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.