Monday, 30 April 2012

Freak weather conditions

This morning, it was sunny. After recovering from the shock, I decided to go to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, despite having a sore throat, hacking cough and similar symptoms. It took me a while to remember what to do, it's been way too long since my last outing.

I spent a little while in the wildlife garden, watching the Treecreeper nesting site from a respectful distance but saw no activity. Maybe they have failed, though I didn't really wait long enough to be sure, I was keen to get out to the rest of the reserve.

Just past the visitor centre I heard a Blackcap/Garden Warbler (every year I struggle with these two), but couldn't find it, and it was being drowned out rather by this very enthusiastic fellow.

I went on to the viewpoint across East Lake. Over the last few weeks it's transitioned completely into 'summer mode'. Not many birds left, no gulls, few ducks. Over the water I picked up the portly, flickering shape of a Sand Martin, and above it raced my first Swift of the year, soon joined by lots more. There were also some House Martins and Swallows in the mix.

Approaching the Tyler hide, I could see several geese on the Serengeti, the nearest of which was the White-fronted Goose that's been around all winter but (until now) has given me the slip. I took a couple of pics from the path before going in, as I was worried that opening the hide windows would spook it, but it didn't seem remotely bothered.

In fact, it went to sleep soon after I went into the hide, although it did stand up and do some noisy 'bugling' a couple of times in between naps. It is now in adult plumage with a fully developed 'blaze' and some black belly-barring. I suspect it is feeling certain urges and wondering where all the other White-fronted Geese are.

The Little Ringed Plovers are still around, chasing each other about as usual. I also saw a Little Grebe, which swam out of the inlet near the hide at high speed, bobbing its head up and down, then turned tail and raced back where it came from.

Just outside Tyler hide, a pair of Blackcaps were mucking about in the birches. By skulking in the doorway I managed a couple of shots of the male.

I walked on down to Sutton hide, past the brambles where I'd found a Long-tailed Tit's nest last month. The nest was in plain view and had a big hole in the top. Predated, or would fledging chicks have made a hole like that? The timing would be about right for them to have fledged, so hopefully that's what happened.

After seeing nothing much from Sutton hide, I paused among the trees to try to photograph a fledgling Robin. It skipped out of sight, and then I spotted a Treecreeper. Lifting the lens to focus on it, I realised that there were actually two there, an adult and a very recently fledged (and absurdly cute) baby.

I watched the family for a while (though my almost uncontrollable cough wasn't doing me any favours in the fieldcraft department), also noting a male Blackcap carrying food, then went on to Slingsby hide. From here I heard and eventually saw my first 2012 Reed Warbler, giving it some welly from an almost completely hidden spot among the reeds.

On the walk back and up towards Willow hide I saw and badly photographed a couple of Garden Warblers. So, having seen and heard both Blackcap and Garden Warbler singing today, I think I may have got their songs sorted out in my head, but I guess time will tell on that one.

Willow hide produced nothing much. I did spot the Mute Swans' new nest, way over on the far bank. The water is very high, and the river is close to bursting its banks in a few places.

The walk towards Long Lake produced some closer-range Swifts, so I amused myself by attempting to photograph them. Not as good as last year's ones, more practice required.

I carried on past Long Lake, pausing to watch the Mute Swan pair there busy building their nest. One bird sat on the growing pile of vegetation and reached for more bits from there, while the other sat in the water beside the nest and did the same. They both only needed to move their necks. However, the male was stirred into action when a squabble broke out between a Canada and a Greylag Goose at the other end of the lake. Their hostilities ended abruptly when Mr Swan came pounding across the water towards them.

In the field past Long Lake were three pairs of Greylags with their goslings, to add to the two pairs I'd seen earlier from Tyler hide.

Hopefully the breeding season is going well for this Long-tailed Tit, carrying a billful of delicious insects for its family.

The walk back to the vistor centre produced four male Orange-tips, my first of the year. The first of them was in a real hurry, but this one obliged with a few poses on some Garlic Mustard.

Aaaaand... the Odonata season has begun! One teneral Large Red Damselfly, catching my eye with its glistening adolescent wings, and providing a rather obscured but intersesting pose on a nettle leaf.

It was a lovely morning, though I felt really ropey by hometime. Looking at the forecast, I see the rain will be back with us tonight, but going by today's evidence nature has been getting on with springtime despite the lack of suitable weather.

ETA - nearly forgot! First Holly Blue of the year on the walk home :)

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Brighton and Hastings

Just back from a cat-sitting stint in Brighton. It wasn't much fun, as my uncle died on Monday and I couldn't go and see my dad til cat-sitting was over, then the day after I got that news one of the cats got ill and eventually had to go to the veterinary hospital (he's OK and home now). So, little wildlife-watching was done.

I did have a wander along the beach during a brief stress-respite but the weather turned a bit grim. The beach and sea were busy with subadult Herring Gulls - the adults are up in town, busy preparing to nest.

I found this cluster of barnacle-encrusted mussels on a groyne. They were very small mussels, which indicates how tiny the barnacles are.

I did spend a bit of time in the garden, photographing flowers in sunny and not-so-sunny moments. From the top - Dandelion, Forget-me-not, Herb Robert.

Pretty sure this hover-bovver-fly is Syrphus ribesi. Insects were thin on the ground, because of the chilly and often rainy weather. Did see my first Small White butterfly of the year.

After cat-sitting, I went to Hastings for Sunday-Monday. On Monday morning I spent a couple of hours in the back yard after seeing a Raven going low overhead, with two Carrion Crows chasing along behind.

Their activity, which lasted at least two hours, looked more like play than hostility to me. They ranged widely over the Old Town, skimming along the edge of the East Hill then down into the valley and out towards the sea. Sometimes the Raven was bombing the crows, sometimes vice versa.

The Raven treated me to some amazingly close views. It didn't occur to me that I could quite easily do this without the 1.4x teleconverter until it was too late (clouds closed in, and I had other stuff to do).

There's a pair of Blue Tits nesting in a hole in my dad's wall, tucked behind the satellite dish. Hope they are successful.

This black bumblebee, sporting smart yellow socks (pollen baskets) came to feed on the Rosemary. I think I'm right in saying it's a female Anthophora plumipes.