Saturday, 28 December 2013

'Tis the Season to be Chilly

The numbing of the fingers and toes is that bit more sharp and sudden when birding than angling but a lack of decent footwear for the purpose doesn't improve matters and neither do receding storm water levels, leaving the odd hidden mud or water-filled foothole, enhance the possibility of dry feet over a period of waterside prowling

By way of a change, it was time to revert to the original plan on Boxing Day and punctuate the angling-dominated posts with something different but still of the countryside

The Dog had taken dubious possession of a remarkably good quality 'mighty midget' spotting telescope care of Santa and, as his tripod was in Cornwall, mine came into play upon request. 'Play' being the operative word as the attachment I had wasn't entirely a snug fit and there was about an inch of slack in the mechanism, but we got there with some careful targetted jiggery and pokery

Instant success with a female goldeneye by the dam wall after a touch of confusion when the wintering diving duck appeared to stay under for around 15 minutes, bringing the unlikely but perfectly possible prospect of an unlucky kill by old Esox lucius to mind, the place apparently being well populated; but, no, we'd simply missed it when unsucessfully intermittently inspecting all of the loosely assembled great crested grebes for the chance of a red or black-necked imposter

The waterbody is split by a County boundary following the original line of the river unfortunate enough to have been dammed to build it, and which zig-zags through maps defining the two halves of the currently (sorry) treacly contents. Searching for records for the site is always entertaining, not to say, irritating, as they can appear in either County list

A busy and vocal treecreeper foraged on the thinnest of lichen-clad branches in scrub below the dam as a blue tit 'sipped' its progress throught those same bushes. These were the easy ones, but so long away from the cut and thrust left us needing the pocket guide quite regularly, this being the first determined spot of ornithology by an english stillwater for perhaps two years, certainly on my part, but we got there

The aftermath of the storm, and with more to follow, provided the substrate for tell-tale tracks on the paths, most of which were perforated by little deer hooves. Larger dog prints and the various sole prints of previous walkers marked the path to a deep-cut bay where two larger pink-hued white shapes among the innumerable coots and tufted duck gave away the presence of drake goosander. More closely inspected they were indeed both accompanied by ginger-headed, grey-bodied mates. A solitary male pintail bobbed around among those more prolific species in a heightened state of awareness at our distant, but no doubt obvious, presence as a flock of pochard dived for their lunch, here and there, in the chilled melee

By now the gentle breeze was starting to get through the lack of layers. Had we been roaching the cold would not have penetrated the interminable cocoon but when walking we were a few layers short of a thermal gateau, more of a moist fruit cake really, but enough of such admissions. Wet and unwebbed feet didn't help the situation but by keeping active and leaving The Dog to his scoping from time to time it ensured the retention of enough warmth for a fair stab at the entertainment. Next time preparation will be more thorough

A few jolly festive anglers merrily chatted by their cars as their alarms sat idly-by, waiting for the majority of the turbidity to drop out of the water. A fairly long-term dream we feared

Hen bullfinches raided the nettlebeds for leftover seeds with sun-powered blinding undulating flashes of white as they skipped ahead of us on narrow paths between marginal willow carr on the one side and hawthorn hedge on the other. Finely-barred wren and demure dunnock scuttled and skulked among the damp ruderal festooned with droplet remnants of an early receding fog. The peep of redwing and chuckle of fieldfare entralled our freezing ears as we stumbled, both literally and soggily in my case, upon a fall of apples but most of our resident turdidae failed to show with only the seasonal robin keeping up the family obligation of being represented on the ornithologists' list

Goldeneye proved to be everywhere, but unusally around the perimeter, presumably due to the water colour, with around twenty individuals counted and each group dominated by one sex or the other. Separate flocks of the two common goose species rowdily announced their imminent arrival mid-reservoir to be closely pursued by a handful of larger gulls which settled between the more hefty bodies, stretching and arguing over floating room

Soon the customarily dead iPhone (they really don't cope well with winter do they?) sent us rushing to the car park as we realised we might be late for a family lunch out. We just got there in time and belated list-making ensued whilst orders were placed; thirty-three we made it. 33 enjoyable but hard-earned species, all the better for the challenge and possibly the best option for outdoor engagement in the next week or so one might suspect

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