04 January 2009

Hitting 70...

Two mornings of birding, 39 new species for the year located. It couldn’t have worked out much better really. Of the birds I had expected to see there were a few that eluded me - 10 to be precise! - but I did manage to pick up other, unexpected, species that acted as replacements. Some of the birds I failed to locate include one or two surprises... no Green Woodpecker, no Skylark or Meadow Pipit, no Treecreeper and, somehow, no Rook!

Highlights of the five hours spent out in the freezing cold on Saturday included four Bewick’s Swans, eight Egyptian Geese, a Ruddy Shelduck and a Tree Sparrow, all at Barton in Fabis, just over the border in Nottinghamshire. Next it was back into Derbyshire and Long Eaton Gravel Pits, with the hope of a Smew. There was no sign of the Smew but I did pick up another 11 new species. Best bird here was a female Stonechat, which is a species that I failed to locate within my 10-mile zone last year. Little Grebe, Wigeon, Shoveler, Pochard and Snipe were other birds of note that I also saw at Long Eaton.

Are these the worst ever digi-scoped photos of a Bewick's Swan?

But look how far away they were!

By now it was 12:30PM and I was starting to feel the cold - even more than I had all morning! The cold was bad enough but driving around in a car with an ice warning light was worse - the damn thing was constantly flashing either red or orange at me depending on just how cold it was! I decided I’d had enough for one day and headed for home and a much-needed hot dinner, but not before stopping off at Aston on Trent Gravel Pits!

As there is no public access at Aston I had to make do with viewing the area from the entrance gate. It was far from ideal but I did add Shelduck, Common Redshank and Grey Wagtail to my steadily growing list. I also missed out on Smew once again - the pair that have been reported here over the past week or so failed to show. Time to head home, enjoy my lunch and try and get warm.

No sooner had I arrived home and I got a text message from my good friend, and fellow birder, Mike. He had located a flock of Golden Plover less than 2 miles from my house. There was nothing for it, I had to go for them. This was another species that I had missed in 2008. I drove to the place Mike had seen the Goldie's, scanned the fields and drew a blank. Either they had moved or I was in the wrong place.

A quick drive around some of the other roads finally paid off and I located a small group of plover in another field. The only problem was, if I was to have a good enough view to be certain of their identification I would have to park illegally, in an emergency lay-by with double yellow lines, on a duel carriageway, on a flyover! I’m pleased to say I was able to add Golden Plover to my list! I finished the day with a total of 61 species on my “10-Mile List”.

I started today with a brief visit to Allestree Park and quickly added Nuthatch and Siskin to my list. The cold weather actually helped me here as almost all of the lake was frozen over. As a result, the four Mandarin Duck there had to come out into the open to bathe and I was able to see them. If the lake hadn’t been covered with ice then I may well have missed the Mandarin - another unexpected tick.

From Allestree it was a short drive to Kedleston to try for the White-fronted Goose that has been present since the middle of December. If I hadn’t been suffering with “Man Flu” and then having Christmas shopping to do I would have gone for the goose last year, as it was I didn’t. Luckily, the White-front has stuck around and it proved to be a very easy tick today. I parked in the golf club car park, no doubt seen by the multitude of security cameras they have, walked across the road to view the goose field and spotted the bird almost immediately. Sixty-five species located, just another five needed.

Next stop was Staunton Harold Reservoir on the Derbyshire/Leicestershire border and yet another attempt to find Smew. A male had been reported at the southern end of the reservoir yesterday afternoon and, much to my relief, it was still there today. Of all the duck species, I think that a male Smew must be my favourite - they’re just stunning. Just to make the trip even more worthwhile a single Pink-footed Goose was in the Greylag Goose flock, yet another new and unexpected bird. A pair of Goldeneye here took my “10-Mile List” to 68 species. I was starting to think that 70 was within reach.

It was now just after 10:30AM and I was starting to feel the cold again. I’d been stood around for much of my time outside and needed to start and move around a little. I decided on a visit to Willington Gravel Pits. You just knew that place would crop up sooner or later, didn’t you? Well, it was close by and a walk to the end of the lane and around to Canal Scrape would warm me up a little.

Willington was possibly the quietest I’ve ever seen it with just 33 species located. It did prove to be worthwhile though - the walk warmed me up (a little) and I found the two species needed to hit my weekend target. At least three Water Rail were heard calling from the frozen reed beds but were not seen so they are listed as a “heard only” tick at the moment, just like last year. The walk back to the car from Canal Scrape, as the snow started to fall, provided me with the final new bird of the day and the weekend. Species number 70 was a Buzzard perched on a rather flimsy looking tree. From the look of the bird, it was feeling the cold even more than I was - it did not look happy with life! Then again, the snow was blowing straight into its face!

Last year I started this “10-Mile List” thing in March and had 71 species in the bag by the end of the first weekend. This year, I’m just one short of that figure and I have a two month head start - I wonder just what my total will be come the end of the year?

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