As it happens, it was clear and fecking cold. After I'd scraped the ice off of the car and got going, the temperature dipped to -4.5C. Just as The Llama found on Friday, the A47 (a notorious accident blackspot in east Leicestershire and Rutland) was completely free of grit. I eased my way along rather than the usual high-speed blast up the crawler lanes (on the way back later in the day, I passed 1 damaged BMW X5, a Renault Megane in a ditch and a Nissan/Mitsubishi type utility pick-up being picked-up from the hedgerow).
First stop was Whitwell, just as the sun was rising and light was good enough for optics. I quickly picked up the Great Northern Diver sailing out to the sunrise, but no sign of the Red-throated (probably further out on the open water). Plenty of common ducks around as well.
Sunrise over Whitwell
I then headed over to the Egleton Reserve. I figured that an early start on a very cold day would at least keep most of the duffers and pensioners away (turned out I was half right, relatively few people there today, virtually none requiring walking aids). I made my way round to the back of Lagoon 1 to look for the Long-eared Owls behind Fieldfare Hide. Just as I got there, I was greeted by two couples with the news that one had just been flushed and was now out of sight. Fecking great. Within a couple of minutes it flew back to the same general area and then immediately away again - very brief and wholly unsatisfactory views. I left the two couples to it whilst I grilled the shrubbery that they had already checked further down the path to the hide. Almost immediately I picked up another LEO buried deep in the scrub - it was pretty well hidden but once picked out it could be seen well (for a buried in the scrub LEO). This bird was alert and kept looking over with ear-tufts raised, but it stayed put and was far enough away from the path to avoid flushing. A quick look out of the hide revealed lots of ice, 1 drake and 2 female Goosanders and some Meadow Pipits. A quick look through Harrier Hide confirmed the ice situation, and provided a cracking male Stonechat.
After a quick stop at the centre, I headed over to Lagoon 3. Some may well remember that up until last January, the most annoying omission from my county list was Bittern. With the relative glut of recent sightings in VC55 (up to six individuals across four sites) I was keen to see if the curse had truly lifted - surely I couldn't fail to see one now?
I arrived at Shoveler Hide and was immediately informed that I'd just missed one - buggery. Undeterred I sat down and scanned, and picked out not one, not two, but three Bitterns - get in. Sadly there was not much else to see, on account of most of the water being hard and cold.
A very brief look onto the new Lagoon 4 initially gave the impression of an Arctic wasteland free of life. A closer look with optics revealed, bizarrely, a mixed Lapwing and Golden Plover flock hunkered down on the ice on the far side.
Walking back to the centre, I picked up a small group of superb Siskins feeding on alders by Grebe Hide - I like Siskins. A few smart Bullfinches knocking about the hedges were also nice. Less endearing was a fecking great big Rat running along one of the ditches. It saw me and dived for cover in a hawthorn trunk.
Back at the centre, an obligatory look at the feeders revealed the usual suspects and a couple of Tree Sparrows. One of the Chaffinches had some sort of growth or crap on it's foot and reminded me of the footage of desperate Flamingo fledglings you see on Attenborough's shows. I tried to get a shot but was hampered by the constant running in and out of yet another big Rat taking advantage of the free meal.
A couple of Jackdaws were also making use of the feeders ..
.. until a big female Sparrowhawk whizzed through and flushed everything away.
I took that as a sign to get going. I decided to head to Exton to have a look at the spanking male Black Redstart that has been knocking about for a few weeks. Turned out to be a good move, as it was showing very well in glorious bright sunshine. What a cracking bird - constantly flitting about flycatching around the guttering of the house it has adopted.
.. from all angles.
Aside from the great birds seen this morning, I am happy to report that my toes were cosy throughout the sub-zero venture. Fecking great these socks are.