At six am I was at the RSPB's Otmoor Reserve and standing alone on the track to the First Screen. My reason for being here this early was to try and photograph a Grasshopper Warbler which uncharacteristically was inclined to show itself quite well for a species of bird renowned for skulking habits.
Walking along the bridleway, Reed Warblers were grating out their songs from the base of the dead reed stems in the dyke as Sedge Warblers did the same from higher in sprouting green hawthorn or frothy white blackthorns. A Lesser Whitethroat rattled out its song as it made its concealed way through the dense blackthorn hedge by the track
I heard the Grasshopper reeling as I arrived and soon found it perched low in a briar but it was always partially obscured by dead grass stems or small branches and did not remain on view for long. It also did not help that accompanying a freezing northerly wind the sun was shining almost directly into my face as I watched the warbler, making photography very difficult.
For the next two hours myself and the warbler played hide and seek with only partial success on my part. Maybe it was the strength of the wind that caused the warbler to sing and show itself only sporadically but there were long periods of waiting with nothing much to show for it apart from my body temperature rapidly lowering and my fingertips becoming numb to the point of pain.
This was not enjoyable and during the periods of waiting for the 'gropper' to sing I distracted myself from the freezing conditions by photographing a more obliging Wren followed by a Reed Bunting and a Goldfinch. The Grasshopper Warbler finally sidled up from hiding in the long grasses and perched on a briar stem but only gave me seconds in which to capture its image before slipping back into cover and so it went on, the process repeating itself ad infinitum.
Frustrated and very cold I looked at my watch and saw it was eight am. Two hours had passed. Ye gods! Last night my RBA app had informed me about a male Kentish Plover that had arrived at Audenshaw Reservoirs on the eastern outskirts of Manchester, heaven help it. Kentish Plovers do not breed in Britain but do breed further east and as far north as southern Sweden and when they do stray to Britain on migration from their winter home around the Mediterranean and further south they are usually present for one day only, and then not unsurprisingly hot wing it back on course for their breeding grounds. I made a mental note that evening that if by some miracle it was still there the next day I would go for it straight away.
With numb fingers I fumbled my way onto my I-phone and consulted the latest reports from RBA for today. It told me the Kentish Plover was still at Audenshaw Reservoirs @0739. Right then. Next move was to call Clackers and invite him, via the motorway to hell, to join me on a sortie to Manchester in the Black Audi. A somewhat surprised Clackers agreed and we arranged to meet at Witney in an hour and 'go for it'. I have never seen a Kentish Plover in Britain and Clackers had only seen an immature some years ago so we were both enthused by the prospect of seeing a male Kentish Plover which is a pretty bird when in breeding plumage.
We hit the highways and with little delay arrived in Manchester at around twelve noon. Circumventing the intricate convolutions of the Motorway system around Manchester we soon found ourselves nearing our destination and hopefully an appointment with a much desired Kentish Plover. As I prepared to leave the Motorway Clackers looking to my right exclaimed 'There's some birders up on that bank peering over the wall. That must be the reservoir and they are looking at the plover!'
Up and over the Motorway we went, backtracking through some traffic lights and shortly found ourselves parking on Audenshaw Road with the reservoir bank on our left. Some departing birders gave us directions, advising that the bird had flown from the bank they had watched it from and it was now on the other side of the reservoir. Thank heavens it had not flown off altogether.
We took a short walk up the road before turning through the reservoir gates and then walking along the top of the grassed reservoir for quarter of a mile to join around ten birders avidly watching the Kentish Plover.
|The Kentish Plover was feeding along the rocky edge to the water|
I should add that the Audenshaw Reservoir complex comprised of no less than three reservoirs and we were apparently on Reservoir Three. It was also different to our local Farmoor Reservoir in that there were no birds that we could see anywhere on the entire complex apart from six Mallard, a half dozen Sand Martin which did not hang around and a lone Pied Wagtail - and, let's not forget, a male Kentish Plover. No Great crested Grebes or Coots were in sight which was remarkable. Possibly it had something to do with the close proximity of urban housing and an adjacent Motorway that the reservoirs were virtually devoid of birdlife. Still the one bird that mattered was here and very much present.
The Kentish was a small plover somewhere between Little Ringed Plover and Ringed Plover in size and with all the familiar plover actions of occasional head bobbing, short runs and frequent stops to tilt down and pick up prey from the stony shore. Its head pattern was an attractive combination of white and black forehead, orange crown and nape and a black line through its otherwise white face. Sandy brown upperparts and pure white underparts with black neck patches completed the ensemble.
At first it was a little distant but slowly worked its way along the shoreline until it was right opposite us and then going away. It then turned and came back, repeating the performance in reverse with a short spell of preening and a brief siesta in between.
We watched it for around an hour in the company of a small group of birders. Probably because it was a weekday there was not a big crowd and there was a pleasant and convivial atmosphere amongst us, helped I am sure by the sunny conditions.
'Had enough Clackers?' 'Yes let's go'. We returned to the car and were soon back on the Motorway and leaving Manchester well before the rush hour commenced and from past experience a wise move. Returning down the M6 we passed a huge tailback on the opposite carriageway that we had only come up two hours previously and thanked our lucky stars we had not got stuck in that.
Whilst at Audenshaw we had been very near Warrington and the verdict of the Hillsborough inquest into the 96 Liverpool football fans that died there was due this very afternoon and much on my mind. 'What news of the Liverpool 96 Clackers?' I enquired. 'Hold on I will check' and consulting his phone we were overjoyed to hear they had won their case of unlawful killing and the police were found to be liars and dissemblers and the dead were all innocent and had been shamefully libelled not just by the police but also The Sun Newspaper.
This set us off on a general rant about the Tories, the junior doctors strike and that really annoying Health Minister whose name rhymes with Hunt or is it the other way around and this was completed by a final blast about Bernie Ecclestone as we approached the outskirts of Witney. Excellent, we both felt a whole lot better and the journey had passed in no time at all.
Home and a fulfilling day came to its conclusion lying in a hot bath with a glass of seventeen year Old Pulteney malt whisky.