Saturday, 6 June 2015

River Stort, Sawbridgeworth

River Stort, Sawbridgeworth - 27th May 15

Weather: Warm and sunny. Slight cloud.

Bird Total: 35
Plus: Comma, Orange Tip, Peacock, Small White Butterflies.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue, Large Red damselflies.
Plus: 7-spot, 12-spot, 16-spot Ladybirds; Alderfly; Bluebottle; Bombardier Beetle; Crane Fly; Cuckoo Spit; Dark Bush Cricket; Dock Bug; Flesh Fly; Green Nettle Weevil; Hoverflies; Long-jawed Orb Spider; Mayfly; Pond Skater; Red-headed Cardinal Beetle; Soldier Beetle; Wasp Beetle; White-tailed Bumble Bee.
Plus: Cow Parsley.

It was May and so it was time for a wander down the River Stort, my local patch. It was also forecast to be sunny and warm out, which it was. Well done, Carol. But not until late morning. So I didn't leave home until after 11.

The main target today was to find my first Banded Demoiselles of the year. I wasn't disappointed, finding scores of them. They were the upside of the day, the downside were dog-walkers. Lots of them. No wonder the trail smelt like a toilet.

I started down the trail, already noticing the overgrown flora, mainly Cow Parsley, around the area. Chiffchaffs were singing. There were lots of House Sparrows about, also nice to see. A Pied Wagtail chirruped by overhead. The usual Mallards were idly swimming up and down, awaiting handouts. Quite a few House Martins were flying around as well.

About 10 minutes in to the walk, just before I came to the first bridge, I spotted a few Banded Demoiselles, a male and a female, conjoined. With the female doing all the work. No change there, then. There was also a Large Red damselfly nearby, soaking up the sun. Or it may have been a voyeur. Whatever, I began taking the first photos of the day.

There was lots of bird-song, mainly Wren and Great Tit. But the song that attracted my attention was a Cuckoo, in the distance. I'd not heard one of those around here for quite a while, if at all. Then a House Sparrow flew right in front of me, snatching up a Mayfly, that had started to flutter past me.

I carried on, seeing a male Blackcap singing atop a shrub, just over the river. More and more Demoiselles revealed themselves as I walked by. I resolved to slow down, to try and catch them in the sunshine, before they flew up. The Cuckoo seemed a bit closer.

Whilst trying not to spook the Demos, I inadvertently spooked a Peacock butterfly, which flew off. I then witnessed a female Demoiselle fly up beside me, snatch a Mayfly and land back down to consume it. There were also a few Common Blue damselflies around here, too.

A male Orange Tip butterfly flew past. Then a Comma. Although it was sunny and warm, with hardly a breeze, there weren't very many butterflies seen at all today. Maybe around 20 in total, very strange considering the area and the weather.

I kept my eyes glued downwards, a few metres in front of me, looking for more Demos. Which is probably why I didn't see any raptors at all. I began seeing lots of other insects. A 12-spot Ladybird; lots of Mayflies; even more Crane Flies and several Hoverflies, Flesh Flies and Bluebottles. The Cuckoo seemed even closer now. Then I heard the squeal of a Water Rail, another first for me here.

The Cuckoo then started calling really close by, so I began looking for it. I could see several small birds flying around a tree, just over the river. Looking more closely I spotted them mobbing the Cuckoo. It was sat in the classic pose, wings pointing down and tail jutting out. After about 20 seconds it had obviously had enough and flew off.

A man then walked towards me, just wearing a pair of shorts, with his t-shirt around his shoulders. He had a dog with him. He asked me what bird was singing? I told him it was a Cuckoo. He seemed surprised. So was I.

Just as I moved on a Jay flew past in front of me and perched up on a nearby tree, allowing a few modest photos. It was proving to be an inspired decision to take a walk down the river.

Further on, a Greenfinch wheezed out its' call, high in a tree. Its' cousin, the Chaffinch also called out and then flew by, snaffling up another Mayfly. Mental note: Don't come back as a Mayfly. The Cuckoo now seemed further away.

I reached the spot I usually break for lunch. I hadn't intended to be out too long today, so I hadn't brought much, just juice, an apple and a bar of chocolate. As I sat there, in the warm sun, I started to see lots of birds. First up, was a lovely Grey Wagtail, that twittered past me and then perched up about 10 metres away from me. It was soon joined by 2 others and I watched them fly up and down the river in front of me, picking off more unfortunate Mayflies.

Then a Common Whitethroat perched up on a dead tree across the river and sang out its' cheerful song. Three Cormorants were perched up even higher on the same tree, looking down at me, wings outstretched. Then I heard the familiar call of a Kingfisher, but it remained elusive. A Green Woodpecker sounded off, but also stayed hidden away.

'Lunch' over, I began checking the nearby brambles for insects. After 10 minutes of looking I found 7 and 16-spot Ladybirds; Dark Bush Cricket; Cardinal and Soldier Beetles; Cuckoo Spit; Green Nettle Weevil and a Wasp Beetle. Quite a nice haul.

I brooded over whether to continue along the trail, or to head back. In the event, 3 Bikers and I mean on motorbikes, scrambled loudly past me. That made my mind up. I didn't see much point in continuing, they would have scared everything off.

Actually the first part of the walk only yielded up a couple of people, one of which had a dog. But on the walk back more and more people showed, nearly all with dogs. In fact, 3 different dogs began barking at me as I was crouched down, photographing Demoiselles, scaring them off. All the owners assured me that their dogs had never acted that way before, with anyone else. All the dogs must have been females, I thought.

The dreaded joggers and cyclists were also whizzing past now. I began spotting lots of 'doggy bags' tied to the fence. And every time I went to kneel or sit down I checked first to see if there was anything awaiting me. The place still smelt like a toilet, almost the whole length of the trail.

Endeavouring to ignore all of them I concentrated on the work at hand. The sun was at my back on the return journey and I began getting some reasonable photos. The Mayflies were falling like, well, flies. It seemed that everything was feasting on them.

The sun was still shining, my wrists were starting to tingle, reminding me that I had forgotten to slap on my Factor50. I feared another red face in the mirror when I arrived home. The pollen began to appear more and more, making me sneeze. Narrowboats drifted slowly by. A female Mallard and her chicks swam in between them, narrowly avoiding them.

Just before I found myself back at the start I spotted another, or maybe even the same, pair of Grey Wagtails. More House Martins and then Swallows flew overhead. And, just at the end, I spotted my first Dock Bug of the year.

It was another nice day out along the river. The next one will be to walk the other way, towards Thorley Wash or maybe even Sawbo Marsh. I just hope there won't be too many dogs about. Or the smell.

'Don't let the same dog bite you twice.' Chuck Berry