Sunday, 28 September 2014

Barnes aka London WWT

My lovely friends Susan and Paula very kindly offered to treat me to a trip to Barnes. I said yes, please, with almost indecent haste. Today was the day, and we had lovely sunshine for it. I would also mention that we had a run around Bushy Park first thing and heard the Red Deer roaring off in the distance, while birds included a fair few Meadow Pipits, lots of Jays and also Ring-necked Parakeets and a solo Grey Wagtail.

The WWT centre is pretty typical of this kind of thing - captive wildfowl in some bits, while other areas are managed for wildlife. We started out on one of the wildlife areas, and from one of the hides had this pleasing sight of five duck species (please let me know if you can see anything else besides Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tuftie and Pochard!) chilling out on a single island.

The margins of all lakes, ponds and ditches were alive with Migrant Hawkers, surely enjoying an epic year with such fine weather in their main flight month.

From the Peacock Tower hide I added another duck to the day's tally - this distant but most welcome Pintail.

We went back and through some of the exotics areas to reach the Wildside hide. Here's one of the exotics - a Barnacle Goose, too busy cropping the grass in its pen to object to me taking its very-close-up photo.

On the way to the Wildside hide we found this juvenile Tuftie, making heavy weather of feeding in a very algaed-up pool.

With all those dragons about, it was not really a surprise (but still great) to find a Hobby. The photos were badly backlit, some Photoshopping to return detail has revealed it's a juvenile (no red trousers).

Another photographer who was partaking of the Hobby kindly pointed out a nearby Common Lizard basking on a bit of wooden fencing.

That wooden fencing does get lovely and warm. This Common Darter, which looks like the paint's peeling off his abdomen, was also enjoying a bask.

From the Wildside hide, there were a couple of Cormorants on view. The one of the left was finding things a bit too warm - if my camera had a video mode I'd have taken a clip to show you his furiously fluttering gular pouch.

Also on this bit of water, Great Crested and Little Grebes. The duck list also included Teal, but sadly the only waders around were Lapwings. We didn't do too well for 'little birds' either - did run into a mixed flock of mainly Long-tailed Tits but also including a couple of Goldcrests. Cetti's Warblers and Chiffchaffs were both vocal all round the trails but not at all showy.

So with this very confiding young Moorhen, that's the end, a short post to finish off what's been a pretty busy month for the blog. Thanks very much to Susan, Paula and Siobhan for a lovely day and a most excellent picnic lunch :)

Thursday, 25 September 2014

An early morning glance at Knole

I've not been to Knole Park for ages. So this morning I went there, setting out before dawn under clear, cool and still conditions.

Here's the park just as the sun started to light it up. I don't know about the 'golden hour' - it was more like the 'golden five minutes' as things seemed to progress very rapidly from pre-sunrise to proper daytime.

This tree was the preferred perch of the Meadow Pipits in this open area - they flew into it when flushed by anyone or anything. When a golf buggy went by, they seemed to explode out of the long grass - there must have been 50 of them at least.

A small subset of the Mipit flock. These are presumably passage birds, soon to continue moving south and/or coastwards.

They wouldn't let me very close, though this one was a bit more relaxed than the others.

One more glowy sunrise shot, before the light turned all daytime-like and boring.

Around the parking area near the house, lots of Pied Wagtails were feeding. Not as many as there were Meadow Pipits a little further off, but about 20 I guess. The usual Knole fare was much in evidence, with many Jackdaws, Woodpigeons and Ring-necked Parakeets going to and fro overhead. A couple of small flocks of Swallows also went by, heading south (as you'd expect).

I spent about an hour and a half, I guess, wandering around the vicinity of the house. One of the things I found was this pretty fabulous big mushroom, all on its own. Any idea what species?

A low-flying Sparrowhawk raced past, sending a feeding flock of Starlings up in a panic, but if it was hunting I don't think it was successful this time.

I stopped for a little while in a spot where I had a good view into a large tree and was more or less screened off by tall bracken, to see if anything came along. This proved a good tactic with a Goldcrest showing well (but moving too damn fast for photos), a passing tit flock, and this almost invisible Treecreeper.

Then a Jay came in and landed on a low branch, apparently unaware I was there. This is the way to 'do' Knole if you want bird photos - find a hiding place and wait. Sadly I didn't have that much time today.

Heading home now, I stopped to check out another tree, which was full of Chaffinches, and a Nuthatch popped up.

Nearby, a Green Woodie treated me to a few microseconds of side-on view before doing its disappearing act.

No really obliging Mistle Thrushes today, though there were plenty rattling about.

Also a few Chiffchaffs, including some singing, and some just posing like little green angels.

A juvenile Woodpigeon. There were also a few Stock Doves around.

And finally, what about the deer? No sign of rutting activity as yet. This dark young buck was with a pale and spotty friend of the same age, and the does and mature bucks don't yet seem to be getting themselves organised for autumnal shenanigans. It's been a couple of years since I photographed the rut here (actually I just checked and it was 20 October 2011) - I might have another crack at it this year.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A quick gorilla update

I thought I'd better post a few photos from the Great Gorilla Run, to prove that I did actually do it! Thanks again to my sponsors :) All pics were taken on my phone, which is why they are rubbish.

Arriving at Minster Court.

Suit on. And aikido gear also on, on top of the suit. Already feeling pretty warm...

With the head on. Now really quite warm indeed. But don't I look stunning?

You have to accessorise your suit... but this individual went the extra mile :)

Lining up at the start.

Halfway round. These two were great fun, bopping random passers-by with their inflatable accessories.

And the sorry state of me after the finish. But see that medal? Bill Oddie put that there :) And gave me a hug.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Taking London by storm

Today saw an epic gathering of RSPB forumites - 12 of us altogether - at Regent's Park. I guess it was more of a social thing than a birding thing. Very enjoyable, anyway, lovely weather and great company, good photo opportunities, and we did have a birding bonus among the common stuff (though not, sadly, the Yellow-browed Warbler reported here two days ago).

We met at York Bridge and while waiting for everyone to arrive I took a few photos. That smooth green background to this Moorhen pic? That's the lake. It has a bit of an algae problem at its eastern end.

A squirrel, or as the forum calls them, a Cyril. This Grey Squirrel was among an assorted horde of wildlife thronging a gentleman who had brought a wide selection of foodstuffs in several carrier bags and was distributing it to said wildlife with enthusiasm (right in front of the sign asking him not to).

Egyptian Goose, caught in the act of utilising its nictitating membrane.

Magpie, not quite as happy to be approached very very closely.

Cyril again. This one was assidiously burying the nuts it was being given in a patch of undergrowth, but another squirrel was watching, and promptly dug up and carried away each nut shortly afterwards.

Not many birds were on the algae-covered part of the lake, though there were a couple of Pochards and also a couple of Tufties.

A bit further along, the algae was starting to thin out and we found a small group of Little Grebes.

Close to the next bridge we found a flock of Long-tailed Tits, plus this Great Tit, and I spent a while searching through in search of something else (especially a Yellow-browed Warbler) but without success.

On the large wedge of grass that's usually covered in deckchairs and wing-clipped geese was this Carrion Crow, which had a voice like a ringtone.

Also in that area was this intriguing Herring Gull - an adult or almost adult by its plumage, but with very dark eyes.

We took the Inner Circle path around to the cricket ground area, finding a Jay on the way. It looks very small against those ridiculous huge leaves.

The next area, a swathe of open mown grass, was a bit I didn't know about, but among our number was a chap with much local gen, who had already spent some time that morning watching Wheatears there. He also pointed out a patch of scrub that had recently hosted both Stonechats and Whinchats - none today, sadly. There were, though, two corking Wheatears out in the field, alternating feeding sessions on the ground with staring-at-the-birders sessions on top of a square of wooden fencing.

Two gorgeous and very approachable Wheatears. Birds of the day by quite a margin.

Next we went on to the viewpoint over the arm of the lake that's home to the exotica - a range of ornamental wildfowl including Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Ross's Geese, Ruddy Shelducks - you get the general idea.

None of these rubber duckies was really close enough for worthwhile photos, but there was a very accommodating Migrant Hawker patrolling the near shore of the lake.

OK, a couple of the plastic ducks - just because I like Smews, and I liked the thing that these Smews were sitting on.

A bit of time on the bridge here was spent trying to get flight pics of Black-headed Gulls.

I didn't manage to get any good shots of the nice first-winter birds in flight, but here's one splashing down.

A distant Grey Wagtail was picking its way along the boulders that line the island here.

We paused for a sit-down in a wooded spot shortly after this. I thought I heard a Goldcrest and went looking for it, but couldn't find it. So instead I took a pic of the pretty marbled bark of a hefty old London Plane tree.

We then crossed the Inner Circle (gosh!) and had a look at the small lake next to the rose gardens. This lake used to have another ornamental duck collection on it, and was the location of a vagrant Lesser Scaup which I and my colleagues twitched back when I worked in London. Today, though, it was pretty much birdless. We did find a couple of Common Darters soaking up the rays on the handrails.

We finished off with a slow walk around the loop between York Bridge and the next bridge down.

Grey Herons are very much a feature of the park in general and this bit of it in particular. Because they are so approachable, it's very easy to get photos.

Also here were quite a few Mallards. I was very drawn to this female's exposed speculum - gorgeous colour. The drake here ploughing through the algae was one of only a few that were still deeply entrenched in eclipse plumage - most were back in glorious technicolour.

A couple of far-away flyovers - Ring-necked Parakeet and Shoveler. The parakeet was a 'tick' for one of our number, who lives outside the UK's 'parakeet zone', so I include this not-great photo for her to see.

By contrast, here's a too-close photo of a Greylag's neck and back plumage.

And a very dusky hybrid goose. I guess it is Canada x Greylag, it was the right size for this combination and too big to have involved a second Branta species.

This is the last bird of the day, and it's one I'm pleased to include because I don't think it's something I've shown in the blog before (or at least not a good view of one) - a nice unambiguous juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull. Look at those beautiful dark tertials and tell me you don't love gulls.

Thanks to all my forum pals for a great day out, and I hope we can all do it again sometime soon :)