The Safari was supposed to go to the nature reserve to top up the feeders in advance of the afternoon's guided walk but with breaking news that the Great Grey Shrike seen the previous afternoon a mile or so down the road from the nature reserve a naughty detour was order of the day.
We arrived on the busy road to see a host of cars looking almost abandoned on the gravel side road and a small hoard of birders stood on the opposite pavement. Bins and cameras were slung round our neck and we scampered across the road just about dodging the traffic. We spoke to the first person in line who assured us it was there but wee should have been here five minutes ago, it had gone down or been missed flying off - dohhh just our luck! BD appeared from the far side of the road having come from where the bird had flown in from and promptly showed us a rather fine pic on the back of his camera - dohhh again!!! Mild out there - cor not arf, a Red Admiral sped past us while were searching the tops of the vegetation for the shrike. Time was of the essence now as the guided walk was getting closer but our luck changed after about half an hour when we saw fly over our heads from behind us and land in a dense Willow bush. Fortunately it didn't take too long for it come out and show nicely atop of spindly Sycamore, if a little too distant for our camera. Great Grey Shrike (175) on the list, one we had hoped to get at Spurn last month but they arrived in the few days following our departure. Now out of time we couldn't wait round for a better pic and set of for the nature reserve with a last look at the bird just about discernible with the naked eye from the driving seat of the Land Rover - is it worth the risk to other road users to keep a from the driving seat list? Probably not!
At the nature reserve we went down to the hide with BD too open the hide in advance of the visitors arrival and immediately he called out "Water Rail". Sure enough there was one at the base of the reeds but at that moment we shut the shutter that shouldn't have been open and flushed it back into cover. It did reappear a few moments later and indeed a few minutes after that there was a bit of 'sharming' going on and a second appeared only to cause a bit of argy-bargy. A Goldcrest called from the bushes beside the hide as we walked up to the meeting point leaving BD to fill his boots (or at least SD card) with Water Rail pics.
Our guests started to arrive and we pointed them in the direction of the hide so the early comers could have a little look until the stragglers were met and greeted.
We were very pleased AH and her mum and sister had been able to travel from deepest darkest Yorkshire and FW and his brother, mum and dad were with us too as well as Facebook friends and a young local family - just a nice number and mix of abilities for an afternoon's saunter round the reserve. As ever at this time of year thoughts are with the Long Eared Owl(s) and showing them to the group was Plan A with the possibility of finding a Jack Snipe Plan B.
We left the hide and wandered over the bridge where being late in the day on a busy weekend the chance of seeing a Kingfisher in the dyke was probably less than seeing aliens land in the field on its far bank! Over the bridge we met PL who regretted to inform us that he's just spent 10 minutes looking for the owl without success and suggested we try from 'round the back'. We had a look at the fields on the way and talked about the soon to start Lottery funded project and the improvements that are to be made. We're not sure what'll happen to the Barn Owl box on the island but he wasn't peering out today.
'Round the back' there was still way to much greenery to make looking for Long Eared Owls a sensible proposition so after a short look at the most visible twigs it's been sat on in previous years we wandered further down the track admiring the rich autumn colours. It's not been seen now since the numpties stealing Apples were seen close by its favoured tree a few days ago.
We pointed out the spiky tipped leaves of the Norway Maples and then struggled to find a common or garden Sycamore to do the comparison, BD found some nice yellow Field Maple leaves that are much smaller. The Maple family are renowned for their stunning autumn hues. Someone with sharp eyes spotted a hibernating Ladybird larvae on the fence and from there we got to looking at the inticate forms of the lichens and mosses on the fence rails next too it. Shoulda took a pic - dohhh!!!
Rounding the corner near the reserve's western entrance the scrub was alive with birds, several Long Tailed Tits, two more Goldcrests and a Redwing having a bath in a puddle which HW got a lovely pic of. Woodpigeons downed berry after berry and a Song Thrush was tucked away gorging itself in there too. AH was ramping up the shutter count too and we're looking forward to sharing her no doubt splendid results in due course.
We did eventually find a Sycamore leaf to compare with the other 'maples' and as would be expected at this time of year had some large patches of Tar Spot Fungus on it. We mentioned that the rough wet marshy area was a good place to look for Stonechats (and Whinchats in the spring) but even with all of us scanning we could only find a couple of Meadow Pipits. Reaching the furthest point of our walk we sent F and H in to the reeds
to see if they could flush out any Snipe and hopefully a Jack Snipe for us to look at and compare. What was that we said about flushing numpties a paragraph or two ago - what a flippin hypocrite!
No luck but we did find a male Stonechat and then a female, so our prediction came true but about 100 yards out.
We took our leave of the wetland and returned to the reserve proper having a look at the Feeding Station on the way back round. As expected in this warm spell it was pretty quiet although the antics of a couple of Grey Squirrels kept us amused.
Almost done and with the light fading we started to see small flocks of Starlings arriving and of course small flocks coalesce into large flocks and they join up to become a full blown murmuration.
We all stood on the grass craning our necks upwards in awe at the swirling masses. Just marvelous. People on the adjacent caravan site were coming out filming the spectacle on their mobiles and others driving along the road were stopping to gawp too - all good stuff but you really couldn't help yourself. We guessed at about 20000 birds, probably the biggest flock we've seen here.
Shoulda taken some video - dohhh!!!
The Starlings funneled into the reeds to roost and that was our cue to say our goodbyes but not before an encore of fly-bys from a huge Peregrine and then a diminutive Merlin. What a great afternoon. OK so we didn't see the two original target species but you certainly can't go wrong with 20000 Starlings for the grand finale!
Today there was a bit of warm sunshine - provided you were out of the brisk wind - and we got out for a couple of minutes in the work garden to find an unseasonal Dandelion
When we took the pic we didn't see the little toadstool - top left. Might have a look for that one tomorrow.
Continuing the #100moredaysofnature theme we watched the Castor Oil plant by the cafe door and it was absolutely buzzing. Bluebottle type-thingies, loads of Eristalis hoverflies, and a huge queen Bombus terrestris bumble bee.
Here's young HW's view on the murmuration.
You really can't beat a bit of nature.
You really can't beat a bit of nature.
Where to next? About time we had a decent look at Patch 2.
In the meantime let us know what's swarming around in your outback.