Saturday, 31 January 2009

60 years old - Does anything change?

The 'Early Birder' reached an apparent milestone today - 60 years old but do I feel any different and will anything change?

Well firstly I don't feel any different and age is not something I consciously think about except when the occasional aches & pains take longer to subside. I'm thankful that my change of work and lifestyle some 12 years ago has kept me reasonably fit and healthy. Whilst I'd like to retire that is not a viable option just yet but when it is I will have plenty of things to keep me occupied.....not least will be more time for wildlife watching.

So no 'formal' birding to day as we visited my parents for a quiet meal and to catch up on family gossip including an update on their garden visitors.

I know you are wondering what did I get for my birthday? Well lots of cards from the family including some contributions towards the cost of the new camera and lenses that I recently purchased - an enjoyable surprise and all very much appreciated. Hopefully Anita will help me make some personalised 'thank-you' cards!

Anita presented me with an application form for a 'Freedom Pass' so I will be able to travel FREE on buses & trains, subject to certain criteria - Great news.

I also received an unexpected gift from David, a work colleague and co-leader of bird walks at work, of a photograph taken of Waxwings, one of my all time favourites. David & I have been fortunate in seeing Waxwings in the gardens at RHS Wisley on two seperate occasions in previous 'intruptive' years and we are still hoping that they may visit again this year but berry stocks are thin on the ground so it may not happen. Anyway I'll always have this picture as a reminder.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Not "The Early Birder" today!

Well I failed to live up to my ethos that 'the early bird catches the worm' and didn't leave the house until midday. A fairly short car journey to Riverside Country Park, on the outskirts of Guildford.

The Nature Reserve consists of four main habitats: meadow, wetland, open water and woodland. The lake and meadow were by-products of gravel extraction during the construction of the A3 Guildford by-pass during the late 1970s. The wetland is especially important due to its rarity and its ability to support a diverse range of birds, amphibians and insects. To retain this habitat, it is necessary to remove invasive trees such as willow, which dry the marsh, and regularly to clear out the watercourses to eradicate the build up of silt. The majority of open water is contained within the man made lake in the centre of the reserve. This important habitat for birds and fish sees an influx of migratory species throughout the seasons. Various warblers, winter gulls, Common Tern and Snipe (inc. Jack Snipe) visit. Great-crested Grebe, Water Rails and Reed Buntings can be seen and the presence of Kingfishers and Herons indicates a good supply of fish.

My journey took me along the River Wey from Bowyers Lock to Stoke Lock, via the lake, and back again.
Sightings included: Canada Geese (74), Egyptian Geese (12), Mallard (12), Mute Swans (4), Bullfinch (1 male),
Tufted Ducks (4), Black-headed Gulls (44), Gadwall (6), Shovellers (4), Robin, Pheasants (2), Magpie, Crows, Little Grebe (1), Long-tailed, Blue & Great Tits, Cormorants (3), Great-crested Grebe (1) and Pied Wagtails (12 flew up off the Sewage Works).

On my return journey a small flock of finches (probably 'goldies') caught my eye on the other side of the river in the damp pasture and when I looked for them with the bins I noticed the rear end of a very dark shape bobbing up and down. My first thought was Lapwing but in the changing light it appeared much lighter and then I thought of Common Sandpiper. I moved my position to get a better view but it was feeding in a wet furrow. I was then joined by another birder (who had just visited Bookham Common & seen 5 Hawfinch!) who asked what I was watching. We patiently waited for better views and eventually agreed on Green Sandpiper, another first for 2009 and possibly a first for me in Surrey - I'll need to check my records.

Finally, no excusses for posting more shots of Mute Swans & Egyptian Geese.

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Thursday, 29 January 2009

Thursley Common

Yesterday I took a gamble & went to Thursley Common in the hope of seeing one or two of it specialities (Dartford Warbler & Woodlark).
Thursley NNR is one of the largest remaining fragments of Surrey heath and includes areas of lowland heath, mire and woodland. The site supports a range of typical heathland wildlife including large invertebrate populations. The reserve's mixture of mire and wet heath is one of the finest examples of its type in southern England. The site contains bog pools, sphagnum lawns and, in drier areas, tracts of cross-leaved heath on the sandy soils. Damp areas support carnivorous plants such as sundew.

Bog asphodel and marsh orchid may also be seen. Large populations of grayling and purple emperor butterflies can be seen here and of course the silver studded blue butterfly which I understand has thrived following the catastrophic fire that tore through 400 hectares in July 2006 devastating 60% of the wildlife habitat. There are also 26 recorded dragonfly species. It has also been one of the few inland breeding sites for Curlew but will they return again this year? The best time to visit is from May through to September for birds (Hobby & Nightjar), dragonflies & flowers.

I walked for approx 2 hours, much of the time, in complete silence apart from the squelching of my boots on the very sodden ground. So here are a few views which also show the effect of the fire. Whilst vegetation is re-emerging it will take years for the area to return to it's former glory, if it ever does!

When the sun eventually decided to break through, somewhat watery, a few birds appeared. I did not locate Dartford Warbler or Woodlark but did see:

  • Canada Geese (2), Mallard (10), Moorhen & Tufted Duck (3) - All on Moat Pond
  • Green & Great-spotted Woodpeckers
  • Treecreeper
  • Blackbird
  • Cormorant
  • Goldcrests (2)
  • Coal Tit, Blue & Great Tits
  • Meadow Pipits (5)
  • Jay (3)
  • Siskin (3) - I had to strain my neck shooting high up in the tree canopy and a little work later on the laptop to produce this image of a Siskin.

Wood Nuthatch

Another late afternoon stop at my local patch (Ashtead Common) to check out a few more pathways produced sightings of:
  • Long-tailed Tits (6)
  • Blue Tit
  • Great Tit
  • Blackbird
  • Magpie
  • Moorhen & Grey Heron [on the Great Pond]
  • Jay (2)
  • Crows (32) & Jackdaws (6+) [on the fields behind Rushett Farm]
  • Starlings (50+) [flying over Malden Rushett]
  • Fieldfare (25+) [flew off the fields into trees in the wood - presumably their night roost]
  • and Nutchatch (see photos below)

Feral Pigeons - Love 'em or hate 'em?

Following the advice of an 'expert' (thanks Steve B) I lowered the ISO setting and without even opening the window captured one of many feral pigeons that invade the garden feeders.

Did you spot the difference?

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Camera was the weather!

I was allowed home from work a little early today so decided to do some quick birding and test the new camera - weather conditions very poor - but here are the results. Dropped in at Papercourt Pits just in case any Goosanders were still around - Answer NO. However I did see Pochard (min x 32) Tufted Ducks (min x 25), Coot (too many), Moorhen (4), Mallard (10+), Kestrel, Blue Tit, Goldcrest, Blackbird, 2 Egyptian Geese flying on far side of the sailing lake [hence the out of focus shot!], numerous Black-headed Gulls and 3 Great-Crested Grebe.
Egyptian Geese
Great-Crested Grebe

Pair of Mallard - Sleeping apart!

I then decided to stop off at Bookham Common just in case the Hawfinches were around but again no luck. With the afternoon light fading and lack of avian activity apart from Blue & Great Tits, Magpies, Jay and an over-flying Lesser-spotted Woodpecker I headed for the pond and managed to take a few shots of a Mute Swan.

One of many bracket fungi - Must try harder to get everything in focus - depth of field I guess.

Finally a view of part of the common which will hopefully be alive with warblers in the spring.

OR you may even meet these fellows as I did last year.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Tribute to the passing of an old friend.

I learnt by letter today that an old friend Cyril passed away at his home last Friday. Regretfully we had been out of touch for a while and not unnaturally I am feeling guilty for not keeping in contact.

I first met Cyril in 1995 when I joined the Surrey Bird Club and he was actively leading bird walks (even in his 70's) as part of the "Banstead Group". Anita and I turned up at Weir Wood Reservoir not knowing what to expect....but within minutes we were both deep in conversation with Cyril and all the other members of this local group as if we had know them all our lives. Cyril and I shared a common bond in that he was a consummate draftsman (map making during his Army life) and openly enjoyed and talked about his past experiences as a bird watcher however common the species. Over the following years I assisted him in compiling an annual outing programme plus leading some of the walks.

Some years ago his sight began to fail but with no chance of any remission and knowing he would be completely blind he still continued to maintain contact with his dwindling group of birding friends and still joined us on many outings. I particularly remember an annual evening trip to Bookham Common to hear / see Nightingales and despite his lack of sight he was still enthusiastic and joyful at just hearing this lovely songster even if from a long way away. Having walk from one side of the common to the other I offered to drive him and his long time friend Vic, who was struggling with a bad leg, back to the starting point. This meant a journey through the back roads which I didn't know very well at that time and in the dark. Cyril says "no problem I'll navigate". Well to my amazement he did just that using his memory of roads he had travelled in the past and even telling me in advance of when to turn at various junctions. Even when I commented that if we got lost I could hardly blame my 'blind' navigator he just laughed.
When he was fully sighted he set himself the task throughout the winter months of drawing and painting a wildlife picture as a tribute to his wife who passed away many, many years ago. These painting were then proudly hung around his home and I must admit now to coveting the one of the two Nuthatches - a superb piece of art. Kingfishers were also one of his favourites as were the common birds that visited his garden.
Thank you Cyril for imparting your infectious knowledge and introducing me to many species and new locations such as Cuckmere Haven, Sevenoaks, Rye Harbour, Tring Reservoirs, Hayling Island Oyster Beds, Weir Wood, Horsell & Bookham Commons just to name a few and for always providing the refreshments from the boot of your car whatever the weather.
At lunch time today I took a walk onto Battleston Hill to the feeder and not knowing what would come to are three pictures of common birds [Blue, Great & Coal Tit] and a flowering Camellia that he would have enjoyed watching in his own garden.

Bless you Cyril for all the memories - sleep peacefully old friend.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

RSPB Big Garden Watch

Not a great day for 'garden' bird watching

My one hour visitors were:
  • House Sparrows (3)
  • Greenfinch (4)
  • Robin (1)
  • Dunnock (1)
  • Blackbird (2)
  • Blue Tit (1)
  • Parakeet (1)
  • Collared Doves (7)
  • Feral Pigeons (3)


This wet weather has kept me indoors catching up on a few tasks. But all is not doom and gloom as I have at last treated myself to an new DSLR (Cannon 450D) in advance of a forthcoming (some would say) significant birthday!
So boxes opened & a quick scan through the instructions....and here are some of the first very amaetuer pictures of birds visiting the garden today in not ideal conditions.

Blue Tits & Collared Doves are
regular visitors to the seed feeders.

And finally the resident House Sparrows.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Something to cheer the spirit?

Another grey, damp week with little opportunity to seek out wildlife due to work commitments so I'm posting a few images from my garden, taken last summer, to remind me of what is to come.......
Smell me?
Delightful Dahlia's
Firey Flower


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