American widgeon and little ringed plover


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This Saturday was forecast as heavy winds and rain showers. When we awoke it was raining heavily the water running down the window panes and the sky a uniform grey.

We celebrated the beginning of our holiday with a cup of tea in bed. Cora came to join us and insisted on lying on top of your father thus rendering him unable to move. After doing some housework we both went to the library me to write and him to work on his laptop. By the time we left the weather was bright if blustery sunshine. We called at Birds for buns and a cake, and, after a salad lunch,decided to venture to Holme Pierrepont to look for the American Widgeon on the A52 pit.  Leaving the house David saw a buff tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris. I thought I saw a common carder bee Bombus pascorum on the rosemary plant, however it flew off before I could get a definitive view. Your father alledges it is too early for this species and claims it was probably the gloriously named hairy footed flower bee. We pulled up on the verge and set up telescopes we were the only birders there. Last time we were there, a pair of long tailed tits were building a nest, now the nest is finished, a carefully constructed ball of moss and lichen. It is wonderfully camouflaged to look like trapped debris in the fork of a bush, unless you look closer, when the small aperture at the top marks it out as a nest.

The main pond was quite turbulent; consequently most of the water birds were in the calmer bay. Two little egrets were beside the bank on the opposite shore.  A ruff was busy searching the grass for invertebrates. On the water great crested grebes, all now in summer plumage, swam and dived for fish, whilst moorhens and coots chugged up and down carrying trails of weeds in their bills. Tufted ducks in the centre of the pond had their crests blown forward over their heads or blown vertical, giving them a punk appearance.

On the grass nearly a hundred widgeon were grazing. We commenced scanning them for the alien widgeon. This was not as easy as it sounds. Widgeon feed with their heads down in the grass and their bottoms in the air and this flock were feeding for dear life. Presumably their aim was to fatten up ready for the flight north to the breeding grounds. The distinguishing feature of the American Widgeon is a white blaze down the centre of the forehead instead of a cream patch and a dark greenish patch on the side of its head. The flank is a slightly different colour being more russet and less plum that the other wigeon but the colour discernment is somewhat subjective. The white and black delineation before the tail is very pronounced. However yet again widgeon possess the same characteristic, so it is not that obvious amongst a hundred other birds. These characteristics are hard to discern when all you can see of the bird is its bottom in the air. Added to these problems widgeon don’t exactly feed in a straight line but rather a clump and they tend to move to a better looking bit of grass constantly.

Every so often, for no discernable reason whatever, they have a tendency to take off en masse and land on the water. Here they undertake a little feather maintenance and have a drink, before making their way to the shore to clamber out in a rather ungainly fashion, their short legs are not designed for clambering up muddy banks. I sympathise having the same problem, however I digress.

 

To summarise we were looking for a slightly different widgeon amongst a group of a hundred or so other nearly identical birds all waddling about and feeding with their bottoms in the air, whilst the characteristics that would identify the rare bird for us are located on the head of said bird. It took us a good twenty minutes to find the bird. With this we were greatly assisted when a commoner widgeon, possibly jealous of all the attention that its American counterpart had received, pecked the bottom of the rarer American widgeon. The bird shot its head up in outrage and promptly waddled off to a different portion of the field, thankfully at the front of the flock, where we could watch it feeding undisturbed. A redshank moved amongst the flock of ducks, searching in the wet grassland with its beak.

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Having had really close views and discussed the merits of the bird we headed for Attenborough suitably impressed. We had a look in the centre which is ten years old. There was a range of photos David Attenborough was prominent amongst them, he had a lovely face.

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Anyway the sand martin hide and rear of the centre was closed off due to the high winds, so we made our way to the wheatear field. Despite the gusts of winds and cold, a Cetti’s warbler was singing from the reed bed next to the nature centre. The two male red crested pochards we had viewed last time we visited, have been joined by two female birds.

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The usual swans, geese and ducks including the common  daffyus hybrids and an extremely ugly Muscovy sitting on the path were also present.

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In the middle of the wheatear field was a little ringed plover, in pristine plumage, showing very clearly. We set up telescopes and viewed it for a at least 20 minutes, noticing the flesh coloured legs, golden eye ring and white patch above the bill. As the weather worsened, the bird merely hunkered down against the vegetation. This cannot have afforded it much protection against the elements.

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We shared our view with others, as we were watching a buzzard flew over tween pond causing us to gaze skywards in time to observe three sand martins swerving across the darkening sky before disappearing from view behind a line of willows. I wanted to check my prediction that the blackthorn (sloes) were in blossom and I was correct. I took some photos for you from my phone.

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The clouds grew increasingly black and the wind speed accelerated, therefore not wishing to get our equipment wet we headed back to the car park.

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I found white dead nettle, ground ivy and dandelion in flower. I photographed them for you.

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In the garden the daffodils are in flower, the hyacinths are also blooming as is the muscari and spring squill. The hellebores are magnificent and the tulips are in bud. The buds on the pear tree are breaking and I am hoping that you will be home in time to enjoy them later this week.

 Since Saturday the weather has been very wet and windy keeping us busy indoors. I went on a quilting workshop on Sunday and visited a friend today. I am hoping the weather improves for your visit so we can have some walks and the odd trip out Looking forward to seeing you

All my love

Your mother

 

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