Being awoken by Mother Nature’s alarm clock really is the best way to start a day. From the harsh calls of corvids to gently babbling brooks to roaring stags. We’ve heard a wide variety over the years and whatever wakes you on that first morning somewhere new can tell you a lot about a place. Think of it as an early scene setter, a little taster of what’s to come. On Saturday it was the turn of a familiar call to rustle me from my slumbers though initially its owner’s name escaped me. Rolling over I decided that the mystery could wait but by the third repetition of this struggle between curiosity and duvet I just had to get up and see. Peeling back the curtains revealed a pair of Red-legged Partridges enjoying an early morning dust bath, our first daylight views of our weekend base in the Peak District.
After our slightly morbid escapades for Project Splatter the previous evening it was nice to know that our quarry today would be a whole lot more alive. The Partridges were a prime example as they annoyingly wondered off before I’d even contemplated heading down for a better angle, such attractive birds to start what would be an absolute scorcher of a day. As our party gathered and chatted over a platter of bacon rolls a plan was formed to attempt a circumnavigation of nearby Carsington Water. That probably sounds more dramatic than intended but with plenty of cyclists sharing the paths it did feel at times like taking your life in your hands. I’m happy to report therefore that we made it around in one piece, completing the seven mile loop with all members of our group accounted for.
Along the way there were birds galore including a rather snazzy drake Red Crested Pochard, Spotted Flycatcher, Barnacle Goose, Reed Bunting and Reed Warbler. The latter was our first of the year and shared a marshy area with several Lapwing, Oystercatchers and an extremely agitated Redshank. Constantly calling and glancing in all directions the source of its worry soon became clear as we spotted a juvenile cautiously walking along the shore. Still a little unstable on its feet we got some great views before leaving the pair to it.
This wasn’t a birding focused day so we gave the hides a skip (they’d likely have been like ovens anyway) which may be the reason why I didn’t study a large bird flying over the reservoir quite as closely as I should have. A half thought popped in to my mind that it looked good for Osprey but then I got distracted, probably by the thought of lunch which was well overdue. It was only upon arriving at the visitor centre and finding out that an Osprey had indeed been seen half an hour earlier that I realised my error. Perhaps my consolation prize would be Tree Sparrows of which a colony exists at Carsington but, with temperatures reaching astronomical levels, we drew a blank. To be honest I don’t blame them for hiding away although a little food in the feeders (hint, hint) might have helped a bit. All were empty with the bird tables taken over by roosting Mallards, one of which was idly rolling an un-hatched egg about. Unperturbed we soldiered on and were rewarded with three juvenile Swallows perched along the dam. If anything they looked even hotter than us and were being steadfastly ignored by their parents despite hopeful looks and open gapes.
Given the high temperatures (have I mentioned that it was very hot?) there were a good number of butterflies and insects on the wing including Small White, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood, Peacock, Small Skipper, Brimstone, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Cinnabar Moth and even a Cardinal Beetle. This was by far our biggest single haul of the summer with most species new for the year. Some even posed for the camera but we were way outside my comfort zone for chasing anything around the meadows.
Back at our cottage is was time for a well-earned rest which, for me at least, lasted approximately half an hour. With such great views spread out before me (see the top of this post) I couldn’t not go exploring, especially given that a male Yellowhammer had been taunting me with his call ever since our return. Before I’d even got to him however I was taken by this Pied Wagtail perched on our roof, one of several living around the cottage along with numerous Swallows.
Just down the road I found a track leading off between two magnificently plump hedgerows which were just bursting with life. Bees and Hoverflies abounded whilst butterflies whizzed through with only the briefest of rest stops. There were ladybirds too, though sadly yet more Harlequins, not forgetting of course the Yellowhammer which had cause to drag me back into the sun in the first place. Of him I managed only flight views as he flew back towards the cottage at almost the exact moment I arrived at his preferred tree. You probably don’t need me to tell you what happened when I went back in the opposite direction.
What I was really interested in here though was the small barn which you can see in the first photo on this post. Emma thought that she’d heard a Barn Owl calling the previous night and this was the best bet for a roost. With screaming Swifts overhead and a Chiffchaff calling from nearby woodland I settled down to wait. Barely ten minutes later and a flash of movement found me virtually face to face with my target as a superb Barn Owl flew out of a hole in the wall, paralleled the hedge and landed in a tree some thirty meters of so down the track. Gob-smacked I just had time to fire off a single frame before the owl caught sight of me, decided that I was definitely too big an item of prey to take and took flight once more. Barrelling over the next field it was lost to sight in no time but what a fabulous encounter. Easily highlight of my day. By the way, if you know what my camera actually focussed on in the Owl image below then I’d love to know as it certainly wasn’t the bird or the tree!
But this corner of Derbyshire still had one or two little surprises up its sleeve before we called it a night. As we enjoyed our BBQ two hot air balloons drifted into view, the first climbing higher with each roar of its burners. With little wind they weren’t going anywhere fast which may be why the second balloon dropped into the valley below. At least I assumed it was a planned landing and not crashing with style. That was followed by a glorious sunset which though lacking in colour thanks to a cloudless sky was no less impressive.
In complete contrast to what we expect from British summertime we were still sitting outside in t-shirts gone 11:30pm at which point the sky continued to hold a little light. A sticky and warm night lay ahead that was for sure.