Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Wednesday 31st.March 2010

Today was absolutely awful . The whole day has been gloomy and constantly interspersed with showers , some really heavy , and never seemingly more than half an hour between them .
After taking Carol shopping , I have spent the rest of the day staring at the computer screen , finishing off the last of the shots that needed working on , and I'm really glad that job is finished . Needless to say , I didn't get out , so am just posting a few shots of the multitude that I have been trawling through .
Two of the 12+ Brown Rats that were around the feeding platform at South Norwood Country Park a few weeks ago . I must say that for wild animals , they did look very clean indeed .
One of several Marsh Harriers seen at Capel Fleet on the Isle of Sheppey during my visit . This one , a female , patrolling one of the many ditches on the lookout for a meal .
A male House Sparrow around the car park at Elmley RSPB , Sheppey .
A fine looking cock Pheasant that crossed my path , just before the Brown Hare , on the track at Elmley .One of a good number of Skylarks seen and heard that day . This one was feeding over the ditch from the track .One of only a handful of Redshank seen on the reserve that day . Usually they are much more numerous . Another of the many Curlews that were along the track , but took flight as soon as I got too near for their liking .A young female Fallow Deer , that I flushed from cover when I visited a small reserve on my way back from Ashdown Forest . And finally , our resident cock Robin , announcing to all , that our back garden is his territory .
Hopefully , tomorrow will be better , and I'll get away from this screen .

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Tuesday 30th.March 2010

Volunteering up on the Greensand Ridge has had to be put on hold , as my Warden has just had a back operation , and will be out of action for several weeks . But , it has given me the time to spend on the photos that have been waiting to be sorted for some time now . I spent most of yesterday and this morning , getting to a point where it felt as if my eyes were popping out of my head . A bit of brightness after a grey morning , was the ideal opportunity to get out , and I headed for the hills to look for reptiles . I mentioned a while back that at this time of year , as the Adders come out of hibernation , they just lie about together . This shot shows four males doing just that , three on the left and one in the bottom right corner , only thing was , that a large Slow Worm was already lying out , when the bottom left Adder decided on the same spot , and just used the Slow Worm as a cushion . As can be seen , the Slow Worm was almost as large as the male Adders . A bit further on , I came across this 'doughnut' , but only after looking through binoculars , realised that it was in fact two male Adders , coiled up together . If you look , there are two heads , one in front of the other . When I passed a while later , they had warmed up , and had separated . I found another pair , with the second one's head in line with the first's body ( top left ) , the first's head obvious to the right . In all , I found 14 males lying out , but already , the brief window in the weather was breaking down , with spots of rain in the wind .
On the way back home , I made a quick visit to Keston Ponds , and managed to find my first flowering Lesser Celandine of the year . Just two pairs of Mandarin and a second pair of Canada Geese seemed to be the only changes , apart from this strange , almost black duck . It was escorted everywhere my a drake Mallard type , so would assume it was a female . It looked even stranger when the pair left the water over on the far bank , towering over the male .
To finish , three of the recently taken shots that I have been working on .
The female Stonechat , that was constantly pursued by two male at Ashdown Forest . A Common Snipe , from along the track at Elmley RSPB , Sheppey .
And a comical pair of Oystercatchers , again at Elmley , that were marching together and calling constantly , and reminding me of the 'Ministry of Funny Walks' sketch , from the Monty Python series , many years ago .

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Sunday 28th.March 2010

At last , the blog is back in full working order, and although I didn't get out today as I was collecting this laptop , which has 'cropping ability' , I am just posting , or re-posting cropped , a few of the recently taken shots .The female Kestrel , hunting at South Norwood Country Park .One of the 100/150 Curlews along the track at Elmley RSPB , Sheppey .One of the 3/5 Peregrines seen at Elmley and Capel Fleet .My first Wheatear of the year , a male along the track at Elmley . Two of the tree Brown hares seen at Elmley .The male Stonechat at the Reserve on Ashdown Forest .The Common Buzzard hunting over the Reserve at Ashdown Forest .

The male Chiffchaff , constantly calling up on the Common .
Hopefully , things will get back to normal now , fingers crossed .

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Thursday 25th.March 2010

Once again , I am indebted to my neighbour for the loan of his laptop , to enable me to do a catch up post , but once again , without the ability to 'crop' the pictures , but , hopefully by Monday , things will be back to normal .
Last Monday , with the promise of some good weather , I headed for Ashdown Forest in good conditions . As I approached the Reserve , in rolled the clouds , out went the sun ,and , up got the wind , and with a Southerly wind , and nothing to stop it after the South Downs , I was starting to realise that looking for migrants was not a good idea . Apart from Corvids and Chaffinches , I was almost half way around the reserve before I found any interest , a pair of
Stonechats . The male was in superb breeding colours , and pursuing the female all over the place , then having to see off a rival male , trying to muscle in . Whilst following the Stonechats , something made me look skywards , to reveal a Common Buzzard , drifting on the wind , searching the open areas . Two juvenile female Fallow Deer , and that was the lot , most disappointing . On the way back , I stopped off at a road junction that always has a good show of Early Purple Orchids , and , although the plants are not yet in flower , the leaves are pushing
through well , and the first Orchids will not be far behind . Before reaching home , I made my first visit of the year to the Farm Lake , which looked very bare with all the reeds and sedge brown , waiting for this year's growth to begin . A Grey Heron flew off from the bank as I approached the lake , and it was soon seen why he was there . The water was almost seething with frogs , singly and in pairs spawning , easy pickings for the Heron . This particular corner of
the lake is always favoured by frogs , and with so much spawn in the shallows , it looks as if the banks will be alive with froglets again this year . Walking on around the bank , at least half of it
is covered with the early flowering Coltsfoot . Later in the year , when the flowers have finished , the leaves will appear , joining the Ragged Robin and Cowslips , when they come into flower . More croaking from amongst the left overs of last years reeds , produced what could only be described as 'a ball of Toads' . Somewhere in the middle of this is a female that has come to the water to breed . As she did so , she was set upon by several males , all wanting to
be the one to mate with her . With none willing to give in , the ball gets bigger , and sometimes , the female drowns by being kept under the surface by so many males . No sign of any Toadspawn yet , but it usually is a couple of weeks later than the Frogs .
A quick look up on the Downs yesterday , produced my first female Adder of the year , and not surprising , given an afternoon temperature of 16C . As can be seen , the zig-zag pattern is not
so vivid as on the male , and they are usually this light/dark brown coloration . The hole into the heather roots , is probably the entrance to where she hibernated .
And finally , a male Adder , with a spider , that I watched walk all over it , and having just walked off the Adder's head , vanished into the vegetation .

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Sunday 21st.March 2010

Well , it looks as if the fault with my own computer is terminal , as two people have now looked at it and both have come up with that answer . So , once again I am grateful for the loan of my neighbour's Mac , but also once again , I have no facility to 'crop' pictures .
After yesterday's horrible weather , in which we hedgelayed as quickly as possible , and got a soaking into the bargain , this morning looked as if it was going to be just as grey and miserable , albeit the drizzle had passed through overnight . But , by lunchtime , the smallest chinks of blue sky started to appear , and that was enough to see me heading out , up on the Downs , to the areas that we had been working on over the winter , to see if that work had been appreciated by the reptiles in the surrounding areas . I would normally have fitted the 100mm. lens for this type of photography , but without the ability to 'crop' , the 100-400mm. lens went on the camera , which also necessitated carrying the tripod around with me . The temperature had not yet risen much , but in the distance , the cloud cover was definitely breaking up . It wasn't too long before I found the first Adder , a male , like all those found again today . It
probably hadn't been above ground for very long , as it was still looking as if it had been run over by a steamroller . They have this ability to flatten their bodies , especially in cooler conditions , so that they can offer the maximum body area to the sun , enabling themselves to warm up quicker . There was then quite a time before I found another , and it was in fact at the
same spot , where the original animal had been joined by a second . One head can be seen at 9 o'clock , but the second , harder to see , half covered by the grey stick at 6 o'clock . In total , I found 7 males on the site , all in the flat position to start with , but as they began to warm up ,
most changed into the coil position . It will probably be another week or so before the females start showing , then the arguments start .
On the way back home , I stopped off at the Common to have a look around . As I arrived , I met another birder who told me that he had recorded a Red Kite gliding over the Common and heading for Hayes Farm earlier in the week , a very encouraging report . On my visit I found lots of small , fast flying moths that I think were Common Heaths , but none of them came to rest to confirm this . No butterflies were seen , probably just a bit too cool for them today .
There were however several very large bumblebees flying around , this one was about 1 inch/2.5cm. long , which was probably the reason for it having to take frequent rest stops . In amongst the Gorse , I stood for some time , watching what looked like two
pairs of Long Tailed Tits , collecting materials for their respective nests , one at each end of the heathland area . I just hope that they have better luck than last year , when their nest was wrecked , most probably by a Magpie . As I headed back to the car , I heard my first singing Chiffchaff of the year , and although I managed a shot of him in full song , he just would not turn
around , so sorry for the back end shot . By now , although the sky was clear , the sun was already going down , and with it , the temperature , so I headed home for a cuppa .

Friday, 19 March 2010

Friday 19th.March 2010

Well , I'm finally back posting again , with many thanks to my neighbour , who has lent me this Mac laptop , for which I am very grateful . Having said that , it has been a nightmare trying to edit photos under a different system , and failing dismally , so the pictures are straight from the card out of the camera , without any editing , and some are not the ones that I wanted to post , but on a quite day , when things have settled down , I will post them again , cropped .
It has been another busy week for wildlife and volunteering , staring on Mothering Sunday , I visited my old Mum's grave , then had a walk around the adjacent Country Park . Just one Shoveler remains on the lake , but the 3 Pochard are still there , but nothing out of the ordinary apart from them . Whilst standing at one of the feeding platforms , I felt that I was not alone , and sure enough , I wasn't . Scampering around an area of fallen trees , were about 15/20 Brown Rats , and they were also finding bread amongst the reeds . I have seen the odd one or two here before , but never this many . I must say though , they looked very clean , and just before I left the platform , two young girls arrived with bread , to feed the rats . The only picture
opportunity came with this female Kestrel , looking for her next meal . Back in the garden I found my first Bumble Bee of the year , feeding on Crocus , and producing a shot almost identical to that posted by Warren about the same time .
Monday had me up on the Downs , still looking for my first Adders of the year , and this time I did . I found 10 males out enjoying the sun , two groups of 3 , a pair and two singles . All were
found around known hibernating sites . At this time of year , the males just lie around together , sometimes in good numbers . The most I've seen together was 8 , I think , as it is difficult to see where one starts and ends when they are all laying on top of each other . As the females start to emerge in a week or two's time , the males will not be so happy to share ground with others , as the battle for mating rights start . On the way back , I had another look for the Little Owls , without success , but managed to find out some more information on their habits , and likely times to see them . I also stopped at the Trout Fishery , and found all 4 Egyptian Geese , just as
an angler had told me a few weeks ago , and they seemed to be paired up , so there could be even more later in the year . When I got home , the first frogs of the year were found in the pond and two were already coupled .
Tuesday was spent helping another Warden , working along the Pilgrims Way at Wrotham . The hedgeline had been cut back over quite a length , leaving large quantities of brash to be collected and burnt . During the lunch break , I had a wander up on he Downs where I knew refugia had been layed , but did not find any reptiles . I did however see a male Brimstone , and found the first Common Dog Violets - Viola riviniana growing amongs large swathes of Primrose . Later that afternoon , two Peacocks were seen when we returned to work on the Greensand Ridge . Wednesday was almost devoid of wildlife , but with the next day off from working on the Common , I was planning a trip to Elmley RSPB , on the Isle of Sheppey .
I made my way down early , arriving just after 9 o'clock , and I think I was one of the first cars along the track to the car park , as right away , I came across large numbers of Curlew , feeding
not far off the track . Normally , they keep well away from the area , usually needing a scope to get good views . Lots of Lapwings , many displaying and really large flocks of Starlings , swirling around in shapes , and often being targeted by two or three Peregrines that I saw on the site . Still large numbers of Wigeon , grazing on the pastures , a couple of Common Snipe , plenty of Redshank , even tough it was low water , at least 5 Little Egret and several Grey Heron , then a sighting of one of my target species , a Brown Hare . But , as I came to a stop , it started running , over the rise and out of sight , and exactly the same happened when I saw another a bit further on . Having rached the car park , I decided to head for the hides , bad decision , as , as soon as I got out of the shelter of the buildings and orchard , a biting wind was blowing across the flat landscape from the south , only passing below the sea defence banks gave any respite , and with water levels in the scrapes and the low water mentioned before , the one and a quarter mile walk each way , did not produce very much at all , apart from Skylarks , Meadow Pipits , and a fly over of about a dozen Brent Geese , before they dropped down onto the Swale . By the time I got back to the car , I was pleased that I had a hot cup of coffee waiting for me . With just a couple of distant Marsh Harrier sighting on the way back down the track , I headed off to Capel Fleet and the Ferry Boat Inn at Harty Ferry . Marsh Harrier sightings were the order of the day , with probably 6/8 birds seen , possibly more , as when they drop down into a drainage ditch and reappear some way off , true numbers are difficult to access . From the Raptor Viewing area , I

watched a male and female Marsh Harrier courting , the female above the male in this shot . Another pair seemed to dropping into the reeds at intervals , perhaps looking for a nest site . From the same point , two more distant sighting of Peregrine were had . The only other interest were at least two Bearded Tits , calling and glimpsed briefly , before the dived down into the reeds below the Raptor Point . More good Marsh Harrier sightings as I was leaving Capel Fleet along with Shellduck and several Red Legged Partridge . Heading back towards the bridge over the Swale , I made a last second decision to have one last look along the track at Elmley , before heading home . I was rewarded straight away with good views of a female Kestrel on a fence post , but the Curlew had moved on , and i general , things were much quieter than earlier . I still carried on , and within sight of the car park , stopped to have a look at a movement on the far bank of the trackside ditch . At first I thought it was a Grey Wagtail , but through the binoculars
, it turned out to be a pristine male Wheatear , looking as if it had only just flown in and exhausted . Cropped , this shot is really stunning , with the bright breeding plumage really showing up well . I got plenty of shots and , even when a second car pulled up behind me , he didn't fly off . When a third car stopped going the other way , the driver having asked what I was looking at , drove backwards and forwards several times before he saw it , but the Wheatear just carried on looking for food unphased . I left them to it and turned in the car park , by which time , both cars had moved on . Just past the spot , a Brown Hare ran from the ditch , across the track , and into the field on the other side . I was trying to get rear end shots of that one , unaware that ther was a second already on the field edge . As I took shots of the two , a strange call started from another spot , a call that I had not heard before , a cross between a cry ad a bark is the best I can do to describe it . I searched the area of longer grass where it was coming from , and eventually found that it was a third Brown Hare . I'm not sure if it was a youngster , or something to do with the mating game , but they all got together out in the open
, the noisy one on the left , and shortly after thus shot , they raced off together at speed , over the rise and out of sight . The track to the road was still quiet , but I made my way home with a big grin on my face , and glad that the last second decision at the roundabout was such a good one , for once .
Even though today has taken a step backwards , I think that after this week's sightings , I think it can be said that Spring is here .
I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my computer will be fixed very soon , as working with this one I'm sure , would drive me around the bend , very quickly .

Monday, 15 March 2010

Monday 15th.March 2010

Posting this from the local library , as just after posting last time ,

the computer went up the wall , and now I can't get it started .

Hopefully it won't take too long to get sorted out , but who knows .


Saturday, 13 March 2010

Saturday 13th.March 2010

I needed to be back home for early afternoon , so decided on a morning trip to Sevenoaks KWT Reserve .
I am posting this photograph straight away , of a small duck I found , and had me scratching my head for a while , before I came up with the answer . How about you ? Answer later .
When I arrived it was still cold , but , at least that biting wind was not blowing . I wouldn't say I got there early , but some of the residents , the Teal , were still tucked up asleep . I headed for the hide where the Bitterns have been seen on a regular basis , but once again I missed out . I gave the Bitterns a fair chance to show , but then got on the move again , as much as to try and keep warm as anything . Leaving the hide and walking along the track , a large dark shape drifted towards me , against a grey sky . It was very high , but I managed a couple of shots , that were not more than silhouettes of the Common Buzzard , as it drifted on it's way . I was hoping to find a pair of Great Crested Grebes doing their 'face to face , mirror' routine , but they obviously weren't in the mood , and although several pairs were seen , aggression seemed to be the order of the day . On the back path , I was confronted by a couple of Mute Swans , both males , with their wings half raised , it could well have been that they had been having 'a chat' , before I came on the scene . No sign of the Kingfisher this visit , although another birder had a couple of darting views earlier , but in the same area , I found 3 Dunnocks that should have been 'looking for a room' as Adam put it a while back . This one seemed to be the gooseberry , as the other two flew off together , and left him with that ' I want to be alone ' look . The lake in front of the Willow hide , held good numbers of Shoveler , Tufted Duck , Canada and Greylag Geese , and whilst I was there , there was much posturing amongst the Canada Goose males . Another sign of the impending Spring were the catkins , Pussy Willow , on the Goat Willows , just starting to open , which will provide pollen for many insects as they come out of hibernation .
Now , I'm not one for getting dressed up to walk in the country , or for doing anything else if the truth was known , but this sheep in an adjoining field , really did take the biscuit . In the fields behind that , I could hear the bleating of lambs for the first time this year , and sure enough , I saw them in the distance . As the morning went on , the temperature increased , and thankfully the wind did not get up . In all , 42 species were recorded , and eventually , I did start to warm up .
And finally , the small duck that I found . As I said , it had me scratching my head for a while , but I finally convinced myself that it had to be a female Ruddy Duck , the first of the species that I have seen for many years . Of course , had it been the male , with chestnut body , white cheeks and blue bill , the head scratching wouldn't have been necessary.