Thursday, 2 October 2014

Amwell Nature Reserve - 30th September 14

Weather: Sunny at warm at times, clouding over in places. Slight breeze.

Birds Total: 46
Plus: Large White Butterfly.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Grey Squirrel; Hoverflies; Konik Ponies; Rudd; Sheep; Spiders.
Plus: Common Blue, Willow Emerald Damselflies; Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter Dragonflies.

It was supposed to be the last day to access the Dragonfly Trail at Amwell today so I decided to head down there and try and locate the Willow Emerald damsels one last time. That was one reason, the other was that today was work detail day at Rye Meads. And on the train down I witnessed dozens of school children alighting from the train for RM, another good reason not to visit there today.

The journey also allowed me a view of my old friend, the Grey Heron, standing proudly tall and high, on a branch, while on the trail up to the Reserve I spotted a lovely Sparrowhawk fly over.

There were one or two familiar faces at the Watchpoint when I arrived. Out over the Lake I could see around 10 or so Grey Herons; a pair of Little Egrets; a lone Green Sandpiper; about 5 Common Snipe; a couple of dozen Lapwing; the same number of Wigeon, with accompanying Shoveler; Teal and Pochard and, finally, a couple of Great Crested Grebes. The usual Gulls; Coots and Mutes; Geese and Cormorants were also present. Four Swallows flew over, possibly some of the last migrants while a pair of Buzzards could be seen high in the distant sky.

The sun was blazing down at this point and I, again, regretted not smothering myself in Factor50. A few clouds plus a cooling breeze kept me from boiling over and making me divest my fleece.

I headed off and soon found myself in the James Hide. Another familiar face, a friend called Ron, was just exiting, saying nothing much was around. After ten minutes I had heard Cetti's Warbler; Water Rail; GSW and Green Woodpecker. But then the birds started appearing with another Buzzard, circling high over the tree horizon. Then another Sparrowhawk flew past, from left to right, followed a minute later by a Kestrel. The wet sock was still on the roof out front and the feeders were still empty, possibly to deter any rats, as had happened last year.

Just outside the Hide a Grey Squirrel spotted me and scampered up the nearest tree. Well, I know I'm old and ugly, but surely I'm not that bad! It eyed me warily as I walked past.

With nothing to see at the twin lagoons I moved on to the Bridge where a mating pair of Common Darters were basking in the sun. They were being chaperoned by a single male nearby, but he was possibly waiting for an opening.

I had only just entered the Dragonfly Trail and had wandered over to where I had first seen the Willow Emeralds and immediately spotted a female, ovipositing. She was soon joined by a male and they danced around the bushes together. There were also several conjoined pairs of Common Darters around and they kept spooking the Emeralds, to the effect that they moved off further down the stream. I moved with them, trying to avoid the bramble and overhanging branches. I managed to take a few photos before moving towards the walkway.

Just before that I heard, then saw, a Kingfisher flash past, low, across Hollycross Lake. Then Ron appeared again and said that he had found another pair of Willows by the iron bridge. I decided to head straight down there to find them.

After about 5 minutes of patient waiting we spotted them as they flew up and around the small stream, landing and moving every 30 seconds or so. They were quite difficult to photograph, with the light breeze blowing the reeds this way and that, making it quite a challenge. But, eventually, both males landed for long enough so that we could get some photos. There were also lots of Darters and Hawkers here too, all buzzing around, going about their business.

I took a quick walk around the river area, seeing not too much and quickly returned to try and find the Emeralds. I couldn't locate them by the iron bridge so I tried my luck on the walkway. There were quite a lot of Migrant Hawkers about here too and even more Common Darters. A few Ruddy Darters were around but nothing quite like the numbers of their cousins.

I had moved closer to the stream, adjacent to the lake, crouching down, looking to photograph one of the Ruddy Darters when another, conjoined, pair of Willows flew up and landed right in front of me. I was initially quite surprised but highly delighted by this sudden piece of good luck. It was if they had flown in to say hello. But it was good news and bad, as they were so close that I knew that if I moved they would fly up and away. I had no choice and tried to back away as slowly as possible. An almost impossible task as they flew up at the first movement, but, fortunately, only a meter away, landing on a nearby reed. They were very skittish and kept moving, allowing only a few shots, before flying off and disappearing.

That was six seen now, but I'm not too sure if they were the same pair. Common Darters and a few Hawkers then started to present themselves for immortality, maybe feeling a little left out from the 'Strictly Come Willow' show. Several insects appeared, one of which looked like a Cinnamon Sedge Caddisfly. The ovine workforce were still busy munching away and were continuing to ignore me and I was doing my best to ignore their droppings.

I then decided that lunch was long overdue, my growling stomach complaining loudly. I went and sat down on the same bench as before, looking out over the lake. A pair of Jays flew over from left to right towards the trees while the Kingfisher made a few more appearances, flying the opposite way. I could feel my nose burning from the hot sun. Thank God for Aloe Vera.

I had just finished brushing the crumbs off me when, amazingly, yet another pair of Willows flew in from the right and landed a few meters in front of me, by the stream. They were also in mating mode and were also very flighty. But I was again fortunate to get off a few shots before they too flitted up, like fine, light, feathers and flew off. The decision to put on some of my Willow Emerald aftershave this morning had obviously paid handsome dividends!

Feeling all Willow'd out and also fit from lunch I decided to finally head off towards the James and White Hides. I made a brief stop at the James, seeing nothing. Well, except for Reserve Warden, Jenny Sherwen plus one, in the distance, fighting their way through the reeds, clipboard in hand.

I met them on the walk around to the White Hide. They were planning future operations for the area. There was also a promise of keeping the Dragonfly Trail open for another week or so, dependent on the weather. I appraised her of the Willow Emerald sightings and moved on to the Hide.

View from the White Hide.
It was quite hot facing the sun and I had to sit in the shady area. Looking out I could see all the usual suspects. But, just before I headed off, I spotted a Kingfisher fly across the lake towards the James Hide, then a pair of Mute Swans scared up a Green Sandpiper to the left of the Hide, on the small island.

I checked the James to see if the Kingfisher had appeared. It hadn't and so I moved off to the Watchpoint. Twenty minutes later my red nose and I headed home.

Another fantastic day out. There were at least 4 Willow Emeralds seen today, possibly 8, one of which was ovipositing, boding well for future generations here.

As always, for more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.