Friday, 27 February 2009

Friday 27th. February 2009

Wasn't sure where I was going today . The forecast was not as good as the day turned out to be , and in the end decided to trespass at New Hythe - again .
As I arrived milky sunshine was being replaced with the proper stuff , which then lasted all day . The most noticable thing was the birdsong , mainly Great Tit and Song Thrush that was filling the site . Wrong end of the day , but I had a look in at the Bittern reedbed , but all was quiet , apart from a few Coots and Gadwall . Up the other end of the lake Tufted Ducks , Great Crested Grebe and a few Black Headed Gulls were all that were on offer . On the main path behind the Bittern's reedbed , I found what I thought was the first Blackthorn flower of the year , but with closer inspection , it proved to be Bird Cherry , all the Blackthorn being still tight in bud . Just further along the first of 12/15 Cetti Warblers that I heard today , burst into song . The scrub area only produced a Green Woodpecker , a few Tits and a small Goldfinch flock . Very little over the other side of the railway until I reached the river . The riverside path produced the first of many small flocks of Long Tailed Tits , which seem to have split up from their large winter numbers . As usual , several Bullfinches were heard and occassionally glimpsed . Grey Heron were heard over on the far bank , but had flown before getting a sighting . A flock of Black Headed Gulls were on the mud flats together with a pair of Shellduck . As on previous visits , a single Redshank flew off noisily on my approach . The Sunken Marsh just held a female Pheasant , another flock of Long Tailed Tits , and about six of the Cetti Warblers already mentioned . On the outlet to the river near the paperworks , I got a good view of what I thought was a Greenshank when I went round with Steve , and confirm that it definately was . With it on the mud were a pair of Teal and several Mallard . Rounding Brooklands , I stopped to talk to two anglers , who mentioned that they have seen a Bittern a couple of times in the last week on that lake . The footpath produced yet more Long Tailed Tits and also two Goldcrests . Crossing back over the railway , I thought I would have a look at the usual place for Water Voles , but none were showing . I followed the ditch and came across the first one almost in the same spot where Steve and I had the Firecrest , and where he got those fantastic shots . Without much cover , they were very edgy , but further along I found another young looking animal that was happy to sit eating whilst I snapped away .
Later , the 'plop' of an animal into the water gave the opportunity for a swimming shot . I checked the Bittern spot again , but without any sighting , and then decided to head off to Fackenden Down , to see if any reptiles had been teased out with the warm sunshine .
The first thing I saw on arrival was a male Brimstone , my first butterfly of the year , to be followed by a second at the other end of the site . The first pair of refugia , well lying alongside them , produced another year first , a male Adder taking the rays , still looking earthy after his winter underground . Was this going to be a special day - no , in fact , apart from two Slow Worms , no other reptiles were found . Out of interest , the report on last year's monitoring of the site , identified 75+ different Adders on the site . No I can't identify them , but I know a man who can , so when I find them , I send a shot of the head pattern , and he can put a number to each individual . Another first for the year on site , was Primroses in flower . Birdwise , only Magpies and Carrion Crows put in an appearance whilst I was on site . A pleasant enough visit in the sunshine , but disappointing in numbers of reptiles found , after a good start .
Tomorrow , hedgelaying under the Downs near Dorking , don't think the sun is going to be with us .

Monday, 23 February 2009

Monday 23rd. February 2009

A week has passed since I visited Hayes Farm , and as the saying goes , ' what a difference a week makes ' .
On crossing the stile , it was obvious that the mixed Black Headed / Common Gull flock was only a fraction of what it was , and the Corvids , though still around , were few and far between . I made my way to 'Stonechat Corner ' , but there was no sign of her . Greenfinches and Goldfinches were gathered in the scrub behind the log piles , all jabbering away . On the next corner I came across the female Kestrel , the first time I have seen her in about four visits and I was to see her again just before I left . More Green/Goldfinches were in the hedgerow , but no sign of the Pied Wagtails around a still flooded area in the middle of the field . I put up several Blackbirds and three Redwings , which flew off calling . These were to be the only Foreign Thrushes to be found today .
All was quiet at the Trout fishery , but no sign of the pair of Mute Swan , nor the pair of Little Grebe , all the other usual residents were around , but the Tufted Ducks are back down to 2 males and just 1 female , all three were taking a nap . I walked on to the Little Owl site , and again did not see it . Coming back , I followed the River Ravensbourne , more of a stream here , and along it's banks found two flocks of Tits , one mainly Long Tails and the other mixed Long Tailed/Blue/Great Tits and with them a single Goldcrest . Standing quietly watching them , the quiet was broken with the arrival of a Great Spotted Woodpecker , who obviously wanted to let everyone know that he was there . Leaving the woods , I put up his cousin , a Green Woodpecker from the edge of a horse paddock , which flew off ' yaffling ' as it went .
As I passed the Fishery again , a fly fisherman had arrived and was casting from the bank by the gate . On his second cast , he caught a Rainbow Trout of about 0.75/1 kilo , the first time I have ever seen anyone catch anything there .
Very quiet on my way back until I got almost to the farmyard . In amongst the remains of what looked like last year's Raspberry canes , WW3 was taking place between any two of four cockerells , and sometimes involving three or all four . It had obviously been going on for some time , as all four white cockerells were showing red , and it wasn't just their combs . Several times I tried to break them up , but they took no notice of me , and even later on when the farmer's wife tried , they just ran off and started again , in the end , she left them to it . It was certainly a ' no holds barred ' contest , and the white birds were turning red at an alarming rate . At one stage , the pair fighting both collapsed to the ground and lay motionless for a few minutes . I thought they were both dead , four legs pointing skywards . After what seemed like an age , one lifted it;s head , slowly got up , to be followed by the other , and a few seconds later , the battle continued . Mind you , some cockerells wern't interested in the contest , and just got on with production of eggs . They'll probably be all up the pub tonight , buying each other pints .
I did find a few Pied Wagtails around the horses on my way out , but did not find the Linnet flock . I thought the Skylarks had gone too , but had three flying over as I crossed the stile , but , they were flying off the farm .

Friday, 20 February 2009

Friday 20th. February 2009

On and off this week , it has really felt as if Spring has arrived , well almost . Seeing as the Hedgelaying finished a bit earlier than anticipated , I set off for an area of woodland in Biggin Hill , tucked away amongst farmland and horse paddocks , to see what evidence , if any , of that long awaited Spring .
Birdwise the walk was quiet , apart from a flock of Woodpigeon , numbering I would estimate in excess of 500 , on what looked like a field of Winter cereal . A small flock of Chaffinches was seen in one of the ploughed fields , Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker were seen and the latter heard drumming . Mixed Corvid flocks were in many of the horse paddocks , and most hedgerows held a mixture of Tits . I heard , but did not see a couple of Bullfinches , and saw a few Greenfinches and Goldfinches .
When I arrived at the woodland , which is absolutely superb for Bluebells , I started looking for the evidence , The first found were those mentioned Bluebells , well above ground level .
In the same area , Primroses-Primula vulgaris .A bit further along the track , Lords and Ladies-Arum maculatum .And of course the very common Dog's Mercury-Mercurialis perennis , already in bud .
In the hedgerows , most of the Hazel catkins are opening , and now is the time to easily find those female flowers , fully open to be polinated from the male catkins .
The Alder catkins are fully open as well , and still carries last years cones , mini supermarkets for the likes of Siskins . Incidentally , the Alder is the only European broad leaved tree to produce cones .
And it looks as if next Winter's berries should be good , given the number of flower buds ready to burst open on the Holly .
And finally , the main purpose of the visit , to see if the Early Purple Orchids were showing , and they didn't let me down , even though they are not meant to be in flower until late April . I found 14 plants , some only just pushing through the leaf litter , so there could well be more . I think I will be re-visiting before the end of March ..
As I walked back to the car , I passed a Robin in the hedge , singing his heart out , and reminded me of Warren's posting yesterday . As I looked back , he didn't move , and carried on singing in the sunshine . No doubt , trying to outsing Warren's bird .

If a further pointer is needed , a Lesser Whitethroat was reported in Hove this morning . Back under the Downs at Dorking hedgelaying tomorrow , Buzzards ?

Friday, 13 February 2009

Friday 13th.February 2009

Whilst preparing my tools for hedgelaying tommorrow , Carol called 'Male Blackcap on the Callicarpa' . I shot upstairs to the back bedroom window , camera in hand , just in time to see him fly off , but he didn't go far , just onto the lawn to have a go at the remains of an apple , giving the chance of one shot . Something disturbed him and he flew off behind the garage , and whilst I was waiting to see if he would come back , a pair of Jackdaws perched on the trellis with the fat ball dangling . Their carry on made me smile . I think the one on the right was a female , and she was giving him the old wing shimmering bit and at the same time calling to him . He had that ' GBH of the Donalds ' look on his face and it looked like she was telling him to ' keep his strength up' , if he was to do a good job this breeding season . I don't know where the bird on the left got it , but it has a ring on one leg . Anyway , the whole thing made me smile .
After lunch , and in sunshine , I went back to Hayes Farm , mainly to see if anything had changed at the Trout Fishery . There were still large numbers of Gulls and Corvids and still all rising into the air noisily for no apparent reason . The female Stonechat was still in the same area , but with a circular saw working from a tractor by the logpile , she was even more nervous . Noticable by their absence were the Pied Wagtails , as I only had one overfly during my visit . No sign of Winter Thrushes at all today . As I approached the Trout Fishery , the white geese were all in the field below and very vocal . In the same field were 11 Moorhen and 4 Rabbits . 4 Canada Geese lifted off the Fishery and headed for another field to join others . In total they numbered 24 , a big inrease since last visit . At the gate to the Fishery , I found what could be bothering the white geese , 2 Mute Swans were 'Swan-upping' in the margins . Here's one of the 'uppers' and in the foreground , just for Warren , one of the 15 Coots on site is just about fo dive . Also on the increase are the Tufted Ducks , numbering 6 male and 3 female now . The Egyptian Goose was right over the other side with the 'Bitsers' . Leaving the Fishery , with one angler , I headed further on up the track to look for a Little Owl site that I had been told about . Just before reaching the spot , I had one very quick sighting as an Owl flew in , but by the time I got close , all I saw was the back of it's head in it's hole . Hopefully , I'll get it another day .
Returning back along the track towards the Fishery , I came across an Oak tree with 4 different fungi growing on it's branches . A really good specimen of Tremella msennterica-Yellow Brain Fungus , followed by Exidia glandulosa-Witches Butter . Along with the fungi , was a nice specimen of lichen , but I must admit , I don't know which one it is .
In the field just before getting back to the Fishery , I thought I had found a couple of Winter Finches , but they turned ou to be a pair of Mistle Thrush . At the Fishery , the Egyptian Goose was quite close and had joined up with the 'Bitsers' and a Mallard . This shot shows what a small Goose the Egyptian is . Making my way back to the car , I found the Skylark flock numbering 12 and also the Linnet flock , numbering a depleted 6 .
Hedgelaying tomorrow and all next week , so it might be a while before posting again , unless the Red Kite which has been seen over Hawkwood , puts in an appearance .

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Tuesday 10th.February 2009

Today's workday up on the Greensand Ridge was cancelled because of the weather and the general ground conditions . So ,once the overnight/morning rain cleared , I set off after lunch to Hayes Farm , with the promise of some sunshine later on .
The ground was heavy following the snow , but with the added rain , it was atrocious . I felt really sorry for the horses in the paddocks , almost up to their knees in water and mud . As they moved around , there was a slurping sound as they pulled each hoof out of the quagmire . The most obvious change to the bird population was the number of Gulls . They were in good numbers last time , but this time I estimated 300/400 mixed Black Headed and Common feeding amongst the horses , then , all as one rising noisily into the air , moving to another part of the farm for a short while , then all rising and moving again . Also in lager numbers were the Corvids , with Jackdaws mixed in with the Carrion Crows and the Magpies . The Woodpigeon numbers were pretty much constant with my last visit .
As I headed down towards the manure heap and the log piles , the female Stonechat was still in the same area , as were the good number of Pied Wagtails . Each horse seemed to have a pair following it around . The scrubby trees behind the log pile held the mixed Goldfinch/Chaffinch/Greenfinch flock .
Winter Thrushes were in smaller numbers , with only 10/15 Redwings and just 6 Fieldfares , the latter resting atop a large Oak before flying off 'chak-chaking' as they went .
On arrival at the Trout Fishery , all the white geese , the 'Bitsers' and the Mallards were all in the corner by the gate . Perhaps they were waiting for the person to feed them . Then on the bank by itself I noticed the bird I thought perhaps was an Egyptian Goose . I quickly got a few shots of it before it joined the others in the water . I still think it is a bit iffy , but it is obviously mainly that breed . The iffy Grey Lag type was consorting with the white geese , which is probably how it got that white mask .
Everything else was as before , except that the 2 female and 1 male Tufted Ducks are now 2 female and 3 males . 4 are paired up and the odd male is on his own . I wonder if he was theone with a smile on his face last visit ? The field directly below the lake held 10 Moorhen and 3 Rabbits , and the field beyond that , 4 Canada Geese and a lot more Gulls .
On the return to the car , I picked up the Skylark flock numbering about 15 , and also found the Linnet flock numbering 15/20 , feeding close by .
As I approached the stile , I found this Pied Wagtail having a wash and brush up in one of the many puddles .

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Sunday 8th.February 2009

Went back this morning for another walk around Hayes Farm , this time with snow/slush underfoot . Things looked very quiet when I first arrived , but there were still several dog walkers about . In the large Oak , just over the stile were just 4 Woodpigeon , with no sign of the Winter Thrushes or mixed Finch flock . In the far corner , behind the houses , 3 Carrion Crows were turning over horse droppings , looking for breakfast . The Chickens were back on the manure heap fossicking around . In the little copse behind the log piles , were Greenfinches , Goldfinches and a few Chaffinches , and as they took off , a Skylark flew in the opposite direction calling .
Down in the field used as a car park for the boot sales , I found the Winter Thrushes , about
30/35 Redwings and about 15/20 Fieldfares , the most of the latter that I have seen on the site . The Fieldfares were feeding mainly in the open middle of the field and the Redwings were feeding on the areas around the sides , under the overhanging trees , where the snow had thawed completely , but making the ground resemble the Somme . Also in this field were about 4/5 Pied Wagtails , more than the usual pair I have found on previous visits . On the far side , a flock of 50/60 Starling were following the grazing horses around . On the way to the Trout Fishery , there were large numbers of Gulls in the air , mostly Black Headed , but some Common mixed in as well . It isn't a walk in this area without the Rose Ringed Parakeets being seen or heard , and I had a pair in an Old Oak which has many old Woodpecker holes in it , and also a fly over of four later on . Once again I found the Trout Fishery about 2/3rds. frozen over . All seemed pretty much as before with the exception of the second Little Greebe showing again , the female Tufted has now been joined by another female and also a male . The Fishery is very exposed and although milder today , I soon got cold looking around . I gave one more scan , and noticed something on the very far bank . When I first saw it , it was asleep , with it's head under it's wing , but from a distance , it looked like a small Egyptian Goose , but not quite right . At about this time , the Fishery Balliff arrived and entered the fenced off lake , via the locked gate . Seemed like a good time to go trespassing again I thought and followed him in . As it happened , he was a nice chap and keen on wildlife , and he took me round to get a closer look . As we approached , the resident white geese announced our arrival and everything was alerted . At least now I could see the head , and once again it didn't look right . In this shot it is with one of the 'Bitsers' and a Mallard type .
As we got closer it popped into the water and headed for the furthest corner of the lake .It'll probably turn out to be another 'Bitser' , but any ideas ? Just as we were walking back around the bank , a male Teal flew in and landed on the ice , once again , well distant from where we were , but it's the first that either of us have seen on the site . On the return part of the walk , I found several more Pied Wagtails in amongst the horses , probably 10+ in number . Also with the horses were many more Black Headed and Common Gulls .
A good number of Blackbirds , together with a couple of Song Thrushes were also found . Near the scaffold pole , that didn't have the female Kestrel perched on it today , I spotted something fly down to the ground , then perch back up on the electrified fence . Sure enough , as I got closer I could see it was a female Stonechat .
I tried to get closer , but she always flew off to keep her distance from me . The best I got , was
her eyeing up the next mouthful ,
then launching herself towards it . Eventually she got fed up of being photographed , and flew even further down the fenceline . I headed off back to the car , well happy with the morning , but before getting there managed to get a pair of Meadow Pipits , one here ,
and , just before the stile , I was overflown by a flock of 12/15 Skylark , who wheeled away and landed not too far away , and managed a shot of two of them .
Adding in the odd Magpie , Blue and Great Tit , Pheasant and Linnet , it was a very enjoyable walk .