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!