Sunday, 4 May 2014

What an afternoon

Sometimes things conspire together to give you great afternoons, and yesterday was one of them. Saturday is work party day down the lodge and the reserve was looking good. Early doors the hedges were full of warblers - blackcaps and chiffchaffs - there were terns over the lake, both the great crested and little grebes were happily on their eggs and the mistle thrush chicks looked almost too big for the nest. As a foretaste of things to come myself and Colin spotted a water rail darting into cover in the reed bed, the first time I've seen one for a few weeks.

After the work party I didn't come back home as normal as Judith was working so I stayed down the reserve and Dave and I pottered along to Rotunda to try to pin down hobbies and the reed/ sedge warblers. We could certainly hear warblers calling and the Cetti's was in full song. A blackcap and reed bunting pair were also giving good value for money nearby. Whilst studying some passing swifts we finally picked up 3 hobbies over long hedge - distant but great to see.
We then picked up the sharming call of a water rail from opposite Rotunda Hide. Dave was first to see an adult bird, coming towards us, then disappearing into the reeds. Then a second bird appeared, clearly two individuals as one looked quite skinny compared to the other. "would be nice if they had chicks" we joked! Then we spotted a small black thing in the reed bed edge. I wont repeat the language!!! Then a second blob appeared and you could see they were chicks. Almost all black, with a cute red blob on the top of their heads and a white, slightly downcurved beak. They kept coming towards us and then we spotted a third trailing behind. Eventually the whole family - both adults and all 3 chicks - were on the mud strand to the left of the hide. Over the next 90 minutes we watched them feeding, with Derek getting there in time and Chris lucking out and being on site as well.

The adult were coming out of cover quite frequently and one even made it over to the bird table area. The chicks were much more cautious and mainly kept to the margins. The adults were not just feeding the young but were showing them to how feed as well, raking over an area and leaving the young to pick up their own food. From a few if the shots it looked like it was larvae of some sort as you could see the divided body parts.

Although they could clearly see we were there, they did not seem to be too bothered by our presence even with camera shutters going off and happy laughter in the hide!!
Occasionally a fight would break out with a moorhen who also had her chick nearby. They would rush at each other, the rails screaming away and the reeds would move wildly. Once the moorhen chased a rail round the same path three times. We couldn't make out who was winning but it seemed harmless enough!!
After 90 minutes we left them still happily feeding away.

A first for me, I've never seen rail chicks, and the first confirmed breeding for a number of years on the reserve. It was a magical afternoon shared with some great wildlife and mates and really brings home how lucky we are to have Maple Lodge.
Below are a couple of videos which I hope brings a little of the scene to life. Good luck anyone who goes for them.