Friday, 2 March 2012


Well Spring has finally arrived and not a moment too soon. It has been a Winter horibilis for me, culminating in Carol getting a very nasty virus which is only now leaving her after more than three weeks. She did of course share it with me and although over the worst of it I'm still short on energy. Hence the lack of posts recently.
I have been out a couple of times though, on wednesday of this week I paid a visit to Whetstone gravel pits to see my first ever Hooded Merganser which has been around on and off for a couple of weeks I think. It's a female and it looks stunning, complete with a very chic hairdo. I just wish it had been close enough for a picture.
Today I ventured down to the river and lakes at New Hythe. I stayed for a couple of hours and clocked up 39 species in the very grey, misty and cool conditions. What a change from yesterday when the mercury reached about 16 degrees, no two days the same, it does seem like we don't have a climate sometimes, just random weather.

The species list has changed too. No Goldeneye, no Goosander, no Woodcock or Snipe and no Smews. The picture above was my last attempt to get close enough to the drake Smew and his four ladies who were on Abbey Mead lake recently. I'm grateful to the winter for providing the conditions to encourage all these super birds to our local patches but it seems pretty tame now since their departure.
I parked myself on the bucket by the river first of all but only noted the usual Teal, Mallard and Cormorant on the river. Disappointingly the six Shelduck i'd seen there on a brief visit earlier in the week had departed. Not even a Redshank to grace my list today. I took the path around the now quiet sunken marsh, the contractors have finished their repairs to the infamous water pipe. Their machinery has gone and they have made good the wide path adjacent to the river which they used for access. It looks a bit bare as you can see below but it has been reseeded and hopefully by the summer it will be green again. Within the sunken marsh I heard at least three Cetti's Warblers calling, Dunnocks who are now starting to sing their pleasant little song, a few wheezing Greenfinches and six splendid Bullfinches, whose outrageous colours still managed to shine through the grotty light.

Abbey Mead, now devoid of its cold weather visitors was tranquil but for the territorial antics of the myriad of Coots who currently live there. I like how they all want to be friends together during the winter months and then will defend their corner savagely against trespassers as the breeding season approaches. A lot of birds behave similarly I know, but Coots just do it so well. Two Gt Crested Grebes were also having a bit of aggro trying to establish and maintain borders. The main aggressor behaving first like a goose, with neck outstretched and low to the water and then having repelled the upstart, reverting to Swan mode with neck tucked back and chest pushed up, you could almost see it swagger.

The usually deserted east scrub surprised me with a flock of about 30 or so Redwings in the trees along the eastern edge, they seemed to have joined forces with a dozen or so Chaffinches as well, all flying up together as I approached and then back down together when I had passed them. A commotion of gulls passed overhead and raised my hopes that they might be seeing off a raptor, but they weren't, they were just being gulls. Nice to see the Black-headed gulls, like the one above, getting their handsome brown heads back though. Johnson's lake seems to be the preferred choice of venue for Shovelers just now. There were a good few dozen there, some dozing on the small islands while others drifted around lethargically. I scanned the lake in the hope of a Smew, there were six redheads here during the freeze, but they had departed with the ice and snow that had bought them here.

I wanted to have a look for the Bittern on Streamside lake before it too departs, but there were fishermen in both of the viewing areas so I started to make my way back towards the railway line. As I did so I saw a man walking towards me with a large dog trailing some thirty or forty feet behind him. He then gave a classic demonstration of how to bring your animal to heel, this consisted of shouting at the top of his voice 'oi, get 'ere you f***ing s**tbag' a couple of times. The dog took no notice of course. It made me think that these out of control animals should be strictly licensed and kept on a very tight lead when in public places. Not a bad idea for the dogs either come to think of it.

The three frogs pictured above, yes, there are three, are just three of many who have been having what can only be described as an amphibian orgy in my pond for the last week or so. No spawn yet but i'm hopeful for bucket loads soon judging by the constant thrashing, splashing and cuddling that's been going on. Earlier in the week the commotion attracted a Kingfisher to the side of the pond. It sat in the Crabapple tree looking down hungrily with a faintly disappointed look, or maybe it was just embarrassment.


Greenie said...

Phil ,
Glad you managed to get the Smew in the frame before they left . Got three frogs exactly the same in our pond .
Hope you and Carol shake off the virus soon .
NH certainly seems to attract 'numpties' , present company excepted of course .

ShySongbird said...

Sorry to read you and Carol have been unwell, Phil. I hope you both feel fully fit again very soon.

Lovely to see all the blossom on your first photo, things do seem to be getting more Spring like now. It sounds like your pond is going to be very busy soon. I was hoping to see some Frogs or spawn last weekend when I was out but it must have been just that bit too early here I think. Great photo of the ones in your pond and I am still very envious of you having Kingfishers in your garden.

Well done on the Hooded Merganser, I have never seen one.

No wonder that poor dog was trailing behind, I dread to think how it is treated with an owner like that :-(

Rob said...

A dripping grey mist here too, Phil - Dickensian marsh weather.

There are some persistent bugs in circulation - you've done your stint, now get well the both of you!


Stephanie said...

Sorry to hear you've had the obligatory winter bug Phil! Sending my best to you and Carol and hope you're both feeling lots better soon. Nice to see the first signs of Spring! Perhaps we'll see you around Easter time - I should be taking a short break then.

Alan Pavey said...

Nice account Phil, like the Smew taking off shot really nice, I haven't managed to get out much lately but when I have it does feel as if there is a slight lull in proceedings at the minute.

Warren Baker said...

Hi Phil,
Glad you're feeling better now, just in time to find a few spring Migrants :-)

Phil said...

Hi Steph
Thanks for your message, nice to hear from you.
Hope all is well at Uni and that you avoided the plague that descended on us!
Carol is going to set things up for Easter Sunday. Hope you will be able to make it that day, Michael too if he's home as well.