Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Slimbridge.... in November

Here is the promised Slimbridge blog, in lieu of anything more recent as I have been mainly staying in working. I have missed Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes AND a Smew at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve - though they may still be there if they find an unfrozen corner I suppose. If we get a nice day this week I'll go down and have a look. Anyway. Here's Slimbridge, from November. We called in on our way home from a trip to Cornwall (a bit of a detour but not that much). Weather was horrid at first but got better.

It wasn't the best time of year to visit. Slimbridge is best known for its Bewick's Swans and White-fronted Geese but numbers of both peak later in the winter. There was a good mix of wildfowl around though, including plenty of Pintails. This one was among vast crowds of Pochards on what I think is called the Rushy Pen. There were also a few Bewick's here.

As we made our way to the wilder parts of the reserve, flocks of ducks and geese sped overhead, including Pintails, Wigeons and... Mallards. Note gloomy weather, don't be fooled by those scraps of blue sky.

The summer walkway was shut, but from the nearest hides there were large flocks of Wigeons on view. The sun came out briefly against a backdrop of stormy skies and something panicked the Wigeons into flight. We didn't see what had alarmed them but got some photos of the resultant chaos.

From the Kingfisher hide, there were no Kingfishers but nice close views of a feeding station, though there wasn't much actually feeding on it.

A female Chaffinch. demonstrating that the sun had come out again.

One of two Grey Squirrels that were monopolising the hanging feeders, and having little squeaky rows with each other.

On the way back to the visitor centre, we passed an exhibit of Cranes, some destined for reintroduction to the UK. I assume this guy knows what he's doing...

More sunshine, though the skies still looked ominous (and indeed it rained really hard most of the way home). Slimbridge, like most other WWT centres, has lots of captive birds like these Greater Flamingoes which no doubt help pull in the punters, and some of the birds are here as part of conservation projects. It's certainly a good place to learn your wildfowl. Wild wildfowl-wise, plenty to see - it's good for waders too when the tides are right. I would urge, beg and implore the people in charge to do something about the hides though - they are well sited but bench and window position/size makes them a real pain to use for those of us under 6ft tall.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snowy deer fest

We woke to more snow than ever. I really don't think I've ever seen more, anywhere, ever.

It was pretty obvious we wouldn't be going anywhere in the car (in fact we were lucky even to find the car), so we decided to walk to Knole Park.

This is our road, looking down towards the station. No-one attempting to drive anywhere. Many of the people we passed were pulling sleds, loaded up with shopping and/or children.

There are some fine icicles around. This icicle-appreciating Blue Tit made me curse the fact that I'd set out with the 18-200 on my camera, and so could not get a very good shot of him.

So did this Redwing - one of a couple of dozen working over the holly trees, alongside several Blackbirds.

The main entrance to Knole Park. Unsurprisingly the house and tearooms were shut, but there were a lot of people there, sledging or just enjoying a wintry stroll. We had only a short walk, and found next to no wildlife around unless you count the deer.

An assortment of Fallows. They weren't happy (unsurprisingly). Off the main paths the snow was thigh-deep in places. Hard for them to find food - the doe above was eating dead leaves from a tree. I suppose they will be provisioned with hay or something.

This was the only Sika we saw. She looks to have a pretty serviceable winter coat on. As this species comes from Japan, I suppose it is well adapted to severe winters.

There's sunshine forecast for tomorrow (!) so I expect we'll walk somewhere - probably back to SWR.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


I do have an excuse for not blogging lately, but it's pathetic. It's because I've switched to shooting in RAW, after some very insistent advice from a friend who knows what she's talking about. Now I have to severely edit my existing photo library to free up some disk space, before going through the huge backlog of photos I have to file, and working out how best to file them, given that .NEF images don't give you a preview in Windows XP. Anyway, that's my problem, not yours. Today Rob was off work because of stupid quantities of snow everywhere, and we waded down to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve to see what was about.

 This gives you a pretty good idea of the depth of snow, and only a couple of walkers before us had disturbed it.

Going into the wildlife garden to look at the feeding station there was difficult (snow jamming the gate shut), treacherous (you couldn't see where the pond was) and ultimately pointless (the feeders were empty). However, several Song Thrushes were visiting the guelder rose tree, and I also saw a Mistle Thrush high in one of the tall trees. No 'winter thrushes' though.

About six Dunnocks were at the Grebe Hide feeding station, rubbing shoulders with the tits and Chaffinches, and doing a bit of singing and displaying at each other in between amateurish attempts to take food from the hanging feeders.

While the Dunnocks sat around posing in full view, this Wren was much more furtive and refused to pose nicely in the open. It didn't look very happy - the smallest birds suffer most in weather like this.

The big lake was unfrozen (though it looked damn cold). We walked up towards Willow hide, stopping on the way to photography a group of snow-covered Canada Geese. Otherwise, the walk up was very quiet. The occasional sneeze of a Siskin overhead, and we flushed a Green Woodpecker from the ground. That may be a site tick for me (or a site sight tick at least, have definitely heard them here before).

From Willow hide, there wasn't much to see. The lake was mostly frozen, I guess because it is smaller than the main lake, with a bit of clear water around the island. In this small pocket of water swam a pair of Wigeons, a few Gadwalls, one Teal, two Great Crested Grebes, a bunch of Coots and a juvenile Mute Swan. It looked pretty crowded. On the edge of the ice lay a dead something (possibly a Canada Goose, but it was half covered with snow) being picked at by a Magpie and a Carrion Crow.

We went back to Tyler hide and enjoyed the sight of lots of wildfowl and gulls on the water and islands. I'd been chuckling at Lapwings falling over in the snow for some minutes before I noticed something unexpected - a tight-knit group of swans, not the regular Mutes. They were Bewick's - nine adults and two juvs. I don't recall seeing this species in the sightings book before, so I'm guessing this is quite a notable record.

A fast-flying group of ducks went over. I grabbed a couple of shots - zoomed in I could see they were Goosanders, which was nice as I hadn't managed to find the two females that were supposed to be on the lake.

There's been a Bittern about lately, apparently seen from the Tower hide. We went into the bit underneath the tower and from there had quite close views of a nice Snipe. However, the light was disappearing already and we were both freezing, so we opted not to continue the Bittern search. Maybe tomorrow... meanwhile, if I get my act together and sort out those old photos, there should be a belated post about Slimbridge coming soon.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The wild side is one today!

So, to celebrate I thought I'd better make a post, though I don't have very much to say/show. We've not been out and about much, just a couple of local trips. Not very impressive, especially given that it's October and there have been good birds around. Anyway, here are some things to look at.

A trip to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve last weekend, badly timed because the heavens opened as we arrived. This was taken from the Grebe hide, a short dash from where we'd parked - a Black-headed Gull intent on getting the hell out of there.

Yes, not a great day for photography. Nice weather for Tufted Ducks though. It did stop for a few intervals, enabling us to manage a short walk.

Another distant and fuzzy Sparrowhawk. This one's a female, and she circled around overhead for ages but didn't come close enough for a nice photo. Ironically I saw one much closer from the car window on the way down...

A mixed bag of Cormorants, chilling out on the half-submerged dead tree in the West Lake.

Sun plus rain plus backlit Teasels.
What's this? Yes, it's a patch tick! My first SWR Coal Tit (and my second SWR Coal Tit was nearby too). This little beauty was visiting the feeding station in the wildlife garden. The layout of this feeding station means it's necessary to be very patient (because the windows in the viewscreen are so big) and sit in a hunched posture (because the seats are too high for the windows) but it's worth the wait, because the light is nice (when the sun's out).

Chaffinches are returning to the feeding stations now. Here's a female.

And a male, demonstrating the aforementioned nice light. On the way out of the reserve there was a huge flock of Chaffinches and Goldfinches feeding on the horsey field, and I spent a fruitless 10 minutes scrutinising them for Bramblings. No luck, but it was good to see several Redwings. I also heard a Water Rail (another patch tick!) close to Willow hide.

Otherwise, it's a quiet time on the reserve. We have lots of extra Lapwings, and duck numbers now include about eight Wigeons as well as plenty of Shovelers, Gadwalls and Teals. Lots of Black-headed Gulls. Insect life fast disappearing, though I saw a coupled pair of Common Darters last week, rather pointlessly egg-laying in some very temporary rain-puddles.

I'll end with something completely different - a lucky shot of a Kingfisher in Tonbridge, just behind the castle. I'm sorry to say that it was not observing the rules outlined on the sign.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Rye Meads

I thought it was about time we had a blog post with some sunshine in it. Today turned out to be a lovely day and I was lucky enough to be at RSPB Rye Meads with GrahamC from the RSPB forums, looking at Kingfishers and stuff, when the sun came out.

A flock of Tufted Ducks from the Gadwall hide, pre-sunshine. This hide overlooked a squarish lake with some tern rafts on it.

Taken later on but from the same hide, a Little Grebe with a Little Snack. There were lots of Little Grebes around on the reserve, and no Great Cresteds.

Every time I think I've really had enough of photographing flying Cormorants, along flies another one and up comes the camera again. It's like some terrible compulsive disorder. I do quite like the result this time - a nice-looking juvenile coming in for a landing.

Kingfishers reared three broods at Rye Meads this year, using an artificial sandbank on the bank of a small pond. The action was on show from the elevated Kingfisher hide. We saw at least two different individuals, though neither deigned to perch very close or for very long.

There are several Kestrel nestboxes around the reserve, some attached to pylons. This Kestrel was also attached to a pylon (at least for a little while). Very high up, hence the rubbish angle.

Also very high up - a circling Sparrowhawk. Will I ever get a decent photo of this pesky species? It was good to watch him wheeling about against a clear blue sky, though.

The paths around the reserve are all lined with scrub, which harboured plenty of insects. This Common Darter couple settled with some difficulty on an eye-level leaf and appeared not to mind having their intimate moment caught on camera.

A tree thickly clad in flowering Ivy was alive with wasps, and also attracted a few late butterflies, including this Comma...

... and several Red Admirals.

Some paths bordered ditches, which were being cruised along by Migrant Hawkers. This one hung in the air long enough for me to capture a couple of coveted in-flight shots.

On our second look in at the Gadwall hide, we watched two adult Black-headed Gulls come in to land, but when a third (this one) arrived, the first two took off and chased it away.

Having seen off their rival, the original pair settled on a tern raft and did some gentle bowing and crooning at each other, apparently forming or consolidating a pair bond.

Wildfowl around included Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and (allegedly) at least one Garganey but we didn't see it. Here's a female Teal...

... and here's a male Shoveler. Talk about beauty and the beast.

From the visitor centre you can see the feeding station, and take photos of it (unfortunately through glass). This female Pheasant was a shy and furtive visitor.

The best sighting from the final hide was this ichneumon walking up the glass. I've discovered that there are 1,200 ichneumon species in Britain, so nailing down the ID might be more than I can currently cope with...