Sunday, 31 July 2016

White-letter Hairstreak and juvenile Sparrowhawks at Cranford Park today

If I had a good day yesterday, today was even better because I found my first ever White-letter Hairstreak butterfly.
We'd known for a couple of years that they were suspected to be on site at Cranford Park after Alison Shipley managed to get a photo of one on her phone. But despite searching in the same area in Cranford Woods for the next two summers, I couldn't find any sign of them. Even yesterday Paul, Susy and I had another look for them in the woods without success.
So today I wasn't expecting to see one either. But I am so chuffed that I did.
The facts below are taken from the UK Butterflies website 
White-letter Hairstreaks prefer woodland and is one of our more-elusive butterflies as it flits high in the treetops, often appearing as a dark speck against the sky.
It gets its name from the letter "W" that is formed from a series of white lines found on the underside of the hindwings.
Elm is the sole foodplant and this species suffered as a result of Dutch elm disease in the 1970s and early 1980s, especially in southern sites. All species of elm were affected and there was concern that this species of butterfly might become extinct in the British Isles as a result.
In 2011 this species was in serious decline and was therefore a priority species for conservation efforts.
This butterfly is never found far from its larval foodplant of elm, Wych Elm being preferred. Flowering elms are usually essential for successful larval development and this therefore suggests a certain maturity of tree, although there is some evidence that this species has successfully used non-flowering elms on occasion. Favourite sites are elms on the edge of deciduous woodland, but this species can also be found in more open habitat such as roadside verges if suitable elms are present.
I actually found this little gem whilst I was looking for another butterfly, the Small Copper. I had seen one and was following it when I came upon a patch of thistles (that funnily enough Paul, Susy and I had stopped at yesterday) when I found the White-letter Hairstreak. The patch is just on the outskirts of the Headland area and bordering part of Cranford Woods, where I know there are plenty of elms.
I watched it for an hour and luckily Sue made it to the park just in time to see it and get a few photos, before it suddenly took to the wing and we lost track of it across the meadows.
This is a big tick for Cranford Park, and only the second confirmed sighting that I'm aware of.
So I'm not going to apologise for the complete overload of White-letter Hairstreak photos as I don't know when I will see one again !

Before I found that wonderful little butterfly I had actually been following a noise around the woods. It was a 'mew' not unlike a Buzzard, but sharper and longer. I eventually found it was a family of Sparrowhawks.
 So our Little Owls have successfully fledged, our Kestrels have successfully fledged and now our Sparrowhawks have successfully fledged.
 I think we have four juvenile Sprawks as standing in the middle of the woods I had four calling from different directions. Hearing them was easy, seeing them was not.
Spot the Sprawk below.....
It's right in the middle of the photo, and below is a heavily cropped copy....

Another was a bit more obliging but still incredibly hard to photograph. In the photo below it's staring right at me....

Sue and I walked round and round the section of the woods they seemed to be favouring, sometimes catching a glimpse of them as they flew from tree to tree, but despite a lack of photos it's brilliant news that we now have a new family to watch out for.
Of course a visit to Cranford Park without going to see the Kestrels is unthinkable at the moment, and just like yesterday they didn't disappoint.....
and with two pairs of eyes searching for them it was great to confirm we still have six birds actively flying around....

An excellent day with a huge patch tick in the form of a tiny butterfly.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Showing friends the nature at Cranford Park

I've had a lovely afternoon at Cranford Park. I bumped into Sue and Jasper the bird-dog for a quick catch up just before they left, then had a mooch around the meadows looking for Kestrels. They didn't disappoint with four being seen at the same time.
An hour later one of the park regulars, Sheila Perry, arrived. Even though she walks through the park a lot she's never knowingly seen the Kestrels, and I promised her today we would.....and of course we did.
Another pair of good friends, Paul and Sheila Provins, also joined us later in the afternoon and it was great to show them the Kestrels too.
So thank you Cranford Park Kestrels for putting on a good show.... 

Later on Sheila and I found another juvenile Kestrel at the Stable Blocks. It seems younger than the ones in the meadows and was still 'calling' for food when an adult was near, so I'm in two minds. Is there another family of Kestrels at the back of the park ? Or is this just the 'runt' of the resident family ? I will be investigating more tomorrow.

Lastly two more good friends, Paul Cox and Susy Jones, showed up to help me look to see if we have Essex Skippers at Cranford Park. We get both Large and Small Skippers, and I know there is a small colony of Essex Skippers on a roundabout near one of the Heathrow Terminals. 
After much searching during which we only found a handful of Small Skippers, Paul finally found an Essex Skipper.....

and Susy found me a lovely fresh Brown Argus....

Despite only being out for a few hours I had a great time with great company.
Thank you Sheila, Paul and Sheila (and thanks for the mug) and Paul and Susy.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

My weekend at Cranford Park....

Yesterday (Saturday 23rd July) was our annual Fun Day at Cranford Park.
As one of the many volunteers my duty was mainly in the historic Stable Block with the incredible historian, Christopher Luetchford, talking to visitors about the old Cranford Manor House and the Berkeley family that owned it, plus I had a table in there with some of my photos from the wildlife at Cranford Park.
  I decided to do my bit in costume....
photo by Nathalie Mahieu
An 18th century House Maid to be exact.
Had I known the weather was going to be so warm, I might have had a rethink ! But the Stable Block was nice and cool and I had plenty of water to drink.
As I was on 'duty' all day, I didn't have time to walk around the stalls and other events so three of my friends kindly took photos for me.
photo by Sue Giddens

photo by Sue Giddens

photo by Sue Giddens

photo by Sue Giddens
photo by Sue Giddens

photo by Sue Giddens
photo by Lidia Sle-K

photo by Lidia Sle-K
photo by Sue Giddens

photo by Nathalie Mahieu
The Fun Day was a huge success. I reckon we had double the visitors we had last year. In the Stable Block we done a head count of visitors and the total was almost 240, a good rise on last years figures.
 Personally I had a brilliant day. It was really great to talk to so many people about our park, have my photo taken with lots of the visitors and it was really nice to have support from several friends and family who made the trip over. Thank you to my Mum and Dave Swan, Paul and Sheila Provins, Sue Giddens, Nathalie Mahieu, Sue Beasley and family, Jenny Grubb and her better half, and my lovely cousin Debs and her granddaughter Mollie.
With our application for Lottery Heritage Funding still being processed, it is so important to try and bring in more and more visitors to the park.
A massive well done to Bob Barton and all of the volunteers who worked tirelessly in both the heat of Saturday plus the meetings over the last few months, to make Fun Day 2016 a really great day.
Despite being on my feet all day I did manage a half hour walk in the meadows after the Fun Day ended, and my day was completed with seeing that the resident Kestrel pair have bought their juveniles out to start practising their hovering, flying and hunting skills.
I slept very well Saturday night.....
Today saw me at the park by 9.30am - I allowed myself a lie in after yesterday.
Today was about the Kestrels. Every year I wait in anticipation for the youngsters to fledge. Last Sunday I got a lucky shot of one of the juveniles with the adult male, still on the nest tree, so I knew fledging was imminent. A text message from Sue on Monday confirmed my suspicion - the juveniles were out in the meadows.
Nathalie has posted a cracking Youtube clip of one of the juvenile Kestrels hunting insects....I hope the link works as it captures what I cant get in a photo....
The weather was much cooler today and the Kestrels were very very active.
So be prepared for a complete overload of juvenile Kestrel photos. I'm not going to apologise for them as everyone who knows me knows these are my favourite birds.
To start with here are two great photos showing the meadows and the grassy paths that I will refer to later. Both pics taken by Nathalie yesterday...
photo by Nathalie Mahieu

photo by Nathalie Mahieu





These juveniles are learning. Basically they are at a 'Kestrel Academy' (copyright on the phrasing to my old mate Tony). They are learning how to fly well, hover and hunt. As they are not yet experienced enough to hunt for voles, mice or small birds, they are honing in their skills by picking out grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies and any other critters that dare be around.
I bumped in to Yvonne and her darling dog, Janey, whilst I was out in the meadows and we walked back down the main grassy path (which leads from the Cranford Lane entrance all the way down to the mown area in front of the car park).
I love showing people the wildlife in Cranford Park and we spent an enjoyable catch up and gossip, with several interruptions from me pointing out 'there's a Kestrel', 'there's another one' and 'oh look there's another one' and with the Kestrels being so obliging at the moment, Yvonne got to see them all (as did Janey who when a Kestrel hovered then landed, done her best meerkat impression ever, then tried bouncing through the grass to catch one).
This week really is the best time to try and see our new family of Kestrels. At one point today I had six in view at the same time, but it was incredibly hard to look at them through the bins and work out which was juvenile and which was adult, without then losing sight of one of them. But it looks like we have 4-5 juveniles with at least one adult which is usually flying above them. The small shrubby trees, grass paths and tree guards are all very promising sites to see the juveniles. As they only truly fledged (ie left the nest tree) last Monday, they haven't yet learned to view us humans as the enemy. As they grow older and bolder over the next week or so, they will become less and less approachable.
For the last hour of my visit today, my good old birdy mate Phil arrived with his lovely lady Aniko, after I alerted him earlier that my beloved Kestrels had finally fledged and were in the meadows. Again we had great views of the juveniles hovering low, perched on the shrubs and catching insects on the grassy paths.
So did I have a good weekend at Cranford Park ?
That's a big fat 'yes'.