Sunday, 25 January 2015

Teal, Skuas and Snipe

I have extolled the virtues of my weekly patch visits before but I am constantly reassured and inspired by them.

Today was a lovely day, the sun was shining, there was a very light frost and ice still gripped the banks of the back water to the river, and still the site amazed me. It was, in terms of wildlife a rather 'poor day'. Most of the birds were blackbirds or tits and none of what I consider the Mills 'Special species were showing themselves.

As ever at these times my mind wandered to how given lottery scale winnings I would convert this site into a first class reserve and haven for wildlife. Where would I dig out the scrape and pools, which parts would I let go and which would I leave to develop as nature intended. I already know where the hides would go and which hedgerows I would reintroduce and most importantly which parts would have public access and which would be science only zones.

God, Mother Nature, Fate whatever you call it often likes to play tricks on me and rewarded my neglect of what was around me by assaulting me with a multitude of possibilities. A chatter of tits frantic and desperate told me a Sparrowhawk was present. I quickly scanned the trees and spotted a male shooting out of the woods and across the trees startling a flock of Fieldfare and Redwing. My sudden movement flushed some small ducks that had gone unseen in the lee of the bank. They scrambled down the river and round the bend. As the Sparrowhawk a single call came from the trees to my right... was that a Little Owl? I scanned the large tree for it but couldn't see anything.

I was now torn, did I start my return journey and hunt down the possible Little Owl and count the flock of Fieldfare or did I back track and identify the ducks. I had a pretty good guess that the ducks were not Mallard, they had the feel of Teal and they are beautifully dainty little things. I decided to ignore the Little Owl, they are fairly common on the site and as the call was not clear I decided to not record it. I quickly did a rough Fieldfare count at distance and began to backtrack back down the river.

Teal in many ways have been the bane of my photographic life, they are tremendously nervous birds especially where I get to see them which is generally wintering on the river or on the fields at Warwick Castle. Most of my shots are at distance. I approached where I had seen them go down and began to carefully enter stealth mode... which to be fair isn't all that clandestine. Again they were flushed before I saw them but as I approached a willow a single male emerged in to the centre of the river. At first I thought he was a little grebe popping up but a swift confirmatory glance with my binoculars showed a neat little duck with rich brown head and bottle green eye stripe edged in gold in front of a light grey body. Our eyes met briefly and that was that he was off taking with him three more I had not even seen.

The best photograph I have of Teal taken as Warwick Castle Park in 2011

They flew down river and settled once more but I decided to leave them be. They were visitors to my patch and deserved respect. They were using my patch as a feeding station and it would be wrong to pester them any more. It would be on their terms that I would see them any better not mine. It is a healthy thing for wildlife enthusiast to hold dear - do no harm, do not disturb. I recall some years ago the most salutary lesson in this and a reason why I distrust Twitchers. The word came out through various newsgroups of a Great Skua at Draycote Water. This was of course a great rarity for land locked inland Warwickshire and people flooded far and wide to see it. They did seem to wonder why it was there from the birds perspective. The Skua had no doubt been out to see when a great storm came. It had been pushed inland and lost its direction. Tired and in need of rest it found Draycote a large open body of water were it could lay up, recharge and re orientate. Sadly the twitchers left it no peace. Each day they would try and get closer and closer to get THE picture. Each time that magical boundary of comfort was breached and the Skua flapped a short distance away only to be followed with greater avarice. By the end of the weekend the bird was found at the reservoirs edge dead from exhaustion, but at least there were plenty of memorial photos to go round. Wildlife watching is a deal, a bargain with nature, treat it with respect and it will reward you, treat it badly and it can end badly.

The last surprise for me was a site first. I left the public paths and started to wade through the flooded part of land that I manage to exchange the memory card in the the trail camera. I barely had chance to reach the temperature and depth recording station when a small bird was flushed. It dashed up in front of me and darted away showing a white rump/belly and straight needle like bill. Snipe was my first thought, I knew they had to be present on the site in the winter, it was perfect territory but this was my first sighting there. I watched twist round and drop into a bed of reeds I knew I would never distinguish it from and so left it be to check my camera and to return home and check my ID. After a brief flirtation with Jack Snipe and a quick check of the flushed call Common Snipe was confirmed and a new species dutifully added to my lists.

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