As I write, it's a dull, dreary, wet day, which I'm sure chimes with the feelings of many people as this unusual Christmas season approaches. With plans changed, and many families unable to meet with their loved ones, I hope this blog will bring some much needed cheer to our readers, especially the photos at the end.
As a rule, little changes in terms of daily sightings during mid winter, with most of our winter visitors already on our shores, and birds settled into their regular patterns of feeding constantly during the limited hours of daylight in order to take in enough calories to get through the colder winter nights.
The feeders outside reception are a constant source of action, with the regular tits, finches and pheasants joined by nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker or sparrowhawk: the arrival of the latter is usually signalled by the distressed alarm calls of the smaller birds. Marsh harriers quarter over the reedbed, from deep within which the squeals of a water vole of short-sharp song of Cetti's warbler may be heard. Hundreds of ducks, cormorants and gulls loaf about on the Scrape, often taking advantage of the relatively safe, predator-free shallow water to feed by night. Stonechats perch prominently on gorse bushes within the dunes, and small flocks of redwings and fieldfares gorge themselves on hawthorn berries in the North Bushes.
Of course, as always in nature, there's a surprise or two in store for our visitors. Perhaps you'll spot the goosanders that are roosting on the Scrape, or the three whooper swans that are regular at Island Mere. Maybe a red-throated diver will swim close enough to the beach to be visible with binoculars, rather than requiring a high-powered telescope, or a peregrine will cause panic as it swoops over the Scrape in search of a meal. Will the ringtail hen harrier or a bittern put in an appearance at Island Mere, or might you be lucky enough to see a Dartford warbler in the dunes or Chinese water deer on the South Levels.
Whatever you see on the reserve, I'm sure that a visit to the cafe will be in order, to sample the delicious, homemade cheese scones or cakes and enjoy a hot mug of tea or coffee. Or, perhaps, you'll treat yourself or your garden birds to something from the shop.
If you are planning a visit over the next few weeks, please note the following opening arrangements over the Christmas period.
Monday 21 to Wednesday 23 December - all facilities open as usual, but no indoor seating available in the cafe
Thursday 24 to Saturday 26 December - all facilities closed. This includes the nature trails, toilets and hides, which all be locked.
Sunday 27 December to Sunday 3 January - all facilities open as usual, subject to changes in government restrictions.
Monday 4 and Tuesday 5 January - nature trails, hides and toilets open, but cafe, shop and reception closed.
Wednesday 6 January onwards - all facilities open, subject to changes in government restrictions.
Now for the photos, all taken on my daily walks over the last few months, starting with some of the reserve's best views.
And moving on to some of my favourite wildlife photos
Redwing eating hawthorn berry
Magpies and kestrels are two of my favourite birds
Wigeon are always beautiful ducks, and I love the way the female takes centre stage in this picture
This stinkhorn was in the woods last month
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