Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Great Ooze

Tewinbury is a Herts and Middx Wildlife Trust reserve just outside Tewin next to the Tewinbury Farm Hotel on the B1000. Its main ecological value is its large reed bed which in the summer months is home to many breeding pairs of Reed Warblers, a couple of pairs of Cetti's Warblers and the occasional Water Rail. During the summer when the water levels are kept high the only interest in front of the double-decker hide is a few Tufted Ducks and Little Grebes. However, at this time of year, the water levels are dropped to encourage migrant waders.

I arrived at the hide and chose the lower floor of the hide as, although the upper deck provides better views over the reserve, the lower deck is much better from a photography point of view as you are at eye-level with the birds. I gently opened the flap and was confronted with a large expanse of wet oozy mud interspersed with spring-fed channels of flowing water, a mecca for any self-respecting wader.

There were three Green Sandpipers in residence, spending most of their time in and around the centre channel, but sometimes disappearing up one of the five bays cut into the reeds. Eventually two of the birds did stray close and enabled some shots to be taken.

Next up was the familiar call of a Grey Wagtail. It flew into sight from the back of the reed bed and after a couple of circuits landed on the mud in front of the hide. Because of the amount of yellow on them, Grey Wagtails are often confused with Yellow Wagtails. However, Yellow Wagtails are summer visitors with an olive-green back and are usually found in and around grassy fields or crops. Grey Wagtails, on the other hand, are resident in the UK, have a grey back and are invariably associated with water.

Then, for something totally different, there was a movement on the mud under the trees. Not water birds this time, but four Siskins coming down to get a drink from the overnight rain that had collected in some footprints in the mud. Siskins are resident in the UK but leave Hertfordshire during the Summer months to breed further north, but are now starting to return for the Winter.

Around the channels there are are a number of strategically placed sticks for Kingfisher perches and very well used they are indeed. Unfortunately, when I was there, the Kingfisher was only using the most distant perch so was not close enough for a good photo, but these birds are also a pleasure to see whatever the range.

And so to the final drama. During the morning there had been two Little Egrets feeding down the channels between the reeds. Then, just before I was due to leave, one of the egrets, a juvenile as can be seen from the pale bill and greenish legs, came out into open in front of the hide and posed for some photos.

A few minutes later the second bird, an adult with black legs, darker bill and long crest, approached the juvenile from behind.

This young upstart was clearly taking more than his fair share of the fish and had to be taught a lesson. So get out of it!!!

Job done, and the adult flew back into the reedy channels.

What a fantastic morning. It seems to me that, when water levels are low as they are at the moment, the hide at Tewinbury is clearly one of the best hides in the county for photographing birds.

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