Friday, January 24, 2014

Tinkling the patch ivories...

Last weekend brought my first opportunity for an early morning start at the river. It wasn't to be a long visit... just a quick tinkle of the patch ivories. I wasn't seeking the symphonic... just a short riparian sonata. Golden Plover flashed across my mind as I hit my mental high C, but it was only a brief flash and my impromptu visit was more about just seeing the river again. By 7:30am I am parked at the black and yellow gate, togged and ready to go. Get scope and tripod out of the car... problem. There's no mount on the tripod. Bins only then. Well that's going to make any detailed birdage nigh impossible on the mud flats. Not a cats chance in the proverbial of finding anything tucked away amid the expected Lapwing flock today. Ah well... still have my ears. Maybe pick up a wader two calling... It had been raining the night before and so I expected to be splashing through pools en route to my precious bend in the river. But no. Only the bit between the piers and the Ethylene Station was deeply puddled. The rest was fine.

Nothing much on the canal... a few Tufted Duck, Coot, pair of Mute Swan... and that was it. Robins by the bucketful calling, Wren, Dunnock, Bullfinch, Song Thrush... quiet. It's funny, after all these years of variously ambling, slogging and tearing to the river, I still get that little burst of adrenaline as I round the prom to the grassy knoll atop which sits my riverine perch. Never know what you're gonna see... well... you can often have a good guess, like today... but I still get that little spurt of the 'A'. Today I did something different. Today I simply stood to the left of the willow. I had no scope with which to scan (so no need of the usual elevated position) and no camping chair in which to sit as I'd left it in the garage (so little point in even attempting to get comfortable). No, today it was a straight 'look see'. And... Lapwing. Lots and lots of Lapwing... thousands in fact... a few Shelduck on the mud... Black-headed, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls over in intermittent lower case 'v's and forward slashes... a solitary Cormorant, 2 Mallard and 47 Carrion Crows out on the mud. What was more interesting was the evidence of the previous week's high tide... still amazes me how much crap there is in the river.

So it wasn't exactly an eventful sojourn...but I'd popped my 2014 river cherry and that was enough for me. Off to Upper Moss Side. May as well walk a different way back to the car thought I. Lucky I did as I picked up a sleepy Barn Owl near Long Field and Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer on what looks like the only remaining feeding station in Tree Sparrow Field.

Whatever happened to all the winter seed that used to be so lovingly scattered on UMS. Doesn't seem to be any more... and its demise has in turn seen the demise in the numbers of Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer using the site. Such a shame. A few years back there were clouds of Yellowhammers during the winter and the hedges bordering the field by the farm veritably awash with Tree Sparrow AND House Sparrow. Today alas, none of the latter and just singles of the others... No Grey Partridge. No Brown Hare. No Skylark. A shadow of its former self this year. The field near the ever-expanding White House that in the past had reasonable flocks of Curlew on, today had two... and a Common Buzzard... hopping along on the ground like a vulture... presumably work hunting. No Stonechat on the Phrag Field today (this year?) but I did manage to add Collared Dove and Goldcrest to the year list... both by the cottages... and Willow Tit calling just a smidgen further along past Bob's Bridge. And with that, I was back at the car.

Time to hit Lapwing Lane for a brief catch up with two of the patch regulars (Denn & Mal) and have a quick look for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and I'd have to head off. Well, there was another Willow Tit at the Feeding Station and plenty of Great Spotted Woodpeckers knocking about... but not a sniff of the Lesser. To add insult to injury, we heard Green Woodpecker whilst trying to track down a light intermittent pecking in the little wood by the board-walk. The prospect of all three woodpeckers was rather nice as I can count on one hand the number of patch triples I've had. But not today. The light tapping turned out to be another GSW and my final tinkling of the Lapwing Lane ivories yielded nothing in the minor key. Ah well, t'was good to get out. The patch vitamins had left the year list looking a little less anaemic than it did a week or so ago... so I can't complain. Simple pleasures dear hearts... simple pleasures.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Putter... a little poetic patchery and a sprinkling of fear

Today when the six alarms went off (randomly spaced 5-10 minutes apart)... I awoke to find that the early morning mind-spiders had already spun their silken snares across my cerebellum. This was not good. Things to do. Things to DO. Now as I was unlikely to get much work done in this semi-somnambulistic state I decided against the usual caffeine and/or taurine in favour of a gentle gust of cool, morning patch air. It was, I decided, to be a short visit... energetically impoverished... a mere stroll... an amble... a dawdle... a meander... a pootle...or, as it turns out... a putter. Now I had no idea until now that 'putter' was a synonym of /strəʊl(don't you just love phonetics?), but I suspect it may become a word I use more often as of today because it was to become somewhat poetic in the context of my brief puddle-and-mud-dodging hopscotch along Lapwing Lane.

I hadn't really gone to Moore with any other intent than to keep the patch yule ball rolling and to clear my head and so wasn't expecting much... which... as it turned out was scarily prophetic of me. I parked up, unusually for me in the actual Car Park and togged up. The place seems to have had a bit of a 'revamp'... new wooden signs everywhere pointing the way to the various paths and hides... and a noticeboard too. Hmmm. This did not bode well. This could encourage more people to visit the patch. A patch full of strange people... and their dogs... and maybe even... ch... ch... children... (shudders)... waaaay too much potential for hustle, bustle and noise. What bode even worse was the official list of species seen on the reserve neatly typed up and placed behind plexiglass for all to see.

First, it was 'the list' for October 2013 (it's now January 2014)... and second it was...well... you judge for yourselves. Is it just me? Here are some selected examples taken, as written, from 'the list' ...

Sandpiper... Wrens... Greater Spotted Woodpecker... Gold Finch... Swans... Sparrow hawk... Moor hen... Tree Creeper... Bull finch.

Am I wrong to fear for the reserve? I hate to think what's going to happen to the management of the wonderful mosaic of habitats created in past years if the plexi list is anything to go by... Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

So, it was with a heavy sigh that I set off down Lapwing Lane. I could hear Wigeon on Lapwing lake. There were 30+ there today along with a sprinkling of Tufted Duck, Mallard and Coot. Nothing in the trees. All eerily quiet. Maybe the birds too has seen 'the list'. Added a few more year ticks at the newly signposted feeding station... Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Nuthatch, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinch... No Tawny Owl that I could see on the once regular, ivy-covered tree. Think the Jackdaws have taken over again.

Birchwood Pool had a sprinkling of gulls (mostly Black-headed Gulls with a few Herring Gulls) and couple of 'new' duck species... Shoveler, Pochard... plus the usual Little Grebes (4), Great Crested Grebe (1), Coot, Moorhen, Canada Goose, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Grey Heron (4). Pretty quiet all in all.

Walk back to the Car Park across the dog field yielded only Mistle Thrush for the year. Thrushes seem thin on the ground so far... only one or two Redwing about and I've yet to see or hear any Fieldfare. Usually they're present in numbers on the fields by the Big Hand Ranch... but today the fields were completely devoid of birds... although I did add Feral Pigeon on the swing bridge on my way to the patch earlier.

And that... as they say... was pretty much it... until... skein of 57 Pink-footed Goose over N... and... Green Woodpecker yaffling somewhere nearby. So short and sweet (ish). Which brings me to the title of this post. The fear is of the slow demise of the patch as I know it. I guessed it was coming when I caught wind of the planning shenanigans and talk of roads through the east end and the landfill site winding down. And then of course Brian left... so the height of my hopes were eroded still further... and now the plexiglassed list and shiny signage. Ho hum... at least Halfway House is unlikely to deteriorate any time soon... I always have my beloved bend in the river to retreat to. And that leaves the poetic bit. Well, as I bleaped the door unlocked on the little red Citroen (no way I'm taking the Cooper S to Moore... what with the car break-ins... another sign of the times perhaps...) than I heard the twinkle of a dozen Goldfinch flitting into the trees by me. You see that's something else I didn't know until today... in the Netherlands Carduelis carduelis is not known by it's British moniker of Goldfinch... but by its Dutch name... Putter. How poetic.

Friday, January 03, 2014

No stockings...

Well, having kicked off my Yule in the briefest of post New Year's Day celebration ways possible, it was an early start again on 020114. The plan had been to spend the entire day at my beloved patch and rack up a much-missed early respectable total to get me in the swing of my newly avowed patchery and although this was destined not to come to pass... I notched up an hour or so and got the patch boll gently rolling as the sun came up. Oh how I have missed this! I'd risen slightly later than I'd originally planned but had timed it to perfection. The colours were only just beginning to show as I parked up and settled down at the Eastern Reedbed. Time check...07:33. Official sunrise was still almost an hour away and it was cool and still with the a promise of sunshine and blue skies in the gently yawning and stretching air.

As is usually the case at ERB this time of year, the first bird of the morning was Jackdaw... or rather several hundred Jackdaws waking up from their roost in the woods behind Millbrook Pool (yes dear reader, I STILL refuse to call it 'the lagoon'!) and I began to write by phone-light in my notebook.

07:33 Jackdaw. Carrion Crow, Wood Pigeon and Redwing over NE in the gloaming. A Coot pinks nearby.... and Batman the resident Robin appears and patiently waits by my flask for a piece of my Turkey & Cranberry breakfast sandwich.

07:35 Solitary Reed Bunting calling and another Robin...tipping to my right. Batman flits off to investigate.

07:37 and I can make out 6 Tufted Duck, 2 Coot and 1 Mute Swan beginning to stir against the still dark waters of Millbrook Pool behind me.

07:44 Blackbird alarm call, Teal bleating.

07:45 First of the mornings 3-4 Water Rail squeals at the SE end of the ERB. Wren alarm call.

07:50 Heron 'schraaak' behind me, 3 Rook over S. Distant 'cough' of Pheasant.

07:52 I can just make out a Little Grebe purposefully trawling N out on the open water of the reedbed. I spot the long whitish wake first... the tiny instigator second.

07:54 Buzzard? Yep, Common Buzzard calling way off over the reedbed... female Mallard typically finding this whole waking up thing hilarious closer behind me. The Jackdaws briefly go quiet before erupting again into their daily cocophony and leaving the roost. Most head south...a few west.

08:02 Stock Dove over S. Party of Long-tailed Tits.

08:04 Kingfisher peeping over MBP... first of several Lesser Redpoll over S

08:07 Check MBP... 32 Teal in NE corner pool (3/4 of them males)... 4m,5f Tufted Duck on the main pool, pair of Mute Swan, Coot, Moorhen, first Black-headed Gulls of the day over S... and 2 Canada Goose land noisily (do they EVER just quietly arrive anywhere???)... and... a pair of Gadwall.

08:09 Lapwing over and about 10 Wood Pigeon on their NE track.

08:19 Great Tit... and that's it. Off to Pumphouse Pool. Chatting away to a couple of patchers on the East Hide half eyeing the pool (I add Great Crested Grebe, Shoveler, Herring Gull, LBB Gull to the day's tally...) when my phone rings. The raven-haired one has the day off and so wondered if I fancied breakfast. Yeah... why not. Hols will soon be over... I'm back to work on Monday... won't get a chance for early morning coffee with the my better half these next weeks... and besides... I've got my patch cogs moving. Good enough for me.

So... I'm just about to shut my notebook and head for the car when I spot an entry from earlier this morning under abbreviation for Millbrook Pool. Thing is I have no recollection of writing it. It reads simply "No stockings!". Ho hum... guess I'll figure it out... eventually :o