Marsh harrier by Brian Macfarlane 1/4
Chinese water deer by Kyle Dennis 2/4
Sparrowhawk by Rod Horne 3/4
Barn owl by Nick Appleton 4/4

Winter: Bure Valley

Winter in the Bure Valley, and the biting wind cuts in from the east, bringing with it a blast of Siberia. Despite the cold though, there’s a remarkable amount of activity.
 
Out on the open water, large flocks of ducks have gathered, feeding busily, undisturbed by people on the sheltered parts of Ranworth and other Broads: mallard, gadwall, pochard, tufted duck and shoveler. Great crested grebes, now sport their plainer winter plumage, but are still an elegant sight.
 
Tufted Duck by Gareth Hardwick
Marsh Harrier by Lawrie Webb
Skeletal cormorants perch in dead trees around the water’s edge, their wings spread out to dry, their long necks outstretched. On the water itself they are different again, streamlined and snake-like as they dive below the water for fish. Sharp-eyed visitors might also spot the sleek silhouette of an otter – winter is often a good time to see these secretive residents.
 
Up in the skies, marsh harriers remain year-round, still quartering the reedbeds for unsuspecting prey. Common buzzards circle and mew above the woodlands, while sparrowhawks dash – blink and you’ll miss them – between the trees.
Strange squealing noises sound from the reeds: not pigs, but the calls of the secretive water rail, a species of waterbird. Along the dykes, moorhens, their close relatives, swim busily, while coots, distinguished by the bony white plate on their foreheads, favour open water.
 
In the woods, noisy mixed flocks of finches and tits feed on alder trees: chaffinches, goldfinches, greenfinches, siskins, redpolls, blue tits, long-tailed tits and great tits are all possible. Sometimes a resplendent great spotted woodpecker will join them, its distinctive black-and-white plumage (with bright scarlet highlights) making it stand out. The rare, sparrow-sized lesser spotted woodpecker is also present in very small numbers, but sadly this species is much in decline across the UK.
 
Plants and invertebrates are not much in evidence during these cold months: insects are hibernating; the trees bare, but beautiful. Most plants have died back, waiting to emerge when the weather gets warmer, though sometimes it feels like the winter might last forever. Despite this, spring is on the way.