Saturday, 25 April 2009

A dawn pour, a high kite and a shuffle

What a day to do a dawn chorus walk, if you were up that early you will have heard, seen and if you came out with us experienced the rain. Not the ideal conditions, but it did dry up and there were birds singing. First was Robin, not a surprise, then Song Thrush, Blackbird and in at number four, Oystercatcher! alright this was calling as it flew over rather than singing, but still the fourth species we heard. The title of "Bird of the walk" went to a Badger, seen near the Woodland hide. Never let anyone tell you they are bumbling slow creatures, this one fairly shot away across the open ground to the sett at a full gallop.
After this I opened the hides and from the Tern hide, in company with Hulls (Two Owls Birding) a Red Kite, thanks to Nick and obvious signs of an arrival of birds with a few hundred Sand Martins and tens of Swifts. Also present were two Dunlin, two Black-tailed Godwits and a Bar-tailed Godwit which flew off to the east. Later in the day there were three Dunlin, four Black-tailed Godwits and the same or another Bar-tailed.

Having not had a good look around the reserve in ages I decided today was the day to do so. The Goosander hide was great with something like a hundred Sand Martins buzzing about just outside the windows and gathering nesting material from the ground below the hide. A Whitethroat singing was also good, it might not sound much but this is the first singing Whitethroat I have ever found on the reserve.

Walking up to the Lapwing hide at least three singing Garden Warblers were the first of the year and a singing Cuckoo on a fence was the first I have seen this year. From the hide there were four Wigeon and a pair of Pintail, so not quite all the winter ducks have gone.

A visit to Mockbeggar North lake just off the reserve added a drake Garganey with a drake Shoveler to the list of birds for the day. Also just off the reserve, but this time on Rockford Lake was a single Egyptian Goose.

Later in the afternoon I was out again at the Tern hide and saw my first Hobby of the year and a Raven, both flying over, whilst on the shore a male White Wagtail and a drake Goosander were smart additions. The stony shore of the lake looks unpromising for feeding birds but it evidently harbours a good lot of food if you know where to look and how to find it. This Redshank was practicing a variation on the Turnstone trick, it was pushing stones aside or over, but these stones were just under the water, it was also finding lots of things to eat by doing so. It seems that it did take some effort to get the longer bill into place right under the stone in order to lever it out of the way, but once done the technique seemed to work well.

Another method is the old foot paddle shuffle, as used by gulls the world over. This first summer Black-headed Gull was foot-paddling away in the shallows, but with a twist, as it paddled it shuffled backwards. This explained why my first couple of pictures were out of focus, the bird had moved. I had only ever seen them paddling on the spot previously, but this was also usually on land, so perhaps the shuffle is a feature of this behaviour in water.

Of the few ducks that are still around a lot are Tufted Ducks. It is often worth looking at the flocks at this time of year just in case they include a passing Ring-necked Duck. This north American species is similar to our Tufted and is named after for the brown ring around the neck, mind you this is a feature that is usually impossible to see int he field and far from the species most obvious bit of plumage. It is also not one that separates it from our Tufted Duck, as this picture shows, although it usually as hard to see on a Tufted as it is on a Ring-necked!

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