The priorities for the day were a walk and an eatery, so we chose Stowe Landscape Gardens as our destination, fifteen miles west of Tense Towers. However, our first port of call, en route, was Foxcote Reservoir, where a pair of Long-tailed Ducks had been seen for the previous two days. These sea ducks over-winter around the northern and eastern coasts of Britain, so we were surprised to hear of a sighting just about as far inland as its possible to be in the UK.
The reservoir was as full as I have ever seen it, but bear in mind that I usually visit in the middle of the dragonfly season, so this wasn't a huge surprise. The first seasonal wildfowl we spotted upon opening the hide hatches was a male Goosander, his white plumage almost glowing in the morning sunlight. A few Goldeneye were present too, but we couldn't pick out the Long-tailed Ducks amongst the more usual Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Teal, Mallard and Great Crested Grebes. Fortunately, help was at hand. Another visitor to the site had been diligently searching for them for several hours and had located the pair way, way, way across the other side of the reservoir, diving for food and hidden by a multitude of Wigeon. Our bins could just about make them out as two tiny shapes of a different pattern and colour to the surrounding duckage. Even deploying Very Wrong Len wasn't much of an improvement.
|Long (way away) - tailed Ducks
After an hour of waiting hopefully for them to swim closer, we admitted defeat and resumed our journey to Stowe, with thoughts of a hot mug of tea very much in our minds.
Suitably fortified against the cold, we pottered into the gardens and around the lakes, discovering another seven Goosander in the process. For early afternoon, the shadows were already long, creeping inexorably across the ground and towards the night.
|View across Octagon Lake with Stowe School on left
Taking the path along the western edge of Hawkwell Field, we climbed gently towards the Queen's Temple, stopping briefly to have a bijou pedantic rant about the sign shown below. I know what they meant but... Grrrr.
|Er... which way?
|Bridge in foreground, Gothic Temple on hilltop
Reason enough to return to the cafe for a celebratory mug of tea and a slice of cake?
Oh, I rather think so.