Sorry, this is one of those posts that runs contrary to the nature of time. After telling you about the visit to Gibraltar Point I still had plenty to tell, and was going to post a second installment on Wednesday. However, as you know, I had a lucky escape yesterday, (or a frustrating waste of time, depending on point of view), and wrote about Carsington Water.
I could have written about my view of the National Health Service, but why bother. They waste enough of my time without me going over it all again.
So, going back in time two days, imagine yourself standing on a windswept saltmarsh, with just a visitor centre, a car park and some bits of whalebone for company.
Whale bones at Gibraltar Point
There’s no explanation with the whale bones, they are lined up and left on the grass. I’m assuming that it hasn’t been done by the person responsible for grass cutting. These could be from the 1985 whale, they certainly look old enough and the size seems right. However, there are a lot of dead whales knocking about on that part of the coast when you start looking at the links. Mass strandings and art installations are all part of the story, and according to this report a sunfish and blue shark were also washed ashore in 1998.
The first birds we saw, whilst walking back to the car, appeared in a big noisy flock, flying between trees. They were against the light and just looked like tubby brown birds. We didn’t have the telescope with us (no more will be said on that subject, as Julia is of the opinion that I mentioned it enough on Tuesday) and we couldn’t get a good look with the binoculars. I couldn’t even get a decent photograph, though we did manage to see streaked underparts, white face markings and black breast markings.
I haven’t seen Corn Buntings for a while, but that’s what they were. In addition they were very vocal (a song described as “jangling keys” in the book) and (biggest clue of all) there was a flock of 40 Corn Buntings recorded in the sightings book.
It was a good start to the day, which got better when we drove to the other car park and heard the call of waders. Two curlews flew over as we were standing by the car deciding which way to go. That made the decision easier.
In the first hide, after mentioning that things would have been better with a telescope (I’m reporting what I said, here, not actually commenting on People Who Forget Your Telescope) we immediately saw a variety of birds, which became better when two avocets flew across to join an assortment of dots in the distance. The dots proved to be more avocets (23 in all, when we managed to count them) though, due to lack of telescope, we had to move hides to complete the count.
Avocets, Canada Goose and Cormorants
There were other birds about, including (on the other side of the road) a male Goldeneye that kept diving just as I tried to take the photo and a pair of mating Mallards. I would normally have allowed them some privacy but the fact they disappeared underwater completely several times made it more more interesting. By the time I got round to using the video button they stopped and swam away. It’s quite clear that Mallard drakes aren’t gentlemen.
Black Headed Gull
Elusive Goldeneye Drake
There was a lot to see, and we saw quite a lot of it. However, there is still a lot more to see so, as with everywhere we go, we will be going back.
We went home the long way round, but that’s a story for another post.
All these specialist bird reserves are alright, but today it was time for a trip back to the duck pond. It’s not as exciting as reedbeds and saltmarsh, but you can pull in a visit between getting a new watch battery and buying the ingredients for meatballs instead of making a full day of it.
I haven’t been for a couple of weeks and it seemed emptier today, with no gulls and only a couple of Tufted Ducks instead of the normal 20 or 30. There were five pairs of Greylag geese, which is more than usual, though I doubt there is room for five nests on the island.
The Mandarin Duck was there again today, following the geese around. I’ve never seen him with a female so he may be lonely.
Moorhen and Yellw Flag shoots
Mandarin drake – Arnot Hill ParkOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mallard drinking from puddle
That, apart from the numbers, seems to be the main difference – they now seem to operate in pairs more than they have been. Apart from the pigeons. They just seem to operate as a mob, and as soon as I even thought of feeding anything they gathered like vultures using ESP. They can’t, of course, read my mind. If they could they wouldn’t be so keen to get that close to me.
The pictures include a Mallard drinking from a puddle at the side of the pond (presumably on the grounds that he knows what ducks do in ponds) and a Moorhen standing beside the shoots of yellow flags, one of the few signs of spring produced by plants in the park. The landscape shot uses the “Dramatic” setting, which could equally be called the “Dark”setting.
If, like me, you’ve ever thought that ducks aren’t the brightest of birds, think again. Instead of dabbling and chasing children with bread these Mallards are standing in the mill race at Rufford Abbey waiting for it to bring food to them.
Spotted the Grey Wagtail and Goldcrest whilst standing here – both off like a shot as soon as I raised the camera!
Ducks in the Mill Race
This Song Thrush, after allowing us time for one shot, decided to hide in an outcrop of twiggy growth.
Song Thrush at Rufford Abbey
Same bird, playing hard to get
Here is a selection of shots from the bird table in the woods, it feels a bit like cheating when I should be stalking them through the woods. Even so, I still missed a Coal Tit and a Marsh Tit that dropped in but shot off too quickly for me to focus.
Three Long Tailed Tits also dropped in but for some reason the autofocus couldn’t lock on. I had three shots of blurred round bodies and long tails. Oh, the trials of bird photography!
Chaffinch at Rufford Abbey
Robin at Ruffird Abbey
Great Tit at Rufford Abbey
Squirrel looting bird table at Rufford Abbey
Blackbird on picnic table – Rufford Abbey
Blue Tit at Rufford Abbet
Finally I managed some more half-decent Nuthatch photos, including one on a tree. However, to put it into perspective, I missed shots of three different Treecreepers in the woods (ending up with several shots of tree trunks).
I also had several Siskin shots – blurred bodies shielded by alder twigs. Lots of work to do!
I’ve been dragging myself out of bed recently, rather than springing into action with eagerness. Whether it’s the time of year, a lack of motivation or just a natural tendency to idleness I’m not quite sure. As spring approaches and removes the time of year as a factor things may become clearer.
The late start, when linked to a bit of paper work, some hoovering, lunch and several episodes of Four in a Bedmeant that we didn’t get out until the light was beginning to fail. That meant we had go somewhere close for our walk, and the nearest place with ducks is Arnot Hill Park in Arnold.
I’ll leave a description of the park until later, when I can take some better photographs. There wasn’t much light and I didn’t want to waste valuable duck watching time by taking pictures of buildings. Birds move, but buildings tend to still be there when you go back later.
We started off with a light feed of sunflower hearts and attracted a reasonable selection – Mallards, some interesting cross-breeds, Coots, Moorhens, Tufted Duck and a Mandarin drake. I couldn’t get many decent shots because they were moving too fast for the camera.
At that point a man appeared and started feeding handfuls of food a few yards round the pond. We were still able to see the birds so it wasn’t a problem.
Then, with his partner and child, he moved round to the next bay. So did most of the birds.
It was a bit irritating, but we still had things to watch, and didn’t feel any need to attract every bird on the pond.
Sign – Arnot Hill PArk, Arnold
Bird feeding as a competitive sport
Sign – Arnot Hill Park, Arnold
Seemingly the man and family did seem to need to have all the birds to themselves. They worked their way round to a small beach and started shovelling food in by the handful. They also started throwing it on the path and attracting pigeons (something the signs specifically ask you not to do). Oh yes, I can be very attentive to detail when it suits me.
I’d never realised that bird feeding could be a competitive activity.
As things turned out it didn’t matter because we walked round to the other side of the pond and found a pair of Red Crested Pochard and a Grey Heron. The heron stood nice and still in a light area, but most other things weren’t so cooperative.
Heron at Arnot Hill Park
Heron at Arnot Hill Park
Grey Heron at Arnot Hill Park
I’m not as excited by these Red Crested Pochard as I was with the ones we say at Rutland Water last week. I like to think the ones last week had flown in from the Continent. The two today seemed as tame as the Mallards, so I’m pretty sure they are feral birds who must spend their time lurking round local ponds.
Let’s be honest, doesn’t Idle Valley sound like a great place to be? It has to be up there with Happy Valley and Easy Street.
The walk was bracing , and there were some interesting birds about but as we sat in the cafe, eating Fat Rascals and drinking tea a member of staff came in and started to engage in protracted loud banter with the cafe staff. I could have done without it, but it wasn’t too bad. When he started moving chairs and tables, including the ones next to us, I began to have flashbacks to our visit to Attenborough NR.
It looked like he was preparing to remove the Christmas tree, which begged the question why he couldn’t have done it before 10 am or after 4 pm when the cafe was closed to the public. It just goes to show how assumptions can be wrong, because he was actually preparing to have a cup of tea and a twenty minute session of complaining about management changes.
What is it about me that seems to attract this sort of thing? All I want is tea and cake.
The lake is quite a big pit, the sun was in my eyes for most of the time and much of the lakeside path doesn’t run along the side of the lake so it wasn’t the easiest place to watch birds. Fortunately we started off with a big flock of Teal (thanks to one of the telescopes in the visitor centre) so we were guaranteed a new bird for the 2017 list. Part way round I picked a couple of Gadwall out of a small flock of ducks – they are quite dull, greyish ducks, but they stood out by body length and dabbling behaviour in a group of Tufted ducks. It’s another new species for 2017 and they were closely followed by a group of Shovellers and a couple of Pochard, which were also new species for the year. Let’s be honest though, on 4th January most species are going to be new for the year.
Gorse is alreay flowering
Shovellers with Coot at Idle Valley
Before we set off I’d checked up on the recent sightings and looked the rarities up so I wouldn’t get caught out if I saw them. Well, I didn’t get caught out, but that was due to lack of sightings rather than lack of preparation.
We decided on Attenborough Nature Reserve for an expedition a few weeks ago. It had come up in conversation with visiting birdwatchers on the farm and it occurred to me that I hadn’t been there for about 10 years.
Map of the Attenborough pits
Cafe and shop at Attenborough
I started to remember why very soon after arrival. For one thing, the reserve is a series of gravel pits, and gravel pits on a murky December morning can be a bit bleak. For another, there isn’t much else to it. There’s no ruin or old trees.
First stop was the cafe. It’s so long since I’ve been to Attenborough that they hadn’t built it last time I was there. It wasn’t very welcoming. Some people who arrived after us started moving chairs around, including a couple on our table. They seemed to be regulars from the way they spoke to the staff, and clearly felt we were in their way.
After that one of the staff members started telling them that despite her years of experience nobody listens to her, and they had put the Christmas tree in the wrong place.
It’s a decent cafe (with shop, toilets, classrooms and a sand martin nest bank/hide) but after our experience on the farm we just don’t want workplace politics with our scones.
The nature area at the back of the cafe has several things of interest, including three sorts of bug hotel, all pictured below.
Bug hotel at Attenborough
Bug hotel at Attenborough
Bug hotel at Attenborough
Add that to being trapped in the sand martin hide whilst a lecture was delivered, loud conversations, brightly-clad joggers and a man letting his dog chase ducks. It all adds up to an uncomfortable experience.
It seems, from postings on the website, that the bustle doesn’t upset the wildlife and the habitat is some of the best in Europe. It’s also clearly well-used by many people for a variety of recreational and educational purposes. You can’t really fault it when you look at it like this.
It could have been so good…
Ah well, we’ll just have to give it another try in the New Year. I’m sure it has lots of good points, but the last thing we needed at this point was cafe politics (read previous posts if you want to see why).