Thursday, 29 October 2009

Blast From The Past - Pheasant, Rails, Plovers & Lapwing

Common Pheasant-Skirmett, Bucks.

Little Crake-Slimbridge, Glos.(Not a great photo but look at the feet!)
Moorhen-Lavell's Lake, Berks.
Grey Plover-Pagham Harbour, W-Sussex.
Lapwing-Lavell's Lake, Berks.

Early Morning Arrivals.

Another mild but overcast morning in Coleshill brought some excellent early morning sightings. Not quite Eastern Crowned Warbler standard but good all the same.

By 8:30 a few small flocks of Redwing had passed over, their 'tsseep' calls heard long before they appeared over the tops of the trees and heading in a northerly direction, this continued for about 15 minutes with numbers no bigger than 10-15 birds in each flock heading over. By 9:00am it was relatively quiet with the exception of 2 calling Nuthatches and a good flock of 20 or more Goldfinches feeding in the garden, they seemed to be favouring a number of wild Rose bushes and presumably were feeding on seeds or hips on the bushes. Shortly after 9:00am I was alerted again to the 'tsseep' calls and looked up to see a flock of about 50 Redwing going overhead which were shortly followed by another flock of the same size, this continued for about 5 or 6 minutes with groups passing over at about 30 second intervals and my rough tally came to about 350+. Once the Redwing flocks had passed over I could soon hear the 'chattering calls of Fieldfare, my first of the Winter here and an i mpressive sight of about 150+ birds heading northwards behind the Redwing, they were soon gone and following up were a few lone individuals of both Fieldfare and a few Redwing. Some of the Redwing had come down in one of the trees and leaving my gardening duties I wandered off to have a quick look, 8 were sat in one of the tops of a Chestnut tree in the garden and calling constantly but their arrival hadn't gone unnoticed and one of the local Mistle Thrushes obviously took dislike to them being on his patch. The Mistle Thrush looked eager to safeguard his supply of Rowan and Cotoneaster berries which were now under threat from the advancing invaders and promptly saw them off, up they went and headed off to the north. I was quite pleased at seeing the Winter Thrushes passing over in such vigour and having worked in the Hambleden Valley in previous Winters couldn't recall ever seeing an influx like this in such a sort time, not quite thousands but a pretty impressive sight all the same.

I wandered back to continue my endless task of picking up the leaves in the garden(yawn) but instantly picked up on what I knew was a bird of prey calling, It was fairly distant and sounded similar to a Kestrel at first but slightly deeper in tone but getting louder every second. All of a sudden I could hear the wing clapping of a flock of Wood Pigeons as they took to the air, they had flushed from the trees in an adjacent field and were now approaching overhead rapidly splintering in to small groups as if they were being pursued, within seconds I could see why as a stocky looking Falcon appeared gliding over the trees. I had to pinch myself at first as I couldn't believe it, a Peregrine Falcon in all it's glory right above me, the broad based and long pointed wings clear to see as it drifted over uttering it's shrill 'kek-kek-kek' call. It's was deep chested which could be seen as it glided round in a circle overhead at about 50ft before circling round and heading north with fast shallow wing beats. By it's size it had to be a female and in pretty good condition by the looks of it, perhaps one of the birds that is seen at the nearby Springfield Tip area. I've seen them pretty regularly over the last few years but never had such a good view as today, I was gobsmacked and although I know they're becoming more common it's still an exceptional garden tick!

By lunchtime I had also seen
3 very vocal Jays,
8 Greenfinch,
4 Song Thrushes,
2 Mistle Thrushes
6 Blackbirds
1 Goldcrest
1 Unidentified Warbler-most probably Chiffchaff
1 Great Spotted Woodpecker,
1 Common Buzzard & a passing Kestrel.

And later in the day
1 Little Owl sat in an Oak tree calling, late afternoon.
2 M&F Tawny Owls calling early eve.

Firecrest - Hogback Wood, Beaconsfield, Bucks. 26/10/09

I took a short drive to Hogback Wood, Beaconsfield late afternoon hoping to see Firecrest that Wally Smith had found last week. After a few wrong turns I retraced my steps to where I had entered the wood, checked my directions and soon realised that the directions were from a different starting point the other side of the woods. I soon found the rear garden gate with the memorial plaque dedicated to 'John & Joyce Peck' and listened carefully, it was evident that there were Goldcrests present as they could be heard quite easily above the constant Blue & Great Tit calls. A few Jays could be heard calling in the wood, a Common Buzzard drifted over the tree tops shortly followed by a Goldfinch flock of about 20+ birds but there was no sign of the Firecrest. I decided to try a few Goldcrest calls and attracted a rather inquisitive Goldcrest who sat and looked at me for about 10 seconds before disappearing back in the Holly bush it came from, I continued with a bit of pishing and imitation crest calls and suddenly saw something move low down in the Holly by the back gate. It was very dark at the bottom of the bush and very difficult to see what was in it, again I saw movement but this time there were two small birds rather than one but I still couldn't make out what they were. I could then hear the contact calls of not one but two Firecrest that were obviously flitting around the bottom of the Holly bush.

I continued my attempts at trying to get a view and after a wait of about 20 minutes a male Firecrest pooped up from the Holly bush in full view, it remained sat on a holly branch allowing me to get some great views before flying round the back of the bush and out of view. I waited to see if it would appear again but it never did, remaining on the garden side of the bushes and out of sight. The light soon started to fade and with little chance of seeing them again I left them to it.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Blast From The Past - Birds of Prey

Continuing my "Blast From The Past" theme i've now reached Birds of Prey.

The Buzzards were photographed at Gigrin farm in Wales during a Theale Area Bird Conservation Group trip to Wales. They show a good variation of plumage colour between the pale and dark birds of this species, they are becoming much more widespread across the UK and hence a more common sighting, perhaps due to the Red Kite introduction and of course less persecution.

The Red Kite with the wing tag was tagged in 1999 in the Chilterns and the photo taken in June 2006 from our garden at the time. Tags usually only stay on the bird for several years so this one had done pretty well as it had lasted close to 7 years. They have done incredibly well in the Hambleden Valley and are a common daily sight.

The Sparrowhawk photos were taken in September 2005 at Mill End near Hambleden Lock. We had just started to get a good selection of birds in to the garden which included a pair of Marsh Tits, a rapidly increasing number of House Sparrows that were exceptionally pleasing to see and a good number of Starlings that were bringing their young to the feeders, this in turn is obviously going to alert any predators and especially the Sparrowhawk.

It wasn't long before we had a number of sightings of male Sparrowhawks attempting to take birds as they fed on our bird feeders and often with us sat in the garden at the time, this continued on and off through the summer with the odd Blue or Great Tit succumbing to the attacks but on the whole the Sparrowhawks were largely unsuccessful. In August after returning from Rutland I noticed a strange looking Sparrow in the garden and soon realised it was in fact a Tree Sparrow which in these parts is like gold dust, it hung around for quite a while and on one occasion I witnessed it evade a Sparrowhawk attack by diving in to some ivy growing up the wall by the feeders, it doesn't know how close it came to ending up as hawk food....or perhaps it does!

It was then in September that a female Sparrowhawk flew in and caught a Starling, I was soon alerted to the shrieking of the Starling and jumped up to look out the window and find out what was going on. The Sparrowhawk was 'mantling' it's prey to protect it from theft and just staring at it, I expected this to last seconds before the hawk would carry it off but it stayed in the garden giving me time to get my camera and take about 50 photos from the bedroom window. During all this was happening a number of people were walking past but still the Sparrowhawk remained in the garden with the starling still alive, I have to explain we lived next to a public footpath at the Hambleden Marina which was in constant use from walkers and tourists visiting the River Thames throughout the summer so there were plenty of people walking right past it. The Starling then put up a bit of a fight trying to jab the hawk with it's beak and spreading it's wings, the Sparrowhawk simply stood upright so not to come under contact and peered down at the starling. It remained in the gardens for a few more minutes and then took flight towards Hambleden Marina with the Starling, still alive but hanging from it's talons. It's incredible to see something as dramatic as this unfolded in front of your eyes but I did feel for the Starling, let's face it nobody likes to see something like that happen to our garden birds but you have to accept that it is part of mother nature.

Common Buzzard-Gigrin, Wales.

Tagged in 1999, photo taken in June 2006.
Red Kite-Skirmett, Bucks.

Sparrowhawk with Starling-Mill End, Bucks. Taken from an upstairs window.
Peregrine Falcon-Theale, Berks.
Kestrel-Skirmett, Bucks.

Blast From The Past - Swans & Geese

Mute Swan-Hambleden Lock, Bucks.
Canada Goose-Hambleden Lock, Berks.
Canada Geese-Hambleden Lock, Bucks.
Brent Geese-RSPB Titchwell, Norfolk.

White-fronted Geese-Burnthouse Lane, Berks.
Egyptian Goose-Hambleden Weir, Bucks.

3rd Time Lucky, Or Maybe Not - Chess Valley. 23/10/09

At lunchtime I received a call from Lee E & Joan T telling me they had seen an Osprey carrying a Trout west down the River Chess towards Chenies, they were heading off to South Shields for the Eastern Crowned Warbler and had seen it from the motorway so hearing this I set off for yet another attempt to see it.

Within 15 or 20 minutes I was at Latimer Bridge surveying the countryside but there was no sight, I headed down the road to Mill Farm at Chenies where I hoped to have better luck. At Mill Farm 2 Little Egrets were perched up in the trees looking east and a pair of Stonechats were again showing in the scrubby grass around the river edges but no sign of the Osprey. I decided to have scout around and drove along the country lanes towards Sarratt Bottom meeting Paul Keene who had seen it earlier from Mill Farm, Paul kindly gave me a few good locations to try but unfortunately there was no sign anywhere so I headed back to Mill Farm to wait and see if it flew down the valley. I was soon joined by a very nice gentleman from Chorleywood and we watched the valley till 4pm ish, during that time one of the Stonechats showed again in the scrub near the river, a Little Owl could be heard calling but nothing much more of note. At 3.50pm a lone Raven could be heard calling and then appeared overhead before it headed off Northwards which was a bonus after again dipping the Osprey. I had hoped it would be 3rd time lucky but perhaps it will be 4th time lucky, that's birding for you.

The Osprey Returns - Chess Valley, Bucks. 22/10/09

Thursday rolled round and the Osprey reappeared at Latimer Bridge at 11:23am, sat in the dead tree that the Egrets, Heron & Buzzard were sat in the day before. Lee received the news and headed down to catch the bird still sat in the tree and showing well, It soon started to be mobbed by a number of birds including a Grey Wagtail !! and then a Common Buzzard which made the Osprey take flight. It didn't get any better for the Osprey and it was soon harried by 3 Red Kites which pursued it East along the River Chess towards Chenies Bottom where they gave up and a Carrion Crow took their place, the Osprey carried on Westward and out of sight.

I arrived as usual with the bird well out of sight and spent the afternoon at Mill Farm with Lee and later Mike Collard hoping it would return, it didn't of course but the afternoon was far from a let down. Whilst viewing the Chess Valley we had some interesting sightings amongst the commoner species, around Mill Farm Meadow a pair of Stonechat were showing well on and off, Red Kite & Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Redwing, Plenty of Jays, a single overhead Siskin and an active party of 11 Lesser Redpoll around Mill Farm rounded off the day.

Osprey - Chess Valley, Bucks. 21/10/09

With Lee Evans having a bit of a purple patch with his "birds spotted from the garden" list he soon added Osprey when he spotted one heading north towards the Chess Valley on Wednesday 21st, a short drive and within 10 minutes he had caught up with it at Great Water near the Latimer Conference Centre where it was being mobbed by 4 Jackdaws. It lingered in the area briefly so Lee quickly put the news out, he kept it in view from 13:27 until 13:41 when the bird drifted West along the River Chess towards Chesham and out of sight.

Having got the call from Lee I knew the bird had now departed and I decided to drive alongside the River Chess hoping that it might be perched up somewhere along the side of the river, after searching the majority of accessible viewing points I'd had no luck and decided to head back towards Latimer in case it returned. I soon met up with Lee and Dave Cleal near Latimer Conference Centre but there was still no sign of it and we headed off towards Latimer bridge. At the bridge we scanned the area noting 2 Little Egrets(4 Earlier), a Grey Heron and a juvenile Common Buzzard sat in the trees by the bridge, Dave said his goodbyes and headed off to work leaving Lee and I to search along the River Chess. Despite our search we never found the Osprey again but did manage to hear 2 Water Rails squealing from the reedbeds and a small party of Siskin overhead at the Church Covert Reserve.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Frieth Natural History Society Exhibition "Celebrating Chilterns' Wildlife" Sunday October 25th 2009

“Celebrating Chilterns Wildlife” is the theme of the exhibition which Frieth Natural
History Society is presenting on Sunday October 25th in Frieth Village Hall(SU795902) from 12 noon to 4pm. The Chilterns provide the habitats to support a lot of wonderful wildlife and there will be extensive displays of this. You can chat to the local wildlife and conservation organisations who are taking part and find out what they are doing for our local wildlife and also discover if you could help them. Whether you are interested in birds, bees, butterflies, wildflowers, dormice, reptiles, pond life, fungi, moths or whatever else there will be much to see and do for all the family with a special section for children. If you want a sit down, there will be videos of local wildlife showing all afternoon. There will also be home baked refreshments on offer and wildlife related items for sale. Admission is £2 for adults and free for children. Do come along to the exhibition for a friendly, informative and enjoyable experience of discovery about our local Chilterns’ wildlife

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Blast From The Past - Ducks

Mandarin Duck-Remenham, Berks.
Wigeon-Lavell's Lake, Berks.
Teal-Lavell's Lake, Berks.
Mallard-Mill End, Bucks.

Garganey-Lavell's Lake, Berks

Garganey & Gadwall-Lavell's Lake, Berks.
Pochard-RSPB Otmoor, Oxon.

Ring-necked Duck, Theale, Berks.

Ruddy Duck.