Weather: Cloudy and misty early on, turning sunny, with blue skies.
Bird Total: 55
Plus: Grass Snake; Muntjac; Rabbit.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Large Red, Red-eyed damselflies. Broad-bodied Chaser, Four-spotted Chaser, Hairy dragonflies.
Plus: Comma, Orange Tip, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood butterflies. Mint Moth.
Plus: 2/7/14/16-spot and Harlequin Ladybird; Alderfly; Banded Snail; Bluebottle; Buff-tailed Bumblebee; Cardinal Beetle; Cuckoo Spit; Crane Fly; Dark Bush Cricket; Flesh Fly; Green Lacewing; Hoverfly; Long-jawed Orb Spider; Mayfly; Midge; Nursery Web Spider; Pond Skater; Robber Fly; Roman Snail; Scorpion Fly; Soft-winged Flower Beetle; Soldier Beetle; Water Boatman.
Plus: Common Spotted Orchid, Cowslip, Cow Parsley, Dandelion, Early Marsh Orchid, Forget-Me-Knots, Hawthorn, Lesser Celandine, Southern Marsh Orchid.
It was another fantastic day at Amwell. I was again up at the crack of dawn, arriving at the Reserve around 7am. Maybe getting here early is the key!
It was a very misty, cold, grey morning. Consequently, there was hardly anything to be seen, out on the adjacent fields, as we sped by. As a result, I decided to concentrate on my people-watching skills. I'm always fascinated by everyone’s antics on the trains and while waiting at Stations. Nearly everybody had his or her head down, looking at some gadget or other. Or 'generic fruit-based devices', as I like to call them. And 90 per cent of them were older-generation male. Just passing observations.
No one was looking at me. Or maybe they all were, when my back was turned. Or am I just being paranoid?
By the time I was walking along the Canal Path the sun had ventured out and was soon burning off the morning mist. However, I noticed that, whenever it retreated behind a cloud, it cooled down considerably. Luckily, I had brought a pullover with me, although it wasn't quite cold enough for my magic scarf.
The dawn chorus was still in full swing, chiefly Chiffchaff, with a spattering of Sparrow and a dollop of Dunnock. I heard the call of a Wagtail, by the Lock. I looked over and spotted a lovely Grey Wagtail, atop one of the gates, happily singing away.
A Little Grebe whinnied out somewhere nearby, while a Cetti's Warbler song exploded quite near, making me stop in my tracks, to try to locate it. No chance. Scores of Swifts were screaming past overhead, mouths agape, capturing the numerous and unfortunate flying insects that happened to be in their way.
It was too cold for insects on the flora around me and so, after only a cursory look, I found myself at the Watchpoint. Nobody else was around. The early shift had either already departed or hadn't yet arrived.
There weren't too many early birds, either. Thus, the worms could breathe easier. I was initially worried that it might be a slow day. Water levels were down around the scrape making it look, well, more scrapey. However, other than the usual birds, which, I noted, weren't plentiful, all I could see on the first sweep were 1 Little Egret, 1 Little Ringed Plover, a Mute Swan family and plenty of Grey Herons. A noisy Muntjac was calling out, somewhere near Easneye Wood.
I tooled up before making a second sweep with my Bins. The LRP count went to two, with the second one looking like it had lost a leg. I wondered if it had been involved in the same fracas as 'Oneshank'? I could see at least 3 Common Terns, while a very vocal male Reed Bunting was, even now, still trying to attract the females. Plenty of Warblers were evident, calling Reed and Sedge Warblers being the lead vocalists.
A pair of Great Crested Grebes were head-shaking their allegiance to one another. In their world, a human ‘no’ is a Grebe’s definitive ‘yes’. I half expected to see the famous 'water ballet', but it's late May now and they've probably already gone through that ritual. Nevertheless, I was still disappointed when they dived down and started feeding. Some of the hoi-polloi in London may have expensive tickets for Covent Garden. This ballet, though, would have been free of charge.
I scanned the skies for any raptors, but could only see Swifts living up to their name. I decided to give the lake one more sweep, seeing a pair of Lapwing fly in, go into display mode, before landing on the island. A Shoveler was tucked up in bed, unaware that he was the last of his kind around here and should have been queuing up at the departure's gate long ago.
Just before I departed, an Egyptian Goose honked its' arrival, while more Lapwing and Common Tern turned up, no doubt with passports at the ready. Still no other birders in sight. Did they all know something I didn't? Had they been tipped off about a twitch?
I'm no twitcher, so I didn't mind having the place to myself. On the stroll down to the Gladwin Hide, I disturbed at least 3 Azure damsels, all lifting gently off, as I approached. I watched, as they effortlessly glided a little further away from me, alighting on another leaf or stem.
Further on, more Azures appeared, with Blue-tail and Common Blue joining the party. Many were recent additions today, all teneral-like. The clouds were now starting to disappear, as Carol said they would, to be replaced with warm sun. I debated as to whether I should divest myself of the comfortable fleece. Maybe not yet. I hadn't taken a pollen pill today and, even though the pollen was everywhere, it didn't set me off.
I made myself comfortable in the Gladwin Hide. A couple of shutters were still open. I opened some more. A Swallow immediately flew in and then flew back out again. On the scrape outside a pair of mating Pheasants were going at it. And I've only just had my breakfast.
A Lapwing could be seen to the right, appraising the Pheasants' performance, voyeuristic-like. I don't know about the Lapwing, but I gave Phil an eight, for stamina. Elsewhere, I could hear the peeping call of an Oystercatcher. I knew they had a nest on the island opposite, but the overgrown flora was obscuring them.
Again, there wasn't much out on the lake. However, I could see at least 3 pairs of Great Crested Grebe, all keeping a wary distance between themselves. They looked to be eyeing each other suspiciously and I could feel the tension, even from the safety of the Hide. I wouldn't want to be caught up in the middle of a Grebe conflict, with those dagger-like bills.
The eternal echoes of Warbler song continued around me, with the usual Reed and Sedge leading the charge. Reed Buntings were also present, the males a little braver than the others, perched high up on the phragmites.
The clouds were now almost gone and it was a carpet of blue up there. I didn't want to waste it, so I headed back. I left the shutters open, just in case the Swallow was nesting. They've been known to, in the past.
I found a lone Soldier Beetle on the way back, possibly on forward observation post duty. Back at the Watchpoint I added several Pochards to the list, while another Swallow zoomed by, trying to avoid a collision with the entire Swift population.
Just before I took my first steps into the Wood I spotted the distinctive yellow of a tiny 14-spot Ladybird and then some Cuckoo Spit, bubbling up against the stems. It looks like the Ladybird population has exploded in recent days - I've never seen so many. A woman and her dog then passed me and walked into the Wood. Damn.
I hung around for a few minutes, waiting for her to disappear. I wandered over to a patch of bramble, which was in the sunshine. I love patches of bramble in the sunshine. This patch proved particularly fruitful. The first thing I spotted was a Soft-winged Flower Beetle, only my second-ever. A male Scorpion Fly was next up to perform, its' stinger-like tail giving it away. Although it looks vicious, the stinger isn't strong enough to penetrate human skin.
A few inches away from it was a Green Lacewing, which was slightly blue. It fluttered away before I could photograph it. A Dark Bush Cricket was perched up, taking in the sun's rays. It was quite small, obviously one of the first of the season.
The woman had indeed disappeared by now and so I started my Wood walk. I could hear plenty of bird song, but, frustratingly, I couldn't see any of them. The only bird of note I did see, was a male Blackcap. Possibly because I was looking out for more insects. This part of the Wood was crawling with Harlequin ladybirds. An invasive species, they are slightly larger than our own Ladybirds, only more voracious.
I made my way over the bridge. Just before I was about to join the main trail, I spotted another male Scorpion Fly, on more bramble. I had to lean out to photograph it. As I was doing so, a man with a crazy dog walked past, looking at me.
'No, just a Scorpion Fly.'
'Wow, is it dangerous?'
'No, but don't let your dog get too close to it!'
I managed to suppress a laugh as he tied the lead back on and dragged the bewildered beast away. When I turned back to the Fly it had flown off. However, a movement caught my eye and soon a male Banded Demoiselle flew in and landed quite close. How lucky was that?
I passed the 'Pool', giving it a perfunctory look, sniffed once and then headed for the James Hide. Just before I reached the gate I remembered to check the Treecreeper nest. I looked over at their tree, blowing the pollen out of my nose, when one of the adults appeared. Hold on, I'm not ready!
Fortunately, it wasn't long before Fred and Cyd made regular appearances. However, this time they weren't going straight into the nest and I could just see some movement around the side of the tree. When the adults flew off I trained my Bins on the movement. At first, I feared that it was just a blessed illusion, but then I was delighted to see a newly-fledged chick, clinging to the bark.
I quickly opened the gate and slowly crept close to the fenceline. This was a much better and closer look at it. As luck would have it, the bird and the surrounding area were the only things in the sunshine. Fledgling Treecreepers don't fly off, even when they see something as ugly as me approaching. They just hug the tree and rely on camouflage.
I clicked off a few shots and then patiently awaited the adults' return. A few minutes later, one of the adults did return, beakful of insects. I watched, delightedly, as parent fed chick. This lullabying-like scene was repeated every few minutes and I stood there for around 15-20 minutes, enjoying the show.
Another male Blackcap was singing and even flew in quite close, possibly wondering what I was looking at, if not him. However, I ignored him and continued to watch the Treecreeper action. Eventually, I decided I had taken enough photos and so entered the James Hide. It was a truly magnificent show. London's West End had nothing on this! It was a grandstand view and completely free of charge.
Just as I had sat down, another Birder friend of mine, Peter Woods, entered. I quickly showed him the Treecreeper area and left him to get his own winning shots. Outside the Hide, only Reed and Sedge Warblers could be heard and sometimes seen. One Sedge Warbler in particular was very vocal, as he sat atop a thin branch, high up above the reeds.
Several Little Egrets flew over. The Moorhen family, with 2 chicks, were still present. Reed Buntings were flying around everywhere. Two male Tufted Ducks splashed down and were immediately scared off by the resident Coot. A male Orange Tip fluttered by, the first butterfly of the day.
We headed up the path, towards the Dragonfly Trail. Plenty of bird song accompanied us, but the only thing of note was the first Speckled Wood of the season, which Peter spotted.
Entering the Dragonfly Trail, the first thing we came across was a Blue-tailed damsel, in its' rufescens form, another teneral. We split up and wandered up and down the boardwalk. Although very warm and sunny, not much was about. Around 10 minutes in, we spotted a male Hairy dragon, patrolling his patch of turf. Or pond. Not long after, another male appeared and they started buzzing each other.
While I was rummaging around the long grass, collecting nettle stings, looking for Large Reds, a shout went up and I just managed to get a brief view of a departing Four-spotted Chaser. Then another familiar face showed up.
After about 20 minutes I had only seen several Blues, mainly tenerals. I was about to head off, towards the river, when our friend cried out that he had found a Large Red, in the area I had just vacated!
I was heading back towards him, when Peter sang out the elegy I had been waiting for - 'Dragon!' It certainly outranked the damsel and so I quickly headed over. To my delight, he had found a newly-emerged Broad-bodied Chaser, the first of the season! I was chuffed, because it was one of the few forms I had missed last year. I had seen plenty of adults, but no fresh immatures. Although this one was still in its' yellow form, it was a male and would soon turn into its’ more familiar chalky-blue pruinescence. It was a cracker!
When it flew off, I decided to hang around the area, to see if it or the Four-spotted Chaser would return and perch up. They didn’t, but I was just as delighted to see several Red-eyed damselflies appear. Again the first of the season. They were all in the area where our friend had seen the Large Red, which also promptly flew in and posed. That made nine odonata species today!
On the birding front, a Cuckoo started calling out. A Green Woodpecker could also be heard. Which reminded me to look up, for any raptors. There were none seen, so I carried on looking for odonata.
Eventually, the others left me to it and I debated on whether to have lunch here and then move on to the river area. In the event, it started to cloud over. Carol had forecast that it would, around this time. Thus, I headed back to have lunch in the James Hide. My lower back was complaining just as badly as my stomach.
Back in the James Hide, after having another dose of Treecreeper action, I sat down and rewarded my stomach. Outside, during this period, I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker fly over, a Cardinal Beetle drift past and then a Sparrowhawk flashed through, from right to left. This was the only thing that silenced the energetic, but boisterous Sedge Warbler, who was still at it.
Not long after, I was treated to some wonderful Hobby action. First one, then a second, appeared over the area. Rob Stubbs and one other, entered the Hide and, together, we watched a fantastic aerial display. It looked like they were hunting the Swifts, which suddenly all disappeared. Not surprising, really.
Earlier, I had received a text from Ron and not long after, he showed up. I told him about the Treecreeper area and he wandered off to have a look. We hung around the James for a little while, not seeing much more action. We stopped outside to take yet another look at the Treecreepers, before heading off to the Dragonfly Trail. You can never get enough Treecreeper action!
At the Twin Lagoons, we spotted a flighty Cetti's Warbler. I could also see several more Red-eyed damsels, on the newly-formed lilly-pads. Some of which were conjoined and ovipositing. The damsels, not the lilly-pads. There were also a few Moorhens in the area, obviously looking for a tasty damsel meal.
On the boardwalk, on the Trail, Ron quickly spotted a basking Grass Snake, but it snaked into the reeds before we could bring our cameras to bear. Ade Hall then arrived. Not long after, a female Hairy dragon could be seen ovipositing.
Then I latched on to a male Hairy dragon and somehow managed to keep him in sight until he finally landed. He posed just long enough for Ron to miss him, as it flew off.
Ron and I wandered off, towards the river. Here, I spotted another Soldier Beetle, again on patrol, while Ron had come across an area 'infested' with Mayflies. We watched, transfixed, as one after the other flew up, out of the river and joined the throbbing masses. All along this part of the trail, we could see a veritable feast going on, as everything seemingly gorged on the manna from Heaven.
Just before we left the Trail, a pair of Hairy dragons, in tandem, could be seen. Finally, another Large Red and another Soldier Beetle were spotted. An excellent couple of hours!
Ron discovered my first Comma butterfly of the season, appearing on the trail back to the James Hide, just past the Bridge.
The James Hide was again fairly quiet. The time of year, maybe, but the empty feeders were partly to blame. All we saw was a Jay, crossing the area a couple of times and then we heard a calling Cuckoo. Ron spotted a female Banded Demoiselle perched up, quite close to the Hide.
I decided to head back to the Watchpoint, before returning home. I was feeling quite exhausted by now. When we arrived, Ade and Ron Cousins were there. Surprisingly, there were hardly any birds out on the lake, now. I'd never seen it so empty.
With nothing to see, we all headed off. On the Canal Path I spotted a few Sand Martins, in amongst the, now, scores of Swifts.
Another brilliant, winning day, at a Reserve that hardly ever disappoints. Even the trains were early, for once.
‘If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world's ecosystems would collapse.’ Sir David Attenborough