Sunday, 28 February 2016

Another Bittern No-show @ Amwell.

Amwell Nature Reserve - 11th February 16

Weather: Sunny, slight cloud.

Bird Total: 54
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Konik Pony; Muntjac; Rabbit.

Another bright, sunny day. Although the weather is forecast to deteriorate over the next few days. So today had to be Amwell, which had a lot to live up to, after yesterday.

I caught the later train again today, mainly because of the 10km yomp of yesterday. That and the fact that Carol had forecast a dull, overcast morning. In the event, it was bright sunshine before I had even left home.

Whilst waiting for the train - which was ontime - a Cetti's Warbler flew past and landed on a shrub behind me, quickly disappearing from view. On the journey down, the Canada Geese returned with a vengeance, masses of them on the adjacent fields. I also managed to spot a pair of drake Pochard on one of the lakes, as we zoomed by.

No, not the Bittern - just a Grey Heron!
Just before I reached the canal path I heard, then saw, a goodly amount of House Sparrows on the trees, opposite the Jolly Fisherman pub. There were also a large group of Mallards, as I entered the path. It was actually quite warm, walking along. Blue skies and no wind.

I reached the Watchpoint to find quite a few people present. Jenny and a small team were working just in front. I was informed that a Bittern had showed earlier. I realised that if I'd travelled down on my normal train, I would quite probably have seen it. The bird had last been seen just outside the James Hide and so I headed straight down there.

Before leaving I took a quick look out over the lake. There were only the usual crowd out there, notably lots of Lapwing and a few Grey Herons. Quite a few Gulls were also present, already. None of them seemed to be doing anything other than floating around.

View from the James Hide. Where's that bloody Bittern?
I had to avoid a large contingent of elderly on the way down, who were making a right racket. I entered the James Hide to find a couple of people present. No Bittern. I sat down, to try my luck.

I hung around for a couple of hours. No Bittern. All I had to show for my time was a Buzzard, high over Easneye Wood; a female Teal on the lagoon and three Jays flying past, from right to left. The feeders were still empty, probably because of the ongoing Rat problem. Only the nut feeder was doing some business, notably from a female Reed Bunting.

A few more people came and went. 'No, the Bittern hasn't showed!'

Female Teal
I was about to head off when Katy Kingfisher turned up. I enquired after her mother, wondering if Mrs. Water Vole was looking for her daughter, again. A few more Teal flew in and flashed us some lovely plumage. Katy pointed out a Red Kite, high in the sky. A Sparrowhawk zoomed past the Hide, left to right and vanished through the trees. Then a Water Rail showed well. A Cetti's Warbler could be heard sounding off.

Then Mrs. Water Vole appeared. Another woman had also entered the Hide, a few minutes before. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. I was surrounded by female Birders! I decided that Benny the Bittern wasn't going to make itself known and so headed off. I was accompanied by my new friend as we headed towards the Dragonfly Trail.

We checked the Bittern Pool. No Bittern. Then the Twin Lagoons. No anything. And nothing until we reached the Trail feeders. Where we spotted a lovely Lesser Redpoll, my first of the season. At last! Then a female Great Spotted Woodpecker flew onto the nut feeder. Followed by a pair of Greenfinch. Things were starting to look up.

From here we walked down to the woodland, the new route. Where we saw a large group of Redwing fly in, above us. Plenty of rabbit holes were about here, with a few associated Bugs Bunnies hopping around. I spotted a Muntjac in the distance.  A Buzzard was heard above, then seen. We could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, albeit quite a distance away. I could also hear a Treecreeper calling, quite near.

Just before we headed back, a Kestrel could be seen on the adjacent field, consuming its' catch, before flying off. On the walk back to the James Hide we spotted a Song Thrush and a lovely pair of Bullfinch, by the bridge. Quite a productive walk.

Male Teal
Back in the James Hide, we found Katy on her own. Lunch. The Teal reappeared, as did the Water Rail. As did Mrs. Water Vole. After half-an-hour we headed off, the women to walk through the Woods, while I headed towards the Gladwin Hide. Just before we parted company, a Goldcrest was spotted, zooming around the branches.

A cursory look from the Watchpoint yielded not a lot. From the Gladwin Hide I spotted 2 pairs of Goldeneye; 4 Great Crested Grebes; 2 Grey Herons; a Green Woodpecker calling and loads of Gulls. Unfortunately, the Smew didn't show itself. Just before I left, squadrons of Canada Geese splash-landed, all honking away.

Back at the Watchpoint the Gull Watch Brigade had appeared, as per usual. Mixed in with them was not only the esteemed Barry Reed but also the legendary LGR Evans, no less. I managed to spot a lone Common Snipe and debated whether to stay, to see if the Bittern would appear.

However, with such high quality company I decided that discretion would be the better part of valour. It was dark by the time I arrived home.

Not quite as good a day as yesterday, but not too shabby!

'First rule in politics: never believe anything until it's officially denied.' Sir Humphrey Appleby

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Fieldcraft & Gut Feelings need improvement! *

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 10th February, 16

Weather: Cloudy and overcast early on, brightening up later.

Bird Total: 46
Plus: Fox; Muntjac; Rabbit.

Dare I say that Winter has waned and Spring has sprung? Or did we, in fact, miss Winter and jump from Autumn straight to Spring? Or has the Weather God got something left in the locker?

Whatever, it was another fine(ish) Spring-like day. Hawthorn is budding; Daffodils, Crocus and Snowdrops are flowering and the Bittern seems to have left for another year. Indeed, today I witnessed Black-headed Gulls in full breeding plumage; Cormorants nest building and a pair of Great Crested Grebes doing their courtship display, with the weed. Talk about modern love.

All in all, I had a pretty good day. I was going to visit Amwell but they had a few work-parties out and about today, so I opted to visit the Fishers Green area. Maybe Amwell tomorrow.

I took the later train down today, because the morning was touted as cloudy and overcast. Which it was. It was also touted to brighten up after lunch. Which it did, but only after around 4pm.

Today the weather and the wildlife conspired to mess me about. When it was overcast and gloomy, the wildlife appeared. When it brightened up, the wildlife disappeared. C'est la vie!

Looking out from the train, I noted that the usual Canada Geese population had dwindled down to just three. Time of day, perhaps? The only other thing of note was a Fox, in full hunt mode. I missed the expected pounce, as the train sped by - the one time I wanted it to slow down.....

I had to be a bit light on my feet around the car-park area, as quite a few cars turned up, all at once. After many to-ing and fro-ing manoeuvres, the cars spewed forth their occupants, armed with various amounts and breeds of dogs, to search for places to empty them.

I managed to avoid any car scrapes and dog bites, to find Friday Lake and sat down to tool up. As I did so I looked out over the lake. There wasn't much about. I had a gut feeling that I wouldn't see any Smew today. All I could see were numerous Coot and Gull and Tufted Duck. Then a pair of Mallard swam up to me, with the male climbing up onto the bank, towards me. I told him and the wife that I didn't have anything for them. When I started looking through my Bins they both swam off. Probably in a huff.

Redhead Smew
I put the Bins down and donned camera to harness. Just as I had fixed it on, a redhead Smew serenely swam out on to the lake, from the right. So much for my gut feeling. It was only about 20 metres away. Surprised, I brought the camera up and started clicking. Unfortunately, the sun chose that moment to disappear behind some clouds. It didn't appear to notice me, or if it did, it ignored me. It was about to swim even closer, heading towards the bank, when a dog-walker appeared. It quickly swam off.

Following it, I managed to creep a little closer, before it spotted me and swam away. It was soon joined by a second bird. I crept a little further, trying to utilise my best fieldcraft skills. However, when I popped my head up, both birds saw me and again swam off. My best stalk-mode didn't seem to rate very high on the stalkative scale. And then they were joined by a third! All three floated out to the middle of the lake.

There was one Great Crested Grebe and a couple of female Pochard out there, as well. Together with various amounts of Coot and Duck and Geese and Gull, they all watched what must of been the comical sight of me trying to blunder around the undergrowth, making a hell of a racket, to photograph the Smew. Who simply just swam off.

I figured that they wouldn't get any closer and so, after I had untangled myself from various bramble and branch, headed off towards the Teal Hide. As I approached the walkway to the Hide, I spotted the rarest of sights - a female Birder, in full winter plumage, including a bright red bobble-hat, looking like someone from 'Fame' - who was standing stock still, staring at the adjacent stream. When I walked up to her, she stated that she thought she had spotted a 'Vole', but she wasn't sure. I described a Water Vole to her and she nodded her head, vigorously. We both went in to stalk-mode, to look for it, remembering that I wasn't very stalkative.

Water Vole. No, sorry, a Water Rail!
After about 10 minutes there was no sign of it. The lady Birder moved on, after hearing about the Smew. I stayed for a few minutes more and was rewarded with a good sighting of a Water Rail. I figured that it was the Rail she had seen. Just after the Rail disappeared, because of dog-walkers, from both directions, I spotted a female Muntjac. She saw me and bounded off, into the woodland.

As I headed up the walkway, to the Hide, I spotted a lone Fieldfare, through the trees, feeding on the grass, out to the right. I entered the Hide and raised the shutters. I can never do that silently. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing immediately outside. I scanned the area, from right to left. There were quite a few Wigeon in the far corner, in two groups. In front of them was a Little Egret, foot wagging in the water. Several Shoveler were dotted around, most of which were asleep plus a few Teal, who were calling out.
One of around a dozen Fieldfare

Out to the left were about 50-odd Lapwing, spread out over the small islands. A Grey Heron was in stalk-mode. I hoped it was better at it, than I was. There were a couple of Common Gulls, in amongst the Black-headed. I scanned for the Stonechat, but couldn't see it.

I can see you!
Then I heard a rustling to the right of the Hide, a few metres away. I could just see the top of a Fox's head, pointing downwards. It then started to jump up and pounce. It had obviously found something. As silently as I could, I tried to rise up and aim the camera at it. A dog-fox, he kept at it. Then he must have heard me or something, as he looked up. I was looking down the lens and could see him looking at me over the grassy knoll. I clicked the camera. It must have spooked him, as he backed away and slowly wandered off, towards the fence-line. It scattered all the other Fieldfares that had joined the loner.

I again scanned for the Stonechat and found him perched up on the usual wooden post. The Fox spooked him, too and he flew off. It was probably also the Fox that put the Lapwing up.

A few minutes later, a second Grey Heron flew in and joined the first one. Then a second Little Egret appeared. The Fieldfare flew back down again and continued feeding. Another Muntjac, a Buck, could be seen feeding on the far side of the lagoon.

Then, unbelievably, a third Muntjac, a female, possibly the same one as earlier, appeared right in front of the Hide. She looked up when she could hear me clicking away, but she wasn't sure what it was. She calmly walked past the Hide, a mere few metres away and then trotted off towards the lagoon. I noticed that there was a bare patch on her rump. I found out the reason why a few minutes later, as a pair of Magpies perched up on her back and began pecking at the same area. She didn't seem too bothered by them, for some reason.

The 'bare-patch' female Muntjac
A few minutes later, my hot streak continued, as a party of Long-tailed Tits flew onto the branches to the right of the Hide. I quickly walked outside and spotted the, now, obligatory Goldcrest amongst them.

The hot streak came to an abrupt end, as a bloke with two very noisy dogs entered the Hide and scared everything off. So I made a hasty exit and started the long walk towards the Bittern Hide.

My first Banded Demoiselle of the season!
It was another fairly quiet walk through the lakes. However, I did hear a Cetti's Warbler. A little further, I heard another and then spotted it. Another, larger flock of Lapwing could be seen, in the air, over Seventy Acres lake. There were a few Great Crested Grebes every now and then. However, other than the usual stuff, not a lot else.

'Let's dance!'
It wasn't until I arrived on the trail towards the Bittern Hide and Fishers Green, that my hot streak warmed up again. It was in this area that I spotted the pair of Great Crested Grebes doing their thing. One of them, the male probably, seemed to be saying, 'let's dance!'. After the weed exchange, they started shaking their heads and then moved off down the relief channel. One of them started to inspect a possible nest site. They could be the same pair that have been breeding around here for the last couple of years. I hope they have better luck this year.

After witnessing all that, I nearly missed a statuesque Grey Heron, standing behind and to the right of them. Also in stalk-mode. Good luck, I thought. If it's anything like me, it would be a rebel-rebel.

Just before I reached the Bittern Hide and the feeding area, I noticed that someone had put up a few coconut fat balls on the branches, along the trail. As I waited, a few Great Tits and Chaffinches appeared. Then another party of Long-tails flew in. I was delighted to see another Goldcrest with them. I was about to try and photograph it when more dog-walkers appeared, scaring everything off. Argh!

When I entered the Bittern Hide I found several people in there. I was hopeful of a Bittern-twitch, but I was sorely disappointed, as none had been seen for several days. In fact, the Bittern Hide was pretty much the only disappointment all day.  So much inaction, it was like life on Mars. On my first visit, there was only a Water Rail to be seen, which in fact was a pretty good view. And, of course, while I was in there, the sun appeared and shone directly into my eyes.

It was pretty obvious that I wasn't going to see much, plus the fact that time was not on my side and so I was feeling under pressure. So, after a spot of lunch, I headed off towards the Grebe Hide, taking my now, new route. On the way I spotted several more Great Crested Grebes and heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Just before I reached the Weir another Muntjac appeared, a male. He didn't seem too bothered when he saw me. Until I got just a bit too close. There was practically nothing out over the Weir, save for several Mallards which floated up to me.

On the trail leading up to the Hide my streak continued, as I spotted a pair of Goldeneye, out on the lake, to my right. More Pochard, males, were nearby plus more Great Crested Grebes.

I found a few people in the Grebe Hide when I arrived, but they soon left. There was hardly anything out on the lake. At first, all I could see were Tufted Duck; Gulls and Coot. Maybe 30+ birds in total and all of them at the far left-hand corner of the lake.

Soon, the reason became clear. Three men in a boat were chugging along, out to the right. They disappeared behind the large central island and then I could see smoke rising up behind it. Our 'heroes' started their return journey. I hoped they knew what they were doing. All the birds had moved to the other side of the lake. 'Three men in a boat' didn't appear to be any good at this fieldcraft thing, either.

Male Tufted Duck
I scanned the area again, mainly the left side, as the right side was completely devoid of birds. This time I spotted a drake Goosander, in amongst several Tufties. To his left were a pair of Great Crested Grebes. To his right was another Grey Heron. The smoke continued to billow up and away.

A few minutes later, when most of the smoke had dissipated, the birds started to appear out to the right. At first, they were just Tufties and Coot, but then a pair of Goosander appeared. Then a second male, the one at the back of the lake, flew in. A third male then swam out and joined the group. I watched as the males started displaying. One of the drakes was obviously the alpha male and began chasing off the other two. The female then started chasing them off, as well. Unfortunately, they never ventured close, keeping out to the right, in amongst the small islands.

The Great Crested Grebe count rose to 5. I continued to watch the Goosander interaction, before deciding to head back. Just outside the Hide I surprised another female Muntjac, who bounded off pretty quickly when she saw me. Some more people were walking towards me, obviously on the way to the Hide. By the sound of their accents they were young Americans.

Another Muntjac - 7 in total today!
A little further down the trail Muntjac number 6 appeared. Another buck, who panicked when he couldn't find an escape route. He darted back and forth, before bounding past me, as I stepped back. I wasn't actually looking at him, I was concentrating on looking through my Bins at another pair of Goosander, out on the lake.

I finally reached the lagoon, adjacent to the relief channel, looking towards the Farm. Surprisingly, although the lagoon was high, it was completely devoid of birds. All the young dudes seemed to have vanished. Very strange.

I carried on, seeing a lone Little Grebe diving in the channel. And just before I reached the bridge, leading back to the Bittern Hide, I spotted Muntjac number 7, another female. The ladies win, 4-3.

Just before I entered the Bittern Hide I could hear a Song Thrush singing out. Inside the Hide were several more people. Just as I sat down, a Sparrowhawk flashed through, past the feeders, scaring all the birds away. It flew out over the lake, putting up the Lapwing. I could hear Ring-necked Parakeets screeching out somewhere. A Manky Mallard was out on the pond, just in front. Finally, a Water Rail appeared, out to the left, quite close and allowed a few modest shots, especially in the poor light.

It was now starting to get dark, everyone else had long since departed and so I closed all the shutters and headed home. On the trail back, a third Fox trotted by me, only a few feet away. It didn't seem too bothered by me, either. Must have been another male.

A very good day out. No Bittern, their season might be over, thanks to the Autumn/Spring weather. Changes are certainly on the way. However, I was royally entertained nonetheless.

Mental Notes To Self:
1. Be wary of feelings in your guts.
2. Improve Fieldcraft skills.

'It would be different if the Government were a team,
in fact they're a loose confederation of warring tribes.'

Monday, 22 February 2016

Still Bramblings @ Rye Meads!

Rye Meads - 3rd February, 16

Weather: Cloudy and overcast all day. Rain showers.

Bird Total: 41

It was a cold, miserable day.

It had been touted as a sunny one a few days ago, but the weather took a turn for the worse. It did brighten up towards the end of the day but, by then, it was too little, too late. There were also a few squally rain showers, around lunchtime.

I wanted to go out again today because, firstly, the rest of the week was forecast to be even worse and, secondly, I wanted to see the Bramblings again. A Bittern had been seen in previous days, but unfortunately did not appear today.

There wasn't anything of note to see on the journey down. However, on the walk up to the Reserve I spotted Goldfinch; Collared Dove; Song Thrush; Redwing and Chiffchaff. Daffodils were flowering along the walk. Unfortunately, that was about as good as it got.

The feeders, just outside the visitor centre, were doing good business, but only the Great Tits were partaking. There was nothing to see, until I arrived outside the Draper Hide. However, I didn't go in immediately, as I could see 2 or 3 people standing by the gate area, where the Bramblings had been seen the last time I was here. So I headed straight down there.

Unfortunately, nothing was about, at first. Someone had disturbed all the birds earlier, but, gradually, one by one, they all returned. However, they were all disturbed again when one of the Reserve staff arrived, to put some more bird seed out for them. They were still a little reticent after that and decided to stay in the trees.
My coxis was already beginning to ache at this point, so I headed back, to sit in the Draper Hide. Outside, on the lagoon, the water was quite high. There weren't too many birds out there. Mainly Coot; Shoveler; Mallard; Gadwall and Tufted Duck. None of which were anywhere near the Hide.

Fellow birder Alan Meadows then entered the Hide and, with nothing much happening, we decided to try for the Bramblings again. This time we were luckier, as 4 appeared, in amongst a score or more Chaffinches. Up to 20 Magpies; several Moorhen; a pair of Greenfinch and a few Woodpigeons had also joined in the feast. More people appeared, which disturbed the ever-jumpy birds and so we headed up the trail.

On the way up Alan spotted a lovely Goldcrest. We paid visits to the Ashby and Tern Hides, not seeing very much. The surprise outside the Tern Hide was that hardly any Coot or Gulls were around.

We then sat down in the Gadwall Hide. On the lagoon we could see upto a hundred Lapwing dotted around the islands. The water levels here were quite low and so I expected to see several Green Sandpipers and maybe even a few Snipe. In the event, I only spotted one Sandpiper. There were loads of Teal out there; again very few Coot; 3 Shelduck, but not much else. There weren't many birds about today, at all. Possibly because a lot of work had been recently done around the Reserve.

From here we took an uneventful walk to the Kingfisher Hide. Where we found quite a few people, including Mrs Water Vole and Katy Kingfisher. The Kingfishers outside had last been seen early in the morning but, unfortunately, they never returned in the time I was there.

All I saw outside was a Kestrel and a pair of Jays. A pair of Coot were on the pond. A few other passerines darted about, including a Chiffchaff. But not much else. I had lunch and waited for over an hour before moving on. I would have moved on earlier but the rain showers appeared, on and off, for about 30 minutes.

I darted out in between them and paid a quick visit to the Gadwall Hide. A Grey Wagtail appeared close to the Hide. I could see a lone Snipe asleep on the scrape. Gulls had returned en masse. I moved on.

I arrived back to see the Bramblings again. They gave some good views, in between scares. A Pheasant had joined in the picnic.

However, the skies were still looking grey and overcast, so I sat down in the Draper Hide again. A brief break in the clouds allowed the sun to shine on some Shoveler, bringing out their gorgeous colours. A Little Grebe could be seen at the back of the lagoon, continually diving.

There didn't seem any point in staying longer, so I headed home.

A quiet day, but the Bramblings are always worth seeing.

'It is not the length of life, but the depth of life.' Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, 19 February 2016

All Quiet On The Amwell Front!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 2nd February 16

Weather: Sunny, slight cloud. Cool wind.

Bird Total: 49
Plus: Konik Pony; Rabbit; Rat.

Today was another one of the sunny days. The weather this winter has continued to follow a familiar pattern - strong winds, mild temperatures and periodic rain. Rain one day, sunshine the next. No wonder all the flora and fauna are confused.

The familiar sight of scores of Canada Geese were again seen, on the journey down. This time a Grey Heron was perched on a branch, surveying all before him. Or her. On the canal path, towards the Reserve, I spotted a Jay fly over and could also hear a Song Thrush, belting out its' melodic tune.

Blue Tit
I arrived at the Watchpoint to find several familiar faces. I guess they were all hoping to see the recently reported Franklins Gull. Unfortunately, it had moved on. There looked to be over a hundred Lapwing out on the lake, all going up every few minutes, in response to an unseen predator. There was also a Grey Heron, in stalk mode plus the usual wildfowl and gulls. Three Red Kites were floating up above Easneye Wood. A few Dunnocks and Robins were hopping around our feet, looking for handouts. Bill 'The Don' Last was trying to entice one of the Robins to feed from his hand.

I headed down to the Gladwin Hide, passing the 3 remaining Konik Ponies, who were cropping the grass, as per usual. I found Jenny Sherwen in the Hide, showing off her skills as a 'jill-of-all-trades' in repairing some of the shutters. Out on the lake I could see 3 pairs of Goldeneye, the males in display mode. Further back, there were a pair of Great Crested Grebe fishing; a few Wigeon whistling, but nothing much else of note. All the numbers were down again today. It seems that the mild Winter has paused migration. Disappointingly, we haven't seen any drake Smew arrive yet. Maybe none of them will show up this year.

Backlit Wren
I headed back up the trail and, together with Jenny, we took a walk through the Woodland, meeting a few other Birders. There were several birds about, all flitting around the trees, including Goldfinch. However, it was very quiet here, too. The Bittern Pool only had the usual stuff and so I soon found myself sat in the James Hide.

Which was also very quiet. The feeders were still empty. Jenny had stated that rats were present again and so the feeders would remain empty for a few more weeks. At that moment, one of the Rats wandered past. One or two people came and went.

A lightning Goldcrest!
A little later, a Little Egret flew past, from left to right. There were several visits from a lovely Goldcrest. It was quite a challenge to get a decent photo of it, as it hardly paused for a second - darting about at a rate of knots. A male Great Spotted Woodpecker flew in a couple of times, but wasn't brave enough to have a go at the nut feeder. Especially with me sat there, gurning at him. A lone female Reed Bunting showed, to my left.

I broke for lunch and then headed towards the Dragonfly Trail, via the Twin Lagoons, where I spotted a lone Little Grebe, continually diving. A few people were already at the gate, watching the feeders. The usual Tits and Finches were queuing up, awaiting their turn, including a pair of Greenfinches, who muscled their way to the front of the queue. There were also 2 male Great Spotted Woodpeckers. The Pheasant count today was a paltry three.

I was disappointed not to see any Lesser Redpolls again, as they were being reported here, all the time. I then made my way up towards the 'new' area, past the bridge. On the way I passed a lovely show of Snowdrops and then a lone Periwinkle.

It was mainly woodland along this stretch of the trail. Disappointingly, all I spotted was a lone Mistle Thrush, feeding on the adjacent field. On the way back, just past the Trail, looking out over Holycross Lake, I could see a pair of Goldeneye, plus a few Pochard.

I made my way to the White Hide, where several more people were already ensconced. Out on the lake I could see a pair of Teal, fairly close in. Then I spotted Great Black-backed; Lesser Black-backed; Herring; Common and Black-headed Gull, all standing together. The comparative size differences were quite obvious.

I paid a brief visit to the James Hide again, not seeing anything extra. Back at the Watchpoint, the Gull Watch Brigade had turned up. In the approaching gloom they spotted Caspian and Yellow-legged Gull.

There wasn't much else to see and I thought about staying to try and see the Mandarin Ducks that were still around. However, the weather was starting to chill me and, mindful of what happened last time, I headed for home.

A quiet day today, the Goldcrest being the highlight.

'I dream of a better tomorrow, where chickens can cross the road
and not be questioned about their motives.' Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

A Close Encounter with Mickey the Muntjac

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 28th January, 16

Weather: Sunny, blue skies. Clouding over later. Cold breeze.

Bird Total: 48
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Muntjac.

The weather continues to play silly buggers. Rain yesterday, clear skies today, rain tomorrow.

The trains were playing silly buggers, as well. Only a delay of about 10 minutes this morning and, because I was visiting Cheshunt, it didn't bother me too much, as there were no changes en-route.

Whilst waiting for said train, I could hear Cetti's Warbler and Song Thrush, both in good voice. There were the usual Canada Geese out on the fields, on the way down. All the lagoons were still in situ.

Mickey the Muntjac
It was an uneventful walk along the canal path. I noticed that loads of narrowboats were in the area and tied up. Most of them resplendent in the sunshine and with lots of potted plants showing well.

At Friday Lake, as I sat down and scanned the area, one of the first birds I spotted was a redhead Smew. It was soon joined by another. They were fishing out to the right but dashed my photo hopes as they moved further away. A Great Crested Grebe was out there as well, surrounded by Tufted Ducks and Gulls. A flock of Lapwing flew overhead, before returning to the Hall Marsh Scrape area.

Just before I reached the Teal Hide, along the boardwalk, I heard, then spotted a party of Long-tailed Tits. I hung around for a few minutes and was rewarded by the sight of a lone Goldcrest, picking its' way around the branches. The Tits were excitable, the Goldcrest too quick.

From the Teal Hide itself, I watched as a pair of Little Egrets flew in and land in amongst the reeds, to the left. Also out to the left, further in, were over 30 Wigeon, all busily cropping the grass. In front of the Hide and out to the right were over a hundred Lapwing, who all took to the air at the drop of a hat. Or maybe one of their predators. There were several Shovelers out there, most of them asleep. It must have been a hard night. I could also hear some Teal calling, but could only see 2 males. There were lots of Gulls about, flying around, screeching.

Then, suddenly, something scared all the Wigeon, who all raced back into the water. I couldn't see what it was, most probably someone walking on the path near to them. Probably with a dog! However, it had the effect that, a few minutes later, the Wigeon came back onto land to feed only this time a little closer to the Hide. After a few more minutes they came close enough to the Hide for a few modest photos.

Out to my right I could see the male Stonechat sat atop the fenceline. I watched as he moved closer and closer to the Snipe Hide, eventually posing about 10 metres in front of it. I debated on whether to rush around there for a quick photo. However, I could see another Birder arrive there, who scared it off.

Grey Heron - why do they always look so miserable?
Said Birder then soon arrived in the Teal Hide. A familiar face! He didn't see the Stonechat, but, on arrival, had inadvertently scared away all the Wigeon. Several pairs of Greylag Geese were continually flying over every few minutes, all honking away. A female Muntjac could be seen, out to the right, feeding almost continuously. Every once in a while she would look up and scan the area, before choosing another spot to feed. Around the same area I could see a pair of Fieldfare, hopping around the grass. The Lapwing continued to go up, giving a wonderful aerial display.

I moved off, heading towards the lakes. Just before I arrived at the 'stand-up' Hide I spotted one of the redhead Smew, still out on Friday Lake. A Grey Heron flew over me, towards the Hall Marsh Scrape, disturbing a few birds, as it landed. A little further on, another Muntjac bounded off after seeing me. A female. Inevitably.

Another photo of Mickey: 'what's that clicking noise?'
There wasn't much to report on the walk through the lakes, other than noticing that all the Great Crested Grebes on show today, were all in their breeding plumage. I did hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker call out.

I reached the part of the trail that leads to the Bittern Hide. I immediately heard a Ring-necked Parakeet screech out somewhere. A little further on I spotted a drake Goosander, on the lagoon adjacent to the relief channel. There were quite a number of people along this stretch. I guess I don't have to tell you who and with what.

Great Crested Grebe
Just before I reached the Hide, a few LVRP guys were doing some coppicing work. They were scaring all the dogs, who didn't want to go anywhere near them.

'One for sorrow.....'
I found the Bittern Hide quite full when I arrived. On perusing the sightings board I could see that a Bittern had been seen several times this morning, the last time about 30 minutes previously. Unfortunately, that was the last time it was seen, as it never re-appeared for the rest of the day.
However, a Water Rail showed briefly, a few times; a Cetti's Warbler was heard, then seen, flitting around the reeds in front; the resident Grey Heron was present and fishing, after standing still for a time; a Sparrowhawk flew through, snatching a poor, unfortunate Great Tit and then a Buzzard could be seen, high up in the sky, being mobbed by a Carrion Crow. Out over the lake I could see more Lapwing, who were also going up every few minutes.

The sun was shining directly into my eyes and it was quite difficult to see anything. A familiar face was in the Hide, just like the last visit. Eventually, I got fed up of waiting. It was starting to get cold, the sun was a pain and so, after lunch, I headed off.

female Goosander
I took the same route as the last time, left out of the Hide. Along the trail I spotted a pair of Goosander, in almost the same place as the two females were, last time. They were busy fishing, as was another Great Crested Grebe. Just a bit too far away.

There wasn't too much around on the way to the Grebe Hide. A few Goldfinch; more Great Crested Grebes; a Little Grebe at the Weir. Some Jackdaws flew over, chacking as they went. There were several Mallards following me, along the relief channel, hoping for a handout. They were to be disappointed, but they did look good in the sunlight. The rays were reflecting off the males' green head.

A little further on a Kestrel flew over the relief channel to my left and landed on a branch. Too far for a photo and, anyway, I was looking into the sun. On the main lake I could see a few more Great Crested Grebes and a some Pochard.
Drake Mallard, looking good in the sunshine.

I reached the Grebe Hide and sat down. There wasn't very much out there, maybe around 30 birds. Mainly Tufted Duck, with a sprinkling of Pochard. A few Coot and Gull were swimming aimlessly about. Well, aimless to me.

A few minutes later I spotted a drake Goldeneye, way out to the right. A minute or so after that, I could see another redhead Smew. Both were busy fishing, diving down every few seconds. Out to my left I could see a pair of Little Grebe and then I spotted 2 pairs of Great Crested Grebe. A pair of Grey Herons flew in and landed on top of the trees, in front of the Hide. They began a mutual preen.

Jay - love that wing-flash!
I headed back down the trail. Looking out over the relief channel, to the lagoon, towards the Farm, I could see all the usual wildfowl, swimming about. This time no Fox or Muntjac. However, I could hear and see a Great Spotted Woodpecker, high up on a tree.

Soon I was sitting back down in the Bittern Hide. Just before I entered, a man with 2 dogs, both off the lead, entered as well. Fortunately, he didn't stay too long. One other guy was already in there. Almost immediately a Jay appeared and posed. Then a pair of Ring-necked Parakeets flew in and landed on the feeders. I'd heard that this had happened before now, while I had also seen upto a dozen flying around the area. They seem to be expanding their territory. The Cetti's showed well again.

Ring-necked Parakeet
There may not have been a Bittern today, but, instead, a buck Muntjac suddenly appeared in one of the reedcuts and proceeded to walk around the perimeter of the pond, towards the Hide. It came to within about 10 feet of me, unconcerned as I snapped away. He then walked straight past the front of the Hide, to the right-hand side and then slowly made the return circuit, before disappearing whence he came. I've never been that close to a Muntjac before and certainly haven't managed any good photos. Quite exhilarating!

I waited until dusk, to see if the Bittern would appear, to roost. No show, so I headed off. Not before Mickey the Muntjac reappeared, this time bringing his girlfriend, Minnie, with him. Too dark for any more photos. On the trail back, on the relief channel, a pair of Great Crested Grebes floated by.

No Bittern, but an enjoyable day nonetheless.

'East African vampire spiders drink human blood by
eating mosquitoes that have just bitten humans.'

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Winter Has Arrived!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 19th January 16

Weather: Cloudy. Cold. Very Cold.

Bird Total: 51
Plus: Konik Pony; Muntjac.

Winter has certainly arrived. Today was cold enough to freeze the knickers off a vicar's wife!

However, I was again armed with my 'magic scarf'. Plus several layers. Thankfully, there was no cold wind, although there was a severe overnight frost. Carol had forecast clear skies today - we had a cloud layer covering us instead. It did brighten up later in the afternoon, though.

Unfortunately, the trains were playing silly buggers again today. My intended train had broken down, just outside the station. I had to wait over 30 minutes for the driver to 'reboot' his train and get things moving again. Consequently, I arrived at the Reserve much later than normal.

On the journey down I noticed that all the lagoons and ponds were now frozen over. At least the danger of flooding has been averted. However, it meant that there wasn't much to see.

In fact, there wasn't much to see, numbers-wise, all day. I guess the birds had decided to stay in their warm beds. Walking up a freezing canal path, I was thinking much the same! I've only just switched my central heating on, at home.

Although there did seem to be a fair few people about, mainly Birders. The usual loony joggers plus cyclists. And, of course, the usual dog-walkers. Though, even the dogs were looking miserable, out in this cold.

There were a few people at the Watchpoint, when I arrived, but few birds. Surprisingly, there were no Lapwing around. All the usual suspects were about. The first thing I spotted was a lone Muntjac, foraging beside the White Hide. And the three Konik Ponies were also busy feeding, out towards the Gladwin Hide. I'd heard from Jenny that the missing one was suffering from 'laminitis'. It's suspected that it could have been due to people feeding them (hence all of the signs). Luckily a sanctuary near Nazeing have taken her on. The pony, not Jenny.

A Common Scoter and a few Mandarin Ducks had been reported here recently. The Scoter had obviously moved on by now, but the Ducks had hung around and so I kept an eye out for them.

It was fierce cold out, but thankfully no wind to bring the temperature down even further. Still, I didn't hang around, especially as there wasn't much to see out on the lake. I headed down to the Gladwin Hide.

There were several, noisy, people in the Hide, when I arrived, but they soon left.  I scanned the lake and eventually found 5 drake and 3 female Goldeneyes; 4 Great Crested Grebes and a few Pochard. The Smew wasn't seen today.

I headed off, for a walk through the Woodland. There was one other Birder about to enter the path there, too. It was his first visit to Amwell and so I showed him where all the previous sightings were. We managed to see Goldfinch; Redwing; Goldcrest; Long-tailed Tit; Treecreeper and Siskin. Then we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Quite a good haul!

We were joined by a familiar face, armed with long lens and a dog. Fortunately, the dog was well behaved. After a brief look over the Bittern Pool, we sat down in the James Hide. The lagoon here was frozen over, too. The feeders were still empty, although the nut feeder was still attracting a few birds. Surprisingly, there were no Reed Buntings around today.

The guys soon left me to it and I settled in to wait for something to happen. The usual birds were around the feeders, Greats and Blues; Robins; Wrens and Dunnocks. We even had a visit from a male Blackbird. The odd Cormorant flew over.

Then a movement caught my eye, out to the left, along the little inlet, adjacent to the lagoon. I looked through my Bins and was delighted to see a Water Rail, picking its' way down the edge of the reeds. It looked as if it would walk out in to the open and across the Hide. Unfortunately, a Moorhen came from nowhere and scared it off. It made a few more, brief, appearances. A Cetti's Warbler was sounding off, somewhere close.

Then several people came and went. 'Much about?'

Water Rail
One of them happened to be Mrs Water Vole. 'Have you seen Katy, I've lost her?' I shook my head, unless Katie was imitating a Water Rail.

She soon left, but returned a little later, still sans Katy. She was now very worried. So I packed up my gear to join in the search. We headed up the trail, towards the Dragonfly Trail entrance. No Katy. So we carried on, under the bridge and headed in to an area which would have taken us into Easneye Wood. I fervently hoped that Katy had not headed up there - it was a long walk.

However, our fears were allayed, as we spotted the lesser-crested Katy, in her winter plumage, walking towards us, a big smile on her face.

'What's up?' Katy asked, seeing her mum's worried look. Mum glared at her, 'do you know how many photo opportunities I've missed, looking for you?'

I was thinking about a quick exit. However, I hadn't visited this part of the Reserve before and when Katy mentioned that Kestrel; Woodpeckers and Nuthatch were about, I decided to explore the area.

In the 30 minutes or so we were there, we spotted Kestrel; Green Woodpecker; Redwing and Grey Heron. On the walk back we spotted a lovely Coal Tit, flitting around the branches. Then Katy headed off on her own, again, forcing her mum and I to rush after her.

We sat down in the James Hide and had lunch. While we were there, we saw a female Muntjac, in the reed cut. Then the Water Rail reappeared, along the edges of the lagoon, allowing a few modest photos. A pair of Moorhens were also present, looking resplendent in the sunshine that had finally appeared.

I was grateful for a little bit of extra warmth. My nose had started to run faster that Usain Bolt and I had lost all feeling in my toes. My fingers were coming out in sympathy.

Just as we exited the Hide, we heard, then saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which was soon joined by a second. We then moved back to the Watchpoint. Where I added a pair of Teal and a pair of Lapwing to the list. The Lapwing were then joined by several dozen more.

The women decided to take a walk through the Woodland. A few more Birders arrived, asking about the female Bearded Tit. One of them started playing 'Beardie' calls from his phone. The Bearded Tit immediately replied and then appeared, in the reedbeds in front of us. She disappeared soon after, realising that none of her brothers or sisters were about.

Another Robin!
Just as I had decided to head down to the Gladwin Hide again, to search for the Smew, a few Common Snipe could be seen on the island. There were also one or two closer in.

No Smew outside the Gladwin Hide, unfortunately. However, loads of Wigeon had turned up and were noisily swimming about. It made it difficult to spot the Smew, if it were around. A Jay squawked on the island in front and then flew over the Hide.

With no Smew I headed back to the Watchpoint to find Ron Cousins and a few others, on Gull Watch duty. I was told that the Mandarin Ducks were only appearing just before dusk and so I resolved to wait it out, to see them.

Night, night!
Whilst waiting for the Ducks, we again spotted the Beardie, flitting around the reeds, calling. Then a Sparrowhawk put the Lapwing up, as it flew past. It was now getting dark. And cold. No Mandarin Ducks. I couldn't wait any longer.

I looked at the time and realised I only had 11 minutes to get the next train. Otherwise it would be another 30 minutes of waiting around here, in the freezing cold. I decided to go for it and part-ran down the trail. I made it with seconds to spare. However, I paid dearly for it. With heavy pack and heavy boots, it damn near killed me. I only recovered my breath just as I was arriving home. I won't be doing that again!

A freezing cold, train-delayed, but ultimately satisfying day out.

'Do More Of What Makes You Happy.'