Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Pulborough Nightingales

Went out with Elaine and Susan today to RSPB Pulborough Brooks. I haven't been there for about three years, and I was very keen to see a Nightingale. The last time I saw one was in 2008 in Suffolk.
First thing I did see as we went into the visitor centre, was an old friend of mine, Lauren, working there. Had a nice catch up with her and she marked a map for us where the Nightingales had been seen the most. Another friend, Tricia, had also told me about the infamous Adder Alley at Pulborough, where the Nightingales are seen a lot. Both Lauren and Tricia were right. There were Nightingales galore all over the site. Their song had to be the most richest I have ever heard. I took hundreds of photos, a lot didn't focus as it was very difficult to spot one of the lovely Nightingales completely out in the open. So I'm not very pleased with the photos I did manage to get. There was always a twig, branch or blade of grass in the way. But I was just very happy to have seen them at all.
There was plenty more to see. A variety of warblers could be seen and heard. We had Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Chiff Chaffs, Willow, Garden and Grasshopper Warblers. Wrens, Jays and Dunnocks. Swifts, House Martins and Swallows. And two sweet Ringed Plovers. Green Woodpeckers were seen and heard 'yaffling'. And towards the end of the day we heard Cuckoo several times, and then had a brilliant fly pass of two stunning Hobbys.
It was a glorious and long day out. The weather stayed fairly sunny, we missed the one and only short rain shower by sheltering in one of the hides. It was fairly cold though, so no sign of any adders. Im already looking forward to another visit in late summer.
Thanks Elaine and Susan for a great day out, a great laugh and some great birds.
possible Chiff Chaff
Garden Warbler

Friday, 26 April 2013

Lake Farm visit and monthly bird count.

A brief four hour visit to Lake Farm this morning produced lots of Linnets, Common Whitethroats and Reed Buntings, but no sign of yesterdays Whinchat or Wheatears. The weather was much much cooler than yesterday, so I had packed a flask of coffee, and happily stayed sitting on one of my favourite benches, watching the action around me.
There was a flock of 8-9 Linnets but they never settle long enough for me to grab a photo. Today however, with me sitting quietly on a bench, it wasn't long before they settled in front of me and I was able to grab a couple of photos without having to stand up and disturb them. I counted at least five males and three or four females. They nest at Lake Farm, there were good numbers of them last year, so it looks like this year will be good for them too.
male Linnet
male Linnet
Again there didn't seem to be many Reed Buntings around. I found four males and three females today. Just a couple of months ago I had 26 Reed Buntings in the perimeter hedgerow, now that hedgerow is home to a large flock of House Sparrows and Starlings roost there. The Reed Buntings have all drifted more towards the centre of the site.
male Reed Bunting 
Every now and then a Skylark would burst into song, I'd look around and find it doing its fabulous 'sky dance' before plummeting back down into the long grass. Several times I heard them singing from deep down in the grass, but even with my bins I couldn't spot them. I tried capturing the one below as it sang above me. Not a great photo, and I'll keep on trying.
The resident female Sparrowhawk flew over the site in a very leisurely fashion.
The most activity I saw today were of the Whitethroats. There were constant outbursts of singing and chasing. Several times I accidently flushed them from the ground or from low down in the shrubs. I also watched them collecting insects from under leaves and carrying wispy bits of old grass. We had Common and Lesser Whitethroats nesting last year. There are probably Lessers already on site, but I havnt been able to find one yet. The Commons took up most of my time today. I could watch them for hours. Such beautiful little birds.
I only found one pair of Blackcaps today by the willows. The male GS Woodpecker was there again, still busily excavating a nice neat nest hole. Chiff Chaffs were abundantly heard in the copse by the canal. I lost another half an hour trying to find the geocache that I could not find yesterday, and again I failed. Maybe I should stick to finding birds instead :) 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Warblers, Wheatears and a Whinchat at Lake Farm

What a glorious day, even the breeze was warm, so after four days cooped up at work I had to get out and about. My plans were to find two geocaches along the canal in Hayes, then have a wander around Lake Farm. Despite a lengthy 40 minutes searching for the first geocache, I gave up and went straight in to LF. It was far too warm to be rooting around in the undergrowth !! I normally don't give up so easily, but I could hear so many birds singing from LF, that I just had to go and find them lol.
My first find was a beautiful male Blackcap singing his heart out. A female was hovering nearby, but she was too shy to get her photo taken.
All together on site I found three males singing, all with females nearby.
Their song is so colourful, it really filled the air.
Whitethroats were abundant. I counted 11 individuals today all over the site. Some were flying high up singing away, then coming back down to perch to continue their song. They weren't as easy to photograph as the Blackcap, but I grabbed a few distant shots.
Up by the BMX track, I found a park regular, Roy. He was a great friend of Peter Naylor, and still comes out daily to walk around Lake Farm and Stockley Park. Last years Sparrowhawks appear to have chosen a new nest site according to Roy. He's pointed me in the right direction so I will have to go back and have a look soon. Roy also showed me the tree where a Great Spotted Woodpecker has been seen regularly. My friend Tony had also mentioned this to me. Its quite a big thing for Lake Farm, as most of the habitat is open grassland with a few shrubs. There aren't many old trees around. Sure enough, excavating a hole in one of the old willows, we watched a male diving in and out of a hole throwing out all sorts of debris. Later on I went back to check on him, and was delighted to see a female checking out the hole. So Roy and Tony, well done on finding that nest site, it looks like we'll be having baby woodys at Lake Farm soon. I doubt there will be any photos though, as the male has chosen such a great spot which will soon be covered by leaves.
Following one of the paths from the BMX track to the hedgerows, I saw two birds settle in front of me. A quick look in my bins confirmed they were two female Northern Wheatears. A male settled briefly with them, but flew off as I got my camera focused.
This is a first for me at Lake Farm. I know Peter used to regularly see them here, and Roy had mentioned he'd seen five last Monday.
I carried on my way to the hedgerow to see if the Reed Buntings were around. Considering I had such great numbers a few months ago, I saw just a handful today.
Skylarks were flying and singing and doing their wonderful sky dance, which is almost impossible to photograph. Whilst looking for these, I caught sight of something small, colourful and heavily marked, settle on a shrub nearby. The sun was against me, and I only managed to fire off two shots before the bird flew off. I could not re-locate it, and wasn't even entirely sure what it was. When I got home I e-mailed the photos to my friend Corinna, who confirmed they are of a male Whinchat. Photos not great, but enough as a record shot for me.
Apart from birds, the site was inundated with bees and butterflies.
by the canal, I found bluebells in flower
Holly Blue
My friend Tony has kindly put a link on his blog, to mine. So I'd better repay the favour lol.
 Tony is a local too, and we tend to cover the same two patches, Lake Farm and Cranford Park. Tony also goes to Otmoor on a regular basis.
Other great news, is that Tom and Charlie, the Fulham and Barnes peregrines nesting on
Charing Cross Hospital, have successfully hatched three of their four eggs.
Two hatched on the 23rd April, and one hatched in the early hours of this morning.
At time of writing, we are still waiting for the last eyass to appear. Link to their web cam below.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Day two with the Pied Fly at Cranford Park

Back to Cranford Park today to see if the male Pied Fly was still around. And he was. Several birders turned up today, after it was made public where the bird was yesterday. Again I was able to put some faces to names, and saw a few familiar ones too. The bird was a bit more elusive today, on a couple of occasions he wasn't seen for over an hour at a time. I got some more shots of him, but they were fairly distant this time. I think I was spoilt yesterday when I had those glorious few hours on my own  with him. I left at 4.30pm today, and he was still showing. Will he be there tomorrow ? I wont know as I'm back at work for the next four days.
Several times today I wandered off to see the Woodland Kestrels. I saw both the male and female sitting in the hollow tree, and sitting next to the nest. There was also a third kestrel, I think it was another male, that came in so close that the Woodland female actually took cover inside the hollow. I think the Woodland pair are using the hollow to cache food. I saw the male with prey, and not long after he left, a crow flew straight into the hollow and removed the prey. The Woodland male took off after the crow at speed forcing the crow to drop its steal.
Woodland female on the hollow
Woodland male near the hollow
Woodland female right inside the hollow after being swooped at by the intruding Kestrel
Woodland male in the hollow after stashing his prey
Woodland female having a stretch near the hollow
Other birds seen today, were a Red Kite soaring above, a Buzzard being mobbed by a crow, several Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Green Woodpeckers and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. By the Pied Fly site a Pheasant called several times.
Red Kite
Buzzard being mobbed by crow
Lots of butterflys around again, Comma, Peacock and Brimstone
and the first bluebells are starting to flower.
So another lovely day with the gorgeous male Pied Fly.
Back to work for me tomorrow, I doubt very much if the Pied Fly will be there when I've finished this set of four shifts, but you never know :)

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Cranford Park Pied Fly

I was intending to go to Lake Farm and Cranford Park today, however last night I received an email from Alison Shipley, the Countryside and Conservation Officer for Hillingdon Council. She had spotted an unusual bird at Cranford Park yesterday morning. So I decided to go to Cranford Park first today, then maybe go to Lake Farm afterwards.
I got to CP fairly early, and spent some time scouring the site with my bins. Alison had described the bird as being black with flashes of white on the tail and wings, no indication of size, just that it appeared to be fairly active and was staying around the same area. Eventually I met up with Alison who took me to where she'd last seen the bird.
Within ten minutes, this beautiful male Pied Flycatcher in full summer plumage, popped up in the flowering blackthorn shrubs.
I've only ever seen a female before now, so I was very happy to get such clear and close views of this gorgeous little male bird. It's quite incredible to believe this tiny bird has flown all the way from West Africa after spending the winter there.
I knew I had to share this sighting, but my Blackberry phone has been misbehaving for some time, so after failing to get on to the London Birders website, I managed to eventually post a message on my Facebook page asking if anyone could post my sighting on London Birders on my behalf. Thank you Sandra P for doing that for me. I knew it would be a couple of hours before any birders turned up, so I got to spend those moments alone with Mr Pied Fly, and capture these photos.
Alison first saw the bird at about 11am yesterday, so it has already been around for at least 24 hours. Its active and feeding well, so who knows if it will still be there tomorrow. If you want to pop down there, the best way is go to the sign posted car park off Junction 3 off the M4. From the car park walk on to the great expanse of grass, and turn right at the huge old Sweet Chestnut tree. Keep walking until you can see the stretch of flowering blackthorn shrubs. The Pied Fly is favouring this area.
map of Cranford Park. The M4 is at the top. The grey square is the kids playground. The brown line is the ha-ha.
this is part of The Headland area. The Pied Fly is favouring the shrubs on the edge of the woodland.
Eventually some birders started to appear, including my friend Corinna, who I had already sent a message to. It was also nice to put some faces to names today so nice to finally meet you Adam C, Nigel S and Bill H.
While I had been waiting to meet up with Alison this morning, I'd had a wander around to see if I could find any sign of the Kestrels. Now the weather has warmed up I was really hoping the female would be nesting.
Today I found the Woodland Kestrels (as opposed to the other pair on site, the River Kestrels) purely by accident as they aren't nesting in the same tree they were last year. I'd been examining some of the bluebells to see if they were budding, when I heard a kestrel call right above my head. I looked up in time to see the male land on an untidy old crows nest, with prey. The female then appeared from within the nest, took the prey and settled in a nearby tree to eat it. I tried very hard to get photos but they've all come out so dark, you cannot make out any of the action. An hour or so later, I found the female sitting in a hollow in one of the dead trees nearby. Personally I think she has started laying but hasn't quite finished, as she's not incubating fully yet, but the male is presenting her with food. Obviously the location of the nest I cannot make public knowledge.
Even if I hadn't of seen the Pied Fly today, I would have come away happy as I've been quite concerned that there were no signs of the kestrels settling to nest.
Elsewhere around the woodland there were good numbers of both Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing, lots of Green Woodpeckers flying around and being very vocal and I've noticed the Jays have started pairing up. A Willow Warbler was heard but not seen, Alison saw one of the resident weasels and there were lots of butterflies around including Tortoiseshells, Commas, Peacocks and a beautiful luminous Brimstone. Spring is defintley here.
singing male Blackcap
the nest box in front of the Information Centre, being checked out by a Blue Tit. Will be interesting to see if they go for it as last year this box was occupied by Great Tits.
male Green Woodpecker (males have red moustaches whereas females have black ones)
female Kestrel
I went home a very happy wino, but didn't really have time to go to Lake Farm. Maybe tomorrow :)