Saturday, 4 July 2015

A Hertfordshire County First!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 25th June 15

Weather: Warm, sunny and humid for most of the day. Slight cloud.

Bird Total: 43
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle; Common Green Capsid Bug; Crane Fly; ? Cricket; Dark Bush Cricket; Flesh Fly; Hornet; Hoverfly; Long-jawed Orb Spider; Midge; Pond Skater; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Soldier Beetle.
Plus: Brimstone, Holly Blue, Red Admiral, Small Heath, Small Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Speckled Wood butterflies. Cinnabar Moth and caterpillars, Clouded Border, Mint 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, Norfolk Hawker, Scarce Chaser dragonflies.
Plus: Common Spotted Orchid, Early Marsh Orchid, Forget-Me-Knots; Southern Marsh Orchid.

It turned out to be a very interesting and fruitful day today. Another very warm, humid day with slight cloud. I'm tempted to say that summer has finally arrived and, indeed, the weather forecast is for another BBQ season. We all know what happened the last time that was mentioned!

After a quiet day at RM yesterday I was looking forward to some quality odonata action today. And I certainly got it. Two life ticks for me, including a County first for Hertfordshire.

It all started quietly, with only a Little Egret and a Great Crested Grebe to be seen from the train. The first birds to be seen on the trail up to the Reserve were scores of Canada Geese, albeit keeping to the other side of the Canal, as I walked past. The House Sparrows seem to have relocated from the main road, opposite the Jolly Fisherman pub and were now flitting around the branches along the trail. Chiffchaff could be heard singing.

Then the insects started to appear. First up was a lovely Small Tortoiseshell butterfly, the first of many today. It looks like the second batch has finally arrived. There were loads of blue flashes flying up as I walked along, mostly Common Blues. It was already quite hot and humid and I was glad that my decision to leave the fleece behind today had been vindicated.

A Common Tern was fishing the Canal and seemed to be following me. Joggers and cyclists and dog-walkers were also out and about, dashing past every minute or so. They always seemed to be in a hurry to be somewhere. There were quite a lot of spider-webs around but the owners and creators had gone missing. The odd Mayfly drifted up; Ladybird Larvae were now quite noticeable and there were also lots of Banded Snails clinging on to the leaves. Then I spotted a conjoined pair of Common Blue damsels, who allowed me to get close for a shot, before eventually splitting up, with the female flying off. Obviously she had things to do. I thought I spied the male lying back, lighting up his post-coital Woodbine.

There were a pair of familiar faces at the Watchpoint when I arrived and they immediately informed me that 'there's not much about'. But they did inform me that a 'drug addict' was asleep in the bottom tier of the James Hide and to be aware. Nice.

I scanned the lake and spotted 5 Little Egrets; a sprinkling of Grey Heron; scores more Canada Geese; even more Black-headed Gulls plus lots of juveniles, all very vocal; a few Common Tern; some Lapwing and a few Pochard. Buntings and Warblers were flitting around the reeds, some calling out. Then I spotted a male Banded Demoiselle fly lazily past as I was looking through my Bins.

I took a walk down to the Gladwin Hide. On the way a lovely Sedge Warbler sat up quite close and sang out its' song, seeming to ignore me completely. But, as I was looking out for any insect movement on the flora, I kept blundering into clouds of Midges. Argh, I forgot to put on my Deet!

Dark Bush Cricket
Just before I entered the Hide I disturbed a Red Admiral, which flew up and away at a fair pace and was seemingly gone in seconds. From the Hide itself I could see around 10 or so Canada Geese out front, mostly preening. A pair of Coot and a Moorhen were picking their way between them. A Grey Heron was sat on a branch on the opposite side of the lake, while a Reed Bunting was singing out to the right, perched quite high up on a reed. Quite a few Small Tortoiseshells could be seen flitting around the area. A Black-tailed Skimmer was dodging all the beaks and living dangerously.

Then, all of a sudden, just when I thought about heading off, a Water Rail scurried past the Hide, from left to right. That's a Hide tick! I hung around for 10 minutes to see if it would appear again, but to no avail.

I walked back up the trail, seeing a Small Heath and an unidentifiable micro moth. There were a few Red-eyed damsels on the lilly-pads along the Canal. And then I slowly crept past a family of Canada Geese, which had arisen from the canal, with the adults hissing at me as I went. They started to duck their heads at me and, for some reason, I mimicked them. Mainly to assure them that I meant them no harm, of course. I wondered if they understood, as I'm not fluent in Goose sign language. I just hoped that no one was watching me.

Male Emperor dragon, the cause of a wet foot!
I eventually arrived at the James Hide and there was indeed a 'gentleman' lying prostrate on the bench in the lower tier. I decided to leave him to it and entered the upper tier, putting him down as a year tick. But, unfortunately, he may have been using the upper tier as a latrine, as there was quite an odour. I opened up all the shutters and kept the door open, but I could only stand it for about 5 minutes before moving on.

Clouded Border
There wasn't much to see anyway. I was hoping to spot the Water Rail family that my friend and fellow Birder and Blogger, Ron aka 'Amwell Watcher' had seen and photographed the other day. I did hear one call out. But I did see a fleeting glimpse of a Marsh Tit, while the family of Great Tits from last week were still about and attacking the feeders every minute or so.

Then I found myself at the twin lagoons. I didn't know it then but this would be the highlight of the day. And maybe even the year. At first I feared that the Mute Swan that was feeding by the lilly-pads had scared everything off. And, indeed, the usual sprinkling of Red-eyed damsels were missing in action. Only a few blues could be seen.

A few Reed Warblers were flying around on the opposite bank. But then a few Four-spotted Chasers could be seen, chasing each other around. A male Hairy dragon was patrolling the water's edge, while a female Emperor was busy ovipositing. Then another dragon entered the arena. It was a bit quick for my eyes but I thought I could see a yellowish-reddish tinge to the abdomen. I immediately thought that it could be the Common Darter that had recently been reported here.

Norfolk Hawker, a County first!
It eventually settled onto a reed on the far bank and so I took a few photos of it, to try and confirm the ID when I arrived home. It soon flew off and I moved on to the other lagoon. When I did take a look at the photos in the evening, I was elated to see that, not only was it NOT a Darter, it looked very much like a Norfolk Hawker! I had never seen one before and, if the ID was confirmed, it would be a life tick for me. The books indicated that they only appeared in Norfolk and Suffolk so it would be a first appearance in this County if it was. (The ID was later confirmed and it was a County first!)

Before I walked over to the other lagoon the, now resident, Cinnabar Moth made another appearance. Again difficult to pin down for a photo, it eventually took pity on me and posed. I also spotted a few of its' caterpillars as well. While I was trying to photograph the Moth I was continually attacked by swarms of midges. Argh!

In the sky above I could see a Buzzard being mobbed by a Gull. There were a few Red-eyed damsels at this lagoon, again on the lilly-pads. Buntings and Warblers were singing out. The odd cloud went over, blocking out the sun. Then I spotted what I thought was a Black-tailed Skimmer alight onto a reed, just in front of me. I didn't take too much notice and just snapped away. I again checked the photos later in the evening and again, I was amazed to see that it was, in fact, a male Scarce Chaser! Another life tick and only the second sighting in the County! Amazing!
Scarce Chaser, only the 2nd ever sighting for the County!
Of course, at the time, I was oblivious to all this and just carried on up the trail. At the Bridge I spotted 4 male Banded Demoiselles and, just before I entered the Dragonfly Trail, I disturbed a lovely Brimstone, which flew up and away.

Just before I arrived at the boardwalk I spotted a Jay fly off. Immediately after I started seeing many, many blue damsels, all flying up as I walked slowly around. No one else was about and I had the place to myself. Lovely.
Soon, I could see various dragons patrolling their little pieces of turf. Hairy dragons were still about here, a lone Emperor, then more Four-spotted Chasers appeared. Not long after, Broad-bodied Chasers began turning up, both male and female. Male Black-tailed Skimmers vied for the best spots to sit, waiting for food or females. All of them perching up nicely for me.

A Speckled Wood butterfly flew past, oblivious to all the odonata action taking place. I then ventured into the undergrowth, where I spotted a couple of Large Red damsels and then a female Banded Demoiselle. I had to wait a few minutes for the sun to come back out, before photographing them.

In another area I spotted a couple of male Banded Demoiselles. They seem to be doing much better around here this year, after a couple of sparse years. More Large Reds were here as well, one conjoined pair ovipositing. Then, for some reason, I decided to look up into the sky and so spotted a Red Kite fly serenely past, its' wings open and I watched as it glided past and out of sight behind some trees.

The lone Emperor then perched up near the back of the pond that it had been patrolling. I crept a little closer along the bank and tried to get as near as I could for a photo. Just as I was focusing I inadvertently stepped onto a bit of bank that gave way and I sank my foot into the water. I still managed to get the photo and my foot dried out almost immediately due to the heat and humidity.

I had a spot of lunch and then headed off towards the river, where I spotted a few moths; a 7-spot Ladybird and then Darren, one of the volunteer Reserve Wardens, turned up, all decked out in his summer plumage. I headed back to the boardwalk but didn't see anything else new, other than a very large Hornet fly by. Walking back to the exit I spotted a Small Skipper, another year tick and then a Holly Blue butterfly.

By now the cloud had thickened a little and the humidity scale had lowered a bit. I planned to take a sit-down in the James Hide and then head up to the Watchpoint before heading home. But unfortunately the Hide was still occupied by our friend and so I went straight to the Watchpoint. Before I arrived I bumped into Dave, a volunteer at Rye Meads. Darren and another guy were at the Watchpoint.

There being nothing much to see and being exhausted I decided to call it a day and head home. The train driver obviously had a sense of humour, as the heating had been switched on!

A very enjoyable day out in the warm sunshine, made into a red-letter day by seeing the Norfolk Hawker and the Scarce Chaser.

'Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.' Benjamin Disraeli

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.