Monday, June 30, 2014

Guided Walk - Sunday 29/06/2014

A great turn out for the first of the summer guided bird walks. Through June, July and August we start at 8am instead of 9am but far from putting people off we had a group of 17!

We started off with a scan of the main lake. The highlight here was a small party of Sand Martins over the south west corner. Canada and Greylag Geese were present, the former in large numbers now they have left their nests. We only have 16 goslings on the main lake so the egg oiling this year seems to have done the trick. Great Crested Grebes are also increasing in numbers as are Coots, returning after the breeding season. At least one pair of the Grebes did stay and breed and have 2 youngsters, still time for more to come out of hiding.

Down to the Finger lakes we found singing Reed Warblers in the reed beds, but while enjoying those and a couple of singing Greenfinches we were treated to the sound of a purring Turtle Dove in the Crescent. What a cracker! There was also a singing Reed Bunting in the Crescent. A few Mallards are beginning to congregate on the Finger lakes, the males looking quite untidy now as the go into eclipse during their moult. This is when they take on the appearance of females losing all their fine colours as worn feathers are replaced. Look out for the yellow bills of the males in eclipse to differentiate them from the dark/orange bills of the females and this years juvenile birds.

In with the Mallards was a single Gadwall, denoted by the white wing flash which was showing well. It can be quite tricky to see this especially at this time of year with all the ducks in various stages of moult.

A single Grey Heron, Coots and Moorhens were also present here and Common Terns were passing over on there short journeys between the main lake and 100 Acre.

Our attempts to get the Terns to nest on the main lake island have been unsuccessful this year. I think the huge amount of foliage that has shot up this year has put them off although successful breeding of both Oystercatcher and Redshank on the island this year is great news. The introduction of the Tern raft and maybe some more efforts to control the weed growth on the island next year should hopefully get the Terns back again after their breeding attempts last year.

Along the Navigation Channel we got distracted by Damselflies and Butterflies although we did get good views of a pair of Common Whitethroats in the nettles. Common Blues and Banded Demoiselles were in abundance and we also had good views of Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Large Skipper butterflies. There were also a lot of 7 Spot Ladybirds both adults and various stages of development.

Small Tortoiseshell
We moved on to 100 Acre, taking the path alongside the river to avoid the worst of the nettles which are taking over the other tracks. A Reed Bunting was singing on the far side of the sewage works pool and after a while I managed to locate it and get good scope views for everyone. A singing Sedge Warbler was next, perched up on one of the many Hemlock seed heads. We watched for a while and were treated to a song flight to finish the show. Another Common Whitethroat was in the next clump of Hemlock before we came to the end of the trail, it having become very overgrown.

We stopped here for a while to scan the big lake. A Hobby was briefly on view but only a few of us saw it as it flew across 100 Acre and crossed the river and went out of sight behind the trees. Oystercatcher, Little Egret, Lapwing, House Martin and Sand Martin were all seen. Common Terns were busy over the island keeping their chicks fed.

Common Tern with fish
Leaving 100 Acre we cut back through the park on the way back to the visitor and bagged a few more insects on the way including some lovely Ringlet butterflies and a stunning female Common Darter dragonfly. One of the White butterflies flew past but I didn't get a good enough view to say whether it was a Small or Large White.

We finished off with a few Swifts over the Rough and New Meadow before arriving back at the VC just as the rain started. A pretty good morning and we just about avoided the rain.

The next guided bird walk is on Sunday 27th July, meet at 8am outside the visitor centre.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dawn Chorus - Guided Bird Walk

It's that time of the year again and 13 mad individuals dragged themselves out of bed for a 4am start for the Dawn Chorus walk this morning. Unfortunately this year it has coincided with extremely blustery conditions which is never great for birding and so it proved with a bit of a damp squib of a dawn chorus this morning. There was plenty of singing but it never really reached the heights of previous years and I was always able to pick out individual songs from the crowd although it was very difficult to isolate them for the rest of the group until things calmed down a bit.

A bit of a surprise to me was the number of Jackdaws and Carrion Crows that are still roosting overnight in the park. Normally considered a winter spectacle, the Corvids leaving the roost this morning was still quite impressive with a few hundred birds getting up together, in a noisy group, before departing for the day time feeding grounds around Bedford.

It was great to see the Little Egrets in the roost again. With the ever lengthening days we are seldom in the park early enough to see them these days but a characteristic white blob was identified along one of the Fingers in west Finger lake. As the light levels increased I managed to locate 8 different birds from our vantage point at the Dead Seat but when they finally all left we counted 13 birds out!

A male Cuckoo put in an early appearance getting up out of the Rough and singing from the Willows by the Dead Seat before heading off around the park.

As usual Blackbirds and Robins were up early and a Garden Warbler also got in and early burst of song before going back to bed for a while! Wrens were the real stars of the early morning session with birds singing on virtually every suitable perch as we walked around the park.

As we moved off around the park Blackcap and Whitethroat were identified in the Rough and a Reed Warbler was singing along the edge of the main lake. We cut down the Spit and were entertained by a particularly showy Wren, its whole body vibrating as it belted out its song. A Treecreeper was heard in the Willows around the Crescent reed bed and Reed Warblers in the reed bed were warming up their voices with a steady rhythmic chuntering.

Plenty more Wrens as we made our way up the east side of Fingers, along the navigation channel. Chaffinch and Blackcap also put in appearances and we flushed a couple of Grey Herons along the Navigation. I made a quick diversion across to the corner of the Flower Meadow by the STW reed bed when I heard a Sedge Warbler singing and we moved up to the STW bridge to see if we could see him. We were able to hear him but couldn't locate him, as I moved off some of the group spotted a Kingfisher on the back channel and as I hurried back I heard it as it flew across to the Navigation and then up the New Cut, piping as it went.

On to 100 Acre where we have had some great waders in this past week so it was with high hopes that I took the group over there today. Display flights from both Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat were great as we made our way along the river side trail. Common Terns were also busy along the river and Lapwings were seeing off Carrion Crows whenever they moved into their airspace, a sure sign that there are chicks in the area (more on that later).

A Cuckoo surprised us again as it flew past along the river and then perched up a little down stream. It was soon off again but straight towards us before settling in the Willow next to us and giving the familiar call. As we strained to see it it flew off again and passed low over us before settling in the top of another nearby Willow. This time it was in full view and I was able to get the scope on it for excellent views for all of the group, a real treat for many who had seldom if ever seen one before.

We turned back along the ditch heading for the prime wader area of the site and I was able to pick out some Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and a Redshank at distance through the scope. A Whitethroat was singing as we made our way over the mound to the earthworks area. I pointed out the Otter tracks to those in the group who weren't on last months guided walk. A dead Mute Swan on the earthworks was identified as Orange 299. No obvious sign of injury but probably a casualty of territorial battles this breeding season.

A Skylark was singing overhead as we checked out the Otter tracks and Yellow Wagtail could be heard in the crop field but were tricky to see. As we started heading back a Reed Bunting showed briefly and more Skylarks were moving and singing around us. Another check over the water edge nearby relocated the group of waders but they remained difficult to see well even with the scope. The Wood Sandpiper which came in during the week and we saw yesterday was absent this morning as was the Wheatear we also saw yesterday. Turning our attention back to the Yellow Wagtails I finally located a spanking male in one of the bare patches in the crop field.

Otter Tracks. (Picture courtesy of Chris Smart)
Next stop was overlooking the area where the Lapwings have been most active defending their airspace from all comers. I located 3 Lapwing chicks on a bare patch of earth by the edge of the lake. An unfortunate Redshank flew in close to the chicks and got a battering from the adult Lapwings for its trouble. Another Redshank was nearby and looked like it may have been sheltering chicks but it was slightly obscured by vegetation to tell for sure. Certainly their behaviour yesterday afternoon when they teamed up with 2 pairs of Lapwings to see off a Crow indicated that they may have chicks in the area.

Around the corner we stopped again, first for lovely views of a couple of Goldfinches perched in the hedge and then I checked out the island where I had seen an Oystercatcher yesterday. Sure enough it was sitting in the same place this morning so I'm fairly sure it is on a nest. This is looking like a bumper year for wader chicks.

It was time to head back now so we trudged back to the park with the wind in our faces. We cut through the Woodland walk for a bit of shelter and then back through the Finger Lakes where a Goldcrest was heard just after we passed the Sedgewick Seat.

Then it was back across the meadow to the visitor centre with a few of the group who were able to stick around for a welcome cup of tea and chat.

Overall a successful walk even if the actual dawn chorus part was less than stellar due to the high wind. The great views of the second Cuckoo were a stand out moment but the overall variety of birds around the 2 adjacent sites was excellent as usual.

Back to normal for the next Guided Bird Walk at the end of the month on Sunday 25th May. Meet outside the visitor centre at 9am.

Last Sunday the volunteers were back in the park putting in more Willow Spiling along the north shore of the main lake by the dipping platform. We also had time to test float the Tern raft which to our relief was successful. Just the gravel to add and a couple of anchors to secure it in place and we can get it out onto the main lake in time for the Terns to check it out and hopefully into use next year if not this.  

Test launch of the tern raft. It floats! Never in doubt ;-) (Picture courtesy of Jane Moore)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Guilded Walk - Sunday 27th April

It was another good guided bird walk on Sunday with 10 people joining me. We started off along the main path checking out the main lake where we had a few Sand Martins and Common Terns for our main points of interest. There was also a brood of 9 goslings with a pair of Greylag geese and a brood of 11 ducklings with a Mallard cross, an all white female.  

Mallard cross ducklings (Picture courtesy of Ray Piercy)

At the Crescent we stopped for the Reed Warblers which are in the reed bed and also had a few Tufted Ducks and a pair of Great Crested Grebes on the Finger Lakes.

Earlier I had an Otter on Fingers in pretty much the same place as I had the one last weekend.

Along the east side of Fingers we found a Common Whitethroat along the fence line next to the Navigation Channel.

There wasn't much going on from Kramer hide, the Herons didn't carry through with their nest building so we just have a small pile of sticks in the fallen Willow to look at! Maybe they'll be back next year and give it a proper go.

Moving on we followed the Navigation Channel towards the STW reed bed where a reliable Sedge Warbler was singing strongly still. We then moved on to 100 Acre where we had the usual good selection of birds. The stunning Yellow Wagtails were probably the highlight over here but Shelduck, Little Ringed Plover and the escaped Black-winged Stilt were also popular with the group. With a backing track of singing Skylarks it is always a joy to be over on 100 Acre.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Juv) (Picture courtesy of Ray Piercy)

Little Ringed Plover (Picture courtesy of Ray Piercy)

Shelduck (m) (Picture courtesy of Ray Piercy)

Yellow Wagtail (Picture courtesy of Ray Piercy)
Despite the fresh earth works on Castle Mill the Otter tracks we found last week were still uncovered so we were able to have a good look at those.
Otter Tracks (Picture courtesy of Ray Piercy)
On the way back to the visitor centre we stopped off near the entry to the Rough and had a couple of Garden Warblers singing, one in the Sheep Pen and the other in the Rough. At the visitor centre we finished off with a Pied Wagtail which was on the roof.
Pied Wagtail (Picture courtesy of Ray Piercy)
Thanks to Ray for all of the photo's taken during the walk this month. 

The next Guided Bird Walk is the Dawn Chorus on Sunday 11th May for all you insomniacs out there. We start at 04:00 and meet outside the visitor centre as usual. Please make sure you wear plenty of layers as it can be quite cool to begin with and there is usually a bit of standing around to start with as we enjoy the chorus.

We are back to normal at the end of the month with a 9am start on Sunday 25th May, same meeting place.