Saturday dawns as a fantastic autumnal morning, crisp and clear, with an inviting forecast. Perfect for a bit of birding.
Leaving the choice of site to others can sometimes be a dangerous thing but this time Toms choice of Hauxley feels right - not too far and we always feel guaranteed to see something worthwhile. We haven't been up there as a family since the fire so I am also curious to see the reactions to the new facilities as well.
Checking out the sightings board in the new and temporary visitor centre, now open, there is a decent list but nothing outstanding. This board has been enhanced by some great sketches by John Steele, worth a look if you're up there. We decided to head down to Erics Hide because of the position of the sun and the wind (its pretty cold today but also very sunny).
Despite the lateness of the year, there are still plenty of wildflowers in bloom, including devil's bit scabious looking majestic. The haws and hips are weighing down the branches, yet to be discovered by winter thrushes, whilst sloes, black just a few days ago are now turning dusky purple following the first of the frosts. Sunning itself on a hawthorn bush, a drowsy speckled wood butterfly languidly took to the air once brushed by the shadow of my camera, joined by another further on along the pathway. Recently common in the area, this was still a surprise view given the relative lateness in the year.
Equally late, the reserve was alive with swallows, urgently stocking up for their impending overseas sojourn, their in-flight menu presumably mainly tipulids, which appear to be commonplace today. Swooping and darting across the sky, these birds appeared to consist mainly of juvenile birds, their urgent feasting suggesting imminent departure. Although young, their mastery of the air was wonderful to watch. Alongside the few perched precariously on the fence-line, a solitary wheatear sits tucked in the sun, its buffs and browns in sharp contrast to the dark scrub. Obvious to me, it took an age to alert my companions to its location.Amongst the wind blown spume and stranded seaweed, redshank and dunlin feast while mallards and teal sit out the wind, unsure to stick or twist. The nearby fields are full of curlew, hidden from view until disturbed but settling again, just out of sight apart from one individual which continues to probe the mist soil. Alongside is a single godwit, probably bar-tailed, probing the depths, showing clearly the differences in size, shape and colour as well as bill shape.
A dark blob dips and weaves across the water, low to the surface, a sudden shift catches the full light, a turquoise streak as the kingfisher reveals its true colours before passing from view. Poor Tom, dipping on the wheatear as he positioned the scope, double dips, his disappointment palpable.
Perhaps this explains his unusual haste as we move hides, the cathedral space of the new hide fittingly reverential as we sit in hushed tones, searching the sky for a renewed view of the jewelled vision. Three little grebe bob and weave close by, their feeble airborne sojourns creating laughter and some amusement as I try and recall words from the Mikado: “three little grebes are we.....”
More curlew, dunlin and a group of lapwing are sheltering from the growing breeze, curlew numbers rising during our stay until a good size flock approaching 200 is formed. Three snipe hide at one end of the spit, nervously watching wigeon as they graze the waterline. The gang of geese, constantly fidgety, provide a constant background noise but stick to one side of the site, leaving space for a group of 15 cormorants, one of which is diving so frequently he appears otter-like for a brief moment.
Deciding to head down the coast for a while, we wander down the tree lined path, small flocks of tits and finches occasionally breaking cover to dart into safety once again just ahead.
“Kingfisher” - two voices simultaneously trill as an unmistakeable cobalt and copper flash breaks the skyline ahead. Smiles all around prove the value of the day and everyone is happy heading back to the car. Sunshine shines on flower rich banks amongst which goldfinch hang from umbel-heads, a group of over 50 as big as any I have seen for some time. A single tree sparrow joins them from time to time as they wend their way from plant to plant, perpetual motion, a charm in every sense. Tom couldn't wait to add his score to the tally board.
East Chevington and the sky is darkening almost menacing.
A walk through the dunes to the burn mouth for a change, drawn by the glimpse of whitecaps on the sea. Unexpected colours adorn the sand, late blooms from bloody cranesbill, alongside waxcaps and rose galls drawing the eye to a mass of cowslips, proof positive of a hefty crop earlier this year. As we progress, a skein of geese appear from the sea, ragged V's form a breakdance across the sky, these Canada Geese oddly attractive in the air, my least favourite on the ground.
Amongst the beach debris, wrack, kelp and trunks of trees, pied wagtails trill and dip, with a grey wagtail providing some colour amongst the monotone debris. A rock pipit catches the eye, hidden amongst the trash, suddenly popping into the air before dropping out of view. Along the top of the beach, a small bird rises, followed by others, until 9 birds are moving away along the dune edge – surely too early for snow bunting!!
The waves are crashing against the base of the dunes, surging upwards and scattering a large group of dunlin and sanderling into the sky. Forming and breaking, constant movement, their antics comical yet purposeful, I find myself thrilled by the scene. Trish is equally hushed. A single ringed plover lurks amongst the group, his mask suggesting nefarious purposes that belie his true intent. Gulls of all sizes , creeds and colour crowd into the small space at the edge of the waves, searching weed, salad tossed by the waves to reveals scraps of food, requiring robust jousting for a rewarding morsel . Spume topped waves remind me of instant whip, peaks and troughs of creamy foam creating a backdrop to the scene, which completes a memorable day.
Cold hands and face remind us of the approaching winter, but this is my favourite time of year. And to hear my youngest proclaim a love for birdwatching crowns it all.