It was cold and bright when I left the car park this morning but Brooklands lake was dark and gloomy, hidden almost, under the heavy cloud of the paper mill's vile breath. The dank, cold, steam laden air driven by the northerly wind dropped over the water like a smelly blanket and I was glad that I had a neck gaiter, which I pulled up over my nose and mouth as a filter and hurried quickly to Abbey Mead, pausing only to listen to a Cetti's Warbler, the first i've heard for some time here. I was beginning to worry that the weather had taken it's toll on this vulnerable species, I expect it has to some extent.
By the time I got there the sun had all but departed, replaced by low cloud and semi darkness. I scanned the reed beds here for a Bittern but couldn't see one. What I could see however was a fisherman's line snaking out from the reed beds where Alan and I had stood a couple of days earlier, so no Bitterns today then, I guessed, but a Kingfisher darted across the corner of the lake to compensate. I decided to walk up the railway path, stopping to watch a hunting Sparrowhawk and one of several flocks of Long tailed Tits seen today. Another vulnerable bird, but numbers seem fairly good at New Hythe at the moment it seems. Half way along the path something caused me to look up and lo and behold there was a Bittern flying over the railway line looking as if it was coming down somewhere on Abbey Mead, that put a spring in my step! All the way along the path I could hear Herons calling as they either flew over or flew up and when I got a view of the lake I could see birds scattered pretty much all around the margins. This is one of the few ice free lakes at the moment, even the Railway lake is 60% frozen today so feeding areas are at a premium for the Herons as well as the Bitterns.
The divers' car park end of Streamside lake is also still frozen solid, a single Siskin flew into one of the Alders here and a few minutes later a small flock circled around the tree tops calling loudly but didn't stop. Redwings and single Fieldfare were the main birds in the West scrub but the East scrub did hold an odd surprise as three Snipe flew up from a small patch of very low brambles right alongside the main diagonal footpath as I walked across. Here also was one of three Green Woodpeckers seen, two more were on the telegraph poles in the sunken marsh later.
The restless Goosander has been seen on Abbey Mead a couple of times in the last couple of days so I stopped at one of the fishing swims to scan the lake for it on the way back and nearly jumped out of my skin when another (or the same) Bittern flew up from some reeds about fifteen feet away from me. I stayed there for five minutes more and watched a pair of Kingfishers chase each other up and down the lakeside, oblivious to my presence as they concentrated on what I presumed was a territorial dispute. Too early and too cold for anything else at the moment I think! The river path is still blocked by fallen branches so I continued along the wide path back towards the sunken marsh where another Sparrowhawk zoomed low along the hedgerow towards me before spotting me and swerving away quickly. A bit further on two Goldcrests flitted through the bushes in their usual non stop fashion, their presence given away by their constant thin high pitched call. It was round the sunken marsh track that I added two birds to the December New Hythe list taking it to 62, one was a Lesser Black backed Gull which flew lazily down river and the second was a Cetti's Warbler which flew quite openly among the reeds as it hunted desperately for food.
No pictures today, the only ones I took came out too dark to be of use so I looked back in my archives and found the photo above, of the millstream, taken on the 22nd December 2009 I think..........Deja Vu?