Saturday, 14 April 2012

Saturday 14th. April 2012

I was up early yesterday morning , and after checking the weather forecast , bright morning with cloud and possible showers later , I set off for Old Lodge Reserve Ashdown Forest , to see if I could see some migrants before the leaves on the trees start to blot them out . As I left home there was a mist about  , but that would soon lift with the sunrise I thought . When I reached Biggin Hill the visibility was below 50 metres , but no worries , there was no mention of fog on the forecast . As I crossed the M25 at the bottom of Westerham Hill , it was front and back fog lights , and they stayed on till I pulled into the car park at the reserve . The car thermometer was reading 2C and I was thinking to myself , what am I doing here ? and what chance have I got of connecting with migrants in these conditions ? Fortunately I had put a variety of tops in the car , and proceeded to add to my tee shirt , a sweat shirt , a padded gillet , a heavy fleece along with thermal gloves and a woolly hat , and off I went on my migrant search . At least there was some birdsong in both Chiffchaff and my first Willow Warbler of the year singing in the car park . Entering the reserve was like stepping into some Dickens novel , with 20 metres visibility at best with water dripping from every tree and an almost deathly silence . Eventually a few birds were heard and seen , mainly Chaffinches , then from way down in the valley , the call of my first Cuckoo of the year . I thought I would head over the other side of the reserve and see if he was on one of the dead trees that they seem to favour . As I
approached the second tree , a bird appeared out of the fog , but it was not the migrant , but a Blackbird that started singing in such a doleful way , I thought I was at a funeral . I wandered around getting brief glimpses of a very watery sun , thinking , this is it , but it wasn't , as the fog got thicker and blotted it out again . By 8 o'clock , even with what I had on , I was cold and made my way back for a coffee at the car . As I was drinking it , another migrant hunter arrived at the car park with the greeting 'I thought this lot would have been gone by now' . Within a couple of minutes , the sky opened , the sun shone warmly and the fog where we were lifted . I didn't like to ask him his name as we took advantage of the change and set off , me top path , him left and down . Within seconds , a
flash of orangey red , as a male Common Redstart flew in and landed on some Gorse , staying just long enough to get two shots . Looking along the top path , it was obvious that the clearance was just in the area around the car park and extending just 50 metres beyond , but I headed back into it and down towards the 'Cuckoo trees' again . Even the Blackbird had given up trying when I got there , but the other side of the path produced the first of several sightings of a pair of Woodlark . I didn't
realise it till I got home that they were collecting food for their young , and looking very bedraggled too . This species is an early nester , having the first of two broods in March . At about the same time , I'm pretty sure I heard a very distant Turtle Dove , but couldn't be certain . A couple more Cuckoo calls had me chasing from one part of the reserve to another , in total I heard 8 calls during the day , but never saw the bird , nor did anyone else that I spoke to . A pair of Chiffchaffs kept my
interest for some time ,as I watched the female toing and froing to their chosen Gorse patch , here arriving with some more material , whilst hubby sat in a tree 'chiff-chaffing' away , and sometimes
getting quite excited about the whole thing , or was he hopping mad that the wrong sort of material was being collected ? Shortly afterwards , the miracle happened , when within 2/3 minutes the sky became blue and the fog lifted , this time for good , and eventually the horizon was clear , mind you , it was almost 11 o'clock by now . Distant 'cronking' caught my attention , and I could see two large birds in the distance where the calls were coming from , but visibility still wasn't great , but at least one of them was a Raven , just from the calls . In trying to get closer to the birds quickly , I again
disturbed a female Fallow Deer , which quickly blended into the dead Bracken and disappeared . Once again ., I heard 'cronking' , and headed towards the spot , and of course the calls stopped before I got there . Just as I was about to give up , a Common Buzzard cruised into view in a now clear sky . I watched it drift effortlessly , looking for food from high up . Suddenly , I didn't see where from , a
black Exocet missile rose almost vertically to intercept the Buzzard , on the right in this shot . As it closed in , there was no defiance from the Buzzard , it just turned and ran . With the better weather , more birds were being seen and heard , including one male Common Redstart that was camera shy ,
but did show off his tail colouring nicely as he disappeared . Another patch of Gorse seemed very popular with three pairs of birds , Chiffchaff , Long Tailed Tit and Stonechat , with all species
collecting nesting materials . As usual , the male Stonechat perched on a good viewpoint , and this
time 'the wife' took her turn to pose as well , on the same spot . Things in the valley were quiet , but as I climbed back up the other side , I found two Tree Pipits . One flew off immediately , but the
second stayed a bit longer in the top of a Larch on the MoD land , not in full song or parachuting yet , just tuning up I would say . The climb back up onto the top path was very wet in places with quite a bit of standing water , the leftover from heavy thunderstorms over the last few days no doubt . Reaching the top path , and blowing a bit I must admit , I was rewarded with my best view of a male
Common Redstart of the day , and almost at the car park , what could have been the Willow Warbler
that greeted me on my arrival , still in full flow . With the better weather the more commoner species also put in an appearance , which gave a better finish than start to the visit . A couple of things found on my way around , firstly a very thoughtful birder/dogwalker , had provided the groomed hairs from
their dog , and placed them on the top of a small stake very close to one of the Redstart's favourite nesting areas , nice one . On the way home , I stopped at the Early Purple Orchid spot again , and this time found one flower in bud and a second about to bud , so they haven't gone completely . I also had
a look in the woodland area behind , and found a few plants in various stages , this being the furthest
forward . Also out in flower on the site was Greater Stitchwort / Stellaria holostea , a member of the Pink family .


Marc Heath said...

Great account, very much like that last Redstart shot, very nice.

ShySongbird said...

A thoroughly enjoyable read Greenie, I felt I was there with you and got quite exhausted running around after that Cuckoo ;-) I didn't hear even one here last year :-(

You certainly had a good visit despite the early fog and you got some good captures, I particularly like the ones of the Stonechat and the Redstart. Lovely to see the orchid too and the particularly nice photo of the Greater Stichwort.

Phil said...

Matbe the Dickens novel was Oliver Twist Greenie. In which case the thoughtful chap was probably Bill Sykes and the dog hair belonged to Bullseye! Did you still have your wallet when you got back to the car?
Nice post and I really like the first Redstart pic. You've made me want to go back myself now!

Warren Baker said...

These past couple of mornings have been cold and miserable Greenie! However, seeing those heathland birds would make it wothwhile getting out, some of those are my favourite species. Good post today mate :-)

Mike H said...

Great post Greenie i could see and feel myself back at Old Lodge. another blogger paid a visit there on last Tuesday and found similar activity. I must get down there myself again soon!