Monday, 30 September 2013

Amwell Nature Reserve - 23rd September 13

Weather: Cloudy and overcast all day.

Birds Total: 43
Plus: Common Blue Damselfly; Common Darter, Migrant Hawker Dragonflies.
Plus: Large White, Small White Butterflies.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Hornet's Nest; various Spiders; Bees and Hoverflies.

It wasn't the greatest of visits at Amwell today, being very overcast and cloudy all day. But it was still nice to be out and about again. The forecast was for sunny skies today but they were incorrect again.

On the walk up to the Reserve I could see a few Lapwing flying over the lake and then I heard and saw a Jay in the adjacent field. From the viewing point I could see over 120 Lapwing; a lone Barnacle Goose was in amongst 10 or more Greylags; 4 GCGs; masses of BHGs; about half-a-dozen Starlings and all the usual wildfowl including Pochard and Wigeon. There were a couple of other guys around and we all saw about 20+ Snipe fly in, around the lake and land nearby. Another Jay could be seen over by the White Hide. The Lapwing were being put up every few minutes by something, reason unknown.

I moved down to the other viewpoint and from there I could see more and more BHGs flying in from the north. There must have been over 200 in total around the lake. There were several LBBGs; Herring Gulls and one GBBG amongst them. A Grey Heron could be seen on the far side of the lake. Then I heard a GSW call out and saw it fly onto the top of a tree just above the White Hide.

I moved on to the James Hide where there was absolutely nothing about other than the continual flow of BHGs. A Cetti's Warbler was calling out as was a Green Woodpecker. Moving on to the White Hide, via a quick look at the still resident Hornet's nest, I could see a Common Sandpiper; a Snipe; a pair of Little Grebes and more Wigeon. A lone Common Darter was seen on the trail on the way back.

After lunch I walked down to the twin lagoons. There was only a lone Migrant Hawker about. But then I heard the familiar sound of a Kingfisher and I saw it at the back of the lagoon flying off.

At the entrance to the Dragonfly Trail a Goldfinch flew over. There wasn't much about on the ponds, just a few Migrant Hawkers. It was still very overcast and made for poor photography opportunities. There were no Darters around but oddly there was a caterpillar on one of the reeds. It looked like a Small White. Out on the lake there was an adult GCG with a humbug, bleating away, begging for food.

On the trail down by the stream I spotted a Common Blue damselfly, then another but in its drab form. A Blackcap could be heard 'cheking' away, while a pack of LTTs chattered by. Another GSW was 'chiking' away before I saw it fly overhead. This will be my last visit as the trail closes 1st October.

Back near the ponds there were more Migrants about, with at least 3 pairs mating and one female ovipositing. I watched them all, fascinated by the scene. One pair parted with the female flying down to the water to oviposit while the male hovered above her, on guard duty. More single males flew in and buzzed each other and some of the mating pairs. I watched for about 30 minutes before moving on. Just before I left the trail I finally spotted a Common Darter, sunning itself on the wood.

Back at the bridge another Common Darter must have been feeling the cold as it sat still on the wooden walkway whilst I got very close and it allowed me to get some practice in with the macro lens. A 7-spot and a few Harlequin ladybirds also allowed me some valuable practice.

Arriving back at the viewing point I was just in time to witness about half-a-dozen Jackdaws chase a lone Lapwing. Then, straight after, a Jackdaw was chased by lots of BHGs. 5 Snipe could be seen feeding out in the open on one of the small ponds. Then 2 Chinook helicopters flew over putting everything up. That was my cue to head home. On the trail back I spotted what was probably the same Jay I had seen coming in.

As I say, not the greatest of visits but it beats working in the City.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Rye Meads - 20th September 13

Weather: Mainly cloudy, some sunshine.

Birds Total: 39
Plus: Comma, Large White, Small White, Speckled Wood Butterflies.
Plus: Common Blue damselfly. Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: Fox; Konik Pony; Water Buffalo; Shield Bugs; Spotted Crane Fly; Wasp Beetle; various Bees, Hoverflies, Spiders and Wasps.

I decided to visit RM today as it was forecast to be sunny and warm. As it turned out it was cloudy for most of the day. And, after Norfolk, I didn't want too exhausting a day.

I didn't expect to see very much today but I was delighted to see that, right at the start of the morning, finally, there was some Shield Bug action this year. Plenty of Dock Bugs were around, with a lone Green Shield Bug and a lone Forest Bug, all found on the bushes around the first pond. There were plenty of other insects there too, as well as lots of spiders. It was a great chance to practice with my new macro lens. Unfortunately my hand was bitten by midges several times whilst getting the shots.

And all around me I could hear Chiffchaff and Dunnock singing and calling. Robins were sounding off their tic alarm calls, probably because of me.

I moved on and arrived at the walkway to look for any Water Voles. It was a little difficult at first because a lot of the Reserve volunteers were walking back and forth, chattering away. So I looked out over the HMWT meadow where I could see that they had re-introduced the Konik ponies. They had also removed the Water Buffalo calves. I could see 6 hen Pheasants walking along one of the reed channels. After about 30 minutes there was no sign of any Voles so I moved onto the Draper Hide.

There wasn't too much about here other than the resident Little Grebe with a pair of Grebelets, squeaking away, begging for food. There were lots of Gadwall and Coot about; Shoveler and Teal were present and a lone Grey Heron could be seen at the edge of the reeds. The light was quite poor unfortunately so photo opportunities weren't favourable. Just then another guy entered who I have met before. The usual birding stories were swapped before he moved on.

I headed off down the trail, arriving at the first lagoon to look for the recent Ruddy Shelduck, but they weren't about today. Only Coots and Mutes and ducks were about. I bypassed the Ashby Hide and, further along the trail, high up on the pylon, I could hear and see about 30-40 Starlings clicking and whistling away.

I then found myself sat inside the Tern Hide where loads of Common Snipe had been recently reported. My first sweep around the lagoon elicited 71 of them, all spread out around all the little islets and islands. I could also see 3 Green Sandpipers; plenty of Shoveler; Teal and Wigeon in amongst all the Gadwall and Coot. The odd Mallard and Moorhen were also about. Another Grey Heron could be seen out to the right.

People came and went, all enquiring after the Snipe and all as amazed as I was about the large numbers. A GSW flew past the Hide from right to left, uttering its familiar 'chick' call. There were also about 20 Lapwing out there, some doing their displaying flights. The Sandpiper count then rose to 5, whilst my second Snipe count rose to 77. 2 of the Sandpipers then flew in close to the Hide but they flew off again only allowing me a single shot. A Cetti's Warbler sounded off just outside the Hide to the left and I saw it fly between bushes. My third count of Snipe then yielded 87! And then, just before I left, a Sparrowhawk flew in front of us, from right to left, scattering a few birds.

A quick visit to the Gadwall Hide yielded not a lot. Walking on down the trail I could see that, because the sun was starting to poke through the clouds, Migrant Hawkers were starting to appear. Common Darters were also about, rising and landing on the trail in front of me. A Jay flew overhead, just before I arrived at the Kingfisher Hide.

I only spent about 20 minutes here as there wasn't a great deal of action. The Kingfishers weren't about and it has now sadly been confirmed that the 3rd brood has failed, reason unknown. Out on the pond there were only Coots; Moorhens and Gadwall floating around. Several Migrant Hawkers were flying about, hovering away as they do, one of which landed on the stick in front of the Hide. A lone Brown Hawker was also present. Then I witnessed something I had never seen before. One of the juvenile Moorhens rushed over and caught, drowned and then ate one of the resting Migrant Hawkers. All in a few seconds before I could bring my camera to bear. Amazing.

I moved off towards the Warbler Hide. On the way I spotted a pair of mating Migrants fly in and land on a reed just in front of me. Then the male flew off and left the female on the reed. A few minutes later I spotted another pair. Cetti's and Blackcap could be heard. And then, yet another pair of mating Migrants were seen. And then a fourth pair flew past, wings noisily flapping against each other, being chased by males, hoping to butt in. And, seemingly not to be left out, a pair of Common Darters also flew by in tandem.

Now that the sun was out a bit more, the clouds retreating, a few butterflies were also venturing out. Mainly Whites but also a few Speckled Woods and the odd Comma. Then I spotted a lone Common Blue damselfly in its drab form fly by and settle on a leaf. Another example of the wet spring, as they should have disappeared by now. A female Migrant could be seen ovipositing near the stream, laying eggs every few seconds.

I finally arrived at the Warbler Hide and settled in for lunch. There wasn't much about at first other than a lone Sedge Warbler. A Grey Heron circled over the Meadow before landing far out to the right. I was about to leave when I spotted a Marsh Harrier over the far trees, just above the horizon, being mobbed by several crows. It didn't return. And, just as I had left the Hide, along the walkway, I spotted about 25 Snipe take off from the meadow and circle a few times before landing back down, in amongst the reeds. It was quite a sight, reminding me of the flocks at Snettisham earlier in the week.

Walking back along the trail I witnessed more dragon action and, bypassing the KF Hide, I found myself back in the Tern Hide. The only differences here was a very good view of a Water Rail out to the left, walking along the muddy bank, every now and then venturing out in to the open and noticing that there were only a few Snipe left out on the lake.

I moved on and got to the stairs by the Ashby Hide where I witnessed a flock of LTTs fly by, Great and Blue Tits amongst them as well as a lone Chiffchaff. From the Draper Hide I spotted a lone Snipe otherwise it was business as usual.

The light was again failing reminding me that time was getting on so I headed back towards the visitor centre. No Voles and only a couple of Bugs were seen.

It was a surprisingly good day out, witnessing a couple of things I had never seen before. I returned home before 6 despite a delay on the trains caused by a Fox running up the track.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Norfolk - 16th-18th September 2013

Weather: Overcast, cloudy, rain at times, brightening up towards the end of the trip. Very windy.

Wildlife seen:
Little Grebe; Cormorant; Little Egret; Grey Heron; Mute Swan; Pink-footed Goose; Greylag Goose; Shelduck; Canada Goose; Mallard; Wigeon; Shoveler; Gadwall; Teal; Tufted Duck; Marsh Harrier; Buzzard; Kestrel; Red-legged Partridge; Pheasant; Moorhen; Coot; Avocet; Oystercatcher; Ringed Plover; Lapwing; Golden Plover; Dunlin; Curlew Sandpiper; Little Stint; Knot; Curlew; Black-tailed Godwit; Bar-tailed Godwit; Redshank; Spotted Redshank; Greenshank; Ruff; Pectoral Sandpiper; Snipe; Ruddy Turnstone; Wilson's Phalarope; Black-headed Gull; Mediterranean Gull; Herring Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Great Black-backed Gull; Woodpigeon; Stock Dove; Feral Pigeon; Collared Dove; Green Woodpecker (H); Swallow; House Martin; Skylark; Meadow Pipit; Pied Wagtail; Dunnock; Robin (H); Wheatear; Blackbird; Blackcap (H); Chiffchaff (H); Blue Tit; Great Tit; Starling; Magpie; Jay; Jackdaw; Carrion Crow; Chaffinch; Goldfinch; Greenfinch. Total: 73

Plus: Comma, Large White, Red Admiral, Small White butterflies; Common Darter, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter Dragonfly.

Places visited:
RSPB Snettisham; NWT Cley; RSPB Titchwell; Holkham NNR and Hunstanton beach. And the A149. Several times.

It was, at last, time for my annual visit to north Norfolk. This time it was to be September and this time it was to be with Shan, my friend from Lancashire. We met up early Monday morning at Kings Lynn and decided to make Snettisham our first stop. It was Shan's first ever visit to one of the UK's best birding sites and, as we were only here for a few days, we had a lot to pack in.

The weather had unfortunately turned in recent weeks, after the long, hot summer and we were not too hopeful for any good weather for our visit. It was forecast for cloud and rain, especially on the Tuesday. So, bearing that in mind, we decided not to visit RSPB Lakenheath Fen and, instead, opted for RSPB Snettisham. We figured that, if it rained, we could shelter in the many Hides there. Lakenheath is a bit too open.

We arrived at Snettisham just after 10 and set out towards the estuary. On the trail down the first thing we spotted was a small dead Shrew, looking completely untouched. Not an encouraging start. The first bird we spotted was a Little Egret in the distance. The wind was blowing a gale already at this point meaning that hearing anything was out of the question. We reached the beach and had a quick look out over the shingle banks, seeing lots of birds, some close in. But, due to the wind, we couldn't even stand up straight, let alone ID anything.

So we headed for the first Hide, the Rotary. We found it empty and so made ourselves comfortable. I felt totally wind-swept already and was glad of some shelter. A quick sweep of the area in front of us gave us views of Avocet; Black-tailed Godwit; Curlew; Dunlin; Golden Plover; Knot;  Lapwing; Little Egret; Redshank and Ringed Plover. The tide was currently out and so we were treated to a vast array of birds out on the mudflats, all probing and feeding, walking back and forth. It was an amazing sight to see so many birds. We spent about a hour here before deciding to move on. There were only a few other people about, notably a couple of guys doing a sponsored walk for Cancer.

On the trail around to the next Hide I spotted a very nice Wheatear fly in and land, before quickly flying off into the wind. Other small birds were around, most probably Larks.

We then arrived at the Shore Hide which overlooked both the estuary and a lake on the opposite side. Looking out from this Hide we could see about 50 or so Black-tailed Godwits on a strip of land to our left; GBBGs and Cormorants; various wildfowl and 4 Greenshank, all standing on one leg each, right in front of the Hide. Every few minutes more and more Godwits joined the throng, some of which were preening. Then we spotted another Greenshank to the left of the Godwits. Lots of Wigeon could be seen even farther out. Another Little Egret could be seen feeding even farther out than that and to the right of the Egret a Shelduck was snatching a quick nap. 2 Curlew flew over, uttering their characteristic call. A 2nd Greenshank joined the loner; more Godwits added themselves to the ever-increasing group, making the total well over a 100 and then 4 Dunlin flew in and landed right on the end of the same Spit and immediately started feeding. Above the horizon line we could see hovering Kestrels. Then the Godwits went up en-masse and, scouring the sky around them, we spotted the reason - a female Marsh Harrier, which glided serenely by. They all flew back down and settled again once the Harrier had departed. An Avocet took the opportunity to fly in as did another pair of Greenshank. Then a Spotted Redshank flew in and landed beside the Greenshank. At first I thought it was a Redshank but the slightly down-curved tip to the bill gave it away.

Lots of birds, lots of species so far and we were enjoying it immensely. We moved on to the Sanctuary Hide to see what else was about. This Hide looked solely out over the lake and we could see 5 Little Egrets, all together; a dozen Redshank; another pair of Greenshank; a few Ringed Plovers; at least 3 more Spotted Redshank; about half-a-dozen Ruddy Turnstones; a Little Grebe right in front of the Hide, diving every few seconds and then we saw around 9 or 10 Red-legged Partridges away to our left, scuttling back and forth, over the cropped sedge. Several Pied Wagtails were about, wagging away and flying from small island to small island. Several other people came and went from this Hide, all enjoying the show.

We decided to double back to the Rotary Hide as time was getting on. The tide was due to come back in around 5-ish and I wanted to show Shan the flocks of birds taking off to avoid it. Not long after we arrived the first flock, Oystercatchers, flew up and over the Hide, towards the Hide we had just left and land on the adjacent shore. Out on the estuary the first of the Knot shows started, giving us fantastic views of black and white as they twisted and turned, back and forth, before landing back down. The tide was starting to concentrate the birds onto ever decreasing mud-flats. This was starting to force the birds up and fly off to drier areas of the beach. It was all great stuff and they were giving us some wonderful sights. Next up was a flock of Avocet, their black and white bodies spinning and turning. Then a thousand-plus Redshank flew up and over the Hide, around the lake and back onto the mud-flats. The sights and sounds were amazing.

Unfortunately time was against us, Shan was starting to feel the effects of a 3.15am start and so we reluctantly headed back. On the way the wind finally caught hold of my baseball cap and it was with some difficulty that I retrieved it from very prickly bramble. Indeed, the wind was even stronger at this point and so it was a head-down walk back to the car.

We then drove to Hunstanton, our base for the trip. Somehow we managed to drive straight past the town and had to double-back. We got lucky with one of the turn-offs and managed to find our B&B without further trouble. The B&B was called Garganey House and was run by Robert & Julie Sturgess. Great conversation and even greater breakfasts! It was a short walk into the town centre for our evening pub meal. There weren't too many people about this evening probably due to the poor weather. We had a nice meal, a couple of pints and an early night.

Breakfast was at 8 o'clock the next morning, a lovely big fry-up, but sadly, no black pudding. We were on the road by 9. Usually I visit RSPB Titchwell in the morning and then NWT Cley in the afternoon, but today Shan agreed to try Cley first, have a lunch stop on the way back before visiting Titchwell.

The weather forecast for today was for heavy rain, but Shan had spotted the forecast for this area had a strip of just cloud, so we were hopeful. For most of the day the rain did hold off and even then it was only light showers. We were very lucky with the weather, managing to shelter in the Hides.

We arrived at Cley - via a quick detour towards Fakenham, where we spotted a couple of Red-legged Partridges on the road - just after 10. After paying for our tickets in the visitor centre we headed out to the 3 Hides. The wind wasn't nearly as bad as yesterday and even the sun poked its noses out every now and then. We looked out from the Avocet Hide where we spotted lots of wildfowl, notably Wigeon and at least one eclipse Shoveler. But when we paid a visit to the Dawke's Hide we found a few people congregated around a couple of scopes to the right-end side of the Hide. I sensed a twitch going on and, with my adrenalin starting to kick in, I casually asked what was about. I was right, one of the scope guys grinned at me and said that a Wilson's Phalarope was out on the lake, giving some good views. I quickly scanned the area and picked it up, swimming back and forth, feeding on all the surface flies around it. I was graciously allowed to see it through one of the scopes and could even make out its yellow legs. It looked like the decision to visit Cley first had paid off.

I scanned the lake to see what else was about. There were certainly lots of birds around, mainly wildfowl but including lots of Godwits; Shelduck, including a few juveniles; a lone Avocet and half-a-dozen Ruff. Most birds were asleep but the Phalarope was busy feeding away and I noticed that it was quite near the Swarovski Hide so I decided to head off to see if I could get a better view. Shan didn't fancy the walk and decided to stay put and so I hurried off. When I arrived I found the Hide predictably packed, 4 deep, mainly with scopers. But, after only a few minutes, I managed to squeeze into a seat. The Phalarope was indeed giving better views from here and I even managed a few record shots. Immediately in front of the Hide was a strip of land where lots of ducks were dozing, including a lovely eclipse Mallard. Then I spotted a couple of Godwits moving around and in between them. Ruff could be seen out on the lake, getting nearer the Phalarope and eventually they scared it up. There was a collective intake of breath from everyone in the Hide as we all hoped the bird would fly closer to us. Unfortunately not. Then, a few seconds later, something put most of the birds up and we saw the Phalarope fly even further out, towards the far bank. We soon spotted the culprit, a juvenile male Marsh Harrier. With that, I decided to head back to Shan's Hide. On the way I spotted one Common and one Ruddy Darter, basking on the wooden rails in the fleeting sunshine.

When I arrived Shan pointed out some Pink-footed Geese away to the right. More juvenile Shelduck were about too. It was at this point we decided to break for lunch at the visitor centre before heading off to Titchwell. Cley did not disappoint and it was an excellent morning.

We managed to get to Titchwell without any detours and started out on the trails. At the start of one trail there were a set of Feeders where most of the Finches were feeding, with Moorhens hoovering up the bits and pieces on the ground. Above and behind them was a hovering Kestrel but it wasn't after the finches. Further on we saw lots of Swallows criss-crossing the sky all around us. We visited Fen Hide and Patsy's Reedbed area before finding out that the trails had been altered and we eventually walked into a dead end. A very informative sign told us so but it would have been better if the sign was at the start of the trail. An example of Norfolk logic. So we double-backed and found the West Bank path. Signage here was obviously a problem as this trail wasn't immediately apparent. I guess we should have taken the offered map from the Visitor Centre. This path led us out to the main Hides and the beach.

The wind was starting to pick up now, with the clouds starting to look menacing. There was even a spot of rain. Before we got to the Island Hide we spotted another Marsh Harrier in the distance. From the Hide we could see the usual wildfowl; a pair of Redshank and about 17 Avocets and a few flocks of yet to be identified small waders flying around. We walked on further up the trail.

About halfway to the Parrinder Hide we saw the small flock of Waders land near us. Scanning them gave us views of mainly Dunlin, but with a pair of Little Stints and a Curlew Sandpiper amongst them. To the right of them a lone Snipe was picking its way along the reeds. Then we came upon a group of people looking out to the reeds where they told us that a pair of Pectoral Sandpipers were about. We couldn't see them and it had just begun to drizzle, so we headed off to the Hide.

There weren't too many people in this Hide, at first, but there was an expert birder amongst them. This proved useful as a pair of birds that I spotted to our right that I thought were Dunlin turned out to be the Pectoral Sandpipers. We all watched as they got closer and closer to the Hide. Just as we thought that they were going to walk right past us a pair of Pied Wagtails chased them off. Not long after that a lone Knot flew in to our left onto the mud-bank. Then Shan identified a couple of LBJs as a pair of Meadow Pipits. Further out to the right, in and around lots of Teal was another lone Snipe. We could also see another 20 or so Avocet; a lone Curlew picking its way between the tufts of grass and a lone Oystercatcher asleep away to our left. Then we spotted a group of Bar-tailed Godwits in the distance, all of them asleep. It must have been the after lunch nap.

A couple of guys then entered the Hide and set their scopes on a group of Dunlin which were feeding in and around a large group of BHGs. They were convinced that they could see a White-rumped Sandpiper amongst them and tried to convince all those present, but it wasn't confirmed. We did see a lone Mediterranean Gull in amongst the BHGs. And then the Pectoral Sandpipers flew back in and this time they did get close to the Hide, giving some great views. They looked like Dunlin again at first glance but you could see their distinguishing yellow legs.

We paid a quick visit to the north side of the Hide where there were lots of Redshank; Bar and Black-tailed Godwits; Little Egret and some Knot. As the clouds were starting to look even more menacing we decided not to pay a visit to the beach but to head back home. Dinner, beers and bed. Titchwell didn't disappoint either and it was a fantastic day.

After another hearty breakfast, we paid out bills and headed off to Holkham. Instead of visiting the Hall we decided to do a bit of woodland birding and visited the NNR. There was a £3 car-parking fee for a couple of hours. We were only one of a few cars there but later, when we headed off, the area was packed out. Before we even left the car we spotted about a dozen Curlew out on the adjacent field.

It was the best day of the three today, weather-wise, with few clouds, allowing the sun to shine. Just after we had entered the woodland trail we saw our first butterflies of the visit, several Speckled Woods fluttering past, some of them landing. We then found ourselves at a small lake, called the Salt Hole where we were entertained by about 6 Little Grebes. Then we saw a Kestrel fly over, hover and then fly off. As I was looking at the Kestrel a Jay flew past and landed on a branch towards the back of the lake.

We eventually found ourselves looking out from the George Washington Hide. From here we could see a pair of Curlew feeding out to our right. Directly in front of us, on the bushes, were lots of Red Admirals, Speckled Woods and a couple of Commas. A Buzzard flew from right to left over the horizon. Further out to the left another Kestrel could be seen hovering. We could also hear, but not see, Blackcap and Chiffchaff. Then we could hear lots of trumpeting cackles, typical of Pink-footed Geese. Skeins and skeins of them were flying past, in the distance, from left to right. It was quite a noise and fantastic to watch. Almost at the same time we spotted a pair of Marsh Harriers gliding over the fields directly in front of us, one of them scaring off the Curlews. A little later Shan spotted a couple of female Pheasants feeding in the field to our left and then a couple more Kestrels appeared. We could have stayed here watching the spectacle for ages.

But, unfortunately, our two hours was up and so we had to head back. I suggested we return to Hunstanton and sit down to look out over the cliffs to the beach and sea. The weather was even better now, sunnier and warmer and it was a nice 30 minutes or so just sitting on a bench and looking out. Lots of BHGs were out on the grass looking for handouts. We only had a 3 day old McDonalds and I felt a bit guilty even thinking about letting them have it. We could also see a few Waders on the beach and could hear a few Oystercatchers peeping away.

Shan drove me back to Kings Lynn station where we said our goodbyes before she headed off back to Lancashire. My trains got me back home just after 4pm.

Another brilliant trip to Norfolk made even better by Shan's company. The only other thing we could have wished for was for better weather.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Rye Meads - 5th September 13

Weather: Very hot. Clear skies with a light breeze.

Birds Total: 41
Plus: Comma, Common Blue, Green-veined White, Large White, Small White, Speckled Wood Butterflies.
Plus: Common Blue damselfly. Brown Hawker, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: Rudd; Water Buffalo with three calves; Water Vole; various Bees, Hoverflies, Spiders and Wasps.

Today was quite possibly the last good day of summer. Tomorrow and the weekend is forecast for rain and bad weather. So I hauled myself out to make the most of it. And after yesterday's long day at Rainham I figured that RM would probably be a good choice, as I could always sit in the Hides.

But first, I wanted to see if I could see and photograph the Water Voles again. I hung around the walkway pond area for about 30 minutes or so. Whilst waiting I took a look out over the meadow and I could see that there were now 3 Water Buffalo calves out there. There were also 4 Grey Herons; a pair of male Pheasants and I could hear Blackcaps and Dunnocks singing around the area.

Whilst waiting for the Ratty show I became fascinated by a pair of Cross Spiders. A small male was tentatively and cautiously approaching the much larger female. As he got close he started caressing her gently with his front two legs. When he deemed that she was calm and receptive he climbed aboard and did the business, before racing off to a safe part of the web. I watched him do this at least 3 times. People passed by and asked if I was watching a Vole and when I explained what I was looking at they just smiled and walked on.

There were also volunteer work details walking back and forth. And by now the hot sun had burned off the last of the misty fog and it was starting to get very hot. But before it did I photographed a spiders web covered in droplets from overnight. Then, over the meadow, all the BHGs and Pigeons took to the air. I scanned the sky and found the culprit, a Buzzard which gracefully soared overhead.

Then, finally, I heard a rustle of the reeds and spotted a Water Vole which had jumped up onto a little wooden platform to finish off an apple. It then swam through the reeds and disappeared under the bridge. A few minutes later another turned up and started feeding on the greenery. A third appeared soon after. At last I was getting some Vole action.

People continued to pass by, some of which saw the Voles. One guy thought he had seen the Marsh Harrier, that had been seen recently, over the meadow but I pointed out that it was, in fact, a Grey Heron. A couple of women then walked up and one of them said that she could see a Little Egret, which was again the Grey Heron. In fact, when I visited some of the Hides I found a few entries on the sightings boards that I thought were a bit tongue in cheek. Not that I think that they are telling porkies but it does mess up the bird lists.

I headed off down the trail and found that the Draper Hide was closed for a paint job. So I paid a visit to the Ashby Hide. There wasn't too much about because the reeds were quite abundant. But there were a pair of Reed Warblers flitting around, busily feeding up before the long flight back and a Little Grebe was on the lake.

The obligatory Migrant Hawker photo
There were a few more butterflies on the trails here, a few more than I found in Fishers Green the other day. Comma; lots of Whites and Speckled Woods being the most obvious.

I paid a couple of visits to the Twin Hides, seeing 8 Green Sandpipers; 7 Snipe; 12 or so Lapwing; another few Grey Herons; a lone Common Tern and some Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler. The Kingfishers were absent from the KF Hide and nobody is sure of what is happening with the 3rd brood. My feeling is that it has failed for some unknown reason and we have probably seen the last of them for now. There wasn't much else about other than Blackcaps.

There wasn't anything of note on the walk down to the Warbler Hide and back. I checked the twin hides again but there was nothing else to add to the list. I was keen to see if the recently reported pair of Ruddy Shelduck were still about. One of the guys I spoke to in the KF Hide said that he had seen them earlier over the forbidden lake. When I arrived and looked out over the lake I could only see the usual, Mutes and Coots, ducks and geese. But I hung around for a few minutes and my patience paid off as the pair of them swam into view, not far from me. They must be escapees but I was pleased to see them anyway.

Ruddy Shelduck
I found that they had re-opened the Draper Hide but there were only a pair Grey Herons having a dispute out on the scrape plus a lone Little Egret which soon flew off. Not much else was around so I decided to try my luck with the Water Voles again. And I was again lucky with a few more good views after only about 10 minutes waiting.

A few people again walked by plus a very noisy woman with an even more noisy little girl dragging a pushchair. I guessed that the Voles would hunker down after that so I headed home.

Another nice day in the sunshine.

Friday, 6 September 2013

RSPB Rainham Marsh - 4th September 2013

with Shane, Marianne and TJ

Weather: Misty early on, blue skies, warm and sunny later. Very hot with a cool breeze.

Birds Total: 34
Plus: Brown Argus, Common Blue, Green-veined White, Large White, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White butterflies.
Plus: Blue-tailed damselflies; Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter dragonflies.
Plus: Chrysolina banksi beetle; Four-spot Orb-weaver female; Lesser Marsh Grasshopper; Common Lizard; Long-winged Conehead; Marsh Frog; Wasp Spider.

Today I visited Rainham in the company of my good friends Marianne and Shane. But this time with the addition of Tony who we also know from the RSPB Forum. It was his first visit to Rainham.

It was another lovely day for a visit. The sun shined, the sky was blue and a good time was had by all.

The birds were still reluctant to show themselves but we were entertained by those that did. And there were plenty of other things about that focussed our attention.

Field Grasshopper
Undoubtedly the star of today were the Wasp Spiders. We were told where to look for them by the local expert, Howard. But, despite our best efforts, we failed miserably. It was only when we made it back to the visitor centre for lunch and a rest and spoke to Howard again that he took pity on us and personally took us down to the area to point them out. We all joyfully started to photograph them, getting as low as possible. It topped a marvellous day out.

Wasp Spider
When we started out we decided to go down to the bridge first, just before the Purfleet Hide, to try and spot a Water Vole, as Tony was keen to see one. When we failed to find any we had a quick look in the Hide. Outside we saw over 20 Lapwing but not too much else.

Long-winged Conehead
We walked back to the start and took the anti-clockwise route. Some of the first things we saw were plenty of dragonflies; Crickets, Collared Doves and a Little Egret. Then Marianne spotted 2 GSWs fly over.

The morning had started out quite misty at first but when the sun rose high in the sky it was soon burned off. A Cetti's called out in the distance and then Marianne spotted a perched Migrant Hawker. We all managed to get plenty of good, close-up shots.

An obliging Migrant Hawker
We may have failed at our first attempt to find the Wasp Spiders but we got lucky with a few Common Lizards and another, unidentified spider. Later on Howard ID'd it as a female Four-spot Orb-weaver. Also on the trail we saw a Brown Argus and some Goldfinches and a Grey Heron flew over. Common and Ruddy Darters were starting to become our companions on the walk around, flying past and landing on the trail in front of us.

Common Lizard
When we reached the Ken Barrett Hide we could see a pair of Hobbys criss-crossing the Reserve in the distance and then a Kestrel joined in. This brought Marianne in after she had thought she spotted a Wasp Spider. When we all went back outside to try and find it we again failed.

Ruddy Darters
We then found ourselves at a viewpoint, looking out over the main lake. From here we saw 4 Hobbys; a Little Egret and a pair of Greenshank. Then Shane spotted a Clouded Yellow fly past. Then, a man with a scope saw a Snipe on the far side and, looking through it myself, spotted 2 more beside it.

Chrysolina banksi beetle
Moving on around the Reserve, via the Shooting Butts Hide, we saw a pair of Kestrels above us and then another Hobby flew past. Outside the hide we again had a fruitless search for Water Voles. Then we paused at a small pond where we spotted lots of Marsh Frogs and a very obliging Migrant Hawker. We tried to persuade Marianne to kiss one of the frogs to see if she could find her prince, but she gracefully declined.

Go on, M - give him a kiss!
We had a quick, second look from the Purfleet Hide before breaking  for lunch, where I indulged myself with the last slice of Carrot Cake, before Howard took us around to see the Wasp Spiders.

After we had had our fill of the spiders we called it a day, the hot sun had defeated us. Although there weren't too many birds about we managed to see plenty of other things, not just the spiders. It was another great day out at a great Reserve.

We must do it again sometime.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 2nd September, 2013

Weather: Warm, sunny with blue skies. Slight breeze.

Birds Total: 36
Plus: Comma, Holly Blue, Large White, Meadow Brown, Small White, Speckled Wood butterflies.
Plus: Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue damselflies. Brown Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter, Southern Hawker dragonflies.

There was still a paucity of bird species today, so I again concentrated on Dragons and Damsels. And I'm pleased to say they didn't disappoint. There were many Migrant Hawkers about today, a lot of them posing nicely. Darters, both Common and Ruddy, were also very accommodating. Even a Brown Hawker flew in and landed not far from me, although I had to get down and dirty to his level for any shots. On the damsel front, I managed to find some Demoiselles, although they made me work very hard. There were lots and lots of Common Blues but only about half-a-dozen Blue-tailed.

The weather was again very kind today. It was warm and sunny with very little cloud. Even the forecasters managed to get today right. It was all balanced by a cool breeze.

I took a slightly different route today than my usual one. I arrived at the Teal Hide by the Hall Marsh Scrape around 9.30 and, instead of walking between the lakes, I walked along Horsemill Stream, which is also a main public footpath. From there I visited both the Bittern and the Grebe Hides.

It was a disappointing start from the Teal Hide, only ducks and pigeons were about. Someone had cut back all the reeds and grass in the field directly in front of the Hide, which opened up food possibilities for the birds. But I had to make do with a pair of noisy Carrion Crows and a Magpie who wandered around the area, all keeping a wary eye on me. A Stock Dove also flew in to try his luck.

But then, out to the far right, I saw some movement in the water. Looking through my Bins I saw a lone Snipe feeding away, head swinging back and forth, sweeping the water. Then a Little Egret flew in and proceeded to stalk the area, shaking its leg in the water disturbing anything that might prove edible. Not long after I spotted 2 Green Sandpipers, also away to the right, having a slight dispute. One was chasing the other, making lots of fuss about it. I guess nagging isn't just a human thing.

As I walked out the door, down the walkway, a Grey Squirrel wandered past in front of me. It hopped up onto the rails and looked at me. As I got closer it jumped up onto the nearest branch and looked at me. Seeing that there was no food to be had it bade me farewell and disappeared into the tall tree.

Brown Hawker
Wren and Chiffchaff were in good voice as I hit the trail and then, just as I had left the walkway, a flying movement caught my eye and I spotted a Brown Hawker fly past. I stopped and watched it flying back and forth until it landed about 5 meters in front of me on some bracken. To get to it I had to flatten some nettles and reeds. Try doing that quietly and quickly. But I managed to get to within about 4 feet of it and crouched down to take some photos. It cooperated marvellously, so much so that I spent about 5 minutes taking lots of photos trying out different settings. Well, it's not every day a Brown Hawker allows you so near and in such a good position. They usually land and settle up high, out of reach. The problem started when I went to get back up again. My knees are not what they used to be, I'm afraid. It's so much easier getting down than it is getting back up again. One knee buckled and I fell sideways onto some nettles. Ouch! That also spooked the Hawker and it flew off.

Common Darter
I managed to get back to the path without any further problems, just in time to spot a Common Darter. Then more turned up. Then a couple of Ruddy Darters appeared. Speckled Woods were everywhere and there must have been dozens of Common Blue damsels about as well. My eye was in by now and I could see lots of Grasshoppers hopping around the grass. As they do. I must have spent about an hour here, wandering about the reeds and grasses. People walked past me, giving me funny looks and cautiously bidding me a good morning. Even their dogs gave me an odd look.

Common Blue
I took the alternative route because I wanted to walk along the river to see if there were any Demos, in or around the fishing spots. Unfortunately there weren't any, but I did manage to catch a couple of Migrant Hawkers at rest. But, being a public footpath, there were also lots of public. Dog walkers of course, one woman not content with just one, having six of them, all barking away; joggers pounding their joints into oblivion and cyclists wrapped up in their now obligatory tight lycra, zooming past, every now and then wiping all the dead flies from their goggles.

Migrant Hawker
On the trail to Fishers Green, looking out over Seventy Acres Lake, I could see at least 4 juvenile Great Crested Grebes, their humbug heads still very visible. I eventually reached the Bittern Hide and took a break. Looking out to my left towards the Feeders, which today were satisfyingly full, I could see Blue and Great Tits, a Greenfinch and a male and female Chaffinch, all cautiously flying back and forth, keeping a wary eye out. On the lake there were at least a couple of dozen Mute Swans; 50+ Canada Geese; another GCG; lots of Cormorants and at least one Common Tern, perched up on one of the posts.

Speckled Wood
As I had entered the Hide a couple with their grandchildren were just leaving. Granddad came back in a few minutes later and retrieved his wallet which he had obviously dropped, trying to maintain order with the grandchildren. He gave me a rueful look and I sympathized, remembering my forgetfulness at Amwell the previous week.

Whilst I was in the Hide I noted the absence of any Reed or Sedge Warblers in the area, another reminder of the inexorable call of Autumn. But, on a positive note, that means that the Bitterns could be back here in a few months.

Ruddy Darter
On the trail upto the Grebe Hide there was a distinct lack of butterflies. Lots of Dragons and Damsels but only the odd White and Speckled Wood and a lone, tatty, Meadow Brown. No breeze, plenty of sunshine but no flutterbys. There weren't too many birds about today either, although I could hear lots of singing, mainly Chiffchaff and Blackcap and a distant Cetti's Warbler. Around 6 or 7 Jackdaws chacked away overhead, heading towards the nearby Farm.

I arrived at Holyfield Weir to find dozens and dozens of Canada Geese, all lined up along weir itself. Coots; BHGs; Gadwalls; a GCG and humbug and a few Greylags were also present. And it seemed like every possible perch was taken up. I could also see a couple of yachts out on the lake too.

Just past the Weir I found myself at the area where I had been successful in spotting lots of Banded Demoiselles during recent visits. Unfortunately, today they were absent. I moved on and tried lots of fishing spots, looking out over the fast flowing river. I could hear another Cetti's on the other side, hidden in the bushes. Whilst looking for it a movement on the stream caught my eye and I spotted a lone male Demo fluttering around, checking out possible perches. It was too far away for a photo. And, a little further on, at the other prime Demo area, I spotted 3 more, again on the other side of the river. The sun was in the wrong position and I calculated that it would be another hour before my side was in the sunshine, so I headed off to have lunch in the Grebe Hide.

Looking out over Holyfield Lake, most of the birds were over to the left, obviously because of the yachts. In amongst all the Coots and Mutes; ducks and geese were around a dozen GCGs, some with humbugs. A couple of Grey Herons were having a territorial dispute way out to my left. Then, just in front of me, on the reeds a little Wren flew in, pecked at a couple of flies and flew out. Lunch. Damn, I forgot the Champers.

Migrant Hawker
Just before I left the Hide I had tried to get a shot of a Migrant Hawker, which was hovering just in front of the Hide. A GCG had also swim in close but I missed the shot opportunity because I heard, then saw, a Kingfisher fly past, from right to left, across the lake. You could see its' brilliant turquoise iridescence in the sunlight as it flew. Always a fantastic sight to see.

Big Brother?
I headed back to the Demo area and sat down, waiting for them to fly across to my side. I patiently waited for over an hour, watching the sun moving steadily over, the shadows creeping across the nearby leaves and nettles around me. And, during most of that time, a very noisy helicopter hovered not very far away from where I was sat, doing I know not what. Then a noisy dog, in someone's garden, across the river, started barking away. It was nearly as noisy as politicians on opposite sides of the House of Commons during a fierce debate. A couple of fishermen packed up and headed off. I was about to follow them, when one of the males fluttered in my direction. I held my breath and, despite a few false starts, got closer and closer. But not quite close enough. Well, the males may have let me down but then a female suddenly appeared from nowhere and landed about 4 feet away. She wasn't quite showing her best side, but I was grateful for any pose at this stage. I got my shots and decided to head off, especially as a 2nd Chopper had turned up.

Female Banded Demoiselle
I stopped off again at another fishing spot and was rewarded with a close-up view of a male Demo. He, too, wasn't quite showing his best side but I was again grateful for anything. He was flying up and catching midges every few seconds and landing back on the same spot, in between other reeds which were unhelpfully moving in the wind. I could see another female sat on one of the reeds in the middle of the river, ovipositing.

Male Banded Demoiselle
There wasn't anything else of note on the walk back, other than spotting a Crayfish creeping along the bottom of the clear, clean river from one of the bridges. I bypassed the Bittern Hide and headed home. The good weather is forecast for a few more days yet.