Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A Cold, Crisp Day at Fishers Green!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 10th December, 14

Weather: Bright, sunny, clear skies. Cold wind.

Bird Total: 43

Plus: Fox; Grey Squirrel; Muntjac.

It was a lovely, sunny day. Clear skies with a cold, biting wind. But I had my secret weapon on today, a lovely warm scarf.

There was nothing much to be seen until I arrived at Friday Lake. Looking out I could see about 4 or 5 Great Crested Grebes swimming around; a lone female Pochard and the usual Gulls; Coot and ducks.

View from the Teal Hide.
I sat down in the Teal Hide and looked out. To my surprise there were 5 Little Egrets standing just to the side of one of the goal-posts. Not doing very much, looking like a mini-roost. About half-a-dozen Shoveler were asleep out to the left; a pair of Teal to the right; a few Gadwall milling around, seemingly aimlessly and a few Black-headed Gulls. Nothing else could be seen.

But, then, a dozen Lapwing flew over, most of them peewitting. Disappointingly, they didn't stop and flew on. A 6th Little Egret then arrived and landed with the others. One by one, they all started to preen. It was as if they were trying to out-preen each other. There was the distinctive cry of a Water Rail out amongst the reeds, but I couldn't locate it.

Outside, I disturbed a pair of Grey Squirrels, who both quickly scampered up the nearest tree. They both eyed me warily as I walked past.

I took another quick look out over Friday Lake, seeing a total of 8 GCGs now. A very noisy Greylag Goose flew over. Then I was suddenly surrounded by a large group of elderly people or crumblies as I call them, all chattering away as they went by, fortunately in the opposite direction.

Unusually, there wasn't much to be seen on the trail to the bridge. The skies were still clear of cloud, there was a slight cold wind and it was 'crisp' out there. The sun took every opportunity to shine right in to my eyes. There were only the usual birds about. Maybe the reason was the large amount of dog-walkers about. Curmudgeonly? Me? Nah!

Standing on the bridge looking out over both sides brought the GCG count up to 16. But I didn't hang around as the wind up here was quite strong. Even for my magic scarf.

Out over Seventy Acres Lake there were at least 70+ Lapwing on the far island. I could also see at least 4 Grey Herons trying to blend in with the reeds. Various other wildfowl were swimming about but not in any great number.

View from the Bittern Hide.
I made it to the Bittern Hide and sat down. A few people were already there. Unfortunately no sign of Billy the Bittern, although a pair of them have been seen here recently. But we were entertained by a few Water Rails, wandering around and a lone GCG who was having a very successful time fishing, bringing up lots of fish to the surface, before swallowing them all down. There was also a few Coot, one of which was also quite successful in the fishing stakes.

I started on down the trail towards the Grebe Hide. Just as I entered the trail I spotted a male Muntjac with his back to me. I crept up quietly and slowly and managed to get to within 10 feet of him, before he turned around and saw me. I froze and saw that he didn't know what to make of me. I wanted to bring the camera to bear but I knew that if I did that he would bolt. In the event, he fed a little more for a few seconds, before again looking up at me and then decided to head off. I didn't get a photo but it was exhilarating to be so close.

Further on up the trail a lone Fieldfare flew in and landed on one of the trees beside the relief channel. But it was too obscured by branches for any decent shot. More Grey Squirrels could be seen, again all scampering away. Then a hen Pheasant scurried past me from right to left and disappeared into the bushes. More Thrushes could be seen flying about the area.

I stopped and looked over the channel to the lagoon. Seeing nothing I was about to continue on when I spotted a pair of Foxes, slowly walking along the fence-line. One disappeared in to the bushes while the other one sat down and promptly fell asleep. Looking further back, towards the farm, I could see dozens and dozens of Jackdaws and Pigeons all over the trees and barns.

I arrived at Holyfield Weir but there wasn't much to be seen apart from the odd Coot and Gull. There were a few other dabbling ducks about but not much else.

Just before I reached the Grebe HideJay flew past me, then back again. A Grey Heron was perched up on a stump in the small lagoon. Both birds soon disappeared as they saw me.

I sat down and looked out over the lake. The GCG count soon went up to 24. There wasn't much about out here either, apart from lots of Pochard. The Grey Heron had now perched up high on one of the distant island trees, surveying his domain.

But, patience paid off and, about 20 minutes later, my target bird for today, a gorgeous female Goosander appeared, out to the right. Unfortunately, she stayed distant and so I was unable to immortalise her beauty.

On the return journey, just before I arrived back at the Weir, another Muntjac appeared and ran across the trail in front of me. At the Weir itself a Reserve Warden had turned up and was busy working away. The only addition on the water was a Little Grebe.

There was a lone Redwing picking off the red berries over on the other side of the relief channel. It was now starting to get quite windy. I tightened my scarf.

Just before I reached the end of the trail I spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker, climbing up one of the trees. It seemed to be quite small though and, at first, I thought it may have been a Lesser. But I couldn't get close enough for a shot and when it saw me, it flew off.

I hung around the Bittern Hide until dusk, hoping to see a Bittern fly in to roost. Unfortunately not. But I was again entertained by the sight of a flying, screeching Grey Heron, trying to land on one of the trees opposite the Hide. It didn't quite seem to have the knack and kept landing on a weaker branch.

Just before I left a Great Tit sounded off an alarm, scaring all the birds off the feeders. Sure enough, a few seconds later, a Sparrowhawk raced past.

A cold, crisp day out. No Bittern but I spotted my target, the bird of the day, a Goosander.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Top Day's Birding!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 8th December 14

Weather: Sunny blue skies, slight cloud. Very cold.

Bird Total: 49

After the excitement, this morning, of seeing the Rough-legged Buzzard at Braughing, I decided to head down to Amwell for a few hours.

The sun was still shining and I was still buzzing from seeing the Buzzard. It was still quite cold out but I was all layered up and armed with a flask of coffee.

On the train down I managed to spot Harry the Heron, in his usual place. And on the walk up to the Reserve there were plenty of birds flying around the trees, which were now completely devoid of leaves.

There was only one other guy at the Watchpoint. And looking out I could see well over a hundred Lapwing; a couple of Grey Herons; a pair of Goldeneye; quite a few Great Crested Grebes; lots of Gull species again plus the usual wildfowl. Close to the Watchpoint a Robin was gratefully feeding on some crumbs that some thoughtful person had left. There were also a few Goldfinches around the area.

I decided not to pay a visit to the Gladwin Hide as I could already see Goldeneye around the area. So, instead, I headed straight for the James Hide. Time was also getting on, it was already past midday and there would only be around 3 or 4 hours of daylight left.

The upper tier repairs had been completed but I opted to sit down in the lower tier again. One other guy was already in there and was sitting on the right-hand side, adjacent to the feeders. The best seat in the house. He hadn't seen anything worthwhile and was still waiting for the Kingfisher to show up.

I sat there for about 10 minutes before deciding to go upstairs. It may have been repaired but the door still needed fixing, so I wedged it closed with a little stick. Maybe it had been left for just this purpose.

The feeders were again doing plenty of good business, with Tits and Finches and Buntings all awaiting their turn to feed. Robins and Dunnocks were also around. A Jay flew past and out over the lake, looking like it was busy on some errand. A Little Grebe could be seen swimming past the channel opening. Then, to my delight, a Marsh Tit announced its' arrival and duly flew in a few seconds later, also waiting patiently for its' turn on the feeders.

I spent a good few minutes here trying to photograph it. But it would only land on the feeder itself and then sit behind a little branch. Still, it was good to see. I paused for lunch and some badly needed hot coffee.

I then headed down to the other feeders, located just inside the Dragonfly Trail. On the way plenty of birds appeared. First up was a Bullfinch, which flew past from right to left. Then a party of Long-tailed Tits chattered past, high in the branches. They were escorted by another Marsh Tit and a couple of Goldcrests. I did try and photograph the Goldcrest, but it was much to quick for me.

Then, high up in the sky, obviously trying not to be outdone by this mornings' events, a couple of Common Buzzards could be heard screeching out their song. They duly appeared, flying past high above me, one chasing the other.

Further along the trail, looking out over Hollycross Lake, a Kestrel flew past, right to left and then disappeared behind the trees. Then I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker but couldn't locate it. The breeze had now picked up a bit around here and it was blowing a fierce, biting wind which was starting to chill me. I needed some more hot coffee.

When I arrived at the entrance to the trail I was disappointed to see that the feeders were empty and that nothing could be seen around the area. So I headed back, seeing several Redwing and Fieldfare on the way.

I made my way around to the White Hide. There were two people in this Hide and they helpfully pointed out a pair of Common Snipe, on the island just in front of us. I could also see a pair of Little Egrets out to the left, feeding along the edges.

With the bright, low sun in my eyes I decided to head back to the James Hide. Just as I arrived and sat down in the lower tier I spotted a shadow on the lagoon and looked up to see a Kingfisher had arrived and had perched on the outer stick, in the middle of the lagoon. I took a few quick snaps and then, amazingly it then flew closer to the Hide and perched on the nearer stick. Cue more snaps.

Unfortunately, by this time, the sun was going down and, although I was getting some good, close-up shots, they proved to be a little grainy. Still, never mind. It was turning out to be a really good day's birding. The appearance of the KF was one of those lucky moments.

It was a juvenile male and when he departed the feeders opened up for business again. The Marsh Tit made another appearance, as did plenty of Reed Buntings. A party of LTTs again arrived, chattering away and all crowded the feeders. Greats and Blueys were flying in and out; a pair of Robins eyed each other up; a pair of Dunnocks chased each other through the lower branches and even a male Chaffinch gave me a pose. Then a Water Rail squealed out, but stubbornly remained hidden. It was all happening!

It was starting to get really dark now and so I headed back to the Watchpoint. Unusually the evening crowd didn't make an appearance so there was no one to point out the rare Gulls. I tried but there were birds flying in every few seconds. I looked through my Bins over the lake and must have seen well over a thousand Gulls floating out there, with even more flying in. I picked out the 5 species I did know before heading home.

Top day's birding!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Rough-legged Buzzard at Braughing.

Braughing - 8th December 14

Weather: Sunny blue skies, slight cloud. Very cold.

Birds seen:
Red Kite; Buzzard; Rough-Legged Buzzard; Kestrel; Pheasant; Black-headed Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Woodpigeon; Dunnock (H); Robin; Blackbird; Fieldfare; Song Thrush; Mistle Thrush; Blue Tit; Great Tit; Magpie; Jay; Carrion Crow; Rook.
Total: 20

Today I had a chance to try and see if the Rough-legged Buzzard was still around near Braughing. It had been reported here nearly 2 months ago but today was only the second time I'd had a chance to go. The first time caught me double-booked.

It was also the day that a friend of mine from Lancashire had come down to pay a visit to the Lee Valley. Unfortunately, she took ill with the flu and was unable to make it.

The weather was very kind to us, seeing as how we had booked today in advance. We had almost totally clear skies, with a slight wind, although it was again very cold out.

A good friend of mine, Andy, who lives just up the road from me had indicated that he wanted to try and see the bird, so we all decided to meet up today and go for it. So, just the two of us, drove down to Braughing to try out luck.

It was only a 25-minute drive or so and we soon found ourselves in the area that the bird had last been reported.

Andy spotted a Common Buzzard in the field, just as we arrived. Then, further, on, we spotted 3 Red Kites flying low over a giant haystack. A good start.

There were plenty of Gulls and Pigeons around, slightly distracting us. But then, after only about 10 minutes or so, Andy shouted out and pointed. Sure enough, a Buzzard soared overhead. I was pretty sure it was the RLB but Andy confirmed it, seeing the dark terminal band on the tail.

It flew past us and landed on a tree, nearly opposite us, about 40-50 yards away. We had walked up a dirt track when we saw it. The bird could be seen really well through the binoculars, reflecting nicely in the bright sunlight.

I turned and raced back to the car to get my camera. But when I looked back it had flown further away, landing in the next field. Unfortunately, that was out best view of it. There were 2 more possible sightings later on, but they were most probably Common Buzzards.

We walked further along the dirt track, seeing plenty of Thrushes and a few Jays, before heading back to the car and driving around for another half-an-hour or so. I then spotted another Buzzard perched in a tree, just ahead of us.

Andy pulled up and turned the car around. We looked up and saw it fly further back, along the road. I managed to take a few record shots of it but it looked like it was another Common Buzzard.

We decided against trying to wait it out and headed back home. On the way we added Kestrel to an impressive raptor list.

It looks as if the RLB will over-winter here so there may well be further opportunities to see it.

My thanks to Andy for volunteering to chauffeur me around.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Pintail at Rye Meads!

Rye Meads - 5th December 14

Weather: Cloudy with some sunshine. Very cold.

Birds Total: 43

It was another nice day out today. Although very cold, with slight cloud and a short, sharp shower I was wrapped up, with several layers. Actually, I felt a bit like the old Michelin Man!

Bird of the day was a lovely male Pintail, seen from the Gadwall Hide. Although he was at the back of the lagoon all day he did give some good views. He keep ducking his head down, feeding, every few seconds. He was swimming back and forth and kept his distance, not coming close once.

I only saw six other people all day and only then very briefly. I must remember to check my aftershave cabinet.

There was nothing much to see out of the train window on the way down, other than lots of fields dotted with a myriad of small ponds and lakes. And, although the Reserve had already been open for about an hour, I was the first visitor.

View from the Draper Hide.
It was too cold for Ratty to be seen and I soon moved on to the Draper Hide. There had only been a lone Grey Heron out over the HMWT meadow. A Cetti's Warbler was singing out, but, as usual, it remained elusive.

Unfortunately, the lagoon outside the Hide was quite high and there were only a few species out there. Several Shoveler; Teal; Tufted Duck; Gadwall; Coot and about 20-odd Canada Geese. All milling about the lagoon, some feeding, some just milling. But there were several Redwing outside the Hide, trying to pick off the last of the juicy-looking red berries.

View from the Ashby Hide.
I moved on and paid a quick visit to the Ashby Hide. Directly in front of the Hide was a male Pheasant, out in the open, pecking away at the grass. A pair of Moorhen and a pair of Coot were swimming around. A lone female Teal was near the Pheasant. I could also hear a Water Rail sounding off. But, as soon as I opened up a window, they all moved off. If it wasn't my aftershave, was it my fashion sense?

Buff-tailed Bumble Bee, I think.
I headed off down the trail, spooking a lone Jay. There were several species seen as I walked along, mainly lots of Blackbirds, nearly all of which were sounding off their alarm calls. Robins; Tits; Finches and Dunnocks were all present. Most of them sounding off. Hey, it's only me, guys!

I then arrived at the Gadwall Hide to see the Pintail. Also out there were well over 150 Lapwing, which were being put up every few minutes; several Common Snipe; lots of Shoveler and Teal plus all the other usual suspects. But there wasn't a lot happening, it was just business as usual. A quick visit to the Tern Hide only gave me Tufted Duck and what looked like Coot City, with several of them swimming around right in front of the Hide. It did look very congested out there.

Back out on the trail I could see a Green Woodpecker about 30 meters ahead of me. There was no way I could hide from it and it duly spotted me and flew off, its' bright green plumage reflecting back as it went.

View from the Kingfisher Hide.
I paid a visit to the Kingfisher Hide, not really expecting to see much. But, after only being there for a few minutes, I spotted a male Kingfisher sat on a branch out to the left. It was diving down into the water, feeding and then proceeded to have a preen, before sitting still. There were also the resident pair of Coot and a couple of Moorhen, one of which had sat atop one of the stumps. I could also hear and Water Rail.
Great Spotted Woodpecker

One of several million Coot on the Reserve.
A few minutes later a Kestrel appeared from nowhere, seemingly from the reed-bed. It flew up and away. Then I could see all the Lapwing fly up over the Gadwall lagoon.

I decided to go down and sit in the lower tier, to try and get a better view of the Kingfisher. I was hoping that it would get closer. But I took my eye off it and when I looked back, it had disappeared. With just the Coots and Moorhens for company I moved on.

As I walked down to the Warbler Hide I spooked another Green Woodpecker. Then I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker and looked up to see it climbing up one of the trees, pecking away as it went.

There was nothing to be seen from the Warbler Hide, other than a fly-by from a Grey Heron. Time for lunch.

Work along the Trail.
I could see that there had been lots of work done around the Reserve, with lots of little piles of cut reed dotted along the trails. I guess they would become homes for someone. Or something.

View from the Gadwall Hide.
I arrived back at the Gadwall Hide but the only birds to add to the list were a pair of little Pied Wagtails, darting in and out, between all the ducks and a pair of Little Grebe. I hung around the Hide for about an hour, mainly because it had started to rain. The weather forecast was for slight cloud early on, a band of heavy cloud, with rain, around midday but should clear after 2. I sat there until after 3 when the cloud finally decided to move on before letting the sun come back out.

My last stop, as usual, was the Draper Hide. There was still nothing too much about out on the lagoon and so I concentrated instead, on several Redwing outside the Hide. To my delight there were soon joined by several Fieldfare, my first of the season. One of them allowed to get fairly close, for a record shot.

But it was getting colder and the sun had also started to disappear so I decided to call it a day. Not one of the best days out but I hadn't been out for a while and so it was good to be out in the fresh, if cold, air.

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