Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Saxicola torquatus.

One of my favourite heathland species is the Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus) which breeds in open areas with low vegetation, often heather and gorse and easily identified when you get too close to it territory by its alarm call .... usually a sharp, harsh "wee-tack, tack", like two pebbles being tapped together.
Click here to hear its alarm call.

In Spring the adult male wears his best plumage with that very distinctive white neck patch under its totally black head and chin plus its rusty-red upper belly and flanks. 'torquatus' is from the Latin meaning "adorned with a neck chain or collar"

This male regularly toured its territory perching on a number of high points so it was just a matter of waiting patiently for it to return within range for a few shots. Its song is a very short, twittering or squeaky verse.
Click here for an example of its song.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Migrant Songsters on Thursley Common.

Many of my regular readers will be familiar with my previous posts about the acid heathlands that dominate my home county and my fondness for visiting Thursley Common in any season. 

However it in Spring and Summer that this special habitat plays host to some special migrants such as Curlew, Tree Pipit, Hobby, Nightjar and Common Redstart.

Two weeks ago I made a fairly early morning visit and initially the landscape seemed particularly quiet despite the clear sky and some warmth from the sun. After crossing the boardwalk I entered 'Pine Island' where a Chiffchaff was perched high above me singing its heart out. I stood listening for some time and then I was totally surprised when this individual dropped down into the young Birch growth just a few feet from me and belted out another chorus before disappearing off to another high song post.

Having tuned into one obvious songster my ears were now straining to pick out a very different sound and eventually I located two separate male Common Redstart typically singing their soft, melancholy verse from the tops of the highest trees. Whilst I was happy to get these record shots I really wanted some closer views and decided to head over to a likely location within a small deciduous wooded area.

On my way across the open heath I spotted a number of Common Buzzard taking advantage of the early morning warm air currents above one of the slopes and watched as they chased one another.

I also saw a Meadow and Tree Pipit plus a Woodlark in full song but they all eluded the lens!

As soon as I entered the small woodland, one of the favoured nesting areas for the Redstart, I spotted one male on the ground but he promptly flew high into the Oak canopy. Definitely a good sign so I waited and after a few minutes it started singing and slowly descended and enabled me to get a few closer views of this very colourful species.

 Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus).

At one stage this male decided to perch just 15-20 feet away but wanted to stay partly hidden behind the large tree trunk.

On my return journey I spent some time with an obliging Stonechat and while recrossing the boardwalk I enjoyed reasonable views of the pair of Curlews (pics to follow in a future post) but a recently fledged Mallard chick provided a final shot for my morning stroll.

Who knows what I'll see on my next visit, probably much later in May or early June.  FAB.


Sunday, 27 April 2014

Garden Colours from February to April.

While I sort out images from a few recent walks I thought I would share the changes in the garden from a cold, wet February through to a slightly sunnier April.

In JANUARY the Helleborus orientalis were the stars, supported by Crocus, Scilla, Muscari and Leucojum.

During FEBRUARY the clumps of Leucojum and Muscari were still showing well as the first of specie Tulips started to open with the cheerful sight of yellow Narcissus everywhere and a Bergenia in full flower.

Now into late APRIL the Clematis have just decided to be the stars supported by Aquilegia 'William Guinness' popping up everywhere; an early flowering Geranium providing some much needed nectar plus the Echinops, getting taller each day, and probably the last of the small specie Tulips.  FAB.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Early Morning Bird Song.

A week ago I set my alarm with the intention of catching the 'Dawn Chorus' but overslept by half an hour by which time the sun was just beginning to lighten the sky at Bookham Common and the bird song was not as vocal as I'd expected. However in the first 20 minutes I heard two Nightingales plus 2 Lesser Whitethroat singing deep within the scrub and a distant calling Cuckoo to add to my year list.
Click here to hear the delightful song of a Nightingale.

The first photo call was a Blackbird in full voice, silhouetted against the western sky
Click here for a song recording.

Slowly the cloudless sky lightened and I headed in the direction of the calling Cuckoo but failed to find its perch within the wooded area but added Nuthatch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Jay, Woodpigeon, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Pheasant and Stock Dove to the list.
Returning to the open 'plain' I snapped a perched Kestrel just before it flew away. 


The next obvious chorister was a Song Thrush, initially just enjoying the early morning rays on its high perch and then it promptly turned away to utter its repetitive song.

Click here for a song recording.

As expected I saw and listened to numerous Robins as they all confirmed their presence from their lofty song posts.

I also saw and heard Willow Warbler , several Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, and Dunnock.  

With the warmer weather the green clothing on the trees and bushes continues to intensify day by day so very soon many species will become more difficult to find. Above are a female Blackcap and a male Bullfinch taking a rest.

A cropped view of a silent Chiffchaff perched amongst the blossom.

Birds flying over the common included Jackdaws, a lonesome Greylag Goose and a Common Buzzard slowly soaring upwards. Others not photographed were Mallard, Collared Dove, Crow, Magpie, Canada Geese, Ring-necked Parakeets, Sparrowhawk, Grey Heron, Starling and a single Swallow which passed over the common heading northwards.

Wrens were also very vocal during my walk but failed to perch long enough (or I failed to operate the camera quick enough!) for a decent picture. 

I saw several species collecting nesting material including this obliging Robin.

As I returned to my starting point around 9am (some three hours later) the male Blackbird was in the same place and still belting out his territorial song. The final tally for my morning stroll was 34 species.  FAB.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

First Damsel of the season.

During a brief patch walk at Epsom Common this morning I spotted my first damsel of the season, a female Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) and took the opportunity to test out my recently acquired upgraded lens (EF70-300mm f44-5.L IS) . All these shot are cropped.

The black legs and broad yellow antehumeral stripes (red on a male) help to distinguish the Large Red from the similar Small Red Damselfly.

Back at home the lilac behind the shed is just starting to come into flower, the buds dripping with moisture after yesterdays rain.

Garden Bird Update: Compared to last year there has been very little activity around the bird feeders. Very few sightings of any House Sparrows so we suspect that their nest site on another property has been abandoned or destroyed. A pair of Goldfinches regularly fly in but don't hang around for a photo call. From our recent observations it now appears that two of the three nest boxes are being used by Blue Tits ... Anita has heard youngsters calling in one box located in the tall birch tree and I saw another adult entering the very old box on the back wall of the shed. No pictures yet.  FAB.

Linking to Nature Notes.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Patchwalk - Horton CP.

Horton Country Park is very close to my home and forms part of my 5k x 5k local recording area. It extends over 400 acres with a mixture of habitats; Golf Course, an Equestrian Centre, numerous horse paddocks, grass meadows, mixed woodland and is very popular with dog walkers and cyclists.

Just about a week ago I took a stroll late morning to see what was around with fortunately not too many other visitors who might disturb the wildlife.

A Chiffchaff flitted about the trees bordering the track around the paddocks occasionally issuing its 'hweet' call.

A male Blackbird enjoying a paddle and drink from one of the track side puddles left from the winter rains.

As I turned into one of the mixed woodland areas a male Blackcap stopped singing and popped out to see who was entering its territory. Blue and Great Tits, Dunnock, Wren, Blackbird, Nuthatch and Jay were also present in the woods where the Bluebells were in full flower (much earlier than last year).

On the edge of the wood I heard two Woodies territory drumming against each other and then one male Great Spotted Woodpecker decided to change location so I just managed a couple of pics before it flew off to directly challenge the other intruder deep within the wood.
Other species seen or heard included Song Thrush, Magpie, Starling, Crow, Jackdaw, Pheasant, Green Woodpecker, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Long-tailed Tit and Pied Wagtail plus Brimstone, Comma, Orange Tip and Peacock butterflies. All in all not a bad list for the time of day.  FAB.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Orange Tip.

Warmer weather over the past few weeks has produced far more sightings of butterflies compared to the same period last year when it was wet and cold. One little charmer that wanders the countryside, along hedgerows and through our gardens is the Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines). The males emerge about a week before the females and this male one was visiting Green Alkanet.

Now if you thought the upper-wing colour is distinctive then just check out the elaborate under-wing pattern below.


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Stroll at Dungeness RSPB on Monday.

On Sunday we travelled into Kent to meet up with friends that we hadn't seen for nearly two years. After a cup of coffee and a chat I acted as the taxi driver we headed southwards to Dungeness RSPB for a walk. As expected the water levels were still exceptionally high and not a vast array of species on the water but we did log Little and Great Crested Grebes, Coot, Mallard, Teal, Shoveler, Tufted plus numerous Cormorants carrying nest building material into a patch of trees with just their upper branches above the water line on Burrows Pit.
We decided not to stop at the next two hides and continued around the reserve searching the scrub and listening for any indication of bird movements but there was very little seen or heard except Cetti's Warbler, Wren, Blackbird, Robin, Chaffinch, Linnet, Dunnock and Reed Warbler with two Oystercatchers on the shingle ridge. Seven Shelduck flew overhead followed shortly after by a single Little Egret.

Reed Bunting (Male).

Reed Bunting (Male).
Just before entering the hide overlooking Burrows Pit we heard a Bittern booming while at least three Sedge Warblers were singing from amongst the nearby bramble bushes and once inside we added views of a male and female Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Shelduck, Gadwall, Pochard, Lapwing, Mute Swan, Greylag and Canada Geese, Grey Heron plus one lonely Swallow. Before continuing our stroll I spent a while outside the hide trying to get some shots of the Sedge Warblers.

Sedge Warbler
Singing Sedge Warbler
Click this link to review a few more images and its song on my other blog, FABirding.

Butterflies seen included Peacock, Brimstone, Orange Tip and Small Tortoiseshell.

A very tatty Small Tortoiseshell
On the mound overlooking the extensive reed beds we again heard the Bittern booming and I had a brief sighting of a Bearded Reedling. Further along two Shepherds were checking their flock to ensure that the new lambs were healthy.

An enjoyable stroll was capped off by an excellent meal provided by our friends and a review of my memory card on their wide screen TV.  ..... FAB.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

S.B.C. Fieldtrip to Pulborough Brooks.

Anita and I spent a very enjoyable and sunny day at Pulborough Brooks RSPB Reserve today in the company of members of the Surrey Bird Club (SBC). I personally logged 48 species and added a few to my year list including Avocet (4), Garganey, Nightingale (5), Swallow and Marsh Harrier (2).




After our lunch break we headed over the heath to the watch point overlooking the South Brooks where we managed scoped views of a male Garganey, a single Redshank and a few more Lapwing plus soaring Common Buzzards and a pair of hunting Marsh Harriers. 

Common Buzzard

On the return journey to the car park a Red Kite drifted overhead but I only managed a quick shot taken through a gap in the branches. After cropping I noticed that it was looking down at us as it flew over!
Red Kite
 Peacock butterflies were fairly numerous plus Brimstone and Orange Tip were also seen.

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly
Tomorrow we are driving into Kent to meet up with friends for a walk somewhere so who knows what wildlife sightings hold in store for us.  FAB.


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