Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Pond Project

We've added another new bird to the garden list in the week - a Lesser Redpoll; unfortunately the first time I scared all the birds off by rushing to the window, camera in hand and the second time the images I captured were very blurry. We've also been visited by the first Siskins of the winter, just before they head further North to breed.

The hedge is looking in fine fettle, with the Blackthorn in blossom, which bodes well for a berry crop for next winter. So both the habitat and food supply is improving in the garden:

If the hedge has another good year it maybe tall enough and strong enough to be lain down, which will help us achieve our goals of having a secure boundary which is dense enough for nesting birds and provides food and shelter for them.

After the hedge the next project was an orchard to grow some fruit. We planted a couple of pear and apple trees last winter, together with a damson tree. This winter we've added a cherry tree and some berry bushes, though the invincible pear is looking in the best shape. We had two delicious pears from the tree last year and judging by initial looks we're in for many more this year. In a few years time the volume of fruit being produced should be good for both us and the birds for a 'winter larder':

You can also see the rough patch behind the fruit trees, which is good for snails and therefore Song Thrushes (a local cat killed the singing male last week which was a real shame - they shouldn't be allowed...) and for insects and therefore the Wrens. The compost feeds the trees.

The third major garden project we've started is the Pond Project. You can see the pond here:

OK, right now you need imagination to see how it will look when done, especially with the huge rock and the various items of building detritus we're extracting :) Current estimate is 2 tons of rubble removed and we've only dug about a quarter of the area so far! We plan to complete the digging this year, if possible, then to lay out the liner and plant it over next winter and spring. Excavations were halted however, early on Sunday afternoon, when we disturbed a 'village' of Solitary Bees. Two very sleepy, small, black and white bees who were surprised to find their burrows now open to the air. We too were surprised though we had the advantage of being awake. Hope they make it through tonight, which hopefully will be the last very cold night. We'll leave digging that section for another couple of weeks to give them a chance to all emerge from hibernation, such that when we do dig we don't disturb any more of them, fingers crossed.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Four Counties

This weekend we had family staying and wanted to make sure we explored some places they'd not been to before, so first stop Paxton Pits in Cambridgeshire. The weather forecast was for morning cloud, breaking and clearing to be followed by an afternoon of sunshine.

Paxton is a continually evolving and improving site, and this weekend was playing host to two Firecrests, both male, with one seen here:

A better view though out of focus here:

They are very similar to Goldcrests but with much bolder markings on the head and are distinguished by the white plumage above the eye, the bit called the supercilium. The light was low and the bird fast moving so I had to use manual focus (hence the lack of focus), still very good to both see and have a chance to photograph this usually elusive little bird!

We walked the perimeter of the reserve and enjoyed the various sights of early Spring including the catkin:

We were overflown by a couple of very vocal Kingfishers, a surprising encounter. We plan to head back in May for the Nightingales.

From Paxton Pits we headed to Summer Leys where we enjoyed the first Sand Martins of the season. The weather was closing in with heavy cloud and strong cold winds so we did a shorter than planned 2-mile circuit before heading home for the evening ready for another day out on Sunday.

Sunday was all it was promised to be, a cold crisp start with some scatterings of cloud, a light wind and lots of sunshine - time to top up the vitamin D levels. We started on Sunday morning at the Lodge, headquarters of the RSPB, for our second visit there and to see how things had developed in the years since our first visit.

Early in to our walk this moth landed in front of us, I have no idea if it's the most common moth, or an unusual one? We headed for the old Iron Age fort on the new walk the RSPB has opened. At one point we heard Crossbills calling from the conifers before the fort, but we didn't see any, so still no Crossbill tick on our list. We did however get to see a new species whilst we were looking for the Crossbill, namely Merlin and not one but too. Again very vocal and clearly a pair too the first sighting was of this female, taken from underneath as she soared and swooped above the trees:

The male joined her:

They appeared to have isolated a small bird above the trees and were hunting it. It looked sufficiently small to probably have been a Blue Tit but hard to tell as it was flying for its life. At one point I caught the male in a stoop dive:

We watched them for a good ten minutes before they moved on.

Further round the grounds we walked through a broad-leafed wood and watched on of the very numerous Siskins feeding:

Next up the gardens around the lodge, where this rhododendron was flowering:

The gardens a good balance of preened and wild. We stopped for a cuppa at the shop and watched a pair of Common Redpolls feeding, before heading off to our next destination.

On the path back the car this Robin was in full song and really summed up the experiences of the weekend, with birdsong everywhere as well as birds zooming around, nest building, etc. Spring is definitely springing!

Our final destination of the weekend was planned for the lakes north of Milton Keynes, as we'd spotted a Wildfowl centre on the map. On arrival however it turns out it's a 'research' facility and entirely private, which is frustrating as the re are clearly a lot of birds on either side of the M1 there but we're not allowed access. Humbug. So we moved to Willen lake for our packed lunch bu the Peace Pagoda, but that was over-run with humans so we decided to head home via a garden centre and to work on improving the habitat for our local birds. All in all a very pleasant weekend with work coming back around far too soon. Ho hum.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

A surprise weekend in Norfolk

A surprise weekend in Norfolk saw us starting at Cley, where although the sun didn't shine as often as we hoped, it wasn't as cold as of late either. The weather was no consolation however as the reserve proved to be very quiet. It's a 50-minute drive from Hunstanton to Cley - time possibly better spent elsewhere this weekend. A Lapwing showed well outside of one of the hides:

We did get a flypast from a Bearded Tit and got to see a good number of Black-tailed Godwits on the reserve but it prove surprisingly quiet. As did Titchwell, out next stop. We took tea on the way in and an early lunch on the way out. The highlight was this Muntjac fawn being cleaned by it's mother, which had lots of people on the reserve interested:

Bird-wise we didn't see the Black Brant, despite trying pretty hard and the beach off the reserve was the quietest we've ever seen it. From Titchwell we headed to Snettisham, timed to be there before the high tide, though it turned out the tide wasn't high enough to push the waders into the inland roosts. We did enjoy watching a pair of Redshank have an intermittent scrap, it being just about that time of year again:

They were both very noisy and scrapped on and off for a while, keeping us entertained while the wind howled around us:

The tide turned out to be a 6.6 instead of a 7+, which is what is needed to wash over all the exposed tidal areas, so another lesson learned. From the hides we watched a pair of Mediterranean Gulls displaying, then walked back to the car blown about by the increasing strong winds and in fading light. The waders however were gathering in large flocks on the water's edge, which remained some 100 yards or so away:

So back to our cupboard of a room at the B&B in Hunstanton and for dinner. We set on an early start to catch the brief window of sun before the forecast storms. The beach at 7am is a lovely spot - we saw Sanderling and Knot, loads of Gulls, Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwits and Turnstones, including this one eating what looks like the remains of a squashed chip:

We walked up and down the coast, again the wind was really very strong, so much so that we lasted 45 minutes before retreating to the safety of our heated cupboard before breakfast. A large group of Brent Geese flew past, you can see from this pic it was a much brighter morning:

Heading back inland we stopped off at a woodland with a 50% chance of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker but despite much patient scanning of tree-tops and intent listening, it wasn't to be.
Our last stop of the weekend was Lakenheath, dicing with the leading edge of the incoming weather system. We did get to see a pair of Common Cranes huddled behind a wall of reeds sheltering from the winds but dipped out on the local Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Great Grey Shrike, not to mention the Penduline Tits... we scuttled back to the car as the rain start and the winds picked up even further to retreat home for tea and cake!

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