Sunday, 31 March 2013

A quiet Easter Sunday at work with Mr Kes

I've been a bit under the weather the last couple of days, so hadn't been out and about taking any photos. Today, however, I made up for it. Even though I still wasn't feeling 100%, I went to work and took my trusty camera. It might be Easter but in my job that doesn't mean there is no work. Saturday nights are quite busy and there were still night drivers out when I got in this morning. They were still over an hour away from getting back to the yard though, so I quickly nipped down to the paddocks to see the horses and see if the cold snap had kept the Fieldfares and Redwings here. And it had.
Fieldfare. Must have been at least 40 around today plus about 20 Redwings.
Redwing on the left, and Fieldfare on the right.
The temperature meant the horses water troughs and the over flow puddle, were frozen. The over flow puddle is very popular with bathing Goldfinches, Dunnocks, Chaffinches and Starlings. I normally use Star or Stevie, the pony's, to hide behind and take photos. Star was up for the job today and I leaned around her neck to get the below photographs.
Pied Wagtail and Goldfinch on iced over puddle
Its not Dancing on Ice, its Pied Wagtail on Ice.
I went back to the office and warmed up, saw off the remaining night drivers, caught up with all the out-standing paperwork and waited for the sun to rise. At lunchtime I went back down the paddocks, and the sun had thawed the frosty grass and the iced up over flow puddle. It was Stevies turn to hide behind, so after a couple of carrots, Stevie led me to the puddle.
Chaffinch waiting for Goldfinch to finish its bath
Goldfinch and teasels
I bumped into Nelson and Katies owner, Bill, while I was there. While we were chatting the resident male Kestrel flew across the paddock and landed in its favourite tree. Off I went in pursuit. I know Kestrels are fairly common, but they really are my favourite little falcon. Mr Kes was active today. He flew off towards the fields at the very back of the paddocks, but soon came back with some prey and landed on the fence.
Mr Kes off hunting
Mr Kes above my head
Mr Kes with prey......a half eaten mouse
Mr Kes then done something I'd never seen him do before. He 'hid' the remainder of his prey. This is called 'cacheing'. A Kestrel will consume about six mice, small birds or voles per day, and will sometimes just take a mouthful of each and cache the rest. They will then normally go back to where they have cached the remains, just before sunset. This means they don't go to roost on an empty stomach. I watched silently as Mr Kes jumped off his fence perch and walked up to the long grass around the thorny shrub where I normally see the Goldcrests in Nelson and Katies paddock.
Mr Kes. His half eaten mouse is gripped in his left claw
Mr Kes walking towards the long grass at the bottom of the thorny shrub. Sorry for quality of photo. I was peering over the fence by this stage, but trying to do it slowly so I wouldn't spook Mr Kes.
Mr Kes emerges triumphant from cacheing his prey.
I didn't see Mr Kes after that. He will have several little caches with in his hunting territory. I'm just pleased and privileged to have seen one of them.
Katie and Nelson enjoyed the brief sunny interludes and ran around their paddocks sending all the Fieldfares, Redwings, Blackbirds and Mistle Thrushes up into the trees. Nelson only has a couple more weeks here, before he goes for what I call Summer Holiday Camp (training stables for racehorses). Katie will go for her holiday too soon, hers will be a bit more interesting I think. Shes going to be meeting the father of her future foal, wink wink, nudge nudge. But in their place an old friend will be coming this space for more details, and photos, in about 3-4 weeks.
Of course Easter wouldn't be Easter without a sighting of an Easter Bunny, so here's a pic of one of the rabbits at the back of the paddocks this morning.
Happy Easter everyone, and cheers :)

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Visit to see how the kestrels are getting on at Cranford Park

Yet another blustery cold day, with low cloud cover and no sun. There were even snow flurries again today. After yesterdays outing on Lake Farm, where there is no shelter, today I went to Cranford Park, where I reasoned I could at least shelter in the woodland if the weather was too bad.
It's still too early for any of the woodpeckers to start nesting, but all around the park I could hear Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers calling. Some of the Great Spotted were drumming, a sound I always associate with Spring. What a shame then that it didn't feel like Spring ! Although I could hear the woodpeckers, I only actually saw Great Spotted, two pairs and one single bird. A lot of other birds are paired up now. I saw Great Tits displaying to each other, Blue Tits chasing each other, male and female Blackbirds foraging together, a pair of Song Thrushes flying in and out of a shrub, Jackdaws sitting next to each other and Parakeets mutually grooming each other.
I've always associated Cranford Park with one of my favourite birds, the Kestrel. They are often seen hovering over the expanse of grass land and along the verges of the A312. Last year there were two pairs on site. One nested within the ancient woodland, the other pair nested further on up towards Heathrow, along side the River Crane. This year I suspect there could be a third pair. Earlier in the year I'd witnessed some territorial behaviour around the meadows (near The Crane pub). Today as I walked through the meadows a pair of Kestrels flew low down behind the tree line on the other side of the river, but away from the main Cranford Park area. The site is big enough to accommodate three pairs, and there is plenty of hunting areas for them all. If the temperature was as it should be for this time of year, I would expect them to start nesting in a couple of weeks. However it is almost arctic conditions, so nesting might not start until May. Kestrels don't really build nests. They often take over old crows nests, and just add a couple more twigs. Or they will nest within an derelict building or on a ledge. They even nest in holes in old trees. Both of last years pairs re-used old crows nests.
By the car entrance to the park, right near the one way bridge, I found a pair of Kestrels sitting in a tree. I'd watched the female fly across the park and join her mate. I've often seen a male and female together but never been able to get a photo before, so was very pleased to be able to get close enough. The photo isn't top quality as I didn't want to get too near and spook the birds. The female flew off shortly after and I was able to get a bit closer to the stunning male.
Male Kestrel at the bottom, female at the top
male Kestrel
Some of the park is still flooded on the grassy expanse. It was so cold today that the large puddles have iced over. This three Common Gulls didn't appear to mind.
Common Gulls on iced over puddle. The one on the far right is in first winter plumage.
There were plenty of little birds in the woodland. Sadly I hardly got any photos as the light was so dull. I saw Goldcrests, Wrens, Coal Tits, Long-tailed Tits and a Nuthatch. Around the meadow area there was a very large flock of Goldfinches, I estimate around 50 birds were in the hedges by the walkway and flying all over the meadows. I think a few of the gardens that back on to that area, have feeders as the Goldfinches were constantly flying back to the same rough spot.
Robins were about the only birds that were low enough in the trees or hopping about on the logs, that I could photograph. This one below was so fluffed up he almost looks like a tennis ball with feathers.
a nice splash of fungi colour on a dead log
Nearly all of the woodland floor is covered in beautiful bright green shoots and leaves. Bluebells and Red Campion are abundant at Cranford Park, and I'm really looking forward to when they bloom. Hopefully warmer and milder weather will set in soon, as if this cold snap continues, the Bluebells will have a very short flowering season.
There is a Spring Bluebell walk on April 20th at 11am (see link below).
In front of the Information Centre, work is well underway to create a new wildlife pond. Its much bigger than the old one. I saw Alison Shipley (Hillingdons Countryside and Conservation Officer) this morning and she said planting up the new pond should begin at the end of this week. Its going to look really great when its fully established.
Not a bad six hours at Cranford Park. Would have been much better had it not been so cold. Migrant birds that are starting to return from their warm winter retreats, are going to be in for a shock. There are no insects around for them to feed on. I'm also starting to worry now that if the birds do start laying eggs in April, there wont be enough insects around to feed their young when they hatch. We need some mild weather very soon, with lots of sunshine and some spring showers.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Lake Farm bird count in icy conditions

Another icy cold day, with a wind that cuts right through you. I met Mark up at Lake Farm for a brief bird count. Reed Bunting numbers are very good, and they were very active today. Some were hunkered down in the usual hedgerow but a nice sized flock of about 20 birds were flying all over the site and regularly dropping into the long grasses. The ones in the hedgerow looked twice their normal size, all puffed up against the cold.
female Reed Bunting
male Reed Bunting
Other birds seen were three Song Thrushes, three Meadow Pipits, the resident large host of House Sparrows (c30 birds), Blue and Great Tits, a pair of Long-tailed Tits, a Wren, a Greenfinch, 3 marmite Parakeets, 2 male Blackbirds, large numbers of Magpies (one pair nest building) and Woodpigs and two very brave singing and sky-dancing Skylarks. The gull field was almost empty except for a couple of Woodpigs. Most of the  gulls appeared to be over Stockley Park. Hardly got any photos today, it was so bitterly cold I could barely hold my camera, and the sky was very grey and overcast. But I'm pleased that the Reed Buntings are so active. Maybe this time next month they'll start showing signs of where they intend to nest.
Song Thrush all fluffed  up against the cold
Around the Toddlers Playground area, some inconsiderate person had dumped hundreds of leaflets. I did start to collect some of them up, but lost heart when I saw all the ones I couldn't reach.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Icicles and my first Wheatear of the year at the London Wetland Centre

Am I dreaming, or is this really the 24th March ? It sure as duck doesn't feel like it, feels more like the 24th January !!!! Absolutely biting cold this morning as I made my way to the London Wetland Centre. And no sign of the great yellow orb. Met up with Elaine, John and Therese. Michael and Martin soon joined us, then Bernie and Jackie. Later in the day Sue joined us too, so a good day for a gossip, catch up, laugh and a chat, but a bad day for trying to take any decent photos.
High-lights of the day included seeing a Little Ringed Plover standing next to a Ringed Plover. Could really appreciate the size difference but way too distant to get any photos unless you had a digi-scoping kit. Two Dunlin showed really well for half an hour but we could not locate them later in the day. At least three or four individual Chiff Chaffs were also seen. Some of our sightings would have made fantastic photos had the sun been out, but today we had to make do with dark silhouettes and a flash of colour and eye stripe. Also had a Little Egret on the marsh. Quite a common sight now, but although you get the odd one at Barnes, they're not as common as Herons there. A small flock of four Goldfinches feeding on the ground with a Blackbird was nice to see, and a male and female Pintail  later in the day was a nice find. But the biggest high-light for me, was hearing through the birders grapevine that a Wheatear had been spotted from the Wildside hide. The information was duly passed on between us all, and after lunch we all congregated on the hide.
my first Northern Wheatear of the year

It got fairly close to the hide, but as the day went on it was seen further and further away.
As always when there's a large group of us at Barnes, we tend to split up and re-meet around the site or back in the cafe. Elaine, Sue and I took ourselves off for a gander. One noticeable thing about today, was there were hardly any birds singing at all. The Little Grebes were 'trilling' and we heard one Cettis Warbler spit out a short sharp song, but no singing Robins, Blackbirds or anything really.

Icicles !!!! In March !!!!!!!
From the newly refurbed Headly Hide, we could see a lone Great Crested Grebe fast asleep bobbing about on the water. There was a lone Little Grebe nearby too, and within minutes the GC Grebe was heading very fast towards the Little Grebe. It took us a few moments to realise the Little Grebe had caught a rather large fish. The GC Grebe seemed intent on catching both of them !! Sadly my photo taking abilities failed at this stage. None of my pics of the GC chasing the L have come out, though I did get pics of the Little Grebe with its huge catch, and of it doing some fast and furious water-walking trying to get away from the GC Grebe !!
When I was at Barnes last week, there had been some wild Mandarins in some of the captive bird enclosures, and they were still there today. Some of the other captive swans and ducks were out of the water and milling around waiting for feed time from the keepers. One of the Coscoroba swans took a liking to Sues boots.
Sue and her new friend
Elaine and her new friend
Sue and Elaine with friends :)
So company-wise, it was a great day. Not only did we all have a good laugh, but every time I see John and Michael I learn something new. Their experience and knowledge in birding is fantastic. It was lovely to see Therese and Jackie again and honour my promise to buy them both a 'Hot Choc Indulgence'. Bernie and Martin were as funny as always. And what can I say about Elaine and Sue.....nothing except the Barnes Birds Rock Ok. Just a shame some of the other members couldn't join us today, but there will be other days.  
Bird-wise I ticked four off my year list. Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Chiff Chaff and Northern Wheatear.
Photo-wise. Absolutely crap !! I yearn for a new camera body and that thing called the sun. 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Fight Night with Egyptian Geese

Manically busy at work the last couple of days. Didn't even attempt to get out yesterday with my camera, and today wasn't much better. I spent a total of 27 minutes down the paddocks. Whilst having my usual chats with Nelson, Katie, Stevie and Star, there was a commotion in Nelsons paddock and two Egyptian Geese landed, followed seconds later by two more. Cue Fight Night.......
Nelson was not impressed by all the noise, and soon saw off the remaining two geese by snorting very loudly and trotting off in their direction.
That was my 'outing' today. Very briefly saw one of the foxes down by the skip yard, two Goldcrests in their usual shrubby tree, a GS Woodpecker and a Kestrel hovering in the far back fields. No sign of any Fieldfares or Redwings at all.
As I said, it has been very very busy at work, this time of year in the build up to Easter, it always is. I wont even bother taking my camera to work tomorrow as almost every truck is already booked and I'm going to be tied up dealing with customers, drivers and mechanics.
One of the yard guard dogs came to visit me late afternoon. His name is Tevez and he's the biggest softest lump of Alsatian you could ever meet. But try setting foot in his garden, and you'll be in for a shock !! I tried so hard to get a photo of him, but the only lens I had with me was my 75-300mm, so every time I tried to walk away and turn to take a pic, Tevez was following me lol. But it was nice to get a cuddle from him. The other dog, Tan, was busy sleeping......well it is a hard life being a night time guard dog you know ! By the end of Tevezs visit, he was also half asleep. Its also hard work getting loads of hugs from your owners tenant.
Tevez.....and yes, he is smiling :)
Tevez. 'All this attention is making me tired.......zzz'

Monday, 18 March 2013

Rain stops play at Lake Farm

I managed to get out for three hours to Lake Farm today, and it looks like it was the only three hours when it wasn't raining. In fact when the sun shone for about 45 minutes, I had to undo my jacket as I was so warm ! Its really starting to 'green' up at LF. Lots of shrubs have buds on, and there are bulbs coming up under the mahonia bushes.
Within the condemned proposed new school area, it was a hive of activity. Just behind the toddlers playground, in and amongst the bramble thickets and the thick hedgerow and grass clumps, I found House Sparrows, Dunnocks, Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Magpies, Woodpigs, Reed Buntings, Blackbirds, Great Tits and Goldfinches. I hope the council allows them one last chance to nest in this area before they tear it all up. I've yet to find a confirmed date for the building works to start. Some of the articles  I have come across have mentioned May, others have mentioned August. Either way, they definitely cannot go ahead if it means disturbing nesting birds. So come on Lake Farm birds, get nesting !!!! There's also the results of the reptile survey to go be announced. The SES (Southern Ecological Society) have to do another seven surveys between March and May before they can say the site is definitely clear of reptiles. I really hope they find some signs. Apparently Lake Farm has all the qualities some reptiles like, but sadly, there have never been any signs so far.
House Sparrows
Very obliging Goldfinch
Another very obliging Goldfinch. There were several quite large flocks all over the site today.
male Reed Bunting on one of the many grassy tussocks
male Reed Bunting
In the northern hedgerow where I normally see the House Sparrows and Reed Buntings, there was very little to see. Starlings were the most prominent bird. The majority of Sparrows and Reedys seem to have definitely drifted to within the condemned area. Does that mean they're going to nest there ? I really don't know, but if anyone with more experience than myself would like to come and join me for a few hours, I would greatly appreciate it. Likewise I'm not very good on identifying shrubs and trees, so if anyone who is, would like to join me one day, again I would really appreciate it.
Around by the swamped willow area (not within the affected condemned school site), the council have burnt off some areas of scrub. They do this every year for rejuvenation, and thankfully they only do small patches at a time, rotate the areas they do and never do it during nesting season. The birds actually seem to love the bare scorched earth. I found a Song Thrush, several Blackbirds, more Goldfinches, more Reed Buntings, Great Tits and Blue Tits all scuttling about on the floor and in the nearby brambles. What I didnt find, but really wanted to, was a Northern Wheatear. The late Peter Naylor saw several on the blackened earth back in 2011, and not just for one day, they stayed around for several months. Never mind, there is still time, it is quite early for Wheatears though one or two have been seen on the southern coast already.
 I accidentally found a Long-tailed Tits probable nest. I watched one bird go into a thicket, and went a bit closer to have a look, just as another flew up out of the same spot, swiftly followed by a second. They scolded me from a nearby tree then went off. I backed off and waited to see if they would come back, and both did, their little beaks coated with spiders webs ! I couldn't get a photo, but as I waited patiently, one popped up right under my nose, and I quickly fired off a pic before leaving them to their merry nesting. The pic is below, its only been very slightly cropped, that's how close I was.
Skylarks were in good song today. At least five individuals seen at any one time up in the air doing that fantastic sky dance and song, then diving down into a grassy tussock. Some were singing from the ground too, that lovely raspy song that reminds me of true summer. Most of them appear to be around the area that is not affected by the proposed school site, but one individual was right on the border. I was actually sitting on one of the benches within the condemned area when this one flew up from right next to the pathway, which is also the boundary of the school site. He/she sang and sky-danced, and dropped back into the same area. I grabbed a few photos, and they're dreadful, but what do you expect from a dancing singing bird in the sky !! Lol. My auto-focus isn't as good as that bird !
Yes, this is a Skylark. How do I know ? I was there !!