Sunday, 31 May 2009

Sunday 31/5 Part 1: RHS Wisley

The 2nd of our Spring Bird Walks today with just an elite band of 15 RHS members including many regular faces, a few new participants and Keith [holdingmoments] who had travelled south to join me for a day’s bird watching. My co-leader, David, had already clocked up 30 species on his walk in from Wisley village via the gardens so with a clear sky, the sun shining and a fairly strong breeze I asked our participants not to be shy about calling out every sighting in the hope that we could match and overtake David’s early am list.
First up were House Sparrows on the roof of the main building and then this very confiding Dunnock in full voice. Blackbirds on the lawn; Goldfinch perched by the pathway and House Martins wheeling
above us. A sighting high above us of our first raptor, a RED KITE (a 1st for any of our bird walks) and we watched this individual twisting and turning on the high thermals, using its fanned tail as a rudder, with such ease for some minutes. Next up were Jackdaw and Crow followed in quick succession by Swifts, then a Common Buzzard and two Hobby’s.

Then further ahead of us a Kestrel was hovering above the Rock Garden.
We watched Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch on the large feeder plus 3 Mallard waddling across the grass. A Wren belted out his song as we entered the Wild Garden, and finding some shade we heard a Robin, a Jay was perched high on a dead branch, Blue Tits (many young ones) frantically feeding, a Song Thrush uttering its repeated phrases and then a flash of brilliant blue as a Kingfisher dashed through the shrubbery. As we exited the Wild Garden a Cormorant flew past and there was another brief view of the Red Kite drifting high above us. At the lakes on Seven Acres there were the usual Mallards, a single Moorhen and Coot on a nest with 4 chicks sporting their ‘punky’ orange-red hair. At the edge of the Pineatum a Chiffchaff was heard in the distance and as everyone gathered along the path overlooking the river some participants caught sight of a pair of Kingfishers dashing downstream (I was obviously looking elsewhere or talking!). Further along the river path we were serenaded by a Blackcap, typically hidden from view; Grey Wagtails feeding on insects over the water and a pair of Tufted Ducks way in the distance on the banks of the Golf Course Lake. Both young and adult Great Tits plus at least four Nuthatches were busily hunting for food above us. The age and sex of a Grey Heron standing motionless on the far bank of the river was discussed but no firm conclusion reached.

The Wildlife Area was fairly quiet apart from the intermittent song of another Wren and Blackcap but masses of Banded Damoiseles were dashing about around our legs. Canada Geese with goslings were observed marching across the Golf Course and a Mute Swan was slowly drifting upstream towards us. After a brief discussion I decided to return along the river footpath just in case the Kingfishers made another appearance. David pointed out the sound of young Great Spotted Woodpeckers calling for food and the nest hole only a few feet above the ground was located. I decided we should wait and see if the adults would return with a juicy titbit for their babies. Whilst the adults reappeared on a number of occasions they refused to enter the nest as other visitor were walking along the adjacent path. So patience prevailed and after about 20 minutes one adult did return (sorry about the quality of these shots, somehow I must have picked the wrong settings!).
The adult disappears into the nest hole.
Other sightings were Starling, Parakeet and Collared Dove bringing our total to 36.

After eating our packed lunches Keith and I headed off for another location to find some different birds and hopefully dragonflies for him to photograph - Part 2 will be posted when I have chosen a few relevant images.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Walk before work at Epsom Stew Pond.

A stroll before starting work this morning at Epsom Stew Pond to see what was about. Around the car park was Magpie, Blackbird, very noisy Wren and this Mistle Thrush strutting around. At the pond the Canada Geese family is somewhat smaller with only 4 goslings being chaperoned by 4 seniors.
This adult kept a very quiet eye on me as I attempted to photograph one of its charges.
The goslings were constantly feeding and are growing day by day.
One of the female Mandarins was now shepherding four, out of an original clutch of seven, youngsters but as usual she herded them quickly under cover. I did relocate her on the nest but it was extremely well hidden so no picture again! A number of Swifts were dashing about above me and then a Common Tern (new tick for this patch) flew over from the Great Pond and I eventually got the following shots.

Other sightings included Grey Heron, Carrion Crow, Jay, Blue Tits, Robin and Chaffinch.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Dunnock: Possible Nesting?

During the last week our local Dunnock has been very vocal. Whilst 'chilling out' indoors on Monday I noticed that visits to the patio were very frequent and then realised that a nest was being built within the Ivy that covers the clothes post. As far as I can recall this could be the first time that this species has attempted nesting in our garden so we will have to see what develops. As it is very difficult to tell male and female apart I am not sure which sex this one is!

Also over the last two days a pair of Blue Tits have been regularly visiting the fat feeder under the patio canopy.
This evening (Wednesday) I heard youngsters calling AND then both parents appeared briefly together with three fledglings to give them a top-up feed.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Painted Lady

During our visit to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve we saw a lot of Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui) and it seems that there has been an influx of this migrant, from south-west Europe & North Africa, over the past few days. This species is a powerful flyer, travelling at 8-10 mph, often skimming over meadows and hedgerows. In some years they are scarce, in others they are very common so maybe this might be a 'bumper' year.

The Painted Lady does not usually survive our winters in any of its stages, (eggs, caterpillar, chrysalis or butterfly) but the early migrants lay eggs on a wide variety of wild flowers giving rise to a second generation in September and October. These die when the cold weather arrives.

Rye Harbour N.R.

On Sunday Anita and I ventured to the south coast for a gentle four hours walk at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. A sunny, clear day but with a fairly strong SW breeze and lots of people visiting the area as part of the RX Wildlife Festival. First sightings were lots of House Sparrows around the car park, Collared Dove and the sounds of Skylarks ascending above the tidal marsh. With high tide fast approaching the water enthusiasts were heading down the channel towards the sea.
We heard a wagtail calling and eventually got onto this single Yellow Wagtail who moved from perch to perch very frequently but I eventually managed a half decent record shot.
On the other side of the roadway we had distant views of Oystercatcher, Redshank, Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls plus a single Mediterranean Gull flying around while a pair of Kestrels appeared overhead.
At the Lime Kiln Cottage Information centre there are various posts with mosaics depicting the various flora and fauna that can be found on the reserve. These are two pics of 'Tern' (a summer visitor) and the ‘Bittern’ (a winter visitor). As we headed towards the shingle beach we added Dunnock, Woodpigeon, Crow and Lapwing. Anita caught sight of a pair of distant Wheatears while I was watching a pair of Ringed Plovers guarding their nest site. We headed out onto the shingle ridge overlooking the sea and watched Common, Sandwich plus a single Little Tern flying past.
Not ideal light as the sun was on my left but here are two shots of a Sandwich Tern [note the yellow tip to the black bill] searching for a meal.
Sandwich Tern

After scoffing our packed lunch we headed for the Ternery Pool which has been very busy with around 1600 pairs of Black-headed Gull, 90 Pairs of Mediterranean Gull, 500 pairs Sandwich Tern and Common Terns gradually finding space as the Black-headed Gull chicks disperse to the margins.
Black-headed mum & chicks.

Herring Gull (the predator?)

Whilst scanning the colonies on one of the islands the noise level increased dramatically as a large opportunistic Herring Gull flew in and snatched a Black-headed chick for its dinner! Other inhabitants around the pool were Mute Swan, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Shelduck, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Redshank, Dunlin and Starlings. Redshank & female Mallard
A short detour behind the pool produced Linnet, Whitethroat, a hidden Reed Warbler rhythmically singing from within deep cover of the reeds plus a distant calling Cuckoo and a fly past of a pair of Cormorants and Swallows. The most colourful flora was Yellow Horned Poppy.
We also saw a few butterflies; Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, Common Blue and Painted Lady so I've kept a few photos back for a future post.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Chance Encounter: Growing Up?

On the 24th April the 'watcher' had a chance encounter with a Roe Deer buck. (You can click the link to review that experience). Here are two of the photos taken at that time.

I should point out that unlike other deer species the Roe casts its antlers in November or December; grows new ones during winter, protected from frost by the woolly 'velvet' which is usually rubbed off by May.

During my stroll on Saturday (see previous post) the 'watcher' was again under surveillance by the 'watched', who this time was partially hidden by the grass and gorse. Once again the 'watcher' stood motionless and slowly crouched down while the 'watched' continued to stare intently in the 'watchers' direction. The 'watcher' noted the changes in the appearance of the 'watched'; the moult of his winter (grey-brown) coat into his foxy-red summer garb is nearly complete and the growth of the antlers that are 'pearled' near the base; and a question surfaced: "Could this be the same buck?" The 'watched' was not unsettled and maybe was thinking " Have I seen this intruder to my domain before?". After what seemed ages but was probably only five minutes or so the 'watched' stood up slowly, still keeping a wary eye on the 'watcher' and then moved away into deeper cover.
Maybe the 'watcher' and the 'watched' will meet again some day!

Digiscoping Today Week 2: Mandarin Duck

In a previous post 'New Life on the Ponds' I mentioned finding a male Mandarin Duck but due to the distance between me and the subject (80- 100 yards) I couldn’t get a decent close image using my DSLR. So here was the dilemma; whilst I was carrying my Swarovski scope and compact camera I hadn’t picked up the tripod but I did have a monopod and it was very, very windy. So in an effort to steady the ‘rig’ I plunged the foot of the monopod into the soft ground next to a tree and held the scope body against the trunk to gain some stability whilst trying to focus, keep everything absolutely still (practically impossible even using both hands) and get a decent picture. On this occasion I purposely used very little zoom on the camera and here are the results.
I must try to remember the tripod in future!

The Mandarin (Aix galericulata) is one of the most ornate of all waterfowl species, closely related to the North American Wood Duck, and has been revered in Far Eastern culture since at least the fifth century; they were thought to be monogamous, and therefore a symbol of fidelity so pairs were presented as wedding gifts to Japanese newly-weds. It was introduced at the beginning of the 20th century with the bulk of the UK feral population, estimated at 3500 breeding pairs in 1988, located in southern England. Formerly abundant, numbers of Mandarin in their native Far East have declined due to habitat destruction (mainly logging) and over-hunting to a total population size of around 80,000 birds (1970-1987). As a non-native species it is not protected in the UK.
As you can see the orange head and ‘sails’ and especially the dramatic, tapering white eye-stripe makes the male unmistakable. In contrast the female is similar to female Wood Duck with grey head, pink bill and heavily spotted breast but the key field mark is the shape of the white marking around the eye that extends backwards in a long narrowing tapering line whereas in the female Wood Duck it is shorter, broader and blunter.
Mandarins feed by dabbling or walking on land and mainly eat plants and seeds, especially beech mast. When breeding they are a secretive species, feeding mainly near dawn or dusk, and perching in trees hanging over or nearby still or fast-flowing water during the day. Normally only one brood; a clutch size of 6 to 12, with incubation taking 28-30 days with fledging in 40-45 days. It is quite normal to see Mandarins forming small flocks in winter, but they rarely associate with other ducks.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

New Life on the ponds.

The weather this morning was drab with rain in the air so I knuckled down to the important chores - checking e-mails, catching up with answering blog comments and reading other blog posts - then rechecking the weather forecast.

Around midday with the wind still blowing strongly I drove over to Epsom Common not expecting to see a great deal but the walk in the fresh air would no doubt brighten my spirits. As I approached the stew pond I disturbed a mother Mandarin Duck with seven ducklings. (Note that the markings around the eye are totally different to a Mallard). Whilst breeding this is a very secretive species so I'm not sure who was more surprised, me or the mother, as she escorted her charges to cover on the other side of the pond. For the next 30 minutes I carefully attempted to get closer pictures without success as mum was keeping the little ones safely out of sight. However she did come out of hiding when a family group of Canada Geese floated nearby. She flew behind the group, calling, and acting as a decoy she encouraged the Canada Geese to turn around. She then flew off away from the water and I didn't see her return. Next up was a Mallard chick attempting to face down the "Early Birder"!
On the other side of the pond I was entertained by Canada goslings feeding on the pathway. Interesting that the parents were not upset by my presence. Can you see my mirror image?
I'm far to busy feeding to pose for a portrait!
Then it was off to the Great Pond. Mallard, Tufted Duck (male & female), Coot, Moorhen, Canada Geese, Grey Herons and a pair of Swifts flew overhead. I also spotted two more Mandarin females, each with 6 or seven chicks in tow but a long way away. Then a male Mandarin Duck made a brief appearance to protect one of the family groups from a Mallard that was getting too close. The question was would he come closer to me so I could get a decent photo.Well after a 20 minute wait the male Mandarin eventually re-appeared on the closest island about 100 yards away and this is the result using the DSLR & 70-300 lens. I had not taken a tripod but my Swaro scope was in the rucksack so could I get a decent digi-scoped shot. Well you will have to be patient and wait for a subsequent post.
After leaving the ponds I saw and or heard Greenfinch, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Wren, Blackbird, Blue & Great Tits, Chaffinch, Jay, Carrion Crow, Magpies, Jackdaw, Great-spotted Woodpecker calling and a Black-headed Gull flew over. On the Ashtead side of the common there was evidence of heavy felling of trees.

Plus some very extensive 'top pruning'! Looks like a twisted road sign, but which way?

Then I spotted this interesting tree - a ready made seat or the rear end of a prehistoric animal? DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER SUGGESTION?
My last sighting was this male Roe Deer resting in the grass. Now I wonder if this is the same male that the 'watcher' encountered on 24th April. See 'Chance Encounter with a Roe Buck'.
I have some further images of this beautiful beast that I will share with you soon.

Friday, 15 May 2009

River Walk 14/5/09

On the way to work on Thursday I stopped off at Norbury Park (near Mickleham) for a 20 minute stroll along the river.

First sighting was a pair of Yellow Wagtails flying downstream. Blackbirds calling from all directions plus Wrens singing from the dense undergrowth. Above my head a Blackcap was singing and another individual was counter-singing (in competition) from the other side of the water.

There were a few Blue-banded Damselflies were flying around but in the breezy conditions it was not easy to capture a good pose.
Some distance away I spotted two Mandarin Ducks and managed a quick photo before they disappeared downstream.

Masses of flies over the water.

Under the road bridge over the river this 'graffiti' was created in 2006. I'm not sure what it represents but it certainly cheers up a drab wall.

At work we have birds nesting in various locations. This Song Thrush has made her nest amongst one of the plant displays AND......

She has five eggs to care for. The staff will be keeping an eye on her progress and a sign asks our customers not disturb her.


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