So finally .... a chance to roam a little further, whilst 'staying alert' and basically engaging common sense to experience a fabulous taste of some adapted normality.
Some Wildlife Hides, like golf and tennis clubs have been able to open again, with sensible restrictions in place for how they operate.
A trip to a familiar but fantastic location, was a great way to reconnect with some wildlife that doesn't have to visit my home patch, for me to enjoy the view.
Tom Robinson's Pond Hide was scrubbed clean with vigour, is now accommodating just one very socially distanced photographer (me, in this instance) and with enough space normally for 5 or 6 photographers, felt spaciously luxurious in my splendid isolation!
I'm happy to report that despite being knee deep in hand sanitiser and smelling unnervingly like being at a Dentist, the hide can still pull the best of British wildlife for a 24 hour, very un-online, very actual v virtual date!
I saw the full range of species that you can expect to see at this setting, which is testament to Tom's hard work under lockdown to keep the programme of supplementary feeding and wildlife care in place, ready for the return of the 'humans'.
A significant and dramatic hit to the revenue line did not prevent the work required to ensure that when we were able to return, albeit in splendid isolation, with the wildlife on show more than making up for the lack of human company.
The night session set up has been changed to bring nocturnal visitors to the pond even closer; more of this in a moment because the first visitors once dark descends, are usually the Tawny Owls and this was no exception on my visit.
Kind enough to call to announce their visits, they swoop otherwise silently in to the various perches provided, stocked with some 'tasty' Owl favourite Mice as a small addition to their naturally hunted Owly supper.
They are such beautiful creatures, who seemingly fix you with a piercing stare before ignoring your shielded presence, to tuck into the night's culinary offering.
I have to confess that a slightly over-excited sleepless night prior to a 'silly o'clock' start to drive the couple of hours to Tom's from home, meant that I may not have been at my most 'alert' best, during the subsequent couple of hours or so of waiting and watching (not dozing of course!), for the arrival of the anticipated Heron and Otter visits to the pond!
I sense I may have missed the Otter sneak up onto a new arched branch set up during a dozy moment (which is a shame), however the Otter did eventually come so close to the Hide window that I could almost smell his fishy breath as he found a spot just about 2m (he must have had a letter from Boris), to settle and feed for a few moments.
These are truly amazing animals and it's always a joy to watch them cavort around the pond, terrorising the fish who sometimes burst from the surface in panicked shoals in the haste to escape the Otters hungry embrace.
With the Otter safely absent for now, it wasn't long before the Heron was tip-toeing towards the Hide and a meal, on its famously long legs like the most graceful of stilt walkers, a feat no human performer could match.
Seemingly satiated, the Heron finally retired for the night, leaving one very weary but happy wildlife photographer to hit the sack around 03:00hrs for a few hours kip, before the dawn call lookout for early rising Kingfishers.
Dawn duly broke, but failed to rouse this weary chap and it was c06:30 before I woke up to find that Tom had arrived from his home nearby to put in a super early shift to clear away the night time exterior flash set up and re-set the pond for me to watch and (hopefully) photograph Kingfishers doing their thing - what a chap!
A pot of instant porridge, some strong coffee and before I had barely chance to rub the sleep from my eyes, the Kingy pair were visiting again.
Tom has a Schedule 1 wildlife license and tells me that this Kingy pair have a brood just about to hatch. The previous evening, in virtual darkness we both witnessed the pair visit for a last feed and take to opportunity to mate directly in front of the hide - which would have been a much sought after shot, in anything other than the darkness moment they chose! Oh well ... another good reason to return.
Kingfishers will often have multiple broods in a season and Tom thinks that the female had already started to dig out another nest in a riverbank ready for the next batch, whilst the male remained primarily responsible for feeding the 1st brood through to fledging .... expected any day now!
The morning brought full bright sunshine, whilst not ideal for photography (we prefer a high thin cloud haze to soften the harsh sunlight), however the Kingy's showed little care for photographers sensibilities and simply 'cracked on' with their busy day.
Here they are in action ...
What a great experience simply just to sit and watch, but I guess it's worth the sacrifice of putting eye to viewfinder and pressing the shutter release to record the moment, to help remember how it felt to be in that privileged position.
Thanks again to Tom for re-opening the Hide, for industrial levels of cleaning, sensible gaps in booking scheduling and for supporting my stay whilst always at an 'alert' 2m or more away - well done mate!
Right ....where next?
I hear talk of a pair of Kestrels having 6 chicks fledging .... sounds like a great idea!