Wednesday, 14 December 2005

Front row seat for a Norfolk spectacle

The raised earthen bank at Stubb Mill, Hickling, may seem an unlikely place from which to watch for birds of prey and other wildlife. Scrub, reeds and rough grassland stretch away into the distance and on a cold winter’s afternoon it can all seem rather bleak, not to mention cold. However, at this time of the year the watchpoint provides an excellent opportunity for viewing harriers, merlin and common crane as the birds come in to roost just before dusk. With very little shelter from the elements, the watchpoint is best visited on a bright afternoon. The birds will still arrive in the rain but tend to hunker down quite quickly and, with poor light, there is not much of a spectacle. However, in the good light of a bright December afternoon, you may be spoilt by views of hunting harriers or of merlin and Sparrowhawk mobbing their larger cousins. There is even the chance of seeing a short-eared owl or peregrine.

Most observers tend to arrive an hour or so before dusk but I prefer to arrive well before this. One of the reasons for arriving so early is to be able to watch Chinese water deer in good light. This introduced species has established a sizeable population within the county, centred on the Broads, but seemingly spreading north and west to other sites. Most of the Chinese water deer that I encounter elsewhere within the county are either ones that have been killed in collision with motorcars or are brief glimpses of live individuals disappearing into thick vegetation. Stubb Mill has proved to be one of the best places to get good views of these small deer, perhaps because you are sitting on a bank looking down on the surrounding habitat. Slightly larger in size than a muntjac, the Chinese water deer reminds me of a roe deer in its posture and movements, though smaller in size. First introduced at Woburn Park in the early 1900s, several established populations occur in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk where they favour mixed reedbed and woodland habitats. They are cautious animals and if alarmed will run off, flinging up their hind legs as they go.

Perhaps I have been fortunate in my visits to Stubb Mill. Each time I have been treated to close views of the deer, followed by the spectacle of hen and marsh harriers quartering the ground or loafing about in scrub. These have been accompanied by views of kestrel, sparrowhawk and merlin on virtually every occasion, with the whole afternoon often rounded off by the arrival of the local cranes. Having so many special birds and animals in one place makes this a site that everyone interested in Norfolk’s wildlife should visit at least once.

No comments:

Post a Comment