Sunday, 29 June 2014

The long Saturday - London Wetland Centre and Bedfont Lakes Country Park

All week I had been watching the weather forecast for this weekend. At the London Wetland Centre there were plans for Dragonfly and Damselfly walks and talks, which I thought would be interesting and I had really wanted to go a Night Walk at Bedfont CP. However the forecast, after several weeks of warm dry sunshine, was rain showers for most of the day. So I didn't decide until very early yesterday, that I was going to go anywhere at all. A birding buddy, Duncan, finally persuaded me with an offer to buy coffee and cake plus, after being woken by a police helicopter over head at 4.30am, I didn't really have an excuse not to go.
Whilst waiting for Duncan and the Wetland Centre to open, I made friends with this Robin.....
and later in the day, we found one of it's juvenilles....
We found a stunning male Banded Demoiselle by the entrance, below, and several Blue-tailed and Common damselflies.

There's always a decision to be made in the courtyard at the Wetland Centre. Do you go left or right ? After checking what time the Dragon and Damsels talks were but being unable to find anywhere that stated what time the Dragon and Damsel walk was going to be, we decided to go left, and it was probably the best decision we made.
Just as we were approaching the Headley Hide, the distinct call of a Cetti's Warbler came and announced itself as being just in front of the hide. I like Cetti's but they are incredibly hard to see, let alone photograph. They are small plain warblers, a tiny little bit bigger than a Reed, with a warm brown back and a voice that is even louder than a Wrens. I hadn't even managed to sit down in the hide before I spotted one skulking low amongst some short stubby reed stems. And that was where we stayed. All thoughts of Dragons and Damsels had gone. Our 'fix' was to try and photograph a Cetti's.
We think there were between two and four Cetti's flitting around the reeds and often disappearing into a shrubby tree on the left of the hide. It didn't help that at least three Reed Warblers were also feeding in the same area. But the Cetti's were quite predictable, always coming in low and staying low, often probing for insects so near to the water that we could only follow their progress by watching reed stems 'flickering'.
None of my photos are going to win any prizes, but it was such a privilege to be so close to a shy and elusive bird. Often the bird was so near, it was too close to be photographed.


Reed Warblers (below) were also active in exactly the same spot. The ideal photo would have been both the Cetti's and the Reeds in the same camera frame, but that's a dream I'll have to keep dreaming.


and finally, two last shots of the Cetti's. Shame about all the reeds in the way, but it shows it's distinctive posture, and a close up of the head.

When we weren't photographing the Warbler-fest, a family of Little Grebes kept us amused. The chicks were reaching that age of independence to wander off, but still needing to be fed by the parents.

After a while we decided it would be a shame not to visit the rest of the site, so wandered around to the Wildside. Another family of Little Grebes was in the middle channel, and these chicks were younger than the Headley Hide ones. If they weren't being fed, they were clambering to get on to the backs of one of the adults. Eventually all four youngsters made it, with only the odd tiny head appearing to take food from the other parent. 

There were more juvenile birds viewable from the Wildside Hide, but this time they were Black-headed gulls.

Back outside after one of the many rain showers, we lost a fair bit of time trying to photograph a Common Tern that was fishing. Sometimes the bird flew so close to us, it was impossible to get photos, but I eventually managed two passable shots. Duncan managed to get a perfect shot of the bird literally skimming the water surface.

Wandering back to the café for a much needed coffee (Duncans treat), we found a couple of Common Lizards on the usual bridges.
After lunch and a catch up with Rick, John and Andy, we had a wander around some of the other hides. Birds seen included adult and juvenile Pied Wagtails, a young Lapwing chick, a Little Ringed Plover, some Greylag geese, House and Sand Martins, Swifts, a Wren pretending to be a Cetti's, Herons, a Little Egret (with possibly a second bird seen later in the day) and the usual Tufted ducks, Teals, Mallards, Mute Swans, plus a low flying Great Crested Grebe. But we soon realised we wanted to be back in the Headley Hide getting our 'fix'.
There we found John and Rick, and again while waiting for Warbler-fest another bird kept us occupied. A juvenile female Reed Bunting. It's inbuilt fear of humans hadn't kicked in and twice it nearly came through the hide windows.

So after a very early wake up call, and a good eight hours at the Wetland Centre, my day still wasn't over and I had to head home ready for an evening of bats and moths.
Duncan and I had taken hundreds of photos of the warblers. Most of mine have been deleted. That elusive Cetti's was just so quick, but it really was a thrill to be so close to a bird that is more often heard than seen. 
So thanks Duncan for a great day out, and it was lovely to catch up with John, Rick and Andy for some bantering in the Headley. Shame it rained, but if it hadn't we would have been lost amongst Dragons and Damsels, and not seen Warbler-fest. Finally, this is a link to Duncan Eames Flickr page
Within half an hour of being home, I was back out with Sue and on our way to Bedfont Lakes Country Park. Just shortly after getting there the heavens opened. Not ideal conditions for the planned night walk around some of the site, and I had to feel a little sorry for our guide, the incredibly knowledgeable Susy Jones. But luckily the rain stopped just before the walk started and it ended up being a great two hours.
We were issued with bat detectors and it wasn't long before we had three or four Common Pipistrelles flying over a clearing. My high-light was seeing the larger Noctule bat that almost glided over head. The size difference between the two species was quite a shock. Other bat species that are resident in the park include Soprano and Nathusius Pipistrelles, Daubenton, Serotine and Leisler. Susy gave a very well worded talk about how the frequency levels on the detectors can be used to detect which species was around, and about how bats use echos for locating both obstacles and food.
The rangers also set up a moth trap for us, and we visited it a couple of times where there was a nice handful of micro moths to be seen.
Other high-lights included a couple of the group being lucky enough to see a Fox with a cub that we accidentally spooked, a Wood Mouse larder under one of the logs, a Lesser Stag beetle under another and listening to Reed Warblers and Marsh Frogs calling in the dark.
A very enjoyable and informative walk around just a tiny part of this 180 acre site. Sue and I are already planning our next visit.
So a big thank you to our guide, Susy.
And that was my long Saturday. The weather was pretty dire sometimes, but overall it was a very good day and the night walk was the perfect ending.
Last, but not least, a link to one of the websites about Bedfont Lakes Country Park

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