Sunday, 19 April 2015

WWT Barnes - 25th March, 2015

Weather: Sunny, blue skies. Heavy cloud later, with a light rain shower.

Bird Total: 59

Black-bellied Whistling Duck; Black Swan; Bufflehead; Canvasback; Chinese (Eastern) Spot-bill; Comb Duck; Falcated Duck; Fulvous Whistling Duck; Hooded Merganser; Lesser White-fronted Goose; Magpie Goose; Marbled Duck; Nene Goose; Northern Screamer; Patagonian Teal; Plumed Whistling Duck; Rajah Shelduck; Red-breasted Goose; Richardson's Canada Geese; Ringed Teal; White-faced Whistling Duck; White-winged Duck. Total: 22

Plus: Asian Short-clawed Otter; Grey Squirrel; Water Buffalo.

It was time for my, now, annual pilgrimage to Barnes. This time I had done my homework and avoided the summer. And this time I was accompanied by my good friend and fellow birder, Shane.

I had arrived about 10 minutes or so before opening and, whilst waiting for Shane to arrive, I managed to see several Ring-necked Parakeets, a speciality around the area; a wheezing Greenfinch and a Pied Wagtail, picking its' way over the rooftop.

Wood Duck
Just as the doors opened Shane arrived. Great timing! We entered and paid our fees, while also being informed that there were a few work parties around the Reserve.

That was bad news in itself but it was compounded by at least one Hide being closed and several trails cordoned off. The Summer trail was still closed and we also had to endure several large groups of toddling, noisy school parties.

Fulvous Whistling Duck
All fair enough, but the Reserve management could of at least put this up on their website. And maybe even allowed a 10% discount.....? We would certainly of visited another day had we known all this.

But, we were here and it was a day out and the sun was shining. Well, except for a few very dark clouds and spots of rain around lunchtime. And a little later in the afternoon. I must have a word with Carol and her BBC forecasts.

We decided to walk around the Northern route, encompassing the captive area first, while the sun was still out. The best thing about this place is the fact that you can get really close to some very rare and exotic birds you wouldn't normally see. Especially in this country.

First up were various Geese, including my favourites, the Red-breasted Goose. A pair of Bewick's Swans were close by and then we arrived at the first work party area. The trail here was closed while work was being carried out on the viewing platform.

But it didn't stop us getting some really good close up views of Goldeneye and Smew. Unfortunately, with the trail closed off, we couldn't get as near to the Mergansers; Buffleheads and Canvasbacks as we would have liked.

Then we paid our first visit of the day to the Otter Sanctuary. Only two Asian Short-clawed Otters are here now, the other pair having disappeared. Unfortunately, no one was at home so we moved on.

We stopped off at various areas, seeing plenty of overseas birds, most of which I had seen before, on earlier visits. But there were 2 species that I had never encountered before - Northern Screamers and Plumed Whistling Ducks.

We paid a quick visit around the Wildside area. This was where the Summer route was closed off. There was a helpful sign telling us that it would be open in the Summer.

This particular area comes in to its' own when the Dragonfly season starts. Today it was a little quiet, with only birdsong to accompany us. But we did see a few Chiffchaffs. And then Shane spotted a Sparrowhawk fly over and land in a distant tree. Unfortunately, it was a bit too distant for any decent photos.

We paid a quick visit to the Wildside Hide, one of two Hides in this part of the Reserve. From here we could take in the first views of the Grazing Marsh. The other Hide, the Headley, had one side curtained off, to protect a possible nesting site for a pair of Kingfishers. It was also being used for Schools, so we quickly moved on.

Ferruginous Duck
Parties of schoolchildren were everywhere around this side of the Reserve so, with a very dark rain-cloud approaching us, we decided to break for lunch before heading off around the Southern route.

Whilst eating our sandwiches outside the Cafe we were being slowly circled by various pigeons and starlings, waiting to pounce on any crumbs. But the surprise was a Moorhen, who must have been so hungry it was practically sitting in my lap.

The Pond Zone was for schools only today, while the Sustainable Gardens had looked better. Early in the year yet, I supposed. We also checked into a couple of Hides. But, looking out over the main lake, we didn't see a great deal.

The feeder area provided us with a good view of a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, in amongst all the Finches and Tits.

The dark cloud was still about so we headed for the Peacock Hide. A Black-tailed Godwit had arrived yesterday, together with sightings of Jack Snipe, so I was hopeful of seeing some Wader action today.

Unfortunately, the Godwit had moved on, but there was still a Jack Snipe out on the Grazing Marsh, somewhere. Whilst searching for it, I spotted 3 Redshank nearer in, on the Wader Scrape. There were a few Lapwing and Common Snipe out there as well.

The Hide was quite busy so we decided to move on to the Wader Scrape Hide to see if the Redshank would get closer. But, on arrival, we found that this was the Hide that was closed off, due to more work being carried out. A little frustrating.

From here we took a walk around the woodland area, seeing more Chiffchaff. Cetti's Warblers were being heard all around the Reserve, especially in this area.

Along here, by the trail, were large areas of grassland. It occurred to me that the Reserve could try and put this to good use, by maybe turning it into a wild flower zone. It would certainly look better than just grassy areas.

With not much else about and, still quite early, we decided to head back around the Northern route to check out the areas we had to bypass because of the work parties.

First up was another visit to the Otter area. This time, both Otters were out and about, providing some great entertainment. Surprisingly, there weren't very many other people here to watch.

There were also a few Wetlands of the World areas that were cordoned off earlier, that were now open. Most of the trees were in blossom now, especially Blackthorn and Hawthorn and there were more and more flowers starting to bloom. Daffodils of course, but Lesser Celandine, Primrose and Cowslips were all equally impressive.

Aircraft and Helicopters were continually flying overhead, making a right racket. A reminder of the fact that we were on the Heathrow flight-path.

Then Shane spotted something high in a tree. Looking through my Bins I could see that it was a Grey Squirrel. But it wasn't moving and seemed to have trapped its' neck by a fork in the branches. We feared that it was an ex-squirrel, bereft of life. But no, it started to wriggle free and moved off.

We double-backed and headed for the Visitor Centre. Surprisingly, we had only been here five hours, but my back ached and so I sat down for a breather. Shane spotted a pair of Ring-necked Parakeets in the tree near us and went to photograph them.

I joined him when I could see that there was some interaction between the birds. It looked, at first, like a love-in, but it was more likely that it was a transference of food. Especially as both were females. Mother feeding junior, most probably.

Shane decided to head home, to avoid the traffic and he very kindly gave me a lift back to the Station.

Lots of birds today, well over 80 species seen, with some new ones for me. Sadly, no butterflies and no lizards. Not even any Voles.

A better visit this year, but we gave it 6 out of 10, mainly for lack of information beforehand. It quickly lost another point when we discovered that we had to get a token to get the car out of the car-park.

'To a man, Birders are tall, slender, some bearded, so that they can stand motionless for hours, imitating kindly trees, as they watch for birds.' Gore Vidal

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Water Vole at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 23rd March 15

Weather: Sunny early on, clouding over later.

Bird Total: 53
Plus: Muntjac; Rabbit; Water Vole.

Carol got it right with the weather today. Sunshine early on, clouding over later in the afternoon. Good educated guess?

It was a quiet journey down, nothing to be seen. The water levels over the adjacent fields have deteriorated down to just small ponds now.

I arrived at the Watchpoint to find only one other person there. Out over the lake I could see plenty of Lapwing, spread out over the island; a pair of Redshank, flying around before landing directly in front on the mudflats; 2 Little Egrets and several Grey Herons; a pair of Great Crested Grebes and, finally, I managed to connect with the pair of Oystercatchers that had been visiting for the last few weeks. They were both on the main island, probing away with their bills, as they do.

There were still plenty of wintering duck about, lots of Shoveler; plenty of Teal and a few Pochard. But no Wigeon this time.

On the walk down to the Gladwin Hide, looking out over the lake, I could see at least 3 female Goldeneye. From the Hide itself I could see that a male had joined them and then another Little Egret. A male Reed Bunting sang out to my left and I spotted it atop a bush. There followed a little bit of commotion as several pairs of Canada Geese fought for the choice bit of scrape out front, with one pair eventually taking the bragging rights.

I then took a walk through the Wood, but there wasn't much about. I did hear Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and a distant call of a Green Woodpecker and, just before I reached the end of the trail, I heard a Little Grebe calling out. The Wood seems to be a bit of a hit or miss area.

A quick, furtive look over the Bittern Pool produced nothing more than the usual Tufties and Coots. And what looked like the same Greylag Goose as last week, in the same bit of reed-cut.

I sat down in the James Hide and looked out. The feeders were all nearly empty, with only Greats; Blues and Dunnock visiting regularly. There was a Common Snipe in the reed-cut, feeding away, while another Little Egret flew over from left to right, towards the lake. A Cetti's Warbler sang out to my left.

I stayed for about 35 minutes but, mindful that the sunny weather would soon be replaced with clouds, I decided to head around the trail towards the White Hide. I stopped off at the area where the Water Voles were seen but, despite hanging around for half-a-hour, seeing none I moved on. I did see a lovely Coal Tit, though. And Chiffchaff and Green Woodpecker were both calling out.

There was a familiar face in the White Hide when I arrived. During lunch here, I watched the Grey Herons and Little Egrets fly back and forth from the large roosting island in front. There were also several displaying Lapwing. But the stars here were a pair of Redshank, which landed on the mudflat in front of the Hide and proceeded to walk towards the Hide. They got close, but not close enough. I only got a few modest shots of them.

I took another chance back along the trail to search for the Voles. To my delight, just as I was approaching the area, I could see, what at first, looked to be either a Coot or a Moorhen. But, as I looked through my Bins, I could see a Water Vole, sat atop a little stump, in the middle of the river.

I took a few, quick shots and then tried to get closer. I took another few shots but decided to hop over the fence and crawl towards the river. When I popped my head up , over the bushes, I found, to my disappointment, that the Vole had disappeared. I sat down by the stream for another 20 minutes or so, hoping to see it again but no joy. On the walk back a few Goldfinches flew over.

I headed towards the Dragonfly Trail again, this time stealthily creeping up slowly towards the Bridge. With no one about I was hopeful of spying the Bullfinch again. And again I was delighted to see a male and 2 females, feeding on the Hawthorn flowers. I only managed one shot before they all flew off.

The Trail area itself was disappointing. The feeders were empty here, too. No birds around, other than a hen Pheasant. A Song Thrush was singing out.

When I arrived back at the Bridge, I spooked a Jay, which flew off. Must have been another female.

I found the James Hide empty when I arrived and sat down in the choice seat. The feeder area saw no change, other than Phil the Pheasant returning again. Then a Kingfisher flew in and perched at the back of the lagoon. Unfortunately, he didn't fly any closer and flew off soon after. A total of 8 Buzzards could be seen, high over Easneye Wood.

About 10 minutes later, a Water Rail flew over the lagoon, from right to left and disappeared into the reeds. Coots and Moorhens and Mallards swam about and then the Rail popped its' head around the reeds, just in front, just like last week. Only this time I was too slow, before it saw me and scuttled away.

The Cetti's Warbler also made an appearance, out to the left. It flew up and stood on a reed stem and would have given a great view, if it hadn't of been for a clump of reeds in the way. After the Lord Mayor's show of last week, I guess.

A Song Thrush then flew overhead, before a Grey Heron landed in the reed-cut and proceeded to walk up closer to the Hide. I was sure it could see me but it kept on coming, right up to the lagoon. It then waded around, catching the odd meal, before having had enough of me and flew off.

A couple of people then came in and sat down for 10 minutes. I didn't see them leave but when I turned around I could see that they had left their rubbish behind!

I then decided to head back to the Watchpoint, with a view to heading off soon after. On the way a pair of Muntjac could be seen foraging. There was nothing to add at the Watchpoint, although I did get close up views of a Redshank and a Little Egret.

On the walk back down the trail towards the station I could see a lone Redwing in the adjacent field.

Not a bad day out, again!

'I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.' Emily Dickinson

Monday, 13 April 2015

Eclipsed at Fishers Green!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 20th March, 15

Weather: Overcast and quite cold early on, brightening and warming up later.

Bird Total: 42
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Mink; Muntjac.

It was Eclipse Day today but the 'Weather God' did not look very kindly on me. Cold, overcast and very cloudy before and during the event, but then magically clearing to warm, sunny, blue skies after. Worst eclipse ever. I don't know why we even bother to enter.

I caught the busier train today and so I was unable to look out the window. On the trail up to the Hall Marsh Scrape I could hear a few Chiffchaff singing out. There were other birds calling out but it is always nice to hear these guys.

Looking out over Friday Lake I was delighted to see a redhead Smew out in the middle, swimming around a few Tufted Ducks. A pair of Great Crested Grebes were close in (I checked for nearby dogs as I was looking at them); a Chiffchaff flew in close and landed on a nearby tree; a little Wren flew past behind me and I could hear a Cetti's Warbler singing. A pair of Mallards swum up and looked at me - brown, wholemeal bread was produced. They scoffed the lot down inside 2 minutes.

It was still overcast and gloomy by the time I sat down in the Teal Hide. There wasn't much to see out over the lagoon. I guess they were all a little disappointed at not seeing the eclipse too. There were a dozen Wigeon way out to the right; the odd Shoveler and Teal were swimming around; a pair of Little Grebes were just outside to the left, whinnying away and I could hear the laugh of a Green Woodpecker, who sounded as if it might have been the only one to have seen the eclipse.

Pheasants were about the area, with 3 dark-morphs at the back of the lagoon and a normal one out to the right. A Lesser Black-backed Gull was in the middle of the lagoon to the right, surrounded by a few Black-headed Gulls.

Just outside the Hide I spied the first Bluebell shoots springing up, around the few trees left in this area, while the Midges were out in force again today. I had to keep one eye on them as they always seem to gather in some number on the trails. It was difficult not to keep walking in to them.

After a quick look out of the standing hide I headed off towards my usual route. Only to find work being carried out, with the trail blocked off. So I had to walk along the public footpath adjacent to the canal. You know the route - used by dog-walkers; joggers and cyclists. I didn't hang about and walked quickly down to Hooks Marsh. But, on a positive note, the sun had finally started to come out.

When I reached the area I debated whether to double-back towards the Bridge and the feeding area to see what was about. But I didn't bother, mainly because there were more work-parties here, making a hell of a racket. The noise had obviously scared off the birds because there wasn't much at all out on the lake.

There wasn't anything of note on the walk upto the Bittern Hide either. Plenty of dog-walkers of course. I also noted an absence of birds out on Seventy Acres Lake - just Gulls; Coots and Mutes plus a sprinkling of ducks.

I arrived in the Bittern Hide to find it empty. No Bittern activity had been reported for the last 4 days. Not much was happening outside. But it was still quite early. I was wondering if the Smew would be the highlight of the day and should I cut my losses and head home early?

A Cetti's Warbler was sounding off somewhere close and then a Jay made a brief appearance out to the left. There were also brief visits by Chiffchaff and Great Crested Grebe. Then, out on the lake, at the back, I could see a pair of Egyptian Geese. Finally, a Water Rail dashed across one of the channels.

I decided to head up to the Grebe Hide to see what was about, with the intention of returning back here and then heading home. I guess a quiet day out had to occur at some point.

It was initially quiet at first on the walk up, but the first thing I spotted was a buck Muntjac, lazing in the warm sunshine. In fact, the sun was on its' own in the sky now, not only had the moon buggered off, all the clouds had chased after it.

It was still quiet by the time I arrived at Holyfield Weir. To my chagrin, there were more work parties here and making just as much racket with their buzz-saws. A lot of trees around the viewpoint to the Weir had been cut down and there was now no cover. And no birds. I could see a few floating on the water way out on the far lagoons.

View from the Grebe Hide
And there were yet more tree-fellers further up the trail, by the car-park. I won't tell you how many there were, you'll have to guess.

I made it to the Grebe Hide without further incident, man or bird-wise. But to my intense disappointment there was only one bird out on the lake. A Great Crested Grebe, albeit quite close in. I scanned the area and could see a few Tufties and Geese, but they were right at the back of the lake, tucked in to the shoreline. I have never seen this lake so quiet. It has been getting progressively quieter on each successive visit. I feared that the next visit might not produce any bird-life.
A couple of other birders arrived and we pontificated about the lack of birds. But then a few more GCGs appeared, one pair of which started their courtship dance, ending with the weed exchange. It was magical to watch.

I left the others to it and headed back. This was when it started to liven up. First up, I spotted a lovely drake Goldeneye out to the left, in the middle of a few diving Pochard. Another GCG swam up close, before heading off at some speed.

I had just passed the Weir and was looking out over the relief channel to the lagoon, seeing Shoveler and Teal, when something near the shoreline caught my eye. It was a mammal, running towards the Weir. Smallish, furry and black, it could only be one thing: a Mink. It was too far away and too quick for any decent photos.

It was disappointing to see one around here. Although it would be very difficult to eradicate all of them, I had thought that they had been at least pushed out of the immediate area. That other main scourge of the Lee Valley, the American Signal Crayfish, has also been making appearances today, albeit disappearing down the throats of Cormorants and Grebes.

Back in the Bittern Hide I had a pretty good view of the Cetti's Warbler and a better view of the Jay. Another Muntjac, a female, appeared out to the right, feeding. Then a Sparrowhawk could be seen, putting up all the BHGs, some of which chased it off.

I was just about to call it a day and head off, when someone in the Hide cried out. In short, it was another Mink! Out to the right, it was just crawling up the bank and then it disappeared into the reeds. A few minutes later, it reappeared again, out to the left, heading towards the feeding point. I noticed that it pointedly ignored the box-trap laid out for it.

I dashed outside but couldn't relocate it. So I decided to head off and made a decision to head back through the lakes towards Hall Marsh Lake. But 50 meters in, a sign informed me that the trail would be closed for 2 weeks. So I headed off home.

A good start, a quiet middle but an exciting end to the day. Despite yet another disappointing celestial event.

BBC News Headline: "Total solar eclipse darkens skies."
'In other breaking news, meteorologists discover that the sun is rather hot
and prolonged rain can cause flooding.'

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Not many people, but lots of birds at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 18th March 15

Weather: Overcast with little sunshine. Cold wind.

Bird Total: 56
Plus: Fox; Muntjac; Rabbit.

It was another brilliant day out today. Just when you think you're not going to take any photos, something happens and you start clicking the button! It was one of those days, today.

Just before I had left home, I watched Carol forecast the weather on the BBC News channel, to see what the day would bring. Unfortunately, Carol got it badly wrong! Forecasting mainly sun, with a little cloud and quite warm. But it turned out to be quite overcast and cloudy all day. And the cold wind reminded me of January! I guess it's not so much a forecast as an educated guess.

Anyway, while I was waiting for the train, I spotted a Muntjac, out over the adjacent field.

I arrived at the Watchpoint around the usual time and looked out over Great Hardmead Lake, only to find it strangely quiet. The Watchpoint, not the lake. Earlier, walking up the trail, I heard a Green Woodpecker and a Song Thrush.

Looking out I could see 3 Little Egrets, all in hunt mode; 5 Grey Heron, not doing particularly much; 2 pairs of Great Crested Grebes, just swimming aimlessly about; 2 Common Snipe, just in front of the Watchpoint, both probing the ground with their long bills; 1 Redshank, of the 5 that had been reported today; a couple of dozen Lapwing, all going up at the drop of a hat and plenty of Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon. So, plenty to see.

Way out to my left I spotted a Cormorant catching and swallowing a huge fish. It was so big that a siesta was probably called for. A Pied Wagtail flew overhead, calling as it went. A Cetti's Warbler was singing in the reeds to my right, while the Little Egret and Grey Heron counts then went up to 4 and 8 respectively.

But the fiercely cold wind made me head off earlier than I wanted and so I headed towards the Gladwin Hide. On the way, as I looked out over the lake, I could see a female and 2 male Goldeneye. One of the pairs of GCGs were in courtship mode, head-shaking, while a 3rd looked on. Probably jealous.

There wasn't too much to add looking out from the Hide itself. A Grey Heron was standing, statuesque-like, opposite the Hide, amongst the trees; there were quite a few Wigeon at this end, while a 2nd female Goldeneye could be seen.

Just before I was about to leave I spotted a pair of Egyptian Geese out to the right, swimming away from me.

I headed off and decided to take another stroll through the Woods. I hadn't intended to, mainly because it had been quiet on earlier visits, but the clouds were still out and it was still rather breezy. And I didn't want to be in the James Hide too early.

The other reason was that I wanted to try and spot the Water Voles that had been seen in recent days. They were being spotted on the trail upto the White Hide. But I knew that I would be very lucky to see them in this weather.

But the Woods surprised me by, firstly, being full of bird song, most notably the first calling Chiffchaffs of the season and then a lovely Marsh Tit arriving and feeding quite close to me.

I took a quick look out over the Bittern Pool, more in hope than anything else. I'm pretty certain that the Bittern has now departed for the season. I also tried to find more Moths around here, too, after the success of last time. But, failing in both, I went and sat down in the James Hide.

Delighted to find it empty, I opened up the shutters and sat down. Initially, it was very quiet. Most of the feeders were empty, with the birds concentrating on the nuts. A male Pheasant walked out in to the open, halfway up the reed-cut. As I trained my Bins on him, I could see a Common Snipe just behind him, again probing away. I was fairly surprised to see one in this area, let alone in the open.

Then, out to my right, creeping up the tree - you've guessed it - a lovely Treecreeper. It flew from tree to tree, disappearing into the thick undergrowth. When I looked back over the lagoon a second Snipe had appeared, right in front of the Hide, just over the other side of the pond. It must have walked out while I was looking at the 'Creeper. It had also promptly tucked its' bill in and drifted off to sleep.

Just then, one of the new Reserve volunteers came in. He hung around for a few minutes before departing. Surprisingly I didn't see many people at all today. Possibly because of the cold winds.

I then heard the familiar screech of a Buzzard and, looking up over Easneye Wood, I could see at least 3, with an accompanying Red Kite. The Treecreeper made a few more appearances over the next 20 minutes or so and then I had a visit from my old mate, Phil the Pheasant!

As usual, he ignored me and started to vacuum up all the spilt seeds. He was looking good and was sporting some beautiful plumage! It didn't look as if he would have any problem attracting the Hens this year.

The sun had begun to try and make an appearance and so I made the decision to try and locate the Water Voles. The Bank Voles outside the Hide had again disappointed me and stayed hidden. In this wind I'm wasn't too surprised.

I headed around the trail towards the White Hide. About halfway there I stopped at the area where the Voles were seen. After about 30 minutes and with not a sight nor sound of them, I reluctantly carried on to the Hide. But I did get a good view of a pair of singing Chiffchaffs, quite close.

Lunch. I was glad I brought the coffee flask.

And, as is always the case, halfway through a ham and mustard sandwich, the bird activity started. A Little Egret had decided to venture in close, to the left of the Hide. I tried to stay hidden, behind the lens and was rewarded with a pretty good close up view, as it fished, shaking its' feet in the water, to stir up his own lunch.

It soon departed but was replaced by a 2nd which was about to follow the same route when it spied me and flew off. Finishing the sandwich I could still see the Redshank, out in the distance, while another Chiffchaff hopped about the tree to my left.

I headed back along the trail but, again, was disappointed not to see any Voles. But a female Muntjac did walk into view, cropping the grass out to my right. I froze when she saw me but when I tried to bring up the camera she jumped away. Typical female.

I walked down towards the Dragonfly Trail. This time I walked up the lower trail, hoping to get better views of the Bullfinches around the Bridge area. Unfortunately, a couple of guys were feeding the fish from the bridge and had probably scared off the birds. Then a woman with 2 dogs walked noisily by. The dogs, not the woman.

So I made my way up to the Trail. The feeders had been replenished here and there was plenty of activity around them. Goldfinches were first in the pecking order, following by Great and Blue Tit. A hen Pheasant was below, imitating Phil.

A Jay flew across and landed in a tree, near the walkway. Then a male Great Spotted Woodpecker flew in from the right and attacked the nuts. Further back, I could see a small flock of Redwing. On the walk back to the James Hide another GSW could be heard drumming and then I spotted it, high up on one of the distant trees, banging his head against the wood. I've done it myself on occasion.

When I arrived back in the James Hide a couple of guys were already there. Two more then walked in behind me. Over the course of the next hour we were all treated to great views of Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail. Marsh Tits appeared on the feeders, while more Buzzards flew over.

Then, at the end of the reed-cut, a Red-legged Partridge appeared, a first for me around here. Soon after, the Kingfisher briefly flew in and perched up. It was a wonderful hour to be in the Hide.

I left one guy in the Hide and headed back to the Watchpoint. I debated about whether to stay and see the Barn Owl but decided, in the end, to head off. But not before I saw a Fox asleep in one of the far reed-cuts and then, at least 3 Sand Martins flying out to our left, high in the sky. A definite sign of Spring!

On the trail back to the station I fed the last of my brown, wholemeal bread to a grateful pair of Mallards. I even gave them a handful of sunflower seeds. Hey, that's the sort of guy I am!

'I went to a therapy group to help me cope with loneliness, but no one else turned up.'

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Fabulous Moths at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 12th March 15

Weather: Sunny with slight cloud. Cold wind.

Bird Total: 46
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Muntjac.
Plus: Emperor, Oak Beauty Moths.

It was another fine, sunny day and so I found myself back at Amwell for another visit. There wasn't too much to see on the journey down, just a small group of Wigeon, on the ever-diminishing lagoons, which are rapidly turning back into fields. The water levels are starting to go down everywhere now.

I also noticed that some BR work parties had been out all along this stretch of line, chopping down dozens of trees, sometimes upto around 20-30 meters away from the tracks. We're not going to have any trees left in this country if this carries on.

And some clown had driven into one of the barriers further down the track, which meant upto 25 minute delays were occurring. So I arrived a little later than intended.

There was quite a lot of birdsong as I walked upto the Reserve. All the usual, all singing out their own welcome to Springtime. Almost wall to wall blue skies above me, with just a little bit of strato-cumulus high up. There was just a hint of a breeze.

I duly arrived at the Watchpoint to find quite a crowd looking out over Great Hardmead Lake. There were one or two familiar faces in amongst them. A quick look around the lake and I could see a dozen or more Lapwing, spread around the area; a good half-a-dozen Grey Herons; there were at least 2 pairs of Goldeneye way out to the right; a pair of Common Snipe, feeding just in front of the Watchpoint; a fair few Shoveler and a smattering of Teal and the star bird of the day, a lovely Redshank, which was very mobile.

Just as I moved off towards the Gladwin Hide a Buzzard could be seen flying high above me. Halfway there and I could see a drake Goldeneye quite close in, while to my right, over the canal, I could hear a Green Woodpecker yaffling out.

I sat down in the Hide and looked out. From here I could see upto 8 Goldeneye, 3m and 5f plus around 6-7 Great Crested Grebes. The slight breeze had turned into a strong wind down here, with the shutters open.

There was no sign of the Smew around here but one female Goldeneye did venture fairly close. The scrape out front had only attracted 2 pairs of Canada Geese and a pair of Coot.

I headed off, noting that the Watchpoint was now deserted. I took a stroll through the woodland, only seeing a Grey Squirrel and a lone Robin. Very quiet.

Crossing over the bridge further down I found myself at the Bittern Pool. A couple of familiar faces were here too, one of them Bill Last. The Bittern hadn't been seen for some time now and there was speculation that it had departed. There wasn't much out on the lagoon to be seen, just the usual Coot and Tufted Ducks.

But then Bill pointed out a couple of moths that had settled near us. Both of which were firsts for me - a gorgeous looking Emperor Moth and a lovely Oak Beauty. Both following on from the first butterflies of the season I had seen the other day at Fishers Green.

With no sign of the Bittern I went and sat down in the James Hide. Not long after I had sat down a Marsh Tit appeared. Unfortunately, this was the only appearance all day. The Bank Voles never showed at all. So I made do with the continuous flow of passerines on to the feeders. Reed Buntings; Blues and Greats; Robins and Dunnocks. Then, in the reed bed channel a buck Muntjac appeared, crossing from right to left, feeding as he went.

A little later a Little Egret flew over, from left to right, heading for the roosting island. High in the sky over Easneye Wood I could see at least 6 Buzzards and 1 Red Kite, all gliding the thermals. Then there was the familiar explosive call of a Cetti's Warbler somewhere in the reedbeds.

I was amused to watch a menage-a-trois of Dunnock, all chasing each other, around the feeder area. I think it was one male and 2 females, as the male seemed to be the one in display mode, fluffing up his feathers and bobbing up and down in front of the females.

But then my eye was caught by a pair of cock Pheasants out the right of the Hide, having a right old song and dance. Both jumping up in the air, feet and wings flying, screeching out.

Just then a familiar face came in. I'm afraid I can't remember the name. But we decided to head up the trail towards the Dragonfly Trail. We came to the Bridge, where some Bullfinches had been seen before. Sure enough, a male and 2 females could eventually be seen, high in the trees and at the back. We decided to double-back and walk along the adjacent trail to see if we could get a better view. But, by the time we got there, they had all gone.

Further along the trail, we spotted a pair of Buzzards quite low over the adjacent field. Then we spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Green Woodpecker flying around the area. At the entrance to the Dragonfly Trail we could hear Goldfinch, while a very friendly hen Pheasant trotted over to us to say hello. But she probably wanted a handout!

From here we headed back towards the White Hide. A quick stop at the Bittern Pool to confirm no Bittern, but we did see a Muntjac in the woods to our right. A pair of Buzzards were high in the sky above us.

I then found myself in the White Hide, where there wasn't too much to add, other than a Little Egret on the other side of the lake. I went and sat in the James Hide again but saw pretty much the same as before. Regretfully there was no sign of a Kingfisher or Water Rail today.

I stopped off at the Watchpoint for 10 minutes, seeing another pair of familiar faces, sporting adult plumage, before heading home.

'I've just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I'll tell you what, never again.'