6.30 am Sunday morning and it was cold, dark and foggy. A real effort was required to get out of a warm bed and to the Guild for 8 o’clock. The 20 or so members, who did turn up, little realised what treats lay in store for them during the day.

Off we set and as we approached Kings School Macclesfield, travelling slowly, all eyes were scouring the tree tops as Waxwings had been reported in the area. However our luck was out on this occasion. We had just turned on to the A523 towards Leek when the cry went up “Waxwings”. And there they were, five of them, sitting on the top of a fir tree, silhouetted against the grey sky. The coach stopped quickly and everyone piled out or grabbed a window seat. Unfortunately the Waxwings immediately dropped down out of sight, presumably feeding on their first meal of the day, and were not seen again. As we climbed back into the coach a Goldcrest was spotted working its way along the small trees by a pedestrian crossing. Only 8.30 in the morning and we had two cracking birds. What a start!

The remainder of the journey was uneventful and we arrived at Carsington Water at 9.45 am with the fog and mist left behind.. Close to the visitor centre we saw House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows and Dunnocks together in a tree. This gave us an ideal opportunity to compare the differences between these species. We set off as a group towards Stones Island where a Northern Diver had been reported. There were plenty of Little Grebes on the lake (20+) but no sign of the Northern Diver until a small boat flushed it out from behind a tiny island, and it remained in sight for several minutes very close to shore, giving everyone superb views. Cameras clicked and there were plenty of broad smiles in evidence. A pair of Lesser Redpolls was seen foraging on the dried grasses, shortly followed by at least six Goldfinches flitting around for several minutes. Meanwhile a Kestrel hung motionless in the sky above them. It was just 10.30 am and UK winter birding doesn’t get much better than this!

Our next stop was the heated hide at the Wildlife Centre; it was lovely to get out of the keen wind for a while. All our optics fogged up as we entered the hide, but luckily for us it was an optics demonstration day, and as we were early and the only group there, we were spoilt for choice. All the usual winter ducks were on the water in their hundreds, with a several Ruddy Ducks and a female Pintail. One Redshank was seen feeding in the mud, and a couple of Snipe, both well camouflaged. Walking round to Land End Bird hide we passed Redwings feeding in a field. Lunch was eaten in the hide whilst we watched the antics of two more Northern Divers. At this point there was plenty of blue in the sky and some wintry sunshine.

On then to Sheepwash hide where we had excellent views of a Meadow Pipit and a Grey Wagtail feeding along the ‘tide line’. Our furthest point out was the Paul Stanley hide from where distant Scaup were seen. A good selection of birds was spotted on the various feeders around the Water including Willow Tit, Nuthatch, Reed Bunting and a very handsome pair of Bullfinches.

By 3pm the majority of us were heading back to the warmth of the Wildlife Centre, with some of the ladies walking on to the café for a nice hot cup of tea (and cake)!

A few hardy souls stayed out in the cold to watch the gulls coming in to roost, and weren’t they well rewarded for their commitment! Not one, but two, star birds to close the day, a Caspian Gull and a Yellow-legged Gull. The light was fading fast as they climbed aboard the coach grinning, with comments like “first ever” and “first UK” being bandied around. Most of the group could claim at least one new bird for their lists out of the 68 recorded for the day and I think we would all agree that it had been another most enjoyable trip.

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