Hides. With rain forecast I headed to a reserve with hides and hence shelter from the elements. I'd also read that cuckoos had been heard around the site, so that would be a welcome sound to the start of Spring. Also of note was a whinchat seen near the car park. Needless to say when I got there, scanning the marsh and area near the car park revealed nowt but a few jackdaws, sedge warblers, various tits and a few scampering bunnies.
Teal Pool hide was first target as the sun wouldn't be in my face until later and there were supposed to be some black-tailed godwits around. There were, but on the other side. Still, a little ringed plover tap-danced over and gave great views for a change.
Enroute to the Carlton Hide I heard the first cuckoo of the year and from the hide window, I was chuffed to see one land in the dead tree, although it was a tad far for anything other than a record shot. More pleasing, although also very distant was the whinchat, hopping about the tops of the brambles behind the tree.
Would be nice if that stayed around. Unlikely though!
Aside from that, a heron entertained us catching tiddlers, as did a little grebe, which didn't seem impressed with amount of weed in the water. I also glimpsed a sprawk and seconds later the first hobby of the year. No chance for a shot though! And it should be also noted that I didn't see a single drop of rain!
Having seen the photos by Chris Cook on Bird Guides, I decided on Sunday morning to head over to Walsall, and locate the hoopoe been seen near the marshes. Worcester Birding's map combined with a bit of research on Google Earth made finding the spot easy enough, and I was soon walking around scanning the area with 2 other birders. I almost called out to say I'd found it, when I realised it was just a female mallard, but then looking beyond that, realised I had spotted it, and we gathered nearby to watch it.
I've seen one before but from a coach window when going to the airport on Lanzarote, so this was great to see locally. Quite a restless bird generally, as it would poke about an area for a few mins, then fly elsewhere, leaving everyone desperately trying to follow its flight path. As such it was tricky to get anywhere near it, and all shots of it are cropped a fair bit. Despite it being May, the cold eventually persuaded me to head elsewhere and I aimed for Upton Warren.
Highlights of my hours spent camped (freezing) in the Water Rail hide were the numerous martins and swallows swooping by, taking insects from the water surface, a very brief appearance by a kingfisher and a bit of a rarity of an Arctic tern, which posed next to a common one, to show the difference in shape very well, to a novice like me.
Seeing the sunshine on Monday morning tempted me out of my bed and into the car for a trip east, to Paxton Pits, a site famous for views of the nightingale, a bird I've not seen before. Using advice from Rob and Dave, I tried the first spot near the car park and soon glimpsed the first bird. It's call lead me straight to it, but it was mostly obscured by leaves and flew off just as I was lining the camera up. Waiting for half an hour here yielded no more views, but succeeded in getting me drenched by two heavy downpours. And as the third one approached, I thought I'd move into the reserve to see if my luck would change.
It did. As I trudged along the path, a couple beckoned me over to point out a nightingale, sat out on a branch in the open, singing away. Fantastic! First clear views of one and close enough for reasonable shots too.
Needless to say I stood and took a bag full of shots, and was pleased to see it come back to the same perch after it had left for a few moments. Lovely song and a lovely looking bird, which its big dark eyes, and reddish brown tail feathers, which showed well when it was blown off the perch by a sudden gust.
The wind was really blowing by now and despite me wearing wind-proof fleeces, I started to get a bit of a chill, and opted to head further east in hope of finding some stone curlews.
Max had kindly given me details of a less known location for these elusive birds, but when I arrived, the heavens had opened and the car was battered by a hail storm. Time for a sarnie! Sat there munching away, I was soon joined by a chap in a 4x4, who pulled alongside with his window down. Ominous...
He then explained that although his actions, and those of fellow wardens would be seen as very unpopular, they wanted to discourage birders from viewing the area as the breeding birds were being affected by humans walking the perimeter. As such, signs warning of no parking or waiting, fences and double yellow lines were all around. I had seen a curlew by now, but hadn't had the chance for a picture, and given the information, I thought I'd better move on. The birds' welfare always comes before my chance of a shot, especially when they're red listed like stone curlews. I'll just have to wait for one to show up elsewhere, and hope I can get a shot then.
I popped into Weeting Heath and Lakenheath Fen again, given that I was in the area, but only saw one stone curlew in the distance (again) and the RSPB place was like a wind-tunnel, and little was about.
With my eyes dried out from the gales I decided to head home, which proved to be a wise move, judging by the weather I drove through!