Muddy walking Routes and Special Sunset Birds

After hurting my leg late last year (Badly sprained thigh muscle, never felt pain like it) I finally managed a new year walk today. And it was a tough one. Not the distance but the conditions. I think I picked the muddiest path in the UK. The North Bucks Way, just over by Hazeley woods.

Muddy walking Routes and Special Sunset Birds
Male stonechat

Muddy walking Routes

With each step my foot sank deep into thick, slimy mud. The sort of mud that sucks your boot down, as you lift your foot, clawing to keep hold of your footwear, at least, but trying to drag your whole being deep into the murky underworld. Mud grey and claggy with the heavy clay that is renowned in Milton Keynes soil. Clear indications that army manoeuvres have taken place along the North Bucks way this winter! Tracks from vehicles (bikes?), feet, and all manner of wild animals (mainly dogs actually, but did spot deer prints, and saw a fox).

Slow walking

I would estimate the distance I walked around 1 mile, the time taken over an hour. My boots were caked, and soaked (although still dry inside); My leg aching from this first post injury walk; Back muscles screaming for a little sit down. Sides aflame with the core workout that the constant stabilising movement had given me (who needs a gym!!).

But I was finally at the destination of my walk…. I know we are in lockdown again, and I wasn’t planning on stopping long before returning to a nearby car park, but I had to stop now and wait for my ailing body to recover a little.

Special Sunset Birds

In front of me stretched several “set aside” fields. Wild weed filled meadows, long grasses swaying in the gentle winds, the lush greenness of heavily soaked pasture. Many littered with deep trenches, dug in the search of lost treasures; Odd splotches of spray paint dotting the landscape, all ready for future building works.

Male Stonechat on arched brambles
Male Stonechat on arched brambles

Quickly a Stone chat popped up, sat atop spindly saplings, flitting between these and arched bramble tendrils, he put on a great show. His female cohort occasionally appearing more distantly. Above my the piping calls of Meadow pipits filled the air as birds took to flight as I made my way across the soaking, partially flooded fields.

Male stonechat
Male stonechat
Male stonechat
Male stonechat

A Red Kite gently drifted overhead, while a Kestrel beat his wings hard against the cold air, riding the light winds as he scanned the floor for tiny prey. Winter thrushes scattered from the hedge rows as I approached, chacking or whistling as they flew off in alarm to my presence. Woodpeckers flew between tall, bare trees, the laughing Green Woodpeckers undulating as they flew, the smaller Great Spotted Woodpecker more direct and arrow like.

As the Sun Sets

As the sun began to set over the old abandoned farm house of Shenley Dens, the birds I had most wanted to see suddenly appeared out of the fields I had just walked through. as at first one, then two stunning Short-Eared Owls took to the air.

two Short-eared owl in flight - Muddy walking Routes and Special Sunset Birds
two Short-eared owl in flight

As I stood watching, they put on a marvellous show for me, flying low over the scrubby fields, sometimes stopping mid air to check for movement, or diving face first into the long grass. Over my head, around beside me, they were totally unfussed by my presence in the heavily walked field.

Short-eared owl dashing past
Short-eared owl dashing past
"Shortie" (Short-eared owl) sat in the grass after a dive
“Shortie” sat in the grass after a dive

I watched in wonder, uttering the occasional WOW as they flew close, missing shot after shot as I failed to adjust my camera settings to the lowering light. But I really didn’t care. Just to be in the presence of these two enigmatic owls made my heart sing.

Short-eared owl fly by
Short-eared owl fly by
Another pass of a short-eared owl - Muddy walking Routes
Another pass of a short-eared owl

And then, as the skies became golden one of the birds alighted on a the thick branches of a near by tree. Totally unabashed of my presence I inched closer. Breaking most of my own rules on disturbing owls (although they really did not seem to care) until I was able to capture this image…

Short-eared owl perched at Sunset
Short-eared owl perched at Sunset

Amber eyes

The golden, amber light illuminating the colours of the majestic bird. The stare. Straight at me (although it should be noted it also looked left and down, so wasn’t worried about me). The tiny ear tufts popping up. What a way to end my day. I slowly edged away and left the birds in peace to continue hunting as I trudged back through some of the muddy North Bucks Way, and headed home, sore but chuffed.

Eyes right - Short-eared owl looking right - Muddy walking Routes and Special Sunset Birds
Eyes right

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