Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Just like buses

The Safari was in a quandary this morning without LCV - what to do? Should we go back to work and recoup a day's leave in case we need it later or should we take it and go wildlifing anyway? Well it wasn't much of a decision to make. A quick look a few weather websites had us choosing north over south as that would give us the driest day and perhaps a slightly higher chance of some sunshine.
It took almost as long to do the four and a half miles to the motorway through the rush hour traffic as it did to do the 40 miles on the motorway to our destination - what a traffic nightmare and good early morning boiding time wasted!
We parked up ate a butty, picked up the optics and wandered off down the causeway. Out in the sticks it was a very peaceful morning only bird calls and cattle lowing broke the silence - beautiful. We'd not gone more than a few paces when we heard a Nuthatch (77) calling from the woods behind us, a little further a Cetti's Warbler fired up as explosively as they do but we weren't hearing much in the way of ducks from the lake the other side of the reedbed to our left but we did hear  a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming from the same direction as the Nuthatch, the first time we've heard that this year.
Arriving at the hide we saw we couldn't go round to the next hide without wellies as the water level was well over the causeway down there and we weren't shod in our wellies just our not so very waterproof trainers.
The view from the hide was nothing we'd seen the like of before, the island that many birds usually loaf on was gone! A Mute Swan and a couple of wet footed Lapwings (78) made the most of the shallow water.
Other than a small flock of Tufted Ducks and a few Coot it was deadly quiet, not even the Otters were putting on a performance today.
Unable to any further and nothing happening we retraced our steps to the road and turned towards the visitor centre passing the not quite finished new boardwalk on the way - that should make life a lot easier by a) not having to walk on the road at all and b) you'll be in the habitat so more chance of seeing/hearing something interesting.
At the entrance we met a local birder who was having a good look at the feeders and spotted a stunning male Bullfinch (79) perched nearby, sadly it didn't stop long and was the only one of its kind we saw all day. Membership cards shown we were into the inner sanctum of the reserve, first stop the very lively feeding station. All the usual suspects were here except Bullfinch and Greenfinch. After a couple of Coal Tit false alarms and double checks to make sure a Marsh Tit (80) did come in for a sunflower seed. As is often the case around feeders there were several lively and aggressive Robins and skulking around keeping well clear of the argumentative Robins were a couple of Dunnocks. We weren't prepared for what happened next, one of the Dunnocks flew from the ground to the lower branches of a nearby shrub and then on to the feeder - well know us down with a Dunnock feather we weren't expecting that, what's going on with this species???
A Jay (81) tazzed through putting the smaller birds to flight so we took our leave and made for the nearest hide.
Again the water level was very high and most of the ducks were sat in the edge of the fringing reeds, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall and some Tufted Ducks on the open water were seen as well as a Water rail being heard. Away in the distance large numbers of Lapwings, Mallards and Teal kept flushing, keeping a close eye on them soon revealed a female type Marsh Harrier (82) cruising inches over the top of the reeds. After a while it settled on the top of a bush but far to distant for a pic. Above it a kettle of raptors appeared almost spontaneously pout of the woods on the hillside opposite, in our field of view we had four Buzzards (83), a Raven (84) and a Sparrowhawk (85) circling together - three species all year birds...bonkers!
Time to move on again but again we couldn't get to the next two hides due to inappropriate footwear, why didn't we put our wellies on they were there in the boot of the car. A look along the path as far as we could get gave us a small flock of Long Tailed Tits, several more Robins, Chaffinches and Blue Tits and another Jay and Marsh Tit.
By now we'd just about exhausted the possibilities for our footwear and also realised the tide was rising down the road so off we went passing fields full of Lapwings, Curlews and Grey Lag Geese all in single species flocks, whatever the conditions were in each field they only suited one of those three species.
Ignoring the first hide we went straight to the second and found a few birders unsure of the identity of three small waders tucked in among the Lapwings on a distant island in the pool, Dunlin (86) we told them and they returned the favour by pointing out a Greenshank (87) partially hidden in a group of Redshanks. They also told us that only a few minutes prior their arrival another birder had seen the Kingfisher so we were hopeful it would put in another appearance before too long.
On the other pool there were lots, and we mean lots, of Teal, Wigeon, Lapwings and a good number of Shovelers roosting up and a small number of Little Egrets scattered across the marsh. Another flock of Dunlin flew round but found it not to their liking and didn't settle.
Lapwing - phonescoped
Sleeping Shovelers - normal camera
Despite the huge duck numbers we only found five Pintails (88) sleeping together on one of the muddy islands. From time to time the ducks would be woken from their slumbers by something usually unseen, once we thought the culprit was a couple of low flying Cormorants, once a marauding Great Black Backed Gull although this and a another did several more circuits of the pool with causing any consternation, another time it was these two monsters.
 And yet another flush was caused by this female Red Breasted Merganser (89) coming in to land.
The hoped for Kingfisher never did show but a Little Egret came close to the hide giving us our best photo opportunity of this recent(ish) arrival we've had - with the numbers here now we can't believe we saw a couple of Pectoral Sandpipers here well before the then almost unthinkable arrival of Little Egrets.
It half walked half fluttered down the bank and began to use those huge yellow feet to stir up the mud in the same way gulls do on grassy fields and roadside verges.
The ploy worked too but we couldn't tell what species of fish it was as it disappeared all to quickly.
After a couple of beakfuls it hopped back up the bank and then must have seen or heard us move as it stared straight at us waving its head like a snake to get a proper look at what was causing the disturbance.
Approaching weather made us call it a day and head back to the car passing a Reed Bunting (90) on the way and then something caught our eye in the thick vegetation on the side of the railway embankment, stopping to check another movement looked very much like a pair (or simply two) Cetti's Warblers but they vanished before we could confirm the glimpse. If they were Cetti's Warblers we've never seen/heard one in this part of the reserve before.
The rain arrived but was only light when we got half way down the motorway and as we were making good progress we thought we ought to pop in to the nature reserve for half an hour before hitting Base Camp. We did but didn't stay long, it was very windy, much windier than up north, the rain was heavier and it was cold. A quick look from the hide gave us a good number of Coots and some Grey Lag Geese and Cormorants but not a lot else so we only stopped a few minutes. Once back on the main road we recalled that someone had reported a Peregrine sitting on the ledge outside their office building adjacent to the nature reserve, sure enough once through the traffic lights we cast our eyes up and right and there was the Peregrine (91, MMLNR #56) clinging to a very narrow ledge out of the wind, happy days!
We mightn't have had the enjoyable company of LCV but we did have a good day out after all.
Where to next? All good things come to an end and so it's back to work tomorrow. All being well Patch 2 should be back in play, what will we find?
In the meantime let us know if those Hedge Tits or Dunfinches whatever they're called have learned to ransack the feeders in your outback.

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