Sunday, 24 July 2016

My weekend at Cranford Park....

Yesterday (Saturday 23rd July) was our annual Fun Day at Cranford Park.
As one of the many volunteers my duty was mainly in the historic Stable Block with the incredible historian, Christopher Luetchford, talking to visitors about the old Cranford Manor House and the Berkeley family that owned it, plus I had a table in there with some of my photos from the wildlife at Cranford Park.
  I decided to do my bit in costume....
photo by Nathalie Mahieu
An 18th century House Maid to be exact.
Had I known the weather was going to be so warm, I might have had a rethink ! But the Stable Block was nice and cool and I had plenty of water to drink.
As I was on 'duty' all day, I didn't have time to walk around the stalls and other events so three of my friends kindly took photos for me.
photo by Sue Giddens

photo by Sue Giddens

photo by Sue Giddens

photo by Sue Giddens
photo by Sue Giddens

photo by Sue Giddens
photo by Lidia Sle-K

photo by Lidia Sle-K
photo by Sue Giddens

photo by Nathalie Mahieu
The Fun Day was a huge success. I reckon we had double the visitors we had last year. In the Stable Block we done a head count of visitors and the total was almost 240, a good rise on last years figures.
 Personally I had a brilliant day. It was really great to talk to so many people about our park, have my photo taken with lots of the visitors and it was really nice to have support from several friends and family who made the trip over. Thank you to my Mum and Dave Swan, Paul and Sheila Provins, Sue Giddens, Nathalie Mahieu, Sue Beasley and family, Jenny Grubb and her better half, and my lovely cousin Debs and her granddaughter Mollie.
With our application for Lottery Heritage Funding still being processed, it is so important to try and bring in more and more visitors to the park.
A massive well done to Bob Barton and all of the volunteers who worked tirelessly in both the heat of Saturday plus the meetings over the last few months, to make Fun Day 2016 a really great day.
Despite being on my feet all day I did manage a half hour walk in the meadows after the Fun Day ended, and my day was completed with seeing that the resident Kestrel pair have bought their juveniles out to start practising their hovering, flying and hunting skills.
I slept very well Saturday night.....
Today saw me at the park by 9.30am - I allowed myself a lie in after yesterday.
Today was about the Kestrels. Every year I wait in anticipation for the youngsters to fledge. Last Sunday I got a lucky shot of one of the juveniles with the adult male, still on the nest tree, so I knew fledging was imminent. A text message from Sue on Monday confirmed my suspicion - the juveniles were out in the meadows.
Nathalie has posted a cracking Youtube clip of one of the juvenile Kestrels hunting insects....I hope the link works as it captures what I cant get in a photo....
The weather was much cooler today and the Kestrels were very very active.
So be prepared for a complete overload of juvenile Kestrel photos. I'm not going to apologise for them as everyone who knows me knows these are my favourite birds.
To start with here are two great photos showing the meadows and the grassy paths that I will refer to later. Both pics taken by Nathalie yesterday...
photo by Nathalie Mahieu

photo by Nathalie Mahieu





These juveniles are learning. Basically they are at a 'Kestrel Academy' (copyright on the phrasing to my old mate Tony). They are learning how to fly well, hover and hunt. As they are not yet experienced enough to hunt for voles, mice or small birds, they are honing in their skills by picking out grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies and any other critters that dare be around.
I bumped in to Yvonne and her darling dog, Janey, whilst I was out in the meadows and we walked back down the main grassy path (which leads from the Cranford Lane entrance all the way down to the mown area in front of the car park).
I love showing people the wildlife in Cranford Park and we spent an enjoyable catch up and gossip, with several interruptions from me pointing out 'there's a Kestrel', 'there's another one' and 'oh look there's another one' and with the Kestrels being so obliging at the moment, Yvonne got to see them all (as did Janey who when a Kestrel hovered then landed, done her best meerkat impression ever, then tried bouncing through the grass to catch one).
This week really is the best time to try and see our new family of Kestrels. At one point today I had six in view at the same time, but it was incredibly hard to look at them through the bins and work out which was juvenile and which was adult, without then losing sight of one of them. But it looks like we have 4-5 juveniles with at least one adult which is usually flying above them. The small shrubby trees, grass paths and tree guards are all very promising sites to see the juveniles. As they only truly fledged (ie left the nest tree) last Monday, they haven't yet learned to view us humans as the enemy. As they grow older and bolder over the next week or so, they will become less and less approachable.
For the last hour of my visit today, my good old birdy mate Phil arrived with his lovely lady Aniko, after I alerted him earlier that my beloved Kestrels had finally fledged and were in the meadows. Again we had great views of the juveniles hovering low, perched on the shrubs and catching insects on the grassy paths.
So did I have a good weekend at Cranford Park ?
That's a big fat 'yes'.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Kestrel news and Little Owl news from Cranford Park today

Be warned - this is going to be a long and waffling blog post.........
It took me just under 30 minutes to find my first juvenile Little Owl at the Oaks this morning. And that was after spending most of that time walking around the trees trying to get a fix on the 'hissing' I could hear.
Just as I found this one......

there was more 'hissing' to my right and I looked up and spotted this one....

So there are definitely two juveniles still hanging around the Oaks in front of the old Information Centre.
I also got the below, an out of focus photo of another,  but as I had lost track of the first two when I took this photo, I cannot say for sure these isn't one of them...

So just to bore you all, here are some facts about Little Owls....
1) They are actually an introduced species, not a native one
2) They are resident all year round and generally pair for life
3) They hunt at night and dawn and feed on small mammals, small birds, beetles and worms
4) They nest in tree hollows, old buildings, purpose built nest boxes and often return to the same nest site year and year
5) The female lays 3-5 eggs in early May
6) The eggs are incubated by the female alone for 28-33 days
7) The chicks are brooded by the female for another 14 days whilst the male does all the hunting
8) After about 30-35 days the youngsters fledge but continue to be fed by the parents for another month
9) Occasionally Little Owls produce a second brood
So by going on the facts and figures above, I reckon our Oak Little Owls will only be around for another week or so, before the adults finally chase them off their patch, and hopefully try for a second brood.
And there is a reason why I'm now calling them the 'Oak Little Owls' but more about that later....
The 'Headland' area is often mentioned in my blog posts, and I use the name as it is on a butterfly survey map that our ex Conservation Officer, Alison Shipley, used to use.
If you come out of the car park on to the main grass land, turn right, go past the ancient Sweet Chestnut tree and carry on walking in a straight line (keeping the haha wall on your right and past the Icehouse copse on your left) you come to an area of scrub with mown paths criss-crossing through it. This area is the Headland area.
 It is here that the majority of the Common Whitethroats breed each year and where you can find hoverflies, bees, butterflies, damselflies, dragonflies, crickets, grasshoppers and beetles during the season.
If you stand out in the open by the Headland you get to see birds like Sparrowhawks, Red Kites, Buzzards, Hobbys and Kestrels flying over.
I had my head down low looking for grasshoppers and crickets when I heard a Kestrel alarm calling. A quick scan with my binoculars found an adult sitting in one of the tallest trees with a Crow just above it. The Crow was 'cawing' but the Kestrel wasn't budging - which I found very strange. Normally if a Crow mobs a Kestrel, the Kestrel just flies away. As I mentioned in yesterdays blog post we haven't yet seen the juvenile Kestrels in the meadow and I wondered if this stubborn Kestrel was a sign there were juveniles around, so very quickly but quietly, I made my way around the back path of the Headland.
I found the adult Kestrel easily. A beautiful female judging from her head colouring and barred tail....

and as I was watching her a juvenile appeared from behind some leaves on the other side of the tree and 'hopped' over and settled next to her !!

Introducing our first fluffed up juvenile Kestrel of 2016......

I was so chuffed to finally see one of the juveniles that I did swear under my breath, hence the look that Mum Kestrel is giving me in some of the photos above.
I didn't loiter long as there is only a small patch of scrub to hide behind but a quick scan along the tree didn't show up any more juveniles.
So to bore you even more, here's some facts about Kestrels....
1) Kestrels are our most commonly seen bird of prey
2) The males have grey heads, blue-grey rumps and unbarred grey tails
3) Females are brown-chestnut in colour with brown heads and barred tails
4) Kestrels are resident birds, seen all year round and often mate for life
5) They feed on small mammals and small birds
6) They never build their own nests, they prefer to take over old crow nests or find an old tree hole or abandoned building
7) Females lay 4-5 eggs from mid April
8) The eggs are incubated by the female alone for up to 29 days whilst the male hunts and feeds her
9) juvenile Kestrels fledge when they are about 30-39 days old
10) The juveniles will stay with the parents for about another 5-6 weeks whilst they learn the skills of flying and hunting
I moved back down the path out of sight of the mother and child Kestrels and had just stopped at the old ivy covered tree, when I heard a very familiar 'hissing' sound......
Juvenile Little Owl !!!??!?
 Could it be ?!!?!?
Remembering that it was at this very same spot earlier this year where I accidentally flushed an adult Little Owl, I had to go and have a look.
There's a dirt track path that leads around the back of the Headland area to the Bluebell Glen, and I had walked about half way round it when the 'hissing' started again and there in front of me, out in the open, was another juvenile Little Owl ! I stopped still but not quick enough for the juvenile to spot me. A quick few alert postures and he/she flew off - back to the exact tree that I had flushed an adult from several months ago. No photos at all. It all happened so quickly.
I was still on a 'high' from seeing the young Kestrel, so registering that there was another Little Owl family at Cranford Park took a few moments.
I sent several short texts to Sue. We were already monitoring when the Kestrels would fledge, so to add that we had a new confirmed Little Owl family on the patch was icing on the cake.
We now have the 'Headland Little Owls' as well as the 'Oak Little Owls'.
Whilst I was waiting for Sue to arrive, I made myself comfortable at the bench that is at the top of the triangular Headland area. It's a good place to watch over the park, and to listen for the new Headland owls to 'hiss'.
Recently someone has had a small bonfire by the bench. The ash was cold. But it was attracting at least three Red Admiral butterflies. One very scruffy and worn one kept coming back and settling amongst the ash.....

Butterflies have to get their minerals from somewhere, so this little burnt out bonfire was providing them with valuable sources of potassium and sulphur.
Within the hour Sue had joined me and after showing her the Kestrel and 'Headland' Little Owl trees, we then found the adult male Kestrel up high in the corner of the Headland area...

We loitered for some time hoping to hear a Little Owl 'hissing' but with no luck, so we made our back to the Oaks.
 Again, as like this morning, Sue found one of the Oak juveniles within 30 minutes.....
Shortly after this the heavens opened and Sue gave me a lift home in the rain.
But it was a great visit.
 I cannot put in to words how happy I am that I've seen the first juvenile Kestrel of the year, and that through that finding, I then discovered we have a second family of Little Owls (hence the wording of 'Oak Little Owls' and 'Headland Little Owls') on site.
I am absolutely chuffed to bits.
Seeing the first juvenile Kestrel still 'tree hopping' (ie not yet out flying) also gives a good indication that next weekend will be a very good one to see the young Kestrels out in the meadows. With a practiced eye you'll soon spot them perched on the tree guards, hovering low over the long grasses and practising to hunt grasshoppers and crickets along the mown grass paths.