Sunday, November 30, 2014

Guilded Walk 30/11/2014

It was guided walk time again today and another good turn out for the final walk before Christmas! With the unrelenting mild weather we are still short on migratory ducks with no Pochards again today although there have been a few around this week. We were lucky to have a couple of Goldeneye on the main lake this morning, the second weekend running that this species has turned up, after a singleton last Saturday. I initially found one this morning and we all had good views before we set off around the main lake. We met DK on the South side who was on the Goldeneye, but now there were 2, a juvenile and an adult female. There were also good numbers of Gadwalls, Tufteds and Wigeons. The latter males looking very fine in their winter breeding plumage.

We had a couple of Kingfishers on the south side with one confiding individual giving good views as it remained perched in a tree close by while we watched the ducks.

A couple of Little Grebes and a few Great Crested Grebes were also seen along with a large gathering of Black-headed Gulls and a handful of Common Gulls. Coot numbers remain reasonably high as does the number of Mute Swans which is in excess of 60.

Cormorant numbers are relatively low but the south side roost is now a regular site during the day with 10 birds there today.

We moved on to the Finger Lakes and from the east side managed to spy a single female Shoveler and at least 3 Little Grebes around the gaps between the lakes.

There was little else of note until we reached 100 Acre. We had several Teal sightings on the large lake. The males are looking very fine now. There were large numbers of Canada Geese and Greylags all grazing along with good numbers of Wigeon. The white Greylag was present again. Unlike yesterday there were no Barnacle Geese. We moved on to the Castle Mill view point where Skylarks were plentiful, taking to the air and even singing in the autumn sunshine. Meadow Pipits were also numerous along with Pied Wagtails. Across towards Castle Mill there were good numbers of Lapwings with a few Golden Plovers interspersed. Gulls were also plentiful with plenty of Black-headeds, a few Common Gulls and the odd Lesser Black-backed and a Herring Gull. A good sized flock of Starlings were also moving across the site feeding. I am unsure where they are roosting now as a visit to the Willington GP roost, the previous evening, found just 27 birds visiting, a long way short of the 4000-5000 of a few weeks ago.

On the way back we had a female Kestrel over Meadow Lane GP and when we got back to the park we cut through the Finger Lakes and had limited views of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. A Common Buzzard was heard as we searched for the Great Spot and then we finished with excellent views of a male Green Woodpecker on the New Meadow.

Thanks to all who came out today, why not join us on the next walk on Sunday the 28th of December. Meet at 9am outside the Visitor Centre and walk off some of the Christmas excess!

Also of note we had a couple of Otters on the Finger Lakes yesterday morning and a Muntjac in the Rough this morning.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Saturday 8th November

Quite a few Fieldfares around this morning with a flock of 250-300 over 100 Acre/Riverside the largest I've seen so far this year. There were also a lot of Lapwings and Golden Plovers in the area between 100 Acre and Castle Mill with ~300 Lapwings and a similar number of Golden Plovers, the latter circling high over head. There were also good numbers of Geese (Greylag and Canada) grazing between the river and the big lake and ~120 Wigeon with them. A couple of Snipe were seen, but no sign of the Stonechats this week. Of note on 100 Acre were 2 Chiffchaffs and a third along the cycle track by the Sewage works. This last one had an interesting call, not as thin as the usual Chiffchaff call but it looked normal.

Pretty standard stuff in the park although Wigeon numbers were initially down until boosted by some of the birds disturbed by a dog walker on 100 Acre. A few more Cormorants in now but other duck numbers remain static. Still no sign of any Pochards. A few small flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings passed over early on. A single Grey Wagtail was on the canoe slalom and a Kingfisher was seen near the Beach. A single Bullfinch was seen along the Spit and Goldcrests were seen and heard at various locations around the park. The best place to see them seems to be between the gate to the Rough and the Sedgewick Seat.

This week a Blackcap was seen around the car park by TP, the second sighting in a week following on from the one seen by myself and DK in the Rough last Sunday. DK reported having seen a couple of Corn Buntings leaving the Crescent roost one morning in the week.

Monday, November 03, 2014

It's been a while!

I've been a bit remiss in my blogging on here recently, just too much going on at the moment. Anyway let's catch up with what's been going on in the park recently.

It's been a quiet start to the autumn migration with very few good sized flocks of thrushes, or anything else for that matter! Redwings have been evident for the last few weeks in small numbers but Fieldfares didn't show until last week,per DK and we had some passing over this weekend. Wintering ducks are still dominated by the Wigeon with Pochard yet to arrive. A few Shovelers and Teals can be found on Fingers along with the Gadwalls.

Little Grebes were also to be found in good numbers in the park with 20 a couple of weeks ago. This weekend however there were few to be found in the park! Coot numbers are very high at the moment with well in excess of 200 on the main lake this weekend (per DK).

We had a couple of Whooper swans on the main lake one morning a couple of weeks ago (per TP) but they didn't stay long.

Some good news has been the recent Otter sightings on the main lake. Having had a single Otter in the reeds on the north side of the main lake a fortnight before, last weekend I had 2 on the main lake. JA had spotted a disturbance in the reeds on the south side, by the hide, when all of the Coots came scuttling out of the reed bed. A little later I spotted the 2 Otters in the middle of the main lake and they came across to the north side reed bed again and started working their way through the reeds searching for food. Here's a record shot of the 2 in the middle of the lake.   

Otters on the main lake

The last weekend of October saw the most recent guided walk on the Sunday morning which was well attended again. We saw most of the expected species but 100 Acre remains the place to be and the Stonechats are the stars over there at the moment, still there this weekend. Golden Plovers, Lapwings are fairly reliable over there and the 3 goose species Greylag, Canada and Barnacle. A couple of Egyptian Geese were with all of the other geese this weekend, the first time they have been spotted here since much earlier this year. We had a single Snipe this weekend after a blank last weekend, we were getting well into double figures so numbers appear to have dropped this last month.

This weekend just gone we had the monthly volunteer task which was surprisingly well attended given the early rain. We worked in the Rough under the guidance of Bird ringer Ed Green. We try to keep the habitat in this area the same from year to year in line with the aims of the CES ringing scheme which runs through the summer. With the sizable turnout we managed to get a good chunk of the work completed but there will probably be another visit to the Rough in the next couple of months.

While working in the rough we had a visit from Danny Fellman (Ranger and Priory CP bat man!). While doing his regular checks of the bat boxes around the park he had come across a new species for the park, a Barbastelle bat, so a few of us went off to have a look. Danny took a couple of photos below:

Barbastelle Bat in a Kent design bat box. (Photo: Daniel Fellman)

Barbastelle Bat in a Kent design bat box. (Photo: Daniel Fellman)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Guided Walk - 28/09/2014

The warm weather continues and for once, on a guided walk day, it was calm making it a little easier to hear the birds. As usual I got down to the park nice and early and was treated to a beautiful sun rise over the New Meadow.
New Meadow sun rise
As I continued along the main path I spotted 4 Little Egrets heading south over the main lake, most likely having left the roost in the Finger Lakes. There were good numbers of Mute Swans on the main lake with 76 counted and approx 41 Canada Geese. Quite a few Mute Swans were at the Beach making it easy to collect their orange ring numbers to feed back to the BTO.

Here is Orange 500 who, it seems, has lost the territorial battle for the Finger Lakes with Orange 180. Orange 500 is still associating with a ringed (no Orange Darvic) male but they were both on the beach this morning. At one point they headed across towards Fingers but then seemed to think better of it and went back to the beach. Orange 180 and partner remain on Fingers   

Orange 500 on vacation!
A quick check over at the Canoe Slalom got me just a single Grey Wagtail this morning and back at Fingers there were just a few Gadwalls, Single Little Grebe and a Wigeon of note. Along with DK I headed round to the Rough where EG was ringing along with Dave and Vic who were helping out today. They came back from a net round, just after we arrived, with a good haul of birds. It's mostly Blue and Great Tits now with a few Blackcaps  and the odd Chiffchaff and Dunnock. EG's tape of Goldcrest failed to attract any of that species to the nets although, as we were to find out a little later, they weren't far away.

I headed off to the visitor centre to meet everyone arriving for the guided walk, 15 people today! After a very brief introduction we headed straight back to the Rough for a ringing demo. We were lucky to see a variety of birds in hand, mostly Tits again but Blackcap and Chiffchaff were also caught. Star bird was a beautiful Treecreeper which is always a great bird to see up close as they are so hard to see well in the wild. A cracking Robin was a nice way to finish with the ringers and we headed off with big smiles on our faces.

The smiles got even bigger as we came across 4 Goldcrests feeding in the trees about 25 yards from the Rough. They didn't seem at all bothered about EG's tape!

We then headed over to 100 Acre. I had pretty high hopes having had a Stonechat over there yesterday morning and I wasn't disappointed. First off we checked out the big lake where Wigeon are present in good numbers now and we also had a party of Barnacle Geese, seeming regular visitors from Willington GP in recent weeks. Then, as I was going over the details of the eclipse plumage of the male Wigeon, Jean spotted a Kingfisher which was perched in a small Willow on the edge of the island. I got the scope set up on him and he gave a nice display of fishing technique along with front and back views for everybody before departing. A couple of Snipes were seen as they flew from the edge of the lake as we moved up to get a better look at the Barnacle Geese.

We continued round to the section where we had the Stonechat yesterday and I started scanning the fence line for any perched birds. I quickly located a bird towards the end of the fence line and got the scope onto it. This was a Stonechat but it was quickly joined by a Wheatear and then a second. As I started getting people onto the birds I spotted a dog walker heading towards the area and despite waving of arms she was oblivious to the birds she was flushing. Fortunately at first they flushed along the fence line towards us and we identified at least 2 Stonechats and 3 Wheatears before they finally gave up and flew off into the field.

We also had a couple of Little Egrets, a Green Sandpiper and several Meadow Pipits and Skylarks in this very productive section.

Our final treat back in the park was a couple of Common Buzzards on a thermal high over the Finger Lakes, our first raptors of the day although Vic had seen a Kestrel earlier on 100 Acre which went unseen by the rest of us.

Thanks to everyone who came today, the next bird walk is on Sunday 26th October at 9am. Meet outside the visitor centre as usual.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Recent weeks

Things have been bumbling along nicely at Priory over recent weeks with definite signs that migration is picking up in the last couple of weeks.

On Tuesday the 9th of September I accepted an invitation to join the bat group at Priory for a trapping session and was fortunate to be there when a Nathusius Pipistrelle was captured. More details here:

I spent a little time photographing dragonflies before the bat group arrived and managed a couple of nice shots of Migrant Hawkers.

Migrant Hawker
Migrant Hawker
In the last couple of weeks there have been more signs that migration is under way with the arrival of good numbers of Lapwings on 100 Acre, Golden Plovers in small numbers and the first autumn Wheatear. 
Wheatear (100 Acre)
Snipe numbers have also increased and the last of the Yellow Wagtails seem to have moved on along with the House Martins and Sand Martins. A few Swallows can usually be seen, either feeding around the park or passing through. Also listen out for Meadow Pipits and Skylarks which are trickling through in small numbers at present.

On the duck front Teals and the occasional Shovelers are beginning to show up fairly regularly and Little Grebes are moving back into the park after their "summer break". Gadwall numbers are variable but usually around the 30 mark. A Pintail has also been recorded on the main lake this week per DK.

Continue to look out for the roving Tit flocks and associated Warblers, Goldcrests and Treecreepers. We picked up a couple of Willow Warblers in one of these flocks at the weekend which is getting quite late for this species.

There have also been a couple of Otter sightings in recent weeks. These have both been from the STW bridge looking up stream on the back river in the morning between about 8 and 9am.

At the neighbouring Willington Gravel Pits the annual Starling roost has kicked with reasonable numbers of birds present but expected to increase as continental birds come into the country for the winter. Let's hope our continental neighbours have a hard winter so we get really big numbers of Starlings into roost this winter.  

The next guided bird walk is this Sunday (28th) meet at 9am outside the visitor centre. Please note we are back to a 9am start now we are into the Autumn/Winter period, ideal for those of you who like a lay in!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Saturday 23/08/2014

On the birding front it remains quiet in the park although the autumn/winter ducks are beginning to gather with increasing numbers of Gadwall and the first Teal of the autumn this week. Other species are on the move south so we are seeing Willow Warblers regularly at the moment. These are often associating with the roaming Tit flocks that can be found as you walk around the park. If you come across one of these, Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Chiffchaff can often be found in the flock with a little patience. Listen for the high pitched contact calls of the Long-tailed Tits which usually give away the location of a flock. A handful of Common Terns remain and can be seen over the main lake, youngsters can be identified by their browner plumage. Another couple of weeks and they'll all be gone on their way back to central and southern Africa.

100 Acre continues to evolve with the introduction of new fences and the cutting of large areas. This area is still managed by the gravel extraction company so we have little control over what gets done when. Although disappointing that some areas have been cut it was good to see that the wader area at the Castle Mill end had been, we just need a bit more water now to attract some passing waders this autumn. Hopefully in future we will be able to leave some areas uncut to support flocks of Goldfinches and Linnets through the winter months. In the short term, at least, it is likely that cattle will be introduced on some areas to keep the vegetation in check. Despite the disturbance on the site this week we still managed to find a single Green Sandpiper and good numbers of Swallows were skimming over the cut sections hoovering up the insects. Of note also was the large number of Little Grebes on the site with 14 counted at the south end of the big lake alone and 20+ altogether. Looks like they had a good year. A couple of Common Gulls were loafing on the earth works, with a bunch of Black-headed Gulls. We also had a single Yellow Wagtail

Other good news from the week was that DK spotted an Otter on the back river at the Sewage Works bridge, the first sighting for a while.

Next weekend it's time for the monthly guided bird walk so come and join me on the hunt for autumn migrants. Meet outside the visitor centre on Sunday 31st August at 8am.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Saturday 09/08/2014

It's been pretty quiet on the bird front, not unusual at this time of year when some of the migratory species are already on their way back to their wintering grounds and many others become more elusive as they go through their moult. Many of the small passerines are coming together in roaming flocks so if you come across one of these it's like hitting the jackpot. They are usually given away by the constant and distinctive calls of the Long-tailed Tits which usually make up a significant proportion of the flock. There are usually one or more family groups of Long-tailed Tits in these flocks but also look out for other Tits, Finches, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers.

This week we had a few Willow Warblers around the park as they make progress south on their way back to Africa for the winter. There were also at least 8 Gadwalls on the Finger Lakes early on. These are quite tricky to distinguish from the Mallards as they all go through their moults but if you happen to see them side by side it becomes easier as they are slightly smaller and the head shape is more rounded.

The ringers were in the Rough again and had a couple of reasonable hauls while we were there. Plenty of juvenile Blackcaps were caught and it was interesting to see to difference in appearance as they were at various stages of post juvenile moult.

Now that a path has been cleared on 100 Acre we are able to get over there again and were rewarded with a Cuckoo. This is quite a late record for this species, many of the BTO tracked Cuckoos are already in Africa with others in central or southern Europe (Tracking Cuckoos to Africa... and back again).

There are a lot of new fences going up on 100 Acre and new paths will follow, for the time being the path along the river is blocked in several places.

4 Little Egrets were present on the large lake and we had 2 Kestrels hunting between the large lake and the Sewage Works Pool. A Common Buzzard was heard by the river down towards Castle Mill and a couple of Swallows were seen in the same area. At the end of our wander around 100 Acre we flushed 5 Green Sandpipers on the Sewage Works Pool.

Back in the park there were a few Sand Martins over the Main lake in the south west corner, a small number of Swifts were also present.

The 2 Tufted Duck families remain and 4 well developed youngsters were also present on Saturday having flown in from elsewhere.

In the afternoon I went back to 100 Acre hoping to photograph the Great Crested Grebes which have 2 chicks. The photography wasn't great but I did see a Snipe and a Sedge Warbler so a pretty good afternoon.

Those were the highlights for this weekend.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Recent goings on in the park

It's been a while so here's what's been going on in the park recently.

First up the volunteers were back in early in the month and put in a great shift clearing the path between thee the cycle track near Fish Ponds down to and along the river to the spillway. This was becoming overgrown in some areas and now the new bridge is in place over the Marina entrance people were wanting to use it again so it's been cleared. Thanks to everyone who came along and helped.

Please note that the August volunteer task has been cancelled but hopefully we'll be back to normal in September.

It's been pretty quiet in the park on the bird front, just the normal stuff and sometimes pretty hard to come by on the hot days. Plenty of Green Woodpeckers about so sometimes quiet is not quite the word to use. This weekend just gone we had some nice views of a Jay and the first Willow Warbler on it's way back south. Amazingly this was exactly the same date as we had the first returning Willow Warbler last year and only 2 days different from the year before (thanks DK).

On Friday evening I tagged along on the guided bat walk led by Danny Fellman. This was very well attended and we managed 4 species of bat although not the numbers we might have liked. Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Noctule and Daubentons were all caught on the detectors. The Pips and the Daubentons were seen with the Daubentons providing excellent views over the Finger Lakes. I also spotted a Hedgehog as it crossed the main path between the Beach and Fingers and heard a Common Sandpiper and an Oystercatcher, the later being between 22:30 and 23:00.

It was a busy weekend in the park with the Archaeological dig and display on both days and the Triathlon, Canoe Slalom and Guided Bird Walk all on Sunday. The Bird Walk was a bit of struggle with birds, butterflies and dragonflies all playing hard to find. Fortunately EG was ringing in the Rough and had a bumper haul just as I arrived with the group so we all got some close up views of the birds in the hand as they were processed. Here are a few pics kindly provided by Chris Smart:

Reed Warbler

Juvenile Robin

Robins wing

Juvenile Green Woodpecker

Juvenile Green Woodpecker


Blue Tit wing

Song Thrush

Song Thrush having its tummy tickled :-)

 A nice variety of birds there and we also had a few Blackcaps. Once again many thanks to EG for his time and patient explanation of the ringing process.

Gatekeeper Butterfly
There were quite a few butterflies on the flower meadow but these were mostly Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns with the odd White sp. just for variety.

100 Acre is not ideal for taking groups onto at the moment with head high nettles in abundance, so we headed out along the cycle track and down to the end of 100 Acre where it looks over to Castle Mill. There has been a lot of work here in recent weeks and the large earth mounds have gone, having been used to bring the gravel workings back up to level. There wasn't much to see here although there was a nice flock of 125 Lapwings on the earth works and quite a few Carrion Crows picking over the bare earth on the lookout for invertebrates to eat. The water level has dropped a lot on 100 Acre, unsurprisingly, but 8 Little Egrets were working the edges of the lake and family of Great Crested Grebes with 4 youngsters was great to see. As we turned to leave I spotted a Kestrel low over the earthworks and it perched for a while before flying off and giving us good views.

There was little else of note other than a small party of Goldfinches in the scrub opposite Meadow Lane GP, as we made our way back to the park.

The next guided bird walk is on Sunday 31st August at 8am, meet at the visitor centre.

The group checking out the Lapwing flock on Castle Mill earthworks
(Picture courtesy of Glen Bowen)

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.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Easter weekend

A long weekend in the park kicked off with my usual Saturday morning visit for a bit of birding with DK and JA. Before they arrived I was lucky enough to see an Otter on the Finger Lakes as it swam past the fishing swim I was standing in along the Spit. There is always a sense of excitement when I see an Otter and I was already for a photo session with this animal but that was the last I saw of it! I'm not sure how it gave me the slip as the water was flat calm but I didn't see another ripple, let alone the Otter. Still I've been waiting a while since my last Otter sighting so this, albeit short encounter, was very welcome.

Later we came across a set of Otter tracks over on the earthworks at Castle Mill. They've probably been there for a while but the water levels have dropped over there and they have now been revealed. It looks like the works over on Castle Mill have resumed so these tracks will likely be under a few feet of top soil in the near future. 
Otter track on Castle Mill earthworks
New in this week are Cuckoo, Reed Warbler and Common Whitethroat. There were also at least 2 Lesser Whitethroats around on Monday morning. The Sedge Warblers were more active in the STW reed bed with up to 4 seen and one even doing the display flight.

Chiffchaffs were quiet this weekend but Blackcaps hit their second wind with a count of 26 on Tuesday morning per DK.

The Flower Meadow has had a pretty good display of Cowslips this year and I grabbed a quick shot on Saturday morning.
I came across this Wren with a beak full of nest material on Saturday afternoon.

Easter Monday I spent the day in the park working on the Tern raft that we started a few months ago on one of the volunteer tasks. JA helped out in the morning along with Ranger Jane and between us we have it pretty much finished. Juts need some gravel, a few more bolts and a couple of anchors and we'll be there. Not bad given most of the materials are reused stuff some of which was fly tipped in the park. One man's trash is another man's treasure as they say.

I took an extra day off on Tuesday and went out oiling Canada Goose eggs with Ranger Danny. The rangers have already been out to the main lake island where they found 32 nests and oiled 165 eggs! We added another 60 eggs to the count with a trip up the river as far as Honey Hill Islands and a paddle across to 100 Acre island. On 100 Acre island we only found a couple of CG nests but we did flush 3 Snipe while we were searching.

All in all a pretty good weekend. Coming up this weekend we have the monthly guided bird walk which is on Sunday 27th at 9am. Meet at the visitor centre at 9am, see you there.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saturday 12/04/2014

Another great morning in the park with a number of firsts for me for the year. Despite a cold wind this morning and overcast conditions, spring seemed to be in the air with a number of species seen mating including one of the pairs of Mute Swans on the Finger Lakes. I think these are the new pair but Orange 500 and her new mate are still hanging in there. The new pair were also nest building along one of the fingers this morning.
Mute Swan mating dance
The pair of Great Crested Grebes on Fingers were also seen doing the weed dance. There were also at least 3 Treecreepers along the Spit and the resident Common Buzzard was also about, being mobbed by a Crow as usual!

There was also some interesting behaviour from a Grey Heron seen from Kramer hide. There were four Herons in the area but one was obviously in breeding condition showing a lot of orange on its beak and it was moving branches about as if trying to build a nest. Feathers on the neck and crest were erect and there was a lot of bill clacking and sky pointing going on. Here are some pictures unfortunately obscured by branches.

Erect crest and neck feathers
Bill clacking
Sky pointing
There was quite a bit of Oystercatcher activity around the main lake island and it looks like there maybe one sitting on a nest on the island although it was obscured by foliage so we'll have to keep an eye on it. At least we know where we should be looking now.
Oystercatchers over the main lake
One of my year firsts was a singing Sedge Warbler at the STW reed bed. On to 100 Acre and we had the usual array of birds including the Black-winged Stilt which was very mobile this morning, Redshanks, Little Ringed Plovers, Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers. Another year first was the 3 House Martins in with a group of Sand Martins and Swallows. There was also a White Wagtail but we dipped on Yellow Wagtail which had been seen by AG earlier. A Black Swan was a first for the site, initially on the crop field with 21 Mute Swans and later on the nearby lake.
Black Swan on 100 Acre
There were a lot of Blackcaps around the park this morning but Chiffchaffs seemed less numerous. There were also a handful of Willow Warblers around and when we returned to the Visitor a Common Buzzard passed overhead.
Common Buzzard
Earlier this week I popped down to the park in the evening to see what bats were around. While I was waiting for sun down quite a few Sand Martins came in over Fingers and the main lake, I estimated 60 when they all got up at the west end of the main lake. I was also fortunate to see a Swallow in with the flock over Fingers as I scanned through them with my bins.

I also came across this male Great Spotted Woodpecker in the Crescent.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Also of note were:
2 Shovelers (m) Fingers
5 Little Egrets
1 Oystercatcher

1 Buzzard calling from the Finger Lakes area

The bats showed up around 20:20 and good numbers of Pipistrelles were out and about when I left at 20:50. 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Saturday 05/04/2014

It was a great morning in the park starting with the first Common Tern of the year which was flying around the main lake when I arrived just after 6am. It was still about when DK and JA arrived so we all got our year tick.
Common Tern
We also had 2 Common Terns over 100 Acre and by the time we got back to the Park there were 2 over the main lake which were still there when we left.

Highlight of the morning was the Red Kite first seen over 100 Acre and then again over the visitor centre and heading west just before we left the park.

Red Kite
Red Kite
Red Kite
 There was also a Common Buzzard over 100 Acre.
Common Buzzard
100 Acre also had a good selection of waders with Snipe, Oystercatcher, Redshank and the colour ringed Black-winged Stilt all showing well. There were 4 Little Ringed Plovers over on the earth works at Castle Mill and a single Ringed Plover.

Little Ringed Plovers
Ringed Plover
There were plenty of spring migrants in the park with a couple of Willow Warblers, plenty of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs and a handful of Sand Martins. There was an Oystercatcher on the main lake island, all in all a pretty good morning birding.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Guided Bird Walk - 30/03/2014

A great turnout for the guided walk this morning despite the clocks going forward and it being Mothers Day! The sun struggled to make an appearance finally appearing as we returned to the Visitor Centre at the end of the walk. The only disappointment was that the Sand Martins failed to show having been present most mornings since their first appearance a couple of weeks ago. Can't complain though as we had 51 species on the list by the end of the morning.

Willow Warblers have also arrived with TP having the first one yesterday but unfortunately despite at least 4 being around the park this morning we failed to connect with one during the walk.

Highlight for me were the Redshanks which were playing hard to get at first but we finally found them on the return leg across 100 Acre. The colour ringed Black-winged Stilt also showed well although it does seem to have an injured leg and was limping quite badly. A couple of Ringed Plovers also showed well on the Castle Mill earth works.

Here's the full list kindly noted down by Marion Hession:

Mute Swan
Greylag Goose
Canada Goose
Tufted Duck
Little Grebe
Great-crested Grebe
Grey Heron
Black-winged Stilt
Ringed Plover
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Herring Gull
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Meadow Pipit
Pied Wagtail
Song Thrush
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Carrion Crow
Reed Bunting