Before the snow hit there were a few beautiful clear, cold, sunny days last week and we took advantage of one of these to explore Croxall Lakes - a spot in the National Forest that I'd never visited before.
Croxall Lakes is a small nature reserve situated very close to the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas. The rivers Trent, Mease and Tame all meet at this point and the site has 2 large lakes, wetlands and grassland. You will also find one of the National Forest Noon Columns there and it was this that we had gone to see - we discovered a lot more than we'd expected though!
Pulling in at the tiny car park we were greeted by the sight of brilliant sunshine lighting up the calm blue waters of a large lake. There is a fair size island in the middle of the lake and an expanse of open grassland at the car park end. A group of Canada geese were visible in the distance along with swans, ducks and other water birds. On the shoreline to our left was a large white bird that I'd never seen before - Mark immediately said 'Hey, have you seen the egret?'. Wow, I was impressed (both by his knowledge and the bird itself) - and even more so when a second one flew over and landed close by. They looked very much like herons (and had the same shoreline pose) but with beautiful pure white plumage - very elegant! It's not often that I don't have at least an inkling of what a bird might be so I had the feeling that these may be a bit special. We didn't really know just how lucky we'd been until we got home and did a little research.
Taking the path down to the noon column we saw a Fieldfare in the hedgerow near the railway embankment - our first sighting this winter. Down near the noon column is a really good bird hide and happily it was open so we could go in to see the birds out on the lake which included a great crested grebe - how I wished we'd thought to take the binoculars. We explored a little further, venturing under the railway arch to the eastern side of the site, before retracing our steps back to the car park.
It's only a short drive up the road from Croxall Lakes to Fradley Junction where we enjoyed lunch at the cafe by the waters of the Trent and Mersey Canal - a brilliant little outing!
So what about our egrets? Our first assumption was that they would be Little Egrets but having also seen a grey heron at the waters edge Mark commented that the egrets were surprisingly big - around the same size as the grey heron. On getting home we researched further and found that our 2 were most likely to have been Great White Egrets - this was further backed up by finding a bird watching site online that included reports of sightings of a Great White Egret at Croxall Lakes just the day before. A bit of research online tells us that sightings of Great White Egrets in the UK are more likely now than 25 years ago but they do still seem to be pretty special - I certainly feel very privileged!
A big thumbs up for Staffordshire Wildlife Trust who manage Croxall Lakes - it is a wonderful place that I'd highly recommend visiting. If you are taking your dog then you need to be aware that dogs are excluded from some parts of the site to protect the wildlife but this didn't stop us having a great time - you can still enjoy a walk up to the noon column, beside the shores of the lake and also access the bird hide even with your hound. It's not a huge site but great for a short stroll and some bird watching and you can easily combine it with a visit to the National Memorial Arboretum next door or, like we did, go on to Fradley Junction.
I just can't resist a footpath sign. The lure of that little arrow just says 'explore me' and sooner or later I just have to find out where it goes. Happily the National Forest is just full of paths. Public footpaths, permissive paths, tracks, trails and long distance paths - we've got the lot!