The weather had changed once again back to winter, with a cold north wind and and sleet and rain showers. As we walked into the reserve Swallows were flying low over the ponds, but this was the only sign that we were in the middle of April.
As you leave the visitor centre there is a pond with several species of duck, I wanted to focus on some of the intricacies of their plumage and show it in a different way. Such as this
Which is another view of this, a male Eider.
Next was the beautiful ruddy brown feathers of an African Shelduck.
While the feathers on the head of a male Falcated Teal are a wonderful iridescence of reds, blues and greens depending on where the light hits them.
There is one duck I have always wanted to get some good pictures of, and unfortunately they seem to be becoming a much rarer visitor to the UK in the winter, and it is very hard to catch up with them. I know it is cheating but here was the chance, a lovely male Smew.
Reflections in the dark waters of the pond.
Black and white seemed to be the colours of the day, and this male Eider looks impressive framed by the dark water.
At the back of the next pond was a Coot's nest, both parents were there, and we could see the young that most likely had just hatched in the nest with one of the adults. When the adult moved you could clearly see that there were still eggs to hatch.
The rain returned,and we camped out in a small hide that overlooked feeders and these were definitely not overlooked by Chaffinches, Great Tits and Blue Tits on the feeders.
While beneath the feeders were several Mallard and this drake Mandarin Duck.
The rain eased and we continued the trail around the ponds, a Wren burst from the cut Willow trees and sat in a prominent position to tell everyone it was there.
There was now a mixture of wild and captive areas, and the Mallard, Coot and Moorhen could be seen in all. The Coots being very approachable, probably because they get hand outs of food. I was fascinated by the lobed feet of one Coot, very reptilian to look at.
One pond was covered by netting, and proclaimed to be the "Icelandic World". In here was a collection of sea ducks, and it gave me the chance to study a duck I have never really appreciated, and one that you normally see bobbing away off shore hidden partially by waves, or flying in a line low over the water. The male Common Scoter though is a very impressive bird.
They yellow on the top of its flattened bill, the dark black band at the base of the bill, the slight yellow eye ring, and the jet black plumage.
With the Scoter were Long-tailed Ducks, again though I was fascinated by the long display feathers on its back, never really appreciated from a distance.
The Icelandic display was completed by a few beautiful Harlequin Ducks. A male posed so conveniently for me by the display's waterfall, but what a bird.
As we walked around there were one or two Sedge Warblers singing, and bursting into the air, and from the hedges and ditches Cetti's Warblers would announce their presence with their exploding song. I did manage to see one as it crept through the tangle of branches close to the edge of the water in one of the ditches.
It was very mouse like as it made its way through the tangle pecking at small insects as it went.
I couldn't pass up the opportunity to photograph one of my favourite ducks, but again from a different perspective. Any guesses?
The following day, the weather changed much for the better, we awoke to a light frost on the brooks that stretched out to the north of where we were staying. The skies were clear blue, and the breeze a lot lighter but still cool, but in a sheltered spot the sun could be found to be quite warm.
After breakfast we headed up to the RSPB reserve at Pulborough, at this time of year the big attraction are Nightingales. Newly arrived the males are in song throughout the day, setting up their territories.
After negotiating the crowds just outside the visitor centre that were scanning the trees and bushes for any sign of a bird, we headed towards the West Mead Hide, in the hope of maybe a Little Ringed Plover, last year I was here a day later and they were about.
Unfortunately there was no sign of any Little Ringed Plovers, and apart from Shelduck and a few Black-headed Gulls little else was happening. However outside the hide a Lesser Whitethroat was singing and I managed to get a brief view as it moved through the Blackthorn.
From the hide we walked towards Adder Alley, and away in the distance a Nightingale was singing. There was in fact at least three birds singing, and as usual they were tucked in behind the main hedge, and then well into the middle of the tree. It is thoughall about the song with the Nightingale, and all three delivered in style. However through the branches I could see one bird, perched at the edge of the bush.
But then with all the people about it flew out of view, but could be heard singing somewhere in the scrub. We waited would it appear but it didn't, then we walked towards the footpath that led down towards the river and another bird burst into song. A small group were able to see the bird and we made our way to look to.
As I arrived the bird flew off, but then appeared on a moss covered log.
Then we were treated to some more amazing views as it just kept coming closer. At first in the bramble.
Then it flew from the bramble to the back of a bench.
Wonderful close views, and the bird seemed not to be worried about us, or the fact that others were arriving. It is always said that it is a shame that a bird with such a beautiful song should be so drab, but the rufous brown almost russet upper parts, contrast well with the light buff of the chest and belly. There is a certain clean look about them.
From the bench it then flew to the gate, and posed next to the RSPB sign.
Then from there it was off into the bramble in the next field, but still showed as it sat by the edge looking down into the field.
I have had some good views of Nightingale before, typically on the ground and under bushes but today's were the best I have had, the bird being completely out in the open.
We were now looking for the American Wigeon that had been present for a few weeks, but as luck would have it the bird was there early on, but had disappeared after 10.00. We left the hide with views of a Chiffchaff as compensation (the Wigeon was seen again later that afternoon).
We stooped in the cafe, and sat out in the garden where a single Red Kite put on quite a display overhead and in the fields.
There was obviously food of some kind in the grass alongside the field, and the crows were feeding on it, and must have also dropped some in the field. The kite would come down into the field and onto the grass.
At first the crows were keen to chase the kite off, but eventually it managed to move the crows away, and it fed on whatever it was. It then left after a short stay, and flew close to us once again giving some good views and one of the upper parts which is a view I don't often get to see.
It was looking to use the thermals as lift from the open soil in the field using the tail vigorously to allow it to bank and take tight circles.
In the garden itself House Sparrows were coming to feed on the left overs of a scone, and this attracted in a Jackdaw.
From this you can see how much binocular vision the bird has which probably attributes to there ability to exploit many different situations.
As is the case with many corvids they are over looked because they are seen as just a black bird, but there are many subtleties in the plumage (as well as a bit of scone stuck to its beak!)
Another corvid came close, the Rook is usually a shy bird and difficult to approach. here though this one was very approachable. and again it is not just a black bird, there is a lovely blue sheen to the feathers. So many people ask how to tell the difference between a Crow and Rook. the answer is the bill, in a Rook it is white along with a bare white patch at the base of the bill. The Crow is all black.
That was it for the day, mission accomplished with the Nightingales, shame about the American Wigeon, and no plovers. Still time to return.