With a shake of the head, dressed fit for a Tudor ball, the dance commences. Another shake, a bow, followed by a mock preen - all mirrored by his partner. He leads her through this routine for several minutes, repeating the pattern of moves. Until at the appointed moment they both disappear under the water, only to appear again yards apart, bills spilling over with quite unattractive black leaves. They swim towards each other, necks lowered like a knight's lance. Just at the point of impact, they raise out of the water on furiously paddling legs, heads flicking they present their treasures to each other. A final flick of the head to disguard the weeds denotes the end of the dance, the bond formed. Bloomin' lovely.
And where did this ancient ritual unfold? A remote bog in Mudfordshire? Not at all, a local country park - Lakeside, Eastleigh. Acted out within a few feet of families playing and fishermen, well err... fishing. Wildlife on your doorstep.
To consider that great crested grebes were virtually wiped out in Britain by vain ladies of 19th century, thinking that they would look better with feathers on, beggars belief. Thank goodness these sort of practises don't go on today. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!
Thanks to JD for the totally well good tip.
The same thought was going through our heads, but neither wanted to give it the oxygen of life. I blinked first, 'Ikea Saturday', blurted out with immediate regret. 'Ok'. Came an equally fearful response.
Operational plans were made; clinical and sensible. If I wrote them out in full this page would be covered in MI5 black marks. I am allowed to mention a few key phrases to paint the picture - 'sparrowfart', 'darkside of the Hamble', 'disgusting coffee' and an agent called 'Billy Case'. We can never return. Bridges burnt. Enough said and all that.
In my mind, Spring is fully underway and I'm skipping gayly through the woods. In reality, it is snowing outside and I'm seated shivering behind my desk. I prefer the scenario being played in my head, and thoughts lend themselves to all the changing detail in the countryside at this time of year.
A favourite is the arrival of redstarts in the New Forest. A quivering orange tail, a flash of brilliant white forehead a snatch of distinctive song, all point to their return from their African wintering grounds. Quite often my first view is of males. Finding them in holly, perched on the shadowy branches exposed by pony or deer browsing. Soon they sing from the highest branch of the highest tree and the bustle of summer's rhythm commences.
I would like to share a painting made this very morning, but for now I'm bound by work and colds, to painting birdy activities (!) from the window. So one from last year will have to surfice for now. (Apparently not as it happens, the upload won't work.
For Mike W. Who has been missing my blogs of late.
Feeling a little down in the dumps after a poor night at the snore-face. Spirits were soon lifted by a male great tit blasting out 'Mr Blue Sky' on a glorious spring-like morning. How could I resist him - I couldn't, so I didn't. The subject of his affectionate serenade appeared in the lower branches. Couldn't resist her either, so I didn't. A few minutes later I was back to the grindstone.
Still bloomin' coldio though.
Mrs Barn Owl joined us at 5.25. Melvyn ten minutes earlier.
The forecast gave this as the last decent dusk for a while, so here we were again watching this lovely bird. Her first appearance out on the grassland was short and she soon went back into the woods, presumably to fetch out her slumbering partner. As we waited for the next view, a pair of stonechats and a fly-over male peregrine kept us entertained.
She came out on her own, putting on a brief but superb show, plunging a couple of times like a missle into the nearby sward, before drifting over to the lake. She quickly returned, carrying prey - flying directly into the ivy covered roosting trees. Clearly to enjoy her snack (and share it with 'lazy boy'?). Eventually she finished eating and sat for a few glorious seconds on the edge of the carr, then glided off around the edge of the trees.
The light waned, but we were given one last view as she went back into the roost. We ambled back to our cars, putting the world to rights as we went.
To maintain a balance, and prevent everything spiralling into chaos in our crazy bonkers cosmos, some aspects of life have to remain constant. Examples of this are; Portsmouth FC is and always will be a great football club, Nicolas Cage can't act, Les Miserables has no music in it and for as long as Southsea Castle stands, purple sandpipers will be it's winter guardians.
We spend a lot of our mooching time, visiting places, just looking to see what might turn up. Good fun, sometimes very rewarding, sometimes not. At the weekend we were in need of a 'constant' and not wanting to endure a Miserable Cage special. We found ourselves at Southsea Castle, and sure as eggs are oeufs there they were, the world in balance - thirteen in total.
Although built during Henry VIII's reign to protect Portsmouth from foreign invaders, the only force to have ever breached the walls was a home-grown Parliamentarian army (the sandpipers must have been away that day). The castle would have been a great vantage point to witness both the sinking and more happily the raising of the Mary Rose. Today, it still stands strong a reminder of our martime past. A pathway and seawall are divided by railings on the seaward side of the castle. As long we remained on the pathway and not climb over the rails, the birds were quite happy to maintain guard of The Solent and go about their sandpipery business.
Orange juice stains on the base of the bill and legs offers the only contrast in colour with the dull hues of the rest of their plumage. More dark grey than purple, they are perfectly dressed for blending with the dark rocks of the sea defences. They busily fed in the area where the waves were breaking, as the wave receded they dashed onto the dampened rocks, probing the crooks and nannies for crustaceans. Occasionally they would be so intent on feeding they would miss the next wave and become swamped by it. This is what they have done for forever, but when they are caught by a wave they still sport an expression that says 'well I never knew they did that'.
Soon the sandpipers will have finished their winter vigil and will be off on their migrations to the Tundra for the summer. But today, bloody hell, it was freezing. A biting easterly ripped through The Solent and through our coats. Time for our own migration back home to some central heating and to watch the sorcerer's apprentice - not really....
Ok, not a barn owl, but a showy 'blotchy' female marsh harrier that entertained us while we were being a 'guide in a hide' on a freezing afternoon at the Haven last week.
Anyone spot Nicolas 'put the bunny back in the box' Cage at the Oscars last night?
We've been back several times to watch the barn owl. However, there are only so many ways that to say; beautiful, ghostly, floating and punctual. So in the meantime I'll just post a few of my efforts to capture ol' 'moggy' until I think of something to write. Stop cheering at the back, I know who you are.
Oo hang on, how about wispy?
The woods stand perfectly still, the air is calm and yet there is always one branch shaking like it has the crazy itches. What's that all about?
The cold hung heavily with the constant drone of commuter traffic. In complete contrast to the last time we searched for barn owls, when a peaceful silence shaped the atmosphere before their arrival. However, this was not the Haven, but the centre of Gosport - pause for 'jaws-like' dramatic music to start-up.
From experience, it seems that barn owls are good time-keepers and stick to a time-table, unlike waxwing. And sure enough at 5.11pm, the appointed time, the female flew out of the alder carr and into view. At first she simply made circuits, reconnoitring the field, flying stiff winged, like one of those elastic band powered toy aeroplanes.
Then 'old hushwing' started to hunt displaying great manoeuvrability; cartwheeling, hovering and plunging into the grass for prey. Drifting towards us she landed in a small tree a few feet away. She peered hunchbacked into the woods - we could just make out her markings, small teardrops trickling down her ochre-coloured back. A male emerged, he was much more ghost-like, white wings coloured blue-grey on the coverts and distinctly smaller. Together they floated over the meadow, gracefully performing an aerial ballet - beautiful. We watched for as long as the cold and light allowed us to, but eventually the dusk gave way to engulfing darkness and the white shadows mingled into the night.
The harebears are conspicuous by their absence. Apart from this worry, we set foot on the Haven, for the first time in ages. Enjoying some bar-tailed godwits and sanderling - good winter birds for the reserve and missing an Iceland gull (nothing new there then).
And, oh yes, the frogs are still doing unnecessaries in the pond.
Things not quite as planned, the forecasted bright frosty morning was nothing of the sort. Instead a dead grey sky sucked the life out of the day. Not very inspiring, but we were determined to be ahead of the sparrow farts for a dawn watch of the hare bears and their boxing antics. Except that the hares had the best idea remaining hunkered down and out of sight - probably nursing hangovers from yesterdays cracking England match.
Not all was colourless though; a green woodpecker flashed it's acid yellow rump as it flew away from us, 300plus fieldfare graced the sheep fields and a cock sparrowhawk lead us along the lanes at Beacon Hill.
Oh well, back early to watch the Italians beat the French at rugby - not all bad then!
If you're expecting words of wisdom from Dan and Rosemary you may be sadly disappointed. However, if you want to keep up to date with our current projects then pick up the feed at the top of this column.