Sunday, 1 May 2016

Memories are made of this

The Safari ventured up north to meet up with our long-standing birding chums for a day's adventuring. The drive up wasn't too bad giving us a couple of Buzzards and a Kestrel and almost at our destination our first Swift (144) of the year. 
We arrived in the hide at the appointed time to see we were first there. While we waited for the rest of the gang to appear we settled down to the important task of finding them what was on offer. At first glance it looked quiet but studying the large pool more closely gave us plenty to keep us occupied as most of the birds were tucked away around the edges keeping out of the chilly wind.
Opposite us was a roosting flock of about three dozen Redshanks with one well marked male Ruff with them, a real stunner. A few Swallows scooted by low over the water not really stopping to feed but maintaining a steady speed eastwards over the reserve, in the corner a Moorhen fed in the Water Horsetails to our left and we were slightly nervous for a Water Rail  that came out of the reed bed and went into a small stand of Flag Iris (not yet in flower) behind it after witnessing the recent murder.
Shelduck, Teal, Mallard and Gadwall represented the waterfowl but the cold wind was keeping the Reed Warblers pretty subdued. In the far distance to our left beyond the reserve's boundary we watched four Buzzards spiral together in a tight thermal - where did that come from...brrrr! But then saw another raptor dropping behind the treeline much nearer, we waited and were given a display of skydancing by a male Marsh Harrier, shame it was so far away and there was a bad haze.
There's always a Heron, but something was missing! It was eerily quiet, almost silent out there, the reserve's sound of summer was totally missing - not a single Black Headed Gull's nest on the little reedy islands in front of the hide so no cacophony! If there's no Black Headed Gull chicks what will the Marsh Harriers feed to their chicks?
Can you tell which way the wind was blowing?
The gang arrived an after pointing out the top 'spots' we all climbed the new(ish) viewing tower. Another Swift went by among a procession of Swallows and a few House Martins. Below us a Reed Bunting flitted in and out of the reeds and more Buzzards glided and soared overhead. The Ruff and his Redshank friends were joined by another half dozen splendid looking Ruffs down on the mud while behind and below us in the trees Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs sang but it didn't feel very springy. Looking up a menacing dark cloud had appeared so we descended the tower just in the nick of time to find a bit of shelter under the trees from a sharp hailstorm.
We only visited one of the western hides where there was very little on show apart from a few Teal, a sleeping Mallard and a single Black Headed Gull on a nest - where are it's chums? A 'possible' Raven disappearing behind the trees on the top of the hill opposite was top sighting - it was that quiet and quieter still as the Reed Warblers were still not singing much.
A strapping young lad in shorts(!?!) came from the other hide just beating us to the junction and told us it was very quiet there too. As he strode on ahead one of our number quickened her pace - only to keep warm of course!
By now the gang were hungry and we'd already scoffed most of our baggin in the hide while waiting for something to happen. While they hit the tea and buns in the cafe we went all anti-social on them and decided to sit out in the gazebo by the feeders. They weren't too lively but there was plenty of variety of the commoner 'garden' birds to keep us interested and swinging the camera around.
Spilt bird seed in the hut itself attracted Robin that didn't give us time to switch to macro before it was hopping around our boots.
Star of the show was the resident cock Pheasant - he really is a stunner but a nightmare to photograph as he's never still.
He was the star until this pair of beauties turned up.
We do like a bit of Bully!
Especially when they come a bit closer!
It would be good if the powers that be at the reserve could fix some branches to the feeders' metal work to make more 'natural pics, but that really is being picky!
Best of the rest:- a very (too) quick Marsh Tit, a Wren which nearly had our eye out as it shot into the hide and over our shoulder with a beakful of moss for it's nest in the rafters, Nuthatches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Coal and Great Tits made up the numbers; no Treecreepers or Great Spotted Woodpeckers today.
There's a gap in the trees behind the feeders through which you can see the pool, we saw nothing on there other than a small flight of Teal and a some Mallards fly past as if flushed.
Now fed up with pies and buns the gang regrouped to tell  us they'd been to drop off some excess clothing (the sun was out and it was now warmish) back at the cars where they'd heard a distant Cuckoo. Ouch!!!
We mossied down along the new and impressive reedbed boardwalk listening for Cetti's Warblers but hearing none. The reedbed here  is getting very dry and there were small Willows popping their whippy heads above the reeds all over the place - it won't be many seasons before they are large Willows and there isn't much reedbed left in this part of the reserve, but is that a good or bad thing???
Once on the Causeway we heard a single but distinct 'ping' stopping to listen for more a Bearded Tit flew across the track only a few yards in front of us.
At the almost full to busting hide the be-shorted birder told us we'd not long missed an Osprey fishing - was that the cause of the duck flush earlier and we'd missed it by being under the trees or sat in the cafe? AB heard a Cetti's Warbler which almost the entire rest of the hide ignored. The little island held a Great Black Backed Gull's nest a Mallard and another bird we made the schoolboy error of passing off as a Shelduck sleeping between the rocks but which was in fact a Goosander (145) when it awoke. We tried to encourage a young girl to have a look at it through the scope, she went shy but her mum had a good look at the impressive duck - just how orange are those feet! Good to see a large number of youngsters with their cameras, information sheets and quiz sheets enjoying the reserve.
A pair of Grey Lag Geese with a single gosling came into view within minutes one of the Great Black Backs started to cruise around above the lake...sneaky really it appeared not to have clocked the little gosling but glided over and flew to the furthest corner of the lake. Then it turned round and came back low and fast, if it wasn't for a concerted defence by the few pairs of Black Headed Gulls the gosling would have been a gonner...that's probably where its siblings ended up.
"Another stick dear?"
We had great views of both the female and male Marsh Harriers too.
Continuing to the farthest hide we were on the look/listen out for Sedge Warblers and Lesser Redpolls but saw/heard neither. There were however plenty of Robins, Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs. Along the path we came across a lady photographing a small mammal scurrying here and there. It turned out to be a Bank Vole and we had a very enjoyable five minutes watching it pop in and out of its network of burrows around our feet.
At the hide a Great Crested Grebe took the best part of ten minutes to dispatch a sizeable Rudd or Roach. Again the water was quiet, with only a few Pochards and Tufted Ducks on show, the far side held the only pair of Shovelers we saw all day but the Marsh Harrier and a Sparrowhawk put in appearances.
Retracing our steps we met the vole lady again who told us she'd got some great shots of the Bank Vole and a Shrew sp too.
Back on the causeway we saw the male Marsh Harrier just behind the row of trackside trees, when we got to an open area our group was treated to a masterclass of hanging in the wind. It was like watching an expert fly a kite but without the string - well the child's toy is named after the bird after all and harriers are closely related to kites! What a display, it was so good we could only stand and watch, the photo opportunities were awesome but we were so engrossed watching it we didn't even think to swap the bins for the camera. Sometimes the memories are better than the pics and this is one of those sights we'll remember for a very very long some of our birding 'incidents' in Norfolk (What happens in Norfolk stays in Norfolk!) and the line of Fallow Deer coming down the hill across the road from the reserve we saw with fellow group member IH sometime between 25 and 30 years ago that we both still look for!
There was now just the coastal marshes to visit from where we'd heard tales of Mediterranean Gulls and Spotted Redshanks
Before we set off there there was time for a quick snack break in the car park from where we didn't hear the Cuckoo but did hear a Green Woodpecker (146) yaffling a couple of times, good to know they are still about. 
At the marshes we didn't see either of the Mediterranean Gulls nor the Spotted Redshank but did find a single Knot which we don't think we've seen on the pools before, almost certainly not on the 'inner' one.
The star of the show here in the summer are the Avocets. It's not that long ago we had to go to Norfolk to see these and wouldn't have even guessed they'd be nesting in Lancashire within a few years.
Spot the odd one out
Or were they the star of the show? What about the superb adult Little Gull that whipped through briefly before being chased off by a few Black Headed Gulls.
All too soon we had to say our goodbyes and leave the others to hit the final hide while we hit the trail back to Base Camp after another great day on safari.
Where to next? Back on our nature reserve and will the morning's rain have dropped anything out of the ordinary???
In the meantime let us know who's providing the memories in your outback.

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