Sunday, 3 January 2016

Yet more owl bothering in the rain

The Safari left Base Camp eager to add a few more  species to our birds year list and as well as looking up (as David Lindo encourages everyone to do and so you should there's always something to be seen no matter where you are urban, suburban or rural) we also made a point of looking down to see what plants we could find in flower. As usual we headed to the nature reserve but approaching from a different angle we decided to go the 'wrong way round' and hit the Long Eared Owls in the return part of our walk.
We gave the wetland a good scan from several points along the walkway but there was no sign of the wintering Stonechat, no sign of much at all really although a Pheasant (48, MMLNR #44) flushed from the dog-walking zone to our left sailed in on stiff wings and touched down in deep cover. Continuing towards the reserve gate it was obvious there were far fewer small birds about and a distinct lack of Blackbirds anywhere after yesterdays decent count of 21. A small flock of Starlings flew over the wet fields towards the housing estate (MMLNR #45).
Our first port of call was the feeding station which was deadly quiet apart from a Grey Squirrel that refuses to be thwarted by the addition of anti-squirrel wires and fine mesh.
Strreeetchhh it
Other wildlife was only represented by more non-native fauna in the form of one male and two female Pheasants, and a native Moorhen.
It was minutes after leaving the hide that our luck with the weather ran out and the rain started, only lightly at first. A quick stop at the Bramble thicket that needs a viewing bench showed us there were far more waterfowl on today, at least 300 Teal were out on the water in a big flock and yesterday's four Wigeon had increased to over 100. The mere was wall to wall ducks - an impressive sight to behold and the sound wasn't bad either. We hurried along to the shelter of the nearby hide to get a better look at the Teal, they'd be side on here rather than looking up their arses. We scanned several times but didn't pick out any with the tell tale vertical white stripe of a Green Winged Teal.

The rain began to fall heavier so it was time to scurry to the next hide where we could see there were some more Teal and some gulls to scrutinise.
Looking down for flowers we spotted a fine cluster of tiny Candle Snuff Fungi growing on the (not so) old Alder stump only yards from the hide door.
As we stopped on the lawn to get a pic of an unknown Chickweedy thingy - we really need to swot up on some of wildflowers - a Jackdaw (MMLNR #46) flew overhead, the racket it was making had us looking up to see loads of them but it was 'only' a flock of one.
At the hide the gulls gave us nothing quite so exciting as the Glaucous Winged Gull currently in Ireland (we do check, just in case!) but there was an adult Lesser Black Backed Gull (49, MMLNR #47) in with the Herring, Common and Black Headed Gulls.
A flush of 10 Woodpigeons through the scrub on the far side caught our attention and behind them was a Kestrel flying low through the trees (50, MMLNR #48). Following the Woodpigeons to the fields where they landed we saw two Stock Doves (51, MMLNR 49) sat on the big barn roof.
By now we'd been joined by a crew from the east of the county and yet more rain. We chatted for a while, counted the waterfowl finding a second male Pochard today, and scanned hopefully but unsuccessfully through the Teal. Our friends decided to give it up as a bad job and not risk the soaking going round to see the Long Eared Owls, we were at just about the furthest point from the car and had more wildflowers to search for so did continue our 'wrong way' circuit. We found Daisies and Scentless Mayweed along with a yellow crucifer we couldn't ID - told you we need to do some swotting up!
From the bridge we heard Pink Footed Geese in the field behind the hedge and from a little further along the embankment we able to count 33 feeding on the bare area left by the receeding flood waters - we could barely see them it was that gloomy and their drab plumage being perfect camouflage against the grey brown mud.
The sheep field held a large mixed flock of corvids giving us plenty of Rooks ((52, MMLNR #50) to add to our year list. More Cetti's Warblers and a Water Rail were heard from the reedbeds as we walked round to where the Long Eared Owls had been showing so well yesterday - would they still be there or would the lashing rain have seen them off? So much for minor hysteria about seeing yesterday's Shelduck too, we needn't have worried as two came flying in from the west and appeared to land out off sight on the mere. Then looking in to the scrub we so no owls - they had gone after all. So what to do now, go for another waterfowling quick session in the hide and try to dry off a bit or retrace our steps then cut off 'round the back' to see if the owls were in their favoured haunts of recent days. We chose to continue getting wet...or should that be wetter?
It was the right decision as we immediately found one Long Eared Owl and then a few yards further on a second both showing as well as might be expected in the dire conditions but far far better than the one seen from here yesterday.
Dripping wet now we aimed towards the car noting flowering Ragwort and Hogweed along with catkins of Hazel and Italian Alder on the way.
Back at the wetland we had another unsuccessful scan for the Stonechat but seeing as we were shod in wellies decided to take the plunge and walk through it back to the gate rather than take the dry causeway. Once down the slope and on the grassland, which was horrendously wet more like a pond with grass growing in it than a field, we flushed half a dozen Meadow Pipits (53, MMLNR #51) but there was still no sign of the Stonechat, he was being very sensible and keeping well down in cover out of the miserable weather. Rounding the second last pond we flushed a Snipe which seemed to call, hard to tell with a woolly hat pulled down over our ears and our coat's hood over that, but it didn't 'tower' and fly round but kept low and quickly dropped the other side of the small ditch - it was out of sight before we could raise our bins. Not more than a few splashy steps further on another did the same but this time banked round before dropping giving  us an excellent if brief view of its small size and short bill, Jack Snipe (54, MMLNR #52) - nice! 
Back where the car was parked there's a large tall dense Privet hedge which always resonates to the cheery sound of chirruping House Sparrows - but not today...hard to believe we've got Jack Snipe on our year list before the far more common and ubiquitous House Sparrow...and we didn't find any Dandelions in flower either. 
Then it was back to Base Camp for a hot cuppa and get the fire lit to dry out.
Where to next? The holidays are now over so Patch 2 comes back into play tomorrow - weather permitting of course.
In the meantime let us know who's rearrived  back in your outback

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