Monday, 14 March 2016

Hen harrier at high tide and a barn owl before breakfast

The Safari picked up BD yesterday and we headed for the marshes. There was a high high tide and we had a few target species. On the way we passed a Peregrine, possibly two, on the roadside church. Once ensconced at our vantage point we watched the tide rise. It didn't take long to find eight Avocets well down by the river but it was hellish misty out there and distance viewing wasn't that good. All the common stuff was about on good numbers, 66 Whooper Swans, immeasurable Shelducks, Curlews, Redshanks, displaying Lapwings and singing Skylarks. The sound-scape was phenomenal out there. Behind us on the fields a Song Thrush belted out its repetitive, but happy sounding, musical ditty.
Out on a washed up tree log two Peregrines laid up watching and waiting. A Merlin gave fantastic chase to a Skylark or Meadow Pipit, the victim spiraled upwards trying to shake the attacker off. The chase lasted over a minute with the small bird eventually winning its freedom by twisting this way and that until the Merlin gave up the chase. Later we witnessed a faster low-level chase with the small bird nipping either side of a barbed wire fence through the wires and again survived after a few long seconds. 
The tide inexorably rose higher and higher pushing the birds closer together, a count of the Little Egret maxed out at 62, very likely the most we've seen here by a good way. With no wind and high pressure the tide didn't quite reach the sea defences but at the top of it we watched a raptor cruise in close and low, a ringtail Hen Harrier, epic!!! Our target species didn't put in appearance though, but it didn't matter as a Hen Harrier trumps just about everything else these days. We hope it stays safe over the summer months. Not long after we had a Kestrel and a Buzzard, so a five raptor day with no Sparrowhawk!
We dropped BD off, after passing the two Peregrines again and probably a third on a different building. And then got ran in to the back of by a plonker in a van. No injuries thankfully but some damage to the motor that couldn't be attended to late on a Saturday afternoon. The we discovered there'd been a Black Necked Grebe at the nature reserve, a few muxed ip txts later and a look at the website showed it to be still present late on...
This morning we were up and at em at dawn. Only a few minutes after getting out of the car we were watching a Barn Owl hunting over the wetlands, we filled our boots watching it. Had we been still in the car on the roadside we'd have seen it through the hedge from the driver's seat. It's all good stuff when you consider we were only a mile and a half from the some of most urbanised areas in the country outside of inner London. If there is sufficient habitat wildlife can and will thrive.
Not many minutes after that we were watching the Black Necked Grebe (113, MMLNR #78) showing not too well in the gloom well down the mere. Again if there's suitable habitat passing wildlife can and will find it. Wandering down that way with LR we saw the first of several skeins totaling at least 2000 Pink Footed Geese making the first stages in their journey to Iceland. Beautiful to listen to. Down at the hide we had poor views of the grebe but found a Curlew (MMLNR #79) on the new scrape. Still rubbishy dull light this soon after sunrise.
Continuing beyond the bridge we soon heard a Skylark (MMLNR #80) another beautiful sound and one seldom heard from here these days so lets hope they stick around and have a successful breeding season. They have been heard singing over the nature reserve's island in recent days, that would be something extra special if they managed to nest and raise chicks on there - it's been many years since they nested withing the borough boundary.
From there we left the reserve to have a quick check on the Long Eared Owls, woulda been rude not to. All three were present and correctly sitting on their favoured branches, so much so we're not sure they aren't actually stuffed toys or even cardboard cut-outs! The walk to the owls along the embankment gave us more Cetti's Warblers singing at each other, when we totted up how many we'd had we were a little surprised to find that we'd had 10 of them, that's a  pretty good poopulation of this still fairly scarce little bird, we saw just one briefly as it flitted across a gap in the reeds.
The day was beginning to warm up nicely even though it was still pre-breakfast time. A large bumble bee whizzed past us at head height, probably a queen Buff Tailed Bumble Bee, just to prove how warm it was.
LR met some of his dog walking mates and left us to wander back to the car alone. We had a quick and unsuccessfull look for the Stonechat at the wetland on the way.
Back at Base Camp we made Wifey her breakfast after which she got ready to go out and do her ususal Sunday duties. We left for the nature reserve but came staright back in to tell her that the House Sparrows were back on the opposite side of the road so she stopped what she was doing and came out to get them on her year list, we both saw one flit from garden to garden but when we got our bins on it it was a Dunnock (Wifey #51), the House Sparrows (Wifey #52) called incessantly but remained hidden in the hedge.
On our short walk from the car to the nature reserve we have a choice of two paths, the inner and the outer path. We thought about taking the outer one but realising the large puddle by the pond at the far end along the inner path would be dry by now as it's not really rained much (thankfully) for a while so we took the inner path. what a good choice that was, about two thirds of the way to the pond a small brown bird called as it flew from the bushes on one side to the trees on the other. Treecreeper (114, MMLNR #81) - what a stroke of luck!
The Black Necked Grebe took no time at all to locate at the west end living it up with a small group of Tufted Ducks. It was distant though and diving constantly.
We could see BD and others over on the viewing platform and a quick txt told us it was showing well and much nearer from there so off we went but not before a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly had flown past us, our first butterfly of the year. We didn't stop at the Feeding Station but watched a Coal Tit singing high in the Alder trees as we passed beneath.
At the platform we spoke to EP who'd a couple of hours earlier had a bat flying round over near where we'd just come from, almost definitely a Noctule. We took lots of pics of the Black Necked Grebe as it was indeed considerably nearer but being a bad workman and blaming our tools none of them came out any better than the rubbish pic above. Better than the grebe was the Iceland Gull which dropped through our field of view as we were scoping the gulls down at the far end of the mere. In front of us a Peacock butterfly flitted quickly by.
While scoping the Iceland Gull even more distant in the fields beyond the reserve boundary a flock of Lapwings over 100 strong had been flushed from a depression in the fields where there is a bit of flood. With them appeared ever so briefly a flock of something else wadery, our first thought was Golden Plover but then something made us change our mind to perhaps Black Tailed Godwits. OK so they're not really similar but in our defence they were only up a short while and we were looking at something else a lot nearer. Only one thing for it get down that far end and hope they have another fly round so off we went with BD to see if we could solve the mystery.
At the Bee Orchid site we'd heard rumours of two more rosettes now on show. We had a good look round but could only find the usual two although BD did come across the first 7-Spot Ladybird for the year.
Putting the scope up on the embankment we started to look across the fields, Lapwngs, Woodpigeons a couple of Stock Doves and a few Fieldfares were out there but nothing more exciting than than. Where's the Buzzards when you need a  to come cruising by and shuffle everything around. The scope wasn't necessary for the Reed Buntings that were playing chase me chase me in and out of the nearby bush and the small ones in the rough wetland below us.
There's always a flippin twig!
Also down on the wetland and altogether more unexpected were two Skylarks, are these the same as the one we had singing earlier in the day? The plot thickens!
By now it was coat off warm and there were plenty of insects on the wing. A stop at the hide saw us looking through the gulls but nothing out of the ordinary materialised. A young family came in and the young girl looked at the picture board pointing out the Pochard which we were able to show her through the scope and how fine they looked in the bright afternoon sunshine.
Outside a fence post had several basking Drone Flies.
And a wind damaged tree trunk had a basking Tree Bee - it looks worn on its thorax, do they overwinter??? Approaching it for the pic we saw some others come up from the ground, underground? We didn't see a hole they may have been emerging from.
Before heading off back to Base Camp we stopped off for the very last of the afternoon light at the Feeding Station. Quite lively in there today.
Two Grey Squirrels were up to their usual smash n grab antics
Less expected but perhaps not so when near to a wetland a Moorhen skulked gracefully at the edge of the scrub never brave enough to venture too far from dense cover.
And someone has donated us, or its flown/walked in from who knows where, this rather lovely female Pheasant. Really need to catch her in better light to show you the lovely purple and rich red-brown hues in her feathers.
Last but not least was the enigma of the many thousands of empty Garden Snail shells lining the side of the path, what had caused that? Why were there so few in the rough grass away from the path edge, was it something to do with the fence? One seemingly simple observation in nature can bring on a multitude of questions and hypotheses. Had they been victims of spraying, had they been hibernating on the fence died and dropped off, had something piled them up there like a Song Thrush although most of the shells were unbroken, was an invertebrate predator/parasite responsible in some way? Questions questions questions.
This lot is a tiny proportion of the whole - they went on like this for tens of yards being most dense near the fence posts - weird or what ? Any suggestions folks
Once back at BAse Camp we learnt that if we'd stayed longer we might have been in the right place at the right time to see both Bittern and Bearded Tits! That's a cracking day's selection for a 40 something acre reserve.
Today the beach and sea were pretty quite although we did have a Chaffinch (P2 #42) going over, they're not quite annual here
Where to next? It's getting to that time of year when just about anyting can happen so our eyes will be to the skies and our ears open.
In the meantime let us know who's doing the cruising in your outback

1 comment:

Warren Baker said...

Snails graveyard davyman. is there pesticide used in the area ?