Monday 21 March 2011

Monday 21st March 2011 - Stanwick Lakes

I had the day off work today and after waking found it to be a glorious morning. I've had lots of people telling me about their Chiffchaff sightings so I felt a trip to Stanwick Lakes was called for to try and get some. There wasn't a peep from one last weekend so any birds here must have arrived during the week. Upon arrival I sat in the car next to the iron stone bridge near Irthlingborough and listened with the windows open. 2 Greenfinch were calling along with Dunnocks, Great Tits, Wrens, Blue Tits, Blackbirds and a Song Thrush. I could see quite a few Gulls circling high up on a thermal so I had a scan with the binoculars and a Red Kite had joined them along with another raptor. I watched this bird for a good 10 minutes and as it flew next to the Red Kite the scale it provided showed that it was a Peregrine Falcon very high up. Peregrines aren't that uncommon around here but they are still a really nice bird to see, especially at the start of a walk. On entering the Lakes complex I was greeted by another Dunnock singing from the top of the hedge.

A third raptor species was heralded by a Sparrowhawk being relentlessly mobbed by 3 Carrion Crows as I appraoched the first of the lakes. A Cetti's call exploded from the fishing lake whilst on the lake infront of me a few Tufted Duck, Mallard, Canada Geese, Gadwall and Great Crested Grebe could be seen. Everything is now pairing up nicely and 2 Mute Swans on the opposite bank were already started to build their nest.

The first summer migrant of the day was seen at the aptly named Sand Martin Bridge. This area is incredible during summer and you can stand on this bridge with Sand Martins whizzing around you and you can sometimes find yourself involuntarily ducking out of ones way. Today though just one was there and as it's in this location I'd guess it one of the residents of this breeding colony as opposed to a bird on passage. The Coots are getting amorous too with bouts of fighting taking place all over the area. This bird though deciding to take a little time out from the action going on just around the corner,
The main lake held pretty much the same as already mentioned with the exception of a few female Goldeneye and 7 Goosanders all asleep under the overhanging branches from the island. Then at last a call came out from the trees behind me and I had secured my first Chiffchaff of the year ( I looked back on last years notes and quite coincidently my first Chiffchaff of last year was seen on the 21st March too). I couldn't see the bird unfortunately as it was right in the undergrowth. A Brimstone was also flying around the bramble bushes as I left to continue my walk round. Also in the small ponds opposite the childrens play area Reed Bunting were feeding on the seeds from the Phragmites.

 I headed to the feeding station to catch up with some of the birds seen here last week. If you've read the previous posting you will realise that I get a lot of pleasure from getting very close up views of the commoner birds especially at this time of year when they are all looking their best. A piece of behaviour had been observed last week with the feeding Great Tits. For some reason some birds spread out their wings and arch their backs when another bird comes too close. I have no idea what this is, it is either a threat display due to territory or it may just be trying to guard its food supply. Despite numerous attempts I couldn't get a clip of the bird doing it but I did manage a still photo with it wings splayed out.

If anyone does know what this means please do let me know. Another nice bird was a male Great Spotted Woodpecker that had been drumming away whilst I was observing the Great Tits. It took a break from drumming to come down and feed on the peanut feeders so I managed a couple of shots and a short clip before it flew back up to the trees.

I continued my walk around the site enjoying the birds and the sunshine. A Kestrel came out from the trees and started to circle up to a thermal and within a minute it was just a tiny dot in the sky. More Chiffchaff could be heard around the lakes with one showing really well in Willows next to the green lane which leads up to the Raunds entrance. No Little Owl could be seen in the dead Willows near Mallows Cotton (an abandoned medieval village) which does make you wonder if they have survived the harsh winter as I know that Steve and Bob haven't seen them either. Back up onto the old railway line and several Bullfinch were taking advantage of the bountiful supply of buds. Its a really good time of year to see these birds as they seem to be more concerned with filling their bellies than being their usual secretive selves. The way back was marred slightly by a sad story. The wardens have been building an Iron Age roundhouse, and they have been enlisting the help of children from surrounding schools to help them. I have watched grow with interest and I have seen first hand the pleasure it had brought to many children throughout it's construction. Last week the thatching of the roof was nearly drawing to an end and the final piece to the top was all that needed to be done but as it was getting dark they downed tools so they could complete it the following day. Just hours later vandals had set it on fire. I just cannot comprehend what goes through these peoples minds when they carry such an act out, and the disappointment it must have caused to so many people who played a part in it. All I can say is I hope they catch them.

I continued my journey back towards my car. A few Skylarks were heard singing away above the fields to the north and on the car park lake 2 Great Crested Grebes were starting their courtship display to each other.

Then almost back to the car the scratchy call of Sand Martins could be heard and 2 birds flew overhead. I'd managed a final tally of 5 Chiffchaffs, also 5 Cetti's were heard to call too with one bird signing right out in the open in the area west of the assault course. It was a brilliant day to be out with the sun shining and the birds signing. Spring is just around the corner and I'm already brimming with excitement.

Sunday 20th March 2011 - Olley's Farm

A few of us from the Mid Nene RSPB group drove over to Olley's Farm today to try and see the Goshawks. A car share had been arranged earlier in the month but as it was set for mid week anyone who works couldn't attend. So it was decided that a few of us would set up our own car share trip to get over there. We wasn't disappointed as after only ten or so minutes we had the first Goshawk rising up in the air over the distant woodland, 2 more came to join it and we were treated to good views as they displayed. Then one of the birds turned and flew straight towards us.......and kept coming and coming until we were all treated to incredibly views as it flew right over our heads. I managed to find it in the scope as it started to fly towards us and kept on it until the scope was almost vertical - you could really appreciate it's size. To add to this Woodlarks were calling all over the place, with one raising up in the sky with it's descending call and singing away up above. Crossbills could be seen on quite a few tree tops with a couple of really nice male birds standing out in the sunshine too. As we had done so well here, we nipped up the road to Lynford Arboretum. All the normal variety of birds were busy calling along with at least 3 Nuthatch. No Hawfinch could be seen unfortunately in the paddock, but as we approached the Folly and couple of birders could be seen approaching looking particularly pleased with themselves. As this normally means they have seen something so I asked them what they's just had, to which they replied a Firecrest is showing very well just around the corner. Now I'd probably ought to mention at this point that Firecrest is my bogey bird, I admit that over the last 5 years or so I've been looking for them I could have driven down south into their breeding grounds and probably had them quite easily - but the point is they shouldn't be that difficult a bird to find up here in the winter so I have just been chasing them up here, to no success at all. In fact its becoming quite an obsession for me to see one so to find out there's one just around the corner my heart leaped at the prospect of finally connecting. We quickly found the tree and sure enough a Firecrest was singing away from about mid way up as we waited patiently for it to show. Then absolute disaster, the tree in question was in someones garden and at this point the man who lived there came out of his house and started it seemed to try and make as much noise as possible. Not only was he banging around he then started to shout for his wife to come and join him. As you can imagine the Firecrest disappeared and despite waiting for about 15 minutes it never made a sound so it must have crept off through the trees and escaped our view. I felt almost sick as we left!! Never mind it was a good day out, and the views of those Goshawk will not be forgotten.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Sunday 13th March 2011 - Stanwick Lakes

It has been another superb day for local patching - in fact one of those days when everything quite unexpectedly comes together and darkness falling brings it to a sad but inevitable conclusion. The weather was supposed to be fairly overcast today but fuelled by yesterdays 1st of the year butterflies and reports of the first summer bird migrants coming in thick and fast from throughout the south, the east and midlands it proved to be too good an opportunity to miss. A local migrant hotspot for me is Stanwick Lakes as habitat wise it has a bit of eveything with wetlands, scrub, woodland,  reedbed, hedgerows and if your willing to put the foot work in some very nice arable land  with old farm buildings which attracts lots of passerines. The walk started for me at the Irthlingborough end and straight away from leaving the car Dunnock, Blackbird and Robins could all be heard singing. Goldfinch were flitting around the tops of the bushes with Great and Blue Tit and Chaffinches were feeing on the ground along with a Pied Wagtail. The bushes in the middle of this area was alive with Dunnocks all starting their spring mating rituals with one particularly feisty bird chasing away a small collection of Song Thrush. As I walked up to the start of the gravel pit complex I was welcomed by 2 Greylag flying overhead and a very vocal Oystercatcher . Reed Buntings were calling from the reedbed while Mallard. Canada Geese, Coot, Mute Swans, Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant and Tufted Duck were on the lakes. A wren was singing away from the scrubby areas around the fishing lake and as I appoached Sand Martin bridge a Cetti's Warbler blasted out it's song and a pair of Goosander came into land on the Bird Pit. The lake next to the car park had a few Lesser Black Backed, Black headed and a couple of Great Black Backs on the gravel spits while the main lake produced quite a lot of Common Gull. Just past the childrens play area a Cetti's Warblers song almost exploded into my left ear, the bird was very uncharacteristically sitting almost out in the open and singing it's song in a low down fork in a tree right next to the footpath. It gave incredible views until is disappeared into the undergrowth. A few yards further down the path and I met a birder (and a new friend) by the name of Jim Murray. Jim for those not in the know is an internationally renowned Whisky writer, and someone who's books I had previously sort after as I don't mind a drop myself. After a brief introduction we decided to bird Stanwick together so I could show him the various places around here to see the birds an we have the Cetti's that showed so well for sparking off our initial conversation. The reedbed didn't produce much at all with just a calling Greater Spotted Woodpecker and a singing Skylark over the fields to the north of us. We walked from here along the railway line until we got to the Ringstead car park, the hedgerows full of calling Tits, Dunnocks and Finches all the way. We took the path up to the old farm buildings and was greeted straight away by a field full of Fieldfare, Redwing, Starling and Chaffinch - I'm sure if we had carried on searching a Brambling or 2 could have been discovered but as the vegetation is now starting to grow viewing birds on the ground is getting near impossible. From the path up to the barns we had 2 Red Kite over and a sizeable flock of Linnet feeding in the set aside and with Skylarks singing all around us it was really turning into a great day to be out. We walked around this area and back into the Stanwick Lakes complex and this is where the first really good bird of the day was discovered. After walking around the first lake near to the Raunds entrance we heard a call in the trees which I didn't recognise and appeared to be coming from a tall Silver Birch tree with a Robin sat in it. Jim had a quick look in his bins and put me on to a few Redpoll in the tree next to it, and we noticed that the bird towards the back of the tree was a noticable size larger than the 2 Lesser Redpoll next to it. I got the scope on it and it was unmistakeable as a stunning Mealy Redpoll with its paler plumage, larger size and fairly broad dark ventral strip. We enjoyed a good ten minutes viewing time of the bird as it was joined by another Lesser (making 3 Lessers and 1 Mealy in total) before we decided to head around the corner where we bumped into Steve Fisher. Steve is a prolific birder of this area and I don't think much goes through here without him finding it. He hadn't seen much as he had only just got there so we put him onto the area where we had the Mealy and we made our way back towards the feeding station. One of my favourite sayings is "its far better to have a good view of a common bird, than to have a bad view of a rare one" (mainly because it's true but also because saying it out load at twitches really gets up the noses of listers), and we were absolutely spoilt for choice at the feeders with Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Reed Bunting and Chaffinch all in their stunning breeding refinery were all on show. Its amazing just how Blue a Blue Tit can look, and Chaffinch almost become a different bird with it's exquisite plumage - the winter saying of "it's just a Chaffinch" doesn't seem to apply anymore. We set up my scope so we could get an even closer view of the birds as they came back and forth to feed, and its a technique that not many birders seem to follow. I really can urge anyone out there reading this do not just be content with binocular views of a bird, if it's showing close up get the scope on it to see it even closer. I had no idea that Blue Tits have a band of Cobalt Blue at the base of its nape! Or that Moorhen have a tiny splash of red right at the top of the leg! We wandered to the visitor centre from here as we'd been walking for a fair few hours and the idea of a sit sown with a coffee seemed quite appealing. Naturally we sat outside overlooking the car park lake, this time a 1st winter Lesser Black Backed Gull was standing conveniently right next to a 1st winter Herring Gull so I could bore Jim with the differences in identifying them through the scope. As we started to enjoy a further cup the phone rang and Steve was on the phone - a 1st winter Glaucous Gull was on the main lake. The next 1 minute was spent trying to swallow searingly hot coffee so we could get out there to see the bird. The bird was viewable from the climbing rock side and a quick scan across the spit found it standing there in all it's glory. These are incredible birds - huge but remarkably dainty in its behaviour. It looked very much like it was the bird I had photographed earlier in the year at Ditchford (see previous posting for early Feb).

 At this point the whole reason for coming out to today was remembered with 2 Sand Martins overhead, calling as they went. The first summer migrants on the 13th! Last year I had to wait until the 23rd for my first Sand Martins of 2010. Most ironically though how many people have seen an arctic bird such as a Glaucous Gull on a lake with 2 Sand Martins fresh from Africa overhead I wonder. We left Steve to return to searching for the Mealy Redpoll and Jim and I walked up to the river. By now the sky was perfectly clear and it was a lovely early spring evening, two Kestrel were taking advantage of the extra warmth and were both riding on the same thermal no doubt displaying to one another. A cracking view of a pair of Bullfinch was also to be had along the river as they ate the buds as they bloomed - a superb sight with the male bird at the top of the trees in the sunshine. We then returned to wait at the Gull roost to see if anything interesting would come in. The Glaucous was still present this time swimming on the water so was a little bit harder to locate especially as the sun was going down down at this point.

Steve came and joined us after finding our previous Mealy Redpoll and confirmed to us that it was indeed a Mealy in his opinion. So we then spent the last few minutes of light watching all the Gulls coming in to roost. Despite searching we didn't find anything rare, a Black Headed Gull was an interesting bird though as it was partially albino and the left hand primaries were pure white except for a tiny black dot as they went under the greater coverts, and the right hand side primaries had a black square at around p8 but the rest was white also.
So from here I called it a day and returned to the car as darkness fell, still loads of Gulls kept coming in all away along the valley they could be seen heading in this direction to roast on this one lake.

Jim had very kindly given me a copy of his 2011 Whisky Bible, and it is a book which I can recommend to anyone with an interest in this particular drink. He has an unbiased approach to his reviews and uses language which is comical and easy to understand whilst being very informative at the same time. I'm sure you'll be able to find it in any good bookshop (and no doubt a few dodgy ones too) or you can order a copy at In fact I really do wish that all reviews could be written in his style - at least we'd all know what we was getting!

So what a cracking end to a fantastic day. Some great birds and bird behaviour, a new birding pal in the shape if Jim Murray, and after leafing through his book a glass of Whisky to see the final hours off nicely while I reflect on todays sightings. Good wildlife watching everyone...........and cheers!!! I just need to start saving for that bottle of Ballentine's 17year old now.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Saturday 12th March 2011 - The 1st Butterflies Of The Year

Today was a good day even though I was working. I love all wildlife and over the last few years I have discovered butterflies, almost to the point of becoming obsessed with finding new patches for butterflies in my locality last year. Seeing Purple Emperors, White Admirals, Silver Washed Fritallaries and Black Hairstreak (some of Northants specialities) brought along a whole new understanding of my surroundings.....and is just one more thing to learn and discover about the amazing natural world in which we live. I find it incredible to learn all the stories being told right under our noses, and most people have no idea what goes on. Mention Purple Emperor around here to most people and they will give you a blank look, having no clue that at certain times of the year a small wood just up the road becomes a Mecca for butterfly enthusiasts....and also have no idea what kind of a spectacle they are missing. I think one of the things that rules me out of becoming a hardcore bird lister is the fact that I admire and take pleasure in all aspects of the wild world and not just the rare or unusual. One example is the Coues Arctic Redpoll twitch mentioned in a previous posting. Lots of people staring into empty trees hoping that the bird will magic itself out of no where when everyone has seen the whole flock disappear over the horizon and not return and yet just feet behind them was a tree with about 7 Siskin doing acrobats along the branches. While I was recording a clip of a male bird (see previous post for vid) a twitcher approached excitedly asking if I had the Redpoll and when I explained that I was watching the amazing display put on by these cracking little birds he shrugged his shoulders, grunted, and then returned preferring to admire the empty trees again. Also during this twitch I overheard a chap talking about the Helm Guide to Gulls (superb reading), so I thought I'd have a chat as Gulls is one of my passions too. His answer shocked me as he referred to Gulls as a "f*~'#ng nightmare, I hate them. The only one worth bothering with is a Ross's Gull!", it quickly became clear that the only reason he had this Helm Guide was so he could twitch birds - he had no interest at all in the story they can tell or in identifying and understanding the commoner Gulls. I really do find this attitude unbelievable, and I try to live by the motto a 'good view of a common bird (or lizard, snake, butterfly, moth etc etc) is far better than a bad view of a rare one'.

Anyway I'm straying from the point somewhat. What I came on here to say was that I managed to see my first butterflies of the year today, and it really cheered me up too. A single Brimstone flew over Buckingham Road in Bletchley (just west of the 3 Trees Pub) and another flying across the road in the wooded section just north of Woburn Safari Park. At last it looks like the winters finally drawing to an end, and with the reports coming in thick and fast of Chiffchaffs and Sandmartins in the south of the UK things are hotting up nicely. Bring on the most exciting time of the year - Spring! I can't wait!!

Thursday 10 March 2011

Thursday 10th March 2011 - Coues Arctic Redpoll

I had the day off work today and to be honest I hadn't really planned to do anything. That all changed though when I checked my e-mails and saw that the Coues Arctic Redpoll had been showing for the last 3 days in Bedford. The idea of seeing this bird was too good an opportunity to miss so after loading the location into the sat nav and dropping Aimee off to school I was on the way to Bedford. Upon arrival the weather was awful, dry but very windy. The area of trees it seems to prefer are the tall trees around the Bedford Football Club training pitch, and these are best viewed from the road as it heads up to a bridge - but due to the wind I couldn't help thinking that the more sheltered areas on the other side of the bridge near to the sewage farm would have been preferable but a quick searched proved fruitless, and with the exception of a few Siskin there wasn't much in there at all. So I headed back onto the bridge and by now a sizeable crowd had developed, and they all had the same idea as me and were searching in the sheltered areas for signs of the Redpoll flock (it had been associating with a dozen or so Lesser Redpoll with a few Mealies thrown in). Then in amongst the trees around the football ground a flock of small birds could be seen flying from tree to tree, and they settled nicely in a birch with overhanging branches, A look through the scope found the bird almost straight away feeding with 2 Mealies, it was almost pure white underneath and looked like a small snowball in the tree, with a thin black line under the tail. It was a really good comparison with the other Redpoll feeding close to it, and at one point you could see the white of its under parts with the naked eye from the road it was that bright. Unfortunately at this point a lorry came past and spooked all the birds into flying across the road and into the sewage farm grounds, loads of birders ran across the road to join them (including one poor chap who couldn't find the bird despite 3 people trying to point it out to him) but I stayed to chat to a couple of locals, one of whom had found it a few days ago - a real testament as to what can turn up on your local patch! I stayed for a couple of hours more but although the flock was moving about they never really settled, and when they did they settled so far into the undergrowth a good view would have been impossible. So I turned my attention to some Siskin which were showing ridiculously well behind everybody, literally just feet away from the road, so while everyone else was looking forlornly into empty trees I grabbed this digi scoped clip of one of the male Siskin in the tree behind us all.
At this point I decided to call it a day and head back home leaving the other late comers to connect with the Arctic Redpoll. Finally my run of dipping has finally ended after a month of missing everything I went after, today I gripped not dipped!!

Monday 7 March 2011

Sunday 6th March 2011 - more local patching

Today I had already decided to get back over to the Cherry Hall site I was at yesterday to go through the Gulls on the flooded fields. So scope and bins in the rucksack I jumped on the bike and headed down the A6 to the area. A quick scan from the road showed up lots of Gulls, not in the numbers as yesterday but still a lot all the same. I rode onto the track leading up to the complex and noticed lots of Gulls in the fields to the south of me. I had a quick look but nothing too exciting turned up. the hedgrows had a large and very mobile passerine flock but as they wouldn't stay still I couldn't count what was in it but there was certainly mixed Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow. The main field was surprisingly empty of Gulls as they seemed to be preferring the field next to it which was slightly out of view, but gradually Gulls started to fly in and soon I had lots of large Gull infront of me. Unfortunately I couldn't pick out anything too exciting, there was a large Herring Gull of the Caspian type, with long pinkish legs, white blob on the end of P10, very long bill and long primaries, it had a pale yellow eye though but everything else was perfect - the bill was enormous and straight. I had also picked out a possible juvenile Yellow Legged Gull when disaster struck - the whole lot took to the air and started to make their way back to the Sidegate Landfill site. A quick look round showed a couple with 2 dogs in the adjacent field making as much noise as possible. I now had a conundrum, this site was now probably ruined for today as not a single bird was in the area - the light was starting to fade so I had to decide whether to stay here and hope they come back or make my way down to Stanwick Lakes to see the Gull roost there. I decided on the Stanwick option and returned to my bike to find that I had obtained a puncture on the way here, so after pushing the bike back home I jumped in the car and made my way down to Stanwick. The lakes still held numbers of Tufted Duck along with a few Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe, Wigeon and Shoveler. Most of the Teal and Pochard seemed to have moved on but a few Goosander were still kicking around. Reassuringly lots and lots of Gulls were piling in down the Nene valley and when I reached the watchpoint I was greeted by the site of lots of them. I started scanning through them and after about half an hour I noticed a bright red bill shinning in the early spring sunshine. It was unmistakable with its black hood, white border around the eye and pure white primaries - a full adult Mediterranean Gull right out in the open. I made a quick phone call to a mate of mine, Bob Webster, who is a keen and very experienced local birder and as luck would have it he was only ten minutes away. Within a short while the bird was relocated and we had a good view, but this time it was in with all the Black Headeds so was a little more difficult to see. Still it was a good end to a good day out and I made my way back to the car as darkness fell wondering where I had put my puncture repair kit.

Saturday 5th march 2011 - Local Bike Ride

After dusting off my bike I decided to put it back out of retirement, for 2 reasons mainly - in an effort to get fitter and spend less money on fuel. Also I reasoned that I could get about more locally so therefore visit more places in one day than I could on foot. The initial plan was to ride down to Stanwick Lakes, and as this was supposed to be a leisurely ride I didn't want to take anything too heavy so I (foolishly) left my scope at home. Half way down the A6 towards Irthlingborough I noticed that the fields to the west of the road were slightly flooded and were almost white with Gulls!!! So I took a quick detour which found me heading down a track towards the Cherry Hall set of buildings. From here the view was incredible, but as already stated I had decided to leave my scope at home so I had to make do with the bins. I couldn't see any white wings unfortunately and as the weather was now turning misty I had to give up as the birds were too far away to separate any Caspians or Yellow Legs. Never mind the hedgerows made up slightly for this as they were crawling with passerines. This is the site where I'd counted all the Tree Sparrows earlier in the year, and a flock of about 40 were still in the area although they were very mobile. Lots of Yellowhammers were around too with a few Reed Bunting thrown in too. The mist really started to come down by mid afternoon and visibility was getting very poor so I had to head home, but armed with the knowledge that I will be back tomorrow - and this time with the scope!!

Friday 4th March 2011 - a talk by Martin Garner

I travelled to Leicester this evening with my mate Pete to see a talk by Martin Garner. Martin is an inspirational birder who has taken bird identification to another level, his eye for detail and level of enthusiasm is a lesson to any birder. He started the talk with a bit about how he became interested in birds, and his gradual scholarship  into becoming one of this countries most expert birders. The talk was a fascinating insight into his techniques and its also refreshing to hear how "down to earth" he is. Some things of note that came out of the talk was the need to really study the commoner birds, and get to really understand them - the way they look, sound and behave! How can you really appreciate what is unusual if you have no idea what the norm is? Also he made a comment about not being too down hearted if you are lucky enough to find a rarity and the local rarities committee reject it, he says it has happened to him many times. A quick chat with him a half time enforced these comments and he stated that the best way of learning is to get out there and look for yourself.......and local patching is the way forward so long as you are aware of what could be out there and you are determined to find it. He was also good enough to sign his book for me too, it was just a shame when the talk had to come to an end as it was easily one of the most enjoyable talks I'd been to see. So if anyone reading this gets the chance to see one of this guys talks then go and see it as you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Sunday 26th February 2011 - Fen Drayton RSPB Reserve

This weekend I decided to bird a fairly local site just over the border in Cambridgeshire called Fen Drayton. Its an excellent place to visit with lots of reedbeds and an impressive list of birds to see. Its also fairly large so it is easy to spend the whole day here and not get bored. I started coming here late last year as its Starling roost was very impressive with up to 12,000 birds on our last visit. Bitterns are present here too during the winter and at the end of last November me and a couple of friends (Matt and Kieran) was awarded with excellent views of a Bittern flying around one of the smaller lakes. Today I met up with another mate of mine, Pete Bateup, and we got to the reserve at about 9.30 and started our walk around Elney Lake. It was a glorious morning with not a cloud in the sky, still quite chilly though but a real pleasure to be outside. From the car park and path down towards the Elney part of the reserve we had Coot, Carrion Crow, Great and Blue Tit, Bullfinch calling, Chaffinch, Little Egret, Tufted Duck, Goldfinch, Mute Swan, Goldeneye and Black Headed Gull all within about 300 yards. As we started the walk around Elney Lake Long Tailed Tits were in the hedgerows along with Dunnock, Wren, Robin and a very vocal Cetti's Warbler. On the lake itself there was lots of Goldeneye, with some obviously pairing up, Gadwall in small numbers, lots of Teal and masses of Wigeon. From the first screen we had a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and a Green Woodpecker yaffling in nearby farmland. Predictably with the fine weather the raptors started appearing mid morning and fantastic views of a male Sparrowhawk hunting the undergrowth along the lakes shoreline were had along with a Kestrel flying along the trees on the opposite shore and a superb view of a Peregrine riding the thermals above us with its tail fanned out. Grey Herons were dotted about, and few Mallard were here and there along the edges. A pair of Goosander flew in too but landed just out of sight on the other side of a small island. Continuing the walk produced Blackbirds and yet more Goldfinch (me and Pete thought we heard Siskin hear too but after a brief search couldn't locate them - a brief chat with the local RSPB warden later in the day confirmed that they were and here and were seen later that day) and a singing Greenfinch and Song Thrush near to some wasteland. The second screen had good views of a pair of Smew with a first winter male and female, and a quite close view of a Redhead (female) Smew right infront of the screen on the along the opposite bank. Canada Geese and Common Gull were also added to the list here too. The pathway to this screen also produced a Bumblebee which I was told by the RSPB warden later is the first one for the reserve of the year - no doubt woken by the warm spring weather. Unfortunately the warm spring weather started to deteriorate quite quickly by around midday and a few spots of rain started to fall, so the birds were not as active as they once were. A pair of Oystercatcher were displaying to each other and generally being noisy on the second lake we came across. This lake is called Moore Lake, and it was full of Gulls but unfortunately no large Gulls were present just lots of Black Headed and Common, and 2 female Goosander too. As it was starting to rain we headed the the other side of the reserve (passing the car so I could get my camera out of the rain) and made our way over to the Ferry Lagoon. Here were found at least 8 Pintail with some cracking looking drakes, and hundreds of Wigeon. This whole area looks absolutely brilliant for returning waders, and it contains lots of flooded bits - in fact I reckon when the wader passage starts you could probably spend the whole day just looking around here it looks that good (lets hope it stays flooded). We also added 2 Shellduck, Lapwing, Moorhen and an adult Lesser Black Backed Gull with 2 first winters. On the way back to the car Fieldfare could be heard chattering away and Skylarks signing above the fields - this bringing the total bird list up to 50 so far. Upon returning to the car park we had a quick chat with a few of the locals and they put us onto a small section of new trees planted by the road on the way out of the reserve as 2 Corn Bunting had been seen there in the morning. When we found the place in question it was literally crawling with passerines, with more Yellowhammers than I think I have ever seen. A pair of Stonechats were working their way along the ditch while the trees were full of Fieldfare, more Yellowhammer and some Siskins adding a bit more colour to the mix. A fairly large flock of Linnets too were in the fields just on the other side of the trees. We never did find the Corn Buntings unfortuantely, but there were so many birds that finding them would have been difficult and as we had already had a fantastic day we decided to head back home a have a pint of beer in the local. I don't think I will be leaving it long before I'm back here and I think I may have found a new favourite place! Shame we never saw or heard the Bittern though, but then you can't have everything.