Monday, 26 May 2014

River Stort, Sawbridgeworth - 16th May 14

Weather: Warm and sunny early on, clouding over later

Birds Total: 30
Plus: Brimstone, Large White, Orange Tip, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies.
Plus: Banded Demoiselle.
Plus: 2-spot, 16-spot, and Harlequin Ladybird; Alderfly; Cardinal Beetle; Crane Fly; Flesh Fly; Green Nettle Weevil; Hoverflies; Mayfly; Solder Beetle; White-tailed Bumble Bee.

Due to various chores today, which took up most of the morning, I decided it was high time to re-visit my local patch. A walk along the River Stort towards Harlow Mill.

The weather was forecast for warmth, blue skies early on, clouding over later in the afternoon. And so it proved.

It's been a few years since I walked this route, the last time proving very fruitful for Banded Demoiselles. So I was hopeful of seeing some this time too. In fact, I made them my target species for today.

Although the route is not too well known for bird species I did in fact spot 30, with various Warblers being the stars. Butterflies were fairly numerous with Orange Tips being the most prolific.

Just before I stepped off the main road to walk down the trail I spotted a lovely Sedge Warbler atop a bush, singing away, despite all the traffic and pedestrians whizzing by. And at the start of the trail there were plenty of Ladybirds on show, with a few Swifts screaming by overhead.

Somewhere over the fields a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming his territorial boundaries. Chiffchaffs were busy singing away.

Narrow-boats were gliding serenely along the river and, as I was watching a particularly colourfully painted one go by, I nearly stepped in the remains of a dog's dinner. In fact, along this stretch, I found more and more evidence of dogs. And the whole area seemed to smell like a toilet.

There were lots of people about, taking advantage of the fine weather. Plenty of dog-walkers of course, cyclists and joggers, all enjoying the sun and scaring the wildlife. I had forgotten why I had stopped visiting this area.

But then, before I had gone half a mile, I came across my target species, the Demoiselles. A couple of males and a female were sitting, posing beside the river. They were very skittish, flying off as soon as I poked by macro lens at them. I had to change to a long lens to get any shots. Alderflies were also flitting around.

I spent about 20 minutes at this spot, but I was fighting a losing battle, what with a constant stream of people walking past. So I decided to move on.

I soon found more damsels further on. In fact, by the end of the walk, I must have seen nearly a hundred or so Banded Demoiselles. They were all basking in the sunshine, until it clouded over. I took quite a lot of photos, but unfortunately the sun was in the wrong position and most of the damsels were facing away from me. But I was just happy to see so many of them. I was encouraged to make a return visit before the season ended.

The Damsels weren't the only delight to see. I came across a Mayfly at the same time and eventually saw quite a few by the end. A couple of times I saw Damsels flying up and across the river, catching mainly midges, but a few Mayflies as well. They would return to the same perch and consume their prize.

I walked a little further, hoping to get the sun behind me. Along the way I started to see more and more birds, in an area fairly devoid of people.

Long-tailed Tits could be seen flying back and forth, along the river, into a bush, which was probably their nesting area. A Whitethroat announced its presence and then flew up onto a perch on a dead tree opposite. Blackcaps and Garden Warblers could be heard singing out.

I stopped at one of the Locks and sat down to take a break. While I was sitting there, waiting for the sun to reappear, a Kingfisher flashed by. Then I noticed behind me, above the bushes, several dozen Mayflies all performing their bouncing mating ritual.

I then spotted a couple of Damsels fly over towards them. I got up and crept closer. They wouldn't let me get anywhere near them, but I did notice lots of insects on the bushes. Cardinal and Solder Beetles, along with a Red-tipped Flower Beetle and a lovely Sawfly. I could hear a Green Woodpecker yaffling away.

By now the clouds were hiding the sun and it looked like I had seen the best of the weather today. Instead of continuing to the Mill and walking back down the other side, I decided to head back along the same route.

Every now and then the sun peeked out and I stopped to photograph more Demoiselles that presented themselves. And then I found myself back at the start.

It was a very nice, warm day out. I was delighted to see so much Damsel action, tempered by the amount of people. But I will make an effort to return.

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Kingfisher Fledging Day!

Rye Meads - 14th May 14

Weather: Mainly sunny with some cloud. Quite warm.

Birds Total: 43
Plus: Brimstone, Orange Tip, Peacock butterflies.
Plus: Black-tailed Skimmer, Hairy dragonfly.
Plus: Crab Spider; Flesh Fly; Hoverfly.
Plus: Carp; Grey Squirrel; Konik Ponies; Muntjac.
Plus: Bluebells.

I had previously decided to visit the Wetland Centre at Barnes today but on hearing that the Kingfishers were about to fledge at Rye Meads I changed my mind and headed there instead.

After days of rain and cloud today was forecast for warmth and sunshine, which, for once, proved to be the case. On the journey down I spotted a Jay; House Sparrows and lots of Blackbirds. Chiffchaffs were singing all around the area. A Grey Squirrel appeared and gave me a long, hard look before disappearing up a tree.

When I arrived at the Reserve, bang on 10am, I thought I would be one of the first to arrive. But I could see lots of cars already parked up and when I walked into the visitor centre they told me that the Reserve had been opening up at 9am since the beginning of the year! Doh!

I figured that the Kingfisher Hide would be packed by now so I stopped off at the Draper Hide to organise myself. Looking out over the lake I could see Common Tern; Lapwing; Pochard; Little Grebe and Stock Dove. Lots of Swift were criss-crossing the sky above.

I didn't hang around long having decided to head for the KF Hide and see if I could get in. On the way down lots of Warblers could be heard with Reed; Sedge; Chiffchaff and Cetti's being the most vocal. I spotted a silent Whitethroat flitting about on a tree and, just before the turn-off a Song Thrush flew over.

I arrived at the KF Hide to find just one more seat left, which was next to a couple of familiar faces. Thereafter, I spent the rest of the day sat watching out over the little lagoon, waiting for some KF action. Well, you have to spend at least one day a year watching a fledging.

I was treated to quite a show by the adult Kingfishers, flying in with fish and feeding two of the young which had fledged earlier and the rest who were still in the nest. Adults, fledglings and even the odd mating occurred throughout the day with the adult male landing close to the Hide, at least once, allowing an opportunity for some fairly decent photos.

Other than the KF show we were also treated to views of a pair of Kestrels appearing with food swaps; a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers; a Coot family swimming around feeding just in front of the Hide; a pair of Moorhens, one climbing along a branch; a lone male Blackcap feeding on the Blackthorn to our left; a Jay flyover and Wrens and Tits flying back and forth all day feeding youngsters.

Warblers sang out all day around the area and even a female Muntjac paid us a visit. A pair of Hairy Dragons appeared every time the sunshine came out and there was even an appearance by a juvenile Black-tailed Skimmer. A Carp was chased off by an adult Coot whenever it came close to the Cootlets. Was this a case of Carpe Diem?

As the day wore on it became apparent that the adults had decided that the rest of their brood could stay another night in the nest and so they made further food drops for the rest of the afternoon.

At 4.30-ish everyone headed for the exit. I decided to visit the Draper Hide again and on the way spotted a white-form Crab Spider with a its prey, an unfortunate Flesh Fly. There wasn't anything to add to the list and so I headed home myself.

It looks like the rest of the Kingfisher family will probably fledge tomorrow but unfortunately I have other plans.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Amwell Nature Reserve - 5th May 14

Weather: More sun than cloud. Warm with a slight breeze.

Birds Total: 60
Plus: Muntjac.
Plus: Brimstone, Orange Tip, Peacock, Speckled Wood Butterflies. Drinker Moth Caterpillar.
Plus: 2-spot, 11-spot, 16-spot, Harlequin and Orange Ladybird; Alderfly; Bee-fly; Cardinal Beetle; Green Shield Bug; Midges; Nursery Web Spider; Rainbow Trout; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Solder Beetle; St. Mark's Fly; Tadpoles; White-tailed Bumble Bee.
Plus: Azure, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Large Red Damselflies; Hairy Dragonfly.
Plus: Bluebells, Early Marsh and Southern Marsh Orchids.

It was a very long day today. But it was another pretty good day out. The weather forecast was correct for once, sunny and warm early on, with some cloud later.

So, whilst waiting for the 7.52 train, I was delighted to hear my first bird, a Cuckoo. I then duly arrived at Amwell and walked down the trail to the Reserve. On the way I could hear House Sparrows and a Greenfinch with a Collared Dove peering down at me from a tree. The Dove from Above!

Starlings flew over and then a Blackcap could be heard calling. A couple of Common Terns were gracefully flying up and down the canal fishing. A Reed Warbler could be heard singing out its' tuneful, repetitive song. Moorhens with chicks were swimming along the canal, looking oh so cute. There were plenty of Nursery Web Spiders about, along with the odd Harlequin Ladybird. A lone Goldfinch sounded off above me and flew in to a nearby tree. Then I spotted my first caterpillar of the year, a Drinker Moth. It was surrounded by lots more ladybirds, one of them an Orange. A Pheasant screamed out his presence in the distance. And finally, a Lesser Whitethroat could be heard and then seen, singing atop a tree. All this and I hadn't even arrived at the viewing point!

From the main viewing point itself I could see a pair of Muntjac out to the left, shadowed by a pair of Pheasants. On the scrape in front there was a Ringed Plover, my first of the year. Elsewhere I could see a pair of Little Ringed Plovers; around half-a-dozen Lapwing; at least 2 Redshank; about 10 or so Common Terns and 4 Grey Herons. More Goldfinches flew overhead, Reed and Sedge Warblers were singing out.

Chicks were in abundance now, with Mallards; Canadas and Greylags all escorting various youngsters. A pair of Great Crested Grebes were doing their head-shaking dance. In the air I could see at least 4 Swift flying around. It was all happening!

I then moved down to the lesser viewing point. From here I could hear and see a Whitethroat on the other side of the canal. A Cuckoo was also calling out, but I couldn't discern from which direction.

This time I decided to head straight down to the Dragonfly Trail as it had just opened. It was sunny, it was warm and I was hoping to see some dragon and damsel action. On the way I spotted a Green-veined White butterfly. A quick visit to the twin lagoons only yielded a Moorhen family. I discovered an Alderfly sunning itself on the bridge. Orange Tip butterflies, male and female, appeared, as did a Speckled Wood. 3 Long-tailed Tits chattered past me in the trees above, stopping only briefly to have a look at me. They always look as if they feel sorry for me, having to walk around while they soar up into the bright skies.

I then arrived at the Dragonfly Trail. As with all great expectations I was left a little disappointed as there wasn't much about at first. But then, after about 15 minutes of watching and searching, I spotted my first dragon of the year - a Hairy. It was darting about, this way and that and I waited patiently, in vain, for it to land for a photo.

Unidentified Insect
I had a quick look at the Orchid Meadow and found a few Early Marsh and Southern Marsh Orchids blooming. A Bee-fly was buzzing around them. Moving on to the river I spotted an immature Azure damselfly. Then I was lucky enough to be looking in the right direction at the right time, as I saw a Kingfisher flash by, it's turquoise and orange plumage a give-away. Further on a Peacock butterfly flew up and away. A Great Spotted Woodpecker could be heard drumming out its' territorial claim.

I moved back to the ponds to find the Hairy dragonfly on the wing again, but again it disappeared before I could see where it landed, after the clouds came over. Looking down into the water I could see lots of tadpoles swimming about. Looking up I spotted a Hobby fly over. Dozens of Swifts were also flying overhead and I could also see a Buzzard higher up, utilising the thermals. Then I spotted the first of four Large Red damselflies, just resting on a leaf, soaking up the warm sun.

I decided to move back to the Hides. Back at the bridge I could see a couple of Rainbow Trout treading water in the fast moving stream. People have been feeding them and they obviously hang around when they see anyone pass by. A couple of St. Mark's Flies were still about, lazily flying around, legs dangling down. I could hear and see a Chiffchaff high in the trees, picking its' way through the branches.

Looking out from the James Hide, upper tier, I could see a Mallard with chicks, escorted by a couple of drakes, all quacking away. A Grey Heron was fishing in the channel and Reed Buntings were flying in to the feeders. The feeders were actually not doing much business at all. I guess the usual customers were tucking into all the insects that were about. And, as there wasn't very much spillage, there was no sign of Phil the Pheasant. A bright red Cardinal Beetle flew in and landed on the tree just in front of me. A Cetti's Warbler sounded off to my left and I saw it fly into the reeds.

When all the action finally quietened down here I decided to head around to the White Hide. On the way I spotted another Cardinal Beetle, it's blood red body contrasting with the dark green leaves and then a Brimstone butterfly flew by. The beetle posed for me but, as usual, the butterfly was in far too much of a hurry.

I arrived at the White Hide to find it empty. Which was unusual, as the Reserve was pretty busy, due to the Bank Holiday no doubt. Mostly families, but also lots of dog-walkers and joggers, with the odd cyclist. Well, I think they're odd, but it's probably just me.

Outside I could see an LRP on the island in front. The only addition here was a Little Egret, which ventured in close, allowing a few shots, before spotting me and flying off. There not being much else in evidence I had lunch and moved back to the main viewing point. Just before I arrived a buck Muntjac appeared and posed.

From here I found 2 pairs of LRPs, in front and to the right. And then, an odd sight - I witnessed a little Mallard duckling chase off an adult Redshank! What a wimp!

From the mini viewpoint a Sedge Warbler sat up on a treetop nicely for me, singing away. I carried on and found myself looking out over the lake from the Gladwin Hide.

From here I could see a few Common Terns flying back and forth, over the water; 3 GCGs were out front and then I spotted an Oystercatcher having a wash and brush-up before being unceremoniously chased off by a Coot.

On the walk back I spotted another Brimstone, who again obviously had a busy schedule; more teneral damselflies floated up as I walked past and then I spotted a Green Shield Bug, crawling around on some Cow Parsley.

It was still quite early so I decided to give the Dragonfly Trail another try. When I arrived I found another Large Red damsel and then 2 more in the process of creating future damsels. Love must have been in the air because a little later on I spotted a pair of Blue-tailed Damsels doing their thing too. Then a second Hairy joined the first and had a minor disagreement over territory before both flew off. I moved down to the river again to find what was probably the same Kingfisher flying past. I reached the end of the trail and then heard a Green Woodpecker yaffle out. I lingered about the ponds again, trying to photograph a Hairy but it wasn't having any of it and so I headed back to the James Hide for a sit down.

This time I sat in the lower tier and was immediately rewarded with a very close-up view of a Moorhen with 2 chicks just outside the Hide. Moorhen chicks always amuse me, their feet seemingly bigger than the rest of it. More Reed Buntings appeared on the feeders, this time joined by 2 or 3 Great Tits and the odd Blue Tit. Another Grey Heron flew in to the channel and promptly disappeared into the reeds. Then a little Wren flew in and landed right beside me, took one look at me and promptly flew off. I still have that effect on birds!

I could see dozens of Swifts criss crossing the sky, screaming away and this time they were joined by lots of Sand Martins. On the pond in front 4 male Mallards flew in and proceeded to have a mother's meeting, quacking away. I'm afraid I don't know what they were all talking about, as I don't talk mallard.

Time was now getting on, or so my feet told me and so I decided to head back for one more look from the main viewing point. On the way a pair of Jays flew in and I was about to get some photos when a couple of cyclists rushed by scaring them off.

Back at the MVP I counted upto 22 Common Terns and then a pair of Teal appeared. That was it, nearly 10 hours on duty and so I headed for home. Top day!

Monday, 12 May 2014

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 3rd May 14

Weather: Cloudy and overcast early on, brightening up later. Very cold breeze.

Birds Total: 51
Plus: Muntjac; Red-eared Terrapin.
Plus: Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood Butterflies.
Plus: 2-spot, 7-spot, 14-spot, Harlequin Ladybirds; Cardinal Beetle; Hoverflies; Midges; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Scorpion Fly; Slug.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue Damselflies.
Plus: Bluebells. Pollen. Yachts.

The weather was forecast for early morning sunshine, clouding over in the afternoon. In the event, it was the other way around. It was quite cold in the shade, with a nasty cold breeze blowing in.

I wanted to visit the LVRP today as it was the first clear day for a few days. A couple of women I had met earlier in the week at Rye Meads had told me that they had seen lots of Damsels about here and so I was eager to see them for myself. But I feared that the weather wasn't quite warm enough for them to be out and about today. The damsels, not the women.

The day itself started off quite well. The first bird I heard walking down the track to the Hall Marsh Scrape was a Cuckoo. In fact I heard it pretty much all day and even spotted it a couple of times on a dead tree at the back of Seventy Acres Lake.

From the Teal Hide itself, scanning from right to left, I could see a lone Little Egret; a lone Grey Heron with Canada Geese; Coot and Moorhen making up the numbers. The dawn chorus included luminaries such as Chiffchaff and Cetti's Warblers. The water level on the lagoons was still quite high and there was only one scrape out to the right, covered in lots of vegetation. Pollen was streaming in from everywhere, so I decided to take an anti-histamine tablet, just to be on the safe side.

A pair of Canada Geese then swam onto one of the lagoons with 5 Goslings with them. A couple of pairs of Greylag Geese flew in and landed, honking away. Cormorants flew over every few minutes or so. An aggressive Coot chased off a pair of Mallards but decided against having a go at the Little Egret, which had crept closer to the Hide.

I decided to head off up the trail, the pull of the Damsel being too strong. Outside the Hide I spotted a few bunches of Bluebells, some white ones amongst them. The first Reed and Sedge Warblers could be heard as I walked along, all singing away like gossipy neighbours.

A quick look out on Friday Lake gave me the first view of many Great Crested Grebes today. In all, I must of seen over 20 of them. No humbugs yet, though.

The clouds then came over en masse, blocking out the sun and the breeze was quite fierce. But I was warmed up by seeing first a lovely Sedge Warbler, atop a reed, singing out and then a male Reed Bunting fly over.

Then I spotted my first damselfly of the day. It was settled on a leaf, but flew off before I could get a photo of it. It looked like an immature Common Blue, but I wasn't sure. It was encouraging, though.

Walking up the trail more GCGs swam into view, amongst plenty of Canadas and Greylags. And, of course, Coot. And then, sadly, I came upon a dead Gosling, just floating, head down, close to the shoreline.

A female Muntjac then appeared to my left, partially hidden amongst the bramble. She never ventured out and scurried off when I took another step closer. On the opposite side a Mallard with 3 ducklings swam up, hoping for some handouts. Then, further on, a pair of noisy Jays flew over.

I got to the bridge, looking out over Hooks Marsh. 2 Swallows flew over and I could also hear a Peacock screech out in the distance. This was the area where I came across lots of Ladybirds, 2-spots mating; 7 and 14 and a few red on black Harlequins. Near the feeding area several families of Greylags were waiting patiently for some handouts from some human families.

Then, to my surprise, a couple of girls ran past me, followed by a few dozen more. No change there I thought - that's the effect I have on most women! When I arrived at the car-park it was taped off with various people milling around, tables with water bottles and a few officious people directing the runners. I had to duck under the tape to get to the trail leading to the Bittern Hide. Earlier, on the train, I was in the same carriage as a party of Hens drinking Buck's Fizz. Clearly it was Ladies Day today.

On the trail up a few more butterflies appeared, Peacocks in the main. I could still hear the Peacock bird somewhere in the distance, over the relief channel. More GCGs appeared on both sides. I could also hear and see the Cuckoo and, while I was sat watching it, a Hobby flew up and landed on the same tree as the Cuckoo, scaring it off. Then a second Hobby appeared and a scuffle broke out between them.

The Red-eared Terrapin was basking in the sunshine in the same spot as before. Looking completely unconcerned, watching life go by. Just before I arrived at the Hide I spotted a Blue-tailed Damselfly.

I reached the Bittern Hide where the entrance was through the main door where some volunteers were. They were busy counting us in and counting us out. They had also helpfully set up a scope as well. Looking out I could Common Terns flying around the lake, looking to see if the BHGs had left any spaces on the rafts. I could see upto 4 Hobbies flying overhead in the distance; Reed Buntings were trying to muscle in on the feeders and then a Mallard turned up with 3 chicks.

It was warming up so I headed off up the trail towards the Grebe Hide in the hope of some more Damsel action. A Stock Dove was sitting on the bridge but flew off before I could even get close. The walk down proved quite fruitful, a Jay flew over; singing Blackcaps could be seen; a Whitethroat appeared and then I heard my first Nightingale of the year. Common Terns were flying up and down the relief channel. A Grey Heron was lazing in the sunshine across the river, not even bothering to look at me.

More chicks could be seen by the lagoon on the other side, Canadas and Greylags. A Pheasant could be seen picking his way through them all. More butterflies flew past me, mainly Orange Tips, none of them settling.

At Holyfield Weir I could see a pair of GCGs; another Mallard with chicks; another Grey Heron preening and, amongst all the rest of the usual fare, a yacht, which was disturbing everything.

Moving on, I disturbed first a Speckled Wood butterfly then a Cormorant, both moving off away from me before I could bring the camera to bear. Then a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly flew lazily past.

Whilst I was looking for Damsels I spotted a Grey Wagtail out of the corner of my eye, picking its' way along the opposite river edge. Out on the lagoon, just before reaching the Grebe Hide, I could see 3 pairs of GCGs with one pair on a nest right next to a Coots nest.

I spent about 40 minutes in the Hide. On Holyfield Lake there were at least 10 GCGs; over a dozen Common Terns feeding in the distance; several Pochard and two more yachts. I figured it was the yachts that were keeping the bird totals down here and at the Weir. Lunch.

Just before I left a pair of Egyptian Geese flew in, honking away. Another Jay flew over me towards the island in front. People came and went. In fact and not surprisingly, being a Saturday there were quite a few people around and about today.

Immature Azure Damselfly
Just outside the Hide, on my return journey, I found 2 more Damsels, immature Common Blues. Another Blackcap announced its presence. A Kingfisher and a Green Woodpecker could be heard then I spotted another Damsel, an immature Azure. Plenty to be heard then, but not seen. Well, I was keeping my head down, looking for the elusive damsels.

Then, further along the trail, I came upon my target species. Banded Demoiselles! The sun had finally peeked out from the clouds and had warmed up sufficiently for them to appear. Altogether I saw 3 males and 2 females and spent a happy 30 minutes or so trying to photograph them. They were towards the back of the vegetation so I couldn't use my macro lens but it was great to see them. Long-tailed Tits and more Peacock butterflies flew past but nothing was going to distract me from the Demoiselles.

I walked on seeing a Cardinal Beetle and a Scorpion Fly. On the lagoon over the channel, past the Weir a Grey Heron was busy stalking and there was also a lone Lapwing. There were the usual gang of Jackdaws swarming above the Farm.

A Green-veined White fluttered by and settled on a dandelion. Another Small Tortoiseshell also appeared as did a Red-tailed Bumble Bee, all trying to take advantage of the sun before it disappeared again. I passed the spot where I heard the Nightingale and it again started its' tuneful song, but it remained elusive.

I then found myself looking out over Seventy Acres Lake again, from the Bittern Hide. There were at least 4 Hobbies in the sky with 2 Buzzards. A GCG had swum in just in front of the Hide fishing. Then the first Swifts of the year flew overhead.

I started to head for home. Somewhere overhead I could hear an Oystercatcher peeping away. Another GCG swam up the channel completely ignoring a few people following and watching it.

Back at the Friday Lake feeding station I witnessed a man whose son and his dog were chasing and scaring off all the Geese and chicks. At one point the boy wanted to capture one of the Goslings to take home, but thankfully he was unsuccessful.

On the bushes by the Bridge the Ladybirds were still about with the same pair of 2-spots still mating. Thankfully the athletes had long since finished.

And, finally, just before I reached the station, a Song Thrush could be heard singing away.

Another wonderful day out, the highlight being the Demoiselles.

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.