Thursday, 27 February 2014

Sweet Skylarks and eyesore School buildings at Lake Farm CP

I've been avoiding going to Lake Farm for the last few weeks. Now that the new school building is well under way, the park depresses me every time I visit. However I have a couple of friends who regularly walk their dog over there, and one of them often texts me photos of the complete mess Lake Farm is now in. She also advised me that other dog walkers are hearing rumours that what remains of Lake Farm has already been ear-marked for more school buildings in the future.
I really hope this isn't true, and would like an honest answer to that rumour. So todays blog will not only be posted as usual on my Facebook page, but will also be sent to John McDonnell, Eric Pickles, Boris Johnson, Ray Puddifoot and the local Gazette. Only John McDonnell has shown any concern to what happens to Lake Farm, so I hope between all of them, we get some honest answers.
The front of the site along Botwell Lane looks beautiful with all the crocuses in flower, and the site management team have been very thoughtful in painting the boundary fence to match the flowers. It looks like the crocus patch will be saved from being dug up, and that is a good thing as local school children planted those bulbs in 2000.
The 'Eden' Skylark statue is behind the purple fence. You can view the building works behind the fence, through 'port holes' all along it. It looks like the Skylark statue will also be staying as its been fenced off by waist high metal mesh panels. Well the new schools nicking our land, so why not steal our park symbol too !!!!
The rest of the building site is just that, an eyesore of a building site. I was talking to someone from outside the area this morning, who genuinely thought the council was building a warehouse.
When the original plans were submitted, the path that crosses from one side of the park to the other (from the Navnat fields to Botwell Common Road) was the boundary line. The school was to be built to the right of the path (from the Navnat end) and everything to the left of the path was to stay as Lake Farm. Late last year the plans were changed to accommodate a larger car park (funny how those new plans got pushed through the Planning Committee in double quick time), so the path way has now been built over, and a new path way lain to go around the new school site. That area has been home to several pairs of Skylark and Meadow Pipits over the last ten years that I've been visiting Lake Farm, so already the bird life is being pushed back.
The original path starts to bend to the right, and used to go straight across. Now its diverted sharply to the left and around the fencing that you can see in the top left of this photo.
To add insult to injury, the entrance that myself and a lot of others use is on Botwell Lane near the junction of Printing House Lane. That's now closed off, despite us being assured by the Council it would remain open for access to the park. My photo below is not clear, but the old entrance is the green gate on the left.
And from the path by the Navnat field, the path is closed off with a very amusing sign up......
Todays date is the 27th February !!!

I was told by one of the workers, that the new path had been delayed due to the recent heavy rain which had made the area waterlogged. Funny how the waterlogging didn't affect the rest of the building works, only that particular path way. It seems to me that the Council doesnt really care about the people who use the park for walking their dogs, exercising, watching wildlife or even using it as a cut through to get from Dawley Road to Hayes Town. All that matters is getting the school up and running for the opening this Autumn. Sod us locals. Our opinions have never been taken into consideration.
The sign below is currently up outside WH Smith in the town. How ironic when Lake Farm was awarded a Green Flag five times since 2006. Now its being ripped up and built on, and the Green Flag which used to be up on a pole by the Skylark statue, has disappeared.
Wonder when they will change the sign to read '23' ?
Something else that got my back up today was the complete destruction in the copse by the canal. Trees, shrubs and bushes haven't been pruned, they've been hacked down. There was nothing wrong with the shrubbery in that area, so don't fix something that isn't broken !!
This used to be a lovely little path through the copse,
 now nearly all of the trees and shrubs on the right have been hacked down.
I didn't only go to Lake Farm today to moan about the new school and how the park is being ruined.
 I also came to see what birds are around. I've been coming here now for over ten years, and generally know the best areas to find any birds, especially the resident all year stayers.
To be honest when I started this blog back in January 2013, Lake Farm was my 'patch' and my favourite place to visit, now days you are more likely to find me at Cranford Park, but in Peter Naylors memory I promised to keep visiting the Lake Farm site.
Before I go into what I did see today, here are some facts about what birds have been faithfully recorded as being seen at LF.
In January 2010, Peter Naylor reported seeing 17 Meadow Pipits in one day. In the same month in 2013, I recorded seeing eight Meadow Pipits. Today I saw two.
In February 2010, Peter reported seeing six Reed Buntings. In February 2013 I recorded an all time high of 22 Reed Buntings. Today I didn't see any.
In February 2010, Peter reported seeing 25 House Sparrows. In February 2013 I recorded seeing 28 House Sparrows. Today I saw five.
In February 2010, Peter reported seeing two Stonechats. In February 2013 I recorded seeing three Stonechats. Today I saw none, and that is the first time in over ten years that Stonechats have not over-wintered at Lake Farm.
So are the new school building works affecting the birds. Yup !
The only consistent record appears to be the Skylarks. In February 2010, Peter reported three. In February 2013 I also recorded three. Today I saw four (more about them later). In July and August there can be as many as twenty Skylarks on the site, but this year we will have to wait and see. As mentioned earlier, the building site has already encroached on to their nesting ground, and if the birds are pushed further up the park there could be quite a few territorial disputes.
So back to the birds seen today.......
On the BMX tracks I found the Linnets, a guaranteed place to see them.......if you can get near enough without spooking them off.
A Kestrel flew over the park. There used to be a pair that would regularly perch on the posts, but they disappeared a few years ago. Hopefully a new pair will take up resident.
In the copse by the canal the remaining shrubs and trees were alive with Blue Tits, Robins, Great Tits, Blackbirds, Magpies, Woodpigeons and Long-tailed Tits. I managed to grab one photo of a LTT before it darted behind the branch.
But back to the Skylarks. This is probably the best time of year to see them. The grass is short enough to see them on the ground, and when they're flushed they fly up high and almost hover while singing. In a few weeks the grass will be longer and they will not be easy to spot. I've been watching these little lovelies for many years, and one thing they do tend to do is feed on the short mown grass paths that criss cross the park. If you do see one on a path, and want to get a better view, walk towards it very quietly and slowly and stop every now and then before continuing to walk towards it. You'll never get closer than ten feet but at least you'll be able to see the beautiful markings and crest of a bird that was once a symbol of Lake Farm Country Park, before it becomes a so-called symbol of the new Lake Farm School.
Peek-a-boo. Skylark hiding in the grass
Skylark. Note the wonderful crest.
Skylark on one of the short mown grass paths.
All Skylarks have a crest, but not all of them show it at this time of year.
Another Skylark hiding in the grass.
Skylark taking off.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Spring is breaking at Cranford Park

The first thing I heard as I entered Cranfood Woods this morning, was a loud drumming. I traced the sound to a male Great Spotted Woodpecker on a partial rotted tree. He was so intent on drumming and then pulling pieces of bark away that I was able to watch him for some time.
His behaviour was fascinating. He was drumming on one side of the tree then coming round to the rotten part, and pulling loads of rotten wood and bark away. I'm not sure if this bark is too soft for him to make a proper nest hole in, or if he was just searching for food, but either way he was definitely trying to impress the ladies with his prolonged and noisy drumming.
Everywhere birds were singing today. Robins, Great Tits and Blue Tits were not only calling but seemed to be pairing up and chasing each other around.
Greenfinches and Goldfinches were abundant and singing along the walk way from the Crane pub, and Wrens were popping up everywhere 'trilling' loudly.
A Blue Tit was investigating the nest box outside the Information Centre. In 2012 the nest box was used by Great Tits, but last year the Blue Tits got there first and used the box, and the Great Tits had to make do with a cleverly concealed trunk hole at the back of the tree. As I was leaving today a Great Tit was also investigating the nest box, so it will be interesting to see who uses it this year.
Green Woodpeckers and Jays were also very vocal but no matter how hard I tried, I could not get a photo of either of them today. Woodpigeons and Magpies were gathering twigs and taking them to the tops of trees, nesting season for them is early.
It's been an incredibly mild and wet winter, we've had no snow and only a handful of mornings where frost has been present. This is reflected in all the funky fungi that are still fruiting on various cut and fallen logs that are dotted around the woods.
Anyone who knows me will say my favourite bird of prey is the Kestrel, and they would be right, although in early Summer my favouritism tends to swing towards Peregrines. 
Last year the Cranford Park Kestrels tricked me by choosing a different nest tree to the one they had seemed to favourite in the first place. Today I was sitting on a log by the first nest tree when I heard a Kestrel 'chirp' and glanced up to see three birds sitting in the branches very close to the old Woodpigeon nest, that I was so convinced they would use last year. Breeding activity starts in February for Kestrels, when they start to re-establish their territories, but this year could be different for our local birds. In June last year I found a dead male Kestrel in the orchard area. Today I saw two males and a female. So last years poor dead bird could have been our resident bird, and what I witnessed today was a couple of males trying to muscle in and take over the territory. Sadly no photos of the trio, to be honest I didn't know they were there until the female 'chirped'. And although they all flew off following each other, there didn't seem to be any aggressive behaviour. The only other conclusion I can think of is these are last years juveniles. Only time will tell.
Further in the woodland I flushed another bird of prey, this time a fine male Sparrowhawk. He flew up high and I only managed a distant photo.
The marmite Parakeets were as noisy as ever. Along with the Magpies and Woodpigeons, Parakeets nest quite early. I saw several birds already checking out potential nest holes, including the female below. Males have a small black bib and a rosey line around the neck. Some people call them Ring-necked Parakeets, others call them Rose-ringed Parakeets, I call them Marmite Parakeets because you either love them or you hate them !
Up by the Headland area I heard the Buzzards before I saw them. The distinctive 'mew' could be heard coming from the M4 direction and then three Buzzard came into view. I tried very hard to get all three birds in one photo but failed.
At the River Crane there was no sign of any of the Little Grebes. The water has dropped quite a lot so I'm wondering if they've gone further down river. The only birds of note I saw there was a singing Robin and a stunning solo Crow.
From the stone bridge towards the car park, daffodils are almost ready to bloom. Some of the daffs, planted by the benches in the Memorial Garden, have already opened.
The old Magnolia by the Haha wall has started to bud on its bottom branches. It lost a couple of its mature upper branches during the December storms.
Back in the woods (yes I do tend to go round the park more than once), one of the older trees is still smothered in Mistletoe. When I zoomed in on a bunch, I could see it was bursting with berries. My photos below don't do it justice.
I went back to my log by the Kestrel tree for a rest, and was joined by a female Great Spotted Woodpecker. She wasn't on a tree trunk though, she was performing acrobatics hanging off a twig and vigorously attacking some seed heads.
In amongst the Bluebell leaves (no buds on them yet but its looking to be a promising display according to the carpets of leaves that are around) there were several bunches of Snowdrops.
Further on in the woods, I found another marmite Parakeet popping out of a nest hole.
So a great morning out at Cranford Park and I would have been out for longer, the weather was that good today, but my shoulder is still fairly painful. If only fresh air was a cure. 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Dip and glory at Staines Moor

The weather was good to me today, but the birds were not.
Staines Moor is a place I've always wanted to visit, but it's a bit off the beaten track for me who generally relies on public transport. Sue gets there quite a bit with Jasper the bird-dog, but due to its locality, she never stays until dusk when the owls are around.
So to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, I said I'd go with her if she drove us.
Over the last month a Short Eared Owl has been seen on a regular basis. It was to be a target bird for Sue and I today, along with a few others that had been sighted and noted on the London Birders website. I follow quite a few local birders blogs, two of them being Lee Dingains' blog based mainly at Staines Moor, and Peter Alfreys' blog based mainly at Beddington Farmlands. So who better to show Sue and I around Staines Moor than Lee. And to cut a long story short, it turned out Peter is a good friend of Lees so I duly made contact with them both, and we all arranged to meet up this afternoon.
I had three target birds today. SEO, Water Pipit and Woodcock. I'd previously seen SEO at Papercourt a few years ago, but I have never seen Water Pipit or Woodcock before.
First birds Sue and I saw and heard were Goldfinches, Robins, Greenfinches and Chaffinches, and that was just walking along the path to the Moor. Once there we also saw and heard Skylarks, a song that I could listen to all day. Meadow Pipits were in good numbers, along with several Little Egrets, a female Kestrel, a male Stonechat, a Buzzard being mobbed by a crow in the distance, Linnets, and finally two very flighty Water Pipits. A tick for me. No viewable photos though, the birds were very distant and often flying against the sun for me to get a decent photo. We did track one down on to a bank, but again a bit too far for my little camera to zoom in on.
So just three pics from the first couple of hours......

Little Egret
Meadow Pipit
Little Egret in flight
We then made our way back to the corner of the Moor and waited in anticipation for the SEO to make an appearance. We waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. Several other birders had also turned out for the owl and were dotted around the site. After a while Lee suggested we walk further along a channel, where on two previous occasions recently a Bittern had been seen to fly into the reeds on the other side at around dusk time. Well if we didn't get to see the SEO than the sight of a Bittern flying in would be a good consolation prize. So we waited. And waited. And waited.
Fieldfares started to settle on the tops of the trees as the sun went down. At least three Common Snipe flew over from the reservoir. A Cettis Warbler called from the reed beds. Other birds like Wrens, Blackbirds and Robins started singing from their chosen roosts. And still we waited. And waited. And waited. Then suddenly, very low down and coming in fast, the Bittern flew in and dropped into the reeds no more than fifteen feet away from us. It happened so quick that Sue missed it completely and I only caught a seconds glance, but its one I wont forget in a hurry.
Sunset over Staines Moor
The SEO never did show up, and as the other birders drifted away, it was time for Lee, Peter, Sue and I to do a bit of Woodcock stalking. Lee has an almost 100% track record for seeing these shy birds after dark, so Sue and I had to remind him I do have a reputation as being a bit of a jinx when it comes to seeing a bird that I set my heart on. We persisted anyway. For 45 minutes we walked in a line stumbling amongst the ant hills in almost complete darkness. Every now and then we stopped so Lee could swoop his torch light in an arc to try to pick up any Woodcocks skulking.
Did we find any ? Did we duck ! I wasn't overly surprised knowing my luck, but I was satisfied with what I had seen. I dipped on the SEO and Woodcock, but I got my Water Pipits and the icing on the cake was the low flying Bittern.
I may not have got many photos today, but the company and their knowledge, more than made up for it. So a huge thanks to Peter (link to Peters blog) and an even bigger thanks to Lee (link to Lees blog) for taking the time today to show Sue and I around.
Lee Dingain. Birding with waders.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Unplanned visit to the London Wetland Centre

I knew I wanted to get out and about today, but my shoulder was so painful last night that I decided to wait and see how I felt this morning, rather than make any plans that I might have had to cancel.
Once the codeine had kicked in, I decided to spend the afternoon at the London Wetland Centre, somewhat unwisely as not only had I forgotten it was school half term, I also forgot that Hammersmith Bridge is closed for maintenance.
The usual 283 'duck' bus is not allowed to go across the bridge but for some reason both the 72 and 209 are, so I hopped on one of them and got off at The Red Lion pub.
I don't mind seeing kids at the Wetland Centre, so long as they aren't running around the hides.
Sadly today that is what the majority of them were doing, so I spent a lot of my time dodging in and out of hides and trying to avoid the noisiest families (there were at least six families that were letting their children run riot).
At the feeder station by the Explore play ground, there used to be two hanging feeders next to two ground ones, but both hanging ones have now been put behind the ground ones, so not only do you have difficulty trying to see what birds are on the hanging feeders, getting a photo is near on impossible unless you shuffle to the left and try to grab a shot through reeds and branches. I managed to get just one poor shot of a Great Spotted Woodpecker before a couple of kids came running along screaming and shouting and spooked it off.
From the Peacock tower, I saw four distant Snipe, a good number of Widgeons, a few Shoveller, Teal and Gadwall, the usual Mallards, Moorhens and Coots, three Heron, lots of gulls, and finally a Bittern (thanks Maryann for spotting it). It was showing on and off, so I stayed put hoping it would maybe fly or climb higher up the reeds. It done neither, and below was the best photo I could get with my 300mm zoom lens.......
This was taken from the Peacock looking over to the WWF hide. The bird above was to the left of the hide, but another birder soon saw another Bittern in the reeds to the right of the WWF hide, and reports were coming in of another Bittern that was being seen in the reed bed directly opposite the Dulverton hide. So there are at least three Bitterns on site at the moment, with sightings of a possible fourth seen from the Headley hide.
By the time I got to the Headley the fourth Bittern had gone deep into the reeds, so I consoled myself with watching a pair of Cormorants.
I could have stayed there, sitting on a nice comfortable chair, for some time, but its an 'educational' hide now so several kids and their parents were coming in and talking loudly.
I took a slow walk back to the Peacock and came across a Great Crested Grebe in the channel outside. He was alone but looking quite magnificent. Crouched down low on the bridge I managed to get several shots as he got nearer and nearer.
I decided to take a chance for my last hour there. Knowing that there were two Bitterns in the reeds either side of the WWF hide, I perched myself in there, hoping I just MIGHT get a shot of one or both of them flying across the lake at roost time. Well it didn't happen, the warden came round just before dusk to lock up, and I had to leave.
My last photo is of a beast of a bird, a Black-backed gull that came into roost right in front of the WWF hide.
It was a fairly good few hours, and I apologise if I upset any parents with my comments about the kids. But at the end of the day the Wetland Centre should be a Nature Reserve first and a kids playground last. Not one adult apologised or tried to hush their screaming children today, no kids were told not to run around the hides, no kids were removed from the hides. It made for a bit of a trying day especially when you consider the WWT had put on special events for half term to keep the kids occupied, and has its own playground on site. So it's not the kids I blame, it's the parents.
It wasn't all bad though, I did get to see John, Michael and Maryann today, and saw three separate Burt Bitterns.