Getting there would have been considerably quicker were it not for Darren's lamentable map-reading skills. How hard can it be to keep track of where you are on a big road atlas?
Me: Are we going the right way?
DOM: I suppose so
Me: Does that mean 'no, not really'?
DOM: Er, maybe
Me: I can't map-read and drive, you know!
Anyway, on with the birding. First stop, Welches Dam and the RSPB Ouse Washes reserve. It's like the Nene Washes but with hides, more water and more people.
On arriving in the car-park, the good numbers of Tree Sparrows were noticeable, as they hung out in a guelder rose bush (still laden with berries just begging for a flock of hungry Waxwings to come along and eat them). They're always nice birds to see.
The presence of a first-winter male Lesser Scaup was what really attracted most people to the Ouse Washes today. Everyone in the first hide seemed to be looking for it but nobody had seen it all day. It looked like we were probably going to 'dip out' (that's silly birders' slang for failing to see a bird).
We decided to press on and try our luck in the second hide along, Rickwood. This proved to be a good move as the bird had just flown in and was actually awake! However, it wasted little time in getting back to sleep again - fortunately, it left just enough time to allow the assembled birders to check out its important features.
Peering through the viewing screen by the visitor centre, I managed a quick glimpse of a female Brambling, but failed to get Darren onto it...
Though it was tempting to spend all day there and check out all the hides (there are ten!), we opted to head off to Woodwalton Fen to try our luck with the redpolls once more. The weedy field by the entrance is really coming into its own now - it was littered with birds. Redpolls, Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, Starlings and Fieldfares were augmented by Linnets and a single female Brambling. I didn't manage to see the latter but Darren did, so it's even-stevens for Bramblings now.
The 40-odd redpolls were quite flighty but scopable, and we managed to pick out at least two Mealies (Common Redpolls, if you prefer the BOU's rather unsuitable name). Comparison with the many Lessers on show made them look grey and... well... rather pasty.
After that, we walked right around the reserve, which was pretty fruitless apart from a nice, close encounter with a Marsh Tit by the hide. They're vastly underrated.
It's been ages since we actually added anything to our special year-list, and we only managed a couple today. Still, it's better than a poke in the eye with a blunt stick...
Species added today:
Common [Mealy] Redpoll