Thursday, 30 April 2009

Evidence of Nesting: Great Tit

For many years the nest box on the back of the shed has been used exclusively by Blue Tits (Parus caeruleus) but over the last two weeks the activity by a pair of Great Tits (Parus major) led us to believe they may be nesting. During brief breaks from gardening today I was able to get these few shots.

So, occupation confirmed and now we wait to see how successful they are.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Robin: How I Grew Up

I have recently been scanning some older "film" photographs taken with an Olympus OM1, and whilst the clarity is not particularly brilliant, I thought I would share this one of a juvenile Robin, taken in the garden 2 years ago. As you can see he is very brown and the whole plumage is finely spotted.
The next two shots show how I look now, sporting my full adult rusty-red bib and master of my domain.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Holmethorpe Spring Bird Race

By invitation I visited Holmethorpe again today for their annual Spring Bird Race and spent some 7 enjoyable hours in the company of local birders Graham (Birding with the Old Grouse) and his wife Sue, Ian, Richard, Steve (North Downs and Beyond) and Gordon plus Tricia (Tricia’s Tales).
For me this was less of a race and more of a stroll around Graham’s local patch. My total for the day, seen and or heard was a respectable 65 with new sightings for this year of Garden Warbler, Swift, Sand Martin and Hobby. After I departed for home Richard located Red Kite! The most common sounds throughout the day came from singing Blackcaps (I counted 14) and Common Whitethroats. Other notable species seen were a male Pochard, Common Sandpiper, Common Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and male Bullfinch plus Lesser Whitethroat (heard only).
Cormorant catching the suns rays
Green-veined WhiteOther species seen were Orange Tips, Speckled Wood & Peacock Butterflies.
'Noddy' the bull

Friday, 24 April 2009

Chance Encounter with a Roe Buck

Last week I made a late afternoon visit to Epsom Common in the vain hope of finding a confiding bird to photograph. Well I actually heard more than I saw including Chiffchaffs, Blackcap, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Jays and the resident Crows plus a few Magpies. As I walked beyond the Great Pond out onto High Meadow (open grassland with some scrub thickets) heading for the sounds of Common Whitethroat I had a feeling that something was watching the ‘watcher’ as the hairs on the back of my neck pricked into my shirt collar.
The ‘watcher’ stopped and slowly turned to his right to find a young Roe buck, sporting his fresh soft velvet antlers, staring straight at him. There was no perceivable movement from the watched who continued to stare and the ‘watcher’ tried to remain calm as his pulse rate quickened. Both the watched and the ‘watcher’ seemed to be transfixed in a moment in time. The ‘watcher’ very cautiously removed his camera from its holster, still no change in attitude by the watched, and with a light breeze in favour of the ‘watcher’ the camera was lifted to shooting position and a few shots were fired. A slight twitch by the watched as he ‘nosed’ the air to capture any smell of the ‘watcher’ but still all four feet were rooted to the spot. The ‘watcher’ fired two more volleys and while checking the results the watched started to move, very slowly, away just a matter of a yard or two revealing his tailless rear and then stopped and turned his head towards the ‘watcher’. The eyes of the watched and the ‘watcher’ briefly met once more and as the ‘watcher’ fired his final salvo the watched moved slowly away totally unharmed by this chance encounter.

The grey-brown winter coat (grown during Sept to Oct) is moulted the following spring and will ultimately turn a foxy-red with a distinctive buff patch on the rump during the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Nesting Material.

While catching a brief glimpse of a Kingfisher flying up river at work yesterday morning a pair of Great Tits appeared with this one carrying a large mouthful of nesting material. I think the nest must be in the undergrowth beneath my feet on the steep sided bank of the river.

Great Tit ( Parus major)
Just another few magical moments with our resident wildlife.  FAB.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Bird Walk @ RHS Wisley Garden.

The participants congregated in the gardens and as usual there were many ‘regular’ faces who have over the years have become, in their words, our birding ‘groupies’ but also very good friends. While I was taking this picture three House Martins were spotted high in the sky, but not by me – drat! [But I saw two today Tuesday - another year tick]So after introductions I led off towards the Wild Garden with David taking up the rear as usual. A Greenfinch confidingly perched on top of a nearby conifer and a male Blackbird was scouring the well trimmed lawn for worms, its favourite snack. Way in front of us on the path alongside the stream, below the Rock Garden was a waddling male Mallard and a Moorhen while one of the visitors located a Long-tailed Tit in the Oak tree. A Wren exploded into song from the undergrowth nearby. It never ceases to amaze me that its song comprises of around 70 – 100 individual notes and are blurted out in a matter of seconds. Next a pair of Dunnock were feeding either side of a pathway but quickly disturbed by other garden visitors walking towards us. Around the corner is one of the large garden seed feeders and everyone had exceptionally good views of a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeder together with a Rose-ringed Parakeet while both Chaffinch and Blue Tit tried to land on the perching rings but obviously thought better of it.
As we entered the Wild Garden the most prominent sound was “chiff, chiff, chaff...chiff, chaff, etc.” and its owner a Chiffchaff was singing from atop one of the highest Oaks. Question from a lady participant...”Why do they sing”? Immediate response from The Early Birder was “I’ve survived the night, I’m fit, healthy and I’m up for it”. After the few giggles subsided I explained in a little more depth the basic reasons for bird song and that we should also listen out for other sounds such as alarm and contact calls just as a male Blackbird uttered a scolding warning and flew past us. My attention was interrupted by a call of “raptor overhead” by David so bins skyward and a brief look at a Common Buzzard as it flew over at some speed and probably not seen by many of our party. Well David did say at the start of the walk “Don’t forget to keep an eye on the sky above us as anything could fly over”, a very basic birding tip.
Out on the edge of the large grassy area of Seven Acres we had a close visit by a Pied Wagtail hunting for insects on the lawn. The next songster spotted, again high in a tree, was a Mistle Thrush but clear views obscured by the emerging foliage. This thrush often sings ahead of bad weather and has earned the name ‘Storm Cock’ but today the sky was clear although it was chilly out of the sun. David and I had both heard a Blackcap singing (another migrant visitor, although many no longer return to Africa at the end of summer but overwinter in the south of the UK) but the question was could we find it. I’ve never found it easy to explain its song a rich fluty warble with a noticeably mumbling, uncertain, hesitant beginning and a strong whistling finish. The song is very variable and may include imitations including that of a Garden Warbler with which it is often confused. Every time it started to sing I pointed in the general direction but this warbler usually delivers its song from a concealed perch between 4 – 13 m above ground and we followed this individual as it moved through the shrubbery for some 10 minutes without success.
At the side of the lake we were closely inspected by female Mallards looking for a free hand out while we marvelled at the iridescent colours on the heads of the males. An Egyptian Goose was also present.Moving on to the path overlooking the River Wey near the Pump House we were delighted to locate a Grey Wagtail, constantly twitching its tail while striding along a small sandy area on the opposite bank and then flying to a tree stump perch further downstream. Many of our regulars have been fortunate to see Kingfisher at this location on previous walks as they have nested in the river bank over many years. However a lot of work has recently been carried out to on the far bank (Golf Course) to repair and prevent erosion so we think the Kingfishers have probably sought out a quieter location for this year but there is always the possibility that you will see them fly by – just listen for their high pitch whistle. [Tuesday update - I saw Kingfisher flying up river today so we will have to keep an eye open to see if they are nesting again].
Great Tits were also seen carrying nesting material as we waited for any other activity. The next sightings were a Goldcrest and a pair of Jays while David located a Treecreeper. I eventually got most of the group onto it as it flew to its nest entrance just under the bark of a Pinus radiata and only 6 feet from the base of the tree.
Sorry the bird disappeared into the nest and didn't reappear for his photo call!

Our attention was interrupted by another sighting of Buzzard flying overhead. Two Canada Geese flew over onto the Golf Course. A splinter group were looking over the river where a tree has fallen into the water and requested my ID for a ‘dumpy’ wader they had spotted that was constantly bobbing its rear end. (I was not surprised that they had found something interesting as David had acquainted me with his sighting on his walk into work.) Working its way around the fallen branches on a tiny sand bank and often partly hidden from view, was a COMMON SANDPIPER, easily identified by the clear border between a white belly and grey-brown chest, and a white extension that reaches up to the shoulder that looks like a ‘comma’. This individual is on migration and after feeding up on insects will continue its journey probably northwards. The Grey Wagtail came and joined the Sandpiper while a Moorhen was calmly sitting on a nest where the tip of the fallen branches entered the water.
As we continued towards the ‘Wildlife Area’ some of the party caught sight of a Grey Heron in flight. We spent a little while looking into this protected area where the river has created a natural pool often frequented by Kingfisher and a bird hide is to be built this year mainly for educational use by children. As we entered the ‘Wildlife Area’ attention was drawn to the Owl box high up on a Pine that for some time has been occupied by Grey Squirrels but has now been cleaned out. Could it be used by something else, well something shot over us and our thoughts were probably a Kestrel. [It was later confirmed by garden staff that a pair of Kestrels have been seen prospecting this box – good news indeed.] Once again intermittent bird song from Robin, Wren and another Blackcap but nothing actually seen apart from Starling and then a Mute Swan on another sand bar in the river as we exited this reserve area.
This is the view that you will have from the hide - when it is built.
On the walk back through Howards Field (heather collection) and Pineatum we heard both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers calling. All in all not a bad day and it will be interesting to compare the species seen and heard (35) with our next walk in a month’s time.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Up with the Lark!

This morning (Sunday 19th) I intended to rise early to revisit Bookham Common and check for returning Nightingales BUT I overslept! Never mind, I thought, I'll go anyway. It was not a fruitless visit as I 'heard' 4 separate individuals during a half hour sprint around the possible locations. Song Thrushes were also singing prominently and I also had another brief encounter with a pair of Lesser Whitethroats.
On the drive back towards Downside I spotted Skylarks perched on the roadside hedge and managed to get this image while using the car as a hide.

The next 4 hours were spent at RHS Gardens, Wisley where I was co-leading the 'Spring Bird Walk' but more of that in my next post......

Weekend Walks 18/04/09

On Saturday we decided to visit Frensham Little Pond. A dip into the wooded area adjoining the car park produced Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps (2 males & 1 female), Wren and Great Tits plus Great Woodpecker calling and Green Woodpecker ‘yaffaling’ some distance away.
Male Blackcap
At the water’s edge several dog owners were allowing their beasts to enter the water despite signs around the pond banning this activity to protect the wildlife. (The owners obviously all need an eye sight test!)

On the water were Great-crested Grebe (2), Coot, Mallard, Mute Swan and a Canada Goose.
We listened to the rhythmic song of several Reed Warblers and the scratchy sounds from a Sedge Warbler but only one very brief sighting of the former dashing across the top of the reeds.
Below is my 2nd pair of eyes scanning the reed beds for any sign of life.
Willow Warblers were singing from their high perches. Quite a few Blue Tits and this individual posed long enough for its portrait.
Out on the heathland, where the Gorse is in full flower we listened in vain for either Dartford Warbler or a Tree Pipit. (Another day perhaps). A female Stonechat hopped from perch to perch ahead of us and a Kestrel was hovering over King’s Ridge. We walked up onto the ridge to scan over towards the Great Pond and picked up 2 Common Buzzards high in the distance. During a brief rest stop we watched three SWALLOWS pass by.

On the way home we stopped off at Bookham Common and were rewarded with a brief glimpse of a LESSER WHITETHROAT confirmed by its distinctive alarm call and then singing from within low scrub. Again Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Chaffinches were everywhere.
Butterflies seen today were Peacock, Comma, Green Veined White and plenty of Orange Tips, including this female.
We made a diversion via very muddy paths to check out a Bluebell wood nearby.
A few stems are already in flower, but the area above will be a sea of blue in a week or so. Anita spotted this mossy 'beast' lying on the ground - Any suggestions as to what it might be?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A better way to start the day?

On Tuesday with an aching back due to incorrectly lifting and moving a pot in the garden over the weekend (no comments please, it’s my own fault!) I decided to leave early for work and dropped into Bookham Common to stretch the legs. The early morning sun was still hidden behind cloud so not brilliant light for any pictures but I took the camera just in case. While heading towards the Blackthorn thickets four Jays noisily flew over and the other sounds were from a Robin high on his song perch confirming his overnight survival, a Greenfinch ‘sneezing', and a Blackcap started warbling very close by. Could I get a shot as I crept around the thicket? No he was deep in the shade and responded to my presence by flying away. Next on the list was Chiffchaff and while thinking about a possible photo my attention was broken by the scolding call of, did I hear correctly, yes, a Common Whitethroat [first for the year]. Again I crept closer and closer as it tantalisingly moved ahead of me through an area of brambles providing brief glimpses but never still enough for a photo.
My next encounter was with a dog walker who I have chatted to on many occasions but still don’t know his name (must ask next time). This gentleman does not consider himself as a ‘bird watcher’ but carries his bins and usually tells me what he thinks he has seen or heard. Today was no exception. Apparently shortly after our last encounter in late February when we discussed the recent sightings of Hawfinches behind the station he actually saw one for the first time just yards away from his parked car and 10 minutes after I had driven away. Did I feel “gripped off” – not really, life’s too short and there is always another year! The other important bit of information he imparted was a definite sighting of Cuckoo on 4th April so my ears did not deceive me when I thought I had heard a brief call during a visit last week. I’ll be keeping an eye on the usual song posts to confirm the Cuckoo’s presence.
After we parted I saw both Blackbird and Wren in full song plus a Willow Warbler repeating it’s wistfully descending call from a very tall birch and definitely too high for a photo call. Just about to return to the car and the beautiful repeated phrases from of a Song Thrush caught my attention. I stealthily moved closer and closer to his high perch and whilst partially obscured by branches I finally managed one half decent shot.
With his repetitive phrases changing I started to pack up just as a lady dog walker passed me by and said “Is there a better way to start the day?” As I acknowledged her comment the Song Thrush departed for another song post and I headed to work quietly recalling all the sounds I had heard and knowing that for “The Early Birder” this is the best way to start any day.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Afternoon Walk at Stoke Park.

At long last the weather improved and we drove to Stoke Lake & Watermeadows for an early afternoon walk.
Initial sounds on reaching the Wey Navigation were a Blackcap singing from deep in the wooded area plus Great & Blue Tits, Greenfinch and Chaffinches moving through the branches overhead. On the water were 3 male Mallard and one female with 10 chicks.
Following the path to the lake we saw Jay, Blackbird, Robin and Chifchaff calling. The next sound was the call of a COMMON TERN flying overhead. Hopefully they will take up residence on the raft on the lake and successfully breed providing there is no disturbance this year from 'hooligans' swimming out to the raft and destroying their man-made habitat.
Other species on the lake were Coot, Moorhen, Cormorant, a Great-crested Grebe and many Canada Geese mostly hauled up on the island. The one below was blowing bubbles as it drifted passed us.
On my last visit (21st Feb) I was delighted to see the return of Skylarks. This species is very much under threat from loss of suitable habitat and the open grassland above the lake has been a prime nesting site in the past but difficult to protect without fencing off a very large area. Guildford Borough Council have put up signs requesting visitors to keep to the recognised paths and to keep dogs under control. Let's just hope that everyone complies! As we headed for the lower marsh a Skylark ascended in song flight.
The boardwalk across the marsh has still not been rebuilt and the only sighting at some distance was a Deer hiding in the grass.
On our way to the lock there were more sightings of singing Blackcap and Chiffchaffs plus Dunnock and Jay. Two Pied Wagtails were perched briefly on the bridge before being disturbed by activity at the lock including this steam-powered boat.
From the lock we walked back along the Wey Navigation listening to vocal Wrens singing and saw two more male Blackcaps.
Throughout our walk we saw a few butterflies, including Yellow Brimstone's & Orange Tips who due to their active flying defied any photos, but this Peacock sat still just long enough!
A Mute Swan that has been getting down and dirty.
A Greylag on the wet meadow. First he shakes his wings & then stretches up on his toes.

Using the bins we were able to locate 2 Egyptian Geese way out on the grazing fields, but no evidence of Grey Wagtails at the weir...probably disturbed by the large number of bike riders and walkers.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

A pair of Long-tailed Tits has been visiting our garden since late January. They usually announce themselves with their soft “tupp” or thin “si-si-si” calls as they communicate with one another whilst searching for tiny insects amongst the plants or taking seed from the feeders. Like most small birds they rarely sit still for very long and yesterday, late afternoon, was no exception as they appeared under the patio canopy close to the dining room window. Fortunately the camera was by my side so I was able to fire off a few frames through the double glazing as they darted from perch to perch and then disappeared just as quickly as they had first appeared.


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