Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Blackbird.

The [Common] Blackbird (Turdus merula), a true thrush,  is one of our commonest garden species. Our resident mature male is easily recognisable in his glossy black coat with orange-yellow bill and eye ring as he regularly uses a high open perch nearby to survey his territory.

Whenever I see him I am often reminded of the initial verses of the nursery rhyme:

  Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye
Four-and-twenty Blackbirds baked in a pie
When the pie was opened the birds begin to sing
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the King.

During the winter he can be heard uttering his quiet sub-song from a hidden perch in an ivy clad tree but once spring arrives his calls become loud and varied.

Throughout the breeding season his song is rich, varied and flute-like, often finishing with a squeaky phrase.

William Henley wrote:
The nightingale has a lyre of gold,
The lark's is a clarion call,
And the blackbird plays but a boxwood flute,
But I love him best of all.

For his song is all of the joy of life,
And we in the mad, spring weather,
We two have listened till he sang
Our hearts and lips together.

If you are unfamiliar with its song that we hear most mornings, starting long before dawn awakens, then please listen to the sonogram below.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Butterfly Transect Update.

Following up on a post last August entitled 'A New Transect for 2015' I am pleased to say that my offer to carry out a new butterfly recording transect on Ashtead Common National Nature Reserve, managed by the City of London Corporation, has now been confirmed. This involves a weekly stroll over a fixed route from April to September, a total of 26 weeks, in suitable weather between 10.45 and 15.45 to record the variety and numbers of species seen throughout each of the 8 dedicated sections.

Whilst I have carried out three surveys so far the weather hasn't been particularly brilliant with gusty winds on most days between 8-20 mph combined with temperatures barely acceptable for the flutters so it is perhaps not surprising that I have only recorded 7 species; Brimstone (6), Large White (3), Small White (3), Green-veined White (1), Orange Tip (6), Peacock (2) and Speckled Wood (6).

Speckled Wood


Throughout the 500 acres (200 hectares) of Ashtead Common there are over 2,300 ancient oak pollards, many over 400 years old, which play host to a surprising variety of wildlife. Continual management is required to maintain the health of these veteran Oaks by reducing their crowns, clearing away the understory growth and where appropriate allowing younger trees to thrive so they can eventually take over from their forefathers.

In the open wooded pasture glades many old trees remain standing, weathered by the passage of time with shattered and torn limbs but continuing to play their part in the landscape as hideaways for numerous tiny creatures and nesting cavities for the birds and mammals.

During my most recent survey I noticed this sign stating that three weeks ago there had been six fires within the wooded pasture areas on the common all thought to have been deliberately lit. Fortunately through prompt action of the public and the Fire Brigade the overall damage was minimised.

I had previously seen evidence of a similar situation on my nearby birding patch at Epsom Common and have to wonder at the mentality of the idiots that  think this behaviour is acceptable.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Throughout the transect there are numerous patches of our native Bluebells and as soon as more wild flowers come into flower I'm sure other species of butterfly will be seen. One very majestic veteran that I walk pass is the King Oak which at the moment is still to come into leaf.

The King Oak

One species I was hoping to record along the transect is the Holly Blue but although I eventually found one resting it was seen elsewhere and therefore hasn't yet figured in the statistics.

Holly Blue

Linking to Saturday's Critters hosted by Eileen.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Birding between the Bridges.

On another very recent early morning, just as the dawn sunshine was slowly burning off the mist, I was crossing this stile on the edge of Bookham Common.

So if you are happy to continue then why not join me as I go birding between the bridges that straddle the various small streams that meander their way across the common.

The first species to greet me is a male Blackbird giving me a quizzical look as if to say "Why are you here this early?".

As I cross the first bridge, which has recently been restored to cater for vehicle, horse and foot traffic, I hear the hoarse alarm call of a Pheasant from deep within the dense understory vegetation. Way off in the distance there is the repeated call of a Cuckoo while I listen out for other recently returned migrant songsters.

A silent male Blackcap (above) passes by probably on the look out for an early morning snack.

To avoid any early morning dog walkers I move away from the main track where the underfoot conditions are somewhat sticky after the recent rainfall and head for my second bridge crossing.

The tall vegetation nearby provides excellent song and lookout perches for several species including this Chiffchaff with its dark legs .....

and then a very similar looking LBJ, the Willow Warbler (below) with its pale legs.

As I head towards the next crossing point I hear the Cuckoo call again and then catch sight of it flying into the nearby woodland but I wasn't quick enough to grab an in-flight shot. Maybe next time I'll be lucky.

During the last 7-10 days the numbers of Common Whitethroat seeking nesting territories has increased but none of them appear in the open long enough for a photo-call.

Another strident but repetitive songster seen and heard all around the common is the Song Thrush.

At usually one of the wettest areas close to the boundary with the railway line I'm pleased to see that the ditch has been cleaned out so I won't be carrying an extra few pounds of mud home on my walking boots!

A detour into the woods leads me to a recently created 'Play Area' but I'm not in the mood for climbing so I just sit awhile and listen to Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and Nuthatch calling plus bursts of song from several Wrens.

  Last but not least one of many Robins in full voice and proclaiming its territorial rights. 

I hope you managed to keep up and enjoyed my early morning wander around the common.  FAB.

Linking to Good Fences hosted by TexWisGirl.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Troglodytes troglodytes.

During my wanderings I am often spied upon by one of our tiniest residents, the Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) and on a recent chilly early morning stroll this individual was lit up by the rising sun

For a very tiny bird, just 9-10.5 cm in length, it produces one of the loudest songs.

Whether uttered from deep cover or out in the open there is no mistaking the presence of a Wren.  FAB.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Some Spring Migrants on Thursley Common.

Just over a week ago, taking a well earned break from the decorating,  I paid another early morning visit to Thursley Common to see what other Spring migrants might have turned up on this special lowland heath habitat with its acidic bog and woodland.

Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus)
Looking across the open landscape the first bird of the day was a resident male Stonechat perched high on the remnants of an old tree. I also listened and scanned for any sign of any of the four Curlew that had recently been reported (at least one pair turn up most years in early spring) but didn't find one. Maybe I'd be lucky on my return route.
As I walked through Pine Island I heard and the caught sight of several twittering Goldfinch with a Chiffchaff singing nearby.

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)

As I headed up over Shrike Hill a Woodlark flew overhead and a singing Skylark ascended high into the blue sky. 

Descending the southern slope I heard the distinctive song of a Tree Pipit but initially couldn't find it until I spotted a likely candidate fly up from the heather and land in one of the lonesome conifers. A cropped record shot was the best I could achieve before this migrant moved onto another song perch much further away.

Most of the Gorse is now in full flower and some of the larger stands are good spots to find a Dartford Warbler .. I saw one fly but it promptly disappeared into the dense greenery. 

Close to one of the large sandy tracks I thought my ears had deceived me when I heard the croaking call of a Nightingale and on being joined by another birder, who has carried out the BTO bird surveys here for at least the last 20 years, we joyfully listened to not one but two Nightingales singing. I was told that this is the second Spring that a this species has been recorded at this particular spot on the common. 

On the other side of the track a returning Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) whistled softly.

In the nearby wooded area, at a similar spot to my previous visit, a male [Common] Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) made a welcome brief appearance. After their initial arrival from Africa in April they tend to disperse across the common to separate territories within the various wooded areas.

As I walked through the field I heard the repeated call of a Cuckoo and immediately quickened my steps in the hope of locating another migrant visitor that has successfully returned from overwintering in Africa.

Since 2011 we’ve been satellite-tracking Cuckoos to find out why - See more at: http://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking#sthash.gPHwnzWS.dpuf
Since 2011 we’ve been satellite-tracking Cuckoos to find out why - See more at: http://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking#sthash.gPHwnzWS.dpuf
Since 2011 the BTO has been satellite-tracking this 'Red Status' species to try and find out why half the numbers in the UK have been lost over the past 20 years.

So following the calls I finally caught up with this iconic species but kept a substantial distance away so as not to disturb him as he changed position from time to time.

Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)
On my return route with a pair of Common Buzzard wheeling overhead I also added Linnet and Common Whitethroat to my photo list as well as seeing Blackcap, Blackbird, Wren, Crow, Chaffinch, Long-tailed Tit, Song Thrush and Reed Bunting.

While snapping a reflective shot of one of a dozen or so Canada Geese present on the pools, as I returned to the boardwalk, I heard the distinctive call of a Curlew but was a little slow to react as a single bird flew high overhead only to drop down and disappear amongst the damp grasses. Well at least I was finally able to add it to my 2015 County year list!

And the grand finale. as I trod the boardwalk, was a brief visit by a Hobby (Falco subbuteo), another returning migrant, but only allowing just another distant record image. FAB.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

More Migrants at Staines Reservoir.

If you are a regular follower you may well recall this view of the causeway between the two basins at Staines Reservoir taken on a damp cold day in mid March when I explained the virtues of this site as a 'Birding Hotspot'.

During the last six weeks this site has continued to play host to a varied array of visiting species so with much better weather I paid a return visit on Monday morning.

As you can see (below) the view hasn't changed very much; the pathway has been cleared and the view looks far more inviting under a cloudy blue sky; except there is far less water in the previously drained north basin.
Unfortunately the one drawback of visits on such a calm warmer day is the volume of black flies everywhere! 

Whilst these can be an irritating but harmless nuisance they do attract certain species including good numbers of Pied Wagtails and during this visit I also found a White Wagtail plus five Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava) in various plumages enjoying this bountiful supply of insects.

Yellow and Pied Wagtail.
Other species spied far out on the drained north basin included a single Whimbrel (a first for my County list), two Little Egrets, Dunlin (7), Lapwing, Common and Arctic Terns plus Shelduck and a few Wigeon.

Some fifty feet beyond the fence I also spotted two Northern Wheatear and somehow managed to capture this image (above) of one of them just about to grab a tiny mid morning snack.

I was told by a fellow birder that this basin might not be refilled until the Autumn and providing some water remains it will be interesting to see what else turns up here over the coming months. FAB.


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