Saturday, 16 August 2014

A close encounter with a Hobby, and a stunning Spotted Flycatcher at Cranford Park today...

I very nearly didn't go out today, but I am now so glad that I did........
 
After a very busy hectic week at work, I really craved a visit  to Cranford Park. My first port of call there was my new favourite place, the stone bridge. As mentioned two weeks ago, I keep seeing the Kingfishers perched near here, and today I saw one of them again. Crap photos as the bird was still some distance away, but nice to see they are still active.
 

 
Also from the stone bridge I saw a pair of Black Caps and this ChiffChaff, which decided to have a  bath in the river by balancing on the green weeds just like the family of Blue Tits did on my last visit two weeks ago.
 

 

 
Sue and Jasper turned up not long after that and we were chatting by the bridge when we saw a bloke emerge from the copse with something perched on his hand. We stopped him, and discovered to our complete shock that he was carrying a juvenile Hobby.......
 
 
After questioning him in some detail, it emerged that he had found the young bird on the floor in the woods over ten days ago. But instead of seeking help or guidance, he simply picked the bird up and took it home. For the last ten days it's been living in his bedroom and been fed on bits of kidney and chicken. He claimed he thought it was a parrot when he found it and he fully intended to keep it as a pet.  
Well Sue and I soon put him straight. We told him he was breaking the law and I asked him to hand the bird over so we could take it to be assessed by experts. It took some convincing, and he was only really happy to hand it over after I said I would call the police if he didn't, and after I'd given him one of my blog cards with my email address on it. I told him to contact me later and I would let him know what had become of the bird. Even when I eventually had the Hobby safely in my hands, the bloke kept insisting he was an animal lover, yet when we asked him why he hadn't at least taken the bird to a Vet, he claimed he didn't know what a Vet was. He started to follow us as we made our way to Sues car then appeared to change his mind and walked away.
 
 
The young Hobby felt thin in my hands, and I could feel its breastbone. I could also feel nothing in its crop so I'm not sure when it last ate. It was also incredibly docile, and showed absolutely no fear. I didn't want to risk the poor bird attempting to fly off and hurt itself, so instead of letting it perch on my hand, as the bloke had, I gently cupped it.

 
Near to Cranford Park is a vets that has links to Heathrow Owls owned by Terry, so we took it there to be assessed. The whole time we were talking to the veterinary nurse, the bird just perched on the counter. It made no attempt to fly off or even walk around, but thankfully its eyesight and hearing appeared ok and it was looking around and was very interested in the noise I was making whilst  tapping out a message on my phone.
 
 
 
The helpful nurse contacted Terry who mentioned the words that I had feared were coming.......the bird is now too humanised to ever be released back into the wild. The bloke that found it may have kept it alive for the last ten days but by keeping it in his bedroom the poor bird has become imprinted.
Imprinting refers to a critical period of time early in an animal’s life when it forms attachments and develops a concept of its own identity. Birds and mammals are born with a pre-programmed drive to imprint onto their mother. Imprinting provides animals with information about who they are and determines who they will find attractive when they reach adulthood.
 
Terry will be picking up the Hobby from the vets tonight, and will then start the difficult process of finding a sanctuary that will care for it for the rest of its life. He has promised to keep me posted.
 
Before Sue and I left the vets, we really wanted to see it eat. It was far too thin for my liking. The nurse defrosted a couple of chicks, and we put the Hobby in to a holding cage with some water and the food. Within seconds the Hobby had walked across the cage and started feeding itself.
 
 
Strangely it had no problems at all in feeding itself, which makes me wonder if the bloke that found it was actually telling the truth. Because Sue and I were so concerned about the bird, I failed to get the blokes details. We just wanted to get the bird away from the bloke as soon as possible and get it looked at. It will be interesting to see if the bloke does contact me later tonight.......
 
Sue and I left the vets and drove back to the park in what I can only describe as a split mood. We were very happy that we had seen the bird eat, and  that it appeared healthy, but also a little sad that this gorgeous bird will never be free in the wild.
 
 We were also amazed that we now had proof that not only do Little Owls, Sparrowhawks and Kestrels breed at Cranford Park, but that Hobbys do too.
 
We decided to take a walk through the woods, just to see if we could locate a nest but to no avail. The bloke had been quite vague when describing where he had found the young Hobby, and with hindsight we maybe should have insisted he shown us, but as mentioned before, at that time after getting over the shock of seeing this man walking out of the copse with a juvenile Hobby on his hand, that Hobby was our main priority and we had to seek assistance for it.
 
There were plenty of butterflies and a nice Common Hawker to watch though.
 


 
We checked on our resident Kestrel family and could only find three of the five birds flying around the meadow grassland. They are no where near as showy as they have been in the previous weeks so it looks as if the juveniles are finally becoming wary of humans and have started to move on and find new territories of their own.
 This one was hiding in a tree....
 
 
Eventually we wandered back to the stone bridge to look for the Kingfishers. After a short while of hanging around, it wasn't a Kingfisher that caught our attention, it was a stunning solo Spotted Flycatcher. This is a first for both of us at Cranford Park, though I know Tony James has seen on here before and both Sue and I have seen them at nearby Lake Farm.
It may look like a boring little brown job, but these little birds don't live in the UK all year round. They actually spend their winter in Africa, and return to the UK in the spring, coincidentally just like the Hobby. You can only imagine how many miles these birds fly each year.
So here's a complete over load of Spotted Fly photos as there is no way of knowing when I will see one again.......
 


 

 
All in all, it was quite an incredible day. The close encounter with the Hobby was very much bitter sweet, and the sighting of the Spotted Flycatcher was a bonus.
 
So as always when Jasper the bird-dog has been out with us, my blog post finishes with a photo of him.
 
 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

On a reccee to RSPB Rainham

I was on a reccee to actually visit the Purfleet Hide, where chosen people are asked to display their photos or paintings on one of the walls. Why ? Because Elaine Crew, Susan Sammons, Valerie Cullen and myself have been asked if we would like to hold a joint photograph exhibition in the hide, for two weeks starting on October 11th.
We have known about if for several months, but with two of us four going on annual holiday soon, and three of us working unsociable hours, we have had to start planning already. So with thanks to David on the front desk, I was able to properly examine the way the photos are hung and displayed, take some measurements and can now relay the information back to my fellow exhibitors.
 
With it being such a nice day, even if it was a bit blustery, I'd already decided to make a day of it especially as I haven't been to visit since March, partly due to Mum's illness and partly due to lack of funds. So today I was determined to spend the whole day there.
 
 After my reccee I went back to the Info Centre for a cuppa and to thank David for his help, and who should I bump in to ? Three of the London Wetlands gang, John, Michael and Martin............
 
 
plus Johns brother and his friend.
 
I spent the first part of my day going around the site with them. In the Cordite area we heard, but couldn't locate, a Cettis Warbler, possibly two and one of them may have been a juvenile.
 
We also saw both male and female Kestrel perched on the posts just after the woodland area and boardwalk.....
 

 
and Martin managed to locate one of the Barn Owls in its nest box, contently snoozing. At this time of year, with all the leaves on the trees, you can only really see it through a scope, so it was handy that Martin and Michael had theirs with them. 
This morning whilst I was waiting for the centre to open I had seen Marsh Harrier, two Hobbys, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel, so it was nice to add the Barn Owl to my bop list too.
 
I left the boys at the second viewing platform looking for the Spotted Crake. Again, you need a scope to see it, and as I only had my bins and little camera I soon wandered off after becoming distracted by several darters and lots of little brown jobs that were silently flitting amongst the reeds. I'm not a twitcher, I can get my kicks just as easily from seeing my favourite bird (the Kestrel) as I can seeing a rarity. So I made my way around the circuit expecting the boys to eventually catch up with me, only to find as I completed my round walk that they had doubled back on themselves, and John had already left (sorry I didn't say good bye John x).
 
So what else did I find today ? From the Purfleet Hide, even with the tractor out doing some necessary maintenance work, a Common Snipe was feeding quite close...
 
 
and a female Bar-tailed Godwit was even closer, but the high reeds made it difficult to get a really clear shot....

 
There was also three Ringed Plovers, a Dunlin, a Curlew and a male Black-tailed Godwit, none of which I was able to photograph clearly. 
 
Elsewhere there was this lovely critter in the Cordite. I know it's a Grasshopper, but I don't know which species.
 
 
By one of the bridges I had a lovely view of three juvenile Little Grebes fast asleep. Sadly for me they were in the wrong place and I could only get a photo against the sun....
 
 
Further on up, another juvenile was much more obliging, but it's a shame I could only get a photo by looking down on the bird from one of the bridges....

 
Saw several Marsh Frogs dotted around the site, including this conveniently positioned one...
 
 
Near to where the Kingfishers nested earlier this year, I found these tiny fish. Fairly close to them were some lovely sized Roach with their red fins. So are these tiddlers young Roach or are they Sticklebacks ? I noticed whenever one of the large Roach came near them, the tiddlers scattered....
 
 
Linnets and Goldfinches were in really good numbers. My photo below does not do the count justice. There must have been at least thirty Linnets flitting from the wires into the reed beds then on to the grass land, then on to some thistle heads and then back again. Sometimes they became a mixed flock of both birds, sometimes it was just Linnets.

 
I remember last summer spending a day at Rainham and being disappointed at the lack of dragons and damsels. That was due to the awful 2013 spring we had. This summer it couldn't be more different. Dragons, damsels, darters etc were abundant today.
 I've somehow managed to misplace my 'dragon & damsel bible' which cost me nearly £20 and was a goldmine of information and id techniques, so have had to rely on my old battered ancient little Collins Gem guide tonight. Feel free to correct me if I've made any wrong ids.
 
Common Hawker ?

male Ruddy Darter ?
 
female Ruddy Darter ?
 
Don't know.....

Thought this was one of the Skimmers, but now thinking it could be one of the Chasers ?
As is to be expected, there were a few Cinnabar moth caterpillars around....
 
 
But it wasn't really a good day for butterflies. I saw plenty but the blustery wind meant they were either hunkered down low, or weren't settling at all.

male Green-veined White
male Common Blue

tatty Gatekeeper
By the toilet block just after the Shooting Butts Hide, I did find a Clouded Yellow. However it wasn't being very nice to me and refused to settle. I lost an hour of my life today following this little lovely. It seemed happy to stay in the same area, often over the really short grass that separates the toilets from the main path, and I must have lost a few lbs just by continuously walking up and down following its flight today. I had to give up eventually as I had foolishly forgotten to bring a bottle of water to take with me round the circuit, and was starting to feel a little light headed. As I reluctantly left, I caught sight of another Clouded Yellow that seemed a bit paler, but which was following the same flight path as the first butterfly.
 
After much needed replenishment coffee, plus two bottles of water to put in my back pack (and a very tasty toasted ham and cheese sandwich) from the cafĂ©, I was soon back out.
 
I got chatting to a bloke in the Purfleet Hide. If you are reading this, I am so sorry I don't remember your name, but I know I have seen and spoken to you on previous visits. Anyway, thank you for pointing me in the right direction for one of the many Wasp Spiders on site at the moment. I found it....
 
 
and I was very intrigued to hear your theory on why you found several empty webs today. With the forecasted weather tomorrow, ie the tail end of the down sized hurricane, do the spiders know this in advance and therefore have hidden deep in the grasses below their webs ?
 
And so to the end of my rambling blog post. My last two photos are dedicated to an old friend of mine. Mark Walters, I promised you Water Voles last year when you made the trip down from 'oop north', and I failed.
 
So these two are just for you........


 
 
 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Squabbling siblings, conniving Kingfishers, batheing Blue Tits and a butterfly unlucky in love - Cranford Park

My original plan today was to pop to Cranford Park, collect some more perennial Sweet Pea seeds to replace the ones that got eaten by slugs and snails in Mum's garden and then go home and do some housework. Just as I was leaving I decided to take my camera just in case I did see something interesting. And it's a good job I did. My planned hour long visit turned into a six hour jaunt round the park.
 
I found all five Kestresl hunting and flying around the long grasses and meadow in the centre of the park. At first I could only find the three juveniles. They are still to be found perching on the short trees and shrubs, or on the grassy paths and hovering low.
 



 

 
Then I watched a display of typical sibling rivalry. One of the juveniles landed on a tree guard where another juvenile was already perched, and it didn't take kindly to one of its siblings landing there at all.
 
The juvenile on the right was the one that was already perched, the juvenile on the left was the one that landed afterwards. I'll let the photos speak for themselves....
 


 


 


 
The original bird was the winner, and the intruding juvenile was driven off. All though it looked vicious and there was a lot of noise, both birds came out of this 'cat' fight unscathed.
 
The whole time I was at the park today I could see a lot of flight interaction between all five of the Kestrels. Are the parents passing on some final tips before the juveniles leave for good ?
 


 
On my way to the river I found these Pheasant feathers. Not a good sign I thought, but I then heard one call from the other side of the bank. So maybe Mr Pheasant got in to a scuffle but survived. I wont know for sure because despite a Pheasant being heard frequently by myself, Tony and Sue, none of us have ever seen one.
 
 
One of the Kingfishers whizzed past me several times as I walked from the iron bridge to the stone bridge. Way too fast for me to capture whilst it was flying, but I did notice that every time it had a fish in its beak it flew up the river towards the M4 underpass, and every time I saw it fly back down again there was no fish in its beak. This tells me two things. One: it has another brood of chicks to feed, and two: the nest hole is in the Cranford Park area the other side of the M4. The River Crane continues to flow under the M4 and through another part of Cranford Park, which is so rarely visited it's quite a shame. There's a lovely nature trail walk that goes through the woods and along side the river, before emerging by the underpass entrance.
 
 I decided to hang around the stone bridge for a while to see if my theory about the Kingfisher is right. And it looks as if I am. As I watched from the top of the stone bridge looking towards the M4, a Kingfisher flew under the bridge and straight in to one of the willows. Shame it wasn't a bit more considerate, this was the best shot I could get......

 
It then dived into the river, caught a fish and flew straight under the M4. Exactly as I was predicting.
 
Whilst I was hanging around waiting for it to come back out, this lovely Chiffchaff gave me some good views......
 
 
Then I noticed a Blue Tit in the water. Initially I had a bit of a panic, thinking it was drowning, but what it's actually cleverly doing is using the bent over weeds in the river as a perch whilst it bathes.
 

 
The rest of its family were observing nearby, and soon they were all at it. At the most I counted eleven Blue Tits spread across the width of the river doing this...

 



 
I lost an hour on the stone bridge looking down watching the Blue Tits. The Kingfisher did emerge again, and he/she followed the same routine three more times before I decided to move on.
 
The poppy patch to commemorate tomorrows 100 year anniversary of World War I, still has some flowering poppies. The patch was not as successful as hoped, with a lot of the seeds being washed out or to the edges by some heavy rain we had just after they were sown, but it's the thought that counts and every borough in the country will have a patch like this positioned somewhere.
 
 
At the outdoor school area (the ring of log seats and tables by the haha wall) I noticed more evidence of another bonfire, plus people have been moving the log seats around. Please, just leave the area as it was intended. Don't ruin it for others.
 
The wild plants around this area are where I collect my perennial sweet pea seeds from. I found a patch that hadn't yet been cut down, and collected some more seeds. Whilst I was doing this I observed a pair of butterflies fall to the ground.
 
It was a male and female Green-veined White. The female is pictured at the bottom (with the two spots on its wing) with the male above (with the one spot on its wing).....
 
 
The male was desperately trying to interest the female into mating....

 
But the female was having none of it....

 

 
It could be that she had already mated with another male, or that she simply wasn't ready. Either way the way she threw up her body was the equivalent of a human female telling her partner, 'sorry, not tonight love, I've got a headache'.
 
The male soon got the picture, and drifted off to find a female who hopefully didn't have a headache.....

 
Other butterflies seen around the park today were this Common Blue....
 
 
Comma....

 
and Red Admiral....

 
I also saw lots of Speckled Woods, Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers.
 
So that's my account of my visit today, which should have been a short one but turned in to a very enjoyable long one.