Thursday, 27 June 2013

Amwell Nature Reserve - 25th June 13

Weather: Clear skies and sunny early on with some mist on the lakes, clouding over later in the pm.

Birds seen:
Great Crested Grebe; Cormorant; Little Egret; Grey Heron; Mute Swan; Greylag Goose; Canada Goose; Mallard; Shoveler; Gadwall; Tufted Duck; Pochard; Buzzard; Hobby; Pheasant; Water Rail; Moorhen; Coot; Oystercatcher; Little Ringed Plover; Lapwing; Redshank; Black-headed Gull; Common Tern; Woodpigeon; Stock Dove; Cuckoo (H); Swift; Great Spotted Woodpecker (H); Green Woodpecker (H); Grey Wagtail; Pied Wagtail; Wren; Dunnock; Robin; Blackbird; Song Thrush (H); Cetti's Warbler (H); Reed Warbler; Sedge Warbler; Garden Warbler; Whitethroat; Blackcap (H); Chiffchaff; Blue Tit; Great Tit; Long-tailed Tit; Treecreeper; Starling; Magpie; Carrion Crow; Chaffinch; Goldfinch; Reed Bunting.
Total: 54

Plus: Grey Squirrel; Konic Ponies; Rabbit.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Large Red, Red-eyed Damselflies; Black-tailed Skimmer, Emperor, Four-spotted Chaser Dragonflies.
Plus: Holly Blue, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood Butterflies. Small China Mark Moth.
Plus: Caddis Fly; Cardinal Beetle; Hoverfly; Common Spotted, Southern Marsh Orchids. Various Bees and Wasps.

It's been a couple of weeks since my last outing, due to various things, so I was pleased to be finally out and about again. The forecast was for sun and clear blue skies for most of the day, with clouds in the afternoon. This proved to be the case.

Today I put in some overtime at the office. It was a long stint, 6 until 4 and I was exhausted by the time I got home. I had woken up around 4am and decided that, as it was going to be sunny early on, I should make the effort and get the first train out, the 5.23. I also wanted to see if there were any early migrants to be seen passing through, as have been reported by other early risers in previous months.

I was somewhat surprised to see quite a lot of people about at this time of the day. I had expected to be one of very few up and about. The train was busy as well. Lots of traffic about on the roads. Admittedly I haven't been up at this hour too many times so I wondered if this was the norm or a sign of the times.

Anyway, it was a quick journey down to the Reserve and I arrived just before 6. There was no one else about here yet. Not even the twitchers. In fact there weren't too many people about until after nine-ish. A quick scan around Great Hardmead Lake from the main viewpoint yielded Little Ringed Plover; Redshank; Lapwing; Little Egret and Common Tern. Lots of Coot were still asleep directly in front of me, on the lake. The lake itself was eerily shrouded in the morning mist whilst the bright sun was shining right into my eyes. I was also surprised to find that my spectacles kept misting up as well, which was very annoying. Reed Buntings could be heard singing, whilst Reed Warblers were darting around the area. A couple of Sedge Warblers were quite high on the nearby reeds to my right and were giving some great views. A Cuckoo called in the distance. I spent about an hour here before moving on to the James Hide.

Great Hardmead Lake in the mist
Reed Warbler
At the Hide I unpacked my camera. Today was the first outing with a new lens and I was eager to test it out. Almost immediately a Water Rail hove into view to the left of the Hide in the channel. Then, unbelievably, a juvenile Rail appeared too. This was my first view of one of these secretive young birds. It looked exactly like a smaller version of the adult, with less colouring, but with the same orange beak. Brilliant!

A Cetti's Warbler could be heard singing and various Coot; Moorhen and Tufted Ducks were swimming around the pond. The pair of Coot had youngsters swimming noisily around with them. The Tufties, 3 pairs, were very animated, males chasing females, until they all took off and flew away. Another Little Egret flew right to left in front of me. The feeders were mostly empty but 3 Magpies were balancing precariously on one of them until they were scared off by an agile Grey Squirrel jumping between the feeder and the tree. Various Tits and Finches were having to wait until these guys had finished before taking their turn. Most of them were juvenile Great Tits. The sun was still in my eyes from the reflection in the water, making it difficult to see. But at least it wasn't raining.

The Hide itself smelt like someone had over-nighted in it so, when I left around 7.20, I left the window shutters open. Walking along the trail to the White Hide I spotted a Grey Heron flying past me, quite low. A Chiffchaff was singing its' head off close to the top of a tree. Then a Garden Warbler flew right past me and landed on a nearby bush. It took one look at me and flew off before I could bring the camera to bear.

I wanted to get to the White Hide because the sun was behind it and would give some great light in which to photograph anything that came close. But when I got there I found that most of the shutters were open because somebody had been sick in the corner and the smell was still lingering. I proceeded to open up the rest of the shutters. Fortunately, with both the doors open as well, a light breeze blew most of it away.


Looking out to the lake there were close up views of many, many Canada Geese. It looks like all their Goslings have grown up and now resemble the adults. There must have been a 100+ geese out there. A couple of dozen Greylag Geese were also swimming around. A female Mallard with two little chicks were trying to swim their way between them all. A male eclipse Shoveler was about; there were 4 more Little Egrets, juveniles, at the back of the tree island; further to the left of them a pair of GCGs were sitting on a nest.

Then one of the Little Egrets flew in quite close to the Hide. I was just walking back to my original seat after watching a pair of Reed and Sedge Warblers flying around when I spotted it. I was trying to avoid the mess on the floor as well as trying to photograph the Egret, but it spotted me and flew off. I counted at least 7 Little Egrets today, but there may have been even more about. An LRP had flown in onto the island just in front of the Hide and proceeded to move about feeding before stopping every now and then and completely disappearing. Great camouflage. Then, as if on some pre-determined signal, all the Canadas slowly moved off towards the southern end of the lake, for no apparent reason.

No Redshank flew over this time, no doubt because of the resident Lapwing that was here, which would scare them off. A couple of single GCGs swam regally past. A lone Starling was picking its way between everything on the island. Then it all went quiet so I decided to have an early lunch and move on.

On the path going back a gang of Park Rangers had turned up and were noisily busy working around the area. But this was the only time I saw and heard them.

I then arrived at a pair of lakes where I knew the Red-eyed Damselflies should be. Unfortunately there was a lady with a big dog there too, encouraging it to jump into the lake to retrieve a thrown ball. I restricted myself to a corner of the lake where the lilly-pads were. This was where the damsels should be. But unfortunately, despite the warm, blue skies with no breeze and being the end of June, there didn't look to be anything about. So I decided to wait it out. The temperature needed to be at least 15 degrees before anything emerged. It certainly felt warm in the sunshine and, sure enough, after about a 20 minute wait, with the sun higher in the sky, a lone Blue-tailed and a pair of Common Blue came out of hiding. Then a few minutes later a couple more Blue-tails appeared.

Out on the pond two pairs of Coot with perhaps 10 or 11 juveniles with them were swimming around, begging for food from the adults. At one point there must have been a territorial line crossed because suddenly all four adults exploded into conflict, with claws extended and with lots of noise. The youngsters all scattered, desperate to avoid injury.


The pollen was everywhere today, especially right up my nose and my hay-fever was finally starting, so I popped a pill to fight it. My handkerchief was being overworked and it was probably time to make the monthly change when I got home. Sitting there I spotted a few Bees; Hoverflies; a Small China Mark Moth, which I had seen on a visit to Rye Meads; various spiders sitting tight in their webs and even a few bunches of Forget-Me-Nots flowering.

Azure Damselfly
Out on the lilly-pads more and more Damsels were appearing, some Blues ovipositing. Azures were now appearing too and it seemed as if everyone was starting to pair up. Scanning the lilly-pads I spotted my target, a lone Red-eyed Damsel, just sitting quietly on one of the lillies. And when my eyes became accustomed I started to find more. A couple of pairs of them were also ovipositing. It must be 15 degrees!

Red-eyed Damselflies
Just then a guy with two dogs turned up and disturbed everything. He asked me what was about and then pointed to a GCG with 2 humbugs out on the pond. I hadn't noticed them in my eagerness to photograph the Damsels. The adult swam quite close but the humbugs kept their distance. Soon after a Large Red damsel flew past, my first of the day.

Time to move on and head to the Dragonfly Trail where I was eager to finally spot some Demoiselles. On the trail down I met up with a familiar face, a woman who I sometimes see on my visits but have yet to find out her name. On the trail, by the ponds, I was at last delighted to find some Dragons about. A few Four-spotted Chasers were around, doing their chasing thing. A few Hawker-type dragons were also flying around. Possibly Hairys but maybe the first of the Commons or Southerns. It is still a bit too early for Migrants and anyway they are the only ones which hover, giving you the eye. Lots more Damsels were about again too. A far cry from the previous visit.

Four-spotted Chaser
A few people were about here, all delighting in the show. The Orchid Garden still had a few flowers on show but it was now a little overgrown with other, intrusive, flowers and weeds.

By the river on the hunt for Demoiselles I spotted my first Red Admiral butterfly of the season and lots of Speckled Woods. But no Demos. So I again decided to pick a spot by the river and sit and wait. While I was waiting a Treecreeper uttered its thin, high-pitched call and I saw it fly in onto a dead tree stump and work its way up, feeding, before flying off again. Then a flock of Great Tits flew past, obviously on a feeding highway. One of them looked to have had mites as most of its' head feather had disappeared, poor thing.

Speckled Wood
After about 30 minutes there were still no Demos, so I made my way back to the dragonfly ponds. Here a couple pointed out a dragon on one of the reeds. It looked like a newly-emerged Black-tailed Skimmer. I quickly shot off some photos only to find that, after a breeze, it fell off and onto its' back on the pond. It was dead! On closer inspection it didn't look injured or damaged and must have succumbed to the early morning frost. But there was no time for mourning as, just then, a male Emperor made an appearance. The daddy of them all, flying regally around and around, surveying its domain. It came into conflict with another Four-spotted Chaser a few times before seeing it off.

Black-tailed Skimmer, unfortunately it was dead!
Emperor Dragonfly
Later on, by the lake itself, I spotted a female Emperor as well. A pair of Large Red damselflies were busy making more Large Reds. A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly then appeared and settled long enough for a photo. This was in an area with a wooden bench which I had fancied having a rest on. But a family were already there having a picnic, so I moved on. Just before the exit to the trail a cock Pheasant walked right past me, without a care in the world.

Small Tortoiseshell
Just before I got to the bridge a male Blackcap was noisily making its way threw the trees, making the sound of two pebbles knocking together. At the bridge itself I stopped and looked down at the stream. I knew from earlier seasons that this was also a place to see the Demoiselles. And, after about 10 minutes of looking over both sides of the bridge, I was finally rewarded with a pair of mating Banded Demoiselles! The male resplendent in his metallic blue body, flying around the equally gorgeous metallic green of the female. I delighted in watching them for about 20 minutes. People were walking past with only a few of them asking what I was looking at. They were all equally enthralled with the performance.

Banded Demoiselle male
Banded Demoiselles mating
With a big smile on my face I moved back to the Red-eyed damsel lake. By now large numbers of Damsels were flying around, mainly on the lake itself. Azure, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Large Red and Red-eyed damsels were all about now, basking in the warm sun. They must number in the hundreds now. A Holly Blue joined in the display, fluttering by. I sat down again to enjoy the marvellous show, staying for about 30 minutes before reluctantly moving on.

Back at the James Hide juvenile Reed Warblers and juvenile Great Tits were everywhere. The GTs on the feeders and the RWs begging for food from the adults. A Chiffchaff was singing somewhere close, but not close enough to reveal itself. I hung around for about 20 minutes, mainly to rest and, not seeing much else, decided to trek around to the White Hide again. On the way I spotted a Buzzard circling high in the sky.

There wasn't anything new here apart from a couple of Pied Wagtails and a lone Grey Wagtail. About 30 or 40 Canadas had settled on the island in front of me and were having a siesta. A lone LRP was here again, picking off flies between the geese. Then another Little Egret flew in close again and this time it didn't spot me. It walked up really close and gave me some great views, also allowing a few photos. After about 10 minutes it flew off to join the others on the nest. A little while later they all took off, one by one, settling on nearby branches. I wondered if this was them fledging?


I left the Hide around 3-ish and walked back to the viewing point. On trail I spotted the only Bombardier Beetle of the day, plus a flying insect on a leaf which I found out later was a Caddis Fly.

Caddis Fly Limnephilus lunatus
From the viewing point I was delighted to spot a pair of Redshank chicks, just in front of the VP. The parents were also present. A bit too far for a photo though. And soon after a Whitethroat flew in, not 5 meters away from me. But, predictably, when I brought the lens up it flew off. Out on the lake a Hobby flew around the tree island, putting up most of the birds.

It was now around 4pm and I was starting to feel exhausted. My feet started to ache as well. So, after a 10 hour stint, I headed home. But not before spotting a lone Oystercatcher just past the lock, feeding. A great end to a brilliant day!