Sunday, 1 March 2015

Skylarks and Stonechats at Cranford Park

Before I start on todays blog post, here are two photos of me feeding the marmite Parakeets yesterday at Kensington Gardens. I wish I was as photogenic as the marmites but it was a lovely feeling to feed them, and I still have all my finger tips. Photos taken by the birthday boy, Duncan.....

This morning I was perched in the outdoor classroom at Cranford Park by 8.30am with a coffee and a fag and watching a couple of Stock Doves. They look similar to feral pigeons, but have a much more 'cuter' and smaller look about them. They're also easily identifiable by their gorgeous pure black round eye. They are quite shy and skittish so my photo below was taken from some distance away...
Last week, intrigued by what mammals are visiting Cranford Park but not often seen (eg Weasels, Muntjac deer, Roe deer, Foxes etc) I brought myself a new book.....

and set off to see what signs I could find. The area around the orchard was so churned up with mud that all foot prints and dog prints were merged together and nothing untoward stood out. However by the river near the poppy patch I found signs of deer visitors.
The damaged bark below I've noted a few times. There a couple of trees in the same vicinity showing the same damage. It doesn't look as if the deer have eaten the bark, if they had they would have pulled longer strips of it off in a more vertical way. Instead I think this is where a Roe buck has rubbed its antlers to loosen it's velvet covering. A favourite tree will be re-used through out the year as a scent marking spot too, which is why there is old and fresh damage on this one particular tree....
Of course I could be completely wrong, but nearby I found both Roe deer 'slots' (prints)...
and Muntjac deer slots....
Muntjac leave very small but recognisable prints. I followed these from the poppy patch up the muddy path by the side of the stone bridge and then lost them on the main drive. But at least we can safely say we have two different deer varieties visiting Cranford Park. My next mission on my next visit is to find poo. Deer poo. In my Animal Detective book it not only has detailed descriptions of droppings but also smell, size and colour guide too. So if next week you see me nose down to the ground with a ruler and a magnifying glass, you wont need to stop and ask what I'm doing.....! Haha
I was looking for the resident Meadow Pipits when I spotted two Stonechats topping the scrubby bushes at the Heathrow end of the open park land. A male and female were flitting about, often diving down into the longish grass then re-emerging and sitting atop anything that gave them a good look out point. They were very nervous and were being flushed by several dog walkers before finally flying off. I managed a few distant shots....

It's great to see a pair here at this time of year. With a bit of luck they'll stay and nest. The habitat at Cranford Park is certainly suitable for them.
I continued my search for the Meadow Pipits but could only find one today, compared with the 15 that were seen last Saturday. They may have been feeding in the stubble fields adjacent to the park land.
However a pair of Skylarks were very notable today. I tried several times to get a photo of the pair 'dancing' in the air, but could only manage a quick shot of one flying past me at head height, hence it looks more like a bullet rather than a bird.....
When they did eventually return to the longish grass, they stood out quite well and I was rewarded with some lovely views of one with its crest raised, a sight I would normally associate with a Skylark seen in autumn rather than early spring....
Another 'little brown job' that I saw today was a really pleasant surprise. It was a female Reed Bunting that appeared just a few feet in front of me on top of a patch of brambles.
This is only my second sighting of a Reed Bunting at Cranford Park, at Lake Farm you often used to get flocks numbering into the 20s at this time of year but they rarely visit Cranford Park....
Also seen briefly today were Tony and Audrey who had re-found the Stonechats in the Headland area, and Sue and Jasper the bird-dog.
Jasper's looking super slim at the moment and was very energetic after his recent diabetes diagnosis. It was also quite an honour to be greeted so warmly by him, and later after Sue and I said goodbye, Jasper decided to follow me before returning back to his mistress. Bless him. So to end todays blog post, here is our Jasper...


  1. Hi, very interesting read, I would ask about the visiting mammals, surely given the urbanisation and roads surrounding the park the majority of the mammals must be resident and not visiting ? I can understand foxes and and small rodents being visitors but the deer must be resident and have good hiding places ? Were the deer introduced in the past or have they found their way here and successfully negotiated the surrounding busy roads to do so ? Do you think it is only 1 or 2 deer or a enough to be small breeding population ?

  2. I doubt they are resident within Cranford Woods as it is a very popular area with dog walkers and dogs. However there is another section of woodland on the other side of the M4 which is only accessible from the main Cranford Park by two ways, one is a path from the stable blocks that goes under the subway and into the smaller woods, and the second is the River Crane.

    I have seen Muntjac deer in these other woods before (that area contains a small woodland, a meadow and lots of scrub and is sometimes referred to as Watersplash by the locals as there is another entrance to the park at the end of Watersplash Lane by The Crane pub). That area is less well known and therefore not so many people, dog walkers and dogs go there. There is also a great deal more scrub and cover on both sides of the river.

    Secondly there is another area which looks good for deer to live in but which isn’t part of Cranford Park. There is a chain link fence that separates the Frogs Ditch side of Cranford Woods and Park from a large stubble field which has another woody copse in it. The deer could be coming in from that area. The chain link fence is broken in places.

    So yes, I think the deer are visitors from locations around Cranford Park, rather than resident, but not visitors that are making their way across busy roads.

    Foxes and small rodents, including Weasels, could be resident and not visitors. I know of at least one fox den within Cranford Woods and Weasels are regularly seen by myself. I have also seen foxes in adjacent Avenue Park.

    I wouldn’t know if the deer were introduced or not. The chances are they have naturally spread. Minet CP has a breeding population and both Minet and Cranford Park share the same river, so no doubt the deer have followed the river path and at some point come across Cranford Park.

    Going by the deer prints I have seen, it is not a large herd that are visiting Cranford Park. And I’m still pretty certain we have both Roe and Muntjac visiting as not only have I found two variations of prints, only Roe have antlers that would require them using a tree to slough off the dead velvet.

    1. Interesting, I guess that the areas you refer to I was still visualising the deer regarding them as part of the same territory being immediately adjacent to the park and so not really visiting, but I guess your reference to visiting was referring to the smaller area within Cranford Woods.
      Also with foxes and small rodents I guess they are more likely to be resident but I was thinking more that Urbanisation wouldn't be so restrictive on their movements as it would for the deer hence my thinking they are more likely to be visitors. There is probably also more opportunity for new animals to seek out new territories from further afield and end up in Cranford park to set up home.

    2. I guess what I was really saying originally is that movement of smaller mammals and rodents is less affected by built up man made urbanisation than the larger mammals such as deer.