Sunday, 19 October 2014

Charlie, Tom, Burt and me - aka a day out with special guests, the FaB Peregrines and the first Bittern of the season at the LWC

I knew exactly what I was going to do today, but I didn't know it was going to work out so well.
I'd already pre-planned to meet up with Nathalie (the Fulham and Barnes Peregrines Godmother) to give her a photo I had been saving for some time and also to see the infamous pair of Peregrines, Charlie and Tom, at Charring Cross Hospital. Regular followers of both my blog and Nathalies twitter and facebook page, know that Charlie and Tom are a pair of urban Peregrines who have made their home at the top of the hospital. Charlie is the female (the falcon) and Tom is the male (the tiercel).
 Nathalie's dedication has meant we have been able to follow Charlie and Toms progress over the years, and this is the link to the Fulham and Barnes Peregrines Facebook page. Sadly there is a chance that next year will be their last year nesting at the site as the hospital is under serious threat of being closed down, which in turn might mean the site is demolished. Even if a new building is built, it may not be high enough for Charlies and Toms liking, nor have the nest ledge site that they have chosen as their current home. Only time will tell, and obviously I will post any updates here on my blog.
The Peregrines were very easy to find when I arrived. They were sitting side by side on one of their favourite perches overlooking the Margravine Cemetery.

Tom on the left and Charlie on the right.

 After a pleasant and well overdue catch up with Nathalie, Tom and Charlie, I made my way to the London Wetland Centre. Before I left the cemetery Nathalie and I joked how the Peregrines always visited the Wetlands when Nathalie wasn't there, we just didn't realise at the time how right she was.......
I had my lunch at the LWC then bumped into Therese outside the café who informed me the first Bittern of the season had been spotted. Who was the spotter ? None other than our very own Birdy Phil. Well done mate :)
Within a short while most of the LWC regulars were back at the café making plans on where to go next to try and spot the Bittern again. It's quite a big deal when the Bitterns start arriving at the LWC. The centre is only 14 years old yet has been become the best place in London to spot a rare over-wintering Bitterns. Last winter at least five Bitterns chose to spend the colder months on site. The best time to see them is when it is very cold and the lagoons have frozen over, therefore the Bitterns have to come out onto the ice in order to feed. A few years ago I got some fantastic close up views of one of the Bitterns and nick-named him/her as 'Burt' and the name, for me, has stuck.
After much discussion and with checking from the Obs tower, the floor above the restaurant, the Dulverton hide and the WWF hide, we realised the only place to view Burt again would be from the Peacock Tower hide. En route to there I saw the below.....
juvenile Heron
Common Darter - probably one of the last sightings of the year......

another view of the Darter.....
and a Little Grebe with a small fish....
One of the first sightings from the Peacock Tower was of a larger bird with a larger fish......
A Cormorant had caught a Pike, and for several minutes the fight was on between bird and fish.......
The Cormorant won.....
Not great photos as I was looking down on to the lagoon from the first floor of the Peacock.
Another unusual spot was the sighting of a Yellow-bellied Slider Terrapin.
Again, not a great photo as the terrapin was out on the marshes. It's not a British native, in fact it's a surprise it's even survived at all considering these creatures prefer a hotter climate. Sadly sightings of any terrapins in our water ways are becoming quite common and it's all due to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle films that came out years ago. Irresponsible parents bought their children these little cute creatures, only to later dump them when they got too big for their tanks. With another film due out this week, no doubt  there will be another wave of dumped 'pets' in the future !
But back to the Burt the Bittern......
After the distraction of the Cormorant and the terrapin, all eyes were back on the last place that Burt had been spotted, and it wasn't too long before both Birdy Phil and John Cass spotted it at the same time, in roughly the same area as before...
As I couldn't even see it with my bins, and knew therefore it was pointless trying to photograph it, I done the next best thing and got photos of everyone else trying to see it instead !!
But at least we have confirmation that the first 'Burt' of the season is on site. Let's hope a few more join him/her.
Another distraction came when all the gulls suddenly went up off the lagoon.......
Not many birds of prey put gulls up, but one that does is the Peregrine, and sure enough both Tom and Charlie had come to visit..........
They both landed on one of the shingle islands in front of the Obs. It was a distance from the Peacock to the Obs but I managed one record shot of both birds on the island before quickly texting Nathalie.......
Very poor record shot of Charlie on the left and Tom on the right......
Nathalie soon replied with some choice language (turns out she was at the Wetland centre yesterday but neither Peregrines showed up) and then the real action began.......
Both Tom and Charlie treated all of us in the Peacock Tower to some fantastic aerial acrobatics and views.......
Peregrine being mobbed by gull....


The atmosphere within the tower was frantic and great. Spotters were calling out where the Peregrines were, where they were heading and whether it was Tom or Charlie.......the photographers amongst us were rushing from hide window to hide window........
and finally I somehow found myself in the best position as one of them flew around the tower at head level, then turned and started to fly straight past me......

It was a fantastic few moments even though most of my above shots are slightly blurred owing to the speed of these magnificent birds. When I got home tonight I sent Nathalie one of my close up photos to try and get identification on whether it was Tom or Charlie, and after much deliberation we think it was Tom, and this photo below is my favourite capture of him.......
So my day out started with the Fulham and Barnes Peregrines and finished with them.
What a great finale.
Thank you to Nathalie (and Charlie and Tom), Birdy Phil, John Cass, Therese, Martin, Michael, Joe, Maryann, Barry, Keith and Rick (and Burt), for a brilliant day out.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

An overdue visit to Kensington Gardens

After visiting Richmond Park a couple of days ago, today I was off to another Royal Park, this time it was Kensington Gardens in west London.
Ralph Hancock's daily blog posts from Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park always inspire me (link to Ralphs blog here) and recently he's seen both the resident Tawny and Little Owls. I got my 'deer fix' on Friday so today I was hoping to get my 'owl fix'.
Foolishly I didn't google the park first and when I arrived there were cordons up and notices everywhere warning about the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon......
Some of the paths I couldn't cross unless I actually jogged along with the runners and zig-zagged my way across........which I did.......twice ! So if anyone saw a red-faced puffing and panting semi-jogging woman dressed all in khaki with binoculars bouncing off her chest and a camera slung over her shoulder with a rucksack on her back, that was me ! I don't 'do' jogging but fair play to everyone I saw running. A lot of money for many well deserved charities was raised today. Just rather you than me !!!

By the afternoon though the park was accessible again in all areas.
So back to my 'owl fix', did I get it ? Well yes and no. I found both the male and female Little Owl, and the male Tawny Owl, fairly easily. However trying to photograph them was more than a little challenging. On my last few outings the weather has been kind and the light for photography has been great. Today it was mainly overcast so trying to photograph an owl against a white cloudy sky was not good. It didn't help that for most of the day the male Little Owl was partially hidden by branches, the female Little Owl could only be seen from behind and the male Tawny Owl was mostly hidden by leaves. So here's the best of what I could photograph today.........
Watching me watching him watching me. Mr Little Owl.

That streaked blob in the middle of the picture is the male Little Owl.

Side angle shot of Mr Little Owl.

This would have been a half decent photo of Mr LO if I hadn't had to lighten it so much !
And believe it or not, that brown blob in the middle of the leaves is the male Tawny Owl.
I got no photos at all of the female Little Owl, the only view I had of her was her back. And there was no sign of the female Tawny Owl, but that's not unusual.
I will be paying another visit in December when the leaves have dropped and visibility is much better.
Elsewhere around the park I witnessed my first ever views of a marmite Parakeet (you either love them or you hate them) actually on the deck. I have seen them on feeders, on trees, even being fed by hand, but I have never seen one on the ground before.
Like Cranford Park, Kensington Gardens has a large population of marmite Parakeets, but you get much better views of them at this Royal Park as they so used to us human beans. The one below was picking out the sweet chestnuts from their prickly casings before the fruits could fall to the ground.

The Grey Squirrel below was also doing the same.
Around the leaf litter yard the smaller birds were happily following whoever might have some seeds to feed them with, which made for some lovely close up views.
Great Tit

By the Peter Pan statue area I heard a Kingfisher calling but couldn't locate it.
Cormorants and Black-headed gulls were topping all the posts going across the water.
There were several Shovellers around but they were too distant for me to photograph, but the Common Pochards were a bit more obliging, especially one of the males.
One of the drake Mandarin ducks came very close and then started displaying to a nearby female. I love the way they extend their necks so took several photos. I couldn't decide which of the two pictures below I liked the best, so as its my blog I decided to publish both.

By the Lido café a young Lesser Black-backed Gull was playing with a stick.
and a pair of Greylag Geese were passing each other a very soggy leaf.

So is this behaviour 'playing' or practising for the mating season when birds often present their chosen partners with little 'gifts' ?
By the bridge I lost an hour watching a young Great Crested Grebe and an adult bird, fishing for titbits in amongst the weighted down 'cages'. I know from previous visits that these 'cages' are great hiding places for small fishes and crayfishes, but despite observing the two birds for some time I didn't see them catch anything at all.

So not a bad day really, but I'd have liked better views of the Owls. A trip back when the leaves have fallen will rectify that.
It was nice to see Ralph again. The man is a wealth of information about the birds on his patch and I learn something new every time I have the fortune of chatting with him.
Lastly yesterday I popped over to see my Mum, and was gobsmacked to physically see her wince whilst she was reading my last blog post. Apparently my grammar isn't too great, but to be honest I always thought both my grammars were lovely women.
So to satisfy my Mum I've gone through this blog post with a fine eye aided by 'spellcheck'. Hope it meets to everyones satisfaction :)