Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Woodpeckers, Woodpeckers and more Woodpeckers. Cranford Park.

Another glorious day today weather-wise, and better than yesterday as there was only the barest of breezes.
Yesterdays outing to the London Wetland Centre was nice, but nothing is more welcoming than being back on the patch. Having coffee and a croissant sitting on a log in the middle of the woods at 8am, with birds singing all around you and greeting the local dog walkers, really is bliss.
It's becoming a routine now to check the nest sites in order. First off was the Great Spotted Woodpecker tree and sure enough the male was checking out his recently excavated hole and then popped in to do some more work. There was no sign of the female this morning, but she did make a grand appearance at lunchtime......more about that later.....
From Mr GSW I went to check on the Stock Doves hollow. Again no sign of either the male nor female, but they could well be inside on eggs.
From there I went to check on the Kestrels tree. The male was sitting high up on the nearby dead tree and took off before I could take a photo. I managed one of him through the treetops, and granted it is a dreadful photo but it shows his distinctive outer tail damage, which is making him so much more recognisable. The female was again, nowhere to be seen. Fingers crossed its because she is now incubating eggs.
From there it was off to see the Wrens. I am really hoping that Tonys sighting of one of the Wrens taking feathers into the nest a couple of days ago, is a good indication. However they are not as easily seen as say our Woodpeckers. Now the nest has been completed, and brambles and ivy are growing around, it's becoming really difficult to spot any of the Wrens. This morning I had a very brief glimpse of one going in the nest hole and leaving after just a minute, but I couldn't get a photo so don't know if there was anything in its beak. But I must remain optimistic, the fact that a Wren is still visiting the nest is encouraging. And if the Wren watch point, another log, was a bit more comfortable I would maybe spend more time there. Note to self: buy a portable cushion.
From the Wrens, is was off to see the Green Woodpeckers nest tree. Two days ago there appeared to be the beginnings of the 'Battle of the Green Birds', as Marmite Parakeets had been seen trying to enlarge the nest hole, but today it took just a few minutes to locate Mr Green a bit further down the  tree trunk, but still keeping an eye on the nest hole itself. There was a lot of calling between the male on the tree and another Woodpecker somewhere behind me. The male also flew over my head a few times, and then flew back to the tree after a few minutes. Is he trying to entice a lovely Mrs Green ?
This part of Cranfood Woods is very busy with Jackdaws, Carrion Crows and Marmites all nesting at the moment. It's certainly not a place to sit if you want peace and quiet. A couple of Marmites were squabbling over a hole in another nearby tree.
With all five nest sites checked (I admit I have given up on the Robin nest that Sue found, its been covered up so quickly by nettles and brambles that its almost impossible to locate), I had a wander around some other areas of the woods looking for insects.

A species of Hoverfly Leucozana lucorum,  (with many thanks to the Facebook group 'Insects of Britain and Northern Europe' for the identification)
Large Bee-flies mating
Seven Spot ladybirds mating.
Now that the restoration work at St Dunstans church has finished, the graveyard is again a lovely peaceful place to sit, that's if you can ignore the M4 traffic noises. I used to sit in there a lot last year, and watch the rabbits, and today it didn't take long for a very young one to pop out of the burrow and sunbathe for a while before popping back below again.
As the GSW nest tree is my newest found nest site I decided to pop back there again. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't realise on the 26th February when I was observing the male pulling off bits of bark, that he was going to make a hole there. I had presumed it was too early in the year for excavation work to begin. Now I know better.
The male was on one of the top branches when I arrived and flew to a nearby tree and started probing under the bark for insects. I was happily photographing him when I witnessed something I had never seen before.........
a male Green Woodpecker landed on the same trunk.....
It's highly unlikely this is our own Mr Green, the nest trees are on opposite sides of the woodland.
Mr GSW spotted Mr Green and started edging up the tree.....
Both birds were trying to peer around the trunk at each other.......
Mr GSW edged a bit closer.....
Then Mr Green thought 'sod this' and flew off. Well that's my interpretation anyway. What's more likely to have happened is that Mr GSW was exuding testosterone, and was preparing to do battle for his patch. This happened very very near to his nest tree and the female GSW was very close by. How do I know ? After seeing off Mr Green, Mr GSW then flew high into the branches and mated with Mrs GSW, who I hadn't previously spotted............
Dreadful photos I know, and I had to heavily lighten them. They could have been a bit more obliging and copulated lower down and not behind a branch. But I was thrilled anyway as this is the first time I've seen GSWs mating. It really was a great end to my day.
Elsewhere in the woods I counted seven butterfly species, but only managed to photograph six, the Small Tortoiseshells were deep in the ever growing nettle bed.
I also didn't see any Brimstones today, and nor have I seen any more Red Admirals but I did manage to finally photograph a male Orange-tip in the graveyard.
As I didn't leave the woods and graveyard areas of the park today, there's every chance other butterfly species are emerging around other parts of the site.
Green-veined White
Speckled Wood
Holly Blue (female)
Holly Blue - underwing
Orange-tip (male)

Monday, 14 April 2014

Displaying Lapwings and some pond life at the London Wetland Centre

I really should have checked the LWC website before heading there today. I'd completely forgotten it was the school holidays and the place was packed with families. However, it wasn't too bad once you got your head around all the children running around, all the loud chatter and the constant rolling of pushchair wheels across the bridges.
On the island in front of the café, a pair of Canada Geese have made a nest and already laid eggs. As I went past the female got up, covered all the eggs up with whatever that fluffy stuff is, and joined her mate for a bath.
The Wader Scrape hide was lovely and quiet, in fact for an hour this morning, there was just me and this obliging Redshank.
Oh and this Robin who was busily gathering lots of food then flying off,  returning minutes later to do it all again.
From the Peacock Tower, I was busy watching the Sand Martins gathering nesting material off the islands and idly wandering if my little 300mm zoom lens would be able to photograph them, when a Yellow Wagtail landed in front of me. My little lens struggled to pick him out amongst the scrub, but I managed two passable photos plus a rather blurred comparison shot of the bright little Waggy next to a Lapwing.
Near the Wildlife Garden I found my first Water Vole of the year. Sadly I couldn't get the right angle for a decent photo, and with all the children running over the bridge, Mr Ratty didn't hang around for long.
Over in the Wildside one of the resident Little Grebes was showing well.
and I watched an adult Moorhen feeding one of its offspring.
In the Berwick Swan enclosure, I found this unusually coloured teenage Moorhen. It's siblings were all black, but this one was very much paler.
I also managed to grab a photo of this little Mallard duckling.
The resident café lingering Jackdaws were happy to pose no matter how noisy the outside seating area was.
In the afternoon I headed back to the Wader Scrape hide. Earlier this morning I had seen behind some reeds, a male Lapwing displaying to a female. I was hoping he might have moved nearer the hide so I could observe the behaviour in a bit more detail. And he had.
The male was right in front of the hide on the first island. As I watched he started to crouch down.......
and got lower......
and lower.....
and lower thrusting his tail right up.....
After that he would acrobatically fly towards the female, swooping low over the water, then up high, sometimes almost upside down, before landing very un-gentlemanly like, on the back of the female. I watched the same sequence of events several times, always beginning with the male lowering himself into the ground and ending with him puffing his chest out towards the female after the copulation. Occasionally the female wasn't receptive enough and the male sort of fell off her back.
If I had seen a Lapwing doing the 'ground shuffle' without then witnessing both birds mating, I would have guessed it was a female making a nesting scrape, so it was lovely to watch the full ritual today and know it's the male that appears to make the scrape and not the female. After spoiling me for an hour right in front of the hide, the male then decided to resume his courtship behind the reeds again.
I was seriously thinking of heading home shortly after that. The centre was getting busier and busier, but I received a text from Audrey who was volunteering there today. Audrey is the lovely missus of my fellow 'Cranford Birder' pal, Tony. She asked if I was going to stay for the afternoon pond dipping session, so as the weather was good, I said yes.
It was actually very interesting. The four staff running the session, including our Audrey, were very knowledgeable, and so after letting the kids do all the hard work of pond dipping and emptying their nets into trays and little jars for further investigation, all I had to do was wander around taking photos.
Ashamedly I cannot remember what this one is !!!!! Help me Audrey 
Caddis Fly larva, carrying its own 'nest' of tiny broken twigs. Some of the others we saw today were carrying green 'casings' made up of bits of reed.
Water Boatman. Fascinating little critter that spends most of its time deep under water, only coming to the surface to get air. When they do that they swim upside down, eventually resting on the water surface with only its rear end breaking the surface and gathering air in the form of a bubble. This photo was taken of one in a jar, that was closely examined by all before being released back to its pond.
Pond Skater. A surprisingly aggressive little critter. They are able to 'float' on the water surface as well as being great fliers, and great jumpers. They detect their prey when a fly drops on to the water surface and causes a mini water ripple. The Pond Skater then scoots across, bites the fly and sucks out all the juicy bits.
The kids also found two newts, and I got to see them but sadly couldn't photograph them.
There's an adults pond dipping session at the LWC in June that's starting to appeal to me.
So overall not a bad day at Barnes. Although it was fairly sunny all day, it was quite windy at times, so no butterfly photos today as they just weren't settling long enough. Butterflies seen were Peacock, Speckled Wood, Green-veined White and my two 'bogey' Flutters, the elusive Brimstone and the Orange-tip.