On the First of April, with a weeks holiday before us we started birdwatching with a new zeal. The day was sunny and clear if a little breezy, the previous week had been very hot and sunny and we had all chafed at the restrictions imposed by earning a living. Even though it was not yet 10am the car park was very full indicating how popular this reserve has become.
By the visitors centre we had soon notched up the usual quote of ducks and geese. Great Crested Grebes are present here in such large numbers that it has become a notable site for these birds. Coot were already on a nest by the visitors centre. Cormorants are also present in large numbers drawn by the fish and disliked by the fishermen for the same reason. Grey herons used to nest in large numbers in the woods on the opposite bank of the river Trent but many have now moved to nest near to Attenborough village and they nest earlier than many species. Greylag and Canada geese were plentiful and several pairs of Egyptian geese originally introduced as ornamental wildfowl and now a feral self sustaining population. A pair of Red Crested Pochard swam around the visitors centre looking for any free handouts of food. I feel somewhat suspicious of the genuine wild status of a bird that comes to collect custard cream biscuits from the hand, consequently this pair are definitely suspect, despite having bred here for several years. Oh and just to round off this motley crew, a cape shellduck stood sunning itself beside the visitors centre. Call me suspicious, but the thought that this plump well fed and apparently tame bird had flown thousands of miles is rather too difficult to believe and it was noted as an escapee. Alongside all these were the usual range of interbred ducks and geese some definitely with a great deal of farmyard in their phenotype.
On Clifton pond Wigeon, Gadwell, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye were busily feeding. This is an excellent assemblage of species for this time of the year especially after such gloriuos weather the previous week. A pair of Ruddy Ducks were swimming at the back of the pond. Ruddy Ducks have been hunted to ‘protect’ the White Headed Duck with whom they can interbreed, justified on the basis that the Ruddy Duck is a North American bird. A bit of distasteful avian ethnic cleansing that has reduced Ruddy Duck numbers over the last few years. However I love seeing them as it supports my subversive sense of humour, good for you I think. A Buzzard flew from the woods at Barton in Fabis and all the seagulls flew up to defend their patches. A Kestrel was hunting over the field and pheasants were calling. The usual assortment of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Dunnocks and Chaffinches were busy on the feeders alongside the resident Tree Sparrows. A pair of Oystercatchers were on one of the Islands but apart from the Lapwings and a solitary Snipe these were the only waders we saw. Waders are rather few in this part of the county.
We decided to move on and head for Tower hide. Beside the path a number of short trees, Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Elder had been planted and as we got to Tower hide we found a very unusual small warbler at the base of one of these shrubby trees. We watched it for a few moments before deciding this was a Cetti’s Warbler, which was confirmed when we heard the bird sing. Such an volume from this tiny bird is amazing. Chiff Chaffs were everywhere and later we found a male Blackcap also very vocal. At the edge of the pond are posts which were used to fence off the reedbed so the geese would not eat the young reeds before they could become established. On one of this posts sat a Common Tern another new species for the year. At the end of this path is a sunny spot loved by a number of butterfly species, so it was that we headed there after Tower hide. We saw more Reed Buntings than one might usually see all year. The pair of Long Tailed Tits were busy nest building, Greenfinches were singing from the tops of the trees and we saw several species of butterfly. Brimstones the first butterflies of the year were present, Orange Tip males were about, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells were abundant and a pristine Speckled Wood butterfly came through. We all managed to find a Comma butterfly at some point during the day. Beside the path from the Tower hide to main pond there were a number of plants flowering that normally do not flower simultaneously. We saw Coltsfoot an early spring flower and White Violets, but we also saw Pink Campion which usually flowers later and Ground Ivy was everywhere, Lesser Celandines were very conspicuous and as usual Dandelions were capitalising on the warm weather .
We walked beside the River to the Bund and then came all the way back as the path though the village was closed not that there was any notification until we actually went to use this path. The last encounter we had was of a female Scaup on church pond looking very like a Tufted Duck but with the characteristic white patch above the bill and a less distinctive break between the colours on the body, when seen next to a female tufted it is glaringly obvious.
We saw more of the same species and heard a Willow Warbler. Although we missed the Bittern that we discovered had been seen earlier in the day and a Curlew we had seen 54 species and I had now seen 129 species this year. We had also spent 4 hours walking a distance we could have covered in an hour. To anyone who does not understand the attraction of birdwatching it is so hard to explain. Time ceases to matter, we are fully associated, we reside in the moment without the worry of work, chores or conscience. There is always the uncertainty of what will we find today and the search for an encounter sometimes we see very little sometimes an unexpected delight, a particular long encounter, or a previously unobserved behaviour. If there is little to see there are always plants, lichens and things that don’t run or fly away.
Insects such as butterflies and dragonflies are even more elusive. they live as adults for only a short time. A cold spell or a rainy summer can severely reduce numbers. There are reluctant to fly unless it is sunny and some are confined to specific areas of the country. In addition we have to earn a living, so we are not available except at weekends. These are severe constraints on any encounter. How often are our summers sunny and consistently warm? Many summer holidays have been ruined by wet cold weather and the resultant lack of dragonflies or butterflies, at least birds are still present in cold wet weather and plants stay still whilst being photographed and allow themselves to be closely examined to verify identification and note any interesting details. On the second of April we were due to travel to Norfolk staying in Hunstanton for five days of holiday.
I was however exhausted and worried at how unfit I appeared to be. Surely all the swimming and exercise I regularly undertook four or five times a week should have meant I was much fitter than this. It was only as the week developed that I came to realise that I was ill and the tiredness was a major symptom of this.