I spent most of last week lying on the sofa, coughing and sneezing and cursing the fact that I was ill during the one week of the year that there's no cricket on Sky. By the weekend, though, I finally felt a bit more normal, so ventured out to a gloriously autumnal Bradgate Park for a gentle stroll.
Now we in Leicestershire are justly proud of 'Braggy'. It's a wide expanse of bracken-covered moorland, dotted with granite outcrops, including the local landmark Old John (a hill topped by a distinctive folly). It was given to the people of the county early in the 20th century, having once been the home of the Greys (of Lady Jane Grey fame*). On a beautiful day, it's always busy with walkers, mountain bikers, picnicking families and so on, but it has to be said, it's not that great for wildlife, perhaps because there are so many people about. There are plenty of common birds, including Green Woodpeckers around the anthills, but not too many of the sort of species you might normally expect in such habitat (similar areas nearby, closed to the public, do much better). The Red Deer are always worth seeing, though, and there was one particularly magnificent male on view.
Anyway, I made my way along the paved path into the centre of the park, to the recently revamped tearooms, to see quite the most obliging rarity of the year. An immature male Black Redstart (see the pictures down the side) was busy catching insects on the roof of the tearooms, occasionally getting bullied by a Robin, but otherwise happily co-existing with the local Pied Wagtails. They're rare birds in the UK (although very common in Central Europe), but he seemed to have decided that the shallow slope of the tearooms made an acceptable alternative to a scree-covered mountainside. I expect the outcrops are much to his liking, too. I did very briefly see one on migration close to my home earlier in the year, but these were much better views, in much better light. It more than made up for a couple of very fallow birding weeks.
* I don't trust Wikipedia on this one. It says Lady Jane Grey was born in Bradgate House, now a fenced-off, peacock-haunted ruin in the middle of the park, but I was always told that she was born in the tiny manor house at Groby, a couple of miles away. And going off at a complete tangent, Groby (pronounced Grooby) crops up in one of Sir Walter Scott's novels. He often stayed at Coleorton Hall, near Ashby de la Zouch, and used two local sayings which he then used in the book. One was "there'll be many a dry eye in Groby Pool", said when someone unpopular died. The other was the fantastic "...and I'll thatch Groby Pool with pancakes", used as an expression of disbelief. Sadly, it's not clear whether either actually was used locally, but I'd like to think so.