Sound recording and images taken on a bright winter's afternoon near Barwick Ford.
The River Rib is in flood and yesterday had broken it's banks, cutting off access to the ford and Much Hadham. In the afternoon the depth markers showed that the river was running at nearly four feet deep at the crossing, to what in summer is but an inch.
It was good to be out. A bright sun illuminated wind-buffeted clouds that danced across the sky like scraps of shredded tissue paper. Primrose catkins fluttered like tibetan prayer flags, the trees and wires of the overhead telephone cables swaying and creaking in the strengthening breeze. The woods lining The Rib on either side of the valley heaved to a deeper note and rhythm, their roaring bass section set against the high pitched pizzicato of the passing blue and great tits that called from the hedgerow, browsing the moving branches in search of food with the grace and balance of a high wire act.
On Sunday afternoon, with only a couple of hours sunlight left in the short winter's day, I headed for Lemford Springs near Welwyn Garden City. Lemsford Springs is a gem of a little nature reserve under the stewardship of HMWT and of Barry Trevis, reserve warden in particular.
I have visited before, but as part of a working party, so this was my first chance to see the famed Green Sandpipers that are so associated with Lemsford Springs. The reserve is situated just to the west of the A1 and takes in a former watercress farm. This particular habitat of shallow freshwater beds seems extremely attractive to the sandpipers and since 1982 they have been the subject of a long term study by Barry and Ken Smith of the RSPB. Their 1991 paper, 'Habitat use and site fidelity of Green Sandpipers Tringa ochropus wintering in Southern England' provides fascinating insights into green sandpipers and their behaviour in the locality. The Herts Birds website also tells us that one bird in particular shows great regularity in it's use of the site having been present each winter since being ringed as a juvenile since 2008.
As chance would have it, this was the bird that graced the watercress beds in front of the hide as I watched on Sunday afternoon. It picked it's way through the submerged vegetation and gave plenty of opportunity to note it's ring pattern as it hopped onto some stonework -a blue ring on the left tibia, white over red on the right, with an additional metal ring on the right tarsus.
Further off, one to each side of me, a pair of Little Egrets hunted in the last golden light of the day whilst moorhen fussed over weeds and splashed through the shallows.
Light fading, I departed quietly and wandered along the path back to the entrance, locking the gate on a patch of hidden tranquility that provides and protects natural beauty, an important and valuable habitat and the opportunity for scientific enquiry as we seek to understand the complexities of the natural world or just be free from the hubbub of humanity for a few minutes on a Sunday afternoon.
Black headed Gulls (1st winter and adult) preen in the morning sun
On wasteland near my office a large expanse of concrete pools rain-water into a large 'luddle' (somewhere between a lake and a puddle) and when not in use as a car park, Herring and Black-headed Gulls congregate in the centre. My car provided a rather effective hide as I watched these two black-headed gulls preen in the low winter light. Both the adult and juvenile have black tips to their bill but the younger bird has buff-orange legs and upper bill, compared to the adult's deeper red.
Saturday morning at Amwell was a delight - bright sunshine and a cloudless sky after a cold night made for a crystal clear day - a perfect opportunity to see what birds were in residence. A snipe warmed itself in the shallows whilst further out the lake was full of Tufted Duck, Shovelers, Gadwall, the occasional Pochard, Coots and a number of restless gulls. The stars of the morning though were the magnificent flock of Lapwing that wheeled around the lake, black shadow-puppet wings revealing their snow white bodies with each flashing beat. Back and forth they swirled, revelling in the light and release of the beautiful morning.
Sightings: Snipe, Lapwing, Shoveler, Gadwall, Pochard, Mallard, Mute Swan, Corn Bunting, Moorhen, Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Buzzard (2), Blue tit, Great tit, Dunnock, Song Thrush