Wednesday, 8 April 2015

A Sunny Visit to WWT Arundel

On Easter Monday, myself and my family took a long-overdue trip to Arundel Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. I've wanted to visit for quite a while now as I often hear positive comments from visitors at Pulborough Brooks and back in March, I went along to a talk at The Capitol theatre in Horsham, given by the centre's grounds manager Paul Stevens, about the conservation work and projects being carried out on the wetlands, so I was keen to see the reserve myself. 

Our original plan was to go on the Thursday before Easter but the weather was chilly and drizzly and, although I wouldn't have minded bundling up in a raincoat, we decided to postpone. I'm so glad we did as Easter Monday was the hottest day of 2015! I even caught a touch of sun on my chest and had lines where my binocular straps had sat. 

If you've been to WWT Arundel before, you'll know they hold a zoo license for the exotic wildfowl they have in the first few ponds. Many of these foreign species are under threat in their native countries and so having them here helps to protect their species and educate the public on them. There was quite a variety of ducks and geese and they were all fairly vocal at the feeding platform, where visitors can throw special grain bought from the WWT shop. Especially vocal was a group of Eider ducks. The males emitted a humorous "oooh" noise which was obviously intended to attract the females. The male and female plumage is so different; the sheer contrast always amazes me.

Male Falcated Ducks
Male Mandarin Ducks 

Naturally, given that we are now well and truly into Spring and the breeding season is underway, there were plenty of Mallard ducklings to be seen as they are the first species of duck to breed, many of them so tiny that they can only have fledged a day or two before. My favourite had to be a pair of Moorhen chicks which were absolutely fresh fledglings, judging from their size. I didn't get a photo but just imagine a piece of black cotton wool and you're more or less there!

Male Wood Duck
Emperor Goose
Male Shelduck

One species of duck that I found particularly fascinating was the White-Headed Duck. My first sighting was of two females and I was instantly reminded of a duck-billed platypus! They have wide, flat beaks, similar to a Shoveler and their tails stand out for their width too. The males have the white head and a wonderful blue-coloured bill which leaves them looking a little less platypus-like in comparison to the brown females.

Female White-Headed Duck showing her tail
Reedbed Boardwalk

The reedbed boardwalk was a great way to experience this particular habitat. It felt very relaxing to be surrounded by gently swaying reeds. I was keeping my eyes peeled for signs of Water Rails, Bitterns and Warbler nests but as I suspected, I saw none of these. There was a nesting Moorhen right at the edge of the walkway, clucking at two male Mallards as they drifted by her. 

The reserve was much larger than I expected and we did have to stop for some lunch half way round. Refueling with tea and cake is of great importance. I had to take my coat back to the car as I simply had no need for it with the wonderful weather we were having-even the breeze was warm-and as I did, I saw that the car park was full and cars were queuing to get in. When the sun comes out in the UK, especially on a bank holiday, Brits instinctively come pouring out of the woodwork, Pimms in hand, in search of the nearest beach, park or attraction. I was pleased so many had opted to see some nature.

After lunch, we headed straight for the boat jetty. This was the part I was most keen to experience as I was really hoping to spot a water vole. If I remember correctly from Paul Stevens' talk, there are 120 breeding pairs of water voles at Arundel which is a fantastic number. I knew, however, that they can be pretty tricky to spot so I was trying my best not to get my hopes too high...

Rightly so, as we didn't spot any! Even the wooden platforms dotted around for the females to use as territory-marking latrines were clear of any droppings. Our boat guide did point out evidence that the voles had been in the area by the broken reeds; they bend each reed down and turn their heads to the side to bite through, leaving a 45° angle. Despite not seeing the water voles, there was plenty more to see, including a pair of Mute Swans building a nest together, with one pulling up grass and passing it to the other who was placing it on the nest. It was fascinating to see their teamwork in action.

From the Sand Martin hide, I managed to spot a female nesting Lapwing and a male close by (as seen below to the left of the photo). The air was full of raucous calls from the Black-Headed Gulls out on the scrapes but no Sand Martins were nesting in the holes of the sandy hide. Greylag and Canada geese were also abundant.

At the end of our visit, I felt a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of wildfowl there was at the centre. It would be impossible to go away feeling disappointed at any time of year there as each season brings new species and new behaviour and activity to witness. I'm reliably informed that the water voles are more active during late Summer, so I think another trip may well be on the cards!

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