Tuesday, 13 June 2017

May Highlights!

Weather: A month of two halves. The first half of the month started with showers and easterly winds. The second half was more changeable but warmer. There was a notable hot and sunny spell heading in to the final week, which was then compounded by significant thunderstorms across many areas at the end of the month.

Places Visited:  Amwell; Rye Meads; WWT Barnes.

Star Sightings of the Month:
Bird: Redshank
Mammal: Water Vole
Butterfly: Painted Lady
Odonata: Large Red
Insect: Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle
Flower: Bee Orchid

Now is the time to understand more, so we may fear less.’ Marie Curie

Sadly, the poor weather and my poor health continued on in to May. Fortunately, both cleared up by the end of the second week and I was able to get out and about.

I paid three visits to Rye Meads, with just the one visit to Amwell, plus my annual trip down to the London Wetland Centre in Barnes. RM again extended its’ lead, with quite a few interesting sightings. The visit to the LWC was a little later in the year than I would have liked, as I missed the Bluebell and Snake’s Head Fritillary displays.

Spring migration is continuing apace. The female Bittern was reported early in the month, but nothing has been seen or heard since, despite a well-organised ‘Bittern Watch’. Cuckoos, Terns and Warblers have all arrived, slowly at first, but then in good numbers.

Even though the wildfowl numbers have dwindled, there are still good populations of Pochard about. There is also a lone Wigeon mysteriously hanging around at RM. Raptors seem to have been few and far between. However, that may be because I haven’t been looking up.

Fewer and fewer waders are about now, most having departed for their summer breeding grounds. However, the ubiquitous Lapwings still remain, with successful breeding having commenced, especially at RM, with one pair producing 3 chicks. Oystercatcher, Redshank and Little Ringed Plover have all paid several fleeting visits to the area. Common Sandpiper and Snipe were last spotted early on in the month.

Common Terns have arrived and have even managed to sneak a few spaces on the rafts at both Amwell and RM. However, Black-headed Gulls continue to dominate and crowd them out. Chicks are now abundant, all fluffy and cute.

The first Cuckoos were heard and then seen. One lucky lady saw 3 together, at RM! Now, that’s just being greedy. I eventually managed to see a female, on the dead tree, outside the Kingfisher Hide.

The Tawny Owlets, at RM, finally fledged, with one or two still being seen around the area. Hirundines are still scarce, for me anyway. Again, probably because I’ve not been looking up. Swifts are also now present, but again, in low numbers. I really must look up on occasion.

The resident RM Kingfisher pair fledged their first brood, right at the end of the month. At least 5, maybe 6, fledglings were seen. I, of course, turned up the next day.

The over-wintering Cetti’s and Chiffchaff numbers were swollen with incoming migrants. They were ably accompanied by goodly numbers of Reed, Sedge and Blackcap, with sightings of Willow and Garden. The passerines were now mostly absent, probably tending to young.

These were all either at Amwell or RM. My visit to the LWC provided sightings of birds I wouldn’t normally get to see. It’s the reason why I visit. A high total included Bewick’s Swan, White-headed Duck, Eider, Black Swan, Whistling Ducks, Red-breasted Goose and Southern Screamer. All of them close up and a delight to see; especially at feeding time.

Plus, of course, they also had the birds I do normally see, including Little Ringed Plover, Redshank, Common Tern, Smew, Goldeneye and Sand Martin. Oddly, not many Warblers were heard or seen. Possibly because of too much disturbance - i.e. families?

There weren’t too many mammals or other such-like about this month. ‘Ratty’ the Water Vole was the star again, at RM. A Grass Snake was seen, fleetingly, as were several Brown Rats.

I was delighted to discover that the invertebrate season was now in full swing. More and more butterflies were now on the wing. Respectable numbers of Brimstone, lots of Holly Blues, the last of the Orange Tips, several Peacocks and Red Admirals were now about, while a few Small Whites and Speckled Woods started to appear. There was a lovely sighting of a Painted Lady, near to the Kingfisher Hide, while the LWC presented me with my first Common Blue of the season.

Several Mint Moths were also now starting to appear, as were Silver Ground Carpets. My moth trap was starting to bring in some interesting stuff, including Bee Moth. When, of course, I remember to keep the corridor window open!

The Odonata season has finally started! Deep joy! Blues at first, led mainly by Azures, followed by lots of Large Reds and a few Red-eyed. Then my favourites, the Banded Demoiselles started to show. The first dragons started to appear, with the usual Hairy Hawkers leading the charge, being ably supported by Black-tailed Skimmers. It was a good start and I’m hoping it will continue.

More and more Ladybirds, of varying spots, were being seen. The seasonal flies, like Alder and St. Mark’s came and went. The last of the Bee-flies were seen, at Rye Meads, early on - it’s been a good season for them. Likewise, it was also good to see plenty of Bees out in large numbers, always pleasing to witness. Cuckoo spit appeared nearly everywhere I looked, indicating that a large number of Froghoppers will soon be appearing. Dark Bush Cricket nymphs were about, as were Dock Bugs. There were sightings of Green Nettle Weevils, Green Shield Bugs and even a pair of Green Tortoise Beetles.

My first Leaf Beetles appeared. There were lots of Mayflies and Mint Leaf Beetles. Several Red-headed Cardinal Beetles were a delight to see, but I then found two Black-headed Cardinal Beetles at RM. Finally, Soldier Beetles were out in big battalions, as were Spotted Crane Flies and Thick-kneed Flower Beetles. I even managed to spot my first-ever Rose Chafer, which was a lot bigger than I thought they would be. A Fire Bug and a Ruby-tailed Wasp were observed, fleetingly, at the LWC.

However, the star of the month was undoubtedly a Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn beetle, found at RM. It was only my second-ever sighting of one.

I was already in ‘Insect Heaven’. I’ll have to start digging out the ‘kevlar-reinforced’ trousers again!

The flower of the month was a lovely Bee Orchid, seen at the LWC, only my second-ever sighting of this lovely flower. Other orchids were also now in bloom, with the Orchid Garden at Amwell, looking particularly beautiful. All areas are now awash with flora, of all shapes, colours and sizes. There are some fantastic displays about now, especially at the LWC and Amwell.

All in all, despite only five visits and a poor(ish) month, weather-wise, it turned out to be an excellent few weeks. Summer is now almost upon us and I’m hoping that it won’t turn out to be another wash-out, like last year. It’s also holiday season and I’ve got some excellent trips lined up!

Watch this space!

I've been searching all over the world for a cure to my travel bug.

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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

April Highlights!

WeatherAt the start of April, an area of low pressure brought showers, building up from the south. It was then reasonably warm until the 9th, with plenty of sunshine for much of the country. From the 10th onwards, temperatures were mostly close to average, with some cool nights, but the dry, anticyclonic theme continued. There was a late cold snap towards the end of the month, when a northerly outbreak brought scattered wintry showers and some overnight frosts.

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

Star Sightings of the Month:
Bird: Green Sandpiper
Mammal: Water Vole
Butterfly: Small Tortoiseshell
Insect: Bee-fly
Flower: Bluebells

Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote
and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.Michael Palin

It was a tale of two halves, this month. The first two weeks were quite productive, whilst, unfortunately, the final two were disastrous, due to ill health.

However, before the illness, I managed visits out to Amwell, Rye Meads and the first outing of the year along the River Stort, ending up in HMWT Thorley Wash.

It was also a case of ‘April Showers’ this month, as most days were either wet or overcast. However, of the five days that I did manage to get out and about, all were sunny, warm and with clear(ish) skies.

First up, was a visit to Rye Meads, continuing its’ fine run of form and lead on the merit table. Two more visits were made, later in the month and sightings included Shelduck, Little Ringed Plover, Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Jay and Reed Bunting. The first of the new seasons’ Warblers showed here, with Reed & Sedge giving sporadic views.

The Green Sandpipers performed admirably, walking right up to the Hide, giving some great close-up views, in the sunshine. The Grey Wagtails did the same, while the resident male Kingfisher flew up on to the nearest stick, delighting everyone present. A pair of Redshank weren’t as accommodating, but were nonetheless a great sight to see.

If that wasn’t enough, a Tawny Owl was spotted nesting in the Kestrel Box, outside the Kingfisher Hide. A little later, it was confirmed that at least 2 chicks were also present. They weren’t good views, but it was fantastic to see them poking their little heads out, looking at us looking at them.

The one visit to Amwell brought me Little Egret, Garganey, Sparrowhawk, Oystercatcher, and Reed Bunting. The water levels were still quite high, meaning not much action was seen on the wader front; apart from the Oystercatchers and Lapwing. However, it was the 2 male and 1 female Garganey that were the stars of the day. All eventually giving some terrific views from the Watchpoint and the White Hide.

The following week I decided to try my luck with a stroll up the River Stort, towards HMWT Thorley Wash. It was a very good decision. The walk allowed me to spot my first Swallow and Blackcap of the season. There were plenty of other warblers about, including more Sedge Warblers. A couple of Buzzards were seen, screaming high in the sky and I even heard the brief, but distinctive call of a Water Rail.

Due to the wet weather, it wasn’t too surprising to see plenty of wildfowl still about. Although, numbers were noticeably down this month.

On the Mammal front, Brown Rat, Fox and Muntjac appeared at Rye Meads. However, the star of month was again ‘Ratty’ the Water Vole. It showed up again, in the same place as before, giving more great views, as it chewed on the bark. A Grass Snake appeared, fleetingly, in between Kingfisher sightings.

More and more butterfly species appeared. Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Orange Tip, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood all showed well. There were further sightings of Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. Unfortunately, no moths have showed yet, despite my homemade ‘moth trap’, where I keep the corridor windows open, overnight.

The Odonata season has begun without me, illness unfortunately keeping me in. The Dragonfly Trail is now open at Amwell and I’m extremely keen to pay my first visit. In fact, I’m desperate to pay a visit to see Odonata anywhere at the moment.

New invertebrates continue to appear and in some numbers, too. Alderflies, Banded Snail, Common Carder Bee, Dock Bug, an unidentified Ichneumon, Long-jawed Orb Spider and Nursery Web Spider were all new-for-year. A few St. Mark’s Flies also appeared, a few days earlier than they did last year.

Despite the mainly poor(ish) weather this month, it was good to see lots of insects about. It’s always a good sign of a healthy ecosystem.

The first Bluebells appeared, at Amwell and Rye Meads, always a delight to see. Cowslip, Cow Parsley, Cuckoo Flower and Forget-Me-Knots were all flowering now.

So, after a good start to the month, everything then went downhill. I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘over-the-counter’ medicines aren’t much good.

Hopefully, the weather will warm up and the sun will shine, enabling me to see my first dragons and damsels of the season very soon.

Revolution must be spontaneous.’ Rosa Luxemburg

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Monday, 10 April 2017

March Highlights!

WeatherThe start of the month saw changeable weather, with wintry showers for some and mild weather for others. The mild weather continued, before turning briefly colder by the third week. Several dry, sunny days then followed, before turning wetter towards the end of the month.

Places Visited: Abberton/Mersea; Amwell; Cheshunt; Rye Meads.

Star Sightings of the Month:
Bird: Bittern
Mammal: Water Vole
Butterfly: Orange Tip
Insect: Bee-fly
Flower: Daffodils

I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good
Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice.

This month sees the customary migrant shift-change. There were plenty of comings and goings, with the winter birds heading off, being replaced with spring ones. However, there is always a small overlap which produces a few lean days.

On the plus side, the weather warmed up, giving us the hottest days of the year, so far. I might have to dig out my suntan cream soon. I might even be able to put my ‘magic scarf’ in storage!

It was a brilliant start to the month, at Rye Meads, with a spectacular sighting of a Bittern. RM continues to be the Reserve to beat, as the Bittern was seen again later in the month. Shelduck, Sparrowhawk, Oystercatcher, Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper and Kingfisher all gave very good views, over several visits.

Elsewhere, Amwell finally started to improve. There were the last showings of Goldeneye and the ever dwindling winter wildfowl. A few Red-legged Partridges were a surprise sighting. There were also Redshank, Coal Tit and Treecreeper on show. I stayed late one evening, for the Barn Owl. It flew across the Watchpoint, giving several of us a ghostly fly-past.

The one trip to Cheshunt produced a wonderful courtship display by the, now resident, pair of Great Crested Grebes. Nesting began soon afterwards. A pair of Egyptian Geese proved good value, allowing me to approach to within a few yards. Although an otherwise quiet visit, bird-wise, it was a very satisfying and relaxing day out.

The combined trip to Abberton/Mersea proved to be a little disappointing, mainly due to the weather, which was misty and foggy for most of the day. Carol had promised sunshine until at least midday. There was quite a strong, cold wind as well. And I hadn’t brought my magic scarf.

All the usual birds were about though, but special mentions go to Brent Goose, Goosander, Goldeneye, Grey Plover, Dunlin and Curlew. Unfortunately, most of them were quite distant and so I wasn’t able to take many photos.

On the Mammal front, sightings improved somewhat. The Bank Vole outside the James Hide, at Amwell, provided some great entertainment, while there were brilliant views of a Water Vole munching on bark outside the Ashby Hide, at Rye Meads. Fox and Muntjac both showed well, with one Fox being particularly accommodating at RM, disturbing the Bittern, which promptly landed quite close to the Hide I was in.

I was also delighted to see the first butterflies of the season appear. There were lots of Commas early on, followed by Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. I’m sure that, if the weather holds, more species will soon appear.

The reasonable weather also started to bring out the invertebrates. One of the first insects to reveal themselves are Bee-flies, with a few of them giving some particularly good views, posing nicely for the camera. Ladybirds, Bees and Hoverflies were also out in good numbers. There were millions of Midges at the Layer de la Haye Causeway!

Flowers were now starting to bloom again, thanks to the warm sunshine. The last of the Crocus and Snowdrops were replaced with Daffodils, Hawthorn, Lesser Celandine and Primrose. My botany lessons started again, with recognition of Pussy Willow.

All in all, another very good month. Quality and quantity, with Rye Meads taking the monthly honours again. Although, I have to say, there appears to be an increase in dog-walkers. And doggy-bags.

I’m always wary of March, as the migration season usually keeps sightings down. The twitchers love this month, though, with the winds bringing in rarities, which seems to greatly excite them. Not for me, I always yearn for April, when the main course starts. Roll on the Odonata season!

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge
faster than society gathers wisdom.Isaac Asimov

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.
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