11 October 2015

Pushing ourselves

Today was a birding day, but I'm going to start with a reflection on fishing: my brother always catches more than me.

So why is that? Well, it would be churlish of me not to factor in his superior skill and experience (and I do so hope he never reads this). But another factor is definitely his sheer will to catch. While I'm looking at darkening skies and packing away, he'll be looking at those same skies and thinking: "there's another hour in this; still time for the big one." And so it often proves.

All of which I mention because I think this self-same will to win / optimism / cussedness is an admirable philosophy which can be equally well applied to many other ventures in life - not least birding. So today, whenever I felt like calling it a day, I told myself to stick it out and wait until I caught - I mean found - the big one. And the result was... well, this.

It was a stunning morning as I left the house at 07:30, the mist draped over hedgerow and field and a huge red sun rising over the treetops. When the last of that mist dissipated shortly after I arrived at Napton Reservoir it revealed nothing much, a lone pochard the only non-regular on or near the water.

Instead I spent a fruitful couple of hours hedge and field bashing, hoping (with little expectation) for a yellow-browed warbler but settling instead for some 1st winter yellowhammers, bullfinch, linnet, meadow pipit, a mistle thrush, my second lone redwing of the week and a magnificent sky full of sky larks. Flyovers included raven, a grey wagtail and two pairs of swallow stragglers.

You can't fault the view from
Brandon's Badger Tearoom :-)
Thirty-four species isn't a bad haul for a couple of hours on a small patch, but I still had an appetite for more birds. And for a full English breakfast, which - not at all coincidentally - is how I started my visit to Brandon Marsh.

The breakfast was great, but the sightings board and book didn't look quite so promising. With little having been reported over recent days I was beginning to think I should have made the trip up to Middleton Lakes RSPB on the off-chance that the GWE came back (it didn't).

Still, I told myself, Brandon is a big reserve - there could be anything out there, just waiting to be discovered. Hmmm. After another couple of hours my 'big' find (apart from the welcome site of the recently arrived wigeon) had been a couple of well-hidden snipe on east marsh - my first waders for the day, but not much to show for 4+ hours out and about.

So I decided to make a final stand at Jury Hide - here I vowed to sit until something really interesting dropped in (a peregrine or marsh harrier perhaps, or maybe even the now-mobile GWE!)

To be fair it only took 10 minutes of steely determination (ahem) before I spotted the tiniest movement in the hedges right at the back of the reedbed. A quick scope scan revealed a vivid male stonechat, clear as day even at 200 yards. He was quickly joined by a female and, after a few minutes watching them bounce along that hedgerow, I could finally head home happy that I had indeed seen the day through to a decent conclusion.

Bird of the day: Common Sni... nah, just kidding. It was Stonechat (Saxicola torquata), a long-time favourite of mine. October / November is the best time to find them in this part of the world, and Brandon Marsh as good a spot as any.

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