Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Buzzards in the Orlestone forest complex

My son George 'the stig' Green who completed over 20 miles cycling through the forest this weekend.

The highlight of a nine mile bike ride through the trails criss-crossing Stone Wood, Fags Wood, and 50 Acre Wood was six common Buzzards soaring together. I haven't visited the woods over the winter, and didn't realise we had so many Buzzards on our doorstop. The woods themselves look splendid; a leafless canopy but a vibrant floor carpeted in Wood Anemones. We made frequent stops, listening for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Bullfinch, but sadly we didn't find either.

There are many new cleared areas in the forest, and it will be interesting to see if Nightjar and Tree Pipit can put in an appearance later this year.

Bee fly in the garden today.

In very pleasant spring weather, the woodland rides had plentiful numbers of Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone butterfly. Considering the dire state of the Tortoiseshell butterfly (almost faced with UK extinction just a few years ago) it seems to be making a very big bounce back in numbers. Also of note this spring are the large numbers of the enigmatic Bee Fly, both in the forest and at home in the garden.

A neighbour in Shadoxhurst has told me that she has seen what she thought was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker on her bird feeder - so there's still hope that we still have them in the area.

Monday, 28 March 2011

The nostalgic Brambing

As a child of the 60s, my primary school seemed blessed (it was Catholic!) with a library of wildlife books, especially ornithological guides. They had 3 inch hard-backed spines weighing more than I could carry back to my desk. Furthermore, they were difficult to hide under my standard size text books, away from the roving eyes of my teacher nuns, unmoved to share my interest - and ready to punish at any time.

I remember these books as being formal productions, not child friendly at all. Many had memorable, beautiful colour plates illustrating grand images that told ther own stories, Golden Eagles speeding down snow-covered mountains, hunting a white mountain Hare with a startled Ptarmigan near by. Less epic, were the illustrations of garden birds. These featured homily snow-covered gardens, not in the suburbs, but backing onto countryside (looking suspiciously like my garden now), and containing homely looking bird tables decorated with such old-fashioned bird food as unshelled monkey nuts and upturned coconuts shells. The bird tables would feature a snow covered roof, large enough to shelter a Wood Pigeon (no Collared Doves in those days), and typical common birds such as Robin, Song Thrush and House Sparrow. I say common, but that wasn't true, because fluttering in the snow on the bird table paintings would be at least one Brambling, a striking, boldy coloured finch that I'd never seen in my garden at all. As I got older, time passed by. Snow-filled gardens were to become even scarcer and those childhood memories of garden Bramblings were to remain covered in dust in school library. Still, four decades of patience and white winters are back with us, and just occasionally, real live Bramblings too. The old books were right!

Just a few years ago, in late March, we had a stunning flock of Brambling in near summer plumage, visit the garden for just a few days. This year, the individual pictured has been visiting our garden for about a month. Always in the company of a small flock of Chaffinches, I had hoped that now I've finally photographed our Scandanavian friend, that it would have a nicer more advanced glossy summer plumage. But I must be grateful for its visit and the colour it has brought to the garden before its imminent migration to upland northern Europe.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Early spring migration plovers - (no pics)

A quick garden record for the diary from yesterday, a flock of 15 fly-over Golden Plovers heading North flew over 11.00am. Don't they know there's snow a head?

This morning at daybreak, a large flock of Redwings in the paddock behind the garden all had moved on by 9.00 am. A few Siskins still around and Gold Finches singing and feeding in the Larch.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Sparrowhawk with House Sparrow prey

Sparrowhawk feeding on a freshly killed female House Sparrow, using an old football as a plucking post. Its unusual to see a female Sparrowhawk bird take a such a small passerine, as there are much larger Collared Doves and Wood Pigeons around the garden in abundance.

A rarer site, a male Sparrowhawk on the roof ridge surveying the garden for a dropped and lost meal.

The great escape, moments after this picture was taken the Pied Wagtail was ambushed by the male Sparrowhawk. Both birds 'bounced' into our patio window, enabling the wagtail to escape.

Sparrowhawks are ever-present around the garden at the moment with local breeding hawks and also wintering birds whose temporary territories criss-cross the village. And no wonder, as we have in the garden plenty of prey species feeding on seed daily. There are up to 20 Yellowhammers, and similar numbers of Chaffinch and House sparrow with added variety from a Brambling, 2-3 Greenfinch and 6 Siskins. The Sparrowhawks have opportunistically taken Wood pigeon, Collared Dove, Chaffinch, House Sparrow from the garden. The good news is that an attack on a Pied Wagtail in front of our feet on the garden deck was unsuccessful! And strangely, the Yellowhammers, who always seem to be the last to react never seem to be caught.

I don't think there is cause for concern about the Sparrows being overly -predated by Sparrowhawk, as Shadoxhurst has a large House Sparrow population. House Sparrow numbers fluctuate between 20 -40 in number feeding just in our own garden.

House sparrows in the garden are for good reason very flighty in character, and are particularly nervous just by the presence of lense reflections from my own binoculars (from 50 feet!). At dusk, it could be that there are 100 -200 roosting in the garden hedge. Roosting birds fly there from all directions and are quickly hidden deep in the foliage of Ivy and Dog Rose, away from the long-legged reach of Sparrowhawks.

Other recent records include, a Little Egret still present in the village. It can often be watched from the patio window collecting insects from horse dung in the pasture behind the garden.The same pastures have hundreds of Redwing and occasional Fieldfare feeding -up in preparation for their homeward spring journeys.

We are seeing Buzzard and Kestrel frequently, and Merlin has been seen twice. Little Owls too, are never far away, one bird calling at mid-day yesterday. Great spotted and Green Wooodpecker are ever present, but sadly its been 18 months since we've seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Magpies are nest building high in the canopy of a Spruce and we first saw Song Thrushes nest building in late February. Moorhens, Jays, Red legged Partridge, Pheasant and Jackdaw are also attracted to the bird seed in the garden. There is a evening flock of 60 Pied wagtails the largest I've seen in the village, present in the field behind the garden before moving on to roost.

Friday, 4 March 2011

ISS and Space Shuttle Discovery - the last rendevous

Inspired by recent images I've seen of the International Space Station taken from Earth, I thought I'd take advantage of the clear night skies we are experiencing at the moment, and have a go at snapping a picture myself. The ISS is easy to spot, and even easier if you use 'heavens-above' web site for latest sightings.

Here's the link - Just enter your location from the database.

I've always enjoyed watching the ISS as it passes majestically overhead. Through binoculars its speed appears spectacular and its glow intensifies brilliantly as it passes directly over the garden, easily dwarfing any stars present. It just makes you feel good every time. And, I've been forcing/showing (?) my kids to see the ISS since they were toddlers. Rushing them down the garden, arms pointing to space and excitedly trying to be the first to spot the ISS clearing the horizon. All very much in the same way as my father did, showing me the Flying Scotsman steam train in the 60's. At 11 and 14 my boys are too 'grown-up' to step out into the garden and view it with me now. Still, my wife joins me - its great to share these things!
Somewhere at the back of the ISS (not the pointy bit) the Space Shuttle Discovery is docked, on its last mission to the station. Facts worth noting (as I forget them myself all the time), the ISS is 80 m wide and is orbiting approx 358 km altitude and travelling at 27,000 kph.

To see how to photograph the ISS properly, have a look at this superb video by a German astronomer: