Sunday, 29 March 2015

Smew in the rain at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 3rd March 15

Weather: Sunny for most of the day, clouding over later. Cold wind. Passing shower.

Bird Total: 46

On today's visit I was accompanied by my good friend, Barry, who picked me up at Harlow station and drove us down to the Reserve. On the way we spotted 2 hovering Kestrels.

Safely avoiding the oncoming trains, we crossed the tracks and entered the Reserve. One or two people were already at the Watchpoint. We took our first look around, seeing about a dozen or more Lapwing, on the island; a few Grey Herons; several Great Crested Grebes and plenty of Shoveler. A Red Kite and around 5 or 6 Buzzards were high in the sky, above Easneye Wood. Just before we left a lone Shelduck flew over while a pair of Goldeneye also flew over and landed on the Lake.

From here we headed down to the Gladwin Hide, where we eventually spotted 4 male and 3 female Goldeneye; several pairs of GCGs; 2 Little Grebes; a little Wren to the right of the Hide and a lone, male Reed Bunting, singing atop a bush, out to our left.

On the return leg we bumped into Jenny Sherwen, the Reserve Warden for the area. She was busy with the Ponies.

After a cursory look from the Watchpoint, we walked through the Woods, seeing not a lot. Not much more was seen from the Bittern Pool, apart from a flyby Kingfisher and a few familiar faces.

We entered and sat down in the James Hide. Unfortunately, someone had already blagged the best seat in the house. There wasn't too much about, other than a lone Marsh Tit. Said seat didn't look like it would be vacated so we moved on.

We had earlier heard that a pair of Smew had been spotted on Tumbling Bay Lake, so we headed off to try our luck. After about 5 minutes of looking I could see what looked like the Drake at the far end of the Lake, so we headed off to try and get a little closer, to confirm it.

About 20 minutes later, we were stood standing by the Lake, looking out to where the Drake was. It was indeed the Smew, who had his consort with him. They both quickly spotted us too and moved back slightly, but still gave us some great views.

We had also seen another pair of Goldeneye here as well as two fleeting sights of a Kingfisher. Feeling suitably chuffed we headed back.

We decided to head towards the Dragonfly Trail entrance, where, on the way, by the Bridge, we spotted a male and 3 female Bullfinches. There was nothing to see once we got to the Trail.

We then found ourselves in the White Hide where we had lunch. The only addition from here was a number of Wigeon that must have arrived earlier.

We tried the James Hide again, but again another guy had blagged the best seat. Moving upstairs we eventually spotted the Marsh Tit again as well as a Common Snipe, which flew in to the reed cut. Then Ron aka Amwell Birder, arrived.

Back at the Watchpoint we spotted a BHG with a streamer tied to its' foot, surely hampering it.

It then looked as if it was going to rain, so we rushed down to the Gladwin Hide again, seeing pretty much the same thing.

The weather didn't look as if it would improve so we called it a day and headed home.

'There are good ships and there are wood ships, the ships that sail the sea.
But the best ships are friendships and may they always be.'

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Nothing to see here, move along!

Rye Meads - 2nd March 15

Weather: Some sun, with cloud. Very cold wind.

Bird Total: 40
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Water Vole.

It was my first visit of the year to RM. Unfortunately, not a lot has been happening there of late. They have had one or two excellent recent sightings, including Bittern, but, to be honest, other local Reserves have seen the same birds, only more of them. And for longer periods.

But I bit the bullet and travelled down to see what was about. sadly, not a lot. Not many species; not many birds; not many visitors.

On the journey down I spotted a lone Little Egret and on the walk up to the Reserve there were a few Long-tailed Tits about.

But it was very, very quiet once in the Reserve. The feeding area, just outside the Visitor Centre was feederless. And birdless. But there was a nice bunch of Snowdrops growing in the picnic area.

There was nothing at all to see until I got to the Draper Hide. Nothing over, in or around the HMWT Meadow. No Ratty at Water Vole Corner. Not a thing to be seen on the trail to the Hide.

The lagoon outside the Hide was still quite high. Plenty of Shoveler were about, plus a couple of pairs of Teal, which were mostly asleep. A Little Grebe wailed out somewhere unseen and a pair of Stock Doves flew in, landed but immediately flew out again. But, aside from Coot; Gulls and Ducks, nothing else.

View from the Ashby Hide.
I quickly decided to emulate the Doves and moved on up the trail. It was still eerily quiet until I reached the Ashby Hide. I didn't expect to see much from here and I was right. Only 3 Tufted Duck; 2 Mallards and a Little Grebe. All of which, except the Grebe, were asleep. I started to yawn myself.

So I moved on. Just outside the Hide a Jay flew overhead. The cold wind was starting to bite, so I tightened my magic scarf, muttering a few incantations.

A few Great and Blue Tits flew past as I reached the twin hides. Surely there would be something to see here? Sandpipers and Shelduck have been reported here recently.

I sat down in the Gadwall Hide and looked out. The cold wind was blowing in from the lagoon, so I wimped out and kept the window closed. I was a little surprised to see the water levels quite high here as well.

Consequently, there were only a few small islets out on the lagoon, where about 20 Lapwing could be seen, amongst approx 100+ Gulls of various colours, shapes and sizes. All of them facing the same way, into the wind. There were a few Tufties; Teal and another Little Grebe at the back of the lagoon, all asleep, sheltering out of the wind. But, not a lot else. Even Coot numbers were down here.

But then, just as I was about to leave, a lone Shelduck suddenly appeared out of nowhere, head bobbing down, feeding every few seconds. It was towards the back of the lagoon and it didn't look like it was going to get any closer to me. It must have been a female.

A quick look from the Tern Hide proved even more disappointing. Outside of the Tern season it was always the Coot and Gull show on this lagoon. But today there were only 3 Coot to be seen.

The only interesting thing that could be seen out on this lagoon was the strangely weird patterns the strong wind was making on the surface of the water.

With a growing sense of dread I moved on up the trail, towards the Kingfisher Hide. At this rate, it would be the quickest visit ever. I was even thinking of being home before 1pm.

Just before I walked up the steps to the Hide, feeling a little like a condemned man, I heard a Greenfinch calling out its' wheezy call.

Inside the Hide, Brian, one of the 'RM KF Crew' was sat in his favoured position, at one end of the Hide, poised, as usual, camera and long lens at the ready.

He pointed me to the, probable, resident pair of Kingfishers, sat sitting on the branches, outside the KF Bank.

Just then, another 2 members of the 'Crew' entered the Hide. Mary and Katy. A few more people came and went over the next 90 minutes, including an irate woman from the ground floor tier, complaining about the noise we were making. Pardon us for breathing.

We were entertained by the Kingfishers for most of the period I was in the Hide. Both were continually calling to each other and both were flying around, from perch to perch. Every now and then, one or the other would check out one of the nest-holes.

In between all this excitement we also had a fleeting glimpse of a Water Vole, to the left of the Hide; a Kestrel, which flew over; a little Wren moving around and finally we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker at the far end of the lagoon.

We were all expecting the Kingfishers to get the mating season off to a flying start, but both exited stage left, probably to feed. So I decided to move on, towards the Warbler Hide.

Sadly, it was back to seeing nothing again. The only thing of note before I returned to the KF Hide was the horrifying sight of most of the trees; bushes and shrubs having been cut down, all along the trail up towards the Hide.

I'm not too sure what the Reserve is trying to achieve here but this used to be the best place for Dragonflies and Damselflies. They would use the flora to soak up the sun before getting on with their busy day. It will be interesting to see what happens here when the flight season starts.

The only birds seen in between KF Hide visits were 2 Coot; 2 LTTs and a Robin, for which I left a handful of birdseed. It seemed grateful for the handout.

Back at the Kingfisher Hide, the Kingfishers showed up again, doing much the same thing as before. There was also a good sighting of a Chiffchaff and a Goldfinch, out of the right-hand window. I could also see a pair of Redwing behind and to the left of the Kingfisher Bank.

On the return journey I took a quick, fruitless look from the Gadwall Hide, seeing nothing extra, before arriving back at the Draper Hide. From here the only addition was sightings of 3 Common Snipe, towards the back of the lagoon, 2 of which were asleep. I was beginning to think that I should have stayed in bed today.

And that was it. I have never seen so few birds on the Reserve before. It could possibly be put down to having just entered the migration period. Our birds having moved on, with the incoming birds not having arrived yet.

Either way, I probably won't be back until the next quarter, for the possible re-appearance of the Black-necked Grebes. And possibly for the fledging Kingfishers. If I can manage to get into the Hide.

One last thing happened before I left. I was reprimanded by a staff member for feeding the birds. It's a bird reserve, isn't it? And it was bird-seed, not white bread.

'It's best to have failure happen early in life.' Anne Baxter

Monday, 23 March 2015

Has Spring arrived?

Amwell Nature Reserve - 27th February 15

Weather: Sunny early on, clouding over later. Slight breeze.

Bird Total: 51
Plus: Bank Vole; Konik Pony; Muntjac; Rabbit (dead).

In the ever-continuing changeable weather, it was another fine, sunny day. At least, early on. It clouded over slightly for an hour or so just after lunch. There was also a cold breeze blowing in but the feeling is that Winter is over and we can welcome in the Spring.

There was more evidence of this in the form of budding trees; flowering plants and the courtship rituals beginning everywhere. The days were also becoming longer.

The Winter birds are mostly still here, but migration is definitely beginning, with the arrival this week of a pair of Oystercatchers. They bred successfully last year and they will hopefully do so again this year. A flock of Golden Plover passed through last week, so movement is definitely happening.

Another instance is the noticeable reduction in numbers, especially out on the lakes. There are still plenty of species about, but numbers are definitely down.

On the journey down I spotted a pair of Little Egrets. A Song Thrush could be heard on the trail up to the Reserve. A few minutes later another could be seen, rooting around for worms. At the Lock a Grey Wagtail appeared.

I met the same guy at the Watchpoint that I had spoken to at Fishers Green earlier in the week. I found out his name was Steve and we chatted again for the next 15-20 minutes or so.

Out over Great Hardmead Lake I could see 3 or 4 Grey Herons, flying back and forth to the roosting island, some with nesting material; there were a good hundred plus Lapwing on the main island; a pair of Great Crested Grebes were head shaking every now and then; while high in the sky, over Easneye Wood I could see at least half a dozen Buzzards, together with a Red Kite and a Sparrowhawk.

Other than that a lone, male Reed Bunting was calling out to our left; a Cetti's Warbler was belting out its' song immediately in the reeds in front of us, while a female Muntjac was cropping the grass on the far side of the Lake.

I decided to head down to the Gladwin Hide to try for Goldeneye and Smew. Just before I reached the Hide I took a quick look out over this part of the Lake. I could see 8 Goldeneye, 4 males and 4 females, all continually diving. There were another 4 Great Crested Grebes as well.

There wasn't too much else to see from the Hide, no sign of the Smew. The only additions were a lone female Pochard and a little Wren, hopping around the shrubs just in front of the Hide. Another Cetti's Warbler appeared.

One other guy appeared and asked the age-old question: 'Much about?' I told him about the 8 Goldeneye. '4 of each,' I said to him. 'What, male and female?' came his reply. Doh!

I double-backed down the trail and decided to take a walk through the woods. Just after I had entered a lovely Treecreeper flew in and landed on a nearby tree, allowing a few modest photos. All the usual woodland birds were about, but, alas, no Siskin.

A quick check of the Bittern Pool, no Bittern today. There were a few familiar faces here. But I didn't hang around and went and sat in the James Hide.

A couple of people were already in here but they didn't stay long. There was another Muntjac at the back of the lagoon, by the fence-line. Yet another Cetti's Warbler began moving from left to right in front of the Hide, before flying back to its' original start position. I nearly got a photo of it but I was too slow. There was also a Bank Vole appearing every now and then, more then rather than now. Then a Kingfisher flew in onto the far post and posed for me.

The feeders were fairly full and were doing a brisk trade. Then another familiar face entered the Hide and, after about 30 minutes, we decided to head up to the Dragonfly Trail.

Just before we got to the Bridge my friend spotted a pair of Bullfinch, which almost immediately turned into 2 pairs. They were partially hidden in the trees and were always behind a branch or a twig, so no photos. But it is always excellent to see these birds, especially the brightly coloured male.

We were disappointed to find the feeders at the Trail empty with only a few Tits flying in and out. No doubt they were also disappointed. There were a couple of guys cementing in new signage nearby and that may also have had something to do with it.

We headed back, with the White Hide the target. Just before we rounded the path onto the main trail we spotted a fresh Rabbit kill. Probably by a Stoat. We hung around for a few minutes to see if the Stoat returned but there were too many dog-walkers about. But while we waited we were entertained by a melodic Song Thrush.

The White Hide was again a bit of a disappointment. The wrong time of year, I guess. The only addition was a pair of Teal. My friend headed off and I followed soon after, sitting back down in the James Hide. I could also see Jenny Sherwen, Reserve Warden beside the Konik Ponies, which had also appeared.

This time I found the Hide empty and proceeded to try and photograph the pair of Marsh Tits that were visiting the feeders. Over the course of the next 45 minutes the key word was definitely 'confrontation'. The Marsh Tits chased each other about, as did various pairs of Chaffinch; Dunnock; Reed Bunting; Robins and Long-tailed Tits.

A second Bank Vole appeared and, they too, joined in the confrontational dance. The Grey Heron that had flown in was the only lonely bird out there. Finally, a Water Rail flew across the lagoon.

Then Jenny arrived and, as we were chatting, she spotted the Barn Owl make an unusually early appearance from behind the White Hide. Unfortunately, it didn't fly in our direction and, instead, headed off towards the Gladwin Hide.

A little later I checked the Bittern Pool for a final time and then checked the dead rabbit. But the carcass had been removed.

Back at the Watchpoint, another pair of familiar faces had turned up, with one of them pointing out a pair of Smew in the distance. A Little Egret also flew in.

Another excellent day! Hopefully this purple patch will continue.

'No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.'

Friday, 20 March 2015

A Muntjac party at Fishers Green!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 24th February, 15

Weather: Cloudy with rain at times. Quite mild.

Bird Total: 44
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Muntjac.

The weather this week was forecast for overcast skies, with today being the best of a bad bunch. There was some sunshine but we also got a few light rain showers.

There were still extra lakes, lagoons and ponds to be seen on the journey down, while the water levels around the Reserve were still quite high. I didn't think we'd had that much rain.

Still no sign of Benny the Buzzard on the trip down, but Harry the Heron looks as if he has relocated to the back of the adjacent fields. Along with Eddie the Egret.

I made my way down the trail towards Hall Marsh Scrape and the Teal Hide. I had already encountered plenty of dog-walkers already and was keen to avoid being used as a p*ss-post again. But then, a woman with 3 dogs walked towards me, with one of the dogs using a wooden bench as a marking post. Said dog then looked up at me and I just glared at it, before walking on.

Before crossing the canal I had to wait for 2 more women with 10 (ten) dogs to cross. Then another woman with 2 more. I thought that if this keeps up I'm going to get another wet leg again!

Then I arrived at the usual spot, looking out over Friday Lake. I was a bit surprised to see a pair of Greylag Geese close in, obviously looking for handouts. But I was even more surprised to see that they had 2 little Goslings with them! Wow, I know that we've had a mild winter but it's not quite Spring yet. Or is it?

There was a third Greylag Goose in the area too, but it was chased off by the pair. This time I remembered to bring the last of my brown bread with me, plus some birdseed. I fed a slice to the parents. A pair of Mallards then appeared out of nowhere, as did a Coot.

Another surprise was the absence of birds out on the Lake. Only a few more Coot and some Tufted Ducks. No Grebes anywhere.

Then a bloke with 2 dogs turned up, saw the Goslings and sat down on the bench. He started to take a few photos too, while one of his dogs barked at the birds. Standing up, he told me that the Goslings were too early and would probably die in the next harsh frost, before stomping off.

I ignored him and continued to try and concentrate on keeping a dry leg, before moving off myself. Just as I left I could hear a Greenfinch wheezing out.

I sat down in the Teal Hide, grateful to have succeeded in avoiding a wet leg from all those dogs.

Looking out I could see about a dozen or so Wigeon, in 2 separate groups. One group was feeding, while the other was sleeping. There were also Shoveler and Teal dotted around the area. A Grey Heron was out to the left, by the pylon, in its' usual stalk mode.

I could hear the plaintiff call of a Little Grebe somewhere out on the lagoon, but it remained hidden from view. There was one lone Lapwing standing on one of the little islands. Further back I could see a pair of Pheasants, one of which was black. Or should that be 'dark morph'?

Just before I headed off I witnessed a pair of Moorhens mating, just in front of the Hide. Spring is definitely on the way!

But I had to leave, because the Hide smelt of stale beer. Which is why I left all the shutters open.

I took another look out over Friday Lake from this end, but couldn't see any Grebes. Just another Grey Heron.

It was a fairly brisk walk through the lakes. I didn't see much point in hanging around as there was a constant stream of dog-walkers. But I did see a Water Rail fly past me, along the adjacent stream. Out on the lakes the first GCGs showed up, one or two pairs starting the head-shaking before seeing me watching them and stopping. Can birds be embarrassed?

It was actually quite warm when the sun came out from behind the few clouds in the sky. This was, in fact, the best part of the day. It clouded over quite badly in the afternoon and I was fortunate enough to avoid the few showers that appeared by sitting in Hides. There was also a strong, cold wind every now and then, especially in the open areas. It certainly chilled my open areas!

There was a noticeable lack of any passerines around the Reserve today, especially in this particular area. I got talking to a couple of other Birders in the Hides and we speculated that we might be seeing a passage movement starting up, with various species starting on the migration.

Just before I reached the main trail I spotted a Little Grebe and a pair of Long-tail Tits. There was nothing to see from the Bridge but out on Hooks Marsh Lake there was another Little Grebe in continual dive mode.

I was approaching the Bittern Hide when I spotted a Little Egret on the relief channel. I managed to fire off a quick couple of shots before it was scared off by a jogger.

There were a few people in the Hide when I arrived. Nobody had seen any Bitterns today, but 3 had been reported over at the Pochard Hide. In fact, despite two visits here today, I didn't see anything like the action of last week.

Great Hardmead Lake was practically devoid of birds. Only Coot and a few ducks, plus the obligatory Gulls waiting to be fed were around. I got talking to a fellow Birder and we speculated on the migration theory. I was also amused to hear that he had similar views about dog-walkers as myself. Only worse. He sounded even more right-wing than Genghis Khan!

There may have been nothing to see out on the Lake but there was a bit of action on the lagoon outside the Hide. The feeders were practically empty but there was a steady stream of Great and Blue Tits on the nut feeder. Then a Water Rail appeared a couple of times, giving some very good views.

We were also entertained by a pair of GCGs, both in glorious breeding plumage and both fishing continually in front of us. Earlier, we witnessed a pair of Sparrowhawks fly over the lake, with one of them being chased and harassed by about a couple of dozen BHGs.

Then, not one, but two Muntjac appeared on the other side of the lagoon, to our right. Both could see us in the Hide but ignored us and carried on feeding. In fact, today saw a record number seen, 10 (ten) in total.

Heading off up to the Grebe Hide I spotted a third just as I entered the trail. As I tried to sneak closer for a decent photo I flushed a nearby Grey Heron, which also spooked the deer.

Further on I spotted another Muntjac and again flushed another Grey Heron, possibly the same one. Further on from there another pair of Muntjac appeared but were scared off by a pair of very noisy Chinook helicopters. Are they still flying?

Just past Holyfield Weir, which yielded nothing, I spotted another Muntjac. And just as I approached the Hide, yet another Muntjac appeared. More GCGs and Grey Herons were about on the relief channel and the adjacent lake. Then a Kingfisher landed on a branch to my left, over a sheltered lagoon, but flew off when it spotted me. I couldn't help it, I had no cover.

I settled in to an empty Grebe Hide and, looking out, I could eventually see up to a dozen more GCGs. There were plenty of Pochard; a few Shoveler; a few Tufties and another Grey Heron.

Then one of the GCGs became very vocal and began swimming around, head down, in threat mode. As I continued to watch it paired up with another and then both entered into a territorial dispute with another pair. Over the course of about 15 minutes, both pairs railed at the other, crests raised and there were even one or two bouts of fisticuffs. It was exciting stuff!

They eventually calmed down with both pairs starting the head-shaking to their partners, affirming the bond. A fifth bird appeared a little later and I thought it might kick things off again, but nothing happened.

Out in the distance, on an island at the back of the lagoon, I could just make out an Egyptian Goose.

Then another guy appeared and sat down next to me. We again postulated on the quiet day, with migration in action being debated. While we were talking a drake and 2 female Goosander appeared out to our right, before flying off to the back of the lagoon.

Then a pair of Grey Herons flew around the island, chasing each other. A Little Egret appeared in the distance and then a Kingfisher flashed past. Possibly the same one seen earlier.

Time was getting on, so I headed off back down the trail. On the way back a Jay and a pair of Green Woodpeckers were seen. Over the relief channel, looking towards the Farm, by the fence-line another pair of Muntjac could be seen. Then another, the tenth of the day, was spotted by the clearing on the right.

I made it back to the Bittern Hide without further sightings or incidents. There was no change since the last visit, only another, good, sighting of a Water Rail. I broke up the last of the bread and, together with some bird seed, fed the mallards and moorhens outside the Hide. They seemed suitably grateful.

I debated on whether to wait it out to see if any Bitterns flew in to roost, but decided to head back. On the trail back to the station I heard, first, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and then a Song Thrush. Top day!

'A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.'

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Three Amigos visit Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 18th February 15

Weather: Sunny with slight cloud. Cold with a slight breeze.

Bird Total: 54
Plus: Konik Pony; Muntjac.

Today I met up with friends and fellow birders, Shane and TJ. Both have visited Amwell before and we all went on to have a brilliant day.

Nothing to report on the commute down, other than a Fox heading back the way I had come.

I was picked up at the station by Shane and we drove the short distance to a little lay-by, where we then walked over the tracks and found ourselves at the Watchpoint. Earlier, just as we entered the Reserve Shane shouted out that he had spotted a Stoat, crossing over the trail, in front of us. Unfortunately, I was looking the other way and missed it completely.

It was a good start but there wasn't too much to get excited about at the Watchpoint. There were a few people already there. Plenty of Lapwing, over a hundred, all settled on the island. There were also a few Wigeon; Shoveler and Great Crested Grebe plus all the usual suspects. Robins and Dunnocks were hopping about all around us, with one very brave Robin on the fence beside us, obviously waiting for a handout.

TJ had texted saying he was held up in traffic, so we both headed down to the Gladwin Hide, to search for Goldeneye and Smew. We eventually spotted five female and one male Goldeneye, but, alas no Smew. In fact, they weren't seen all day and had either flown or were stubbornly refusing to come out from behind the island. There were more GCGs and Wigeon here plus 3 Buzzards high over Easneye Woods.

We were sat sitting in the Hide, talking to a South African guy, watching the Konik Ponies outside the Hide, when Shane's phone rang. It was TJ, announcing his presence. Shane told him where we were and we soon met up. We hung around, waiting for the non-appearance of the Smew and eventually decided to head off to, hopefully, greener pastures.

A quick look out over the Watchpoint and then we took a walk through the Woods. Unfortunately, no Siskin today but there were plenty of others birds, notably Goldfinch.

We then arrived at the Bittern Pool, meeting up with a familiar face. No Bittern unfortunately, so we headed for the James Hide. A couple of guys were already in there but we managed to squeeze in and waited for the action. TJ managed to blag the seat next to the feeders and began snapping away.

There wasn't much out on the lagoon and the feeders were practically empty, so there wasn't too much action. But then, just in front of us, by the water's edge, we spotted a Water Rail trying to sneak past us. I wasn't quick enough for any photos so just spent the fleeting seconds watching it tip-toe past.

Shane then spotted a few Buzzards in the sky, having altercations with each other and a Crow. Then TJ spotted a couple of Marsh Tits and we all watched as they entertained us by flying back and forth. They were flying in to the one feeder that still had a few seeds, in between the Reed Bunting visits.

Then we spotted another Water Rail, possibly the same one, making its' way along the reeds to our right. It then walked across the reed-cut and we thought it had disappeared. But, a few minutes later, it reappeared again and then, to our delight, walked slowly across the lagoon to the reeds on our left. Cue much clicking of cameras. Great light and a great sight, easily the best view of a Rail for ages.

We hung around for a little while here, having lunch, waiting for a possible appearance of the Kingfisher. No joy, so we decided to head around to the White Hide. On the way Shane spotted a Sparrowhawk, using the thermals to gain height. Only two people were in the Hide but there wasn't anything outside to excite us greatly, so we moved on.

Heading up to the Dragonfly Trail Shane spotted a female Muntjac. Unusually, she just looked at us and carried on feeding. That was a novelty.

There were only Tits; Chaffinches and Goldfinches on the feeders, but then TJ spotted a Kestrel on the grass out to the right, which flew off just as we trained our Bins on it. Further on, I spotted a female Bullfinch high in the trees at the back, but she flew off before the guys could see it.

Shane needed to head off soon, so we walked back to the James Hide to try for the Kingfisher again. On the way we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming in the background. We had heard a Green Woodpecker earlier.

Other than a few more sightings of Water Rail, there wasn't much else to see. So, mindful of the traffic, Shane opted to head off. Unfortunately, for him, the Kingfisher showed up not five minutes later, out to our left. Dave, the volunteer from Rye Meads, had just turned up and both he and TJ went upstairs to get a better view. I had stayed in the lower tier banking on the bird flying over to the perches in front of the Hide.
After about 10 minutes, he did just that and posed beautifully in the sunshine for me. He hung around for a few minutes, before flying off. A Red Kite could also be seen, gliding over the tree-line.

The three of us then headed back to the Watchpoint, where TJ decided to call it a day and headed off. Dave and I walked down to the Gladwin Hide to try for Smew. Not seeing any, we concentrated on the several Goldeneye that were around. A couple of pairs of GCGs began their courtship dance. I could see a lone Little Egret in the distance, behind the main island. 3 Little Grebes were having a tête-à-tête at the back of the lagoon. We could see the Lapwing going up again, something they had been doing nearly all day.

Time was getting on and I decided to head back to the Watchpoint. I was in two minds whether to head home myself or walk back around to the White Hide and wait for the Barn Owl, which was still appearing just before dusk. Whilst pondering my decision, I heard a Cetti's Warbler sing out from one of the reed-beds in front; a pair of Snipe crossed from right to left; someone pointed out a Yellow-legged Gull, perched up on one of the goal-posts and then a Song Thrush and a Greenfinch sang out a duet together.

By then, of course, it was too late for the usual train and so I waited for the Owl to appear. It was a bit late this evening, turning up just before 5.30. But it gave its' usual brilliant performance before disappearing north. I was a little peeved at seeing it fly close to the White Hide and then the James Hide. Maybe I'll sit in one of them next time.


On the walk back to the Station I spotted another Muntjac. Another brilliant day out, with great company.

'What's the big deal about birdwatchers….I counted 27 of the losers today.'

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Bittern Fest at Fishers Green!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 17th February, 15

Weather: Bright and sunny all day. Cold, but warm in the sunshine.

Bird Total: 42
Plus: Muntjac.

Excellent day out today. Not one, but two Bitterns were seen, one of which showed for a couple of hours.

It was an excellent start to the day too, as, looking out over Friday Lake I could see a female Goosander; a female Goldeneye and at least 5 Great Crested Grebes, a pair of which were in full courting display mode, including a weed exchange.

I had stood there watching them through my Bins for a few minutes, absolutely enthralled, when I felt something wet on my ankle. I looked down to find a dog cocking its' leg up on me! I, ahem, pushed it away and the owner of said dog turned around at the bark and just said, 'Oh, you naughty boy!' But I wasn't sure whether she was actually talking to me or the dog! Charming.

In fact, during the first few hours that I was on the Reserve, there were a tremendous amount of dogs taking their owners for a walk. Most of them were barking as well, some of them at the birds on the lagoons. The dogs, not the owners. There didn't seem to be any control, either from the dogs or the owners. In my, controversial, view they should stop culling Badgers and Foxes and start culling dog-owners.

And, to top it all, as it was also Half-Term, there were quite a few families out today as well, obviously taking the chance to be out in the sunshine.

Which I don't begrudge. But it did mean that the Reserve was very busy and noisy, which meant that there were consequently not too many birds about the trails. Even the birds on the lakes kept their distance. But that was quite possibly because of me. Ahem.

I went and sat in the Teal Hide and looked out. After shaking my leg outside. I could see a few Shoveler on the small lagoon at the back; a couple of dozen Lapwing, all standing around on one of the small islands and a lone Grey Heron, who was in full hunt mode to my left.

Then, suddenly, all the Lapwing went up. I looked up and spotted a Sparrowhawk race through them, up and over the far trees and disappear. Then about a dozen or more Shoveler flew over, circled, their plumage looking brilliant in the sunshine, before landing alongside the others already present. It disturbed another Grey Heron, who took flight.

A few minutes later, more Shoveler flew in, then a pair of Teal. Then 10 or more Wigeon swam into view, just in front of the Hide and proceeded to feed. The pig-like squeal of a Water Rail rang out. It was quite a good day already! Apart from the dogs and a wet ankle.

There were no clouds in the sky, the sun was out and it started to feel quite warm. Luckily I only had 6 layers on. Then 2 toddlers noisily arrived in the Hide. With a dog. Uh-oh. I picked my bag up and moved my legs back, glaring at the dog. There was no accompanying adult and both toddlers were female. There could only have been one outcome. They took one look at me, immediately stopped shouting for a few seconds, then dashed back outside screaming. The dog quickly sniffed at me but followed the toddlers out. At least it didn't try to leave its' mark with me.

I took one last look out over the lagoon, seeing at least one black Pheasant and hearing a lone Song Thrush singing out its' cheerful song, before moving on.

I stopped off to look out over Friday Lake again, seeing both Goosander and Goldeneye. I could see a few of the GCGs but none were displaying this time. There were a few Black-headed Gulls on the lagoon, at least a couple of which were starting to show their brown skull caps.

Factoid of the day: Wanna know whey they are called Black-heads and not Brown-heads? Because there is already a species of Brown-headed Gull in Asia. Hands up who knew that! Sorry, hands up - in the air - who knew that!

There wasn't a great deal to see on the trail up to the Bittern Hide. Just dogs. And more dogs. All barking or yapping. It was like Dog-Day Afternoon. Only in the morning and without Al Pacino.

Further around the trail I spotted a lone Little Grebe, continually diving. Until he, or probably she, saw me and immediately vanished. Then a buck Muntjac appeared, just over the relief channel. He gave me what looked like a sneer and causally strode off into the bushes.

More GCGs appeared, all of them, so far, in full breeding plumage. Their bright, orangey-red crests showing really well. Or bright, reddish-orange, if you prefer.

There was nothing more to be seen, well nothing I hadn't already seen before, until I reached the trail leading up to the Bittern Hide and Fishers Green. Apart from more dogs, that is.

I stood there, looking out over Seventy Acres Lake, not seeing a great deal, apart from a pair of Egyptian Geese and a very scruffy looking Grey Heron. I quickly looked down at my feet, checking for dogs, then I looked out over the adjacent relief channel to the lagoon and spotted a drake Goosander at the back, swimming regally past some Mallards.

I walked into the Bittern Hide, more in hope than anything. I had suspected that it may be a bit too warm for Bitterns today. There were quite a few people already in situ. I squeezed in to a free seat and looked at the sightings board. Bitterns had indeed been seen today and only 20 minutes ago! I checked my phone for the date, to confirm that I was singing from the same hymn book and then turned around to hear someone say, 'That was a great view of the Bittern, wasn't it!'


I had missed the bird crossing one of the channels while I was looking at my phone. Doh! Fortunately, a few minutes later, it reappeared, quite close in and proceeded to give some great views thereon. It looked like the smaller, junior bird of the two that had been seen here recently.

It almost, but not quite, stepped out into the open. But then turned around and walked back into the reeds. About 10 minutes later it crossed the channel to the adjacent reed-bed. Then we watched as it wandered down the sub-channel, almost obscured by reeds, quite close to the water's edge. More people had arrived, thankfully with no dogs and we all held our breaths as it looked like the bird was going to walk out in to the open. It didn't.

Actually, it behaved like that for the rest of the afternoon. Tempting us by standing just inside the reeds, before wandering back in and sitting down to preen. But at least it was still in view and it did give us some great views for the next couple of hours. I managed a few poor shots of it, crossing the channels.

Everyone around me had big, satisfied grins on their faces. Some of them wondering where the smell of urine was coming from.

More people came in. The inquiries always went along these lines:

'Seen the Bittern?'

'Yes, right in front, by the reeds!'


'There!' (pointing of fingers towards the reeds)

'I can't see it.'

'There - it moved! Can you see it?'


Where was Scope-man when you needed him?

Eventually, everyone that came into the Hide spotted it. Then, to our amazement, a second bird flew in and landed at the back of the reeds to our left.

'Can you see it?'

Argh! I'd had enough by then. I'd been sat sitting there for nearly 4 hours. My legs ached, my back ached, my eyes ached. I had lunch and wandered off. It was too late to walk up to the Grebe Hide and back, so I headed for the Station.

Other than the Bitterns I saw a Sparrowhawk a couple of times, flying past the feeders, scaring everything and then flying out over the Lake, scaring up the Lapwing, which had wandered over from Hall Marsh Scrape. There were several, really good sightings of at least 3 Water Rails. Another buck Muntjac appeared in the trees, feeding, to our right; a lone GCG, feeding, just in front of the Hide and finally a couple of Reed Buntings, which were feeding from the tops of the reeds. My stomach started growling again.

On the trail back I managed to fire off a few photos, in some great light, of more GCGs, on the relief channel. It looked like it could be the same pair, in the same area as last year. Hopefully, they will produce more, photogenic, youngsters again.

Great day out, but less dogs next time, please!

'I think I’m really learning a lot from my creative writing classes;
the entire experience is just indescribable.'