Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Tit Fest @ Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 23rd December 15

Weather: Clear blue skies. Mild.

Bird Total: 51
Plus: Bank Vole; Grey Squirrel; Konik Pony; Rabbit.

Last visit out before the Christmas break and it had to Amwell.

The weather today was forecast to be clear and sunny. Rain, dark skies, doom and gloom were the headlines for the rest of the week. The extra ponds and puddles were still around, as I journeyed down to the Reserve. However, at least it wasn't as bad as the North. My heart goes out to them.

The Winter Solstice has come and gone, being nearly as warm as the Summer Solstice! However, we are past the short days and long nights and are now making the return journey, back to long days and short nights. Hurrah!

It was the usual stuff on the train journey down, which today was thankfully trouble-free. As I was walking up the canal path to the Reserve, all I could see and hear were Tits, Tits and more Tits. It was almost like being present at a Page Three convention. Well, in my imagination, anyway.

There were only two people present at the Watchpoint, when I arrived. One of them with a pair of dogs. Looking out over the lake, I could see the usual stuff, mainly Lapwing; wildfowl and, of course, Coot City. I hung around for about 15 minutes, before moving on. I was a bit surprised not to see Grey Heron or Wigeon out there and, despite clear skies, no raptors were over Easneye Wood.

I made my way down to the Gladwin Hide. I opened the shutters to find a Konik pony feeding outside. Three more were further out to the left. Looking out, I soon spotted two pairs of Goldeneye, close together, either preening or feeding. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling, somewhere in the trees opposite. A Great Crested Grebe, in full winter plumage, swam idly past, from right to left, against the Tide.

Bearing in mind the short day, I headed back up the trail. After a quick look from the Watchpoint, I decided to take a walk through the Wood. It turned out to be an inspired decision. It was quite easily the most successful visit I've had here, so far.

It started poorly; a man and his dog were about 50 metres ahead of me. I lingered a little at the start, to allow him to get well ahead. Which proved to be very lucky, as a party of chattering Long-tailed Tits flew over, bringing a Treecreeper with them. It gave me some very good, close-up views and I watched it for about 5 minutes, as it flew from tree to tree, crawling up each one, hunting for insects or grubs.

When it finally disappeared, a small flock of Fieldfare and Redwing, further back and quite high up, caught my eye. They also moved from tree to tree. I continued my walk, taking the zig-zag turn and was soon on the second part of the path.

As I walked slowly along, looking up, a large flock of Siskins appeared, again flitting from tree to tree, rewarding my patience. However, this time, the birds were moving around the lower branches and quite a few of them passed close by, feeding as they went. Some of them were only about 10 feet away but they completely ignored me. I was delighted.

I was even more delighted a little further on, as I spotted a Goldcrest, also low down and busily flying from twig to twig. I know that these guys can be really quick, but I managed to get a few modest shots of it, when it paused for breath. What a fantastic 20 minutes or so!

Unfortunately, it all came to an abrupt end, as the dog-walker had started his return journey. Everything scattered as man and dog approached. He gave me a happy greeting and hoped that he 'hadn't disturbed anything too much'. I tried to give him my best 'no problem' smile. Well, it was Christmas.

I took a quick look out over the Bittern Pool, seeing only Coot and Tufted Duck. However, a Sparrowhawk flashed past, just as I was about to move on, scaring everything.

I entered the James Hide to find it empty, but there were a few noisy people in the upstairs tier. There were plenty of people about today, probably because the schools had broken up for the holidays. Some had children in tow; some had dogs in tow. Some had children and dogs in tow.

The feeders were full and, to my surprise, there were dozens of birds flying in and out. They were mainly Tits, but with a few Finches and Buntings - all patiently awaiting their turn, while also keeping a lookout for any danger.

I was going to let them know about the Sparrowhawk but I realised that I didn't speak bird.

I was hoping to see and photograph a Kingfisher, while the light was good. And maybe even a Water Rail. However, the action on the feeders was fast and furious and non-stop. Mesmerising, even. If the Kingfisher and/or Water Rail did pay a visit, I probably missed them.

I scanned the ground, below the feeders and was delighted to spot a Bank Vole, dashing around, trying to pick off a tasty seed morsel. It would quickly disappear when a Chaffinch landed.

Then, a lovely Coal Tit arriving on the scene, sidetracked my attention. Although I managed to get a few shots, it stubbornly refused to land on a nearby branch, like its' cousins. It would fly in, land on one of the feeders, stuff a few seeds into its mouth and then fly off.

Another party (the same?) of continuously chattering Long-tailed Tits then announced their arrival. This time, they didn't bring the Treecreeper. However, they did bring a gorgeous Marsh Tit with them, which proceeded to give me some great close-up views, as it perched on a branch, awaiting a space on one of the feeders.

Suddenly, an alarm call went up and everything scattered. I expected to see a Sparrowhawk flash past. But no, it was only Phil the Pheasant, creeping in from the undergrowth. Soon, everyone flew back in and continued the show. 

I had tried to keep one eye out over the lagoon, just in case anything showed. However, the feeders kept my attention and all I spotted was a lone Moorhen swimming around. Just before I decided to head off, a Great Spotted Woodpecker arrived and began pecking the branches for grubs.

I stopped briefly at the twin lagoons, seeing nothing, but, just as I crossed the bridge, I spotted a Kingfisher flash past, heading upriver.

The Dragonfly Trail feeders weren't quite as busy, but they were still attracting loads of birds. There were 10 (ten) Pheasants below them, all gorging on the spilt seeds. The birds on the feeders were mainly Goldfinch and Chaffinch and occasionally Great and Blue Tit. Then I could hear another Great Spotted Woodpecker call out and soon I spotted not one, not two, but three on the tree above.

On the trail back, towards the White Hide, I noticed a few flowers in bloom. Now, I'm no botanist but Snowdrops sprang to mind. There were also a few Thistles starting to bloom as well. Hawthorn had been reportedly in flower around here, too. Don't get me started on Climate Change or Global Warming!

The White Hide gave me the Grey Heron and Wigeon that I had missed on arrival. All the usual birds were floating around, too. I stopped for another 30 minutes or so, in the James Hide, seeing Coal TitGreat Spotted Woodpecker and a Bank Vole again. However, there was a very noisy family in the upper tier, so I headed back to the Watchpoint.

Where nothing extra was on show. The HNHS website reported 155 Great Black-backed Gulls out on the lake today, at roost, plus a pair of Yellow-legged Gulls. However, I had departed long before the 'Gull Watch' brigade arrived. On the walk back, along the canal path, I could hear a Song Thrush sing out, as well as seeing more Redwing fly past.

It was another very good day out and a lovely Christmas present from the Reserve. That's three good outings in a row. I'm now only one more visit away from equalling my 2013 haul. I'm hoping to make at least one more trip next week. Hopefully, the Weather and the Travel Gods will allow it.

Overheard in one of the Hides: 'Enough about the Migrants, why don't we ban extreme flooding coming over here to this country!'

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Bramblings @ Rye Meads!

Rye Meads - 18th December 15

Weather: Cloudy and overcast all day. Still quite warm.

Bird Total: 42

Despite feeling a little knackered from yesterdays' hike, I dragged myself out of bed and decided to pay one last visit of the year to Rye Meads. A pair of Water Pipits had been seen recently. Hey, I'm short on Pipits this year!

Unfortunately, I slept in a bit too long this morning and missed my intended train. Even worse, the next train was a few minutes late and then we were held up by a Goods Train passing us by. In short, it delayed my train for just long enough to miss my connection. So I had to wait half-an-hour for the next one. Not a good start.

When I eventually arrived at the Reserve I was feeling moody and just a little curmudgeonly. There were dark clouds overhead and, being RM, I wasn't too sure it was a good idea for a visit. In fact, I was now feeling quite determined to have a bad day. I was already writing the first few paragraphs of my report....'should have stayed in bed'....'nothing here, move along!'

I'd only ventured out because I was trying to equal, if not beat, my visit record of 2013. I only need 4 more!

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men! The Gods must have taken pity on me, for the clouds started to dissipate and the birds started to appear. Some corkers, too!

Merry Xmas, Harry!
There had been nothing to report until I arrived and sat down in the Draper Hide. The feeders just outside the Visitor Centre were full and were being given a good seeing to. Mainly Tits and Finches, plus female Pheasants below. Although they were all within a few metres, they were ignoring me. I guess they were all quite used to people walking past now.

There wasn't a great deal of activity outside the Hide. I could see one very miserable looking Grey Heron. There were plenty of Teal about. In fact, they were by far the most plentiful bird out there. They were flanked by a few Shoveler and Tufted Duck; Coot and a couple of Mute Swans. The water level out there was quite high, nearly swamping the islands. However, there was a lone Green Sandpiper, moving between all the Teal.

Looking at the trees surrounding the lagoon, I could see a few small flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare. A large flock of Lapwing were being put up, over the other lagoon, escorted by Black-headed Gulls. One last sweep with my bins gave me 3 or 4 Common Snipe, all hunkered down in the grass.

Where's that Brambling?
As I exited the Hide and started my walk up the trail, I could see a few people looking through their bins at something. Hopefully, something good. When I arrived my heart missed a beat, as one of them told me that a pair of Bramblings were in amongst a flock of Chaffinches, all feeding on the seeds on the path, that had been put out for them, about 20 metres away.

I quickly picked up the male and then the female. They were all being flushed back into the trees every now and then, but after a minute or two, first one, then another finch, flew back down. The Bramblings were a little more cautious and would only fly down when there were lots of Chaffs there.

I was elated! I had never, knowingly, seen a Brambling before. They were on show for about 15 minutes before flying off. All thought of having a lie-in and problems with trains were flushed from my memory. A Lifer!

I headed up the trail, seeing a female Bullfinch call out, before flying off. Just before I entered the Gadwall Hide, I heard the distinctive call of a Water Rail. The Hide was empty, as was the lagoon outside. Well, not quite.

Looks like this tree had some good years!
However, it was surprisingly devoid of Snipe. This was usually the best place to see them, especially at this time of the year. There were quite a few Gulls out there, as well as loads of Coot, as to be expected. I did see another Green Sandpiper, possibly the same one. The bonus was seeing a pair of Shelduck. Although they were fast asleep, at the back of the lagoon. The water levels here were quite low, in marked contrast to the Draper lagoon. At least one of them has to be high, at all times.

All the Lapwing were being put up by an unknown something, on a regular basis. A pair of Stock Doves were feeding in amongst the Lapwing, as were a large flock of Starlings. However, apart from the usual wildfowl, not a lot else.

I then found myself in the Kingfisher Hide. I had paid brief visits to the Ashby and Tern Hides, seeing not a lot. There wasn't much to be seen from the Kingfisher Hide, either. No Kingfishers today, just a pair of Coot and a Grey Squirrel climbing a tree. The Squirrel, not the Coot. I broke for lunch.

The weather was again very mild today. I had cut down on the layers, bearing in mind I had a flask of coffee with me. However, it wasn't as bright as yesterday. I didn't see very many people around the Reserve all day. All out doing the Christmas shopping, no doubt.

A party of Long-tailed Tits flew by, to my left. Noisy Starlings were lined up on the wires above. When they all departed, I did too. It was a very quiet walk down to the Warbler Hide. I noticed that a lot more trees had been cut down, especially along the trails.

I looked out from the Hide, over the Meadow. Not a dickie-bird!

And nothing much else to see or to report after that, until I arrived back at Brambling Boulevard. This time, I was given further, longer views of the male, as he chanced his luck, feeding on the seeds put out earlier by the staff. Magpies; Moorhens; Pheasants and Woodpigeons were also in on the feast. Then, a small bird flew in and joined the mêlée. At first, I thought it was a Goldcrest but one of the Reserve volunteers said that it was a Firecrest!

Unfortunately, the light wasn't too good and I didn't take many photos today, at all. I paid another visit to the Draper Hide, not seeing anything more and so decided to head home. Just before I left I was surprised to hear, then see, a male Blackcap.

The trains continued to play silly buggers. I was held up just long enough, again, to miss my connection. This time, waiting for over 40 minutes! I was informed, by a member of staff, that the weather was to blame! Nice one, Abellio!

'Word of the day: PANJANDRUM - a pompous, pretentious, self-important official.'

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Top Birding Day!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 17th December, 15

Weather: Cloudy early on, brightening up later.

Bird Total: 49
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Muntjac.

The forecast for today looked pretty good. It just needed to be a little accurate. The previous few days had seen rain, rain and more rain. However, today rain was not forecast but was, in fact, a little cloudy early on, turning brighter later. At least there wasn't the sound of thunder. It was also quite warm out - still, making me break into a little sweat after walking nearly 10km.

But it was a top birding day! Enough to make the angels weep!

No rockets to the Space Station but there was some top quality birding. Smew; Goosander; Goldcrest; Stonechat and a few surprises. At last, a sort of wild justice, as opposed to previous days out.

The first surprise was the train getting me down there, ontime. Nothing much to be seen on the way down, apart from lots of large puddles. The river God had obviously been busy.

Soon, I was looking out over Friday Lake. I could see Wigeon; Great Crested Grebe and Grey Heron. Then I thought I spotted a pair of Goosander, but which later turned out to be Shoveler. I only had a few seconds of disappointment because right next to them appeared a redhead Smew! It was a bit distant and it didn't venture too close, but I was delighted to see my first one of the season. Not exactly an eagle in the sky, but a good start!

I sat down in the Teal Hide and looked out. There were quite a few birds on show, some fairly close to the Hide. However, when they clocked me, they all moved off. This camo cream doesn't seem to be working.

View from the Snipe Hide over Hall Marsh Scrape
Apart from the usual large flock of Black-headed Gulls I could see quite a lot of Wigeon; quite a lot of Lapwing; Teal and Shoveler; Canada and Greylag Geese and a Manky Mallard. Then a couple of people entered and informed me that a male Stonechat could be seen from the Snipe Hide, which was adjacent to this Hide. I had only visited it the once, but headed off to try my luck.

After about five minutes I spotted it, atop of some bramble, to my left. It was quite mobile, but not mobile enough in my direction. Still, it was good to see one. Two good birds in 30 minutes!

I took a walk through the lakes, seeing, in no particular order, Great Crested Grebe; Kingfisher; Redwing; Teal and a Chiffchaff. There were plenty of people about, most with dogs in tow, all looking at me with an eye of the tiger.

I reached the Bridge and could see Great Crested Grebe; Little Grebe and a few Pochard. It was a tad windy up here, so I didn't hang around. There were no further birds to be seen, other than the usual, until I reached the Bittern Hide.

It was empty when I arrived. Bittern had last been seen over a week ago. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker had also been seen recently. There wasn't a great deal about on the lake, which looked to be as hungry as the sea, other than several Lapwing; more Great Crested Grebes and a pair of Egyptian Geese. The feeders were full and being visited regularly.

A Great Crested Grebe was feeding to the right of the Hide but didn't venture too close. A few people came and went - 'Nope, no Bittern seen!'

After about 15 minutes a Sparrowhawk flashed past the feeders, scaring everything - including me! It headed off, over the lake, pursued by lots of Black-headed Gulls. Then a Grey Squirrel appeared beneath the feeders.

With an eye on the time, I decided to head off to the Grebe Hide. Along the way were more Grebes and then a party of Long-tailed Tits passed me by, trailing a Goldcrest along with them. Only the Tits stopped briefly to say hello.

Further on, just past the Weir, I spotted a Little Egret on the other side of the lake, amongst all the Grebes; Coots and ducks. Then a pair of noisy Egyptian Geese flew over, possibly the same pair.

When I arrived at the Grebe Hide I was pleasantly surprised to find the lake teeming with birds. I hadn't seen this many birds on the lake for ages. Predominately Wigeon - hundreds of them, with some of them quite happy to swim up close to the Hide, whilst feeding. But then they would cry wolf and swim off again.

There were so many birds out there, it was difficult to pick out a Great Crested Grebe. In fact, I only spotted one. There was also one drake Goosander, preening, way out to the right. Other birds on show were around a score of Mute Swans, most of which were hissing at one another and anything else that got in their way; Tufted Ducks; Pochard; Coot City and a pair of Little Egret, on the branches of a tree, way out to the left.

The Egyptian Geese must have followed me, as they were now preening on the large island in front. Then I could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker somewhere on the trees opposite. I soon picked it up, a male, which flew off after about 5 minutes of continuous calling.

After lunch and some hot coffee, I headed back. It was still quite warm, a triumph of the sun. Nothing too much to report, until I reached the bridge over to the Bittern Hide. Just before I entered I was surprised to see a flock of Ring-necked Parakeets fly off. Another surprise was that they were completely silent about it.

I entered the Hide again, to find another guy there, with two dogs, one of them off the lead, contrary to the sign on the front of the door. He didn't stay long, fortunately and soon after, I saw a Grey Heron fly in, land, go into stalk mode and then fly off. Soon after, a Water Rail darted across one of the channels.

Just before I decided to call it a day, a pair of Mallards started their mating ritual, ending with copulation. Don't they know it's Christmas?

On the trail back to the station I could hear a Song Thrush singing out. And finally, a Green Woodpecker flashed past me, followed by a female Muntjac. No, she wasn't following the Woodpecker - she darted off when she spotted me. I think I'll get a refund for my camo cream. It's obviously not working.

I got lucky with the trains - my intended one arrived earlier than expected. Thanks for sharing my great day!

'Russians don’t recycle their urine on the International Space Station but they do collect it for the Americans to recycle as drinking water: It confirms the Americans really are taking the p*ss!'

Friday, 11 December 2015

Goldeneyes & Siskins @ Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 9th December 15

Weather: Clear blue skies. Very cold.

Bird Total: 43
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Rabbit.

It was a relatively quiet day at Amwell today. For once, the weather forecast was spot-on - clear skies for most of the day. It was actually quite warm in the sun but quite cold sitting in the Hides. I was having difficulty believing it was December and not September. Even more that Christmas was only a fortnight away.

My pal Barry was up for a visit today and we arrived just before 10. There was only one familiar face at the Watchpoint, when we arrived but more people turned up not long after.

There were the usual birds out on the lake, including 60+ Lapwing, but numbers across the board were noticeably down. We headed down to the Gladwin Hide, where we spotted 5 drake Goldeneyes, which were continually diving, but strangely no females. A redhead Smew had been seen here recently, but remained hidden, if it was still around at all.

After about 20 minutes we decided to take a walk through the Woodland, via a quick look from the Watchpoint again. A flock of Siskin had been seen on the Reserve for the last week or so and Barry was keen to see them. The Wood was very quiet, with hardly anything around, apart from a few passerines.

Walking over the bridge I spotted a few birds feeding on the catkins. As we got closer we were delighted to find them to be Siskins.

We took a quick look out over the Bittern Pool a couple of times today, but very few birds were about. The Hides had been repaired after the recent vandalism and so we entered the James Hide. Where we found Brian and Katy Kingfisher, who were both patiently waiting for the Kingfisher to appear.

There wasn't too much to be seen outside. The feeders were busy, with Tits and Finches coming and going and then several Reed Buntings paid a few visits. A Kingfisher eventually appeared, at the back of the lagoon, but never ventured too close. A Grey Heron had arrived earlier and was just edging closer to the Hide when it suddenly flew off.

Barry and I then took a walk down to the Dragonfly Trail entrance, where we found Goldfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders. There was also a lovely male Great Spotted Woodpecker, scaring everything off. Several Pheasants were cleaning up the spillage.

From here we headed to the White Hide, where we broke for lunch. Hot coffee! Unfortunately, the few birds that were on show stayed away. So we then found ourselves back in the James Hide, this time on our own.

With nothing else extra to be seen we walked back up to the Watchpoint, where one of the Lapwing had flown in, quite close. Barry was keen to head off not long after and I again found myself just missing the train home, having to again sit in a draughty train station for 30 minutes or so.

A quiet day but it was still good to be out and about. The weather turns poor for the next few days but hopefully will improve. 

'Tomorrow (noun) - a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored.'

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Shorties @ Heartwood!

Heartwood Forest - 4th December 15

Weather: Overcast all day. Strong breeze.

Bird Total: 21

The weather was forecast to be clear skies for most of the day. Unfortunately, we had heavy cloud instead. I guess the Met Office had their eyes focussed on Storm Desmond, to the north.

I had my eye on visiting Fishers Green today, but I was given the opportunity to search for Short-eared Owls at Heartwood Forest. Up to five SEO's have been seen here, in recent weeks. My birdy pal, Ron, had already visited the area at least 4 times recently and was up for a fifth. A quick call sealed it and we headed off.

Located near Sandridge, just three miles north of St Albans, with 44 acres of precious ancient semi-natural woodland; a community orchard; wildflower meadows and an ever-growing expanse of newly-planted native woodland, Heartwood Forest is an ambitious project, undertaken by the Woodland Trust. Ambitious, as in they are planning to plant over 600,000 new trees over the course of the next 12 years or so.

However, it is presently open land and great for birds such as Short-eared Owls. When the trees arrive, the Shorties will probably disappear. Good for tree-huggers, bad for Shorties?

Well, anyway, it was good for us as we eventually saw upto 3 of them, not long after lunch. We had arrived earlier, around 11-ish. There were quite a few other Birders already there, a few familiar faces among them.

The overcast skies and fairly strong wind, out in the open, prompted Ron and I to take a walk around the small woodland, after only 30 minutes or so. Unfortunately, other species were few and far between. The highlights were Red Kite; Kestrel; Green Woodpecker and Skylark. There were flocks of passerines, mainly Goldfinch and groups of Fieldfare and Redwing about.

The Owls were conspicuous by their absence, at first. But then they started to appear, rising up from nowhere, like floating white ghosts. First one, then another appeared, gliding just above the ground, searching for dinner.

One of them flew fairly close to us, landing on a post. Unfortunately, it didn't hang around too long and moved off, towards the Woodland. Over the course of the next 90 minutes we were treated to several very good views, albeit at quite a distance.

The only downside I found was the unbelievable amount of dog-walkers that were present. They were everywhere, most with 2 or more dogs. All being emptied by gleeful owners, before walking back down the track to the car park. It was a wonder that any birds were around at all.

However, nothing could detract from the glorious views of the SEO's. All too soon it was time to head home, as the clouds seemed to darken the skies even earlier than usual.

Ron dropped me back at the station and I think I still had a smile on my face when I arrived home.

'Whenever you mess with nature, nature sends you an invoice.'