Sunday, 28 February 2010

Wet and windy February.

The wet and windy weather during the past week has certainly dampened the spirits but always hopeful I made a number of short excursions to see if I could find anything to add to this years' list.
The sun was trying to shine on Friday so I headed over to Thursley Common but by the time I arrived the sky had darkened and the wind had wipped up. Undaunted I commenced a long anti-clockwise walk around the common and searched for any signs of life. Apart from a few Carrion Crows, the usual Tits and five Green Woodpeckers it was very, very quiet. A lone Siskin, constantly calling, flew overhead and half an hour later I located a flock of 20 plus feeding high in a wooded area.
The only photo opportunity was this female Mallard on one of the ponds.
  My extended route found me wading through deep water (without appropriate footwear) rather than retrace my steps to get back to the car!
A quick detour to Cutt Mill Ponds produced 6 male Goosanders flying away just as I approached but I finally added Mandarin Duck, hiding in the undergrowth on the far side, to the 2020 list. A stroll around the fishing lake added Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck plus another pair of Goosanders. Let's hope March brings some good birding weather.  FAB.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Dark-bellied Brent Geese.

Brent Geese breed on artic islands and coasts, migrating south in late September to October and return north again in April - May. The nominate Dark-bellied form (Spp. bernicla) migrate from the Russian high arctic to Denmark, the western Baltic and England (mostly south of a line from the Wash to the Severn Estuary) into western France. There are also two distinct populations of Pale-bellied Brent (Spp. hrota) from the western artic; one from Canada that winters in Ireland and the Svalbard population that migrates to Denmark and England and a few of these can often be found amoung the dark-bellied flocks.  My friend Chris in Iceland would probably say that we have them 'on loan' from him for six months every year.   
During my recent visit to Farlington Marshes I came across a small group of Dark-bellied Brent Geese (Branta bernicla bernicla) well away from the main flocks who were not disturbed by my close presence (approx 30 feet away) and quite happy for me to take a few pictures as they rested between meals while occasionally chatting to one another.
An inquisitive stare!
Their traditional wintering habitat is shallow coast and estuaries with extensive mudflats and intertidal areas but since the late 1970's these geese have adapted to use coastal grasslands and the reserve management of the 300 odd acres at Farlington helps to provide them with the sweet lucious grass that they require to reach peak condition for their epic return journey in a few months time. 
Soon goes back to feeding.
Content to sit and ponder why anyone would want to take photos?

I didn't find any 'pale-bellied' or 'black' Brant during this visit but it's always worth checking through the various flocks. Maybe next time!  FAB.

Rays of light.

Still waiting but not very patiently for the sun to shine! I did however see some rays of light during a mid week walk around my local patch.
I have had enough rain...So come on sun, we all need you to shine.

For more fabulous Skywatch Friday images please click the link here or in the sidebar. FAB.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Patch Walk (Epsom and Ashtead Commons).

On Tuesday I made an early afternoon visit to one of my local patches at Epsom Common hoping to dodge the regular rain showers.
The fishing pond held two pairs of Mallard and the males drifted over to check out the intruder while the females kept well away.
The underfoot conditions were the worst I have seen for a long, long time. It was not possible to circumnavigate the small pond without wellies and the pathways around the Stew Pond were under water due to the high water table after so much continuous wet weather.
A Grey Heron took off just as I approached an open area to scan the water where I found a pair of Teal, one male Tufted Duck, a few more Mallard, Cormorant and Moorhen.
The sentry Cormorant didn't flinch a feather as a Moorhen, probably spoked by my presence, dashed past it. A little while later I caught a glimpse of a Kingfisher as it sped across the water and disappeared.
The mosses are loving this damp weather but it's not doing much for my birdwatching! I made a circuit of Ashstead Common and the most common sounds emenated from Blue and Great Tits.
Very little else was seen apart from quite a few Magpies (the one above allowed me to get just close enough for a quick shot before it moved away), Long-tailed Tits, Robin, Blackbird, Ring-necked Parakeet, Crow, Jay, Woodpigeon plus the flap, flap, glide of a Sparrowhawk (patch tick for 2010) as it gained height over the woodland and headed north. I just made it back to the car as the next rain front hovered overhead.  FAB

Monday, 22 February 2010

Reflections from the marsh.

It has been raining on and off for the past few days so here are some watery reflections from my coastal mashland visit last week.
I desperately need some clear, fine weather to entice me outdoors.  FAB.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Digiscoped Lapwing.

In flight Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) are highly acrobatic as they roll and tumble through the air and easily identified by its rounded black and white wings. It is also very vocal hence the common name 'Peewit' derived from its shrill call.
On the ground they quietly go about their daily chore of hunting small invertebrates, worms and insects but always keeping a watchful eye out for overhead predators and they are quick to react by bursting into flight at the slightest hint of disturbance. These images were digi-scoped of an individual about 100 yards away that kept disappearing from view behind the numerous moss covered hillocks on the inland grazing pasture at Farlington Marshes.
Both images were shot using shutter-priority (1/1000 and 1/1600 respectively) and then cropped.  FAB. 

Patch Walk 19 Feb (Horton C.P.)

I managed a long overdue local patch walk yesterday afternoon around part of Horton Country Park. Whilst there wasn't a vast amount of avian activity it was good to get out in reasonable weather. The overiding sounds as I entered  Castle Wood were squawking Parakeets, noisy Crows, plus the forceful 'chuitt, chuitt' warning from a Nuthatch, the ocassional 'kick, kick, kick' of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. In one of the paddocks I estimated a mixed flock of 100 plus Fieldfare and Redwing busily feeding but nervously flying off to a high vantage point at the slightest opportunity. I also disturbed a Grey Heron at the very small pool inside one of the other woodlands and shortly afterwards had a brief view of a Kestrel perched on a fence, but a little too distant for a really good photo.
Noisy Parakeet.
Blue Tit gives a sideways glance.
Other species seen were Blackbird, Wren, Long-tailed Tits, Magpie, Black-headed Gull and Robin.  FAB.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Hunters Eyes.

As promised a few more images of the male (Eurasian) Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) that visited my garden this week hoping to catch a quick meal but fortunately the little ones were on their guard and promptly hid away from the consumate hunters' prying eyes.
Staring intently straight at the 'watcher' through the window.

Listening and looking..... 

Now if you think this guy looks big then just remember that his female partner is often 25%  larger - possibly one of the largest differences between sexes in any bird species and although not quite as colourful (brown above with brown barring on the breast) she is also a fearsome hunter.

Can he detect movement up in the Pittosporum where the Sparrows usually hide?

This predator whilst a specialist in catching woodland birds can be found in many varied habitats not least trying its luck in hunting down garden birds. This hawk's hunting behaviour has often brought it into conflict with humans particularly racing pigeon owners and it has also been blamed for the decreases in passerine populations. My own unscientific view is that if there is a thriving Sparrowhawk population then there must also be a substantial population of its natural prey ... natures balance. 

The eyes search in every conceivable direction so don't even think about hiding behind him!

If its sharp tallons and the piercing eyes aren't enough, just check out that fearsome beak.  FAB.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Brent in the Blue.

The only skywatching I did this week was during a coastal marsh visit to capture Brent Geese
flying beneath an open blue sky at long last.

For more fabulous Skywatch Friday images please click the link here or in the sidebar. FAB.

Stroll around Farlington Marshes.

With an improvement in the weather I headed south-west to the coast and commenced a slow anti-clockwise stroll around the sea wall path at Farlington Marshes.
High tide was about 2 hours away so many of my initial sightings were distant views through the bins or scope and I therefore decided to test out digi-scoping using a TLS800 photo adapter on my Swarovski scope with the Cannon 450D for the first time. I'm reasonably happy with some of the results but definitely more practice is required with both focusing and camera speed settings.
Brent Geese from behind.
Oystercatchers before the tide eventually swamps their resting place.
Male Common Teal looking their best.
Far out in the harbour were masses of Brent Geese, Red-breasted Mergansers, Shelduck and a few Little Grebes plus the usual Black-headed and a Great Black-backed Gull. The sun was in the wrong direction to take any shots of the occupants on the main pool that included Mallard, Teal, Northern Pintail and Redshank. Most of the waders were a long way out in the harbour on the shingle islands and from time to time I enjoyed the spectacle of massed flocks of Dunlin, Plover, Turnstones and Knot erupting from their resting place and wheeling around before dropping down to a new, dryish location.  
Waders (Knot and Dunlin) sleeping on the last remnant of solid ground way out in the harbour.
Half way round - a view inland over the apparently empty marsh but a fly over by a Peregrine had everything erupting into the air before returning to their hideaways in the grass and reed fringed gulleys. I stopped at The Deeps and added a single Barnacle Goose, Canada Geese, Lapwing, Shoveller, Wigeon; a Skylark displaying high above the marsh; a Reed Bunting perched briefly on the fench below me plus Great Crested Grebes and Goldeneye out on he water.
Northern Shoveller preening.

Heading back inland towards the information building I stopped to take some shots of Brent Geese much closer in a field that I will save for a future post. The final part of my circuit followed the stream where I eventually caught up with Mute Swan, Black-tailed Godwit, Moorhen, Common Gulls and only one Little Egret.
I hope we get some more dry days so that the 'watcher' can get out and enjoy the wildlife around us.  FAB.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Window Watching in the Rain again!

Another dismal dreary day with constant rain showers has kept me indoors today. While catching up with the action at the Winter Olympics (Vancover 2010) I kept half an eye open for any activity through the window.
Robin enjoying the coconut fat feeder.
Collared Dove waiting for a friend.
House Sparrow takes a brief rest from feeding.

Greenfinch and House Sparrows were the main visitors plus an ocassional drop in by a single Starling, Blackbird, two Blue Tits and one of the female Blackcaps. At one stage a pair of Magpies patrolled around the bottom of the garden pushing the smaller birds high into one of the nearby trees but they soon resumed their feeding activities once the corvids moved on to create havoc elsewhere. 

Later this afternoon while catching up on some reading my peripheral vision indicated that a larger shape had just landed and I turned around to find a male SPARROWHAWK had alighted on the perch above the Hibiscus. (Another garden tick for 2010.)  As you can imagine everything else had very promptly disappeared into cover. The hawk sat perfectly still with his deadly tallons gripping the perch and just turned his head in every possible direction with those fearsome eyes searching for any possible movement.
It was difficult to contain my excitement but as I clicked away with the camera I called out to loudly for Anita to come and see him. He must have heard me call her name as he stared directly at me for a brief moment before resuming his search for a possible meal.
He hung around for what seemed ages but in reality was only a few minutes before moving up on top of the ivy that covers the clothes post to make a further search of the garden before flying off to perch again for a minute or two in a nearby tree.
Once I have sorted through the rest of the shots I hope to find a few better pictures of this accipior to share with you.  FAB.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Stoke Meadows with Steve.

This morning I met up with Steve Chastell who was leading a Surrey Bird Club walk at Stoke Water Meadows. With just two other members present plus two newcomers we headed to the Wey Navigation picking up Fieldfare, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Parakeets and Goldfinch in the trees nearby. 
At the weir we scanned the water meadows and found plenty of Redwing feeding on the ground but no sign of any Water Pipits but did eventually locate one or two Meadow Pipits as they moved through the grass. Lots of Canada Geese, Teal and Wigeon way over on the field pools plus four species of Gulls (Black-headed, Common, Herring and Lesser Black-backed) with Mallard and Little Grebe on the river.
    Mr and Mrs Mallard out for their morning paddle.
On the main lake we added Great Crested Grebe, Coot, Moorhen, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and a Grey Heron with a very large swollen left knee (undoubtedly some form of infection) but it didn't prevent it from flying away and Cormorant flying overhead. On the lower marsh were a few Northern Shoveler.
Mallard on the lookout post!
Returning back along the river there were brief views of Treecreepers before Steve encouraged two of us who were suitably shod to accompany him out onto the marsh in search of any inhabitants. Just a single Common Snipe flew up and jinked away from us.
Very little left of the old boardwalk which hopefully will be repaired sometime soon. (An ideal spot to scan for Reed Buntings and Sedge Warblers in the Spring).
A Wren made a brief appearance before disappearing into the undergrowth. We continued to check out all likely locations for Water Pipits and Water Rail but without any success. Also no signs of any Siskin or Redpolls but plenty of Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits plus Robin and Blackbird.
Black-headed Gull.
A pair of Sparrowhawks displayed very high overhead and a Kestrel flew past. Towards the end of our walk we rescanned the fields adding Stock Dove, Crow, Rook, Jackdaw and Jay having already claimed a few Magpies, Woodpigeons and Great-spotted Woodpecker (heard only).
At the iron bridge I said my farewells and strolled a little further to Bowyers Lock but didn't add anything else to the morning tally of 40 species.  FAB.


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