Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Amwell Muntjacs

10th February 2014

During a brief respite between storms and heavy rain I took the opportunity to pop down to Amwell to look at the water levels. The water gauge in front of the viewpoint reads 0.56m when the water is just at the top of the sluice but not overflowing. Today it read 0.66m and therefore the water would have been overflowing the sluice by 0.1m or 4". However, if you looked over to the White Hide there was water weed hanging off the fence and a "tide-line" on the gravel in front of the hide 0.3 m above today's water level. Therefore when the water was at its highest it would have been overflowing the sluice by 0.4m or 16".

Very quiet from the viewpoint so I made my way down to the James Hide. As I sat there having some lunch I noticed a brown movement on the left hand edge of the ride. I picked up my camera hoping for a Bittern to step out of the reeds, but it turned out to be a doe Muntac. She gingerly picked her way across the ride and, just as she reached the other side, the buck emerged following her. What a magnificent animal.

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Lodge in February

7th February 2014

Another visit to see if there was any activity on the Raven front. Once again I made my way up to the fort but not a single cronk from a Raven or chip from a Crossbill. In fact not a sound from any bird at all. So back to the Meadow Hide to see if things were improving there.

There was still a constant stream of tits visiting the feeders including these Long-tails, Great and Coal Tit which all too frequently would fly straight to the feeder rather than posing first on a branch, but I did manage to grab a couple of shots. The Coal Tit was the most gratifying as they are very fast in and out to the feeders and this is probably the best I have achieved so far.

But the main difference today was the appearance of a couple of Lesser Redpolls, Unfortunately, unlike last year, they didn't come down to the pond to drink, but did come on to the closest feeders. The female was reward enough but the glorious male coming into his crimson finery for the breeding season was magnificent.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Verulamium Kingfisher

4th February 2014

I needed to visit a shop in St Albans and therefore, as the forecast was for a sunny day, I thought I would kill two birds with one stone (metaphorically of course) and visit the Verulamium Kingfisher on my way. The River Ver flows through Verulamium Park and has been home to Kingfishers for a number of years, but this year has been particularly special. For some reason one of the females is particularly tame and will sit in a tree fishing just six yards away from the constant stream of people walking along the footpath next to the river. I am sure you could get closer, but the width of the river prevents that from happening.

I arrived on site expecting to be the only photographer there, but word had obviously got round and I found that I was just one of eight. To make things worse the sky was overcast rather than sunny as forecast, and there was no sign of the Kingfisher. The prospects did not look good. However, I decided to give it a couple of hours and settled in along with the other photographers.

During a stroll up the footpath I could hear a Kingfisher calling just behind the trees lining the river, where there is a little backwater at the bottom of a garden. The Kingfisher eventually flew into sight but was at least 30 yards away and partly obscured by trees. However, after about half an hour she duly obliged and flew out of the backwater onto the main river and started to fish right in front of the assembled crowd, and for the icing on the cake the sun came out. I managed to rattle off 400 shots over the next half an hour and a selection of the best is given below. A truly amazing experience!!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Dabchicks Sailing Club

2nd February 2014

After the success with the male Goldeneye off the Layer de la Haye causeway, I thought I would go to West Mersea to see whether any divers were coming into the Strood Channel on the incoming tide. I parked in the car park next to the Dabchicks Sailing Club and it soon became apparent that I was likely to be unlucky as I had forgotten that it was a sunny day on the weekend. As a result there were lots of people around and also a fleet of sailing dinghys making their way out of the Strood Channel and into Virley Channel. Anyway, just to check I made my way on to the pontoon.

Certainly no divers in sight, but there was still a lot of activity. Here Turnstones, instead of running around your feet on the beach, run around in fishing boats looking for any discarded bait. Even right by the car park they were happy to carry on their frantic search for food just feet away from the hordes of families and dog walkers.

Also on the muddy beach were a selection of gulls but surprisingly no Mediterranean Gulls. These are normally found along the Esplanade which is a whole mile away. There were however several Black-headed Gulls standing around sleeping and preening.

One particular individual had obviously had enough of my attention and told me in no uncertain way to clear off and leave him in peace.

Common Gulls were also represented as well as a few Herring Gulls,one of which was accompanied by this year's offspring.

However the star attraction today was the flock of Brent Geese feeding on the mud just 20 yards away from the bustling crowd. Although the beach does look a bit dodgy, enough to deter most people, it is actually quite safe to walk on provided that you choose your route carefully and keep to the gravelly stretches. This allowed me to get much closer for some shots. Occasionally the geese would stop feeding and look at you but would then carry on, indicating that you were still at their "safe" distance.

Don't forget that for better reproduction of my photos, see my photo gallery at


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Goldeneye from the new Layer de la Haye Causeway

2nd February 2014

During the last two years work has been carried out at Abberton Reservoir to increase the depth of water in the main reservoir by 10 feet. This has involved extensive works on the Layer de la Haye causeway, making it out of bounds for birdwatching. The work is now complete and as I was driving over the new causeway to the visitor centre, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were lay-bys along the whole length of the causeway with steps leading up to a raised footpath along the eastern side. There is also a low level footpath along the western side. Therefore it is possible to park safely off the busy road and view the reservoir from both sides, with the raised path on the eastern side providing commanding views. Well done to those responsible for this enlightened approach.

I made my way up the steps and couldn't believe my luck as there, right in front of me, was a gorgeous male Goldeneye just 30 yards away, in full sunshine. You had to be quick as it was diving continuously but didn't seem to mind the row of cameras clicking away.

In the words of The Terminator, I'll be back!!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Inflight Entertainment at Rainham

1st February 2014

Nothing much being reported of late from Rainham, but thought it worth a visit now that we are into February. What puzzles me every time I visit Rainham is the car parking arrangements. There is a Pay and Display car park there, but payment is voluntary. So if you don't have to pay, what is the point of displaying a ticket?

Anyway, having not paid or displayed I made my way through the visitor centre and down the ramp for a quick look at the feeders. Even these were quiet by normal standards, presumably because there is so much natural food easily accessible elsewhere. However, there was a rather magnificent male Greenfinch waiting for his turn and a couple of Starlings showing off their iridescence in readiness for the breeding season.

For the inflight entertainment I positioned myself just outside the Butts Hide so I could photograph birds commuting between the Target Pools and Aveley Scrape, especially when they were disturbed by aircraft or birds of prey. Even during the quiet periods you are entertained by aircraft making their approach to the London City Airport such as this NetJets Europe Raytheon Hawker 800XP executive jet and Swissair HS146.

Eventually, the first disturbance sent some Gadwall and Shoveler flying in all directions, closely followed by a Common Gull.

It doesn't take much to spook the Lapwings and the whole flock would frequently take to the air and do several laps before deciding that it was safe to land again.

The Grey Lag Geese were generally much more settled and would normally only move from one place to another if they wanted do do so. However, low-flying aircraft were another thing and this would cause the whole flock to take to the sky. You would think they would get used to aircraft after a while.

But now it was 1.30pm and nearing high tide so I made my way to the foreshore which was now nearly covered. This has the advantage of pushing any pipits closer to the path. There were a few present but the ever-increasing wind made detecting movement more difficult, and all too often the first you were aware of their presence was when they flew up from your feet. I did manage to get a few shots before the wind reached gale force, and the smudgy striations, general colouration and leg colour indicates that these are Rock Pipits.