Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A Cold, Crisp Day at Fishers Green!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 10th December, 14

Weather: Bright, sunny, clear skies. Cold wind.

Bird Total: 43

Plus: Fox; Grey Squirrel; Muntjac.

It was a lovely, sunny day. Clear skies with a cold, biting wind. But I had my secret weapon on today, a lovely warm scarf.

There was nothing much to be seen until I arrived at Friday Lake. Looking out I could see about 4 or 5 Great Crested Grebes swimming around; a lone female Pochard and the usual Gulls; Coot and ducks.

View from the Teal Hide.
I sat down in the Teal Hide and looked out. To my surprise there were 5 Little Egrets standing just to the side of one of the goal-posts. Not doing very much, looking like a mini-roost. About half-a-dozen Shoveler were asleep out to the left; a pair of Teal to the right; a few Gadwall milling around, seemingly aimlessly and a few Black-headed Gulls. Nothing else could be seen.

But, then, a dozen Lapwing flew over, most of them peewitting. Disappointingly, they didn't stop and flew on. A 6th Little Egret then arrived and landed with the others. One by one, they all started to preen. It was as if they were trying to out-preen each other. There was the distinctive cry of a Water Rail out amongst the reeds, but I couldn't locate it.

Outside, I disturbed a pair of Grey Squirrels, who both quickly scampered up the nearest tree. They both eyed me warily as I walked past.

I took another quick look out over Friday Lake, seeing a total of 8 GCGs now. A very noisy Greylag Goose flew over. Then I was suddenly surrounded by a large group of elderly people or crumblies as I call them, all chattering away as they went by, fortunately in the opposite direction.

Unusually, there wasn't much to be seen on the trail to the bridge. The skies were still clear of cloud, there was a slight cold wind and it was 'crisp' out there. The sun took every opportunity to shine right in to my eyes. There were only the usual birds about. Maybe the reason was the large amount of dog-walkers about. Curmudgeonly? Me? Nah!

Standing on the bridge looking out over both sides brought the GCG count up to 16. But I didn't hang around as the wind up here was quite strong. Even for my magic scarf.

Out over Seventy Acres Lake there were at least 70+ Lapwing on the far island. I could also see at least 4 Grey Herons trying to blend in with the reeds. Various other wildfowl were swimming about but not in any great number.

View from the Bittern Hide.
I made it to the Bittern Hide and sat down. A few people were already there. Unfortunately no sign of Billy the Bittern, although a pair of them have been seen here recently. But we were entertained by a few Water Rails, wandering around and a lone GCG who was having a very successful time fishing, bringing up lots of fish to the surface, before swallowing them all down. There was also a few Coot, one of which was also quite successful in the fishing stakes.

I started on down the trail towards the Grebe Hide. Just as I entered the trail I spotted a male Muntjac with his back to me. I crept up quietly and slowly and managed to get to within 10 feet of him, before he turned around and saw me. I froze and saw that he didn't know what to make of me. I wanted to bring the camera to bear but I knew that if I did that he would bolt. In the event, he fed a little more for a few seconds, before again looking up at me and then decided to head off. I didn't get a photo but it was exhilarating to be so close.

Further on up the trail a lone Fieldfare flew in and landed on one of the trees beside the relief channel. But it was too obscured by branches for any decent shot. More Grey Squirrels could be seen, again all scampering away. Then a hen Pheasant scurried past me from right to left and disappeared into the bushes. More Thrushes could be seen flying about the area.

I stopped and looked over the channel to the lagoon. Seeing nothing I was about to continue on when I spotted a pair of Foxes, slowly walking along the fence-line. One disappeared in to the bushes while the other one sat down and promptly fell asleep. Looking further back, towards the farm, I could see dozens and dozens of Jackdaws and Pigeons all over the trees and barns.

I arrived at Holyfield Weir but there wasn't much to be seen apart from the odd Coot and Gull. There were a few other dabbling ducks about but not much else.

Just before I reached the Grebe HideJay flew past me, then back again. A Grey Heron was perched up on a stump in the small lagoon. Both birds soon disappeared as they saw me.

I sat down and looked out over the lake. The GCG count soon went up to 24. There wasn't much about out here either, apart from lots of Pochard. The Grey Heron had now perched up high on one of the distant island trees, surveying his domain.

But, patience paid off and, about 20 minutes later, my target bird for today, a gorgeous female Goosander appeared, out to the right. Unfortunately, she stayed distant and so I was unable to immortalise her beauty.

On the return journey, just before I arrived back at the Weir, another Muntjac appeared and ran across the trail in front of me. At the Weir itself a Reserve Warden had turned up and was busy working away. The only addition on the water was a Little Grebe.

There was a lone Redwing picking off the red berries over on the other side of the relief channel. It was now starting to get quite windy. I tightened my scarf.

Just before I reached the end of the trail I spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker, climbing up one of the trees. It seemed to be quite small though and, at first, I thought it may have been a Lesser. But I couldn't get close enough for a shot and when it saw me, it flew off.

I hung around the Bittern Hide until dusk, hoping to see a Bittern fly in to roost. Unfortunately not. But I was again entertained by the sight of a flying, screeching Grey Heron, trying to land on one of the trees opposite the Hide. It didn't quite seem to have the knack and kept landing on a weaker branch.

Just before I left a Great Tit sounded off an alarm, scaring all the birds off the feeders. Sure enough, a few seconds later, a Sparrowhawk raced past.

A cold, crisp day out. No Bittern but I spotted my target, the bird of the day, a Goosander.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Top Day's Birding!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 8th December 14

Weather: Sunny blue skies, slight cloud. Very cold.

Bird Total: 49

After the excitement, this morning, of seeing the Rough-legged Buzzard at Braughing, I decided to head down to Amwell for a few hours.

The sun was still shining and I was still buzzing from seeing the Buzzard. It was still quite cold out but I was all layered up and armed with a flask of coffee.

On the train down I managed to spot Harry the Heron, in his usual place. And on the walk up to the Reserve there were plenty of birds flying around the trees, which were now completely devoid of leaves.

There was only one other guy at the Watchpoint. And looking out I could see well over a hundred Lapwing; a couple of Grey Herons; a pair of Goldeneye; quite a few Great Crested Grebes; lots of Gull species again plus the usual wildfowl. Close to the Watchpoint a Robin was gratefully feeding on some crumbs that some thoughtful person had left. There were also a few Goldfinches around the area.

I decided not to pay a visit to the Gladwin Hide as I could already see Goldeneye around the area. So, instead, I headed straight for the James Hide. Time was also getting on, it was already past midday and there would only be around 3 or 4 hours of daylight left.

The upper tier repairs had been completed but I opted to sit down in the lower tier again. One other guy was already in there and was sitting on the right-hand side, adjacent to the feeders. The best seat in the house. He hadn't seen anything worthwhile and was still waiting for the Kingfisher to show up.

I sat there for about 10 minutes before deciding to go upstairs. It may have been repaired but the door still needed fixing, so I wedged it closed with a little stick. Maybe it had been left for just this purpose.

The feeders were again doing plenty of good business, with Tits and Finches and Buntings all awaiting their turn to feed. Robins and Dunnocks were also around. A Jay flew past and out over the lake, looking like it was busy on some errand. A Little Grebe could be seen swimming past the channel opening. Then, to my delight, a Marsh Tit announced its' arrival and duly flew in a few seconds later, also waiting patiently for its' turn on the feeders.

I spent a good few minutes here trying to photograph it. But it would only land on the feeder itself and then sit behind a little branch. Still, it was good to see. I paused for lunch and some badly needed hot coffee.

I then headed down to the other feeders, located just inside the Dragonfly Trail. On the way plenty of birds appeared. First up was a Bullfinch, which flew past from right to left. Then a party of Long-tailed Tits chattered past, high in the branches. They were escorted by another Marsh Tit and a couple of Goldcrests. I did try and photograph the Goldcrest, but it was much to quick for me.

Then, high up in the sky, obviously trying not to be outdone by this mornings' events, a couple of Common Buzzards could be heard screeching out their song. They duly appeared, flying past high above me, one chasing the other.

Further along the trail, looking out over Hollycross Lake, a Kestrel flew past, right to left and then disappeared behind the trees. Then I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker but couldn't locate it. The breeze had now picked up a bit around here and it was blowing a fierce, biting wind which was starting to chill me. I needed some more hot coffee.

When I arrived at the entrance to the trail I was disappointed to see that the feeders were empty and that nothing could be seen around the area. So I headed back, seeing several Redwing and Fieldfare on the way.

I made my way around to the White Hide. There were two people in this Hide and they helpfully pointed out a pair of Common Snipe, on the island just in front of us. I could also see a pair of Little Egrets out to the left, feeding along the edges.

With the bright, low sun in my eyes I decided to head back to the James Hide. Just as I arrived and sat down in the lower tier I spotted a shadow on the lagoon and looked up to see a Kingfisher had arrived and had perched on the outer stick, in the middle of the lagoon. I took a few quick snaps and then, amazingly it then flew closer to the Hide and perched on the nearer stick. Cue more snaps.

Unfortunately, by this time, the sun was going down and, although I was getting some good, close-up shots, they proved to be a little grainy. Still, never mind. It was turning out to be a really good day's birding. The appearance of the KF was one of those lucky moments.

It was a juvenile male and when he departed the feeders opened up for business again. The Marsh Tit made another appearance, as did plenty of Reed Buntings. A party of LTTs again arrived, chattering away and all crowded the feeders. Greats and Blueys were flying in and out; a pair of Robins eyed each other up; a pair of Dunnocks chased each other through the lower branches and even a male Chaffinch gave me a pose. Then a Water Rail squealed out, but stubbornly remained hidden. It was all happening!

It was starting to get really dark now and so I headed back to the Watchpoint. Unusually the evening crowd didn't make an appearance so there was no one to point out the rare Gulls. I tried but there were birds flying in every few seconds. I looked through my Bins over the lake and must have seen well over a thousand Gulls floating out there, with even more flying in. I picked out the 5 species I did know before heading home.

Top day's birding!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Rough-legged Buzzard at Braughing.

Braughing - 8th December 14

Weather: Sunny blue skies, slight cloud. Very cold.

Birds seen:
Red Kite; Buzzard; Rough-Legged Buzzard; Kestrel; Pheasant; Black-headed Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Woodpigeon; Dunnock (H); Robin; Blackbird; Fieldfare; Song Thrush; Mistle Thrush; Blue Tit; Great Tit; Magpie; Jay; Carrion Crow; Rook.
Total: 20

Today I had a chance to try and see if the Rough-legged Buzzard was still around near Braughing. It had been reported here nearly 2 months ago but today was only the second time I'd had a chance to go. The first time caught me double-booked.

It was also the day that a friend of mine from Lancashire had come down to pay a visit to the Lee Valley. Unfortunately, she took ill with the flu and was unable to make it.

The weather was very kind to us, seeing as how we had booked today in advance. We had almost totally clear skies, with a slight wind, although it was again very cold out.

A good friend of mine, Andy, who lives just up the road from me had indicated that he wanted to try and see the bird, so we all decided to meet up today and go for it. So, just the two of us, drove down to Braughing to try out luck.

It was only a 25-minute drive or so and we soon found ourselves in the area that the bird had last been reported.

Andy spotted a Common Buzzard in the field, just as we arrived. Then, further, on, we spotted 3 Red Kites flying low over a giant haystack. A good start.

There were plenty of Gulls and Pigeons around, slightly distracting us. But then, after only about 10 minutes or so, Andy shouted out and pointed. Sure enough, a Buzzard soared overhead. I was pretty sure it was the RLB but Andy confirmed it, seeing the dark terminal band on the tail.

It flew past us and landed on a tree, nearly opposite us, about 40-50 yards away. We had walked up a dirt track when we saw it. The bird could be seen really well through the binoculars, reflecting nicely in the bright sunlight.

I turned and raced back to the car to get my camera. But when I looked back it had flown further away, landing in the next field. Unfortunately, that was out best view of it. There were 2 more possible sightings later on, but they were most probably Common Buzzards.

We walked further along the dirt track, seeing plenty of Thrushes and a few Jays, before heading back to the car and driving around for another half-an-hour or so. I then spotted another Buzzard perched in a tree, just ahead of us.

Andy pulled up and turned the car around. We looked up and saw it fly further back, along the road. I managed to take a few record shots of it but it looked like it was another Common Buzzard.

We decided against trying to wait it out and headed back home. On the way we added Kestrel to an impressive raptor list.

It looks as if the RLB will over-winter here so there may well be further opportunities to see it.

My thanks to Andy for volunteering to chauffeur me around.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Pintail at Rye Meads!

Rye Meads - 5th December 14

Weather: Cloudy with some sunshine. Very cold.

Birds Total: 43

It was another nice day out today. Although very cold, with slight cloud and a short, sharp shower I was wrapped up, with several layers. Actually, I felt a bit like the old Michelin Man!

Bird of the day was a lovely male Pintail, seen from the Gadwall Hide. Although he was at the back of the lagoon all day he did give some good views. He keep ducking his head down, feeding, every few seconds. He was swimming back and forth and kept his distance, not coming close once.

I only saw six other people all day and only then very briefly. I must remember to check my aftershave cabinet.

There was nothing much to see out of the train window on the way down, other than lots of fields dotted with a myriad of small ponds and lakes. And, although the Reserve had already been open for about an hour, I was the first visitor.

View from the Draper Hide.
It was too cold for Ratty to be seen and I soon moved on to the Draper Hide. There had only been a lone Grey Heron out over the HMWT meadow. A Cetti's Warbler was singing out, but, as usual, it remained elusive.

Unfortunately, the lagoon outside the Hide was quite high and there were only a few species out there. Several Shoveler; Teal; Tufted Duck; Gadwall; Coot and about 20-odd Canada Geese. All milling about the lagoon, some feeding, some just milling. But there were several Redwing outside the Hide, trying to pick off the last of the juicy-looking red berries.

View from the Ashby Hide.
I moved on and paid a quick visit to the Ashby Hide. Directly in front of the Hide was a male Pheasant, out in the open, pecking away at the grass. A pair of Moorhen and a pair of Coot were swimming around. A lone female Teal was near the Pheasant. I could also hear a Water Rail sounding off. But, as soon as I opened up a window, they all moved off. If it wasn't my aftershave, was it my fashion sense?

Buff-tailed Bumble Bee, I think.
I headed off down the trail, spooking a lone Jay. There were several species seen as I walked along, mainly lots of Blackbirds, nearly all of which were sounding off their alarm calls. Robins; Tits; Finches and Dunnocks were all present. Most of them sounding off. Hey, it's only me, guys!

I then arrived at the Gadwall Hide to see the Pintail. Also out there were well over 150 Lapwing, which were being put up every few minutes; several Common Snipe; lots of Shoveler and Teal plus all the other usual suspects. But there wasn't a lot happening, it was just business as usual. A quick visit to the Tern Hide only gave me Tufted Duck and what looked like Coot City, with several of them swimming around right in front of the Hide. It did look very congested out there.

Back out on the trail I could see a Green Woodpecker about 30 meters ahead of me. There was no way I could hide from it and it duly spotted me and flew off, its' bright green plumage reflecting back as it went.

View from the Kingfisher Hide.
I paid a visit to the Kingfisher Hide, not really expecting to see much. But, after only being there for a few minutes, I spotted a male Kingfisher sat on a branch out to the left. It was diving down into the water, feeding and then proceeded to have a preen, before sitting still. There were also the resident pair of Coot and a couple of Moorhen, one of which had sat atop one of the stumps. I could also hear and Water Rail.
Great Spotted Woodpecker

One of several million Coot on the Reserve.
A few minutes later a Kestrel appeared from nowhere, seemingly from the reed-bed. It flew up and away. Then I could see all the Lapwing fly up over the Gadwall lagoon.

I decided to go down and sit in the lower tier, to try and get a better view of the Kingfisher. I was hoping that it would get closer. But I took my eye off it and when I looked back, it had disappeared. With just the Coots and Moorhens for company I moved on.

As I walked down to the Warbler Hide I spooked another Green Woodpecker. Then I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker and looked up to see it climbing up one of the trees, pecking away as it went.

There was nothing to be seen from the Warbler Hide, other than a fly-by from a Grey Heron. Time for lunch.

Work along the Trail.
I could see that there had been lots of work done around the Reserve, with lots of little piles of cut reed dotted along the trails. I guess they would become homes for someone. Or something.

View from the Gadwall Hide.
I arrived back at the Gadwall Hide but the only birds to add to the list were a pair of little Pied Wagtails, darting in and out, between all the ducks and a pair of Little Grebe. I hung around the Hide for about an hour, mainly because it had started to rain. The weather forecast was for slight cloud early on, a band of heavy cloud, with rain, around midday but should clear after 2. I sat there until after 3 when the cloud finally decided to move on before letting the sun come back out.

My last stop, as usual, was the Draper Hide. There was still nothing too much about out on the lagoon and so I concentrated instead, on several Redwing outside the Hide. To my delight there were soon joined by several Fieldfare, my first of the season. One of them allowed to get fairly close, for a record shot.

But it was getting colder and the sun had also started to disappear so I decided to call it a day. Not one of the best days out but I hadn't been out for a while and so it was good to be out in the fresh, if cold, air.

As ever, for more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Amwell Nature Reserve - 24th November 14

Weather: Sunny blue skies, quite cold.

Birds Total: 48
Plus: Bank Voles; Grey Squirrel; Konik Ponies.

Not having ventured out for the last few weeks, I thought it was high time to stretch my legs. It had been very wet, grey and overcast of late but today was forecast for bright, sunny skies. And so it proved. Although it was actually quite cold today, thankfully there was no accompanying cruel wind.

On the journey down, there were quite a few extra small lakes and ponds around the area, due no doubt, to the recent rains. Only Little Egret and Great Crested Grebe could be seen.

I had originally intended to visit Fishers Green, but I didn't feel up to walking around 10k today so I wimped out and headed for Amwell again.

Autumn Colours
Although nothing too exciting was seen, it was nonetheless still quite a good day out. Most of the trees had now shed their leaves, making it a little easier to spot the birds. On the trails between visits to the Hides there were several flocks of passerines flying around, mainly Finches and Tits. All of them busily hunting and hopping around the branches, calling out to each other.

Just before I reached the bridge I spotted the 4 Konik Ponies in the adjacent field. One of them had a pair of Magpies on its' back. They were pecking away at it, presumably picking off insects. Surely it couldn't have been nesting material?

My first stop, as usual, was at the Watchpoint. There was only one person there, with a scope. Out over Great Hardmead Lake there were the usual suspects, but included several Wigeon; 2 Little Egrets; 2 Grey Herons; 2 Common Snipe; a couple of dozen Lapwing and various Shoveler, Teal and Pochard all swimming about, either in pairs or large groups. A flock of Long-tailed Tits flew by behind me.

I noticed that the water levels here were also quite high, which presumably meant that there would be an absence of any waders. So it proved to be.

The only Warblers out and about today were a few Cetti's and I only heard them. As per usual, they remained stubbornly hidden in the undergrowth.

Then I found myself down in the Gladwin Hide. Goldeneye had been seen here recently and, sure enough, a male and a female were duly spotted. The female was directly in front of the Hide, but just a bit too far for a photo, while the male was out to the left, in amongst a dozen or more Great Crested Grebes. I could also see at least 5 species of Gull dotted around the area. Then a Grey Heron flew past, from right to left and landed about 50 meters away. It was soon joined by a second. They immediately went into hunt mode, freezing like statues.

As the Goldeneyes were spending most of their time underwater I sat and watched the interaction between all the Gulls. They were mostly BHGs but there were a few Common; Herring and LBBGs in amongst them. But they were all dwarfed by a large GBBG, who floated serenely on the water,
lording it over everyone else. There was also quite a din, mainly by the BHGs.

I decided to head over to the James Hide to see if the Kingfisher would show up and pose for me again. This time, unfortunately not. I noticed that the top tier was still cordoned off. There was 1 other guy in the bottom tier already. He said that the KF had appeared about 15 minutes earlier, so I sat down and waited, in vain as it turned out.

In the meantime I was entertained by the lots of birds on the, now refilled, feeders. Lots of Tits and Finches flew back and forth, all looking around them nervously as they quickly gorged on the seeds. There were occasional visits by LTTs and Dunnocks and then a few Reed Buntings came a-calling.

Then I noticed a movement below the feeders. At first I thought it might be a Moorhen creeping up, maybe even Phil the Pheasant. But no, it was a little Bank Vole, scurrying about. Then, to my delight, a second one appeared. They looked as if they had two speeds, 100mph or dead-stop. They would venture out in to the open, hoover up some fallen seeds and, at the slightest sound, they would hightail it back in to cover.

It was quite amusing to watch and I took dozen of photos, most of which were just brown blurs. Another guy then walked in and the three of us watched all the activity. One of the guys suggested that they were brown rats, maybe even Dormice. But the tails weren't long enough for rats and they were a darker colour. No, I confidently said, they were Bank Voles. But I still checked the books when I got home.

A little later a Water Rail appeared to our left, on the reed edges. It started taking a bath, having a wash and brush up. Unfortunately, it was behind too many reeds to get a focus on, so I just relaxed and watched it. Then a second one appeared, nearer to us. But it didn't stay out in the open for very long and, indeed, flew up and across the pond to the other side, before disappearing in to the reedbeds.

The first Water Rail finished its' ablutions and started to creep towards us. But, just before it got close enough for a photo, a pair of Coot scared away. It too, flew up and across the pond, landing near to where the other had vanished.

It was obvious that the KF wasn't going to appear, so I headed off round to the White Hide. On the way there I spotted a Kestrel perched up on a branch. It saw me but completely ignored me and carried on looking around for potential prey. There were two tasty morsels outside the James Hide, I thought.

When I sat down in the White Hide and looked out I couldn't see anything else that hadn't been seen earlier, from the Watchpoint. Lunch.

I then decided to take a slow walk down to the entrance to the Dragonfly Trail, where I knew there would be some more feeders up. Sure enough, I saw three feeders hanging down and they were doing a roaring trade. Mostly Goldfinches, but with a fair sprinkling of Blues; Greats; Chaffs and a single
Coat Tit. I thought I spotted a Marsh Tit as well, but I couldn't be certain. Below them were about half-a-dozen Pheasants and another half-a-dozen Magpies, all hopping around cleaning up the spillage.

There were also quite a few birds flying around to the sides and behind me, including several Redwings and a couple of Song Thrushes. On the walk back I bumped into another familiar face and we chatted for several minutes, swapping sightings.

The path to enlightenment?
I eventually headed back to the James Hide for half-an-hour. Again there was nothing new to see and so I finished up back at the Watchpoint. There were several people here by now, presumably the evening shift. I guessed they were waiting for the rare Gulls that had been seen here recently,
Yellow-legged and Caspian among them. Just before I left a Kingfisher perched up on the opposite side of the lake.

But it was getting dark and I was starting to feel a little chilly so I decided to head for home. Winter always has the inconvenient problem of shorter days now.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Amwell Nature Reserve - 4th November 14

Weather: Sunny blue skies early on, clouding over later. Slight wind.

Birds Total: 46
Plus: Common Darter Dragonfly.

It was a very quiet day today. A bit of 'after the Lord Mayor's show' kind of day, especially after last week's visit.

Although the temperature had dropped around 10 degrees from last week, it was still quite sunny and especially warm when walking around.

The journey down provided 3 Grey Herons, including Harry in his usual spot. The area around him was again quite flooded. I wondered what would happen if we get the rains of last year. The walk up to the Reserve gave me a Green Woodpecker flypast, with lots of Dunnocks chattering away. Strangely, there were no geese or ducks to greet me this time.

Canal View
There were again a few familiar faces at the Watchpoint when I arrived and, with not too much to see out over the lake, we started putting the world to rights. It was an enjoyable 35 minutes or so. It had to be, there were few birds to see. The ones that did make an appearance, apart from the usual suspects, were a lone Green Sandpiper on the opposite bank; around 5 or 6 Grey Herons dotted around the area; a pair of Little Egrets; several Great Crested Grebes; a couple of Jays and a lone Buzzard high over the treeline.

Great Hardmead Lake from the White Hide
I walked down to the Gladwin to see if the Stonechats were still around. They weren't. As I opened up the slats I scared away a Grey Heron and a Little Egret. Another Little Egret flew in, making 4 seen today. There were also more Herons. A few Pochard were out front, while some Wigeon were out to the right. Lots of various Gulls were milling around. Then a Kingfisher flashed past on the right, zooming across the lake, disappearing through the trees. Another pair of Jays flew past here, while a pair of female Pheasants wandered idly past the Hide. Later on, just before I left, a female Reed Bunting flew in.

As I walked back up the trail I could hear Jackdaws flying over and some Ring-necked Parakeets screeching out. One of only two Common Darters seen today perched up in front of me. A quick look from the Watchpoint again gave me a close view of a Kestrel hunting along the trail.

The James Hide was quiet today, although it did give me a few more views of a Kingfisher, landing on at least one occasion. There were 3 Buzzards in the sky, some being mobbed by Crows. 3 more Reed Buntings arrived and flew around the reedbeds, chasing each other. A Water Rail squealed out its' presence. Then Ron arrived and sat down next to me. With nothing much about we decided to head around to the White Hide.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much to see from there either. So, in desperation for something to photograph, I began taking shots of the many Geese out over the lake. I decided to leave Ron to it and walked back to the James Hide.

Here I heard another Water Rail, then spotted it moving through the reeds. Cetti's Warblers could be heard then the Kingfisher made yet another appearance.

But it was starting get dark now and colder, so I decided to head back to the Watchpoint for another quick look before heading home.

A quiet day, but enjoyable in the sunshine nonetheless. Winter is the forecast to arrive soon.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Rye Meads - 31st October 14

Weather: Warm and sunny all day. Slight cloud.

Birds Total: 42
Plus: Peacock butterfly.
Plus: Common Darter, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: Ladybirds; Bees; Crane Fly; Flesh Fly; Grey Squirrel; Hoverfly; Midges; Spiders; Water Vole.

The last day of October and the temperature reached over 20 degrees. The warmest Halloween Day on record. And the wildlife reflected it by the appearance of bees and hoverflies amongst others. Although the forecast from now on is for a vastly cooler climate.

I spotted a perched Kestrel from the train on the way down, with over a hundred Canada Geese lined along the adjacent fields.

I arrived at the visitor center to find that they had a raft of Halloween events for the children today. I was asked if I would like my face painted. I politely declined.

At 'Water Vole Corner' looking out over the HMWT field 4 Common Snipe flew up and away; a Kingfisher flashed past, as they do; a lone Pied Wagtail also flew over as did about 200 Starlings. No sign of Ratty though.

Just before I reached the Draper Hide a couple of Goldfinches flew over and I could also hear several Cetti's Warblers around the area.

I then spent a very nice 45 minutes or so in the Hide. Amongst all the usual suspects out on the lagoon I spotted a Water Rail; a Jay and a Green Sandpiper out to the left by the Kingfisher Bank. Bearing right from there I could see around half-a-dozen Common Snipe; lots of Teal; a few Shoveler; 3 Wigeon; a pair of Little Grebes; at least 5 Stock Doves; a pair of Pied Wagtails while a lone Grey Heron flew in, disturbing the peace and quiet. In total I saw 3 Green Sandpipers out there. A Harlequin Ladybird flew in and landed just in front of me. Lastly, a Song Thrush flew past from right to left.

Out over the Gadwall lagoon about 200+ Lapwing suddenly flew up and around. As I moved up the trail a Green Woodpecker called out. Common Darter dragonflies were still about, basking on the trails. Up above, there were still loads and loads of Starlings flying about. A mini-murmuration? Or just a mur?

I then visited the twin hides. There were only the usual suspects from the Tern Hide plus a couple of Wigeon. But from the Gadwall Hide I could see all the Lapwing; 30+ Common Snipe; a Green Sandpiper, which ventured in quite close and a Grey Wagtail. There were quite a few Teal and Shoveler plus a few more Wigeon.

I paid a quick call into the Kingfisher Hide but, as to be expected at this time of year, nothing much was about, other than pairs of Coot and Gadwall. There was also a 12-spot ladybird which had also flown in and land near me.

Being Half-Term there were quite a few families about plus lots of others taking advantage of the great weather. The plus side of this Reserve is that there were no dog-walkers; joggers or cyclists about.

On the walk down to the Warbler Hide I spotted a Green Woodpecker on the trail, just behind a Grey Squirrel. And behind that was 3 hen Pheasants. All disappeared when they spotted me.

From the Hide itself, not a great deal could be seen. Just Gulls flying around. I did notice more ladybirds. In fact, lots of them. All crammed in together, trying to hibernate. At first I thought they were different species but I think nearly all were Harlequins. They soon dispersed after I opened up the window.

With nothing else on show I made my way back to the Gadwall Hide where, at last, a few birds ventured in close for some photos. First up was a Grey Heron, sat atop one of the goalposts. Then a Grey Wagtail flew in and landed just in front of the Hide and immediately began foraging around. It moved off when a Green Sandpiper moved in. Then, just as I was about to leave a Kingfisher flew in and landed on the posts in front and began fishing. He sat on the nearest post to us, in the sunshine. That was when my camera battery gave out. I quickly replaced it and carried on snapping away. It was an excellent 30-minute show by all of them.

I headed back to the Draper Hide for a quick look. On the way I bumped into a friend who had just come down from Amwell. He had managed to spot the Yellow-browed Warbler there. I was quite surprised that one was still about.

In the Hide I found quite a few people. By this time of the day the sun was shining down on the lagoon at an angle, giving off some lovely light. So I took advantage by snapping away at some of the ducks.

I headed back to 'Water Vole Corner' to have one more go at Ratty. After about 10 minutes one showed right in front of me. A brilliant end to a brilliant day.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Amwell Nature Reserve - 28th October 14

Weather: Warm, sunny skies all day. Slight wind.

Birds Total: 48
Plus: Common Darter, Migrant Hawker Dragonflies.

A few run-ins with some really stupid people on the way down to the Reserve today put me in a not-so-good mood. That and seeing nothing on the way there gave me a feeling that I should have stayed in bed today.

But it was another fine, warm, sunny day and it would have been foolish not to be out in it. Looking up at the brilliant, blue sky, I could see contrails criss-crossing above me, looking like white scars on a blue background. In fact, I was already quite hot by the time I got to the Watchpoint. 20 degrees at the end of October? Amazing.

There were a couple of people at the Watchpoint when I arrived. Looking out only elicited views of a few Lapwing and a couple of Grey Heron. There were, of course, all the usual suspects, notably Great Crested Grebe; Wigeon; Shoveler and Teal. Plus lots of Coot and Gulls. But it wasn't looking like it would be anything other than an average day out.

I had been hearing Dunnocks on several occasions but hadn't seen one for ages. That changed when one hopped up onto the fence-line beside me and chirped away happily, albeit keeping a wary eye on me.

Then, out to the left, high in the sky, I could see a Buzzard being mobbed by around half-a-dozen Crows. It escaped them by diving down to the trees. This was followed by a large flock of noisy Greylag Geese flying in, from left to right, whiffling to lose height and splash-landing not too far in front of the Gladwin Hide. They, in turn, were followed by a couple of small groups of Canada Geese. At the same time as this, I heard, then spotted, a Kingfisher flash past directly in front of us.

I was soon walking down to the Gladwin Hide to try and spot the Stonechats again. Initially I could only see lots of various Gull species out front, surrounded by the Geese, looking for all intents and purposes, like a ringed wagon-train encircled by indians.

Dotted around elsewhere were the usual suspects again, GCGs; Shoveler; Wigeon and Coot. But, additionally, there was a Little Egret on the far shore. But then, a female Stonechat flew into view and landed on a reed out to the left. She was soon joined by her partner and, together, they flitted around the area. These two were joined by a Pied Wagtail and then a Grey Wagtail. Soon, all 4 of them were interacting, with the Pied being especially upset by the Grey and chased it off a few times. A Reed Bunting then also flew in and joined in the party. I hadn't seen a Reed Bunting for ages. It was all great stuff to watch.

On the walk back I disturbed several Common Darter dragons, which were still about, trying to soak up the warm sunshine. Back at the Watchpoint I could see a Green Sandpiper on the far side of the lake.

The Reserve was looking really good at the moment, with its' autumnal colours splashed everywhere. The ground was covered in leaves which, although good to look at, make a fair bit of noise. Not good when you are trying to creep up on an unsuspecting bird.

A very inquisitive Caddis Fly
I reached the James Hide to find that the upper tier had been vandalised and was closed, so I entered the lower tier, to find 3 other guys already in situ. There were more Common Darters out front, while another Kingfisher flashed past, from right to left. A Water Rail briefly squealed out but it didn't show itself.

Soon after the other guys all left me to it. I was about to head off myself when suddenly, looking out towards the White Hide, a Bittern took off, flew for about 5 seconds and landed back down, nearer to the White Hide area. I was a little surprised to see one this early in the season. But then my memory started playing tricks with me, as soon after a hen Pheasant also took off in the same area and flew the other way. I was still pretty sure the first bird was a Bittern as the jizz between the two were totally different.

I decided to pack up and head over to the White Hide to try and see it from that angle. Five minutes later I was sat in the Hide looking back across to the James Hide. Fortunately or not, there wasn't much else to see from the Hide and so I concentrated on the same area. I had lunch while I waited.

Then, after about 30 minutes, the Bittern took off again and flew back towards the James Hide, landing back in the reeds. It was airborne long enough to get my Bins on it and so I could confirm that it was, indeed, a Bittern. I was delighted. I headed off back to the James Hide.

After only about 20 minutes in the James it showed itself again. About 15 feet away, to the left, by the corner of a reed-bed, I spotted a lone reed bend downward and it wasn't because of the wind. I raised my Bins and spotted the Bittern's reflection in the water. Then it poked its' head and neck out. I put the Bins down and picked up the camera, only to find that the bird had moved back into the reeds.

About a minute later another Birder walked in. I appraised him of the situation and hoped that I could get a witness, thereby proving that I had seen it. But, as always, the bird had stopped playing ball and I didn't see it again for the rest of the day. The Birder wandered off and was replaced with my friend, Ron. We sat there for an hour or more but it didn't reappear.

The only birds of note were another flash past of a Kingfisher while we heard a Green Woodpecker and a Cetti's Warbler sound off. Then a Grey Heron flew in and landed on the post directly opposite the Hide.

The sun eventually started to disappear and so I reluctantly headed back to the Watchpoint, where I found a few of the usual crowd. I let them know about the Bittern, but, without anyone else confirming the sighting, I wasn't sure if anyone would believe me. Out over the lake a second Little Egret had appeared.

I headed off home and, while walking along the canal towards the station, I spotted an odd sight. A Canada Goose was biting the neck of a Mallard, nape nibbling, which was swimming around in circles trying to escape. But the Goose had a tight, firm hold and didn't look like it was about to let it go anytime soon. Neither of the birds was making a sound and there were two other Mallards nearby, like me, watching the action. I would have liked to have stayed a little longer to see what happened but the train beckoned.

Despite the downbeat start to the day it became a memorable visit. A hot October day and a Bittern!