Saturday, 5 March 2016

It's snow good

The Safari had a very welcome day off today and we had a cunning plan. We left Base Camp well before 06.00 with the intention of meeting up with LCV in the Midlands at about 08.00 for a day's birding around his local patches and top sites. Snow had been forecast then revised down to wintry showers and getting in the car it was 5C and had been raining overnight but that had now stopped. A mile or so along the motorway the rain started, not heavy but we noticed it was a bit sleety and the car's thermometer was now showing 2C. By the time we merged with the main motorway it was snowing quite heavily and the temperature was now 0C. The snow came down thick and fast, so much so that the third lane was almost unusable and visibility at times almost none existent as the wipers struggled to clear it. The traffic slowed to a crawl, in a little over an hour we'd only done 30 out of the 110 miles and we had the busiest section to come - we were never going to get there by the allotted time so we bottled out and got off at the next junction and made our way back to the coast and made our apologies to LCV.
At the coast we stopped at a nature reserve we've not visited for a long long time but one we used to work at. This winter there has been a fairly reliable Caspian Gull on the beach, but not today. As we arrived the tide was racing out down the gently shelving beach but thankfully the heavy snow had turned to light rain. We scattered a torn up butty to the four winds and attracted several gulls but not the 'right one'. A walk down to the tide line took ages, there were plenty of gulls down there but they were spread out for miles so we gave up and decided to head off elsewhere. The rain started as we got near the car but that didn't deter us from having a quick look at the nearby lake opposite the night club we once won a fancy dress competition in - yes you did read that right!!! Tufted Ducks, a Mute Swan and a few Shovelers joined the ubiquitous Mallards and Coots.
From there we went up the coast aways to a large wetland reserve. Moments after leaving the car the snow started again. We had a quick look at what appeared to be not a lot disappearing behind a sheet of the white stuff. Time to skedaddle to the hide which we sincerely hoped would be open - thankfully it was and we were glad to get inside as the snow worsened and the world outside became a white blur.
Canada Geese about 50 yards away
A Shelduck was nearby and just about visible too
The snow didn't put off the Black Headed Gulls from vying for the best nesting sites, there were several already about but the colony is nowhere near full yet although you might think that from the din they were making.
There's Coots here too.
A Great Black Backed Gull put everything up, Wigeon, Lapwings, a lone Black Tailed Godwit and about 150 Golden Plovers (110).
Once the Lapwings had settled back down they went back to courtship mode, today was the first time we've heard their 'peewit' calls and seen their floppy dives this 'spring'.
The snowy weather hadn't put Skylarks off singing either, today was the first time we'd heard their exaultations from on high, what a great sound that is!
Once the snow died down we took the opportunity to go and have a look on the first pool. Well worth it as scanning across one of the islands we spotted the coral red bill of an adult Mediterranean Gull. Continuing our scan we saw a group of Avocets (111) tucked up close to the bank trying to keep out of the cold wind.
A second scan gave us another year bird, did we pass over them on the previous scan by being too casual? The mixed group of ducks in the middle distance seemed to be mostly Tufted Ducks but there on the far end were two Scaup (112).
Our toes were now telling us warmth and shelter were required, it was time to move on to the Place We Don't Mention By Name where there are heated hides. Fortunately the new hide provides good shelter from the wind and rain. And good photo opportunities too when the light is good.
Drake Pintail
It didn't take us long to find more Avocets among the hordes of Whooper Swans and Wigeon.
The sometimes reported Bewick's Swan couldn't be found hiding in the masses of Whooper Swans, probably because it wasn't on site. A flush of ducks and Ruff alerted us to a passing Marsh Harrier.
The rain was easing off and it was trying to brighten up but the wind was increasing and increasingly cold from the north. Never mind the weather we had shelter and it was great to sit and watch the antics of the Whooper Swans, they didn't half get excited when a few tons of waste potatoes were delivered, they were on them as soon as the tractor was through the gate.
The Marsh Harrier reappeared and took to playing vulture on an old carcass. Too far away for the camera so we tried phone scoping it unfortunately the scope was a bit mucked up with rain on the eyepiece.
Best we could do
Later we picked up another harrier being chased across the marshes by one of the ever vigilant Shelducks, as it banked it showed its narrow white rump, a Hen Harrier - second best bird of the day! Sadly it was soon lost to view behind a stand of trees. Where-ever it ends up this summer we hope it's safe from the malignant criminals in our moorlands.
In the cold and wet conditiions we'd expected the feeding station to be buzzing but oddly it was very quiet in there, maybe we just didn't give it long enough, mid-afternoon is often the least rewarding at a feeding station.
In sheltered areas Primroses had already begun to open ttheir flowers showing that today's weather was a bit out of the ordinary for recent times.
We called it a day here and thought we'd go to the estuary to have a look for the American Wigeon that's been there a while. But crossing the car park made us change our mind - the estuary reserve has absolutely no shelter at all and that northerly wind was strong and cold and would be blowing right in our face - basically we wimped out. There is a shelter there but it's about as much use as a chocolate teapot - even Frank wasn't keen on going there and he didn't mind cold wet and windy at all! We might have been wiser going to the nearer woodland/wetland reserve instead but somehow forgot about it, sorry MSWLWT very remiss of us seeing as how we worked there quite frequently in the old days.
So back to Base Camp it was, stopping at the old docks for a look at the gulls, you never know the missing Ring Billed Gull might just be wasn't. There weren't many gulls about, those that were came straight to the newly parked up car to see if any scraps we on offer.
Through the car windscreen
All in all a reasonable substitute for the real thing, but nowhere near as good as it would have been had we met up with LCV and had a mooch round his area.
Where to next? Mothering Sunday duties beckon this weekend but there should be some wildlife seen somewhere.
In the meantime let us know who stopped you getting out of your outback.

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