Trip reports

Mid-week Walk at Dinton Pastures

Mid-week Walk at Dinton Pastures
Peter Hambrook

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Weather: Wild! Overcast but dry, with a very strong westerly wind 15C.

Having boosted Wokingham Council's coffers by shovelling coins into their parking ticket machines, eight of us headed off for an anti-clockwise perambulation around the country park, having already logged a red kite and a redwing flying over the car park. Our first stop was at the nearby shore of Black Swan Lake, where we were faced by a horde of bread-expectant Canada geese and a solitary greylag goose. Apart from a raft of black-headed gulls, the lake was fairly empty, no doubt because of the strong wind sweeping across it. Two families of mute swans stayed close in-shore while a few gadwall and pochard kept in the lee of the islands, but the usual selection of ducks was missing, which seems to follow the trend this autumn, generally mild conditions not forcing ducks to head south in any numbers.

Moving on, we headed towards Lavell's Lake, pausing en route to scan a bush containing long-tailed tits and, only seen by Alan and Marion, two treecreepers. A careful check on another group of black-headed gulls revealed two common gulls amongst them while two herons were to be seen on the far shore. Having negotiated a particularly squishy patch of mud, we reached the first hide at Lavell's Lake which seemed to be in the middle of a building site, with lots of churned up mud where reed beds used to be and what appeared to be a new scrape freshly excavated near the entrance. Despite this, there were plenty of teal on the bund separating the marsh from the lake, along with numerous lapwing, while the lake itself held a few wigeon, shoveler, pochard, gadwall and Canada geese, the latter soon departing to be replaced almost immediately by a similar number flying in. The feeders held blue and great tits, chaffinches, a nuthatch, a goldfinch and a great spotted woodpecker while a family of pheasants and a moorhen cleared up any dropped morsels. Moving on to the second hide, again via the aforementioned squishy patch, we found more of the same, with the addition of a little grebe. Unable to get in the fairly small hide, Alan and Marion had met a local birder and been told of a hawfinch in a copse at the other end of the lake, (which we had just left!), two male ferruginous ducks at 'Middle Marsh' and a fly-over bittern. He had obviously had a good morning.

Having made the decision to leave the hawfinch until later, when those keen to try for it could drive round, we moved on to Sandford Lake. This, in many ways, was the best of the lakes for birds with good numbers of pochard and shoveler and smaller numbers of mallard, wigeon and gadwall all sheltering from the, now very strong, wind in the lee of some woodland. Some half a dozen cormorants completed the picture. Things now started to go pear-shaped as we, or rather I, tried to find Middle Marsh, not having been there before. We ended up at White Swan Lake and scanned the reed bed for any trace of a bittern, finding just a heron of the grey variety and two mute swans bearing down threateningly on a single swan that was trying to hide behind some waterside vegetation. Having forced it onto land the male swan seemed reluctant to follow and we later saw the 'interloper' fly off down the lake to safety. A pair of swans has been known to drown another on their territory, so it was wise to flee. Still trying to find the elusive 'Middle Marsh', we ended up on something of a route march, only interrupted by two bullfinches being spotted and eventually found ourselves back close to the reed bed where we started - only to then find a map that had been just behind us. We then realised we had walked right past the unmarked entrance to this well-hidden lake. Sadly, a thorough search of the small area of open water, with Alan even hiking off into the wilderness to continue the hunt, failed to reveal any ferruginous ducks - or much else for that matter, so our hike had been in vain.

As we headed back towards the car park, a passing heron, caught by the strong wind, appeared to be trying for a speed record for its species. A check of the usual spot for winter thrushes revealed just a couple of magpies, so we returned to our cars slightly disappointed that we had been unable to pin down some of the rarer species in the area but consoled ourselves that the 'fudge ducks' were not really wild anyway as they were the product of a German captive-breeding programme - and no, nobody found the hawfinch either.