Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Amwell Nature Reserve - 8th September 14

Weather: Hot and humid, some light cloud.

Birds Total: 34
Plus: Comma, Common Blue, Green-veined White, Large White, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood Butterflies. Mother-of-Pearl Moth.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Crickets; Hornets; Hoverflies; Konik Ponies; Rainbow Trout; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Rudd; Sheep; Spiders; Water Vole.
Plus: Azure, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Emerald, Willow Emerald Damselflies; Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter Dragonflies.

A wonderfully sunny month in July was followed by a very poor month in August with the area suffering from overcast and cloudy skies with some rainfall at times. It meant that I only managed one outing during the whole month, in the 'calm between the storms'. Fortunately September has started well and it is hoped that we will have an Indian Summer. As someone once said 'There's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes!'

Willow Emerald Damselfly
So, instead of continuing to enjoy days out, I was stuck inside having to do the decorating. I'm still finding flecks of paint on me even now.

But today I was determined to get out again. Rye Meads had reported a few interesting sightings recently and, although Fishers Green was next on the list, Flycatchers and Emeralds were being reported at Amwell so I headed off to try my luck there.

For once the weather forecasters got it right, with warm sunshine throughout the day. A few clouds came and went and there wasn't even a hint of a breeze. Unfortunately, I had decided not to apply Factor50 today, thinking I could get away with it. Well, in general, I did but there were a few sore places when I eventually returned home.

On the train down I spotted the usual Grey Heron, in the same place as always. It's probably the same one and had staked out its' territory. That or there is some good feeding spots in the area.

The walk down the trail to the Reserve provided views of Canada Geese and Mallards, all looking for handouts. The Konik ponies had been transferred in to the adjacent field and were busy plying their trade as living lawn mowers. It was already sunny and warm and I had already decided to remove the fleece I had foolishly brought with me. Lots of Robins were already 'Tick, ticking' away as I walked by. It also must have been the season for spiders as dozens and dozens could be seen. They were mainly Common Garden Spiders.

At the Watchpoint several familiar faces were already present. Looking out over Great Hardmead Lake I could see plenty of birds, mainly Lapwing plus a couple of Green Sandpipers; Great Crested Grebe and 4 Grey Herons plus the usual ducks and geese; Mutes and Coots.

After about 15 minutes all the Lapwing went up, scared by a pair of Sparrowhawks flying past who landed on a distant tree. A Green Woodpecker sounded off somewhere and, in fact, sounded off quite a few times all day. Unfortunately I never managed to pinpoint it. On the bushes directly in front of me I could see a few 7-spot Ladybirds; a Red Admiral and a lone Azure damselfly, the first I've seen for a while.

It was starting to get very hot in the sun and, mindful of having no protection, I headed off down the trail towards the James Hide. There was no one at home when I arrived, either inside the Hide or outside. The feeders were all empty; the flora had grown to biblical proportions while the area was totally devoid of birds. A fly-by gaggle of Canada Geese and a lone Grey Heron was the early sum total.

Looking out over the lagoon I could see a few Migrant Hawkers flying and hovering around, every now and then having a few border disputes. A Darter appeared and disappeared before I could ID it. But it was red enough to be a possible Ruddy. Then a Brown Hawker moved into the area, staking its' claim and moved the Migrants on. Looking up, over the treeline, I could see a pair of Buzzards, their distinctive high-pitched mewing call giving them away. A few Coots and Moorhens made a tentative appearance. The water was being disturbed every few minutes by plenty of Rudd action.

But, with not much else happening, I decided to move on. I took a quick look out over the Bittern Pool but, aside from a lone GCG, I could only see Coot and Tufted Duck, who all kept their distance. A Comma butterfly made a fluttering appearance.

At the twin lagoons I failed to find any Red-eyed damselflies. Disappointing, but not too surprising. There were a few Common Blue damsels about, mostly resting on the lilly-pads, fluttering up every now and then. More Hawkers were patrolling both lagoons. Then I spotted a movement in the bank opposite. It turned out to be a Sedge Warbler, poking about in the undergrowth. Apart from hearing a Cetti's and seeing a few Chiffchaffs, it was the only Warbler I spotted all day. Another reminder that September was migration month.

No Banded Demoiselles about at their usual spot by the bridge today unfortunately. I suspect their season is just about over. Still, I think I gorged aplenty on them this year. The familiar faces were also at the bridge, on the way back from the Dragonfly Trail. I asked them about the Emeralds but they nor anyone else had seen them so far today.

We chatted a while, seeing more Red Admirals on the Buddleia, a Mother-of-Pearl moth; a Sparrowhawk fly-past and more Hawkers, hawking up and down the river below us. I moved on, eager to try my luck on the Trail. Although, I must admit, I wasn't too confident of seeing anything other than Darters and Hawkers.

Just before I arrived at the start of the Trail I could hear evidence of Reserve staff hard at work. It was actually Jenny Sherwen sitting atop a large grass cutter, wheeling her way back and forth, giving the area a short, back and sides. I inquired about the Emeralds but, again, no one had seen them yet. Earlier, at the entrance, I had spotted another 7-spot Ladybird, but then a movement above it caught my eye and it turned out to be a lovely Green Shield Bug, in its' fifth and final Instar form.

Promising Jenny I would let her know if I spotted any Emerald activity I let her get back to work. Lady Luck must have smiled down on me because I had only walked a few meters down the wooden walkway when I spotted another Migrant Hawker hovering to the right, just in front of me. But a movement in the reeds adjacent caught my eye and, unbelievably, an Emerald appeared! Just like that! It was a female, busily ovipositing from reed-stem to reed-stem. I managed to get off a few shots and when I was reasonably confident that she wasn't going to fly off I hurried back to try and find Jenny.

Unfortunately, the Law of Sod then stuck his nose in. As soon as we got back I was unable to relocate the Emerald. Just as Jenny moved off to go back to work, I spotted it again. She quickly hurried back and confirmed my sighting. I was initially unsure of the ID, whether it was a common Emerald or the Willow Emerald that had recently been seen.

As I watched I saw the damselfly land on one of the reed-stems and gradually move lower and lower until she was completely submerged. She stayed under for at least 5 or 6 minutes before returning to the surface, climbing up the stem and drying off in the sunshine. One of the familiar faces, Ron, turned up and we were all treated to a display as the Emerald continued her work. I must of spent over an hour at this spot, trying to get a photo that I could positively ID later.

Even then I was a bit loathe to move on as I was sure I had spotted a male there as well. But I eventually managed to drag myself away and continue on down the walkway. More Migrants were seen, some paired up, a few more Browns were about as well. Then Darters began to appear, mostly Common Darters but with 2 or 3 Ruddy Darters amongst them. Today most of them played ball and posed in the sunshine, allowing me to immortalise them.


I moved on towards the river and was rewarded by 2 or 3 shows of a Kingfisher. Another Comma butterfly appeared as did a Speckled Wood. Sheep had been released in the area, with Jenny informing me that several species were mixed in together. I'm afraid the only species I can remember was a few Shetland Sheep. I'm glad to report that I successfully managed to avoid all the sheep droppings.

I made the return journey back through the walkway but unfortunately never managed to see any of the Emeralds. But a lovely male Migrant Hawker posed nicely for me. I decided to have lunch on a bench overlooking Hollycross Lake. While there, another Ruddy Darter appeared in front of me. It graciously allowed me to finish lunch and even allowed me to get close for a couple of shots. A guy then turned up to try and locate the Willow Emeralds. He took a look at the Emerald photos I had taken earlier and informed me that they were of a common Emerald. I wasn't too upset as I was quite pleased just to see an Emerald, being only the second time I had seen one. He moved off to try his luck elsewhere.

Before moving off myself I sat down on the grass by the river, opposite the Willow trees and immediately spotted a movement. Unbelievably it was another Emerald. Your man had told me that the easiest way to spot the difference between the two species was the pterostigma, the spots on the wings. Black indicated common Emerald while white indicated Willow Emerald. My heart started to race as this one had white wing spots.

Jenny was still working away and I turned and waved frantically at her. She came over and took a look at my discovery. A few minutes later your man turned up and confirmed that it was indeed a male Willow Emerald. It had been spotted several days earlier and was a first for Hertfordshire. This one gave even better close-up views that the earlier one. While we feasting our eyes on the damsel a Water Vole appeared right beside us, swimming from bank to bank. A few more guys then turned up and then, amazingly, we were treated to a second male Willow Emerald appearing!


It was an inspired decision to come down to Amwell today. Some days you get lucky, some days you don't.

Eventually I dragged myself away and headed towards the White Hide. Back at the bridge a couple of Rainbow Trout had appeared. At the Twin Lagoons another Red Admiral could be seen, to be joined by a Common Blue butterfly. I didn't hang around long as a lady let loose her pair of dogs into one of the lagoons for a wash and brush-up.

On the trail around to the White Hide I came across 3 Hairy Shield Bugs, all atop a couple of dead Teasel stems. I had only seen a few before today, when on a holiday to Madeira back in May, so I was delighted to see some in this country. Today just got better and better.

Ensconced in the White Hide, looking out, I could see, out to the left, a large flock of mixed passerines, containing mostly LTTs but with some Chiffchaffs in amongst them. Blue Tits were also flying back and forth. There was plenty of dragonfly action out over the little ponds, while out in the distance, towards the Gladwin Hide I could see a pair of Little Egrets. A GCG family was floating out on the lake while about 20 or so Pochard were sunning themselves on the island. A pair of Shoveler were sitting snugly in the middle of them.

I spent another 15 minutes in the James Hide but it was even quieter than before. Even the Rudd had decided to settle down. Back at the Watchpoint nothing more of any note had appeared and I reluctantly decided to take a slow walk back to the station and home.

It was another excellent day out. Despite being a nice sunny day not too many people had ventured out. The Hides were especially quiet. They missed a very exciting day.

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