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