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'.'