I thought the cold snap might have brought in something a bit more exotic than the Tufties, Gt. Crested Grebes and Coots which graced the cold, calm surface of Brooklands lake this morning. But it hadn't. And apart from a small, cheerful sounding flock of Long-tailed Tits foraging among the bare twigs and remnants of snow along the eastern edge of the lake and a single Lapwing searching for earthworms along the raised bank adjacent to the mill, nothing much else drew my attention.
I 'd hoped to find a Grey Wagtail in the bucket wood creek to add to my New Hythe year list, but it was flooded by the almost full tide and given the exposure there to the biting wind blowing over the North Downs and across the snow covered fields, I quickly moved on.The occasional Blue Tit swaying precariously on the seed heads and the odd Dunnock searching through the low vegetation were my only company as I squelched my way around the quagmire which is the sunken marsh path. But just before I reached the WW2 pillbox a movement on the far side of the river caught my eye. It was a Common Seal swimming lazily up river on the still flooding tide. Effortlessly and with hardly a ripple it sank below the surface, which gave me the chance to position myself on the lee side of the concrete pillbox and there I stayed watching it catch its flatfish (probably Flounder) lunch. I hoped it would come over to my side of the river so I could get a decent shot of it, but it didn't and all I got was cramp, cold feet and the poor, distant effort below before it disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared.
I was joined then by Terry Laws and we continued up the river to the end of the sunken marsh where we stopped for a while hoping to connect again with the Seal, we didn't, but I did spot a large bird in a tree on the far side of the heronry creek. We thought it was a Buzzard and were about to claim it as a NH year tick when it flew away revealing itself as a Harris Hawk, probably the same one we'd watched over the sunken marsh last year. So no tick there then.
In contrast to Brooklands, Abbey Mead is the lake of choice this year for hundreds of Coots, Grebes, Tufted Ducks, Gadwalls, Mute Swans, Cormorants, Mallards and Pochards. I'm not sure what the attraction is but maybe it's something to do with water depth, I think Abbey Mead has more shallow areas than Brooklands which might suit the divers better. Anyway, as we scanned the lake from the SE corner Terry noticed five small ducks fly in and land which turned out to be Red-head Smews. They didn't stay very long but what a nice surprise.
Another surprise was the Water Vole above which was in the ditch to the south of the east scrub, and no I didn't take the picture at night. I took it on the wrong setting by mistake. You should have seen it before I lightened it up, well actually you couldn't see it before I lightened it up! I've never found one at this time of year before, especially in such cold conditions. A Kestrel carrying its hard earned prey and a flock of maybe thirty or so Siskins were also seen in and around the scrub.
Green Woodpecker, Gt Spotted Woodpecker, Redwing, Fieldfare, Little Grebes, good numbers of Goldfinches, Song Thrushes, a Cetti's Warbler, two Common Snipe, a Redshank, many Teal, a low flying Sparrowhawk, Grey Herons, a Goldcrest or two and, if my increasingly unreliable memory serves me correct, no less than five Foxes all contributed to a very enjoyable and much needed jaunt around New Hythe lakes today.