Close To Home
Aside from my trip to Scotland, mostly I've been pottering around local sites of late, paying several visits to Marsh Lane NR. After a drop-off run to the airport nearby one snowy Sunday, I found that I had the site to myself. Hardly surprising given the state of the side roads and the weather at the time.
Down in the Oak Hide I was pleased to see a number of common snipe taking advantage of the open water (everything else seemed to be frozen over) to probe for food, and they were very close to the hide too.
Then a head poking up above the snow in front of the hide caught my attention. Another snipe, presumably feeding in a small trench in the snow beside the lake, but made for a different shot with snow in front and behind.
Despite looking and hoping, none of the common snipe would transform into a jack, so I turned my attention to the feeders nearby. The flock of chaffinches increased in numbers and eventually a brambling appeared amongst them, though she wouldn't pose anywhere with an uncluttered view, so I grabbed a shot anyway.
Back up by the car park, more snipe were feeding deep in the snow and I added more of this type of shot to my collection before dusting the snow from my car and heading back.
On another snowy day I tried my luck for the common scoter over at Shustoke Reservoir, but reports placed it at one end, and as it turned out, the report was entirely wrong with the bird favouring the other end. Walking in deep snow carrying the camera gear isn't much fun, so I wasn't overly pleased to find that out. Still, I did see huge flocks of pochards and tufties on the smaller fishing pool at the back, and when wandering back I bumped into Dave Hutton, and we both then had a look for the scoter.
He spotted it, but whichever way we walked to see it, it headed the other way and I didn't even bother with a record shot, as it was so distant.
Dave suggested trying for the chiffchaffs and possible firecrest over at Hams Hall, so in convoy we relocated, and wandered down to the edge of the outflow and settled down in the snow to watch. I wished I'd put on my Stealth Gear trousers as they're more water resistant than my fleece-lined combats, and Dave had wisely brought along something waterproof to sit on. He hadn't remembered to put on both socks when donning his boots, which was amusing later when he was wondering why one foot was freezing cold!
No sign of the firecrest but we did get some very close views of chiffchaffs, though I missed one of the Siberian ones, which Dave had a clear view of.
Still a good spot and a large flock of long-tailed tits fluttered by too, adding more interest.
Later on when returning to the car Dave spotted a pair of firecrests amongst the trees between the river and a warehouse. I failed miserably to get a shot, but he faired a little better, although the bird wasn't out in the open alas.
Another local spot which has caught my attention of late has been Grimley. The flooded meadows attracted a great white egret last summer, and I spent many an hour down there photographing a hobby, and while that wasn't active, some of the numerous dragonflies around the wild flowers.
This time it was a short-eared owl that had been seen that brought me over, but it wasn't to be a good day. I waited for a good 2 hours in the morning and failed to see anything of note. I did finally meet Brian Stretch who runs Birding Today, after email exchanges over the years. But with nothing interesting going on, I headed off. Only to get a text off Brian minutes later to report that the owl had broken cover and was sat on a grass bank. ARGH!!!
Back to Grimley, and I hurried to the field where I'd stood all morning to discover the owl had walked up the bank and was now sat in deep grass, with one eye occasionally visible. And so it remained for the rest of the day, refusing to move even when a dog walker went by, at the foot of the bank with 3 dogs!
I did catch the pair of whoopers flying off though, so not a total waste of time.
And so we reach the last weekend where I had a choice. Head off with Stu, Ken and John in search of barn and short-eared owls, or go see the great northern diver down in Cheltenham. The diver was closer and I've only a few pics of one in winter colours, so with this in almost breeding plumage I headed down south, to meet up with Dave and Steve. Parking up I recognised the car in front of me as Carl's, and after a short wander along the bank of the lake in the park I clocked him crouched on the other side.
While the light where he'd chosen to set up wasn't as good as from the other side, the backdrop was better, with an island of trees casting shadow over the water and hence giving a dark background.
I quickly worked out that the 1.4TC wasn't needed, and reverted back to the straight 500 which gave the bird a bit more room in the frame.
Slightly concerning though, was the diver was heading down the lake, and trying to take off. It didn't, thankfully as Steve and Dave hadn't even arrived yet.
The diver generally paddled about, preening and occasionally diving, though I didn't see it catch a fish. We moved around the edge of the lake to get better backgrounds or as low as possible (wet knees!).
Lovely markings and such details on the feathers. Would be great to see one in full colours in the summer.
Later, we were joined by Vince (on his way to watch a thrilling 1-1 draw between Cheltenham and Aldershot), his son, plus Bob and Julie. And we all found ourselves chasing the diver up and down the lake, much to the amusement of the other park visitors.
After surviving the marshy land of the Highland moors, the ice, snow and hurricane-force winds on the mountains and the hidden dangers of a wood covered by deep snow, I managed to roll my ankle over a small tree stump beside the lake. Dangerous places these public parks!
Having filled 2 cards on the diver I decided to head down to Aust Warth for a look for owls, but none showed when I was there, and the light faded rapidly. Sunday was spent locally as again I couldn't face the long drive to see some owls - after all, I have a lot of shots already, as Dave pointed out!
Upton Warren provided some entertainment when a water rail broke cover, but in general it was a quiet day.
And that brings me right up to date. Oh, and the diver left the following day, so my suspicions about its actions that day proved to be on the money!
Cracking shots Pete as usual partic. the GND.
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