Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Weekly visit to Lake Farm

A very cold and overcast day today, but I had a craving to get to Lake Farm and see the Reed Buntings. As I came through the north entrance from Botwell Lane, I found Reedys flitting around the low hedge by the road. I've never seen them in this area of Lake Farm before, so it looks as if they're spreading out, hopefully to look for places to nest. The north entrance is one of the areas that would be affected if the proposed school was to be built, so am going to try to up my visits to twice a week from early March (when possible) and monitor the area for signs of nesting activity.
I found one of the Mistle Thrushes in the hedges and shrubbery that separate the toddlers playground from the main Lake Farm site. Again this patch is within the proposed school area, so another bird to monitor for the future. 
The light was pretty dreadful today, very low laying cloud and bitterly cold, though the wind wasn't too bad. As usual when its like this, the Reed Buntings tend to favour the hedgerows along the west perimeter of Lake Farm. I found another ten in this area, so along with the six I'd seen at the northern entrance, made a nice count of 16 birds today.
As to be expected at this time of year, the Reedys have various different marked plumage's on their heads and bodies. 

male winter plumage - can just see the beginnings of his black summer 'bib'

male almost in summer plumage

male - almost full summer plumage - note the dark bib coming through and full dark head

female winter plumage - in summer her 'moustache' will become much whiter and the eye stripe much darker

male - almost summer plumage. His 'bib' is getting bigger and darker

female coming into summer plumage. Her 'moustache' is almost white
I'm becoming very fond of the Lake Farm Reed Buntings and I fully intend to monitor them through this year so have been swotting up on my knowledge of them. Nesting generally starts late March-early April. Nest sites are usually in shrubs or reed tussocks. There are no reeds at Lake Farm, so this will be my spring project (where do they nest). They can lay up to two clutches of eggs per season. The first clutch is generally laid late April-early May. Between 4-7 eggs are laid. Incubation takes two weeks. The young are fed on insects, though adult birds survive mainly on seeds. Chicks fledge after 12-14 days. They don't tend to go far unless food is in short supply. Reed Buntings are normally passerine birds, but are resident in southern England. They are old enough to breed after a year. The average life span of a Reed Bunting is three years, though a ringed bird was caught and found to be seven years old in 1978. They are listed as amber in the BTO Conservation Status.

Several of the Reedys appeared 'fat', that's because they were fluffed up against the cold. The female Blackbird below had also puffed herself up.

The Reedys kept me watching for over two hours so had to walk on or risk getting numb fingers from the cold. I haven't seen a Kestrel at Lake Farm for some time but today saw a male chasing another male across the site. The first male was 'calling' but I think it was more of a threat than a welcome, as the male it was chasing dived into cover in one of the copses to the east of the site.

No sign of any Stonechats today, and I'm not overly surprised. I do tend to see them more when the sun is out and there is no wind at all. Today just wasn't one of those days. I also had no luck with the Meadow Pipit that I'd seen on the last two visits. However on the east fields the gulls were preening and I counted 12 Common and 15 Black-headed. Like the Reedys, the Black-headed gulls are in various stages of head plumages. At the very back of these fields were three Redwing, very distant and I could only get blurred shots (partly due to the distance but also due to the fact my fingers were now numb). I also found another Mistle Thrush here, quite close to the fence, so managed to get a couple of shots before it scuttled away.

Up to the south end of Lake Farm I came across numerous Blue and Great Tits, a Wren and two Ring-necked Parakeets. A drake Mallard was on the flooded willow patch. At the very far end of the south point I thought I saw a Brambling. It didn't stay still long enough for me to focus my bins on, and flew off towards Stockley Park. I spent another hour trying to relocate it along the horse field at Stockleys entrance but to no avail though did spot a family group of two adults and a juvenile Pied Wagtail that were following the horses and another Mistle Thrush in the scrubs at the back.
All over the site there was a lot of Carrion Crow activity. Up to ten birds at once were calling (or 'cawing') and swooping down on each other. I don't study these birds enough, so this will have to be my 'homework'. There is a nest still visible that Peter Naylor pointed out to me last year, and on my last few visits Ive seen two crows sitting just above the nest, so maybe they'll re-use it this year.
Back along the western perimeter I found the usual 'host' of House Sparrows being very vocal and flighty. Today I counted 15 but I reckon there could be double that amount. They spend a lot of time flying across from the hedgerow to the houses in Botwell Common Road. In the same stretch I spotted another pair of Blackbirds. Lake Farm is big enough to accommodate several pairs. Back at the corner where the hedgerow ends and the proposed school area begins, I again found a pair of Dunnock. They're constantly in and out of the brambles, so maybe they too are looking for a nesting site early.
Not a bad day, but it was so very cold out there. I always have a glass of wine when I upload and go through my photos. Today was no exception.......except I was very glad I had forgotten to put the wine in the fridge. Room temperature rose wine is just as nice as chilled, if not nicer :) Cheers. 


  1. You've got some crackin birds on site there Wendy and some photos to match. I'm enjoying your blog and looking forward to all the news on mating and nest building . . . and then of course the return of the Spring migrants!

  2. Wendy.. what a wonderful read.. you certainly have the gift for telling the story... can't wait for the next episode. And cracking pictures to illustrate your findings... bring on those Spring migrants :D