Monday, 6 May 2013

It was all about the Whitethroats at Lake Farm today (and a brief visit to Cranford Park)

I probably done myself no favours in going out today. I've developed blisters under most of my toes on my left foot, probably as a result of limping on Saturday and Sunday (after of course falling over twice on Friday !!), but there was no way I could stay in on such a glorious day.
First port of call was Lake farm where there are lots of handy benches dotted around. The site was alive with the sounds of singing Common Whitethroats. They were every where. I walked all over the site today, instead of favouring one area, and Whitethroats have definitely taken over the Reed Buntings crown for numbers. The only place they weren't as numerous was in the long grasses favoured by the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. I saw a couple of birds clinging on to the delicate stems of last years flowering parsley heads, but they definitely seemed to be more comfortable, and at home, in the shrubby thorn bushes.
On my last visit, I found that by sitting at one particular bench, I kept seeing three individual Whitethroats singing from three separate shrubs and trees. Today I sat at the same bench, and again, three birds were singing from the same shrubs and trees. Obviously they are marking their territories. Quite a few pairs were chasing each other around.
 I find Whitethroats very difficult to sex. The males have a much greyer head than the females, whose head is almost a tawny colour in harsh light. Some of the birds were flying high up and singing, and almost acting like a Skylark (saw several of them today too).
So excuse my influx of Whitethroat photos, I just couldn't resist.
I also had some nice, if distant, views of Meadow Pipits displaying. Mipits at Lake Farm are hard to get close to due to their constant disturbance by dogs and kids. It appears to have left them very flighty. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs, and kids, but why let them run through waist high grass ??? There are more than enough grass paths cutting across Lake Farm, plus two children's playgrounds. The council really should put up signs saying there are ground nesting birds at Lake Farm.
Mipit display one
Mipit display two
Mipit display three
Lots of butterflies around as to be expected. I saw Brimstone, Comma, Tortoiseshell, Orange-Tip males and females, Holly Blue and this very obliging Peacock.
Also seen today was a very camera shy Willow Warbler, two male Blackcaps, several singing Skylarks, Chiff Chaffs (one seen but several heard) and the resident male GS Woodpecker. He seems to have finished excavating his nest hole now. It looks incredibly neat and round. No sign of a female today, though the male was making his way up, down and around the trunk intermittently drumming. Only found one pair of Reed Buntings today. I am still finding this very strange. I had such great numbers there during the winter months, and fully expected them to breed. Now it appears most have just over-wintered at Lake Farm and gone on to other areas.
Many people automatically think Lake Farm is a farm. Its not. The reason behind the name is from the people who originally owned the grounds. I believe there used to be large ornamental lake as well, but that was filled in for some reason. The park used to stretch all the way across to where Stockley Park now is. I'm no historian, but I know a man who is, so have emailed him asking for a bit more history behind the name and the park itself.
Just one of many views across Lake Farm. The area on the right is where the Skylarks and Mipits nest.
The copses and shrubs on the left are where to find the Whitethroats.
Despite hobbling a bit, and padding out the blisters under my toes, it was an enjoyable morning. Yesterday on the way home from the London Wetland Centre, I'd taken Phillip and Joe for a brief walk around Cranford Park. What struck me as odd though, was there wasn't one sign of any of the Kestrels. My last visit to Cranford Park there were guaranteed views of them. We looked in the usual trees but to no avail. This  had played on my mind last night, so despite my feet being painful, I made my way over to there.
Luckily I know the woodland well so knew which vantage points had the best logs to sit on. Despite two hours of watching the nest (from a distance of course) and the kestrels favoured hollow tree for cacheing food and preening, I only saw the male twice and both times he went nowhere near the nest tree nor the hollow tree. In fact I didn't even see him hunt, though he was quite active and was flying around his usual hunting grounds. I'm hoping nothing sinister has happened to the female, and that she's on the nest incubating eggs. I'm hoping I missed a food pass from when I was at Lake Farm. Sadly I couldn't stay long today, but am planning on a full day there, with coffee flask and sandwiches, on one of my next days off work.
So not many photos from Cranford Park today. The ancient woodland is full of colour though. The bluebells have finally come out in force.
Cranford Park has a very different habitat to Lake Farm. The woodlands here are very old, some of the veteran trees date back to the 16th century. It's also managed differently to Lake Farm. There are more managed and larger grassy areas here, but still some small pockets of long grasses and shrubby bushes. This makes it ideal for dog walkers and kids to run free, and not really disturb any wildlife. The site is also very popular with model plane enthusiasts. You often see model aeroplanes flying around, with the real planes coming in to the Heathrow runways in the back ground.
The view below is from one of my favourite logs. It's just on the edge of the really ancient part of the woods, but not as enclosed. Part of the old ha-ha is to the right.

So I've had a lovely day out, but probably walked more than I should have. My feet are soaking in a bowl of water and I've poured myself a nice cold glass of Jacques fruity cider. I've caught the sun, my freckles are all out, and I've got a nice tan line on the back of my neck from where I was wearing my bins today. But the pain will all be worth it. Being surrounded on all sides by calling, singing and displaying Whitethroats was quite magical. Cant wait for my next days off work. 


  1. Don't apologise for the whitethroats Wendy, I love them :-) Nice collection of photos, lovely to see the Bluebells at last! S x

  2. I'm not surprised you couldn't resist - how wonderful to see so many Whitethroats! And bluebells heralding spring.. lovely :D