Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Blackbird.

The [Common] Blackbird (Turdus merula), a true thrush,  is one of our commonest garden species. Our resident mature male is easily recognisable in his glossy black coat with orange-yellow bill and eye ring as he regularly uses a high open perch nearby to survey his territory.

Whenever I see him I am often reminded of the initial verses of the nursery rhyme:

  Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye
Four-and-twenty Blackbirds baked in a pie
When the pie was opened the birds begin to sing
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the King.

During the winter he can be heard uttering his quiet sub-song from a hidden perch in an ivy clad tree but once spring arrives his calls become loud and varied.

Throughout the breeding season his song is rich, varied and flute-like, often finishing with a squeaky phrase.

William Henley wrote:
The nightingale has a lyre of gold,
The lark's is a clarion call,
And the blackbird plays but a boxwood flute,
But I love him best of all.

For his song is all of the joy of life,
And we in the mad, spring weather,
We two have listened till he sang
Our hearts and lips together.

If you are unfamiliar with its song that we hear most mornings, starting long before dawn awakens, then please listen to the sonogram below.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Butterfly Transect Update.

Following up on a post last August entitled 'A New Transect for 2015' I am pleased to say that my offer to carry out a new butterfly recording transect on Ashtead Common National Nature Reserve, managed by the City of London Corporation, has now been confirmed. This involves a weekly stroll over a fixed route from April to September, a total of 26 weeks, in suitable weather between 10.45 and 15.45 to record the variety and numbers of species seen throughout each of the 8 dedicated sections.

Whilst I have carried out three surveys so far the weather hasn't been particularly brilliant with gusty winds on most days between 8-20 mph combined with temperatures barely acceptable for the flutters so it is perhaps not surprising that I have only recorded 7 species; Brimstone (6), Large White (3), Small White (3), Green-veined White (1), Orange Tip (6), Peacock (2) and Speckled Wood (6).

Speckled Wood


Throughout the 500 acres (200 hectares) of Ashtead Common there are over 2,300 ancient oak pollards, many over 400 years old, which play host to a surprising variety of wildlife. Continual management is required to maintain the health of these veteran Oaks by reducing their crowns, clearing away the understory growth and where appropriate allowing younger trees to thrive so they can eventually take over from their forefathers.

In the open wooded pasture glades many old trees remain standing, weathered by the passage of time with shattered and torn limbs but continuing to play their part in the landscape as hideaways for numerous tiny creatures and nesting cavities for the birds and mammals.

During my most recent survey I noticed this sign stating that three weeks ago there had been six fires within the wooded pasture areas on the common all thought to have been deliberately lit. Fortunately through prompt action of the public and the Fire Brigade the overall damage was minimised.

I had previously seen evidence of a similar situation on my nearby birding patch at Epsom Common and have to wonder at the mentality of the idiots that  think this behaviour is acceptable.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Throughout the transect there are numerous patches of our native Bluebells and as soon as more wild flowers come into flower I'm sure other species of butterfly will be seen. One very majestic veteran that I walk pass is the King Oak which at the moment is still to come into leaf.

The King Oak

One species I was hoping to record along the transect is the Holly Blue but although I eventually found one resting it was seen elsewhere and therefore hasn't yet figured in the statistics.

Holly Blue

Linking to Saturday's Critters hosted by Eileen.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Birding between the Bridges.

On another very recent early morning, just as the dawn sunshine was slowly burning off the mist, I was crossing this stile on the edge of Bookham Common.

So if you are happy to continue then why not join me as I go birding between the bridges that straddle the various small streams that meander their way across the common.

The first species to greet me is a male Blackbird giving me a quizzical look as if to say "Why are you here this early?".

As I cross the first bridge, which has recently been restored to cater for vehicle, horse and foot traffic, I hear the hoarse alarm call of a Pheasant from deep within the dense understory vegetation. Way off in the distance there is the repeated call of a Cuckoo while I listen out for other recently returned migrant songsters.

A silent male Blackcap (above) passes by probably on the look out for an early morning snack.

To avoid any early morning dog walkers I move away from the main track where the underfoot conditions are somewhat sticky after the recent rainfall and head for my second bridge crossing.

The tall vegetation nearby provides excellent song and lookout perches for several species including this Chiffchaff with its dark legs .....

and then a very similar looking LBJ, the Willow Warbler (below) with its pale legs.

As I head towards the next crossing point I hear the Cuckoo call again and then catch sight of it flying into the nearby woodland but I wasn't quick enough to grab an in-flight shot. Maybe next time I'll be lucky.

During the last 7-10 days the numbers of Common Whitethroat seeking nesting territories has increased but none of them appear in the open long enough for a photo-call.

Another strident but repetitive songster seen and heard all around the common is the Song Thrush.

At usually one of the wettest areas close to the boundary with the railway line I'm pleased to see that the ditch has been cleaned out so I won't be carrying an extra few pounds of mud home on my walking boots!

A detour into the woods leads me to a recently created 'Play Area' but I'm not in the mood for climbing so I just sit awhile and listen to Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and Nuthatch calling plus bursts of song from several Wrens.

  Last but not least one of many Robins in full voice and proclaiming its territorial rights. 

I hope you managed to keep up and enjoyed my early morning wander around the common.  FAB.

Linking to Good Fences hosted by TexWisGirl.


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