Monday, 23 December 2013

Season's Greetings!

I would like to wish all my readers Season's Greetings and Happy Holidays! May your God go with you....

I've had a pretty good 2013 and am hoping to have just as good a time in 2014! There's at least one big overseas trip coming up soon, so watch this space!

I have also put together an album of some of my better photos from 2013 on Photobox which you can see HERE!

And don't forget to take a look at my FLICKR page, too!

Best wishes,

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Rye Meads - 20th December 13

Weather: Sunny, blue skies, with slight Breeze.

Birds Total: 39

It was time for this month's visit to RM. And today was nice, bright and sunny with a light wind and not too cold. There weren't too many people about, I only saw about half-a-dozen all day.

The first thing I noticed was that an awful lot had been done to the Reserve. I had read in recent weeks that the staff and volunteers were out and about cutting this and chopping that. Lots of trees, bushes and reeds had gone and another lagoon had been created just before you get to the twin Hides.

It was a quiet day today, with not too many birds about, other than wildfowl. I didn't see any flocks of passerines at all, other than on the feeders by the visitor centre.

It was that sort of day!
My first stop was by the first bridge, overlooking the Meadow. I could see a few Pheasants; a Grey Heron and a Kestrel, which was perched on one of the goalposts.

I moved on to the Draper Hide. The area outside the Hide had been worked on extensively, mostly on the left side of the lagoon. The water level was very high, swamping everything. And there wasn't much about either. Mainly Coots and Moorhens; Mute Swans; a Little Grebe and a lone Stock Dove sat atop of one of the Owl boxes. I didn't spend too much time here and moved on.

Further along the trail there were more Pheasants; a Dunnock and a Chaffinch feeding on the ground and a lone Redwing. When I looked out over the first lagoon I could see Pochard; Shoveler and another Grey Heron. A quick look from the Ashby Hide only yielded Coot and Moorhen but I did hear a Cetti's Warbler sing out.

Then I found myself looking out over the newly created lagoon which, again, only had Coot and Moorhen around. I could see the recently created debris around the area too, mainly branches, logs etc.

I then sat down in the renamed Gadwall Hide, formerly the Tern Hide. RM had decided to swap names as the Terns over the years had decided to nest down outside the Gadwall Hide. This was by far the best lagoon for birds today, as the place was teeming with lots of species.

First up, I counted over 400 Lapwing spread out around the lagoon, every 15 minutes or so being put up. Together with all the BHGs it was quite a sight. On top of that there were 9 Common Snipe; 1 Green Sandpiper; 1 Pied Wagtail; another Grey Heron; lots of Teal and Shoveler and the obligatory Coot and Moorhen. There was even a fly-past by a Sparrowhawk, which, again, put up all the Lapwing. Then a Shelduck flew in and started feeding. I haven't seen Shelduck around here since June. Little Grebe and Starlings were present and then a lone Goldfinch flew in and started feeding on one of the teasel plants in front of the Hide.

I hung around for over an hour here as I suspected that this would be the highlight of the day. After a quick visit to the Tern Hide, which only yielded Mutes and Coots and BHGs, together with a few Tufties, I went straight to the Kingfisher Hide where I saw a lone Coot; a juvenile Moorhen; a pair of Mallards; 2 pairs of Gadwall and a pair of Blackbirds, who were feeding on the red berries to my left. But the star birds here were a pair of Jays just to the right of the Kingfisher nesting area. Unfortunately, they were a bit too shy and didn't venture too close.

I took a slow, uneventful walk down to the Warbler Hide which was also uneventful and had lunch. And the only extra thing to add on the return route was a 2nd Shelduck seen from the Gadwall Hide.

Back at the feeders lots of Greats and Blues were still about, plus Goldfinch and LTTs. As I was stood watching these I heard, then saw, a GSW fly past. Home before 3, it was good to get out again. If the weather stays dry I might get one more visit before the end of the year.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Finland Northern Lights - 11th-14th December 2013

Weather: Very, very cold. Much snow.

Wildlife seen:
Carrion Crow; Great Tit; Magpie; Woodpecker. Husky Dogs; Reindeer.

Places visited:
Finland and Sweden.

We were here for the Northern Lights but unfortunately we did not see them.

'Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.' Albert Einstein

'Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath' Matt Groening

Finland, officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe, whilst Sweden, officially the Kingdom of Sweden, is a Scandinavian country also in Northern Europe. Sweden borders Norway and Finland, and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Oresund. At this time of year the long polar nights last for upto 22 hours a day, with the sun never quite managing to rise above the horizon.

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are curtains of colourful lights that dance across the night sky due to the expulsion of solar flares from the sun. Each flare releases a billion times the energy of an atomic bomb. The radiation from these flares are deadly but fortunately the Earth is shielded by a magnetic field so most pass by harmlessly into deep space.

Our Hotel, the Arctic Star
We flew in to Enontekio airport and arrived at our hotel, the Arctic Star in Karesuando (Latitude 68 degrees). I found the hotel to be very basic, with very small rooms painted plain white with no d├ęcor whatsoever. 

Presumably they were trying to emulate the snow-fest outside. To open the door to the bathroom you had to first close the bedroom door and vice versa. But that didn't matter too much as, unfortunately, the bathroom light wasn't working anyway. Our particular room was external to the main hotel in what looked no better than Nissen Huts. I think Nelson Mandela had a bigger cell. The food was simple fare, warm and filling, nothing too special. The staff were courteous and polite, especially the barman. The usual expensive lagers were on offer but were offset by Guinness and Leffe.

The local hooch
The village of Karesuando is situated on the border of Finland and Sweden separated by the River Muonio. It is very small and rural with a population of less than 500 people with limited amenities. It is also part of the Sami homeland area, a people who are still semi-nomadic today, herding their many reindeer across the vast landscape. They are the only European ethnic group to be recognized as an aboriginal people.

Where are the NLs?
We were due to spend 3 days and 3 nights here but unfortunately our 10am flight from Luton airport was delayed by over 7 hours and we did not arrive at our destination until after midnight, local time. We were told that the plane couldn't land in the thick fog that had engulfed Luton and that it was, in fact, circling above waiting for it to clear. Strange then, that our plane was the only one to suffer this problem, as all the other flights seemed to be unaffected. This, of course, had a delayed knock-on effect. We were supposed to take possession of our all-in-one thermal suits and boots and attend a welcoming information session by the tour reps. But because of the late hour we all went straight to our rooms. We were informed that our key would be in the door. Ours wasn't. But it was open anyway.

Early the next morning after breakfast we attended our first excursion, a 2 hour session at a Reindeer camp, where we learnt all about herding and lassoing from the local farmers. We were split into 2 groups to take turns in experiencing a sled ride. All the sleds were pulled by one reindeer and were all tethered together. It was a slow, chilly 25 minute walk around the area. It gave us an opportunity for a few scenic photos but it was quite cold just sitting there. Some of the group spent extra time with the reindeer and some of us spent time in the local, warm tepee where the local hot brew was on offer. It was like a warm ribena and, to me, tasted quite like Swedish Glogg, but without the alcohol.

The weather was quite cold, but I was warm enough in my layers, especially with the added help of the thermal suit. But I found the boots sadly lacking and decided to wear my own boots from then on. We were told that a couple of days ago the weather went as far down as -37 degrees but today it was a balmy +1, with a slight breeze. On subsequent days we experienced -12 and -24 degrees. Luckily I remembered to bring my scarf.

After a nourishing lunch, during which the TLs gave us their welcoming speech, we had the afternoon off and so a walk around the area was called for. Even around 2pm it was already getting dark and so we found ourselves walking from the hotel in Sweden over the border to a bar and souvenir shop in Finland. A few beers later and, armed with a fridge magnet and the obligatory t-shirt we headed back to the hotel for tea.

Dressed up and ready for our next excursion, a snowmobile safari, we found that the admin side of the tour was not the finest example on the planet. Apparently there were to be 2 sessions this evening, one group was to venture out at 7 whilst the other, my group, was to go out at 9. Only to find that both groups had been set to start at 7. And, after much delay and debate, we found ourselves back in the hotel bar, dressed down, waiting for 9pm. Unfortunately, this was not a one-off incident and we soon learned to check the noticeboard on a regular basis as the paperwork was changed and altered almost hourly. It seemed to me that the left hand wasn't talking to the right hand.

Local transport
Anyway, our time to depart soon arrived and we found ourselves out in the wintry wilderness listening to the 'experts' explain what and what not to do on the snowmobiles. I decided straight away to volunteer to be just the passenger, if only for the fact that I had drank too much beer earlier. Unfortunately, our snowmobile decided to have a mind of its own and we soon found ourselves flat on our backs with the snowmobile on its side. No injuries were suffered, other than our pride, either to us or the snowmobile.

But it was here, in the snow, flat on my back, that I looked up into the sky and noticed what I
Which way is it?
thought at first to be a cloud in the night sky. I gave it a second look and, whilst doing so, one of the 'experts' came over to see if we were alright and saw me looking up. She exclaimed and shouted that the Northern Lights were arriving! Unfortunately, that was a bit premature as the main lights did not, in fact, appear. It was only a mild, light green wisp of a cloud. It was indeed recognisable as a northern light but was hardly what you would have seen on the TV and in photos. And, unfortunately, it proved to be our only encounter of the trip. Still, it warmed us all up and we set off on further noisy circuits around the dark forest. It was past midnight when we got back to our hotel room, via the bar.

Next morning was another early-ish start as, after breakfast, we set off to see the 'Call of the Wild' Husky safari. This was quite probably my favourite excursion of the trip as we were allowed to jump on a sled and 'mush-mush' the dogs around the area. We each had 5 dogs to a team and every one of them were noisy and enthusiastic. One team overturned their sled but this time it wasn't us. A quick few photos of the morning and, sadly after only an hour here, we headed back to the hotel for lunch.

I decided to stay in the bar afterwards and meet up with a few of our fellow travellers as there were quite a few of us here and before long it was time for tea and then preparation for our last excursion, the Northern Lights Forest Trek.

What we saw instead!
What we should have seen!
This entailed a trip to the other hotel, the Davvi Arctic Lodge, where all the families were staying, mainly to see Santa. I hope for their sake he turned up and wasn't still circling high above. I'll gloss over more admin problems here and we soon found ourselves at the top of a viewpoint, after a 15-minute trek, overlooking the whole area. Here it was almost totally dark, with the exception of two things, a roaring fire and an almost full moon.

The fire could be avoided by trekking into the darker areas but the moon was disturbingly bright and did not bode well if the Lights were to appear. In the event, it didn't matter as we didn't see any at all. Sadly the night sky did not give us any better views of the Milky Way as we get at home either. After about an hour or so I headed back to the fire to warm up and have the promised hot drink only to find that the fire had almost gone out due to lack of wood and that the hot drink had vanished back down the hill. As had all the Tour Reps, leaving us to fend for ourselves. Now, I'm not really a fan of Health and Safety but they would have been all over this. To me, it was an accident waiting to happen and the TLs were very lucky that no-one incurred any injuries this night.

Put some more wood on!
Around 11pm the cold was finally getting to me and, more importantly, to my camera which was beginning to seize up. I found myself one of the last to head back down the hill to the hotel for the pick up by coach back to our own hotel. But, another admin mess-up, I found others still waiting to be picked up. Some had been waiting for nearly an hour, as the coach had been replaced by a car. After much discussion (!) with the local Reps the coach returned in place of the car and transported us all back to the hotel, arriving after midnight.

The next morning saw us checking out after breakfast for the trip back to the airport. Thankfully the plane was on time and we arrived in Luton just after 6. Baggage reclaim wasn't too painful and a couple of hours later I found myself at my local supping a decent beer.

If the Northern Lights had appeared I would have given the trip 6 out of 10, but it only merits an over generous 4. I know that the travel company had no control over the Lights or the flight delay but the hotel, the admin and most of the TLs were sadly lacking. I don't think I will be travelling with this Tour Operator again, despite the cheap price and, if I decide to try and see the NLs again it would probably have to be somewhere else.


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Amwell Nature Reserve - 9th December 13

Weather: Cloudy and overcast for most of the day. Slight sunshine.

Birds Total: 47
Plus: Harlequin Ladybird; Konik Pony; Muntjac; Rabbit.

Well I finally managed to get a day out again after having a few problems over the last few weeks. So, with everything sorted out, I believed in the weather forecast for a dry, warm, sunny day out. Well, at least it was dry.

Amwell was next up for a visit and I was keen to see the reported Smew and Goldeneye seen recently. Nothing to report on the way down other than lots of House Sparrows and when I arrived at the viewing point I was greeted by a few familiar faces. Out on Great Hardmead Lake the outstanding bird was a lone drake Pintail. He was sleeping off a late night at first but soon perked up and went for a swim. Unfortunately he swam around the back of the island and I didn't see him again for the rest of the day. Other birds of note seen were 6 GCGs; lots of Wigeon; plenty of Shoveler; a few Teal and Pochard; 60+ Lapwing and a lone Snipe. There were the usual mass of Gulls and Coot with the odd sprinkling of Mute Swans, a couple of them having a difference of opinion.

Just after I had arrived we all heard a squeal behind us somewhere and one of the other guys confidently stated that another rabbit had just been taken by a Stoat. If it was true we couldn't verify it as nothing was seen.

After about an hour here I decided to head down to the Gladwin Hide to try and find the Smew and Goldeneye. The sun had peeped through the clouds at this point and was shining down behind the Hide. I did indeed spot the Smew, a Redhead and 4 of the Goldeneye, one male and three females, all constantly diving. I hung around for about an hour to see if any of them would swim close but I was out of luck.

From here I decided to head to the James Hide to try my luck. Over the course of the next 2 hours or so I spotted a Kingfisher perched up on a branch at the back of the pond; a Little Grebe in the distance; 3 Buzzards screeching high in the sky over the horizon; a Water Rail darting across the recently cut reeds after being spooked by a Moorhen and lots of birds on the, nearly full, feeders. These included loads of Reed Buntings. I also witnessed a territorial dispute between a pair of Wrens. So it was already quite a good day. I then decided to try the ground level to see if I could get any decent shots of the birds on the feeders. But, just as I was about to leave, I spotted a bird at the far end of the newly created channel. Unfortunately it disappeared into the reeds before I could bring my Bins to bear. I got enough of a look to
make my heart skip a beat as I thought it might be a Bittern, but as the memory of it faded I took the size, shape and colour of the bird into account and accepted that it was probably a hen Pheasant.

Just after that a guy walked in and proceeded to fill up the feeders, including the fat ball feeder. He let me know that other feeders had now been put up on a tree just inside the entrance to the Dragonfly Trail so I headed off to have a look.

Just before I got there I bumped into another guy just leaving who had only seen Chaffs and Goldies. But not long after I had arrived I spotted a lone Coal Tit; a pair of GSWs and a flock of Redwing. There were the usual Greats and Blueys among them but I was also pleased to see dozens of Chaffinches and Goldfinchs there too. It's been a while since I saw this number of birds. In fact it was very pleasing to finally see lots of birds in some numbers. I hung around here for another hour before heading back to the viewing point.

I was a bit dubious about a visit out today because of the poor light but I was glad I made the effort as it turned out to be a very rewarding day. Unfortunately, at this time of year the short day made me head for home earlier than I would have liked. But it was great to finally be out and about again with my camera and to finally manage a few photos or too.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Amwell Nature Reserve - 4th November 13

Weather: Cloudy, blue skies. Cold wind.

Birds Total: 38
Plus: Fox; Muntjac.

Not a good day today. The weather forecast was almost totally wrong. Bright, blue skies became cloudy and overcast. It was also cold. Very cold.

So it was a short day out. There were all the usual birds on show again today. Gulls and Coots; Mutes and Geese; Ducks and Cormorants. There were a couple of things of note. Firstly, there were around 75 Greylag Geese on Great Hardmead Lake. Raptors on show included Red Kite; Buzzard and Kestrel. A GBBG; a LBBG and a BHG were side by side, allowing a size comparison. There were over 50 Lapwing; 6 Snipe; several Wigeon and 3 GCGs.

The only other thing of note were a Fox and a Muntjac very close to each other, seen from the James Hide. Both warily eyed each other, before the Muntjac ran off.  It looked quite tense.

After leaving the viewing point I went and sat in the James Hide for a few hours and then the White Hide for a few more. Together with one other Birder called Brian. I had met him before and we had a good chat whilst waiting for nothing to show up. Jenny Sherwen, one of the Warders, appeared again after leading a work party earlier.

It's forecast to get colder during the rest of the week. I'll get my t-shirt and flip-flops out in that case.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 15th November, 2013

Weather: Clear, blue skies. Warm in the sun, cold in the shade.

Birds Total: 37
Plus: Red Admiral butterfly.
Plus: Common Darter, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: Muntjac; Grey Squirrel.

It's been good to very good visiting Fishers Green this year. There have been some great days out here and there has always been something to see. But, probably due to the time of year, today wasn't one of the best.

If you removed all the Coot; Ducks; Gulls; Geese and Swans then there would have been hardly anything out there today. Very few passerines about, in fact numbers were low across the board. If I had to guess then I would say that, due to the late seasons this year, movement within the UK has been quite late.

Today was cold but sunny while next week the forecast is for arctic temperatues with freezing winds coming down from the north. So we might get some movement south.

The journey down began oddly with my train time showing ontime but with an excuse below it, 'Due to points failure'. I idly wondered if BR were now making excuses for their trains being ontime. The recent rains had helped keep the many lakelets filled and these were being made use of by dozens and dozens of
Canada Geese, plus the odd Grey Heron fishing. I'd heard a GSW earlier whilst waiting for the train. Just before I arrived at Cheshunt I spotted a Grey Squirrel balancing precariously on a thin branch, stocking up for the winter. Grey Squirrels are not one for hibernating. In fact, there are only 3 mammals in the UK that do hibernate. Answers on a postcard, please!

I did my usual circuit, Hall Marsh Scrape - Bittern Hide - Grebe Hide and back again. There were plenty of people about, some other Birders; the usual dog walkers, one of which had 9 (nine) dogs with her(!), cyclists and joggers. In fact, 2 joggers asked me for directions as they were completely lost and had even forgotten the name of the car-park. Dressed only in shorts and t-shirts with no water and, more importantly, no map they looked very worried. I gave them my best directions.

Surprisingly there was hardly anything to be seen from the Teal Hide. At first there were only a pair of Moorhens, later joined by a third. Then they flushed out 3 Common Snipe. A couple of Carrion Crows flew in as did a lone BHG. A couple more BHGs flew in, thought better of it and flew straight on. Then a female Muntjac appeared out to the left, but only briefly. Way out to the right, way up high, I could see a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by a Crow. At the back of the lagoon, in the reedbed, were about 3 or 4 Canada Geese. All this 'action' occurred over a 20 minute period. Then everything disappeared except for a lone
Magpie. Then it too, disappeared and I was left looking at just an empty scrape. Well, it wasn't even much of a scrape now, with the water level a lot higher than it was from my last visit. All down to the recent rains, I guess. Anyone for a hose-pipe ban?

I gave up here and moved on down the trail. I had a quick look out over Friday Lake, seeing Wigeon; Shoveler; Tufted Duck and Pochard. There was hardly anything to be seen out on the other lakes and, at the Bridge, I could see a few Coot; Swans; a few GCGs and a Grey Heron. At the Hooks Marsh car-park
feeding area there were plenty of Mutes patiently waiting for people to feed them, together with one Greylag and a pair of Canadas.

I eventually arrived at the Bittern Hide. Out on Seventy Acres Lake there were the usual Mutes and Coots, lots of water-birds and about half-a-dozen Lapwing. There were only a few Blues and Greats on the feeders. But I did see a Hawker dragonfly flying over the pond. I couldn't positively ID it but it was
probably a Migrant.

On the trail down to the Grebe Hide instinct made me check a couple of the fishing areas by the relief channel. And, on one of them, I found a Common Darter dragonfly! They are still hanging on!

Further on down the trail, on the pond opposite, I could see 4 Egyptian Geese, together with a couple of Teal. Further on from there I could see about 100 Canada Geese feeding on one of the fields. At the Weir there were the odd Pochard; a few Teal; a pair of Wigeon and a couple of GCGs. And, of course, lots more Mutes and Coots.

Just before I arrived at the Grebe Hide I spooked a butterfly up, which looked very like a Red Admiral. I could also hear a Treecreeper squeaking away.

There wasn't much more to be seen from the Hide either. More of the same but also another 5 GCGs and more Wigeon. LTTs could be heard around the Hide.

On the way back I could see over 50 Jackdaws over a field in the distance, all chacking away. A Little Grebe ducked under the water when it spotted me and there were now 6 Greylag Geese instead of the Egyptians.

The only other thing from the Bittern Hide was hearing the pig-like squeal of a Water Rail which remained irritatingly hidden. That and 3 Chaffinches joining the rest on the feeders.

And that was it. It was warm in the sunshine but quite cold in the shade. No wind fortunately. Next week looks like winter is arriving. I had better get out another layer to put on. Hopefully a few migrants will fly in.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Rye Meads - 13th November 13

Weather: Sunny, blue skies, with slight cloud.

Birds Total: 41
Plus: Common Darter dragonfly; Dock Bug.

It was another bright, crisp, sunny day with hardly any cloud. It was also quite a cold day as well, a reminder that Winter is just around the corner. But, with lots of layers on, I braved it out again.

And, as the Glossy Ibis was still being reported at Rye Meads, I decided to chance my luck again. Unfortunately the bird eluded me as it only gave a brief appearance around lunchtime. That was when I was in the Tern Hide enjoying the brilliant Kingfisher show.

There was nothing much to report on the way down to the Reserve, other than a Collared Dove. On entering the Reserve I walked straight to the Lapwing Hide to find a couple of people already there. No sign of the bird in question. But others were on show including a Wren; a lone BHG; a few Teal; a few Moorhen; lots of Crows; 3 Grey Herons and 4 Pheasants. I decided to give it 30 minutes before moving on.

At the bridge by the Water Vole area, looking out over the meadow again, I could only add a lone Goldfinch flyover to the list. At the Draper Hide, where there were a few more people, I immediately heard a Cetti's Warbler belting out its explosive song, whilst out on the lake there were 7 Teal; 5 Tufted Ducks; 5 Shoveler; a pair of Little Grebes; a couple of Cygnets; 2 Stock Doves sitting on one of the nest-boxes and, for the first time in a long time, there were more Moorhens around than Coot.

Moving on down the trail, passing the first lagoon where there were plenty of Pochard; Mutes and Coots and another Little Grebe and deciding to bypass the Ashby Hide I found myself looking up at the electricity pylon where dozens and dozens of Starlings were perched. Another mini-murmuration.

I then found myself in the Tern Hide where I sat for an hour. This was where the Kingfisher flew in onto the goalposts in front of the Hide and sat posing for quite a while, preening, feeding and washing before flying off. The drake Pintail was still showing, albeit again at the back of the lagoon; around 200+ Lapwing; 5 Common Snipe; 3 Green Sandpipers; lots of Teal, Shoveler and Gadwall; a pair of Pied Wagtails, again feeding around the Lapwing; a pair of Common Gulls in amongst all the BHGs and a partridge in a pear tree. Well, maybe not the last one.

One of the Reserve volunteers was also in the Hide and she spotted a dragonfly, which was almost certainly a Common Darter, sunning itself on one of the numbered tombstones. A quick look in the Gadwall Hide yielded only Coots and Gulls again but with an additional Grey Heron perched on one of the Tern rafts.

As I was leaving the Hides I spotted a Dock Bug sitting in the sunshine. But just the one.

There wasn't anything of note until I reached the Warbler Hide. The middle window was broken but, with the aid of a screw-driver, I managed to temporarily fix it so that I could squeeze in, as the Hide was quite full. A Buzzard was showing well to the right, being mobbed continually by Magpies and Crows. It didn't seem to mind and just kept swapping perches. It seemed as if one of the Grey Herons joined in too at one stage. And then another Common Darter flew past the Hide! It's quite late to see them, but yet another reminder of the late seasons.

On the walk back to the Tern Hide a lone LTT flew over, reminding me that there weren't too many passerines about today. I didn't see or hear any Chaffinches or Greenfinches and I only heard Robin and Dunnock. I only saw one Blackbird and just a couple of Blues and Great Tits.

From the Tern Hide another Kingfisher turned up and was chased off by the first, which again gave great views on the goalposts. A Grey Heron was fishing in the distance while the only other new bird was a Grey Wagtail which came in close to the Hide. On the walk back to the Draper Hide I heard a GSW in the distance.

There was nothing new from the Draper, in fact even fewer birds, so I moved back to the Lapwing Hide as I had heard that the Ibis had briefly turned up. No such luck today and there were no new birds to be seen. The sun started to wan, the cold was getting into my bones so I headed home.

No Ibis but nonetheless another nice day out.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Rye Meads - 7th November 13

Weather: Cloudy and overcast all day.

Birds Total: 39
Plus: Konik Pony.

Today was a top birding day. There was a report of a Glossy Ibis turning up on the HMWT meadow a few days ago. I didn't hold up too much hope of it hanging around, but today was forecast for no rain and RM was the next Reserve to visit on the list. So I travelled down to primarily have another day out with a hope of seeing the Ibis.

Not the Glossy Ibis at RM, this one was photographed a couple of years ago.
The weather forecast was for slight, overcast cloud, clearing to blue skies and sunshine after around 11am. In the event it remained cloudy and overcast all day. Which wasn't conducive for photography.

After all the recent rain the fields were still water-logged with more and more small ponds joining up to create large ponds. Not good for the trains but very good for the birds. On the way down I spotted a couple of male Pheasants and a Grey Heron plus lots of Canada Geese. On the walk down to the Reserve a Jay flew overhead.

I arrived at the Visitor Centre to find no one about. As I was unpacking my gear one of the volunteers appeared. I casually asked him if the Ibis was still about and, to my surprise, he confirmed that it was and was showing well from the Lapwing Hide overlooking the Meadow.

When I arrived at the Hide I found about 7 or 8 people already inside and all looking through scopes or bins. Familiar faces were present including Vicki, one of the permanent staff at RM. I settled in and Vicki showed me where 'Ian' the Ibis was. They had already named it. The bird was foraging on the far side of the meadow against the fence and was walking back and forth, constantly bobbing its head. Every now and then one of the Canada Geese spooked up and, at one point, we all thought that it might fly closer to the Hide. But it stayed in the same general area. It was quite a good view through the bins but unfortunately it wasn't close enough for a photo. Other birds on show here were 3 Grey Herons; around 5 or 6 Pheasants; Teal and Shoveler; Canada Geese and Gulls. There were also 4 Konik Ponies grazing the field.

Lots of people came and went, Vicki allowing them all a view through her scope. I spent just over an hour here and, deciding that the bird wasn't going to get close, moved on.

As I arrived at the Water Vole area, also overlooking the meadow, I looked out and saw the Ibis had moved a little closer. But still not close enough. It was still being spooked by the Geese. It then went out of view and, there being no sign of any Voles, I carried on.

At this point, one for the guys I had regularly seen around the area walked up behind me. We finally introduced ourselves and I finally found out his name, which was Phil. We carried on down the trail. There was a work detail outside the Draper Hide and so consequently no birds were to be seen.

Looking out over the Lagoons at the walkway yielded only a Grey Heron; Gulls and Coots and at this point Phil decided to visit the Ashby Hide while I walked on towards the twin hides. I could see lots of Starlings on the pylons above me, all chattering away. Phil caught up with me in the Tern Hide.

Unfortunately for Phil it was one of the 'You should have been here 5 minutes ago' moments. Just as I arrived a Kingfisher flew in and landed on one of the goal-posts for a few fleeting seconds before flying off. But it did give both of us a couple of fly-by views a little later. Also on show out on the lagoon were around 80+ Lapwing; a pair of sleeping Snipe; one Green Sandpiper, later joined by a second; lots of Shoveler; a few Teal; Gulls; Mutes and Coots. There were also several Moorhen about as well as a pair of Pied Wagtails, picking their way through all the birds. Grey Herons and Cormorants made up the rest of the show. But the star bird here was a male Pintail over in the far corner, who also never swam up close.

Phil paid a quick visit to the Gadwall Hide and saw nothing in particular so we walked around to the Kingfisher Hide where we again drew a blank. Then we found ourselves sitting in the Warbler Hide. We quickly checked the meadow to see if the Ibis could be seen but it was hidden by the reeds. We could hear Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail out amongst the reeds. Just outside the Warbler Hide we spooked up about a dozen Redwing. With nothing else on show we returned to the Tern Hide.

At the Tern Hide there wasn't too much else to be seen here other than witnessing all the Lapwing and Gulls being put up. A quick look around and the culprit was a Sparrowhawk flying low over the lagoon from right to left. All the birds settled back down. Phil decided to move off and left me to my lunch.

I paid a quick visit to the Gadwall Hide myself and found only Gulls and Coots. I also paid a quick visit to the Ashby Hide only to find similar birds. The Work Detail was still hard at it outside the Draper, where only a Little Grebe was about so I decided to return to the Lapwing Hide to see if the Ibis would fly in closer. Nothing of note was seen on the way other than a GSW on the feeders outside the Visitor Centre.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Lapwing Hide where the Ibis continued to walk back and forth in the same area, without coming in close. Just before I left it suddenly lifted off and flew off towards the south-east. Hopefully it will return.

About 100 or so people had come and gone from the Hide during the day because of the information provided on the blogs. More familiar faces appeared, others walked in to have a look during their lunch-break. Vicki had spent most of the day in the Hide, with her colleagues bringing her regular cups of coffee and even lunch!

A very good day today. RM seems to be the place to be at the moment.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Amwell Nature Reserve - 4th November 13

Weather: Sunny, blue skies. Slight cloud later. Cold wind.

Birds Total: 39
Plus: Common Darter Dragonfly.
Plus: Caddis Fly; Hornet's Nest.

It was a fine, sunny day, albeit with a cold wind. And today it was Amwell's turn for a visit. The journey down by train was slow and deliberate, due to the recent rains with flooding a problem. But the flood waters proved very fruitful for the birds. Among the many Gulls and Geese were a pair of Little Egrets and a Grey Heron fishing among the many small, newly created ponds.

And on the trail upto the Reserve there was more evidence of last week's storm. Trees, branches and debris were scattered all along the trail. But today there was no storm, only blue skies. On the walk up there were over 20 Canada Geese with Blackbird; Dunnock and Robin all singing a welcome.

I arrived at the main viewing point to find quite a few people already there. Most of them were familiar faces. There were plenty of birds on view, mainly Gulls and Coots. There were a fair sprinkling of Gadwall; Tufted Duck and Cormorant. Plus 3 Great Crested Grebes; a lone Little Grebe; 4 Grey Herons; a
lone Wigeon; over a dozen Shoveler; a couple of Pochard; 10 Snipe and around 35 Lapwing. The skies gave up a Buzzard; a Kestrel and a Red Kite. I spent about an hour here enjoying the view and the birds. Before I moved off I also spotted a Jay flying over; a Pheasant near the White Hide and the only
dragonfly I found all day, a Common Darter between viewing points.

At the James Hide there didn't seem to be much about at first, only a lone Moorhen hoovering up the remnants of the feeders, which had now risen to 4; 2 Blue Tits on the feeders and another Buzzard in the sky. Not long afterwards a Robin turned up and I watched as it puffed itself up every few minutes, trying to
keep warm. A lone Dunnock also appeared and there was another Jay flyover, while the Buzzard count rose to 6, all gliding the thermals in the distant sky over the far tree-line. I decided to persevere a while longer and eventually I was rewarded by a Kingfisher flying in and landing on a stick just in front of the
Hide. It was a bit too quick for a photo but it was the first time I have seen one from this Hide.

On the trail around to the White Hide I stopped off to see how the Hornet's nest was doing. There was only one Hornet on guard duty. Maybe the rest were having a nap.

There wasn't a great deal of difference looking out from the White Hide over Great Hardmead Lake other than a Little Egret foraging, shaking its feet in the water. There were about half-a-dozen people in here too. More familiar faces. I didn't spend too long here but just before I left the Little Egret count rose to 3 and there were also about 5 or 6 more Wigeon out there.

I headed off to visit the twin lagoons to see if there were any Dragons about, but I couldn't find any. The lone Darter I saw earlier will probably be the last one of the season. So I walked down to Tumbling Bay Lake which also proved to be just as fruitless. Although on the walk back I did hear a Green Woodpecker.

I then found myself back at the James Hide, where I had just sat down when the Kingfisher flew in again and landed on the same stick, posed for a few seconds then flew off again before I could aim the camera. So I settled in to see if it would come back. After about 20 minutes it did return but just flew past from right to left, its' turquoise and orange plumage shining in the sunshine. But at least I saw one. Other than that Great and Blue Tits turned up to the feeders as did a flock of LTTs. A little Wren also appeared out in the open and gave a quick, explosive rendition. For a little bird it has a loud voice.

It was high time I also visited the Gladwin Hide as I hadn't been down there in a while. The other reason was that a Goldeneye had been seen today. But not by me unfortunately. Amazingly though, there were over 200 LBBGs around the lake. And on the way back to the viewing area a Kestrel flew in and landed on a tree beside the trail. But it was a bit too dark now for a photo.

I had a quick look around the lake again before heading off. Another good day out.