Monday, 28 March 2016

Easter Break

Four days off for Easter and the weather has been really great-thanks to the latest storm it was snowing briefly this morning and the strong winds of are only now subsiding.
Actually I ended up with five days off, due to an unplanned Thursday in. I got home on Wednesday to discover a leak in one of the pipes near the boiler. Had to shut the water off at the main. We are covered for maintenance, so I phoned for an emergency plumber. He rang over three hours later to say he had only just received the job, was in London and wouldn't be able to get to us. Thursday morning I rang, was told we would be treated as high priority and someone would be along in the morning. I rang again at 1215, and was promised a visit by 2, rang again at 2.30 and  we finally got someone at 3.40. So nearly 24 hours without water and we were high priority! Its partly fixed but they are coming back to replace a section of pipe.
So Good Friday arrived and it was a nice sunny morning, clear blue sky and needing to chill out I went to Amwell. William was there having turned up very early hoping to connect with the previous evening's roosting Sand Martins. They must have gone at first light unfortunately. In fact apart from the three Redshanks, things were very quiet with very little movement. The rather strong at times cold northerly probably had something to do with it, and the clear blue skies didn't help. Apparently the water levels are being kept a bit higher than usual for breeding ducks, but as a result there is hardly any muddy edges for passage waders and the islands are very small. About the only other birds of note were the Buzzards everywhere, with maybe 15 on view at times.
William and I decided to go for a walk as it was rather nice and warm out of the wind. We had one or two singing Chiffchaff on the walkway but nothing else. A Brimstone or Tortoiseshell would have been nice. Blackthorn is already flowering in one or two spots, and one of the Hawthorns is in leaf.
Phil is away so the Hollycross feeders have been neglected-William filled  them but all we had were a few tits coming down.
We met up with Bill at the viewpoint but apart from a build up of Common and Herring Gulls it was pretty much the same so we all decided to call it a day.
Saturday and Sunday was a bit indifferent with showers, rain and wind. National bird news seemed to  be a bit slow-reasonable numbers of early migrants but nothing to justify a day out, so I spent the drier periods working in the garden. More Martins have been reported at Amwell, as well as the first Swallows, and the masochists who went there this morning in the gales were eventually rewarded with an Osprey. I preferred to stay in with a bottle or two.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Not Quite Spring

Its the middle of March, and its time to think of early migrants. Over the last few weeks there have been a few Sand Martin and Little Ringed Plover reports, and some Ospreys are already back at their nest sites. Round here I have to set my sights a little lower, and round about now some of the locals should be over at Norton Green searching for and hopefully reporting the first Wheatears. Mind you its been a bit up and down with the weather-last weeks warm sunshine has been replaced by rather cold northerlies and things have been a bit quiet as a result.
Saturday started off rather cold, damp drizzle and things didn't really get much better. It wasn't very nice when the breeze picked up but in sheltered spots it didn't feel too bad. Having set off after breakfast, I had no definite plans, so Amwell is the usual destination, but at the last minute decided to carry on and ended up at Rye Meads instead. Sitting in hides seemed a bit more attractive than standing around at the rather exposed viewpoint.
I spent some time at the Draper hide waiting for something to happen. Due to the high water levels, the islands were rather small and were largely occupied by lots of Black Headed Gulls with a few Common Gulls. A couple of 1w Herrings were also present along with a more interesting 4w type Herring. It seemed a bit flat headed, long billed, small eyed and the legs were not really pink. It looked a bit Caspianish and out of the water, the more upright stance added to the impression, but it just didn't seem right to be one. I took a few pictures, and watched it for a bit, then the artist and Rye Meads ringer Alan Harris turned up, so I pointed it out to him. His view was that it was just a rather odd Herring.

Walking up to the lagoons didn't produce much apart from a few tits and several Cetti's Warblers. Finches seemed to be in short supply, whether the recent work clearing some of the banks and shrub pruning have anything to do with it I don't know-Chaffinches and Greenfinches were singing but there was no sign of any Bullfinch or the wintering Brambling.
The lagoons didn't have much either so I carried on to the Warbler hide overlooking the Meads. Large areas of reed have been cleared, revealing the ditches and ponds, so it is much more open. One Green Sandpiper was the only bird of note however.
I made my way back with a stop off at the Kingfisher hide. It seemed a bit quiet here as well, but for a brief moment as the sun broke through, a Chiffchaff started singing. It shut up very quickly when the sun went in, but at least it hinted of spring. One of the Kingfishers flew in for a few minutes, sitting on one of the posts beside the nest bank, but then flew off. Lots of nice perches have been put up in front of the hide, but it decided to stay as far away as possible. As a result my images weren't all that great.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

A Long Weekend

Three days into a four day weekend, using up some spare time and holidays.
Spent Friday and Saturday working in the garden-I couldn't go out as we were waiting for a couple of deliveries. Its nice in the warm spring sunshine, but it got rather too warm as I spent the time digging up a couple of shrubs that were well past their best, and though moving some perennials and transplanting seedling foxgloves wasn't too bad. The local Buzzards are enjoying the warm sunshine too-it doesn't seem all that long ago that Colin and I twitched our first Hertfordshire Buzzard and now I have them displaying over the garden in the middle of Stevenage.
Birds visiting the garden haven't changed a great deal. Still getting the same two Collared Doves, three Goldfinches, two Dunnocks, two Robins, and Wood Pigeons, Blue Tits and Blackbirds. Have not seen the Wren recently but it is still around and I guess is going to nest nearby. Also, we have had the Long Tailed Tits coming in, and today they were collecting pigeon feathers so there is obviously going to be a nest nearby soon. Just hope the cats don't find it.
As Colin is busy this weekend I was planned to go for a walk around Aston End this morning, but woke up to thick fog. This was rather slow to lift but by 0930 the Sun was breaking through so I headed off. It was rather chilly at first but soon warmed up, though there was a cool northerly breeze now and then. News of a Sand Martin at Wilstone and a few Wheatears on the south coast was encouraging but the best I could hope for was a singing Chiffchaff.
Heading through the plantation and into Long Lane, Coal and Great Tits, Chaffinches and Goldcrests were singing and the first of three Great Spotted Woodpeckers was drumming. Also one Mistle Thrush and several Blackbirds were singing. Walking into Aston End, several Greenfinches were singing, a Green Woodpecker called and a couple of Skylarks flew over.
More Skylarks in the fields south of Aston End down towards the ford, with a few Yellowhammers in the hedgerows. A couple of the fields are rather bare, having either been recently ploughed or planted,  so it was worth scanning them just in case an early Wheatear had dropped in-just larks and Wood Pigeons.
Walking along the Walkern road did not get me much, one Buzzard and one Red Kite. Would have expected to have heard Bullfinch or Nuthatch, but I did hear two Tawny Owls calling from High Wood. By the time I got down to the river Beane I was encountering thrushes, a few Redwing and Blackbird but predominantly Fieldfare. Numbers were as usual difficult to estimate with small parties everywhere and moving around constantly. Rather more unusual was a flyover Stock Dove-not even annual around here.
Blackthorn was in bud by the paddocks and a few of the cherries were flowering, and the willow catkins were out in force.. Although warm and sheltered here, I did not see any butterflies, but the bees were enjoying the pollen. talking of which, one of the weekend deliveries was the new Bee field guide by Falk and Lewington. Talk about overwhelming. I struggle with moths but they look easy by comparison. I have a sneaking suspicion that the garden (bumble) bee list that I compiled many years ago based on an old insect guide is no more than 10% accurate and only fit for the bin.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Amwell-Its Been a while

Its the start of March, Spring is almost here and so far I have only been out four times this year, and visited Amwell once back in January-I try and get down most weekends for a few hours. With no obvious birds to go for nationally, and with commitments tomorrow I paid my second visit this morning.
I must admit it did not look good. We had a bit of a frost, there was a bit of sleet when I filled the feeders and snow arrived during breakfast, but I left anyway. Through Stevenage, the ice warning in the car came on-temeparture was zero, and the sleet and snow increased as I made my way down the A505, though it got a bit warmer and the snow turned to light rain.
The singing Nuthatch along the lane was a good start, as were several Song Thrush, singing tits Dunnocks and Chaffinches. There was no-one at the view point, not surprising as it was freezing and still wet. Barry was in the White Hide but I sought shelter in the Gladwyn Hide at the south end. There was no sign of the Smew here, and the only ducks here were some Tufted and a couple of pairs of Goldeneye-the males were starting to display.
Once the sleet eased off I went back up to the view point. Lots of Gulls, the Black Headed Gulls being numerous, and they were starting to claim the tern rafts. There were several Greater Black Baked and Lesser Black Backed, some Herring and Common Gulls as well. Did not see any others...
Most of the duck were here at the north end, mainly Shoveller, Mallard and Gadwall, and hardly any Teal.
After a while I made my way to Hollycross but never got there. Met William outside the gate to James Hide so stopped for a long chat. While enjoying a rather close Goldcrest we received messages, from Barry of two Caspian Gulls, and more importantly a Kittiwake, so we rushed back up to the viewpoint.
I found one of the Caspians on the raft in front of the island, but try as we might we couldn't find the Kittiwake. One Red Kite put in a brief appearance, and the female Sparrowhawk dropped down into the reeds, but surprisingly failed to catch a Snipe. Normally Wigeon are scarce during the day, but a flock of about 20 had flown in while was gone. Eventually Barry arrived with Bill and we were told it was only on view for a few minutes at 0910-just about the time I was enjoying the Nuthatch, and flew off. The Caspian did get a lot closer and posed for the cameras.