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: