Monday, 14 March 2011

Whitacre Heath Nature Reserve

We have been members of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust since we moved to Coventry about 6 years ago. I think it was one of the best move we ever did. There were many nature reserves in Warwickshire and the one on our doorstep was Brandon Marsh. You could find us nearly every week here, in all kinds of weather. It was a great place to get away from the hustle bustle of work/life, breathe in some fresh air and a bit of exercise. It also indulges our greatest passion, nature and photography.

Apart from Brandon Marsh, there were 47 nature reserves scattered all over Warwickshire. We were also lucky that one of the reserve,Tocil Wood, was situated in the University’s grounds. You can often find me wandering under the canopy of the woods, photographing bluebells in late spring and fungi in autumn.

We also have visited Draycote, Pooley Fields, Ryton Woods, Swift Valley and Cox’s Island. Each of them with their own unique habitats. Looking through the guide issued by the Wildlife Trust, we decided to visit the rest of the 40+ reserves at least once and make a note whether it was worth coming again. And so first on the list was Whitacre Heath Nature Reserve. Whitacre Heath D200  12-03-2011 12-13-34

Why did we picked this reserve first? Via word of mouth. Acquaintances we met have been here and photographs of the natives have been posted on Flickr. So I guess it was time for us to check out the place which we did it on Saturday.

The reserve was just 40 minutes away from our casa. We nearly missed the entrance. Most of the smaller reserves were just padlocked and members gain entrance by a special code. As we were getting our cameras out, someone with a big bag of seeds walked past us. He identified himself as a volunteer and gave us some unsolicited advice about the reserve. His main gripe was that photographers with their big lens taking up space in the bird-hide and not letting others (presumably twitchers) from coming in. We told him that we were photographers…Whitacre Heath D300s  12-03-2011 12-20-42

Situated in the Thame Valley, lying on the floodplain of the adjoining River Thame, the reserve was mainly flat. It consisted a complex medley of shallow pools, wetland, woodland and grassland with informal paths to 5 bird hides. We asked a twitcher to where the hides were located and he did warned us that at the feeding station, it was standing room only. The photographers, again, had taken all the seats. Hmm, I guess people with big lens were not at all popular :-)

We walked towards the first hide, Riverpool Hide, where according to the twitcher, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was seen feeding a few minutes ago. But we didn’t see any. There was nothing at the hide, overlooking reedy shallow pools, except for a pair of teals, moorhens and coots. As we were walking out, we met my colleague, JW, owner of the Brandon Birding website. We’d a good natter and he said that a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was spotted on the path. We must have missed it, again. But we spotted a pair of tree-creepers. The forest was teeming with them and it was the first time, I heard the call of a tree-creeper.Whitacre Heath D50  12-03-2011 12-51-03

We walked along the well-trodden path towards the 2nd. hide which was very quiet. We followed the very muddy footpath towards the hide on stilts and again, empty . We were getting to be a bit disheartened. But we didn’t gave up and continued on walking through woodland dominated by alder and willow with plenty of mosses and liverworts. At last, we spotted the feeding station. We went in and there was only a father and son in residence. They told us that when they arrived, they couldn’t get in. It was a very small hide and can only fit about 6 people, the most. We were fortunate that we checked the other hides first, instead of heading straight here.

No wonder everyone came here first. There were several bird-feeders scattered all over the place and they were teeming with birds having a feast. We spotted Dunnocks, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Reed Buntings, Coal Tits and to our uttermost delight, the Lesser Redpolls. A very small finch with grey-brown, streak plumage, red forehead and black chin. This breeding male has plenty of pink on breast and rump. Isn’t he a handsome specimen?Whitacre Heath D300s  12-03-2011 13-58-42Below the feeders, a pair of female pheasants, too, joined in the fun. They were feeding on whatever had fallen onto the ground. Suddenly, all the birds went AWOL. What on earth happened? And there in a split second, a Sparrowhawk was sitting on top of the feeder and before we could do anything, it disappeared into the woods. It was just unbelievable. It took about 10 minutes before the birds started feeding again.Whitacre Heath D200  12-03-2011 13-34-14

As the father and son left the hide, he asked us to move the feeder closest to the hide, back to its original position in the middle of the compound once we’d finished. Aha…now we knew how they managed to get those beautiful photographs. We decided to put it back there and then. We couldn’t help laughing when a few of the birds came over and was looking for the feeder which was there before. You could see how confused they look. We left when 2 photographers came in. And one of them told us that they had seen the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker!!! D—ned where was that bl—dy thing??? As we walked, we heard their cries, echoing through the reserve, taunting us :-).

Whitacre Heath D300s  12-03-2011 13-51-08

We saved the last hide for the next visit. We will come again, most probably, in summer when the wetlands will be teeming with dragonflies and damselflies. Cattle, too, will be grazing in the grassland in summer. I hope they are Highland cattle. We’d to leave early before the football fans leave the Ricoh Arena. There was another home game and they lost again. This time 1:0 to Hull City. Oh dear…they are a few points above delegation. I’ve got a very bad feeling…

On the way home, we drove past a field of cabbages. Half of the field had already been harvested and I asked Babe to stop at an opposite lay-by and moi took photographs. Cars passing by must think that I’m really loco, taking photographs of cabbages.

Warwickshire roadside  12-03-2011 15-06-00

At home, we’d a light meal of soup and beef sandwiches. While Babe was hard at work uploading about 1k photographs, I chilled out by watching Man United winning 1:0 against Arsenal. That will bring a smile to JG. Later, I replanted pansies for the hanging basket in the garden. The hyacinths were blooming beautifully and the stunning pink bellis bringing colour into the awakening garden.

On a wet Sunday morning, I did about a 5km walk around the block. Then my usual ritual for an easy Sunday. Having a hearty breakfast of mushroom omelette, listening to Steve Wright’s Sunday love songs, reading the papers with the front door open watching the feeding frenzy on the bird-feeder. Life was just great.

At about 12pm, we did the laundry. It was a relief that all the washing could fit into the large washing machine. After completing the chores, we decided to pop over to Brandon Marsh. It was such a lovely day to be spending outdoors. At the reserve, we walked straight to the Baldwin Hide. I counted 14 swans gliding about in the lake, trying to get away from a very aggressive male. A pair of Great Crested Grebes swam past us and from the distance, I spotted a Redshank and a few Common Snipes feeding.

A brief peep at East Marsh Hide, before we continued towards Carlton Pool. It was still very quiet except for this handsome pheasant soaking the last rays of the sun. On the way back, we stopped at Teal Pool to catch a glimpse of the setting sun. As the sun was settling behind the trees, I heard my first Cetti Warbler this year.

The astonishing pictures from Japan were a dramatic illustrations of the power of nature. The Japanese were prepared like no other nation. And still it could not withstand the force unleashed by an earthquake on such a terrifying scale, followed by a massive tsunami. Nature bows to no man.

“Tread lightly, Take nothing but photographs, Leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time”

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