Sunday, 30 March 2014

Singing Blackcaps and a brief glimpse of a Merlin at Cranford Park

I was sitting by the Kestrel nest site at 7.30am this morning. The park is so beautifully quiet at that time of day, with it being too early for any loud traffic noises all you can hear are the birds singing.
I also really wanted to check on the Green Woodpecker nest site, especially after yesterday when there was no sign of them and a Marmite Parakeet was investigating the hole. Settling myself down on the log it took just minutes to spot the male Green Woodpecker further down the tree. He soon moved up and continued to excavate. Great news.

After this I met up with Tony by the Kestrels nest site. Just above the nest itself, the male Kestrel was perched. No sign of the female (and we know she's not on the nest yet as we later watched a very cheeky Woodpigeon go in it)
Later on in the morning Sue and Jasper the bird-dog joined us. We had some more views of the male Kestrel perched in the copse by the river, but still no sign of the female.
The first high-light of my day was the wonderful showy male Blackcap singing away. I nearly walked straight past it, but Tonys ears picked up its song and we stopped to get these wonderful views. Perfect. We also heard and saw four more around the park.
Both Tony and Sue now know where the Wren nest is (no sign of Mr Wren today but the nest is intact) and the Green Woodpecker nest hole is. Between the three of us, we should be able to monitor them plus the Kestrels.
Almost on the edge of the woods we found this stunning Stock Dove investigating a hole in the hollow. Could this be another potential nest site to watch ? There are also a pair of Stock Doves showing great interest in the broken off top of the Green Woodpecker nest tree, and several Jackdaws making nests in the same area.
Plenty of activity with the Great Spotted Woodpeckers this morning. A lot were flying overhead calling and we heard more drumming. I've yet to locate a GSW nest hole yet, none of the previous two years sites have shown any sign of being re-used.
As the sun made its way through the cloud, so the butterflies appeared. More Commas and Peacocks, Sue got a stunning photo of a Holly Blue, and the elusive Brimstone was even more elusive by continuously failing to stop for a photo.
For the last hour of this mornings outing, we waited around the Kestrel nest site. We got brief views of two very distant Kestrels (don't think they were our birds), plus a Red Kite soared over, followed shortly by a Buzzard, then three Buzzards soared above together.
Then my second high-light of  the day, a small bird of prey appeared over the trees. I was too busy watching it to lift my camera, so a completely missed photo opportunity. Within seconds it had disappeared over the other side, and Sue and I both said 'Merlin' at the same time. The bent wings and size of the bird really indicated this and as soon as I got home I compared b.o.p silhouettes, and it definitely was a Merlin. I know they have been seen over this area before as an injured one was found in the woods several years ago and successfully released after treatment. We waited patiently for it to re-appear but it didn't and its flight course suggested it had gone through without stopping.
Buzzard silhouette
 There were several Chiffchaffs singing, but apart from brief glimpses, no photos today of the noisy little warblers. Tony and I also saw one of the Kingfishers on the river, but again no photos of the shy little blue bird.
 I'm starting to get that inner feeling that the Kestrels have fooled me again. No sign at all of the female today, and they didn't mate. As mentioned above, we know she's not on the nest as we watched a Woodpigeon go in there. Plus four Buzzards and a Red Kite went over, and the male Kestrel didn't react at all. Just a couple of days ago both the female and male Kes would have mobbed the larger raptors. Plus we found the male by the river earlier yet recently he's been only seen around the nest tree.
I'm back at work tomorrow, and wont be able to visit again until Friday. It's going to be a long four days.
So a very interesting and lovely walk around the park with Tony and Sue. Lots to see and listen to. The weather was just right, not cold and not too warm.
Last, but not least, a photo of Jasper the bird-dog.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

A Flutterby morning at Cranford Park

After yesterdays exciting day, I was back at Cranford Park this morning to check on my three nest sites.  As always, I took my coffee to the Kestrel nest tree first and sat around waiting. I couldn't see either of the Kestrels for quite a while, then a distinct alarm call came up followed by a Buzzard drifting over, with of course, both Kestrels not far behind it. It's nice to see they're still protecting their tree, I just hope they stick to it this year. Last year they completely fooled me by choosing two nest sites and decided to nest in the one I haven't yet located.
I managed to get a couple of photos of the male. I've stopped taking photos high up as it hurts my shoulder, but I could see through my bins that the male has sustained some damage to his tail.
It's obviously not affecting his flying, nor his ability to mate and guard his tree, so I'm not overly worried. Several times during my morning walk in the woods, I heard the familiar 'trilling' call which meant mating was commencing. Hopefully egg laying should start at the end of March or beginning of April.
Whilst I was waiting for the Kestrels, I watched this stunning little Blue Tit gathering insects on one of the conifers. It's very difficult to 'sex' Blue Tits, but at this time of year males generally have a brighter blue head than the female.
The Wren nest is still going strong. The male has now almost finished building his elaborate small cylinder shaped nest, and when I saw him today he was taking in mouthfuls of moss, probably to shove into any gaps to make it less droughty. I only saw him go in the nest once this morning as I was on a short visit. I managed to get a couple of photos of him peering out. The first photo I've cropped quite a bit, to show just how intricate the nest is. A lot of hard work and energy goes into building such a complex little nest. If the female accepts this nest, she will start lining it with feathers before laying between five and eight eggs. But I do fear the nest is too exposed and too near the path, for the female to decide she feels safe in it. Only time will tell, and tomorrow I'm showing the nest to my two fellow Cranford Park birder friends, in the hope that between the three of us we can monitor the nest on a near daily basis.
I found my first bluebell today. It's quite early for this lovely woodland flower to open, but this particular one is in a position where it gets sunlight all day, rather than being in shade for part of it.
On the River Crane I was again treated to distant views of both the male and female Kingfisher. No photos today of either of them. I can follow where they land through my bins, but if I try to walk closer, they soon take off.
The drake Mallards on the river are also behaving territorially. I caught this one (with the sun behind him) about to land on another.
I had three disappointing moments today. The first was at the Green Woodpecker nest site. It appears that Marmite Parakeets have already found the nest hole. Whilst I was there this morning, a male Marmite was checking out the hole intently and I couldn't locate either the male or female Green Woody. The Marmite wasn't going all the way in to the hole though, so it looks as if the male Green Woodpecker hadn't finished excavating all the debris out from its nest last year. When I walked around to the other side, the female Marmite was sitting on a twig very close to the hole. I don't mind the Parakeets but I was really hoping the Woodpeckers would use that nest hole, as its the only viewable one I've found this year so far. I'll check again tomorrow. Green Woodys have been known to see off Parakeets, so fingers crossed for this nest site.
The Magnolia by the Haha wall has finally blossomed. Not many flowers on it this year, but plenty of green leaf buds.
My second disappointment of the morning came as I was leaving. I go under the arch at the stable blocks to make my way home. Most mornings in the doorway, there is a tramp asleep there. He doesn't like early mornings, he's always still asleep when I see him. He causes no trouble and is actually very conscientious and clean. As soon as he's awake, he has a wash in the Information Centre loo and even shakes out the door mat there. I've also seen him 'air' his blankets and sleeping bag over the benches, before packing everything away and disappearing for the day leaving behind no rubbish at all. Because he is generally asleep when I arrive, I don't hang around in case I wake him, but leaving today after he had gone, I couldn't help but notice the door has been smashed in at the top. There's a very new padlock on the door itself, but above that someone has actually managed to break through the wooden slats. Late last year Bob and I discovered someone had also tried to jemmy open the door to the Secret Garden. What is going on with these mindless acts of vandalism ???? I honestly don't believe its the Cranford Park tramp. His behaviour in the way he is so tidy and tries to keep himself clean, doesn't leave rubbish or empty alcohol bottles or cans around, doesn't sound like the type of man who would try to break down a few doors !
My third disappointment of the day was some little tea-leaf has taken every last toilet roll from the Information Centre loo. Two days ago the holder was full and there were three more rolls left out. I guess the only solution is to now make sure I carry a roll in my pocket every time I visit !!!
The stars of today though, were the Butterflies. The warm sunny weather today meant they were everywhere.
There were Speckled Woods....
and my first Holly Blue of the year....
........but the most prolific were the Peacocks. I counted twelve individuals today, and that included three 'fighting' near the Crane pub entrance. They love to bask open winged in the sun (unlike the Holly Blue which generally sunbathes with its wings closed). The males are very territorial and if you see two or three butterflies flying together and 'mingling' it is likely they will be Peacocks squabbling over a territory. They are also amongst the first butterflies to lay eggs. The caterpillars can be seen en masse on most nettle patches in a few weeks time.
So another enjoyable short visit. However I've been so immersed in the three nest sites and the Kingfishers that I've almost ignored the rest of the park, and I hope to rectify that tomorrow.

Friday, 28 March 2014

My first Bullfinch EVER, and other birds at Pulborough and Waltham Brooks

Before I start my blog, I need to remind everyone, I am EASILY pleased. I do not keep a year list, lifer list and I'm not a 'twitcher', but I do get a huge kick out of seeing a bird for the first time.
For me today was all about getting away for a day and hopefully seeing a Great Grey Shrike.
One has been reported at Waltham Brooks for some time now, and inspired by some great pictures on the Sussex Birders Facebook page recently, I happily went there with Susan. Last year I had distant views of one at Thursley Common, so the GGS was not a first time bird for me.
We got away early and missed all the traffic, the weather forecast was not good for the first couple of hours, but we were determined to see the Great Grey Shrike. We drove through one heavy rain shower and arrived just as the rain stopped. It was still quite chilly though and very overcast and as we stood on the bridge, Susan located the Shrike. It was fairly close, but as soon as we both lifted our cameras to take a photo, it dived down, and despite another hour looking we could not re-locate it. We were then momentarily doubtful that we had seen it.
We did however see a beautiful Fox and our first of many Chiffchaffs. We also saw two Red Kites. One soared down low over the water, the other was much higher up.
distant Red Kite
The forecast for the afternoon was dry with sunny intervals (remind me never to believe the BBC Weather website again!), So we decided to pop down to Pulborough Brooks, a RSPB reserve close by and pop back to Waltham in the afternoon. I haven't been to Pulborough for some time, but it's a reserve I should visit more often.
As we walked through the entrance Susan mentioned we might see Bullfinches. 'Pffffft' I scoffed, 'you've got no chance if you're with me'. I am well known amongst my friends for being a 'Bullfinch deterrent'. They've been seen on my patch, but never by me. My friend Sue, gets them regularly on her patch, but whenever I go there with her, they're not to be seen. Last April at Pulborough, people were sighting them on the same day I was there, but not me. There are sites for them all over my local area, yet I have never seen one. So I scoffed at Susans suggestion, and we made our way around the reserve.
There were plenty of little birds to see. The Greenfinch below positively glowed in the dim light.
We were coming close to the Courtyard when Susan called out 'Bullfinch' and to be honest, I really didn't believe her, but she was a few steps ahead of me and could see one clearly in the blossom trees. As I caught up with her, I could then see it. My first ever Bullfinch !! And it was a stunning full plumage male. It was hard to photograph amongst the branches, and I hopped about following its progress down the little avenue (much to the amusement of a couple who stopped to chat to Susan), until I eventually grabbed one half way decent photo. By this time I didn't care that it was a crap picture, I was just so chuffed to have finally seen one.
There were actually two males flitting from tree to tree and eating juicy green buds, but I only managed to photograph the one. So welcome to my first record shot of a male Bullfinch. Phhhhwoooooarrrrr :)
We walked down into the Courtyard from there and saw the devastating damage the winter storms had done. A good 70% of the conifers and fir trees were lying on the floor, broken either a few feet off the ground or completely ripped up from the roots. However, rather than the damage deterring the birds, we could hear plenty of them amongst the broken branches. Goldcrests were particularly vocal and we must have seen (and tried to photograph) at least three or four birds (my poor shot below) before a movement out of the corner of my eye made me swing round and briefly glimpse a Weasel run across the path way. Then it came out again and ran across. I pointed out the area to Susan, and to our delight it ran out again. My camera just didn't focus on it in time, but Susan did manage to capture it, and it was her first ever photo of a Weasel.
 I'll be publishing Susans photo on my next blog post but back to today. So far we then had two 'firsts'. My first sighting and photo of a Bullfinch and Susans first photo of a Weasel.
My very poor photo of a Goldcrest amongst the broken conifer branches
Walking on, we were chatting away when I noticed something on the path way in front of us. Another male Bullfinch !! We crept nearer and after it flew into one of the hedges, I finally got my best view of the day.
With a permanent smile plastered to my face we then made our way to Jupps viewpoint and watched Little Egrets, Shelducks and Wigeons. Behind one of the benches there was a Wren singing loudly. For the second time in two days I was then witness to a Wren building a nest. He would fly nearby and pull up loads of moss before carrying the lot back into a cleverly concealed hole amongst the ivy, right by us. I was too busy watching to grab any photos, but hopefully Susan got some.
We wandered down to Nettleys Hide from there and got the usual views of the resident Roe Deer herd. Susan also saw a Peregrine fly across the marsh but we couldn't locate it afterwards.
Positioning ourselves around the roomy hide, Susan called out 'Snipe', and there, not more than five or six foot away, was a stunning Common Snipe. We watched it for a while with the hide window down, then gently and quietly opened it and got the best views of a Snipe that I have ever had.
What a stunner !! Could the day really get any better ?
It could.
Following the path back, we could hear what we had been clearly hearing the whole time. A very close by Nuthatch. We located it on a tree very viewable from the top path, and it was intent on checking out a bird nesting box. It was definitely in a territorial mood as it not only swooped several times on a Grey Squirrel that got too close, it also chased off another Nuthatch.
It did go inside the box but I didn't manage to capture that, I was too busy being astounded by the sight of ANOTHER male Bullfinch ! And he had a female with him. I wasn't quick enough to photograph the pair, and again we couldn't relocate them afterwards, but I was more than happy.
 Five Bullfinches in just one morning..............sigh :)
So after my dry arid spell of never seeing one of these gorgeous little chubby birds, it turns out they really are like buses. You wait ages for one, then a load turn up together !
By this time, Susan and I were more than ready for a cuppa. We'd been down 'adder alley' but seen no adders (not surprising really, the promised sunshine had not really happened and it was still quite chilly) and were making our way back past West Mead hide when I saw a small bird dart up a tree. 'Treecreeper' I called. 'No its a Nuthatch' called back Susan. And we both looked at each other. In one tree there was a Treecreeper, and two trees away, was a Nuthatch. Happy days.
The Treecreeper isn't a 'bogey bird' of mine, but it is one that though often seen, has always been tricky to photograph, so I was quite pleased that two of the 28 photos I took, actually came out in focus.
At this point I was almost skipping along. I say 'almost' as my shoulder was now 'complaining' along with my knee, back and hip. So no, I wasn't skipping at all, but my happiness was.
All through the morning we had seen great numbers of Rooks. I really love seeing these birds probably because I rarely see them around my patch or anywhere in West London (although I am aware of a large Rookery near RAF Northolt). I can't help but stop and stare when I see a Rook. They're almost primeval in appearance, but have so much character.
At the café, with a lovely much needed coffee and slab of cake (yes, today I 'done' cake), we watched the birds on the feeders. There's a substantial population of House Sparrows at PB, a very much under-estimated bird in my opinion.

There were also numerous Great Tits, Blue Tits, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Fan-tailed Doves, a solo Coal Tit, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, Robins and even a pair of Rooks.
After our coffee and cake, we headed back to Waltham Brooks. The weather sadly had not cleared as promised. It was overcast and drizzly, but after searching the area again we eventually re-found the Great Grey a great distance.

The pale blob off centre, to the right, is an actual male Great Grey Shrike........honestly.....
We watched the bird for a good couple of hours. It was never still for long, always flying up and almost 'dancing' in the air catching insects (we think). A couple of other birders joined us on the bridge and it was easier to keep track of the GGS with more eyes, yet it still eluded us on occasions and popped up much further away.
So no great close up views like some of the lucky Sussex Birders Facebook members have got recently, but it was lovely to watch him flitting around. We also think we may have spotted its 'larder' Shrikes are also known as the Butcher Bird, and often store their food, whether it be a frog or Bumble Bee, on a thorn within a shrub. None of my photos came out clear enough, but he definitely spent quite a while within a certain shrubby tree 'positioning' things.
And to polish off my day out, we had a Kestrel, one of my favourite birds, perched nearby.
So my final thoughts on todays long-winded blog..............I GOT MY FIRST BULLFINCH !!!! Woooooooooohoooooooooo