The plan had been simple. Set alarm for 5am, bag some coffee and munchies, drive to the patch, park on Lapwing Lane and walk to the Eastern Reedbed to watch the sun come up and bag me a Bittern or s(i)e(d)ge. Oh but t'were so simple... For a start we didn't get to bed until 2am and the Baldrickesque cunning plan to stick on The Matrix and fall asleep to the background noise of Keanu Reeves turned out not to be the expected 'cunning a fox who's just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University' type plan at all, but an epic failure on the cunning plan front. 4:20am and I'm still awake. Now maybe I should just have got up there and then but I decide to set the alarm for 6:30am...I'm gonna need kip... that should still give me time enough to beat the sunrise. And so it was. By 7am I was at the reedbed thanks to the unexpected...both barriers were open! All was dim...and quiet save for the chakking of the Jackdaws on their roost...beginning to wake up.
07:16 - A male Gadwall flew over unseen, giving it characteristic dry rasping burb and I could make out the reeds, bowing toward the south-east corner of the reedbed... fixed there by the stiff northwesterly blowing over my shoulder. I could see too that the water was still frozen...usually a good sign. On still days, there are two give-aways when trying to track down the whereabouts of the reedbed's Bitterns. If you listen carefully you can sometimes hear the faint cracking of the thin ice as they stalk through the reeds and then look for the tell-tale sign of a Phragmites stem convulsing abrubtly as the bird, still hidden moves past. Once your eye is in and if you're lucky, you can follow the bird's progress through the reeds until it creeps into the open and maybe even comes out on to the ice. Not today though. The wind had put paid to any chance of seeing one, unless it took one of its brief, irregular flights between patches of reed...and to be honest there was too much of a blow today for that to be a reasonable opportunity. On top of that, any free water would be among the reeds themselves and so that, I reasoned, would where the bird(s) would stay today...feeding amid the shelter of the reeds.
07:21 Still dim. Skylark over calling. Then Mallard... I light the page of my notebook with my phone and scribble some notes.
07:26 - I can see colours. Sunrise isn't officially until 08:04, but for me, the sun is up when monochrome turns to polychrome. Light enough at any rate to see what I can pick out on Mill Brook Pool behind me. Answer? 32 Teal (almost all males) and 3 Gadwall... all on a small patch of water where the marshy area runs into the (still frozen) pool. Carrion Crow over calling.
07:29 - attention back on the Eastern Reedbed...straining against the wind and raucous cacophony of the Jackdaw roost to hear... 2 Water Rail squealing and a Moorhen 'currucking'.
07:32 - and wandering out on to the wet flush in the north-east corner of Mill Brook Pool is a small flock of Canada Geese...except when I get the bins on them, they're nothing of the kind. It's a whole bunch of Grey Herons (!)...fourteen of them to be exact...just leisurely strolling out... 12 adults and 2 juveniles and the most I have seen in one group ever on the patch.
07:35 - the noise from the Jackdaw roost escalates, signalling their imminent departure to morning feeding grounds further west. It take them just a couple of minutes to up sticks and the only sound left is the bleating of the 2 remaining Teal on MBP, before they too head off. Silence.
07:39 - Redwing over calling and Jonathan Livingstone Heron decides to leave the Millbrook gathering to do his or her own thing on the Eastern Reedbed. Distant Robin, singing and Blackbird alarm call. Reed Bunting calling softly in front of me. Pheasant coughing somewhere nearby.
07:42 - The first gulls begin to drift over east and the first Woodpigeon flocks head south over the reedbed. Still unsurprisingly no Bittern. It's clouding over, threatening rain.
07:46 - A couple dozen Starlings erupt unexpectedly out of the reeds where they've been roosting overnight and before I can formulate fully in my mind the probable presence somewhere of a Sparrowhawk (they usually take advantage of such roosts), I spot one flopping along the edge of the far reeds, half-assed. It's way too windy for it to have a decent crack at the remaining few Starlings leaving the roost, and it doesn't bother.
07:54 - Rain, and I decide to find shelter at Pumphouse until it clears and head to the eastern hide. Idiot! The wind has shifted to a more westerly track and so I'm getting wind and rain in my face. Least at the reedbed it was blowing on my back! Either way...pointless to stay, so I head off toward Lapwing Lane. Well, to be honest, I entirely misjudged the rain and by the time I'd decided to head to Halfway House, it had stopped and there was blue sky in patches. 2 Fieldfare fly over the potholed track to the parking spot by the black and yellow gate.
08:12 - and the track to the river is wet. No doubt a victim of the recent snow melt, though at the previous end of the reserve the snow was still lying on the tracks...all polished smooth by the wind and slippery as an eel to drive on. Here though, just wet. Very wet. Still, I pick up Mute Swan en route and 19 Curlew overhead calling. There's a Redshank near the warehouses, but no sound of a Common Sandpiper anywhere. They sometimes overwinter along this stretch of the Manchester Ship Canal and so I'd been hopeful. Ah well.
08:37 - I'm at Halfway House and quickly realise (a) there's only an upturned bucket left to sit on since the camping chairs left by various patchers had been nicked and (b) how much I miss my scope. It's been so long since I hit this part of the patch that it hadn't really clicked how impossible it is to work effectively with just bins... nor how frustrating. This jewel in the patch crown had been reduced to murky paiste by the loss of my treasured optics in last year's divorce.
All I can make out are Black-headed Gulls, a single Great Black Backed Gull, 20-30 Greylag Geese, a similar number of Canada Geese, 35 Curlew, 6 Lapwing and a Shelduck. If there was any interesting small stuff out there, I was not going to pick it out ...from this distance with just my Leicas...say goodbye to any Ringed Plover or Dunlin then. Never mind... it's still my favourite spot... and tbh...it's not always about what you see... least not for me. Next stop, Upper Moss Side...
... which was even wetter! That pic above is the path through Long Field (the one between the white house and Tree Sparrow Field) and there was nothing about. No Tree Sparrow. No Yellowhammer. No finches. No Stonechat either on the Typha of the Phrag Field nor Woodcock nor Snipe in the new plantings nr the White House. Do I care? Not a jot! I had a couple hours on the patch... splendid !