Sunday, 17 August 2014

River Stort and Thorley Wash Nature Reserve - 21st July 14

Weather: Humid, overcast with sunny intervals. Short rain shower.

Birds Total: 37
Plus: Comma, Essex Skipper, Gatekeeper, Green Veined White, Large Skipper, Large White, Meadow Brown, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Speckled Wood Butterflies.
Plus: Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue damselflies. Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Emperor, Southern Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: Ladybird Larvae, 7-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle; Dark Bush Cricket; Flesh Fly; Grasshopper; Green Shield Bug; Hoverfly; Mayfly; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Scorpion Fly; Soldier Beetle; Thick-kneed Flower Beetle; White-tailed Bumble Bee.

Today I decided to visit Thorley Wash NR, which is a little place a couple of miles north of where I live. I've never been to this Reserve before and a friend of mine had heartily recommended it. It's looked after by the Herts & Middx Wildlife Trust, and has been designated as an SSSI.

I had to walk up the River Stort to get to it and I had only just entered the trail from the main road when I noticed a lone male Banded Demoiselle take off and land on a reed right beside me. When I tried to get close he flew off, but I then noticed another half-a-dozen on the little stream that was flowing adjacent to the river.

I had only gone about 10 yards but soon began unpacking my gear. I could still see and hear traffic on the road behind me and there were a few people walking by. As I was snapping away I heard, then spotted, a couple of dozen Swifts flying high above me, all screaming away; a Reed Warbler, with food for young, flew past me towards the bridge; lots of Feral Pigeons were flying back and forth under the bridge and a Moorhen family with at least a couple of chicks were floating on the river. A pretty good start!

A few steps further on and a few female Demos also appeared, together with a few Common Blues, a pair of which were lovingly entwined. Then, unbelievably, I spotted an Essex Skipper, it's black-tipped antennae giving it away. It sat up perfectly for me.

Unfortunately, just then the sky became overcast as lots of slow-moving fluffy cumulus blotted out the sun. Still, mustn't grumble! It was still warm, it wasn't raining, yet and I was discovering lots of interesting stuff already. I think I must suffer from a form of Biophilia - human attraction to non-human life. If you have ever smelt an aromatic flower or stroked a purring cat, you'll know what I mean. Today I was going to overdose on it.

Dark Bush-crickets appeared, as did a lovely Scorpion Fly. The first of many Peacock butterflies appeared. Then a Sawfly species buzzed in. It looked like it was going to take me quite some time to get to the Reserve today.

I tried to walk further on. A few people were out and about, mainly dog-walkers and a few cyclists. One of which zoomed past me just as I was trying to get a shot of one of the female Demos. It flew up, disturbed. Well, at least he said hello as he sped by. I also spotted a lone Mayfly, doing its' bouncing up and down dance. It was probably wondering where all the others had gone.

Every few steps I took brought up a few more Demos, mainly males. By the time I got back home I had spotted scores and scores of them. But I then came upon a male and a female, both caught in a web. There was no movement and it looked like both had gone to meet their maker. But, below and to the right of them, a very much alive Green-veined White butterfly was gorging on nectar.

I walked on, trying to ignore the Demos, waiting for the sun to re-appear or for them to give me an original pose. I spotted a Collared Dove, singing its signature 3-note song and then I could hear, then see a male Greenfinch, his wheezy call giving him away, high in the trees, over the river. A couple of Goldfinches flew over me, bubbling away.

I eventually left the narrow-boats that were anchored up and the newly-built Flats behind me and found myself with lots of fields around me. Some cattle were grazing on the other side of the river, some of them looking up at me, chewing the cud, idly watching me walk by.

Then, over the field on my side, above me, I could see a couple of Sand Martins flying around, mouths open wide, shoveling up all the midges. There were Reed Warblers singing away nearby, hidden in the reeds; more Peacock butterflies appeared and there were plenty of Soldier Beetles about, some clumped together like regiments.

Trains and Planes were noisily passing by every few minutes. A Chiffchaff was trying to compete but was drowned out. A Blackcap joined in but, he too, was also defeated and soon gave up.

A little further on again and I could hear a Song Thrush singing in the distance, but only when the trains and planes allowed it. A Meadow Brown butterfly appeared but didn't stop to say hello. While I was watching it, I spotted another Scorpion Fly, a male. Its' up-turned tail was showing, for which it was named. And, a little further on again, while I was photographing a Thick-kneed Flower Beetle, I could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling. Unfortunately, it never appeared.

Gatekeeper butterflies started to appear, some settling down for a photo. Peacock caterpillars were all over a few flowers, about a couple of dozen of them. Obviously the second batch of the summer.

I was still seeing plenty of Demos but the cloud cover was still around, dropping the humidity a little, thankfully. A Brown Hawker was patrolling this part of the river but didn't look like he was about to perch up for me. An Emperor was seen a little further on from here, but he too never paused for breath.

Then I came to an area, by the river, which was forested, the tree branches hanging out over the river. I slowed down a little and then spooked up a pair of Wrens, who were only a few feet away from me.

I passed by the first Lock, Tednambury. Just after, I came across a Large Skipper resting on a leaf. A Comma flew by whilst I was trying to get a shot of the Skipper. Beside the Skipper there was another Thick-kneed Flower Beetle.

Then I came across a pair of adult Coots which were diving down every now and then, bringing up food for their noisy youngsters who were continually squeaking away, reminding me a Tom Cruise film - 'I feel the NEED! The need to FEED!' Well, something like that.

A couple of Cormorants flew over then a Red Admiral flew up and over me, in to the nearest bushes. While I was photographing yet another pair of Demos I heard, then saw, a pair of Green Sandpipers fly overhead. Now, that was a surprise!

I soon arrived at next Lock, Spellbrook. Just past it, on some bushes, I spotted an early instar Green Shield Bug. While I was busy with the Bug I heard the high pitch call of a Treecreeper. I looked up to a dead tree and a minute or so later it appeared, hopping upwards until it disappeared around the other side of the tree and then I saw it fly off.

A large group of Tits flew through the trees, chattering away, most of them Long-tails. There may have been the odd Chiffchaff amongst them. A Green Woodpecker yaffled its' call somewhere behind them. A male Pheasant joined in the chorus.

Finally I spotted the sign for the Reserve. I sat down when I arrived, took a drink of water and then heard and spotted a Kingfisher zoom past me, under the bridge, flying down the river, like a bright blue and orange bullet. Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting were singing while a Brown Hawker flew around in circles.

The Reserve itself is shaped like a figure of eight, with the bridge entrance the center point. I opted for one of the circles and set off.

For the next hour or so I was entertained by more Demos; Common Darters; lots of butterflies, notably dozens of Peacocks; Speckled Woods; Commas; Green-veined Whites; Red Admirals; at least 3 Small Tortoiseshells; various Grasshoppers and Mayflies. Lots of Warblers were about, mainly Reedies. A lone male Reed Bunting was singing out its' 3-note call somewhere, but, despite taking a few minutes to search for it, remained elusive.

I spotted some more Mayflies, again all doing their up and down dance. I idly wondered if I should tell the earlier lone Mayfly that its friends were here on my way back.

I was really impressed with the area and was about to start the other circle when it inexplicably started to drizzle with rain. I quickly sheltered under a nearby tree and, when it stopped after a few minutes, decided to head back home. But, before that, whilst sheltering, a Bee buzzed up and landed in front of me. It was all white and I wasn't sure which species it was. But I have since read that older bees turn white with age.

I saw pretty much the same thing on the return journey, including a Mute Swan take-off, but, thankfully, the sun finally made an appearance again and gave me some good opportunities to photograph some Demos.

I was out for over 7 hours and was pretty exhausted by the time I returned home. But I really enjoyed the day and was very surprised at not only the bird total, but at the variety of wildlife right in my own backyard! A return visit is certainly on the cards!

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.