I pulled in to Brooklands car park this morning and was pleasantly surprised to see Greenie from Greenie in the wild just putting his gear on. I think the recent Bittern sightings had lured him down from his usual haunts so I was happy to tag along with him as an extra pair of eyes.
We started off scanning Brooklands lake where some of the margins showed signs of a small thaw. We didn't find a Bittern there but we were entertained by a couple of Snipe which flew up and down between a couple of the fisherman's swims. It's been really good to see so many of these birds at New Hythe in the last couple of weeks during the hard weather conditions. The tide on the Medway was quite low but on the rise, and as we stood in the small wood a Kingfisher was heard calling close by and briefly seen and a Redshank flew downstream. We checked all the Little Grebes out in the hope of finding one of their less common cousins, but despite our best efforts, disappointingly, we didn't find one. We were pleased though when a Goldeneye dropped in, which I instantly thought was a drake, but after a few looks and a hasty photo or two we realised that it wasn't the adult drake seen by Alan Woodcock yesterday but a probable immature or first winter drake showing quite a lot of white to the front and flanks. There's a very bad picture below!
Still looking for Bittern we headed to Abbey Mead lake where we concentrated our viewing in the north eastern reedbeds. As we stared intently across the corner of the lake a small splash to our left turned out to be a Kingfisher diving into the small, shallow, ice free stream close to the bank. Goodness knows what it could have seen there to dive for but I hope it got whatever it was. Needless to say we still hadn't found a Bittern, isn't it always the same, I've found them on the last four or five visits, sometimes, like buses, three turning up in a row but when you really need one.....it's the kiss of death.
Over to the Railway lake and I suggested to Greenie that maybe a circuit of the lake would be a good idea, especially as there had probably been no disturbance by fisherman for a while. The plan was to try and spot a Bittern from a distance, before it spotted us, but three quarters of the way round our concentration was fading, which of course is when one flew up from the reeds just in front of us! I didn't get a picture but Greenie got a couple of it's rear end disappearing into the gloom. I hope they came out OK, check out his blog here. We walked over to the usual viewing area on Streamside lake and scanned the reedbeds opposite, but of course we couldn't see anything there and it was now time for me to go. So I parted company and started heading through the small wooded area to the Millstream path. I'd taken four or five paces and bugger me if a Bittern didn't fly up out of the wood! We were amazed, what was it doing in there? I can only think that it was searching for food in the absence of ice free water. Greenie then headed for the conservation lake and I continued to walk down the Millstream towards the car park, but it wasn't over yet because the final surprise was another sighting of a Bittern, or possibly the same one, which flew up from the far side of the stream and headed up towards the conservation lake. Again, i've never seen one there before but it does hold a good head of fish and is mostly unfrozen.
Just to brighten up the post, here's a picture of one of our garden visitors, sometimes there's three of them and occasionally i've counted five. They dominate the feeders at times which winds me up a bit but they need to eat as well, so good luck to them.