Thursday, 29 October 2015

'The Vibes' - Negative or Positive?

Amwell Nature Reserve - 27th October 15

Weather: Cloudy early on, brightening up later. Slight breeze.

Bird Total: 49
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Muntjac; Soay Sheep.
Plus: 16-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle; Brassica Bug; Caddisfly; Flesh Fly; Hoverfly; Nursery Web Spider.
Plus: Common Darter, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.

It was forecast to be cloudy and overcast early on, brightening up later after lunch. Which it did, much to my surprise. See, they can get it right, sometimes! I caught the later train again, getting me to the Reserve around 11-ish. Even the trains played ball today, so even they can get it right, too!

However, there were a few events this morning, which I always term as 'negative vibes', that happened beforehand. None of which I will bore you with. Suffice to say that they put me in a curmudgeonly mood. Some were offset by seeing a Jay from the train, plus the usual Canada Geese and Great Crested Grebes on the adjacent fields and lakes.

Just as I entered the Canal path, I heard a Ring-necked Parakeet screech out. And before I reached the bridge I spotted a few interesting insects, the plum spot being a Brassica Bug, in its' yellow form.

When I arrived at the Watchpoint, there were 4 or 5 familiar faces. I spent about 45 minutes there, seeing at least 1 Red Kite; 3 Buzzards; a Kestrel, which flashed through, disturbing all the Gulls, of which I could see at least 5 species; couple of Lapwing; a Common Snipe, which flew in; Shoveler, Teal and whistling Wigeon; a Great Crested Grebe and a few Grey Herons.

The Island in front was completely devoid of bird-life, for some reason. Possibly because I could see the Greater Crested Jenny, in her winter plumage, along with 4 others, at the back of the lake, working.

I wandered off, down the trail, to the Gladwin Hide, seeing nothing much on the way down. Looking out from the Hide only yielded much of the same as from the Watchpoint. The only interesting thing to note was the sight of scores and scores of Gulls, all floating around in one big roost. As I mentioned earlier, I could see at least 5 species of Gull out there. Yellow-legged and Caspian Gull had been reported in the last few days, but I was buggered if I could see them, amongst all that lot!

A lovely looking Nursery Web Spider - one of many!
Looking out above the lake, over Easneye Wood, where the Autumn colours were looking quite spectacular, I could see a Great Spotted Woodpecker, high up on a dead tree, whilst a Jay passed overhead. Then a Pied Wagtail flew across my view, chirruping away, bouncing up and down as it passed by.

Just outside the Hide I spotted a large, interesting-looking bit of Fungi. I tried to get a few photos of it, from different angles. Just to be different.

I headed off towards the James Hide, seeing a lovely little Wren on the way. I could also hear a Cetti's Warbler and a Chiffchaff calling. A couple of skeins of Canada Geese flew noisily overhead and whiffled their way down to the lake.

I sat in the James Hide for over an hour, not seeing particularly much at all. In the distance I could see Jenny and her volunteers still working, cutting some of the reeds back. In fact, the only things I did see were a Kingfisher, which flew in and sat on one of the posts for a brief few seconds; a lone Dunnock, which flew off when it saw me and a conjoined pair of Common Darters, which whizzed past.

I had lunch just before I left. A Cetti's had sounded off and then 2 Jays flew over. A couple of people poked their heads in, asked if anything was about and then left.

I decided to walk over to the Twin Lagoons, then towards the entrance to the Dragonfly Trail and back down the other path. I found a couple of Common Darters on the right-hand lagoon, one of which posed for me. A lone Migrant Hawker was on patrol. I wondered if these would be the last odonata of the year. I was having withdrawal symptoms already. The only other thing of note was the call of a Green Woodpecker.

When I arrived at the Dragonfly Trail entrance I could see that the feeders were now up and running. However, there were only several Chaffinches in attendance, plus one Blue Tit. Half-a-dozen hen Pheasants were below, sweeping up the remnants.

I walked back, noticing that a few dog walkers ignored the 'Please Close the Gate' and 'Dogs Must Be On a Leash' signs. I walked around to the White Hide and then returned to the James Hide. Nothing of note was seen from either Hide. Again, there was a distinct lake of passerine activity about.

So I decided to move back to the Watchpoint, to see if the YLG or the Caspian had showed. Ade was already there and scanning the area. Ron and a few of the gang also soon showed up and all started looking through the hordes of Gulls that were already on the lake, as well as flying in, squadron after squadron.

It looked like an impossible task, to me, to spot the rarer Gulls out there. However, I was in the company of some hardy, dedicated Birders and they soon picked out a YLG. Whilst I was waiting for that, I spotted a pair of Little Egret, directly in front of us and also a pair of frisky Muntjac, out to our left.

A small murmuration of Starlings then appeared, just before dusk and gave us quite a good show, before performing a mini waterfall down to their roost. They did quite well, considering the never-ending stream of Gulls that were continually arriving, plus the continual departure of scores of Geese. It was quite an aerial spectacle.

However, darkness was descending, early it seemed, since the clocks had gone back. So I headed for home. It was nice to end on a few positive vibes.

'The average human attention span is one second shorter than the estimated goldfish attention span.'

Sunday, 25 October 2015

After The Lord Mayors Show!

Rye Meads - 22nd October 15

Weather: Cloudy and overcast all day. Windy and quite cold.

Bird Total: 40
Plus: Konik Ponies.
Plus: Migrant Hawker dragonfly.
Plus: 16-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle; Flesh Fly; Harlequin Ladybird; Hoverfly; Midge.

I thought I would try Rye Meads today, to look for the reported Jack Snipe. The weather was very poor; heavy cloud, wind and quite cold. Even though Carol had forecast clearer skies in the afternoon. Sadly, it was not to be.

I figured that the JS would have departed by now, especially after the heavy rains of yesterday and so I was only mildly optimistic, as I jumped on the later train. There were only the usual Canada Geese on the fields on the journey down.

Nothing was on show until I arrived and sat down in the Draper Hide. Other than hen Pheasants; Tits and Finches at the newly-relocated feeder area. New to me, anyway.

There was only one other person in the Hide when I arrived. It was grey and overcast, not very good for photography. In fact, I only took 4 photos all day. People came and went, including a couple of friends I had met on holiday a few years ago.

It was a little slow out on the lagoon, at first. However, I counted upto 4 Green Sandpipers; 6 Common Snipe; a pair of Pied Wagtails; a pair of Grey Wagtails; a pair of Little Grebes; a wet and miserable looking Grey Heron; a lone Lapwing; Teal and Shoveler and, best of all, 3 Meadow Pipits. Cetti's Warblers were sounding off.

It was easily the best place to be today, with all this action going on and I should have stayed put. However, I was keen to see if the Jack Snipe was about. It hadn't been seen since Wednesday and, when I arrived, there was only one other guy in there. He was just leaving, after being there for over an hour and a half. He hadn't seen jack. Ahem.

I hung around for about the same amount of time, seeing only a Great Spotted Woodpecker plus Teal; Tufted Duck; Coot and Moorhen. More Cetti's were singing while a lone Migrant Hawker had braved the cold weather and was on patrol.

It was approaching 1pm and so I decided to move on. The Jack had obviously moved on as well. I was a little disappointed but not surprised. If I had been given a choice on Wednesday, to see either the Jack or the Bitterns, I would have chosen the Bitterns. You can't win them all!

I stopped off at the Twin Hides, sitting in the Gadwall for most of the time. Although there were quite a number of birds out on the lagoon outside the Tern Hide, they were just the usual suspects. Looking out from the Gadwall Hide I could see over 20 Common Snipe, all asleep; a lone Green Sandpiper; a perched-up Kestrel, being mobbed by a Magpie; a pair of Pied Wagtails; a lone Grey Wagtail; loads of Teal and a few Wigeon.

I then decided to visit the Kingfisher Hide, finding three other people in there. I was told the Kingfisher had just been and gone, so I hung around for an hour. Two of the people left soon after I arrived. In the time I was there the Kingfisher made one fleeting appearance. It flew in on to the far post, then flew clockwise around the lagoon, landing on the post just in front of the Hide. Unfortunately, by the time I had brought my camera to bear, it flew off, never to be seen again. Not by me, anyway.

There were about a dozen Gadwall out on the lagoon, plus a pair of Mallard and several Coot and Moorhen. I caught a glimpse of a Green Woodpecker as it exited the area, stage left. I did get a good view of a Water Rail, also out to the left, before a Moorhen chased it off. There were scores of Starlings all perched up on the wires above.

From here I made the decision to give the Warbler Hide a miss and headed back down the trail, stopping briefly at the Ashby Hide before settling down for about 30 minutes back in the Draper Hide. The Green Sandpiper count rose to 8. However, there wasn't much else to see so I decided to head home early, leaving about 3.30.

A quiet day out today, my luck must have been used up at Fishers Green.

'Word of the day: FLENCH - (of the weather) to give a deceitful promise of improvement.'

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

A Bittern-Fest at Fishers Green!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 20th October, 15

Weather: Cloudy and overcast early morning. Warm, sunny blue skies in the afternoon.

Bird Total: 35
Plus: Migrant Hawker dragonfly.
Plus: Freisian Cattle; Mink.

Well, I think you could safely say that my run of poor luck ended today. I had always thought that the month of October was the quietest month of the year. What with the Dragonfly Trail closing at Amwell recently and the lack of odonata; flutterbys and insects about, plus the paucity of birds around, always made for a quiet month. Although I had heard that it was all kicking off on the Norfolk coast.

That theory was blown totally apart today. Bitterns had been reported at Fishers Green over the last few weeks and so I thought I might try my luck today. Indeed, a Bittern had been reported at Amwell last month. Last year I saw one at the end of October, but I had never seen any this early in the season.

I set out a bit later than usual, more in hope, than anything else. The weather was overcast and very cloudy, even a little chilly. However, Carol had confidently said, in her morning forecast, that the sun would eventually appear.

Looking out from the train on the way down, I could see lots of Canada Geese on the adjacent fields, with a few Great Crested Grebes out on the lake. Earlier, at the station, I could hear a Cetti's Warbler singing out. A surprise - Harry the Heron was back! He was sitting atop a branch in his usual area, surveying all around him.

A quick look out over Friday Lake elicited a few Wigeon; Shoveler and loads of Coot and Tufted Duck. A pair of Mute Swans swam up close, followed by a few Mallards, all hoping for a handout. A Grey Heron was preening on the far side.

I arrived at the Teal Hide to find one of the Wardens repairing the rotting, wooden fence. Looking out, I could see a Little Egret; a pair of black Pheasants, one of which was having a 'territorial dispute' with a normal one; around half-a-dozen Greylag Geese; a couple of feeding Teal and nearly 40-odd Lapwing, all strung out along the scrape. About a dozen or so Freisian Cattle were feeding on the far side, occasionally putting up the odd Snipe-like bird. A Cetti's Warbler could also be heard.

Autumn had certainly arrived, not just because of the brisk weather, the trees all around the Reserve were starting to turn into some beautiful colours. I was so mesmerised by the array of colour that I clean forgot to take any photos! And almost everywhere, it looked as though the Wardens had been hard at work, cutting and clearing out all the dead flora.

The walk through the lakes towards the Bittern Hide has always been a little quiet this year. However, it was eerily quiet today, as I didn't see or hear any passerine-type birds at all. There was only the wildfowl out on the lakes to be seen and they were fairly quiet as well. I heard a Cetti's at the beginning and a Robin at the end of the walk. You could speculate that it may be the high number of people around the area, especially dog-walkers; cyclists and joggers. But then, you already know my opinion about that.

Anyway, my plan was to visit the Bittern Hide for about an hour, have lunch and then move on to the Grebe Hide. When I arrived, there was only one other person there and he left soon after, having been there for only 30 minutes. On enquiry, he hadn't seen any sign of Bittern. There wasn't anything up on the sightings board either. It wasn't a good omen. I thought, then and there, that I should have visited Rye Meads today. There had been a Jack Snipe showing well there, outside the Ashby Hide.

Nevertheless, I scanned the lake, seeing a pair of Egyptian Geese on the far shore. All the usual suspects were out on the water, save for Pochard. The feeders, to my left, were doing some good business, with Tits and Finches flying back and forth all the time. Coot and Moorhen were on the pond, in front. I could see a couple of Migrant Hawkers flying around. Then another guy arrived and sat down.

He was looking out of the right-hand window, while I was looking out of the left. The reed-bed out front had been cut, with five channels disappearing into the distance. Suddenly, after about 15 minutes, a Bittern moved quickly across channel number two. I raised my camera, at the same time trying to let the other guy know - but he didn't hear me. The initial sighting only lasted about 5 seconds. The other guy had missed it.

Fortunately, about 15 minutes later, it reappeared, coming back the other way. A slightly longer exposure this time, as it wandered up the channel first, before entering the reed-bed again. The other guy was delighted, as he had never seen a Bittern before.

Twenty minutes later and a birdy friend of mine, Markus, turned up. He'd heard about the Bittern sightings as well, but, strangely, didn't bring his camera with him, in case it jinxed the day. Not long after he arrived, a few more people came in. Actually, there was a steady stream of people, coming and going, all afternoon.

The Bittern started showing on a regular basis. Then we realised that there must be 2 Bitterns out there, possibly 3. There was some interaction between them, resulting in some splashing around the area and flying. A Grey Heron had also turned up, which one of the other guys had said was now a resident here. It also had a set-to with one of the Bitterns.

The Bittern-fest carried on all through the afternoon, giving me the best display I had ever seen. It was constant action, delaying my lunch, which I eventually forced down me quickly, giving me indigestion. All thought of moving off towards the Grebe Hide now a distant memory. All the action was here - and this was the place to be!

Carol had even forecast the correct weather, as we were bathed in bright, warm sunshine for most of the afternoon.

Besides all this Bittern action, we had a couple of fly-pasts of a Kingfisher; a Mink turned up briefly and we even heard a Water Rail squeal out! The Grey Heron was seen catching the odd Roach or two.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we realised that there were definitely 3 Bitterns out there, maybe even 4. However, eventually, the skies were starting to darken; my bottom was aching and my indigestion was getting worse. It was time to head home.

It had been a fantastic day out. And I'll never berate October again.

'Obsolete terms dropped from the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011 include 'growlery' (a room in which to growl); 'brabble' (a quarrel) and, 'cassette tape'.'

Sunday, 18 October 2015

A Shockingly Quiet Day at Amwell! *

Amwell Nature Reserve - 8th October 15

Weather: Sunny and warm early on, clouding over later.

Bird Total: 46
Plus: Bank Vole; Sheep.
Plus: 12-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle; Caddisfly; Crane Fly; Dark Bush Cricket; Dock Bug; Flesh Fly; Harlequin Ladybird; Hoverfly; Midge; Nursery Web Spider.
Plus: Large White butterfly.
Plus: Common Blue damselfly. Common Darter, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.

Well, it had to happen. Finally, I had a quietish day here, with not too much to report. It also continues the poor run of recent form. I had great expectations for today, but it was not to be.

However, this was the first sunny day of the week and I wanted to get out and enjoy the good weather, before the cold snaps and hard times arrive.

There were plenty of birds on offer, with the total species count slightly up on recent trips. The quantity of birds on show was impressive, if not the quality. And, while there were plenty of birds around, the 'birder' count was well down, only seeing about half-a-dozen people about the area.

On the journey down I spotted Little Egret; Grey Heron and over half-a-dozen Great Crested Grebes on or around the lakes. By the time I arrived at the Reserve the sun was already shining, with blue skies.

There were a couple of people at the Watchpoint when I arrived. I had heard Green Woodpecker and Pied Wagtail walking up the path, plus lots of Dunnocks, which were now finally beginning to reappear.

Out over the lake I could see a few Great Crested Grebes; several Little Grebes; a lone Common Snipe; lots of Lapwing and well over a hundred Greylag Geese. Then a skein of Canada Geese flew in accompanied by a lone Egyptian Goose. A Cetti's Warbler was singing out, somewhere.

As I looked up I could see 3 Red Kites circling high above me. Not long after Bill 'The Don' Last turned up. Barry and I knew him as our mutual friend. A Kingfisher landed on one of the goal posts in front and then promptly flew off right, behind the reeds. A Grey Heron was at the back of the lagoon, opposite, while at least 3 Reed Buntings could be seen balancing precariously on the phragmites in front. Directly in front of me I could see a female Dark Bush Cricket, her long, pointy ovipositor giving her away.

I took a walk down the trail towards the Gladwin Hide, seeing a lone teneral female Common Blue damselfly and some conjoined Common Darters. Then I heard a familiar sound above me. I was surprised to see several Swallows racing around. A bit late for them?

Looking out from the Gladwin Hide I could see lots of Geese; Coot and Mutes swimming around, along with lots of wildfowl, including several Wigeon. A pair of Little Egret were perched up on the island away to my left. To the right of them was a Grey Heron and to the right of that were a pair of Great Crested Grebes. Then a Jay flew over, to my left.

Ruby Tiger caterpillar?
I hung around for a further 20 minutes, seeing nothing, so I headed back up the trail. On the way I spotted a Dock Bug and an unidentified caterpillar. There were loads of Nursery Web Spiders about plus strands of web lifting up on the light breeze. I only noticed them because I kept walking in to them.

I arrived at the James Hide and spent a fruitless hour seeing only one Buzzard fly over; one Moorhen swimming around the lagoon and various Cormorants and Gulls fly over. Brian was also there with me, plus another guy and we all sat there patiently waiting for the Kingfisher to show up. It didn't.

So I decided to take a slow walk around to the Twin Lagoons. On the way I spotted more Dock Bugs. By the left-hand lagoon I could see several more conjoined pairs of Common Darter and a few Migrant Hawkers. On the right-hand lagoon there was a lone Little Grebe, while I could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling out.

From here I walked back down the trail and ended up in the White Hide. I hadn't visited this Hide for quite some time, as I looked upon it as an old curiosity shop or maybe even a haunted house. As I had lunch I added 12-spot Ladybird and a cock Pheasant to the list. About half-a-dozen Sheep were grazing the field out to my left. There was plenty to see out over the lake, albeit a bit distant.

On the path back to the James Hide I nearly trod on a little Mouse. I followed two other people into the Hide but managed to get the choice seat. They left soon after, as nothing much was happening. The Kingfisher may have been conspicuous by its' absence, but a lovely little Wren posed for me, while a small party of Long-tailed Tits also briefly showed up.

I finally cottoned on to the fact that I was going to have a quiet day today and so I decided to head back to the Watchpoint for a few minutes and then head home. Just as I started walking back, Jenny turned up to check on the stairs leading to the upper tier of the Hide. They had been roped off as dangerous. I guess you could call the place a bleak house. We had a quick chat before I found myself at the Watchpoint, where I found Ade Hall, with his scope, scanning the area.

He pointed out a Common Gull, while I could see 3 Little Egrets, almost together. There were now plenty of Gulls out there, the roost seemingly starting early this year. I hung around for about 30 minutes before calling it a day. A quiet one and not as good as the visit last week - a tale of two cities I guess, but it was still nice to be out in the sunshine.

'Slow down and enjoy life. It's not only the scenery you miss by going too fast, you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.' Eddie Cantor

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Mystery of Mistley!

Mistley/Abberton Reservoirs - 2nd October 15

Weather: Warm and sunny throughout.

Bird Total: 39
Plus: Small White butterfly.
Plus: Common Darter, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: Bluebottle; Crane Fly; Cross Spider; Flesh Fly; Grasshopper; Hoverfly; Midge; Nursery Web Spider.

It was time for a long, overdue visit to Mistley Walls. I had heard many great things about this place from other Birders and so looked forward to my first visit. My birder friend, Ron, offered to drive down. He duly picked me up and an hour or so later, we were arriving at the seaside. He had shown me some of his photos from an earlier visit, promising me some really good close-up views.

Mistley is not a wildlife reserve, just an Essex coastal area, near Manningtree. However, it is part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The Stour Estuary has large numbers of waders visiting, when the tide is out. The tide was due to come in around 3.30 today and we wanted to be in place an hour or so beforehand. It did indeed look to be a perfect place for Waders.

All we had to do was wait and look out, over the estuary and watch the tide slowly push the Waders towards us. Even the weather was playing ball, as for once, the bright sunshine was behind us. The birds should come to us.

However, we had a little time before that, so we decided to pay a visit to one of the local cafes for a spot of breakfast. Bacon sandwiches and a hot mug of tea went down a treat. We looked out over the, fenced off, Quay area, as we had our breakfast, where we could see a few Redshank wandering around.

Herring Gull
Black-headed Gull
Then we made our way back to where we had parked the car and picked out a nice spot to sit and wait, not too far from Hopping Bridge. I practised a little beforehand, photographing some of the Gulls that wandered in close. I was also trying to brush up on my Gull IDs. Quite a few Mute Swans had turned up as well, obviously looking for handouts. Apparently, the Swans are famous around here.

A couple of Rooks had also showed up and cautiously edged ever closer. I scanned the area, including the opposite bank, which looked to have loads of Shelduck, all lined up.

There were quite a number of birds starting to congregate on our part of the shore, mainly Redshank. There were a few Turnstones running around, in between the many Redshank. A lone Black-tailed Godwit was on the periphery.

Ron spoke to one of the locals, who confidently informed us that the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, which had made the Godwits fly to the other side of the estuary. That was a little disappointing to hear.

I looked out again and noticed that the tide was now coming in and starting to push the birds towards us. However, it was coming in at an angle and, although it should have pressed them towards us, the birds started flying up and further down the shoreline. It forced us to move with them.

By now, a lot of them had actually flown off and over the estuary, towards the Blackwits. A few of the Redshank did cautiously move towards us, but not nearly as close as I would have liked. We could see a couple of little sandbanks, where groups of Redshank were congregating. Eventually, they all moved off as well. As did the Turnstones.

I was a little disappointed but not too surprised. I only managed a few shots of the birds, all of which were distant and not worthy. However, it was only my first visit, after all. Maybe a few more visits over the winter would prove more productive.

We walked back to our original spot and took a few more photos of the Mute Swans. Ron then suggested that we pay a visit to Abberton Reservoirs, which was fairly close-by. I had visited only once before, late last year.

This way to the birds!
So, 30 minutes or so later, we were parking up at the Visitor Centre. After a quick cup of tea, we headed down to a couple of the Hides. At the Island Hide we spotted 3 Ruff, my first of the year. There were plenty of wildfowl and a pair of Lapwing on show as well. We paid a visit to another Hide, which didn't yield too much else and then decided to head off to the Causeway.

Here we found a pair of Great White Egrets; a few Little Egrets and some Grey Herons. There were lots of wildfowl here as well. A few other people were about, some feeding the ducks and geese. At first, I thought I spotted a Swan Goose, which was here last year, but, looking at the photos later, proved to be just a Greylag Goose. A Kestrel hovered not too far away from us. Pied Wagtails were flying in close.

However, it was getting late in the day and so we headed for home. A very good day out but overall it proved to be a little disappointing, possibly because my high hopes had been dashed. Maybe future visits would prove luckier.

'A failed attempt provides an opportunity to try again with better odds of success.' Kris Howes.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Wasp Spiders at Rainham! *

RSPB Rainham Marsh - 30th September 15

Weather: Slight cloud early on, warm blue skies for the rest of the day. Strong wind.

Bird Total: 46
Plus: Harbour Seal; Marsh Frog; Mink.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle; Crane Fly; Cross Spider; Flesh Fly; Grasshopper; Harlequin Ladybird; Hornet; Hoverfly; Midge; Mint Leaf Beetle; Nursery Web Spider; Pond Skater; Slug; Wasp Spider.
Plus: Comma, Peacock, Small White butterflies.
Plus: Common Darter, Migrant Hawker, Southern Hawker dragonflies.

The recent spell of warm weather continued and with the Jet Stream still north of the UK, this definitely isn't a winter's tale. Therefore, it was another chance of a day out. I hadn't been to Rainham Marsh for a while and so I contacted Shane for a meet-up.

After an expensive, long and packed journey down, I arrived at the Reserve around 9.30 to find Shane waiting for the doors to open. On the Thames Path up I could see Little Egret; Lapwing and Redshank on the embankment.

Migrant Hawker - female
When we entered the Visitor Centre we were told that about 5 or 6 Harbour Seals could be seen over on the opposite bank. Shane had arrived a little earlier and had seen a Kestrel and a Magpie having an argument. They had flown over to the Purfleet Hide, so we decided to walk around the Reserve in a clockwise direction.

On the way a Green Woodpecker flew over. There were already quite a few people in the Reserve, most of which had opted to go on the daily walk with one of the Reserve Wardens.

Migrant Hawker - male
We reached the Hide, not seeing any sign of Water Vole from the bridge or, indeed, any sign of the Kestrel. Looking out from the Hide we could see plenty of wildfowl out on the lagoon. A Grey Heron was asleep. Then a Kingfisher flew past, landing behind a clump of reeds.

There wasn't much else to be seen, especially up close, so we decided to continue our walk. Unfortunately, there wasn't much about. All we could see over the fields were Canada and Greylag Geese. Measure for measure, it was strangely quiet. The early clouds had made way for clear, blue skies and warm sun. I divested myself of my fleece.

We quickly found ourselves in the Shooting Butts Hide. More Geese were frequenting the now, dry, Target Pools. Looking out over the Butts Scrape area, into the bright sun, we could make out Little Egret; Little Grebe and several wildfowl species, including Teal, which were just coming into their breeding plumage.

However, nothing was close enough for any photos. Frustratingly, we headed off. There may not have been anything on the ground but there was quite a show above us. Kestrels and Hobbys were putting on a wonderful aerial display.

We again searched for Water Vole on the river outside but it was very overgrown with lots of bulrushes obscuring our view. A few Marsh Frogs were seen, turning into their brown, winter form. A little further on we spotted a male Stonechat, perched up on a reed. However, he was too quick for us and flew off before we could bring our cameras to bear.

We passed the area where the large buddleia bush had been chopped down to find that it had re-grown to a height of about 3 feet. On it was a Small White butterfly, one of very few butterflies seen today. Possibly because the wind was very strong, blowing like the tempest, which also made it difficult to hear any birdsong.

Rounding the bend, looking out over the Aveley Pools lake, we spotted what looked like a Reed Warbler flash past us and disappear in amongst the reeds. Then, just as you like it, while I was perusing Wennington Marsh, Shane spotted a Mink scamper past him.

There was nothing to see from the Ken Barrett Hide; no surprises there. Further on we came upon our first odonata of the day, several Common Darters sunning themselves on the trail and one or two Migrant Hawkers.

Then we found the spot where the Wasp Spiders were. We scoured the area for a while, eventually finding 4 of them. One of the Reserve Wardens was also around here, with a scope and he pointed out a Barn Owl, in a box, over the far side, towards the Visitor Centre.

We then walked through the Woodland Discovery Zone, not discovering particularly much. Certainly not many birds and only a few Common Darters. We did, however, bump into a couple who had spotted a lovely male Migrant Hawker fly in and perch up.

We broke for lunch, overlooking the Reserve, seeing the Kestrels and Hobbys flying around. One of them flew quite close but it was much ado about nothing, as it was too quick for any photos.

After lunch we decided to head back to the Purfleet Hide. Unfortunately, any birds that were about were quite distant. Shane's damaged calf muscle was playing up so he opted to head off. I hung around for another 10 minutes. Typically, just after he left a Redshank flew in, landing quite close to the Grey Heron, who had finally woken up. This set off a comedy of errors, with a couple of Wigeon moving off, spooking a Common Snipe into the open.

Eventually both the Grey Heron and the Redshank moved off. There were a couple of fly-bys from a Kingfisher, probably the same one and then I decided to walk up the trail until the turn-off up to the riverside path. Just before that I spotted several Migrant Hawkers hawking back and forth, catching midges. One of them was a beautiful female and she played ball by perching up in front of me. I spent a happy 20 minutes or so watching them, until some people walked by and scared them off.

However, the tide had come in and there was nothing out on the estuary, save for a couple of teenagers noisily riding up and down the path on a motor-scooter.

I decided to call it day and head for home. Thankfully the trains were performing today and they got me back home within a couple of hours, so all's well that ends well.

'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Southern Hawkers at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 29th September 15

Weather: Sunny and warm, slight cloud.

Bird Total: 42
Plus: Bank Vole; Grey Squirrel; Sheep.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle; Cinnamon Sedge Caddisfly; Crane Fly; Dark Bush Cricket; Flesh Fly; Grasshopper; Harlequin Ladybird; Hornet; Hoverfly; Midge; Mint Leaf Beetle; Nursery Web Spider; Pond Skater.
Plus: Large White, Peacock, Speckled Wood butterflies.
Plus: Common Blue, Willow Emerald damselflies. Common Darter, Migrant Hawker, Southern Hawker dragonflies.

It was a very nice, sunny and warm day. Maybe the much-touted Indian Summer has arrived, as the good weather is forecast to continue for a few more days.

The train was on time, a good start. On the journey down I spotted an unusual sight - 8 Egyptian Geese on one of the adjacent fields. Also seen were a Sparrowhawk; Jay; Little Egret and 4 Great Crested Grebes. Encouraging.

Southern Hawker
It was a quiet walk up the trail to the Watchpoint. A couple of familiar faces were already there, but were just leaving as I approached. Out on the lake I could see quite a few Lapwing; a few Great Crested Grebes; 5 Little Grebes and several Pochard, Shoveler and Teal. A Green Woodpecker flew past me from the left, over the lake; several Starlings flew in and landed on the island; a Little Egret flew right, while a possible sighting of 2 Common Snipe followed soon after. There were the usual Coot; Mute Swan and Gulls also present, but not a lot else.

I hung around for about 20 minutes before moving off towards the Gladwin Hide. There was nothing to see before I arrived but, outside the Hide, I could see a Little Egret to the right, escorted by a Little Grebe. There were 3 Grey Herons, all chasing each other around, to the left of the island in front. Then a Jay flew over, from the left, towards the Island.

About 10 minutes later I could see several more Grey Herons, way out to the left, on the Island. There were also about 10 or so Great Crested Grebes, all idly swimming around.

Heading back up the trail I spotted a Large White butterfly and then a Common Blue damselfly. A couple of Common Darters were sunning themselves on the path before me. Then I heard, then saw, a large, noisy party of schoolchildren, by the Watchpoint. They looked like they were heading towards the James Hide area. So I made a decision to take a walk through the Woodland.

Here I could see a mixed flock of Tits, including a pair of Chiffchaff. Further on I spooked a Grey Squirrel, which scampered up the nearest tree. Then I heard a Buzzard calling out above me and watched as it did a low flypast. More Common Darters were about here and then I spotted a Speckled Wood butterfly. I was going to hang around a little longer to see if anything else showed but a few couples headed towards me, from both directions. One of the couples were accompanied by a dog. Argh! So I headed off towards the James Hide, hoping that there were no children in there.

There weren't. However, neither was there anything outside the Hide. All I saw, after 30 minutes in there, was a fly-by Kingfisher and a couple of conjoined Common Darters. I left the only other guy in there and headed off.

I arrived at the Twin Lagoons. On the left-hand lagoon I could see a lone Great Crested Grebe, which stayed well away. There were also quite a lot of conjoined Common Darters, all dipping down, egg-laying.

On the way to the right-hand lagoon I was delighted to discover a juvenile Southern Hawker dragonfly. It's wings were a bit battle-weary but it stayed put long enough for several photo opportunities. I was chuffed as it was the only dragon missing from my list of fairly decent photos this year.

There was nothing at the Bridge, but just after I spotted a Bank Vole scurry across the path. And just inside the Dragonfly Trail I spotted a Dark Bush Cricket. Moving on I could see that Jenny had been busy with the Cutter, as most of the meadow had been shorn.

I stopped off by the first bench to try and spot a Willow Emerald. It would be my last chance as the Trail is closing after tomorrow. I was delighted to find a male, perched up and highly photographable. On the nearby stream there was a hovering Migrant Hawker, surrounded by more conjoined Common Darters, all busily making and creating next year's batch.

Further up the stream, I spotted another male Willow Emerald. They were the only ones I spotted all day, but it was still good to see them. Other than the Emeralds, there were more Common Darters, mostly paired up and a few Migrant Hawkers. There was also another Southern Hawker flying around. A second Common Blue damsel was seen.

Also on the Boardwalk I could see a Cinnamon Sedge Caddisfly, the second in as many weeks. I could hear a Wigeon peeping out on the lake and when I looked out I could see quite a few floating around.

I took a quick look around the small bridge area, finding no Emeralds and then took a quick walk along the river. Here I could see more Darters and then I spooked a Kestrel, which flew off. A party of Long-tailed Tits could be heard. A lone Peacock butterfly flew past and then a Peacock bird screeched out.

Mint Leaf Beetle
Back by the Boardwalk, where the adjacent field had been shorn by Jenny, I could see a disturbed Wasps Nest. I hurried on. Then I had a quick chat with Jenny, before breaking for lunch. I was a bit surprised not to see anyone else on the Trail, seeing as it was a sunny day and also the penultimate day before closure.

Dark Bush Cricket
On the way out of the Trail I chatted with Jenny again, ostensibly to say goodbye. I noticed that she was a magnet for loads of ladybirds, as several flew in and landed on her. Above us a Hobby flew low and circled around, before flying off. A little higher was a Buzzard.

Back in the James Hide there was no change. Only a distant fly-by Little Egret and a flash-past by a Wren being the only entertainment. The Kingfisher failed to show up.

Back at the Watchpoint there was a Hobby/Buzzard show, while out on the lake some Greylag Geese had turned up. The Little Egret count rose to 6.

Nobody else was around and, with time ebbing away, I headed home, on a thankfully back-to-normal train. I managed to avoid the Labour Party conference today, which was another bonus.

'We are the willing, led by the unknowing to do the impossible for the ungrateful.'