Sunday, 31 August 2014

Going quackers in Mum's garden aka an update from the gardens of Marks Mansion

During the week Mum found a rat in the compost bin (initially she thought it's tail was a worm !), so the plans today were to attack the compost and see off all the rats into the field, then rebuild the compost bin blocking off any holes.
But before we done that I was introduced to Mum's three new ladies. Jemima, Jessica and Geraldine. They are young females, not yet of laying age and I have fallen in love with them. Sadly they're not Mum's, they belong to her neighbours Terry and June, but there's a hole in the fence now so the ducks can wander between the two gardens.
More about the new ladies later.
Anyway, back to the compost bin. Decked out in thick gardening gloves each, we opened the lid. First thing we could see was indeed a worm like long tail. The front bottom section of the bin was open (we hadn't put the door back on properly after last sifting through the bin). As Mum banged her spade against the bin, one small solo rat shot out through the doorway and into the field. It was a bit of an anti-climax. I think we were both expecting hordes of rats to emerge. The rat, whilst living in the bin, had eaten all of the top layer of fresh veg peel and plant cuttings, and we think he may have also eaten the resident toad, as there was sadly no sign of it today. After putting the door back on securely, I chopped up some more cut down vegetation and thin woody sticks and built back up what the rat had chomped down.
Elsewhere around the garden of Marks Mansions, it's still looking lush......

The shallow clay bowl that I re-planted a few months ago, is looking well established now....
The crimson clover seeds that I had sown around the slab path separating my meadow patch from the Lady of the Manors shade garden, have really taken well.....
I was actually planning on sowing the rest of the slab path with clover seeds today, but with our three ladies pecking at everything and anything, I decided not to.
I really like my clover around the slabs, and it looks as if the ladies do to.....
The view up the garden towards Marks Mansion (spot the duck)...
I must admit I didn't get that much work done today. I was far too preoccupied watching the ladies. They were in and out of Mum's stream, hopping up and down the steps, rooting in and around the soil, drinking from their water bowl and generally being very cute and watchable....
And finally one last photo of them settling down for an afternoon siesta. That area will eventually become Mum's shade garden.

My wild meadow patch is still under cover, but the wild foxglove seeds I sowed have taken well in their pot, and will need thinning out soon.
So a very enjoyable afternoon with the ladies, and the Lady of the Manor of course. I got some pruning done, enjoyed the dry weather, watched the ducks and had a tasty home cooked dinner. I also saw another Muntjac deer in the horses field (but foolishly did not take my camera with me today) plus two Red Kites over, lots of juvenile Goldfinches, Green Woodpecker and several butterflies and hawkers.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Hobbys at Cranford Park and Redstarts at Lake Farm

It's been a looonnnng day.
It started with me bumping into Scally at the log circle at Cranford Park early this morning. He had successfully photographed three of the Hobbys on a branch eating a Blue Tit.
I went off for a wander hoping to spot a Whinchat or Wheatear, but the tractors were out cutting the grass, so any birds around were being spooked.
Not long after, I bumped into Tony. We went in separate directions maintaining contact and updates by text. Still no Whinchats although I did find a young Kestrel at the back of the stable blocks.
I also saw a male Sparrowhawk swoop down behind a wall, and minutes later emerge grasping a very dead Blackbird. No photos though, it all happened a bit too quickly.
Out on the newly mown grass I found 12 Mistle Thrushes. Couldn't get them all in one shot, so here's four of them instead.

and a solo one...
By the river I had a fleeting glimpse of a Kingfisher. Also found this variety of Shield Bug..
and a Blue-tailed Damsel....

Back at the log circle one of the juvenile Hobbys landed in front of me. It was hard trying to get a decent photo with all the branches, and this sorry picture was the best I could do..
Later on Tony and I located another juvenile deeper in the woods. It was continuously calling, and we couldn't work out why, until we went back to the log circle and saw four low flying soaring Buzzards. The adult Hobby was also flying around them. Once the Buzzards went over, the juvenile Hobby stopped calling.
There were several butterflies around today.
Speckled Wood...

and this mating pair of Green-veined Whites...
Sue and  Jasper the bird-dog joined us, and we all had a wander around the park but there wasn't much to see. We were sitting under the ancient Sweet Chestnut watching one of the Hobbys flying around, when Roger Morton popped over to say hello. We were all comparing notes when a Kingfisher came from the river, over the grassland, went passed us and disappeared in to Cranford Woods. None of us had ever seen the Kingfisher take that route before.
Roger mentioned that he and Dave Morris had seen Whinchats at Lake Farm the previous week, so Sue, Tony, Jasper and I decided to have a gander over there.
Lake Farm used to be very special to me, but after Peter Naylor passed away and the council managed to cut through red tape to allow the new school to be built, I've lost interest in the site. Most of my spare time is now spent at Cranford Park.
Well we walked around and for the first half an hour we saw nothing except for a few Linnets.
Then something hopped down on to a path in front of us, and just as fast went back in to some scrubby bushes. A quick focus with our bins, and Sue confirmed it was a Common Redstart. A Female. After hanging around a little longer, we spotted a second bird, but our joy was to be short lived. A family with two kids on bikes came past us with the kids stopping right in front of the shrubs where we had seen the Redstarts.
We hung around a little longer but they didn't re-appear.
And we didn't find any Whinchats.
But we did find something else........

A rather beautiful and very tolerant young female Kestrel. She let us walk up to six feet away from her. Now you can all understand why the Kestrel is my favourite bird. Isn't she just stunning....

Of course last but not least, a photo of Jasper the bird-dog....

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Kind birds and unkind weather at Cranford Park

I had an unexpected day off work today so after firing off some e-mails and making some calls, I found myself at Cranford Park mid morning.
The weather was a little unpredictable to say the least. I just missed one rain shower, then it became very overcast and almost cold.
The Hobbys weren't as disappointing as the weather though, and I'm sorry if anyone is bored reading about them, but they are special birds and we are so lucky to have them breeding at Cranford Park.
The juvenile Hobbys were much more on the wing today, after the weekend where they spent most of their time sitting high in a tree calling for food. One juvenile landed just above my head where I was sitting at the log circle enjoying a coffee. I managed a few shots but have had to heavily lighten them.


I don't think the juveniles are catching food for themselves yet. Every time I saw an adult it was either doing a food pass with a juvenile or was feeding a juvenile on a branch. You can tell the adults are trying to encourage the youngsters to fly more. One would pass close to a juvenile calling, the juvenile would then be fast on the adults tail and calling back. After failing to get any food pass photos at the weekend due to the tree canopy, today I was lucky to witness and photograph several, BUT the weather really done me no favours. Every photo is in silhouette and no matter what exposure I used, I could not get a clear shot.
So let me talk you through what I did get.....
the adult is on the right....
You can just see the remains of the food pass in the talons of the juvenile on the left.
In another sequence, both of the juvenile were chasing an adult...
Below, one of the adults is bringing food to a juvenile sitting on a branch. Again, I could not get a clear shot on such an overcast day....
While the adult (on the left) feeds the juvenile (on the right), the other juvenile swoops down from above......
After watching our summer visitors for well over two hours I went for a wander and bumped into Sue and Jasper the bird-dog.
Last Sunday seemed to be a day for Hawkers (a variety of dragonfly), but today was the day of the Darters. Sue and I came across a large puddle where several Ruddy Darters were flying around and mating. Funnily enough when we went back to the puddle a couple of hours later, they had all dispersed.

We also saw another visitor to the park, and one that is becoming quite regular now, a Red Kite.
For a few hours the sun shone and the sky was almost blue. It was as if someone had turned the heating on !
We found a small Toad crossing one of the grassy paths.
And of course my favourite birds, the Kestrels, were hunting over the long grasses. We could only locate two today and at least one of them was one of this years youngsters.
Sue left before I did, and I had just got myself settled back at the log circle when the heavens opened and I had to run for cover. It certainly was not a predictable August day today.
But here is something very predictable, a photo of Jasper the bird-dog.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Hobby-fest at Cranford Park

Following on from yesterdays blog, we know the juvenile Hobbys at Cranford Park are roughly 8 weeks old, and they are flying though not hunting. The adult birds are bringing in their food, mainly dragonflies, and today a small crowd of us witnessed several food passes. It wont be long before the juveniles are hunting for their own food, and not long after that they, and their parents, will disperse and make the long journey to winter in Africa.
Therefore at the most, we will only be able to watch them at Cranford Park for another few weeks. As they are now fledgings rather than nestlings, I can reveal their favourite tree (but not the tree they nested in) is within Cranford Woods not far from the ha-ha wall boundary.
Hobbys are a Schedule 1 nesting bird, and therefore nesting sites are generally not made public knowledge until after the young have fledged. Next year, if I am lucky enough to find their nest, I will not be publishing it.
Hobbys arrive back in the UK from Africa in April-early May. They often pair up for life, and their territorial and courtship display usually occurs mid-late May. Like Kestrels, they do not make their own nests, but prefer old crows nests, or even old Buzzards and Red Kites nests. The female Hobby lays between 1 and 4 eggs, usually over 2-3 day intervals, during mid June. However, like Sparrowhawks, Hobbys can time the egg laying to coincide with food abundance. A bad spring can see the eggs being laid a few weeks later. Incubation is 28-34 days with the male bringing food to the female. The nestlings stay in the nest for between three and five weeks before fledging. For more fascinating facts, figures and more about surveying Hobbys please see this link
Today I spent a brief half an hour with Tony James before he had to leave. We had both of the juveniles out on the same branch in clear view.
Later on I was graced with the presence of the Mayor of Hounslow. Corinna Smart is also a fellow birder friend of mine, and thankfully for the birds sake, she turned up without her robes and official chains. It's ok, she knows me well and knew I'd be mentioning her in my blog :)
Sue, John, Phillip, Joe and Rick also joined us in the afternoon, and we all got to see both of the juveniles, both of the adults, some lovely acrobatic hunting swoops and as mentioned earlier, several food passes between the adults and juveniles. Sadly no photos of the food passes, too many over head tree branches, but I did manage some more poor shots of the juveniles on their apparent favourite branch.....

You can see from the photos below why I now have a sore neck. The birds are often perched very high up in their favoured tree....
We've only seen dragonflies being bought in by the parents to feed the juveniles, but Ralph Hancock who writes the Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park blog has confirmed his three juveniles Hobbys are also being fed on a diet of Ring Necked Parakeets. Please click here for the link to his blog. His report on the unusual food habit is on his blog post for Friday 22nd August.
I spent a little bit of time around the wood circle hoping for another sighting of the Brown Argus butterfly, but to no avail. It wasn't as warm and sunny today as yesterday, and there was a distinct lack of butterfly sightings in general. However I did find two of the Hobbys favoured prey. A Southern Hawker and a Migrant Hawker.....

Despite the cloudy weather it was a great day with like-minded friends. Thank you to everyone who made the trip to see our lovely Hobbys, and special thanks to John for bringing a large flask of coffee. I'm glad to see I've got you well trained my friend :)

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Two confirmed patch ticks from Cranford Park

Following on from last Saturdays blog where Sue and I took a juvenile Hobby away from a na├»ve and un-informed young man who had found the bird on the woodland floor, and thought he was doing the right thing by keeping it captive in his bedroom, I was determined to get back to Cranford Park today to find more Hobbys.
Both Sue and Tony had been there during the week and seen Hobbys flying, and heard a lot of distinct calling.
It didn't take me long to find them this morning. Initially I could only see an adult flying around.

Not long after that I bumped into Tony and Audrey, and we split up to try and track down the location of the calling birds, which I hoped were more juveniles.
And they are. I found two juveniles in, ironically, our Kestrels old nest tree. They were incredibly vocal whenever one of the adults was near by, and after texting Tony and Audrey, we all managed to see both of the juveniles and saw adult birds coming in to feed them. Sadly pictures were hard to get as they were right at the top of the tree, but my two below are just to prove there are two juveniles.

Of course there really should be three juveniles. The one that we rescued last Saturday was taken to St Tiggywinkles in Buckinghamshire, to be assessed. I was hoping that although the bird had been in captivity and constant human contact for the previous 10-14 days, that there might be a chance it could eventually be re-released back in to the wild. Sadly it appears this may not happen. The bird is now in a large outdoor flying aviary with another rescued Hobby. The experts there guess-timate its age at  8 weeks.  Hopefully I will find out the final decision next week as to whether this beautiful little migrant can ever be released.
Back to its siblings though, after Tony and Audrey left I had a quick wander around the long grasses to see our Kestrel family. I could only find one adult and one juvenile today, so it does look like the other two juveniles have left the area. Wandering back to the Hobby tree, I spotted one out on a branch and very visible, so managed to fire off a couple of shots before it disappeared  from view again.
So it's confirmed. Hobbys have successfully nested at Cranford Park. I know that the last recorded time they nested there was five years ago, so it's really pleased me to see they are back. We have no idea what tree they chose to nest in, but hopefully the adults will return next early summer and I'll be able to monitor them more closely.
We also saw a Red Kite over today, and earlier this morning one was sat in a tree by the orchard. Two Sparrowhawks were also seen, one of the Kingfishers was whizzing about on the River Crane and I got two distant views of a weasel running across a path.
My other confirmed patch tick was this little butterfly.
I spotted it while I was waiting for a Hobby to show itself. Thinking it was a female Common Blue, I took a few snaps. When I got home and uploaded my photos, I immediately became suspicious. Something didn't look right. It looked more like a Brown Argus.
I had to get it identified to confirm my suspicions and the wonderful people on the Facebook page 'Butterflies UK' confirmed it. A female Brown Argus, Arica agestis.
To confirm this is a patch first for Cranford Park I need to email Alison Shipley who does the regular butterfly counts in the summer. But it is a first for me.
So all in all, a very successful and exiting day. Cranford Park never ceases to amaze me, considering where it is located. Heathrow airport one end, the M4 the other end, and the A312 all down one side. Yet the wildlife is incredible. We know now that Kestrels, Little Owls, Sparrowhawks and Hobbys breed on site. Buzzards and Red Kites are regular visitors. Both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers have been seen over the last two years as well. Yet it is such an under watched site.