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Wonderful winter's birding in the East Midlands yesterday (1 Viewer)


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I had a great and most enjoyable day's birding yesterday, I set off late at 9.30am in misty conditions from Wolverhampton, but arrived at my first birding location of Eyebrook Reservoir on the Leicestershire/Rutland border at about 11am, and set about slowly driving around the perimeter road, stopping where necessary. The reservoir was actually partly frozen over, and hence the amount of wildfowl was reduced compared to previous visits. But the various wildfowl - Goldeneye, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebes looked resplendent in the crisp morning conditions. I eventually located 5 drake Smew and a redhead, for this is surely one of the best locations to see this beautiful wintering species. By the small bridge, I watched common tits and finches visit the feeders for ten minutes, and on the other side a Snipe was feeding next to a Fieldfare along the stream. Bullfinch and Redwing were also seen, and it was lovely to see a pair of 'tumbling' displaying Ravens overhead.

After just over an hour here, I moved on, noting 3 Red Kites interacting playfully alongside the A47, but there was no place to stop to enjoy better views. And I wanted to move on. Having just passed east of Peterborough, I visited 'Long Drove' just north of Whittlesey, which is part of the wider Nene Washes, but only 3 more Red Kites, Buzzard and female Sparrowhawk were seen.

I moved on to nearby Eldernell, which has a car park and a raised footpath overlooking a great stretch of the Nene Washes. What made birding so great today was not just the birds on offer here, but the beautiful weather conditions - it was virtually still wind-wise but not even cold enough to make your eyes water, and the bright afternoon sun is in a perfect position here, being behind you. I enjoyed nearly four hours birding here, leaving at about 5pm as darkness fell. A number of birders were here to try to see roosting owls in the dense hedgerow adjacent to the raised path and just west of the car park. There were apparently 2 Long Eared Owls, but I could only see one of these birds even though it was just several metres away, set back deep in the bushes. It was the owl seen least well, and even when it left its roost at 5pm, it flew low along the water ditch surrounded by foilage, so views were not really that good. Upon arrival, I actually rushed somewhat to 'the Spinney', a small wood perhaps 500 metres east along the path, for a very rufous Tawny Owl was sat out in the sun, but when I got there it had jumped back inside its nest hole, though using my scope I enjoyed good views of its head and upper breast, and its eyes were periodically open. Of course I have seen Tawny Owls before, but day-time views are usually very rare. As the afternoon progressed, 2 Short-eared Owls flew out from their roost and directly over our heads, characteristically offering great views, and the resident Barn Owl also put on a performance. What a shame there was no Little Owl on view to complete the '5 owls in a day' collection. Owls did not complete the birding here. Eldernell is also great for raptors, and they can sometimes be distant. A few Buzzards were lumbering about and a few Kestrels hovering. At dusk a large Peregrine was seen high up in one of the tall electricity pylons back towards Whittlesey. A smart adult male Marsh Harrier was well seen, surprisingly the only one I saw today. For me however, the clear highlight was the stunning adult male Hen Harrier that quartered out over the fields and marshes for most of the afternoon, sometimes coming as close as 100 metres away. It was also seen sat on the ground at times, happily preening after eating a vole. But most memorable views were of it simply gliding to and fro, and scope views were so good that the piercing yellow eyes were clearly visible. This standard of observation might be a pre-requisite for most birders, but I often find that Hen Harriers only show well in windier conditions, with males being notoriously secretive, often only showing in subdued light at dusk just prior to roost. So when I usually see these males, it is often freezing, and you have to strain your eyes which are often running due to the cold. Not yesterday, views were perfectly steady in superb, still conditions - and I was absolutely thrilled. 6 Common Cranes and 38 Whooper Swans were seen, and 4 Great White Egrets overhead flying to roost. As dusk approaches, large flocks of Wood Pigeons and corvids drifted overhead. The only good bird I missed was the Kingfisher by the bridge at the car park, but I set off for home content having enjoyed a quite superb day of birding at a wonderful location with many other happy birders.
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