Yes, We Have No Bitterns

Lest, after my previous post, I’m accused of painting TBH as the villain of the piece, I should make it clear right away that Wednesday’s very successful trip was entirely her idea. She’d seen a poster advertising a guided Bittern walk at Leighton Moss and suggested that I should go. Having set off a little later than I really should have (no surprise there for anyone who knows me well) I had to hurry as I walked to the visitor centre, but I still arrived a little late. The idea is that Bitterns, which are notoriously shy birds, can be most easily seen when the water in the reed beds, where they usually feed, is frozen and they are forced to come out to open water to feed. Unfortunately, the frost had been a little too efficient and frozen the meres too leaving very little open water.

From Lillian’s hide we watched Buzzards circling high above Warton Crag and a pair of Swans in the only remaining small area of open water. An unidentified brown bird of about the right size briefly caught the corner of my eye and then disappeared back into the reeds, tantalising us with the possibility of a Bittern sighting, but when it finally reappeared turned out to be just a female Pheasant – a trick they often play apparently. We strolled along the road which borders the reserve, in the direction of the causeway, and were encouraged to listen for the song of a Bullfinch. I shall be listening out for it from now on – one to add to my small but slowly growing tally of familiar birdsongs – it’s very simple, quite like a Greenfinch I thought, but less rasping.

On the causeway our party was swelled by the addition of a very confident Robin which seemed to follow us for a while, landing on railings and posts very close by and then hopping about round our feet.

There was some discussion about whether he actually craved our company, but it seemed to me at least that it was the birdfeed on the path which held more interest…

A couple that followed us along the path reported having persuaded the Robin to land on their hand to take food. A show of complete confidence, or utter desperation?

From the public hide it was possible to see a larger area of open water with many ducks congregated on the ice along the edge of that water…

..and many more ducks, another pair of swans and a huge number of coot in the open water beyond. We watched another buzzard, but this one flew low over the reeds, which is rather more characteristic of the Marsh Harriers which will be here in the summer, before dropping into the reeds and eventually reappearing to roost in a distant tree.

An icy wind was driving into our faces through the windows of the hide. We left to walk a little further along the causeway to where it crosses an open channel over a modest bridge. We were warned to watch out for Water Rail. I missed the first couple, too busy watching a huge flock of the diminutive Teal rising from the water to wheel over our heads – pure magic. I did eventually see some Water Rail though, skittering rather comically on the ice along the edge of the reedbeds. Something else small and fast ran across in front of us  – a Stoat.

We made our way back along the causeway…

The seed heads on the reeds glinting in the sunshine…

By Myer’s farm we saw Marsh Tits, more Bullfinches, and a Treecreeper improbably feeding on the Gable-end of the farmhouse itself. In amongst the trees we were warned to watch out for Siskins feeding on the Alders and sure enough that’s exactly what we saw. From Lillian’s hide again we saw a Heron standing right out in the middle of the ice for no reason we could fathom. A Snipe made several fly-pasts, and just as we were set to leave, a Water Rail obliged us with our best view yet.

So – no Bitterns, but lots to see otherwise, including this handy juxtaposition of red and white which rightfully belongs in a previous post

…although I suppose that it’s another combination which I shall be seeking out from now on.

After lunch in the cafe, my next encounter was with this Ram…

Who is wearing a fetching dye-dispenser so that the Ewes who have been ‘serviced’ (to borrow a euphemism from Blue Peter presenter Simon Groom – does anyone else remember that episode?) are clearly identified. And what do the Ewes think about that?

This next photo is perhaps another opportunity for a caption competition…

TBH suggests…’Form an orderly queue girls!’

My walk home took me past the Railway Station…

Where I got quite excited about an apparently enormous bird roosting in a tree top on the far platform. What could it be?

Just a Mistle Thrush it seems, with feathers puffed out for warmth making it seem much larger than it really is.

All birds puff out their feathers in freezing weather, to insulate themselves with a layer of air and so keep warm. The poet Robert Graves observed that ‘puffed up feather and fearless approach’ indicated hunger in birds, but that in man these signs revealed ‘belly filled full’.

Derwent May from A Year In Nature Notes

Crossing the golf-course…

I was struck, as I had been on Tuesday, by how well used paths in the area are…

Climbing down through the trees towards Lambert’s meadow, having lots of fun trying (and failing) to capture the way that the sun was glistening on the snow on the trees, I heard a drumming in the trees above, not the insistent territorial drumming which will begin soon, but more purposeful insect seeking I suspect. Scanning the treetops, I was rewarded with a flash of red and a first sighting for the year of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker.

Closer to home I was serenaded by this fellow..

…the first of the many Robins I had seen which deigned to offer a tune – most were clearly much to intent on filling their bellies.

Time for one last view of the Howgills..

…before returning home.

To find everybody else on the way out to go sledging on the Lots. Passing the butchers on the way we saw Walter throw meat scraps to a host of expectant black-headed gulls. Obviously a regular occurrence. Sledging continued long after the sun had sunk below the western horizon leaving only an orange glow to remind us of it’s passing.

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Yes, We Have No Bitterns

2 thoughts on “Yes, We Have No Bitterns

  1. It took me a long time to get my first picture of an American Bittern. When I did, it was standing at the entrance to the visitors’ center, apparently convinced no one could see it as it stood there.

    For the rest of that year they seemed to be everywhere I went. I almost got tired of taking pictures of them.

    The next year I only saw one at the very end of the season, once again proving my mantra, “Birds are where you see them.”

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