Saturday, 7 February 2015

My First Water Rail: Warnham Nature Reserve

After a week of working on hard on a particularly complicated portrait which I finally finished last night, I found myself longing for a little me time away from work. The weather forecast this morning read thick cloud all day and a high of 5°C. That was good enough for me since there was no rain forecast and frankly, during a British winter, that is a bonus. I decided to go to my nearest nature reserve, Warnham, about a 10 minute car journey from me. I hadn't been there in a while and it has a lovely big pond that at this time of year should be hosting a variety of waterfowl.

Warnham Nature Reserve is located just outside of Horsham, and borders the A24. It has 92 acres of land with a range of habitats including marshes, grassland and reed beds, and has three bird hides, feeding stations and a raised walkway through the marshes.
When I pulled into the car park, I saw that there were only three other cars there. Hardly surprising given that it was only 10:45am and the air was a little on the nippy side. I wasn't fazed, having bundled up beforehand and with my rambling binoculars around my neck and my handheld camera in my pocket, I headed through the visitor's centre and towards the first hide. Out of the three hides, it is the smallest and gives a view of the pond bank and reeds. A pair of mute swans were there, a male and female, softly honking at one another. Several coots and some woodpigeon paddled in the shallows, drinking and preening their feathers.
On from here, I followed the path around the meadow area which in the Summer, when there are no livestock being kept there, you can walk through and see a wonderful array of butterflies and dragonflies.  21 different species of the latter have been recorded here in the past. A number of different songs and calls overlapped each other, the sweet tune of the Robin mixing with the squeaky chirp of Chaffinch and Gpldfinch. From the trees on my left a bright dart of green swooped across the path in front of me and over to the woodland in the distance; unmistakably a Green Woodpecker. Up on a large tussock in the meadow landed a Song Thrush, briefly looking around before disappearing into the shrubbery.

Inside the second hide, the largest of the three, I sat watching flocks of Great tits, Blue tits and Goldfinch squabble over the hanging feeders, the surrounding trees full of chirrups that suggested many more Goldfinch were waiting for their turn, while on the ground, 10 or so Chaffinches pecked at the seed, darting in and out of the undergrowth. A pair of Dunnocks were half-concealed in the low branches of the hedges, keeping themselves to themselves as they often do. Two Robins kept watch over the area.

By the time I left this hide, the sun had pushed through the layer of cloud and the wind had picked up, making my eyes stream with the chill of it. I longed for the woolly hat I had chosen not to wear. Following the path, I wandered in the direction of the marshland, listening to the squawking calls of the gulls on the pond. The dry leaf litter rustled occasionally from a foraging Blackbird and high above me, Magpies hopped from branch to branch.
The raised walkway took me into the marshland which was very quiet, save for a Wren, Long-tailed Tit and lone Wood mouse scrabbling about among the reeds. If you carry on following this path, you go deeper into the marsh and eventually into woodland but on this occasion, I chose to turn around and head for the third and final hide which, incidentally, is my favourite. It gives a fantastic double-aspect view of the whole pond and offers the best perspective of the thriving Heronry.
The gulls were perhaps the hardest to miss since they were being particularly noisy. The 30+ Black-Headed gulls were in their Winter plumage, lacking the black caps, which leaves them looking completely different from their Summer selves. To be fair, the majority of raucous noise was coming from the Common gulls, all 40+ of them. Across the other side of the pond was a group of Greylag geese and I was delighted to see these as it was a first for me to see them in the flesh. Their orange-pink bills and white wing bars helped me I.D. them straightaway.
I had several other "firsts" on this trip, one of them being a sighting of seven tufted ducks. These were diving and reappearing all over the place so I struggled to get a firm count but I got there in the end. Unfortunately, as with all my photos today, the shots I got weren't that great. My main aim was to catalogue them as a sighting though and you can at least see the tufts that gave them their name!
By this point, I glanced at my watch and realised I had been on the reserve for nearly an hour and a half; the time had quite honestly-no pun intended-flown! I left the hide and made my way back towards the visitor's centre. I paused on a bridge outside the second hide to watch a Wren that was hopping about in the reed bed and I am so glad I did as this is where I had my third "first" of the day, and definitely my most exciting one. A rustling made me turn my attention away from the Wren, just in time to see a Water Rail go sloping off into the reeds! I was thrilled to spot one and quite amazed I did when I studied the size of it. The red colour of its long, thin bill glinted in the sun and I could just make out the blueish colour of its chest before it disappeared. Sadly, I didn't manage to snap a photo but it's in my memory and that's the most important bit, I think.
Before leaving, I nipped back into the first hide to get a closer look at a group of large birds. I was yo-yoing between them either being Shags or Sormorants and since looking at the photos, I've decided they were Sormorants (please do correct me if I'm wrong!) It was quite amusing to see them holding out their wings to dry.
Just as I was about to turn to leave, a group of Mallards swam towards the hide and with them was my fourth and final "first" of the day; a Shoveller! It was a pretty good way to end my trip, despite the fact I was definitely feeling the cold by that point. 

Here's a full list of my spots today:

11 Greylag geese*
7 Tufted ducks*
1 Shoveller*
1 Water rail*
1 Long-tailed tit
2 Canada geese
2 Wrens
1 Goldcrest
Blackbirds (male and female)
1 Carrion crow
2 Song thrush
10+ Blue tits
10+ Great tits
1 Green woodpecker
2 Heron
7 Cormorants
40+ Common gulls
30+ Black-headed gulls (winter plumage)
10+ Chaffinch (male and female)
6 Mallard (5 male, 1 female)
6 Goldfinch
2 Dunnock
3 Moorhen
5 Coot
2 Mute swans
1 Great-spotted woodpecker
1 Wood mouse
2 Grey squirrels
4 Robin

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I go to Warnham regularly as it is close to me as well. This year I haven't seen a water rail so I will be looking out for one next time I go.