However, an early start rewarded me instantly with this fine kestrel on the way to the oxbow lake.
I'd chosen to go to the lake this morning in hope of catching some 'wetland warblers' on migration. Sedge and reed warbler are rarely recorded in the parish but I have a suspicion that the large reed bed here will deliver. I sat on my favourite fallen tree trunk and just listened. The moorhens serenaded each other loudly but I never saw one. I kept my ears pricked in the hope of water rail but like the warblers, none were heard.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a dark finch fly up into a tree with the large group of linnets. The flock has been here all year and I've monitored it carefully in the hope that it will attract passing winter finches but until today it's frustrated. So seeing this brambling was an unexpected and welcome surprise; they've been very scarce in the UK this winter.
Returning from a successful jaunt at the bowling alley (I won hands down) and a trip to the cafe for a cake (white chocolate and raspberry muffin), I headed straight out again. Nick Morgan had spotted 4 obliging wheatear at the (now legendary) muck heaps and I'd missed out on photographs when I saw one a couple of weeks ago. They had already vanished, testament to the turnover of migrants at this time of year, but I was rewarded with an even better bird: redstart! The first live bird (long story) to be recorded in the parish in modern times and 50% of my 'wanted list' for 2016.
Look at those photos though! Terrible. I spent a lot of money on a new lens when my son smashed my Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 on our stone, kitchen floor (it was the excuse I needed to justify it). But, I wouldn't recommend one for just wandering around and grabbing record shots. At 300mm and with a 1.4x teleconverter it's still too short to get great shots of most of the birds I encounter, which tend to keep their distance. In fact, I believe that a modern compact camera with a 50-60x zoom is a much better companion for birding, being lighter and not requiring such heavy crops.
However, when everything is just right, the lens is definitely worth the money. Look at these shots of a confiding chaffy I took this morning... no crop, no adjustments, straight from camera. Look at that detail and those colours! Beautiful.