We went to Bough Beech first. Both the small lake and the main reservoir were mostly frozen. The feeding station yielded only common birds - where are the Redpolls and Bramblings of last winter? A Great Crested Grebe sat photogenically but distantly in the unfrozen channel connecting the reservoir to the 'wader scrape'. A Great Spotted Woodpecker bounded across the fields, impossibly far away. We decided to go on to Sevenoaks.
By now the sky was really stormy-looking to the east, but miraculously still sunny, creating some fantastically intense colours. We went over to where there was supposed to be a roosting Barn Owl, opposite one of the narrow lakes behind the main water. The owl was in, crouching under the eaves of a large nestbox in a small tree, almost completely obscured by criss-crossing branches but if you stood in exactly the right spot you could make out its sleepy, heart-shaped face. Lovely.
A Mute Swan stood guard by the lake, and as we stopped to look at it, it waddled over. Thinking it was hungry I offered it a handful of grass but it just bit me. Ungrateful wildlife. I suppose I should be glad to escape with unbroken arms (but note the wings are not raised above the back in the dramatic Mute Swan threat posture - if they had been, I wouldn't have gone near it). Rob had to switch to a shorter lens to get any photos, but I'm glad he did because the pics included a slice of that impressive sky.
Over at Willow Hide, most of the water was frozen, with Coots doing their ice-skating thing across the surface. The unfrozen bits were mostly rather far away, but held the usual Gadwalls, Shovelers and Tufties, plus a solitary Great Crested Grebe. Hopefully its mate was just hiding. A pair bred on this lake last year and provided much entertaining viewing as they fetched fish for their squealing little stripy babies. There was a Grey Heron lurking at the back, and a bunch of Long-tailed Tits dangling from low twigs opposite us. Among the Gadwalls were a trio that included a smart male, a smart female, and a third which looked a bit intersex - non-solid black bum, some mottled brown feathers mixed with the smooth grey ones on its back and flanks. It was getting a lot of stick from the male of the pair, who chased it away before flying off with the female.
As we sat in Willow Hide, an elderly lady entered and asked in curiously urgent tones whether we had seen any Shelducks. The answer was no, but we pointed out the Gadwalls and Shovelers. On the main lake as we returned, we saw a pair of Great Crested Grebes shaking their heads at each other, but when they saw us they got all shy and swam off behind the island to continue their courtship there. We detoured down to Tyler hide and watched spectacular numbers of Snipes (at least 30) feeding on the nearby islands, though none were near enough for good photos. There are still loads of Lapwings here, looking very colourful and attractive in the low sun - also a few Teals and large helpings of Black-headed and Common Gulls.
Back at the car park we went into Grebe hide to see what was on the feeders. Shelduck Lady was just leaving as we arrived and said there were some Long-tailed Tits about. We could hear them calling, but at first the only visible birds were Great and Blue Tits, including the scabby-faced Great Tit we photographed back in January, looking even scabbier, and this poor Blue Tit who had only one functional leg (and no, he's not just resting the other one - I watched him carefully and he only ever used the one).
After a little while, the Long-tails started to come closer, giving heart-meltingly gorgeous views. There was STILL sunshine, though only just, and finally Rob got some really decent photos of these restless little blighters. A perfect end to the day.