Arrived at the Feeding Station to see about 4-5 other birders including two of my regular patch chums, Den and Mal. The Brambling had been there, but had gawn off-piste for a bit and so we just chatted and played catch up. It was great to be back! Minutes later who should arrive but Mully... veteran patcher and annual patch list challenger. Game on :D. Well long story short (for now dear reader, I'll be back in a lengthier earnest soon), the Brambling duly put in a brief appearance and I gleaned a bagful of patch gen from the assorted throng and more than enough to send me tripping through the snow in search of year ticks. Targets for the few patch hours - Goldeneye, Smew, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Goosander and Bittern...though to be honest, I was just glad to be nibbling at the patch cake again and was today, in no real need of birding cherries on top.
So, first destination Birchwood Pool. I love the stroll to BWP from Lapwing Lane... not sure why, but the path to the little bridge where the Tawny Owl sometimes roosts always relaxes me. Shame she wasn't in the ivy-covered tree today, but ho hum... the 'chakking' of the Jackdaws and the bluey-white glaze of the patchy snow more than made up for it... as did the emptiness of the west hide. Very peaceful. Quick scan picked up Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard, Pochard, Teal... but I was struggling a bit to get my eye in. It had been SO long...plus last year's divorce saw me end up having to pawn my scopes and so I was down to my trusty Leica bins...great kit, but even so...challenging for eyes that are getting older and birds at a distance. Was that the female Goldeneye or female Smew I'd been told were both here... or just a Teal, slightly silhouetted and hunched down on the water? Wait... dive you... nope. It was asleep. Probably Teal. Ah well... maybe try the south hide I thought.
Better luck here. Quick scan yielded loads of Shoveler and higher numbers of Pochard than I can remember recently... but there to my left...close in, up she popped. Female Goldeneye. No sign of her rather more gorgeous cousin though. Left me one last option. East hide. Tromped through the edge of Birch Wood and picked her up immediately on the walk down to the gide. Cracking little rehead... and a patch first for me. Gorgeous. I have a real thing for Smew.
Well this was turning out to be a splendid way to start the patch year. Ducks galore! Next stop Pumphouse Pool where there were more Shoveler and Gadwall and a stonking male Goldeneye to go with the female on BWP. Can't remember the last time there were two on the patch. Happy days. Eastern Reedbed next. Hour later still no Bittern (though the Water Rail was nice and the Green Woodpecker even better) and so I hit the river at the far east end of the patch in search of Goosander. Nada. Did get another Brambling though in the bushes along by Arpley Meadow and spatterings of other finches on the way back to the car. All in all. Very nice start to the birding year. Not tallied up yet...but must have had 50-60 species. Out at crack of dawn tomorrow for another go at Bittern...so will no doubt be back here again soon. Happy birding ;)