It might be the start of a new year, I may have all the enthusiasm in the world but, without some decent weather, there’s only ever going to be so much that can be done. Alas it seems that the rain that officially made December the wettest month on record is still with us, soaking already saturated ground and dampening even the most optimistic of dispositions. Leeds has suffered more than most recently and there was plenty of evidence to attest to the vast increase in river levels seen there when we paid a visit over the New Year period. Banks were strewn with debris, vegetation had been swept away and we passed more than one property that had clearly been flooded out. Having consumed more food than was strictly necessary welcoming 2016 it was to one of these previously swollen rivers, the Wharfe, that we headed on New Year’s day. Birds were our target but if we ticked some miles off our walk 1000 miles challenge in the process, well, even better.
At this point it would have been lovely to include a bright, uplifting photo of a snowy landscape bathed in that crystal clear light that only comes with winter. Unfortunately what we actually got was a day so dull that it barely felt as if the sun had bothered to drag itself above the horizon. Conditions underfoot ranged from muddy to very muddy but at least there were some decent birds about to make the whole thing worthwhile. Crow, Woodpigeon and Red Kite were the first to make it onto my year list before the River Wharfe added Dipper, Mallard and then Goosander in quick succession. The latter had a lovely pinkish wash across its breast, a plumage feature which we’ve only just started to notice. Another couple of Goosanders were swimming further upstream before Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Starling and Great-spotted Woodpecker came courtesy of woodland near Pickles Gill. An eclectic selection for sure which was rounded off rather nicely by a superb male Mandarin proving that there is still a little colour to be found out there.
Fast forward to Sunday and, now back in Wales, a similarly dull day seemed like an ideal opportunity to move things along a little further by giving WWT Llanelli a good thrashing. I think our previous record there for this time of year is 64 species but that was on a bitterly cold day with the ground frozen solid. To finish with a total of 51 species this time around therefore was, if I do say so myself, rather good especially given that we saw the lot in about three hours and didn’t even get to explore the Millennium Wetlands before torrential rain stopped play. And when I say torrential I really do mean torrential. We’re talking sheets of water being blasted up the Burry at a ferocious speed that at once both blanketed and then obscured the surrounding landscape. What made this more surprising than it otherwise would have been was the fact that just a few minutes earlier we’d been enjoying blue sky as this Song Thrush blasted out its song.
And that’s a little strange don’t you think. I’m more used to hearing Song Thrushes call in this way on summer evenings but on the 3rd January? Not so much. It wasn’t the only one either as the reserve was alive with birdsong whilst we saw both Jackdaws and Crows carrying sticks for nest building purposes. What on earth is going on. At least the gathered Lapwings and Wigeons brought a bit of normality to proceedings from the British Steel Hide where other regulars including Little Egret, Curlew and Shelduck were also present. The Lapwings in particular were very flighty with the whole flock regularly taking to the sky and, following a scan of the estuary, we soon found out why. Perched off in the distance was a Peregrine Falcon, presumably digesting a meal given its settled nature. A fairly regular species here but one which we’ve not connected with for some time.
Elsewhere there were plenty of smaller species including Blue Tit, Great Tit, Bullfinch, Stonechat and a record count of fourteen Collared Doves which went a long way towards building our total before we finished off with six Common Snipe roosting outside the Peter Scott Hide. If we’d found them a little earlier a photograph might have been on the cards but it was by now so dark that we had to call it a day. That didn’t stop us from admiring their intricate plumage before we left though, a great way to round out our first couple of days in 2016. Nothing too spectacular I’ll admit but a solid start on which to build.