Thursday, 31 March 2011

Sightings this week.

On Tuesday I decided to head out in the car and see if I could add a few extra sightings to my year list and visit a few locations that I have not been to for some time.
First stop was Bouldermere Lake close to the M25 / A3 juntion where I followed the short boardwalk to overlook the water. Nothing new but I did log Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallard, plenty of Tufties, Teal, a pair of Wigeon, Gadwall, Pochard, Coot, Cormorant and Great Crested Grebes.
This male Tuftie was the only one close enough for a picture. I then strolled onto the old, deserted Wisley Airfield where I watched several Chiffchaffs and Wrens singing while apair of Red-legged Partridge easily evaded the lens. Standing on the deserted tarmack I was regailed with the display flight and beautiful song of numerous Skylarks but again they were not approachable.
A Pheasant strutted down the grassy slope while Dunnocks, Chiffchaff and a Blackcap sang nearby. 

One Blue Tit hung around for a brief photocall as a Grey Heron flew overhead. On my return walk back to the car I watched four Common Buzzards soaring upwards and westwards over the motorway. My final port of call was the open expanses of water at Staines Reservoir. Lots of Black-headed Gulls and I eventually  scoped a couple of Little Gulls.

Male Reed Bunting taking a rest on the fence with masses of recently hatched midges swirling around everything including my head!
Other species on the water, apart from the Tufties, were Shoveler, Wigeon, Mallard, Teal, Goldeneye and Great Crested Grebes. However the main purpose of the visit to this location was to attempt to catch up with a Great Northern Diver.

 Great Northern Diver.
Fortunately the water was fairly still and although my quarry was at some distance I managed a couple of shots that have been heavily cropped.

A very enjoyable few hours out the fresh air plus three additions to the 2011 list.  FAB.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Cryptic Plumage.

Most commonly it is the female gender of most species that sports a plumage enabling them to be less noticeable as they are the ones that brood their youngsters. However there are some particular species where both partners, unless spotted out in the open,  are easily able to blend into their natural habitats and can be extremely difficult to locate unless you know exactly where or what to look for.

In my somewhat limited experience the ultimate camouflage expert is the Bittern but as I don't have any decent photos I thought I would share some of the Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) whose cryptic plumage, especially when it is sitting still with its long bill resting along its back, easily enables it to become part its surroundings.

As you can see from the first two images the upperparts are mottled brown with distinctive straw yellow stripes that match the colour surroundings in its usual breeding habitats of marshes, bogs, wet meadows, tundra and moorland. (I watched this individual from a hide at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Reserve at Barnes in early January. It was feeding below a grassy bank along the muddy water margin far to my right where there were no windows that opened and a fence obstructing my views so all the images are cropped.)
When it sat at the waters edge the ID was simple ... a disproportionately long straight bill with the distinctive central light coloured head stripe ( Jack Snipe has a much shorter bill,  an obvious dark central head stripe and a split supercilium) and the rather dumpy body shape clearly says this is a Common Snipe.
A small stocky wader native to northern Europe and Asia which most closely resembles the Wilson's Snipe (G. delicata) found in North America.

They forage for invertebrates by probing the soft mud or ground in a sewing machine motion.
The sensitiveness of the extreme tip of it bill means that it can distinguish whatever it encounters even though it cannot see its prey. This species faces severe problems when their habitat deteriorates or is not waterlogged at the end of the winter. If the ground becomes dry and hard then breeding will cease.

The underparts are pale with grey-brown spotting and stretching down its flanks. Old folk names include 'mire snipe', 'horse gawk' and 'heather bleater'. The Common Snipe is very shy and easily able to conceal itself but if flushed from cover it flies away in a series of erratic zigzags to confuse its predators. The obvious difficulties in hunting this species gave rise to the term 'sniper' which generally refers to a skilled military sharpshooter.    FAB.

Click here for more WORLD BIRD WEDNESDAY images hosted by Springman.

Nest Building continues.

Over the past few days our pair of Blue Tits have been very busy builders. For a while the material switched from green moss to brown twigs and dried grasses.
 Interesting to watch how some of the lengthy material was stuffed into the building cavity!

AND now they have reverted again to collecting moss again.

AND just to prove that ones efforts don't always turn out as expected .......
By focusing on the entrance hole to the nest box you never know what you may capture.   FAB.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Patchwalk - 27 March.

During my 90 minute stroll at Epsom Common late morning today the majority of the species logged were by sound rather than by sight against background noises that included yapping and barking dogs plus a low overflying helicopter. The pond held 11 Canada Geese, occasionally squabbling with one another, plus the usual Mallards, Moorhen and a single lazy Cormorant. No sign of any Mandarins ... probably hiding from the dog walkers! Wren, Robin, Blackbird and Song Thrush were all singing from various locations around the pond and twittering overhead were Blue and Long-tailed Tits.

Great Tits were less numerous but as usual their calls were somewhat varied, from the scolding 'che..che..che' to the more common constant 'didger, didger, didger' sound that to the untrained ear could easily be mistaken for the Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) our earliest returning migrant warbler. I saw at least six separate Chiffchaff singing from their high treetop perches (see above) and heard a few others calling throughout my stroll. A silent Dunnock evaded the lens while Great Spotted Woodpeckers drummed repeatedly against dead wood while occasionally announcing there presence with a short, sharp 'kick, kick..kick!' A Green Woodpecker evaded my eyes but blurted out its distinctive 'yaffle' laugh. Way in the distance I thought I heard the mewing 'piiyay' of a bird of prey but the call wasn't repeated. A few minutes later my attention was drawn to the repeated and increasing crescendo of 'krrrr, krrrr ... krrrr' calls from a group of Carrion Crows and a search with the bins located them mobbing and chasing a Common Buzzard across the open sky. 

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo).

Other sightings included Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw and Woodpigeon while hearing the ''vuih, vuih, vuih' whistling calls of the resident Nuthatches.

 Narcissus, Pulsatilla (Pasque Flower) and Tulipa humilis 'Persian Pearl'.

Back at home the sounds came from the twittering House Sparrows hiding in the privet hedge, Parakeets squawking overhead and the 'doo, doooo, do' from the Collard Doves while I enjoyed a cup of tea outside in the sunshine together with the colourful array of spring blooms.  FAB.

Friday, 25 March 2011

First Garden Flutter.

During a break while gardening this week I had the first garden visit this year from a Peacock butterfly. Not a pristine individual as you can see from the wear on the wing so undoubtedly one that had overwintered somewhere. It spent a while enjoying the blossom on the flowering Cherry (Prunus) before moving on.

 Peacock (Inachis io)

Blue Tit Update: Our garden pair continue to build inside the nest box with very frequent deliveries of varied materials. I have a few shots in the can so will post an update very soon.

Wishing everyone a glorious wildlife watching weekend, wherever you are.  FAB.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Blue Tits Nest Building.

For several days we have heard the Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) constantly tapping inside the nest box situated on the rear of the garden shed. This usually indicates that a pair have decided to set up home again and are either making sure that the structure is sound or are pressing nesting material into the base. This box has been used almost annually by Blue Tits for over 9 years and only once by the larger Great Tit (Parus major). Pairs usually persist from year to year when both partners survive and are basically monogamous with a low incidence of simultaneous bigamy in optimal habitats. I have seen at least one other individual, possibly another pair, feeding in the garden up until yesterday when one individual was promptly chased away by the territory owner.  

While gardening today I noticed that at least one of the pair was carrying nesting material and sometimes perched briefly in the Lilac before entering the nest box so I took the opportunity late this afternoon to grab the camera and park myself on a garden chair about 15 feet away and wait for some possible action.
It wasn't too long before one appeared (difficult to tell whether it is the male or female) and landed directly on the nest box plate .......

 ... then pushed its head into the hole, still flapping to maintain momentum, before retracting briefly.

 A momentary pause and then disappeared  inside.

The nest pad inside the box is often 3 to 4 inches deep. It is typically made up of moss, probably scavenged from a nearby garden (my small lawn has plenty, so I'm not sure why they are not using that!) mixed with together with pieces of dead grass and straw. The nest cup will be lined with dry grass, hair, wool and some feathers in readiness for egg laying that will take place during April. If successful there will be one brood and whilst the clutch can vary from 2 to a 18 but providing the location and food source of insects and spiders is adequate usually averages 10 to 12 with incubation taking 13 to 16 days. In a poor year the clutch has been a low as 5 and in recent years I have often discovered that some chicks have not survived to the fledgling stage so we will have to wait patiently for this years outcome.

This whole sequence took only 3 seconds and whilst I waited patiently for another 10 minutes was not repeated so I felt very fortunate to have grabbed these few postable shots. [All taken at F8; 1/200 - 1/250; ISO 800; 210mm and cropped.]   FAB.

For more WORLD BIRD WEDNESDAY images hosted by Springman please follow this link.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Sunshine Stroll.

As the sun was shining at long last I decided to make a relatively early start on my local patch and was soon watching a flock of 20 plus Lesser Redpoll actively feeding directly above my head. 

 I never find it easy to photograph pointing directly upwards and this was the best I could do while trying to
 focus on an individual that might show the distinctive red cap.

Although the sun was shining it is still very damp underfoot. Limited activity on the ponds with only Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Grey Heron, Canada Geese plus overflying Cormorant and Parakeet. No sign of the Mandarin or Teal but I suspect they were well hidden away.

 Grey Heron lurking on the pond margin.

Through the woodlands I watched six Nuthatch busily feeding and chasing one another; several pairs of Great Spotted Woodpeckers displaying plus brief sightings of a Goldcrest and various Tits including the Long-tailed. The usual Corvids, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin, Wren and Lapwing  were also seen. Hearing a distant but distinctive mewing call helped me to locate a pair of Common Buzzard (another patch first for 2011) perched in trees on the farm fields just before they took flight and headed north-west. Soon after they departed the birds started singing again including the Skylarks.

 Final photo-op was a confiding Blue Tit before heading home for a cuppa and lunch.    FAB.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Thursday Patch Walk and a very wet Friday.

Another visit to Epsom and Ashtead Commons yesterday (Thursday) in very dull overcast conditions was rewarded by finding 5 Shoveler on the Great Pond (3 males and 2 females). As is often typical of this species they stayed a long distance from the lens so here is an image from a different encounter elsewhere.
Other sightings around the pond included one pair of Mandarins; obviously the 10 males seen earlier this week have moved on; several Canada Geese, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Grey Herons and just one lonely male Teal.
A Song Thrush was high in the overhead branches blasting out its repetitive song for all to hear with Carrion Crows on sentry duty atop a number of lookout posts. The usual Tits were everywhere plus Green and Great Spotted Woodies calling from various directions.

Leaving the very muddy surrounds of the pond I decided to head onto Ashtead Common and made a wide circuit to the southern boundary where my efforts were rewarded with a brief view of a 'silent' Chiffchaff and at least 3 Dunnock in full squeaky voice. Very little was added on my route above Rushett Farm apart from the sound of Skylarks singing and four Lapwings wheeling about in their dancing flight above the  fields. So this weeks efforts have finally raised the patch list year total to 51 species.

We met some friends for a reunion walk at Pagham Spit and the North Wall around midday today but unfortunately the forecast suggesting that the heavy rain would ease off did not oblige so it was very wet birding and definitely no photography!  The highlights were two female Scaup and Red-breasted Mergansers on the main lagoon; another silent Chiffchaff; a scattering of waders and the usual wildfowl around the edges of the harbour plus a calling and flying Cetti's Warbler at the North Wall.
We have a reservation for a meal together in a few hours so I will wish everyone an enjoyable wildlife watching weekend.  FAB. 

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Garden DIY.

Following a revamp of the garden back in the early 90's the only space for growing fruit or veg was within the fruit cage. The raspberries were eventually removed (suffered with cane spot disease) and over the ensuing years most of the free space within the cage was used for plant propagation and storing pots etc. We have grown a few potatoes, tomatoes and salad crops in large pots for two years but I have been dabbling with the idea of resurrecting a proper vegatable growing area by creating a raised bed within the fruit cage. The cost of a ready made kit seemed rather expensive so the DIY skills came into operation.

First a measure up of the available space, then a quick sketch and a visit to a local fencing company secured the relevant timber (barge boards and posts) at a much more reasonable cost. First job was to clear out the bed area and then construct the solid beast to sit within the confines of the existing paving.

I have purposely split the bed into two compartments so that it will be easier in the future to replace the soil when needed. You may ask "Why so tall?" ... well who wants to keep bending over as they get older!
The most laborious task was locating existing and buying additional compost to fill it up! Well I'm nearly there (just some good topsoil now needed) and then we can start to plan the crops for this year.

The rest of the garden is looking after itself .... the ever expanding clumps of Leucojum vernum are providing splashes of white, green tipped miniture lanterns throughout the main border.

Elsewhere more colour is now apparent with the yellow Narcissus, pink-red Symphytum (Comfrey)  spreading out everywhere, spots of blue from the Scillas (Squills) and Brunnera 'Jack Frost' starting to open its tiny delicate flowers, plus the pinkish-white Prunus blossom which won't last long if we get some strong winds and the increasing display from the varied Hellebores.  

At long last the darkest of the Hellebores has opened up to provide pollen for any visiting insects.  FAB.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Mandarin Tribute.

I did have different plans for my offering to World Bird Wednesday but I make no apology for posting more images of a species that is held in high esteem by both the Japanese and Chinese as a symbol of marital fidelity and happiness.
So as my tribute to all the people in Japan, whatever their nationality, currently experiencing the aftermath of the recent devastating events and undergoing such upheaval, loss of friends, loved ones etc., here are a few more recent frame filling images of their beloved Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata).    

For more bird images from around the globe please visit WORLD BIRD WEDNESDAY ....... FAB


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