Wednesday, 26 October 2011

I wonder where the time goes...

Yesterday afternoon, after riding into Cambridge to pick up a power tool that had been repaired, and then to Stevenage to collect some motorcycle overtrousers, I went straight to Fowlmere Nature Reserve to do a spot of birding.  I've added a decent-sized topbox to the bike, so can easily store my crash helmet, boots and overtrousers while I wander around the reserve.

When I got to the main hide, standing on stilts overlooking the mere, the sky was very dark and overcast, with deep blue clouds threatening rain, and making it really hard to see the birds.  There were lots of corvids, mallard and tits of various flavours, of course, but I could also see teal and eventually, a couple of snipe, and there was a cetti's warbler calling in the background.  Cetti's are secretive birds that we often hear on the reserve, but I've yet to see one.

After about half an hour the clouds had moved away somewhat, and sunshine brightened the mere, and I was very pleased to take a half-way decent shot of the snipe, brightly lit by the sun, low in the sky.

There wasn't much happening, and I was beginning to think about going home, when I became aware of a flurry of avian activity in the reed beds that surround the hide.  Quite a few small, brown birds had started flitting about amongst the tops of the reeds, evidently feeding on the seed heads.

After looking them up, I concluded they were reed buntings.  This is not quite as straightforward at this time of year as in the spring, when the males are in their quite distinctive breeding plumage.  Easy to tell a male reed bunting in the spring, and if there are less obvious brown jobbies around with him, they're probably females, but they all moult in the late summer, and at this time of year, the males are much more similar to the females.

Anyway, at that moment, Doug, warden of the reserve, arrived and confirmed my ID, so that was OK.

We watched for a bit, then saw the resident kingfisher, perched obligingly on a post, and then, to our amazement and delight, a sparrowhawk settled on the cattle gate not 10 metres from the hide, and sat there for several minutes.  I took quite a few photographs, but it was coming on dusk by now, and none of them was any good.

When he flew off in pursuit of someone small and tasty, he quickly returned to the gate, sans dinner, but over the next 20 minutes he treated us to a stunning demonstration, mostly done within about 30 metres of the hide, and most of the time when he perched, he was within 10 metres, once within 3!  It was fabulous!  We get sparrowhawks in our garden, and we've seen them catching small birds, but never so close, nor for such an extended, uninterrupted view.  Magical!  Disappointingly, he failed to catch anything before I left.

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