Sunday 1st March - RSPB Rye Meads
Thought I'd give Rye Meads a go for the morning, I haven't had a flapjack for a few weeks and am experiencing "withdrawal symptoms" - trousers getting too loose - not!
First impression was "Blimey, they've got a new chain saw". Trees and shrubs all over the reserve have been extensively "pruned", deforestation degrees have been studied I think! I'm sure Vicky & the team know what they're doing and we'll all reap the benefits in the longer term, just looks a bit drastic in some areas.
Water levels were very high in all lagoons, so much so that "scrape" was virtually non-existent, no waders then!
From the Draper Hide, a Shelduck was having a preen, and a couple of Oystercatchers were very obvious among the small flock of Black-Headed Gulls on what little scrape was available.
Elsewhere on the lagoon were groups of Teal & Shoveler ducks, a few M'lards and the inevitable Coots arguing with just about everything. A group of three Swans seemed to be getting along just fine, and then the testosterone kicked in and they chased each other all over the place. It was difficult to see what the fuss was about, and who actually won the bragging rights at the end of the bout when they all went back to getting along fine thank you! Some "action" shots -
and then peace broke out again
Right in front of the hide a pair of Little Grebes were ducking & diving (or to be strictly correct "grebeing & diving"). Nice little birds - but quick!
The rest of the reserve was very quiet. I visited all the hides - except the Warbler Hide (I decided not to take the long walk!) and there was exactly - nothing! Well except water that is. At the Kingfisher Hide, which I normally pass, activity amongst the photographer gathered there was, let's say, "relaxed". Usual conversation "Morning", "Morning", "Anything happening?" "No, female Kingfisher was here about half an hour ago" "Right". Took a seat, stayed for 10-15 minutes, didn't see a thing - except the inevitable, and took my leave.
I walked slowly back to "Reception", only stopping at Watervole Corner, to watch a Kestrel hunting over the meadow. It was fairly close at first, but then it saw my camera and buggered off, as per Birding rules 1 &2, which state:- 1. All birds shall be as uncooperative as possible at all times. and 2. If the "birder" has a camera, all birds shall present excellent opportunities for photographs until such time as the birder is prepared, then all birds shall bugger off even further, or if this is not possible, they shall hide in the middle of a mixture of brambles, branches or whatever else is available.
Anyway, here's my shot of Rule 2 being implemented by said Kestrel.
Coffee & flapjack from reception as per, and the Kestrel did the Rule 1 & 2 thing again, this time Rule 2 was implemented perfectly. OK coffee and nice Fruit Flapjack. Home for lunch.
Monday 2nd March - Fishers Green, Lee Valley Park
A long overdue visit on a coldish, windy day.
Started at the Bittern Hide, four green jackets with complimentary woolly hats sat looking out at the "Bittern Viewpoint". That conversation again, replacing "Kingfisher" with "Bittern", and leaving out the bit about "the female was here half an hour ago". I left for a walkabout. Turned left out of the hide and walked down the path, following the river. Said Kingfisher hurtled by along the river - should I nip back to Rye Meads and report in? - No! I carried on round the bottom end of the lake and spotted a drake Goosander in the distance, too far away really but what the hell. Too far away - clearly, or fuzzily!
I continued walking round the bottom of the lake and back up towards Hooks Marsh car park. Looking over the lake I could see the Goosander had moved to the area where I was standing when I first saw him! Rule 3 being invoked! 3. When it is clear that a birder is taking an interest in you, AND you are able to move easily, all birds, especially all waterfowl, MUST take all reasonable steps to wind up said birder a much as possible. Options may include moving in a circular motion, relevant to said birder, in order to maintain distance. Wherever possible all birds should endeavour to arrive at the location the birder had previously occupied. If this is not possible just dive and come up in the reeds!
Keep cool, just walk away - what's that? Looks like a . . . no can't be, surely, not at 11.00 in the morning! You decide - lousy photos but it was over 100 yards.
I have sent them to the appropriate authorities, hopefully they'll let me know in due course. Feedback from the "Lee Valley Water Vole Officer" - you wouldn't want that on a name badge! - said he thinks it is an Otter! - Yes, get in! first one ever! Shame about the picture!
On round the lake, including a couple of muddy and unproductive detours down muddy tracks, and I arrived at Hooks Marsh. Not much here, a few Greylags, Canadas and gulls. One of the Greylags looked a bit "different". I've no idea why-is it a youngster? a half-breed? a mongrel? or just a lighter colour?
Back along the Relief Channel and I arrived at the Bittern Hide again with nothing to report. Just as well really as the green jackets & woolly hats had gone. No reports on the board so presumably no Bittern. Sat down, took my coat off, the walk had made me quite warm, Kit-Kat to keep me going (this turned out to be lunch though I didn't know it at the time). Quick glimpse of a Water Rail, put it on the board, and nothing else. Another chap arrived, we exchanged pleasantries and compared notes, he wasn't impressed with my Water Rail sighting, he wanted Bittern, don't we all mate, don't we all! I gave it 20-30 minutes and left him to it, he promised to add his sightings to the board.
I headed out along the Relief Channel towards Holyfield Weir, nothing much doing here either, a Magpie and Muntjac but other than that, nowt. Kept walking towards the Grebe Hide, along the river. I fish here from time to time and there were a couple of anglers in situ, but it seems their fishing had been about as successful as my birding. I reached the Grebe Hide without any excitement and settled down - coat off again.
A decent sized flock of Wigeon implemented Rule 2 and moved away as I opened the window - great! A pair of GCG's & 3 Little G's in view but not too close.
I spotted a pair of Goosanders off in the distance, they spotted me too and headed further away (Rule 2 again). I found an old tree stump to use a my natural tripod to steady my camera, but they were leaving me at a good rate so photos a bit hopeful to say the least.
I kept on walking and spotted the Goosanders again, took a detour over the rickety bridge (with no Troll - this was free access to a small island, not a Troll Bridge!- sorry). At the end of the island I spotted the Goosanders again, still at a distance, then noticed there were 3, two males and one female.
Walking back towards the bridge I heard a screeching and a flapping of wings in the scrub to my right. I just caught a glimpse of a bird flying in there and hadn't noticed it fly out again. It was only 10 yards away but I couldn't see anything, even with binoculars, must've gone. Then the flapping again! "Where are you? What are you?" I moved back along the path to get a different view and saw this, sitting on a branch, just above the water, with her tail feathers actually in the water, looking straight at me.
She had three attempts to get her prey out of the water, and eventually she succeeded, took a quick look at me and was gone.
I wasn't able to get a shot of her flying away but did manage to see it through binoculars through the branches. A powerful female Sparrowhawk, struggling, but determined and ultimately successful, to carry off a waterlogged lunch.
Now you remember that Jay . . . lunch!
Feeling privileged to see this bird I headed back along the river & relief channel with a bit more energy.
Back to the Bittern Hide for a sit down. Third time today, no sightings added to the board. Some new green jackets and a blue one. I sat next to the blue one. Sun in my eyes, no Bittern but with the memory of the Sparrowhawk still fresh, I took off my coat again and gazed out - couldn't see a thing what with the sun and it's reflection. I did manage to see Heron stalking the channels, but no Bittern today (I have yet to see one here!).
I had a walk along the track to the Goosefield but it was too windy and cold, and it was nearly 3.00pm and lunch was long overdue.
I headed home.
Ah - I've just realised I've transferred all my photographs, and therefore my record of where I've been, from this computer to another one - blast, some work to do then.
Tuesday 3rd March - afternoon at Amwell
If you follow me on Twitter, you will have seen these before. Today I sat alone in the White Hide taking snaps of anything flying and here are a few results.
Herons, although common, can still produce some decent flight photos - they're big, slow and generally give a decent view - quite like me really! If you can get them against a decent background they can be quite pleasing.
Barn Owls on the other hand are a bit more challenging. For one thing they're smaller, they don't make a sound and they don't hang around for long. This evening I had some excellent views of Barney, with some good results - photos wise - but when I said they don't hang around I mean it. I managed to fire off 30 frames this evening, and when I checked later - 'cos sometimes I get really sad and do such things! - the time difference between the first shot (when Barney appeared) to the last (when he disappeared) was all of 36 seconds! So I'd sat in a hide, alone, for about 2 hours for 36 seconds of photos, you tell the kids of today that and they won't believe you! (to paraphrase Monty Python). Anyway, here are a few shots - best to date.
Barney - the biggest celebrity by far at HMWT Amwell.
All in all, a pretty good couple of days!
Wednesday 4th March - RSPB Rainham Marshes
I decided to take a punt on going to Rainham Marshes today even though the forecast said "it will be breezy" - liars! - the rest of the week looks worse so M25 here we come! Not bad only 45-50 minutes from home and Satnav took me straight in. Cup of coffee & homemade shortbread in the café on arrival and chat to the RSPB "helper". Remember that conversation that starts "Morning", "Morning", . . . Well we had that one and with the usual outcome - not much about, t'riffic! Anyway I'm here now so lets get out there. Opened the door from the café, and halfway down the ramp and - bloody hell! where's that wind coming from?! Fleece zipped up, coat zipped up, hat, gloves and determination. If you haven't been here it's a large, mainly wetland reserve with a few hides and, today, no birds - well not close anyway. There were some Widgeon, Teal, Shovelers, Coots, Redshank & the odd Fieldfare - I mean not very many rather than strange - Fieldfare. I walked to the furthest hide which looks out over a second wetland area which is not part of the RSPB reserve but which has all the attractions. I met a couple of chaps coming out of the hide and they told me, at some length, of the two Marsh Harriers I'd missed by about 20 minutes - thanks guys! Inside the hide was empty, take a seat and look around. Usual waterfowl and way off in the distance two Marsh Harriers - so far away I think they were crossing into Kent! I gave them half an hour or so and headed on round the path. Through the reedbeds, reading signs which told me of all the things I could see, Bearded Tits, Bitterns, Warblers, Water Rail etc. etc. but not when it's freezing cold and blowing a hooley! Alongside the railway line I was informed that Linnets are often present in large numbers, not today, not even in small numbers. I did spot a Stonechat sitting on a fence, took four shots - with the camera - and deleted them all at "lunch". By the way, the railway line is the high speed Eurostar line, and just to prove how interesting the day had been so far, there are 18 carriages and 2 engines on the Eurostar trains today!
Back in the café at 1.45, I ordered lunch from the "Specials" board - "I'll have a pasty please", "Sorry, we haven't got any", not to worry eh, "OK, can I have a sausage baguette then please", "Sorry, we've sold out of baguettes" - who the hell bought them, there are only four people on the reserve and one of them is me!, "Not to worry, a sausage sandwich will be fine", "We haven't got any sausages" Check the sign outside - yep, definitely says "Café" "Have you got bread?", "Of course we've got bread", "Can I have a toasted Ham & Cheese sandwich then please" - notice I'm still saying "please". "Is there anything else you'd like?" What apart from a pasty or sausage baguette / sandwich? "Just a coffee please - white no sugar"
Sat down, 30 minutes later, coffee long gone, 2 other people who ordered after me and served before me! I said "Any chance of me getting that sandwich I ordered half an hour ago? Only it's 2.15 and I know you close at 5!" Well basically, the soppy woman had made the sandwich, put it in the toaster, and got on with other chores - like chatting to her mate - and didn't realise that she'd turned the toaster off by mistake! Now I wonder how good that toaster is, if, after 30 minutes, you're not expecting to smell burnt Ham & Cheese sandwich! If there'd been an alternative, and I hadn't already paid for it I really would have told them where they could stick their sandwich and it's toaster!
I then had a walk along part of the Thames, I did see a couple of Curlews and got some photos but having recounted all that, I now can't be bothered to add them!
On top of that the journey home took 2 hours, M25, M11, A414 all at a standstill - t'riffic!
I won't be rushing back.