Sunday, 6 September 2015

WILLOW EMERALDS at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 22nd August 15

Weather: Scorchio. Slight cloud late afternoon. Merciful breeze.

Bird Total: 32
Plus: 7-spot and Harlequin Ladybird; Bluebottle; Flesh Fly; Grasshopper; Harvestman Spider; Hornet; Hoverfly; Midge; Mint Leaf Beetle; Pond Skater.
Plus: Holly Blue, Large White, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, Small White, Speckled Wood butterflies. Poplar Hawk Moth
Plus: Azure, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Red-eyed, Willow Emerald damselflies. Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.

Amwell seems to be one of those places where you never come away disappointed. It was a slow, frustrating, ordinary start early on. But then, again, it turned into a red-letter day.

It was a Saturday. A weekend. I don't normally 'do' weekends. Mainly because the world and his brother ventures out at weekends. However, the weather has been so poor of late, that I couldn't really pass up a hot, sunny day. Moreover, this year, it looks as if today might the last hurrah of the summer. Therefore, I bit the bullet and ventured out myself.

Almost from the start, I was being constantly reminded why I don't 'do' weekends. Queues at the train station for tickets. Mr and Mrs Joe Q Public were having a day out with all the little Publics. At least the cheap fare today meant that I could make an earlier start than normal.

Exiting the station, on my way to the Reserve, I came across a distressed Poplar Hawk Moth, flapping away, trying to fly off. A bit difficult when on your back, so I helped get it upright but it promptly flapped upside down again. This happened a few more times. It had obviously damaged one of its’ wings, probably from a passing vehicle. So I picked it up and lay it down in the shade.

I headed up the trail towards the Reserve. I hadn't visited for a couple of weeks, so was keen to try to find some more odonata. There wasn't any on the walk up. In fact, there wasn't much of anything on the walk up. Which I found strange. The sun was already blazing down and the humidity was high.

Unfortunately, though, there were plenty of people about. In fact, there seemed to be 10 times the normal number. Numerous dog-walkers; joggers galore and so many cyclists it felt like I was watching the Tour de France. Curse Chris Froome! Added to this menagerie were the many families that were out and about. I was already thinking that I should have stayed in bed!


There were also a few people at the Watchpoint when I arrived, including Bill 'The Don' Last, as my pal, Barry calls him, but they all headed off soon after. I guess I had forgotten to put my deodorant on. Nevertheless, I was wearing Factor50! I was also aware that I was starting to turn into a grumpy old birder.

Out over Great Hardmead Lake I could see 3 Little Egrets; 3 Common Sandpipers, who were very mobile, chasing each other; several Lapwing; a pair of Great Crested Grebes and a few Common Terns. A few minutes later, several squadrons of Canada Geese arrived, together with an Egyptian Goose. There were also a pair of Stock Doves roaming around the island.

However, I was starting to feel the heat on my already red neck and so headed down to the Gladwin Hide. There were still a lot of people about, making a lot of noise. On the way I spotted a few Azure, Blue-tailed and even more Common Blue damsels. I also spotted a pair of Red-eyed damsels as well, sat on their favoured lilly-pads. On the dragonfly front, there were the usual Common Darter and Migrant Hawker, usual for this time of the year.

Whilst looking for all these and any interesting insects - of which there were none - a father and two toddlers passed me, heading for the Hide. I feared the worst and so took my time to get down there. By the time I arrived, they had exited and were heading back. I walked in and opened up the shutters. My worst fears were realised - there was absolutely nothing at all out there. Everything had been scared off by what was most probably a noisy couple of toddlers.


Despite waiting patiently for about 20 minutes, nothing came back. I could see them all over the other side of the Lake. The only birds of note I could see were a few Great Crested Grebes far out to the left, a couple of Little Egrets on the opposite bank, together with a Grey Heron and hearing a Green Woodpecker sounding off.

There were also lots of Canada Geese out there, mainly on the Lake. Most of them were busy preening and consequently there were lots of little white feathers floating around and away from them all. Then I thought I spied a Red Kite flying high up and away over the Woods.

I wandered back up the trail, seeing only a few Speckled Woods and headed straight for the James Hide, dodging a few joggers and cyclists. At least there were no people in here. Unfortunately, there was nothing outside, either. Save for a lone Brown Hawker and several Migrant Hawkers. Alas, all too far away for a photograph. Some of the bird feeders had been removed, because of rats, returning in September. The feeders, not the rats.

So I decided to head towards the Dragonfly Trail, taking in the Twin Lagoons and the Bridge on the way. And on the way I passed a dog-walker. Both the dog and the walker were trailing water. More disappointment. When I got to the left-hand lagoon, I could see a trail of puddles.

Looking out over the lagoon, past three Mute Swans looking for a handout, I could see - nothing. Bugger all, in fact. It wasn't any better at the right-hand lagoon. There was a family of Moorhen noisily crawling all over the lilly-pads. I spotted one, solitary, Migrant Hawker. And that was it.

Gloomily, I headed off. At the Bridge, I scoured the area. All I could see was one Rainbow Trout below me, one Red Admiral on the Buddleia; a Migrant Hawker, flying up and down the stream and a couple of people passing by.

Red-eyed damselfly
I told myself that, if the Dragonfly Trail were empty, I would head for home early. Even the Slazenger Socks had departed for the winter. I hadn't and didn't see many insects all day, save for loads of bees; wasps and hoverflies. Even the butterflies were scarce for some reason today.

I entered the Dragonfly Trail, more in hope than anything else. I smiled at the newly added 'No Dogs' sign, the third sign to be put up. However, I could already see quite a few people walking up and down the Boardwalk. Therefore, I decided to go straight to the stream that was adjacent to the lake. It was here that we first spotted the Willow Emeralds last year. I was hoping to see them again today, as one had already been reported about a week ago.

I didn't see any here, at first, but I did see a lovely, posing Common Darter and then I tried photographing a hovering Migrant Hawker, with mixed results. I could also see a Brown Hawker and a lone Red-eyed damselfly. The couple from the Bridge then came and sat on the bench, behind me.

A conjoined pair of Common Darters flew around, seemingly chasing the Migrant Hawker and the other Darter. Then the Red-eyed joined in and chased everything else. I gave up trying to photograph any of them and headed for the Boardwalk. A Kingfisher flashed past, out over the lake.

Only 3 people were left. I noted that not one Common Darter was sunning itself on the handrails, unusual in itself. I could see a few Darters and Hawkers flying around, patrolling their patches. I also kept an eye out for any common Emerald damsels; at the same place I saw them last time out. However, I didn't see one all day.

Then Ade Hall turned up again, enquiring after the Willow Emerald. We chatted for a few minutes, before he headed off to the metal bridge, where one had been seen recently. I carried on searching for anything else. I thought I had spotted a Ruddy Darter and was busy immortalising it when I heard Ade call out.


I looked up and saw that he was frantically waving at me. I hurried over to the bridge. He pointed to an Emerald, perched up. I was delighted to see the white wing-spots, denoting a Willow Emerald! A male, he posed for us and then flew closer, after being pestered by a pair of Blue-tailed damsels.


I could see that it had a damaged, lower-right wing. Possibly from not drying out properly after emerging. Ade put out an alert and, not 20 minutes later, Ron Cousins and 2 others arrived. A few other people were also around, all of us crowding onto the small bridge, looking for the Emerald. It was a Willow Twitch!

It had stayed all the while Ade and I were there, but when Ron and the others turned up, it disappeared not long after, never to be seen again. We all searched for it for about 15 minutes. Then one of the guys called out and said that it had returned to the same perch. When I looked down I noticed that the wing was ok and surmised that we must be watching another male. Two!


Having had my dose of Willows I decided to head around the river area, where I saw not a lot. Back at the bridge, the twitch was still in progress. However, Ade and Ron had moved down to the area where I had arrived. I made my way slowly down but then decided to have lunch as my stomach was growling at me.

Then I heard another growl. It was definitely not my stomach. I turned around and saw a couple had brought two dogs into the area. Three signs now all saying, 'NO DOGS!' What part of that did they not understand? Ade politely told them the 'no dog' rule and they thankfully soon departed.


When I got to them, Ade said that they had found another two Willow Emeralds, a conjoined pair. They headed off soon after. Ade and Ron, not the Emeralds. Therefore, I hung around for a while, searching for them. Eventually, I spotted a lone male, after crawling through the undergrowth. Just as I was photographing it, the conjoined pair flew past him. Five!


I was delighted, especially as I had now photographed all five. I hung around a while longer, taking one last walk up and down the Boardwalk, before heading back to the James Hide for a well-earned rest. There was still nothing to see on the way back, from the Bridge or the Twin Lagoons.

Well, almost nothing. By the right-hand lagoon I spotted a Kingfisher flash past, over the lagoon and disappear behind the trees. By the left-hand lagoon, I found a young lady, stretched out on a towel, just wearing a bikini, reading a book! I judged her to be a sub-adult, in summer plumage. Parus Majors sprang to mind. Oo'er missus!

Smiling to myself, I headed back up the trail and entered the top tier of the James Hide. There were a couple of people already in the lower tier. Even before I had sat down, I spied a Kingfisher fly in and land on the middle post. I fired off a few shots and then rushed down to the lower tier, nearly bumping into a pram with a baby in it. I apologised and sat down and started photographing the Kingfisher.

Then I heard the woman say, 'What is it?' I looked at her. 'It's a Kingfisher.' She looked delighted, 'Oh, wow, fantastic, I've never seen one before!'

It was a young male. The Kingfisher, not the baby. I fired off a few more shots and then it flew off, returning a few seconds later, allowing further shots. What a bonus! Then the baby started crying. I looked around and it was watching me. Then it started crying even louder. I hazarded a guess that the baby was female.

The mother smiled at me and said, 'I guess I had better take her outside!' However, by then, the bird had flown. I wasn't too bothered; I had some reasonable shots. I hung around the Hide for a little while longer, hoping that the bird would return. There was only one other bird out there, a Grey Heron, in stalk mode, at the back of the lagoon.


By now, it was after 3. I had already drained both my primary and secondary water bottles and I was still thirsty. My feet ached as well. In addition, it was still really hot and humid. Therefore, I headed off back to the Watchpoint, where I spotted six Little Egrets, dotted about the area.

I packed up my gear and headed off down the trail, back towards the Station, endeavouring to dodge all the cyclists and joggers that were charging by.


'A journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click.'