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!'