Sunday, 1 March 2015

Skylarks and Stonechats at Cranford Park

Before I start on todays blog post, here are two photos of me feeding the marmite Parakeets yesterday at Kensington Gardens. I wish I was as photogenic as the marmites but it was a lovely feeling to feed them, and I still have all my finger tips. Photos taken by the birthday boy, Duncan.....
 

 
This morning I was perched in the outdoor classroom at Cranford Park by 8.30am with a coffee and a fag and watching a couple of Stock Doves. They look similar to feral pigeons, but have a much more 'cuter' and smaller look about them. They're also easily identifiable by their gorgeous pure black round eye. They are quite shy and skittish so my photo below was taken from some distance away...
 
 
Last week, intrigued by what mammals are visiting Cranford Park but not often seen (eg Weasels, Muntjac deer, Roe deer, Foxes etc) I brought myself a new book.....

 
and set off to see what signs I could find. The area around the orchard was so churned up with mud that all foot prints and dog prints were merged together and nothing untoward stood out. However by the river near the poppy patch I found signs of deer visitors.
The damaged bark below I've noted a few times. There a couple of trees in the same vicinity showing the same damage. It doesn't look as if the deer have eaten the bark, if they had they would have pulled longer strips of it off in a more vertical way. Instead I think this is where a Roe buck has rubbed its antlers to loosen it's velvet covering. A favourite tree will be re-used through out the year as a scent marking spot too, which is why there is old and fresh damage on this one particular tree....
 
 
Of course I could be completely wrong, but nearby I found both Roe deer 'slots' (prints)...
 
 
and Muntjac deer slots....
 
 
Muntjac leave very small but recognisable prints. I followed these from the poppy patch up the muddy path by the side of the stone bridge and then lost them on the main drive. But at least we can safely say we have two different deer varieties visiting Cranford Park. My next mission on my next visit is to find poo. Deer poo. In my Animal Detective book it not only has detailed descriptions of droppings but also smell, size and colour guide too. So if next week you see me nose down to the ground with a ruler and a magnifying glass, you wont need to stop and ask what I'm doing.....! Haha
 
I was looking for the resident Meadow Pipits when I spotted two Stonechats topping the scrubby bushes at the Heathrow end of the open park land. A male and female were flitting about, often diving down into the longish grass then re-emerging and sitting atop anything that gave them a good look out point. They were very nervous and were being flushed by several dog walkers before finally flying off. I managed a few distant shots....
 
male
male
female

female
It's great to see a pair here at this time of year. With a bit of luck they'll stay and nest. The habitat at Cranford Park is certainly suitable for them.
 
I continued my search for the Meadow Pipits but could only find one today, compared with the 15 that were seen last Saturday. They may have been feeding in the stubble fields adjacent to the park land.
 
However a pair of Skylarks were very notable today. I tried several times to get a photo of the pair 'dancing' in the air, but could only manage a quick shot of one flying past me at head height, hence it looks more like a bullet rather than a bird.....
 
 
When they did eventually return to the longish grass, they stood out quite well and I was rewarded with some lovely views of one with its crest raised, a sight I would normally associate with a Skylark seen in autumn rather than early spring....
 
 
 
 
Another 'little brown job' that I saw today was a really pleasant surprise. It was a female Reed Bunting that appeared just a few feet in front of me on top of a patch of brambles.
This is only my second sighting of a Reed Bunting at Cranford Park, at Lake Farm you often used to get flocks numbering into the 20s at this time of year but they rarely visit Cranford Park....
 
 
 
Also seen briefly today were Tony and Audrey who had re-found the Stonechats in the Headland area, and Sue and Jasper the bird-dog.
Jasper's looking super slim at the moment and was very energetic after his recent diabetes diagnosis. It was also quite an honour to be greeted so warmly by him, and later after Sue and I said goodbye, Jasper decided to follow me before returning back to his mistress. Bless him. So to end todays blog post, here is our Jasper...
 

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Hand-feeding birds, finding the Scaup and Duncan's birthday at Kensington Gardens today

It was grey and drizzly as I left home this morning for the short train journey to Lancaster Gate tube station. Laden down with three bags of mealworms, monkey nuts and suet pellets plus my camera equipment and binoculars, I was hoping the weather wouldn't mean poor visibility. On my last visit I couldn't locate the long staying Scaup so finding that elusive rare duck was number one on my hit list.
 
It was also Duncan's birthday today and I met up with him and his lovely wife, Aleks, by the Italian Gardens. I was hoping some others were going to join us today but they didn't or couldn't for various reasons, so it was just us three and enough bird food to feed a small bird army.
 
First bird of note spotted today was a solo Redwing by the Leaf Litter area.....
 
 
The Coal Tits were as predictable as ever and were one of the first birds on the scene when we got the bird food out....
 
 
We hand fed a few of the little birds but it was quite chilly when the wind picked up so we decided to grab a coffee and look for the Scaup en route to the café. We didn't find him, but we did spot a Grey Squirrel guarding it's drey...
 
 
Outside the café hormones were raging amongst the Coots. They were abundant in numbers and often squabbling amongst themselves. Some of the fights looked quite nasty.....
 
 
 
But that's what Coots do at this time of year. They squabble over mates, they squabble over food and they squabble over territories.
 
The next three pictures are for my Mum, who thinks all gulls look the same.
These are all Black-headed Gulls. The first is an adult in full summer plumage, the second is an adult just coming into summer plumage and the third is a 1st-winter bird (ie; it was born last year and has just lived through it's first winter season)....
 
 
 
 
After warming up with hot drinks and searching again for the Scaup, but to no avail, we made our way back to the Leaf Litter yard to feed some more birds. There were good numbers of Jays around today, sometimes chasing each other away, but often happy to sit in loose groups of five or six. They would often perch staring at you until you put a monkey nut on the railings....
 
 
I tried tempting one down to my hand by holding a nut in my fingers, and to all of our surprises a Jay did swoop down and take it. No photos, so Duncan done the same and I managed to grab the photo below. It's not a great one, but it'll do as proof that Jays will take nuts from your hand....
 
 
The other birds were much more reliable....
 
 
 
 
 
In fact they were so reliable, that Duncan changed his 500mm camera lens for a macro lens and started snapping away at the birds that were landing on his hand for food. Even when we walked up to the Tawny Owl's tree several Great and Blue Tits came with us....
 
 
 
I know Duncan got some fantastic close up shots and I'm looking forward to seeing them soon.
 
The male Tawny Owl was in his usual 'armchair' at the top of his tree. I was hoping he'd be on his 'balcony' around the back, purely because it makes for a better photo, but he seemed quite happy sitting out in the blustery drizzle.....
 
 
No sign of the female or any owlets yet but I was chatting to a RSPB volunteer later in the day, who said the Buckingham Palace Tawny Owls have already got young owlets out and about.
 
At the bottom of the male Tawny's tree a Starling was perched on it's nest hole....
 
 
After another scan of the Serpentine in search of the Scaup, Duncan and Aleks said their goodbyes to go further in to London for Duncan's birthday lunch.
 
 Not long after that I was just about to give up my Scaup search when I saw it fly down from the Dell café area and land right in front of the reeds by the Diana Memorial. A short while later it emerged amongst a group of Tufted Ducks, which made for some great comparison shots.
The Scaup is slightly bigger than a male Tufted Duck, and now that its losing it's juvenile feathers you can see the beautiful intricate markings on its back....
 
 
 
 
 
He really is quite the stunner and will look even more gorgeous when he comes into full summer plumage. Twice today he looked to be getting quite friendly with a female Tufted Duck. It's not unknown for Scaups and Tuftys to mate, so maybe we'll get to see some interesting little ducklings later in the season.
 
So the day was not in ducking vain. I got my Scaup, Duncan the birthday boy got to hand feed a Jay and both Aleks and Duncan still made it to a boozy birthday lunch in central London.
 
Duncan also got a few snaps of me hand feeding the birds too and I'll put them on my next blog post.
 
 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Funny old day at Cranford Park

It's been a funny old day at Cranford Park.
 
 When I was wrapping myself up this morning, I took off my lucky jumper because I was too warm, and put on an old sweatshirt instead. Hence I was cold all day and discovered my sweatshirt is not as 'lucky' as my jumper !
 
 I saw loads of interesting things yet failed miserably in my attempts to photograph them. The weather was a bit hit and miss too. One moment it was dark grey and foreboding, the next it was glorious sunshine.
 
I was on a mission today to try and see if any of my found Weasel sighting spots were still active with Weasels. Fewy joined me later, with his participation being to watch one particular hot spot where I've had five sightings of Weasels over the last three years. We baited a hidden area with broken raw eggs, lumps of raw chicken and a pouch of whiffy turkey flavoured cat food and Fewy settled down to wait and watch. Meanwhile I went off to another hot spot where I had also discovered a well disguised hole, and left another cracked raw egg near to the entrance. I then visited the site of my very first Weasel sighting eight years ago, and left another cracked egg there.
 
Did we have any luck ? Did we duck ! Neither of my two eggs were touched. But Fewys little baited area proved to be popular with something else.....
Despite waiting and watching for two hours, Fewy had seen nothing except a male Kestrel, some Mallard ducks and several Robins, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. So we decided to have a coffee break in the car park then a wander around some other possible locations.
As we were walking back to the original baited area later on this afternoon, I spotted a Fox slinking away from the site and knew straight away it had found our bait. And it had. All that was left was one raw egg. We had to laugh about it. It's not often you see a Fox in broad daylight in Cranford Park, and I've never got a photo of one there. So we put down some more eggs and waited to see if the Fox came back. Unfortunately the cold got the better of me and we decided to head off for another coffee. Sods law, just as we left we spotted the Fox emerging from a nearby copse. It spotted us too and shot back in to the shelter. So Fewy, being the honourable gent that he is, went off to make the coffee while I went back to the baited area to hide and hope the Fox would come back. Well it did, sort of. Instead of coming back for more eggs, it went straight past where I was hiding and disappeared in the woods behind me. Not one photo could I get.
So no Weasel sightings, let alone photos, and no Fox photos despite seeing it three times.
 
In Cranford Woods first thing this morning, for once the sound of singing birds drowned out the sound of the M4 traffic. Both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers could be heard, Blue and Great Tits were constantly calling and chasing each other around, Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds were starting to mark out their patches with lots of territorial singing. The woods were alive.
 
Last week the Long-tailed Tits were flying around in flocks, often with the odd Goldcrest or Treecreeper joining them. This week those flocks have started breaking up and birds are pairing up and bonding. I saw several pairs of Long-tailed feeding and calling to each other.....
 
 
and saw lots of Goldcrests in pairs. Though trying to photograph them is just as challenging and difficult as ever.....
 

 
Up by the orchard it is particularly muddy at the moment, but that makes it a good place to look for tracks. I know from talking to several early morning dog walkers that deer have been seen in the orchard, and after scanning the ground I was rewarded with a perfect Muntjac deer 'slot' or print.

 
In St Dunstans graveyard the snowdrops are really coming out en masse now. So here's an overload of my second favourite bulb....





 
There was even one peeping out under Tony Hancock's plaque.....


All over the woods I kept finding holes. They're too small for rabbits or foxes and too big for mice. They're also evidently well used as there are no cobwebs across the holes nor any old leaves blocking them....



 
I don't know yet if they are Weasels, or maybe just rats, but I'll be keeping an eye on them anyway.
 
Posh Boy and Fewy re-joined me at the Meadow Pipit area where the birds didn't disappoint We could see 15 at one stage, but the flock often separated and went in to the longer grasses or on the shrubby bushes in smaller groups....



 
We also had a Red Kite go over.....
 
 
but no sign of last weeks mixed flock of Lapwings and Golden Plovers.
 
Also seen in the woods today were Alison Shipley and Bob Barton, leading the 'Knights, Earls and Ghosts' History tour group with Bob looking very dapper in his costume (second from left).....
 
 
 There are lots of different events, guided walks and volunteering opportunities at the park. This is a link to the 2015 list
 
So it was a funny old day at Cranford Park. Lots was seen, but I either didn't get photos or my photos weren't good. Foxy was a bonus, the lack of Weasels were not.
I guess I should have worn my lucky jumper after all.
 
Anyway, to finish off todays blog here's a distant shot of the Fewy.......
 
 
and one of the Posh Boy.....

 
Both great company as always, and who are both probably dreading what I'm going to say about them on my blog post........