Monday, 28 December 2009

A final frozen finale

Between December 25th and January 4th the sun rises daily at 08:12 in Cuddesdon.  Only after January 4th will it rise slightly earlier once more as the days begin to extend at sunrise, and not just at sunset. So, at 07:50 this morning, I find myself in the fields in the pre-dawn glow, crunching through a hard frost at -3 degrees. I have one target in mind: to find the first Jack Snipe for the area and I am determined today will be that day.

Above, an orange dawn over the Chilterns, with only the microwave radio mast to disturb the beauty. Below, the melting snow of last week has pushed water levels up and the flood meadows look perfect for a my first encounter with lymnocryptes minimus:

I begin walking around the edge of the flood, with two thoughts in mind: first, the frozen ground will have pushed any Jack/Snipe to the softer margins at the edge of the moving flood water; and secondly, my wellington boots have a large split in them and the thought of icy water around my toes in these temperatures is not appealing. "Creak", the first Snipe rises, calls and leaves. Followed by a second, a third and more. But no Jack Snipe, yet. I count 6 Snipe before a loud "wee-oo" call rings out from the far side of the flood - there are Wigeon here. I scan across the water and locate a small flock of distant duck. As soon as the green head, white breast and orange belly of one duck begin to form an image on my retina, all the duck take off and fly north. Surely a Shoveller?! But in a small flood in the agricultural monoculture of Cuddesdon - surely not! Fortunately the duck flock fly back, making a number of low level passes over the flood. I scan through the flock trying to remember what a Shoveller looks like from below, but with the morning mist, my hot breath steaming up my binoculars and - aarrggh! the icy flood water entering my leaking boot - its not easy. I resort to blasting away at the flock with my camera as they zip over, humming the theme tune to the Dambusters to myself, hoping to capture some ID features. Even so, once in a while I get glimpses of a suspiciously large bill. Later examination of the images reveals my hunch was right: the first Shoveller for the area (top 4 birds)!:

Eventually the duck flock return to the south end of the flood - which almost looks picturesque when lit by the rising sun:

But the duck are unsettled now and rise once more, finally giving themselves up: 5 Shoveller, 8 Wigeon and a probable Teal. Three duck species, and not a Mallard or Tufted Duck in with them. I never dreamed of such diversity! When will this wildfowl extravaganza end?

Other players in this drama were relagated to minor parts, but included 150 Lapwing, 44 Golden Plover and a hunting Peregrine. A thin call from trees by the river leads me to another new species for the recording area, although this time a much more expected addition, a Treecreeper:

So, no Jack Snipe, yet, but 2 new species for the Cuddesdon area and 89 species this year. Shoveller? Who would have thought it?!

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