Saturday 16 March 2024

Spring has almost Sprung 14th March 2024

Today I took myself to Greenham Common in the neighbouring county of Berkshire on a cold, blustery morning that had promised sunshine but instead delivered grey clouds and a hint of rain in the wind.

It was notably unpleasant on the exposed, gorse covered former runway of what used to be an enormous nuclear airbase but has been transformed into an equally enormous (BBOWT) Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust) reserve and amen to that. The weather had put paid to any chance of encountering the Dartford Warblers that reside here, the tiny birds well and truly hidden away from the wind and cold in the dense gorse and unlikely to emerge. 

However all was not lost as the melancholy notes of Woodlarks came from the leaden skies above me, the birds often invisible in a vastness of sky, their song seeming to ebb and flow on the wind. A song said to be one of the most beautiful and haunting of any of our native birds, a series of wistful liquid notes with a downward lilt. 

There were at least three males singing, all relatively close to where I stood and it was my good fortune to find one of these ethereal songsters in my binoculars, as it cruised the sky overhead. Following its progress I watched as it sank lower and lower whilst still producing its beautiful song. It came to rest on the ground and after a brief stationery moment to check all was well commenced to feed on the short grass.

From past experience I know Woodlarks can be relatively trusting so it was with some confidence I approached it closely, aided by judicious use of the cover provided by the prolific gorse.

The Woodlark fed quietly, occasionally singing but after a few minutes rose from the grass to once more commence singing in the sky.

My phone pinged, signalling an alert from Jason, who runs the Oxon Birding WhatsApp Group, about a Black necked Grebe being found early this morning at Thrupp Lake which is a nature reserve and was formerly part of the Radley Gravel Pit complex near Abingdon.

Now I was presented with a dilemna. Do I stop here on the common with the admittedly faint hope of finding an elusive Dartford Warbler or should I go back up the A34 to Radley some thirty minutes drive north? It was a no brainer really and a blast of cold wind at this critical moment proved decisive in convincing me to depart poste haste for Radley.

Thirty minutes later I got to Radley. My phone rang. It was Peter telling me he was already here and looking at the grebe.

I told him I would be with him in a couple of minutes once I had left the car in the parking area. I walked a hundred metres along the track beside the lake to find Peter watching the grebe in his scope.

Black necked Grebes in breeding plumage are immensely attractive and this particular individual was almost in full breeding dress, just a scattering of winter's grey and white plumage remained on its black neck and breast and on its chestnut flanks

I expected the grebe to be far out in the middle of the lake so was agreeably surprised to find it was relatively close in to the side of the lake we were standing by. The trees growing on the bank helped to disguise our profiles and through gaps in the branches we got some photos as the grebe swam back and fore- looking a little lost and uncertain about its transient home.

We watched it for twenty minutes then lost sight of it only to find it had made its way, unseen by us to the further side of the lake where it was trying to join a small group of Tufted Ducks. 

A female Goosander was both a pleasant and surprising addition to the birds on the lake and a pair of Oystercatchers, now almost commonplace in this part of the county flew around calling loudly.They will probably breed somewhere on the adjacent gravel pits.

Common Chiffchaffs were singing in the willows whose furry buds are now turning from silver to golden yellow and pairing Black headed Gulls enlivened the scene with their posturing and endless bickering. Spring is not just manifested by signs of growth but sound as well.

After the earlier disappointment at Greenham Common I felt much enthused with the successful sighting of the Black necked Grebe. 

In fact it called for a mild celebration and I knew just the place to indulge in nearby Kennington.

The place I had in mind is called Proof. It is a social enterprise bakery which as its name implies employs prisoners and prison leavers who produce the most wonderful selection of artisan cakes, sour dough bread and pastries.It is a great idea and apparently is highly successful in re-integrating offenders back into society and preventing them re-offending- so it is a win all round.

Proof is open to the public from Thursday to Sunday so I was fortunate that today was Thursday. 

What better way to end my morning than to sit watching the staff baking whilst drinking a coffee and  scoffing one of their, as they like to say, criminally good doughnuts. 

Apricot Jam Doughnut

No comments:

Post a Comment