Monday, 15 December 2014

But did you see the Pterodactyl?

Finally - the pot of gold?

Our very first birdwatching expedition took place on 7th May 2012 - you can read all about it here.  The odd thing is that, despite living virtually next door to Leighton Moss for 3 months in 2011 when we first moved up here AND being aware of the legendary status of their carrot cake, it still took us nearly 18 months to visit.  In an effort to make up for lost time we've been back at least once a month since and eaten so much cake that I'm now on a pre-Christmas crash diet.

I tracked our progress with the "novice birdwatching" columns in Walks & Wildlife magazine but now that the magazine is no more I felt there was one final tale to be told -1 final bird to be seen before we could move on to new challenges - the elusive Bittern.

Hutton Roof Crags
We have pursued it with dogged determination and have been taunted along the way with folks telling us "you should have been here yesterday", "Oh they popped out just after you'd left" and "yeah, last week they were out there tap-dancing on the ice" (OK - the last one may be a lie but there were 4 of them spotted circling overhead within hours of one of our visits, which is every bit as bad).

Along the way we've mistaken them for cows, tractors, trains, snipe and rutting deer (yes I know only one of those is another bird) and have darn near frozen to death in our quest to get even the briefest of glimpses, but last week we decided enough was enough.  Everything was perfect - we had a free day, the weather was right and we knew they'd been spotted regularly from Public Hide - flasks packed and away we went.
Not a creature was stirring...

We arrived just before 9am - the water was perfectly still, the sky was mostly blue, the snow was glistening on Hutton Roof Crags away in the distance and most importantly, Public Hide was empty so we nabbed the best spots and hunkered down.

During the day people came and went, birds came and went, but still no Bittern.  I dashed back to the visitors centre to replenish the flasks and acquire soup and cake, but still nothing.  By 2pm we were frozen solid and seriously questioning our sanity when it appeared - flying low and slow, from left to right directly in front of the hide. The moment was perfect - it was like when Ross & Rachel first kissed, when the Nescafe Gold blend couple finally got it together and when Sheldon Cooper finally told Amy Farrah Fowler that he loved her.  And yes I do realise how sad and geeky that makes me sound.

The proof!
It disappeared into the reed bed for a while before re-appearing along the channel known as "Al's Alley" where it sauntered around and posed nicely for photos - allowing a couple of visitors who'd dropped by on the off chance, on their very first visit, to get a splendid view.  Not that I'm at all bitter.  We even saw it fluffing its feathers and chasing another Bittern away.  Looking at the "beginners luck" newbies I knew exactly how it felt.

The upside of our many visits has been the chance to see so many other birds, other animals and marvellous sights - including the spectacular rainbow at the top of this blog - but I have also realised that whatever you've seen it's never quite enough.  I kept a note of everything we spotted during the day we were waiting for the Bittern and it looks like this:

Teal
Coot
Moorhen
Wren
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Crow
Robin
Tufted Duck
Mallard
Pochard
Bearded Tit
Cormorant
Assorted gulls (still need to work on those)
Heron
Swans
Grebe
Snipe
Marsh Harrier
Buzzard
Sparrowhawk
Water Rail
Bittern
Otters

Now I didn't think that was bad for one day, but when a gentleman asked if he could take a look at my list he read it, sniffed, peered at me over his horn-rimmed specs and said "but you haven't seen the short eared owl yet, have you?".  

No, we hadn't but we did see the Bittern AND we got to sit and watch the otters doing this - and until the Pterodactyl shows up, that will do us nicely thank you.