Sunday, 28 June 2015

Water Voles at Thorley Wash!

River Stort and Thorley Wash Nature Reserve - 18th June 15

Weather: Humid, sunny with slight cloud.

Bird Total: 39
Plus: Large White, Orange Tip, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Heath, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White butterflies.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Large Red damselflies. Emperor dragonfly.
Plus: Ladybird Larvae, 7, 12 and 16-spot Ladybirds; Bluebottle; Buff-tailed Bumble Bee; Dark Bush Cricket; Dock Bug; Flesh Fly; Green Shield Bug; Hoverfly; Rose Sawfly; Mayfly; Nettle Weevil; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Scorpion Fly; Slug; Soldier Beetle; White-tailed Bumble Bee.
Plus: Konik Ponies; Water Vole.

It was forecast to be a very sunny and warm day today and so I decided to head up the River Stort to the Herts & Middx Wildlife Trust reserve at Thorley Wash. I had visited last summer and was very impressed.

Jenny Sherwen, who looks after several reserves including Amwell, is part of a team managing the place. They have recently released around 160 Water Voles in the area and so I was keen to try and find a few. It's also an excellent walk along the river. Plus the fact that it doesn't smell like a toilet, like the walk south towards Harlow. That's probably because I didn't see many dogs today. A blessed relief!

I left home late morning, waiting for the humidity to rise a little bit, so that one of my target species for the day, the Banded Demoiselle, would be about. I wasn't disappointed. Only 10 metres in to the trail I came across several of them, mostly males. Unfortunately, they weren't close enough for a photo.

But a Dock Bug nearby was and, just as I was snapping away at it, a Green Shield Bug flew past me and landed on a grass stem a little further on. I was delighted, as this was my first of the year. A very good start!

I walked a little further on, seeing more Demoiselles. One or two posed but most were very skittish. There was lots of bird song as well, with Song Thrush showing well. Common Tern were flying up and down the river, fishing, with one of them diving down and catching lunch.

A Red Admiral showed well, across the river. But, again, not too many butterflies were seen today. Although several Peacocks were soaking up the sun on the path and I even spotted one or two Small Tortoiseshells. Possibly in between broods?

I was still walking past several blocks of Flats and there were still quite a few narrow-boats moored up. A Moorhen family were negotiating their way between the boats, the little balls of black fluff bouncing their way after mother.

I then came across a nice little pond area, where several blue damsels were flitting about. A few Demoiselles were about too, including a female. A couple of Green Nettle Weevils were tucked into the nettles. While I was trying to photograph this lot, I could hear the call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker, somewhere in the trees across the river. I looked up and saw not one, but two juveniles. Then a Grey Heron flew overhead.

Then I reached a little bridge where dozens of male Demoiselles were. I sat down and patiently waited until they had all settled back and soon started snapping away. There were a pair of Swallows flying past at this spot, obviously hoovering up the flies on offer. Then I could hear a Buzzard screech out and, sure enough, as I looked up, there it was, gliding around in circles.

A little further on, amongst the reeds, I could hear and see several Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings. Although the wildlife was putting on a good show, there were very few people about to see it. Which didn't unduly bother me, of course. There were a few joggers and cyclists but that was about it.

It was quite humid by now and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. Demoiselles were being put up every few metres, as I walked by. I had to steel myself to carry on as, at this rate, it would take hours to get to the Reserve.
I was just negotiating a bend in the river, when I spotted 3 Konik Ponies in the adjacent field. A fourth was spotted over the river in another field. I guessed them to be the same 4 that had been at Amwell and Rye Meads. I had wondered where they had got to.

Then I found another little gem of a spot to sit down and photograph the damsels. More Swallows were flashing by here while lots of Mayflies were trying to avoid both the Swallows and the Demoiselles. Forcing myself to move on I found myself passing a few trees where I spotted a Goldcrest. But it was too quick for a photograph and soon disappeared.

Tednambury Lock
Just past Spellbrook Lock I heard a Green Woodpecker call out as I was trying to photograph a Soldier Beetle. Then a Large Red damselfly flew up and landed nearby, allowing more photos. Just as I was finished here a Grey Wagtail flew in and landed ahead of me on the path. But I couldn't get near enough to photograph it.

Finally I arrived at the bridge which took me into Thorley Wash Nature Reserve. A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), just south of Bishop's Stortford, it is noted for its botanical diversity. One of a string of wetlands flanking the Stort Navigation, Thorley Wash was formerly known as Thorley Flood Pound: it used to act as flood storage for the Stort Navigation. It was decommissioned in 2004 and the site has been restored to a more natural state.

I was going to stop and have a spot of lunch but decided to head straight in, remembering that there were a few seats to be sat on in the Reserve. A good decision as it turned out, as just as I arrived at the first little bridge, I could see a Water Vole sat by the stream, feeding. What a great sight to see!

'Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.' Evelyn Waugh

I managed to fire off a couple of shots but it was disturbed by a couple with a dog, who had just shown up. Argh - why now! With the Vole disappearing I decided to head into the Reserve. The couple decided not to follow, thankfully.

When I was here last year the circuit proved fruitful for not only Demoiselles but Darters and butterflies as well. Maybe it was a little early in the season but I didn't see too many butterflies and only a handful of damsels. When I arrived at the second little bridge I was certain I spotted a second Water Vole, disappearing into the undergrowth. Another two Large Red damselflies were here too, amongst lots of blues.

But birds were here too. A pair of Whitethroat were nearby on a tree; Blackcap sang out, as did Chiffchaff. Further on, Reed Buntings sang and flew around, while a pair of Garden Warblers also appeared. Another Buzzard was high in the sky, being mobbed by a Carrion Crow.

I kept my eyes glued to all the flora around me as I walked. Not only seeing Demoiselles but more Soldier Beetles and then a few Scorpion Flies. I also came across a Rose Sawfly, my first. I found one of the wooden benches and broke for lunch. As I sat there planes and trains were passing noisily by, seemingly every other minute or so, reminding me that I hadn't left civilization too far behind.

With lunch finished I carried on around the trail, eventually ending up back at the start. I headed over the bridge, after checking for the Water Vole again, but found that the trail this side of the bridge only lead onto farmland.

So I decided to head back down the trail for home. The first thing I spotted was the only dragonfly of the day, a big old Emperor, flying past. Then, seeing another good spot for Demoiselles, I was about to sit down when I saw there was a nest of Slugs crawling around. I decided not to stay and carried on.

Halfway back along the trail, seeing much the same thing, I was just thinking that I hadn't seen too many dog-walkers. Only the one, early on. Unfortunately, at that moment a woman, with seven dogs walked past. One or two of them, Bull Mastiffs I think, ran up to me. 'Don't worry,' said the owner, 'they are all very friendly!' Yes, I thought, to you! Readers will know of my dog record so far.

I sneezed yet again, while my eyes continued to water. Those anti-histamine tablets I had purchased over the Internet didn't seem to be working too well. No surprise there then. I think I'll stick to buying them down the local Chemist from now on.

I soon found myself back at the spots where I was getting the better Demoiselles shots. But at the first spot none were left, probably due to all the dogs scaring them off. And the second one was now in the shade of some trees.

So I headed home. It was still very hot and humid and my feet and back were aching. But it was another excellent day out, seeing lots of Banded Demoiselles again and a bonus of seeing one, maybe two, Water Voles.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Lots of Odonata action at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 16th June 15

Weather: Warm and sunny for most of the day. Clouding over in the afternoon.

Bird Total: 42
Plus: Bank Vole; Grass Snake; Rabbit.
Plus: 7 & 16-spot Ladybirds; Bluebottle; Buff-tailed Bumble Bee; Capsid Bug; Crane Fly; Dark Bush Cricket; Flesh Fly; Hoverfly; Long-jawed Orb Spider; Midge; Mint Leaf Beetle; Pond Skater; Red-headed Cardinal Beetle; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Ruby-tailed Wasp; Scorpion Fly; Soldier Beetle; Spotted Crane Fly.
Plus: Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Speckled Wood, Small White butterflies. Cinnabar Moth.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Large Red, Red-eyed damselflies. Black-tailed Skimmer, Broad-bodied Chaser, Emperor, Four-spotted Chaser, Hairy dragonflies.
Plus: Common Spotted Orchid, Early Marsh Orchid, Forget-Me-Knots; Southern Marsh Orchid.

Another nice, sunny, warm day and time for another visit to my current favourite wildlife reserve. My good friend, Barry, again accompanied me and we duly arrived at the Reserve around 9.45.

Today was completely different to the previous visit. There were vastly more insects about for one thing, including lots of Odonata and hardly any cloud for another. We kept an eye out for the earlier reported Scarce Chaser but there had been no further sightings since the original one.

After crossing the railway line Barry suggested we take a quick walk through the Woodland. There was lots of birdsong but, because of the heavy foliage, we didn't see much other than the usual suspects. Plus a few dog walkers passed by, which probably didn't help.

There were a couple of familiar faces at the Watchpoint, including one of Barry's friends, who he had nicknamed 'The Don'. Looking out from the Watchpoint we could see a pair of Redshank; 7 Little Egret; 8 Grey Heron; a pair of Great Crested Grebes; a lone Little Ringed Plover; a Buzzard high over Easneye Wood; lots of Lapwing; a few Common Terns; lots of Warblers and Reed Buntings flying around the phragmites and finally, loads and loads of Canada and Greylag Geese.

We took a stroll down to the Gladwin Hide, where a second Lapwing had joined the lonesome one. We might have a pair here, with some young on the horizon. Out to our right we could see a fledgling Reed Warbler being fed by both parents.

There being nothing much else of note, we headed up to the James Hide. Outside was a Grey Heron in stalk mode, possibly the same one as in previous visits. The young family of Great Tits were still about, now feeding themselves. A Bank Vole was scurrying around, glad of the wastage on offer. There were the usual Reed and Sedge Warblers flying around, plus a few Reed Buntings. A Cetti's Warbler was sounding off to our left, but remained hidden. A Green-veined White and a Peacock butterfly fluttered in front of us. Actually, butterfly sightings today were again well down.

It was warm and very humid by now, with both of us removing our fleeces. Hot enough for us to take a stroll up to the Dragonfly Trail. Before then we arrived at the twin lagoons, where there was a bit of odonata action. First up was a lovely male Emperor dragon, patrolling the left-hand lagoon. It had a few minor disagreements with a couple of Four-spotted Chasers every now and then. There were more Reed Warblers on show here and Song Thrush and Chiffchaff could be heard singing, but I was concentrating on the dragon action.

Out on the lilley-pads a few Red-eyed damsels could be seen basking in the sun, with a few Common Blues flying around them. Then we spotted a Four-spotted Chaser perched up in front of us on the right-hand lagoon, giving some great views. Then a lovely Cinnabar Moth appeared, possibly the same one as before.

Then we found ourselves standing on the Bridge, looking down for Banded Demoiselles, where we spotted at least 3 males and 3 females. A little further on we spotted a female Demoiselle, perched up nicely, basking in the only ray of sunlight in the immediate area.

We entered the Dragonfly Trail and found my fellow birder and Blogger, Alan Reynolds. He was with a few other familiar faces, Katie Kingfisher and her mother. We all had a good chat, as well as keeping an eye out for odonata.

There was lots of action taking place here, with Emperor, Broad-bodied and Four-spotted Chasers and Black-tailed Skimmers, all flying around, buzzing each other. Plus lots of blue damsels and a few Large Reds. The odd Banded Demoiselle flew by as well. It was all great stuff. Lots of insects too, including a lovely Mint Leaf Beetle and a Capsid Bug.

Unfortunately, Barry was feeling the heat and went and had a sit down, while I carried on walking up and down the boardwalk. After a spot of lunch we headed down to the river, seeing nothing in particular. Chiffchaffs were sounding off around here, but there was a notable lack of butterflies. And, just before we left, I spotted another Grass Snake!

We walked around the Trail again, seeing much the same thing, before heading back to the White Hide. On the way to the Hide I spotted a Speckled Wood butterfly and a Red-headed Cardinal Beetle.

There wasn't anything out on the Lake that we hadn't already seen before. A few Little Egrets walked close to the Hide but the immediate area was taken up by scores of Canada Geese. The aerial display that we had seen the previous week was absent today and, in fact, we didn't see any hirundines all day. Then a lovely Ruby-tailed Wasp appeared right in front of me.

From here we walked back to the Watchpoint, but again, there wasn't anything new to see. Barry was still suffering from the heat and had neglected to bring any water with him, relying on a flask of soup. So we called it a day late afternoon and headed home. Unfortunately, I heard later that a Black Tern and a Med Gull had turned up after we had left. C'est la vie!

'A cure for agoraphobics is just around the corner.'

Monday, 22 June 2015

Frustrated at Fishers Green!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 11th June, 15

Weather: Sunny blue skies. Very hot. Slight wind.

Bird Total: 39
Plus: Grey Squirrel.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Red-eyed damselflies; Emperor, Hairy and ? dragonflies.
Plus: Brimstone, Holly Blue, Large White, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small White, Speckled Wood butterflies.
Plus: Buff-tailed Bumble Bee; Click Beetle; Common Crane Fly; Flesh Fly; Hoverflies; Mayfly; Midge; Orb Spider; Soft-winged Flower Beetle; Thick-kneed Flower Beetle.

After the dismal weather performance at Amwell the other day I was looking forward to some quality sunshine today. And so it proved. It looks like June has finally arrived. But I took my fleece with me, just in case.

My usual train got me down to the Reserve in good time. A Chiffchaff was waiting to greet me as I arrived, sounding off its' cheerful song. But the very first thing I spotted was a male Banded Demoiselle, along the canal, leading up to the Teal Hide. But before I could get a shot of it, a jogger ran by, scaring it off. Doh!

A few paces further on another appeared, this time a little further back in the undergrowth. And just before I arrived at the Lock, two more appeared in the little stream adjacent to the Canal. A good start!

I sat down on the bench, overlooking Friday Lake. The only birds out there were Coot; Gulls; Geese and Swans. But then a Cetti's Warbler sounded off somewhere to my left. It was already quite warm, with almost clear, blue skies above me. There was just a hint of strato-cumulus. I think bringing my fleece might have scared off the Rain God.

I crossed over the little bridge towards the Hide, passing 2 women with a large pack of dogs, one of which started barking at me. This time I was a little more prepared, spraying my ankles with jungle-strength deet. Just in case.

On the trail to the Hide I could see plenty of insect life about, mainly blue damsels, Blue-tailed and Common Blue. And just outside the walkway, Azures turned up. Spiders and Flies were around in some numbers, while a lone Thick-kneed Beetle was seen.

Then, to my delight, I spotted a female Banded Demoiselle, posing quite near, in the sunshine. She waited patiently until I had taken several snaps and then her consort turned up nearby, also posing nicely. Just as well really, as a few dog-walkers passed by, putting everything up.

Sighing heavily, I made my way up the boardwalk to the Teal Hide and sat down. Heavy flora awaited me, nearly obliterating the view. At first, I didn't think anything was out there, but then I spotted a pair of Little Egrets away to the right. Further out I could see a Grey Heron. A few minutes later a Lapwing took off for a display flight, landing back down near a second one.

Three Gadwall flew in and landed on the pond. And, just as I was listening to a male Reed Bunting call out, a Kingfisher flashed by, from right to left. The first of very few butterflies today passed by, a bastard White.

I made my way back to the area outside the Hide again. Lots of teneral damsels were going up as I walked slowly past, while lots of blues were in tandem mode. Another Thick-kneed Flower Beetle appeared, while a Whitethroat sang out by the stream. A second butterfly, a Holly Blue, fluttered past. Then I spotted what I think was one of the Ichnuemon species landing nearby for a photo.

I moved around the trail, seeing plenty of blues. And lots of dog-walkers, plus the odd jogger. But then, all joggers are odd to me. No wait, I think I've already done that gag.

A Speckled Wood and a Soldier Beetle were seen. But not together. Although it would make for interesting offspring. Then another Kingfisher flashed past, flying up the relief channel. It could well have been the same one. Then a macabre sight greeted me. An Orb Spider had caught one of the blue damsels in its' web and was wrapping it up for consumption later.

I carried on around the trail. More and more blues were seen. Chiffchaff and Cetti's were singing out, but other than that it was quite quiet. But then I spotted a Red-eyed damselfly sitting on a lilleypad. Another was close by. Then one of the Cetti's sounded off quite close and I saw it fly off to another tree.

There wasn't anything else of note until I entered the trail to the Bittern Hide, where the first thing I spotted was a male Banded Demoiselle. But, frustratingly again, before I could get a photo of it, more dog-walkers and joggers appeared. Argh!

A Blackcap sang out as I approached the spot where the Great Crested Grebes were nesting. But, unfortunately, the nest was empty, with both adults absent and no eggs. I had heard from a friend a day or so ago that at least one chick had hatched. A little further on I spotted the adults making their way back to the nest, where one of them began nest-building again. Maybe they will have another go. What a shame.

A little further on another pair of Banded Demoiselles appeared, ready for their close-up. Fortunately, this time, they were off the beaten track. Then I disturbed a Grey Heron, but surprisingly this time, it didn't fly off. I guess it must have been a male!

I finally arrived at the Bittern Hide and sat down. No one else was here, just how I like it. I was a bit parched after that walk and had some lunch. Looking out around the lake I could see the usual suspects, lots of noisy Black-headed Gulls, some with chicks, with a sprinkling of Lesser-black Backed Gulls amongst them. Lots of Canada Geese were milling around, mainly in pairs; lots of Coot and a few ducks. But there were also a few Common Terns on the rafts, in between the Gulls. Lastly, an Egyptian Goose was asleep on the island at the back.

A Jay then flew in to the feeders but, seeing me, flew off again. The juvenile Magpie from an earlier visit was still around and being very vocal. I was amused watching it tentatively have what looked like its' first bath. Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings were flying around the, well, reeds. A Hairy dragonfly was patrolling the pond, where a pair of Coot were feeding youngsters. Then a female Mallard swum in from the right, with only 4 little ducklings left. A Peacock and a Speckled Wood flew past.

With nothing much else I headed off towards the trail leading to the Grebe Hide. I started checking the fishing spots for any dragons or damsels, disappointingly finding only the usual blues. But I did start to hear a Cuckoo sounding off.

The trail was also disappointingly quiet, with only a pair of Great Crested Grebes, carrying a couple of humbugs, to report. Possibly because quite a few people were out walking this stretch. Dare I say with dogs?

At the fishing spots just before I arrived at the Hide I could see a few male Banded Demoiselles with at least one Red-eyed damselfly, just over the other side of the relief channel. But they weren't of much use being that far away. They were the only ones in the area. Very disappointing!

Sitting in the Grebe Hide, looking out, I could see, appropriately enough, at least 10 Great Crested Grebes, mainly in pairs. The nesting pair from the last visit had gone but the pair I had witnessed building another nest were still there, with one of them on the nest. Other than the Grebes there were only large groups of Canada Geese and Coot around the area.

People came and went and then I spotted a Red-eyed damselfly just outside the hide, soaking up the sun. A second was nearby. But nothing was happening so I headed back down the trail. Outside I was accosted by swarms of midges. The midges and the pollen had been manageable up until now but they had now both returned with a vengeance. Both seemed intent on fighting each other for the right to get up my nose.

I had spotted a few Demoiselles not long after leaving the Hide but I couldn't get near them because of the midges and the pollen. It didn't matter too much, dog-walkers were passing by, scaring them up.

This time I decided to head back to the Bittern Hide via a different route, just to break the monotony. And maybe escape the midges and the pollen. But it was fairly quiet around this route too, seeing just a very flighty female Banded Demoiselle and an equally flighty Red Admiral. Peacock and Speckled Wood were flying around here too, but not in any great number.

But then I spotted a little pond, off the beaten track again and headed towards it. I was rewarded by a first sighting this year of an Emperor dragonfly. I waited patiently as it circled and patrolled its domain, losing sight of it a few times. But then it finally settled for a couple of distant shots. A bonus was a sighting of a Brimstone butterfly as well.

Eventually I found myself back at the Bittern Hide, where there was no change. The Moorhen was still feeding its' tiny chick. A male Banded Demoiselle flew past, from right to left while a second Egyptian Goose had joined the first one. Both asleep. The Cuckoo began calling again while I was in the Hide.

Then I tried my luck back at the Great Crested Grebe nest, but when I arrived I found a juvenile Coot sat on the nest, with its' parents nearby. A few minutes later one of the Grebes swam in but didn't seem to care and swam on.

What's ugly about me?
I decided to walk on. At the Bridge I could hear a second Cuckoo calling.

But then I spotted a yellow dragon fly past which, to my great delight, landed close by. I crept slowly up to it, to try and get a shot, when 2 joggers ran past, right in front of me, ignoring me completely. They were followed by a dog-walker. Not surprisingly the dragon had disappeared. ARGH! It's a bloody wildlife reserve, not a bloody multi-gym!!!!

My first impression was that it was possibly a Black-tailed Skimmer but I'll never know now. So I gave up and conceded defeat. The joggers; dog-walkers and the pollen and the midges had beaten me and so I headed home.

'The only reason I would take up jogging is so that I could hear heavy breathing again.'
Erma Bombeck

'I think jogging is bad for your health. All that pressure on the knees and back cannot be good for you.' Kazuo Ishiguro

Friday, 19 June 2015

Searched for the Scarce Chaser, but found a fledging Kingfisher.

Amwell Nature Reserve/RSPB Rye Meads - 9th June 15

Weather: Cloudy and overcast all day. Very cold.

Bird Total: 50
Plus: Bank Vole; Grass Snake; Muntjac.
Plus: 7, 14, & 16-spot Ladybirds; Bluebottle; Buff-tailed Bumble Bee; Crane Fly; Dark Bush Cricket; Flesh Fly; Hoverfly; Midge; Pond Skater; Scorpion Beetle.
Plus: Blue-tailed damselfly.
Plus: Common Spotted Orchid, Early Marsh Orchid, Forget-Me-Knots; Southern Marsh Orchid.

Unfortunately today was spoilt by very unseasonably bad weather. It had been forecast to be slightly cloudy with some sunny spells. But instead we were met with heavy cloud and cold winds. We should have gone out yesterday but erroneously relied on the weather forecasters.

Anyway, despite the poor weather, I met up again with my good friend Barry, and set off for Amwell. We arrived in good time and looked out from the Watchpoint. From here we could see a pair of Redshank; at 6 Little Egrets; lots of Grey Herons; several Lapwing; loads of Swift and House Martins flying around and a Muntjac, which was feeding just in front of the White Hide.

The wind was quite nasty here and so, with Barry donning an extra jacket, we walked down to the other watchpoint. Where we spotted a Little Ringed Plover; a pair of Common Terns and a few Pochard close in, all trying to shelter from the wind.

We then walked down to the Gladwin Hide, passing a family of Canada Geese on the trail. Just before we reached the Hide I just happened to look back and spotted a couple of guys turn up, armed with noisy strimmers, who immediately started to cut fishing spots by the bank. They eventually disturbed the Geese. I was quite annoyed and resolved to try and find out why they were doing this right in the middle of the breeding season. Money talks, I guess.

From the Hide we could see a lone male Pochard; a lone Lapwing and a few Mallards, in front of the Hide. The male Mallards looked to be moulting. From the island in front we could hear an Oystercatcher calling out. A male Reed Bunting was calling out to our right. It was also still noticeably cold out, with the water on the lake almost producing white horses.

We walked upto towards the James Hide. On the way we spotted a family of Great Tits going by, calling as they went. Cuckoo Spit and Ladybird larvae could be seen on the flora as we went.

Looking out from the James Hide proved to be a little quiet early on. Barry kept an eye on the feeders, where we eventually saw the Great Tit family appear. They provided lots of entertainment as we watched the fledglings being fed by the parents. Then I spotted a Grass Snake swim across the pond, from the right, towards the little island.

A Bank Vole scuttled around beneath the feeders. Then Barry spotted a male Great Spotted Woodpecker appear on the reeds at the back. He gave us both a wary look, before flying off. The Reed Warblers showed well again today, to our left, while a Cetti's Warbler sounded off, further back.

From here we decided to head around to the White Hide. On the way we spotted a 14-spot Ladybird; a Dark Bush Cricket and a couple of Blue-tailed damselflies. In fact, they were the only damsels we saw all day, thanks to the poor weather.

We could now see 10 Little Egrets out on the lake, while the aerial display that the House Martins and Swifts gave us could only be described as gob-smacking. Just before we decided to head off we spotted a pair of Muntjac feeding just to our left.

On the way up to the Dragonfly Trail we spotted a 16-spot Ladybird. But it proved a fruitless exercise walking around Trail as there was nothing to see. I was hoping to see the Scarce Chaser that had been seen a few days ago. It was another first for the County. But it was much too cold for any dragons or damsels to be out and about. So we gave up and headed off. About the only other thing of note was the distant call of a Chiffchaff.

Barry was reluctant to call it a day and so I suggested we head off to Rye Meads. And so we found ourselves in the first Hide, the Draper Hide. There wasn't anything to see up until then. Outside, on the lagoon, we could see lots of wildfowl; about a dozen Common Terns; a lone Pied Wagtail; a lone Redshank; a lone Little Ringed Plover and a few Lapwing.

We didn't see many people about the area and I guessed that they were all probably in the Kingfisher Hide, as there were rumours of a Kingfisher fledging any time soon. We eventually made our way down there, via the twin Hides, where not much was about, other than Barry spotting a lone Kestrel on the trail.

When we entered the Kingfisher Hide we found the usual gang there. We were informed that not much was happening. But, after about 20 minutes of watching the parents fly in with fish, we were treated to the wonderful sight of a fledging Kingfisher. It teased us for about 10 minutes, poking its' head out of the nest. But then, to the encouragement of the parent and us, to a certain extent, it flew up to the nearest branch. Cue lots of cameras going off.

But it soon flew in the branches and disappeared. It didn't look like the others were going to fledge and so we headed off. Barry dropped me at the station and I was home just after 5. A quiet-ish day, somewhat spoilt by the weather, but the fledging was the highlight.

'On the whole, the kingfisher is only tolerable on account of the beauty of its plumage.'
Charles Coward

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Chasing the Chasers at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 4th June 15

Weather: Very warm throughout, slight cloud. Quite breezy late on.

Bird Total: 51
Plus: Bank Vole.
Plus: Green-veined White, Large White, Orange Tip, Peacock, Small White, Speckled Wood butterflies. Cinnabar Moth.
Plus: 7-spot & Harlequin Ladybirds; Bluebottle; Buff-tailed Bumble Bee; Crane Fly; Flesh Fly; Hornet; Hoverfly; Long-jawed Orb Spider; Mayfly; Midge; Mint Leaf Beetle; Nursery Web Spider; Pond Skater; Sawfly; Soldier Beetle.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Large Red, Red-eyed damselflies; Broad-bodied Chaser, Hairy dragonflies.
Plus: Common Spotted Orchid, Early Marsh Orchid, Forget-Me-Knots; Southern Marsh Orchid.

It was a gloriously hot day today. Only a few fluffy bits of strato-cumulus, with a light breeze. I had remembered to pop an anti-histamine pill, put on some sunscreen and had even remembered to wear some more insect repellent. Jungle strength, this time. After yesterday's long hike, I took the opportunity to take the later train, arriving at the Reserve around 10.30.

There was only a pair of Great Crested Grebes to entertain me on the train journey down. But, walking up the trail to the Reserve, I was again attacked by Pollen. When is the pollen season over, for crying out loud! Oh, I've just googled it - not until the end of July. Terrific.

But the good news was the first thing I spotted. It was a lovely female Banded Demoiselle. A great start. In fact, I spotted several more throughout the day, a lot more here than in recent years. Further on I came across a few 7-spot and Harlequin ladybirds. Nursery Web Spiders were in evidence along here, as were quite a few blue damsels as well.

There were two familiar faces at the Watchpoint when I arrived. Looking out over the lake I could see, surprisingly, 7 Little Egrets and over a dozen Grey Herons, most of which were all together. Obviously a fledging had taken place from Cormorant Island.

Other birds on show were a pair of Redshank; a lone Little Ringed Plover; a lone Shoveler; a lone Teal; only a pair of Common Tern on show; a pair of Great Crested Grebes and, finally, several Lapwing. Reed and Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings were doing their usual thing, flying around the phragmites in front of us. Black-headed Gull chicks were now noticeable on the Tern Rafts. Lastly, a Soldier Beetle flew in and landed right in front of me. Probably his turn on sentry duty.

I headed off down to the Gladwin Hide. Again, nothing other than a Coot was on the Scrape. But there was also a lone Lapwing, probably the same one as before. Then a pair of Gadwall flew past, followed by an Egyptian Goose. They parted company, with the Gadwall landing near the Scrape.

Looking out to the right, on the far side, I could see a pair of Oystercatchers, with at least one chick. Then a Stock Dove flew in and landed on the Scrape. It was starting to fill up! A Peacock butterfly flew past, but just the one.

I headed back up the trail, passing a large group of Schoolchildren, all decked out in bright, yellow jackets. Making a lot of noise, I hoped they wouldn't be following me to the Hides.

I found another guy in the James Hide when I arrived. Just before he left we were talking about not seeing many Swifts today. A few seconds after he had left, one flew past. Always the way!

Unfortunately, there wasn't much to see from here. The feeders were doing good business, but only for Tits and Buntings. Only a Coot was out on the pond. So, despite waiting for around 30 minutes, I headed off towards the Dragonfly Trail.

Just before I reached the Twin Lagoons I spotted a male Banded Demoiselle and was about to attempt a photo, when a woman with two dogs went by, scaring it up and away. At the lagoons, I looked for any Red-eyed damsels and was delighted to find several on the lilley-pads. The first of the season.

Chiffchaffs were singing out and then I spotted a Broad-bodied Chaser, flying around. Then I was delighted to see and photograph a Cinnabar Moth. It gave me the run around initially, but soon settled and posed for me.

Carrying on, I spotted a few Holly Blue butterflies; a few mating pairs of Common Blue damsels and then another male Banded Demoiselle. Then I reached the Bridge and looked down to see 3 more male Banded Demoiselles; a Hairy dragon and a Speckled Wood butterfly. It must have been some party!

I had just entered the Trail when I heard a Cuckoo. It called off and on for the next hour or so. Then a female Banded Demoiselle showed briefly. A pair of Large Red damsels showed and presented themselves for immortality. Actually, I was wondering if I had seen the last of these this season, but it turned out that there were probably close to a couple of dozen present.

But then I latched onto the target of the day, a Broad-bodied Chaser. It posed up on perches for the next 20 minutes or so, allowing me to take quite a lot of photos. A little later on another turned up and then the female. A male Hairy dragon was continuing to patrol his patch, while a female was again seen ovipositing.

Scouting around the area I came across a few Mayflies, in June; a Mint Leaf Beetle; a species of Sawfly and lastly another Soldier Beetle. Walking over to the river I could see a few more Demoiselles and blue damsels and then a lovely Chiffchaff, singing on a branch, just above me. A male Orange Tip flew past, the only one of the day. And then I spotted another Cinnabar Moth fly past. The term 'London Buses' sprang to mind!

I moved back to the walkway, spotting a Green Woodpecker and a Kingfisher flyby. I took several more photos of the ever-obliging Chaser. Then I spotted a Hornet fly past. Large and menacing - I'll leave you alone, if you leave me alone!

I broke for lunch and spotted a raptor fly over. I wasn't sure of the ID, but it wasn't a Kestrel; Hobby or a Buzzard. Possibly a Red Kite, but the tail didn't look right.

The female Broad-bodied Chaser was busy ovipositing but was being continually harassed by a male. Maybe 'harassed' is the wrong word. Possibly 'escorting'.

It was hot. My feet and back ached. So I headed off to the James Hide for a well-deserved sit down. At the Bridge I spotted at least 5 male and 1 female Banded Demoiselle and then a Green-veined White butterfly. Unfortunately, all were too far away for a photo.

I arrived back at the James Hide and sat down. I was immediately joined by a Grey Heron arriving on the pond and then 'Banksie' the Vole appeared. I raised my camera, which one? Banksie won out. Both disappeared when a guy arrived to clean up the Hide. What, now!

10 minutes later the Grey Heron reappeared and carried on in stalk mode. A Cetti's Warbler sounded off to my left, but never appeared. I decided to head to the White Hide for a look, as I hadn't visited there for a while. No Water Vole along the way and only another Grey Heron was near the Hide. I didn't hang around long, the wind was blowing all the pollen into my face.

I arrived back at the Watchpoint to see another two familiar faces. Nothing new was seen and so I headed home. But there was a problem with the trains. They wasted 35 minutes of my time, as they didn't have a Plan B. Annoyingly, there was no information forthcoming either. No change there, then!

'Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragonfly hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky.' Dante Gabriel Rossetti

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.