Sunday, 8 December 2013
Firstly I must share Duncan Eames short vid clip of the Rainham stalking Kestrel from Friday. Sometimes photos just don't capture the true essence of what was seen. Duncans' great little clip, really shows how that Kestrel was looking around for the prey it had been disturbed from eating.
If you are unable to view this clip, can you please let me know, and I'll ask Duncan to post it on to Youtube.
Secondly, I must mention I was at Cranford Park yesterday, but due to human error, my camera settings were all wrong, and no usable photos were uploaded last night. Therefore I didn't do a usual Saturday blog. However the day was not in vain, as the London Wildlife Trust treated a large group of us to a winter tree identification walk. It was incredibly informative, and I can now say I know the difference between a Horse and a Sweet Chestnut tree, just by looking at the twigs. And I never knew there were two varieties of native Oak, and that the only way to tell the difference is to see how the acorns are attached. It was also nice to put faces to names, of a couple of people from the Friends of Cranford Park Facebook group (hi Ian May and Mark Collins).
Thirdly, today I wasn't even sure if I was going to make it out and about. Yesterday afternoon, Sue and I were crashing and thrashing about in dense undergrowth, climbing over and under fallen trees, all because I wanted to find a suitable location to place my portable hide for a day to hopefully see the CP Kingfisher. Last night, one of my knees doubled in size with some very colourful bruise like markings, but I'm glad to say after a nights elevation, a painkiller in the form of wine, and a coating of arnica, this morning I appeared to be back to normal.
Within the St Dunstans church boundary is a huge Yew tree. Sue and I noticed yesterday that bird activity there was good, but getting any photos was not easy due to the low light that falls on the tree in the afternoon. So today I popped back to see if a morning light would make a difference, and it did.
Because the main entrance to the church is partially blocked with a skip and building materials (St Dunstans is currently under restoration), I entered from the other end and had a wander around the gravestones. St Dunstans is a very old church, and is mentioned in the Domesday book. I've attached a link to a particularly good website, that really explains the history.
There are some really interesting headstones. This one below has intrigued me before. Several years ago I tried researching the story behind it, but never made a break through.
The famous comedian, Tony Hancock, has his ashes buried a St Dunstans as his mother, Lucie Sennett was local to the area.
So back to the Yew tree. The morning light meant the top of the tree was in complete sun. However the bottom branches still weren't. So please excuse the colour variations in my photos below. I can promise you they were all taken within the same one hour window.
The berries on the tree seem to be drawing in a big selection of bird.
I found Ring-necked Parakeets....
and to my delight, Redwings and Fieldfares. This is a very very poor capture of a Redwing, they tended to fly deeper in to the tree and weren't as happy to be photographed as the rest of the birds......
And it wasn't just birds that were making the most of the berries. Several squirrels were also attracted to them....
As the sun moved over, it became harder to get any decent photos so I had a wander around the woods. The usual birds were viewable.
A Great Tit.....
and the usual Long-tailed Tits...
Even though most of the leaves have now fallen, there is still plenty of autumnal colour around.
The huge Sweet Chestnut by the car park, has now lost all of its leaves, so you can really see what a magnificent tree it is. It's estimated this beauty is around 400 years old.
Up on the river, the three Little Grebes are still playing hard to get. I surprised this one when it popped up in front of me.....
one of the Kestrels was found perched on a tree. This is the second time in a week that I've seen it perched in the same place. This is one of the females (there are two pairs of resident Kestrels at CP). The tree is about half way between the stone car bridge and the pedestrian iron bridge (which used to be painted green, but is now black)
the green-black bridge.....
Today my blog does not end on a happy note. My close friends know I love foxes, so I was quite upset to find a dead one laying by the river. It also seems a little strange. It cannot have been killed by a car, as its nowhere near a road. If it had been injured by a car strike, a dying fox would crawl away into undergrowth. There were no visible signs of injury to this poor creature, so my only assumption is it could have been poisoned. Any thoughts would be welcome on this.
Saturday, 7 December 2013
Todays' blog is going to be long, and it deserves to be, due to the great day we all had.
The 'we' were Duncan, Sue B and myself.
It was an early start. I met up with Duncan about 8am at Purfleet and we walked to the reserve along the Thames. It was low tide, and although the Thames Barrier had been closed since midnight due to the predicted tidal surge that was making its way down the east coast, Rainham was relatively safe.
The low tide meant we could see at least one Common Seal on the other side.
The early morning light showed the Dartford Crossing in all its congested glory.
It was fairly overcast at first, with a biting chilly wind, and very little light. We watched three Redshanks feeding on the mudflats knowing that within a few hours, the tide would be right in and flushing up these lovely waders.
There was also a lone Shelduck picking its way through the mud.
Further on up the wall boundaries we found a huge Great Black-backed Gull, or at least I think it was. My photo does it no justice except to compare it in size with a Black-headed gull.
Back at the entrance to the reserve whilst we waited for it to open, I had to grab this shot of the Collared Doves on the sign to the garden.
We also sadly saw this gull below, with a plastic bag caught around its legs.
After a warming cup of coffee in the café, and Sue B joining us, we started to make our way around the reserve. Goldfinches and Chaffinches were abundant.
And we got our first (of many) close up views of one of the many Kestrels that now frequent the site.
There are hundreds of Wigeons around.
From the 'Shooting Butts' hide we could see three drake Pintails, and at least one female.
There was also a solitary Lapwing, which seemed quite odd, as from the other side of the hide we had great views of around 100-150 other Lapwings and Golden Plovers.
By this time our bellies were telling us it was lunchtime, so we made our way back to the café.
En route we got some lovely views of some Reed Buntings hopping around in the grass.
We also found what we think to be some sort of pellet on the board walk. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. It was the width of a twenty pence piece at its widest, and about 4-5cm long.
Whilst in the café, the high tide started. Flocks of Dunlin, Redshanks, Godwits and Curlew started flying over from the Thames on to the site, and all were viewed with the comfort of a hot drink and food ! Sometimes birds are very obliging.
It didn't make for great photography during that time through the café windows, but just watching the birds coming over was enough for me. Three Grey Plovers were also seen though I wasn't lucky enough to witness them.
After our lovely filling lunch, we were soon back out watching the now incredibly busy and bustling waterways. The next few photos really don't do justice at all. The whole of the birdlife on the marshes was continuously being flushed up, the sky was sometimes full of various birds from ducks through to waders, and when they did settle it was a pure luck in trying to photograph them before they flushed up again.
I always count myself lucky to spot one Curlew or Godwit, but to lose count of how may we saw today was amazing.....
Although I could have stayed in that one spot all day, we had set ourselves an itinerary, so off we went through the woodland and cordite area, briefly stopping off at the bird feeder station and getting some cracking views of the Great and Blue Tits.
From the Ken Barrett hide we firstly watched a Shoveller.....
and then spotted a Marsh Harrier in front of, and over, the Shooting Butts hide. Whoever was in there at the time must have had some great views !!!
We watched the Harrier for some time before realising we weren't going to be lucky enough to have the views that the others were having, so decided to make our way round. However, we then got distracted by a 'wall' of Lapwings along one of the channels. I cannot think of any other word to describe it. It was just a 'block' of birds.
The afternoon sun was in our eyes, but it back lit the birds superbly, and this is just a small fraction of the Lapwings that were gathered there.
And this is where the story of our stalker Kestrel begins......
Whilst walking from the KB hide, along the boardwalk, and feeling chuffed with seeing a Marsh Harrier, we spotted a Kestrel being flushed up by a couple walking towards us. The Kestrel settled on a pipe underneath the bridge.
We briefly chatted to the couple and they confirmed the view of the Marsh Harrier had been really good from the SB hide. They also said they had accidentally disturbed a Kestrel eating on the boardwalk. We pointed out the same Kes, who was by now, watching us with the same interest.
We carried on walking hoping for the Harrier to come across again, and were completely unprepared for what happened next.
I spotted something on the boardwalk, closer inspection showed it to be a dead, and headless, bird, about the size of a Starling. None of us knew what it was, so we decided to put it in a bag and to show Howard when we got back to the café.
Within seconds, we caught sight of the Kes by the motorway bridge, flying in low and on a mission. It landed out of our sight range, around a bend on the boardwalk, but soon came 'walking' round the corner. I cant describe it in any other way, the bird really did just 'walk' around the corner. And it was obviously looking for something.....
Duncan, Sue and I soon realised that the bird remains we had found, was the same prey the Kes had been feeding on before being disturbed by the couple walking in the opposite direction to us.
Kes had come back to reclaim its prey.
Problem was, its prey was now wrapped in a plastic bag and safely placed in my rucksack.
At first, Kes was about 12-14 feet away from us. We all froze. And Kes hopped, walked and almost flew, nearer and nearer, all the time concentrating on finding that prey, and completely unfazed by the three of us watching him......
It was almost comical at times. Kes appeared completely baffled as to the disappearance of its prey. He really did look everywhere. He walked from one side of the boardwalk to the other, continuously looking behind him, looking over the boardwalk edges and staring at us.
If he could talk I'd swear he was saying 'where the duck did that meal go ????'.
It was such a surreal few moments. Kes actually got to within five feet of us towards the end, and all the while, he was still looking for his prey........
Eventually, after what felt like hours but was probably only about twenty minutes, Kes finally gave up and took back to his perch under the bridge, and we continued with our walk. However we hadn't gone that far before he swooped low in front of us and proceeded to hunt.
For the rest of the walk around, we joked that Kes was stalking us, and it really felt like he was. We encountered him several more times. Part of me wanted to take his prey out of my backpack and give it back, but I was also intrigued to know what bird it was, that Kes had found was so tastefull, that he was prepared to come back for it, even with an audience.
Despite the now low light, we still found some great beauties on the way back to the centre. I had been complaining all day that we hadn't seen any Stonechats, so was mildly amused when I found a pair topping right alongside a path. My photos are no where near as good as Bill Crooks pics from the Rainham FB pages, but I was chuffed anyway.
and a Pied Waggy joined in too...
before all three birds were flushed by a rather magnificent looking Fox. He wasn't bothered by us just being feet away, nor by the couple with a pushchair that went past us.
The perfect finish to a great day out, was sitting on a table next to the author James Lowen, after being treated to coffee and cake by Duncan. One autographed book now has a new home in my bookcase.
And the poor dead headless bird we found, was confirmed by Howard as being a Common Snipe.
It is doubtful that Kes had caught this bird, but very probable that a Sprawk had, and that Kes was a chancer who had stolen the prey away.