Blue House Farm EWT Reserve, North Fambridge
: Now that birds have returned to the reserve in large numbers, following the freeze, their predators too are becoming more obvious. In the past week there have been sightings of 3 Sparrowhawks
(one flushed from the remains of a Dunlin), a pair of Marsh Harriers
, 2 Hen Harriers
(including a superb adult male), 3 Buzzards, 2 Peregrine
(one of which was seen to catch a Grey Plover), 3 Merlin
and 2 Barn Owl
, the last of which counts as a honorary raptor for the purpose of this note! Best of all though was a Rough-legged Buzzard
. It flew in off the Fambridge-Althorne ridge and after being beaten up by a female Marsh harrier landed in a large bush directly opposite the BWA hide, where it remained for around forty minutes. This caused a few bunny hops by the occupant of the hide, namely, me! The Rough-leg is a scarce winter visitor from northern Scandinavia and the Arctic, where its numbers are largely governed by the abundance or otherwise of its principal prey, Lemmings. The latter's population is cyclical, numbers building to a peak every few years or so, then crashing. When they are high the buzzards often succeed in rearing four or five young, when low they often fail to rear any at all. Should Lemmings remain plentiful for two or three years then the number of young buzzards can exceed the food supply on their wintering grounds and many are forced to migrate further south, occasionally arriving in Britain in large numbers. Even in poor years a few reach our shores and at least one has been reported from various parts of North Essex during the past couple of months. I was hoping I might bump into it and today that wish came true but it was the closeness and duration of the sighting that made it so memorable.
Talking of predatory birds, a walker I met today recounted the mishap suffered by a cyclist last June while he was making his way along the seawall between Althorne and Fambridge. He stopped momentarily to adjust something on his bike but failed to notice that he had inadvertantly separated a pair of Canada Geese from two of their goslings. The next thing he saw was an irate gander, half running, half flying, heading straight towards him at considerable speed. It pressed home the attack, crashing into his bike and tumbling him down the seaward slope of the wall where he bounced off the concrete and then slid down the slope on to the saltings. Being relatively young he bounced better than those of us who are of a certain age but he still received a badly bruised shoulder and a cut on the head that was severe enough to splash his shirt with blood. Also, the handlebars on his bike were broken, necessitating a long walk back to Althorne to catch a train home.
Mercifully, this incident occurred just outside the reserve boundary. Who knows what the health and safety implications might have been had it been inside. Can the owner of a bird reserve be sued if a member of the public is assaulted by one of its occupants. An interesting thought!!! No matter, in future I will certainly be more circumspect in my dealings with any family groups of Canada Geese I encounter than I would have been in the past!