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.