Monday, 30 June 2014

Great news from Cranford Park

Late yesterday afternoon I had just got out of the bath, was snuggly dressed in my pyjamas and logging on to Facebook, when I saw that my friend Sue had been to Cranford Park and got photos of some juvenile Kestrels. I cursed myself for not having gone there myself (and silently cursed Sue for not phoning me whilst she was there), and so after changing my plans for today I found myself in an almost empty park at 8am this morning.
Why was I cursing so much ? Last year due to the bad spring we had, our resident Kestrels fledged their young much later in the summer and I missed it. I swore that this year I wouldn't do that.
 I spent many many many hours during February, March and April monitoring our male and female Kestrels. I watched them bonding and mating, I eventually found their nest tree and I saw them often mobbing any Red Kites or Buzzards that dared to fly over the nest. Then my Mum was diagnosed with Cancer and for a couple of months I neglected Cranford Park to concentrate on looking after Mum during her treatment. Thankfully she is now slowly, but surely, feeling much better.
I had done my calculations for guessing when the juvenile Kestrels would fledge, and guess-timated it to be around the first week of July.
Well I was wrong.
Judging by Sue's photos, the juveniles were already out in the open grounds, often perching on the tree guards or on the grass path ways. Sue also photographed the adult male, and although he was keeping an eye on his 'teenagers', he wasn't feeding them. And the juveniles had no sign of any 'fluffy' feathers. They all had adult feathers. So at a rough guess, I reckon they possibly fledged from the nest about two weeks ago. Which means if you want to go and see them, I would recommend you do it sooner rather than later. It wont be long before our juveniles start exploring further and further away, eventually finding new territories to call their own.
So back to today.....
After a walk all around the edges of the open meadow grass land, I managed just two brief distant glimpses of one of the juvenile Kestrels, but by the time I had reached both spots, the Kestrels had moved on. I wandered around Cranford Woods and checked the nest tree and the surrounding trees, and couldn't find one Kestrel. I checked the orchard and the back of the stable block, the grave yard and memorial gardens, the Headland area and the River Crane. Still not one sighting of a Kestrel.
Sue was due to meet me at lunchtime, so I kept myself busy watching and photographing some of the other park residents.
Around the Headland, the Common Whitethroats were loudly singing and after a lot of checking through my bins I found at least ten adults and six juveniles. It looks like it's going to be a good year for these migrating warblers.
adult Common Whitethroat

juvenile Common Whitethroat
As to be expected at this time of year, there were several species of butterfly.
Meadow Browns were abundant.......

Along with good numbers of Small Skippers.....
Also seen today were a few Commas....

a couple of Peacocks...
my first Six-Spot Burnet, which isn't a butterfly but a day flying moth....
several Small Tortoiseshells.....

and the expected Speckled Woods.....
Eventually I made my way back towards the car park for a sit down, a sandwich and a quick fag at the Information Centre before Sue arrived. I also had a wander around the oaks in front of the Centre. Last summer we had fantastic views of two juvenile Little Owls there, and I was just wondering to myself if we'd get the same views this year, when something small, rounded and brown caught my eye as it flew from a nearby tree straight in to one of the oaks. A quick glimpse though my bins confirmed my suspicion. An adult Little Owl ! My camera was on it within seconds and I managed to grab four photos before it flew off again into another oak tree......
However, it wasn't until I got home and uploaded my photos from today, that I realised I hadn't just  photographed one Little Owl, I had actually got TWO.......
Shame the second one was half buried behind some oak leaves........

I honestly did not spot it at the time, so when the original bird flew again, I followed it instead of staying with the second bird.
 Now I could kick myself, mainly because I have a sneaky suspicion the second bird could be a juvenile.......
I've enlarged a photo below of the second bird to try to explain why I think its a juvenile. Its head is mainly still brown rather than speckled, the pale rings around its eye are more rounded than the adult and don't look like the adult 'eyebrows', and the top of the the chest (which you can just about see through the tops of the oak leaves) is still brown rather than streaked. Feel free to tell me I'm wrong or if I've missed out on any distinguishing features. I'm no expert. Last years juveniles were obvious as they still had 'fluffy' feathers, but I'm starting to wonder if we've missed that chance this year, and that the Little Owls fledged sooner and we've missed the cute fluffy stage.

After losing sight of the first Little Owl, Sue arrived with Jasper the bird-dog. And after showing her my photo of the owl, they were both soon searching for it themselves.......
During the couple of hours that Sue and Jasp were there, we twice went back to the oaks but could not re-locate the owls.
Elsewhere though we did watch a Buzzard being mobbed by a Carrion Crow.....
and we eventually found one of the juvenile Kestrels !
After Sue and Jasper left, I wandered up the grass path that runs straight through the centre of the open meadow grass land. Within minutes I found all three juveniles. Sadly for the photo conscious me the birds were not all together but scattered over the park.
I watched some flying close to me, some practising their hover technique, one catching grasshoppers from the grass paths and some perching on the small trees within the tree guards.....




From my observations today and the hundreds of photos I took, I can definitely confirm we have three juvenile Kestrels. And I am pretty sure they are two females and a male.
I cannot put into words just how chuffed I am. After spending so much of my free time during late winter and early spring observing and monitoring our beautiful adult Kestrels, I have now seen today their own offspring learning how to hunt, fly and hover. As they get older their ability and instinct to catch small mammals like voles and mice will become more focused, and then they will drift off to find their own partners and territories.
 So apart from missing them actually fledge the nest, I was at least able to watch the 'teenagers' in the 'field'.
If you want to see the juveniles, I suggest you do this. From the car park head towards Heathrow taking the most central grass path up and across the open meadow grass land. Keep checking the wooden fence-like tree guards either side and keep checking the path in front of you. Today I often watched the juveniles on the ground taking grasshoppers and crickets practising their 'mantle' skills where they fold their wings over their heads.
So after a fantastic, and much overdue, visit to Cranford Park, there's only one photo that must be shared. Jasper the bird-dog enjoying the long grassy edges of one of the many paths.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The long Saturday - London Wetland Centre and Bedfont Lakes Country Park

All week I had been watching the weather forecast for this weekend. At the London Wetland Centre there were plans for Dragonfly and Damselfly walks and talks, which I thought would be interesting and I had really wanted to go a Night Walk at Bedfont CP. However the forecast, after several weeks of warm dry sunshine, was rain showers for most of the day. So I didn't decide until very early yesterday, that I was going to go anywhere at all. A birding buddy, Duncan, finally persuaded me with an offer to buy coffee and cake plus, after being woken by a police helicopter over head at 4.30am, I didn't really have an excuse not to go.
Whilst waiting for Duncan and the Wetland Centre to open, I made friends with this Robin.....
and later in the day, we found one of it's juvenilles....
We found a stunning male Banded Demoiselle by the entrance, below, and several Blue-tailed and Common damselflies.

There's always a decision to be made in the courtyard at the Wetland Centre. Do you go left or right ? After checking what time the Dragon and Damsels talks were but being unable to find anywhere that stated what time the Dragon and Damsel walk was going to be, we decided to go left, and it was probably the best decision we made.
Just as we were approaching the Headley Hide, the distinct call of a Cetti's Warbler came and announced itself as being just in front of the hide. I like Cetti's but they are incredibly hard to see, let alone photograph. They are small plain warblers, a tiny little bit bigger than a Reed, with a warm brown back and a voice that is even louder than a Wrens. I hadn't even managed to sit down in the hide before I spotted one skulking low amongst some short stubby reed stems. And that was where we stayed. All thoughts of Dragons and Damsels had gone. Our 'fix' was to try and photograph a Cetti's.
We think there were between two and four Cetti's flitting around the reeds and often disappearing into a shrubby tree on the left of the hide. It didn't help that at least three Reed Warblers were also feeding in the same area. But the Cetti's were quite predictable, always coming in low and staying low, often probing for insects so near to the water that we could only follow their progress by watching reed stems 'flickering'.
None of my photos are going to win any prizes, but it was such a privilege to be so close to a shy and elusive bird. Often the bird was so near, it was too close to be photographed.


Reed Warblers (below) were also active in exactly the same spot. The ideal photo would have been both the Cetti's and the Reeds in the same camera frame, but that's a dream I'll have to keep dreaming.


and finally, two last shots of the Cetti's. Shame about all the reeds in the way, but it shows it's distinctive posture, and a close up of the head.

When we weren't photographing the Warbler-fest, a family of Little Grebes kept us amused. The chicks were reaching that age of independence to wander off, but still needing to be fed by the parents.

After a while we decided it would be a shame not to visit the rest of the site, so wandered around to the Wildside. Another family of Little Grebes was in the middle channel, and these chicks were younger than the Headley Hide ones. If they weren't being fed, they were clambering to get on to the backs of one of the adults. Eventually all four youngsters made it, with only the odd tiny head appearing to take food from the other parent. 

There were more juvenile birds viewable from the Wildside Hide, but this time they were Black-headed gulls.

Back outside after one of the many rain showers, we lost a fair bit of time trying to photograph a Common Tern that was fishing. Sometimes the bird flew so close to us, it was impossible to get photos, but I eventually managed two passable shots. Duncan managed to get a perfect shot of the bird literally skimming the water surface.

Wandering back to the café for a much needed coffee (Duncans treat), we found a couple of Common Lizards on the usual bridges.
After lunch and a catch up with Rick, John and Andy, we had a wander around some of the other hides. Birds seen included adult and juvenile Pied Wagtails, a young Lapwing chick, a Little Ringed Plover, some Greylag geese, House and Sand Martins, Swifts, a Wren pretending to be a Cetti's, Herons, a Little Egret (with possibly a second bird seen later in the day) and the usual Tufted ducks, Teals, Mallards, Mute Swans, plus a low flying Great Crested Grebe. But we soon realised we wanted to be back in the Headley Hide getting our 'fix'.
There we found John and Rick, and again while waiting for Warbler-fest another bird kept us occupied. A juvenile female Reed Bunting. It's inbuilt fear of humans hadn't kicked in and twice it nearly came through the hide windows.

So after a very early wake up call, and a good eight hours at the Wetland Centre, my day still wasn't over and I had to head home ready for an evening of bats and moths.
Duncan and I had taken hundreds of photos of the warblers. Most of mine have been deleted. That elusive Cetti's was just so quick, but it really was a thrill to be so close to a bird that is more often heard than seen. 
So thanks Duncan for a great day out, and it was lovely to catch up with John, Rick and Andy for some bantering in the Headley. Shame it rained, but if it hadn't we would have been lost amongst Dragons and Damsels, and not seen Warbler-fest. Finally, this is a link to Duncan Eames Flickr page
Within half an hour of being home, I was back out with Sue and on our way to Bedfont Lakes Country Park. Just shortly after getting there the heavens opened. Not ideal conditions for the planned night walk around some of the site, and I had to feel a little sorry for our guide, the incredibly knowledgeable Susy Jones. But luckily the rain stopped just before the walk started and it ended up being a great two hours.
We were issued with bat detectors and it wasn't long before we had three or four Common Pipistrelles flying over a clearing. My high-light was seeing the larger Noctule bat that almost glided over head. The size difference between the two species was quite a shock. Other bat species that are resident in the park include Soprano and Nathusius Pipistrelles, Daubenton, Serotine and Leisler. Susy gave a very well worded talk about how the frequency levels on the detectors can be used to detect which species was around, and about how bats use echos for locating both obstacles and food.
The rangers also set up a moth trap for us, and we visited it a couple of times where there was a nice handful of micro moths to be seen.
Other high-lights included a couple of the group being lucky enough to see a Fox with a cub that we accidentally spooked, a Wood Mouse larder under one of the logs, a Lesser Stag beetle under another and listening to Reed Warblers and Marsh Frogs calling in the dark.
A very enjoyable and informative walk around just a tiny part of this 180 acre site. Sue and I are already planning our next visit.
So a big thank you to our guide, Susy.
And that was my long Saturday. The weather was pretty dire sometimes, but overall it was a very good day and the night walk was the perfect ending.
Last, but not least, a link to one of the websites about Bedfont Lakes Country Park

Saturday, 21 June 2014

How does your garden grow ?.....the last few days in Mum's garden, aka Marks Mansion

Pull up a chair, it's going to be another long blog post from Mum's back garden.
Bird-wise, the gardens at Marks Mansion are full of juveniles.
Two of our juvenile Blackbirds are still around and being fed by Mr BB. The one above was in the bramble patch in the field at the bottom of the 'estate', and I only spotted it because I was watching where Mr BB was flying too with his beak full of food. Mr BB still has his distinguishable grey 'chest', so is incredibly easy to pick out amongst other male Blackbirds (not that any dare venture in to the garden as they're quickly seen off, but I often spot a few dotted around the field gathering worms). However, Mrs BB has disappeared, and as she hasn't re-used the nest by the conservatory, she could be on a new one else where.
Bobbin, the juvenile Robin who came from next door, is also exploring more. Only twice did I see him in Mum's garden over the last few days, the rest of the time it seemed to be going in and out of the field and the neighbours on the other side. The only time I managed to grab a photo (below) was when it briefly perched on the dividing fence.

We now have two juvenile Goldfinches visiting the nyger seed feeder. For such youngsters, they're quite aggressive. They tend to sit on the feeder, without feeding, as if the feeder belongs to them alone and woe betide any House Sparrow that tries to land. The little juveniles soon see them off.

Where I found one of the juvenile Blackbirds in the bramble patch, I also managed to spy on some of the House Sparrows. This is their nesting patch, and I found these two very newly fledged siblings.....
and this gorgeous little one......

In a few days time, they'll be joining the rest of their family members and neighbours, and feeding in Mum's garden.
The younger Starlings are still squawking for food.....
but the older juveniles are starting to get some adult feathers through, as you can see on the back of this 'teenager' below.....

There's been a Wren consistently singing at the bottom of the garden. His territory includes Mum's garden plus both neighbours either side. After each outburst of song, another Wren sings back from the farthest corner of the field. When I saw a Wren pottering about in the firs by Mum's conservatory, I got excited thinking it might be a nest site, but nope, it was just looking for a few juicy bites to eat. Photo below, taken through glass so apologies for the quality.....
Not much in the way of critters around. There are both Blue-tailed and Common Blue Damselflies, but I've been unable to photograph either yet. I've also seen a few Ladybird larvae, several micro moths, and this rather stunning Green Shield Bug...
Maybe one of my next blogs should be all about Bees. Mum gets plenty of them in the garden, and they really do deserve a blog post about them. After all, it is being said that if all the bees died world wide, after a few years so would us human beans. More gardens need to be insect friendly. There's nothing wrong with leaving an area of your garden to grow wild. A nettle patch is great for insects, as is a patch of wild flowers. Leave a strip of your immaculate lawn to go mad. Let your wild flowers set seed. Don't use insecticides or slug pellets, instead grow plants that will attract natural predators for greenfly and other plant pests. A little pond takes up less than a square metre. If you don't like your carefully nurtured plants and shrubs being eaten by pests, try growing something that wont be.
 Don't whine when the insects are gone, you had time to plant more native plants.
Rant over.
Back to the blog.
The foal in the field at the bottom of the 'estate' is turning in to a proper character. Regular little naps amongst the buttercups, feeding from his Mum and then a mad run around the field......

So we've had juvenile birds (with some more to come), and a young foal. Next on the list, and another first for me from the gardens, is a young Toad......
We found this little three inch lovely when I was trying to empty Mum's compost bin with some help from Mum and Aunty Linda.
What I had really hoped for when emptying the bin, was some Grass Snake egg casings, or even some young Grass Snakes, purely because we had been so lucky to have a large female Grass Snake in the garden last week that I had hoped she was 'our' snake, and had therefore made her home in the compost. But sadly it seems she had probably made her way from the canal, which is on the other side of the field, or maybe from the allotments which are situated to the left of Mum's back garden (or to the left of the rear of the estate if you want to talk in Marks Mansion terms).  
Oh well, you win some and you lose some.
 But on the 'win' side, I can now confirm we have FOUR juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers visiting the 'estate', along with THREE separate adult males, and at least ONE adult female.
I spent four hours on Thursday morning and two hours early Friday morning, in my little pop up hide trying to photograph and identify all of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers visiting the garden. Over the last few weeks, I've accumulated and established a proper photographical library of photos. My only downfall so far, has been the adult female birds. Because they have pure black heads, with no red feathers at all, trying to find distinguishing marks has been hard. So there may be more than one female, but until I find the time to go through every photo I have taken over the last few weeks, I'm going to assume we have one family (Ben, Jen and the four juveniles), plus two other adult males whose features are easily distinguished by their beaks.
  And a little by-note: these beautiful birds are NOT called 'Greater' Spotted, they are called 'Great' Spotted. An easy mistake to make when their distant cousin is called the 'Lesser' Spotted, and one that I always want to correct when I see it in print.
We laid on a pure feast fest for them. Four peanut feeders and two fat ball feeders deposited at various points along the side of the garden, sorry I mean the 'estate', and all within eye sight from my hide which was tucked away. 
Female - all black head

Male - red patch at back of neck - this is Ben

Juvenile number one - red patch on top of head
Juvenile number two

Juvenile number three

Juvenile number four

The largest fat ball feeder was the most popular. The Woodpeckers spent a lot of time chasing off any Starlings that thought they could share.....

As mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, there are some House Martins nesting under the eaves on the houses opposite Mum's. Originally there were just two, but a third has appeared and is in use. This could be because one of the original nests has sustained some damage, and is more like a shelf now. House Martins raise two-three broods per season before returning to Africa for the winter, and I think these House Martins are on their second brood now. Adult birds have snowy white underparts, where as juveniles underparts are more of a dirty white. Sorry for the quality of my photos, where they nest is nearly always in the shade, so I've had to lighten the photos. What I couldn't capture in my photos was the lovely noise they make.


Back to the garden of Marks Mansions, as well as pruning, planting, tidying and emptying compost bins, I also took on two little projects.
Mum has a gorgeous pot holder hanging on a sunny wall. But the pots are made of clay, with a tiny drainage hole and are small. Mum's not had much success growing anything in them. The site gets full sun for most of the day, and because the pots are both terracotta and small, what ever plant that's in there only lasts a few weeks as it gets baked and there's no room for extensive root growth. Mum was going to revert to plastic artificial plants, which I couldn't bare, so I persuaded her to let me try. I filled the pots with a mixture of our home made compost mixed with some fresh seed compost, and planted sedum Lydiam. One medium sized plant split into three. If that doesn't work, then I'll try planting House Leeks. But after planting, the over all effect was quite nice.....
My second project was a large shallow terracotta bowl. The only plant that seemed to do well in it, was toadflax. The Pulsatilla (pictured at the back of the bowl) was not happy. So I re-planted the Pulsatilla in to the garden, where it's roots had no restriction, and set about taking out the old soil from the bowl, adding new, and finding some suitable plants dotted around Mum's garden.



The final finished product.....
Let's just hope the Lady of the Manor doesn't clutter up the table again !
Mum's got a bit of a reputation for being an Orchid Doctor. Anyone who cant get their indoor orchids to flower, including myself, gives them to Mum. At the moment there are five flowering orchids, and I'm not going to even try to remember all their names.

They all live in the conservatory, where a little tapestry picture I made for Mum many many many moons ago, also lives....
The back garden always looks lush in mid June. Here are a few of Mum's plants and shrubs that are flowering at the moment (and this is just a small selection - I haven't included most of the roses, hardy geraniums, campanulas and some others).
Early summer flowering Clematis tend to do well grown both in pots and in the ground.

This one is proof you don't need to grow Clematis as a climber. It's been left to grow up and over, as it pleases. It's obviously happy like that, it's full of flowers and buds.

Black-eyed Susan

White Foxglove - digitalis

sp. fuchsia
Lilies also do well both in pots and in the ground. 

My favourite photo. A sp. Penstemon growing amongst a golden leaved Fern

Geranium 'Splish Splash'
And finally, this is Mum's new project. A mini water garden.
All of these flowers, plants and shrubs (except for one of the sp. Clematis) are in the rear of the estate, I've not even started with the front of the estate yet.