Friday, 29 April 2016

Reed-bed Choristers !

I wouldn't say that the Reed bed chorus is the most tuneful  of dawn choruses, especially when compared to the woodland scene, but it has a very unique charm all of its own, and I love it.

 The best time to experience this, is an early morning visit, preferably with the sun shining, when the spring migrants are returning to the reedbeds.

It's now the end of April, the reedbeds at Rainham are alive with birds, the Sedge Warbler is by far the most numerous and obvious Warbler in the reedbeds at the moment, their territorial songs, a series of trills and warbles delivered from every vantage point available, every now and then they either launch themselves up into the air, in a display flight, or dive down into the reedbeds and out of sight.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler

Next to add its voice to the chorus is the Reed Warbler often described as a "rasping repetitive .churring" not sure if that helps really, but once you can recognise the call its quite distinctive and easy to pick out. a lot easier than trying to pick the bird out in the reeds.

Reed Warbler

The Cetti's Warbler now a resident warbler species here in the south, has to be the star, its explosive song, almost always delivered unseen, always grabs your attention, its one of those skulking warblers thats very difficult to catch a glimpse of, I was fortunate with this very showy bird.

Cetti's Warbler
Its quite surprising to me the number of Wrens seen in and around the reed bed, adding their melodious song to the chorus.

Reed Buntings are another common bird seen around the reedbeds, the male birds adding there own monotonous song to the ever increasing chorus, usually delivered from the top of a reed stem.

male Reed Bunting
female Reed Bunting
The trees on the edge of the reed beds are full of Blackcaps and Whitethroats, even a Chiffchaff or two, again adding their voices to the chorus.



male Blackcap

female Blackcap

This Bearded Tit  made an appearance, although silent on this occasion, their call described has a 'pinging' has eluded me, I have never been able to pick the call out in the reedbed, nice bird to see though

Bearded Tit.

No chorus would be complete without the trilling calls of the Little Grebe, and the call of the Coots always around the reed fringed dykes.

Coot family

Little Grebes

No reedbed chorus is complete without the mating calls of the Marsh Frog. Just the occasional call at the moment, but they soon will begin in earnest.

 Here's a photograph from last year, and something to look forward to when the Marsh frogs join the chorus.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Chance Encounter !

It was one of those moments that do not come along very often, as I walked through the entrance door of an empty hide, in a world of my own, not paying much attention to anything in particular. I glanced through the glass window expecting to see the usual dabbling duck or a sleeping lapwing or Coot maybe.

 Staring back at me was this little fella, and just for a change I was not mesmerised into a state of paralysis.

He disappeared down the far side of the bank and out of sight for a few seconds, but then reappeared where he raised himself up on his hind legs in a classic stance.

I managed to fire off three shots before he disappeared again, one was totally out of focus, the other two were reasonable considering the photographs were taken through the glass window of the hide.

I have never managed to capture an image of the ferocious little weasel before so I was pleased with the resulting photographs, the encounter was brief but memorable.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Late arrival of the Early Bumblebee !

The flowering Blackcurrant in the garden has once again been the centre of attention for the local Bee's. First to arrive this year were the large Buff Tailed Queens, at the same time Western Honey Bee's started to appear. I eagerly awaited the arrival of the Hairy-footed Flower Bees, they did not disappoint, and are still hard at work gathering nectar and pollen, occasionally bumping other bees of the flowering blooms.

The Garden Bumblebee has been around in good numbers now for the last few weeks, and by far the most common visitor to the garden.

Now at long last, the so called Early Bumblebee has arrived, to give its proper name the Early nesting Bumblebee, I suppose by rights this should have been the first Bumblebee on the scene as they begin their colony cycle as early as February, much earlier than other species. better late than never.

These Early Bumblebees are quite easy to identify being much smaller than other Bumblebees, there is a yellow band on both the thorax and abdomen, the tail can be a peachy orange colour.

Not to many of these being seen at the moment , just a few individual queens, the workers are very much smaller and the males have yellow hair on the face, easily identifiable.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Yaffles !

"Yaffle", one of the many strange colloquial names for the Green Woodpecker,  refers to the laughing cry of the Green Woodpecker, one of those woodland bird calls easily recognised when heard.

I was fortunate enough to have a close encounter with this our largest Woodpecker, in fact Two Green Woodpeckers while I walked my dog in our local woodlands, most of my encounters usually occur when I have flushed one while it's been feeding in the grass unseen, resulting in a rear view as it flies away. ( never with a rider )

For a change these were too intent on their own domestic dispute, not noticing me for a few short moments.

I first thought that they were  a breeding pair, but on closer inspection they appear to be two males, probably in a border dispute, male  Green Woodpeckers have a red centre to there moustatial stripe which can be seen in the photograph.

Quite a spectacular looking bird when seen up close.


Monday, 11 April 2016

" Foxy Lady "

The female Tawny Mining Bee Andrena fulva is one of those Bee images that sticks in your mind, the combination of the red fox colouring to their backs and the black underside is quite unusual  to see when it comes to Bees.

The Tawny Mining Bee is said to be a common, spring-flying solitary Bee, suffice to say I have never seen one before, until a few tantalizing, but brief views seen this spring.

The adults are only active for about six to eight weeks of the year, usually between April and June, so quite a small window of opportunity to look for this lovely Bee.

My first brief view was actually in the garden, as I approached the Flowering Blackcurrant expecting to see Hairy footed flower Bees, I disturbed a small chestnut coloured  Bee which immediately flew off, I must admit it did not register to me that this was the Tawny Mining Bee until later.

My second brief view was in the walled garden of Ightham Mote a lovely National trust property we were visiting in Kent a few days later, although this time I did recognise it as the Tawny Mining Bee, once again it flew off out of sight.

Third time lucky as my wife and I neared the end of our morning's walk at Ashenbank Woods, I saw a Bee fly up from the leaf litter and land near by, my first impression was another Bee fly,  a closer look revealed the 'foxy lady' herself, the Tawny Mining Bee in all her glory.

female Tawny Mining Bee Andrena fulva

Now to try and see the male of the species, which is probably not going to be as easy to identify, the male is described as more slender and more yellow in colour, once they have mated with a female they unfortunately will die.

The female nests underground, often producing a little volcano like mound around the entrance to the burrow, can't say I have noticed anything like this in our garden lawn, but these are the places to look for this solitary bee, lawns and flower beds in gardens and parks, banks and field margins in farmland and orchards where the margins have been mown.

The flight period April to June coincides with the flowering of fruit trees like apple, pear and cherry from which they collect pollen and nectar from, this should be another good place to look for them.

Eggs are laid in single cells in these burrows where nectar and pollen is provided for the larvae to develop, they then hibernate as pupa through the winter and emerge the following spring.

Certainly not a common bee for me,  certainly a good looking bee.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Garden Bumblebee

Bee observations are picking up nicely now, the first Bees started to appear around the garden on 21st March,  Queen Buff Tailed Bumblebees and a few Honeybees around the flowering Blackcurrant, these were quickly followed by the Hairy-footed Flower Bees.

The next to appear was an Early Bumblebee which would not settle for a photograph, in fact only two sightings of this Bumblebee so far.

 The Tree Bumblebee made its appearance in the first few days of April. a few photographs were obtained of this nice looking Bee.( see earlier blog entry)

A possible surprise sighting was a female Tawny Mining Bee, I just caught sight of the  dark ginger colouring before it flew off, and it's not returned yet, I usually like a photograph to confirm my sightings, being no expert, lets hope it returns.

My latest observation has been the Garden Bumblebee which I did managed to get a couple of photographs of, although not particularly clear.

Garden Bumblebee 

This photograph clearly shows the yellow band at the top and bottom of the thorax and the yellow band at the top of the abdomen.


The rear view shows the whitetail, easy to see how it could  be confused with the White-Tailed Bumblebee, although the yellow hair appears to be longer and more unkempt.

No white Tails or Red Tails yet, but still early days

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Success or Failure ?

I came across an article relating to the initial purchase of Jeskyns Farm and the subsequent conversion to a green country space fit for public use.
This was back in 2005/06  when the farm and land was sold after the death of the owner.

John Prescott the then deputy  prime minister made available to the Forestry commission monies from the ODPM sustainable communities fund to buy the land and turn it into a community woodland.

Initially there was a bit of an outcry on the Forestry commission's actions in converting this farmland to a community woodland or country park.

They made the mistake which they fully admitted and apologised for, of ploughing up the land during the ground nesting birds season, many Skylarks, Corn Bunting nests were destroyed, there was a fear that other red listed birds like the Yellowhammer, Meadow Pipit would be driven away.

Apparently they then went on to spray the land with a super strength pesticide, driving away other forms of wildlife.

A quote from a local ornithologist who was devastated when he visited the site, stating that "What the Forestry Commission has done to the land is appalling," he said. "They are supposed to be conservation experts, but instead have killed endangered birds by destroying the land during the crucial nesting season."

So here we are in 2016 about ten years later after the country park was set up. I must admit I prefer the Ashenbank woodland and the so called Ashenbank meadows and glades end of the park, but some of this land would probably not have public access if it was still farmland,  it's a huge expanse with nice views and space to walk and wander, so a positive there.

As for the birds, some of the land is still set aside for pasture and used by the 'Young Farmers club' to graze a few cattle. Skylark, Yellowhammer, and Meadow pipits are seen regularly, I am yet to see a Corn Bunting but I am sure they are there, and plenty of other bird species can be seen around the country park. So not as bad as people predicted.

A close encounter with a Skylark singing and displaying on its territorial mound was an obvious good sign.


Meadow Pipit
All the species they were originally worried about seem to be  around the country park, possibly not in the same numbers, hopefully they will continue to breed and prosper.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Bird on a stick !

An early morning arrival found myself at Rainham RSPB before the drawbridge  had been lowered, never noticed that before, so I thought I would have a walk down the River Thames foreshore path to see if I could find  any newly arrived Wheatears, but no such luck.

 A brisk walk back to the main entrance where the drawbridge had now been lowered, and I was heading towards the Marshland discovery zone in the hope of a Kingfisher sighting.

The camouflage netting was up across the viewing windows, always a good sign, as I walked in through the door, I could see a Kingfisher perched on a carefully placed tree branch on the water's edge near the breeding tunnel, put there for just such a purpose.

A few moments later it flew towards the tunnel and was lost to view, re-emerging shortly afterwards for a quick dip in the water, before it was off across the marshes.

I managed to maneuver myself to a prime spot where I could just get the camera lens through the netting with a good view of the 'stick'.

Experience has taught me that this particular Kingfisher usually returns at twenty minute intervals, I decided to wait and try and get some decent photograph s of this lovely looking bird.

Twenty minutes seems like an eternity when you are focused on as stick in the water, and not much else happening.

The Kingfisher returned as expected,  just a few minutes later than I thought, this time it perched on the stick, for a good five minutes or so, occasionally looking around, but quite content and at peace.

Which is more than I can say for the MDZ hide, the continuous shutter noises from the cameras waiting for just such a view, sounded deafening, but the kingfisher thankfully was unperturbed.

The photographs I managed are all very 'samey', but any Kingfisher photograph is usually sought after, the Kingfisher just sat there hardly moving, which certainly makes a change. It did fly to another stick  close to the breeding tunnel where it again just sat waiting for something, maybe a female.

The Kingfisher in question  appears to be a male bird, the all black bill indicates this, the female usually has some red in the lower mandible.

The rest of the walk was a bit of a anti-climax, no migrant sightings for me, a few Butterflies, a Brimstone always on the move, do they ever settle, Peacock and a Small Tortoiseshell.

Small Tortoiseshell 
I did witness some strange behaviour from some Canada Geese,  the individual in the photograph appeared to have wandered to close to an established pair, it then proceeded to slink away, as low down in the water as it could, just its head and body showing above the water, it was still spotted, the  established pair flew over to it pouncing on the poor bird, unusual to see a Canada goose so passive.

retreating Canada Goose.

Although no migrant sightings, a lovely day on the marshes.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Tree Bumblebee

The queen Tree Bumblebees have made their appearance right on cue, said to be one of the first  Bumblebees to be seen in early spring, although in truth I believe the Buff Tailed Bumblebee can probably claim that title especially here in the south of the country.

These Tree Bumblebees are certainly becoming more common around the garden, now I am not sure if this is just a few individuals or many visiting the garden.

They are quite easy to identify with  chestnut brown thorax, black abdomen and white tails, the queens, workers and drones are all of a similar colour,  the queens are probably of a similar size to the Buff tailed Bumblebee, maybe slightly smaller, the drones and workers are quite small with the drones being of a slightly more chunky appearance than the workers.

Unlike the Buff Tailed and White tailed which nest in the ground, these like to find a suitable nesting site above ground, sometimes in old bird nesting boxes,  I am yet to find a nest site.

Tree Bumblebee queen

Always nice to see them visiting the garden, and once again mainly on the flowering blackcurrant