Sunday, 16 February 2014

Valentine's Day: Love is in the Air

The weather forecast was pretty atrocious for late Friday afternoon, so we stuck with North Cave Wetlands. Before everyone arrived I photographed a smart Rook behind Angela's butty-wagon.  The morning didn't look too bad at first, so we did a full circuit. From South hide there was a large group of Pochard including some females, a few Tufted Ducks with a group of noisy bleeping Teal in the background. It was Valentine's Day, so it seemed highly appropriate when a pair of Great Crested Grebes began their Courtship Display. Joan spotted a male Marsh Harrier hunting across the reserve, flying from North to South. Its flight scattered plenty of birds, predominantly Teal. Although it didn't approach our hide it also frightened the birds on the pontoon including the Redshank, Oystercatchers and Lapwing, but the Cormorants remained in place.

Great Crested Grebes
We set off towards Carp Lake and checked on the flooded area near Crosslands hide. We looked for feeding Green Woodpeckers without success. There were plenty of Lapwing, a Shoveler, and a few Gadwall on the flooded area. A very faint Skylark could just be heard over the monstrous roar of the excavating machinery.
We were watching a group of Long-tailed Tits on the brambles when someone walked along the back of Carp Lake and then continued along Dryham Lane behind us. Suddenly a Green Woodpecker burst out of the hedge and bounded across the lake - it's yellow rump showing up well against the dark water. It flew into the conifers between Carp Lake and Main Lake, but was soon lost to sight. Carp Lake isn't usually particularly good for birds, so I didn't check on the lake itself. This was a mistake as it was only when we'd just arrived at Far Lake we were informed by the Reserve Recorder that the Redhead Smew was in the NE corner of Carp Lake. We had to retrace our steps for a short way and peer through the forest of twigs to catch a glimpse of the Smew. It wasn't the easiest bird to see, but eventually everyone managed to get a decent view. The general consensus expressed surprise, as to just how small it was. 
Oystercatchers, Redshank, Lapwing, Cormorant & BH Gull
 Far Lake mainly held Shoveler, Gadwall and Coot and Siskins were heard briefly. We carried on towards Reedbed Lake. In the fields on the other side we observed a large covey of at least 13 Red-legged Partridges. On Reedbed itself there were a few Shoveler hauled up onto the bank, and Greylag Geese and a few Shelduck but very little on the water itself.
Great Crested Grebe
We made our way into the cutting wind alongside Maize Field, but there were only a very small number of Goldfinches. One surprise was an unseasonal Meadow Pipit, which flew over our heads. There was nothing special around the feeders, which had just been refilled. A solitary female Greenfinch was no substitute for the 3 Bullfinches on our last visit. 
Courtship Display
 From Turret Hide there wasn't a great deal to see but in the afternoon a Little Egret dropped in - the first time I've seen this species at this particular reserve. There were some Redshank on one of the Islands but the rest seemed to be covered with Teal. A thorough search was made for a semi-concealed Snipe without success.
Courtship Display
Some fat balls outside East Hide seemed brand new, but they were being attacked by voracious Long-tailed Tits. When they moved on they seemed to have made absolutely no impact on the apparently pristine balls. From East hide Elizabeth spotted a Little Grebe, which was in the larger lake at first, then it swam down the channel towards us before being joined by a second bird. These were clearly still firmly entrenched in their winter plumage, whereas a pair seen in the afternoon on Carp Lake appeared to have transformed, at least partially, into their summer finery.  
Courtship Display
 Courtship Display
 Courtship Display
 Courtship Display
In the afternoon we experienced a first when 2 new very brave participants arrived on their resplendent tandem. We started from Crosslands hide, and made a quick jaunt to rendezvous with the Smew. Everyone did manage to see it through the thicket of branches.  Then when it started to rain we dashed back to Crosslands. We looked at the birds from here, and then performed the birding ice-breaker before going through some of the latest bird books, DVDs, CD-ROMs etc connected with birds.  
Male Marsh Harrier near Turret Hide
 Male Marsh Harrier
 Redhead Smew
 Redhead Smew
 Little Egret

The rain eased off, so we moved on to South Hide. Unusually, we noticed that Angela had made an early retreat from her pitch, probably as result of the ever-worsening weather. In the strong winds from the south the ducks had shifted to the shelter quite near the hide, but they were the same species as seen in the morning. Finally, we carried on to East hide where we saw the Wigeon, and a small selection of the other birds. We hadn't been there long when the rain started, but we made it back to our vehicles before the really heavy stuff arrived.  We all hoped that the tandem pair had a safe 7-mile ride back to Brough!

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