On Tuesday we had a one off visit to a large reserve we’ve never visited before. I had the good fortune of being chauffeured by Chris Cox, so it was a comparatively stress-free start to the day. We followed the sat nav rather than the directions given out by the reserve, and it’s a good job we did as there were no official signs pointing us in the direction of the reserve.
We arrived just before 9 o’clock, but rather surprisingly the reserve didn’t open until the relatively tardy 9.30. There was a very new visitor centre, but this must get rather congested at weekends, as there is only 1 disabled toilet for everyone to use. We were given maps of the site to negotiate our way, but warned there were no seats, no hides or screens yet. They didn’t warn us of the vast distances between A and B.
Black-Necked Grebe (c) 2013 Chris Cox
We started off through top of the range slick gates along a broad tarmacced road with excellent warbler habitat on our left and a lake on our right. There must be many songbirds on the left in May, and we did still hear Whitethroats, Willow Warblers, a Chiffchaff and a family of Long-tailed Tits. On the water there were Tufted Ducks, Cormorants, Coots, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Lapwings and a single Redshank. There were many Black-headed Gulls and their offspring, and on the small islands that the gulls ignored there was a healthy population of Common Terns.
Record Shot of Meadow Brown
Along the way we were surprised to see some illegal Giant Hogweed growing along the banks of the river with more Whitethroats singing. Then we came across our first Meadow Browns and Large Skippers of the year, plus a single Cinnabar Moth. After a walk of over an hour with virtually no stops we reached the crossroads we’d been aiming for. We crossed a narrow strip of land and ahead of us a pair of Swans and their 4 cygnets crossed from one lake to the other. The parents kept looking behind them, and no wonder as another male (Cobb) was steaming towards them. He even dragged himself out of the water and crossed the path a few feet ahead of us and then set off after the family across the other lake.
Illegal Giant Hogweed
Parent & Child Black-Necked Grebes (c) 2013 Chris Cox
We reached another crossroads and were debating which way to go next when 2 insignificant dots on our right drew our attention. It was what looked like an immature Coot and a darker ball of fluff. On inspection through binoculars it was clear that this was a Black-necked Grebe parent and its chick. The parent worked hard collecting minute fish every few seconds, and fed them directly to its offspring. This continued for a long while and the birds began to drift north. It was then a big squabble occurred as an adult Little Grebe swiftly made an attack. It seemed to pull at the Black-necked Grebe chick which disappeared under water, while its parent called plaintively. This is where the Springwatch story developers would have frozen the film, and asked “What happened?” The answer would have been revealed the following evening, but we were kept in the dark for only a few seconds, as the chick eventually resurfaced and parent & chick were reunited. The Little Grebe also resurfaced near the reeds, saw us & then quickly dived under again never to be seen again.
There was only one parent feeding the chick, so possibly the male had departed, but I prefer to think this was the male feeding the one surviving chick, whilst the female was nearby on a second brood - well, one can live in hope!
Black-necked Grebe with Small Fish
Immature Black-Headed Gulls
We went a different way back to the visitor centre, which took us past a rough grassland hilly area. We passed many Reed Bunting territories with an occasional Meadow Pipit and Skylark performing their song flights. Through the reeds we could see a Pochard and her chicks some Tufted Ducks, and an adult Heron was spotted flying from one place to another. Above the hillside a female Marsh Harrier soared for awhile being mobbed by Black-headed Gulls. As we reached the visitor centre some Kestrel chicks were being observed on a monster piece of mining machinery. Apparently, 5 chicks have been observed, and some had fledged, but I could only see 2. Anyway, it was an uplifting conclusion to a very long uphill struggle.
Record Shot of Kestrel Chick
It was great to see the site, which I was considering as a possible future winter venue. However, it’s a very open site, and I don’t think a normal class visit will be appropriate before seating, hides, screens, and more toilets have been added. We could only visit in winter if no wind or rain was forecast to ensure everyone who sets out, also makes it back to the visitor centre.