Monday, 27 May 2013

Bank Holiday at Lake Farm

I spent a pleasant sunny five hours at Lake Farm today. It was quite breezy though which made taking some photos very challenging, and I heard more birds than I actually saw.
The Common Whitethroats have now finished nesting and displaying, and are busy feeding their newly hatched chicks. Most of the birds I saw today were collecting food.
This individual is looking rather scruffy.
Moulting, tick invasion or possibly escaped from a predator ?
As to be expected on a warm sunny day, there were plenty of butterflies around. Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshell, Green-veined Whites and Speckled Woods were every where. I even found a tiny tiny day moth, called a Small Yellow Underwing. It really was small, no bigger than my fingernail. After getting two photos of it, I literally lost it and couldn't find it again.
Green-veined White
Very scruffy Peacock
Small Yellow Underwing
Small Yellow Underwing on dandelion.
The resident Great Spotted Woodpeckers have chicks. I watched the parent birds hunting for food all over the site today. It's quite weird watching them at Lake Farm as the habitat is not generally for GSW. They usually nest in woodland in very old trees. At Lake Farm they have nested in a very live willow in a very small copse of trees by the canal. Because they usually nest in fairly dense woods, I have rarely seen one gathering food, but today at Lake Farm both the parents were collecting insects and grubs from the scrubby shrubs all over the site.
Nesting in the next trunk of the GSW willow are a pair of Great Tits. They are in a woodpecker size hole and also have chicks (I could hear them quite clearly). This has also surprised me, as when insects and larvae are in short supply a GS Woodpecker will take Tit chicks for food. I've seen a Woodpecker put its head inside a nest box and pull out chick after chick after chick. So to find this Great Tit nest so close to the woodpeckers is really quite astonishing, especially as the nest hole is so large. I hope it doesn't get predated.
The adult Great Tit found this large caterpillar while I was watching him.
Plenty of Swifts and House Martins around overhead.
I also saw a Hobby, but by the time I'd confirmed its identification thru my bins, then raised my camera, it swooped down low and I didn't get any photos. The resident female Sprawk was also soaring overhead, and a male Kestrel passed through. Two Cormorants went over and three Mute Swans.
Small bird activity, aside from the Common Whitethroats, were Linnets (lots of them), Starlings, (lots of), House Sparrows (lots of) and Reed Buntings (just three males). Skylarks could be heard in the grass but not seen. A least two Chiff Chaff are in the copse by the willow, calling and calling but hardly seen.
 I also bumped into one of the regular dog walkers. I keep saying I would put his dog, Skye, on my blog, so here she is........she's gorgeous and we always have a cuddle when we meet up (me and Skye that is, not me and Skyes owner !)
Finally reports are starting to filter in about Red-backed Shrike sighting in the south. Within the last week a male has been seen at the London Wetland Centre, and a female near Guildford. In July 2012 a male stayed at Lake Farm for an incredible 13 days................fingers crossed he comes back and brings a female mate with him.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Sandwich Terns, and more, at Rhyl

I've been up in Rhyl the last four days to see family. Managed to get out for a bit of beach-birding on Friday for four hours and again for another two hours this morning. Luckily the weather was on my side both times. Even more luckily, my cousins live just a road away from the beach.
Friday the wind was a little cool, and after walking half way between Splashpoint and the Dunes, I almost gave up seeing anything. Normally at Rhyl I get guaranteed views of Turnstones and Redshanks, occasional Oystercatchers and Curlew, and at least one Kestrel or Peregrine over the golf course opposite the coast line. That morning there was hardly anything around. I tried a bit of sea watching, and managed to get a glimpse of a tern shaped bird coming in to shore. I followed its progress and it landed about another quarter of mile in front of me, on the beach. I trekked on, went down on to the beach and eventually came across a healthy congregation of Sandwich Terns, all in full summer plumage. They were split over several areas, including the breakwaters, and I lost count at 100. The last time I saw Sandwich Terns at Rhyl was late one summer when they had lost their stunning black caps. Fridays birds were not only in breeding plumage but I was privileged to watch them displaying, gifting fish and mating.
Walking back from there I noticed a couple of small birds perching on the prom wall. A quick glance in my bins confirmed they were Wheatears. Not so long ago there was a Desert Wheatear reported on the golf course, so I had to go and investigate. On the golf course and the rocks, I counted 18 Wheatears. The course was quite busy, and so was the beach and the rock pools, so the birds were flitting between the two areas. I sat myself down on a breakwater, and waited for the birds to come to me, which they did. They were all Northern Wheatears, no Desert ones that I could see.
This morning I got up early to grab a couple of hours before I had to get my train home. On the golf course there are intermittent clumps of reeds. On Friday I could hear a warbler when I was photographing the Wheatears, so this morning my goal was to track down the little warbler. There's a public walkway that cuts through the golf course, and as long as you look both ways for golfers about to put in a shot (can you tell I don't have a clue about golf ???) its quite safe, and you're not trespassing. I found a pair of Sedge Warblers in the first bunch of reeds I came across. They were singing their little hearts out. When I eventually started walking back, I could hear Sedges all over the course. There must have been at least another ten pairs on site.
So considering this four day break was all about my family, I didn't do too bad with the six hours birding either. Will be popping back up there in a couple of months, so will be interesting to see how much has changed.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Blustery day at the London Wetland Centre

I will be mentioning a lot of hides and places at the London Wetland Centre in today's blog, so for people who are not familiar with this WWT centre, I have attached a link to a map of the site, so at least you get a rough idea of what I am talking about.
I have a routine when I go the LWC on my own. Once I've gone through the entrance and had my membership card swiped, I always stop in the courtyard to get out my bins and camera, clean them and then decide which way to go. To the left is the World Wetlands which leads onto the Wildside, to the right is the Waterlife side with the most hides. And straight in front is the café. If I'm with other people when I go to the LWC, the café is generally the first port of call.
I didn't have to go far to spot my first photogenic bird. The resident Pied Wagtails have nested again behind the clock in the courtyard. It was lovely watching both parents flying behind the clock with beaks full of food.
spot the Pied Waggy
coming out.......
and going in.
I decided to head straight for the Wildside today. It was announced yesterday that one of the nesting Little Grebe pairs had successfully hatched at least two eggs. There are two pairs nesting in both channels by the Wildside hide. However en route there, I got distracted by a pair of Long-tailed Tits very active by the Lodge. It didn't take long to chance upon a nest, so I settled myself a discreet distance away and watched both parents bringing in lots of food.
how many insects can you fit in your beak ?
Like last week, the sounds of Warblers were every where. I'm only just starting to recognise a Cettis compared to a Reed, but trying to see any of them is almost impossible.
The Little Grebes in the middle channel have their nest tucked out of view, but you can just about see it with bins. I watched as the adults done a change over, and could clearly see at least two chicks, with at least two more eggs still to hatch. These chicks are barely two days old, so not out in the water yet with their parents. In the first channel, the one nearest the Wildside hide, are the pair I watch mate on my last visit. They had built three 'platforms' then, so I was interested to see if they had built another, or if they had decided to make their nest on one of the three. They had. The second 'platform' had obviously had a lot more material added to it over the week, and I found both adults asleep on it. However when both got off to go hunting, it was clear there were no eggs in the nest, and the height of it is nowhere near as high as the successful Little Grebes in the next door channel. So will they choose another site, or carry on using that nest ? They didn't seem keen to add to it whilst I was there, they spent most of their time together feeding.
I had a quick lunch in the café, then made my way to the Waterlife side. By the Peacock Tower there are two families of Canada Geese, both with goslings. You can tell by the difference in size of the goslings, that the pair with just two youngsters hatched theirs earlier than the pair with the five goslings. Plenty of photo opportunities here !! The parents are quite obliging, but get too close and you will be hissed at. I'm not stupid, I know when to give a family of geese a wide berth, but it was quite amazing to watch some other people almost nose to nose with the goslings, then wonder why the parents were making threatening gestures !
The photos below are a comparison of Canada goslings to a Greylag gosling. The Greylags were wandering around outside the Headley Hide.
The older goslings - Canada Geese
A similar aged gosling - Greylag
Also found on the path back from the Wildside, was this solitary Lapwing. I watched it for a long time, concerned it may be injured, as its quite unusual to see them on the paths. They're normally on one of the many islands on the Main Lake or Waderscrape. I was just about to phone the LWC office number and ask someone to come out, when two young kids ran at the poor bird and it flew off. The fact it flew re-assured me but the fact the two Mums with the kids had already watched me kneeling on the ground studying the bird and taking a few snaps (to zoom in on to see if there were any obvious injuries) did not re-assure me. Why, at a Nature Reserve, would you let your children chase birds !!??!!? Beyond belief.
Back by the Wildside hide, I amused myself for over an hour trying to photograph the Swifts and House Martins screeching and calling above me. I managed 95 out of focus shots, but did get some success with the two below.
This is not a bullet.....this is a House Martin
Just in front of Rattys in the Wildside, I heard Cetti Warblers calling, and after waiting patiently for a while, finally managed to photograph one.
By the Wildside gates, a Blackbird pair had fledged their fist brood. The fledglings were calling very loudly, so I waited a good distance away to watch Mum come in and feed them.
Mum and youngster
Young Blackbird
Back by the Peacock Tower, myself and another photographer had some great views of a female Kestrel hunting. She swooped down, got something and then settled on a perch by the bench to eat. We didn't dare get to near in case we spooked her, so no clear indication of what she caught. I presumed it would be a small vole or mouse, but the other photographer thinks she somehow managed to grab a Moorhen chick. Whatever it was, it didn't satisfy her hunger, she was soon hunting again and we had some wonderful close up views of her hovering. Sadly there were dark clouds, so all my photos came out as silhouettes. However the last photo, I lightened whilst I was uploading it, not something that I normally do, but it just showed how close this beautiful little falcon was.
Mrs Kes on post eating
Mrs Kes hovering in front of me.
Another Little Grebe pair are in the small channel in front of the Peacock Tower, but despite searching with my bins, I could see no signs of any nest.
In front of the Dulverton Hide, I found an old friend, the nasal saddled male Tufted Duck. Nathalie M had already said she had seen him with a female, and so did I. So even though this form of 'tagging' a duck does nothing for its appearance, it certainly isn't stopping this male from hopefully starting a family soon.
Not many opportunities to photograph butterflies today. Although the sun did come out several times, it was so blustery that not many little flutters were settling down. I managed to get a few shots of the lovely male Orange-tip though.
Back in the café for a coffee later, I decided to give myself a boost. After last weeks visit I had e-mailed my Holly Blue butterfly photo to Jamie Wyver at LWC, and he had it placed on the monitor screen in the café. So here it is....
my name on the Big Screen at last
The full picture
So despite being very windy, some sunny intervals and a short sharp spell of rain, it wasn't a bad day at the LWC today. Saw my friend John briefly, and bumped into another regular, Chris. Other news from the site today were confirmed sightings of at least two broods of Lapwing chicks, a Peregrine falcon, a Common Snipe and a Redshank. Mute Swans are still on eggs, as are a few Canada geese. The Tern Rafts seem to have been taken over by Black-headed gulls but a few Common Terns can still be seen around the site. Some Mallard ducklings are around, but no Tufted ducklings yet.
So to end my lengthy blog today, a few 'awwwwwww' photos of the Canada goslings....
Mummy snuggles
Aerobics anyone ?