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!

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the entire experience is just indescribable.'