Wednesday, 21 January 2015

January 2015 update

21st January 2015

In an attempt to keep tabs on where I've been and what I've seen I thought I'd catch up on a couple of weeks of being out & about. 

This month I are mostly been at Amwell, with a single trip to RSPB Rye Meads (11th Jan) and HMWT Waterford Heath (16th Jan).

Rye Meads started the outings and it disappointed, despite reports of Bittern, with very few birds about.  Chatting with others it wasn't just my poor eyesight & muffled hearing as no one had seen anything of note and all reported a general lack of activity.  Yes there was a Kingfisher from the KF hide, and Yes there were a couple of Pintails of in the distance from the Gadwall hide but generally a lack of birds, especially hedgerow species.   The deficit of birds is best summed up by the picture below - a Coot!   You know it's not a great day when Coots become camera targets!

A Contemplative Coot

 Just in passing I took a couple of pictures of the reeds around the Ashby hide (another sure sign of bird depression!)  and wondered if I got a view of the future map of the British Isles if we allow coastal erosion to continue unheeded - you decide.

UK & Ireland after coastal erosion?
HMWT Waterford Heath 16th Jan 2015.  For a change I thought I'd have a wander round Waterford Heath this afternoon.  I've lived in Ware for 22 years now and only stumbled across the Heath last summer - just at the end of the butterfly season - but it's a place I will go back to in spring & summer this year.  Anyway, it's a re-landscaped gravel working so, despite some recent wet weather, is bound to be dry - wrong!  Wellies would have been the order of the day but I didn't bring them, a small boat might also have come in useful at some points!  A cold, windy afternoon, reasonably bright but the wind in the wide open spaces made its presence felt.

I thought there might be some smaller birds in the wooded areas - there weren't, or some birds of prey over the open heath areas - nah! but there were a few dog walkers about, generally with dogs which looked like they'd rather be at home.  I know how they felt! Despite the lack of Mars bars,  I persevered and stuck it out until about 3.45 mainly because I'd parked at one end of the heath and, having walked to the other end, had to walk back again.  Now I  wish I'd brought my Mars bar - which I'd left with the wellies - that would at least have helped Work and Play - I can do the Rest bit without the need for stimulants!  Half-way back to the car I stopped at the picnic table on the North Heath - I'm sure it would be a sought after spot in summer but on a cold windy January afternoon just being there was no picnic!  Sat & caught my breath for a few minutes, wishing I'd brought the Mars bar, looked up and there was a Red Kite gliding on the wind, came out of nowhere and was gone in a minute - but not before I could get a couple of breathless blind panic shots.

Leaving the picnic site I headed back towards the car.  Entering the South Heath I notice a Kestrel sitting at the top of a Silver Birch looking out over the Heath, tried a couple of long distance shots but too far and too dark really.  The walk back was a hungry 15 minutes and I noticed the Kestrel had gone hunting.  Getting to the end of the Heath, climbed to the top of the bank and settled for 10 minutes at another picnic table looking out over the Heath.  After a few minutes I spotted the Kestrel hunting and hovering over the trees and thought I'd stick around for a while despite the cold hands and feet - did I mention no Mars bar?  Patience was finally reward when it ventured a bit closer and I was to get a couple of shots in the gathering gloom.

Before I left I spotted a Mistle Thrush sitting high in an old Oak, a Common Buzzard soaring in the sunset, a Sparrowhawk in pursuit of an unseen prey, and a huge black bird which I can only assume was a Raven (which have been reported in the area).  Darkness descended and I headed for home and a hot cup od tea and a bite - you guessed it - a piece of fruit cake!  All in all not a bad afternoon.
And so to Amwell.  Several visits made - 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 20th. 
13th - 15th January @ Amwell
Unlike Rye Meads there always seem to be plenty of smaller birds around Amwell.  Several varieties of Tits, Finches, through the "woods", berry eaters in the ivy clad trees by the rail crossing,  and waterfowl, with some viewable highlights such as Smew and Goldeneye, although the Smew do tend to be somewhat elusive and shy hiding round the back of the island opposite the Gladwin hide.  There are Gulls a plenty and almost as many observers some evenings looking for the reported and elusive "Yellow Legged Gull" in amongst the huge numbers of "Gulls" - good luck with that one chaps!
For these days I tended to concentrate on the hides, Gladwin hide brought views of displaying Goldeneye & Great Crested Grebe, opportunities for "in-flight" shots of gulls, Cormorants and Herons although the Smew stayed well hidden from me, although I did manage a good view from the main viewpoint on 14th but too far to photograph.   The James hide feeders continued to attract smaller birds in abundance including Blue, Great, Long-Tailed and Marsh Tits, Reed Buntings, Dunnocks, Robins, Wrens, Chaffinches to name but the ones I can remember! as well as Bank Voles underneath the feeders most days,  Invariably Magpies are attracted into the area, and while a pain because the smaller birds scatter, some of their colours in the sun are spectacular.  Cettis continue to announce their presence from the bottom of reeds and were seen nipping between perches before disappearing into the reeds.  Water Rail and Herons were present most days, and of course, the Kingfisher was an attraction for all visitors.  I did have an altercation with a parent whose small children were allowed to burst into the upper level (James hide) and climb all over the benches and me.  One of the little dears grabbed my hide clamp to pull himself up on to the bench - his mum got an earful.  A few pics below.

I'm sure I missed a few points, I know that I met "The Bearded Tit" (TBT) on one of these visits but can't remember which, and I know I watched several hundred Canada and Greylag Geese arriving one evening, but which one I'm not sure - but they arrive most evenings so they probably won't be offended!.
19th & 20th January 
I know I bumped into "The Bearded Tit" on 20th, so I'll get that in first, and also Mars bar was present both days!
19th started with a walk down from the Hollycross Road car park to the Dragonfly trail area.  Noticed a female Kestrel in the Oak tree in the field adjacent to the car park and settled against a tree for support, lifted the camera towards her and away she went!  Fortunately she went into hover mode close by but facing away from me so the pictures show a headless Kestrel.
Walked down the walkway and bumped into an old friend from my working days, chatted for 10 mins and then moved on.  If you do ever read this - it was good to see you Sam!  Next stop was the Bittern Pool, plenty of ice, quick scan, no bittern.  Moved on to James hide.  Pool was frozen so Kingfisher unlikely, but male did arrive to the left of the hide fishing in the stream which was clearly ice free.  Just Reed Buntings on & around the feeders so a walk to the viewpoint was in order.  Nothing seen along the track and when I arrived at the viewpoint the wind was noticeably stronger and colder.  No body about and just he usual gulls, coots, shovellers, teal and moorhens visible close by.  Cormorants, mote gulls, some Teal & Widgeon further out but no Smew or Goldeneye, in this wind I'm not surprised!  A walk up through the wood didn't any spectacular sights but there was a bit of relief from the wind.  On to the White hide to see what's over there.  Looked out over the close scrape, there were a few Snipe moving and probing, and the usual water birds out on the lagoon.  Another observer came in, and sat down, and opened the two windows looking back towards Hollycross Road and the one on the corner towards the Cormorant roost.  Hello I thought, that's unusual, "Are you expecting something special?" I asked, "Barn Owl" he replied, "Really, mind if I join you?" - and did before he could reply!  We chatted for a bit, me and Dave, he said the Barn Owl had visited the area regularly over the past week, usually before 4.15pm, so we waited. and waited, and waited.  The suddenly, just as the light was really going there was the Barn Owl - 4.35pm - hunting over the grass area in front of us.  It dropped down out of sight for a good 5 minutes, then up again and settled on a fence post - right behind a tree! Bugger! mind you the light was so bad by this time I was never going to get a picture.  After 10 minutes we noticed it fly off and decided to call it a day.  Walking back towards the James hide I noticed the Owl sitting on a fence post on the other side of the river.  We got as close as we could , took a few pics and then he was gone.  My shots were rubbish, Dave said his were too - he lied (see the HMWT Twitter feed for proof!).  But a great sight to see,  cold, happy and on my way home.  "See you tomorrow Dave".
Tomorrow, 20th January 2015

Much the same as 19th except, no Kestrel at the start, "The Bearded Tit" (TBT) was an appropriate substitute though, news of the Barn Owl was well received!  No bittern, no kingfisher (pool frozen hard).  Walk through the woods afforded some views of Siskin, Tits and Goldfinches feeding in the Beech & Alders.

A stroll to the White Hide in preparation for "Barn Owl Watch"  with TBT and friends it turned out including Dave from yesterday, Darren Bast and his fellow HMWT warden whose name I don't know.  We settled down to wait, taking note of the Snipe on the near scrape, and amid much good humoured banter.   Events of yesterday were repeated except the arrival time of the Barn Owl was a bit earlier, around 4.00pm which gave us a fighting chance of a reasonable picture or two.  I'm pleased with mine given the light and the internal panic and hopefully there will be other opportunities soon.  TBT left to catch his train, then suddenly reappeared as the Owl had flown past him heading our way.  A few more pictures then off he went again.  I stayed on for 15 minutes or so and watched the owl hunting along the river but with out photo opportunities for me, but heading home happy again!  I wonder if TBT is home yet?

Happy days!

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