of “twitchers” invading. Hopefully if breeding is successful the local economy will benefit as has that of the western isles. Great news, so greet the beginning of April and let us hope spring has arrived.