Saturday, 6 September 2014

Cornmill Meadow - 20th August 14

Weather: Warm with sunny spells, mainly cloudy, slight breeze.

Birds Total: 31
Plus: Blue-tailed, Common Blue and Banded Demoiselle damselflies; Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Common Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter, Southern Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: Green-veined White, Large White, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, and Speckled Wood butterflies.
Plus: Bees; Bluebottles; Crane Fly; Flesh Flies; Hoverflies; Mayfly; Midges; Sawfly; Spiders; Wasps.
Plus: Freisan Cattle; Shrew (dead).

Today I decided to visit Cornmill Meadow, near Waltham Cross, as I hadn't visited the area for a couple of years. Touted as a semi-natural floodplain grassland it has a mosaic of rivers, ditches and pools to investigate. It's also a very good place to look for Dragons and Damsels, promising the visitor over half the UK species.


Advert over. I had visited in June previously so this time I opted to try in August. I knew it had to be sunny and hot to make it worthwhile and the forecast was for both, all day. Unfortunately, although quite warm early on, it clouded over just after 11.

Nevertheless it was my first outing for a couple of weeks, due to one thing or another and I was determined to get out and about today. Before starting off I spotted an unfortunate dead Shrew just on the path, on the way to the Station and, whilst on the train en-route, I spotted the obligatory Grey Heron. As I was walking towards the Reserve a Little Egret flew overhead.

I managed to find the Reserve without too much trouble, this time and headed towards its' only Hide, the Wake Hide. On the way I noticed that a bit of work had been done to accommodate the cattle that were grazing here. A new wooden walkway; metal bridge and gate had all been built and it wasn't as muddy as before either.

A couple of Common Darters and a Red Admiral were the first things I spotted just before I got to the Hide. On the birding front all that was around, initially, were Coots and Moorhens.

Looking out from the Hide there were 3 Grey Herons; about 15 or so Lapwing; the first of 2 Green Sandpipers seen today; 5 Snipe feeding out in the middle of the lake; around 20 BHGs and Swallows and House Martins flying around overhead. There was a Moorhen family in amongst the Lapwings while a female Reed Bunting appeared, feeding, to my right.

Wasps had set up a nest to the right, through a small hole in the Hide's woodwork. Workers were flying in and out every few seconds. As long as they left me alone I would leave them alone.

A couple of other Birders arrived and stayed for about 5 minutes before heading off, muttering that there wasn't much about. Actually there weren't too many people about at all today. There were quite a few dog-walkers; the odd cyclist and a couple of families with small children.

The Lapwing were taking off every now and then, on their display flights. But then a Sparrowhawk flew high overhead and I thought that would put everything up but they all just ignored it. A few minutes later it flew back and this time it did put everything up. A Lapwing took the opportunity to chase off the Sandpiper.

Just before I decided to head off a Migrant Hawker, the first of many today, hovered quite close to the Hide, peering in.

Outside the Hide possibly the same Sparrowhawk flashed by overhead again. Looking down, on the way to the river, I spied the first Common Blue damsel of the day. Actually, there weren't too many Blues about today, just a few more Commons were seen and only one Blue-tailed.

Walking up the river, at one of the fishing spots, I spotted a female Banded Demoiselle, but was unable to get close for a shot. It was now getting late in the season for Demos but I still managed to count nearly 50 of them today, mainly males.

Crossing over a little wooden bridge I entered the main trail, which was touting all the Odonata that could be seen. While I was looking for them I nearly bumped into a Jay that flew in, landed, spotted me and promptly flew off into the nearby trees.

Not far into the trail I came across a little area that yielded about a dozen male Demos, all flitting up when I arrived. They soon settled back down and so I began taking a few shots. I walked on but this was easily the best area for them that I found all day.

Further on more Common Darters appeared, one looking its' age. It then started to cloud over quite badly but, as a result of this, a couple of female Demos became a little lethargic and allowed a few real close-ups.

A Green-veined White butterfly appeared, as did a Large White. But it was a little quiet on the butterfly front today with not too many species seen. There weren't too many insects about either, interesting ones that is.


I could hear a Chiffchaff singing out its' one-note call. That was the only Warbler I heard or saw all day. They must be heading off for the winter. It was actually eerily quiet today, with not even a Robin or a Chaffinch call heard.

But then I could hear a GSW calling and saw it fly over towards a large group of trees. The trail by the river came to an end with a choice of straight on or to go right, following the river. The last time I chose straight on and it took me into a maze of twists and turns, with not too much to be seen, so I chose to stick with the river and turned right.


But there wasn't too much along here and I was now facing the sun, that is when it chose to appear. I did come across an area that had a few Darters flying around, all facing off, defending their own territories. Most of them were Commons but I spotted at least 2 Ruddy Darters among them.

Further on still, a little Wren popped up quite close to me. It definitely saw me but carried on hopping around the branches and reeds as I walked by. A couple of Goldfinches bubbled their way overhead.

I turned right again and saw that the trail was taking me around in a circle towards the area I arrived at. Just before I reached the starting point a Mayfly fluttered past me. A Speckled Wood took advantage of the sun, which had peeked out again, flying up and around me, before heading off.

View from the Wake Hide
I decided to call in to the Wake Hide to rest and have lunch. The second Green Sandpiper of the day had turned up and they were both busy feeding out on the lake, amongst the Snipe and the Lapwing.

The last of the Grey Herons took off and flew away. The Sandpipers and a couple of the Snipe took a nap. The sun sporadically shone through but it was all very quiet. I decided to wait a little longer, to see if the sun would come out again.

It did, but the clouds were grouping more tightly together than ever. I was in two minds whether to head home or to head back to the area where I had found all the male Demos. As it was still fairly early and blue skies seemed to be heading my way I decided on the latter.


Whilst I was waiting a female Mallard, just over the river, started quacking loudly. At first I thought it might be at me but then I heard the answering calls of another 3 of her friends, who promptly swam up to her. A bout of quacking then ensued before all 4 swam off.

35 minutes of patient waiting and the sun finally came out. As did all the Demos, fluttering up to try and find the best spots to soak up the rays. I had sat still all that time and some of them eventually flew quite close to me.

But the sunshine didn't last and another dark cloud blotted it out. So I finally admitted defeat and headed off.

It was quite a good visit and if the clouds had stayed away it would have been even better. Maybe more visits are called for this Autumn and Spring for the migrants.