Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tuesday 29th.December 2009

The forecast was right , the rain/sleet started falling just before 9 o'clock , and it hasn't stopped since . Needless to say , hedgelaying went by the by , and the day has been spent sorting photos on the computer , with occasional looks out the back bedroom window , to see what was about in the gardens . It was during one of these breaks , during a really heavy downpour , that I noticed two Collared Doves , perched in next door's Laburnum tree , nothing unusual there . Then one of them lifted it's wing , then the other did the same . Over a period of 3/4 minutes , they carried on doing this , until , at one time , they managed to synchronize their movements , and now I'm wondering if it is synchronized showering or synchronised semaphore practice ?
All the expected species have been visiting the gardens , but fewer Winter Thrushes today , with just 1 Fieldfare and 6/8 Redwings feeding on the Cotoneaster next door , the other side .
Talking of which , Steve / Kingsdowner commented on yesterday's post that the shrub must be
'one helluva Cotoneaster' , and yes Steve it certainly is . This shot was taken from my back bedroom window , and the shrub must stand 6/7 metres high , is multi-stemmed , the branches reaching the top of the shot , but having already been cleared of berries . Top left of the shot are the Hazels , which the Winter Thrushes use to sit and digest their meal , before swooping down for more . The bottom berry covered branches span about 8 metres , and the branches behind span about the same . Obviously , they start on the ones out of view behind , then from the top downwards .
It is not the usual Cotoneaster horizontalis , found in most gardens , and also in the wild now , but one of the cultivars of Cotoneaster frigidus-Tree Cotoneaster .

Monday, 28 December 2009

Monday 28th.December 2009

Should have been out and about in the sunshine this morning , but a phone call last evening asking for help up on the Common this morning , saw me heading up there . A lot of Gorse had been cut and treated but we didn't get a chance to burn it before the snow came . In fact , the amount of Gorse to be burnt , was much more than was anticipated , and a quick two hour burn , turned into a frantic four hour job , and only three of us to do it . The highlight of the morning was a pair of Sparrowhawks , a male and female from the obvious size difference , giving us a 'flap and glide' flyover , in clear blue sky , whilst we were working
That meant a late lunch , which meant late getting out for a look around . Already the clear blue sky was almost gone , replaced by cloud , rolling in from the SW . By the time I got to Keston Ponds , the sun had gone , and with it , the warmth , as the temperature noticeably dropped like a stone . All three pods were almost completely frozen over , apart from where people had broken the ice around the edges , and small areas in each , where the spring enters the first pond , then feeds the other two ponds in turn . Apart from two Mallards and a Coot on the middle pond , everything else was on the top pond , nearest the car park , but no sign at all of the Mandarins .
Walking back towards the car , between the top and middle pond , I found the female Grey Wagtail , searching for food in the running water . By now , the light was fading , and she was in the dullest corner of the pond , making photographs difficult . I must have taken 20 shots of her , but the light and her constant bobbing and movement , meant most were very blurred , and just managed to get a few reasonable shots .
In the garden , the female Blackcap was around at breakfast time , and when I got back this afternoon , the male and the male Blackbird were both feeding avidly on the Callicarpa berries . The Redwing numbers on the Cotoneaster have doubled at least since yesterday , as I counted at least 18 on the shrub and resting in the surrounding trees . There were also 3 Fieldfares feeding on the same shrub .
Next two days should be hedgelaying up on the Greensand Ridge , but , I think the weather is going to have it's say about that , if the forecast is correct .

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Saturday 26th.December 2009

Firstly from yesterday , it appeared that ever time I looked out of the kitchen window , whilst helping Carol prepare the Christmas dinner , or should that read , getting in Carol's way whilst she prepared the Christmas dinner ? , I seemed to see the male Blackcap feeding on the Callicarpa berries . After a while , I kept a continuous watch on the shrub , and , lo and behold , the reason for the continuous sightings was , that there were in fact two males feeding then leaving , to be replaced by the second . But , every now and again , their timing went out of synch , and they both appeared at the shrub at the same time , which always started a scrap . If that wasn't enough , one of the local male Blackbirds has also taken a liking to the Callicarpa berries , I have never noticed any other birds eating them before , also starting arguments between the two species .
Back to today , another grey , damp start , with very little sign of brightness , that was until about 11 o'clock , when a glimpse of the sun had me getting ready to get out for a walk . By the time I was ready , the brightness was gone , the grey had returned , but as I reached the road , a flock of Thrushes wheeled overhead and landed in the Lime Tree outside the house . As I was kitted up for the cold , I decided to go into the back garden , close to the Cotoneaster bush in next door's garden , and secrete myself amongst the shrubs . It wasn't long before the extremities started to get cold , standing still , and all I got for my effort was a flock of 3 Rose Ringed Parakeets that came to feed in the gloom . My hopes were raised when a female Blackbird landed and proceeded to feed . She chose her berries carefully , moving between almost every choice . At one point , she hopped further up the Cotoneaster , and came face to face with one of her overseas relations , helping themselves to her berries . That sighting opened the floodgates , as soon , all branches of the tree were moving , as more Redwings flooded in and gored on the berries . The 'chak-chak' call overhead , alerted me to a pair od Fieldfares , waiting around the edges , to join in the berry-fest . Eventually , and very cautiously , they made their way closer , constantly on the lookout for any danger . By now , the locals were over-run by the foreigners , and I managed to get both Winter Thrushes in the same frame . The Fieldfares began to feed just as ferociously as the Redwings , but , it only took one alarm call , from somewhere in the surrounding gardens , to send everyone high into the surrounding tall trees .
When I looked at my watch , I had been standing motionless for 45 minutes . My hands and feet were like blocks of ice , but if I had been asked to estimate the time I was in the shrubs , I would have said 10/15 minutes .
A hot cup of coffee was very welcome back in the kitchen , as hands and feet started to thaw out .

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Thursday 24th.December 2009

Another very grey day , and although the snow is thawing , it still felt very cool , so the morning was spent doing maintenance on my hedgelaying tools , and keeping a watch on the Cotoneaster bush next door , which has been attracting more Winter Thrushes by the day , and they are starting to eat the topmost berries , probably the ripest . The call of Fieldfare had me reaching for the camera , but the only chance I got of a shot of them , was when they both had their backs to the lens . They had probably just fed , and perched in the Hazel above the berries , before flying off again . Talking of pairs , I finally managed to get a shot of the two Blackcaps in the same frame . I had just one opportunity , before a couple of Chaffinches flew in and the pair scattered . The male showed well , the female bottom , just left of centre , was more covered by the Callicarpa berries . Meanwhile , back at the Cotoneaster bush , proof that the top berries were ripe enough . I tried to get closer , but the only bird that came whilst I was down the garden , was this female Blackbird .
After lunch , with the light no better , I went for a walk through what used to be the local farm , and back along the bottom lane . Missing during my last couple of walks , were the resident Rooks , but now , with the thaw , they have returned to the usual horse paddocks . Along the bottom lane , I found several Redwings , feeding mainly on Ivy berries , much to the annoyance of the local Blackbirds . Just managed a quick shot of one as it landed for a split second on the adjacent Hazel . In the grounds of what was the farmhouse , was one of probably 12/15 Rose Ringed Parakeets that I found on my walk , and they were apart from the 4/5 that have been raiding the feeders in the garden over the last few days .
Walking on the thawing snow/ice , I shall be glad when it's all gone , as it is downright dangerous in it's present condition .
And finally , I would like to wish all Bloggers and readers a very Happy Christmas , and all the very best for 2010 .

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Tuesday 22nd.December 2009

Yet again , a day of two halves , dour and grey this morning and clear skies and sunshine this afternoon . We cancelled the days hedgelaying up on the Greensand Ridge because of the conditions under foot , and it looks as if the same will happen tomorrow if the minus temperatures and freezing fog that is forecasted , come to fruition .
The male Blackcap attended for breakfast , and shortly afterwards , I noticed movement in the Cotoneaster next door , which gave my first chance to get a shot of a Fieldfare this year . In the dull conditions , it didn't stand out as it should , but , hopefully the next one there will be in the sunshine . I also noticed 3/4 Redwings land on the shrub , but I didn't see any berries being eaten .
After lunch , I set off for a walk along the bottom lane and onto West Wickham Common . As I passed the little Primary school , I looked at the Holly tree opposite , where I had seen Redwings feeding last week . Not a single Holly berry was left , but in the school grounds , another Cotoneaster stands , laden down with berries , no more than 20 metres from the Holly . My theory is that the tanin levels in these berries is still very high and the level drops as they ripen further , which is when they will go the same way as the Holly berries . Further along the bottom lane , I noticed a young lad , standing in the road , looking worried . As I approached him , he came over and asked if I could help him . He had noticed a ewe , just the other side of the hedge/stockfence , that didn't seem as if it could move , and was coughing . I had a look through the hedge and saw Bramble wrapped around it's body . As there was no sign of anyone in the fields , I climbed the fence in the corner and made my way back to the ewe . As I got close , she tried to get away again , and the coughing got really bad . It was then that I could see she had 4/5 strands of Bramble wrapped around her neck , then wound together like a rope , as a result of her trying to get free . As soon as I started to break the Bramble , she relaxed , as if she knew I was helping . With all the Bramble away from her neck , she broke free of the remainder around her body , and ran off bleating to join the others . It was as well that the young lad stayed till someone came along , as I was going to go up the footpath before that point , and wouldn't have seen her . The young lad went on his way , much happier .
After all the excitement , I went up the side of the horse field , and in one small area uncovered by the snow , recorded a single , Song and Mistle Thrush , Blackbird , Redwing and Fieldfare , a full house . I couldn't get them all in the same shot , but here , L-R are Redwing , Song Thrush and Fieldfare . Amongst the usual species , I recorded Kestrel again , could well be the one I photographed a few days ago .Coming back down the other side of the horse field , I saw a movement right in the distance . It turned out to be another Fox , another dog too , from the size of it . It sauntered out of the Blackthorn bushes , and after a while , decided to sit in the sun . There he stayed , enjoying the afternoon sunshine , and by the time I got to the bottom of the hill and looked back , he had laid down and was having a wash .

Monday, 21 December 2009

Monday 21st.December 2009

What a strange day today was . It started off with blue sky and sunshine at breakfast time . The overnight sleet had frozen on the ground , but it did not deter the male Blackcap turning up for his meal . No sooner had he gone , then a Fox , most probably a dog , came sauntering up the garden path towards the rockery . He came up as far as where we put down the bird food , and had a good sniff around . After a while , a noiser from next door disturbed him , and in a split second after this shot , he turned tail , and headed back down the garden path . Within minutes , a great slab of grey cloud enveloped the sky , and remained till lunchtime . I considered getting out for a while , but steady rain put paid to that . Just before dark , the rain turned to really heavy snow , and everything was recovered in up to 5 cms . As quickly as it started , the snow stopped again , but now freezing temperatures are forecasted for tonight , with probable further snow .
The fox shots were taken through double glazed windows , hence the quality , and the last shot doesn't do justice to the amount falling .
Hedgelaying up on the Greensand Ridge tomorrow doesn't look very likely , might do better on Wednesday .

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Sunday 20th. December 2009

After early morning cloud , the day gradually brightened up to a crisp Winter's day , with blue sky and wall to wall sunshine . Once I had sorted some bits and pieces and had lunch . I headed to Hayes Farm for a look around . The sun was shining bright , but the car thermometer was hovering around 0C , and to be honest , it felt colder . As I entered the site , over a stile , movement in the remains of the Maize crop caught my attention . At first I thought it was a flock of Finches , but it turned out to be a flock of 10/12 Dunnocks , a species that I have not noticed flocking before . The sun was directly behind me at the start , ideal for birding , but I knew that on my return , I would be looking straight into it . From the direction of the Trout Fishery , two small skeins of Canada Geese were heading off , must have heard I was on my way . This was the second skein . All was quiet around the 'pick your own' area , and no sign of the female Stonechat that made it her home for most of last Winter . Behind the log piles , several Rabbits were nervously feeding and dashing back into their Bramble covered retreat . It was very noticeable that far fewer horses are in the paddocks this year , and consequently , I didn't find a single Pied Wagtail this visit . On the diagonal track , I did find a single Meadow Pipit , which I think is the first one that I have recorded on the site . A few Tits and a couple of Green Woodpecker were all that was found on the way to the Trout Fishery . About one third of the water was frozen over , mainly on the far side , and it was there that many Black-headed Gulls , and a single , much larger juvenile Common Gull , I think , were performing their ablutions . The usual residents all put in an appearance . then , just I was about to leave , two of the 'farmyard ducks' , a pair of Mallard and the Egyptian Goose , appeared from nowhere , and proceeded to cross the lake . It's the first time that I have recorded the Egyptian Goose this Autumn/Winter . It is surprising seeing the Goose near the Mallard , just how small this species is . At one point the Egyptian Goose came in close to the bank , giving a good close-up . Leaving the Trout Fishery , and heading back into the low Winter sun , not much else was seen , until almost reaching the stile again , when a small flock of what looked like Finches , wheeled around , and started feeding on some weed seeds . Eventually I got close enough to identify that it was mainly Linnets , with a few Goldfinches , thrown in for good measure . I managed a shot of them before leaving .
24 species had been recorded , but more importantly , a couple of hours out and about in the Winter sunshine had been very enjoyable , albeit pretty cold .

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Saturday 19th. December 2009

Didn't get out today as we were visiting for most of the day , but I did manage to watch the feeders for a while before we set off . As yesterday , as soon as the food went down , the garden was full of birds , with all the species seen yesterday turning up , with the addition of a pair of Song Thrushes . Chaffinches and Greenfinches once again dominated the proceedings , but every now and again , the male Blackcap dashed in to take a few Callicarpa berries , before being chased off . The comings and goings were frenetic , but every now and again I thought I caught sight of something different . These sightings were even more fleeting than that of the male Blackcap , which after a while , built up the courage to stand his ground around the Callicarpa bush , either resting in the Laburnum tree next door , whilst digesting the berries , or just sunning himself on the vegetation behind the feeders .
As yesterday , several Rose Ringed Parakeets came to feed , and although I have posted several shots of them , I just couldn't resist posting - Parrot in the snow .
It was getting towards time to leave , but I gave it another five minutes . During that time , there was a lull in the feeding frenzy , and a small bird landed on the Callicarpa , and started to feed heartily . It was the female Blackcap that I thought I had caught glimpses of earlier . Now if only I could get both of them in the same shot .......Too late , time to leave .

Friday, 18 December 2009

Friday 18th.December 2009

The snow came as forecasted overnight and into the morning . I had things to do , so got on with them , as slowly , the snow flurries stopped and the sun came out . Carol was out , and whilst doing some toast at lunchtime , I looked out of the kitchen window , and there sitting in the sunshine in the Callicarpa bush , was the male Blackcap , this time showing his head . The camera was upstairs , so I chased up to get a few shots from the back bedroom window . I was snapping away , when I remembered the toast , and chased downstairs , just before it caught light . Needless to say , I didn't eat it , but it came in handy later on in the day . I cleared the path first thing , and put food down at regular intervals , to have it cleared away very quickly each time . I think we had all the Chaffinches in the area in our garden , but no sign of a Redpoll or Brambling . But it did attracted Goldfinch , Greenfinch , Blue and Coal Tit , Collared Dove , Woodpigeon , Blackbird , Robin , Wren , Starling , Great Spotted Woodpecker , and of course the local Carrion Crows and Jackdaws , not forgetting the Rose Ringed Parakeet , caught , unusually , on the ground , at the top of the shot . Once again , not a sign of a Winter Thrush in any of the back gardens .
After a toastless lunch , I had an hour at Keston Ponds/Common . My usual first stop , the Mandarin roost , looked very different following the overnight snow , and with just one small patch of the bottom pond free of ice , the Mandarins were nowhere to be seen . The middle pond had much more open water , and it was here that most of the wildfowl , including some of the Mandarins were congregated . I had gone armed with some stale bread , and some burnt toast , which I must say , went down very well , and even though the Mandarins are much more timid than the other species , I managed to get some of the bread close enough for them to reach , before others muscled in . The species that muscled in most was the Canada Goose , seen here raising the hackles on one drake Mandarin . It wasn't only Ducks and Geese vying for my burnt toast and stale bread . If the waterfowl didn't get to it quickly enough , one of the many patrolling Black-headed Gulls swooped in and claimed the prize . The top pond was all but devoid of wildlife , and with no chance of finding any fungi , I just had a walk around the surrounding woodland . A brief flash , disappearing behind a tree trunk , sent me looking round the other side . For the second time in three visits , I found a Tree Creeper , searching for insects on the bark of a Scots Pine . Fortunately , with snow on the other side of the trunk , the bird stayed on my side , slowly working it's way up the tree , as all good Tree Creepers should , but , unfortunately , giving me the back only view most often seen . It finished high in the Scots Pine , then flew to the base of an Oak , some distance away . I followed , but by the time I got there , it was already some way up the trunk . It then decided to take a side branch , and whilst almost overhead , allowed a side on view , showing that white breast , long thin bill , and those Woodpecker type 'climbing claws' . I watched it work it's way to the top of the Oak , before it disappeared from sight in thicker woodland . On the way back to the car , I passed Keston Bog , dressed in Winter , much different than when I visit during the Summer , looking for Dragonflies and Butterflies .
Driving along the bottom lane , passing the horse paddocks , an obvious bird of prey swooped over the car , and landed high in one of the Horse Chestnut trees . I had to go back to check it out , and it turned out to be a male Kestrel , looking a bit dejected , probably having difficulty finding a meal in the conditions .