Sunday, 2 June 2013

A Hobby Sandwich

On Friday evening I set off early, to get a decent parking space, only to find everyone else had already arrived! A dozen of us met to go for a long walk on a lowland moor - a very rare habitat these days. It was a very long walk before we reached any decent habitat, but we did hear and finally see a Yellowhammer singing on some old stone fence posts. We reached the thicker Hawthorn bushed where Jeremy heard a Whitethroat. As we approached the reserve there were some tiny, brightly coloured birds on the fences in the distance, but the only small birds which could be confidently identified were some Linnets. Over the trees in the distance a pair of Stock Doves flew, and there were always a few Black-headed Gulls drifting over, and Swifts flying more purposefully. 
Hobby - at this site a few years ago
As we continued a Buzzard from the edge of the trees and headed over towards the reserve - it had a noticeably pale tail, but was just an aberrant Common Buzzard. A willow Warbler continued to sing as we observed the Buzzard, and a Greenfinch flew overhead, back in the direction of our cars. We reached the brick bridge at which point we all covered ourselves with various sprays of insect repellent. Here, we had a brief back end view of a Turtle Dove as it disappeared into cover, but shortly afterwards one began to purr from the thick vegetation.  
Turtle Dove (c) 2013 Chris Cox taken at our local 
site this weekend
In the reserve itself we could hear Long-tailed Tits and then one flew across the path. We could still hear the wonderful sound of the Turtle Dove purring away. A Chiffchaff could also be heard, and then we reached an area where a large swathe of Rhododendron had been removed. A distant male Cuckoo could just be made out calling in the distance. The best bird near at hand was a singing Garden Warbler, which remained pretty deeply in cover, but was glimpsed on at least 2 occasions as it flew from one thicket to another. A Reed Bunting was seen in its old haunts, but the noticeable birds seemed to be Chaffinches, which seemed to be one of the only bird feeding in the open. A Teal suddenly powered into the air from a ditch and swiftly headed away from us.
After a few sharp bends we embarked on the long direct route to the raptor platform. There were at least 3 Reed Warblers in the narrow reeds just on the right hand edge of the path. Shortly after this I could see a small raptor dashing aerobatically just over the tops of the silver birches. This was a Hobby. It kept dashing out after insects we couldn't see, managing to catch them, and then discarding bits. After each sortie it conveniently perched in the top of the same distinctively shaped Silver Birch. Even the most vertically challenged were able to get views of this charismatic bird in rather poor light, and awkwardly placed vegetation. It's very dark head and contrasting white cheeks, and its dark upperparts could be made out by everyone, but not all could swear to making out its orange trousers. We watched it for a good ten minutes or so, when another slightly larger bird landed to its right. By its silhouette it was clearly a Cuckoo. A few moments later and another bird landed to the Hobby's left - another Cuckoo! So, for a few moments we were able to see a Hobby Sandwich, where both parts of the bread were represented by Cuckoos. Not something you see every day.
And now a pictorial representation of the Hobby Sandwich: 
Cuckoo - taken at Friday night's venue a few years ago.
 Hobby - at Friday's location a few Years Back
 Cuckoo - a different location, a different time
We carried on to the Raptor platform where we could see at least 3 Marsh Harriers, plus Swifts, Black-headed Gulls and several Friday unmentionables. However, the nearest large bird we able to observe was a silent Cuckoo. This flew from one heather patch and small Silver Birch to another. I wondered if it was a female searching for a Meadow Pipit nest, but she definitely picked up a couple of large caterpillars, so she may have had more innocent things on her mind. There was a very cold wind, so we didn't stay at the top of the platform as long as we had on previous visits. 
Sunset (c) 2013 Lynn Hall
We retraced our steps amid a very attractive sunset to a point near the entrance to the reserve, and walked along a path, which had been badly churned up by heavy machinery. It was also quite wet in places, so walking became a little difficult at times. There was also a very sneaky mosquito, which avoided all our sprayed areas, and managed to fly up my trouser leg and bite me on the ankle instead. This used to be the Nightingale avenue, but only a distant Song Thrush quickened the pulses down here. A Reed Warbler was also heard as we reached the furthest point that we could travel. We could have waited here to listen for Nightjars, but as we stopped moving, the mosquitoes zoomed in to pester us. Also, it wouldn't have made sense to retrace our steps on the uneven and squelchy path in the dark, so we headed back to near the entrance.  
Sunset(c) 2013 Lynn Hall
 The Deepening Sunset (c) 2013 Lynn Hall
 We waited for quite a long time leaning on the wooden fence outside the reserve, as the dark continued to tighten its grip. I'd almost given up hope when a bird came from behind us and fluttered to the ground in the field ahead of us. It seemed only a little larger than a Blackbird, but Claire and Jeremy had better views. Claire especially thought it seemed similar in flight to a Swift, so that may well have been our only glimpse of a Nightjar that evening. We trekked back to our cars in the near dark, and almost in complete silence, hoping we were avoiding the plentiful dog waste, and that our cars would be intact. Luckily, all the cars were unharmed, although my wing mirror had been knocked out of position, and I was eventually able to correct it on the 30-mile motorway drive return journey. 

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