Monday, 25 November 2013

All's well at Amwell

I thought i'd take the chance to do another quick spot of year list topping up. Amwell in the north of Hertfordshire has been graced by a female, or redhead, smew for the last few days and marsh tits are apparently coming to feeders. Both of these are birds I haven't yet seen this year.
Traffic on the M25 was surprisingly good so I got to the reserve about 8.40. Weather was overcast and a bit nippy but light winds so not too bad considering. There were a lot of birds on the main lake (Hardmead) including a few goldeneye. One of the local birders pointed me in the right direction though for where the smew normally lurks, in front of the Gladwin hide. Almost as soon as I opened the viewing slits up I got onto the bird, preening happily right in front of the hide. Smew are diving ducks of the sawbill family, related to goosanders and mergansers but much smaller being only about the size of a teal. The males are one of the most sought after birds as they have an incredibly smart black and white plumage. The females look very different, having a mainly grey body but a rich chocolate brown head, although they are called redheads. The shot below gives you all the details you need to identify one, apart clearly from the size - think very small duck!

After a while and having got her plumage into good condition she drifted off towards the centre of the lake, presumably for a late breakfast so I drifted off as well, in search of my other target bird the marsh tit.

Marsh tits are one of those birds which used to be much more common than they are now. As a kid I remember seeing them, and their now very rare cousin the willow tit, often in woodlands and even in my back garden. Nowadays you have to seek them out. They are classic woodland birds, preferring deciduous over conifers. To identify them, look for a plain coloured tit-like bird, buffy on the back,  whiter underneath the body with a solid black cap. There are subtle differences between marsh and willow tits but the best way to tell them apart is by call (and the fact willow tits are now VERY rare!).
Anyway, I walked round to Hollycross Lake where there are a few bird feeders out, which were attracting great and blue tits, coal tits, chaffinches and goldfinches. no sign of marsh tits though. So, I resorted to plan B and fired up my ipad and played a marsh tit song. Almost immediately I got a return call and within a few seconds two birds were in the hawthorn bush next to the gate. They weren't fooled for long, only a out 30 seconds and they were gone, but long enough to grab one photo. Not brilliant you can see the body colour, the black cap and the white cheeks. As I had to get back for a delivery that was it. Only other birds of note were a few snipe on the muddy edges, a slightly reticent water rail half-calling from the reeds and a Cetti's warbler giving voice. Two more for the year list, taking me up to 227 for the year (400club list) or 226 against BOU.