Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Mid week afternoon stroll around Cranford Park

I haven't been able to get over to Cranford Park for the past few days, but I managed to get there for a few hours this afternoon.
For regular followers of my blog, this is the nest site update:-
There were no signs of either of the Kestrels. To me that indicates the female is almost certainly incubating her eggs now, high up in the evergreen canopy. The male was probably snoozing nearby. It must be hard for him at the moment as he's hunting for food for the both of them.
Despite visiting the Great Spotted Woodpecker nest tree three times this afternoon, I did not see either the male nor the female. I'm not overly concerned though, they could have been inside the hole or around the woods feeding. I will keep checking this tree.
I waited at the Wren nest site watchpoint for over half an hour, and saw no Wrens entering or leaving the nest. The nest is now very well camouflaged by ivy and brambles, but I'm still not sure if the female chose that nest or not. Again, I will keep checking this site.
The Stock Dove hollow also appears to be empty, but I have seen a pair foraging amongst the grass by the Oaks. They may have abandoned the hollow, it is fairly low down to be honest, and quite open to predators.
'The Battle of The Green Birds' looks like its been won by the Green Woodpecker, rather than the Parakeets. I found the male sitting on his usual branch by the nest hole. No sign of the female, but she could well be sitting on eggs by now. Sorry for the dreadful photo below, it was the best I could do without Mr Green spotting me.
Elsewhere around the park the most recent arrivals, the Common Whitethroats, are starting to pair up. I found two birds diving in and out of one bramble patch, and another pair further up the Headland area. At the moment they are being quite obliging and perching for a photo or three, but that will change once their chicks have hatched, and the best glimpse we'll get of them then is quick ones as they skulk in the undergrowth for food.
In one of the many Holly bushes in the woods, I heard the distinct call of a Long-tailed Tit, then more calls, then more calls. The air was just alive with loads of Long-tailed Tits calling. After much scanning with my binoculars I located this wonderful sight. At least fifteen newly fledged juvenile birds all lined up on one branch. They couldn't see me, so I managed to grab a few shots, but they don't do the scene justice. I have never witnessed this before, and I didn't dare try to move for a better view in case I spooked the little uns. After a few minutes they all dispersed in different directions, but one stayed behind a little longer than the others.
The nest box in front of the Information Centre is now occupied. Two years ago Great Tits nested in it. Last year Blue Tits got there first. So I was waiting to see who would nest in it this year.
The Great Tits have re-claimed it back. As I watched, both birds were going in and out of the nest box, so another new nest for me to observe over the next few weeks.
Up by the river I saw no Kingfishers again, but I was only there for a short while. I did find this Blue Tit though, who had discovered a feather stuck to a branch, and was systematically ripping it up.
Also no signs of the Little Owls. I scanned both copses, and the suspected nest tree, but not one sighting. Again, I'm not overly concerned. Our Little Owls are often only seen when the owlets fledge and perch in the Oaks.
Butterflies seen today were the usual sunbathing Peacocks, squabbling Speckled Woods, Green-veined Whites, male and female Orange-tips, male and female Holly Blues, and a couple of Small Tortoiseshell, including the obliging beauty below.

So a very pleasant walk around the woods and river. Everywhere is getting greener and lusher, the bluebells are just going over and the first juvenile woodland birds are starting to appear. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Four in one. Cranford Park, Staines Reservoir, Staines Moor and Lake Farm

Busy day today, and my legs will be confirming that tomorrow when they ache.
I started off at Cranford Park. Before meeting Sue and Jasper I had a brief check on the nest sites. No sign of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers though I did hear one of them calling from the tree later on. Also no sign of the Stock Doves, Kestrels nor Wrens, but it was only a brief check so that's not to say they're not around. At the Green Woodpecker nest tree, 'The Battle Of The Green Birds' appears to be continuing. A marmite Parakeet was checking out the nest hole, but not getting close enough to actually put its head inside. Does this mean there is a Green Woodpecker already inside ?
Or is a Parakeet in there ? As I watched two Jackdaws settled on one of the branches and the Parakeet went for them......
As I left the Parakeet remained on the branch, but a Green Woodpecker had landed just below the nest hole. An uneasy truce of some kind ? Only time will tell.
Parakeet at top right, Woodpecker at bottom left
I met up with Sue and Jasper shortly afterwards, with Sue advising me she'd seen the Little Owl again, in the same tree she had spotted it last week. As is the way with Little Owls, once you make eye contact they tend to fly off, and Sue lost sight of it in one of the copses.
From Cranford Park, we made a brief visit to Staines Reservoir. High-lights of our visit were two Oystercatchers and a Common Sandpiper. No photos of either from me. To see any decent birds here, you really need a scope. Other birds seen included hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, Common Terns, Gadwalls, Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Coots, Canada Goose, Mute Swans and this obliging pair of Great Crested Grebes.
From there we made our way to Staines Moor. Our last visit two months ago was when the moor was quite flooded, so this time it was nice to able to walk around more of the site, although we still didn't cover all of it. Birds seen but not photographed included Sedge Warbler, Greenfinch, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Wren, Garden Warbler, Redshank, Lapwing, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Little Egret, Skylark, Cettis Warbler, Reed Bunting, Linnet, Pied Wagtail, Heron, and several calling displaying Meadow Pipit, including the one below that kept going back to the same bridge.
From there we made a brief visit to Lake Farm, a place once so close to my heart but which just fills me with sadness whenever I visit now. The eyesore that is the new school looks uglier and uglier every time. Birds seen on this brief check included Whitethroats galore, they really were every where, lots of Linnets, a male Reed Bunting, and at least six Skylarks.
Common Whitethroat
So although a tiring day, it was a very interesting one. Sue and I used some colourful language several times, especially when both the Sedge and Garden Warblers weren't as obliging as the Mipits at Staines Moor, but it was a good day.
Butterflies seen were Peacock and Orange-tip at Cranford Park (photos of both below) plus several Small Tortoiseshells at Lake Farm.
tatty Peacock
female Orange-Tip
Early this morning at Cranford Park, I saw this very still Ladybird. On closer inspection it looked to have something attached to it. I posted my photo on the Facebook page 'Insects of Britain and Northern Europe', and this is what the wonderful enthusiasts on there told me. The Ladybird has been parasitised by the braconid wasp Dinocampus coccinellae, the brown thing is the wasp cocoon.  
The Ladybird Survey group are asking anyone who has sightings of this, to record them on their website. The link is
So last but by no means least, todays photo of Jasper the bird-dog having a roll in the sun....

Monday, 21 April 2014

My first Whitethroat and juvenile Marmite of the year, at Cranford Park

It was a beautiful morning at Cranford Park. Barely a cloud in the sky. First port of call after having my morning coffee at the outdoor classroom, was the Great Spotted Woodpeckers nest tree.
 Last week I witnessed them mating, so I was half hopeful the female would be inside the nest hole now. And she may well be. The first thing I saw was a GSW peering out of the hole. I took a couple of photos and then made the mistake of looking away. When I looked back a few seconds later, the male was on the outside of the trunk looking into the hole. Was my first photo also of the male ? Had he popped out while I looked away ? Or did I get a photo of the female first, and the male landed just after ? I will never know. The first photo isn't clear enough to see the back of the head.
I checked the Kestrels nest site, but saw no sign of either the male nor the female, though I did see the male a few hours later. More about his escapades further down the blog.
I also checked the Wrens nest site, but despite hanging around for nearly an hour, there was no sign of any Wrens. I checked the nest hole from a different angle with my binoculars, and I can see the nest has been lined with moss, but I cannot see any sign of a bird. I'll keep checking this nest though.
At the Green Woodpecker nest site, it looks as if The Battle Of The Green Birds is on-going. From the log watchpoint I could see the male on one side of the trunk, and a marmite Parakeet on the other.
There's also another watchpoint for the Green Woodpeckers, and that's from Chestnut Avenue. From there you can clearly see the nest hole. Several times during the morning I observed the male guarding the hole. As like last week, the air was full of Green Woodpeckers calling. The shot below is of the male caught in mid-call. Notice his posture. They extend their necks out when calling.
While I was watching Mr Green, I noticed these two marmite Parakeets. Originally I thought it was just another loved up pair, then I noticed the extremely short tail on the bird on the left. A juvenile. And while I watched the parent leaned over to feed it.

The wood land is looking so fresh and colourful at the moment, that I had to take a few photos. The one below is the corner of Cranford Woods just by the Headland area. 
And below is of the Green Woodpeckers original watchpoint, a rather comfortable log surrounded by bluebells.
Another favourite spot is from the Headland looking on to the outskirts of Cranford Wood.
It was whilst I was lingering around the Headland area, that I heard a distinctive scratchy song. Common Whitethroat. My first of the year. I could hear at least three birds, but trying to get a photo was near on impossible......
until one popped up in front of me....
I was snapping away when I heard a Buzzard 'mew', swiftly followed by a Kestrel calling. Looking up I saw the Buzzard first then our resident male Kestrel launched himself from the woods very near to the nest site and started mobbing the Buzzard. Another three Buzzards also came over soaring on the thermals, but Mr Kes was intent on mobbing the first bird only, and I'm guessing it was because the first Buzzard had soared right over the Kestrels nest site, where as the other three Buzzards came from a slightly different direction.
After quite a while I lost sight of all the birds as they got higher and higher, but I was glad that I'd finally gotten to see Mr Kes. And you can tell he's our resident Kestrel due to the outer tail feather damage he has.
Back in the woods a Robin was sitting on my log.
I wandered down to one of the nettle patches to see if there were any critters around.
Nursery Web spider
14 Spot Ladybird (propylea 14punctata)
an Ichneumon wasp - jury is still out on the variety.
Thanks as always to the members of the Facebook group 'Insects of Britain and Northern Europe' for the identifications.
Green-veined White
a very tatty Peacock
So not a bad few hours out and about. The weather forecast was for heavy showers this afternoon, and just as I was leaving the heavens opened, but I was pleased to see my first Whitethroat of the year. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Woodpeckers, Woodpeckers and more Woodpeckers. Cranford Park.

Another glorious day today weather-wise, and better than yesterday as there was only the barest of breezes.
Yesterdays outing to the London Wetland Centre was nice, but nothing is more welcoming than being back on the patch. Having coffee and a croissant sitting on a log in the middle of the woods at 8am, with birds singing all around you and greeting the local dog walkers, really is bliss.
It's becoming a routine now to check the nest sites in order. First off was the Great Spotted Woodpecker tree and sure enough the male was checking out his recently excavated hole and then popped in to do some more work. There was no sign of the female this morning, but she did make a grand appearance at lunchtime......more about that later.....
From Mr GSW I went to check on the Stock Doves hollow. Again no sign of either the male nor female, but they could well be inside on eggs.
From there I went to check on the Kestrels tree. The male was sitting high up on the nearby dead tree and took off before I could take a photo. I managed one of him through the treetops, and granted it is a dreadful photo but it shows his distinctive outer tail damage, which is making him so much more recognisable. The female was again, nowhere to be seen. Fingers crossed its because she is now incubating eggs.
From there it was off to see the Wrens. I am really hoping that Tonys sighting of one of the Wrens taking feathers into the nest a couple of days ago, is a good indication. However they are not as easily seen as say our Woodpeckers. Now the nest has been completed, and brambles and ivy are growing around, it's becoming really difficult to spot any of the Wrens. This morning I had a very brief glimpse of one going in the nest hole and leaving after just a minute, but I couldn't get a photo so don't know if there was anything in its beak. But I must remain optimistic, the fact that a Wren is still visiting the nest is encouraging. And if the Wren watch point, another log, was a bit more comfortable I would maybe spend more time there. Note to self: buy a portable cushion.
From the Wrens, is was off to see the Green Woodpeckers nest tree. Two days ago there appeared to be the beginnings of the 'Battle of the Green Birds', as Marmite Parakeets had been seen trying to enlarge the nest hole, but today it took just a few minutes to locate Mr Green a bit further down the  tree trunk, but still keeping an eye on the nest hole itself. There was a lot of calling between the male on the tree and another Woodpecker somewhere behind me. The male also flew over my head a few times, and then flew back to the tree after a few minutes. Is he trying to entice a lovely Mrs Green ?
This part of Cranfood Woods is very busy with Jackdaws, Carrion Crows and Marmites all nesting at the moment. It's certainly not a place to sit if you want peace and quiet. A couple of Marmites were squabbling over a hole in another nearby tree.
With all five nest sites checked (I admit I have given up on the Robin nest that Sue found, its been covered up so quickly by nettles and brambles that its almost impossible to locate), I had a wander around some other areas of the woods looking for insects.

A species of Hoverfly Leucozana lucorum,  (with many thanks to the Facebook group 'Insects of Britain and Northern Europe' for the identification)
Large Bee-flies mating
Seven Spot ladybirds mating.
Now that the restoration work at St Dunstans church has finished, the graveyard is again a lovely peaceful place to sit, that's if you can ignore the M4 traffic noises. I used to sit in there a lot last year, and watch the rabbits, and today it didn't take long for a very young one to pop out of the burrow and sunbathe for a while before popping back below again.
As the GSW nest tree is my newest found nest site I decided to pop back there again. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't realise on the 26th February when I was observing the male pulling off bits of bark, that he was going to make a hole there. I had presumed it was too early in the year for excavation work to begin. Now I know better.
The male was on one of the top branches when I arrived and flew to a nearby tree and started probing under the bark for insects. I was happily photographing him when I witnessed something I had never seen before.........
a male Green Woodpecker landed on the same trunk.....
It's highly unlikely this is our own Mr Green, the nest trees are on opposite sides of the woodland.
Mr GSW spotted Mr Green and started edging up the tree.....
Both birds were trying to peer around the trunk at each other.......
Mr GSW edged a bit closer.....
Then Mr Green thought 'sod this' and flew off. Well that's my interpretation anyway. What's more likely to have happened is that Mr GSW was exuding testosterone, and was preparing to do battle for his patch. This happened very very near to his nest tree and the female GSW was very close by. How do I know ? After seeing off Mr Green, Mr GSW then flew high into the branches and mated with Mrs GSW, who I hadn't previously spotted............
Dreadful photos I know, and I had to heavily lighten them. They could have been a bit more obliging and copulated lower down and not behind a branch. But I was thrilled anyway as this is the first time I've seen GSWs mating. It really was a great end to my day.
Elsewhere in the woods I counted seven butterfly species, but only managed to photograph six, the Small Tortoiseshells were deep in the ever growing nettle bed.
I also didn't see any Brimstones today, and nor have I seen any more Red Admirals but I did manage to finally photograph a male Orange-tip in the graveyard.
As I didn't leave the woods and graveyard areas of the park today, there's every chance other butterfly species are emerging around other parts of the site.
Green-veined White
Speckled Wood
Holly Blue (female)
Holly Blue - underwing
Orange-tip (male)