Monday, 30 November 2015

Should Have Gone to Rainham!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 25th November 15

Weather: Overcast early on, brightening up later. Strong breeze.

Bird Total: 47
Plus: Muntjac; Rabbit.

It was either Amwell or Rainham Marsh today. However, there were more problems with the trains again, so Amwell won out. Even then, I arrived about 15 minutes late. The weather forecast also ran into trouble. The East was touted for clear weather. In the event, it remained cloudy and overcast nearly all day, only brightening up later in the afternoon. It also seemed to be a little colder than Monday.

So, all was not sweetness and light. But then, November never is. I must try and book an overseas holiday next November.

Today wasn't as good, or as dramatic, as Monday. However, I was out and about again, which was better than being cooped up indoors. The bird numbers were down and they seemed very inactive today. Nothing much to see from the train, on the way down or on the walk up the Canal path.
There were a couple of familiar faces again, at the Watchpoint. Their bored faces immediately told me that 'not much was about'. Apart from the usual crowd, I saw a couple of Great Crested Grebes; a pair of Grey Herons; lots of Wigeon; 70+ Lapwing, which were going up, at the drop of a hat; a large party of Siskin, which flew in to the trees behind us and then I heard a Bearded Tit calling out, from the same place we saw last time. Unfortunately, this time, she didn't show herself.

I headed down to the Gladwin Hide, to look for Goldeneye. There were two Drakes this time, but no females. One of the Drakes swam past the Hide, allowing another poor shot. The light was still terrible. Other than the Goldeneyes, I saw a few more Great Crested Grebes; a Little Egret, way out to the left and a couple more Grey Herons. Just before I left I spotted an Egyptian Goose, way out to the right.

When I exited the Hide, I spooked a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which flew off when it saw me. I paid a quick visit to the Watchpoint, then I decided to take a walk through the Woodland. However, it was very quiet and, other than Tits and Finches, nothing else was about. Nothing, other than Coot and Gull, out on the Bittern Pool and I soon found myself in the James Hide.

Where I found Katie Kingfisher and her mum, Mary aka MrsWaterVole. Both were in good form. It was quiet outside here, as well. A Kingfisher made a few brief appearances. The feeders were nearly empty, but were still attracting customers. Later, on my own, an Egyptian Goose flew past, right to left. Then a Muntjac appeared, crossing the newly-cut channel. A Kestrel could be seen hovering over Easneye Wood.

They're back!
I started to freeze my wotsits off, so I decided to head around to the White Hide. There was nothing extra to be seen from here and so I walked down to the Dragonfly Trail entrance. The feeders here were also nearly empty, but strangely again, there were no customers. On the walk back, I spotted several Redwing and Fieldfare. Another Kingfisher flashed past, as I walked past the Twin Lagoons.

Walking past the entrance to the Hides, I spooked firstly, another Muntjac, then a pair of Jays. There was no one at the Watchpoint, when I returned. It was starting to darken and it was starting to get really cold in the wind. Consequently, I decided to call it a day and head off.

A quieter day and maybe I should have paid a visit to Rainham Marshes, but at least I managed to avoid the Government's Spending Review by Boy George today. Small mercies.


'This is the best Government that Hedge Funds could buy!' Peter Hitchens


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Bearded Tit meets a Bearded Tit!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 23rd November 15

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

Bird Total: 49
Plus: Bank Vole; Grey Squirrel; Muntjac; Weasel.

Although it was a very cold day, we were, allegedly, in the middle of a short, sharp cold snap and it is forecast to warm up later in the week. However, I still dug out the thermals.

Even better, the cold snap didn't seem to have any effect on the transport. A foggy morning was forecast, which is why I took a later train. In the event, the fog disappeared quite quickly, leaving a light cloud cover, which cleared up over lunchtime.

All the extra ponds and lagoons on the fields had mainly frozen over. I could see a few Canada Geese skating over a few of them, while a Grey Heron avoided it all, by staying in a high tree.

As I walked up the Canal path I heard, then saw, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker. It flew off when a cyclist sped by.

There were a couple of people at the Watchpoint, when I arrived. And, at first, there didn't seem to be much about, other than the usual suspects. I was hoping that the Redshank and Dunlin, that were seen yesterday, were still about. Unfortunately, they had flown.

Initially, I could see Great Crested Grebe; Wigeon; Shoveler; Teal; Pochard and Lapwing. Then Bill 'The Don' Last turned up and immediately pointed out a female Bearded Tit, which was hopping around the base of the reeds, directly in front of us. I was elated to see my namesake. I took a few photos, but she was way too small and far away.

Today's photos were rubbish, so here's one I took last year.
A few other people had turned up and we all watched her move back and forth, feeding. She wasn't going to get any closer and so, with a fellow Birder, I decided to head to the Gladwin Hide. The first Goldeneyes had started to show up and we eventually spotted one Drake and at least 2, possibly 3, females. The drake stayed way out to our right, but a couple of the females floated by, allowing a few record shots.

Then another fellow Birder, Alan 'Seymourbirdies' Reynolds appeared. A month tick. Another Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen, as was a Buzzard, which flew over the Hide. Not long after, we headed back to the Watchpoint. Where Alan spotted a male Goosander. It was a first for me, here at Amwell. We watched as it headed towards the White Hide. Alan scampered off to try and get a closer photo.

While I was hanging around the Watchpoint a Weasel scampered past us, a few metres away. Then we spotted a Muntjac walk out to the end of the spit and jump into the lake, swimming over to Cormorant Island. Another first. Then the Beardie turned up again and I watched her for a few minutes, before heading down to the James Hide. A pair of Little Egret and a pair of Common Snipe were also seen.

On the way I spotted another Muntjac but only managed to fire off one photo, before she fled the area.

I duly arrived at the James Hide, knowing that this and the White Hide had recently been vandalised. I guess some people just have too much time on their hands. Most of the problems had been cleared up, but the bench next to the feeder window had been destroyed.

The feeders had finally been put back up and the reeds had been cut back a little outside, where a channel had been cleared towards the White Hide. Birds were utilising the feeders, including the first Reed Warblers of the season and then another, male, Muntjac crept in and snuck down for about 10 minutes, before moving off. In that time, a little Bank Vole zoomed about the area, trying to pick up the spilt seeds.

Another Birder came in and sat down. He spotted a Kingfisher at the back of the lagoon. A new perching stick had been placed just in front of the Hide and looked to be a brilliant photo opportunity, if the Kingfisher perched up on it. Unfortunately, it flew around the area a few times, before flying off. I think the new perch is just a bit too close to the Hide and it may be very optimistic of us to hope it flies in and poses.

After lunch, I walked down to the Dragonfly Trail, to find the feeders there full, but with no visitors. Just a cock Pheasant below. However, I was surprised to see a Marsh Tit fly over and land in a tree right next to me. We were both surprised to see each other and, unfortunately, the Marshie reacted quicker than I did and flew off.

I headed back, seeing another Kingfisher over the lake. I then arrived at the White Hide to find most of the benches had been turfed out of the windows, onto the grass outside. Idle hands.

Darren Bast was sat sitting there, waiting for the Barn Owl, which had been seen recently, hunting at dusk. We sat there in vain, as it didn't appear. With nothing else on view we headed back to the Watchpoint.
Here, we found the Gull Watch Gang in place, looking for the hybrid gulls. I mean, Yellow-legged and Caspian. They spotted a few of each, but there must have been over 3000 Gulls out there. Actually, it was quite a sight, white dots on the lake everywhere.

However, it was starting to get dark and so I left them all to it and headed off. A very good day. I had turned up to try and see Redshank and Dunlin, but saw Goosander; Goldeneye and Bearded Tit instead. Not too shabby!



'According to at least two independent sets of research, man-flu is real. Men really do feel worse than women when they've got a cold.'



Thursday, 19 November 2015

Let the Train take the Strain!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 18th November, 15

Weather: Mostly cloudy, some sunshine. Very windy.

Bird Total: 35

Due to poor weather; poor health and poor plumbing (don't ask), today was my first opportunity to get out and about for weeks. The weather forecast was still for more rain, albeit later in the day. However, it was quite sunny early on.

Which is why I rose early, to get an early train. Which is where it all went horribly wrong. Because the trains were playing silly buggers. I had dashed over to the Station to get a ticket, because I had spotted a train on the platform, ready and waiting.

Unfortunately, this particular train was going nowhere, because it had developed a fault. Which was why everyone was still standing on the platform. I found out that the train was waiting to be pushed away, by another one, which could be seen further up the track. However, the problem was that they were different types of train, meaning that they had to wait for the correct connecting hardware to arrive. Argh!

Eventually and surprisingly, our train suddenly started up of its' own accord and slowly pulled away from the platform. With no help from the other train. This train then arrived on to the platform, empty, but didn't stop and carried on past. I wondered why, as both trains were going the same way as I was. Couldn't they give me a lift?

A third train arrived. Joyfully, it stopped and opened its' doors. Sadly, there was no room on the train. None of us managed to get on board. A bit pointless stopping the train in the first place. Finally, a few minutes later, another train arrived. This was also quite full but I managed to squeeze on, arriving at my destination a little later than I had intended, but still in one piece.

I waved a hearty farewell to the poor, squashed, downtrodden commuters and headed off towards the reserve. Nothing to report on the way down, as I wasn't in a position to see anything. However, I did see that there were now plenty of extra ponds and lagoons along the route. In fact, I was surprised not to see any boats on them!

All this extra water was probably due to the heavy winds and rain we had yesterday. Branches and other debris were strewn everywhere, as I walked along the Canal. It was still pretty windy today, which was possibly the reason why I didn't see too many birds. Still, it kept the dog-walking fraternity down. And the cyclists. Joggers were aplenty, though.

Canal view from one side.......
I duly arrived at my first port of call, Friday Lake. Plenty of birds out on the lake, the usual crowd, but included several Wigeon; a lone male Pochard; a pair of Great Crested Grebes; Shoveler and loads of Gulls. To my right, over Hall Marsh, loads more Gulls plus several Lapwing went up. Probably because of a Buzzard I could see flying over.

They had all been outside the Teal Hide and had settled back down by the time I arrived. The area had been heavily cut back and so afforded quite a good view of the whole area. There were plenty of Geese, Canada and Greylag; around 40-odd Lapwing; about the same number of Wigeon; several Teal and a few Shoveler. A little later a Grey Heron flew in and was immediately mobbed by a Lesser Black-backed Gull, who looked so upset, it sprayed the Heron. Eventually the Heron was chased off.

.......and from 'tother.
I started up the trail, towards the Bittern Hide. Not long after I had left the Teal Hide I spotted a Sparrowhawk being harassed by a Carrion Crow. Both eventually flew towards me and I had an excellent view of an aerial fight, just above me.

The walk through the lakes was quiet. I heard a Cetti's Warbler and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, but I did see a lone Jay. A few Great Crested Grebes, now all in their winter plumage, were floating around. However, there wasn't a great deal else to see.

Unfortunately, it was pretty much all downhill from then on. I sat in the Bittern Hide for over an hour, only seeing the usual suspects. A few people came and went. The wind picked up, to almost gale force level, while the sun went in behind some darkening clouds. I broke for lunch, hoping that the weather would improve. It didn't. In fact, it got worse.

Therefore, I decided to cancel my walk up to the Grebe Hide and head home, before it started to rain. On the walk back I spotted a Kingfisher fly in and land on a branch, quite close. Unfortunately, I was in the open and it saw me and flew off. Out on one of the lakes I spotted a few nice looking yachts. One of them turned too sharply, caught the strong wind and lurched over into the water. I heard a few expletives.

The trains were still playing catch-up but eventually one turned up. It was surprisingly empty, thankfully. I only took two photos all day, possibly a day I should had stayed in bed, but it was still good to be out again. Hopefully things will improve.


'A milliHelen is the unit of beauty needed to launch a single ship.'


Tuesday, 3 November 2015

No Bittern, No Cry! *

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 2nd November, 15

Weather: Heavy fog, overcast and cool in the morning, brightening up in the afternoon.

Bird Total: 45
Plus: Migrant Hawker dragonfly.
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Rat.

Having had a text message from Ron the day before, we decided to meet up and try to spot a Bittern at Fishers Green today. After my best-ever viewing of Bitterns a week or two earlier, I wanted to try for a repeat performance. In fact, wild horses couldn't keep me from the opportunity. Unfortunately, it was the exact opposite, as we failed to see any, despite sitting in the Hide for a couple of hours or more.

Where's that bloody Bittern?
The forecast was for heavy fog in the morning, with sunshine and blue skies in the afternoon. Fair play to Carol, that was pretty much spot on. It was also quite warm in the sun, following on from yesterday's surprise record UK temperature for November. I guess it's all part of the climate change experiment that humanity is engaged with.

The only Bittern we saw all day!
We agreed to meet up in the Bittern Hide around lunchtime. Time is on my side, I thought and so I caught a later train, to try to avoid most of the freezing fog. I had donned another layer of clothing, thinking that if it were to warm up later, I could always divest myself of the fleece. Anyway, the Hides could always gimme shelter.

The usual Grebes and Geese could be seen on the way down, in their usual areas. Just before entering the Canal path, I flushed a Little Egret. There were quite a few waterfowl out on Friday Lake, notably Wigeon and Shoveler. Just past the stream, under the boardwalk, I also flushed a rodent, which scurried into the undergrowth. It was probably a Rat, rather than a Vole.

I had hoped that the poor weather might put off the great unwashed, but I was passed by two sets of dog-walkers before I had even set foot in the Hide. In fact, there were the usual amount of dog-walkers today, as well as the requisite cyclists and joggers. All the flora was now dying off, with dead flowers all over the place.

I entered the Teal Hide to find that someone had vandalised it. One of the benches was missing, while one of the lean-to's was also absent. All the shutters were open and the two remaining benches were damp with dew. Rubbish had been strewn all over the floor, while the information sheets on the walls had been ripped down. It must have been a hell of a Halloween party over the weekend!


Looking out, I could see even more birds about, unfortunately none of them close. Plenty of duck species, notably Wigeon and Teal. Plenty of Geese and Gulls; lots of Coot and Moorhen; a pair of dark-morph Pheasants, sat on one of the goalposts; about half-a-dozen Lapwing and then a Kestrel flew over, putting everything up.

With not much else happening, I decided to head through the lakes towards the Bittern Hide. Today proved a bit more fruitful than previous walks through the lakes. The first Great Crested Grebes of the day appeared; a Kingfisher flashed by and then I heard, then spotted, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, on the distant dead trees. A Green Woodpecker sounded off. There were also more passerines about today, finally. Robins; Dunnocks; Wrens and lots of Finches and Tits were heard and seen, all flitting around the trees and shrubs.

I walked over the Bridge, hearing a Cetti's Warbler sound off, quite close. I stopped for a few minutes and spotted it in the undergrowth. It was just starting to show well and I thought I might actually get a photo of it. However, a woman and two dogs appeared, one of the dogs barking its' head off. The bird flew.

There goes another Crayfish!
There was nothing else of note to see and I soon found myself entering the Bittern Hide. Where I was greeted, by not only Ron, but by Katie Kingfisher and her mum, Mary. There were one or two other familiar faces in there as well. They all had surprised looks on their faces - can't you hear me knocking?

The news was not good; no Bittern had been seen. I sat down and listened to all the gossip. Sorry, news. Outside, the feeders were being constantly visited by all and sundry; the resident Grey Heron turned up and began hunting; a Jay flew in and posed, just outside the Hide and a Little Grebe could be seen fishing in one of the channels. I was also surprised to see a Migrant Hawker flying around, despite the low temperatures.

We all sat there patiently, looking out for any sign of Bittern activity. Alas, it was not to be. Eventually, thinking I can't get no satisfaction here, Ron and I decided to take a walk, as the sun had come out. We took a slightly different route to Holyfield Weir, seeing a fair variety of species, including a number of Grebes; Grey Wagtail and Siskin. We also spotted a few Thrushes, which I thought were Fieldfare, but which Ron thought were Redwing.

It was a nice loop around the area, before we found ourselves back in the Bittern Hide. The original crowd had disappeared, to be replaced by others. Still no Bittern. We did see a pair of Reed Buntings, at the back of a channel plus a pair of Egyptian Geese, out on the lake. The Grey Heron was still entertaining us, but when it departed, it all went a bit quiet. I even started to nod off. I had to shake my head and rub my eyes, to start me up.

It was also starting to darken and so I decided to head for home. On the trail back, I spotted more Grebes; another Kingfisher fly-by and then I heard a Water Rail scream out. The last bird of the day was the same as the first bird of the day, a Little Egret. I also flushed this one out as well.

The only Otter I saw all year!
It was quite a high species total today, so it wasn't all doom and gloom. Quite a ruby Monday, when usually it's a ruby Tuesday.

A Bittern failure today, but I wasn't a fool to cry and I wasn't too downbeat. You can't always get what you want. The show last month was still sharp in the memory.


'Trying is the first step towards failure' - Homer Simpson