Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Year's Day "Twitch and Tick"

IMPORTANT: The paths are very muddy and the Great Ouse is forecast to burst its banks, making the Ouse Valley Way impassable in places. Please be careful and wear appropriate footwear. A walking stick helps where the paths are slippery.
Happy New Year to you all!

We kicked off 2014 like every other year, with our New Year's Day birdwatching event at Paxton Pits. This year is a special one for us because we are celebrating the Reserve's 25th anniversary but the weather started off anything but special and steadily worsened, so that by noon we were almost running to get back to the Visitor's Centre. Most of us were cold and wet and the last part of the circuit was barren of birds but I was astonished to see that 22 people had had notched up 35 species in two hours.

I normally boast that we could see over 50 species but because of the wind and rain it was almost impossible to get good views of land birds except at the feeders. Many of our waterfowl were taking shelter under the trees so I would have been pleased to see thirty species today.

As we gathered up outside, a stream of over 200 lapwings passed southwards overhead. I took this to be a sign of good things to come, but it wasn't raining at that point. Afterwards I realised that they were leaving us, so not a good sign at all.

Just across the road, the Weedy Pit is often ignored but it held an interesting assortment of diving and dabbling ducks. Tufted ducks were diving for shellfish on the bottom and bringing bits of weed, seeds and small invertebrates up with them. The main beneficiaries were gadwall and a few wigeon that circled on the surface to snatch whatever popped up. We almost overlooked two black headed gulls that sat on the water nearby. What was their role?

It is well known that gulls can be "klepto-parasites" but do they offer the ducks anything in return? It seems that they operate a "protection racket" whereby they stand guard and give the alarm if a threat comes along and this earns them their ten percent of the day's takings. 'Makes sense to me anyway.

On Heronry South we found the usual cormorants, coots, pochards, moorhens and some mallards. We had trouble spotting any teal, but eventually found them asleep on the far shore. Then a female goldeneye landed close to us so we could learn how to identify it by the way it's head didn't seem to be part of the bird, as though it was stuck on.

The highlight for us all was a splendid view of a drake goosander that flew all the way down Heronry North towards us and then passed close over the hide. I love that salmon-pink colour that they have. It is the colour of a sunset on a stormy day and it made the bird appear to glow despite the darkness and rain.

The idea of the Tick and Twitch is to have a bit of fun and raise money at the same time. Every species seen raises 10p and so we should have taken £64. In fact we collected £180.50! The tombola did well in the morning too but after 2 pm the rain and wind drove people away.

Thank you all for taking part. If you missed it, please come next year.