Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Tit Fest @ Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 23rd December 15

Weather: Clear blue skies. Mild.

Bird Total: 51
Plus: Bank Vole; Grey Squirrel; Konik Pony; Rabbit.

Last visit out before the Christmas break and it had to Amwell.

The weather today was forecast to be clear and sunny. Rain, dark skies, doom and gloom were the headlines for the rest of the week. The extra ponds and puddles were still around, as I journeyed down to the Reserve. However, at least it wasn't as bad as the North. My heart goes out to them.

The Winter Solstice has come and gone, being nearly as warm as the Summer Solstice! However, we are past the short days and long nights and are now making the return journey, back to long days and short nights. Hurrah!

It was the usual stuff on the train journey down, which today was thankfully trouble-free. As I was walking up the canal path to the Reserve, all I could see and hear were Tits, Tits and more Tits. It was almost like being present at a Page Three convention. Well, in my imagination, anyway.

There were only two people present at the Watchpoint, when I arrived. One of them with a pair of dogs. Looking out over the lake, I could see the usual stuff, mainly Lapwing; wildfowl and, of course, Coot City. I hung around for about 15 minutes, before moving on. I was a bit surprised not to see Grey Heron or Wigeon out there and, despite clear skies, no raptors were over Easneye Wood.

I made my way down to the Gladwin Hide. I opened the shutters to find a Konik pony feeding outside. Three more were further out to the left. Looking out, I soon spotted two pairs of Goldeneye, close together, either preening or feeding. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling, somewhere in the trees opposite. A Great Crested Grebe, in full winter plumage, swam idly past, from right to left, against the Tide.

Bearing in mind the short day, I headed back up the trail. After a quick look from the Watchpoint, I decided to take a walk through the Wood. It turned out to be an inspired decision. It was quite easily the most successful visit I've had here, so far.

It started poorly; a man and his dog were about 50 metres ahead of me. I lingered a little at the start, to allow him to get well ahead. Which proved to be very lucky, as a party of chattering Long-tailed Tits flew over, bringing a Treecreeper with them. It gave me some very good, close-up views and I watched it for about 5 minutes, as it flew from tree to tree, crawling up each one, hunting for insects or grubs.

When it finally disappeared, a small flock of Fieldfare and Redwing, further back and quite high up, caught my eye. They also moved from tree to tree. I continued my walk, taking the zig-zag turn and was soon on the second part of the path.

As I walked slowly along, looking up, a large flock of Siskins appeared, again flitting from tree to tree, rewarding my patience. However, this time, the birds were moving around the lower branches and quite a few of them passed close by, feeding as they went. Some of them were only about 10 feet away but they completely ignored me. I was delighted.

I was even more delighted a little further on, as I spotted a Goldcrest, also low down and busily flying from twig to twig. I know that these guys can be really quick, but I managed to get a few modest shots of it, when it paused for breath. What a fantastic 20 minutes or so!

Unfortunately, it all came to an abrupt end, as the dog-walker had started his return journey. Everything scattered as man and dog approached. He gave me a happy greeting and hoped that he 'hadn't disturbed anything too much'. I tried to give him my best 'no problem' smile. Well, it was Christmas.

I took a quick look out over the Bittern Pool, seeing only Coot and Tufted Duck. However, a Sparrowhawk flashed past, just as I was about to move on, scaring everything.

I entered the James Hide to find it empty, but there were a few noisy people in the upstairs tier. There were plenty of people about today, probably because the schools had broken up for the holidays. Some had children in tow; some had dogs in tow. Some had children and dogs in tow.

The feeders were full and, to my surprise, there were dozens of birds flying in and out. They were mainly Tits, but with a few Finches and Buntings - all patiently awaiting their turn, while also keeping a lookout for any danger.

I was going to let them know about the Sparrowhawk but I realised that I didn't speak bird.

I was hoping to see and photograph a Kingfisher, while the light was good. And maybe even a Water Rail. However, the action on the feeders was fast and furious and non-stop. Mesmerising, even. If the Kingfisher and/or Water Rail did pay a visit, I probably missed them.

I scanned the ground, below the feeders and was delighted to spot a Bank Vole, dashing around, trying to pick off a tasty seed morsel. It would quickly disappear when a Chaffinch landed.

Then, a lovely Coal Tit arriving on the scene, sidetracked my attention. Although I managed to get a few shots, it stubbornly refused to land on a nearby branch, like its' cousins. It would fly in, land on one of the feeders, stuff a few seeds into its mouth and then fly off.

Another party (the same?) of continuously chattering Long-tailed Tits then announced their arrival. This time, they didn't bring the Treecreeper. However, they did bring a gorgeous Marsh Tit with them, which proceeded to give me some great close-up views, as it perched on a branch, awaiting a space on one of the feeders.

Suddenly, an alarm call went up and everything scattered. I expected to see a Sparrowhawk flash past. But no, it was only Phil the Pheasant, creeping in from the undergrowth. Soon, everyone flew back in and continued the show. 

I had tried to keep one eye out over the lagoon, just in case anything showed. However, the feeders kept my attention and all I spotted was a lone Moorhen swimming around. Just before I decided to head off, a Great Spotted Woodpecker arrived and began pecking the branches for grubs.

I stopped briefly at the twin lagoons, seeing nothing, but, just as I crossed the bridge, I spotted a Kingfisher flash past, heading upriver.

The Dragonfly Trail feeders weren't quite as busy, but they were still attracting loads of birds. There were 10 (ten) Pheasants below them, all gorging on the spilt seeds. The birds on the feeders were mainly Goldfinch and Chaffinch and occasionally Great and Blue Tit. Then I could hear another Great Spotted Woodpecker call out and soon I spotted not one, not two, but three on the tree above.

On the trail back, towards the White Hide, I noticed a few flowers in bloom. Now, I'm no botanist but Snowdrops sprang to mind. There were also a few Thistles starting to bloom as well. Hawthorn had been reportedly in flower around here, too. Don't get me started on Climate Change or Global Warming!

The White Hide gave me the Grey Heron and Wigeon that I had missed on arrival. All the usual birds were floating around, too. I stopped for another 30 minutes or so, in the James Hide, seeing Coal TitGreat Spotted Woodpecker and a Bank Vole again. However, there was a very noisy family in the upper tier, so I headed back to the Watchpoint.

Where nothing extra was on show. The HNHS website reported 155 Great Black-backed Gulls out on the lake today, at roost, plus a pair of Yellow-legged Gulls. However, I had departed long before the 'Gull Watch' brigade arrived. On the walk back, along the canal path, I could hear a Song Thrush sing out, as well as seeing more Redwing fly past.

It was another very good day out and a lovely Christmas present from the Reserve. That's three good outings in a row. I'm now only one more visit away from equalling my 2013 haul. I'm hoping to make at least one more trip next week. Hopefully, the Weather and the Travel Gods will allow it.

Overheard in one of the Hides: 'Enough about the Migrants, why don't we ban extreme flooding coming over here to this country!'

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Bramblings @ Rye Meads!

Rye Meads - 18th December 15

Weather: Cloudy and overcast all day. Still quite warm.

Bird Total: 42

Despite feeling a little knackered from yesterdays' hike, I dragged myself out of bed and decided to pay one last visit of the year to Rye Meads. A pair of Water Pipits had been seen recently. Hey, I'm short on Pipits this year!

Unfortunately, I slept in a bit too long this morning and missed my intended train. Even worse, the next train was a few minutes late and then we were held up by a Goods Train passing us by. In short, it delayed my train for just long enough to miss my connection. So I had to wait half-an-hour for the next one. Not a good start.

When I eventually arrived at the Reserve I was feeling moody and just a little curmudgeonly. There were dark clouds overhead and, being RM, I wasn't too sure it was a good idea for a visit. In fact, I was now feeling quite determined to have a bad day. I was already writing the first few paragraphs of my report....'should have stayed in bed'....'nothing here, move along!'

I'd only ventured out because I was trying to equal, if not beat, my visit record of 2013. I only need 4 more!

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men! The Gods must have taken pity on me, for the clouds started to dissipate and the birds started to appear. Some corkers, too!

Merry Xmas, Harry!
There had been nothing to report until I arrived and sat down in the Draper Hide. The feeders just outside the Visitor Centre were full and were being given a good seeing to. Mainly Tits and Finches, plus female Pheasants below. Although they were all within a few metres, they were ignoring me. I guess they were all quite used to people walking past now.

There wasn't a great deal of activity outside the Hide. I could see one very miserable looking Grey Heron. There were plenty of Teal about. In fact, they were by far the most plentiful bird out there. They were flanked by a few Shoveler and Tufted Duck; Coot and a couple of Mute Swans. The water level out there was quite high, nearly swamping the islands. However, there was a lone Green Sandpiper, moving between all the Teal.

Looking at the trees surrounding the lagoon, I could see a few small flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare. A large flock of Lapwing were being put up, over the other lagoon, escorted by Black-headed Gulls. One last sweep with my bins gave me 3 or 4 Common Snipe, all hunkered down in the grass.

Where's that Brambling?
As I exited the Hide and started my walk up the trail, I could see a few people looking through their bins at something. Hopefully, something good. When I arrived my heart missed a beat, as one of them told me that a pair of Bramblings were in amongst a flock of Chaffinches, all feeding on the seeds on the path, that had been put out for them, about 20 metres away.

I quickly picked up the male and then the female. They were all being flushed back into the trees every now and then, but after a minute or two, first one, then another finch, flew back down. The Bramblings were a little more cautious and would only fly down when there were lots of Chaffs there.

I was elated! I had never, knowingly, seen a Brambling before. They were on show for about 15 minutes before flying off. All thought of having a lie-in and problems with trains were flushed from my memory. A Lifer!

I headed up the trail, seeing a female Bullfinch call out, before flying off. Just before I entered the Gadwall Hide, I heard the distinctive call of a Water Rail. The Hide was empty, as was the lagoon outside. Well, not quite.

Looks like this tree had some good years!
However, it was surprisingly devoid of Snipe. This was usually the best place to see them, especially at this time of the year. There were quite a few Gulls out there, as well as loads of Coot, as to be expected. I did see another Green Sandpiper, possibly the same one. The bonus was seeing a pair of Shelduck. Although they were fast asleep, at the back of the lagoon. The water levels here were quite low, in marked contrast to the Draper lagoon. At least one of them has to be high, at all times.

All the Lapwing were being put up by an unknown something, on a regular basis. A pair of Stock Doves were feeding in amongst the Lapwing, as were a large flock of Starlings. However, apart from the usual wildfowl, not a lot else.

I then found myself in the Kingfisher Hide. I had paid brief visits to the Ashby and Tern Hides, seeing not a lot. There wasn't much to be seen from the Kingfisher Hide, either. No Kingfishers today, just a pair of Coot and a Grey Squirrel climbing a tree. The Squirrel, not the Coot. I broke for lunch.

The weather was again very mild today. I had cut down on the layers, bearing in mind I had a flask of coffee with me. However, it wasn't as bright as yesterday. I didn't see very many people around the Reserve all day. All out doing the Christmas shopping, no doubt.

A party of Long-tailed Tits flew by, to my left. Noisy Starlings were lined up on the wires above. When they all departed, I did too. It was a very quiet walk down to the Warbler Hide. I noticed that a lot more trees had been cut down, especially along the trails.

I looked out from the Hide, over the Meadow. Not a dickie-bird!

And nothing much else to see or to report after that, until I arrived back at Brambling Boulevard. This time, I was given further, longer views of the male, as he chanced his luck, feeding on the seeds put out earlier by the staff. Magpies; Moorhens; Pheasants and Woodpigeons were also in on the feast. Then, a small bird flew in and joined the mêlée. At first, I thought it was a Goldcrest but one of the Reserve volunteers said that it was a Firecrest!

Unfortunately, the light wasn't too good and I didn't take many photos today, at all. I paid another visit to the Draper Hide, not seeing anything more and so decided to head home. Just before I left I was surprised to hear, then see, a male Blackcap.

The trains continued to play silly buggers. I was held up just long enough, again, to miss my connection. This time, waiting for over 40 minutes! I was informed, by a member of staff, that the weather was to blame! Nice one, Abellio!

'Word of the day: PANJANDRUM - a pompous, pretentious, self-important official.'

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Top Birding Day!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 17th December, 15

Weather: Cloudy early on, brightening up later.

Bird Total: 49
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Muntjac.

The forecast for today looked pretty good. It just needed to be a little accurate. The previous few days had seen rain, rain and more rain. However, today rain was not forecast but was, in fact, a little cloudy early on, turning brighter later. At least there wasn't the sound of thunder. It was also quite warm out - still, making me break into a little sweat after walking nearly 10km.

But it was a top birding day! Enough to make the angels weep!

No rockets to the Space Station but there was some top quality birding. Smew; Goosander; Goldcrest; Stonechat and a few surprises. At last, a sort of wild justice, as opposed to previous days out.

The first surprise was the train getting me down there, ontime. Nothing much to be seen on the way down, apart from lots of large puddles. The river God had obviously been busy.

Soon, I was looking out over Friday Lake. I could see Wigeon; Great Crested Grebe and Grey Heron. Then I thought I spotted a pair of Goosander, but which later turned out to be Shoveler. I only had a few seconds of disappointment because right next to them appeared a redhead Smew! It was a bit distant and it didn't venture too close, but I was delighted to see my first one of the season. Not exactly an eagle in the sky, but a good start!

I sat down in the Teal Hide and looked out. There were quite a few birds on show, some fairly close to the Hide. However, when they clocked me, they all moved off. This camo cream doesn't seem to be working.

View from the Snipe Hide over Hall Marsh Scrape
Apart from the usual large flock of Black-headed Gulls I could see quite a lot of Wigeon; quite a lot of Lapwing; Teal and Shoveler; Canada and Greylag Geese and a Manky Mallard. Then a couple of people entered and informed me that a male Stonechat could be seen from the Snipe Hide, which was adjacent to this Hide. I had only visited it the once, but headed off to try my luck.

After about five minutes I spotted it, atop of some bramble, to my left. It was quite mobile, but not mobile enough in my direction. Still, it was good to see one. Two good birds in 30 minutes!

I took a walk through the lakes, seeing, in no particular order, Great Crested Grebe; Kingfisher; Redwing; Teal and a Chiffchaff. There were plenty of people about, most with dogs in tow, all looking at me with an eye of the tiger.

I reached the Bridge and could see Great Crested Grebe; Little Grebe and a few Pochard. It was a tad windy up here, so I didn't hang around. There were no further birds to be seen, other than the usual, until I reached the Bittern Hide.

It was empty when I arrived. Bittern had last been seen over a week ago. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker had also been seen recently. There wasn't a great deal about on the lake, which looked to be as hungry as the sea, other than several Lapwing; more Great Crested Grebes and a pair of Egyptian Geese. The feeders were full and being visited regularly.

A Great Crested Grebe was feeding to the right of the Hide but didn't venture too close. A few people came and went - 'Nope, no Bittern seen!'

After about 15 minutes a Sparrowhawk flashed past the feeders, scaring everything - including me! It headed off, over the lake, pursued by lots of Black-headed Gulls. Then a Grey Squirrel appeared beneath the feeders.

With an eye on the time, I decided to head off to the Grebe Hide. Along the way were more Grebes and then a party of Long-tailed Tits passed me by, trailing a Goldcrest along with them. Only the Tits stopped briefly to say hello.

Further on, just past the Weir, I spotted a Little Egret on the other side of the lake, amongst all the Grebes; Coots and ducks. Then a pair of noisy Egyptian Geese flew over, possibly the same pair.

When I arrived at the Grebe Hide I was pleasantly surprised to find the lake teeming with birds. I hadn't seen this many birds on the lake for ages. Predominately Wigeon - hundreds of them, with some of them quite happy to swim up close to the Hide, whilst feeding. But then they would cry wolf and swim off again.

There were so many birds out there, it was difficult to pick out a Great Crested Grebe. In fact, I only spotted one. There was also one drake Goosander, preening, way out to the right. Other birds on show were around a score of Mute Swans, most of which were hissing at one another and anything else that got in their way; Tufted Ducks; Pochard; Coot City and a pair of Little Egret, on the branches of a tree, way out to the left.

The Egyptian Geese must have followed me, as they were now preening on the large island in front. Then I could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker somewhere on the trees opposite. I soon picked it up, a male, which flew off after about 5 minutes of continuous calling.

After lunch and some hot coffee, I headed back. It was still quite warm, a triumph of the sun. Nothing too much to report, until I reached the bridge over to the Bittern Hide. Just before I entered I was surprised to see a flock of Ring-necked Parakeets fly off. Another surprise was that they were completely silent about it.

I entered the Hide again, to find another guy there, with two dogs, one of them off the lead, contrary to the sign on the front of the door. He didn't stay long, fortunately and soon after, I saw a Grey Heron fly in, land, go into stalk mode and then fly off. Soon after, a Water Rail darted across one of the channels.

Just before I decided to call it a day, a pair of Mallards started their mating ritual, ending with copulation. Don't they know it's Christmas?

On the trail back to the station I could hear a Song Thrush singing out. And finally, a Green Woodpecker flashed past me, followed by a female Muntjac. No, she wasn't following the Woodpecker - she darted off when she spotted me. I think I'll get a refund for my camo cream. It's obviously not working.

I got lucky with the trains - my intended one arrived earlier than expected. Thanks for sharing my great day!

'Russians don’t recycle their urine on the International Space Station but they do collect it for the Americans to recycle as drinking water: It confirms the Americans really are taking the p*ss!'

Friday, 11 December 2015

Goldeneyes & Siskins @ Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 9th December 15

Weather: Clear blue skies. Very cold.

Bird Total: 43
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Rabbit.

It was a relatively quiet day at Amwell today. For once, the weather forecast was spot-on - clear skies for most of the day. It was actually quite warm in the sun but quite cold sitting in the Hides. I was having difficulty believing it was December and not September. Even more that Christmas was only a fortnight away.

My pal Barry was up for a visit today and we arrived just before 10. There was only one familiar face at the Watchpoint, when we arrived but more people turned up not long after.

There were the usual birds out on the lake, including 60+ Lapwing, but numbers across the board were noticeably down. We headed down to the Gladwin Hide, where we spotted 5 drake Goldeneyes, which were continually diving, but strangely no females. A redhead Smew had been seen here recently, but remained hidden, if it was still around at all.

After about 20 minutes we decided to take a walk through the Woodland, via a quick look from the Watchpoint again. A flock of Siskin had been seen on the Reserve for the last week or so and Barry was keen to see them. The Wood was very quiet, with hardly anything around, apart from a few passerines.

Walking over the bridge I spotted a few birds feeding on the catkins. As we got closer we were delighted to find them to be Siskins.

We took a quick look out over the Bittern Pool a couple of times today, but very few birds were about. The Hides had been repaired after the recent vandalism and so we entered the James Hide. Where we found Brian and Katy Kingfisher, who were both patiently waiting for the Kingfisher to appear.

There wasn't too much to be seen outside. The feeders were busy, with Tits and Finches coming and going and then several Reed Buntings paid a few visits. A Kingfisher eventually appeared, at the back of the lagoon, but never ventured too close. A Grey Heron had arrived earlier and was just edging closer to the Hide when it suddenly flew off.

Barry and I then took a walk down to the Dragonfly Trail entrance, where we found Goldfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders. There was also a lovely male Great Spotted Woodpecker, scaring everything off. Several Pheasants were cleaning up the spillage.

From here we headed to the White Hide, where we broke for lunch. Hot coffee! Unfortunately, the few birds that were on show stayed away. So we then found ourselves back in the James Hide, this time on our own.

With nothing else extra to be seen we walked back up to the Watchpoint, where one of the Lapwing had flown in, quite close. Barry was keen to head off not long after and I again found myself just missing the train home, having to again sit in a draughty train station for 30 minutes or so.

A quiet day but it was still good to be out and about. The weather turns poor for the next few days but hopefully will improve. 

'Tomorrow (noun) - a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored.'

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Shorties @ Heartwood!

Heartwood Forest - 4th December 15

Weather: Overcast all day. Strong breeze.

Bird Total: 21

The weather was forecast to be clear skies for most of the day. Unfortunately, we had heavy cloud instead. I guess the Met Office had their eyes focussed on Storm Desmond, to the north.

I had my eye on visiting Fishers Green today, but I was given the opportunity to search for Short-eared Owls at Heartwood Forest. Up to five SEO's have been seen here, in recent weeks. My birdy pal, Ron, had already visited the area at least 4 times recently and was up for a fifth. A quick call sealed it and we headed off.

Located near Sandridge, just three miles north of St Albans, with 44 acres of precious ancient semi-natural woodland; a community orchard; wildflower meadows and an ever-growing expanse of newly-planted native woodland, Heartwood Forest is an ambitious project, undertaken by the Woodland Trust. Ambitious, as in they are planning to plant over 600,000 new trees over the course of the next 12 years or so.

However, it is presently open land and great for birds such as Short-eared Owls. When the trees arrive, the Shorties will probably disappear. Good for tree-huggers, bad for Shorties?

Well, anyway, it was good for us as we eventually saw upto 3 of them, not long after lunch. We had arrived earlier, around 11-ish. There were quite a few other Birders already there, a few familiar faces among them.

The overcast skies and fairly strong wind, out in the open, prompted Ron and I to take a walk around the small woodland, after only 30 minutes or so. Unfortunately, other species were few and far between. The highlights were Red Kite; Kestrel; Green Woodpecker and Skylark. There were flocks of passerines, mainly Goldfinch and groups of Fieldfare and Redwing about.

The Owls were conspicuous by their absence, at first. But then they started to appear, rising up from nowhere, like floating white ghosts. First one, then another appeared, gliding just above the ground, searching for dinner.

One of them flew fairly close to us, landing on a post. Unfortunately, it didn't hang around too long and moved off, towards the Woodland. Over the course of the next 90 minutes we were treated to several very good views, albeit at quite a distance.

The only downside I found was the unbelievable amount of dog-walkers that were present. They were everywhere, most with 2 or more dogs. All being emptied by gleeful owners, before walking back down the track to the car park. It was a wonder that any birds were around at all.

However, nothing could detract from the glorious views of the SEO's. All too soon it was time to head home, as the clouds seemed to darken the skies even earlier than usual.

Ron dropped me back at the station and I think I still had a smile on my face when I arrived home.

'Whenever you mess with nature, nature sends you an invoice.'

Monday, 30 November 2015

Should Have Gone to Rainham!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 25th November 15

Weather: Overcast early on, brightening up later. Strong breeze.

Bird Total: 47
Plus: Muntjac; Rabbit.

It was either Amwell or Rainham Marsh today. However, there were more problems with the trains again, so Amwell won out. Even then, I arrived about 15 minutes late. The weather forecast also ran into trouble. The East was touted for clear weather. In the event, it remained cloudy and overcast nearly all day, only brightening up later in the afternoon. It also seemed to be a little colder than Monday.

So, all was not sweetness and light. But then, November never is. I must try and book an overseas holiday next November.

Today wasn't as good, or as dramatic, as Monday. However, I was out and about again, which was better than being cooped up indoors. The bird numbers were down and they seemed very inactive today. Nothing much to see from the train, on the way down or on the walk up the Canal path.
There were a couple of familiar faces again, at the Watchpoint. Their bored faces immediately told me that 'not much was about'. Apart from the usual crowd, I saw a couple of Great Crested Grebes; a pair of Grey Herons; lots of Wigeon; 70+ Lapwing, which were going up, at the drop of a hat; a large party of Siskin, which flew in to the trees behind us and then I heard a Bearded Tit calling out, from the same place we saw last time. Unfortunately, this time, she didn't show herself.

I headed down to the Gladwin Hide, to look for Goldeneye. There were two Drakes this time, but no females. One of the Drakes swam past the Hide, allowing another poor shot. The light was still terrible. Other than the Goldeneyes, I saw a few more Great Crested Grebes; a Little Egret, way out to the left and a couple more Grey Herons. Just before I left I spotted an Egyptian Goose, way out to the right.

When I exited the Hide, I spooked a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which flew off when it saw me. I paid a quick visit to the Watchpoint, then I decided to take a walk through the Woodland. However, it was very quiet and, other than Tits and Finches, nothing else was about. Nothing, other than Coot and Gull, out on the Bittern Pool and I soon found myself in the James Hide.

Where I found Katie Kingfisher and her mum, Mary aka MrsWaterVole. Both were in good form. It was quiet outside here, as well. A Kingfisher made a few brief appearances. The feeders were nearly empty, but were still attracting customers. Later, on my own, an Egyptian Goose flew past, right to left. Then a Muntjac appeared, crossing the newly-cut channel. A Kestrel could be seen hovering over Easneye Wood.

They're back!
I started to freeze my wotsits off, so I decided to head around to the White Hide. There was nothing extra to be seen from here and so I walked down to the Dragonfly Trail entrance. The feeders here were also nearly empty, but strangely again, there were no customers. On the walk back, I spotted several Redwing and Fieldfare. Another Kingfisher flashed past, as I walked past the Twin Lagoons.

Walking past the entrance to the Hides, I spooked firstly, another Muntjac, then a pair of Jays. There was no one at the Watchpoint, when I returned. It was starting to darken and it was starting to get really cold in the wind. Consequently, I decided to call it a day and head off.

A quieter day and maybe I should have paid a visit to Rainham Marshes, but at least I managed to avoid the Government's Spending Review by Boy George today. Small mercies.

'This is the best Government that Hedge Funds could buy!' Peter Hitchens

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Bearded Tit meets a Bearded Tit!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 23rd November 15

Weather: Cloudy early on, brightening up later. Slight breeze.

Bird Total: 49
Plus: Bank Vole; Grey Squirrel; Muntjac; Weasel.

Although it was a very cold day, we were, allegedly, in the middle of a short, sharp cold snap and it is forecast to warm up later in the week. However, I still dug out the thermals.

Even better, the cold snap didn't seem to have any effect on the transport. A foggy morning was forecast, which is why I took a later train. In the event, the fog disappeared quite quickly, leaving a light cloud cover, which cleared up over lunchtime.

All the extra ponds and lagoons on the fields had mainly frozen over. I could see a few Canada Geese skating over a few of them, while a Grey Heron avoided it all, by staying in a high tree.

As I walked up the Canal path I heard, then saw, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker. It flew off when a cyclist sped by.

There were a couple of people at the Watchpoint, when I arrived. And, at first, there didn't seem to be much about, other than the usual suspects. I was hoping that the Redshank and Dunlin, that were seen yesterday, were still about. Unfortunately, they had flown.

Initially, I could see Great Crested Grebe; Wigeon; Shoveler; Teal; Pochard and Lapwing. Then Bill 'The Don' Last turned up and immediately pointed out a female Bearded Tit, which was hopping around the base of the reeds, directly in front of us. I was elated to see my namesake. I took a few photos, but she was way too small and far away.

Today's photos were rubbish, so here's one I took last year.
A few other people had turned up and we all watched her move back and forth, feeding. She wasn't going to get any closer and so, with a fellow Birder, I decided to head to the Gladwin Hide. The first Goldeneyes had started to show up and we eventually spotted one Drake and at least 2, possibly 3, females. The drake stayed way out to our right, but a couple of the females floated by, allowing a few record shots.

Then another fellow Birder, Alan 'Seymourbirdies' Reynolds appeared. A month tick. Another Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen, as was a Buzzard, which flew over the Hide. Not long after, we headed back to the Watchpoint. Where Alan spotted a male Goosander. It was a first for me, here at Amwell. We watched as it headed towards the White Hide. Alan scampered off to try and get a closer photo.

While I was hanging around the Watchpoint a Weasel scampered past us, a few metres away. Then we spotted a Muntjac walk out to the end of the spit and jump into the lake, swimming over to Cormorant Island. Another first. Then the Beardie turned up again and I watched her for a few minutes, before heading down to the James Hide. A pair of Little Egret and a pair of Common Snipe were also seen.

On the way I spotted another Muntjac but only managed to fire off one photo, before she fled the area.

I duly arrived at the James Hide, knowing that this and the White Hide had recently been vandalised. I guess some people just have too much time on their hands. Most of the problems had been cleared up, but the bench next to the feeder window had been destroyed.

The feeders had finally been put back up and the reeds had been cut back a little outside, where a channel had been cleared towards the White Hide. Birds were utilising the feeders, including the first Reed Warblers of the season and then another, male, Muntjac crept in and snuck down for about 10 minutes, before moving off. In that time, a little Bank Vole zoomed about the area, trying to pick up the spilt seeds.

Another Birder came in and sat down. He spotted a Kingfisher at the back of the lagoon. A new perching stick had been placed just in front of the Hide and looked to be a brilliant photo opportunity, if the Kingfisher perched up on it. Unfortunately, it flew around the area a few times, before flying off. I think the new perch is just a bit too close to the Hide and it may be very optimistic of us to hope it flies in and poses.

After lunch, I walked down to the Dragonfly Trail, to find the feeders there full, but with no visitors. Just a cock Pheasant below. However, I was surprised to see a Marsh Tit fly over and land in a tree right next to me. We were both surprised to see each other and, unfortunately, the Marshie reacted quicker than I did and flew off.

I headed back, seeing another Kingfisher over the lake. I then arrived at the White Hide to find most of the benches had been turfed out of the windows, onto the grass outside. Idle hands.

Darren Bast was sat sitting there, waiting for the Barn Owl, which had been seen recently, hunting at dusk. We sat there in vain, as it didn't appear. With nothing else on view we headed back to the Watchpoint.
Here, we found the Gull Watch Gang in place, looking for the hybrid gulls. I mean, Yellow-legged and Caspian. They spotted a few of each, but there must have been over 3000 Gulls out there. Actually, it was quite a sight, white dots on the lake everywhere.

However, it was starting to get dark and so I left them all to it and headed off. A very good day. I had turned up to try and see Redshank and Dunlin, but saw Goosander; Goldeneye and Bearded Tit instead. Not too shabby!

'According to at least two independent sets of research, man-flu is real. Men really do feel worse than women when they've got a cold.'

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Let the Train take the Strain!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 18th November, 15

Weather: Mostly cloudy, some sunshine. Very windy.

Bird Total: 35

Due to poor weather; poor health and poor plumbing (don't ask), today was my first opportunity to get out and about for weeks. The weather forecast was still for more rain, albeit later in the day. However, it was quite sunny early on.

Which is why I rose early, to get an early train. Which is where it all went horribly wrong. Because the trains were playing silly buggers. I had dashed over to the Station to get a ticket, because I had spotted a train on the platform, ready and waiting.

Unfortunately, this particular train was going nowhere, because it had developed a fault. Which was why everyone was still standing on the platform. I found out that the train was waiting to be pushed away, by another one, which could be seen further up the track. However, the problem was that they were different types of train, meaning that they had to wait for the correct connecting hardware to arrive. Argh!

Eventually and surprisingly, our train suddenly started up of its' own accord and slowly pulled away from the platform. With no help from the other train. This train then arrived on to the platform, empty, but didn't stop and carried on past. I wondered why, as both trains were going the same way as I was. Couldn't they give me a lift?

A third train arrived. Joyfully, it stopped and opened its' doors. Sadly, there was no room on the train. None of us managed to get on board. A bit pointless stopping the train in the first place. Finally, a few minutes later, another train arrived. This was also quite full but I managed to squeeze on, arriving at my destination a little later than I had intended, but still in one piece.

I waved a hearty farewell to the poor, squashed, downtrodden commuters and headed off towards the reserve. Nothing to report on the way down, as I wasn't in a position to see anything. However, I did see that there were now plenty of extra ponds and lagoons along the route. In fact, I was surprised not to see any boats on them!

All this extra water was probably due to the heavy winds and rain we had yesterday. Branches and other debris were strewn everywhere, as I walked along the Canal. It was still pretty windy today, which was possibly the reason why I didn't see too many birds. Still, it kept the dog-walking fraternity down. And the cyclists. Joggers were aplenty, though.

Canal view from one side.......
I duly arrived at my first port of call, Friday Lake. Plenty of birds out on the lake, the usual crowd, but included several Wigeon; a lone male Pochard; a pair of Great Crested Grebes; Shoveler and loads of Gulls. To my right, over Hall Marsh, loads more Gulls plus several Lapwing went up. Probably because of a Buzzard I could see flying over.

They had all been outside the Teal Hide and had settled back down by the time I arrived. The area had been heavily cut back and so afforded quite a good view of the whole area. There were plenty of Geese, Canada and Greylag; around 40-odd Lapwing; about the same number of Wigeon; several Teal and a few Shoveler. A little later a Grey Heron flew in and was immediately mobbed by a Lesser Black-backed Gull, who looked so upset, it sprayed the Heron. Eventually the Heron was chased off.

.......and from 'tother.
I started up the trail, towards the Bittern Hide. Not long after I had left the Teal Hide I spotted a Sparrowhawk being harassed by a Carrion Crow. Both eventually flew towards me and I had an excellent view of an aerial fight, just above me.

The walk through the lakes was quiet. I heard a Cetti's Warbler and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, but I did see a lone Jay. A few Great Crested Grebes, now all in their winter plumage, were floating around. However, there wasn't a great deal else to see.

Unfortunately, it was pretty much all downhill from then on. I sat in the Bittern Hide for over an hour, only seeing the usual suspects. A few people came and went. The wind picked up, to almost gale force level, while the sun went in behind some darkening clouds. I broke for lunch, hoping that the weather would improve. It didn't. In fact, it got worse.

Therefore, I decided to cancel my walk up to the Grebe Hide and head home, before it started to rain. On the walk back I spotted a Kingfisher fly in and land on a branch, quite close. Unfortunately, I was in the open and it saw me and flew off. Out on one of the lakes I spotted a few nice looking yachts. One of them turned too sharply, caught the strong wind and lurched over into the water. I heard a few expletives.

The trains were still playing catch-up but eventually one turned up. It was surprisingly empty, thankfully. I only took two photos all day, possibly a day I should had stayed in bed, but it was still good to be out again. Hopefully things will improve.

'A milliHelen is the unit of beauty needed to launch a single ship.'

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

No Bittern, No Cry! *

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 2nd November, 15

Weather: Heavy fog, overcast and cool in the morning, brightening up in the afternoon.

Bird Total: 45
Plus: Migrant Hawker dragonfly.
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Rat.

Having had a text message from Ron the day before, we decided to meet up and try to spot a Bittern at Fishers Green today. After my best-ever viewing of Bitterns a week or two earlier, I wanted to try for a repeat performance. In fact, wild horses couldn't keep me from the opportunity. Unfortunately, it was the exact opposite, as we failed to see any, despite sitting in the Hide for a couple of hours or more.

Where's that bloody Bittern?
The forecast was for heavy fog in the morning, with sunshine and blue skies in the afternoon. Fair play to Carol, that was pretty much spot on. It was also quite warm in the sun, following on from yesterday's surprise record UK temperature for November. I guess it's all part of the climate change experiment that humanity is engaged with.

The only Bittern we saw all day!
We agreed to meet up in the Bittern Hide around lunchtime. Time is on my side, I thought and so I caught a later train, to try to avoid most of the freezing fog. I had donned another layer of clothing, thinking that if it were to warm up later, I could always divest myself of the fleece. Anyway, the Hides could always gimme shelter.

The usual Grebes and Geese could be seen on the way down, in their usual areas. Just before entering the Canal path, I flushed a Little Egret. There were quite a few waterfowl out on Friday Lake, notably Wigeon and Shoveler. Just past the stream, under the boardwalk, I also flushed a rodent, which scurried into the undergrowth. It was probably a Rat, rather than a Vole.

I had hoped that the poor weather might put off the great unwashed, but I was passed by two sets of dog-walkers before I had even set foot in the Hide. In fact, there were the usual amount of dog-walkers today, as well as the requisite cyclists and joggers. All the flora was now dying off, with dead flowers all over the place.

I entered the Teal Hide to find that someone had vandalised it. One of the benches was missing, while one of the lean-to's was also absent. All the shutters were open and the two remaining benches were damp with dew. Rubbish had been strewn all over the floor, while the information sheets on the walls had been ripped down. It must have been a hell of a Halloween party over the weekend!

Looking out, I could see even more birds about, unfortunately none of them close. Plenty of duck species, notably Wigeon and Teal. Plenty of Geese and Gulls; lots of Coot and Moorhen; a pair of dark-morph Pheasants, sat on one of the goalposts; about half-a-dozen Lapwing and then a Kestrel flew over, putting everything up.

With not much else happening, I decided to head through the lakes towards the Bittern Hide. Today proved a bit more fruitful than previous walks through the lakes. The first Great Crested Grebes of the day appeared; a Kingfisher flashed by and then I heard, then spotted, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, on the distant dead trees. A Green Woodpecker sounded off. There were also more passerines about today, finally. Robins; Dunnocks; Wrens and lots of Finches and Tits were heard and seen, all flitting around the trees and shrubs.

I walked over the Bridge, hearing a Cetti's Warbler sound off, quite close. I stopped for a few minutes and spotted it in the undergrowth. It was just starting to show well and I thought I might actually get a photo of it. However, a woman and two dogs appeared, one of the dogs barking its' head off. The bird flew.

There goes another Crayfish!
There was nothing else of note to see and I soon found myself entering the Bittern Hide. Where I was greeted, by not only Ron, but by Katie Kingfisher and her mum, Mary. There were one or two other familiar faces in there as well. They all had surprised looks on their faces - can't you hear me knocking?

The news was not good; no Bittern had been seen. I sat down and listened to all the gossip. Sorry, news. Outside, the feeders were being constantly visited by all and sundry; the resident Grey Heron turned up and began hunting; a Jay flew in and posed, just outside the Hide and a Little Grebe could be seen fishing in one of the channels. I was also surprised to see a Migrant Hawker flying around, despite the low temperatures.

We all sat there patiently, looking out for any sign of Bittern activity. Alas, it was not to be. Eventually, thinking I can't get no satisfaction here, Ron and I decided to take a walk, as the sun had come out. We took a slightly different route to Holyfield Weir, seeing a fair variety of species, including a number of Grebes; Grey Wagtail and Siskin. We also spotted a few Thrushes, which I thought were Fieldfare, but which Ron thought were Redwing.

It was a nice loop around the area, before we found ourselves back in the Bittern Hide. The original crowd had disappeared, to be replaced by others. Still no Bittern. We did see a pair of Reed Buntings, at the back of a channel plus a pair of Egyptian Geese, out on the lake. The Grey Heron was still entertaining us, but when it departed, it all went a bit quiet. I even started to nod off. I had to shake my head and rub my eyes, to start me up.

It was also starting to darken and so I decided to head for home. On the trail back, I spotted more Grebes; another Kingfisher fly-by and then I heard a Water Rail scream out. The last bird of the day was the same as the first bird of the day, a Little Egret. I also flushed this one out as well.

The only Otter I saw all year!
It was quite a high species total today, so it wasn't all doom and gloom. Quite a ruby Monday, when usually it's a ruby Tuesday.

A Bittern failure today, but I wasn't a fool to cry and I wasn't too downbeat. You can't always get what you want. The show last month was still sharp in the memory.

'Trying is the first step towards failure' - Homer Simpson