Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Date with Nature

I am missing the leisurely walks around my home and the numerous birding opportunities back home. Living in the city definitely has its own benefits, but staying away from nature is one of its shortfalls. Having fallen in love with birds, this first winter in the foreign country was a bit harsh for me. Huddled in the cold, I did miss the sultry weather back home. But more than that, I missed the chirps and songs of my winged friends. Not a day passes without my wistfully remembering the magpie robin's song or the barbet's call. There was never a silent moment.

Hearty Welcome!
Of course, the spring awakens the nature here with a new life. While it was amazing to see the blossoms and newly sprouted leaves, it was more heartening to hear the birds. Thanks to the prediction of a sunny day, we visited the RSPB Marshside reserve today.

Black Tailed Godwit
The good connectivity between Liverpool and Southport ensured a smooth journey to Marshside reserve. As we alighted the bus and walked towards the RSPB Marshside hide, we were welcomed by none other than the black-tailed godwit. Although I have seen it in high numbers (possibly in a large flock of more than 5000 individuals), this was the first time I saw a solitary individual up close - that too in breeding plumage! I clicked a few snaps and when I reviewed the pictures, I realised I had left the memory card in my laptop back home. What a sad way to start the season. However, my better half loaned his memory card as he knew how eager I was to test the new lens he bought me. Feeling a bit guilty, but happy to snap some pics, I got the camera ready and snapped the pics.

On our walk to the hide, we saw Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Coot, Moorhen, Canada Goose, Black-headed gull, swallow and so on. Although it was sunny, there was quite strong wind too, which made the weather bit chilly. Soon we reached the hide and were welcomed by the sight of two brooding Avocets. I saw an Avocet for the first time in 2015 and the thrill of that maiden encounter still remains. Every time I see an Avocet, I remember the excitement I felt on seeing the bird for the first time. It is a rare sighting in my home state of Kerala, India. Even though I saw a greater flamingo and Avocet together that day, I think the little (in comparison) black and white bird excited me more than the huge avian.

Coming back to Marshside adventure, I was glad to see the pair of Avocets and clicked away happily. Once inside the hide, I could see hundreds of black-headed gulls before me. The first time I saw the black headed gull (or was that a brown-headed gull?) was during the annual Vembanad lake bird count by Kottayam Nature Society in 2014. Then, the tiny black mark on the head wasn't very visible and even though some experts told me the id, I couldn't see why it was called so. For a novice like me, all gulls looked same and the winter plumage wasn't a great help in identification. But now, I could see clearly why it is called black-headed gull.

Mediterranean Gull - A record shot
As I sat observing and clicking pictures, few fellow birders at the hide seemed excited about something. Dave, the RSPB volunteer was gracious and showed the subject of excitement through his spotting scope - a Mediterranean Gull among the black-headed gulls. This was a lifer for me!
Soon, I got a record shot for my collection. I spotted mallard, mute swan, coots, Moorhen, redshank, Canada Goose, Lapwing and the like. Dave told that the Avocets are due for a change of guard anytime now. If we manage to see that, we could get a glimpse of the eggs too. We waited for some time and shortly, one of the partner turned up. As soon as it came nearby, the brooding individual got up, walked to the edge and started preening itself. The newly arrived individual took on the responsibility of incubating the eggs. They seem to have worked out the schedule very well. Division of Labour with no fuss!!! Sometime later the other pair too swapped roles and we too got going.

Reed Bunting
We reached Neil's hide and saw nothing extraordinary. As hunger had started gnawing, we decided to eat our lunch there. As we munched, the reed bunting made its appearance for a moment or two. Luckily, the camera was at hand we snapped a few shots - another lifer for me!

As I scanned through the lens, I saw some oyster catchers a little far. This was a bird for which we had travelled 120 km early one morning in 2015! It was a rare sight then. But here, I am lucky to see them more often.

We saw a big flock of godwits enjoying their afternoon nap in the sun, Shelduck and swans having a siesta, Lapwing strutting restlessly while the noisy gulls were busy gathering nesting materials and some, mating.

We started our walk back and decided to explore the grassland on the other side. The ceaseless chirping was one reason, whereas the absence of footpath at the other side necessitated it. Shortly, we found some steps to go down there and kept scanning for any movements. At first, we could only see wood pigeons. But as we looked closely and keener, we could see some reed buntings wavering in and out of the reeds.

It was quite windy and I struggled to see properly. A little ahead of us was a movement. I tried clicking some pics. However, the unfamiliar lens and strong wind were against me. Still, I managed to click some record pics. (It turned out to be a pipit - another lifer). I saw another bird, the id of which couldn't be confirmed. Sadly, I couldn't get a decent picture of the same.

Few meters ahead, I spotted a wheatear (a lifer again!). I had seen quite a few pics of this beauty that I could id it on the spot. I somehow didn't imagine it to be so small though. Anyway, despite the wind and unsteady hands, I got a few record shots of this feathered beauty.


By then, it was time for our return. The sky was turning dark and wind got stronger. I started feeling the chill and longed for some warmth. We soon reached the bus stop and within a couple of minutes, we boarded the bus. A few stops later we got into another bus and headed back home after a satisfying day spent with nature.

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