I’m not what you’d call a twitcher, the sort of birder who dashes off to Shetland at the drop of a hat to see some rare vagrant, but neither am I an expert enough patch birdwatcher to be able to get by without the help of the various local birding websites and BirdGuides.
I check them regularly, and occasionally, if they list something interesting on my ‘beat’, I’ll go and have a look for it. It’s pretty much the only way you can work if you haven’t got time to get around all your local sites on a very regular basis.
Anyway, yesterday there were a few Leicestershire mentions on the websites, so I did a few stops on the way from work to a meeting in Nottingham. First was Eyebrook Reservoir, to have a look for the Sandwich Terns and Curlew Sandpipers reported there earlier. Sadly a Peregrine had spooked the terns, and there was no sign of the Sandpipers, even at the spot where I’ve seen them in previous years.
So it was on to Wanlip Meadows, just on the corner of my patch, to look for a juvenile Spotted Redshank. Trouble is, the path into the Meadows has been closed for weeks while sewage works take place. No problem, I thought. Just across the river is Watermead Country Park, with a bird hide that overlooks the Meadows. I parked, walked round there, and found the hide locked up. Hmm. Not impressed. Early morning and late evening are often the best times to watch birds, especially at a site like this where many of the birds disperse elsewhere during the day, returning later to roost. This was only 6.30pm. I know vandalism can be a problem, but this is a showpiece site, well run and patrolled, and well used by the public too.
Fortunately, the ramp up to the hide offered something of a vantage point. OK, so it was looking towards the setting sun, and it only looked over a fairly narrow section of the Meadows, but it was better than nothing. I got the scope set up and started looking. Loads of Black-headed Gulls (always entertaining to see them bickering), and nearly as many Lapwings. No other waders, though, no matter how many times I scanned back and forth.
It always happens, though. I decided to have one last sweep, then move on. A Green Sandpiper moved into view, and called twice. Then, from the same direction, came the Spotted Redshank. In terms of plumage there are probably a few things you could confuse one with, but their behaviour gives them away. This one was a textbook example, wading deep in the pool, occasionally up-ending, and all the time moving with a restless, almost frantic energy. It was a bit too backlit for me to be able to make out the barred markings at their best, but with a bit of patience it was possible to get most of the way there.
Finally, on to Swithland Reservoir, to look for a juvenile Little Gull. I was a bit daunted, and the words “needle” and “haystack” came to mind when I got down to the dam and saw a huge gathering of gulls in front of me. Mainly Black-headeds, but with some of the larger species too. But Swithland Res is one of my favourite places to be on a lovely still evening, birds or no birds. Nothing for it but to set up the scope and start scanning.
And it happened again. Just at the point when I had decided to give up, it flickered into view, fluttering about like a tern, and descending to delicately pick insects from off or just above the water. It even came fairly close at times, and I was able to watch it for a good 10 minutes before the meeting loomed large and I had to leave.
It all takes the patch list to 130 for the year, but it honestly is the looking that matters. Tonight, if the weather holds, I'm off to Sence Valley Forest Park to search for some Whinchats.