Monday, 2 December 2019

Bird stalking at Cranford Park along the River Crane

Bob Barton set me a challenge the other day...…. photograph the Cranford Park Kingfisher. 

So today I tried..... and I tried...…. and I tried...….for three hours I tried !

I saw the lovely little blue bird loads of time whilst I was stalking it up and down the river. I kept to the same section of the Crane walking from the iron bridge down to the stone bridge and including the M4 viaduct and back again several times. So if any of you saw a lady with piled up pale pinky blonde hair, glasses, light khaki jacket and a serious expression on her face, tip toeing along the river .....that was me ! 

careful stalking.....walking silently and slowly...…..keeping to the shadows where possible...….hiding behind trees...… peering through fence posts....

The Kingfisher was so active today, but was almost always flying rather than perching. There are two perches by the viaduct where I often see the beauty, and twice he was there today but both times a dog walker spooked him before I could get a decent photo. If you position yourself carefully behind the second tree you come to if walking from the church side entrance, you can see both perches clearly but the bird cant see you.  

Today I had to make do with him perching where there were always twigs in the way, or so far away that my lens could barely pick him out. So here are the best I could get...….

Spot the Kingfisher......

In this photo I was actually trying to get a clear shot of the Little Egret when I realised the Kingfisher was sitting directly above it on the second trunk (at the top of the photo)
The Little Egret, although just as easily spooked as the Kingfisher, obviously showed up much better due to its size and colour. You cannot miss a 'white heron' in these pics...

Luckily for me the regularly seen Little Egret flew towards the M4 and landed in one of the trees on the left hand side of the River Crane between the viaduct and the stone bridge.....

More careful stalking.....walking silently and slowly...…..keeping to the shadows where possible...….hiding behind trees...… peering through fence posts....

and finally I got some really lovely views.....

Only 25 years ago, seeing a Little Egret was a rare thing and would have all the 'twitchers' going mad for a sighting. Now they are fairly common, and we've had regular sightings of an individual at Cranford Park for some years. A couple of weeks, and today, I saw two Little Egrets, both of them appearing to be quite relaxed and happy in each others company, so maybe we'll have a breeding pair of Little Egrets next season ! 

Whilst sticking to my chosen route of between the iron bridge and the viaduct, this female Kestrel landed briefly in front of me. I managed just a couple of hastily snatched pics, so they are not as sharp as I'd like. When she took off, I saw another one join her and it would be nice to think they are our resident pair starting their courtship.

Not many photos to show for my efforts, but it's nice to know that both the Kingfsher and Little Egret are being fairly predictable and sticking to the same stretch of the River Crane. It also means that the recent fuel spillage has dispersed as you wouldnt find these two birds there if the water was heavily polluted. 

Monday, 18 November 2019

A cold afternoon at Maple Lodge

I missed the best of the light today at Maple Lodge, and apart from my first photo, the rest were taken mid afternoon and are quite grainy. It's a good job I don't take photos for a living ! 

It was an interesting day though. My first port of call was the Rotunda hide where the newly dug out ponds were full and the land starting to settle. A Common Snipe had been spotted there recently and after a bit of searching I soon found it. A bit too far away for my lens but it was fairly active bobbing up and down feeding and often hunkering down so it was almost invisible..

spot the Snipe
 Two hours later the light had changed dramatically and the bird hadn't moved far...

A pair of Teal were on the pond too and the male popped his head up long enough for me to fire off a half decent photo..

 A pair of Jays were taking advantage of the spilt seed under the bird table, and seemed quite at home pottering around....

A Grey Wagtail was wandering around the bank of the right hand pond..

and a female Pheasant emerged for a short time before I lost the light completely....

Elsewhere around the reserve I encountered quite a few mixed Tit flocks with the Long-tailed Tits being the most prolific....if only they would keep still enough for a photo !!

As I was leaving late afternoon some of the 2000+ Jackdaws were coming in to roost. It made quite a spectacle and my photo does it no justice....

A lovely, but short, visit and great to see the usual friendly faces ! 

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Stonechat, fungi and Little Egret at Cranford Park

I had another great visit to Cranford CP this afternoon.
 My target species were Fly Agaric, Little Egret and Kingfisher. 
Well, I saw all three but only managed photos of two of them. 

Whilst looking for the Fly Agaric, I re-found this little mass....

It is the old remains of a growth caused by a tiny gall wasp. Aptly named the Robins Pincushion, it is usually bright red and hairy, but this one is over two years old now - I took photos of it when it was fresh and young all those months ago but because I have since changed laptops I cannot post my old photos, so you'll have to take my word for it. It only grows on true wild roses and this specimen is in the corner of the cattle paddock. 

I belong to a great facebook group called Friends Of Cranford Park, and through that a lady called Meena kindly directed me to where a Fly Agaric had been found recently. 

Now, people who know me well know just how excited I can get over some species of fungi......there are several species on my bucket list which I'm still yet to see.... but I've been lucky that I have seen the wonderful Fly Agaric in the New Forest. I just never imagined I would ever see one at Cranford Park..... and there wasn't just one, not even two, but four of the great iconic mushroom species.....

I have always associated these beautiful toadstools with birch, larch or pine trees but this little group are growing beneath a fairly young oak. When I queried this on the British and Irish Fungi facebook page, I was told a few others had also found them near oak trees, so I learnt something new today too. 

Think of any fairy tale illustration of elves or goblins sitting on a toadstool and it will be the Fly Agaric fungi that you picture. It is the most widely recognised of all our fungi with its distinctive red shiny cap with white spots. As the name suggests, it was often used as an insecticide with pieces floating in milk to attract, intoxicate and kill flies. People are wary of its poisonous reputation, and it does have toxins that create some hallucinogenic and psychoactive effects. It is rumoured that the Vikings used to eat it to make them feel invincible when they were raping and pillaging. We don't want any raping or pillaging at Cranford Park so it's just best left to grow and look beautiful...…...haha :) 

Another nice surprise within the cattle paddock was this lovely male Stonechat. We often see them visiting Cranford Park during the winter months. It's a fairly small bird, about the size of a Great Tit, and loves open scrub land. I've often seen them in the same area of the park as I did today. They like to sit on top of things like fence posts and shrubs, and they get their name from their call which sounds like two small stones being knocked together. Hopefully this one will stick around for a while....

To see the Kingfisher I tend to go to the river where it goes under the M4 viaduct. I normally see one sitting on a grate across a pipe there, or on a little parapet above the viaduct itself. Twice today I saw it there but wasn't quick enough to lift my camera before it shot off in a flash of blue and green and orange. There's a fairly wide tree by the fence near the M4 so I stood behind that for a while but it didn't come back. 

Instead I managed to get a much better view of our shy Little Egret. It moved right out of the tunnel and gave me some great views.....

but it soon caught sight of my camera lens peeking behind the trunk and took off down the river. 
An hour later I re-found it by the Iron Bridge and was really chuffed to see it has a partner. Two Little Egrets at Cranford Park. Maybe next Spring they'll get together and nest nearby. 

When I visit Cranford Park I always make time to sit on the bench under the huge Yew in St Dunstans graveyard. I like to have a coffee there and the tree hides you from any birds that want to feed on the berries. I was watching a Goldcrest (and failing miserably in getting a photo) when I saw some more fungi that I hadn't seen there before.....
Sadly it's a species of Honey Fungus called Armillaria ostoyae, the Dark Honey Fungus, and even though you can see only a few of the fruiting bodies, the white thread like mycelia is probably widespread under the surface. 

Armillaria ostoyae
I'm not sure what can be done about this fungi, if anything at all. But I'll monitor it and report it to Jennifer Hedges. 

My three hour visit was full of great finds and sightings, and as always when I visit the park, my stress levels dropped and I had a great time. 

Sunday, 10 November 2019

A very overdue visit to Cranford CP

For various recent life-changing reasons I haven't been at Cranford Park for many weeks but as soon as I walked in the park this morning I felt a lot of my stresses melt away. 

Cranford Park has been a big part of my life for many years, and today it felt a bit like I had arrived 'home' and was back in my 'comfort zone'. It was wonderful to bump into some old faces, but a shame that I missed Martyn. It's his birthday on the 14th so I left his pressie in his usual place. 

I missed the start of the fungi season so don't know if the phallic Stinkhorn fruited this year. I checked the two previous locations that I had seen it before but saw no sign, nor detected no smell, of them. 

The recent wet weather meant there were plenty more fungi species to find though....

The first up is the Purple Brittlegrill - russula atropurpurea - I see these most years in the same place in the Memorial garden behind the church. I would very much advise not to pick and eat these though as they look very much like the 'Sickener', which is named for obvious reasons....

Cranford Woods has always been a very good place to find the Upright Coral - ramaria stricta. It grows on dead and decaying deciduous and coniferous trees. Some years in the woods it is more prolific than in others, and although I found quite a few today I have seen more in previous seasons. It is perfectly safe to eat but does have a very bitter flavour which puts a lot of people off. 

The aptly named Jelly Ear - auricalaria sp. - is also very common and is usually found growing on upright living trees rather than on the woodland floor. This is also edible but apparently goes crispy when cooked, which somewhat puts me off a little...….

The tiny Yellow Stagshorn - calocera viscosa - grows on decaying conifer wood. The 'stalks' divide as they grow, giving the fungi an antler appearance and hence the name...

Candlesnuff - xylaria hypoxylon - is one of the most commonly found fungi. It is small like the Stagshorn, and therefore not really worth eating, but this little fungi is present all year round, During the spring the 'stalks' are almost completely black and often remain unnoticed.... 

One of my favourites is the Puffball family. I have never seen Giant Puffball at Cranford Park, but I do see these beauties - Stump Puffball - lycoperdon pyriforme. This is the only species of puffball that grows on wood. As they mature a hole appears at the top, and if you tap it gently you can see the spores being released. The ones I found today are too young, otherwise I would have attempted to get a video clip of the spores dispersal....
This is another species that I would advise against eating as they can be confused with young Deathcaps….

There were plenty of other fungi species at the park but if I stopped to take a photo of every one I'd still be there now ! 

Along with the fungi, the park and the woods were brimming with nature....

The Grey Squirrels were busy 'squirreling'....

The 'old mans beard' was smothering the fence around the old cellars....

I found five Coal Tits in the evergreens in St Dunstans, and managed to grab one photo showing the distinctive white stripe at the back of its head....

The very shy and elusive resident Little Egret was down by the M4 viaduct. I watched it fly down from one of the nearby trees, then hid myself behind another before it bravely ventured out.....

But the appearance of a jogger spooked the bird and it flew off towards the airport. 

Other birds seen but not photographed included two Common Buzzard, one Red Kite, one Little Owl that dived undercover as soon as I lifted my camera lens, one Kestrel, one Grey Wagtail, a nice sized roving tit flock that included at least ten Long-taileds and a fleeting glimpse of a Kingfisher as it flew under the viaduct. 

A thoroughly enjoyable few hours visit to a place that has the ability to calm and soothe me at the same time. Next time I will not leave it so long. 

Friday, 1 November 2019

A visit to CW Widlife Rescue

I have been following CW Wildlife on Facebook for a few months now mainly because they are local to me, and last week my Mum and I were privileged enough to be invited to have a look around their new premises. 

We had a lovely time seeing the patients and meeting a couple of the birds that are full time residents. It inspired us both and today we went back armed with old towels, old newspapers, cleaning products, puppy food and training pads, and most importantly I was given permission to take some photos and find out more about this amazing operation. 

Chris, and his son Harry, have worked really hard to get where they are today. The rescue organisation is only two years old and they have treated and released hundreds of birds and mammals. 

Chris has always had a love of wildlife and probably relates more to animals than people. After looking after an injured crow a few years ago he realised how much he wanted to help animals and birds that were injured, orphaned or lost. It costs a lot to run the rescue centre, in both money and time. The hours are long, and the work can be dirty and smelly. The patients don't like you and often let you know that, but Chris and Harry wouldn't have it any other way. Chris was inspired by the late Les Stocker (who founded the famous Tiggywinkles centre), the late Steve Irwin and the natural historian Sir David Attenborough. Chris and Harry are not paid for what they do, they operate purely thanks to donations and are assisted by volunteers. Their knowledge is incredible and you can see just by watching them around their patients that their love for our wildlife is genuine. 

The centre is not open to the public so any donations have to be arranged with Chris directly, his contact details are at the end of this blog post. I have also posted a link to their website where cash donations can be made. 

 The medicine cabinet

 The patient board

One of the volunteers, Luke, cleaning out the incubators

The two incubators

The amazing dedicated Chris with one of his prickly patients

Harry with one of the soon to be released pigeons

This Jay was caught by a cat and although it survived, his wing injury is quite severe

This young Tawny Owl fell out of its nest and has been with CW Wildlife for five weeks now. He is now flying strongly, eating well and will be released back to the wild soon. 

This is Bob the Little Owl. Sadly he cannot be released and will live out the rest of his days at the centre. 
 Whilst I was there today Chris said an unusual patient was on it's way to the centre...…. 

This stunning Cockerel had been literally thrown over a garden wall. It cannot fly and appeared to have a limp. On closer inspection it's comb/wattle had been cut off and the bird seemed to be in shock. 
Harry has the same love of animals as his father, and immediately took to the poor Cockerel, holding it closely against his body and talking soothingly to it. Within a few moments the poor bird was calm and even appeared to fall asleep, so we think it is very used to human contact but has probably been through a very traumatic experience. 

The finder had called the bird Rusty, and it's a very apt name. My photos don't do the bird justice but he is a magnificent and colourfully handsome chap. 

I will be volunteering there myself in the future, and helping Chris and Harry in any way that I can whether it be cleaning the incubators of hedgehog pooh (well done Luke !) or collecting donations to help keep this amazing rescue centre operating. 

CW Wildlife contact details are by mobile 07508 010197 and/or email
Cash donations can be made via their website

If anyone local to me (Middlesex area) can help with donating old towels, puppy food, hamster or gerbil cages, folding dog pens/cages, cleaning products, disposable gloves or, very importantly, two hard backed desk chairs, please email me at so I can advise of a nearby drop off point or arrange to come to you. Thank you in advance.