The elusive white fronted goose. (Image by Adrian Arpington, in Public Domain)
Since late last year I have been volunteering at Otmoor, a fantastic yet little known RSPB reserve just north of Oxford. Every other week I trudge round, chat to visitors and top up the feeders, and it is really rather fantastic. Until this week I had seen some great stuff but in terms of wildfowl, it hadn’t really lived up to its billing as a superb inland wetland site. Since the ice melted, and the rain started falling though, the fields have flooded and the ducks and lapwings have returned in good numbers.
On January 2nd 29 white fronted geese had been reported, so I carefully scanned all of the geese flocks I could find, to no avail. Towards the end of the day, a wise seeming man said ‘seen the white fronts yet?’ I replied with a weary no, and he said that despite some observers beginning to think they had been mis-identified, he had seen them ‘clear as day’ not five minutes down the track. So now, fully on life-bird alert, stamp down the track I did, and it was more like 15 minutes. The only thing that was as clear as anything was the mud, which was, well, clear as mud. Goose fail.
My birding year ended in a thick veil of fog, the ground still laden with ice and thawing snow. Though visibility was down to maybe 50 metres at best, the Tuesday after Christmas found my family and me at Blashford Lakes in Hampshire. The woodland hide was still as delightful as ever, offering as it always does close views of siskins, redpolls and bramblings on and around the feeders that surround it. And though at Ivy Lake we couldn’t see the water for fog and ice, we did get a good look at an unusually confiding bearded tit close to the hide. However, upon walking into one of three hides that overlook a huge gravel pit, we quickly saw that the outlook was very foggy indeed, the view offering up not one single bird.
The following day on my regular fortnightly shift at the RSPB’s Otmoor reserve, and the fog was if anything even more impenetrable. We had nice views of yellowhammers and reed buntings feeding on spilled seed, but the reserve was for the most part hushed and still. My wife Rebecca asked the pertinent question “Where do the birds go when we can’t see them?” — one best left for another day because it is quite interesting. And I’m sure there is more to it than simply ‘nowhere, we just can’t see them’….