Friday, 30 December 2011

Friday 30th. December 2011

Well , never too old to try something new the old saying goes , so this morning I set off to do some birding around Hayes Farm , by bus . No Warren , not the actual birding from the bus , just the getting there and back . Mind you , as I waited outside Hayes railway station for a connecting bus , a Mistle Thrush was in full song , and was joined just as the bus arrived by a Redwing . Arriving at the farm , I had the place to myself , with most dog walkers having done their bit , but a few energetic runners were still in the throes of theirs . The usual mixed Gull flock was on the horse paddocks , but no sign of any Corvids on the ground today . A single Fieldfare called and flew off from the edge of the woods , and several Rose Ringed Parakeets flew over noisily . An odd Chaffinch and a mixed Tit flock on the edge of the woods and 4 Cormorants , looking as if they had just left the Fishery , was all that was about . Arriving at the Fishery , it was bitter , with the usual strongish wind blowing across the highest point on the farm . I was pretty sure that the female LTDuck wouldn't be seen , as I have seen a couple of non-sightings since the first time I couldn't find her . I suppose she could be on the other fishing lake close by , but there is no access to that . A scan
around the lake found little change , apart from the Gadwall numbers having increased to 7 and the Little Grebe dropping one to 3 . No sign of the Egyptian Geese , but there were a couple of Canada Geese on the far side , along with the white farmyard variety and the couple of farmyard/Greylag crosses . The pair of Mute Swans decided to take off soon after I arrived , only to turn around and land exactly where they started from . An angler turned up and went to their shelter , putting anything on that bank into the water and heading for the middle , but nothing exciting came from that either . Ever since seeing a posting that a Water Rail was seen there , I have always scanned the two small reedbeds on the far side of the lake , but only found the resident Moorhens and Coots and several of
the latter were again engaged in 'square dance' practice . In not good light conditions today , I could see something moving on the edge of one of the reedbeds , but being 75ish mtrs. away , it was difficult to make out what it was with binoculars . Then , whatever it was got spooked by a couple of Coots , and disappeared . Getting colder by the minute , I had another look and on the edge of the
water , a bit further away from the reedbed was the Water Rail . I managed a few long distance
record shots of the bird , before once again the Coots chased it . It did reappear once more very briefly , before the white farmyard geese decided en masse to haul out of the water right infront of the Water Rail , and that was the last I saw of it . I hung around for a while , and in that time two of
the Cormorants , both juveniles , landed on the floating duck houses in the middle of the lake , much to the annoyance of the angler and another that had joined him . Much hand clapping and arm waving ensued , and I decided that any more time spent getting cold would be a total waste of time . I started heading for the bus stop , seeing the two Cormorants circling the lake , until one of them made a
respectable landing in the top of a large Oak . The other one kept circling the tree , attempting to land near the first one . After several attempted crash landings , it gave up and headed towards the other
lake , to be followed by the other one . The only other interest were 6 House Sparrows , just before reaching the road . I was lucky with both buses on the way home , but still arrived frozen , and with the first spots of rain . I was glad to see the Water Rail , but it could have been an expensive sighting , 4 bus fares @ £2.20 , had it not been for the Freedom Pass .

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Wednesday 28th. December 2011

Still without the car , it's been down to 'Shanks' pony' for the last three days . On Tuesday I headed through the local wood , or more correctly dog's toilet , as there was no way you could look upwards for fear of what you might tread in . From there headed towards the Farm lake and headed back home along the bottom lane . The wood was just about devoid of birds , and apart from Corvids on the rest of the walk , the only interest was five Yellowhammers that flew up from a hedge line into top of the
nearby large Oak , ensuring that any chance of a shot was minimal . One almost showed itself , but almost immediately all five flew off .
Yesterday I walked up onto the Common in slightly less grey conditions than the day before , but the most noticeable thing was the number of birds in full song . Blackbird , Song and Mistle Thrush ,
Robin , Blue and Great Tits and this Dunnock , all trying to convince everyone else that it was Spring already . I also found a reasonable number of Redwings , found not so much by sight as by the constant debris falling through the Holly trees on which they were feeding and landing on the dry material below . By the time I got near the trees though , they were off , getting the merest glimpse of red and a bold eyestripe . There were also a few Fieldfares around , but the Redwings well and truly outnumbered them , the first time I have seen that this Winter .
Today I returned to the Common in what looked slightly less grey conditions than yesterday , but by the time I got to the top of the Common , the darker clouds were rolling in , this time threatening rain . Once again I failed to get any shots of the Redwings in the Holly , but just about managed to
get a couple of shots when they perched at the top of the highest trees , where they once again
refused to allow my close presence  flying off well before I would have liked . Mind you , it might also have had something to do with the local Sparrowhawk , which was loitering on the ever
increasing wind above them , and suddenly stooping down amongst the tree tops , hoping no doubt for a plump meal . Other movement in the trees , came from the Grey Squirrels in twos , threes and
fours , spiralling up and down the trunks . Well , it is the start of their breeding season .
Still a few days till the car hopefully is repaired , and three hedgelaying days next week too . Hopefully then , things will return to normal .

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Saturday 24th. December 2011

I was hoping to have visited Ashdown Forest today , but as I went to pick Carol up from the town before setting off , the car 'died' . Total lack of power , had to crawl home at walking pace .
Could have been worse had it happened there , could have been better , can't get it sorted till the New Year .
Not the best of starts to the festive season , I hope yours is less troublesome .

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Thursday 22nd. December 2011

A trip to the local recycling depot this morning , tied in nicely with a look around South Norwood Country Park . With blue sky and sunshine , the conditions were the total opposite of yesterday's , and the birdsong showed that they were enjoying the change . As soon as stepped onto the feeding platform nearest the main road , everything that was on the lake flew/paddled towards me . Lots of Tufted Duck ,
Mallard , Coot and Moorhen , along with a few Shoveler , the drakes looking very smart in the sunshine . Black-headed Gulls were arguing with the Carrion Crows and several Magpies were
noisily occupying the island . Whilst watch these , a flash of orange and turquoise in the background caught my eye . It was over on the right-hand side of the lake , about 50 mtrs. away . Unfortunately
there was no way to get any closer , so like at Sevenoaks the other day , I had to make do from distance . One day , I will get close up . I think the bird must have caught a meal , as it then spent
quite some time grooming , before flying off across the lake . A young dad arrived with his daughter to feed the ducks , which brought everything over again , but the bits of bread , dropped by the child ,
caught the eye of other hungry animals . About 6/8 Brown Rats , both adult like the one above , and juveniles just appeared , as if by magic . The adults were very cautious , but the juveniles like this
one , were much more brazen , dashing out into the open , grabbing some bread , and rushing back into cover . I then headed to the platform beyond where the Kingfisher had been , finding no new
species , until a couple of Kestrels appeared in the distance , but heading my way . One broke off ,
and the other turned soon afterwards , but I did manage a few shots of the second bird before it drifted into the distance again . From the platform I could see a Cormorant on a post in front of the next platform . Using everything that I have seen Ray Mears do , I stealthily made my way around the lake and down the track to the platform . As got near the platform , I could see the head of the
bird , the remainder blocked out by the safety rails around the platform . Slowly , I edged closer and closer , several times thinking that the bird had seen me . Inching my way to the back of the platform , I hear someone approaching from behind . It turns out to be one of the Rangers , coming to empty the litter bin on the platform , which he did very noisily , but having done so , left , with the bird still in the same position . I picked up the camera and tripod and walked onto the platform , got
set up again , and started taking shots . Apart from the odd glance my way , this usually very wary species , sat preening itself in the sunshine . Even when another family came to feed the ducks , it carried on regardless . Ray Mears , eat your heart out ! This particular bird , apart from looking very
photogenic , was obviously dyslexic too .
After lunch , with the sun still shining , I went for a look around Hayes Farm . The usual mixed Corvid flock was on the horse paddocks , most , as usual , flying off well before I got into camera
range . But one Rook took just a bit longer to leave , and I managed just one shot before it too was gone . Just before reaching the Trout Fishery , two Robins were having a singing duel , and to my
mind , this one was the winner , hands , or should that be wings down . At the Trout Fishery , most of the expected species were seen , with one notable exception , no sign of the female Long-tailed Duck . Whilst there , a fellow enthusiast Keith , who had foregone his lunch break to get a sighting of her arrived . I had already been looking for about half an hour without success . During the time he was there , we had a good catch up , but he didn't catch up with the LTD , and don't worry Keith , she didn't turn up after you had gone , good to meet up again . The walk back to the car produced little
more than several Pied Wagtails , all looking dapper in their evening suits , especially this one .

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Tuesday 20th. December 2011

After not getting out yesterday , today I was delayed by a dentist appointment , so I didn't get to Sevenoaks Reserve until nearly 11 o'clock . The sun was out , but a chilly wind was blowing down the site . The Public hide was full with a group , so after checking out the area from behind the screens and finding the usual species , but no sign of the Common Snipe , I headed down to the Tower Hide , which was standing right in line with that wind , and not surprisingly didn't have much in the water in front . Having seen a report of a Water Rail at Slingsby Hide , the two of us , me and the Robin , settled down to watch the flooded ditch , the top end still in the sunshine . During the stay , not even a Wren moved in the ditch , and if hadn't been again for the odd Reed Bunting ,
nothing would have been seen at all . Heading back to the entrance , a few small flocks of Siskins were seen , but they always settled high in trees with the sun behind them . On a stump , I found
three different species of fungi , the large orangey one , Velvet Shank /Flammulina velutipes , the small white edged bracket , Many-zoned Polypore /Coriolus versicolour and in amongst the two , Stag's Head or Candle -snuff Fungus / Xylaria hypoxilon . With the sun rapidly giving way to grey clouds , I walked the other side of the East Lake , finding no new species . Heading for Long Lake , I met another birder who asked if I had seen the Bittern . He said that Willow Hide was full , probably the group that I encountered earlier , but you could see the bird from the screen to the side of the
hide . I made my way to the screen , and in the distance , sitting up on the reedbed , was indeed a Bittern . Trouble was , the light was going quickly and the bird was about 100 mtrs. away . After  a couple of minutes , the group started to leave , making some room in the hide , which I eagerly filled . I got a few more shots and very soon after the last group member left , the bird dropped back down into the reedbed . Whilst waiting and hoping that it would show again , three Mute Swans , one
a juvenile flew in and landed noisily very close to the reedbed . The sun was completely gone by now
and things didn't look good , when out popped the Bittern again , but this time infront of the reedbed . At one point , it left the reedbed completely , but returned very quickly when a Sparrowhawk
panicked everything in the area , and the Bittern assumed it's head up - you can't see me pose . Two families came separately into the hide before I left , and both managed to get their first sighting of a
Bittern ,but shortly after the second family managed to see it , the Bittern slipped back into the reedbed and stayed unseen for some time . By now , I was feeling decidedly chilly , and the flask of hot soup that was in the car was calling me . I hope the last family got another sighting , but the weather was going further downhill by the minute . I had my late lunch in the car and warmed up , an in the horse paddock on the track leading out to the road , finished off the visit with not one , as it
was on a previous visit , but two Egyptian Geese . Heading home , the only stop made was near Keston Church , where I found the first flower buds of Winter Heliotrope / Petasites fragrans ,
usually the first flowers of the year , but beaten by the Primroses found in flower whilst coppicing last Saturday .
I have also dug up some info on the icicle , but I have more digging to do .

Monday, 19 December 2011

Monday 19th. December 2011

This morning , it was grey and cold .This afternoon it was grey , cold and wet .Not a nice day to be out at all  . Apart from taking Carol shopping , I spent most of the day processing the photos taken over the last week . The calls of Parakeets from the Cotoneaster bush
 next door was one of the few movements in the gardens in what was really bad light conditions , but I think that the berries aren't ripe enough yet , as after a couple of samples , they flew off again . When the berries are ripe , they just sit and gorge themselves .
The main reason for this post , is for what Carol found when she went out to put down some bird food this morning . Along with the food , she checks the drinking water , which this morning was frozen solid . One of the dishes , a plastic flower pot dish , which the Blue Tits are particularly fond of using for drinking and bathing , contained what can only be described as a wonder of nature . The dish was standing on the barbecue , but here it is on the patio table , with a piece of hardboard
behind . 'Growing' out of the dish is what I can only describe as 'an upside-down icicle' , at an angle
of about 60 degrees from the horizontal . There was no water source near the dish , the remainder of the water was almost frozen solid , and there was no other object in the dish . The length of the 'icicle' and the diameter of the dish was about 7.5cms.
Naturally , the 'icicle' melted slowly through the day , and I have been wondering just how this could have happened . If any reader could explain , I would be very grateful .
This is not a put up job , and it isn't the 1st. April either .

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Sunday 18th. December 2011

Like today , yesterday morning was very frosty , but the coppicing job started last week needed to be finished , and once everyone got used to the temperature on arrival , a brisk mornings work saw the job completed . Of interest during the morning , a good example of layering Hazel , where branches
from an existing Hazel stool , top right of picture , are bent over and pegged down into the ground . Nature then does it's thing , and a new stool grows up from the layered branches , and also makes a useful place to hang your jacket . Also found , the first Spring plants in flower , not the usual Winter
Heliotrope found about the turn of the year , but Primrose / Primula vulgaris . Many fungi are hard to identify , but this one found amongst the leaf litter , The Goblet / Cantharellula cyathiformis , is one
of the easier ones , as it looks just like it's common name . And , just before leaving the site , I
spotted a really good sized specimen of Wood Blewit / Lepista nuda , amongst some smaller ones . That's the last Surrey Group task now until the New Year .
Today , in one of the few bright spells , I spent an hour or so , wandering around one of my Winter haunts , Hayes Farm . The walk to the Trout Fishery produced the usual mixed Corvid flock in one paddock and the mixed Gull flock in another . 5 Mistle Thrushes were found in the Oaks near the farmyard , and one amongst them was in full song . A mixed Finch flock , made up mostly of Goldfinches and an almost totally Blue Tit flock was also seen . Three Rose Ringed Parakeets flew over noisily and landed in another Oak . One of the birds was sat up nicely , until the shutter went ,
or to be precise , a split second before the shutter went . In the short time it took to get to the Trout Fishery , that blue sky had closed in and the temperature seemed to halve . An initial scan failed to find the Long-tailed Duck , but the 4 Little Grebes were still around , but only 3 were willing to
gather together for a shot . Most of the waterfowl seemed to be hauled out on the bank , but the pair
of Mute Swans were feeding along the edge by the footpath , and weren't bothered about me . As on my last visit , as if from out of nowhere , the female Long-tailed Duck showed up , right in the middle of the lake , and proceeded to 'fly through the water' for quite some distance , before settling down to preen , and eventually get back to the important business of diving for food . I kept meaning to check on what she would be eating , and finally remembered to do so . I thought that it would be weed and other vegetation , but the book says molluscs and crustaceans , so the lake must be healthy to have kept her in residence for almost a month that I know of , perhaps it has been even longer . Just one Egyptian Goose was found , the juvenile , who spent all the time I was there preening in the
far corner , and having a good flap afterwards . Just before I headed back to the car , an adult
appeared , and the pair seemed to go straight into a good old chinwag , no doubt catching up on recent goings on . A few Pied Wagtails on the way to the car , but I must admit , I was more interested in getting out of that wind .

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Wednesday 14th. December 2011 ( Part 2 )

Walking back along the road towards the car , the Fieldfare and Mistle Thrush were still arguing and this time the smell of the fallen fruit was strong . Usually the Winter Thrushes are gorging themselves , but just the few Fieldfares were around . As I reached the car , I heard the short contact call of a Fieldfare , but it was coming from deep within the vegetation . Then it flew up and started to
eat Haws , high in a tree , and straight into the sun , but it was the best that I had managed since I arrived . As I waited and hoped that it would move to a spot where there weren't several branches infront of it , I heard another call from across the road , this too came from deep within vegetation . I manage to spot this one , sitting motionless . Eventually , having digested it's previous meal , and
getting rid of the waste , it emerged to get a refill . Being on the other side of the road , the sun was
behind me and showing the bird in all it's glory . It stayed feeding and hiding for another 20 minutes or so , giving more good photo opportunities and the closest that I have ever managed to get to the species without some form of cover , until an alarm call from the other side of the road , and both birds departed , heading for the orchard . Well worth the cold feet I thought to myself . One last
look at the North Lake produced a couple of Common Snipe that must have been amongst the sedges when I had scanned the lake before . Once again ready to leave , when a large bird appeared over Winkworth Wood , and started heading my way . Binoculars confirmed that it was a Common
Buzzard , and it was soon joined by another bird . Unfortunately , the pair veered off and started circling , rising , and drifted back away from my position . At one point , they came together and
and almost locked talons , but by now they were well distant . The last shot I got of the pair shows not so much size differential between the two of them . I assume that the second bird was a juvenile
Common Buzzard , but by now the local Corvids had locked on to them , and proceeded to escort them away , not to be seen again . I headed back to the car , again , this time being overflown by a fast moving flock of Redpolls , that settled briefly high in the Lombardy Poplars , but left again almost immediately . I must admit that one of the main targets was my first Brambling of the year , and the fact that I had missed out earlier , had me stopping for a final look around the feeders . On
the way down the path , a Wren announce my arrival , but unfortunately it wasn't announcing even a single Brambling on the site . The same species were found , with the addition , under the main feeder of several Chaffinch , a couple of Moorhen , one with a damaged leg and 3 female Pheasant ,
all hoovering up whatever was dislodged by the birds above . And above was still very busy , with
more Greenfinches showing up and the odd House Sparrow . The sun was turning decidedly watery now and the wind was getting colder by the minute . I was heading home , but I hope that the couple who replenished the feeders are back today , as the main 12 port feeder shown above , was already about one sixth empty . By the time I reached the main road , the watery sun had been covered with grey wintery clouds , and I was glad to be inside the car .