Spring this year has been rather unusual. Initially it appeared it was going to be very late, as winter dragged its heels and the cold weather persisted well into April, finally giving way to some welcome sunshine and warmth during my trip to Norfolk, though even then, some of the more traditional sights and sounds of the season failed to materialise.
Having dipped on even hearing a cuckoo in Norfolk, I chose to head down to RSPB Otmoor in Oxfordshire, to rectify the situation. Several had been reported on the blogs that are so helpful for occasional visitors such as myself, and as I opened the car door in the parking area, I heard a distant cuckoo calling. Excellent, one target ticked off the Spring List. Another might be lizards and grass snakes, though neither showed for me, despite an expansive search. Nevermind, the numerous hobbies hawking overhead were a welcome distraction...
Save Otmoor) don't get the green light, and potentially ruin all the hard work the RSPB have done there over the years. It is also one of only a handful of sites in the UK that attracts turtle doves, and hearing their purring call is simply a delight on a warm day.
Another species I try to locate in spring is the adder. I have to admit to being very frustrated and angry when I discovered my normal site for these elusive creatures had been cordoned off by Natural England, to prevent disturbance during the breeding season. Frustrated that I couldn't enjoy the sight of them basking in the sunshine, and angry at the morons who have forced NE to take such action. I heard via several sources that some photographers last year, were seen kicking over piles of logs in search of these snakes.
The mind boggles. These creatures are shy, alert and incredibly sensitive to movement and vibrations. Even standing motionless near one, if the wind takes your scent to them, they often slither away, so such a stupid, thoughtless and potentially damaging approach beggars belief.
And there are so few of them left in Worcestershire and surrounding counties, that the utmost care should be taken when attempting to photograph any.
Social media is a handy way to keep up to date on sightings at some of the local sites, and reports of pied flycatchers and common redstarts from the Wyre Forest caught my eye. Annoyingly, as I arrived at Dry Mill Lane I discovered the car park was closed off, and all the lane-side parking had been taken. No choice but to use the Visitor Centre instead, which was miles away from where I wanted to walk, and also not free of charge.
Maybe I missed the signs, but those that I did see, beside the parking meter were so vague in detail for the mapping of the area. I wanted to head towards Dowles Brook, but the signs just showed the different coloured tracks available for walking, riding or mountain biking. I ended up using Google Maps on my phone to work out the direction to go, but a distinctive and familiar bird song stopped me way before I reached the brook.
A wood warbler, several in fact, and calling not far from the wide, dusty track I had been trudging along. As the woods are so hilly, despite this warbler's tendancy to sing from high up in trees, I found I could stand on a slope and be almost eye-level at times. It was just a case of watching and hoping to get a shot before it flew to the next perch.
Down at the brook, I watched a family of grey wagtails, and glimpsed both common redstarts and blackcaps, as they picked off insects near the water. And as I began the arduous a dipper shot past, skimming above the stream.
After taking in reed-beds, heathland and woods, it was time to visit some lakes. And with a couple of hours free before hooking up with Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and fellow judge Jason Curtis, to review this year's entries for the calendar competition, I took a stroll around a local reserve.
What was noticeable in their absence, was a lack of swallows, martins and swifts. Normally by now, the abundance of insects over these lakes attracts these agile birds by the dozen, but I think in the three hours I was there, I saw just one swallow, and one house martin.
Strange calls from the reeds eventually led me to spotting what I assume is some sort of toad. They were very green, and generally hiding amongst the spawn and algae around the edge of the water. With the herons and egrets around, it wasn't a huge surprise to see them diving for cover when I tried to approach them, though I did spot one lurking between reeds, and grabbed a shot before it too, swam away.
Spring has most definitely arrived, but maybe some of the usual stars are waiting for summer, to make their appearance? One can only hope.
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