Monday, 30 December 2013

Willington GP Starling Roost - Latest

The Starling roost at Willington GP is getting quite popular, especially during the Christmas holidays. Numbers of birds remain high at 10-15 thousand. The displays have been quite subdued to date with no predators around to stir things up but on Saturday the 28th December we were treated to quite a spectacle with virtually all the birds remaining in the sky together and a couple of Sparrowhawks trying to catch their dinner. It was a shame the sunset didn't live up to the display but I guess you can't have it all.

Here are some photo's from recent weeks:


Box End Park WeBS: 15/12/2013

Nothing exciting to report for the December WeBS coutn at Box End Park:

Black-headed Gull 52  
Buzzard 1  
Cormorant 2  
Grey Heron 1  
Grey Wagtail 1  
Kingfisher 1  
Little Grebe 2  
Mallard 46 Also 16 over north and 3 over west.
Meadow Pipit 3 Also 1 over west.
Moorhen 3  
Mute Swan 10  
Sparrowhawk 1  

Total number of species: 12, Individuals: 123

Also of note were:

Redwing 6 over south
Fieldfare 4 over west
Lapwing 24 over south east
Skylark 5 over west

The survey at Putnoe Wood was a bit better this month with a few more species recorded. Highlight was the Mistle Thrushes:

Blackbird 2 Blue Tit 19 Bullfinch 1 Carrion Crow 7 Chaffinch 1 Coal Tit 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 Great Tit 18 Green Woodpecker 1 Jackdaw 10 Magpie 3 Mistle Thrush 2 Nuthatch 1 Redwing 1 Robin 7 Song Thrush 1 Stock Dove 1 Treecreeper 2 Woodpigeon 2 Wren 3

Monday, 9 December 2013

Willington GP Starling Roost

Another couple of visits to the Willington GP Starling Roost this weekend finally paid off Sunday night with a super display backed by a gorgeous sunset. Overall so far this year the Starling displays have been a bit disappointing. Numbers of birds are impressive but the swirling displays have been very limited to date.

Sunday evening was better with the birds remaining in the sky for a decent amount of time, building up to several thousand individuals. Although there were few of the spectacular shapes the display did peak with a nice swirl before all of the birds funnelled down into the reed bed.

Early on a distant mixed flock of Golden Plovers and Lapwings added to the spectacle.

If you are in the area this is well worth a visit.






Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Box End Park WeBS: 10/11/2013

My WeBS count at the weekend was more notable for the none WeBS birds. Starlings were the main players with at least 4150 Starlings over west during the morning. I believe these to be from a local roost, possibly the Willington roost I have been visiting for the murmuration. It would be great to know for sure. One of the flocks was ~3000 and 2 others numbered ~500.

Other notable flocks passing over were as follows:

40 Canada Geese over south.
4 Skylarks over west.
100 Lapwings over west. Probably the local birds from the building site!
7 Fieldfares over west.
30 Redwings over west.

The main WeBS count results were slightly better than last month, Cormorants being the most notable birds with a couple of large groups fishing on the north and south lakes. The 2 Common Buzzards were early birds, coming in before sunrise. In fact I recorded all of the raptors by 07:15.

Black-headed Gull 25  
Buzzard 2  
Cormorant 28  
Great Crested Grebe 4  
Grey Heron 2  
Kestrel 1  
Kingfisher 1  
Mallard 43  
Meadow Pipit 1  
Mute Swan 8  
Pied/White Wagtail 1  
Sparrowhawk 1  

Total number of species: 12 Individuals: 117

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Putnoe Wood Survey 20/10/2013

I had to squeeze the Putnoe Wood survey in on Sunday morning no matter the weather and unfortunately it wasn't any better than it had been the previous week. Heavy rain and wind was the order of the day and the birds were keeping their heads down. Highlight was the Goldcrest and of note was the absence of Blackbirds for the second month running:

Blue Tit 7
Carrion Crow 3
Goldcrest 1
Great Tit 5
Green Woodpecker 2
Jackdaw 1
Magpie 2
Robin 10
Song Thrush 1
Treecreeper 1
Woodpigeon 7
Wren 6

Total Bird Species: 12

That's the lowest species count for the 2 years I have been surveying the wood.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Box End Park WeBS: 13/10/2013

It was grim at Box End Park this morning for my monthly WeBS count. Although still quite warm it was raining heavily with a strong northerly breeze. There were a small number of Redwings in the area, no sign of any passage today.

The survey results were as follows:

Black-headed Gull 24 (37 Over West)
Cormorant 8
Great Crested Grebe 2
Grey Heron 1
Lapwing 1
Mallard 27 (22+ Over NW and 12 Over N)
Moorhen 1
Mute Swan 8

Total number of species: 8 Individuals: 72

I had planned to survey Putnoe Wood as well but decided to put that off, given the conditions the end of the Grand Prix seemed the better option :-) 

Friday, 2 August 2013

Catch up

My quest for the singing Skylark image over the building site is pretty much at an end for now. In the last week they have gone quiet with just a handful seen on the site. After my last post a 2 metre fence went up around all of the workings making my challenge even tougher. They provided nice perches for the Meadow Pipits:

Meadow Pipit
I did get a nice perched Skylark one morning but he does look a bit grumpy, believe it or not he was singing seconds earlier but he just would not sing for me. I think I interrupted his breakfast!
I will keep on visiting the building site and the Skylarks should spring back into life in a few weeks so I might still get the image I'm looking for, the building work is progressing fast though!

My most recent visit to Putnoe Wood to do the monthly survey was a strange one. It was so quiet around the wood and I had nearly finished the survey when I came across a party of small birds. The first surprise was a Spotted Flycatcher feeding a youngster, the first I have seen in the wood since I started surveying here. They were up in the canopy and out of photography range. When they moved into the wood I followed hoping they might come down a little lower. Surprise number 2 was a Marsh Tit, another first for me in the wood! It was a bit dark but I managed these record shots: 

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit
It just goes to show you that you should never give up, I also added Nuthatch, Coal Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker to the survey list in that one group of birds so it turned into a pretty good morning! 

At this time of year young birds often come together in small mixed flocks as do family groups so it is well worth checking through these groups, you never know what you might find!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Loss of habitat (Part 2)

The continuing story of my project to get an image of a singing Skylark in flight with the heavy machinery that is destroying it's home in the background. (Click here for part 1)

I've been back several mornings to try for this shot with varying amounts of success but ultimately I haven't got the shot I want. The Skylarks are very tricky, you have to be in the right place at the right time as they lift into the air very quickly and are too high, for the shot I want, before you know it. I quite often catch them perching up on vegetation and singing which would be the next best thing to the shot I really want. When I do catch them in flight they are invariably in the wrong place or too high to get the background I'm after.

Perched Skylark
Above is one of the perched Skylark images which I quite like but the orange fence in the background obscures the excavator behind it so you can't really see what it is.

Skylark in flight
Above is a Skylark in flight, a few more meters to the right and slightly lower and I might have had my shot.

Meadow Pipit
I'm quite pleased with the above image. Yes it's a Meadow Pipit and it's perched but everything else is good.  There are a couple of Meadow Pipits in this area and they are regularly perching on the fence with the machinery in the background. This one is even singing and I managed to get quite close to it.

I've seen the Skylarks bringing food back in the last week so they presumably have young in the nest. Will this be the last year here?

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Box End Park WeBS: 23/06/2013

Not much about at Box End Park on the last WeBS weekend but a few juveniles brightened the day:

Common Tern 16 (At least 3 downy youngsters present on the island, not included in count)

Coot  2  

Great Crested Grebe 1  

Mallard 33 (Not including broods of 8,2,4,5,4,4,7 and 4 ducklings, 6 of these broods were recently hatched)

Mute Swan 10 (One pair had 2 cygnets)

Oystercatcher 5 (Includes 3 well grown juveniles)

Pied/White Wagtail 4 (3 of these were juveniles)

Skylark 1  

Total number of species: 8 Individuals: 72

It's been a slow start to the year for Mallard broods but a good return this week at Box End Park with most of the broods looking like they hatched within the last 2 or 3 days.

Other birds of note seen or heard on site:

Reed Bunting 1
Starling 111 (A surprisingly large flock feeding in front of the main building.)
Swift 3
House Martin 2
Stock Dove 2
Sand Martin 1
Common Whitethroat 1
Sedge Warbler 3
Blackcap 2
Grey Heron 1 over north
Lapwing 2 over north west

Friday, 21 June 2013

Loss of habitat

No I'm not wild about the loss of habitat for some of our favourite species and when it's happening on my local patch it's even more frustrating.

For a few years now a housing development has been going up between Great Denham and Bedford. This has been eating into the meadows which hold breeding Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and in recent years Lapwings. These species are red and amber listed so why are we building on this area?

As the building work spreads we have lost the breeding Lapwings this year and there is less and less area for the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, especially as this year the land owner has decided to cut some areas of the remaining meadows on a weekly basis! I think this is for the forthcoming country park which is part of this development. Great a country park you might say and I agree to some extent as at least it saves a bit of the land for wildlife. The problem is it looks like this country park will be more of a park, with sports pitches, than a country park. They've already ploughed a large area, seeded it and planted a few trees around the edge. As much as I like trees and woodland we already have large areas of Bedfordshire being turned into forest, what we don't have is lots of wild flower meadows and the associated species, so why change it? The new managed grass areas need to be cut once a week to keep the grass "nice" which must be costing quite a bit. In these times of austerity why not just leave it and cut it for hay once a year?

Anyway (steps down from his soap box) while I was walking across the meadows yesterday I thought of an idea for a photograph in which a singing Skylark would be pictured against the backdrop of the building work. I went back this morning and had my first attempt but the Skylarks weren't playing ball, then a Meadow Pipit "parachuted" in on a song flight and settled on the fence marking the boundary of the building work.

Meadow Pipit
I quite like this next one where the bird is looking out over the building site but I really needed to be closer to the bird and further from the digger.
Meadow Pipit
I tried to get a bit closer to the Pipit but it took off again on another song flight and I nearly walked off until I saw it come down further along the fence, on one of the posts so I thought I'd try again.
Meadow Pipit
Unfortunately it didn't hang about long and I lucked into this shot as it took off, it's not the greatest posture but it's close to what I was looking for, just the wrong species, not singing, too far away and too close to the background!  
Meadow Pipit
Anyway I'll be back to try again, I found a better location to shoot from, it just needs a Skylark to take off from the right spot and it'll all be good. I know, I don't want much do I?

Incidentally that digger in the background is currently stripping the area where the Lapwings nested last year, it almost makes you weep.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Out and about this week

Took a week off from work and have been out and about with the other half. First up it was the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve at Welney. The primary quarry was Water Vole. The reserve are offering Guided Water Vole Walks during June (Click here for details). We didn't have to wait for the walk as we spotted a Water Vole in the pond between the car park and the visitor centre on our way in! 

We had a quick look around before the guided walk started, spotting a nice group of Black-tailed Godwits early on.
Black-tailed Godwits
House Martins were busy nest building around the main observatory and there were Avocet and Redshank chicks to be seen with parent birds in attendance. Plenty of other birds about including Cuckoo and displaying Snipe.

It was soon time for the Guided walk and Sam and Tony took us around with Sam pointing out the various Water Vole signs. The following picture shows the characteristic cut lengths of reed that Water Voles leave. They are approx 8 - 10 cm in length and have a 45 degree angled cut at the end. 

After a bit of a wait we spotted the star of the show along one of the ditches:

Water Vole
We did get better views briefly and at one point there were 3 Water Voles feeding in the reeds on the opposite side of the ditch. We could see the reeds moving about where they were and the sound of them munching!

On the way out of the reserve we spotted the Water Vole in the pond again and had super views as it went about its business. Well worth a visit if you have some free time and I recommend the guided walks we learnt a lot and will hopefully be in a position to spot the signs if Water Voles venture back to my local patch.

Water Vole
Water Vole
Water Vole
Water Vole
Moorhen Chick
Tuesday we popped over to Paxton Pits for the afternoon. We did the Heron trail which we found a little disappointing although in fairness there were plenty of birds about and we did manage a single singing Nightingale. There was quite a bit of noise around the site from the various bits of work going on plus the regular passing trains and the lorries heading into the gravel works. They seem to have a great volunteer programme going over there as there were several groups working around the park as well as the helpful vols in the visitor centre. We'll have to give it another try.

Wednesday was another day trip, this time to Lakenheath Fen. We joined another guided walk with David, reserve information officer, and volunteer Darren. In rather windy conditions they did well to show us some of the sites stars including Marsh Harrier and Hobby but we failed to connect with a Golden Oriole which we had hoped for. The Oriole numbers have been dropping over recent years so it wasn't too surprising, especially given the very windy conditions. We did get most of the other expected species including a Cetti's Warbler which is always good. 

Marsh Harrier
Thursday afternoon headed over to Tring for a look around the Natural History Museum which is always a good way to spend an hour or so. I love the bird and mammal collections.

Friday was another day out, this time to Rutland Water. Osprey was the prime target but we bagged a few other species including a surprise Little Gull.

Egyptian Goose and youngsters
Little Egret
The new artificial Sand Martin nest block, an impressive structure!
Female Osprey having a break from nest duties
Female Osprey
Reed Bunting
Sedge Warbler
The Osprey views were somewhat distant as is to be expected as you can't get too close to the nest but nice to see them all the same and the volunteers were very helpful with the scopes set up on the nest and, new this year, an iPad in the hide showing the nest action live!

All in all a good week despite the changeable weather, back to the grind next week but I'll probably be tuning into the Rutland Ospreys nest cam for a wildlife fix every now and again!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

What's happening on my local patch?

What a week it has been on my local patch. At the beginning of the week it seemed like spring had finally sprung, mornings were warm and sunny and the wildlife responded. The Fox cubs were playing on the old vicarage lawn:

He's behind you. A cub watches me while his sibling pounces on him.

Fox cub enjoying the morning sunshine.
The birds were singing strongly, including this Stock Dove, note the gorgeous iridescent green neck patch:
Stock Dove singing.
A Sedge Warbler in the Hawthorn blossom:
Sedge Warbler singing.
The last couple of days have reverted to overcast and cool mornings with the cloud clearing during the day. I came across a family party of Long-tailed Tits moving through the trees up past Church End this morning. The youngsters are really cute and their parents are working hard to keep them fed. You can't miss them, they are so noisy, continually calling to each other.

Juvenile Long-tailed Tit.

Adult Long-tailed Tit with food for the young.
I tweeted about this Common Whitethroat a week or so ago. It's song is a strange variation to the norm. Rather than the normal scratchy phrases it has pure phrases, very like a Blackcap but it retains the short, clipped phrases of the Whitethroat. It has Blackcaps stationed either side of it and when it starts to sing it often seems to set them off until they realise it sounds a bit different.  I've never heard this variation before so I recorded it on my iPod, and this morning I finally managed to get a picture of the bird in question, it has been really mobile and stays tucked away in the cover except for the occasional song flight, when it does revert to a more normal song:

Common Whitethroat

Here is the normal Common Whitethroat song for comparison: