Sunday, 28 September 2014

Critters at the London Wetland Centre

I've had a bad week. It started with the news the Information Centre at Cranford Park had been destroyed by fire (see my previous blog post), and continued with a few horrendous days at work, and getting wound up by some insensitive comments on a well known networking website. Result is I am due to start a new work placement tomorrow and I've deactivated my account with the well known networking site for a while. I need a break and luckily I will get one at the end of next week. Until then I have cancelled all future plans and will be taking each day as it comes. I think I've had what I can only describe as a 'mini meltdown'. I'm lucid, I'm in control, I'm okay but all week I've had a feeling of pressure pressing down on me.
Todays visit to the London Wetland Centre was completely unplanned. I was awake before dawn, and by 8am knew I needed to get out and about with my camera and bins.  
The usual faces were at the centre (hullo Phillip, John, Terese, Maryann, Martin, Keith etc) and as always we all comfortably wander off knowing we will bump in to each other again either in one of the hides or back in the café.
There were plenty of birds around including autumn visiting Pintails, a migrant Hobby, singing Cettis Warblers, mixed flocks of Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits and ChiffChaffs, plenty of Common Snipe, at least three male Stonechats, several Mipits, at least four Pied Wagtails and several good views of a normally shy bird, the Sparrowhawk. We saw both male and female birds, at least one of each during the course of the day with possibly a second female or juvenile. There were also some late flying butterflies. I spotted Green-veined White, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood.
But no photos of any birds today. My day was about relaxing and enjoying nature, not about getting stressed because I couldn't get a good photo. So I enjoyed taking photos today of the lesser mentioned critters that were around.
Darters were abundant. They really were. They were resting on the paths, the wooden bridges, reeds, everywhere.......

Also enjoying the unusually warm day were several Common Lizards. They were all spotted in the Wildside area and were very active running across the paths and bridges......

There was one particular small pond in the Wildside area that was home to an amazing 27 Marsh Frogs of various sizes. Amazing because during most of the last couple of months that same pond was bone dry. Now it's alive with frogs, including the large one below that seems to have taken to cannibalism.......

Yes, that is another frog in its mouth.
We watched it 'holding' the smaller frog until eventually it dived under the water and emerged without it.
The one below was happily content on the other side of the pond.

Migrant Hawkers were also abundant, but not so easy to photograph as the Darters as they weren't settling as much, but I managed to grab a couple of photos including one which has a damaged wing (bottom photo).....

Today wasn't an exceptional day, I watched more than I photographed, but it was what I needed. A stress free day.
On the way home my good friend Birdy Phil dropped me off at Cranford Park where I just walked around observing but not lifting my camera once. The burnt out Info Centre is boarded up and surrounded by 'police' tape. The ground outside the centre is still covered in ash. One of the destroyed shutters lays amongst the undergrowth. It's the end of an era for the Information Centre, but amongst the destruction a Phoenix from the flames will arise, a  new centre will be built, life at Cranford Park continues.

Cranford Parks Information Centre destroyed in blaze

I've had a bad week. It started when news started filtering through that the Information Centre at Cranford Park was badly damaged by fire in the early hours of last Monday morning. This is the
link to local news report. Apparently the fire was so intense by the time the fire brigade attended the scene at around 3am Monday morning, that any evidence to show whether this was a deliberate arson attack or an accident, may now never be known as everything inside the centre was destroyed.

The Information Centre was opened over a decade ago after being converted from an old toilet block into a new centre with a kitchen, disabled toilet and an area where there was a permanent small display about the parks history and wild life. Also within the centre was a marble statue of a woman with a cherub at her feet. The statue was found within the parks grounds during maintenance work many years ago. It dated back to the 18th century, and after being cleaned up, its new permanent home was just within the doors of the centre. The statue was said to be of the parks Grey Lady ghost. Many people claim to have seen the Grey Lady over the years. Some recollections are on the Cranford Parks Friends Page, and this is the link to the pages Memory Wall.

I have emailed Alison Shipley during the week, and briefly spoke to Bob Barton this afternoon, and both have confirmed there is a chance the statue may be beyond repair. The heat of the fire literally made the marble shatter. However the remains have been sent to experts for damage assessment. If there is a chance it can be saved, then the Friends of Cranford Park may hold some sort of fund raising event.

From my own personal view, I can honestly say the destruction of the Info Centre is a huge blow to me. My visits to the park were never brief, they would often last six or seven hours, and occasionally in the summer months I would spend ten hours on site if I was off work. The Centre was my base. It was my life line. It had the necessary toilet, it was a shelter during a rain fall, it was a hiding place for an extra layer of clothing or a flask of coffee, and it had a supply of drinking water. It also held important historical artefacts like the marble statue, which even though I knew was there, still often made me jump as the automatic lights came on. It also held a slice of a Yew tree that came down in one of the 1980s great storms, which was varnished and important time lines then tagged along its age rings. It was more than just a toilet block to me. It held a part of the parks history too.

My first sighting of the resident Little Owls was from the bench outside the centre as myself and Mac, one of the now retired Rangers, supped coffee on a chilly early summer morning several years ago. Three years ago from the same bench I watched Great Tits and Blue Tits battle over the nest box opposite the centre, the Blue Tits won and the Great Tits were relegated to a hole at the back of the supporting tree. The following year the Great Tits won. Every year from the same bench I watch Goldcrests feeding in the evergreens just feet away from me. A few years ago, before the new wildlife pond was constructed, I sheltered in the doorway of the centre during a heavy rain burst watching a family of Green Woodpeckers hunting ants on the grass in front.

That Information Centre meant a lot to me.



Sunday, 21 September 2014

Birds and Bikes - a mixed bag at Cranford Park today

It's been a long time since I've been out and about and blogging. The last two weeks I've been weighed down at work and fitted in a flying over night visit to my Godmother for her 70th Birthday (Hi Eileen xx), plus I was at Mums yesterday to do a bit of gardening for her, so today I was determined to get back to Cranford Park for some 'me' time.
The early morning didn't go as planned. I decided on a whim to do a flying visit to work but was rewarded with a Tawny Owl calling nearby, sightings of a Peregrine, Red Kite and Kestrel at Harlington Corner, and sightings of over ten Pied Wagtails plus three Common Redstarts in a dirty dusty fenced off yard just behind one of the bus stops near Hatton Cross. Naturally I didn't have my camera !
From there I was off to meet Sue, Tony, Audrey and Mark to discuss an upcoming venture that we hope to announce soon. And from there, just before lunchtime, I was finally on my way to Cranford Park.
This weekend has seen the park part of the London Open House weekend of events. The Stables, Secret Garden and St Dunstans church were all opened to the public, and one of the highlights of the Sunday was to be the classic and vintage motorbikes in the courtyard.
The Secret Garden was looking as most gardens do at this time of year, just going over but proof that it had been a good year......
Inside the Stable Block I was fascinated by the scale model of the park back in the days when the Berkeley family owned the house and the grounds. Bob Barton and the rest of the Cranford Park Friends group had done an excellent job in displaying the history of the park, and I wandered around for some time.
In the top middle of this photo of the scale model is the drive going up to the stone bridge, both of which we still use today, though the drive is now more like an avenue with its trees alongside. Interestingly in the 1860s the drive ended with a lodge, which in these days would be on the other side of the A312.

In this old photo, you can again see the drive top middle, and the stone bridge.
St Dunstans church was also open, and even though I've been visiting Cranford Park for nearly 15 years, this was only my second time inside the tiny church. No photos unfortunately as I only had my long lens with me, and my camera phone wouldn't adjust to the dim light.
After filling myself with history I was off for a wander. First port of call was one of my favourite spots to sit and drink a coffee, the wood circle a.k.a the outdoor class room. Sadly it looks as if it was also popular with a party last night. Many of the log seats had been uprooted and moved to form a smaller circle around a camp fire. Empty bottles and cans of alcohol were strewn around, along with burnt crisp packets and plastic bags. As I was sitting looking at the destruction with dismay a lady and her three children came along, so between us we picked up the litter ourselves.
It took us all of five minutes. Another five minutes later I had deposited the three bags of rubbish into a bin. How hard was that for the party that had so enjoyed their alcohol and bonfire the previous night ???!?!?

The park is open to everyone to enjoy. Don't ruin the park for others. Tidy up after yourself. It's not difficult !
Rant over.
Up by the river some of the poppies sown for the August 100 year remembrance of WW1, were still flowering.
Last week Sue spotted that a Little Grebe was back on the river. It was around this time last year that we first found three Little Grebes in the same place. They stayed for most of the winter until we had a few days of incredibly heavy rainfall, and the Grebes then disappeared, probably because their preferred hiding place under the overhanging vegetation was completely under water. It's nice to see one back, even if it is just as shy as last year. And it will be interesting to see if it stays for the winter again. 

From the iron bridge I watched a Kingfisher zooming down the river, then my attention was caught by several small birds flitting down onto the flatted weeds to bathe. Amongst them was a solo male Blackcap, three Chiffchaffs and about seven or eight Blue Tits......apologies in advance for my photos..... 

From the river I made my way across to the long grassed scrubby part of the open park, which the council has thankfully left unmown. It was in the same area two weeks ago that we had visiting Whinchats, and where in the summer a few pairs of Skylarks nested. The Whinchats have moved on now it seems, but I did find a stunning male Stonechat instead. According to Tony it was there last week too. From previous years watching birds at Lake Farm I know that area had Stonechats overwinter every year except for 2013 so it will be interesting to see if this gorgeous little bird will stay with us at Cranford Park this winter.

Up at the Headland area the Common Whitethroats have also moved on, but one of the Hobbys was still out catching some late flying dragonflies.
I also saw two Buzzards being mobbed by the usual crows, plus huge numbers of Jackdaws moving across the park and around 20-30 House Martins coming in from the cereal field and swopping low over the mown grass before moving away across the A312.
Trees around the park are just starting to turn colour. Autumn is well and truly almost upon us.
Back at the church I was grateful to find a stall selling hot drinks, cakes and barbecue food. As all my birdy friends know, I like nothing more than a pleasant seat with a hot coffee and a fag, so with purchases in hand I placed myself in the courtyard and watched the comings and goings of the many motorbikes.
By the way, I know nothing about bikes, but here are some photos of them anyway.....


All in all, it was a long but productive day. The weather stayed dry and fine, and I got to enjoy a few hours birding and hiding in many of my secret places around the park. A good end to a very busy fortnight.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Another Sunday social gathering at Cranford Park

Another Sunday and another great day at Cranford Park. Joining us stalwarts (Sue, Jasper and myself) during the course of the day were Scally, John, Phillip, Joe and Rick. It was also a pleasure to meet Kish, who follows my blog, and Sheila from the Cranford Park Friends Facebook page. Always nice to put a face to a name. The only members of the team missing were Tony and Audrey, and what a day they missed.......
Birds seen today around the park, and it is an impressive list considering it's late summer, included......
Three Whinchats (for the fourth consecutive day),
four Buzzards,
one Red Kite,
one Kestrel,
two Hobbys,
one Green Woodpecker,
one Great Spotted Woodpecker,
c10 Mistle Thrush,
four Blackcaps,
two Jays,
eight Linnets,
c40 Carrion Crow,
plus the usual large numbers of Great Tit, Blue Tit, Blackbirds, Woodpigeons and Robins.
Birds seen on Friday and Saturday when I wasn't around, included three Spotted Flycatchers by Kish, and a male Northern Wheatear by Sue.  
So here are some of my dreadful photos from todays batch of birds.
Our lovely staying Whinchats......

One of our resident Kestrels was again watching us.....
We got brief views of two of the Hobbys flying over Cranford Woods. This is one of them.
There were Mistle Thrushes galore in front of the Info Centre....
Several times today we saw four Buzzards going over. I'm guessing they were a family group as there was a lot of practise food passing going on. My photos are all in silhouette due to the bright glare of the sun, but you can get the general gist of the twisting and turning flying of the birds...

Jasper the bird-dog was impeccably behaved as always. Here he is looking bored while John shows Sue one of his photos...
However John, as always, was a very bad influence on me, and kept forcing me to drink whisky laced coffee !! Good job I was the only one that wasn't driving, as it was only me that knocked back a couple of large toddies.   
Last but not least, my blog would not be complete without a photo of our Jasper.