Attenborough winter specialities

Saturday morning saw us well wrapped us and trying to find a parking space at Nottingham Wildlife Trust’s flagship nature reserve. Our first call was the nature centre, where we could see the latest sightings in the book. Around the centre, looking for food handouts, were a pair of Egyptian geese. Grey herons were hunched on the islands, looking a miserable as only a grey heron can. Cormarants were diving for fish and winter plumage great crested grebes appeared and disappeared as they hunted in the deep channels. The usual suspects were around mute swans, mallards already paired up, Canada geese and greylag geese, tufted ducks were swimming quite close to shore, close enough to see the eye colour. Moorhens and coot were milling about and this mixture of water birds kept us occupied for a few minutes. Blackbirds and redwings were seen in the fruit bushes whilst robin and dunnock were busy in the brambles. On the Tween pond lapwings slept on the islands whilst cormorants perched in the dead trees with their wings spread. At the edges of the pond a pair of teal dabbled in the weeds. Gulls perched on the fencing for the new reedbeds, most were black headed gulls but a couple of common gulls and a herring gull were also on the fence.

Clifton pond has two hides at the margins. This hide has a feeding station outside, a major attraction for birds in winter when food is difficult to find. Sure enough a pair of pheasants were feeding on the ground under the bird feeders, closer examination revealed a dunnock and a robin also feeding on the ground. Both male and female chaffinches were on the tubes of seed. Great tits flew back and forth to the peanuts. Blue tits hovered on the margins looking for an opportunity and about 10 tree sparrows perched in the trees and made forays to gather seed. tree sparrows are becoming more difficult to find and to see such a healthy colony was very enjoyable. Their chestnut caps and white cheek patches were very bright. Shovelers were swimming at the edges of the reedbeds, widgeon and teal were roosting on the strip of land across the pond 4 snipe were seen crouched in the weeds on an island. Male and female goldeneye were diving in the deep water the males were so bright with their extensive white plummage. A flock of long tailed tits moving through the trees provided an amusing diversion. Associated with these flocks some other birds tits, goldcrests, and finches are sometimes seen so we always check them out.

At the back of the pond someone with a telescope suddenly announces there is a bittern in the reeds. the whole mood in the hide changed as all optical equipment is immediately turned on the reeds mentioned. Someone else sees the movement, but the bird is too far away to see and through the telescope all I could see is reeds. I watch the reeds for what feels like hours, but is probably only 20 minutes. I sometimes think I can make someting out, but the eyes play tricks when staring at a reedbed for any length of time. I was the only one of the group who had not seen this and I was rather disappointed. We moved on towards church pond to look for the female scaup that had been reported we try but we can only see coot, tufted duck and goldeneye.

We hear that the smew has been seen on main pond so we set off for the pond, on the way a flock of goldfinches fly into an alder tree and we stop to admire them for a few minutes. The smew, an immature male just developing the black eye patch, is clearly visible on main pond with binoculars and we meet up with another birder who tells us exactly where the scaup was seen. We decide to go back for another look as we are walking through the fishermans car park in the corner we see a real star. A water rail is in a shallow ditch about a metre away from us, it has a wash and preens its feathers, shakes itself and stands around arranging feathers and fluffing itself up against the cold. We can see all the plummage and the bill without any optics with binoculars every feather is crystal clear and we stand there for about 15 minutes mesmerised. Eventually, without exhibiting the slightest alarm, the bird ambles off amongst the reeds  at the edge of the ditch. A redpoll flies onto a nearby willow and comes to drink at the waters edge another bird we don’t see that often.  This water rail was the highlight of the day and a moment so memorable it will stay with me for a very long time.

We walk slowly back to the car and just as described, we find the female scaup hiding behind an Island on Church Pond. The white patch at the bast of the bill is very distinctive and the back of the bird is much lighter than the tufted ducks. We watch it for a few minutes, but the wind is biting in this part of the reserve and we give up and head for home.

We saw 2 new species for the year  making the list 110 (3 for those who saw the bittern) and 45 species in total for the day


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