Saturday, 26 February 2011

Saturday 26th.February 2011

A day hedgelaying , down off the Hogsback , near Guildford started off very wet with more rain to come looking at the sky . But , someone was looking down on us , as we managed to get away with just a couple of drizzle showers , neither lasting any length of time . To the North of us , we could see rain falling from almost blackened skies , but still we kept reasonably dry . As we were packing up , the skies started to break , and this brought 3 Common Buzzards over the surrounding fields . I only had my old camera , and I have had to lighten the shots from just silhouettes , which also lightened the sky .
Halfway along the Hogsback towards Guildford , another sighting along the road of a single Common Buzzard being harassed by a Carrion Crow , and this time in sunshine from behind the camera , but by the time I managed to pull over , the scrap was finished , and the Buzzard drifted off on the strong wind over the surrounding fields .
When I got home , Carol told me that heavy rain had been falling most of the day , and we had a couple of heavy showers after I arrived .
A good day to be hedgelaying 'out West' .

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Thursday 24th.February 2011

At last , some sunshine , and a springlike temperature to go with it , eventually . It would have been a good day to be out birding , but it was a work party day up on the Common , and as we have lost several days over the winter due to the weather , it was a chance to try and catch up on the outstanding work . It was good to feel the warmth of the sun again , and this was also shared by several invertebrates that came out to enjoy it too . Lots of Seven Spot Ladybirds were seen , along with several smaller black specimens with red spots which could be either Pine or Kidney Spot ladybirds , but I am tending towards Pine , but the spots on both species are very variable .
Lots of spiders were also seen , like this one warming up probably before heading of hunting .
Several large Buff-tailed Bumblebees were also seen , most like this one , searching on the ground , perhaps for a nest site . The best sighting for me , was the first Brimstone butterfly of the year , a male looking as if he was fully charged with testosterone , which flew strongly around the area , typically on the edge of the woodland , before disappearing behind a wall of Gorse , taking away any chance of a picture . Lastly , several small nondescript beige coloured moths were seen above the Heather and Gorse , but none stopped , so no picture of those either .
The sun was still shining as we finished , albeit getting milky now , so I made a quick visit up on the Downs before heading home , and found my first Adder , or should that read , tail of an Adder , as it returned underground amongst some roots .
All in all , it was good to see some species after that long Winter , but the temperature is set to fall again over the next few days , which could well put things back again .

Monday, 21 February 2011

Monday 21st. February 2011

Yet again , another grey , cool and uninviting morning , but at least it wasn't raining or drizzling .
I decided to get out and have a look up on the Greensand Ridge , where , over the Winter , contractors have been removing vast swathes of Rhododendron , in the area where the refugia to monitor reptiles have been laid . I was under the impression that all the work would be done by hand tools , so was knocked sideways to find caterpillar tracks of a large machine in two of the most prolific areas , as far as reptile records are concerned . Overall , the area looked like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion , and I can only hope that no damage was done to hibernating animals . The person in charge is on holiday at the moment , but the damage has been done now , and that cannot be changed . I walked around the other refugia sites , and they have not been so badly damaged , and only time will tell what impact the work has had on the populations concerned .
On the brighter side , I did find some year firsts on the site :First Primroses in flower .First Lungwort/Pulmonaria officinalis in flower .On the bank of a lane-side ditch , my first Daffodils in flower .Although not the first , I couldn't resist another shot of Winter Heliotrope/Petasites fragrans .
I had a look in at a very quiet Bough Beech reservoir in the hope of finding something interesting , but that didn't work out , with just common species being seen from the causeway , and a biting breeze coming off the water . I stopped at the feeders in the orchard , which were alive with mainly Blue and Great Tits , but no sign of my hoped for Marsh Tit or Brambling .A single Greenfinch did break up the Tit monopoly , and whilst watching three Great Spotted Woodpeckers squabbling high in the branches of a large tree in an adjacent garden , a Nuthatch flew through the lens and onto the feeder , to join the 'monopoly' . On the scrape behind the barn , which looks more like a small lake at the moment , a pair of Wigeon stayed well out of camera distance on the far side .
On the way home for lunch , I looped into Sevenoaks Reserve , without the sunshine of last Monday's visit , and without the Bittern sighting too . Here too , the breeze off the water was cold , and this reflected on what was seen . Sorry to those fed up with the Black-necked Grebe shots , but I managed to get really close to it today , and in the still water , sheltered by the clay spit . The two Great Crested Grebes were still deliberating on nest sites , in between feeding . This one came up quite close to the bank , and looked very dapper in it's breeding plumage , even if the sun wasn't out . As I put my gear back in the car , the air filled with the chattering of Finches , as a flock of 150/200 swirled overhead , before heading off towards the Willow Hide area . The light was not good enough to get a make on them all , but assume that they were mainly Siskin with a few Redpoll in the mix too .
When I arrived home , Carol had a bowl of hot soup ready for my lunch , just what was needed .

Monday, 14 February 2011

Monday 14th. February 2011

After my last couple of visits , it was good to see the early morning sun as I pulled into the car park at Sevenoaks Reserve . Having read recent reports of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker around the car park , and with no one else about , I had a good look around , without success . I did however put up this male Green Woodpecker from the picnic area , to pose on a nearby dead tree . On my way to the first hide , I also found this female Great Spotted relative .Very little apart from Teal and this pair of Shoveler , still sleeping in the shade .
A look from the Tower hide was difficult , looking straight into the rising sun , so I headed for the reedbed hide . Everything was very quiet apart from the odd Mallard and Coot on the pool behind , but with no wind , it was perfect to locate a Bittern , should one be there , which there wasn't . A distant sighting of a Water Rail in the gloom before the sun reached the area , and a very active Reed Bunting , given the still cool air temperature . One of the many Wrens heard and sometimes seen amongst the reeds , had more sense , and sat in the sun right outside the hide . Needless to say , the resident Robin turned up almost as soon as I arrived . I gave it almost 2 hours , then felling cold , went to have a look around , in the sunshine .
On one of the small islands , 3 Egyptian Geese were still half asleep . Whilst on Cairn Island , a Grey Heron was towering over a mixture of Canada and Greylag Geese , Cormorants and Black-headed Gulls . No Warren , the Gull above the Heron is not sitting on it's head .
As I walked along the main track on the other side of the lake , I could see a group of about 6 people , getting very excited and pointing cameras and optics over towards the Long Pit . I increased my pace , and on arrival at the group saw what all the excitement was about . A Bittern on the edge of the small reedbed , standing like a statue . I got a few shots , then one of the group decided that he wasn't close enough , and walked down a small path to an angler's peg , and the Bittern turned and disappeared into the vegetation behind . I had spotted two Great Crested Grebes from the far side of the main lake , looking like they were inspecting for a nest site , and when I returned to the main lake , they came together and started their 'mirroring' routine . Unfortunately , it didn't last long enough to get to the 'water walking' bit .A bit further along from where the Bittern was seen , a Grey Heron posed on a pile of logs , throwing it's reflection on the surface in front .On my way back , I checked the Willow Hide to see if the Bittern had headed for it's favourite reedbed there , but had no sighting . As usual , the Canada Geese were noisily bathing , before flying back into the sheep fields to feed .After photographing then in dull conditions , it was nice to get a pair of Gadwall in the now bright sunshine .Back alongside the main lake , one of the Great Crested Grebes popped up with a good sized fish , and I thought it might present it to it's mate , especially being Valentine's Day , but it didn't , eating it itself in double quick time .Very close by , the only Goosander seen today , a redhead . The Black-necked Grebe was found , but it stayed well out of camera range .
All around the reserve today , the birdsong was fantastic , none more so , than the still large flocks of Siskins , with a few Redpolls mixed in , chattering away noisily , whilst feeding on the Alder seeds .
A most enjoyable visit produced 57 species .
On the way home , I stopped off up on the Downs , to see how the Early Purple Orchids are coming on . I found at least 6 rosettes along the footpath , without going into the field , so there should be a good flowering season again this year .
Three days volunteering now , but you never know what might be found .

Friday, 11 February 2011

Friday 11th. February 2011

How I wish that I hadn't been volunteering , finishing the hedgelaying on Tuesday , the only day of decent weather this week . Even yesterday's work up on the Common was cancelled due to rain all day , but it did mean that I could catch up with processing the photographs from my recent trip to Dungeness . With more miserable weather this morning , I finally finished the job and managed to do a few outstanding around the house . At lunchtime , breaks appeared in the cloud and the odd ray of sunshine appeared . That was enough to get me out , heading once again for Sevenoaks Reserve . Half way there , as I drove down Polhill , the sky went dull grey again and the sun disappeared . Even the traffic was against me as I got caught up in a queue , as a skip lorry blocked both lanes of the road , as it delivered an empty and took a full one . Really I should have turned back then . Eventually , I reached for the reserve and headed straight for the Willow Hide where a Bittern had been seen earlier in the week . There was already one birder scanning the reedbeds on the far side of the lake and I joined the scanning . After a while he spoke , saying that yesterday afternoon , he had watched a Bittern for well over an hour , but there was no sign of it today , the story of my life . With little else of interest around that lake , I went for a look around the large lake , which I must admit looked very quiet as well . The only saving grace was that the Black-necked Grebe was showing again , so I got behind a large tree and waited for it to get closer . As I waited , it started to drizzle , which turned into rain , which turned quite heavy , great . After about 20 minutes , the Grebe came slightly closer and I fired off a few shots . The problem , apart from the light conditions , was that the bird hardly stayed on the surface for any length of time , before diving again . Consequently I did get quite a few 'rear end' shots . I decided to head home , and on the way back to the car park , did find a very mobile Goldcrest , and just off the main path , a female Reed Bunting .
By the time I reached the car , it was pouring again , and it was lights on on the way home .
Hedgelaying again tomorrow near Guildford . Keeping fingers crossed that the day will be as dry as last Saturday .

Monday, 7 February 2011

Monday 7th.February 2011

With three days working in front of me , I made an early start this morning arriving at Sevenoaks Reserve just after it had got light , spurred on by the report of a second Bittern on site . Just in the time it took to drive from home , the wind had strengthened considerably , and once again it was going to make birding difficult . I went straight to the hide where the new bird had been seen , and on the way found one of the Siskin flocks , this time lower down in the trees , but that wind meant that focusing on them was almost impossible as they swayed on the ends of branches . Constant scanning of the reedbeds proved fruitless and the only excitement was the noisy arrival of two Egyptian Geese . Getting cold , I walked to the fields beyond the Long lake in hope of finding the Barnacle Geese , but that was fruitless too . I was cheered by a Song Thrush letting all and sundry know that he thought Spring was around the corner . Heading for the other Bittern hide around the other side of the main lake , which almost had 'white horses' out in the middle , I stopped off at the Tower hide , finding a small group of Teal feeding almost directly outside . I found a Tree Creeper heading for the last hide , but it didn't want to pose in the wind .
No Bittern sighting there either and not even a Water Rail , just Wrens and the friendly Robin . Following a different path back , I found the first Daffodils of the year in bud , and on checking on the Scarlet Elf Cups , found that they had opened up well since the last visit , even if not looking as vibrant as before . I decided to go back to the first hide before leaving , but everything was as per last visit , with the exception of a mixed flock of Greylag and Canada Geese , feeding in a sheep field away in the distance . I checked the Canadas , which they all were , but in doing so , found two little white bundles behind them , the first lambs that I have seen this year . Looking through the flock , there were 6/7 lambs that I could see , probably more out of sight .
Heading home for lunch , the sky got greyer , drizzle started to fall , which kept on till almost 3 o'clock , when the wind dropped and the sun came out , the prelude to another frosty day's hedgelaying tomorrow .

Friday, 4 February 2011

Friday 4th.February 2011

The car thermometer read 11C. as I pulled up in the car park , to do the bird survey . On opening the door , I was well pleased that I had donned a fleece and had also put a jacket woolly hat and gloves in the car , just in case before I left , as a gale was blowing across the site , and the wind was bitter . Even before I had got out of the formal garden the gloves were on and I was wishing that I had also put in a scarf .
It didn't help that birds were very few and far between , which wasn't surprising given the strength of the wind , which was also blotting out any calls . In the bird less orchard , even the female Hazel flowers alongside the now fully open male catkins seemed to be felling the cold , looking much less vibrant that when under blue sky and sunshine . Most birds found were in sheltered areas behind walls and hedges and the species recorded slowly increased . The 'best' of the visit were Green Woodpecker and Nuthatch , and an average total of 15 species were recorded .
On the edge of the big meadow I spent some time looking in vain for Brown Hairstreak eggs on the bare Blackthorn bushes . I don't know of any sites for this butterfly in Kent , but , 'if you don't look , you don't find' .
Down along the bottom edge of the meadow , a log on the ground produced one of the few fungi seen on the visit , the fungi , probably a Mycena species , growing inside the log .
The most excitement came at the far end of the same meadow , when from a distance , I spotted a deer that I thought was beyond the fenceline in the woodland adjacent to the Golf Course . Through binoculars , I could see that it was in fact in the meadow and it stayed in the same position as I approached that end . Unusually , the female Roe Deer came out into the open , as if to greet me . She kept coming , watching me all the time , until there was about 25 metres between us , then , in a split second , she turned and raced off back to the fenceline , which she cleared with ease , before disappearing into the cover of the woodland , not to be seen again . Poor picture quality was down to the light and the fact that given the conditions and not expecting to find much , I just took the old camera .
On my way back to the car park , a stand of Snowdrops caught my eye .
Hedgelaying in deepest Surrey tomorrow and conditions not sounding too good , but you never know what might turn up .