I spent last weekend up in Leeds visiting Emma’s parents which I hoped would give me an ideal opportunity to connect with at least one Waxwing. Things initially looked good with birds being reported from all over the local area so when chance allowed we headed out to search. I’ll let you know now that we were completely unsuccessful. Despite arriving within half an hour at a couple of recent sightings there wasn’t a Waxwing to be seen anywhere. The final straw came whilst we were looking in Bradford and a flock was reported at the end of Emma’s parents road no less! (Bradford did deliver an impressive flock of six Blackcap in a single tree though). At this point I realised that the Waxwings were just toying with us and resolved to find one naturally in the course of normal events, hopefully even nearer to home in Wales. As a result I am still firmly in the “I haven’t seen a Waxwing yet” club but I remain hopeful.
One of the places we visited during our stay was Golden Acre Park. This is a large area that is a mixture of formal gardens, lakes and a wild nature reserve. The first bird we spotted was a Red Kite gliding across the sky which is never a bad way to start the day, closely followed by a couple of overflying Redwings and several Mistle Thrushes calling from the treetops. In fact I think Mistle Thrushes were one of the most abundant birds we saw as no matter where we went in Leeds or the surrounding area you were pretty much guaranteed to bump into some. The usual woodland birds were out in abundance including more calling Nuthatches (see my previous post) and a pair of Goosanders on the main lake. In the nature reserve we were very fortunate to glimpse a Woodcock as it erupted from the undergrowth in front of us, and were able to watch a large Fox slinking through the undergrowth from one of the hides. Given the perfect growing conditions that there have been this year it wasn’t surprising to find an abundance of fungi and mushrooms. Two species in particular caught my attention as I don’t recall having seen them before. A bit of internet research has led me to the names Oyster Mushroom (so called because it looks and tastes like an Oyster) and Candle Snuff Fungus.
We also took the opportunity to visit the RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings for the first time despite the day being shrouded in very thick fog. Whilst the weather rendered the lakes almost invisible the birds that were close more than made up for it. We saw several Willow Tit that had Emma and I studying their plumage intently to make sure that we could discern them from the extremely similar Marsh Tit. Eventually we were satisfied that we had everything covered which I am very happy about because I can’t remember the last time I saw one. I wish they had hung around for a bit longer as our views were relatively short as they flicked through the trees or briefly landed on one of the reserve feeders. Speaking of feeders the following picture shows the sort of conditions that we were dealing with. You should bare in mind that this was taken at midday.
If you enlarge the picture you can probably see a few of the Goldfinch that were around as well as several of the female Pheasants that were feeding on the spilt seed. What I hadn’t expected to see were several Tree Sparrows mixed in with the Tits and Finches. This reserve must be a very good place for them as yet more were flitting around the visitor center itself. The Tree Sparrows really are cracking little birds and it is such a shame that we seem to have lost our population on the Gower Peninsular. Spot of the day though goes to Emma who picked out a Water Rail running along the bank of one of the ditches. For me this bird symbolises winter like no other as that is the only time of the year that I ever see them. Probably explains the rather cold weather we’re having.
You may have noticed from the title of this entry that I have thrown Pied-Billed Grebe in there. Rather fortuitously our journey back to Wales took us right past Hollingworth Lake in Rochdale, the current home to this countries latest American migrant. A short walk from the car had us in the more natural setting of the southern reed beds that border the reservoir, where a small gaggle of telescopes told us we were in the right place. Despite a bunch of particularly non-helpful or talkative birders we found the Grebe sitting in the undergrowth at the far side of the water. It looked around several times giving superb views of its beak before settling down for a nap. We could have hung around for longer in the hope that it would come out into open water but to be honest it was freezing and I wanted to get back on the road. Nevertheless it was a cracking bird that should hang around for a good while yet as it looks very well settled. I think it has been about ten years since Britain was last treated to a Pied-Billed Grebe so it is certainly worth a look if you get a chance. Hollingworth Lake is also a very nice place to visit in its own right. I’ll leave you with a picture of the area where the Grebe was as that was the best I could manage. It’s definitely in there somewhere I can assure you.