Hot nuns are unlikely to be overlooked on most patches; they're not exactly cryptic after all, but delightful as these creatures undoubtedly are you can't exactly add them to your year list. Well, you could, but I think most people would consider that cheating. No, our sisters from the crypt are untickable. So too it would seem are Woodcock at the moment. The reason? Their crypsis (without the 'T'). Take for example this morning. I'd hit the patch whilst it was still dark with the aim of yomping some of the damp areas of Upper Moss Side, come first light, to look for Snipe, Jack Snipe and Woodcock. Now the latter two species are definitely about, as other patchers have had them, but I've yet to hear of anybody coming across a Common Snipe since last December's cold snap. Nevertheless, my hopes were high. Thing was, I had some time to kill before it would be light enough for my scans for Scolipacidae and so I opted for a circuit from Bob's Bridge, via Shipton's Scrub through Daisy, Balloon Hut and Tree Sparrow Field and back through WH Path Field. The thinking was, owls, in the first instance, and anything else that was up and about in the second.
It wasn't long after I set off though that I began to get the feeling my plan might have to change. There'd clearly been a bit of a frost over night and things were, well, rather crunchy underfoot. This did not bode at all well for finding snipe as patch snipe really do not seem to like the icy conditions. Coupled with that, there was a bit of a low-lying mist, which whilst rather nice to look at, was not so nice to look through. Ah well, ears it is then: Dog... (it/they always start up when I get out of the car at Bob's Bridge)... Jackdaw, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Wren, Dunnock, Wood Pigeon, Rook, Pheasant, Carrion Crow, Jay. This is just what I needed - cobweb clearance to start the day. Lovely stuff... but not a sniff of an owl. I scan the little redbrick building and owl box in Ballon Hut Field. Nothing. The big redbrick barn behind me too. Nothing. On into Tree Sparrow Field. First Brown Hare of the year lopes off down the path towards Norton Marsh hide and now there's a Kestrel hovering overhead and Yellowhammers 'chitting'. House Sparrow. Chaffinch. Goldfinch and I'm in WH Path Field...
... more Yellowhammer. Reed Bunting. 'Cheerp'... Tree Sparrow (new for the year). I had been wondering when they'd put in an appearance. Time to check WH Big Field. I spot a gap in the hedge and scan the expansive tillage...
...a pair of Buzzards. That's the lot. No Grey Partridge today. Sun's coming up nicely now so I head back to the car. It's light enough to go LOOK for things.
I've decided to forgo my snipe hunt and try the east end of the reserve for Woodcock and Goosander. Not really sure why, given that neither have been seen at the east end for a while, but hey, ever the optimist me.
I'm driving along the track past Pumphouse Pool when I remember something... Somebody had posted up that they'd seen the male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the trees along the embankment a few days ago. Deffo worth a look!
SO, windows down and I'm crawling along in the little Skoda on choke only, barely making a sound. It's almost like I'm driving an electric car. I scan every silver birch. No sign (or sound). There are Bullfinches though... a little chain of 'tu's flitting acros the road. I reach the Eastern Reedbed and park up. I'm sure there'll be Woodcock again today... Hmmm. Damn their cryptic hides. Seven of them and not a single one in view. Or maybe it's three. You see the thing is, I KNOW they're out there, but I'm buggered if I can see a single one of them! Ah well, nothing to be done but count the wildfowl on Millbrook Pool; 8 Shoveler, 55 Teal, 11 Mallard, 18 Gadwall, 2 Tufted Duck,15 Canada Goose, 2 Coot and a little surprise... the Little Grebes are back; a pair! The Eastern Reedbed though has refrozen... and there is no open water... BUT there are Water Rail; 2 calling and the first of the year for me. Good stuff!
Next up it's time to check the east river again for Goosander (just Moorhen and Cormorant again today) and Firecrest Alley for Long-eared Owl. This was a bit of a departure from the usual as they've not been seen roosting down this end of the reserve for yearas but today I juust had a feeling. Must have been wind though coz there were certainly now owls hidden among the willows today. That just left Pumphouse Pool. A few changes since my last visit; 7 Wigeon, 52 Teal, 15 Mallard, 14 Gadwall, 10 Tufted Duck, 2 Moorhen, 2 Coot, 1 Grey Heron. Checked the inlet and shoreline for Snipe. Still none. SO, time to go... almost :) Need to check those trees along the railway line for that Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Well, I'll be honest. I didn't really hold up much hope. Not because I doubted its presence (they seem to like the track between the warehouses and the viaduct early in the year, before moving to Lapwing Lane for 'the drumming'), but because I tend not to get Lesser Pecks when I go hunting for them. They're usually a chance bird for me. One that turns up when I don't really expect it. What a shocker then when I get one calling at the top of one of the birches along the track back to the car by the Eastern Reedbed. Excellent as I've not done very well, so far, picking up those winter beauties that you really need to nab if you want a decent year list (LSW, Brambling, Goosander, Goldeneye, Iceland, Glaucous & Med. Gull, Jack Snipe, Woodcock, Bittern)
And that, as they say, was pretty much that. Jackdaws amid the ivy by the little wooden bridge immediately signalled lack of Tawny Owl; a crispy march through 'the garden' yielded no Woodcock for the umpteenth time today and my gut feeling that "If the Little Grebes were back then there ought to be a Great Crested Grebe somewhere" was rewarded when one popped up on the Angler's Pool among a year high count of eight Coots. Patch Year Tally 74.