Monday, March 16, 2009

Four Counties

This weekend we had family staying and wanted to make sure we explored some places they'd not been to before, so first stop Paxton Pits in Cambridgeshire. The weather forecast was for morning cloud, breaking and clearing to be followed by an afternoon of sunshine.

Paxton is a continually evolving and improving site, and this weekend was playing host to two Firecrests, both male, with one seen here:













A better view though out of focus here:

















They are very similar to Goldcrests but with much bolder markings on the head and are distinguished by the white plumage above the eye, the bit called the supercilium. The light was low and the bird fast moving so I had to use manual focus (hence the lack of focus), still very good to both see and have a chance to photograph this usually elusive little bird!

We walked the perimeter of the reserve and enjoyed the various sights of early Spring including the catkin:




















We were overflown by a couple of very vocal Kingfishers, a surprising encounter. We plan to head back in May for the Nightingales.

From Paxton Pits we headed to Summer Leys where we enjoyed the first Sand Martins of the season. The weather was closing in with heavy cloud and strong cold winds so we did a shorter than planned 2-mile circuit before heading home for the evening ready for another day out on Sunday.

Sunday was all it was promised to be, a cold crisp start with some scatterings of cloud, a light wind and lots of sunshine - time to top up the vitamin D levels. We started on Sunday morning at the Lodge, headquarters of the RSPB, for our second visit there and to see how things had developed in the years since our first visit.
















Early in to our walk this moth landed in front of us, I have no idea if it's the most common moth, or an unusual one? We headed for the old Iron Age fort on the new walk the RSPB has opened. At one point we heard Crossbills calling from the conifers before the fort, but we didn't see any, so still no Crossbill tick on our list. We did however get to see a new species whilst we were looking for the Crossbill, namely Merlin and not one but too. Again very vocal and clearly a pair too the first sighting was of this female, taken from underneath as she soared and swooped above the trees:













The male joined her:














They appeared to have isolated a small bird above the trees and were hunting it. It looked sufficiently small to probably have been a Blue Tit but hard to tell as it was flying for its life. At one point I caught the male in a stoop dive:

















We watched them for a good ten minutes before they moved on.

Further round the grounds we walked through a broad-leafed wood and watched on of the very numerous Siskins feeding:














Next up the gardens around the lodge, where this rhododendron was flowering:














The gardens a good balance of preened and wild. We stopped for a cuppa at the shop and watched a pair of Common Redpolls feeding, before heading off to our next destination.


















On the path back the car this Robin was in full song and really summed up the experiences of the weekend, with birdsong everywhere as well as birds zooming around, nest building, etc. Spring is definitely springing!




















Our final destination of the weekend was planned for the lakes north of Milton Keynes, as we'd spotted a Wildfowl centre on the map. On arrival however it turns out it's a 'research' facility and entirely private, which is frustrating as the re are clearly a lot of birds on either side of the M1 there but we're not allowed access. Humbug. So we moved to Willen lake for our packed lunch bu the Peace Pagoda, but that was over-run with humans so we decided to head home via a garden centre and to work on improving the habitat for our local birds. All in all a very pleasant weekend with work coming back around far too soon. Ho hum.

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