Average Birding

Nottinghamshire Excursions

The end of the year is rushing towards us and I have more vacation than I can carry over. A couple of days off to see the madre (and drive her to see a few year ticks of her own), then.

Pronoun guidance: AB1's Mum. This post details the events of December 13-14, 2018. N.B Thumbnail Goosander are a very blurry shot from Abberton in 2020.

Hoveringham pits

Mum has exhausted Attenborough's birds for the year, so we need to go a little further afield. Our first stop is East of Nottingham, on the North bank of the Trent. Hoveringham is its name.

I haven't been here before; my Trent valley exploration has always been up the river from Toton, not down. It's even more of an obvious flood plain here than there - my brain's "flood risk" alarm is going off constantly; I wonder how this area isn't semi-submerged every other year (I think there's some equipment to stop it somewhere).

Our stop is at a sailing club of the sort that don't want any non-members using the road down to the club, according to some very snotty signs. This is like a red rag to a bull for me, and after a brief stop, we drive down it anyway, parking just before the gate where you have to speak to someone to progress. I suspect, in standard U.K fashion, you can just rock up as a guest if you're polite, particularly given how many folks seemed to be doing so, but why the sign if so? Vexing.

We're here to find Black-necked Grebe; one's been reported consistently throughout the week, and there's only one lake, so how hard can it be?

Well, after two failed attempts at Red-necked Grebe, we know the answer to that. Particularly when the lake is bloody enormous and there's a freezing cold wind. We take turns between the scope and drying our faces of the floods of water streaming out of our eyes.

On this occasion, however, we are eventually successful. Mum finds the bird near a set of buoys off towards the back. I worry that my diagnostic for BNG is swiftly becoming "fluffier than the other grebes", but after continued staring I can look back at the bird book and go, "yeah, that's it". Staines Reservoirs, all is forgiven.

Clumber Park, for a Smew?

A quick stop for lunch is followed by a drive North to Clumber Park. Coming here used to be a double-edged sword as a kid - amazing park (great bike trails, I vaguely remember. Or maybe that was Rufford), but terrible journey to get there: guaranteed travel sickness. Today, I'm driving and it's surprisingly smooth. I guess it takes longer if you have to cross Nottingham.

We're here for a Smew that thinks it's a Goosander. Or perhaps it just likes the company of Goosanders. Clumber Park has a giant long lake to search, but thankfully the end we park at seems to be harbouring the vast majority of the birds.

It's turned into quite a pleasant Winter's afternoon - a decent amount of sunshine, and cold but not freezing. We set out on the path that circuits the lake.

We quickly find our first Goosanders. The lake empties into a rivulet at its Eastern extreme, which has a cute bridge over it. From the bridge we can see ten or fifteen Goosanders messing about below. They are brilliantly lit by the winter sun, but alas, there is no Smew amongst them; what a fabulous view that would have been. It would also be very un-Smew like, though; all the birds I've seen have been skulkers, paddling around as far away from human eyes as possible.

We can see plenty of detergent-advert level white in the main lake too, but we're hoping that, from a bit further round, the sun won't be entirely in our eyes, and we might have a bit more hope.

There really are a lot of Goosander here - two or three groups of up to twenty. They're fast becoming duck of the year for me, an oft unlooked for bit of treasure. A few Goldeneye are around as well, adding to the distractions. What are we here for again? Oh yes, Smew (female, "redhead"). I trust to the descriptions from Notts. Birders Twitter , and stick mostly to birds near Goosander flocks. If only there weren't so many!

Just as we're about to give up, a bird surfaces from a dive in the furthest group of Goosanders. Ah, now, even without being in the scope, that's setting off all my "different to everything else here" alarms. A rapid scope reconfiguration confirms; that's our bird! I switch places with Mum, and she gets a good thirty seconds of Smew before it psychically detects it is being viewed and flies off in a huff. Jubilation!

We take a quick detour on the way home, as some Waxwings have been spotted. We're too late though - there's nowhere to park, we're starting to get caught in rush hour traffic, and it's too dark. Home time!

Rutland Water

Tomorrow arrives and a plan to go to Rutland Water arrives with it. There are a couple of birds there that are ticks for both of us, and one of them even has reasonably succinct directions (searching the whole lake is a Sisyphean task).

Yes, fine, this bit is not in Nottinghamshire. You win this round, pedants.

We park at the well-known end of the reserve and are greeted by some immensely enthusiastic volunteers. They've definitely had their Weetabix. That, or they don't usually get many visitors on a Friday.

We have a quick look for the visitor centre hide, and there are already good ducks; Goosander again making a strong appearance. A Great White Egret is also present; a very nice treat, although this might now be the fourth (or maybe the fifth!) time I've seen one in the year, far more than I'd expected. Of our two quarries though, there is no sign (as we'd expect - one is out on the main body of the lake, rather than one of the official reserve's "pools", and the other is on a totally different "limb" of the reserve). We'll have to go on a bit more of an excursion to have a chance of seeing them.

We make our exit from the visitor centre and move out along the paths that take us out into the promontory that separates the two Southern limbs of the lake. We're trying to get to a hide that looks North or East, towards the town of Rutland, because there, apparently, a Red-necked Grebe has been reported.

Yes, we're trying yet again for RNG. Third time lucky, I'm hoping. The chances don't immediately look great though. Even when we get to an appropriate hide, huge tracts of water are still (even with a scope) an eye-wateringly long way away, the light is average, and there's enough wind to make waves a further obscurance. Oh, and there are hundreds (possibly thousands) of other birds that need to be searched; for example, to our left, a raft of at least a couple of hundred Coot is floating about; if our bird is amongst them, intermittently diving, well, we probably don't have time to find it, never mind inclination.

We undertake the best search we can, focussing on areas near landmarks on the North shore that previous reporters have mentioned. When this yields nothing (well, it actually yields boatloads of Cormorant, Great-crested Grebe, and yes, you guessed it, more Coots), we try looking further East into the more open water. Nothing doing there either. Humph.

More staring. Mum and I are a bad pair of people to give this mission to, because we're usually both having to think about the welfare of someone less bird enthusiastic than us (who is usually waiting politely nearby, and only occasionally suggesting that nearby hostelries may be more comfortable and supply better vittles). Together we are too stubborn.

After a few more false positives, we give up; we need lunch. Another Red-necked Grebe goes missing (and like all the others, it dutifully reappears when sought by other birders the next day, according to BirdGuides).

We proceed to a pub that's owned by someone famous (this is true of everything in Rutland as far as I can work out) and eat lunch. It is good. Being inside and warm is also pretty good, it's noticeably greyer and colder than it was yesterday.

We gee ourselves up for a quick tour of the Southernmost limb via the less popular visitor centre. We haven't long (Winter, so basically dark by 4pm), but that's fine, both of us have had almost enough of being out in the cold looking for non-existent birds.

We're on this side in search of American Wigeon (sung to the tune of Lenny Kravitz's "American Woman"). This, if anything, is an even harder challenge than the grebe. This side of the reserve is populated almost exclusively by Eurasian Wigeon, and telling the difference, at range, in (yes, still, it's basically been dark since October as far as I can tell) crap light, when you've never seen one in the wild...well, perhaps we should just have gone straight home from the pub.

We do look at a lot of Wigeon. Goodness me. It must be said of Rutland, that in Winter, it is a spectacular place just for the sheer number of wildfowl on offer. Although, if pushed, I think I prefer the Swale, slowly snaking its way between Sheppey and the North Kent mainland.

A view of the Swale, where the Wigeon are further away, but there's
     just a bit more atmosphere.
A view of the Swale, where the Wigeon are further away, but there's just a bit more atmosphere.

We admit defeat after the third hide. Not nearly as productive day in terms of ticks as yesterday, but a fun day out, and more evidence that Red-necked Grebe is a elusive little git.