Today I took a couple of new toys for a spin, and found a fantastic new birding spot in the shape of the Calder Wetlands near Wakefield.
The first of the toys in question was a Cley Spy Mulepack, which I got for Christmas from Laura. It’s a tripod carrier/backpack, which means carrying the tripod and scope is made very easy and keeps hands free for using binoculars and cameras. To be honest lugging tripods around is one of my least favourite aspects of birding, and on many occasions I’ve left the scope at home and regretted it, and this is a comfortable solution that works a treat. Not cheap, but well recommended.
The second toy was a a brand new pair of Opticron Imagic BGA SE binoculars. My trusty Bushnell H2os have gone wonky, and as I was going to replace them soon with better bins anyway, I thought I’d bring the purchase forward. They really are great bins for the money (I got them for £340) – great optics, bright image, good depth of field, great eye relief for glasses wearers like myself, and good performance even in lower light levels. Thoroughly recommended!
And on to the birding… I started out at Calder Wetlands, and soon got on to our old friend the ferruginous duck, which has relocated from Pugney’s. It was very easy to find on the only ice-free patch of water on the lake behind the Swan & Cygnet pub. Sadly the ring-necked duck that has been there in recent days seems to have moved on.
A walk up and down the Calder itself, in the vain hope of finding the smew that has been hanging round recently, made for a great hour of birding nontheless, with two red-breasted merganser on the river, great views of kingfishers, lots of goldeneye and goosander, grey wagtails, a redshank, and a low-flying sparrowhawk, as well as a small number of chuckling fieldfare in the trees.
Pugney’s didn’t turn up too much, bar a fox hunting on the ice from the nature reserve hide, and a heard-only water rail which sadly didn’t show itself (which I’m not counting this year – only seen birds count, however much they annoy me!). Cetti’s warbler and bittern had both been seen this morning, but not by me! However one interesting bird there was the weird hybrid goose-duck thing below. Anyone want to take a guess at parentage?!
Finally we made a trip to Millfield Lagoons, on the other side of the Calder, which were (as we expected) completely frozen. However as we got there I got a tip off via text from Dave Simmonite (cheers fella!) saying his pager had just beeped with news that the smew was hanging around the sewage works at Horbury. We weren’t a hundred percent sure where the sewage works were, but knew which direction to head, so marched up the river until we finally traced the bird, hanging round with a particularly skittish party of goldeneye. Despite them taking off a couple of times, they kept landing on the river and we got two very good views of the smew. Smews are one of my favourite birds, and one I didn’t get chance to catch up with in 2009.
So a brilliant day to play with my new toys, and just in time if the snowy forecast for the next few days are anything to go by… 51 species seen over the course of the day, with 20 year ticks (don’t you love January?!). Full list below, year ticks in bold…
Great Crested Grebe
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Spotted Woodpecker