Birding days that don’t always go according to plan

The wind was smacking me in the face, my eyes were watering and my hands, well I couldn’t even feel those but I could just about make out the fuzzy shape of a Slavonian grebe through my binoculars.

We have all had those trips that although meticulously planned don’t turn out how we had hoped. I had one of those the other week when I decided it would be a good day for some birding down at the reservoir. I had checked the weather forecast, I don’t always, but usually just go equipped for all eventualities (waterproofs, layers of warm clothing, sunglasses, suncream – optimistic I know). It said NO RAIN, none, not even a little sprinkle until the evening. Arriving at my destination I equipped myself with a woolly hat, two pairs of gloves, a scarf, and my gigantic coat. Yet stepping out, the wind hit me and I realised it was going to be a cold one.

Setting off on the path I saw the meadow pipits flitting about during what appeared to be an overcast day. Then the rain started, I was in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t duck into a hide until it had passed so I kept on going along the muddy path and I got a bit covered – now I was wishing I had worn my wellies instead of my newly cleaned walking shoes. Walking along the woodland edge there were goldfinches, and a variety of blue and great tits high up in the trees. It was going well now the rain had stopped, I was sheltered by the trees and the birds were showing nicely. Further along the path an obliging male kestrel was perched on a tree so we could get a good look at him. The lapwings too were flying about in the distance with their characteristic flight – time to get down to the hides that have views over the reservoir.

Stepping out from the tree line the wind caught me again making every step a challenge. Salvation was in sight though as the hide was about 100m away. Having reached the hide my eyes were watering but I had never been so happy to see a wooden shed. Once comfortably seated inside I was ready for some relaxing birdwatching, so I opened the flap and I immediately felt like the wind had blown me to the back of the hide and was pinning me against the wall. Unfortunately the hide windows were directly in line with the wind direction so it was ten times worse inside than out. Never the less I held my binoculars up to scan the reservoir. Mallard, tufted duck, mute swan, great crested grebe and goldeneye were all visible. Someone said they had seen a Slavonian grebe so I hurriedly held up my binoculars despite the fact I could barely feel my hands anymore, but right at the back of the reservoir I saw it, before we lost sight of it. It was getting to that time however when my hands were actually in pain because of how cold it was, despite the two layers of gloves; my eyes were watering and I was wishing I owned a balaclava because a hat just didn’t cut it. It did however come to mind that no one else seemed to be fussing, surely they too were feeling the pain – I have clung on to the top of a boat in the rough seas of Scotland being pummelled in the face with sea spray and rain, but this was more unpleasant. In the end we all moved on and when we got outside everyone said how much nicer that was, phew, wasn’t just me then.

Walking to the next hide the rain had stopped and there was even a hint of sunshine. There was a flock of gadwall by the water’s edge and two beautiful Egyptian geese. The wind was hitting the back of this hide, so it was a welcome sanctuary this time, even warm in fact. A beautiful flock of starlings were along the edge of the reservoir, with one very brave crow taking a bath in the icy water. The Egyptian geese were showing nicely, and it was that calm, relaxing kind of birding again. Sadly though we had a time constraint so had to move on. Of course it began to rain rather heavily when we left the hide so we tried to make a quick dash for the visitor centre, as when wearing jeans you know if you get them soaked they pretty much won’t dry for the whole day. The trip back did however offer a skylark on the grass, and some chaffinches by the feeders.

Reaching the visitor centre I was a little worse for wear, damp jeans (should have taken my waterproofs no matter what the weather forecast was), numb hands and slightly exhausted. Turns out they had had a Slavonian grebe in the scope by the nice warm and dry visitor centre! Despite plans not quite turning out as I had expected, getting battered and beaten by the weather, it was a much more enjoyable day than if I had spent it indoors, and I saw a Slavonian grebe – my first and a day when you see a first can never be a bad one.

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