HESC in winter is a delight - moody in places, and magical everywhere, especially if you manage to out-stay the cold, catch the sun setting, and find the bird you've come especially to see.
We've had some fine species so far this year, including the Great White Egret and the Stonechats (both of which I saw), so I was keeping my fingers crossed that today, my third trip to see the bittern, I would at last see it (or even the possible two).
There's nothing like a bird-walk on a fine Sunday afternoon in the company of like-minded friends, so with the express intention of checking out the bittern(s?), we met in the car-park at 3.30pm.....
...to be greeted by a fellow birder with photos of the latest visitors to HESC, not bitterns, but two male smew!
They're lovely birds, and infrequent visitors to the Reserve, so we rushed across to the Near Hide to ensure we got our own sightings.
They were still there - the fingers had been worth crossing even if the bittern might not show later on....
Smew ( Mergus albellus)
We spent time watching these beauties and other birds, and noted the large numbers of pochard - at least 100 birds or more - on that part of lake.
And so, on to the Woodland Hide, and although we'd hoped to see a Marsh and/or a Willow tit, only the usual suspects were in evidence. A meander through the nearby meadow and beyond gave us a singing Songthrush, and a group of scarlet elf caps amongst the leaf-litter, moss and twigs.
I always think elf caps look as if they've been enamelled - pieces of jewellery placed carefully on the woodland floor for us to find if we're lucky.
Scarlet elf caps (Sarcoscypha coccinea)
The light was beginning to change. It was time to walk on to the Far Hide in the hope that the bittern might show, past icy St.Peter's water on the left, with a glance on the right through the trees of the view across the main lake.
Late afternoon light on the main lake...
Once in the Far Hide we could see that there were birds a-plenty, including wigeon, and more pochard, and a sparrow hawk, tufted ducks, gadwall, and two fine male pheasants grubbing on the far bank with a fox and a male muntjac nearby....and....wait a minute....that's not a female tuftie, said Di, that's a scaup (Aythya marila)!
This was turning out to be rather a special afternoon's birding, but eventually the falling dusk and the increasing cold meant it was time to walk back, with more photo opportunities on the way.....
.....such as these mute swans on St. Peter's, and then a clear view of Venus and the sun setting over the canal beyond Stanton Low Country Park.
Yes, HESC is a moody and magical place in winter, and whether the birds are there or not there is always something or other to catch the eye and feed the soul.
And yes, the bittern did eventually show. You'll find fine pictures of it (them?) on our FoHESC flickr site, taken over the last few weeks by much better FoHESC photographers than me :)
Ps Hope to see you on Sunday 15th February. Make a note in your diaries that we're open again the following Saturday 21st February, too. Maybe the smew, the bittern(s?) and the scaup will be long- stayers.....but even if they're not in evidence, the winter magic and the mood certainly will be.