Weather: January saw very changeable weather. The month began unsettled and mild, but windy. Then there was a quiet and cold spell, with high pressure dominant. The rest of the month saw a return to an unsettled westerly type, with fronts crossing the country at regular intervals. It was generally mild, although some parts saw colder conditions in the third week, with snow in most areas.
Places Visited: Amwell, Rye Meads, Cheshunt and Santon Downham.
‘Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.’
Coming up on the show tonight…...!
It was a customary high number of visits this month. Several trips were paid to Amwell, with visits to the other two LVRP Reserves at Rye Meads and Cheshunt. However, the outstanding visit of the month was to Santon Downham, near Thetford. More of that later.
The first two visits of the year were to Amwell. Not only were there mixed fortunes on the wildlife front, the Reserve also saw an enforced closure.
With the finish of the work along the canal everyone assumed that the Reserve would revert to normal operations, with access to the Gladwin Hide. Only to find a few days later, that the place had to be shut down because of the discovery of the dreaded Bird Flu, with the unearthing of several dead birds around the area. Fortunately, it was reopened less than a week later, with DEFRA giving it the all-clear.
The vandals at the James Hide were still in the vicinity, with the Hide looking even worse than ever. Fortunately, Jenny and her staff were on hand to clear up the mess, so that we punters could sit in peace and comfort. Mrs Watervole & Katy Kingfisher continued to keep the Hides’ feeders full, despite all the carnage around them.
Also, the leaf-blowers had thankfully departed, albeit leaving lots of leaves around. Unfortunately, most of the wildlife had also gone. There didn’t seem to be much about, certainly not in the Woodland, early on. Goldeneye were still around, on the main lake, as were a few redhead Smew. However, there was much more lake than birds.
Coal and Marsh Tit were regular visitors to the feeders, which seemed to be doing great business. Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Siskin were also seen around the area, mostly on the Alders. My first Song Thrush, for a long while, appeared on one of the walks up the canal. It was singing away, low down on a branch, right out in the open.
A bonus was seeing a pair of Ravens being harassed and chased off by a Peregrine, high up above the Dragonfly Trail. Ravens 0 Peregrine 1; a good away win.
Most of the lagoons and ponds were either frozen over or were about to be. It was quite amusing to see Moorhens and Coots trying to skate across the ice, wondering what had happened to all the water.
I also managed to take part in this months’ ‘Bittern Roost Watch’, organised by Jenny. A handful of us, including Sylvia Undata, spent the last hour of daylight not seeing a Bittern. Sylvia even remarked, ‘I could have spent the hour at home, not seeing a Bittern!’
As usual, the Bittern turned up the next day. C’est la vie!
Still to come…….!
I have always tried to avoid visits to Rye Meads at weekends, due to the presence of the ‘Great Unwashed’. I also avoid Tuesdays & Thursdays, due to work parties out on the Reserve. And now, because of shortage of staff, they have decided to close the Reserve on Fridays, for the foreseeable future. Hence the reason for just the one visit this month.
Although Sparrowhawks, Green Sandpipers, Shelduck, Jay and a few Wagtails were seen, it was a rather quiet visit. I spent most of it in the Kingfisher Hide. The water levels were too high outside the Draper Hide, which translated to there not being many birds present. The upper tier of the Ashby Hide was leaking and therefore had to be cordoned off. Water levels outside the Gadwall Hide were quite low, but most birds were on the far side of the lagoon.
I checked the bramble branch, along the stream, for the Willow Emerald egg galls. It was surprisingly still there. Hopefully, we might get some damselfly action later in the year.
However, the outstanding visit of the month was a trip to Santon Downham, near Thetford. Sylvia had graciously invited me along, to try for the ‘promised’ Otters in the area, along the Little Ouse. I was a tad dubious, as I knew from experience that twitching for anything usually proved disappointing.
Oh, how wrong I was! Within minutes of arriving, a quick walk along the river brought us to a throng of photographers. My heart skipped a beat. Without even having to ask the assemblage, I spotted an Otter right in front of us, only several feet away.
For the next couple of hours, it slowly meandered upstream, followed by the heaving masses, all of us clicking away like Lady Di had appeared. It didn’t seem very bothered by us, at all. At one point, it even swam to within a few feet of me.
However, that wasn’t the only delight of the day. Several Common Crossbills were seen, on the branches above us. It was a case of where to point the camera.
Although a low area species total, it was brilliant seeing a wild Otter, up close, for the first time. I had seen them a few times, in Scotland, but always at a great distance.
Then it was time for a first visit of the year to Fishers Green, in the hope of spotting another Bittern. Unfortunately, none had been seen here all month and, indeed, none were seen on the day.
Bird numbers still remained low, here and most other places, a worrying trend. No Teal or Wigeon were seen and not very many other ducks. Geese numbers were also down.
However, there were a few highlights. First up, was a lovely redhead Smew, in the usual place - Friday Lake. Although it took a few patient minutes for it to appear. One had also been reported over at Bowyer's Water. No drakes have been reported, as yet.
The other major highlight was the surprise appearance of a Water Rail, outside the Bittern Hide. It was vacuuming up the feeder spillage, along with Woodpigeons, Magpies, Moorhens and the occasional Chaffinch.
I say 'surprise' because these birds are notoriously shy and keep to the reed edges. Any views of them are usually fleeting. This one, however, returned every 15-20 minutes to pick at any spilt seeds. Right out in the open.
There were an amazingly high number of dog-walkers around the area, plus several cyclists and joggers. I'm fast coming to the conclusion that the LVRP is for humans and not wildlife.
The month ended on a high note, with a final visit to Amwell. The Goldeneyes were still around, this time spotting 7 of them, including 4 drakes, some of whom were in display mode. They were all seen from the Gladwin Hide, after walking down the newly created gravel track.
The 'shornline' was still bare, after all the work. I’m hoping that someone will sow some wild flower seeds and not let it become overgrown with weeds. Time will tell.
The Woodland provided sightings of several more Treecreepers, Siskin and Goldcrest. It has been a bit more entertaining here, than of late. It was here that I bumped into my Sunday evening drinking buddy, Barry, who became a ‘year tick’!
A little earlier, I had spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker and was looking at it through my ‘Bins, until the sight of a cyclist recycling his energy drink made me move on. As did the GSW. The cyclist was dressed in the tour de rigueur, mostly bright green. I’ll never look at a brussel sprout in the same way again.
Coal Tits, Red Kites, Buzzards and a few more Great Spotted Woodpeckers rounded up a very nice day out.
It was quite successful on the mammal front, this month. Not just because of the Otters. At Amwell, I spotted Bank Voles, Brown Rat, Grey Squirrel and Muntjac.
Whilst on ‘Bittern Watch’ a Fox was spotted, extremely close to a Grey Heron. Any closer and they would’ve had to have become engaged.
Muntjacs and Grey Squirrels were also appearing, on regular occasions, at Fishers Green and Rye Meads.
Of course, at this time of year, no invertebrates were about. However, I’ve noticed that Midges are still around and in some number.
Snowdrops were seen at most of the Reserves, always a delightful sight. Daffodil shoots are already appearing. I’ve even seen a clump of Primroses flowering.
All in all, an encouraging month. Next month should see the last of the very cold weather and hopefully the beginnings of Spring. I have already witnessed Great Crested Grebes performing their courtship displays.
‘I've reached the stage where life stops giving you things
and starts taking them away.’
For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.
Or you could follow me on Twitter!