Saturday, 26 September 2015

Whinchat at Amwell! *

Amwell Nature Reserve - 17th September 15

Weather: Sunny early on, clouding over later.

Bird Total: 45
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle; Crane Fly; Dock Bug; Flesh Fly; Green Shield Bug; Hornet; Hoverfly; Mayfly; Midge; Nursery Web Spider; Pond Skater; Speckled Bush Cricket; Slug.
Plus: Large White, Small White, Speckled Wood butterflies.
Plus: Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Willow Emerald damselflies. Common Darter, Migrant Hawker, Southern Hawker dragonflies.

A poor Indian Summer lately has meant being stuck inside. The blame is being directed at a southerly Jet Stream but, today, it suddenly rose up above the UK. Hence a rare, warm and sunny day. So, time to get out and about again.

I hadn't visited Amwell for over 2 weeks and, although not much had been reported, I was eager to see what might be my last bit of quality odonata. Which proved to be quite a success, with at least 4 Willow Emeralds appearing and lots of Darter and Hawker action.

However, the highlight today was a spectacular view of a Whinchat, right in front of the Watchpoint.

The day didn't start too well though. I had risen early to try and take advantage of the morning sunshine, as it had been forecast to slightly cloud over later in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, the Train God was in a playful mood, with an earlier points-failure incident. That and a few late trains delayed my arrival until almost the time I usually arrive, making me a frustrated and unhappy bunny. That was the injury, the insult was that I had to pay the more expensive fare. I can appreciate their problems, especially after extreme weather, but why charge me the earth for it? Because they have a monopoly and can charge what they like, knowing that we don't have much choice. However, I am a rock and resolved to have a good day.

Rant over.

There were already lots of birds about, especially back at the station, whilst I was waiting for said trains. On the journey down I could see plenty of evidence of the recent rains, with a few extra lagoons and ponds. However, the blue sky and already warm weather would hopefully soon dry it out. The usual family of Great Crested Grebes could be seen on the lakes, as we chugged slowly past.

There were a few familiar faces at the Watchpoint when I arrived. First bird up was a lone Common Sandpiper, out to the left. Then a pair of Kingfishers could seen flying around the lake. Grey Heron, Great Crested Grebe and several Lapwing were also on show. The first Shovelers and Wigeon of the season were also present.

As I headed down towards the Gladwin Hide two Jays flew over, towards the adjacent field. There were only a few Common Blue damsels to be seen otherwise.

Looking out from the Gladwin Hide I could see a 'gulp' of Swallows and a 'richness' of Sand Martins flying around. Skeins of Canada and Greylag Geese whiffled in and landed out to the right, all honking away, with two or three Great Crested Grebes looked on in bemusement. A pair of Little Egrets flew behind the island, from the left.

Then I could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling out and I soon spotted it, high up on a dead tree, directly opposite the Hide. It was a female and continued to call for quite some time.

I decided to head off, towards the James Hide. Before that I took a quick stroll through the Woodland. I could hear a Treecreeper wheezing out somewhere. There were at least 4 Buzzards calling, high in the sky above me. Juvenile Blackbirds and Robins hopped about on the trail ahead. A few Speckled Wood butterflies fluttered around.

There wasn't much activity outside the James Hide, just the sound of silence. Two other people were already in there and we all quietly watched, waiting for something to happen. I was about to head off after only 10 minutes, when suddenly a Kingfisher flew in and landed on the middle post. He dived down, fishing, before flying around the lagoon and landing back on the post again. After about 2 minutes of looking around he flew off. I headed off soon afterwards, eager to get to the Dragonfly Trail before the sun went in.

Then I had a little bit of a purple patch. Just outside the Hide I found a pair of Green Shield Bugs and then a Dark Bush Cricket. While I was photographing them, Bill Last and his friend were slip slidin away past me, letting me know that a Whinchat had been spotted from the Watchpoint.

I quickly hurried after them and, sure enough, when we got there, Bill soon latched onto it. It was sitting atop a reed and posing about 30 metres in front of us. It then proceeded to fly around, catching flies, before moving further off to the right. Pleased with the sighting, I headed back the way I had come. On the way I spotted a lovely Speckled Bush Cricket.

I stopped off at the twin lagoons, not finding too much, only leaves that are green. The left-hand lagoon provided more views of Migrant Hawkers, one of which nearly posed for me, but I wasn't quick enough on the trigger. Conjoined Common Darters were flying around, some of them egg-laying. A Buzzard flew over, quite low, screeching out.

On the path down to the Dragonfly Trail I could see Chiffchaff and Long-tailed Tits flitting around the branches. Just as I entered the Trail I disturbed a Hornet, who looked a little annoyed but fortunately left me alone. I then arrived at the little pond, by the first wooden bench. Here I could see another Migrant Hawker and another conjoined pair of Common Darters. I ventured a little further along the stream, looking for any Willow Emeralds, but didn't find any.

There were more conjoined Darters when I entered the boardwalk. However, I was very surprised to see a lone Great Crested Grebe, floating nearby, its' bright eyes looking up at me. I figured it would clock me and swim off, but no, it hung around and posed, only metres in front of me. I've never been that close to a Grebe before.

Then a couple of guys showed up, one of which was Dave Sampson. He called me back to where I had been and pointed out a male Willow Emerald. We spent about 30 minutes or so trying to photograph it, in poor light. A little later, along the boardwalk, we found a conjoined pair of Willow Emeralds. And, even later, I found a fourth.

Other than that more Migrant Hawkers entertained me, testing my in-flight photography skills, whilst I was pretty sure I saw a Southern Hawker. Even more conjoined pairs of Common Darters were about. I took a quick walk, over the bridge and along the river, not seeing too much. I then spent another 30 minutes searching for better photos of the Emeralds.

The clouds then rolled in a bit and I figured that it would curtail any more odonata action. So I broke for lunch. I was about to head off when the sun came back out, so I hit the boardwalk to try my luck again.

Eventually, I headed off back towards the James Hide. There was nothing on offer on the way back, other than a large Long-tailed Tit flock, which had a few hangers-on with it, one of which looked like a Marsh Tit. They all moved on fairly quickly, bye, bye love.

I had the Hide to myself and sat patiently, hoping the Kingfisher might come back. Sure enough, about 10 minutes later, he flew in and landed on the middle post. The light was perfect and brought out the best in him. Then, after about 5 minutes, he flew over to the nearer post. Unfortunately, this was in the shade, but he gave great views close up.

A female Migrant Hawker could be seen ovipositing but she was nearly snapped up by one of the juvenile Moorhens. A little later the adult Moorhen started having a go at one of the juveniles. Oddly, a few minutes later, the juvenile started fighting back and it was the turn of the adult to dodge a vicious pecking.
I left soon after, wanting to take a quick look from the Watchpoint, before heading home. However, Ron and Ade were there and pointed out the Whinchat, which was still about. After about 10 minutes it flew off, never to be seen again.

I was homeward bound soon after. The trains were still playing silly buggers and I arrived home a little later than intended.

'I attended the annual meeting of the British Rail ex-Employees Association last night.
They all turned up late'