Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A Winter Visit to Sandy

20th December 2016

During the last few winters at this time of the year the feeders at The Lodge Sandy have been covered in Siskins and Redpolls and even a few Bramblings. This year, however, there have been no reports so I feared the worst when I set off for a visit.

In fact my worst fears were realised when we drew up in the car park and the feeders there were only attracting a few tits and the odd Chaffinch. So let's not waste any time there and have a look at what was going on at the Meadow Hide. Here it was also very quiet compared to previous winters with only a Goldfinch and a Nuthatch to keep us occupied.

Then on to Sandy Heath where the cover crops usually attract flocks of Reed Buntings, Redpoll, Linnet and Yellowhammers. The cover crops were there but there were no Yellowhammers or Redpolls, just a large flock of Linnets and a smattering of Reed Buntings, some of which were more cooperative than others.

There were also a few Stonechats around, but as ever were quite flighty, only posing on a couple of occasions.

But the star of today was the Little Owl which lives in the quarry. Luckily we met David McCarthy and friends who was able to direct us to the quarry and provide a description of the habitat where the Little Owls frequent. Even then it took nearly half an hour of scouring the sandstone landscape before spotting a lone owl settled between some old Rosebay Willowherb stems which partially obscured the view.

What an absolutely fabulous day!!!

Friday, 23 December 2016

A Return Visit to Wallasea Island

11th December 2016

After my last successful visit to Wallasea Island, time for a return visit to try for some photos of the Hen Harriers. I therefore headed straight for the eastern trail and positioned myself at a reasonable vantage point and settled in for what could be a long wait. The main trouble with the eastern trail is that it is covered in London Clay from the Crossrail project and therefore after a couple of hundred yards you are 4 inches taller and have put on 10 lbs. Anyway, it will be OK when the grass grows.

I didn't have to wait too long before the ring-tail appeared and flew down the northern boundary, typically just where I had just walked. I managed to get a few shots before the bird appeared to land and never re-appeared for the whole day.

Not long after the male appeared and was far more cooperative, flying for extended periods although never coming particularly close. I did, however, manage to get a few shots which I hope to be able to improve on during future visits now I know his routine.

Well, the daytime show was now over, so time for the cabaret. I therefore returned to the car park for a well-earned cup of tea before taking my seat for tonight's star to appear. Almost on cue the Short-eared Owl flew across the event area and proceeded to hunt over the adjacent grassland, often giving great views and some photo opportunities. What another great day!!!!

Monday, 19 December 2016

The First Smew of the Winter at Amwell

5th December 2016

The forecast was for sun until early afternoon so time for a quick visit to Amwell to what was around. The smaller bodies of water were frozen over as expected, including the pool in front of the James Hide. However, I was surprised to see that the Lee Navigation was about 70% ice.

The Bittern had been seen on the Bittern Pool earlier in the morning when it caught a large Tench. Unfortunately this meant that it was probably hunkered down in the reeds somewhere sleeping it off, because it certainly didn't show for over an hour. However while I was waiting a Redwing was feeding on a nearby Hawthorn and provided a couple of shots, my first of the winter.

But the bonus today was that the first Smew of the winter, a red-head, had appeared at Tumbling Bay. Unfortunately it was a long way down and tucked in to the trees on the left hand side, so involved a slow and patient approach through a tangle of trees to get a glimpse. What a great couple of hours.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

A Visit to Wallasea Island to see how the New Project was getting on?

4th December 2016

The Wallasea Island Project covering the period 2006-2025 is a massive undertaking to covert 670 acres of farmland to coastal wetland marsh. The Project is now half-way through and therefore timely for a visit to see how things are getting on.

The breaches in the river wall have been made creating a large inter-tidal area which is already attracting lots of waders and wildfowl. On the landward side several scrapes have been made and this week the first of the trails around the site have been opened, so time for a wander round.

The disadvantage up to now was that when viewing the inland part of the reserve from the car park or the river wall was that the sun was always in your eyes. However, now that the trails are open it is possible to position yourself so that the sun is behind you which, although better for birdwatching, is essential for photography.

So I chose the eastern trail and found a good vantage point in the middle. The new scrapes are still very immature and therefore very quiet, but the cover crops held a good variety of birds including Linnets, Reed Buntings and a massive flock of 150+ Corn Buntings. On the river wall two Marsh Harriers and male and ringtail Hen Harriers were hunting but always very distant.

I was just about to walk back to the car for some lunch when I stopped in my tracks as a magnificent Hare came loping up the track towards me. We both froze as he sized me up before deciding it was better to live to fight another day and loped back from whence he came.

Back near the main track a handful of Corn Buntings were sat in a Sallow by the ditch. I thought I would try my luck and started edging towards them expecting them to fly at any point. But one seemed quite relaxed about my ever closer presence until I was just 10 yards away with the afternoon sun behind me. Why can't it always be this easy?

But now back to the business in hand and wait for the Short-eared Owls and Hen Harriers to perform over the event area by the car park. I joined the small band of photographers strategically positioned for a good panoramic view and light and waited. No sign of the Hen Harriers tonight, but a single Short-eared Owl put in an appearance and performed reasonably well in front of the assembled gathering.

Well, in summary, this magnificent project is certainly delivering the goods and I will certainly be back.