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!