We started 2012 with a trip north to Bradgate Park. And we were not alone. We were the last car allowed in before the warden closed the gates. We’d to drive out again because there was no place to park. Cars were parked haphazardly along the main road. We decided to drive over to Hunts Hill car-park near Old John Tower which was nearly full. We joined the throngs of people populating the very muddy park, enjoying the breathtaking views. We didn’t stay long because it was bitterly cold and windy and it started raining. The next day was a drive south to Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. We wanted to see if the bittern would be out and about near the Reiss Hide. We were very lucky to have seen it clambering slowly beside the reeds when we were there last December. It was joy to watch this very secretive bird skulking and foraging amongst the reeds. But not this time. It refused to come out. I don’t blame the poor thing because hundreds of lens were poking out of the hide like the Guns of Navarone, ready for battle. This lovely photograph was taken when we were there before. We also checked out the other hides facing the Severn estuary. We’d a wonderful surprise when we were in Stephen Kirk Hide. Hundreds of white-fronted geese were grazing on the grass plains. Just below the hide, pintails and widgeons were enjoying a swim. From time to time, a predator spooked the lapwings, golden plovers and dunlins into the air. Apart from the Redshanks, we counted more than 30 Curlews (below) feeding on the mudbanks. It was an excellent haul for the day.
We also had a pit stop at Brandon Marsh to see if anybody was at home. It was very quiet and even the usually boisterous Gulls and noisy Lapwings were very subdued. We spent the time chatting with Fat Jasper. There were 2 pairs of Goldeneye about but they were fast asleep at the end of the lake.
“Or sadly listen to the tuneless cry
Of fishing gull or clanging golden eye”
~George Crabbe(1754-1832) ‘Peter Grimes’~
I took a day off to check out the Short-Eared Owls at Maidwell. This was our second trip to this sleepy haunt in rural Northampton. When we arrived, it was a bright and sunny day. We waited and waited and waited. Guess what? They turned up when the clouds returned with a vengeance. Typical??? But it was still amazing to watch them beating about slowly very close to the ground in search of prey. We were also very lucky to see a stunning aerial antics in territorial display. Apart from Maidwell, we also made a trip to Cossington Meadows to see if we could get closer to these beautiful birds. We trampled through very muddy fields before we located the spot. A group of photographers had already taken their positions behind the fence. We saw a few birds quartering the field but they were still a distance away. We continued walking when we spotted this handsome chap perched on the tree, surveying its kingdom. We also checked out a wassail event at Ryton Gardens. A quirky British custom that originated in the cider-making regions of South West England and is celebrated close to old Twelfth Night. As well as songs and dances the custom involves blessing apple trees to encourage a bumper harvest for the coming year. From the Anglo-Saxon phrase ‘wes hal’, meaning good health, the Wassail casts aside the winter to make way for spring. While waiting for the event to take place, we busied ourselves by taking photographs of these attractively acrobatic siskins feeding on the alders.We heard drumming at the entrance and quickly walked towards it. A huge crowd had already gathered and there were 4 groups of very colourful Morris dancers waiting to perform. They took turns to showcase their different dancing styles to the very appreciative audience. I had always enjoyed watching Morris dancing and to see 4 different groups was a bonus.
We later decided to check out the owls at Maidwell again. This might be our last visit before they migrate back to Europe. We were lucky to get the last parking space. We checked the various fields and there were people positioning themselves at the edges. Is it worth doing this for a perfect photograph/view? This resulted in the birds quartering further up the hills. If we keep on disturbing these migratory birds, they might not want to come again.
We were in Brandon Marsh again to get some fresh air. We had a lovely surprise when we opened the shutters. A female Great Crested Grebe was swimming very close to the hide. It started croaking and a male Grebe swam towards her. The pair then started performing a delightful courtship dance. It was mersmerising watching them mirroring each other. We also saw another pair in the Swallow Pool. They are going to keep us busy in spring and summer. I couldn’t wait. Finally, a trip to Coombe Abbey. We fed the natives and spotted the resident Egyptian goose. Clumps of snowdrops dotted the path and they should be flowering in a forthnight . We walked towards the hide and made ourselves at home. When it was quiet, the natives came out to play and feed. There were Great and blue tits, a wren, robin, dunnock, song thrush, nuthatch , coal tit and the pièce de résistance, this very handsome Great Spotted Woodpecker. What a beauty. ‘Zeus won’t in a hurry restore to the woodpecker tapping the oak. In times prehistoric ‘tis easily proved, by evidence weighty and ample.
‘That birds and not Gods were the rulers of men
And the lords of the world.’
~Aristophanes ‘The Birds’~
We started 2012 by going out and about, watching what Mother Nature has to offer. I couldn’t wait to see what the rest of the year will bring…