Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Dirty goings on down Northaw Great Wood

Mud, glorious mud. Sometimes I find myself choosing a site to watch birds that makes it really difficult to watch birds. 

The Northaw Great Wood in Herts was a bit like that today. On the plus side; the woodland birds think it’s nearly spring and have begun to be very active; the trees are still leafless and this makes it easy to see anything that moves. Finally, with a lot of fog about, a trip around a wood seemed a good idea.

On the down side; the heavy rain recently had turned the trails into mud baths – think sticky baths that checked your every stride; people. People with dogs and or small children. For some reason, dogs and children get carried away by wet slippery mud. Oh and dogs, a special notice to myself. I must stop befriending them in wet and muddy conditions. They leap up to me and leave muddy pawprints all over my trousers. The wood was filled with cacophonic cries and yelps that would have sent all the wildlife running for the hills...if there were any.
Northaw Great Wood
The Northaw Great Wood is great for nuthatches, common treecreepers and marsh tits. I was hoping to see all these and although that didn’ go completely to plan, an unexpected superstar did put in an appearance.

The wood was full of birdsong. Song thrushes and great tits were audible from the carpark and it wasn’t long before nuthatches could be heard and seen. These were accompanied by long-tailed tits, blue tits and coal tits, wrens and robins.

I had chosen to take the yellow trail that circumnavigates the wood. This was very muddy and even with thick tread soled boots I was skidding everywhere. The outside track of a wood usually offers you the best chance of seeing birds as they generally prefer the outskirts of a wood, not the colour yellow. Next up. the tricky common treecreeper. The treecreeper can be found with tit flocks and loves nothing better than to annoy birdwatchers by landing on the side of a trunk of a tree (usually the opposite side to the watcher and then proceeding to be very mobile as it scurries up the tree and then flying off to another tree just as you focus on the thing.

Stiff neck. They love tall trees. They insist on traveling up trees just high enough to make it uncomfortable to watch them. They are gits. So, I found a few common treecreepers. They were with great tits, coal tits and a posse of goldcrests. I decided to sweat it out as I was determined to photograph them. A great spotted woodpecker put in an appearance as did a few distracting nuthatches. But it was the treecreepers I really wanted.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Common Treecreeper

Further along the yellow (or muddy brown) trail, in an area that usually holds marsh tit I spotted a bird I haven’t seen for about ten years. I visit wood a lot and never expect to see one of these so when one appears in front of you, there is a moment of incredulous disbelief. But it was there and it was in my bins and I loved it. Oh, sorry it was a lesser spotted woodpecker. By the time I had set up the scope it had vanished but I could have rolled about in the mud I was so happy.

As I headed back up the muddy trail towards the car park I was met by a group of Sunday afternoon strollers. One, a woman, wore white trousers and heels! Good luck I thought.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Taming of the Smew

My 2011 ended without having seen on of the most enigmatic birds of the British winter. The small and seemingly delicate Smew visits these shores in wintertime and can be found in a number of southeastern locations usually with uncanny regularity.

One such place is Amwell NR, a reclaimed set of gravel pits that sit at the northern end of the Lee Valley, not far from Ware.

Nut-freezingly cold Amwell
It was a beautiful, crisp morning but the low sun made it difficult to get good views of the wildfowl on Great Hardmead Lake. After a quick scan I went up to Tumbling Bay Lake; not only easier to view birds but also, a better name for a lake if you ask me.

All the usual ducks could be seen here. Pochard, gadwall, mallard and tufted duck mixed with mute swans, coots and moorhens. But it is here that a pair of smew had been reported over the past few days.

The drake is easy to see as his brilliant white plumage with fine black lines is like no other bird I know. He was distant but slowly swimming in my direction. By the time I was ready with my camera/scope concoction, he had decided to thwart me and was now swimming off at a tangent...I shoulsd have realised this would happen as it always does.

So, I decide to stalk the smew. I anticipated his next direction and scrambled around the lake to intercept him. The sly old duck was now paddling in a dark and sheltered area of the lake with many overhanging branches from the lakeside trees. (I used a word for him that I’m sure he would have never heard before and not one I wish to use in this blog but I said it and there’s that.

I had to be patient and as the smew started to move again, I knew there was a chance he might retrace his ....wake? I had him now. Even though my fingers felt like giant frozen sausages, I was able to refocus the scopes focus wheel and held my breath.

Drake Smew
Drake Smew
Yep, Drake Smew
So I managed to get a few pictures but I must have taken nearly 50 and most of these were either blurred (more than usual) or there were branches or other lake vegetation obscuring the blighter. Was about to leave to explore the other great habitats of Amwell when from nowhere, the female smew appeared. She is called a redhead for obvious reasons and I have no idea where she had been hiding all this time but agreed to a family portrait.
Drake Smew and Redhead
I had spent nearly two hours trying to photograph these wonderful birds and decided to try my luck back at the main watchpoint. I took the scenic route over the river and along the woodland walk. This spot is usually good for siskin and redpoll. The siskins didn’t let me down. There were about twenty of these high up in the alders chattering away like idiots. This is a difficult photograph to get as the birds were exactly vertical to me and about 60 feet up in the top of the trees.
Male Siskin
Male Siskin
I had one final quick look at the watchpoint over Great Hardmead Lake. There was a cracking male Goldeneye along with grey herons, lapwings, wigeon, teal and shoveler. The sun was beginning to make things nice and comfortable. Time to leave then.