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|
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.