Today was exquisite: somewhat underwhelming in the rarity stakes, not outlandish in the volume of species seen and bitterly cold, but exquisite nonetheless. A day off from my studies providing the perfect opportunity for an excursion to the coast, to my local patch, where the wildlife to be recorded, observed and of course, enjoyed, appears to have taken on a distinctly wintery feel.
The day started well, though on a somewhat startling note. A short walk through a stand of now naked Whitebeams resulting in near cardiac arrest as a Woodcock burst forth from the leaf litter in a typically startled fashion, right in my direction. This marking the first of these cryptic waders to grace my patch in quite some time. My nerves rattled once again – as I departed the grove – where a covey of Grey Partridge promptly followed suit, rising frantically from the patch of rank grass in which they fed before my arrival. Both delightful birds and both species suffering woeful declines at present. I am glad to harbour them both here.
Onwards, into my favoured stretch of waste ground and yet more signs of the shifting season became plain to see. A charm of Goldfinch, perhaps forty or so, calling as they dropped into the denuded branches of an Alder, promptly joined by a handsome male Siskin – another Winter visitor here. Bullfinch could be seen, as could Lesser Redpoll, while a lone Willow Tit issued its characteristic – and somewhat unmelodic – call from a nearby hidden place. Secreted amid the scrub. The real treat coming later, my attention transfixed by movement in some nearby Hawthorns. Waxwings, I hoped, though proper examination soon dispelled my expectations. And here no less than five species of thrush fed in close quarters, tossing back the quickly diminishing berries with gusto. The best of which, in my humble opinion, comprising a pair of Fieldfare – both of which offered my best views of the species so far this year.
Sorry to be stereotypical but it is almost Winter…
Onwards to sea, my arrival delayed somewhat as skein of Pink-Footed Geese passed overhead followed, seconds later, by an altogether more exciting sight. A female Peregrine gliding into view, overhead and beyond, soon carried out of sight by her powerful wingbeats. Another winter visitor to the patch, endearing yet unfortunately breif. Said raptor contributing greatly to my soaring expectations as I took up my favoured spot in the dunes and set about scanning the undulating water of the bay before me. The usual characters, those that fish close to shore, soon becoming apparent. A Red-Throated Diver, two Red-Breasted Mergansers, a Guillemot and a Razorbill. The latter two species diving side by side, synchronised almost, allowing for excellent scrutiny of their contrasting yet superficially similar winter plumage.
An hour later and things picked up, abolishing my desire to leave. Many and more species now passing North and South in loose flocks, bisecting each other’s paths like determined motorists at a T-junction. Ducks were numerous – Teal and Wigeon the most so, followed by smaller numbers of dabber Common Scoter, Mallard and some twenty-five Goldeneye. Gannets too passed by, mostly dull juveniles but also an adult, its yellow head alive in the growing sun. These followed in turn by tapering lines of Cormorant and the odd Shag, Kittiwake and Fulmar. The highlight, however, coming moments before departure – a final scan of the water before me revealing a conspicuous silhouette tagged to the back of migrating group of Scoter. Quick wingbeats, minute size and monochrome appearance immediately giving away its identity – a Little Auk. One of the most sought after winter visitors (after Waxwings, of course) and the underlying reason for today’s excursion. Sometimes it pays to have expectations.
Oh yes, and yesterday on my way to university I FINALLY caught up with some Waxwings. The below photo was taken last year but you get the picture.