Monday, 12 March 2018

February Highlights!

Weather: February started with a chilly northerly wind, while the rest of the first week was generally cold. The middle of the month was milder with westerly and south-westerly winds. However, the final week brought a very cold easterly flow with widespread snow and some notably low daytime temperatures. It was called the ‘Beast from the East’ by some and the ‘Hysteria from Siberia’ by others. ‘Snowmageddon’ was my personal favourite.

Places Visited:  Amwell, Cheshunt and Rye Meads.

Coddiwomple - To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.’

The ‘Beast from the East’. Ahem. We had a few snow flurries in the region this month. It appears that Winter doesn’t want to let go.

Unfortunately, a few centimetres were all it took to bring the railways almost to a standstill, thereby preventing me from making more trips out than I did. It was more like the ‘Hysteria from Siberia’.

And the month started so well. On the very first day I headed down to Cheshunt, to try for the Water Rail again. Initially, for most of the day, it was eerily quiet. However, at the very end of the day, things livened up somewhat.

Earlier, I had managed to spot the redhead Smew, out on Friday Lake, pixel-like in the distance. There was a cold wind blowing in off the lake and so I didn't hang around. A portent of things to come, both for the day and later on in the month.

The only thing of note to report on the walk through the lakes, was a Goldcrest. The lack of birds around here is quite disturbing. I can only guess as to why there is such an absence. Woof, woof!

As I entered the trail to the Bittern Hide, I immediately encountered Mary & Katy, who were busy photographing a pair of Great Crested Grebes. It looked as if they were pairing up and nesting on the main river. The Grebes that is, not Mary & Katy.

We spent most of the day ensconced in the Bittern Hide, where I had promised the women great views and photo opportunities of a Water Rail, under the feeders. Alas, it wasn’t to be. For some reason, the Rail stayed hidden. As did most of the wildlife. The only thing of note was a fly-by Sparrowhawk, which scattered all the feeder birds.

We then walked all the way up to the Grebe Hide, my first visit there since last March. There wasn't much to see on the way, other than a brief view of a Jay, through the branches.

There were loads of dog-walkers, cyclists and joggers about the area, as per usual. This place really is set up for people, as opposed to wildlife.

Outside the Grebe Hide there was - not a lot. There were several Great Crested Grebes and one Little Grebe, but most were distant. Several Shoveler were mixed in with them, but not a lot else.

Returning to the Bittern Hide, just before I opened the door, I spied a buck Muntjac adjacent to the feeders. I called the women back and we all entered the Hide. The Muntjac had been spooked by my efforts to attract the women. It was reassuring to see that my efforts at attracting women were still woeful.

After a very quiet day, it then suddenly all kicked off. The buck Muntjac came back near to the Hide and fed for several minutes, before wandering off.

A Great Crested Grebe swam up the channel and fished right in front. Eight Ring-necked Parakeets flew in on to the feeders, spooking everything.

Then the Water Rail finally appeared and proceeded to vacuum up the feeder spillage. Finally, a female Muntjac then appeared on the far bank.

Unfortunately, due to one thing or another, mainly another, my next trip out wasn’t for another 10-12 days.

I chose Rye Meads for the next visit. Sadly, RM’s crown has been slipping of late. Possibly because of a string of average visits; but possibly due to the increase of wildlife to be seen at other places.

The week I visited was also Half-Term and so I expected to see lots of families on the Reserve. I wasn't disappointed. To be fair, most of the children were well-behaved.

The lagoon outside the Draper Hide was still very high, with most of the birds congregating towards the rear of the lagoon. A Sparrowhawk whizzed by, lowdown, from right to left, while a Green Sandpiper was seen way out to the left, by the Kingfisher Sandbank, before flying off. Apart from a Grey Heron, out to the right and the usual stuff, there wasn't much else to see.

A Water Rail was seen outside the Ashby Hide. The water levels outside the Gadwall Hide were very low, with quite a bit of scrape and plenty of islands further back. Unfortunately, so were most of the birds.

There were a pair of Shelduck at the extreme end of the lagoon, in amongst lots of Gulls and Lapwing. Another Green Sandpiper (the same one?) was out to the right, but not near enough for a photo. A pair of Teal were quite close in and in the sunshine, but were both asleep with bills tucked in.

I then spent most of the rest of the visit sat in the Kingfisher Hide. The reason for the long stay was the appearance of a female Kingfisher. Although she was in view for quite some time, she sadly never ventured close enough for a decent photo.

I noticed that the staff had mounted some 'natural' twigs and branches onto the posts that they had installed earlier. I hope they last a little longer than their earlier counterparts did.

Apart from the Kingfisher, there were a pair of Teal that ventured in close on occasion. A Jay was seen towards the far right. A Red Kite could be seen high up, further out to the right, while the Lapwing, from the Gadwall lagoon, were going up every now and then.

Deciding against venturing down to the Warbler Hide, I instead walked part-way to check on the bramble branch, which contained egg galls from last year's Willow Emerald damselflies.

I was horrified to find that someone had chopped it all down, despite my pleas to the staff to leave it in place. I had tied a black and yellow warning ribbon nearby, indicating that it should all be left alone. Behind and near to the pylon was a compost heap and I think I found the branch. Despite being cut to ribbons by the thorns I managed to plant it back into the stream, tying the ribbon around it. Hopefully, it will remain in place long enough for the eggs to hatch into the stream.

From here I headed back to the Draper. I wanted to see if the remaining sunlight would be good enough for some wildfowl photos. Thankfully, lots of Shoveler and Tufted Ducks were near to the Hide and not afraid to swim closer.

A Mute Swan also moved in close, hoping for a handout. After a few dozen shots of the Shovelers I decided to call it a day and head home. However, not before I had an encounter with a pair of Brown Rats near Water Vole Corner.

Then it was the first of two visits to Amwell. After all the excitement of the last couple of months here, things had started to quieten down somewhat.

It was another sunny day, only slightly clouding over later. It started off quite warm, allowing me to remove my magic scarf, but then it turned quite cold towards the end of the day.

I had volunteered (again) to do the BitternWatch with Jenny the day before, but it was forecast to rain from 2pm and so I wimped out and let her down. However, I promised to do a BitternWatch all the next day. Of course, Jenny saw the Bittern fly in to roost, while I saw no sign of it. That'll teach me!

The only birds of note seen on the first visit were a couple of pairs of distant Goldeneye, on the main lake; loads of Wigeon; a fly-by Sparrowhawk, outside the James Hide; a Cetti's Warbler, outside the same Hide; a pair of Coal Tits, ditto and a Treecreeper in the Woodland. Oh, and Mary and Katy, as well. Who were also in the James Hide.

There were also good views of Bank Vole and Brown Rat. Yes, you've guessed it - outside the James Hide.

In fact, I spent most of my day sat in the James Hide. There were loads of people wandering around the Reserve. Quite a lot of them were dog-walkers. In fact, one of them tried coming into the James Hide, with at least two dogs! Added to that, were joggers and cyclists and families, with young children. It was chaos at times.

The second visit was more of the same, with the added delight of seeing a redhead Smew, opposite the Gladwin Hide and Phil the Pheasant, who made a rare appearance, under the pheeders, outside the James Hide.

However, the weather forecast for the day wasn’t quite on the mark. For most of the week they were forecasting light cloud, with sunny intervals. I waited until the Friday, before venturing out, because every day had turned into heavy cloud. In the event, it was heavy cloud on the Friday as well, with an extremely cold wind. The day before would have been a better day to go out. Hey-ho!

There weren’t too many people about this time, just a sprinkling of joggers, cyclists and dog-walkers (inevitably). One of which stood by the Watchpoint, watching his dog harass the ducks and geese near the canal. He had the cheek to smile and wave at me.

In between the Amwell visits I made one more trip to Cheshunt. This time, I managed to get a few half-decent shots of the Water Rail, later in the afternoon, when the sun had finally passed over to the right.

The day's experiences could only be described as 'surreal'.

On the one hand, there was some great photographic action with Great Crested Grebe, Water Rail and Treecreeper. However, on the other, there were so many people - and dogs - that, at times I was being driven to distraction.

First up, on the walk along the canal path, I spotted a large group of very vocal Siskin on the Alders. There was also a Goldcrest lower down, flitting around. The redhead Smew was again on Friday Lake, again in the distance.

I moved on to the Teal Hide. It was fairly innocuous out over the lagoon, with only a Muntjac for excitement. Then I spied a woman over by the far-left corner, who let her Spaniel loose in to the lagoon area. It chased all the Geese and then the Muntjac. I was both despairing and angry.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, as I moved on through the lakes. Almost at once, I was accosted by a dog, which jumped up at me. The owner didn't seem to care. Typical of the species. The owner, not the dog.

There were again loads of people around the area. There seemed to more dogs than usual. Hundreds, in fact. Plus, above average numbers of joggers and cyclists. Total mayhem, no less.

It was probably the reason for the absence of the Great Crested Grebes at the corner of the canal and the relief channel. I moved on to the Bittern Hide, where I also found quite a few people. Who were all making quite a din.

There were no listings of any Bitterns, since the last time I saw one, before Christmas and I fear that it might prove to be last of the season here. Possibly because the reed edges had been cut down. Possibly because of all the people.

I again spent several hours here. I was keen to get more photos of the very obliging Water Rail. Unfortunately, it was a tad too sunny, with the reflection shining directly into my face.

There were several Water Rails milling about. However, it was about an hour before one eventually moved out into the open, towards the feeders. I managed to get some shots but knew they would only be silhouettes.

The other problem was the volume of people coming and going, making a hell of a racket, as they did so. Toddlers screaming, children stamping their feet, people bringing in their dogs. It was utter chaos. I wasn't in there, on my own, for one second. And all of them disturbing the birds, especially the Water Rail, who scuttled away at the slightest noise.

Finally, two old dears, gossiped away, sat next to me. When their mobile fone screamed out I decided enough was enough and headed off, up the trail.

I spotted several Muntjac, but sadly no Goosander. It’s likely that I won’t see any this season now. At the corner, I stopped to look for Goldcrest or Treecreeper. I was delighted to find a pair of Treecreepers creeping up a nearby, er, tree.

Suddenly, a Sparrowhawk flashed by, scaring all the birds in the area. A Treecreepers' defence mechanism is to freeze on the tree, relying on its' camouflage to keep it safe.

I lost sight of one of the Treecreepers, but the other stayed put, lowdown on the tree. It allowed me to move in close to take a few photos, before continuing its' slow climb up the tree. I had never been so close to a Treecreeper before. It totally ignored me, only concerned about the possible re-appearance of the Sparrowhawk.

I continued up the trail, only seeing a Kingfisher flash past, before returning to the Bittern Hide.

There were still lots of people inside. However, the sun had moved around, providing better light for the eventual reappearance of the Water Rail. I managed a few more, better, shots.

Realising that I wouldn't be on my own in the Hide, I headed off to look for the Grebes. Other birds seen today were Ring-necked Parakeet, Egyptian Geese, Jay, Little Egret and Lapwing.

Thankfully, the pair of Great Crested Grebes had returned to the nest. I was just in time to see a mating but had probably missed the courtship display.

I decided to head home at this point, as the sun was going down. On the trail back, I passed two singing Song Thrushes. A nice end to the day.

Then the ‘Beast from the East’ arrived and curtailed the outings. An odd month, but I was pleased with some of the photos. Hopefully, the ‘Beast’ will bugger off and allow the country to get back to normal.

I'm leaving now to go find myself.... if I arrive before I get back,
please ask me to wait!’

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.
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Friday, 9 February 2018

January Highlights!

Weather: January saw very changeable weather. The month began unsettled and mild, but windy. Then there was a quiet and cold spell, with high pressure dominant. The rest of the month saw a return to an unsettled westerly type, with fronts crossing the country at regular intervals. It was generally mild, although some parts saw colder conditions in the third week, with snow in most areas.

Places Visited:  Amwell, Rye Meads, Cheshunt and Santon Downham.

Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.’

Coming up on the show tonight…...!

It was a customary high number of visits this month. Several trips were paid to Amwell, with visits to the other two LVRP Reserves at Rye Meads and Cheshunt. However, the outstanding visit of the month was to Santon Downham, near Thetford. More of that later.

The first two visits of the year were to Amwell. Not only were there mixed fortunes on the wildlife front, the Reserve also saw an enforced closure.

With the finish of the work along the canal everyone assumed that the Reserve would revert to normal operations, with access to the Gladwin Hide. Only to find a few days later, that the place had to be shut down because of the discovery of the dreaded Bird Flu, with the unearthing of several dead birds around the area. Fortunately, it was reopened less than a week later, with DEFRA giving it the all-clear.

The vandals at the James Hide were still in the vicinity, with the Hide looking even worse than ever. Fortunately, Jenny and her staff were on hand to clear up the mess, so that we punters could sit in peace and comfort. Mrs Watervole & Katy Kingfisher continued to keep the Hides’ feeders full, despite all the carnage around them.

Also, the leaf-blowers had thankfully departed, albeit leaving lots of leaves around. Unfortunately, most of the wildlife had also gone. There didn’t seem to be much about, certainly not in the Woodland, early on. Goldeneye were still around, on the main lake, as were a few redhead Smew. However, there was much more lake than birds.

Coal and Marsh Tit were regular visitors to the feeders, which seemed to be doing great business. Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Siskin were also seen around the area, mostly on the Alders. My first Song Thrush, for a long while, appeared on one of the walks up the canal. It was singing away, low down on a branch, right out in the open.

A bonus was seeing a pair of Ravens being harassed and chased off by a Peregrine, high up above the Dragonfly Trail. Ravens 0 Peregrine 1; a good away win.

Most of the lagoons and ponds were either frozen over or were about to be. It was quite amusing to see Moorhens and Coots trying to skate across the ice, wondering what had happened to all the water.

I also managed to take part in this months’ ‘Bittern Roost Watch’, organised by Jenny. A handful of us, including Sylvia Undata, spent the last hour of daylight not seeing a Bittern. Sylvia even remarked, ‘I could have spent the hour at home, not seeing a Bittern!’

As usual, the Bittern turned up the next day. C’est la vie!

Still to come…….!

I have always tried to avoid visits to Rye Meads at weekends, due to the presence of the ‘Great Unwashed’. I also avoid Tuesdays & Thursdays, due to work parties out on the Reserve. And now, because of shortage of staff, they have decided to close the Reserve on Fridays, for the foreseeable future. Hence the reason for just the one visit this month.

Although Sparrowhawks, Green Sandpipers, Shelduck, Jay and a few Wagtails were seen, it was a rather quiet visit. I spent most of it in the Kingfisher Hide. The water levels were too high outside the Draper Hide, which translated to there not being many birds present. The upper tier of the Ashby Hide was leaking and therefore had to be cordoned off. Water levels outside the Gadwall Hide were quite low, but most birds were on the far side of the lagoon.

I checked the bramble branch, along the stream, for the Willow Emerald egg galls. It was surprisingly still there. Hopefully, we might get some damselfly action later in the year.

However, the outstanding visit of the month was a trip to Santon Downham, near Thetford. Sylvia had graciously invited me along, to try for the ‘promisedOtters in the area, along the Little Ouse. I was a tad dubious, as I knew from experience that twitching for anything usually proved disappointing.

Oh, how wrong I was! Within minutes of arriving, a quick walk along the river brought us to a throng of photographers. My heart skipped a beat. Without even having to ask the assemblage, I spotted an Otter right in front of us, only several feet away.

For the next couple of hours, it slowly meandered upstream, followed by the heaving masses, all of us clicking away like Lady Di had appeared. It didn’t seem very bothered by us, at all. At one point, it even swam to within a few feet of me.

However, that wasn’t the only delight of the day. Several Common Crossbills were seen, on the branches above us. It was a case of where to point the camera.

Although a low area species total, it was brilliant seeing a wild Otter, up close, for the first time. I had seen them a few times, in Scotland, but always at a great distance.

Then it was time for a first visit of the year to Fishers Green, in the hope of spotting another Bittern. Unfortunately, none had been seen here all month and, indeed, none were seen on the day.

Bird numbers still remained low, here and most other places, a worrying trend. No Teal or Wigeon were seen and not very many other ducks. Geese numbers were also down.

However, there were a few highlights. First up, was a lovely redhead Smew, in the usual place - Friday Lake. Although it took a few patient minutes for it to appear. One had also been reported over at Bowyer's Water. No drakes have been reported, as yet.

The other major highlight was the surprise appearance of a Water Rail, outside the Bittern Hide. It was vacuuming up the feeder spillage, along with Woodpigeons, Magpies, Moorhens and the occasional Chaffinch.

I say 'surprise' because these birds are notoriously shy and keep to the reed edges. Any views of them are usually fleeting. This one, however, returned every 15-20 minutes to pick at any spilt seeds. Right out in the open.

There were an amazingly high number of dog-walkers around the area, plus several cyclists and joggers. I'm fast coming to the conclusion that the LVRP is for humans and not wildlife.

The month ended on a high note, with a final visit to Amwell. The Goldeneyes were still around, this time spotting 7 of them, including 4 drakes, some of whom were in display mode. They were all seen from the Gladwin Hide, after walking down the newly created gravel track.

The 'shornline' was still bare, after all the work. I’m hoping that someone will sow some wild flower seeds and not let it become overgrown with weeds. Time will tell.

The Woodland provided sightings of several more Treecreepers, Siskin and Goldcrest. It has been a bit more entertaining here, than of late. It was here that I bumped into my Sunday evening drinking buddy, Barry, who became a ‘year tick’!

A little earlier, I had spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker and was looking at it through my ‘Bins, until the sight of a cyclist recycling his energy drink made me move on. As did the GSW. The cyclist was dressed in the tour de rigueur, mostly bright green. I’ll never look at a brussel sprout in the same way again.

Coal Tits, Red Kites, Buzzards and a few more Great Spotted Woodpeckers rounded up a very nice day out.

It was quite successful on the mammal front, this month. Not just because of the Otters. At Amwell, I spotted Bank Voles, Brown Rat, Grey Squirrel and Muntjac.

Whilst on ‘Bittern Watch’ a Fox was spotted, extremely close to a Grey Heron. Any closer and they would’ve had to have become engaged.

Muntjacs and Grey Squirrels were also appearing, on regular occasions, at Fishers Green and Rye Meads.

Of course, at this time of year, no invertebrates were about. However, I’ve noticed that Midges are still around and in some number.

Snowdrops were seen at most of the Reserves, always a delightful sight. Daffodil shoots are already appearing. I’ve even seen a clump of Primroses flowering.

All in all, an encouraging month. Next month should see the last of the very cold weather and hopefully the beginnings of Spring. I have already witnessed Great Crested Grebes performing their courtship displays.

I've reached the stage where life stops giving you things
and starts taking them away.’

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.
Or you could follow me on Twitter!