9th Jan. Sam had been out yesterday and found some decent birds whilst getting soaked to the skin. We went out today with me hoping for some of the former and as little as possible of the latter.
We began at Backworth and soon had the Green-winged Teal in our sights as we stood surrounded by flooded ground. The type of day that could produce something special I thought. Our plan was to walk to Holywell and so we set off under a dark misty sky which was threatening rain. The threat soon became reality as we listened to calling Linnets. I’m told skin is water-proof and it seemed that this was going to be tested today, as my coat seems to have lost its powers to keep the rain out.
Initially we had found no White-fronted Geese (Sam had found them yesterday), but keeping an eye on the fields and the flashes we soon spotted a large flock of Greylag Geese in the distance. Although mist hampered the view we had soon picked out three White-Fronted Geese through the telescope and also one Barnacle Goose. The rain continued, but at least it wasn’t torrential and a little further along the path we were soon watching a Mediterranean Gull amongst Common and Black-headed Gulls beside another flash. Three female Bullfinches had led the way.
Such was the chat along the way we seemed to reach Holywell quite quickly, and as we walked along side the mud coloured burn we picked up a number of woodland species including Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker. As the rain eased and allowed time for some drying we approached the path which led towards the pond and found our first Kestrel of the year. After a chat with a good friend of ours we headed for the private hide from which we soon picked up Slavonian Grebe at the east end of the pond. We were thrown into some confusion when we found that this grebe had been reported as Black-necked Grebe. After a double take we confirmed our own identification, as it turns out it pays to believe your own eyes. A Mandarin Drake was also soon in our sights, but even this bird didn’t look quite as flashy as usual under such grey skies, and I’m afraid took a back seat to the Slavonian Grebe today.
At different points during the day we found Song Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush and Blackbird, the Fieldfares being heard before seen on each occasion we found them. Reed Bunting was seen from the hide and we watched Tree Sparrows at the feeding station along with a friendly Brown Rat and finches and tits. We chatted to AS and JD in the public hide as a Short Eared Owl flew slowly past the hide, and as we watched more closely the Slavonian Grebe and other birds such as Grey Heron, Goosander and Goldeneye. By now the Mandarin Drake was on the island and it had stopped raining.
We decided to walk down to the dene through mud and water. Along the way we heard Golden Plover and watched three Stock Doves and a covey of ten Grey Partridges.
We walked through the fields and eventually doubled back into the dene where the burn was deep and running at great speed. I didn’t think there would be much chance of seeing a Dipper today, but I was wrong and we had sight of one flying down the burn before we headed back towards the pond, finding at least two Goldcrest near the pathway.
The pond was fairly quite on our return. We walked back along to the private hide chatting to friends as we watched a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers above the feeding station, as likely a place to find them as anywhere.
I took a stop off at the hedge as Sam entered the hide. Once I caught up and entered the door he was taking photographs and suggested I keep quiet. The Slavonian Grebe was right outside and so watching and photographing this bird took up most of the rest of our stay. Neither of us have ever had such a good sighting of Slavonian Grebe. To top things off a Kingfisher flew past on a couple of occasions, on one such occasion perching on a nearby object. Well what can one say? A great way to end a great days birding and I’d really forgotten how damp I was by now! The Slavonian Grebe was put on edge by the sound of gunshot and then chased off by Mute Swans.
The day could have ended in disaster as I somehow caught my foot in the strap of my camera (don’t ask) and sent it and my new lens crashing to the floor with a very loud bang. Thankfully it seems intact and there were no tears. Much to be said for good old Canon equipment. It won’t leave my neck in future!
We left for home as a large flock of Lapwing flew overhead. A quick count shows that we had found sixty-five species on our walk, twenty-seven of them being new to the year list. Bird of what was a great day was undoubtedly the Slavonian Grebe, although a number of others follow closely behind.