Tuesday, 25 April 2017

" Gropper "

 I seem to be having a good spell at the moment, seeing some scarcer birds than I usally get to see. The Grasshopper Warbler or "Gropper" as its affectionately called by the more experienced birders, is one of those birds that has eluded me over the many years I have been wildlife watching,  I have heard them on two previous occasions, an unmistakable sound once you know what you are listening to, but actually seeing one, that's been difficult.

 So as I walked through the reed-bed at Rainham RSPB on a short visit recently, I heard the unmistakable reeling call of the Gropper which appeared to be coming from a bush on the other side of a dyke from where I was standing.

I knew that a Grasshopper warbler had been previously reported here, but never expected to actually see it.

Its call had attracted a few other observers who were on the right side of the dyke and in a much better position than me. As I contemplated joining them, I saw the Warbler move out to the edge of the bush,  its reeling call quite loud now. so there it was, on show for about a minute or so before moving back, hidden in the depths of the bush.

It is said that the best time to see or hear these are at dawn and dusk when they reel from their song posts, this one was seen  about 14:30 in the afternoon.

Grasshopper Warbler  Locustella naevia

"Gropper " slinking back into the depths of the bush

 Its taken thirty one years to see this old world warbler, for a view of less than two minutes, but it was nice to put a face to the song.

  At least I have a photograph or two to remind me. Hopefully it will not be so long before another comes my way.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Road Trip to Vange !

Its been a while since I last made the effort to go on a so called "Twitch", but the lure of some Black-Winged Stilts less than thirty minutes drive got the better of me.
They had arrived on a reserve in Essex known as Vange Marsh, a site I have not previously visited so well worth the effort.
I could feel all the nervous tension rising as I made my way there, if the birds were not on view there was always the opportunity to explore this RSPB reserve for future reference,
so not a wasted trip.

Directions to the site were pretty accurate, and I soon found myself at the reserve entrance.

As I walked through the gate, the first Butterfly that I saw turned out to be a Painted Lady, other Butterflies noted were Small White, Green Veined white, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, I should imagine this site would be good for Dragonflies as the season progresses.

There appears to be two main routes to take, a shorter walk out towards a viewing screen, and a longer walk alongside the marsh.

I opted for the viewing screen first and was rewarded with a distant Black-Winged Stilt, a male feeding on a long muddy island in front of the screen.

I watched this fine looking male for about an hour by myself, it seems that the Black-Winged Stilts do not have the same rarity appeal as they used to any more.
And It wasn't till the bird stretched its wings and flew out of sight that another birder arrived, he informed me that there were another two Stilts showing well on the far side of the marsh.

Other birds noted in front of the screen were Oystercatchers, Black -Tailed Godwits and a Green Sandpiper.

After a pleasant walk around the marsh in some lovely warm sunshine I soon came across the other two Stilts feeding reasonably close on the edge of the marsh, the sun was in the wrong direction but I managed to get some more photographs of the Stilts, a male and female.

One attempt at mating in the couple of hours I was watching, and then back to the important task of feeding.
Here's a few photographs of the Black-Winged Stilts, the male with darker markings on the head and neck.

A successful trip with an interesting bird to view and photograph.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Flight of the Painted Lady !

Yesterday 19th April I decided on an exploratory trip to a new reserve, combined with a so called " Twitch " to a nature reserve in Essex, called Vange Marshes, a relatively new acquisition by the RSPB, taken over, I believe in 2005.

Entrance to the reserve is not the easiest to find, but once you find it, quite impressive habitat. the " Twitch " which I will cover later was for the Black Winged Stilts.

This entry is to cover what I initially thought was an unusual sighting, not a bird, a Butterfly, more about the timing really than the actual Butterfly. 

The Butterfly was the first I saw as I passed through the entrance gate, lots of Green Veined Whites, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell also.

My initial thoughts was that this was a very early sighting for the Painted Lady Butterfly , which is one of those migrant Butterflies usually seen in mid-summer. or so I thought. I know that the Butterfly in any of its life stages cannot survive our winters.
These Butterflies migrate from North Africa, some make the journey in one go stopping for occasional feeding, while others, second, third or fourth generation migrate here in stages. 

Some arrive in early spring, although the main influx arrive late May to early July.

So not as unusual as I first thought, but still a spectacular Butterfly to see and certainly the earliest I have ever seen one.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

" L'amour de ma vie."

Totally forgetting my own advice from my previous blog page, my heart sank as I opened up the wooden shutter and looked out on the pool in front of the hide. which I must admit on first appearances looked devoid of any wildlife of note, just the rear ends of a pair of swans as they searched for aquatic vegetation on the bed of the pool.

I poured a cup of coffee from the flask and broke open my sandwich box and stared out across the marshes at nothing in particular, just enjoying the solitude.

A quick glance at the Mute Swans which had now surfaced, the light was particularly good, this must be the 'good light ' that strangers with there cameras strike up with their  ice breaker conversational piece as you pass through the marsh. " the lights not good today " or vice versa  expecting you to know exactly what they're talking about, I usually just agree, embarrassed by my lack of knowledge.

But this light was good....... I had found the good light.... and these Swans were looking pretty smart at this precise moment in time.

Now I have never really watched the courtship ritual of the Mute Swan so this turned out to be an interesting few minutes, I'm not sure if this is normal behavior for all Mute Swans or just this pair.
I know Mute swans try and mate for life so maybe this was just a moment of re-establishing that special bond.

The swans slowly approached each other, the cob submerged his head and neck under the surface and quickly raised it again stretching neck to full height, the pen did the same, as she stretched her neck to full height the cob dipped his under the surface, this went on for about thirty seconds the dip and stretch getting faster, culminating with the male copulating and holding the pens head under the water.

The pair then proceeded to embrace, rubbing their head and necks together in what appeared to be a genuine show of affection.

" L'amour de ma vie."

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Expect the Unexpected !

The beauty of wildlife watching is the fact that you don't always know what you will come across, expect the unexpected, most excursions into the countryside will provide you with a memorable sight or two, it doesn't have to be a rare or scarce creature, you do not need to be an expert, just enjoy the sights that befall you.

Harriers are one of those birds that always catch your eye, whether its the scarcer Hen Harriers, affectionately referred to as "Ringtails" or in the males case the "Grey Ghost" usally seen in the winter months.

 Marsh Harriers are a more common sight, they seem to spend most of the year with us, especially if you watch in the right habitats, views are usally quite distant, but occasionally one will drift by giving you a more spectacular view.

This was one of those memorable moments especially for me, of one of those unmentionable events that rarely come your way.

Photographs not brilliant, but they speak for themselves. suffice to say , no disturbance caused, photographs cropped to give a closer view.

Male & Female



Saturday, 15 April 2017

Ye Olde Bird Box !!!

Like many people before me I suspect, that the effort of placing a bird nesting box in the garden should be rewarded almost immediately by a grateful bird who has been waiting for just such a nesting opportunity to arise. this is often not the case and appears very hit and miss, and in my case very much a miss. But things were about to change as you will see.

So an olde bird box found at the back of the greenhouse, complete with cobwebs was spruced up and pushed into the ivy at the back of the pond, strategically placed near our new conservatory window, more as a garden ornament than a potential home and forgotten.

A miracle has occurred, as my wife and I sat in our conservatory with tea and toast, our garden Robin caught our eye, it was hovering around the ivy, I thought it was looking for a meal, with complete disbelief it flew into the nesting box. I was stunned, I looked at my wife and we both said at the same time "did that really happen"

Still thinking that the Robin had spotted a tasty morsel within the bird box and certainly not considering moving in. we thought no more of it.

Then the impossible began to happen before our very eyes, the Robin and I believe the female, began to appear on my old timber perches around the pond with nesting material, mainly dead leaves of all shapes and sizes flying in and out of the half fronted nesting box, occupation was truly under way,  and continued for most of the day.

Female Robin collecting nesting material

Male Watching over nest building procedures
The male Robin appeared to take no part in the nest building which was all carried out by the female on day one.

Female Robin leaving nesting box.

Day two and the nesting material being brought to the nest box had changed, now mainly moss and this activity appeared to cease about midday when I believe the nest was completed.

The next two days it appeared that all activity had ended, in fact there was no sign of the female and the bird box looked abandoned, the male occasionally turned up and sat on top of the feeder, calling occasionally

My curiosity got the better of me, I decided to take a quick peep at the nest box to see if it had been abandoned. Big mistake, as I peered into the box the Robin flew out brushing against my face, causing me to teeter backwards , arms a flailing I just managed to regain my balance preventing an early plunge into the fish pond. what an idiot.

Fortunately the Robin returned, my research had said that they are very susceptible to disturbance, but this pair seem accustomed to human activities close by.

What I did not realise was that the female had already begun her egg laying activity, usally one egg a day, this starts as soon as the nest is ready, the usual clutch being four eggs.
The incubation period is another fourteen days so an expectant date is imminent now.

Although the male was not involved in the nest building activities, he has been very diligent in his courtship behavior, visiting the nest box with tasty morsels for the female.
The female rarely ventures from the nest box, just early morning and late afternoon for a few minutes at a time before she returns. The male provides her with food, she takes a drink, a quick preen and she makes her way back.

Courtship feeding by male

female returning to nest box

My wife decided to supplement their feeding and during a trip to the local aquatic center, surrounded by reptiles of all shapes and sizes, my wife inquired of a young sales assistant , the availability of meal worms, what size would you require the sale assistant asked, and what type of reptile do you have. A surreal moment when my wife answered a Robin with a straight face,the sales assistant smiled kindly and pointed to a suitable box of meal worms.

But the Robin and the local Blackbirds who are also nesting close by, but out of sight, appear very grateful.

I have also noticed that my Moth trap has provided a meal or two for the male who was seen swooping down from the Pear tree in the hours of darkness, my moth trap acting as a  24/7 convenience store, probably the reason my moth catch has been poor.

Blackbird taking more than his share !

Male feeding female in Nest Box
Having the Blackbirds nesting close by appears to be a smart move, like have a personal security and alarm service, any time an unwanted intruder ventures too close the male Blackbird goes into attack mode and sounds its distinctive alarm call..

Security and alarm service provided by Male Blackbird.
The enemy.

So far, so good, the nest box is still occupied, the incubation period should be coming to an end very soon, we are looking forward to the next stage of rearing the young.