Thursday, June 28, 2007

East India Dock Reserve

For a while now I’ve been intrigued by East India Dock Reserve.

Docklands is a symbol of Modern Britain. It forms the backdrop to The Apprentice, Dr Who, the recent Alex Rider film, and many other programs and films. The European headquarters of many of the world’s leading financial institutions are here, and the shopping centre is full of accents from all round the world; most shops seem to be staffed by Poles, and the local school children (mainly Bangladeshi) hang round in incongruous groups. And in the middle of all this is a nature reserve. Fraser went in January, and saw Black Redstart and Merlin. I finally got some time today to go and have a look round.

It’s a tiny reserve, little more than a sludge-filled lagoon, but its been developed nicely to make viewing easy, and has a few artificial rafts for breeding. I saw a pair of Grey Wagtails, lots of Sand Martins, at least 4 pairs of Common Terns with lots of young, a single Little-Ringed Plover, a couple of Shelduck, a Grey Heron, and Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Canada Goose, Mallard, Goldfinch, singing Blackcap, singing Sedge Warbler, and lots of Cormorants.

The location is intriguing. To one side, gated estates full of Mercedes, showrooms for new high-rise blocks with luxury penthouses. On the other, derelict factories and piles of scrap metal. Opposite, a building familiar to us all.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Stort Navigation Evening Walk

Well I guess the night walk was cancelled. I got to Spellbrook Lock just before 8:30, but there were no cars I recognised, and no-one was waiting. After I while I thought I might walk to Tednambury Marsh to see if I could see anyone further down the river. The marsh was filled with singing birds – a Song Thrush in a dead tree, a Greenfinch doing its display flight, and Reed Buntings chasing each other. A couple of Sedge Warblers sat out on tall stems and sang, allowing a close approach in the way birds do when they can see you haven’t brought your camera.

Seeing no-one, I went back up to the lock, past a couple of narrow boats with the occupants sat out, and the fishermen setting up their poles. Then up towards Thorley Wash. A Grey Wagtail, then quiet until the footbridge when the Groppers were singing. It was difficult to pin down where they were, but I thought three birds? An alarm rang by the bridge, and one of the young lads down there ran off to his rod and hauled in a large Carp. It was a beautiful fish, lovely markings with a very dark back. It weighed in at 8lbs which seemed to underwhelm them. After the obligatory photo it was put back. They had wondered what the reeling sound from the tree behind them was.

Back down to the lock, and by now the light was fading. There was a carpet of flies on the navigation, and stacks of flies visible over the tops of all the trees. I sat by the lock and thought how peaceful it all was which is obviously ludicrous as it’s right under the flightpath to Stansted not two miles away, next to a busy railway line and has an A road in close proximity.
At 10:30 the trees were now just silhouettes and the hoped for bats had not appeared, so I went home.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hatfield Forest 17 June

A walk round with D#1,2. “Are we Lost?” “Are we nearly back at the Lake?” “How far have we walked?” etc. etc.

We got a few Speckled Wood Butterflies, a Large Skipper (I think), some Common Spotted Orchids, and some other bits and pieces. When walking through the Forest I feel like the Burglars who broke into a big house, stole the big pictures, but left behind a small picture by Kandinsky because they didn’t know what they were looking at. Heaven knows what I’ve walked straight past.

A few Marsh Tits – couldn’t say if they were a family party, a couple of separate Nuthatches, a male Bullfinch, both big peckers, and on the lake a couple of Common Terns and a couple of young Great-Crested Grebes.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Recent East Herts stuff

I’ve had a bit more time for birding recently, for reasons that may be covered in a future entry. Anyway, my birding has long been subject to the Law of Sod, and so its no surprise that this extra time coincides with the summer doldrums.

This extra time has allowed some trips with local birders, some of whom have blogs on the sidebar, and its been a real pleasure to be able to spend time with experts in the field.

First up was an evening at Kingsmead near Ware. If you go up the A10 and find yourself going over a huge viaduct, look down and think “that looks a good spot for birds”, you would be right. If you also thought “this would be a really nice valley if it wasn’t for this horrendous viaduct”, you’d be right about that too. Anyway, birdwise the highlight for me was the Little Ringed Plover which gave us some terrific views in the air and on the ground; a bird of real grace, in comparison to its thuggish larger relative.

Second up was an evening being shown round Sawbridgeworth Marsh by the warden. The reserve is fed by a series of springs where the clay meets the chalk, and maintains the water level in the marsh. The amount of work that goes into knocking the 22 acres of the reserve into some kind of reasonable condition is huge, and the effort of the team has paid dividends in a rich variety of plant life and insect life. The river was dredged in the 1930's and the sediment dumped by the bank. Seventy years later this means the nutrient-rich riverside is thick with nettles and grasses, so little work to increase the diversity goes on here, but away from the bank the work is yielding a further spread of the Marsh orchids and other plant life. Apart from the fantastic display of Southern Marsh Orchids mentioned in the previous blog, there were lots of other plants that I cannot name, there are 4 species of odonata, and a snail of some scarcity whose name, I’m ashamed to say, has slipped my mind and cannot be retrieved by Google. Thin Lipped Snail? Anyway here’s a picture.

Bird-wise the highlight was a Little Owl on a fence post in a neighbouring field, otherwise Sedge, Reed, and Garden Warblers, BlackCap, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Reed Bunting, plus a few other bits and pieces.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Mr Grumpy

Imagine going to the cinema, asking what was on, being told "Superman 3", saying "okay I';ll see that", and being told "err ... sorry that was last week".

Well I took the tribe to Rainham for lunch and, with luck, some birds. I asked at the entrance what was around and was told "Spoonbill, Marsh warbler, Garganey". Marsh Warbler!! I hadn't heard of that for a few days, so where is it? "It's down the board walk but hasn't been seen for a few days." Ahh ....

Now for the list? 2 Cornish Pasties, Vegetable Pasty, Baked Potato, Tuna Panini. Excellent value. And a Spoonbill (it could of been a stuffed head on a stick for all we could see of it), and a hobby.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Local Orchids in East Herts

One day last summer driving home from London after work, I was sat on the slip road at the lights at the Thornwood Roundabout (J7, M11), when I looked to my right at the triangle of land between the slip road and the southern bridge over the motorway and spotted some Pyramidal Orchids.

I went back today with a camera. There are lots of Pyramidal Orchids just coming into bloom, so I snapped away, with some poor results below.

As I was going I had a quick look around and blow me if there aren’t a load of Bee Orchids too! Now I think in retrospect that’s probably not a surprise as Harlow is (apparently) great for Bee Orchids that have a knack of popping up in small bits of neglected land, but I was chuffed.

I think that when you come across something unexpected, like coming across a bird you didn’t expect, its like seeing them for the first time. Without the dead weight of expectation, you see in an instant all the features that make them unique, and for something like a Bee Orchid that’s a really stunning flower.

Finally I twitched the Southern Marsh Orchids at Sawbridgeworth Marsh. They are great but the comments above applied in reverse – known knowns etc. For some reason the vivid deep purple of the flowers has come out pale pink. Oh well.

Hello Old Friend

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