Friday 17 April 2015

Dippity doo dah! 16th April 2015

Well it had to happen but it still hurts. Read on. A Great Blue Heron. the American equivalent of our Grey Heron, but larger, had been found for only the second time ever in the UK on St Mary's, the largest of the Isles of Scilly, late in the day on the 14th April.

I was driving back from Pulborough RSPB when a text arrived from Justin. 'Going to Scilly?' was all it said. Not having checked my RBA app. I had no idea what it referred to. All I inferred from Justin's message was that a very rare bird had arrived on the Scillies. I called Justin when I got home and heard the news about the heron.

We agreed to wait until tomorrow to see if there would be any further news. There was. It was still present so a twitch was on. I called Justin who was sitting in his car on the way to work. There and then I booked myself, Justin and Paul onto The Scillonian sailing the next day from Penzance to St Mary's.We would arrive on St Mary's at 1130 in the morning.

The rest of the day was ominously silent about the heron. No one had apparently seen it since it was disturbed and flew from the beach mid morning. There were a couple of possible later sightings but these were uncorroborated. Justin tried booking a plane but thankfully a combination of  unprecedented financial acumen, bad weather and incompetence on the part of Isles of Scilly Travel dissuaded us from following this course. We decided that although the news about the heron was not looking good, we had booked on The Scillonian anyway so might as well go ahead with our adventure.

Three am on the 16th April found me standing outside my home in Kingham in the still of the night waiting to make a rendezvous with Justin and Paul. They arrived promptly and we headed for Cornwall in Justin's car. I was tired, very tired. After guiding Justin across the unfamiliar, to him, northern Cotswolds, we joined the M5. Justin now knew where he was going so I shrank into a dark corner on the back seat of the car and found sleep. One intermediate stop at a forlorn Motorway Services and then it was back to sleep in the car and I awoke as we were cruising down the A30 in Cornwall, just outside Penzance. It was now daylight and the sun was coming up fast.

With plenty of time to spare before it was time to check in for the ship we stopped at the car park overlooking Marazion Beach and St Michael's Mount to get a breath of air and stretch our limbs. Other birders on the same mission as us parked nearby.

Marazion Beach and St Michael's Mount
Two Great Northern Divers were fishing in the still waters of the bay. A Sandwich Tern flew past while a Greater Black backed Gull shredded an unfortunate flatfish as its mate watched on impassively.

We relaxed here for forty five minutes before making the short drive to Penzance, to park and walk to the Isles of Scilly Travel booking office to check in. Then after a brief wait on the quayside we were allowed to board The Scillonian. We found a bench seat on the outer upper deck and awaited departure along with many other birders who had also joined the ship. Clothing of choice was mainly drab, beige and/or green with other non birding passengers providing variety by wearing brighter colours. Many serious hard core bird listers were on board signifying the 'importance' of this twitch.

Paul and Justin on board The Scillonian
It was not unpleasant in the sun as we left the harbour and commenced the almost three hour voyage to St Mary's. The Scillonian has frankly seen better days. She is old but not without a quaint other worldly charm redolent of less frenetic times. We purchased some bacon rolls from the cafe below decks and returned to our seats to find Land's End receding into the distance as we hit the open sea. Manx Shearwaters, tilting and gliding above the blue waves provided some birding stimulus whilst lines of summer plumaged Guillemots and Razorbills overhauled the ship and disappeared out to sea. Occasionally a Fulmar or Kittiwake appeared and gleaming white Gannets showed their angular profiles against the pale sky. On one occasion a single Dolphin broke the surface, never to be seen again. Then the Willow Warblers arrived on deck. At first, looking like scraps of paper  caught in the conflicting currents and eddies of wind, they just caught the eye momentarily as they flicked around the passengers and the deck fittings. Presumably tired or lost migrants, up to three of them joined the ship and remained with us all the way to St Mary's providing huge and welcome entertainment as they perched unwittingly on passengers heads, hands and any other part of the human anatomy or possessions that seemed suitable. Occasionally they would fly out to sea but always returned back to the ship. One lady passenger attempting to take a warbler's picture was confounded when the bird landed on her hand holding the camera.

Its behind you!

As we approached St Mary's and got back our phone signal Paul and Justin arranged for Toots Taxis to collect us at the quayside in Hugh Town to take us to a possible spot to find the heron. The cheery taxi lady duly delivered us to our destination, Holy Vale which was the last spot where the heron had allegedly been seen yesterday. We disembarked from the taxi only to encounter a group of disconsolate birders wandering aimlessly around. They had been on St Mary's since yesterday. The whole island shoreline and outlying islands, according to them, had been covered comprehensively and no trace of the heron had been found. We chatted for a while hearing tales of how it was here yesterday but hard to see and identify in the mist. We listened sympathetically to birders angst as they struggled with their consciences about whether they could truly claim they had seen such a rare bird based on the fleeting shape they saw as the heron flew off into the mist the day before. We heard tales of near misses. Many birders who dropped everything yesterday had stayed overnight and were now frayed and ragged from lack of sleep or accommodation. This of course was all academic to us. We had not even had the chance to see the heron until now. Assailed by the negative comments from one and all I was rapidly coming to the conclusion our huge gamble had failed but we resolved to carry on looking regardless.

Holy Vale drew a blank.

We went to Porthellick Beach. Justin's phone rang. It was a birder friend who had promised to call us if any news of the heron came from where he was looking. The phone signal went dead bringing frustration as we scrambled around for a signal. We finally got through only to find our hopes of heron ecstacy dashed as he was calling to tell us of a Hoopoe at nearby Peninnis. A small heron then flew over us but it was only a Night Heron. Only a Night Heron! Yes I know, but this was not what we really came for although it did mildly cheer us up and it was nice to see as it flew over us and out to some rocks at the entrance to the bay. It soon returned and flew back to more suitable arboreal habitat at Porthellick Pool behind the beach.

Porthhellick Beach
The Night Heron briefly landed in these rocks
A Greenshank rested on the rocks as the tide advanced and a nesting Common Chiffchaff fussed around in the bracken on the surrounding hillside. Paul found an elusive large heron in the rocks but once it flew from cover we could see it was only a Grey Heron.We walked back uphill and down dale on the coastal path, skirting around the airport landing strip and made our way to Old Town Bay.

Time advanced and birders were now wandering aimlessly or chatting in groups recounting how things should have been, bemoaning their lack of luck or waiting and hoping that just by some slim chance someone would find the holy grail. It became apparent that many others were all for giving up and accepting the heron had disappeared. The local cafe at Old Town Bay was doing a roaring trade. Birders were sitting having tea, lunch, ice creams, all seemingly resigned to failure. I bought a pasty and a flapjack.  Diehard birders hurried past us still unwilling to give up but an air of general resignation slowly built amongst most of us as the sun gave way to an oppressive, cloudy grey sky as if mirroring the general mood.

A Wryneck was found in a nearby churchyard. A phalanx of birders with nothing else to exist for crammed into the churchyard. The Wryneck not unexpectedly fled. We wandered over just as most of the birders having either seen or given up on the Wryneck were now scrabbling around on the adjacent beach looking for Scilly Shrews, I kid you not, which apparently live in the rocks on the beach. Only one other birder was in the churchyard when we approached and he silently pointed to a nearby grave stone carved in the form of a cross. The Wryneck was sitting on top of it. No sooner did we see it than the other birders, ever alert, rushed back and it fled once again.

This was not really my kind of birding so we went up to Peninnis Head looking for the Hoopoe but had no luck and wandered back down various byways to sit on a bench by Porthcressa Beach.

Fields which should have held a Hoopoe at Peninnis
View from Peninnis. The Airfield and Old Town Bay in the far distance
Defeated and despondent I sit and ponder how life can be so wretched. Paul finds yet another Night Heron roosting under a sandbank on a distant, private area of the beach. Geoff, another birder from Oxfordshire joins us. He too has missed seeing the Great Blue Heron even though he arrived yesterday. We chat for a while and then wishing Geoff good luck as he is staying another night, it is time for us to make our way back to the ship. Birders on a similar mission are wending their way through the lanes of Hugh Town. We slowly amble towards the quayside with them but before we get there mild panic ensues as someone has found three unidentified herons resting under a bank on Porthloo Beach. A group of birders swarm into a taxi to go and check this out. We stand about, with others, uncertain how to react to this news but then decide to carry on to the ship. We check in and board the ship. Birders are already scoping the distant Porthloo Beach from the ship's upperdecks. News will come out if one of the herons is the one. News filters through. It is not. A Marsh Harrier floats high above the Lifeboat Station but that is no consolation.

The Scillonian sails at 4.30pm sharp. It is cloudy, dull and a chill sea wind permeates the decks. So different is the mood amongst us to the optimism of the outbound sailing. Phones cease to work again as we are out of range of a signal mast. A pod of Common Dolphins put on a brief but spectacular show of acrobatics off our port side as we pass them. We reach Land's End and the sun comes out once again leaving a huge cloud both physical and metaphorical over The Scillies and in our wake. Just as the boat docks and the phones start to receive signals we get the news everyone has been dreading.

A message comes through. 'Possible Great Blue Heron just discovered at The Great Pool on Bryher'. Instant pandemonium. Birders in turmoil. The majority of us in the end are defied by logistics and shrug philosophically. It will have to wait. We curse our luck, bemoan what could have been and drive home. We text Geoff. There is a charter boat going that very evening to Bryher ........ He is booked on it. He gets to The Great Pool on Bryher but there is no Great Blue Heron. Dipped. He will try tomorrow morning on the next charter to Bryher.

Geoff saw the heron next morning. The rest of us?.............. Well let's see. 

We did go again and were successful on Bryher on a beautiful and warm sunny day

The Great Blue Heron

Wednesday 15 April 2015

And a Nightingale sang...... 14th April 2015

I used to live in Sussex which, even now with the increasing pressures of a rising human population, consequent house building and all the other paraphernalia that goes with human existence, is still in parts a very beautiful county. Nowhere more so than the RSPB's Pulborough Brooks Reserve in West Sussex.

Today was forecast to be sun, sun, and yet more sun, all day. Pulborough Brooks would be at its very best with the emergent vitality of Spring permeating every corner of the reserve and, best of all the Nightingales that have recently returned there from their African winter home would be singing. It was too much to resist, especially as the Nightingales at Pulborough are atypically very bold, showing no sign of the usual reticence and love of concealment that seems so prevalent with this species elsewhere in Britain. Pulborough seems to remove all inhibitions from them and they are usually highly visible giving great opportunities to observe them singing their wondrous song in beautiful surroundings.

I collected Peter on an Oxfordshire morning that was still waiting for the overnight mist to clear, although fleeting and welcome glimpses of light blue in the heavens gave notice of the improving day to come.

We wound our way down the busy A34, the roadside embankments now bright with the yellow of gorse in full flower and above the gorse bushes a delicate green haze covered the trees as buds broke and fresh leaves emerged. Once we were in West Sussex we made a swift diversion off the turmoil of the A27 to Enticotts in Selsey, the finest traditional bakers known to man, where we purchased some pasties and pastries for our lunch.

Arriving shortly afterwards at Pulborough RSPB in full sunshine we found the car park at this flagship reserve was already very full, being utilised by birders, dog walkers and families just out for a stroll. It was also extremely warm, encouraging Peter to don a pair of shorts whilst I was more circumspect, restricting removing winter plumage to just discarding my jumper.

Passing through the Visitor Centre and onto the reserve it was frankly a bit of a disappointment as there was not a sight or sound of any Nightingales. Photographers were leaving the reserve carrying their huge lenses as they passed us on the track, which was not a good sign. Maybe we had got here too late?

We walked down to the bottom of the hill to a place I knew was a favoured area for Nightingales.

There is always a Nightingale territory here where the path crosses a tiny brook and diverges into two. We waited on the bridge over the brook but all we heard were Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers.   I showed Peter the small pond where Great Crested Newts lived and sure enough a female newt swam languidly through the clear water and over  the sandy bottom.This was a first for Peter but there was still not a sight or sound of a Nightingale.

We basked in the pleasant sunshine or wandered a little way up and down the tracks through the brambles and hedgerows. There was nothing to do but wait and hope for the Nightingale to commence singing which would then betray its whereabouts. Meanwhile in a nearby dense Blackthorn thicket two male Blackcaps were having an intense 'singoff.' The usual clear melodious notes now transformed into a much faster, aggressive and scratchy warble with just the occasional clear note as the two rivals contested a territory or a female.

Twenty minutes passed and then that glorious, rich panoply of exotic notes issued from deep in an alcove of brambles and fallen trees.The branches and twigs of the trees and general tangle from whence the song came made looking for the Nightingale very difficult. The song got louder, even more intense, the volume incredible from such a slight bird, the richness and tone superlative. Many have tried to describe the song and the intense feelings of wonder and excitement it engenders but to my mind no one has really succeeded. It just has to be listened to, marvelled at and simply enjoyed for the brief six weeks the bird sings. It is so exotic and so unlike any other British bird song, speaking as it does of foreign lands and rich, fecund swamps and steamy jungle depths in places rarely inhabited or visited by man. Perhaps that is the charm of it, as it brings each year to our prosaic lives here in Britain a sense of unseen places and experiences unknown in our overpopulated island.

We looked and then I saw it. Just like that. Boldly sitting out in the open on top of a moss covered broken tree stem, silhouetted against the cobalt blue sky. The sun was shining directly at us so any colour was lost but here it was. It soon moved position and we tracked its progress as it variously gave  its ugly croaking alarm call and then in complete contradiction broke into the wondrous rich, ripe loudness of its song. The Nightingale flew high up into a sallow and in full view we could now see the colour of its plumage, a reddish chestnut all over its upperparts, even richer on the broad tail, the underparts a creamy grey. Opening its bill wide when singing it displayed a golden yellow interior. A larger bird than a Robin, more in size like a small thrush. Quite enchanting.

We followed it around as it moved to its various song perches, covering quite an extensive territory. Eventually it came really close to us and sat for a minute on a bramble spray before flying across the path and into the cover of a hedgerow.

As the hours passed so most people left the reserve, many to rest, chat and have tea in the cafe in the Visitor Centre. Not everyone is so intense about birding and for many it was apparent this was just as much a social event as a birding experience. There is nothing wrong in that of course and it should always be remembered that these are the people that by their support have enabled the RSPB to grow to the size it is and provide all of us with such wonderful and delightful reserves. Birding now encompasses such a diverse and bewildering range of groups of people all with their various priorities and desires and it is good that places such as Pulborough can cater for all tastes.

We sat on a shady bench and ate the pasties and pastries purchased from Enticotts, serenaded by woodland bird song. The Nightingale of course but also Blackcaps sang their clear warble and those two small non descript leaf warblers, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, added their contribution. Banks of Primroses, the architypal floral harbinger of Spring, shone star bright and almost exotic amongst the contrasting fresh grass shoots and brown dead leaf litter of last year, their pale sulphur petals with egg yolk yellow centres irrepressible and the very epitomy of the optimism of Springtime.

Peacock butterflies cruised the rides. Their colouring at a casual glance, dark as the damp earth as they flew into the froth white blossoms of the Blackthorn hedge. Small stray white petals of the Blackthorn flowers, for all the world like tiny butterflies, twinkled to earth on the breeze.

A Comma cruised its territory up and down another ride and lemon yellow male Brimstones passed by along the hedgerows. These latter seem to have no territory but just purposefully flutter the byways and hedges on an endless quest for a female.

The Nightingale ceased singing and went quiet so we decided that now was the opportune time to explore further by walking around the entire reserve.  The veritable Easter Bunny sat quietly under a fallen log as we wandered past.

The reserve was comparatively quiet now, drowsy in the unaccustomed warm sun of mid afternoon. By this time most people had left for the day and the hides, their interiors smelling of musty warm wood were deserted. Lapwings and Little Egrets fed out on the sunlit brooks. Shelduck, Teal and Mallard dabbled in the shallow waters and a herd of Fallow Deer stood clustered shoulder to shoulder far out on the brooks, no doubt enjoying the breeze which kept away the flies.

Further along the track two Adders rustled their sinuous progress through some dead bracken and leaves. One was deep gold with dark brown zigzag markings which identified her as a female whilst the other, a male, was grey with black markings and both were around two feet long. They did not remain long, nervous about our presence and slithered into the security of the cool damp depths of the rotting leaf litter under the hedge.

We wandered from hide to hide not seeing much. At a viewing platform looking at some height down onto the wide expanse of the brooks and across to Pulborough itself, a Chiffchaff sang loudly above us in an Oak.

Pulborough Brooks with Pulborough in the distance
I played a snatch of its song on my I-phone and had an instant reaction as the bird came to investigate. I left the phone standing on a fence and the Chiffchaff much to our amusement came right up to the phone to investigate this strange looking, singing Chiffchaff.

Common Chiffchaff and I phone
Another bank of Primroses were being investigated by a Bee Fly. A strange furry brown insect and new to me, constantly hovering above the primroses and dreamily probing with its long proboscis into the golden heart of one flower after another.

Bee Fly nectaring on a Primrose flower
We completed our circuit of the reserve and found ourselves back where we had started from. The Nightingale had recommenced singing and the sun was still shining as we left the reserve and a now virtually empty car park. I felt as if I too had embraced the promise of Spring.

Cuckoo Flower

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Bonaparte invades Radipole 7th April 2015

A Bonaparte's Gull, named not as one would assume after the diminutive French general but after his nephew, has spent a few weeks at Radipole Lake, the RSPB's Reserve in Weymouth, Dorset. Today, like yesterday was predicted to be fine and sunny so what better excuse could there be than to combine a pleasant day at a bird reserve on the south coast with viewing an attractive and rare gull all the way from North America? 

Radipole Lake is an extensive area of lagoons and reed beds situated right in the heart of Weymouth and is surrounded on all sides by busy roads, mega stores and housing but once amongst the reeds, lagoons and hedgerows of the reserve you would not know it and a sense of calm and tranquillity transcends the noise and bustle of an urban conurbation on the reserve's very doorstep.

I departed my home in the Cotswolds at six on Tuesday morning. It was crisp and still outside as I wound my way along the familiar lanes. The cold night after the warmth of the preceding day had created a mist shrouded landscape but a fiery orange sun already burned bright in the sky above the low lying mist and soon the enveloping mist would be banished. 

A misty early morning in the Cotswolds
I wearied my way down roads busy with traffic rushing to deadlines and destinations I could only imagine. Three hours later I found myself driving into the expansive and expensive car park by the tiny, thatched roofed RSPB Visitor Centre at Radipole Lake and stepped out into a beautiful, calm and sunny morning in Weymouth.

RSPB  Visitor Centre  Radipole Lake
The first thing I heard above the noise of the traffic was a Willow Warbler cascading its wistful cadence of notes from an Alder right by the edge of the car park. From a winter in deepest, mysterious tropical Africa to a summer home in busy and brash Weymouth, this tiny scrap of resilient life was the living marvel of the wonders and incongruity of migration. A tiny being, innocent and uncomprehending of our world but unwittingly enriching it for those who can take the time to appreciate such things. 

Newly arrived migrant Willow Warbler
A quick enquiry at the RSPB desk about where to go to find the Buddleia Loop, the location on the reserve the gull was most favouring, elicited the information that it was at the far end of the reserve, but this was no hardship as it entailed a pleasant walk down narrow, sun soaked tracks passing through tall dead reeds and greening hedgerows vibrant with birdlife. 

My passage was regularly interrupted by the volleying bright notes of Cetti's Warblers. Usually the most skulking of species and very hard to see, here they flew across the paths and sang, blatantly visible from high in bushes, unconcerned and unworried by the presence of humankind. Common ChiffChaffs added their monotonous contribution and hunted insects in the green budding twigs and bushes. Another Willow Warbler sang gently, almost introspectively further down the track, flicking through the newly sprouting lemon green leaves of a bank of Sallows. Apparently Willow Warblers still on migration sing more quietly than usual until their migration has been completed. Everywhere the urgency of Spring was becoming apparent, the sheer vibrancy and energy of its arrival was almost tangible as the sun gently warmed the earth. 

I wandered on, encountering many butterflies, Tortoiseshells  and Peacocks mainly, that were making the most of the conditions and absorbing the sun's heat to  rejuvenate their wings and bodies. Basking with flattened wings on the warm, sun baked tracks or caressed in bowers of frothy white blackthorn blossom.

I arrived at the semi circular concrete viewpoint overlooking the large lagoon where the Bonaparte's Gull was mainly to be found. 

The Buddleia Loop Viewing Point, just visible at the end of the track
The Lagoon favoured by the Bonaparte's Gull
Out on the blue waters of the lagoon Herring Gulls idled on the water or stood on one or other of two small stony islands in the company of a couple of indolent Cormorants, but two smaller gulls over on the far side of the lagoon by the reeds looked more interesting and duly resolved themselves into a Black headed Gull and the Bonaparte's Gull. Both were immatures, now in their second year of life and thus free from the cares of breeding until next year.They were busily swimming on the water picking minute prey from  the calm surface. The Bonaparte's Gull in comparison to the slightly larger Black headed Gull was petite and delicate, almost tern like, with a needle black bill and pale salmon pink legs. It swam hither and thither but always kept its distance from us.

Bonaparte's Gull with Black headed Gull behind
I sat with others on the concrete wall of the viewing point, a miscellaneous collection of photographers, general birders, Easter holiday families, even dog walkers, all of us patient and resigned to waiting for the Bonaparte's Gull to come closer. A pair of Marsh Harriers floated in from the east and circled over the vast reed bed, the female's creamy head bright in the sunlight and contrasting with her chocolate brown body. After thirty minutes or so it was obvious that the Bonaparte's Gull would not be coming nearer unless some incentive was provided.

My thoughts turned to bread. Especially after the spectacular success of such a ploy with which we tempted an Iceland Gull in Cardiff on Good Friday. Would it, could it work again? There was only one way to find out and it became obvious only one person was going to do it. Me. Initiative to the fore! Without a word I left and  made the long walk back to the Visitor Centre and then over the busy road to a garage where I purchased a loaf of finest Hovis sliced brown bread and returned to the viewpoint. Nothing had changed in my absence. Nobody seemed to have even moved. The Bonaparte's Gull was still patrolling the far side of the lagoon.

I announced my intention to cast bread upon the waters in the hope of attracting the Bonaparte's Gull closer and politely enquired if there were any objections. A grizzled local hanging on the end of a camera attached to an enormous lens said he had no objection but told me it would not work. 'I needed peanuts' he told me. I said I was not really inclined to walk back again for peanuts and threw the first couple of bread slices, skimming them frisbee fashion across the water to get them some distance from the shore. At first nothing moved or showed the slightest interest apart from three belligerent Coots which typically managed to create mayhem amongst both themselves and the ever hungry Mallards. The Coots with wings raised looked ridiculous as they tried to enlarge themselves against their perceived opponent. A Moorhen swam tentatively by them picking at morsels of bread, hoping not to attract the Coots ire.

Grizzle said 'I told you so'. I ignored him and threw the rest of the finest wholemeal slices onto the water. At last a Herring Gull showed interest, took off and headed for the bread, quickly followed by its fellows and, best of all, the Black headed Gull and Bonaparte's Gull promptly followed in their wake. Someone complimented me on the successful ploy. I could not resist cheekily replying 'But it doesn't come to bread'. Grizzle muttered 'Well it didn't yesterday'. We all settled down, honour satisfied and amicably took our photo opportunity of the now close up Bonaparte's Gull.

For fifteen minutes the gulls milled around, the Bonaparte's Gull always diffident and timid amongst its larger squabbling companions. The bread quickly vanished and the Herring Gulls now sat waiting for the next opportunity. A pair cried vociferously in duet, the noise so redolent of long forgotten childhoods by the sea.

The Bonaparte's and Black headed Gull retreated to the far side of the lagoon to recommence picking prey from the water.

It was over. No one said thank you. No one offered to go and get more bread. The photographers just sat there. The others melted away, satisfied with what they had seen. I too left and wandered back down the track. A scruffy non descript warbler flitted from one bush across the track to another, twig to twig above me, singing a very strange song indeed. In appearance it looked like a dishevelled Common Chiffchaff but its song was very odd as it was a combination of both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. I have read about others encountering this phenomenon but this was the first time it had happened to me. I really did not know what to make of it. 

Is it a Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler? I go for the former or maybe a hybrid?.
I headed back to the car park, not to leave Radipole but to extend my car parking payment. This done I availed myself of a hot chocolate and a slice of locally made Dorset Apple Cake in the Visitor Centre, sitting at a table on the sun deck watching the gulls bathing in the river and Black tailed Godwits, now in their breeding orange finery, probing the muddy shallows with their long bills.

A short rest here was definitely welcome and then I wandered back down the track to the Bonaparte's lagoon but it had flown off. I sat, happy nonetheless, content, contemplative and surveyed the scene before me. A Swallow, shining midnight blue and black in the sun dipped down to drink from the lagoon and then was gone over the reeds. A Sand Martin, some minutes later, briefly hawked flies above the reeds before it carried on inland. A Sedge Warbler grated out a few frantic stanzas from the distant reeds on the other side of the lagoon. Two Shelduck, with bright, poster paint red bills, glistening wet, swam and then flew across the lagoon and were gone into a haze of blue above the reeds.

I looked down to the edge of the lagoon, the shallow water was being cleaved by grey bodies, the backs and dorsal fins occasionally breaking the water's surface. The swirls of water mysterious and exciting anticipation. Mullet, big ones at that, in a shoal, were cruising back and fore in the shallows, scaly grey piscine torpedoes in the sun rippled waters.

Time drifted on into early afternoon. The Bonaparte's Gull came back to do a brief fly past over the lagoon and then was gone again. I walked slowly back to the Visitor Centre. Channels cut in the reeds secreted diminutive Teal.  

A group of three Mallard and a drake Common Pochard were the epitomy of contentment, all soft rounded plumage curves as they dozed in the sun, sequestered in the reeds. 

Intricately patterned drake Gadwalls, with plumage of subdued browns black and greys, wheezed their duck decoy call from hidden channels and another unseen Sedge Warbler struck up its scratchy song from deep in an adjacent reed bed.

Back at the Visitor Centre excited holiday children fed the ever expectant Tufted Ducks and Mallard waiting below the bridge over the channel. £1.00 for a small bag of corn from the RSPB Centre and the ducks were your instant friends.

Tufted Ducks
Common Pochard
A Brown Rat, unloved and un-noticed, sat in a corner of the walkway nibbling a morsel, delicately holding the food in tiny baby pink hands. 

A cry from a young boy pierced the air. 'Dad it's the merganser! Look it's diving!'. He was referring of course to the famous or infamous Hooded Merganser that has been present here for a few years now. Controversy raged at first about its origin. Had it really come all the way from North America? Now it is generally accepted as an escaped bird, its origin unknown but its beauty transcends all else and I always look forward to seeing it. It cares not one jot about its origins and nor do I.