Saturday, 12 April 2014

Community patch birding at Cranford Park, with two pleasant new surprises.

After 48 hours of work and over 12 hours of commuting over the last four days, today I was back to revel in the bird song and greenery at my favourite patch, Cranford Park.
 And it really is getting greener.
My last visit was Monday and already nettle patches are a few inches higher than then and more leaves are unfurling in the trees.
First port of call was the Wren nest. After a patient wait of around forty minutes but being entertained by the Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, I was rewarded with a Wren investigating the nest. The nest itself has changed shape. It seems to have dropped quite a bit on the bottom left hand side. Is this because there's a female inside on eggs ? Or am I just wishful thinking ? I was hoping that when I downloaded my photos, it would show the Wren with food in its beak, which would indicate to me that Mr Wren was bringing food to Mrs Wren who would be sitting on eggs inside. But sadly no. The Wren I saw this morning had no food in its beak, and after a brief look inside the nest, it flew off. So is this a female checking out the nest ? Only time (and a numb bum - the Wren watch point is a rather uncomfortable log) will tell.
As I said, the woods are getting greener, and judging by the growth of the bramble leaves by the nest entrance hole, it might be that I cant get any more photos after next week.
The Spring visitors are so vocal now. First of all we had the Chiffchaffs, with their distinctive call, then we had the Blackcaps with their delightful song (though I still reckon they sound like a Robin with a sore throat), so hopefully it won't be long now until we see and hear our first Whitethroats of the year.
Last week the Blackcaps were really obliging and popping up everywhere posing for a photo, but I was unsuccessful on photographing any Chiffchaffs. Today it was the opposite. I saw several Blackcaps but they were either high up or deep inside the scrubby bushes, but the Chiffchaffs were singing and calling out in the open. My three photos below are of three individual birds in various places within the woods.
My first pleasant surprise of the day was the discovery of a Great Spotted Woodpeckers nest hole. I'd been looking for signs of one for the last couple of weeks, then remembered that back in February I'd witnessed a male GSW pulling bark off one of the dead trees by the Ha-ha wall (link to my blog post 26th Feb 2014) so I went to check it out. My instincts were spot on. There was a male inside a hole and popping his head out every now and then to literally spit out sawdust. Did I get a photo ? Nope, and I blame Tony. I was just getting ready to grab a shot when Tony appeared around the corner. I beckoned him over quietly and as we had a quick whispered catch up on the other nest sites, a female GSW landed near to the new nest hole and the male flew out. Mrs GSW however stuck around and seemed to investigate the tree rather than her potential new nest hole.
Mrs GSW near to her potential new nest hole home for this season. She has a ring on her right leg, but despite zooming in on all of the photos I managed to take of her, I cannot read the ring numbers.
Tonys news was that our Green Woodpecker nest site was still active. He had seen the male excavating the nest hole again. He hadn't managed to see the Wrens but was going to go back there after I told him about my morning sighting. Neither of us had seen the Kestrels by this point. We parted company, with Tony heading to the river and me heading to the Greenys watch point, a more comfortable log than the Wrens.
At first I couldn't see Mr Green, and it wasn't until I saw cloud dusts of more sawdust did I realise he is now inside the nest hole (like Mr GSW). My viewing point from the log just showed Mr Greens beak every now and then along with a puff of expelled sawdust......
Very bad and much lightened photo of Mr Green from our usual log view point. The 'pointy' bit halfway down the photo is actually Mr Greens beak.
I took a chance and went around the path to where you can see the nest hole face on. On previous visits I'd been avoiding doing this as I didn't want to disturb Mr Green (he's camera shy from that angle), but after some careful shuffling and patiently pretending to be a tree, I finally managed to grab a quick photo of him popping out of the new nest hole.
Later on in the day I was walking up 'Chestnut Avenue' and saw him outside of the hole and looking around calling. Photo below heavily cropped and lightened, as I was much further away.
It wasn't just all about the birds today, the bees came in to it as well.
 I saw two varieties today and thanks to the enthusiasts on the Facebook page 'Insects of Britain and Northern Europe' and in particular Stephen and Scott, I can name my two sightings.
Common Carder Bee
Buff-tailed Bumblebee
As my day progressed, Tony texted me his updated sightings which included our resident male Kestrel perched near to the suspected nest tree and a Muntjac deer by the river.
I didn't see either of the Kestrels today but I did hear them twice, both times from the same area where the suspected nest tree is. From observing various UK webcams and getting updates on them from Facebook, its great news to announce a female Kestrel in Worcester laid her first egg this morning, over two weeks earlier than last year and probably due to our mild winter. As none of us saw our resident female today, maybe she too has already laid her first egg.
Regarding the title to today's blog (Community patch birding), as Tony was leaving the park today, Sue texted me to advise she was not far from arriving. Having the three of us passionate about the progress of our nest sites, and any other sightings around the park, means we continuously keep each other updated. We don't reveal the location of our nest sites to any strangers and we know how to keep watch on our nest sites from a suitable viewing point that doesn't disturb the birds.
 It's a joint effort, and I'm really pleased that it's proving productive. Cranford Park is a huge site and massively under-birded. Personally I love the ancient woods so much that I often neglect the other areas of the park that need to be screened.
Around this time last year a male Pied Flycatcher stopped over for a four day visit in the Headland area, and because I was so immersed in the progress of our CP Kestrels I wasn't aware of the Pied Fly until Alison, the  Countryside & Conservation Officer for Hillingdon Council, sent me an e-mail saying she had seen an unusual bird whilst leading a walk around the park (link to my blog post 19th April 2013) 
Having like-minded friends also watching the patch is rewarding and informative, as was proven later today by Sue texting me after I had left........
So on to todays butterfly sightings. Speckled Woods were abundant within Cranford Woods....
I found this Peacock on one of the ant hills by the Headland......
and Sue showed me where she had seen quite a few Small Tortoiseshells earlier in the week. Her previous observations were spot on and we found at least six of them nestled amongst the fast and ever growing nettle patch. My first of the year.
So on to my second pleasant new surprise, and sadly I wasn't there to observe it myself as I'd already left the site, but as Sue was walking around today she spotted one of our resident Little Owls on a tree that I'd been previously speculating was their nest tree. Little Owls tend to nest in the same tree year after year, but once the owlets have fledged the whole family moves on to a nearby copse.
For the last two years we have often seen both adult and juvenile Little Owls in the summer, amongst the circle of mature Oaks near to the Information Centre, but knowing the parents don't nest there, it has been a puzzle as to where the adults reside, and nest, for the rest of the year. Thanks to Sues observation today along with previous sightings by myself of the adult birds around the wood land area over the last two years, it looks like we may have finally found the owls nest tree.
And lastly, as both North Woods and Cranford Woods have such stunning carpets of both blue and white Bluebells at the moment, here are a couple of flower photos.

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