Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The blog is back !!

After nearly three weeks of having no laptop, and therefore not being able to update my blog, I am now back in the land of laptop living.
This catch-up blog is all about Cranford Park in the recent weeks.
After the awful news in my previous blog dated 29th June, that we had found a dead male mature Kestrel, I was really starting to dread seeing any juveniles at CP this year, but luckily on one of the hottest days of the year, Sue Giddens and myself found two juvenile Kestrels right at the far end of the ancient woods, the area known as the Headland. The previous day, Corinna Smart and myself had watched a large female Kestrel carrying prey in the same area. So after all those weeks of watching the 'nest' tree and getting more and more down-heartened, it turns out the Woodland Kestrels merely decided to nest in another tree a bit further on. I still suspect the dead male Kestrel is our Woodland male sadly, but the female may find another mate for next year. So below are a couple of shots of the new juvenile Kestrels at Cranford Park.

The most exciting news is about our Little Owls. On the 29th June I reported I had seen one fly from one of the old Oaks by the Information Centre. Tony James went down there on the 2nd July, and incredibly managed to grab a photo of two juveniles sitting outside one of the owl boxes. I didn't want to show this photo before, as I wasn't 100% sure if they had used it to nest in, or if even the adult female was maybe brooding a second clutch of eggs. As you read further on down, you'll see why I'm now happy to publish the pics.
Tony James photo of two Little Owl juveniles, taken on 2nd July 2013
Over the following three weeks, it became a mission to photograph the juveniles. There was always one that appeared to show more than the other. Eventually we nick named him Ozzy. At first all of my friends were luckier than me. Here are a selection of their photos.........

Sue Giddens photo of the one we call Ozzy
Maggie Bucknalls photo of Ozzy
Corinna Smarts photo of Ozzy.
And finally I managed to get some photos. Because Ozzy stays in the tree, its relatively hard to grab a photo when your camera is on autofocus. All my camera wanted to do was focus on the leaves and branches. My photos below were taken over the period 13th-25th July.
The adult birds are much more camera shy, probably due to the amount of dog walkers that frequent the park. I have heard one of the adults many times, usually as an alert call to the juveniles when us 'muggles' are too near. In the first couple of weeks of July, the alert call would send at least one of the juveniles scurrying back to the owl box for cover.
I have only actually seen an adult once, and that was in the ancient woodland. Recently we have only been seeing one juvenile, and I'm starting to wonder if the other one has flown into the woods. One of the regular dog walkers has told several of us, that he found a juvenile on the floor, and put it high up in one of the many rhododendron bushes. Unfortunately he never actually showed any of us where this was, and we all came to different conclusions as to where he meant.
And below is why I am happy to show where we see the juvenile Little Owl we call Ozzy.
This squirrel spent hours like this, dozing in the relative shade of the box. I am 100% sure now, that this is NOT where the Little Owls nested. I actually suspect the nest hole is in another of the old Oaks, and that this tree is their roost tree. I think the juveniles were using this box as a hide away and resting place. Only way to be sure, is to wait until next year, and really study the tree.
Elsewhere on Cranford Park, the hot weather has bought out lots of lovely butterflies, grasshoppers and other little critters.
Large White
Field Grasshopper
Meadow Grasshopper

Ladybird larvae
Small Skipper and Cinnabar moth caterpillar
Essex Skipper and Six-spot Burnet moth
Soldier Beetle
Speckled Wood
This lovely Blackbird above, was running catching grasshoppers and crickets. I've been seeing a lot of this lately, especially around the Information Centre, so the birds must be feeding their second broods now. Nice to know, that even in a heat wave, life still goes on. 
So my blog is back, I've missed doing it. Welcome back me ! Lol. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Hot and sunny at Cranford Park.

I was back at Cranford Park yesterday as well as today, but my camera mis-functioned yesterday so I didn't write up a blog. However, its nice to be able to confirm the Little Owls have youngsters.
A few days ago my friend, Tony James, got a cracking photo of two juvenile Little Owls sitting together. I have decided not to print it, as it shows the nest hole, and there is a small chance Mum Little Owl may already be sitting on a second clutch of eggs. In a few months when I know all the young have fledged, I will ask Tony's permission to post the photo on here,
Yesterday morning Tony and his lovely wife turned up at Cranford Park just a few minutes after I did. We had all come out in the early Sunday hours to hopefully see the juveniles. And we did. As I arrived one was sitting above the nest hole, but an invisible adult must have been higher up in the branches, and with one sharp call from the adult, the juvenile dived back in the hole. I backed off and sat on a nearby bench. Tony and Awe arrived shortly after and just got a glimpse of a juvenile outside the nest  hole, before it again dived back in. We waited around for a while listening for the hissing sound the juveniles kept making. As soon as we heard it we checked the nest hole again, and there was a little face peering back out at us. We all left shortly after that, the park was filling up with Sunday dog walkers and sunbathers.
This morning after thoroughly cleaning my camera and lenses, and finding they worked, I went back to Cranford Park. It was very quiet. I sat on my usual bench near the nest tree waiting for the tell tale hissing noise, but it never came. I waited for almost two hours before deciding to have a walk around the site. There are still no signs of any fledged Kestrels, nor any adult birds. I'm beginning to fear that the male I found dead last week, was the Woodland male. Depending on how far along the young (if there were any) had developed, I'm not sure if the female Kestrel will have been able to cope on her own. I sadly do think this year we will not see any young Kestrels at Cranford Park. All the Kestrel web cams I watch have shown all the young to have left the nest now, with the exception of Simon Kings web cam which is down in Dorset. Surprisingly his kestrel chicks only hatched a week ago.
 But I remain an optimist and made my way to the kestrel nest tree. There's a huge old tree that came down across the haha and path earlier in the year. Its too big and heavy to move out of the way, so has been cut in half so the path way remains open. Its here that I normally sit and wait to see if there is any Kestrel activity in the woods. I had just approached the log this morning and was about to swing down my rucksack when a bird that I hadn't noticed, flew up from the other log opposite. It wasn't a Kestrel, it was an adult Little Owl !! It sat in a tree up high scowling down at me, but no matter how many photos I fired off, my newly cleaned camera decided to focus on the surrounding foliage, instead of on the bird. The owl flew off shortly after that, so I raced back round to the Little Owls nest tree, and there I heard hissing. I scanned the branches and the foliage a thousand times, and still could not spot the juveniles. They weren't poking their head out of the nest hole, the hissing noise was coming from above that. And that basically is how I managed  to spend nearly eight hours there today, without getting one photo of the owls. I'd hide myself on the bench nearby until the hissing started then carefully and stealthily move around the tree. A few times I saw a juvenile hope from one branch to another, but by the time my camera was to my eye, it had moved on again.
So no photos of Little Owls, and no sign of Kestrels. Below is a link to Tony's blog, there may not be any sightings of Kestrels at Cranford Park yet, but at least Tony has had some brilliant views of a whole family from the luxury of his balcony.
Else where around the park, the long grasses are looking magical. My photo does them no justice at all. They are several shades of pink and cream, and if I knew my wild flowers and grasses, I'd be able to tell you what they are.
In amongst them are patches of thistles and this lovely yellow flower, which this flower beetle obviously likes too.
I must have seen hundreds of Meadow Browns, Small Skippers and Six-spot Burnet butterflies and moths today. The grasses are really attracting them in.
Six-spot Burnet moth
Small Skipper
The woodlands are attracting different varieties, mainly Speckled Wood, and I saw my first Red Admiral of the year there today.
Speckled Wood
Red Admiral
Patches of nettles are still home to thousands of Peacock butterfly caterpillars.
I don't know what these two critters are, though I have a good idea of what they're doing !
The high light of my day though, was finding a stunning female Banded Demoiselle. This is a first for me at Cranford Park, and I'd been hoping to see one since I'd found a male a little while ago.
Bird wise, except for the elusive Little Owls ,it was very very quiet. I caught glimpses of Goldcrests, Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers and the odd Wren. The birds most seen were Crows, Woodpigs, Blackbirds, Robins and Magpies. The pair below are obviously a youngster with an adult.
So an interesting if frustrating type of day. I'm very tempted to get back there very early tomorrow as work duties call on Wednesday, and the juveniles are already very active.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Whitethroats, Wabbits and a Damsel in distress at work today

So the predicted heat wave has begun. I was at work today, camera in situ, and knowing the heat was going to rise later in the day and not a lot would be around, was down in the paddocks at the back of the yard at 7am, with the work mobile phone.
At the back of the paddocks just before the skip yard, Common Whitethroats had nested in the brambles. I watched both parents for ages, then a juvenile popped up, but only the one. The three then played 'peek-a-boo' in the shrubs for a while before I managed to grab a couple of photos of one of the adults and the lone youngster.
Apart from the Whitethroats, there wasn't much else around in the way of birds. Two Common Terns flew over towards the fishing lake next door, there were a pair of Linnet flitting around, a large family group of Magpies were noisily chattering to each other and a solo Greenfinch called its grating song from the rubble bank. However there were loads of young rabbits in the paddocks. You can get quite close to them as they have not yet learnt to fear us human beans.
I spotted a few Cinnabar moths, and lots of Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were flying around in pairs. This one below stopped for a breather on the fence before it flew off with another one.
The dirt track going from my work yard, through the paddocks and down to the skip yard, is smothered either side by natural wildflowers and grasses. This is where I have been finding hundreds of damselflies over the last few weeks. 
Only the three species so far, Common Blue, Azure and Blue-tailed.
The Common Blue below unfortunately chose the wrong place to rest. Within seconds of it landing (and me getting my mis-behaving camera to focus on it) a spider appeared and grabbed it. The spider was so well camouflaged that it took me a while to comprehend what was happening. All I noticed at first was the damsel thrashing about trying to fly off.
 The sequence from photo one to photo five actually took an hour. In total I took 56 photos during that hour of this damsels fight for freedom.
 I've had to ask around for an identification of the spider, and the knowledgeable Howard V has suggested it could be a male Nursery Web spider. They don't form webs, they hunt other insects, and spiders, by hiding in long grasses, catching and killing their prey with a lethal bite, then wrapping it in a silky cocoon as a present to their female. While the female is busy eating her present, the male takes the opportunity to have his wicked way with her. Typical male !!!! Lol.
Sadly due to work commitments, I couldn't stay to watch if the spider wrapped the damselfly up, or see if he found a female to offer his 'gift' too. But it was a new experience so well worth watching and waiting for.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Skimmer and Sid at RSPB Rainham

I went back to RSPB Rainham today. My last visit on the 26th June was a bit of a let down due to the weather, so today with the sun shining, I decided to have another go.
I had two targets today. I really wanted to get my first photo of the year of a dragonfly. I didn't care what variety. I've seen hundreds of damselflies, and only a few brief glimpses of dragonflies, but none that I was able to photograph. I also really hoped I would see a stoat today as well. There were some fantastic photos on the RSPB Rainham Facebook page recently of him/her scampering along a path. Some of the staff have nick-named him/her as Sid.
So with high hopes I was at Rainham by 8.30am. A quick gander along the sea wall gave me good views of Linnets, Goldfinches, House Sparrrows and some distant views of a Pipit. Once on site the first bird I came across was the resident female Kestrel. She sat and posed while four of us snapped away, until we realised she appeared to have a very sore eye.
Luckily after what seemed ages, she finally opened it. I don't know if its a sticky membrane or not. It didn't appear to bother her, she wasn't attempting to scratch it, and later in the day I saw her several times hunting over the site with the eye open, so its not affecting her hunting. In fact she kept popping up wherever I went today. It felt quite nice to be accompanied by one of my favourite birds.
On a pylon by the Marshland Discovery Zone
On the roof of the Shooting Butts Hide
I was really chuffed to see this Seven-spot ladybird with its young larvae. I found lots of larvae today, but this is the first time I've seen an adult with one. What a great comparison.
All along the reeds I could hear and see brief glimpses of Sedge and Reed warblers, Reed Buntings, and the odd tantalising glimpse of a dragonfly. Skylarks were in the air singing and 'parachuting'. Apart from the somewhat gusty wind, it was turning into a really pleasant day. I decided to head back to the cafĂ© for lunch and a coffee, before exploring the rest of the site.
Just as I stepped on the bridge by the Purfleet Hide, I saw something clamber onto the boards. Sid !!!! I know from previous experience its best to stay as still as you can if you want to photograph them. Stoats and weasels have atrocious eyesight, and rely mainly on movement and smell to catch their prey. So I stood completely still. Hence my photos are sadly looking down on Sid, I'd have much rather been down on its level. After poking its head out several times, it started making its way to the other side of the bridge, and was just about to come out on the path when I was passed by  some woman, who honestly could not have missed the fact I was taking photos, but who was obviously in too much of a rush to notice, or give a damn. Sid disappeared into the undergrowth, and although I hung around for a little while, it didn't reappear.
After lunch I checked the bridge to see if I could spot Sid but to no avail. However I will treasure those moments I had it to myself. What a little charmer, and what a shame they can be such vicious little sods when it comes to their prey ! No wonder I didn't see any Water Voles at the bridge today.
I carried on my wandering, and further along by the Reedbed classroom, I caught a glimpse of something settle on the path. A dragonfly ??? Better than that, it was a stunning Black-tailed Skimmer, my first of the year, and I think its an immature male one. Jackpot !
I could have gone home happy by this stage, but I trotted on with a sly smile on my face.
On the Northern boardwalks, I found this caterpillar. In fact I found almost twenty of them spread over the area. I don't know if they are Small Tortoiseshell or Red Admiral caterpillars, but they were very pretty and roughly the length of my little finger.
The sun had bought the lizards out too, the first I've managed to photograph this year.
The one below appears to be pregnant, though I was told by an expert a couple of years ago, that lizards will puff out like this and flatten out their body to get the heat from the surface, but it sure looks pregnant to me.
So I ended up having a really good day. I got my two targets and caught the sun as well. The only frustrating thing was it was quite windy, so trying to get photos of the Sedge warblers and any other dragonflies was near on impossible. Here are pics of the best of the rest.....
male Reed Bunting
Reed Warbler
Small Skipper
Small Tortoiseshell