Sunday, 21 September 2014

Birds and Bikes - a mixed bag at Cranford Park today

It's been a long time since I've been out and about and blogging. The last two weeks I've been weighed down at work and fitted in a flying over night visit to my Godmother for her 70th Birthday (Hi Eileen xx), plus I was at Mums yesterday to do a bit of gardening for her, so today I was determined to get back to Cranford Park for some 'me' time.
The early morning didn't go as planned. I decided on a whim to do a flying visit to work but was rewarded with a Tawny Owl calling nearby, sightings of a Peregrine, Red Kite and Kestrel at Harlington Corner, and sightings of over ten Pied Wagtails plus three Common Redstarts in a dirty dusty fenced off yard just behind one of the bus stops near Hatton Cross. Naturally I didn't have my camera !
From there I was off to meet Sue, Tony, Audrey and Mark to discuss an upcoming venture that we hope to announce soon. And from there, just before lunchtime, I was finally on my way to Cranford Park.
This weekend has seen the park part of the London Open House weekend of events. The Stables, Secret Garden and St Dunstans church were all opened to the public, and one of the highlights of the Sunday was to be the classic and vintage motorbikes in the courtyard.
The Secret Garden was looking as most gardens do at this time of year, just going over but proof that it had been a good year......
Inside the Stable Block I was fascinated by the scale model of the park back in the days when the Berkeley family owned the house and the grounds. Bob Barton and the rest of the Cranford Park Friends group had done an excellent job in displaying the history of the park, and I wandered around for some time.
In the top middle of this photo of the scale model is the drive going up to the stone bridge, both of which we still use today, though the drive is now more like an avenue with its trees alongside. Interestingly in the 1860s the drive ended with a lodge, which in these days would be on the other side of the A312.

In this old photo, you can again see the drive top middle, and the stone bridge.
St Dunstans church was also open, and even though I've been visiting Cranford Park for nearly 15 years, this was only my second time inside the tiny church. No photos unfortunately as I only had my long lens with me, and my camera phone wouldn't adjust to the dim light.
After filling myself with history I was off for a wander. First port of call was one of my favourite spots to sit and drink a coffee, the wood circle a.k.a the outdoor class room. Sadly it looks as if it was also popular with a party last night. Many of the log seats had been uprooted and moved to form a smaller circle around a camp fire. Empty bottles and cans of alcohol were strewn around, along with burnt crisp packets and plastic bags. As I was sitting looking at the destruction with dismay a lady and her three children came along, so between us we picked up the litter ourselves.
It took us all of five minutes. Another five minutes later I had deposited the three bags of rubbish into a bin. How hard was that for the party that had so enjoyed their alcohol and bonfire the previous night ???!?!?

The park is open to everyone to enjoy. Don't ruin the park for others. Tidy up after yourself. It's not difficult !
Rant over.
Up by the river some of the poppies sown for the August 100 year remembrance of WW1, were still flowering.
Last week Sue spotted that a Little Grebe was back on the river. It was around this time last year that we first found three Little Grebes in the same place. They stayed for most of the winter until we had a few days of incredibly heavy rainfall, and the Grebes then disappeared, probably because their preferred hiding place under the overhanging vegetation was completely under water. It's nice to see one back, even if it is just as shy as last year. And it will be interesting to see if it stays for the winter again. 

From the iron bridge I watched a Kingfisher zooming down the river, then my attention was caught by several small birds flitting down onto the flatted weeds to bathe. Amongst them was a solo male Blackcap, three Chiffchaffs and about seven or eight Blue Tits......apologies in advance for my photos..... 

From the river I made my way across to the long grassed scrubby part of the open park, which the council has thankfully left unmown. It was in the same area two weeks ago that we had visiting Whinchats, and where in the summer a few pairs of Skylarks nested. The Whinchats have moved on now it seems, but I did find a stunning male Stonechat instead. According to Tony it was there last week too. From previous years watching birds at Lake Farm I know that area had Stonechats overwinter every year except for 2013 so it will be interesting to see if this gorgeous little bird will stay with us at Cranford Park this winter.

Up at the Headland area the Common Whitethroats have also moved on, but one of the Hobbys was still out catching some late flying dragonflies.
I also saw two Buzzards being mobbed by the usual crows, plus huge numbers of Jackdaws moving across the park and around 20-30 House Martins coming in from the cereal field and swopping low over the mown grass before moving away across the A312.
Trees around the park are just starting to turn colour. Autumn is well and truly almost upon us.
Back at the church I was grateful to find a stall selling hot drinks, cakes and barbecue food. As all my birdy friends know, I like nothing more than a pleasant seat with a hot coffee and a fag, so with purchases in hand I placed myself in the courtyard and watched the comings and goings of the many motorbikes.
By the way, I know nothing about bikes, but here are some photos of them anyway.....


All in all, it was a long but productive day. The weather stayed dry and fine, and I got to enjoy a few hours birding and hiding in many of my secret places around the park. A good end to a very busy fortnight.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Another Sunday social gathering at Cranford Park

Another Sunday and another great day at Cranford Park. Joining us stalwarts (Sue, Jasper and myself) during the course of the day were Scally, John, Phillip, Joe and Rick. It was also a pleasure to meet Kish, who follows my blog, and Sheila from the Cranford Park Friends Facebook page. Always nice to put a face to a name. The only members of the team missing were Tony and Audrey, and what a day they missed.......
Birds seen today around the park, and it is an impressive list considering it's late summer, included......
Three Whinchats (for the fourth consecutive day),
four Buzzards,
one Red Kite,
one Kestrel,
two Hobbys,
one Green Woodpecker,
one Great Spotted Woodpecker,
c10 Mistle Thrush,
four Blackcaps,
two Jays,
eight Linnets,
c40 Carrion Crow,
plus the usual large numbers of Great Tit, Blue Tit, Blackbirds, Woodpigeons and Robins.
Birds seen on Friday and Saturday when I wasn't around, included three Spotted Flycatchers by Kish, and a male Northern Wheatear by Sue.  
So here are some of my dreadful photos from todays batch of birds.
Our lovely staying Whinchats......

One of our resident Kestrels was again watching us.....
We got brief views of two of the Hobbys flying over Cranford Woods. This is one of them.
There were Mistle Thrushes galore in front of the Info Centre....
Several times today we saw four Buzzards going over. I'm guessing they were a family group as there was a lot of practise food passing going on. My photos are all in silhouette due to the bright glare of the sun, but you can get the general gist of the twisting and turning flying of the birds...

Jasper the bird-dog was impeccably behaved as always. Here he is looking bored while John shows Sue one of his photos...
However John, as always, was a very bad influence on me, and kept forcing me to drink whisky laced coffee !! Good job I was the only one that wasn't driving, as it was only me that knocked back a couple of large toddies.   
Last but not least, my blog would not be complete without a photo of our Jasper.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Whinchat overload at Cranford Park

I'm working the early shift this week, and was in the middle of a call to one of my drivers when my text alert went off at lunchtime. It was Sue saying there was a Whinchat at Cranford Park. I've been hoping to see one before the influx of birds moves through the London area. All over London for the past couple of weeks there have been daily reports of Whinchats being seen, so as I only got one distant record shot of one at Lake Farm last year, I knew I really had to make the effort to get to the park. But I had been up since 3.30am, at work at 5am, and it was now coming up to 2pm. Would my stamina hold out ? Would I need matchsticks to keep my eyes open ?
When I re-read Sues text, I realised she hadn't seen one Whinchat, she had seen THREE. That made my mind up, so as soon as I done my hand over to a work colleague, I was out of the door and praying all the buses were on time. I don't drive, so had to get two buses home to grab my bins and camera, then another bus to the park.
By 3.30pm I was walking through the long grass meadow. Except most of it has been mown now. Most of it that is..............
The area where the Skylarks and Mipits nested this year, is still long grass. And after a quick call to Sue she confirmed that's where she had seen all three Whinchats. It took me ten minutes to locate the first bird, by which time Sue had texted she was on her way with Jasper the bird-dog.
So for a very enjoyable 90 minutes, in dull light but warm conditions, we watched three beautifully marked Whinchats topping on scrubby bushes, tree guards and spindly young trees.
I will not apologise for my complete overload of Whinchat photos, even though some of them are pretty crap really. These tiny delightful birds are making the journey to Africa where they will over winter, before returning next April. It's been an absolute pleasure seeing them at Cranford Park.




No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get a photo with all three birds in the same frame, and as you can see above, I struggled to get a decent shot of two birds in the same frame !
One of our resident Kestrels watched us for quite a while, probably jealous that we weren't taking more photos of her for a change.

And of course my blog would not be complete without a photo of Jasper.
It's unusual to see him with his lead on, but as he has accepted me as one of his 'pack' we have to be careful now if Sue and I decide to go in different directions as Jasper has started following me, instead of walking along with Sue.
I think it's a great honour to be included in Jaspers 'pack'. Thanks mate :)
 And thanks Sue for the lunchtime text :)