Thursday, 9 March 2017

February Highlights!

Weather: At the start of the month, a south-westerly brought mild, but unsettled weather, which was wet and windy, frequently sweeping north-eastwards across the UK. Conditions then became colder and quieter, with regular easterly winds and snow for some in the second week. From the third week onwards it was generally mild and after a fairly quiet spell, it turned wet and windy towards the end of the month. Storm Doris brought damaging winds and significant snow for some.

Places Visited: Amwell; Cheshunt; Norway; Rye Meads.

Star Sightings of the Month:
Bird: King Eider
Mammal: Moose

The Arctic is a canary in the coal mine of the world’s climate.
It's sending us a warning cry.

The highlight this month was the much-anticipated trip to Norway, to try to see the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights. I had failed to see them on earlier trips, in years gone by.

However, this time my luck finally changed, seeing great displays over two nights. One was on dry land, just outside Tromso, whilst the other display was on board one of the famous Hurtigruten cruise ships.

After a few abortive and frustrating attempts, I managed to take a few photographs. Before the trip I had read up on which settings to use and, although heeding the advice, the results weren’t too encouraging. However, when I ‘did my own thing’, the results were quite spectacular, even if I say so myself.

The ‘Lights’ weren’t the only things to see in northern Norway. King and Common Eiders were present and in some numbers, together with Long-tailed Duck, Common and Velvet Scoter, Goldeneye, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, White-tailed Eagle, Purple Sandpiper, Black Guillemots, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Hawfinch, Bullfinch, Siskin and Snow Bunting. It was a short list, with only 34 species seen - by me - but a quality one.

There was also a surprise bird that was much deliberated by the group. At least three of us saw what we were fairly sure was a Yellow Wagtail, a bird that should have be down in Africa around now. Unfortunately, it flew off before I could get a photo.

The mammal count was low, but, apart from loads of Reindeer, we had a wonderful sighting of a Moose. A few Harbour Porpoise and Otter were seen by others in the group.

On the last day, in Trondheim, I was in such a good mood I even let the others drag me around on a City Tour, taking in some dead stuff, i.e. Museums and Cathedrals. I must have been happy – I even took a few photos!

Norway’s visit was at the end of the month. Due to poor weather, I only managed two other visits this month. A combined trip to Amwell/Rye Meads and another to Cheshunt.

My good friends, Shane and Marianne, made the trip up to see me, for the combined visit. I wasn’t sure which Reserve we should go to, so I hedged my bets and suggested we visit both.

The morning visit to Amwell produced Water Rail, Goldeneye, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Siskin, Kingfisher and Muntjac. The visit to Rye Meads was just as productive, seeing Shelduck, Grey Heron, Chiffchaff, Kingfisher, Green Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Buzzard and Little Egret.

There was a report of a Bittern at RM, but it remained elusive to us. It was a cold, but excellent day, with great company.

The trip to Cheshunt was a lot more interesting than the previous visit there. Reports of Smew a few days earlier had tempted me down. It had been seen on one of the lakes I don’t usually visit. After about 15 minutes, I spotted the drake, floating beside a small island, in the middle of the lake. It was a good start.

A little later, a Redhead was seen on Friday Lake. Little Egret was seen, then I found a pair of Great Crested Grebes, in courtship mode, in the same area as last year. I watched them for about 30 minutes, seeing the weed exchange, before moving on. Mindful of earlier experiences, I also kept a wary eye out for any dog-walkers.

Unfortunately, it was another Bittern no-show again today. However, there were excellent close-up views of Water Rail and Jay. There were also a pair of White-fronted Geese, at the back of lake.

A little later, on the way back, I had terrific, close-up views of Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Kingfisher, while a pair of Muntjac eyed me cautiously, from the opposite bank, as I walked by.

Not many outings this month, after last month’s extravaganza, but all were memorable in their own way.

Hopefully, the weather will improve in March. I’ve been looking forward to my favourite season – Spring – for seemingly ages.

Empty vessels make the most noise.

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