There was a Cetti's Warbler flying quite openly between the reeds and brambles this morning as I made my way along the western edge of Brooklands lake. You wouldn't normally expect to see them like that but these are desperate times if you are a 'little brown job' and perhaps even more desperate if you rely on open water to feed, like Ducks, Kingfishers, Grebes and Herons. At the moment there isn't any open stillwater at New Hythe lakes as the picture of Brooklands lake above shows. There were about twenty Coots strung out in a line making their way to the centre of the lake to avoid a couple of big black dogs bounding around the edge. The person in the left of the picture is Alan Woodcock, I saw his car in the car park earlier. I hope he had as good a walk as I did today.
Abbey Mead is also 99% frozen with just a small twenty foot by twenty foot patch of open water (below) containing dozens of birds including Mallards,Shovelers,Gt Crested Grebes, Tufties and Coots. Thankfully this piece of unfrozen water is on the eastern side of the lake which is pretty inaccessible so at least they don't get disturbed. Except that is by the odd fox (above) who chanced his luck on the ice this morning. While I watched, a Kingfisher landed in the small tree next to me and then he headed for the tree next to the open water, fat chance of finding fish there though I fear.
It was a similar story on the Railway lake, it too has only a very small piece of unfrozen water to offer the few remaining Coots. As I stood by the lake I had one of half a dozen sightings of a Sparrowhawk, this one chased a Redwing into the lakeside bushes alongside me but flew away empty handed this time. The other sighting here was a flyover Skylark and a Mistle Thrush, both new species for the December NH list. I continued on to have a look at Streamside lake and maybe find a Redpoll in the Alder trees there but i didn't find one. Maybe it was something to do with the shouting lady with the five barking dogs, or maybe i'm just getting cynical. Either way I stayed until the noise had faded into the distance and then retraced my footsteps to cross back over the railway line. But as I passed the south west corner of Railway lake again a Bittern flew up from the first fisherman's swim there, right next to the wide, often busy path that skirts the East scrub. I managed to quickly get a poor rear view shot as he flew off towards Streamside. That's the first Bittern i've ever seen on this lake and where it flew up from is solid ice, another desperate situation I think.
There were a lot of Redwings along this path and a few more Fieldfares than usual but they are still extremely shy and the picture below is the best I could do, but even that is better than I normally get.
Then came the next surprise, another Bittern, I've seen more at New Hythe so far this winter than I've seen in my lifetime. This one was also on the Railway lake, standing on the ice under the Willows on the Eastern edge. It was almost out in the open and was visible from the main path just before the railway crossing. There was no chance of finding food there because as the picture below shows it is solid ice.
Maybe that's why he decided to leave and try somewhere else, although goodness knows where. I wondered if they might visit the reeedbeds alongside the river but I somehow doubt it as I think they prefer fresh water and the river here is brackish being tidal. The in flight efforts below are a bit blurry but I've left them in to show some plumage and wing shape which isn't often seen.
With the river path still probably blocked and a high tide spilling over into the adjacent ditches I decided to walk down the wide path where a large flock of mainly Long tailed Tits were feeding in the Oaks alongside and another Sparrowhawk made a failed attempt to find food. At the end of this path I planned to join up with the sunken marsh path but before I did I walked along to the small bridge by the river and there, to my surprise was a female Goldeneye, the first i've ever seen on the river. I took a couple of pictures and was about to go when a small Grebe flew past me heading north along the river, it was either a Slavonian or a Black necked Grebe, I can't be sure which but I lean towards Slavonian purely from the shape of the black crown. I wondered if it had come down in the area of the creek further downstream by the small wood. So that's where I headed next.
On the way I spotted this handsome Fox, just as he spotted me, he was a superb looking specimen with a really red coat and a fine tail, he certainly seems to be survivng the weather OK. Perhaps he's one of the three that have been visiting my garden lately and eating the chicken I leave out for them.
It's been quite a long story today so I'll cut it short and say that I didn't find the Slavonian Grebe, but I did find a Water Rail in the creek and saw four Snipe and a Grey Wagtail over the river as well as two Reed Buntings which are another addition to the December list bringing the total to 65 species. Coincidentally a certain person did predict a figure of 65 for this month, you know who you are Warren! I'll obviously try my best to reach 66 now.