Friday, 28 November 2014

Amwell Nature Reserve - 24th November 14

Weather: Sunny blue skies, quite cold.

Birds Total: 48
Plus: Bank Voles; Grey Squirrel; Konik Ponies.

Not having ventured out for the last few weeks, I thought it was high time to stretch my legs. It had been very wet, grey and overcast of late but today was forecast for bright, sunny skies. And so it proved. Although it was actually quite cold today, thankfully there was no accompanying cruel wind.

On the journey down, there were quite a few extra small lakes and ponds around the area, due no doubt, to the recent rains. Only Little Egret and Great Crested Grebe could be seen.

I had originally intended to visit Fishers Green, but I didn't feel up to walking around 10k today so I wimped out and headed for Amwell again.

Autumn Colours
Although nothing too exciting was seen, it was nonetheless still quite a good day out. Most of the trees had now shed their leaves, making it a little easier to spot the birds. On the trails between visits to the Hides there were several flocks of passerines flying around, mainly Finches and Tits. All of them busily hunting and hopping around the branches, calling out to each other.

Just before I reached the bridge I spotted the 4 Konik Ponies in the adjacent field. One of them had a pair of Magpies on its' back. They were pecking away at it, presumably picking off insects. Surely it couldn't have been nesting material?

My first stop, as usual, was at the Watchpoint. There was only one person there, with a scope. Out over Great Hardmead Lake there were the usual suspects, but included several Wigeon; 2 Little Egrets; 2 Grey Herons; 2 Common Snipe; a couple of dozen Lapwing and various Shoveler, Teal and Pochard all swimming about, either in pairs or large groups. A flock of Long-tailed Tits flew by behind me.

I noticed that the water levels here were also quite high, which presumably meant that there would be an absence of any waders. So it proved to be.

The only Warblers out and about today were a few Cetti's and I only heard them. As per usual, they remained stubbornly hidden in the undergrowth.

Then I found myself down in the Gladwin Hide. Goldeneye had been seen here recently and, sure enough, a male and a female were duly spotted. The female was directly in front of the Hide, but just a bit too far for a photo, while the male was out to the left, in amongst a dozen or more Great Crested Grebes. I could also see at least 5 species of Gull dotted around the area. Then a Grey Heron flew past, from right to left and landed about 50 meters away. It was soon joined by a second. They immediately went into hunt mode, freezing like statues.

As the Goldeneyes were spending most of their time underwater I sat and watched the interaction between all the Gulls. They were mostly BHGs but there were a few Common; Herring and LBBGs in amongst them. But they were all dwarfed by a large GBBG, who floated serenely on the water,
lording it over everyone else. There was also quite a din, mainly by the BHGs.

I decided to head over to the James Hide to see if the Kingfisher would show up and pose for me again. This time, unfortunately not. I noticed that the top tier was still cordoned off. There was 1 other guy in the bottom tier already. He said that the KF had appeared about 15 minutes earlier, so I sat down and waited, in vain as it turned out.

In the meantime I was entertained by the lots of birds on the, now refilled, feeders. Lots of Tits and Finches flew back and forth, all looking around them nervously as they quickly gorged on the seeds. There were occasional visits by LTTs and Dunnocks and then a few Reed Buntings came a-calling.

Then I noticed a movement below the feeders. At first I thought it might be a Moorhen creeping up, maybe even Phil the Pheasant. But no, it was a little Bank Vole, scurrying about. Then, to my delight, a second one appeared. They looked as if they had two speeds, 100mph or dead-stop. They would venture out in to the open, hoover up some fallen seeds and, at the slightest sound, they would hightail it back in to cover.

It was quite amusing to watch and I took dozen of photos, most of which were just brown blurs. Another guy then walked in and the three of us watched all the activity. One of the guys suggested that they were brown rats, maybe even Dormice. But the tails weren't long enough for rats and they were a darker colour. No, I confidently said, they were Bank Voles. But I still checked the books when I got home.

A little later a Water Rail appeared to our left, on the reed edges. It started taking a bath, having a wash and brush up. Unfortunately, it was behind too many reeds to get a focus on, so I just relaxed and watched it. Then a second one appeared, nearer to us. But it didn't stay out in the open for very long and, indeed, flew up and across the pond to the other side, before disappearing in to the reedbeds.

The first Water Rail finished its' ablutions and started to creep towards us. But, just before it got close enough for a photo, a pair of Coot scared away. It too, flew up and across the pond, landing near to where the other had vanished.

It was obvious that the KF wasn't going to appear, so I headed off round to the White Hide. On the way there I spotted a Kestrel perched up on a branch. It saw me but completely ignored me and carried on looking around for potential prey. There were two tasty morsels outside the James Hide, I thought.

When I sat down in the White Hide and looked out I couldn't see anything else that hadn't been seen earlier, from the Watchpoint. Lunch.

I then decided to take a slow walk down to the entrance to the Dragonfly Trail, where I knew there would be some more feeders up. Sure enough, I saw three feeders hanging down and they were doing a roaring trade. Mostly Goldfinches, but with a fair sprinkling of Blues; Greats; Chaffs and a single
Coat Tit. I thought I spotted a Marsh Tit as well, but I couldn't be certain. Below them were about half-a-dozen Pheasants and another half-a-dozen Magpies, all hopping around cleaning up the spillage.

There were also quite a few birds flying around to the sides and behind me, including several Redwings and a couple of Song Thrushes. On the walk back I bumped into another familiar face and we chatted for several minutes, swapping sightings.

The path to enlightenment?
I eventually headed back to the James Hide for half-an-hour. Again there was nothing new to see and so I finished up back at the Watchpoint. There were several people here by now, presumably the evening shift. I guessed they were waiting for the rare Gulls that had been seen here recently,
Yellow-legged and Caspian among them. Just before I left a Kingfisher perched up on the opposite side of the lake.

But it was getting dark and I was starting to feel a little chilly so I decided to head for home. Winter always has the inconvenient problem of shorter days now.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Amwell Nature Reserve - 4th November 14

Weather: Sunny blue skies early on, clouding over later. Slight wind.

Birds Total: 46
Plus: Common Darter Dragonfly.

It was a very quiet day today. A bit of 'after the Lord Mayor's show' kind of day, especially after last week's visit.

Although the temperature had dropped around 10 degrees from last week, it was still quite sunny and especially warm when walking around.

The journey down provided 3 Grey Herons, including Harry in his usual spot. The area around him was again quite flooded. I wondered what would happen if we get the rains of last year. The walk up to the Reserve gave me a Green Woodpecker flypast, with lots of Dunnocks chattering away. Strangely, there were no geese or ducks to greet me this time.

Canal View
There were again a few familiar faces at the Watchpoint when I arrived and, with not too much to see out over the lake, we started putting the world to rights. It was an enjoyable 35 minutes or so. It had to be, there were few birds to see. The ones that did make an appearance, apart from the usual suspects, were a lone Green Sandpiper on the opposite bank; around 5 or 6 Grey Herons dotted around the area; a pair of Little Egrets; several Great Crested Grebes; a couple of Jays and a lone Buzzard high over the treeline.

Great Hardmead Lake from the White Hide
I walked down to the Gladwin to see if the Stonechats were still around. They weren't. As I opened up the slats I scared away a Grey Heron and a Little Egret. Another Little Egret flew in, making 4 seen today. There were also more Herons. A few Pochard were out front, while some Wigeon were out to the right. Lots of various Gulls were milling around. Then a Kingfisher flashed past on the right, zooming across the lake, disappearing through the trees. Another pair of Jays flew past here, while a pair of female Pheasants wandered idly past the Hide. Later on, just before I left, a female Reed Bunting flew in.

As I walked back up the trail I could hear Jackdaws flying over and some Ring-necked Parakeets screeching out. One of only two Common Darters seen today perched up in front of me. A quick look from the Watchpoint again gave me a close view of a Kestrel hunting along the trail.

The James Hide was quiet today, although it did give me a few more views of a Kingfisher, landing on at least one occasion. There were 3 Buzzards in the sky, some being mobbed by Crows. 3 more Reed Buntings arrived and flew around the reedbeds, chasing each other. A Water Rail squealed out its' presence. Then Ron arrived and sat down next to me. With nothing much about we decided to head around to the White Hide.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much to see from there either. So, in desperation for something to photograph, I began taking shots of the many Geese out over the lake. I decided to leave Ron to it and walked back to the James Hide.

Here I heard another Water Rail, then spotted it moving through the reeds. Cetti's Warblers could be heard then the Kingfisher made yet another appearance.

But it was starting get dark now and colder, so I decided to head back to the Watchpoint for another quick look before heading home.

A quiet day, but enjoyable in the sunshine nonetheless. Winter is the forecast to arrive soon.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Rye Meads - 31st October 14

Weather: Warm and sunny all day. Slight cloud.

Birds Total: 42
Plus: Peacock butterfly.
Plus: Common Darter, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: Ladybirds; Bees; Crane Fly; Flesh Fly; Grey Squirrel; Hoverfly; Midges; Spiders; Water Vole.

The last day of October and the temperature reached over 20 degrees. The warmest Halloween Day on record. And the wildlife reflected it by the appearance of bees and hoverflies amongst others. Although the forecast from now on is for a vastly cooler climate.

I spotted a perched Kestrel from the train on the way down, with over a hundred Canada Geese lined along the adjacent fields.

I arrived at the visitor center to find that they had a raft of Halloween events for the children today. I was asked if I would like my face painted. I politely declined.

At 'Water Vole Corner' looking out over the HMWT field 4 Common Snipe flew up and away; a Kingfisher flashed past, as they do; a lone Pied Wagtail also flew over as did about 200 Starlings. No sign of Ratty though.

Just before I reached the Draper Hide a couple of Goldfinches flew over and I could also hear several Cetti's Warblers around the area.

I then spent a very nice 45 minutes or so in the Hide. Amongst all the usual suspects out on the lagoon I spotted a Water Rail; a Jay and a Green Sandpiper out to the left by the Kingfisher Bank. Bearing right from there I could see around half-a-dozen Common Snipe; lots of Teal; a few Shoveler; 3 Wigeon; a pair of Little Grebes; at least 5 Stock Doves; a pair of Pied Wagtails while a lone Grey Heron flew in, disturbing the peace and quiet. In total I saw 3 Green Sandpipers out there. A Harlequin Ladybird flew in and landed just in front of me. Lastly, a Song Thrush flew past from right to left.

Out over the Gadwall lagoon about 200+ Lapwing suddenly flew up and around. As I moved up the trail a Green Woodpecker called out. Common Darter dragonflies were still about, basking on the trails. Up above, there were still loads and loads of Starlings flying about. A mini-murmuration? Or just a mur?

I then visited the twin hides. There were only the usual suspects from the Tern Hide plus a couple of Wigeon. But from the Gadwall Hide I could see all the Lapwing; 30+ Common Snipe; a Green Sandpiper, which ventured in quite close and a Grey Wagtail. There were quite a few Teal and Shoveler plus a few more Wigeon.

I paid a quick call into the Kingfisher Hide but, as to be expected at this time of year, nothing much was about, other than pairs of Coot and Gadwall. There was also a 12-spot ladybird which had also flown in and land near me.

Being Half-Term there were quite a few families about plus lots of others taking advantage of the great weather. The plus side of this Reserve is that there were no dog-walkers; joggers or cyclists about.

On the walk down to the Warbler Hide I spotted a Green Woodpecker on the trail, just behind a Grey Squirrel. And behind that was 3 hen Pheasants. All disappeared when they spotted me.

From the Hide itself, not a great deal could be seen. Just Gulls flying around. I did notice more ladybirds. In fact, lots of them. All crammed in together, trying to hibernate. At first I thought they were different species but I think nearly all were Harlequins. They soon dispersed after I opened up the window.

With nothing else on show I made my way back to the Gadwall Hide where, at last, a few birds ventured in close for some photos. First up was a Grey Heron, sat atop one of the goalposts. Then a Grey Wagtail flew in and landed just in front of the Hide and immediately began foraging around. It moved off when a Green Sandpiper moved in. Then, just as I was about to leave a Kingfisher flew in and landed on the posts in front and began fishing. He sat on the nearest post to us, in the sunshine. That was when my camera battery gave out. I quickly replaced it and carried on snapping away. It was an excellent 30-minute show by all of them.

I headed back to the Draper Hide for a quick look. On the way I bumped into a friend who had just come down from Amwell. He had managed to spot the Yellow-browed Warbler there. I was quite surprised that one was still about.

In the Hide I found quite a few people. By this time of the day the sun was shining down on the lagoon at an angle, giving off some lovely light. So I took advantage by snapping away at some of the ducks.

I headed back to 'Water Vole Corner' to have one more go at Ratty. After about 10 minutes one showed right in front of me. A brilliant end to a brilliant day.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Amwell Nature Reserve - 28th October 14

Weather: Warm, sunny skies all day. Slight wind.

Birds Total: 48
Plus: Common Darter, Migrant Hawker Dragonflies.

A few run-ins with some really stupid people on the way down to the Reserve today put me in a not-so-good mood. That and seeing nothing on the way there gave me a feeling that I should have stayed in bed today.

But it was another fine, warm, sunny day and it would have been foolish not to be out in it. Looking up at the brilliant, blue sky, I could see contrails criss-crossing above me, looking like white scars on a blue background. In fact, I was already quite hot by the time I got to the Watchpoint. 20 degrees at the end of October? Amazing.

There were a couple of people at the Watchpoint when I arrived. Looking out only elicited views of a few Lapwing and a couple of Grey Heron. There were, of course, all the usual suspects, notably Great Crested Grebe; Wigeon; Shoveler and Teal. Plus lots of Coot and Gulls. But it wasn't looking like it would be anything other than an average day out.

I had been hearing Dunnocks on several occasions but hadn't seen one for ages. That changed when one hopped up onto the fence-line beside me and chirped away happily, albeit keeping a wary eye on me.

Then, out to the left, high in the sky, I could see a Buzzard being mobbed by around half-a-dozen Crows. It escaped them by diving down to the trees. This was followed by a large flock of noisy Greylag Geese flying in, from left to right, whiffling to lose height and splash-landing not too far in front of the Gladwin Hide. They, in turn, were followed by a couple of small groups of Canada Geese. At the same time as this, I heard, then spotted, a Kingfisher flash past directly in front of us.

I was soon walking down to the Gladwin Hide to try and spot the Stonechats again. Initially I could only see lots of various Gull species out front, surrounded by the Geese, looking for all intents and purposes, like a ringed wagon-train encircled by indians.

Dotted around elsewhere were the usual suspects again, GCGs; Shoveler; Wigeon and Coot. But, additionally, there was a Little Egret on the far shore. But then, a female Stonechat flew into view and landed on a reed out to the left. She was soon joined by her partner and, together, they flitted around the area. These two were joined by a Pied Wagtail and then a Grey Wagtail. Soon, all 4 of them were interacting, with the Pied being especially upset by the Grey and chased it off a few times. A Reed Bunting then also flew in and joined in the party. I hadn't seen a Reed Bunting for ages. It was all great stuff to watch.

On the walk back I disturbed several Common Darter dragons, which were still about, trying to soak up the warm sunshine. Back at the Watchpoint I could see a Green Sandpiper on the far side of the lake.

The Reserve was looking really good at the moment, with its' autumnal colours splashed everywhere. The ground was covered in leaves which, although good to look at, make a fair bit of noise. Not good when you are trying to creep up on an unsuspecting bird.

A very inquisitive Caddis Fly
I reached the James Hide to find that the upper tier had been vandalised and was closed, so I entered the lower tier, to find 3 other guys already in situ. There were more Common Darters out front, while another Kingfisher flashed past, from right to left. A Water Rail briefly squealed out but it didn't show itself.

Soon after the other guys all left me to it. I was about to head off myself when suddenly, looking out towards the White Hide, a Bittern took off, flew for about 5 seconds and landed back down, nearer to the White Hide area. I was a little surprised to see one this early in the season. But then my memory started playing tricks with me, as soon after a hen Pheasant also took off in the same area and flew the other way. I was still pretty sure the first bird was a Bittern as the jizz between the two were totally different.

I decided to pack up and head over to the White Hide to try and see it from that angle. Five minutes later I was sat in the Hide looking back across to the James Hide. Fortunately or not, there wasn't much else to see from the Hide and so I concentrated on the same area. I had lunch while I waited.

Then, after about 30 minutes, the Bittern took off again and flew back towards the James Hide, landing back in the reeds. It was airborne long enough to get my Bins on it and so I could confirm that it was, indeed, a Bittern. I was delighted. I headed off back to the James Hide.

After only about 20 minutes in the James it showed itself again. About 15 feet away, to the left, by the corner of a reed-bed, I spotted a lone reed bend downward and it wasn't because of the wind. I raised my Bins and spotted the Bittern's reflection in the water. Then it poked its' head and neck out. I put the Bins down and picked up the camera, only to find that the bird had moved back into the reeds.

About a minute later another Birder walked in. I appraised him of the situation and hoped that I could get a witness, thereby proving that I had seen it. But, as always, the bird had stopped playing ball and I didn't see it again for the rest of the day. The Birder wandered off and was replaced with my friend, Ron. We sat there for an hour or more but it didn't reappear.

The only birds of note were another flash past of a Kingfisher while we heard a Green Woodpecker and a Cetti's Warbler sound off. Then a Grey Heron flew in and landed on the post directly opposite the Hide.

The sun eventually started to disappear and so I reluctantly headed back to the Watchpoint, where I found a few of the usual crowd. I let them know about the Bittern, but, without anyone else confirming the sighting, I wasn't sure if anyone would believe me. Out over the lake a second Little Egret had appeared.

I headed off home and, while walking along the canal towards the station, I spotted an odd sight. A Canada Goose was biting the neck of a Mallard, nape nibbling, which was swimming around in circles trying to escape. But the Goose had a tight, firm hold and didn't look like it was about to let it go anytime soon. Neither of the birds was making a sound and there were two other Mallards nearby, like me, watching the action. I would have liked to have stayed a little longer to see what happened but the train beckoned.

Despite the downbeat start to the day it became a memorable visit. A hot October day and a Bittern!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 27th October, 14

Weather: Very warm with clear skies. Slight breeze.

Birds Total: 42
Plus: Clouded Yellow, Peacock Butterflies.
Plus: Common Darter, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.

The forecast today was for bright, blue skies and so it was. In fact, it was quite warm too, reaching almost 20 degrees. Half-way through the day I had to divest myself of a layer or two. I had to double-check that it was still late October and not mid-July.

The clocks had gone back, meaning that it was now going to be darker, earlier towards the end of the day and so the days out now will be shorter. This week schools were on half-term and there were quite a few families around, taking advantage of the good weather. But, unfortunately, it also brought out the joggers; cyclists and dog-walkers. And lots of fishermen.

The highlights today were more views of the Stonechats; a lone Goldcrest and another Clouded Yellow butterfly. You see your first Goldcrest and Clouded Yellow, then more turn up immediately after. London Buses spring to mind.

Canal walk.
Anyway, nothing on the journey down. On the trail up to the Teal Hide I spooked a Common Darter, the only one I saw all day. In fact, I only saw a few Migrant Hawkers out over the lagoons. I guess their time is nearly up.

I stopped briefly to have a look out over Friday Lake, seeing 4 Great Crested Grebes; 8 Wigeon and a little Wren, which was quite close, singing out its' loud and explosive song.

View from the Teal Hide.
I sat down in the Teal Hide and looked out. At first there wasn't much about. Well, actually there wasn't anything about. But then a Canada Goose poked its' head up, followed by another one. Eventually 10 appeared. A couple of Teal swam past them on the lagoon, then I could see a Grey Heron out to the left, in amongst the reeds. A Little Egret soon appeared also out to the left, before flying past the Hide and landing out to the right. High up in the skies again to the left, behind the pylons I could see lots of Crows mobbing a Buzzard.

But then, when I looked ahead, towards the goalposts I could see a male Stonechat perched up. He was flying up every few minutes, presumably catching insects. Then, further back, he was joined by the wife. Another Birder came in and I mentioned that the Stonechats were having a good year. He cheerfully replied that so was everything else!

My Tits are magnificent!

More Teal turned up, another Grey Heron flew over, as did a few Jackdaws. I thought I spotted a Common Snipe fly in and land in amongst the reeds, but I couldn't be sure. This was when the Clouded Yellow flew by. I wasn't sure of the ID at first, but then it landed about 20 meters away where I confirmed it. Another guy had turned up and he brought a Jay and a Kestrel with him. The Kestrel hovered not too far away from us.

I decided to move on. The sun was shining down and it was starting to get quite warm. There was still a lot of foliage around and I noticed that only a few trees had shed their leaves. Apparently the Wardens had not released the cattle onto the area outside the Teal Hide due to a report of some invasive weeds and they didn't want to risk spreading it.

It was fairly quiet with not too much birdsong. In fact, there were more people than birds on the walk around to the Bittern Hide. There were, of course, quite a few GCGs on the surrounding lakes, while I heard several blasts of a Cetti's Warbler. Then I passed a family of Mute Swans, with one of the juveniles looking like it had 'Angel Wing'. Google it.

A little further I spotted a Little Grebe out on the relief channel. Then a Peacock butterfly flew by and landed on a flower, filling up on the nectar. Then another Jay flew overhead, just before I reached the Hide.

View from the Bittern Hide, including the famous feeders.
Looking out from the Bittern Hide I could see lots of birds, all the usual suspects. A few more GCGs; a few more Grey Herons, but not much else. I did note that, oddly, the only ducks I could see were Tufties. In fact I didn't see any Pochard all day and only a few Shoveler.

The feeders were doing good business, with lots of Greats and Blueys flying back and forth. A pair of Chaffinches seemed to have learnt how to balance on the spokes as well. Normally they have a few problems managing that trick. Woodpigeons and Moorhens were hoovering up the spillage. Bittern had been reported here recently but there was no sign of one today.

In the sunlight I could see lots of midges flying around, highlighted by the rays. All seemingly bouncing up and down in a kind of mating ritual.

With not much going on here I decided to have lunch and then move on to the Grebe Hide. On the walk along the relief channel I spotted another Buzzard having problems with more Crows. It had put up a few flocks over the farm, mainly pigeons; crows and jackdaws. But then a little bird flew in to my view while I was looking through the Bins. I re-focused and looked at it - it was a Goldcrest! Only my second sighting of the year. Unfortunately, it didn't hang around and flew off over the channel to the other side.

I reached Holyfield Weir, finding lots of Canadas and Greylags plus a few GCGs. The only other birds I could see were Gulls. Again, no wildfowl. I wonder where they have gone?

I reached the Grebe Hide and sat down. Outside I counted 9 GCGs, a couple of humbugs amongst them. One of which was continually begging for food. A pair of Egyptian Geese were out to the left. Everything else was either Coot; Geese; Cormorant or Gull. I did note that a few Tufted Duck were out there with a lone Shoveler.

With not much happening I took the opportunity of looking at the photos taken so far. I heard the familiar call of a Kingfisher and looked up to try and see it as it sped past but I couldn't see anything. Then I heard it again and saw it fly off. It was perched up on a little branch not six feet away from me! Doh!

Another view from the Bittern Hide.
There was more of the same on the return journey with the addition of another Kingfisher flying past when I got to the bridge. I sat back down in the Bittern Hide. More people came and went. Then a male Great Spotted Woodpecker flew in and started to lap up the fatball above the feeders. A very brave Great Tit joined it. I could see another Egyptian Goose away in the distance on the opposite bank.

It had started to get dark by now and so I headed for home. I was hoping to see a Water Rail before I left and, as I exited the Hide, I heard one squeal out. A little further on, swimming along the relief channel I spotted a pair of Little Grebes and a lone GCG swimming along together.

It was quite a good day out, especially in the sunshine. Only for it to be spoiled a little by further problems on the trains. I had rushed down to the station to make my train, only to find out that it had been cancelled!

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Abberton and Mersea - 25th October 14

Weather: Bright and sunny for most of the day, overcast late morning. Slight wind.

Birds Total: 65
Plus: Clouded Yellow, Red Admiral  butterflies.
Plus: Common Darter dragonfly.

Today I visited Abberton Reservoirs and Mersea Island with friend and fellow blogger, Alan Reynolds. It was my first visit to the area and I came away suitably impressed. It was such a good visit that I found that it could even rival places in Norfolk.

Alan picked me up around 9 and we made the 75-minute journey arriving at Abberton just in time to see a Great White Egret. Unfortunately, it flew off before I could get my camera out. But there were lots of birds present on both sides of the causeway. First up were some Geese, including a hybrid Bar-tailed Goose, which were just wandering past us.

Looking out over one side I could see a lone Swan Goose, a resident to the area. Not too far away from that was a female Red-crested Pochard. A few Little Egrets were also around, one of which ventured quite close to us, in full hunting mode. There were lots of various waterfowl everywhere. Pied Wagtails were picking there way past, just in front, while at least 3 Black-tailed Godwits could be seen further back. A lone Green Sandpiper was on the shoreline to our left, moving between several Lapwing. Several Starlings arrived and posed only yards away, their glossy coats reflecting the sunshine. About 4 Ruff flew up from the right-hand side of the reservoir, circled and landed back down.

Then Alan spotted a Marsh Harrier in the distance, quickly followed by a second away to our right. Kestrels could be seen, with one perched up atop the distant electricity pylon. There were about 4 or 5 cars parked up here with several people variously armed with Bins or Scopes. Other cars were speeding by and you had to be careful when crossing from one side to the other.

The fourth largest reservoir in England it was designated a Special Protection Area back in 1991. It's important as an autumn arrival area for waterbirds. The reservoir is famous for being used as a practice run for the RAF's 617 Squadron for the bombing of the German dams in the Ruhr during the War.

It was very bright and sunny when we arrived but then, all of a sudden, the sun was blotted out by an overcast sky with the wind picking up. The forecast had been for clear, blue skies for most of the day, so where had these clouds come from? We decided to move on towards Mersea Island.

A quick stop a little later on brought us good views of a pair of Pintail and a small group of Great Crested Grebes, while a few Rooks were perched up on the telegraph wires. And then we were entering East Mersea, which is sparsely populated, the opposite of West Mersea, where most people live.

We soon arrived at Cudmore Grove Country Park and met up with the Reserve Warden, Dougal Urquhart with Monty his four legged terrier companion. He appraised us of the recent sightings in the area and we were soon off walking the area.

Leaving the picnickers and families behind we found ourselves in a small wooded area which looked out to a small lagoon. Here we found around a 1000 Black-tailed Godwits, with accompanying Redshank; Teal; Wigeon and Little Egrets. Further back, on the fields behind we could see lots of Curlew. And even further back from them were a flock of Brent Geese. It was quite a sight, in fact the numbers were breath-taking. I hadn't seen so many BlackWits and Curlews in one spot outside of Norfolk. And it wasn't just the sight, it was the sound. A cacophony of noise, as the birds wandered around the lagoon, feeding and interacting. It was an effort to drag myself away.

But walking a little further on Alan heard the high-pitched call of a Goldcrest and a few minutes later it appeared, hopping from branch to branch before flying off. Leaving the woodland and looking out over the fields we witnessed the Geese take flight and then saw a large flock of Golden Plover circle above us before landing in said field. Just before we reached the sea-wall a beautiful Clouded Yellow butterfly flew past, the first of 3 seen today. To our delight it landed nearby, allowing a few photo opportunities.

Then we found ourselves walking along the sandy beach, where we found mostly Meadow Pipits but with at least one Rock Pipit. There were lots of dog-walkers in this area, so we didn't hang around long and moved on.

By now the sun had come back out and we were bathed in glorious, warm sunshine. The tide had already come in, covering the mud-flats. But it brought with it lots more Brent Geese. We could see flocks of various birds out over the water, which included Dunlin; Redshank and Grey Plover. The odd Little Egret also flew by. There were more Meadow Pipits along here as well as a flock of Linnet.

Looking out across the water Alan spotted the head of a Seal popping up, amongst all the stunning vista of yachts sailing back and forth.

Then we spotted a lone Grey Plover already in its' winter plumage perched up on a wooden stump by the shore. It allowed us to creep close to it before flying a little further on. We approached quietly and slowly again, this time getting a little closer before it again flew up and away.

Then, amazingly, we looked up and spotted a Tern fly in and land nearly at the same spot. It was a tad late in the year for this bird to still be present, but we weren't too sure which species. It was later confirmed as an adult Common Tern. Earlier, we had spotted a lone Swallow flying past, another late migrant.

We walked as far as the Colchester Oyster Fishery before stopping and heading back. On the walk back we spotted a Kingfisher flash past, land briefly, before flying off again. Then we found ourselves back at BlackWit Lagoon taking in more breath-taking sights.

Back at the car-park we paused for lunch and a much needed sit down. Alan then suggested we drive over to West Mersea and have a look for Mediterranean Gulls by the shell-covered beach. In the event we only saw one flying around. There were lots of people about here taking advantage of the sunny weather, with the odd Parasurfer gliding by, trying not to fall into the water. All the brightly coloured beach huts were lined up opposite the shore, looking like a row of garden sheds, albeit an expensive one.

We then decided to head off home, making a quick stop back at the Reservoir for another look. On the way we spotted a lone Mistle Thrush perched on the wire above us. An hour or so later I was being dropped off.

It was a fantastic day out and the area certainly rivals anything the rest of the UK has to offer. My thanks to Alan for inviting me and for showing me the area. You can find Alan's Blog here.