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.'