Friday, 31 January 2014

Wildlife Round-up of 2013 - Part Two


Banded Demoiselle - female
Banded Demoiselle - male
The hot weather continued to delight in July with high pressure established over much of the UK, giving us lots of sunshine. We soon had lots of youngsters running around with Great Crested Grebes the stars, mainly around the Fishers Green area. Treecreepers; Great Spotted Woodpeckers; Waders and Warblers were being seen on several occasions, with Siskin making its last appearance of the year, at Amwell. But the emphasis now was turning to wildlife other than birds, with more and more species of butterfly appearing. These included Gatekeeper; Meadow Brown; Ringlet; Six-spot Burnet and Small Skipper. This was also a great month for dragons and damsels with great close-up views of Banded Demoiselle. Brown and Southern Hawkers also showed up as did the first Darters, Common and Ruddy, the latter towards the end of the month. Ladybirds were still not out in any numbers yet, but Bombardier Beetle appeared, as did Green Lacewing; Green Shield Bug and Longhorn Beetle.

Emerald Damselfly
Water Vole
It was still warm and sunny in August, with the first day of the month the hottest so far but clouds started to make their presence known more often towards the end of the month, giving us a torrential downpour on the 24th. Little Egret was still showing quite well as they had done all year, this time half-a-dozen pairs had produced young at Amwell. It was quiet on the raptor front this month, with the RM Marsh Harrier finally leaving. The Oystercatchers made their last appearance as well. Another visit to Rainham Marsh this month brought in Linnet; Bearded Tit; Whimbrel and Greenshank. The latter also appeared for a week or so at RM, which also gave me 4 or 5 Black-tailed Godwit. The second Kingfisher brood fledged but a third attempt failed, as it did last year. Willow Warbler and Barnacle Goose were seen at Amwell. This month brought more, excellent, sightings of Water Voles at both RM and Rainham, where, amazingly, another Stoat appeared. The butterfly list improved with sightings of Brown Argus; Cinnabar; Jersey Tiger moth; Mother-of-Pearl moth; Painted Lady; Poplar Hawk moth (twice); Silver Y moth and Small Copper. Banded Demoiselles continued to thrill while I spotted my first ever Emerald damselfly, at Amwell. The first Small Red-eyed Damselfly of the season was spotted at Rainham. The first of many Migrant Hawker sightings were seen this month and again gave great photo opportunities, as they did last year. The Darters were becoming more and more common. A Hornet's nest had appeared on the trail between the James and White Hides in Amwell and delighted, if not scared, many visitors. Rainham's visit gave me Meadow Grasshopper, while a Musk Beetle was seen from the Grebe Hide in Fishers Green. Blackberries started to appear, soon followed by blackberry pickers.

Pectoral Sandpipers at Titchwell
Redshank at Snettisham
The sun started to struggle to keep me warm in September after the first few days and clouds and overcast skies started to dominate, giving a distinctly autumnal feel. This month I paid my annual pilgrimage to north Norfolk where over 70 species were seen with the star birds being Marsh Harrier; Pink-footed Geese; Little Stint; Spotted Redshank; Wilson's Pharalope; Pectoral Sandpiper and Curlew Sandpiper. There were spectacular flypasts of Knot and Redshank at Snettisham. Back home the last of the Common Terns had gone early in the month while the hirundines had flown south a while ago. My final visit to Rainham this year gave views of Greenshank; Green Sandpiper and Snipe. A Mink appeared outside the Bittern Hide at Fishers Green several times. The last sighting of a Banded Demoiselle was seen at the beginning of the month; there was another Emerald sighting at Amwell again but the writing was on the wall for the damsels this month, as they all gradually disappeared. Brown and Migrant Hawkers; Common and Ruddy Darters were the last odonata on the wing. Rainham gave me Chrysolina banksi Beetle; Field Grasshopper; Four-spot Orb-weaver spider; Long-winged Conehead and Wasp Spider. Elsewhere Dock Bug and Forest Bug were seen.

Mixed, unsettled weather was the theme for the last quarter, mainly cloud but the sun was making a last ditch effort to hang around, especially in October. November brought the first frost. December was notable for heavy, damaging storms, and being the windiest December on record. The last quarter of the year saw bird totals down, with expert opinion deciding that the milder weather and plentiful food was keeping migration back. The Winter wildfowl were starting to turn up with Goldeneye; Smew and Pintail all showing well. Redwing; Snipe and Water Rail were being seen on regular occasions. The last butterfly of the year, a lone Red Admiral, was seen mid-November. The last damselfly was seen in mid-October, a Common Blue, whilst the last dragonflies were the Common Darter and the Migrant Hawker, last seen mid-November. The only other insect to add to the list was a sighting of a Parasitic Wasp seen in the James Hide in Amwell.
Poplar Hawk Moth

Nagging - not just a human thing!
Visits elsewhere this year were to London Zoo and the Butterfly World near St. Albans.

The commonest bird of the year was the Magpie, inevitably, appearing on all 81 visits. The commonest Mammal was again inevitably, the Rabbit, seen 37 times. Commonest Butterflies were the Comma; Large White and the Peacock with 27 sightings. The commonest Damselfly was the Common Blue making 28 appearances with the Brown Hawker dragonfly being seen 22 times. The common Bee was the most seen insect.

So, all in all, a very good year. Roll on 2014.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Wildlife Round-up of 2013 - Part One

The weather played a large part this year, bringing heavy snow early on again, followed by almost constant rain over the next few months, prompting fears of more flooding around the country. Spring was almost a complete washout with reports of many nesting failures. Butterflies and Ladybirds were also scarce early in the year and it was starting to look very bad for the UK's wildlife. But, just as everyone feared another terrible, failed BBQ summer, the sun arrived in June and stayed with us until early Autumn, one of our hottest summers for quite some time. Thereafter, storm clouds appeared causing chaos around the area and, while the snow kept off at the end of the year, rain returned, washing out many potential outings.

Great Hardmead Lake at Amwell
The birding year was, overall, very good, beginning brilliantly in January with several, great, sightings of Bittern in the first few months across several sites. Although the weather in January started out mild it ended much colder, bringing snow. The snow was good for spotting, of course, forcing the birds out into the open to forage. Lakes froze over, snow seemed to be a constant companion and then rain seemed to want to deny the Water companies their annual hose-pipe ban call. The snow also brought low temperatures with it and lots of layers were needed to keep from freezing over myself. A juvenile Scaup had showed up at Amwell late in 2012 and eventually stayed for nearly 3 months. Goldeneye were also seen at Amwell with Smew and Goosander turning up at Fishers Green. Of the Waders, Green Sandpiper made an early appearance at Rye Meads while Snipe appeared several times. In amongst all the Gulls at Amwell was a Caspian Gull, whilst Fieldfare; Siskin and Marsh Tit showed well. Goldcrest appeared at Fishers Green and were seen quite a few times at the same place, just along from the Bittern Hide. The first mammals of the year were Fox; Grey Squirrel and Muntjac.

Marsh Tit
February brought unsettled weather early on, then it turned colder again. The Bittern was seen a further 3 times this month, including an appearance down in WWT Barnes. I only managed 2 visits to Barnes this year and have consequently relinquished my membership. But I did join the Herts & Middx Wildlife Trust. All the usual wildfowl were about. Wigeon; Shoveler; Teal and Pochard among them but a nice addition was a drake Pintail at Fishers Green. Smew turned up at Amwell, as did the first Oystercatcher of the year early in the month. They were followed by a pair of female Bearded Tits, the same ones that had appeared in Regents Park earlier. In fact, they had been ringed last year at Rye Meads.

March turned out to be one of the coldest on record, especially towards the end of the month. But I was able to add Shelduck to my growing list. Another Pintail turned up at Amwell as did a wonderful drake Red-crested Pochard. Lots of Goldeneye were still in evidence whilst the last Smew sighting was seen early on at Fishers Green. Further sightings of Goosander were seen here too. The first Little Ringed Plover flew in to the Hall Marsh Scrape, while the first Redshank and a Yellow-legged Gull appeared at Amwell. A surprise visitor to Amwell this month was an early showing of a couple of Sand Martins. The well-travelled female Beardies then showed up at Fishers Green.

Middle-spotted Woodpecker
Birding in Estonia
April arrived and duly brought showers with it, although thankfully it turned a little milder. It also brought with it further sightings of Bittern, the last one being seen in the first week of the month. This was also the month I paid a visit to Estonia. It was initially to watch the Spring migration, but the snow was even worse there than at home. Consequently the migration was put on hold and, instead of seeing around 10,000 geese flying in, all we saw were a pair of Greylags. The upside to this was that the birds we would have missed were still around. And, for me, the star bird was a first sighting of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. In fact, we spotted 7 species of Woodpecker as well as our target bird, the Steller's Eider. Elsewhere this month I finally managed to photograph my first Cetti's Warbler; Nightingale and Jack Snipe. The star mammal this month and probably the year, was a sighting of a Stoat from the James Hide at Amwell late in the month. A lone Small Tortoiseshell was the first butterfly of the year, also at Amwell. This was followed by sightings of Brimstone; Comma; Common Blue; Holly Blue; Orange Tip and Peacock at various sites.

Cetti's Warbler
May saw the first of several visits to Rainham Marsh, on this occasion the highlights were Hobby; Kestrel; Little Ringed Plover; Whimbrel; Redshank; Common Sandpiper; Skylark and Wheatear. Further visits were paid to Thurrock and Salisbury, where I saw about half-a-dozen Great Bustards. Whilst back in the Lee Valley, the month brought in Waders including Common Sandpiper; Ringed Plover; Little Ringed Plover and Dunlin. Common Terns started to arrive this month, as did Swifts; Swallows and Martins. There were also 4 sightings of Cuckoo. Warblers also started to appear, with Reed and Sedge the vanguard being escorted by Whitethroat; Lesser Whitethroat; Garden Warbler; Blackcap and Chiffchaff. Although the cool theme continued there was finally some pleasant Spring sunshine but
temperatures remained generally below average with some notably cold days. But breeding was already in full swing, with many birds flying to and fro feeding young. Grass Snakes and Marsh Frogs started to appear at Rainham. This month saw the first damselfly, a Large Red, appear early in the month at Amwell and for the first time I witnessed a larvae emergence. But there were no other sightings until towards the end of the month with Azure; Banded Demoiselle; Blue-tailed and Common Blue arriving. I also started to concentrate on insects this month. Cardinal Beetle; Mayfly; Scorpion and Soldier Beetle and St. Mark's Fly were the first to be seen. May, of course, also brought us fields of Bluebells, while the first Orchids were seen, Common Spotted; Early Purple and Southern Marsh among them.

June brought the first of the fine weather and with it the star raptor of the year which was a juvenile female Marsh Harrier showing up at Rye Meads and staying for the rest of the summer. Red Kite made a few appearances too. Hobby had returned and were being seen regularly, swooping down on unfortunate dragons. A pair of Oystercatchers turned up at Amwell and produced 3 chicks. Little Ringed Plover also had young here and were seen at Rye Meads as well. Redshank started to appear regularly and later on a few pairs also produced chicks. Common Terns were everywhere by now and were vying with the noisy Black-headed Gulls for the best nesting areas. The resident pair of Kingfishers at Rye Meads had turned up and early June brought the first opportunity to witness a fledging. Rye Meads was having a good month as a Grasshopper Warbler also appeared, with its very distinctive call. Water Voles were starting to show here for the first time. Butterflies new to the list this month were Large White; Red Admiral; Small China Mark moth; Small White and Speckled Wood. Red-eyed Damsels were also added to the list this month, seen at Amwell, whilst the first dragonflies were now out and about - Black-tailed Skimmer; Broad-bodied Chaser; Emperor; Four-spotted Chaser and Hairy all appearing. Insects this month included Ladybirds; Caddis Fly; the first Cuckoo Spit (Froghopper larvae); Dark Bush Crickets; Dock Bugs; Green Tortoise Beetle; the last of the Mayflies; Crab Spider; Spotted Crane Fly and Thick-kneed Flower Beetle.

Marsh Frog

Part Two to follow......

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Rye Meads - 10th January 14

Weather: Sunny, blue skies. Very cold.

Birds Total: 38
Plus: Grey Squirrel

I noticed that the flooding had finally started to recede on the journey down, although that meant that there weren't too many birds about. The Grey Heron was still around. Exiting the train I immediately heard lots of House Sparrows and a lone Song Thrush.

It was another lovely, sunny day again but it was noticeably colder than of late. Unpacking my gear, as usual, by the feeders just outside the visitor centre, I could see 3 Pheasants, two of them female and a female Mallard, sweeping up the spillage made by the various Tits and Finches above.

Looking out over the HMWT meadow I could see Gulls and various wildfowl, including Shoveler and Teal. About a dozen Canada Geese took flight just as I looked out. But the most notable thing was that the meadow was very flooded. I scanned the meadow and could see a Grey Heron on one of the goal-posts and then I spotted a raptor sitting on a post at the back. At first it was too far away to positively ID it but another guy happened along and eventually we decided that the jizz made it a Buzzard.

Just before I reached the Draper Hide I scanned the trees around me and spotted a lone Fieldfare. Looking out from the Hide I could see that the area was now completely flooded, with all the little islands under water. And there wasn't much out there to see, mainly ducks and Coot. But there was also a Jay out to the right, the first of quite a few sightings today; a lone Common Snipe out to the left; a Stock Dove sitting on one of the owl boxes and a Grey Heron. A Cetti's Warbler could be heard in the distance. Then one of the staff, Vicki, came in and stated that she was about to lower the water level, explaining all the whys and wherefores.

Passing the first lagoon I could see a few Pochard in amongst the usual birds. I bypassed the Ashby Hide and proceeded straight to the twin hides. Looking out from the Gadwall Hide I could see 5 Common Snipe out to the right; a pair of Shelduck; several Teal and Shoveler; a Pied Wagtail; another Grey Heron; about half-a-dozen Starlings flying back and forth from the pylon and well over 400 Lapwing plus all the usual Coots and Mutes; Gulls and Gadwall.

I moved onto the Tern Hide but, apart from all the Gulls; Coots and Tufties I could only spot a lone Little Grebe, so I quickly moved on down the trail towards the Kingfisher Hide.

Beautiful Plumage!
 Just before I arrived a Jay flew overhead. Outside the Hide all was quiet, apart from the resident pair of Coot. Whilst waiting for something to turn up I could see all the Lapwing go up in the distance. Then another Jay appeared beside the Kingfisher nesting area.

A few people came and went. Actually, I only saw about a dozen people in the Reserve all day and most of them were towards the end of the day. On the trail down to the Warbler Hide I heard, then saw a pair of GSWs then I could see a Buzzard circling high in the sky. I wondered if it was the same one I saw in the Meadow earlier?

There wasn't much outside the Warbler Hide either, just a pair of Mallards and another vocal Cetti's Warbler, somewhere in the reeds in front. I broke for lunch.

On the return journey I could hear the familiar laugh of a Green Woodpecker. Back in the Gadwall Hide I was just in time to see all the Lapwing go up. In fact they went up several times over the next 15 minutes, scared up by an invisible raptor. All the time I was in the Hide there was a lone Canada Goose right in front with a very noticeable head twitch, every few seconds, something I haven't seen before. There wasn't much else to see other than a Green Woodpecker fly across in front of the Hide.

By now the rain clouds were starting to appear so I decided to call it day and head off. Just before I got back to the visitor centre a pair of Mute Swans were nesting down in amongst the newly cut trees, making for a picturesque photo.

A nice day out in the sunshine again even though I was beginning to feel the cold. Not many people about today and it was also noted that the Reserve had been worked on recently, with lots of trees cut down and reedbeds cut back around the Hides. Hopefully this will attract more Waders.

On the journey back I spotted a Little Egret in the same place as before, but the Grey Heron was conspicuous by its absence.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Amwell Nature Reserve - 8th January 14

Weather: Sunny, blue skies, clouding over a little later. Cold in the wind.

Birds Total: 52
Plus: Wasp; Grey Squirrel; Konik Pony.

We were given another window of good weather in between rain squalls today, so I decided to head out to Amwell in another search for Bittern. At least one had been seen here in the last few weeks so I was fairly optimistic.

As the forecast was for sunny weather early on, clouding over later I decided to get an early train. A GSW sang out his farewell while I was on the platform and on the train I spotted Squadrons of Canada Geese flying overhead, a wonderful sight. A Grey Heron was balancing on a tree overlooking the water below. Recent rains had kept the water levels high around here and the ground was saturated. Long term forecasts are for more rain. At least it'll keep the ducks happy.

On the trail down to the Reserve lots of House Sparrows chattered away in the hedges, while a Wren skipped away in between the branches. Then I heard a Song Thrush singing away high in the trees, although I couldn't place it. A large tree had been blown over, probably from the recent storms and was nearly blocking the path. An attempt had been made to cut some of the branches, to clear a way through.

Surprisingly there was only one person at the viewing point when I arrived and he soon wandered off. Scanning the area I first heard a Cetti's Warbler and could see around 7 GCGs; 90-odd Lapwing; 3 Grey Herons; agressive Mute Swans; a couple of dozen Wigeon; lots of Shoveler; even more Gadwall and Tufted Duck; a lone Snipe in the reedbed in front of me and loads of Gulls. I noticed that the water levels out on Great Hardmead Lake were quite high as well, with most of the islands now under water.

One of the Mute Swans obviously decided it had had enough agression and noisily took off, circled round, flew right over me and headed north. Then I heard and saw a shrieking male Pheasant.

A few familiar faces then turned up and brought a few more birds with them. A pair of Buzzards could be seen high up over the distant treeline, while one of the guys spotted a redhead Smew in the distance through his scope. Then I heard a Jackdaw chacking overhead.

The sun was still shining behind us and so I decided to head down to the Gladwin Hide, to see if I could get a closer view of the Smew. After a few minutes scanning I spotted it in amongst 2 pairs of Goldeneye. A 5th Goldeneye turned up soon after. They were the only new birds on show.

Just outside the Hide and pair of LTTs flew by, only stopping briefly to inspect me. I headed off to the James Hide, briefly sitting upstairs then deciding to sit downstairs to try some close-ups of the birds on the feeders. I could hear the distinctive call of a Buzzard and, looking up over the treeline again, I could now see 7 of them, all circling.

I then concentrated on the feeders. 3 female Reed Buntings were ignoring me and stocking up. Greats and Blueys were flying in and out and then about 8 or 9 LTTs flew in, mainly concentrating on the fatball. Intriguingly a wasp joined them. Then I spotted a little Bank Vole tentatively darting out and snatching one of the fallen seeds, before darting back and consuming it. It repeated this several times, each time venturing out a little further than before. 3 Robins then flew in and proceeded to chase each other around the feeders. A Wren and 3 male Reed Buntings also joined in the party.

After about an hour or so I decided to head over to the White Hide. Walking past the Bittern Pool on the left I noticed 4 people on the main trail looking intently across the lake. It could only be one thing! I hurried back onto the main trail and walking quickly up to them I soon found out that they had indeed spotted a Bittern. It was seen in amongst the reeds opposite us and, despite being quite a large bird, it was difficult to spot. After about 5 minutes it walked into view and gave us a 20 minute display. After the disappointment last week at Fishers Green I was elated to finally see one this season. All too soon it disappeared back into the reeds and so I decided to head back and have lunch in the White Hide.

The only other new birds out on the lake were a lone Little Egret; 4 Teal; a few Pochard and a squealing Water Rail. I noticed a lone female Gadwall being chased by several males, prompting me to think that the mating season is starting. After lunch I walked back to the main trail, seeing a GSW fly over.

I then found myself looking out over the Dragonfly Trail feeders and could see about 6 Goldfinch and lots of Blues and Greats. I spent about an hour here and the list grew, seeing 6 Pheasant; a lone Redwing; a pair of GSWs; a lone Coal Tit; dozens of Chaffinch; a lone Collared Dove; 2 Greenfinches; a Green Woodpecker and a Jay.

On the way back to the viewing point a Grey Squirrel was sat on a tree, looking quite comfortable, although warily looking at me as I walked past. Yet another GSW then flew past.

I spent another 15 minutes or so in the James then another 20 minutes at the viewing point but the light was going and I decided to head for home. There were lots of people about, mainly birders but I noticed quite a few joggers on the trails, no doubt the result of a few New Year resolutions. I wonder how long that will last? Lots of dog-walkers were also out in some number.

On the return journey I spotted quite possibly the same Grey Heron, seemingly on the same branch this morning and he had been joined by a Little Egret.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 2nd January 14

Weather: Clear, blue skies. Quite cold with a stiff breeze.

Bird Total: 37
Plus: Muntjac.

The rain finally stopped and gave us clear skies, albeit a trifle cold. So I set off for my first trip of 2014. Fishers Green was next on the list and I was eager to try and spot my first Bittern of the year.

But, despite spending over 4 hours in the Bittern Hide, I was to be disappointed. On my 2nd visit of the day I had just missed it by about 20 minutes.

Earlier I had decided, because of the recent heavy rain and the high water levels, to bypass a visit to the Hall Marsh Scrape as it probably wouldn't be much of a scrape and so headed straight for the Bittern Hide. On the way there I heard a lone Cetti's Warbler singing out.

On the train down I noticed that all the rivers and lagoons had flooded the adjacent fields, most of which were populated by Gulls and Ducks, as well as around half-a-dozen Grey Herons. Any more of this and it will affect the trains themselves.

I also spotted a few GCGs on the way to the Hide, all of which were in their winter plumage. When I arrived at the Hide I found quite a few people already there but managed to squeeze into a place. I sat here for about 2 hours and, although I didn't see any Bittern, I did see a couple of Water Rails; a distant pair of Little Grebe; another couple of Grey Herons; a dozen or so Lapwing; lots of Cormorants, some drying their wings; the usual horde of Mutes and Coots; a couple of Shoveler; another GCG, which swam up close to the Hide, before darting away as soon as we lined up our cameras on it; an LBBG catching and devouring a Crayfish with a Carrion Crow snatching away one of its legs and on the Feeders there were the usual Greats and Blues, Chaffinches and a Wren. A few LTTs also flew by, via a quick stop at the feeders.

But after 2 hours of sitting facing the sun and a biting wind coming in from the lake I decided that if a Bittern was around it wasn't in the immediate vicinity. So I headed off to the Grebe Hide, if only to get the blood circulating. On the way a friendly Robin, probably looking for a handout, posed for me. There were also a few more Little Grebes along the canal. I had a quick look over the canal to the small lagoon opposite and spotted a lone Wigeon and 3 Teal. Just past Holyfield Weir, which only yielded another Little Grebe, a couple of woodcutters were hard at work, making a awful racket, making me move quickly on.

Just before I arrived at the Grebe Hide I spotted 4 or 5 more GCGs, looking very successful at fishing. There were quite a lot of fishermen themselves about too and other people were also around the area, especially coming and going from the Hide and when I got there it was standing room only, but I again managed to squeeze myself into a seat.

From here I could see another 5 GCGs; 2 pairs of Goosanders, the first of the season; another first was a lone Fieldfare; loads of Tufties; half-a-dozen Wigeon; a few Shoveler and Pochard and loads more Coot. A couple of boats were out on the lake scaring away all the birds so I decided to head back to the Bittern Hide.

On the way back 22 Lapwing flew overhead. As I said earlier, I spent another couple of fruitless hours in the Hide, seeing much the same as before. Or not, as was the case. People were coming and going here too, all asking the same question - 'Seen a Bittern?'.

When the sun started to dip below the horizon I decided to call it a day and headed off. Just before I left the area I spooked a Muntjac close by, which bounded off in seconds.

Then I was messed about by the trains which took me an hour and a half to get home. And they had the cheek to put the fares up today!