A lifer, a patch first and some welcome early migrants - today was crackerjack birding in anyone's book.
It started with a trip over the county border to the lovely Oxfordshire village of Cropredy. Perhaps better known for its annual hosting of the Fairport Convention festival (at which I was a regular attendee in years gone by), Cropredy has hit the birding headlines in the last couple of weeks for its hosting of something considerably more elegant (and much quieter) - a Common Crane.
The Common Crane may be common on the continent, but it is an extreme rarity round these parts - hence the trip. It was the perfect kind of twitch for me - arrived at 8am to find one birder departing, reporting no sign of it during the last hour. I waited with two other newly arrived birders, found a Little Owl to pass the time and then, 10 minutes later, in she flew. Nearly 6ft of resplendent white, black and grey plumage, with a shape perhaps best described as a cross between a heron and an ostrich!
A stunning bird and a pleasure to watch feeding in the watery fields for the half-hour or so I was there. Fortunately, photographer-about-town Steve Seal also turned up later that morning and it is by his kind permission that I reproduce the stunning photograph above (more photographs of the Crane, plus plenty more first-class bird photography, can be found at http://steveseal.fotopic.net).
With that mission accomplished, I returned home via Napton Reservoir. I was hoping for some more early migrants to follow the ridiculously early Chiffchaff I heard there nearly three weeks ago, and I wasn't disappointed. First I found two more Chiffchaffs, singing loudly and foraging low down in the hedges around the reservoir (I don't blame them for keeping low, there was a biting east wind by this point).
Then I saw two small shapes fluttering between the Tufted Ducks, Coots, Common Gulls and Great Crested Grebes on the main water - Sand Martins. These classically early migrants were freshly arrived from East Africa, no doubt wondering in these temperatures why they had bothered!
And finally, to turn a brilliant morning into a near perfect one for me, I noticed a small wader rising from the other side of the reservoir, passing high overhead and descending into a nearby field. With its compact stubby shape, pointed wings and bizarrely long bill, this could only be a Snipe, quite a common bird wherever there is suitable habitat (ie marshy / muddy / watery land) but my first on patch. Fantastic.
My little photos above, by the way, are not (you may have noticed) of a Crane, Sand Martin or Snipe - these were too far, too fast and too high respectively (and I don't have Steve's determination and photographic skill). However, at a little feeding station by Napton Canal, I was able to take this Chaffinch and Dunnock. I like them because of the contrast with the blue boat, green post, yellow string etc - I think this makes for some unusual bird pictures.