A New Year, an empty sightings list – endless possibilities of exciting wildlife encounters. As I stepped outside, the fresh air of New Year’s Day awakened my senses and took my breath away. It was one of those days where grey grumpy clouds lingered above, threatening to change the mood with their tearful raindrops. I walked along the path surrounded by trees and bushes, a blackbird scurried along the ground in front of me while a robin perched on a nearby branch – its pose reminiscent of those adorning many a Christmas card received this season. A flock of chaffinches were chatting in one of the trees where the path divides into different possibilities. They shouted their colour call ‘pink pink’ then bounded off in flight in their winter group. I stood by the various pathways, deserted momentarily by my finch friends, wondering which to take and how this decision would influence what species would adorn the afternoon. The clouds waited no longer as they let their water droplet stowaways fall. Through the beginning drips of rain I could see a tell-tale smudge perching on a branch. A view through the binoculars divulged the red-pink lipstick breast of a male bullfinch, which certainly gloried the grey day. The rain grew heavier, the magnificent male deserted me to find shelter and I found myself in the open with little cover for myself to stop the raindrops. I walked down the grassy path, catching sight of a rabbit disappearing under cover, its white pompom tail showing me where it hopped to find shelter. Thinking I would be spending the rest of the walk rather damp the falling drops soon stopped and the world brightened again.
The estuary holds a glory of wading birds during the winter days. Despite the sombre clouds the ‘precious metal’ like feathers of the golden plovers reflected in the light, giving a hint of regal glory to the winter day. Speckled about the mud like freckles upon a face were the redshanks, which pottered about their day, probing the rich ‘mars bar’ mud for food. Weaving amongst the redshanks were the stouter shapes of ringed plover, the white in amongst the black mask visible in the break of the cloud. Interrupting the wading silhouettes was the flyby of a glorious kingfisher, a vision in blue; the tide too far out for it to stay and fish. Black-tailed godwits poked their bills into the mud, taking out worms with a dark muddy coating, before they swallowed these precious snacks. The glory of a curlew stood watching the scene, while a lone greenshank waded through a murky puddle.
In the distant estuary where the water was higher, smart shelduck could be seen while the small shapes of little grebe vanished amongst the water before appearing again in a repetitive sequence. The winter noise of geese filled the air as the dark silhouetted shapes flew across the horizon.
After leaving the estuary banks I took the slight inclined path to reach the classic scenic spot with benches situated for one to sit and ponder the world (or they would be if the weather had been a little drier, so in this case I had to stand). The estuary stretches far out into the distance; the marshes help guide its route until the place where the mud, which is exposed twice a day, becomes constant water. Little dots of wader life spread across the expanse below, while black-headed gulls flew about in the view.
Turning my back on this vastness I walked the returning path, sheltered by a plethora of trees and bushes. I had been looking and listening for finch flocks and although the chaffinches welcomed me when I first arrived I hoped to see more. Soon enough I saw them – perched so quietly on a tree was the outline of finches as they watched the afternoon turn to evening. I looked through my binoculars and although the sun had decided to slide from the sky, the remaining light allowed the green hue and a yellow wing colouring to be seen, showing the greenfinches in beautiful glory. I scanned the other birds; the white wingbars of the familiar chaffinches were clearly visible too amongst the winter trees. In a small tree close by long-tailed tits danced about the branches, their sweet little faces full of mischief. The call of a great-spotted woodpecker alerted me to its presence before it landed near the tip of the tallest tree, reflecting the hierarchy of a garden feeding station. Reluctant to leave the long-tailed tits I looked up into the tree, mesmerised by their antics, before I quickly peered through my binoculars at a distant marsh harrier. Upon lowering them I found my long-tailed feathered friends had left me and, as so too was the light, I decided to join them in departure.