With a Russian blast of cold air sweeping across the UK, heavy snow has been falling in sheets. Brought in on the storm dubbed “The Beast from the East” great areas of Britain are freezing under inches of snow.
Of course Milton Keynes hasn’t missed out, I mean we must have had a millimetre of snow over night. Yeah as usual the snow has, so far, skipped us.
The Beast From the East
For once I started my walk in company, my good lady, Zoe, was taking our own beast from the east, Colin, for a walk, so we wandered together to start with. The wind was cold as it swept across the Ouse Valley. A light sprinkling of snow could be seen in the shadows of the tall trees. But otherwise the day was nothing out of the ordinary.
Leaving Colin to lead Zoe home I headed off along the fast flowing river. Her waters running crystal clear, buoyed by extra water from the snow.
Grey Herons squawked off down river; Canada Geese, pairing up, wandered the grassy banks; Mallards navigated the speedy waters; A pair of Goosander, long necked and elegant, flew overhead heading towards Stony Stratford NR; Mute Swans dipped their heads gracefully into the clear waters, searching the wavering water plants for food.
And it was this latter that provided me the chance to take a photo I have never contemplated previously. I think it worked, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Arriving at the Floodplain Forest I was greeted by sheets of, lightly snow covered, ice. The whole of the Western end of the reserve was frozen solid, the header image of this post shows the view from the Farm hide.
Due to this there was very little to see for much of the walk. The Konik pony, offering the only respite to the dullness.
Beyond the Farm Hide there was a break in the ice and the open flowing waters were swarming with life, sadly the duck numbers are still really low, but Teal, Pochard, Wigeon and Tufted Duck, joined plenty of Gulls. Black-headed gull and Common Gull mainly.
It was the gulls that bought the first excitement of the day. Not in the shape of a great rarity, but instead some aerial violence. Screeching above my head a First year Common Gull was dashing around the sky, an item of food in its beak. Hot on its tail was a more advanced aged common gull, desperately chasing the younger bird to steal its food. Behind that a huge Lesser Black-backed gull was viciously hunting down both birds.
After watching the chase, the younger gull soon dropped its quarry. The Lesser Black-back victorious in its pursuit, soon headed off. And so did I.
Stilt Pits and Waterfowl
The Stilt pits were pretty clear of ice, the margins the only frozen area, and this meant duck numbers were up. Not the winters of the past, but more than in recent visits.
Close to the hide a few tiny teal, could be found, the males green and red head, the golden piping clear with the closeness; Red headed wigeon, skimmed their bills along the cold waters surface; Tufted ducks, their black showing the purple iridescence in the winter sun, that was now shining again; Cryptic Gadwall dabbled in the margins.
Signs of Spring
There were clear signs that spring is fast approaching. The aforementioned teal were getting very amorous! Birds are definitely starting to fight for territory. Mute swan in my last post, and Grey Heron today.
Watching the latter was interesting, the violence starts on the ground, the larger, older bird, leaps onto the unsuspecting youngster, before chasing and harrying the bird in flight, each time it landed the older bird aggressively come back to attack. And the cycle continues again, until the youngster is chastened enough to leave the pools.
Further signs of spring
Coincidences are a strange think. This may sound like I’m going off tangent, but bear with me here. I was updating an old post recently (SEO type stuff, very dull) called Wader Movement Begins, where I had seen my first Redshank and Oystercatcher. Today I saw my first returning Oystercatcher!
The return of these striking black and white birds with their bright orange, traffic cone like bills is always a signal that summer can’t be far away. These regular breeders (or attempted breeders) are always one of the first waders back on patch, but it won’t be long till others join them.
Final Walk Home
The biting winds, as they whipped over the freezing waters of the floodplain forest, took their toll after a while. So I decided to get the blood flowing by heading home. The walk back was pretty uneventful, as it always seems to be, until I hit the fields below the church.
The fields were alive with winter thrush, the odd Redwing, but mainly Fieldfare. As I slowly trudged up the hill that was once a motte and bailey, I sent the birds chacking off through the Ouse valley.
In the small woods between the church and my house a small tit flock was gathered, but joined, strangely, by a small charm of Goldfinch. These finches were the most friendly I’ve found as they perched beautifully for a few moments.
I finally arrived home having avoided the worst of the Beast from the East. Unlike the rest of the country. I’m wondering if we will get hit by the snow in the days to come.
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