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.