Initially the weather seemed to be relenting, finally, but late afternoon saw it snowing again with temperatures not improving.
We decided to visit the lagoon at Mirfield, West Yorkshire where the adult Ring-billed Gull, present last year, had returned to once again. This is a rare bird in Yorkshire but this individual had been mobile of late, no doubt influenced by the drastic weather conditions. Having located the "favourite" lagoon frequented by the bird we found it more or less frozen over, other than a couple of open lenses of water. A group of gulls , mainly of Black-headed Gulls but with odd Common Gull too, held promise and so it was that a bird, initially facing away from us, turned around and proved itself to be the adult bird concerned. Thankfully it remained in situ and provided excellent views. A good start!
Our next visit was to the Calder Valley Wetlands near Wakefield, whose access I was keen to learn about. A great site, just off the M1, with a good variety of duck , all of which can be seen easily and well. As with the nearby Pugneys site, this water body would also appear to be one than freezes over later than others and ,therefore, attracts good numbers of duck in times of harsh weather. With the adjacent car park, pub serving meals, nearby large supermarket, this site lends itself to being used for family "introduction to waterbirds" events by some conservation body or the Local Authority.
A quick visit to the Anglers Country Park to take a look at the Long-tailed Ducks which were present. Both birds were feeding avidly and spent more time below the water surface than in view. Nonetheless, they were fairly close and gradually good views of them were obtained. Several other species were in evidence and, on the adjacent Wintersett Reservoir, both Smew and Greater Scaup were present. Whilst we didn't remain to witness the spectacle, the traditional gull roost has seen both Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls in recent times and the late afternoon is also the period when one might gain a glimpse of a wintering Bittern. Apart from the more dramatic occurrences, the feeding station immediately adjacent to the car park is a facility which shouldn't be ignored, with a wide variety of passerines on show, all of which can be enjoyed from the comfort of one's car whilst having a coffee! Coffee, convenience and conservation in action!! Following a chat with Peter Smith and Angie Smith, and a "catch up" on absent friends and colleagues, we left to visit a new site near to Royston.
Rabbit Ings is a large site, formerly the location of a drift mine, a coal stacking facility and a spoil heap, whose transition into its current state bears little relation or connection to its former configuration. As with the expertise associated with Lakenheath, the capability nowadays to restore areas and convert them into sites of conservation value is quite remarkable. The substrates associated with sites such as Rabbit Ings demand particular expertise and engineering competence and the site is a very apt example of how this has been executed in abundance. A large area which, despite the bitter temperatures and snow, was being enjoyed by walkers, joggers and birdwatchers alike. Large areas of rough grassland, a small wetland, hawthorn and birch "copses", all contrive to present a collection of habitats that so very often nowadays are dismissed, if not destroyed. And what of the birds? Despite being a "new" site, since September,2011 up to six Short-eared Owls have been recorded, along with Kestrel, Buzzard and Long-eared Owl. Of particular interest, thriving numbers of Grey Partridge are present, of which we saw a few birds, and from which hopefully a more widespread population will grow now that this important nucleus habitat is protected. All in all a most welcome initiative and all concerned must be congratulated in bringing this to reality. For me, a particular joy was in meeting past friends, Cliff Gorman and, earlier, Keith Bannister, with whom I was in regular contact when living at home with my parents opposite to another favourite area, Carlton Marsh Reserve, many (!) years ago. How quickly the years speed by!!