Wednesday, 23 March 2016

A Close Encounter With A German Sniper! *

Amwell Nature Reserve - 11th March 16

Weather: Sunny, slight cloud. Cold wind.

Bird Total: 62
Plus: Bank Vole; Grey Squirrel; Konik Pony; Muntjac; Rabbit; Rat; Weasel.

After a thoroughly miserable week, weather-wise, I was determined to get out today. It was forecast to be overcast and cloudy all day. Surprisingly, it turned out to be quite sunny and warm, at times, with only slight cloud. Thank God they got it wrong, again, although they still remain unforgiven.

Sadly, I'd been doing some more housework all week and so was champing at the bit to get out and about. I had managed to achieve everything this week, in the House, everything save paint your wagon. And a good thing too, as the day turned into one of those red-letter days. High totals of bird and mammal species were seen.

There was a surprise on the journey down - no Canada Geese to be seen anywhere on the adjacent fields. However, I did spot quite a few Wigeon and several Teal; a lone Little Egret; a pair of Great Crested Grebes and, best of all, a pair of Egyptian Geese. There were no conflabs of Moorhen or Woodpigeon today.

Just before I arrived at the Station, I bumped into a good friend, walking down the road, with an empty pushchair. I did point out that she may have forgotten something. She laughed, saying the little'un had been dropped off at the babysitters. I guess that's what happens when you have absolute power.

As I passed the Jolly Fisherman pub, I could see and hear lots of House Sparrow action in the bushes. Just after I entered the Canal Path I was delighted to spot my first Shield Bug of the season. At first, I thought it was a Forest Bug, but I later identified it as a Winter adult Common Green Shield Bug.

Jew's Ear Fungus
The sun was shining, with a thin layer of strato-cumulus. Although quite warm there was a cold breeze blowing. A few dog-walkers passed by, as did a few joggers and cyclists. A Greenfinch was calling out, high in the trees. The Konik Ponies had recently been moved onto the field, adjacent to the train line. I could see all three of them, standing in the early morning mist, wondering if a pale rider was amongst them.

There were a couple of people at the Watchpoint, when I arrived. A sweep of the lake brought me a lone Great Crested Grebe, feeding close in; a male Reed Bunting calling out, which was balancing precariously on the reeds in front; plenty of Wigeon swimming about, most of which were whistling away; one or two Grey Herons flying past; loads of Lapwing, mostly on the island in front; two drake Goldeneyes, way out to the right; a few Teal to the left and finally, a pair of Egyptian Geese, swimming slowly past the White Hide.

I could also see at least 5 species of Gull out there. Then a large group of noisy crumblies turned up. Some of them were certain that they could see one of the recently reported Caspian Gulls, perched up on one of the goal posts. I'm no Gull expert, so I kept quiet.

What with all the noise they were making - the people, not the birds - I decided to head down to the Gladwin Hide. I was only in there for a few minutes before spotting the resident redhead Smew, swimming slowly around, in front of the island opposite. Another Great Crested Grebe was close-by and I could see 2 pairs of Goldeneye, out to the left, diving down every few seconds. There was also a Green Woodpecker calling out.

However, at that point, the ‘crumbly brigade’ arrived and spread themselves out around me. I pointed out the Smew and then made a quiet exit, heading for the Woods.

Where I bumped into the three amigos, walking towards me. They told me that a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker had been seen from the Bridge, on the way to the Dragonfly Trail. During the meanwhilst, in the Woods, I managed to spot a Treecreeper and a couple of Goldcrests.

A quick look out over 'The Pool' and then into the James Hide. Where I immediately spotted the 2 juvenile Bank Voles, out in the open, feeding. It was a quiet start, apart than that. However, the feeders were full and again doing great business, with, in particular, lots of Reed Buntings. This time I was determined not to photograph them, as I already have hundreds of shots. A Water Rail crossed the reed-cut a couple of times, but too quickly for a photo.

Unfortunately, the ‘crumbly brigade’ had followed me and soon arrived at the Hide. Fortunately, they left soon after - 'We'll leave you in peace!'

It took about 10 minutes for everything to settle back down again. Surprisingly, a Coot had wandered in, quite close to the Hide, to feed. I'd never seen a Coot get that close to the Hide before, even with all the racket.

There then followed a moment of high drama. A Cetti's Warbler called out loudly, quite close to the Hide. I remembered from the last visit that one had hopped past, allowing some photos. I patiently waited for a few minutes and then I could see a few reeds move, just in front.

Sure enough, the bird appeared, albeit behind several reed stems. However, it then flew up and posed for me. Which was fantastic - the bird posed, the light was right but, unfortunately, the camera settings weren't quite correct. I guess, for a few dollars more, I could have bought a better one. Still, I got a few record shots.

I was busy photographing the Cetti's when something caught my eye, just below me. I looked down and saw that a little Weasel had appeared from nowhere. It looked up at me, tilting its' head. I thought that it might disappear after seeing me, but no, it stayed around, hunting. It was pretty quick on its' feet and was difficult to photograph but I did managed to get a few modest shots.

Surprisingly, it stayed around for nearly 15 minutes, darting back and forth, around the Hide. At one point, it started to hunt around the area where the Bank Voles were. Suddenly, I saw it lunge and then I heard a squeal - it had caught one of the Voles. It soon darted off to consume it in private.

Not 60 seconds later, it reappeared and continued in the same vein as before. Finally, I watched as a large Brown Rat entered the arena and chased it off. I had a huge smile on my face and my heart was only beginning to return to normal. What a fantastic 15 minutes or so!

Just before I left, a familiar face appeared and sat down next to me. I sadly informed him that he 'should have been here five minutes ago'. Nothing much happened after that, for about 10 minutes, other than a pair of Grey Squirrels having a territorial dispute. I had a quick cup of hot coffee and headed off.

Outside, heading towards Dragonfly Trail, I spotted a Chiffchaff, high in the trees and then another Goldcrest. I could hear a Woodpecker drumming, while another Green Woodpecker called out. I was quietly hoping that the drumming might be the Lesser.

Just before I reached the Bridge, I spotted a Song Thrush, on the ground, sifting through the leaves. It flew off when it saw me. A pair of Buzzards were calling and circling high above. There had been nothing to see at the Twin Lagoons, which I may rename 'The Dead Pool'.

Arriving at the Dragonfly Trail, I met Ron and Ade Hall. They pointed out a couple of Lesser Redpoll on the feeders, together with Goldfinch and Greenfinch. Soon, they were joined by a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers. A pair of Red Kite could be seen high above. Just before we left, I spotted a Siskin fly on to the feeders. A female Muntjac could also be seen in the distance.

Ron and I headed towards the Woodland. It was a tad muddy around here and I nearly slipped up twice. We walked the extension, along the mystic river, looking for Water Voles. There were none, but we made up for it, by spotting Goldcrest; Kestrel; Treecreeper; Redwing; Fieldfare and Grey Heron.

Just before we arrived back at the Dragonfly Trail entrance, we spotted another Muntjac and then a Green Woodpecker, both out on the field. A pair of Red Kites could be seen, as well as a pair of Buzzards, flying only where eagles dare to go. There was nothing else to see, until we arrived back in the James Hide. As the lower tier was nearly full, we sat in the upper tier. Lunch.

At that point, I was thinking that it had already been a great day and so I would be going home a happy chappy. However, the action didn't stop. First up, I photographed a female Reed Bunting. Argh!

Ron spotted a couple of Water Rail, scurrying past the reed-cut, every few minutes. Then, just as I was offering him a cup of hot coffee, he pointed to my right and cried out 'Barn Owl!' We both watched, mesmerised, as it floated past us, silent and ghost-like, not six feet away. It was being pursued by Gulls and Crows, all squawking away at it. Unfortunately, it was too close and too quick for any photos, but it was a fantastically close sighting. It eyed us back cautiously, as it flew past.

The action continued, as a pair of Lesser Redpoll arrived at the feeders and then posed on one of the branches. A lone Marsh Tit quickly followed suit. There was more Water Rail action. A punky-haired white-capped Pheasant came in, as did a pair of Mallard and a lone Moorhen. A pair of Muntjac appeared in the middle of the reed-cut and walked idly into the reeds. Finally, a pair of Teal flew in.

The light was again really good and we both photographed anything that moved. This was the moment that Ron introduced me to the 'German Sniper'. His camera finger is a bit on the heavy side and all I could hear was a staccato of shots going off, every time he pointed it at something.

He grinned at me and said that he was a 'German Sniper'. I gave him a blank look and he replied, 'Herr Trigger!' We both cracked up and started laughing like schoolboys. It was another one of those moments, I guess you just had to be there.

However, he then urgently pointed a finger to my left and cried out, 'Bittern!' It hit me like a sudden impact, soon wiping the smile off my face and I squinted in the direction of his finger.

'Are you sure, or are you just winding me up?' I asked. The look on his face suggested he was serious. Both of us stared intensely at the area for another couple of minutes. Then a few reeds moved and we both cried out, 'Bittern!'

'Punky' the Pheasant!
Finally! I've spotted a Bittern here, after so many failures and disappointments, this year. Unfortunately, it was creeping stealthily behind several reeds and stubbornly refused to walk out into the open. Actually, it looked quite small and so was possibly a juvenile.

We both dashed downstairs to see if it provided better views. A couple of people were still in there and hadn't seen it. Unfortunately, they were both sitting on the left hand side of the Hide and were in the line of fire.

For the next 10 minutes, we watched as it finally disappeared into the thick reedbed. With both Ron and I in the upper tier again, together with the couple, we watched the surrounding area, hoping it would appear in the reed-cut. But no, it wasn't seen again. However, I was just elated at seeing it and getting a record shot of it. It had been like walking a tightrope, trying to find this elusive bird.

Finally, the remaining Bank Vole made another, tentative-looking appearance, before a Sparrowhawk flashed past and scared it and the all the birds away. The light was going and time was getting on. Ron decided to head for home, while I headed back to the Watchpoint.

Where Barry Reed and a few of the ‘Gull Watch Brigade’ were present. They pointed out a Caspian Gull, in amongst all the masses of Gulls that were out there. I noted that the island was now devoid of Lapwing.

With nothing else showing and, feeling exhausted, but elated, I headed for home myself. What a fantastic day!

'Don't wait for the perfect moment - take the moment and make it perfect.'