Friday, 29 January 2016

Cold and Crisp @ Fishers Green!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 13th January, 16

Weather: Sunny for most of the day, slight cloud. Very cold.

Bird Total: 46
Plus: Bank Vole; Fox; Grey Squirrel; Muntjac.

It was a beautiful, cold, crisp morning.

The lagoons could still be seen on the journey down. As could the usual squadrons of Canada Geese, this time flanked by Wigeon. A few Fieldfare were flying around.

I had to negotiate the car-park before I reached the canal path, which shouldn't have been too much of a problem. Only this time there was a large group of OAPs astride bicycles, almost barring the way. It sounded like all of them were shouting at each other. They were certainly dressed for the occasion - all of them were wearing the requisite gear and all sitting on mountain bikes.

I reached Friday Lake where all I could see were a pair of Great Crested Grebes; a few Pochard and all the usual crowd. A Grey Heron or two flew past. I was disappointed not to see any Smew this time.

I sat down in the Teal Hide and looked out to find loads of Wigeon; several Lapwing; a couple of Pheasants, one of them a black morph; a few Teal and Shoveler and lots of Geese and Gulls. I was disappointed, again, not to see the male Stonechat. I was also disappointed to see that someone had been sick in the Hide, stinking the place out. That was probably why all the shutters were open.

I managed to sit it out for about 20 minutes before moving on. Another birder had arrived but didn't stay too long, turning his nose up as he left. It wasn't me! Before I left a Kestrel flew over, chased by a Magpie.

Outside the Hide I nearly tripped over a dog. The owner walked past, whistling at it. It trotted off to join two of its' companions. I decided to loiter a bit, to let him get ahead. A lucky break, because I then heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling. I soon picked it up, high in the trees opposite, before it flew off.

I made my way through the lakes, seeing Chiffchaff; Long-tailed Tit; Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe. Just before I reached the main path I spotted a redhead Smew, floating out on the lake. It was quite a good view, being only about 30 metres away. However, it then dived down and promptly disappeared.

I entered the trail towards the Bittern Hide. I was immediately passed by loads of cyclists, not the same ones as earlier. A pair of loud Ring-necked Parakeets flew overhead.

There wasn't much to see before I reached the Hide. However, I did spy a Greylag Goose trying to imitate a White-fronted Goose. When I entered the Bittern Hide I found a few people already in there.

However, there wasn't much about, at first. The feeders were doing the usual good business, with Greats and Blues. Then a Jay flew in and landed underneath the feeders. It didn't stay long. A Great Crested Grebe was fishing out to my right, along the inlet. A pair of Little Grebes were fishing in one of the channels. A Shelduck could be seen in amongst several Lapwing, on the large island on the lake.

A few more people came and went, a familiar face among them. I had lunch and decided to head up the trail, towards the Grebe Hide.

This time, I turned left outside the Hide and took a different route. I immediately saw more Great Crested Grebe; Pochard and a few more Grey Heron. However, I was pleased to see two female Goosanders out on the lake. Even better, they didn't see me and started swimming towards me. I took a few photos and was anticipating some close-ups, when a dog-walker came by and scared them off.

I carried on, seeing a lone Little Egret, perched on a branch, on the other side of the river. Then a buck Muntjac appeared and allowed me a few photos. Another Great Spotted Woodpecker sounded off and was seen high above. It began to get very muddy in this area. More dog-walkers appeared.

There was nothing else of note to report, until I arrived in the Grebe Hide. A few people came and went while I was there. However, there wasn't much about on the lake. Either in species or numbers. And what there was, was quite distant. There were plenty of Wigeon; lots of Gulls; lots of Coot; lots of Tufted Duck.

There was also a lone female Pochard and then I spotted a lone Fieldfare feeding on the berries, on the same tree as the last visit. Then I could see two Little Egrets; a Grey Heron and a Little Grebe, way out to the left.

Just as I was about to head off, thinking I had failed to see a Great Crested Grebe out there for the first time, one drifted slowly past.

I reached the area looking out over the relief channel, towards the Farm, where I could see loads of Jackdaw. The lagoon opposite, which had been dry on my last two visits, was now suddenly very full. And very full with wildfowl. Dozens of Wigeon; Shoveler; Gadwall and Teal, with a sprinkling of Mallard. All very vocal. It was quite a sight.

However, I then spotted a female Muntjac, in the field just beyond. She was busily feeding and didn't see a Fox, not too far away from her. The Fox, however, was concentrating on creeping up on the wildfowl. Several birds were close to land. I watched as he tried his luck, failing to grab anything. The birds were too quick.

I carried on watching, as the Muntjac bounded off and then the Fox tried his luck on the other side of the lake, adjacent to the relief channel. I managed to take a few photos just before he vanished from view. Just before I moved on I spotted a Redwing feeding on the red berries.

There seemed to be a never-ending stream of dog-walkers today. And with them were never-ending piles of dog-poo. I spent a lot of time looking down at the ground.

I reached the Picnic Area, seeing another Jay flyover. Several picnickers were picnicking. As they do.

There were several more people in the Bittern Hide, when I arrived, with others coming and going. I spent over an hour here, as there was a lot going on. The feeders were still busy, with the same customers. There was a visit from a Great Crested Grebe, right in front of the Hide. A Grey Heron was also present, again close by. Both were fishing and it was quite interesting to see the differing techniques.

Another Jay arrived, possibly the same one and posed again, before flying off. Then a Water Rail appeared and gave really good views in one of the channels. It was starting to darken and it was obviously having a wash before bed. Lastly, I spotted a little Bank Vole, to the left of the Hide and the feeders.

It turned out to be quite a good day!

'I love not man the less, but Nature more.' George Gordon Byron

Monday, 25 January 2016

Bloody Weather Forecasters!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 7th January 16

Weather: Cloudy and overcast. Rain. Very cold in the wind.

Bird Total: 49
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Konik Pony; Rabbit.

My old Grandfather's (G.R.H.S) arthritic right knee could forecast the weather better than this! This morning, before leaving, I checked the weather forecast on the TV. Cloudy with rain early on, brightening up after 10-ish. Short shower at lunchtime, brightening up again in the afternoon.

Actual weather: Rain. Cloudy and overcast. More rain. Cloudy and overcast. Sunshine an hour or so before dusk. Good weather for ducks - not good for Birders/photography! Despite all the investment, they still cannot seem to give us a decent forecast. Forget boasting about 10-day forecasts, they can't even make 10-hour forecasts!

I think they should omit 'Forecast' and insert 'Indication'. And how come they can correctly forecast bad weather but not good weather?

I actually woke up this morning with a slight hangover. Which would have been ok if I'd been on the ale last night. I wasn't. Not a good start. However, it was touted as the first fairly good day, weather-wise, so I arose and tossed a coin. Heads I go out, tails I return to bed. It was heads.

It was cold, dark and miserable as I headed for the Station. More doom and gloom - the fares had risen. At least there were no problems with the trains. The ponds and puddles in the fields adjacent to the tracks were starting to turn into lagoons. On the walk up it started to rain. I was beginning to think that I should have trusted my initial instinct and stayed in bed.

There were plenty of Song Thrushes around, all singing their heads off. Three of them were perched up quite close, as I walked by. However, I was trying to step around all the muddy puddles on the trail, as well as trying to avoid all the joggers, cyclists and, yes, dog-walkers.

No one was at the Watchpoint, as I arrived. No surprises there, as it had started to rain again. There was a cock Pheasant directly in front, a few yards away and completely ignoring me. A Robin flew in and landed a few feet away from me. I guess it was looking for a handout. I ignored him and continued to look through my Bins. It crept closer. I moved a few feet away. It followed me.

'Look,' I said to it, 'I haven't got anything for you!' It tilted its' head and just looked at me. I hadn't booked the HMWT course on Robin-speak yet, so I just stared back at it. A stand-off ensued for a few seconds, before it got the message and flew off.

Out on the lake I could see a lone Great Crested Grebe; several Lapwing; a few Grey Herons and all the usual retinue. However, there wasn't a great number of birds out there, which I thought was a bit odd, given the weather. Where were all the ducks?

I wasn't too keen on standing in the rain, so I quickly headed down to the Gladwin Hide. The door was wide open and a couple of the shutters were up, although there was no one in there. Looking out, I could see at least 3 pairs of Goldeneye plus all the usual stuff again. Although there seemed to be a greater number of birds at this end. Mainly Coot City plus a number of wildfowl, including a pair of Wigeon and a few Pochard. Three Konik Ponies were trying to shelter from the rain, to my right. What happened to the fourth?

It soon stopped and so they moved out into the open, rolled around the grass and then began feeding. In fact, way out to the left, I could see a snippet of blue sky. Unfortunately, it wasn't to last long. There were also plenty of midges flying around. Another symptom of a warm winter.

I scanned the lake. Frustratingly, as I looked, birds started to disappear, diving down as I scanned. All I could see were ripples. I had to wait for them to resurface, so that I could ID them. How do birds know when I train my Bins on them?

The rain had stopped, so I headed back up the trail. A quick scan from the Watchpoint and then I started my walk through the Woodland. The first half gave me several Redwing, flitting around from branch to branch and a lone Grey Squirrel, which ignored me, until I got a little too close. It pulled a face at me and then scampered up the nearest tree. The second half gave me the long-staying flock of Siskin. Again, they were high in the branches, feasting on the Alders. I was going to wait to see if they would get any closer, but it started to rain again and so I headed towards the James Hide.

When I arrived in the James Hide fellow birder Ade Hall was already ensconced and checking the feeder area. The weather then proceeded to rain on and off for the next hour, some of it quite heavy. However, we were entertained by lots of stuff flying in and out. First up was a lone Little Egret, hunting at the back of the lagoon. A pair of Common Snipe were statuesque in the reed-cut. A Jay flew over, landed on a branch and then dropped down. A Cetti's Warbler continually sounded off, somewhere in the reed bed.

The feeders were still empty, apart from the nut feeder. However, the seed feeders, although 'looking' empty, were still being visited by several species, notably Reed Buntings. No Coal or Marsh Tit today, however a lovely Treecreeper flew in and landed on the trees to the right. I watched as it crept up three of the trees in the area, before flying off.

Ade had headed off when it had eventually stopped raining. A few people came and went. 'Anything about?'

I had lunch and was seriously contemplating heading home. The weather didn't look as if it were going to improve and it was also starting to get very cold.

But then the Gods must have taken pity on me, because the next thing I knew, an alarm sounded off and everything scattered. A Sparrowhawk flashed past the feeders, from right to left, towards the lagoon. Unusually, it didn't carry on, stopping and perching on a small branch, about 10 feet away from me. It then proceeded to take a good look around, for anything foolish enough to still be in the vicinity.

I, of course, was delighted and began snapping away at it immediately. A male, its' penetrating orange eyes darted around and about. Alas, it soon latched on to me and flew off. All the passerines were probably scared out of their minds at the appearance, but I was elated and couldn't help grinning like an idiot.

It had also stopped raining and so, thinking that it wouldn't get any better than that, headed off towards the Dragonfly Trail. I stopped briefly at the Twin Lagoons, seeing at least three Little Grebes. I found one of the birders that had been in the James Hide with me and let him know about the Sprawk.

He let me know about a Lesser Redpoll on the feeders. He soon headed off, saying that the redhead Smew had appeared outside the Gladwin Hide. I stayed for about 15 minutes, to see the Redpoll, but it never showed. There were plenty of Tits and Finches, including Greenfinch, as well as a male Great Spotted Woodpecker. The Pheasant count today was 11. However, the cold wind was biting into me, forcing me to move off.

I decided to head down to the Gladwin Hide to search for said Smew. Your man and one other were already in situ. They pointed out the Smew, which was in the same place as before. It didn't move very far. More Goldeneyes were about, as well as a Red Kite, gliding over Easneye Wood. The Konik Ponies walked idly past the Hide, barely glancing at me. And, just before I left, I watched a pair of Dunnocks flying about, to my left. Suddenly, a Sparrowhawk (the same one?) glided, rather than flashed, past. The Dunnocks had disappeared.

And finally the sun arrived, as the clouds departed. A bit late now, as it was low in the sky and about to disappear for the night. I headed back to the Watchpoint, where I spotted five species of Gull and a pair of Teal, before heading home.

I guess it was the right decision to go out today. Despite my earlier instincts. The Sprawk was definitely worth getting up for. Always trust to luck, you never know what might turn up!

'Word of the day: PERISSOLOGY -
the completely unnecessary use of loads more words than are absolutely necessary.'

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Wildlife and Weather Round-up 2015 - Part Two


While the UK may only have had a couple of hot days, July 2015 was the planet’s hottest month since records began. At the start of July, there was very hot air over the UK, with a humid southerly flow from the continent. This gave record-breaking July temperatures in parts of the southeast and the highest temperature anywhere in the UK since August 2003. After this, however, the month brought cool and rather changeable weather. There were some cold nights, especially in the last few days and overall it was rather a cool month, despite the hot start.

Konik Ponies at Amwell
I had to put the Factor50 on liberally this month, because it was scorchio. Even so, I only managed seven visits all month. Mainly because of a fantastic Odonata trip to the Camargue. Besides this, I paid visits to Amwell three times, twice to Cheshunt with one outing in Sawbridgeworth.

Broad Scarlet
Copper Demoiselle
The Camargue in France was by far the highlight of this month. It was my first non-birding visit overseas and I was highly impressed. Over 30 species were seen and photographed, including Banded Darter; Broad Scarlet; Copper Demoiselle; Green-eyed Hawker (the continental equivalent of our Norfolk Hawker); Robust Spreadwing; Violet Dropwing and Western Spectre. We saw other wildlife, of course, but the outstanding odonata took all the honours. Although it was also 40°C-plus and my health paid a heavy price, in an effort to get the photos.

Locally, the last Oystercatchers were seen in Amwell, at the end of the month. Redshank; Common Sandpipers and Common Tern were still about, as were lots of Warblers. However, it was starting to go quiet on the birding front and so I concentrated on other Fauna.

Migrant Hawkers
Banded Demoiselle
The first 5-spot Burnets were seen in Sawbo, at the beginning of the month. The first Essex Skippers and Gatekeepers started to appear, at Amwell. A lovely Marbled White was a surprise visitor on the River Stort. Banded Demoiselles were particularly prolific this month and continued to delight - I took hundreds of photos of these wonderful creatures. Small Red-eyed damsels joined their cousins at Amwell. The first Common and Ruddy Darter dragons were seen in Cheshunt, early in the month, while the first Migrant Hawkers were seen at the end of the month. The Norfolk Hawker was seen again and I managed to get even better photos, as it perched not 3 feet away from me! My first Roesel's Bush-cricket was seen in Cheshunt, towards the end of the month. The last of the Orchids finally died off.

Roesel's Bush Cricket
The weather during August was mostly unsettled and fairly cool, with the UK often under the influence of nearby areas of low pressure. Temperatures frequently struggled to reach average levels, although there were some warmer days, particularly across eastern England. However, frontal systems brought heavy rain and thundery downpours, particularly during the second half of the month. Some locations approached three times the monthly average rainfall and it was the wettest August across southeast England since 1977.

Broad-bodied Chaser
Pretty much like last year, only this time I paid seven visits, with 3 to Amwell, 2 to Sawbo and one each to Parndon Wood and Cornmill Meadow.

A family of Spotted Flycatchers were the highlight this month, showing well in Amwell, early on. A Marsh Harrier was also seen there, as was the first Hobby. More Common and Green Sandpipers were turning up. The last Common Tern departed from Amwell, towards the end of the month. Warblers also started to tail off and depart for the winter.

Willow Emerald
Blood Vein
Grass Snakes were still appearing at Amwell. A Shrew-type was seen at Thorley Wash, as was a cracking Water Vole. A project by the HMWT to release scores of these superb creatures this year, seemed to be paying dividends, as the Vole was the first thing I spotted when I entered the Reserve. A gorgeous Blood Vein moth, a Brown Argus and a few Small Coppers all showed well at Amwell on the seventh. The first Painted Lady finally made an appearance. It was quickly followed by several more. A Plume and a Snout Moth were spotted in Sawbo. A wounded Poplar Hawk moth greeted me at the train station at Amwell. Banded Demoiselles continued to thrill – I couldn't get enough of them! The first Emerald showed well at Amwell, early on, with the first Willow Emeralds appearing later. On the insect front, Forest Bug and Hawthorn Shield Bug were spotted in the Sawbo Marshes, while Kidney-spot Ladybird and Long-winged Conehead appeared at Amwell.

Marsh Tit
Summer 2015 was mostly characterized by a cool, westerly Atlantic flow, with the UK often under the influence of low pressure systems. Eastern areas tended to fare best for warmth and sunshine. The summer was both cooler and wetter than the two previous summers. In June, there was plenty of dry, settled and sunny weather in the south. However, after a brief heat wave around the 1st July, both July and August were often cool, unsettled and with heavy rain at times.

At the start of September, northwesterly winds brought cool and showery weather. After this, the weather was dominated by high pressure. However, the weather was rather changeable and despite two fine spells, it was a generally cool month. The fine spell at the end of the month brought warm days, but also some notably cool nights. It was the coldest September in England since 1994.

Nine visits out this month and, thanks to friends, I put myself about a bit. Two to Amwell with a visit each to Cheshunt, Lemsford Springs, Sawbo, Kings Meads, Panshangar Park, Rye Meads and Rainham.

Fox with lunch
Sparrowhawks put the wind up the feeder birds, at both Amwell and Cheshunt. More Hobbys were about, although not in quite the numbers of last year. Barn Owl; Redshank and Stonechat were all seen on the Rainham visit. Common and Green Sandpipers continued to appear and entertain, with up to eight seen, close-up, at Lemsford Springs, my first visit. A lovely Winchat was seen at Amwell, mid-month. The last Swift departed from Sawbo on the 11th, while the last Sand Martin left from Amwell on the 18th. I saw my last House Martin and Reed Warbler at Rainham. The last Whitethroat was seen at Cheshunt. The seasons they were a-changing!

Southern Hawker
Bank Voles were still present at Amwell. They seemed to have only two speeds – 0 or 100 miles an hour! Harbour Seals; Marsh Frogs and Mink were all seen at Rainham. Sadly, the last Butterflies were seen this month. Willow Emeralds were seen twice more at Amwell, but they were amongst the last damsels. The last Brown Hawker was seen in Sawbo (11th). Southern Hawkers were seen 3 times, from the 18th, mainly at Amwell, including one that sat up and posed for me. Another, unseasonable, Black-headed Cardinal Beetle was seen at Lemsford Springs. Dock Bugs and Green Shield Bugs were seen again this month, while Mayflies made their final appearances. Wasp Spiders showed well at Rainham.

Wasp Spider
The weather this month was influenced by high pressure, bringing periods of dry, settled weather and some good spells of sunshine, but with some overnight frost and fog. This made it the driest October since 2007. The mean temperature was above the long-term average, although it was a rather cloudy month for many southern and eastern areas.

Orb Spider with Damselfly - it didn't end well!
The Dragonfly Trail was now unfortunately closed at Amwell and, as usual at this time of year, things started to quieten down. Depending on where you went. I paid five visits this month, with two to Amwell and one each to Cheshunt, Mistley and Rye Meads.

The biggest highlight this month was the appearance of at least four Bitterns, seen at Cheshunt on the 20th. I sat in the Bittern Hide for over 5 hours, watching them interact. Unfortunately, they all dispersed very quickly, a day or so later and were not seen again, by me, for the rest of the year. Plenty of Wildfowl were now starting to turn up. Red Kite continued to appear at Amwell. Black-tailed Godwit; Great White Egret; Marsh Harrier; Redshank; Rook; Ruddy Turnstone and Ruff were seen on my first visit to the Mistley area. Green Sandpiper and Meadow Pipits appeared at Rye Meads. The last Swallow surprisingly departed Amwell on the 8th.

Brassica Bug
Migrant Hawker
Ominously, another Mink showed at Cheshunt. Common Darter and Migrant Hawker were the last odonata to be seen. A cracking Brassica Bug was spotted at Amwell, on the canal path. However, it was the last interesting insect to be seen this year.

November was a generally mild and wet month, with an often-humid southwesterly flow bringing cloudy conditions. It was dry and exceptionally warm during the first few days, with record-breaking temperatures locally, but the rest of the month was unsettled and often windy. The autumn storms 'Abigail', 'Barney' and 'Clodagh' all caused some disruption. There was a notable absence of frost and it was the third warmest November on record.

The poor-ish weather restricted me to only four visits this month, shared equally between Amwell and Cheshunt. Hey, I'm nothing if not consistent!

Water Rail
The first Goldeneyes and Goosanders of the season turned up at Amwell, late in the month. Roosting Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls, together with up to 200+ Great Black-backed Gulls also started to appear. Fieldfare and Redwing made their first appearances at both venues. A lovely Water Rail appeared outside the James Hide at Amwell and then a female Bearded Tit appeared on the 23rd and hung around, on and off, for a couple of months. A Siskin flock also appeared and stayed for quite some time. They seem to have had a good year, as they were also seen at Cheshunt. As was a Kingfisher, who flew so close at one point it almost sat on my shoulder! Reed Buntings became more prolific, especially around the feeders. Bank Vole, Muntjac and Weasel all showed well.

September and October were generally quiet and settled, with high pressure, often bringing dry, sunny conditions. However, November was mostly very mild, dull and unsettled, with several autumn storms.

Rainfall for December 2015 - Source: MetOffice
December was a record-breaking month, smashing records for both heat and rainfall, with the mean temperature at 8°Cdouble the long-term average. The weather fronts brought an average of 211mm of rain through the month, making it the wettest since 1929. It was exceptionally wet and often windy, with frequent deep depressions. Frontal systems - including storms ‘Desmond’, ‘Eva’ and ‘Frank’ - brought record-breaking rainfall. There was a marked absence of frost, particularly in the south.

An exceptionally warm month allowed me to make six visits. Amwell won again, with 3 trips. I also visited Cheshunt, Rye Meads and Heartwood Forest.

Short-eared Owl
The highlight this month was my first trip to Heartwood Forest on the 4th, to see the long-staying Short-eared Owls. The Reserve Manager there had also thoughtfully laid on Kestrel; Red Kite; Skylark and Yellowhammer to entertain us in between SEO visits. Blackcap; Firecrest; Green Sandpiper and Shelduck were all spotted at Rye Meads, but I also bagged a lifer there, with a pair of Bramblings showing well, in amongst all the Chaffinches. More Goldeneye turned up at Amwell, followed by Smew and more Goosander at Cheshunt. A flock of Ring-necked Parakeet were a surprise to see at Cheshunt, where there was also a male Stonechat. More and more Fieldfare and Redwing were appearing, stripping all the berries. I had Goldcrest on two occasions - but it didn’t affect me too much! Coat Tit; Marsh Tit; Siskin; Treecreeper and Bank Vole, at Amwell, rounded off another very successful year.


So, onto the stats for this year:
The commonest bird(s) of the year were the Woodpigeon and Carrion Crow, appearing on every trip. Inevitably.
The commonest Mammal was the Grey Squirrel, seen 36 times.
The commonest Butterfly was the Large White, with 37 sightings.
The commonest Damselfly was again the Common Blue, making 33 appearances this year, with the Migrant Hawker Dragonfly being seen on 24 occasions.
The ubiquitous and annoying Midge was the most seen insect, with 52 appearances. I hope to see less of it in 2016.

180 bird species were seen in total this year, in the UK, of which 58 were the most seen on one day, at Amwell (15th May). I saw 111 species on my overseas trips.
The most Mammal species seen on one trip was to Amwell with 7 (14th April).
14 species of Lepidoptera were seen visiting Amwell (7th August).
13 species of Odonata were seen visiting Amwell (25th June).
23 insect species were seen visiting Thorley Wash (18th June).

I visited Amwell a record 36 times in 2015. Surely the jewel of Hertfordshire!

Another fantastic year! The Dark Lord wins again. The Force was indeed strong with me!

That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.’ Albert Einstein

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Wildlife and Weather Round-up 2015 - Part One

Yet more weather records were broken in 2015.

2014 had set the record for being the warmest year on the planet, since records began. 2015 has now usurped it, while 2016 is geared up to be even warmer than that. In fact, the years 2011-2015 have been the warmest five-year period ever. Climate change and the peaking of a particularly ferocious El Niño weather phenomenon are both expected to drive the global average temperature, in 2016, to new highs.

However, the weather was mostly quiet in the UK, until mid-November. The summer was rather cool and wet, but early autumn provided fine, sunny weather as compensation. Conversely, from late autumn a succession of Atlantic storms brought exceptional rainfall, causing widespread severe flooding.

The UK mean temperature for 2015 was 9.2°C - 0.4°C above the 1981-2010 long-term average. It was also the sixth wettest year ever.

Personally, it was another very successful year for wildlife watching. I managed to break 2013’s record for visits – 82! These included trips to Spain and France, the usual pilgrimage to Norfolk and several visits to new, but local, sites. Most of my visits, of course, were to the big four: Amwell 36 times, Cheshunt 19, Sawbridgeworth 6 and Rye Meads 5.

Mild conditions greeted the first month of the New Year, with the UK under the influence of westerly weather. The temperature dipped around the middle of the month, with the second half rather unsettled and much colder, with some sharp frosts at times. It was the UK's fourth-equal sunniest January, in a series from 1929.

I ventured out six times this month, split between Amwell and Cheshunt. The birding year started out brilliantly, with excellent sightings of Bittern and then Goldcrest, which were both seen on the 2nd, at Cheshunt. Goldeneye; Smew and Goosander were present throughout the month, at both venues. Water Rail was either seen or heard on all six visits. Siskin and Marsh Tit were both seen at Amwell mid-month, while Lesser Redpoll and a Pintail were spotted at Cheshunt on the last trip of the month.

I was also fortunate enough to see Bank Vole and Stoat at Amwell, while a Fox was seen on the prowl around Cheshunt.

At the start of the month, the UK was under the influence of cold northerly weather, bringing wintry showers, especially to the eastern counties. The second half saw temperatures fluctuating with heavy rain and strong winds, but also brief incursions of colder air.

Despite the poor weather, I somehow managed to get out eight times. Again, three times to Amwell, two to Cheshunt, the first trip of the year to Rainham Marsh and a new venue, Bramfield Village.

Barn Owl
Bittern continued to delight at Cheshunt. Dunlin; Golden Plover; Marsh Harrier; Pintail; Redshank; Shelduck and Stonechat were the highlights at Rainham. Goldeneye; Goosander and Smew were all still about and in some numbers. Red Kites were seen at several locations. A lovely Barn Owl had started to appear at dusk, around Amwell. My first new venue of the year, at Bramfield Village, saw Coal Tit; Goldcrest; Little Owl; Nuthatch and, the reason for going, several Hawfinches, my first ever sighting of these lovely birds.

Bank Voles were still at Amwell and were joined, on several occasions, by Muntjac. The first Snowdrops appeared early in the month, followed by Daffodils towards the end.

The winter of 2014/15 will be regarded as relatively benign and quiet, especially when compared to the exceptionally stormy weather of the previous winter. The UK mean temperature for the season was near average. It was the sunniest winter in a series from 1929, with some parts of eastern England receiving above average sunshine.

A Partial Solar Eclipse appeared this month, but it was yet another disappointing celestial event, with the moment again spoiled by heavy cloud cover.

The month itself began with cold weather bringing some wintry showers, but it became more settled by the end of the first week, under the influence of high pressure. It became gradually more unsettled during the last ten days of the month, with rain or showers and some very strong winds at times.

Although a wet month, I managed to pick out nine reasonably good days. There were visits to Amwell (4), Cheshunt (3), Barnes (1) and the first visit of the year to Rye Meads.

Cetti's Warbler
Further sightings of Bittern brought more joy at Cheshunt, early on, but they were to be the last. All the usual suspects were seen at Barnes. Goldeneye were still present everywhere, but the end of the month saw Smew and Goosander depart. Bullfinch; Oystercatcher; Redshank; Red-legged Partridge; the first Sand Martin and the last Redwing were all noted at Amwell. Cetti's Warbler and Chiffchaff were now very vocal and starting to show well.

Water Vole
Emperor Moth
The first Water Vole of the year was seen at Rye Meads, early in the month. A Mink popped up at Cheshunt on the 20th. Emperor and Oak Beauty Moths were a delight to see at Amwell. The first butterflies, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell, started to appear, at Cheshunt. Crocus (4th) and Bluebells (20th) flowered at Cheshunt, while Primrose appeared at Barnes (25th). Hawthorn bloomed in most places from the 10th.

The start of this month saw the UK rather unsettled. However, it was followed by fine weather with some very warm days, with plenty of sunshine across many areas. Though the final six days of the month were unsettled and cold, with some sharp frosts. Sunshine was well above normal in most areas, making it the sunniest April in a series from 1929. Warm still conditions, combined with traffic fumes, pollution from Europe and Saharan dust were all factors, with eastern and southeast England most affected.

Apart from the highlight of travelling to Spain, I was also able to get out and about a further five times this month. I paid my usual three visits to Amwell, went down to Rainham again and lastly, travelled down to see what was about in London Zoo.

Black-necked Grebes
Black-necked Weaver at London Zoo
The last Goldeneye bade us farewell, from Amwell (7th). A lovely pair of Black-necked Grebes showed up instead, mid-month. Amwell also saw the first Common Terns and Swallows arriving. They were soon followed by Blackcap; Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat. Little Ringed Plovers joined a pair of nesting Oystercatchers here, towards the end of the month. Bearded Tit; Spoonbill and Wheatear were the highlights at Rainham. It was the usual fare at London Zoo, although I did come away with some reasonably good photos. A Bluethroat briefly turned up at Amwell, mid-month but it was to be my only ‘twitch’ of the year. Unfortunately, I ‘dipped’, as it flew before I arrived. That’s mainly the reason why I don’t ‘twitch’.

Common Lizards were basking in the Rainham sunshine. Weasels were also seen here and again at Amwell. Further butterflies appeared: Brimstone; Comma; Common Blue; Orange Tip; Peacock and Speckled Wood were all in-flight. It was the season for Bee-fly. Various Ladybirds appeared, in some numbers. I was also plagued by Midges, which continued to annoy me for most of the rest of the year! A lovely Ruby-tailed Wasp posed for me at Amwell. Daffodils were now blooming everywhere, while the first Bluebells started to appear.

Beech Marten
However, Spain took the honours this month. It was a feast of wildlife, at two venues – Coto Doñana and Extremadura. Too many highlights to list here but a special mention goes to Bee-eater; Great and Little Bustard; Hoopoe; Iberian Magpie; Quail; Savi’s and Dartford Warbler; Serin and Woodchat Shrike. Also seen here were Beech Marten and Spanish Festoon, plus fields of lovely Poppies everywhere.

May was another unsettled month, with spells of rain. And, although there was some fine spring-like weather at times, it never really became settled. There were no notable warm spells, so it ended up being a rather cool and wet month overall. It was the coldest May since 1996.

Norfolk in May
Black Swan
By now, I was getting the distinct impression that the weather, this year, wasn't going to be as good, overall, as last year. However, undaunted, I ventured out a further six times this month, with three visits to Amwell again and one each to Cheshunt, Norfolk and the first visit to my local patch in Sawbridgeworth.

Norfolk was supposed to be the highlight this month, but terrible weather spoiled all three days. In between the numerous rain showers, I managed to spot delights like Avocet; Black-tailed Godwit; Dunlin; Redshank; Willow Warbler and, oddly, a Black Swan. Chinese Water Deer and a Weasel were also seen.

Brent Goose
Reed Warbler
Locally, I managed to spot a gorgeous Brent Goose at Cheshunt. Amwell boasted more Common Sandpiper; Dunlin; Little Ringed Plovers; Oystercatchers and Redshank. There were now Common Terns aplenty. A Raven appeared over Amwell, mid-month. I heard my first Cuckoo of the year at Cheshunt, then spotted one whilst on a jaunt down the River Stort at Sawbo (27th). I also saw the first House Martin of the season here, while the first Swift had arrived at Amwell a few days earlier. They were escorted by more Swallows and then the first Sand Martin turned up. My one and only Nightingale appeared in Cheshunt (13th). The first Reed Warblers and Garden Warblers started to arrive.

Grass Snake
Hairy Dragonfly
I had the first of several sightings, this year, of Grass Snake at Amwell. A Red-eared Slider caused concern at Cheshunt, mid-month. Cinnabar Moth; Holly Blue and Green-veined White made their first appearances. Then I was delighted to see the first Odonata emerge – Azure; Blue-tailed; Common Blue and Large Red damselflies. I was also delighted to see my first Banded Demoiselles arrive on the scene, near Sawbo. They were found all along the River Stort, in some number and were by far the most numerous here, than anywhere else in the Lee Valley. Dragonflies also started to appear, with Hairy the first to turn up, as usual, at both Amwell and Cheshunt. They were soon followed by Four-spotted Chaser and Broad-bodied Chaser.

Dark Bush Cricket
Bombardier Beetle and Red-headed Cardinal Beetles arrived in force, initially around Sawbo. Dark Bush Crickets had also decided to get active. The first Mayflies materialized at Amwell on the 11th. In fact, insects galore began appearing in some numbers now, with Nettle Weevils; Soldier Beetles; Scorpion Flies; Thick-kneed Flower Beetle and Wasp Beetle all showing up. Bluebells continued to bloom, while the first Orchids appeared, in the appropriately named ‘Orchid Garden’ at Amwell.

Spring was quite unexceptional overall. March brought a mixture of typical early spring weather. High pressure in April brought some notably dry, sunny and warm days, whereas during May, an unsettled northwesterly weather-type led to cool conditions, with well above average rainfall.

View from the Grebe Hide, Cheshunt
At the start of June, an intense low pressure system brought rain and unseasonably strong winds to the UK. After this, the month was typified by rather quiet weather generally. Much of the month was rather cool in an often westerly or northwesterly flow, but it became very warm at the end of the month. Parts of the London area and East Anglia were especially dry with less than a third of average rainfall in some places.

A total of nine visits was achieved this month, with a record five visits to Amwell. I also visited Cheshunt twice, with a visit apiece to Thorley Wash and Rye Meads.

Marsh Harrier
Garden Warbler
The birding highlight this month, were a pair of Garganey, at Rye Meads (24th). Also seen here was a new Wader for the year, a Green Sandpiper. There was a Marsh Harrier at Amwell, early on in the month. The last Cuckoo was heard at Cheshunt on the 11th – they don’t stay very long! Warblers were now in full flow and voice. Goldcrest; Garden Warbler and Whitethroat appeared during a fantastic visit to Thorley Wash (18th). Treecreeper showed well at Amwell.

Bank Vole
Clouded Border
Bank Voles and Grass Snakes continued to appear, although not together! Clouded Border and Mint Moth were both seen at Amwell, towards the end of the month. They were complemented by the first Meadow Brown butterflies and Silver Y moths. The first Large Skippers and Ringlets were spotted at Rye Meads. Small Heaths and Small Skippers also started to turn up. On the odonata front, the first Red-eyed damsels appeared at Amwell (4th). A Black-tailed Skimmer then appeared, also at Amwell, mid-month, followed by the first Brown Hawker, towards the end. The first Emperor had also turned up at Cheshunt.

Norfolk Hawker
Scarce Chaser
However, by far the best sightings of the month and indeed the year were the first - EVER - Norfolk Hawkers and Scarce Chasers to be seen in Hertfordshire, appearing at Amwell, on the 25th. They follow the first sightings of Willow Emeralds last year. Could this be the year we get Beautiful Demoiselle?

Black-headed Cardinal Beetle
Green Shield Bug
My first ever Black-headed Cardinal Beetle appeared at Cheshunt, early in the month. A few Capsid Bugs showed well at Amwell. The first Dock Bugs and Green Shield Bugs appeared, together, in Sawbo. Hornets and Mint Leaf Beetles were on parade at Amwell. Red and Black Froghoppers were seemingly everywhere. Rose Sawflies; Ruby-tailed Wasp; Soft-winged Flower Beetle; Speckled Bush Cricket and more Wasp Beetles all appeared. Most probably because all the beautiful Orchids were still blooming. In fact, the flora was now putting on quite a display everywhere.

End of Part One.......