Monday, 13 October 2014
My second week studying the wigeon flock, and from the outset there were unusual distractions. On monday, with alarm set for five am, i woke at quarter past two and ummed and arred until getting underway for a dawn visit to Minsmere. Arriving in the half-light, i hadn't been in the hide for more than a minute when a bird flashed across the reed fringed pond, landing at the back edge. In the distant gloom it could almost be mistaken for a Jack Snipe, and I strained my eyes trying to pick out every detail. after an hour watching Bitterns and Marsh harriers dash across the windswept reedbed the purpose of my visit became clearer to see in the soft light. A Little Crake, jerkily wading around the pool's margin stabbing at smallfry, then disappearing amongst rushy clumps that were made to look like the trunks of trees next to the tiny bird.
After leaving the hide I wandered down to the sea, past the scrape with its ducks and waders. Yes, there were Wigeon amongst them, but today was not about them, today was about the crake, and hopefully something interesting in the bushes behind the shingle bank, surely the first stop for any migrant freshly arrived.
Having ignored the Wigeon at Minsmere, a trip to Welney a few days later would surely leave me no option but to look at them. The usual noisy afternoon grazing meant that the flock was in a constant state of movement, with ripples of action spreading across the observatory pool banks. Sleeping birds suddenly stood rigid, head up as a neighbour bustled past to reach another patch of good grass. Then, one bird stood out. larger than the wigeon, with a commanding presence- an austere elegance, even in it's shabby non- breeding plumage. A male Pintail seemingly exuding the confidence that comes with knowing that here was the prince, here was true style and grace. He stood and preened while the other ducks busied themselves with more mundane tasks, as if his vanity caused him to rise above such menial concerns as mere survival. He would look good before doing anything else.
Finally the Pintail flew off, but by this time the light was failing, a Barn Owl hunted on the bank and I left again without having done what i had set out to do.
Sunday morning, early, misty, full of promise. Burnham Norton. As the mist cleared, the Steppe Grey Shrike sat in a hawthorn digesting its last mealworm, then flew down, collected another and hopped up to a bramble. In the soft backlight you could certainly see where it got its name "pallidus". No wigeon today.