The soft, metallic, almost melancholic, whistles of the local Wigeon could be heard, echoing across the river valley, as their calls gently rose from the mists that was covering the Manor Farm pits, as I approached; Coming from the south, down the soaking wet, grassy, slope from the old farm buildings this morning.
My goal was to get a better look at the large numbers of ducks, best seen from this direction I thought, before traversing the flooded paths beside the river. Carrying on under the canal and home again.
From the Mists
Half way down the hill the full pits were visible from the mists and I began a scan across the flooded pits; Large numbers of both Wigeon and Teal could be seen in almost every channel and open area; Mallards and Gadwall nearly equal in number made up the larger ducks; while brightly coloured male Shoveler hunkered close to the waters edge with their drabber coloured females; and then a stunning chocolate headed, sharp tailed male Pintail appeared right in front of where one of the hides is to be built. A few months and some amazing photos would have been possible.
As I slowly, edged my way closer it became apparent that my presence had not gone unnoticed. Several Teal shot out of the closest channels and took to flight in panic at my close proximity; the Pintail, also alert, began to rapidly swim away; as did the nearby Mallard and Shoveler; eventually the closest area to me was devoid of wildfowl.
Naughtily climbing over the barbed wire fence (walking back up the hill just seemed like a waste of my time) I made my way East, hoping the cover of the thick hedge would prevent any more disturbance to the ducks while I walked. Sadly this proved not to be the case and at every gap I sent a cloud of Teal or Wigeon off into flights of panic. Annoyingly this also included the 5 Pintail that were still present, luckily after a short flight they returned to the lakes, only just out of sight.
|Pintail in Flight (Male Left, Female Right)|
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/1600 ISO 640
After stopping for a chat with a Fellow birder (who had seen 1 Pintail but 3 Stonechat) I carried on round the Eastern end and bumped into a small flock of 7 Linnet that were busy feeding from the seeds of the winter teasels, although they quickly flushed into the tops of the trees as I approached (seems that was the story of my day). Flitting in and about the very same weeds were a pair of accompanying Goldcrest, a few Blue Tit and the odd Dunnock.
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/400 ISO 400
Making may way through a puddle that very nearly topped my boots, I carried on to view out over the main Eastern lake, scanning through the gulls that were predominating the birds swimming the murky waters, I was amazed to count well over 50 Common Gulls in amongst the Black-headed Gull flock, before they all took to flight, disturbed by the yellow jacketed site worker.
|Black-headed Gulls flying from the mists|
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/125 ISO 640
Large flocks of Tufted Ducks were gathering in the calm, yet swollen water of the lakes, while yet more Wigeon whistled from their hiding places behind the banks of mud. Overhead the delicate whisp of Redwing could be heard and atop a bare tree to my left a small party of ever chacking Fieldfare landed before quickly flying off east again.
|Tufted Ducks Swimming in the Mist|
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/200 ISO 640
|A Carrion Crow in Flight|
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/250 ISO 640
A Lack of Flood
After spending a good half an hour just watching the waterfowl and gulls the bitter cold wind began to seep into my bones. So I decided it was time to move on, however enjoyable the experience was, when the cold wind blows only so much time can be spent standing in it! And so it was that I carried on my journey along the river bank path. As I approached the Millennium bridge I was fully expecting the same small stream from yesterday to be crossing the path. But it seems the water has receded quite a bit over night; and what was once water was now just a muddy mess.
As I walked, all around me bird life seemed to be active. In the large trees across the river a Great-spotted Woodpecker calmly pecked at the trunk looking for a grub or two; several Meadow Pipits flew overhead calling their presence to one another; Goldfinch and Reed Buntings picked at the seed heads of the rough ground beside the lakes; And all the while the local waterfowl still called from the waters edge.
While I stood and watched a pair of Mute Swans take a long run along the waters surface, before taking to the air, and circling the lakes and then dropping back down to roughly the same spot they left. I spotted two large ducks also in the air. It turns out these were one of the pair of Pintail. I watched as they slowly gained height, and then with powerful intent headed off East, over the railway track, and off the patch.
|Mute Swans just after take off|
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/320 ISO 640
|Mute Swans coming back down|
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/800 ISO 640
Camp Site Lakes and Home
My wanderings carried on, although they began to slow. Two days in the field and I start to slow a little it seems. And as I passed the camp site I began checking the lakes, but was disappointed to see virtually nothing on the water. It would seem the camp site is undergoing a little work. And therefore lots of noise and people means little waterfowl. In fact there was just one solitary Great Crested Grebe braving the waters.
Passing under the cattle creep I began the slow walk along the river towards home. With the exception of a passing Grey Wagtail there was very little to start with, and so I decided to sit and wait on one of the benches looking out over the river and see what would come to me from the mists.
As I sat, I began to notice more and more of the sounds of the river; various Pied Wagtails could be heard calling as they flew around the wet fields behind me; a distant Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling occasionally in the stand of trees beside the canal; A solitary Carrion Crow began its sad lamenting caw from the overhead power wires; a Pair of Little Egrets flew passed emitting their rather gruff, honking call. Sadly this was not the only back ground noise. As well as the fast flowing river, the distant rumble of the A5 could not be got away from. Nor could the sounds of people and their dogs, but it was certainly a relaxing 20 minutes.
As I finally set off for home, 3 Goosander flew over head. Their flight following the rivers path on their journey between Stony Stratford nature reserve and Manor Farm lakes, mirroring my usual walks.
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