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.'