05 May 2008


Having survived the week from hell at work I was more than happy to pull on my walking boots and head off out birding this weekend. The weather forecast wasn’t too promising - dull and overcast, with rain at times - but was I bothered? Was I heck! I needed to get some fresh air to try and clear my head!

On Saturday evening I put in almost three hours at Willington Gravel Pits (you didn’t expect me to go anywhere else, did you?) and was rewarded with a total of 54 species. It wasn’t the highest count I’ve had there but it was still more than worthwhile; I wasn’t at work!

The best bird of the evening turned up before I had even crossed the reserve boundary; a cream-crowned Marsh Harrier gave a very fleeting view as it dropped into the reed bed, just as I walked down the lane. It was back on 30 September 2007 that I managed to see my first Marsh Harrier in the county, after waiting more than 15 years, and now I had my second! More importantly this one counted for my “10-Mile List” and was species 108. My mood was starting to lighten a little.

The walk to the end of the lane gave me close views of Sparrowhawk, Dunnock, Song Thrush, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Goldfinch and Bullfinch. Once at “Platform 3”, at the end of the lane, I was able to scan across the main areas of water and also the reed bed that the harrier had dropped into.

Some of the more notable sightings from “P3” included 12 Great Crested Grebe, 27 Cormorant, 3 Grey Heron, 12 Shelduck, a pair of Wigeon, 8 Gadwall, a pair of Goosander, 4 Common Redshank, 6 Common Tern, a couple of Yellow Wagtail and 2 Reed Warbler that were singing just a few feet from the platform.

At just before 8:00PM the Marsh Harrier decided to put in another appearance as it flew low over the reed bed for a short time before going to roost. The sun was setting, the harrier had gone to bed, I was starting to feel just a little less stressed - time to head for home.

Sunset over Flyash Pit, Willington.

Sunday morning found me out of my “comfort zone” as I turned my attention to Long Eaton Gravel Pits. Two years ago to the day I was at these old gravel workings watching Black Terns. On Sunday, I returned once again in search of the same species and I wasn’t to be disappointed as two gorgeous summer plumage birds flew around often just yards from me. It was only 6:45AM but I had species 109 for my list. I had almost forgotten about work.

In the hour spent at Long Eaton I located 44 species. Birds of note included Great Crested Grebe, Shelduck, Gadwall, Common Tern, Cuckoo (heard only), Wheatear, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Linnet. If I had had the time I’m sure I could have added to my count here but I had other places to be.

Since Friday a Cattle Egret had been reported from Attenborough Nature Reserve and, after rechecking the limits of my 10-mile zone, it was inside my listing area, just. Fifteen minutes after leaving the Black Terns I was trying to locate the egret. It may have only been 7:30AM but there were already a number of birders on site looking for the egret - 2½ hours later they were still looking. The egret had gone and along with it went a tick that I’ll probably not get another chance of this year.

The visit to Attenborough did turn up two other species I needed though, Egyptian Goose and Tree Sparrow. I now had species numbers 110 and 111 on my list. It was turning into a rather good Sunday, even if it did keep trying to rain on me. For the record, I listed 44 species here. All the usual contenders turned up along with a single Wigeon, 2 Oystercatcher, a Little Ringed Plover and 2 Wheatear.

During one of the heavier rain showers I took a little time to sit in one of the hides and watch the birds at the feeding station. It was here that I got to see the Tree Sparrows, and also received a text message telling me that a Black-tailed Godwit wad turned up at Willington. It was time I was back on familiar territory.

Tree Sparrows at Attenborough.

Once at Willington I was given details of the godwit, and also a Whinchat that had been found, by my good friend Mike who had sent me the text message. The Whinchat turned out to be very easy to locate as it was a superb summer plumage male - possibly the best I’ve ever seen - and even in the rather dull light it stood out like a beacon. Mr Whinchat, you’re species number 112 on my 10-Mile List!

A very distant Whinchat, in poor light, at Willington!

The Black-tailed Godwit was a totally different kettle of fish. I couldn’t locate it for the life of me. I spent almost two hours scanning the water’s edge, and small islands, of the two main pits without success. Maybe it had gone. Maybe my Leica’s had decided they’d found me enough good birds for one day. Maybe I just kept missing the bird whilst I was watching something else.

Before the hunger pains set in, that had me heading home to a roast beef dinner at 12:30PM, I was lucky enough to see the Marsh Harrier again a number of times as well as 12 Common Tern, a few Swift, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, numerous Sand Martin, 4 Swallow and the two Reed Warblers that were again singing close to “P3”. I’d spent just over five hours out birding, visited three different locations, seen 61 different species and added 4 new birds to my list. I was happy, if a little hungry!

At just after 5:30PM I was sat at home watching TV and feeling somewhat full of roast beef, Yorkshire Puddings, vegetables and potatoes when my phone sprang into life. It was a text from Mike; the Black Tailed Godwit had turned up again at Willington. I was happy with my day’s birding but the temptation of one more new bird was a little too much, I was back on “Platform 3” by 6:15PM and this time the godwit showed itself as soon as I arrived. Species 113 was in the bag.

Just to show that I haven’t turned back in to a fully fledged twitcher again, I hung around at Willington for another 1½ hours with Mike and Chris, another birding friend, and even got to see the Marsh Harrier once again. By 7:30PM the idea of having a long sit down with a glass of wine became too much for me, I left my friends to it and headed home. I was totally chilled and work didn’t even exist!

My “10-Mile List” now stands at 113 species.

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