With the Ham Wall LITTLE BITTERNS starting to show more frequently, we decided to pop down with the intention of returning to Staffordshire for the afternoon. The day was forecasted to be the hottest day of the year so far, so it was on with the shorts (but the long trousers were in the boot to change into for our visit to the gravel pits).
We set out at 04:00hrs, and arrived at an already warm Ham Wall reserve at 07:35hrs. We only had to walk a short distance along the path before we came to the Little Bittern watchpoint. The RSPB had put a lot of effort in the making of this watchpoint.
The impressive all singing all dancing Little Bittern watchpoint.
The vast reed bed
The Crowd at the watchpoint
We stood, and scanned, and then stood again. I decided to stand of the end of the crowd in the only shade available. Two hours passed with no sign of any LITTLE BITTERNS. Then a shout went up. Little Bittern flying over the reeds towards the bush. I scanned frantically but after only a few seconds it had dropped down and I'd dipped.
Now this annoyed me for two reasons. Firstly, it was a vast reedbed with quite a few scattered bushes spread all over the place. I would have liked slightly better instructions. Secondly, at the time the shout went up, QUAIL MAN was distracting me. You see as we were standing, waiting, a Quail started calling. Nice day tick and another birder shouted out "Quail calling" or words to that effect. Then, a bloke in the middle of the crowd announced that it was in fact his ring tone on his phone. Then the Quail called again. Everyone looked around and the bloke just grinned again. And his Quail ring tone kept going off. I almost shouted at him that maybe he could possibly mute his phone, or words to that effect. But obviously Quail Man liked his ring tone. I was looking at Quail Man when the first Little Bittern sighting of the day came.
The second sighting was a glimpse of a male flying over the reed beds again. Slightly better directions were shouted out this time. We were told it was flying right. We didn't know where it was flying from though, and again we missed it. All the sightings were in a similar area, and so we upped our concentration levels. The third sighting came. Flying right again. I scanned left by mistake.
It was getting frustrating now. The sun was beating down and our tripod legs were starting to melt. It was 10:00hrs, and 24C. By resting my bins on my scope, I was able to scan permanently, determine to see the next sighting so that we could return to the car to cool down. CJW spotted the next one, and I just managed to glimpse it as it dropped down. Seven years since my only other British Little Bittern sighting, and I managed to finally see my second one. We headed back to the car to cool down.
While standing in the sub-tropical heat, we realised that it was possibly not that good an idea to visit Staffordshire's gravel pits with temperatures in the mid 40C's. They are sandy, dusty places with head high nettles and so we decided to pop into Slimbridge on the way back.
We soon arrived at Slimbridge, but it was so hot (temperature now nudging 48C!) everyone was frying eggs on the tarmac. We managed, and as we did on our previous visit, to put CJW in a carrier bag and sneak him in without anyone noticing. The Spoonbill had already been reported today, and so we headed off to the posh South Lakes hide. As we walked in the hide, we could see that the nearest bird was the Spoonbill, literally only a few feet in front of the hide. It was a long-lens boys dream, but we didn't have a long lens so I took a few shots with my phone instead!
Spoonbill showing nicely at Slimbridge and no long lens boys trying to squeeze thru the hide windows to get closer views anywhere!
Amazingly, CJW then spotted a Common Crane feeding up the other end of the pool. We couldn't believe our eyes at bumping into this unexpected scarcity. We marvelled at its beautiful assortment of rings on its legs, plus we had superb views of a transponder on its other leg. Thank goodness Slimbridge are re-introducing these birds so we don't have to travel all the way to Hickling in Norfolk each year! Thanks WWT
Common Crane fitted with mega-bling. Not something you see everyday