Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Wednesday 29th. December 2010

On Christmas Eve , I started with a stinking cold , with tight chest and a really bad throat , so needless to say , I haven't ventured far on the ensuing days . So I am just posting a few shots taken on the odd occasion I did get out , until this afternoon .
On Boxing Day , I visited my parents grave on the occasion of their wedding anniversary . Three birds caught on camera :
Green Woodpecker , and a male Pheasant .
On the 27th. a quick look around the church in Hayes , produced none of the expected Winter Thrushes , but did produce a female Blackbird , with an almost Ring Ousel look about it .
Yesterday , the 28th . brought three Fieldfares into the bottom end the garden . I got a record shot of two of them , but as I was watching them start working their way up to where the food was , I caught sight of one of the local cats , crouched under some bushes , so had to chase off the Fieldfares before they got into good photographic range . I also chased off the cat .
This morning , as he has most mornings this week , the male Greater Spotted Woodpecker breakfasted on the fat and seed mix , stuffed into the holes on an upright log . This afternoon , I checked the berried trees again , finding only a single Fieldfare on Cotoneaster berries in a roadside garden . I then had a very quiet walk up on the Common , and as the drizzle started , I checked one of the Oak trees near the car park . After a very poor year for Purple Hairstreaks , I was well pleased to find 4 PH eggs in as many minutes . Hopefully , this will mean a better year for the species . The drizzle became rain , and I headed home .

Friday, 24 December 2010

Friday 24th.December 2010

Oh , and just for Warren - BAH , HUMBUG .

Didn't think I was going to get out today, but , as I was bringing Carol back from shopping , I just happened to pass the Holly tree , which now is almost bare of berries . The remaining ones were on the outside , overhanging the pavement , and as I slowly passed , saw a couple of birds trying for them . I brought Carol home , grabbed the camera , went back and parked up . Initially the birds , many fewer than on previous visits , stayed in the middle of the tree , but eventually they were drawn to those last remaining berries , giving an opportunity to show how easy and quickly the operation is conducted :
1. Select berry ,
2. Pick selected berry ,
3. Position selected berry ,
4. Swallow selected berry ,
5. Allow time for selected berry to go down , whilst selecting next berry .

Apologies to those fed up with Redwing shots , these will be my last , but I thought they fitted in well with the Red and Green theme at the start of the post .

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Wednesday 22nd. December 2010

Another day , another hunt for a Bittern . I set off for New Hythe , which seems to be the centre of the Bittern world at the moment , but by the time I reached Wrotham Hill , the fog was so thick that I nearly turned back , but it thinned to some degree on the down slope , and things weren't too bad when I pulled into Brooklands car park . I was just thinking to myself that what I needed was a local 'Bittern tracker' , when another car sweeps into the car park , and out stepped 'Mr.Bittern/New Hythe , Phil/Sharp by Nature , and my first thoughts were , have I got a big enough card in the camera for all the pictures that I would be taking .
We got kitted up and headed past the paper mill , sighting two Common Snipe almost immediately . The first angler's swim produced a Water Rail type squeal , and Phil caught a fleeting glance , but nothing positive . Heading for Abbey Mead , we detoured to the river via the small wood , and found it rushing in and carrying a lot of debris . In the far distance , we both got onto a Grebe , constantly diving and coming up further down the flow . we both got a steep forehead and dark head , but the light was not good . Another couple of Grebes showed up closer to our bank , but both of those turned out to be Little , like the one above , but we never did get a really good look at the steep foreheaded one . Phil then spotted a Goldeneye fly in and settle well downstream from where we were standing . It had the look of a male , but no sign of the white spot on the cheek . Even enlarging the pictures on the camera didn't give a definitive answer .
When I got home , I managed to lighten one of the shots , and the spot can just be made out . I have spoken to Phil since , and we are of the opinion that it could be a first Winter male . Also seen whilst watching the river , was a Kingfisher . Well pleased with the Goldeneye , we headed off in search of Bittern , arriving at the spot where I 'sunbathed' on my last visit . We scanned the reedbeds , made more hopeful by the small area of unfrozen water in front of the far end , that was occupied by common waterfowl . But , all that scanning failed to find a single Bittern , although a 'plop' whilst we were scanning turned out to be another Kingfisher which dived into the small stream that entered the lake , just 10 metres to our left . We continued our search along the railway side of the lake , but only finding Blackbirds , Winter Thrushes and the occassional Jay . Over the railway , to find a van with engine running near the spot where Phil had a Bittern recently , so we moved on . Up the path between Railway lake and Streamside lake , finding a couple of areas of open water , which was being well used by various species , and we noted how much more tolerant the birds were in the conditions , not flying off as soon as we came into view as they normally do . We checked each reedbed as we came to them , and on reaching the far end of Railway lake , we both scanned a long thin reedbed along the railway side , but found nothing . As we walked behind that reedbed , up lifted a Bittern and made height towards the diagonally opposite corner of the lake . I got a few shots , but the bird was well away before the first shutter movement , and when we lost it from view , it seemed to go down in the 'normal' viewing area . At least I will be able to recognise the bird again , as long as I can see it's rear end .We headed for the 'normal' viewing area , and scanned the reedbed for some time . Then Phil had to make his way home , and as we climbed back to the path , Phil said ' there it is ' . I didn't see it , but Phil had a good view of the bird , that must have been standing in the vegetation behind us , whilst we were scanning the reedbed . I thought it might have flown straight ahead and into reeds on the conservation lake , so I headed there , and Phil headed along the Millstream back to the car park . I found nothing where I was looking , and Phil found the Bittern again in a reedbed on the Millstream , the first time he had seen one on the Millstream . I got a text from Phil and followed along the Millstream , but of course there was no sign , so I made my way to the car for my lunch .
The light seemed to be getting worse after lunch , but I decided on another look at the river and headed off around Brooklands . Almost immediately , a loud call from the large reedbed on the corner stopped me and had me reaching for the camera . The bird called again , and a movement , and out popped a Robin . I was ready to go , when another movement and a dark shape on the edge of the reedbed stopped me . It flitted about , never really showing itself for some time , then all of a sudden popped out and posed , a Cetti's Warbler . A bird as secretive as a Bittern , and one that I have had fleeting glimpses of before , but never out in the open like this . I fired off about ten shots , and I know my hands were shaking as I took them . After what seemed like just a few seconds , it flew across the path in front of me and disappeared into the Brambles . Further around Brooklands , I got a couple of Thrushes , a very light coloured , especially in flight Mistle Thrush , and one of the elusive New Hythe Redwings . When I arrived at the river , the small path through the woods was under water with the high tide and the spot where we stood looking at the Goldeneye , was also under water . The tide had just turned , and in the 20 minutes I stood there , the water level dropped quickly as the outgoing water raced faster and faster . With the turning of the tide came a cold wind that told me it was time to head home , and after my third Kingfisher sighting of the day , I left the river to the wildfowl flying in to see what had been deposited on the mudflats .
A big thank you to Phil for showing me parts of New Hythe that I had never been before , and of course for making my day with the Bittern sighting , even if it was the back end .

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Tuesday 21st. December 2010

I was going to Polhill Garden Centre today , so decided to leave earlier and have a look in at Sevenoaks Reserve first , then do Polhill on the way back .

I was dull leaving home , but by the time I dropped Carol off shopping , a cold mist began descending , which just got thicker the further that I travelled . It wasn't too bad when I arrived and I knew straight away that I had the Reserve to myself , as I was walking on the fresh snow that had fallen overnight , and the only tracks were of animals and birds . As I walked to the main hide , it was obvious that much more of the main lake had frozen over since my last visit , and it appeared that the only open water was to the right of that hide . Naturally , most of the water birds were congregated around and in this area . As I walked on towards the Tower hide , I passed the extension of the water seen middle right above , and where the trees were overhanging the water , keeping it ice free , many more birds were seen through the branches . Mallard and Tufted Duck seemed most numerous , with good numbers of Teal , Gadwall and Pochard as well . The most amazing number were the Little Grebes . I couldn't count them exactly as they kept diving , but would estimated in excess of 20 . Several Great Crested Grebes were seen , but no sign of the red or Black-necked Grebes , but they could easily have been tucked up out of sight . I did make out a red head Goosander through the gloom , but no sign of the red head Smew . I spent some time , till I got frozen through in the last hide , again hoping for Bittern or another Water Rail show , but once again , it didn't happen . I was kept company by the Robin again though . To get warm again , I set off to the far side of the main lake , wondering if the Bittern had headed for the ice free water of the River Darent , which flows through the reserve , but I didn't find it there either . I did encounter at least three flocks of Siskins , noisily feeding and then moving on . This shows part of the largest flock , and I make it about 65 birds in the shot .

A vivid pink/red in the distance on the snow covered caught my attention , which turned out to be Coral Spot Fungus-Nectria cinnabarina , on a fallen branch , showing really well against the snow . Several of the owners of tracks seen in the snow , were out trying to find some sustenance in this harsh weather . Also found fossicking , were a good number of Wrens , but I couldn't make any of them into Goldcrests or even better , Firecrests .

As I walked back to the car , two Geese , the only ones seen or heard on my visit , flew over and appeared to land on the frozen lake behind the Visitor Centre . A quick look from Grebe hide , showed that one was an Egyptain and I believe that the other was a Canada , but that one was hidden behind the log that the Egyptian was posing on .

Amazingly , I remembered to stop at Polhill on my return , and also had a look at the Holly tree that I mentioned yesterday , in now a miserable drizzle falling through the mist . I think in two more days , the good sized tree will be berryless , and the car owner has got a right job on , to return his car to pre-Redwing condition .

Monday, 20 December 2010

Monday 20th.December 2010

Only managed a short time out today , either side of midday , with the temperature still around -4C , and feeling even colder than that . Again I visited the berry laden trees that had produced so little yesterday , and almost immediately found a Fieldfare , gorging on the berries of a Rowan on the edge of the pavement . By the time I pulled over and got the camera out , it had disappeared , but I thought it was the bird I could see sitting on the ridge of a nearby roof . But with binoculars , I could see that is wasn't the Fieldfare , but it's relation , a Mistle Thrush . I slowly drove up the road towards the bridleway , only to find another Mistle Thrush , posing in the milky sunshine . All the other berried trees that I looked at , produced just Starlings , Blackbirds and Woodpigeons , until I reached a heavily laden Holly , just inside the front garden of a house . I had looked at the tree yesterday , and was surprised at the time that it only had a Blackbird and a Woodpigeon feeding on it , when the berries looked well ripe , and after Rowan , seem to be very popular with the Thrushes . I saw a couple of birds fly out as I approached , so pulled over on the other side of the road and waited . There was a lot of feeding movement on the house side of the tree , with berries constantly falling onto the snow covered front garden . Birds came and went with regularity , but always from the other side . Eventually , the odd Redwing landed on my side of the tree , usually momentarily, before diving into the middle to start feeding . If the light was better early in the morning , before traffic and people started moving about , they just might be less nervous , and not look as if they were just about to depart . One particular bird landed on the side of the tree , and had to stretch for it's preferred berry , which needed some wing flapping to compensate , giving another shot of the 'red wing' . With all the water frozen , it was interesting to watch this particular bird , washing down the berries that it had consumed , with snow , before getting rid of the waste matter , onto the houseowner's car , which was parked directly underneath the Holly , and rapidly changing colour . I have also watched Chaffinches in the garden doing the same , that is eating snow , not redecorating my car .

The only other interest was a couple of passes by a male Sparrowhawk , probably eying up the Redwings , but both times driven off by the local Corvids .

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Sunday 19th. December 2010

Not having got out yesterday , I set off this morning , to check all the berry bearing trees around the estate , and the adjacent bridleway . About 3''-4'' of snow was on the ground , but being fresh , walking was much easier , and although there was no wind , it was bitterly cold .
My hopes of finding flocks of Winter Thrushes or Waxwings were soon dashed , with just one Fieldfare on a roadside Rowan and a couple of Redwings on a Holly in a front garden , were about the only interest . A small flock of 5 Fieldfares flew over high , but continued on their way .
I arrived home after a couple of hours , and after a hot cup of coffee , Carol and I walked to the local shops for some essentials , and for some fresh air for Carol . On the way back , another Fieldfare was found in a roadside Hawthorn .
No one said anything about snow on the forecast for today , but whilst we were out , persistent light snow started to fall , and it continued over lunch , and throughout the afternoon , stopping just before dark . I spent the afternoon in the back bedroom , with constant scans from the window , and camera ready . All taken in bad light conditions and through double glazing , some of the species seen were ,
The Song Thrush , just as it noticed me , and made a quick departure ,
one of two Greenfinches that came to the feeders , this one suffering from 'scaly leg' ,
one of several Starlings that visited , our resident Robin ,one of a pair of Dunnocks that dispute the ownership of the garden with the Robin . A large flock of Chaffinches descended every time food was put out , but no sign of a Brambling or Redpoll . Collared Doves and Woodpigeons also arrived in numbers . Blue Tits , Jackdaws , a Wren and Goldfinches , completed the list of diners .
I thought that that was it for the day , when Carol called me down for a cup of tea , and spotted a movement in the Lime Tree in the road , outside our house . That movement turned out to be a Treecreeper , that had me dashing upstairs for the camera . Needless to say , by the time I came back down with it , the bird had gone . Regardless , I went out into the road looking for it , and after a few minutes , found it two trees up the road on the other side . It worked it's way up that tree , then flew to the next , and began searching for food again . I followed it further up the road , moving from tree to tree , until , with daylight fading quickly , it came to rest on the South facing side of another Lime , and remained motionless . I waited for several minutes in the growing gloom , and the bird still remained motionless . I can only assume that it had decided that this was where it was going to roost for the night , and I left it , hoping that it would survive another sub zero night .

Friday, 17 December 2010

Friday 17th.December 2010

Firstly , leftovers from Monday's blog , when Davo/Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris , thought that a Gull that was in the shot taken on the frozen middle pond at Keston , might have been a 1st. winter Mediterranean Gull . I found another shot taken at the same visit , that shows the three Gulls that were on the ice with a number of dodgy Ducks , the two Gulls on the left being those in the original shot . Also , a close up of the original two . I've looked at all three and pictures of a 1st. winter Mediterranean Gull , and to be honest , I'm not sure either way . It would be nice to have the record of the species on the site , but will leave it to those who know better to decide .
Didn't get out yesterday , as work on the Common was cancelled , and it rained most of the day .
Had an appointment this morning , and was hoping to get out this afternoon , then just about midday , the sky went black , and just as the last of the snow was disappearing , a half hour blizzard covered everything again . That has now frozen , and with more snow forecasted for tomorrow , watch this space .
I have spent my spare time both days , processing the many photographs taken over the last week or so . I hadn't realised that just at Sevenoaks Reserve alone , in the gloom of the fog , I had taken well over 100 Water Rail shots .
What a difference when I got back to the shots taken at Mote Park , of which there were almost 100 in brilliant sunshine . The two birds almost look as if they are different species , with the colours and markings showing so much better in the sun .
With more snow tomorrow , the clear up task with the Surrey Group has been postponed .
Will I get out ?