Our most recent winter walk took place at Floodplain Forest, Old Wolverton on 4th March 2018. With the chaos brought about by ‘The Beast from the East’ over the previous 2-3 days, leaders Joe Clinch and Martin Kincaid had considered calling off the walk. On Friday the conditions were treacherous and the access road into Manor Farm Court was impassible. However, by Sunday the thaw had set in and conditions were much improved. No fewer than 23 Society members and guests arrived for the 2pm start.
We divided into two groups with Joe taking a group clockwise around the nature reserve and Martin taking his anti-clockwise. The first sighting of note was a very large flock of Canada geese grazing in the fields below the farm buildings. Joe’s group soon had binoculars and cameras trained on one of the local little owls as it sat up in its usual ash tree roost. These tiny owls nest around Manor Farm each spring – look out for them through the spring in the dead trees behind the Farm Hide. The many water bodies were still largely frozen so wildfowl numbers were down but among the commoner duck were 10 goosander and about the same number of shoveler. A few snipe were also observed by both groups, usually as they flew away from us at speed.
There was very little in flower compared with the same time in 2017, but the bright yellow flowers of colt’s foot were seen on the muddy banks and wild plum was in blossom. At the eastern end of the reserve, Martin’s group spotted kestrel and, a rarity on this site, little grebe. Eagle eyed Sue also picked out a solitary female pochard among the wigeon and tufted ducks. Passerines were still few and far between but a few small charms of goldfinch were spotted and we enjoyed watching a wren work its way along flood debris in the river.
Fortunately, Alan Piggott had brought his scope and he set this up by the Iron Trunk hide. We had noticed one of the male goosanders displaying to the females. This courtship display is similar to that of the goldeneye, with the male bird stretching his neck straight up and giving a little flurry. As we watched, one of the females went into a submissive posture, with her head below the water. The drake swam around her several times, almost as if he didn’t know what to do, before quickly mounting and mating with her! None of us had every witnessed this behaviour before so we felt quite privileged to have seen it today. Goosander have been breeding in our area for at least 7 years now and regularly nest at Olney and Newport Pagnell. As we stopped to view the little owl in his tree, a large flock of wigeon came out of the water to graze on a patch of ground close to the Farm Hide. We had a fine view of these handsome ducks. Here too we had a grisly discovery – the half-eaten carcass of a lapwing, presumably the work of a fox.
The two groups merged again to walk back up the hill to the car park. We had all enjoyed getting outdoors after the big freeze and had amassed a fairly respectable list of birds. Thanks to everybody for braving the elements and making this meeting a success.
Birds: Great Crested Grebe; Little Grebe; Cormorant; Mute Swan: Canada Goose; Greylag Goose; Goosander; Mallard; Gadwall; Teal; Wigeon; Shoveler; Tufted Duck; Pochard; Grey Heron; Little Egret; Snipe; Coot; Moorhen; Black-headed Gull; Herring Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Kestrel; Woodpigeon; Little Owl; Great Spotted Woodpecker; Carrion Crow; Rook; Jackdaw; Magpie; Wren; Blackbird; Redwing; Fieldfare; Robin; Great Tit; Long-tailed Tit; Goldfinch.
Flowering Plants: Colt’s-foot; Wild Plum.