Saturday, 28 February 2015

In search of the Hawfinch!

Bramfield Village - 2nd February 15

Weather: Sunny with slight cloud. Very cold.

Birds seen:
Red Kite; Buzzard; Pheasant (H); Black-headed Gull; Woodpigeon; Collared Dove; Wren; Dunnock; Robin; Blackbird; Goldcrest; Blue Tit; Great Tit; Coal Tit; Long-tailed Tit; Nuthatch; Starling; Magpie; Jackdaw; Carrion Crow; Chaffinch; Greenfinch. Total: 22
Plus: Fox; Grey Squirrel.

I was given an opportunity to visit Bramfield Village today, by my friend and fellow birder and Blogger, Ron aka Amwell Watcher, to try and locate some Hawfinch which had been reported to be in the area. The primary location for them was the local churchyard.

On the way down I spotted a Kestrel and a few Grey Herons (but not Harry) and quite a few Wigeon in the fields. I also spotted a couple of Foxes, one after another, on the train to Ware.

Earlier, on the station platform and on the trains I found myself engulfed by groups of children with adults, a group of teenagers and a couple of groups of the 'older generation'. It reminded me a little of bird watching, seeing youngsters; juveniles and adults, all of them dressed in their winter plumage.

So, having met Ron at Ware station, we drove the short distance to the Village. When we arrived we found several other birders already present, already scouring the area around the cemetery grounds.

Not long after we arrived our first bird, a Common Buzzard, turned up, right above us.

Over the course of the next few hours we spotted plenty of birds, mainly passerines. I was delighted to see a few Greenfinch, the first I've seen for some time. Amongst all the usual garden birds, there were several Goldcrests and Coat Tits.

The weather was sunny enough, if a little cold, but, armed with my magic scarf, I was warm enough. After about 30 minutes we decided to try and locate a Little Owl, that was seen a few days earlier. We were halfway across the local playing field when one of the others called us back. A lone Hawfinch was seen, briefly, by one birder. But we were unable to locate it again.

We then wandered off down the road and down a sidetrack, politely ignoring the 'No Entry' signs, where we spotted a Red Kite above us and a couple of Nuthatches, another bird that I haven't seen for a long time.

Back at the cemetery we waited in vain for a Hawfinch and, as time went by, we decided that we were not going to see one today. So, as Ron had another appointment, we decided to call it a day, with Ron kindly dropping me at Amwell.

There is another chance to see one here in a couple of days so fingers crossed.

'Birds: The only animal you can eat before they’re born and after they’re dead.'

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

One very lucky drake Goosander at Fisher's Green!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 26th January, 15

Weather: Cloudy and overcast for most of the day. Cold wind.

Bird Total: 44
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Muntjac.

I did a last check of the weather forecast this morning and they assured me that there would be rain early on, followed by clear skies for the rest of the day. Which is why I decided to get a later train to avoid said rain. Unfortunately, it was heavy cloud for most of the day. And there wasn't much rain.

Whilst waiting for the later train I was pleasantly surprised to spot a pair of Jays fly past, just before the train arrived. And walking up the trail towards the Teal Hide I spotted a female Goosander and a redhead Smew over on Friday Lake. They were swimming together, as if they were a couple. A good start!

When I got to the viewpoint of Friday Lake from the south end all I could see, apart from the usual, were 3 Great Crested Grebes, all swimming around on their own.

Looking out from the Teal Hide itself I could see a few Shoveler; a few Teal; 13 Wigeon; a cock Pheasant out to the right and then I spotted 5 jet-black Pheasants at the back of the lagoon, roaming through the tall grass. Everything was quiet and peaceful and I took the opportunity to sit and watch.

On the trail, over the relief channel, adjacent to Friday Lake was my first Muntjac of the day. In fact, I spotted 5 during the course of the day. All were busy cropping the grass.

I stopped off, briefly, at the eastern end of Friday Lake for a quick recce, finding a group of fellow birders. I pointed out the Smew and Goosander I had seen earlier. They must have had a domestic, as they were on their own now. The birds that is, not the Birders.

Out on Hall Marsh Lake there were more GCGs; a Little Grebe; Goldfinches flew over, while a Great Black-backed Gull was being mobbed by a few Black-headed Gulls.

I also noticed on the little stream opposite to the lake that it was littered with beer cans. All of them lager cans. A few yards earlier there was a sign saying 'Take Your Litter Home!'. Fat chance. I hate litter louts.

I had just entered the trail heading up to Fishers Green and the Bittern Hide when I heard the familiar call of a Green Woodpecker somewhere behind the distant trees.

Looking out over Seventy Acres Lake I could see a pair of Egyptian Geese; a few Grey Herons and lots of Lapwing, all milling around the main island. It looked just as quiet and peaceful here, too.

Just before I reached the Bittern Hide the sun made a brief appearance, all too fleetingly unfortunately.

When I arrived in the Hide itself there were a few people already there. One of them told me that a Bittern had been seen about 30 minutes earlier, together with a pair of Muntjac. Strange bedfellows, I thought. Whatever turns you on!

Pleased with the news, I sat down and waited for the Bittern to show itself again. An hour and a half later and I was still waiting. People came and went. Apart from the birds on show out on the lake, which weren't doing very much and the birds on the feeders, which were, there was only a fleeting appearance of a Water Rail.

Disappointed and feeling a little cold, I headed off up the trail towards the Grebe Hide. I entered the trail together with another birder. On the trail up we spotted a Muntjac; a Green Woodpecker and a lovely drake Pintail on the little lagoon over the relief channel. The dead Mute Swan was still around.

From the Grebe Hide itself, we eventually spotted 7 Goosanders, out to the right. 1 male and 6 female. I wondered if the male had a smile on his face. Then we watched a pair of GCGs doing the head-shaking thing. There were several other GCGs about on the lake as well.

On the trail back I spotted another 3 Muntjac. As I said earlier, all cropping the grass. They all looked up at me, as one, but ignored me and carried on. I guess they'd decided I was no threat. I wasn't; I'm a born coward.

Then I found myself back in the Bittern Hide. No Bittern unfortunately, but the Water Rail showed itself a few more times, as did a lone Little Grebe. Then a Sparrowhawk flashed past, from left to right, scattering all the birds on the feeders. A Sprawk fly-by always gets the adrenalin flowing.

It was probably the same culprit that began putting all the Lapwing up as well. It was either that or a Kestrel that appeared a little later, hovering out to the right.

Then it started to darken and I decided to call it a day. On the walk back to the station a Jay flew over, then the 3 manky Mallards turned up again on the relief channel. Then, finally, from the bridge I could see another Little Grebe and a pair of Goosander.

A very good day out, quite mild-ish weather. I only had on 6 layers today and relied heavily on my magic scarf in the cold wind. A sighting of a Bittern would have made it an excellent day, but it is fast becoming a bit of a 'Scarlet Pimpernel', very elusive!

'When I was a child my father attacked me with cameras; I still have flashbacks.'

Friday, 20 February 2015

Owls, Voles and Vandals at Amwell.

Amwell Nature Reserve - 23rd January 15

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

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

Another sunny, clear day and another trip to Amwell. I did think about going down to Cheshunt, but the Barn Owl at Amwell tempted me back.

It was an uneventful trip down on the train, no more delays thankfully, but it did give some good views of several Teal and a Little Egret. On the trail up to the Reserve a Song Thrush ignored me and came within a few feet to feed on the berries. It was either a male bird or very hungry.

There were the usual birds on show out on Great Hardmead Lake but with the addition of a pair of Smew at the back of the lake, ducking and diving. No pun intended. Lots of Lapwing on the little island again; a few Grey Herons and Cormorants on or around the roosting island, some of which were bringing in nesting material. Lots of Wigeon and Shoveler were all swimming, seemingly aimlessly, around the lake.

I made a quick foray down to the Gladwin Hide to find that someone had vandalised it in the last few days and that there was a guy there doing some repairs, so I didn't hang around and left him to it. Outside looking out over the lake I could see a pair of drake Goldeneyes, also ducking and diving; another Grey Heron in stalk mode and lots more Wigeon, plus several Great Crested Grebes, who were mostly in pairs.

Back at the Watchpoint, looking towards the James Hide, I could see someone in the Hide already so I decided to take a walk through the woods. My spectacles had been steaming up during the few very cold snaps, especially when I was using the Bins and continued to do so even around here. Annoying.

There were plenty of Robins around here, one especially who kept hopping right up to me, obviously hoping for a hand-out. Every time I stepped back to get a photo of it, it hopped closer. I guess this must have been a male as well, because, as a long-time reader, you'll know I have the uncanny ability to scare females off.

It was quite a productive little walk, giving me most of the usual birds, but also Goldfinch and Siskin; Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay.

I then took a quick look out over the Bittern Pool, seeing a Water Rail by the water's edge. But no Bittern. There were also lots of Coot and Tufted Duck, milling around the lagoon.

I then chanced my luck in the James Hide, only to find it packed out with the Rye Meads crowd, with their long lenses, hoping for Kingfisher. I managed to squeeze in, telling them that the bird wouldn't be around with the lagoon out front frozen over. So eventually, they all left me to it.

Earlier, just before I arrived, a lovely Treecreeper was outside, creeping up one of the trees. From the Hide itself, a pair of Marsh Tits flew in and out every 10 minutes or so while a Bank Vole kept me entertained, darting around at high speed. The feeders were full and doing a brisk trade. They had to, there wasn't much to see out over the lagoon, apart from a pair of skating Moorhens.

There wasn't much else of note, until I arrived down at the feeders by the Dragonfly Trail. Here I could see a Buzzard high in the sky, calling out; another Marsh Tit and some more Goldfinches, with more Thrushes around the vicinity. Then a limping Dave from Rye Meads turned up. He'd twisted his knee falling down an embankment, trying to photograph a bird. I was quite concerned and promptly asked him if his camera was ok.

Just before I walked the return journey a Jay flew over, as did another Buzzard but, apart from a few Tits and Finches, it was eerily quiet.

I then headed down to the White Hide. On the way a female Muntjac showed herself, quite near. Unusually, she didn't race off when she saw me. She must be new to the area. I found the Rye Meads crowd in the Hide when I arrived, but there wasn't much to see out over the lake, so I headed back to the James.

There were a few more people in here again and, while there was still the usual bird action outside, several squadrons of Canada Geese flew in overhead, all landing on the lake, making lots of noise. Always a wonderful sight.

But I concentrated on the feeders and all the birds flying in and out. They were mostly Tits and I was grateful that they, unlike Page 3 recently, weren't about to be banned or asked to cover up.

I ended up back in the White Hide to wait for the Barn Owl to appear. It was a little later this time and appeared too quickly for any worthwhile shots. But it was another great sighting, as it quickly quartered the field in front, before flying off northwards.

Now dark, I headed off to get the later train. Jenny was at the Watchpoint again. Another great day out.

'A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.'

Monday, 16 February 2015

Jack Frost and Barney the Owl put on a show at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 20th January 15

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

Bird Total: 46
Plus: Bank Vole.

A very good day out today. Another sunny day, but it felt slightly colder than yesterday. At least, that's what my ears were telling me. There was lots of frost about and Great Hardmead Lake looked spookily sinister in the mist.

Earlier, the trains today had been a little better, but were still running late. Obviously the wrong kind of weather. There was no Benny the Buzzard on show today, neither was Harry the Heron about. He not been around for quite a while now. Probably because his favourite field was now a lagoon. As were many of them.

But I did see a lone Lapwing flying in display mode. I'm not sure who for. A pair of hen Pheasants were spooked up by the train and flew adjacent to us for a few seconds.

Unfortunately, the view from the Watchpoint wasn't exactly inspiring. There were plenty of birds about on the lake, all the usual, including several Great Black-backed Gulls, dwarfing all around them. There were also about 70+ Lapwing on the island plus a few Grey Herons perching up amongst the Cormorant roost.

There were also plenty of Shoveler and Teal swimming around, all sporting their beautiful breeding plumage. But there wasn't much to keep me around for too long and so I walked down to the Gladwin Hide. There were a few Reserve workers using a loud buzz-saw further down but it wasn't too disturbing.

Out on the lake I could see a lone female Goldeneye out to the right, diving down every few seconds. Then, after about 10 minutes, a lone drake Smew ventured out from behind the island, out to the left. He spent about 10 minutes swimming along the shoreline, in amongst several Pochard. Then, dozens of Wigeon flew in and landed in front of the Hide, all whistling away.

I headed off and up towards the James Hide. On the way I heard, then spotted, a Song Thrush. I sat down in the Hide, where another guy had just beaten me to the window seat. But he only stayed for about 20 minutes before moving on.

The lagoon out front was frozen over so the Kingfisher wouldn't be paying a visit today. I couldn't really complain, Kingfishers have hung around the area all season, which was quite unusual. I had hoped that it may bring out a Bittern but it never happened. But it did bring out a Water Rail for a few seconds. The feeders were quite busy with all the usual traffic. But, strangely, no Marsh Tits appeared. The only thing of note was a lone Bank Vole.

It was quite a disappointing hour or so there. I decided to have a spot of lunch before moving on. Even with 7 layers on it was starting to get a little cold sitting there.

I walked up to the Dragonfly Trail, seeing a Great Spotted Woodpecker, moving between the trees. On the feeders here were Greats and Blueys, plus one Marsh Tit. The sheep had disappeared. On the trail back I bumped into my mate Ron and, together, we walked back to the Watchpoint and then over the bridge, through the woodland.

Here we spotted several Siskin, the first I've seen for a while plus plenty of Tits and Finches, especially Goldfinch. All were high in the trees and chattering away to each other, as they fed. Woodland birding isn't one of my faves, as it gives me neck and backache after a while. Plus it's a bit too dark for any worthwhile photography. But it was really good to see the Siskin.

From here we headed down to the White Hide, where, for the last few nights, a Barn Owl was appearing. There was one other guy in there and we were soon joined by a few more. We sat there for a while waiting for the Owl to make its' appearance. Outside, on the little island, I could see a Common Snipe, jabbing its' bill down every few seconds, feeding. A second one flew over to the main island.

Then there was a shout and I looked over to see the Barn Owl appear, flying towards us. It zig-zagged a few times and then disappeared behind the trees to our left. A few minutes later it appeared again before flying back behind the trees again. It was an exhilarating sight to see and we were all sitting there with big grins on our faces.

Having been on the Reserve all day I decided to head off. Just after leaving the Hide the Owl appeared again, heading for the lake and so I dashed back to the Hide to try and get another view. But it never appeared so I headed back.

At the Watchpoint I met Jenny Sherwen, Reserve Manager, on the lookout for the Owl. I had just enough time to race down the trail to get the train. Top day out!

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

A Lesson On How To Scare Females Away!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 19th January, 15

Weather: Sunny early on, clouding over later. Cold, but warm in the sun.

Bird Total: 44
Plus: Fox; Grey Squirrel; Muntjac.

Although it was touted as the coldest night of the winter, so far, it was still reasonably mild out during the day. In fact, it was quite warm in the sunshine. Maybe the fact that I had put on a 7th layer accounted for my being comfortably numb to the cold. I did, in fact, feel like the Michelin Man. I probably looked like him, too.

There was nothing of note to be seen on the way down. I actually had to concentrate on the journey as there was a problem further down the line and I was regurgitated at Broxbourne before being fed back into another train 15 minutes later, before being spat out again at Cheshunt.

So, a little later than usual, I found myself sat sitting in the Teal Hide. Unfortunately, I may have been too late for the birds as there wasn't anything about. Other than a pair of Carrion Crows; a pair of Woodpigeons and 11 Black-headed Gulls. On the relief channel outside I spotted a pair of 'Manky Mallards'.

Earlier, looking out over Friday Lake I had spotted a few Great Crested Grebes milling about; around a dozen Wigeon, whistling away and a lovely female Goosander, swimming away from me. As I've said in earlier Blogs, females tend to do that around me. Is it my fashion sense? Or my new aftershave?

Heading up the trail I first heard the squeal of a Water Rail then a lovely drake Pochard swam past me, on the relief channel. Further on, a Great Black-backed Gull pinched a meal that a Black-headed Gull had worked hard for. It should have bought one of those anti-bullying wristbands when they first came out. Remember them? I bought one as a kid. I say 'bought', I actually stole it off a short, fat ginger kid.

Then, looking up at the tree-tops, I spotted 5 Lesser Redpolls, the first of the season. Unfortunately, they were too high for any decent photos. Despite my calls to them they refused to come down and say hello. Indeed, looking through the Bins, one of them turned around and showed me his backside. Charming. They must have been teenagers.

I kept an eye out for any Smew that were present from the last visit. I didn't see any, but I did see a pair of Goosander. Unfortunately, they too, were keeping their distance. Well, one of them was female.

At the Hooks Marsh feeding area about 50-60 Lapwing flew over. I was stood standing there looking up at them through my Bins and when I looked down lots of geese and ducks had swam up to me, hoping for a handout. Sorry, I only have white bread with me.

Just after entering the trail up to the Bittern Hide a Treecreeper flew over the channel and on to a tree. It proceeded to climb up it, feeding as it went. I managed a few pathetic photos. But it ignored me and stayed around for a few minutes, allowing me to admire it. I was confident enough to think that it must have been a male.

Nothing else to report until I was sat sitting in the Bittern Hide. Just after I arrived a Water Rail showed itself, briefly. Female? Out over Seventy Acres Lake I could see the Lapwing from earlier; another drake Goosander and a few Great Crested Grebes, some of which were now sporting their breeding plumage. In fact, a little later, I spotted a pair of them doing the head shaking thing.

Other than that, a pair of Reed Buntings were feeding at the back of the reed bed; a pair of Egyptian Geese were on the large island, preening; a lone Little Grebe was fishing in one of the channels in front and a Sparrowhawk flashed past trying its' luck with the birds that were busy on the feeders. But there was no sign of a Bittern.

A few people came and went but then a group of 'crumblies' came in and made a hell of a racket. So I headed off up the trail towards the Grebe Hide.

Just as I entered the trail a Jay flew over. Further on, there was a dead Mute Swan draped over a few branches on the water. As I was looking at it a Water Rail swam past it. They've been known to scavenge a carcass.

A little later, just as I was thinking that I hadn't seen any Muntjac, one popped out of the forest to my left. Then a second one appeared. Then a third. A few minutes and a few hundred yards along the trail, a fourth was seen, over the channel. But not one had the courage to stand its' ground. All females of course.

Another Jay flew over. There was nothing to be seen at Holyfield Weir, other than a Reserve crew, doing their noisily tree-cutting thing. A little further, there was another Jay fly-over. Several Jays, or the same one?

I reached the Grebe Hide without further incident, other than more GCGs. If one wasn't careful one could get very blase about GCGs here. Looking out I could see a pair of Egyptian Geese, possibly the same pair as earlier; more GCGs; Grey Herons were flying noisily back and forth; 4 or 5 Teal were out to the left and there were quite a few Pochard. I also noticed several Cormorants flying in with lots of nest-building material.

I broke for a spot of lunch and then looked around again. This time, in amongst one of the Pochard groups, way out to the left-hand corner, I spotted a redhead Smew! Lovely! But, being a female, she stayed away from me. Naturally.

On the walk back, over the relief channel, a Fieldfare could be seen picking off the last of the red berries. And just behind that, by the fence-line, was a Fox. A little nearer, by the water-line several Long-tailed Tits were feeding, flying from one tree to the next, chattering away.

Above all of them were 40-50 Canada and Greylag Geese, flying over, most of them honking away. It was a great sight to see.

I then found myself back in the Bittern Hide again. The Sparrowhawk flashed past a further 3 times, scaring not only the birds, but a few people in the Hide. A GCG entertained us by fishing in front of the Hide and there were a few more appearances by the Water Rail. But no Bittern.

I decided to head off when it started to darken. On the trail back I spotted a 6th Muntjac. Oh, where was the young lady from The Wild Side! I know she would sell her soul for a photo of a Muntjac! But, then of course, I would probably have scared her away, too!

Two vultures board an airplane, each carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at them and says: 'I'm sorry, gentlemen, only one carrion allowed per passenger.'

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Lots of Mammals at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 14th January 15

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

Bird Total: 46
Plus: Konik Ponies; Muntjac; Rabbit; Squirrel; Stoat.

Today I visited Amwell with my good friend, Barry. Recently retired, he had decided to get and about more, now that he had plenty of free time. Welcome to the Club!

It was yet again another clear day, albeit quite cold. But it was warm enough in the sunshine. The weather, in general, lately, had been changeable. One day rain, the next sunshine. Winter has yet to really set in and we are already half-way through.

On the train journey down I spotted 6 Little Egret and Benny the Buzzard, perched up on the same branch, on the same tree. It must be one of his favoured spots.

We met up at the Watchpoint, with Barry already scouring the area. But there wasn't much out there, just Lapwing; Little Egret; Great Crested Grebe and all the ducks. There were only a few Gulls present, something that would change dramatically later in the evening.

The water levels were quite high, after the recent rains. Great Hardmead Lake was especially swamped, with most of the islands either gone or greatly reduced. On the train down I had noticed that a lot of the fields adjacent to the tracks were now either lakes or lagoons.

We soon headed off down to the Gladwin Hide to look for Goldeneye and Smew. After about 10 minutes there we spotted at least 7 or 8 Goldeneyes, the males looking quite resplendent in their breeding plumage. One or two of them were even flirting with the females, their heads rocking ritually back every few seconds.

Unfortunately, we didn't see any Smew all day. Later on, someone said that 2 pairs were around the back of the island opposite the Gladwin Hide, but they never ventured out.

We then took a slow walk up to the James Hide, where Ron aka Amwell Watcher was already ensconced. A Kingfisher was already present and showing well. A male, he flew from perch to perch, around the lagoon before eventually settling on the stick just in front of us, giving some wonderful views. He dived down a few times, coming up with at least one fish.

He made several more appearances throughout the day and we were royally entertained. Apart from the Kingfisher we saw a Buzzard high over the tree-line and plenty of Reed Buntings on and around the feeders.

We then moved on, towards the Dragonfly Trail. Although the feeders here were quite full there weren't too many birds about. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew past, while a Sparrowhawk flashed over and then disappeared behind the trees.

A quick visit to the White Hide gave us views of pretty much the same as from the Watchpoint. It's been a little disappointing from this Hide lately.

Barry needed to head off soon, so we tried out luck back at the Gladwin Hide for the Smew. No joy, but the Goldeneye were still swimming around. The odd Grey Heron flew past. We then walked back to the Watchpoint where Barry headed off.

I walked back down to the James Hide to see the Kingfisher again. A Grey Heron flew in and landed in the reed channel and was immediately scared off by another. A pair of Marsh Tits then flew in and landed on the feeders, quickly taking a few seeds before flying off. A Water Rail screeched out its' mournful song.

Then a female Muntjac could be seen in the undergrowth, looking back to the Watchpoint. While I was watching her a movement caught my eye, out to the right of the Hide. A Stoat appeared, winding its' way between the branches and logs on the ground. I dashed outside to try and get a better view but it quickly disappeared, unfortunately never to be seen again.

There were quite a few people about today, especially in the Hides. There were also some HMWT staff working the area, especially around the Konik Ponies, who had been moved to the area to the right of the Watchpoint.

Time and daylight had again run out and, after a quick look back at the Watchpoint, which saw over a hundred Great Black-backed Gulls turn up, I headed home.

Another excellent day out, made even better by excellent company.

'Nothing succeeds like a bird with no beak.'

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Have I Got Smews For You!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 2nd January, 15

Weather: Sunny and clear for most of the day. Slight cloud in the afternoon. Quite mild.

Bird Total: 40
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Muntjac.

The first trip of the new year and I decided to try my luck for the Bittern again. And, this time, I'm glad to report that it finally made an appearance. Well, two appearances in fact.

There was nothing to see on the trip down. Looking out over Friday Lake I could see 4 Great Crested Grebes; a Grey Heron hunting and a lone Little Egret, perched up on a branch, the only one I saw all day.

Looking out from the Teal Hide I could see 8 Wigeon, all feeding on the grasses by the lagoon; 3 or 4 Shoveler, all asleep; Coot; Moorhen and Carrion Crows. But I could also see a very dark looking Pheasant out to the left, poking around the tufts of grass. It was almost black, something which I have never seen before.

A little later 3 female Teal arrived, landing lightly on the lagoon, who immediately started swimming around, possibly looking for any males. Then, while I was watching the Pheasant, a female Muntjac appeared, cropping the reeds. I had a closer look at it when I moved around to the other Hide. She could see me too and warily kept an eye on me.

Then I could hear the one-note call of a Water Rail somewhere in the reeds in front and then a Cetti's Warbler called out behind me. Unfortunately, I couldn't locate either. But not to worry, there were plenty of dog-walkers around to entertain me.

Along the trail towards Fishers Green I came across a lovely little Goldcrest, picking its' way around the branches, tree by tree. I'd heard it calling and it took a few minutes to locate it. It was being escorted by a pair of Blue Tits. I managed to take a few shots of it, but it was either behind a twig or in poor light. Then it flew off.

While I was trying to photograph the Goldcrest I could hear and see a pair of Water Rails further along the trail, by the reed-bed. They seemed to be having a contretemp, with one chasing the other. I was also trying to keep an eye out for the drake Smew I had seen on an earlier visit. I could have done with another pair of eyes!

I hadn't seen the Smew by the time I reached the main trail but I met a couple of people who had seen it earlier, from the bridge. It had swum further down, towards where I had been. So I double-backed and about 50 yards or so I spotted 2 pairs of them. The males looking resplendent, pure white, with big black eyes and mascara lines around the body. The redheaded females looked ok too and they were all floating around, occasionally diving down for food. I spent about 10 minutes or so watching them. A few people passed by, some asking what I was looking at, but seemingly not that interested when I mentioned Smew. Only one other birder arrived and was as pleased as I was at seeing them.

I reluctantly moved on and, just as I entered the trail up to the Bittern Hide, I spotted another Muntjac, a male on the other side of the relief channel. A little further and, on the same channel, 2 female and 1 male duck species appeared. They looked to me to be a variation of Mallard or even Call Ducks. Later on, in the Bittern Hide, a guy said that they were South American Teal. The jury is still out on that one. Here's a photo - you decide!

South American Teal? Or should SpecSavers be CALLed?
And then the Bittern finally showed itself. I haven't seen one here for a year or two. There were about half-a-dozen people in the Hide at the time. I was just looking out over the lake when a movement in the middle reed-bed channel caught my eye. Then, to my delight, a Bittern stuck its' head out and then walked out into the channel for a few, brief seconds, before going back into the reeds. Nobody saw it the first time, but it ventured out a couple of more times before disappearing back into the reeds for about 45 minutes.

Can you see it?
Then another guy spotted it further back and we all moved over to the left-hand side of the Hide to get a better look. It was just standing there, preening. It must have looked over and saw us, about 10 people, all huddled together, gurning at it, before it moved into the reeds again. That was the last time I saw it, but it gave us a pretty good view.

Apart from the Bittern show, another Water Rail appeared and sat out in the open, preening, just in front of the Hide. Lots of Lapwing could be seen out on the lake, amongst plenty of Gulls and Coot. And there were plenty of small birds flying back and forth to the feeders. Then another Muntjac appeared, out to the right, feeding in amongst the trees.

I decided that the Bittern would probably not show itself too soon and headed off towards the Grebe Hide. I had just entered the trail when a Little Grebe appeared on the relief channel, diving down to feed every few seconds.

A little further on, over the relief channel, I could see a lone Redwing on a tree, picking off some red berries. There seemed to be even more dog-walkers along this trail, so I wasn't surprised to see that this stretch of land was devoid of bird-life. The favoured area for Muntjac was quiet too. As was the Weir. But, as I say, not to worry, there were plenty of dog-walkers to keep me amused.

But, just before I arrived at the Grebe Hide, yet another Muntjac appeared. Seemingly uninterested in me, she carried on feeding, allowing a few shots of her.

When I walked into the Hide itself I disturbed a pair of teenagers, who, red-faced, opted to leave immediately. Sorry. I scanned the lake but there wasn't much about. Only around 5 or 6 Great Crested Grebes and a few Pochard, who were all idly swimming about. Cormorants and Grey Herons were constantly flying back and forth. I gave it about 15 minutes before heading back, eager to try and see the Bittern again.

But when I arrived it was already after 3 o'clock and was starting to get dark out there. No more Bittern showings but I was entertained by 3 GCGs who were all busily fishing in front of the Hide. A Coot had also caught a fish and came back to it every so often. A little Wren hopped about on the reeds before walking along the dead branch, towards the feeders. A couple of noisy Grey Herons squawked as they showed us their aerial skills and then spent their time on the raft to the left and a high branch to the right.

A few more people came and went and I finally decided that I, too, should head home. On the trail back a Grey Squirrel was seen and then, just past the bridge, on the lake, in the gloom, I could just make out a lone drake Smew. A great end to a great day out.

Not a bad start to 2015!