Wednesday, 6 December 2017

November Highlights!

Weather: The sunshine was the most notable feature this month, ranking as the 9th sunniest November since records began, back in 1929. Most areas had above average sunshine hours, but it still wasn’t as sunny as last year. It was also a colder than average month for the UK overall. Rainfall was below average for most, with the south east being the driest area of the country.

Places Visited:  Amwell, Cheshunt and Rye Meads.

If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to
the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago.
If insects were to vanish the world would collapse into chaos.’

Thanks to the fine weather this month, it was much better on the trip front. Several visits to all three LVRP Reserves were made.

For some reason, the work at Amwell has been delayed, allowing people to visit during the week. When I eventually found out, I took full advantage, paying three visits in all.

The month started where the previous one ended, with visits to Rye Meads. It started well, with a sighting of a pair of Water Pipits, outside the Gadwall Hide. They were quite possibly the same ones from last season.

There were also lots of Wagtails about, Grey as well as Pied; while Kingfisher showings were starting to get less and less. A pair of Stonechats showed up on the goalposts in the HMWT meadow. Redwings continued to flourish, but I have still to see any Fieldfare.

Next up, was a trip to Cheshunt. I had intended to head even further south, to the London Wetland Centre, but problems with the trains changed my mind on that particular morning. It happened again, towards the end of the month, so hopefully, by next month, they will have sorted it all out.

Bitterns were being seen regularly, from the aptly-named Bittern Hide. However, not on the one occasion I was there. Water Rails were good value, though. A pair bickered over feeding rights, giving me good views of their constant squabbling. A pair of Reed Buntings flew around the phragmites. They seem to have been a bit sparse this year.

The Feeders were doing good business, with birds coming and going all the time. As did a few people. From the Hide that is, not the feeders.

Elsewhere, a pair of Kingfishers flashed up and down the relief channel and there were good views of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Unfortunately, despite exhaustive searching, I couldn’t find any Goosander in the surrounding area.

When I heard that Amwell was still open for business I headed down, making three visits in a row.

Goldeneyes had turned up, albeit at the far end of the lake, outside the Gladwin Hide, where the great unwashed weren’t allowed to venture. Red Kite and Sparrowhawk were seen on regular occasions, above Easneye Wood.

A Water Rail gave a wonderful close-up view, in the sunshine, outside the James Hide, where Phil the Pheasant showed up again! It’s been a long time, Phil.

There could only be one reason - because the Feeders were now being regularly topped up again, thanks to Mary & Katy. Other than the regulars, they also brought in Coal Tit & Marsh Tit. Though, the Reed Buntings were conspicuous by their absence.

The walks through the Woodland were disappointing, with very few birds on show, other than single Redwing and Goldcrest. However, on the final visit of the month, a flock of Siskin flew through, stopping off at the Alders. They were my first of the season.

Waterfowl were still arriving, but still arriving in low numbers. I can only hope that, due to the mild weather, they are staying where they are. It will be interesting to see if they turn up if the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Snipe showed up again, early in the month, while Water Rails started to appear on regular occasions, almost everywhere. Gulls started to appear in large numbers, especially at roosting time at Amwell.

It was a little better on the mammal front this month. A Fox was seen sunning itself at Amwell, quite near to a Muntjac, who are now starting to appear regularly. A lively pair of Bank Voles were seen under the Feeders, outside the James Hide.

The absence of anything else, i.e. invertebrates was tempered by the disappearance of the painters & decorators, plus their scaffolding, outside my place. They vanished and lo, there was light and silence prevailed once more.

All in all, a much better month. The first snow fell on the last day of the month, albeit a few flakes. The coming big freeze should hopefully force the Bitterns out of hiding. I know there will be a big freeze – the Daily Express said so.

If a quote appears on Twitter, it is likely to be misattributed.’ Cicero.

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Friday, 10 November 2017

October Highlights!

Weather: October was predominantly shaped by mild west/south-westerly airflow, bringing some spells of unusually high temperatures, both by day and by night. However the winds did turn northerly for the last weekend of the month, bringing the first widespread autumnal frosts. Around the middle of the month, ex-Hurricane Ophelia dragged warm air northwards across the UK, resulting in high temperatures and hurricane-force winds.

Places Visited:  Amwell and Rye Meads.

Star Sightings of the Month:
Bird: Kingfisher
Butterfly: Brimstone
Odonata: Willow Emerald
Insect: Green Shield Bug

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.’

An extremely quiet month produced only three trips out - once to Amwell and twice to Rye Meads.

Various reasons included poor-ish weather; health problems; business meetings and the fact that Amwell had closed down for several months, due to gas works. It doesn’t leave me with many options now - Rye Meads, Cheshunt or WWT Barnes, with maybe a trip down to RSPB Rainham Marsh. A very good year will end with a whimper, unless something special turns up.

My first visit of the month was to Amwell, just before it closed. However, there wasn’t too much about and so I decided to cut my losses and spend the afternoon at Rye Meads. Subsequently, with Amwell then closing down for the Winter I concentrated on RM.

There were several decent birds arriving around the County, but I never managed to pick any of them up. Only the usual suspects were about. Wildfowl continued to arrive, but have yet to appear in any great numbers. The first Snipe started to appear, while Sandpipers, both Common & Green were seen, albeit in ones and twos.

The Kingfishers were still providing great entertainment at Rye Meads, with the male perching up amongst the red berries quite close to the Hide, on several occasions. The first Redwings of the season turned up, but I have yet to see their cousins, the Fieldfare.

I would say that it was all very quiet on the birding front in October, but then I didn’t make much of an effort to get out and about. Only the constant piercing noise of the builders outside my door encouraged me to don several layers and brave the elements.

Although Autumn has now arrived, in force, blowing the golden leaves off the trees, there still haven’t been any decent mammal sightings. However, sandstorms blown up from the Sahara provided a very surreal red sun.

Lepidoptera were predictably sparse but included a lovely Brimstone in the middle of the month, at Rye Meads. Otherwise only several Red Admirals were seen on the wing and I fear that they will be the last of the butterflies for this season.

This year’s odonata season is now sadly almost over as well. Only Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers are still about and only then in small numbers. The last of the Willow Emeralds were seen at Rye Meads, where I found a few pairs egg-laying on a bramble branch – something that even the British Dragonfly Society hadn’t even heard of before. I managed to remember to inform the staff at RM of my findings, so hopefully they will leave everything in place over the winter.


There was a recent report regarding the decline and fall of invertebrates. There has been an alleged 75% decrease over the last 25 years. It’s something that echoes my findings over recent years. I have had to work hard to get sightings of most insects this year and last.

Dock & Green Shield Bugs were seen on a sunny day early in the month. Other than those, the only decent insects still on show included Dark Bush Crickets, a Tortoise Bug and a Hornet. I also noticed that there were still lots of Midges around, reflecting a warm and dry month.

Seasonal work has now begun on all the Reserves, with plenty of strimming and coppicing. For some reason I have volunteered my services to Jenny, at Amwell, for the upcoming Winter BitternWatch. It’ll be interesting to see if we are allowed to enter the area. It’ll be even more interesting if we see a Bittern!

Roll on the Spring!

Change happens only when you replace one story with another.’

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Saturday, 7 October 2017

September Highlights!

Weather: The poor weather continued this month, despite the Daily Star’s assurances of a ‘Scorcher Autumn’. September kicked off with a weak ridge of high pressure which initially brought relatively quiet weather, but the rest of the month was generally unsettled with an unusually high number of rainy days. It was often cool with frequent north-westerlies and belts of persistent rain alternating with brighter showery weather. It then warmed up later in the month, with mainly southerly winds, but was often cloudy with some fog patches.

Places Visited:  Amwell; Norfolk; River Stort/Thorley Wash; Rye Meads.

Star Sightings of the Month:
Bird: Corncrake
Mammal: Pygmy Shrew
Butterfly: Speckled Wood
Odonata: Willow Emerald
Insect: Hawthorn Shield Bug

Yesterday is history, today is a gift, tomorrow is a mystery.’ Bill Keane

After the highlight of PNG, normal service was resumed this month. Actually, it would have been tough to have improved on last month.

There were trips to Amwell and along the River Stort to Thorley Wash. I also paid a couple of visits to Rye Meads, which continues to draw in the crowds and the wildlife. I also spent a few days in Norfolk, a regular, annual occurrence now.

A walk up the River Stort, to Thorley Wash was my first September visit, on the first day of the month. After a slow start, I was eventually delighted to find a dozen or more Willow Emerald damselflies along the river, this time quite close to the Reserve. Indeed, I even spotted three in the Reserve itself.

Then it was off to Rye Meads, for the first of two visits, followed by Amwell. Birds were still quite scarce, although plenty of wildfowl were now arriving.

Common and Green Sandpipers, Snipe and Kingfisher were good value at RM, while Kestrel, Hobby and a late Swallow appeared at Amwell.

I spent three lovely days in Norfolk, mainly for the birding, visiting various Reserves, including Titchwell, Cley and Snettisham. It didn’t disappoint, with plenty of wader species to be seen. I was especially delighted to see a pair of Corncrakes at Pensthorpe NR.

I’ve visited Pensthorpe several times over the years and find it very rewarding. The wader enclosure allows for some very close views. I know it’s not for some, especially twitchers, but it provides better views than most, where they are usually miles away. The Reserve is also very good at conservation, especially for Cranes and Red Squirrels.

Mammal sightings are still few and far between, but there was a lovely little Pygmy Shrew seen visiting Snettisham. There were, of course, the Red Squirrels at Pensthorpe.

The insect season is now starting to wind down considerably. Butterflies, such as the Whites, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood are still to be found, but not much else.

Willow Emeralds are now out in force, in several Reserves, together with Common Darter and Migrant Hawker. The usual, in fact. However, it’s good to see the Emerald distribution and number expanding, especially to HMWT Thorley Wash.

Of the rest of the invertebrates, Spiders, including Cross and Nursery Web, are now out in some number. Adult Dark Bush Crickets, Dock Bugs, hoverflies, bees and wasps are now mostly the only things on view. However, the best sightings were along the canal path, at Amwell, where I found Green Shield, Hawthorn and Forest Shield Bugs.

The flowers? Oh, please. Buddleia and Purple Loosestrife are the only things still noticeable. There is, of course, plenty of flora about, but I forget the names. My fingers aren’t particularly green.

Not quite as good a month as August – but then, how could you top Papua New Guinea? Despite the continuing dismal weather, it was quite a good few weeks. Norfolk is always worth a visit, no matter the time of the year!

When to the session of sweet silent thought summon up remembrance of things past.’
Shakespeare's Sonnet

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