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......