The Beast From the East

The Beast From the East - Storm clouds, & snow on the frozen water
The Beast From the East

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.

River Wildlife

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.

Mute Swan head under water
Mute Swan head under water

Frozen Reserve

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.

Konik Ponies in the Snow
Konik Ponies in the Snow

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.

Chasing gulls

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.

The Chase is on - Lesser Black Backed Gull, chasing Common Gulls
The Chase is on
Sharp turn
Sharp turn
Final straight - Lesser black-backed gull closing in on Common Gulls
Final straight

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.

A Victorious Lesser Black-backed Gull.
A Victorious Lesser Black-backed Gull.

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.

Grey Heron chase.
Grey Heron chase.
Grey Heron in Flight
Grey Heron in Flight

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.

Oystercatcher dropping in
Oystercatcher dropping in
Orange billed Oystercatcher
Orange billed Oystercatcher

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.

Goldfinch
Goldfinch

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.

Other Photos

Blackbird on the Fence
Blackbird on the Fence
Common Gull
Common Gull
Greylag Geese in Flight
Greylag Geese in Flight
Mute Swan in Flight
Mute Swan in Flight
Song Thrush
Song Thrush
Wigeon Pair
Wigeon Pair
Oystercatcher coming in to land
Oystercatcher coming in to land
Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel

Did you enjoy The Beast From the East? Or find it useful? The please share with your friends, via the links below.

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The Beast From the East - A walk around the Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve while the UK is gripped by serious snow.
The Beast From the East
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16 Comments

  • hip2trekem

    Wow, I love your photography. The swan underwater is brilliant and I really like the chase photos of the different gulls. Have you got the snow now? I like the snow when it’s pretty and I don’t need to drive! storm Emma next.. #Adventurecalling

    • Ashley Beolens

      Thank you. The snow here comes for 10 mins once an hour and then has usually melted by the time the next little flurry happens. I think, because Milton Keynes is in a dip, most snow (and major rain storms) pass over without dropping their load.

  • daisythebus

    Gull wars – I love it! Good to see the oystercatchers back too – I didn’t know that they could be found in your part of the world. Luxembourg is definitely too far inland for these cartoon-beaked favourites, right? Thanks for educating me on #AdventureCalling

    • Ashley Beolens

      Certainly was, and not something I see that much inland, the larger gulls are not so common. And I’ll happily swap you a European Goldfinch for one of your American ones 🙂

    • Ashley Beolens

      Thank you, It fell quite heavily on the Thursday and Friday, so we did get a fair bit in the end (although I was working the weekend so didn’t get to enjoy it, but had to endure it on the walk in).

  • viewfromthebeachchair

    I have read a lot about this beast from the east. Glad you all could find the beauty in it. #adventurecalling

  • pottyadventures

    Milton Keynes wasn’t the only place to skip the snowfall…North Wales didn’t get too much either on the lower ground. Great photos as always and your signs of spring section certainly taught me a thing or two about bird behaviour. Thanks for linking up to #adventurecalling. I hope you can again when we open for more posts tomorrow morning.

  • TheHelpfulHiker

    Fab pics, I loved the one of the swan under the water. Also, the gulls in flight fighting over the food. I’m quite glad the snow has gone, I can’t wait for spring! Thanks for sharing #AdventureCalling

  • Mona

    Oh I love that Squirrel haha! Thank you for giving me hope again by telling that spring is coming. We’re in a cold patch in the Netherlands again this weekend. I’m really hoping this will be the last of it.
    Love your blog and pictures!

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