Friday, 21 August 2015

Emeralds at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 7th August 15

Weather: Cloudy in the morning, sunny in the afternoon.

Bird Total: 33
Plus: Grass Snake; Muntjac (H).
Plus: 7 and 16-spot and Harlequin Ladybird and Larvae; Bluebottle; Flesh Fly; Green Shield Bug; Harvestman Spider; Hornet; Hoverfly; Long-winged Conehead; Mayfly; Midge; Mint Leaf Beetle; Pond Skater; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Soldier Beetle.
Plus: Comma, Common Blue, Essex Skipper, Gatekeeper, Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Large White, Meadow Brown, Peacock, Small Copper, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White butterflies. Blood Vein moth.
Plus: Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Emerald, Red-eyed damselflies. Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter dragonflies.

It was another one of those quiet days, at first, not seeing too much about. So quiet, in fact, that I had thought of heading home early. But, as usual, things picked up later. The weather forecast was wrong, again, saying it would be sunny in the morning, clouding over later in the afternoon. In the event, it was the other way around.

I arrived mid-morning, after a slightly delayed journey. I'd heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker whilst waiting for the train. There were scores of Canada Geese around a few lagoons on the journey down. I could also see a few Great Crested Grebes out on one of the large lakes.

It was cloudy and a bit breezy on the walk upto the Reserve. And, although there were quite a few butterflies about, including a lovely Peacock, there weren't too many insects. A few ladybirds, a lone Soldier Beetle and the odd Harvestman spider. I didn't see any odonata at all.

So, not too much about yet, which was slightly worrying, but there were plenty of people about. Mainly dog-walkers; cyclists and joggers, of course, but the odd family group. If only the clouds would disperse and let the sun out, it would be quite warm.

It was quiet on the birding front, as to be expected. But there was a lone Common Tern, fishing the Canal and I could hear the one-note call of a Chiffchaff.

At the Watchpoint there were a few people present, who mostly gave me a curt nod as I approached. I've noted that most people like to keep themselves to themselves these days.

Apart from the usual suspects out on the lake, I could see a couple of Little Egrets perched up in the trees on the island in front; several Grey Heron; a few more Lapwing spread around; a few Common Terns and a few Great Crested Grebes. There were also quite a lot of very noisy Canada Geese milling around, all honking at each other. I guess nagging is not just a human thing, then.

It seemed very quiet and peaceful, a day not to be toiling in an office or to be stuck in a traffic jam. Somewhere, in fact, to keep the blood pressure under control. No 'Boss' to worry about, either at work or at home.

I wandered down towards the Gladwin Hide, discovering a 4th Instar Green Shield Bug and a couple of sex-crazed Mint Leaf Beetles on the way. I could only find a few dragons along here, Migrant and Brown Hawkers, all busily plying their trade. Or should that be hawking?
Sitting down in the Gladwin Hide and looking out, I could see only several Canada Geese; Moorhens and Coots and a few Pochard. None of whom were particularly active and all of them trying not to get in each others' way. There were a few, distant, Great Crested Grebes. I could also see a third, distant Little Egret in stalk mode and then a noisy Common Tern family flying past. A Green Woodpecker called out and, in fact, did so for most of the rest of the day. But who remained stubbornly hidden. Several butterflies were outside, mainly Whites, but one Peacock, which flew in and landed nearby.

I headed back up the trail, finally seeing a few blue damsels and then the first Common Darter, which was just sitting on the trail in front of me. I had to disturb it to get by and I watched as it flew up, around me and then landed back down behind me, to continue improving its' tan. The sun had briefly appeared, forcing them all out. Then, just before the Watchpoint, I found a pair of Crickets, which I later identified as Long-winged Coneheads. A nice find.

Just before I reached the James Hide, a lone Mayfly flew past, above me, which surprised me a little. But the only things to see outside the Hide itself, was a Migrant Hawker and a Common Darter, which briefly interacted. I hung around for about 15 minutes or so, but nothing else was showing, so I headed off towards the Dragonfly Trail.

At the Twin Lagoons I found some more odonata. On the left-hand lagoon I could see a Migrant Hawker and then lots of blue damsels, including a lone Red-eyed; butterflies, including a Small Tortoiseshell and a Comma plus a family of Reed Warblers in the phragmites opposite, all squawking away and briefly showing themselves.

Moving on to the right-hand lagoon I found absolutely nothing. Possibly because of the presence of a family, who were feeding the Mutes and Coots. I noted that it was white bread. Tut, tut. Then another family turned up, with a pair of dogs which immediately jumped into the water, scattering all the birds and everything else. I soon headed off.

Female Common Blue butterfly
As I continued up the trail, I did note that the lone male Slazenger Sock had finally disappeared. Well, it was looking a bit drab the last time I saw it. The season must be finally over for them.

There was nothing of note at the Bridge, other than a couple of Reed Warblers flitting around below me. But I could hear several Treecreepers around, somewhere close. And, sure enough, a few minutes later, one appeared, in amongst a group of Blue and Great Tits. I could also hear a Buzzard calling high in the sky above.

I entered the Dragonfly Trail and immediately spotted a lone Gatekeeper butterfly. It had clouded over quite badly now, but was still a little humid. There was no one else around and so I had the area to myself.

Just entering the Boardwalk I found a couple of Common Darters, perched up on the wooden handrail, docile enough for a few close-ups. But then, suddenly, the sun poked its' nose out and lots of blues appeared, more Darters, including a conjoined pair and then a lovely Ruddy Darter turned up. One or two Migrant Hawkers joined in. It's amazing what a bit of sunshine can do!

'What a tangled web we weave.'
Another guy showed up and so I headed off towards the river, passing the Orchid Garden. Where I found a Common Blue damsel caught up in a web. When I saw that it was still alive I decided to rescue it and put it on top of one of the wooden posts by the Garden. I tried to free it from the tangled web and then looked at it through my Bins. Amazingly, it wasn't trying to free itself from the web but was actually feeding on a midge. I left soon after, wondering how long it would survive. The damsel that is, not the midge.

Soon after I came across a lovely moth, later identifying it as a Blood Vein. Then I could hear a Muntjac barking somewhere in the forest across the river.

Walking adjacent to the river I found lots of ladybirds, some of them Harlequins. One of which was being chased around the stem by a little fly, which must have been at least a third of the size of the ladybird.

There were lots of Grasshoppers about as I walked, all hopping away as I passed, plus a few more butterflies, including a lovely female Common Blue and another Comma. Then I spotted a fresh-looking Common Darter hiding low-down in the undergrowth. Lots of Soldier Beetles were again around today. This time they all looked to be busy feeding.

Just before I returned to the Boardwalk I spotted a pair of Small Coppers and another Common Blue butterfly. Then a male Banded Demoiselle flew by, not wishing to stop to say hello. It was the only one I saw all day.

I strolled up and down the Boardwalk for a while, looking for any sign of Emeralds. Another guy then appeared and he called me over to point out a Grass Snake swimming past. Then Jenny Sherwen appeared with a colleague. They were here for some pond-dipping practice. I hung around for a little while, to see what they found.

But Jenny must have brought some luck with her, because soon after, I spotted at least 3 Emerald damsels flying around. Unfortunately, none of them flew in close for a photo, but it was great to finally see them this year. More people appeared, including a couple with a pair of dogs. I was glad Jenny was around to see them off. This was the third occasion, recently, that people had brought dogs into the area this year, a trend I hope to see reversed.

While I was looking for more Emeralds, my friend Dave, from Rye Meads, turned up, plus hangover and then Katie Kingfisher's mother. I left them all to it and broke for lunch.

I rejoined Jenny again and when Ade Hall also turned up we went searching for a family of Spotted Flycatchers that had been reported in the area earlier. Unfortunately we failed to see them but we did manage to find a Brown Argus; another Small Copper; another Red-eyed damsel and then an Essex Skipper.

Everyone then seemed to vanish, leaving me to it. So I tried to find the Emeralds one last time before I left. No joy, but just after exiting the Boardwalk I heard, then saw, 2 juvenile Spotted Flycatchers in the trees, occasionally flying out and catching some flies. Always nice to see!

It was all downhill from there. Nothing extra to be seen on the return leg and so I headed for home. On the trail back a lone Grey Wagtail flew in and landed in front of me to say farewell. A lovely end to a great day!

'Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and
furthermore, always carry a small snake.' W. C. Fields