Monday, 21 January 2013

A (local) patch of snow

I had to work most of the weekend, so decided I could spare a couple of hours today for a snowy shuffle around Sevenoaks Wildlife reserve. We've had a couple of heavyish snowfalls here the last few days, amounting to maybe 10cm of laying snow. Today, no more snow falling but it remained below freezing, and very still with boring grey skies.

My first stop was at the Grebe hide to see what was coming to the feeders. With snow on the ground, Robins start showing a serious interest in above ground-level feeding opportunities, and there were three or four sitting nearby, periodically visiting the seed feeder where they bullied and intimidated the Blue and Great Tits that were also trying to feed. Two of the Robins also came into the hide to see if I had anything for them - one actually sang a bit while sitting on the windowframe.

It took this Dunnock ages to pluck up the courage to have a go on the hanging feeder, long enough for me to take 27 photos of it. There was also a Chaffinch lurking around, but no sign of Nuthatch or Marsh Tit today.

Just down the trail from the visitor centre - two Goldfinches, looking like little fireworks among the snow-laden branches.

I went up to the viewing mound, from where I could see that the whole of East Lake was, like West Lake, free of ice. So it can't have been as cold as it felt. The snow-covered islands were crowded with birds. I dithered a while over what to do, feeling the pull of my favourite hide (Willow) as I always do, but finally decided to head for Tyler hide first.

On the foreshore of the Serengeti, various species were either hunched on the shoreline or swimming in the shallows nearby. Most excitingly, to me, was this pair of Snipes, which were kind enough to stay put while I opened (as quietly as I could) the viewing window.

This photo shows a sizeable proportion of the species present and viewable - Lapwing, Black-headed Gull, Moorhen, Greylag Goose, Teal and Snipe. Also out there were Common Gulls, one or two Great Crested Grebes, an islandful of Cormorants, a few each of Gadwall, Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Duck, but alas no sign of anything more wintery. I'd hoped for a Goosander or two but no dice (nor any Goosanders).

This pair of Gadwalls seemed very close, well on the way to becoming a bonded pair. I wondered if they might get hold of either end of the same bit of underwater weed and have a 'Lady and the Tramp' moment but they didn't. Was today going to be nothing but disappointments?

Five Shovelers in V formation, the lone female at the front, came paddling along to cross in front of the hide. Of the four males, three were moulting first-winters, in varying states of scruffiness.

Poor Lapwing. The weather conditions have frozen his crest into a silly shape.

I left the hide and again pondered which way to go - retrace steps to get to Willow hide, or see if there was anything doing from Sutton hide? I opted for the latter and began the slow trudge alongside the lake. It turned out to be a good move.

Ahead, high in a tree, I could see a biggish bird perched quietly on its own. Usually, biggish birds in trees are Woodpigeons, but there was something about this one that made me look twice, and when I got close enough for IDable views I was pleased to see it was a male Sparrowhawk, sitting with his back to me and showing some characteristic white 'pearl' markings on his back.

I kept going til I was level and past the Sprawk, then looked back and fired off a few shots. The Sprawk didn't care for this and gave me a hard stare before stepping off his perch and flying away through the trees.

Only a couple of paces further on I found another goodie, this Redwing lurking low in the undergrowth. Feeling guilty about flushing the Sprawk, I took care to give the Redwing lots of space and it repaid me with a nice pose.

Goldrests, unlike Sparrowhawks and Redwings, don't have much truck with the idea of personal space. I'd stopped to look for the Treecreeper I could hear high above, then noticed this little poppet darting about in a sapling about an arm's reach from where I was standing. The problem here was not the risk of frightening the bird, but the fact that it would not keep still for more than a millisecond.

In between Goldcrest-watching, I did also locate the Treecreeper, doing its tree-creeping thing. I suppose not much changes for Treecreepers when there's a snow day.

After all that, Sutton hide itself was a disappointment - nothing to see but a few depressed-looking gulls bobbing on the water, and a Moorhen stalking along the shoreline. I didn't stay, but made my way back via the woodland trail, noting a Green and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and a flock of some 30 Siskins.

Then I found another, or the same, Goldcrest and watched it for a while. It was deeper into the wood now, and quite high up, not really worth photographing. Then with a swish of wings a Sparrowhawk (the same one as before, perhaps) swooped down and must have only just missed snagging the little 'crest on its way through. Not that the Goldcrest seemed bothered. It directed an irritable, scolding little call at the hawk's retreating tail, and carried on foraging.

I continued past the viewpoint and took the trail towards Willow hide. My hopes of finding a fabulous concentration of wildfowl here were dashed when I opened a window to behold an expanse of ice. If I'd stayed here all day I bet I would have been there to witness a Water Rail creeping along the edge of the frozen lake, if I didn't die of exposure first. I stayed all of five seconds and then moved on.

Wrens were everywhere today but in full camera-dodging mode. This was the only one  that kept still long enough for even one rubbish photo. Perhaps it was momentarily stunned by the coldness of the ice on which it's sitting.

Noting that the whole of North Lake was frozen too, I'd elected to give Carter hide a miss, but loitered around the area a while as there were many birds calling. Some of the noise was coming from another feeding Goldcrest, but most of it was a large Siskin flock a little higher up in the alders. The Siskins scattered with a whoosh of wings and alarm calls when yet another Sparrowhawk scythed through the treetops. I didn't see whether it got one or not. Again, the Goldcrest didn't give a monkey's.

I've never managed to photograph a Goldcrest in hover mode before but this one gave me so many chances that eventually I got one I liked.


Warren Baker said...

What a busy visit Marianne, you must have photographed all the birds you encountered - great fun :-)

Greenie said...

Marianne ,
Unlucky with the redhead Goosander and the redhead Smew that has been seen there .
Really nice shots especially given the dull conditions .
Great Snipe shot and love the 'ballet dancing' Goldcrest .

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, M. Glad you enjoyed your day out.
Come up and see the Bittern sometime!
Best wishes, GrahamC

ShySongbird said...

A very enjoyable visit Marianne. You certainly saw plenty. Good to see the Snipe. Goldfinches look so extra colourful in the snow. Love the Goldcrest photos too, they always look so grumpy ;-)

I also enjoyed the previous post. You obviously had a great time and an excellent total.

Phil said...

Some super shots there Marianne. Particularly like the Snipe and the 'bad hair day' Lapwing!

Mike Attwood said...

Very nice set of pictures, Marianne.

Ken. said...

Nice report of your days birding at Sevenoaks backed up be some lovely photo's of a good variety of bird species.