Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Family Matters

For many of our feathered friends their first brood has already been hatched and is being readied for the wide world. For some that process can be short, with the juveniles being left largely to find things out for themselves. For others the process can last months with parents investing a significant amount of time and effort in trying to be successful. During my visit to Tophill this week I found examples of both.

A female Barn Owl watching over her brood

The male Barn Owl busy on a hunt

No success in Hempholme Meadows, so on to the next field

A hungry Black-Head Gull chick following a parent

A solitary juvenile Carrion Crow looking for titbits

LTT juvenile lagging behind the rest of the tribe

Female Mallard with a sizeable gaggle of ducklings

Mute Swans on Watton with just three cygnets

A juvenile Willow Warbler trailing its parent in search of food

Friday, 15 June 2012

Red fades to White

Having seen Michael Flowers blog on my local family of Redstarts, and David’s (aka The Wold’s Ranger) excellent photos of their fledglings, I thought I would pop over and see if I could see them for myself. The weather was blowy, and rain was threatened, so my hopes were not high.
As it turned out I was right to be a bit pessimistic for they had all moved on from their usual haunts, which were being subjected to a chill easterly. I was not able to easily locate them other than some distant views of the parents, which was disappointing. Given the weather it was perhaps not surprising that the youngsters had hidden themselves away.

After that good, but disappointing hunt round, I concentrated my subsequent efforts in some of the quieter areas of the site to see what else was around. I was able to see the resident Marsh Tits, and there were pairs of Coal Tits and Goldcrests in the firs. There were also a few Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs still singing for mates, but the birds that caught my attention were a very industrious pair of Whitethroat.

In their continuing efforts to raise their brood they were scouring the low-level vegetation for whatever flies, beetles and caterpillars they could find. If their photographed success continues, then they will have had both a fruitful partnership and summer – and that could be something to crow about given the summer we have had so far!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A Break in the Clouds

What a difference a day makes. Unlike today, yesterday afternoon was fairly warm and sunny, although the northerly wind was a bit chill when you were in it. I decided to pop over to Tophill where I bumped into a chap who described things as “very quiet and disappointing”. Now my expectations may not be too high, but what I experienced after was really very satisfying, and should act as a good advert for Tophill Low as a reserve.

First of all, on the approach road I came across a pair of Grey Partridges. The hen was having a dust bath while her mate kept lookout. I don’t often see these birds up close, so it was really good to get some good views. Next I only just missed a Stoat as it crossed the road in front of my car. With a largish something in its mouth it had clearly had a successful hunt and was off to share the spoils with a litter of kitts.

Cock Grey Partridge

Cock and Hen

At the site entrance I then came across a Mistle Thrush teaching a fledgling how to fend for itself. Lovely, upright birds with so much character.

Mistle Thrush
Having parked, I concentrated on the north end of the reserve where I always manage to find something of interest. Usually it is the smaller birds that keep me entertained, and so it was yesterday. The woods were full of the song of Goldcrests, matched only by the noise of Long-Tailed Tits teaching the kids how to fend for themselves. North Marsh was full of the sound of Reed Warblers, with the odd bird making fleeting appearances. No sign of the Kingfisher, but then I didn’t stay for long.

Further on, and on one of the bales of straw strategically placed by Richard Hampshire, I came across a terrific Grass Snake, basking in the sunshine. It was very sluggish, I expect because the sun was only making passing appearances between the clouds, so I had plenty of time to take some photos. Interestingly after this one had warmed up and moved off, another poked its head out from another part of the straw bale. I guess that the cold cloudy weather has also been having a bad effect on these reptilian residents, so they are continuing to use the bales as refuges.

Grass Snake

Grass Snake

Grass Snake
Further on my walk I popped into the new hide. Not much to see given the stiff breeze, but on my exit I noticed that one of the bat boxes has been altered and taken over by a family of Blue Tits. Guessing from the noise and the size of the fellow at the improvised nest hole, it won’t be long before they fledge.

Blue Tit & family
The walk back to the car park was sunny and warm in the shelter from the wind. This had brought out a large number of insects and flies. To my delight, and having heard its high pitch “peep”, the Treecreeper made another appearance for me, scuttling up the pines and along one or two of the branches to find some of those flies brought out by the sun.

Just around the corner near the picnic tables, I noticed a small scurrying in the grass. Given its wee size it took a little while to spot the wanderer, but when I did I was surprised to find a Wood Mouse out in the open, and in mid afternoon. I had always thought of these little creatures as being nocturnal, so it was a real treat to come across one - other than those previously caught by pet cats!

Wood Mouse
Time for home, and as I drove away toward the farm what should cross the road some hundred yards ahead of me but one of the local foxes with at least one cub. The adult acted very much like a “lollipop man”, standing in the middle of the road while the youngster crossed. The adult followed on behind when the danger had been negotiated. No photos I’m afraid, but you can imagine the scene I’m sure.

So that was “very quiet and disappointing”? I was going to say that I would hate to see it when it is busy, but you know that wouldn’t be true.

Friday, 8 June 2012

To Fledge or Not To Fledge......

An important event began today, something I have been looking forward to. Three years ago I put up a few nest boxes around the garden, but it was not until this spring that any have been occupied. Two were taken by Tree Sparrows in early-April, and both contain the sounds of healthy broods being raised. Today saw the first fledgling make its faltering way into the wider world away from the security of the nest box.

With the strong wind and heavy rain showers today was not ever going to be the most of auspicious of starts for the youngsters. In fact, I have to say that at one stage I really didn’t think the one to take the leap was going to make it.
The fledgling took flight mid-morning but didn’t go very far – perhaps only ten feet or so. The rain came down quite heavily, and it was forced to take shelter in the lee of the wall beside the steps. It tried to move out into the open a couple of times, but was driven back to the wall.

One bedraggled fledgling

Sheltering under the wall

There were several visits from one of the parents with titbits, but the youngster looked too bedraggled to last. I thought it might just suffer from the cold, and I was seriously thinking of a potential rescue. However, after 30 minutes the rain stopped, and it flew off after further encouragement of one of its parents, last seen disappearing into the undergrowth at the top of the garden.
One dutiful parent
The number of visits to the box by the parents was drastically reduced, I guess to provide the incentive (that is hunger) for the remainder of the brood to leave. The remaining parent tried to entice the other chicks by calling from the top of the arbour. But they weren’t going to have it. The rain came and went, and I’m guessing that a decision to sit tight was not too hard to make. The food visits resumed, but I expect the remainder of the brood to emerge in the next day or so.

Come on out the rest of you!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Patience has its Rewards

A bird I have consistently struggled to photograph is the Reed Warbler. They are very energetic, constantly moving about the reed beds, suddenly appearing at the edge before disappearing back into the sanctuary dense foliage. Even at this time of year when males are setting up territories they can be hard to see. Unlike Sedge Warblers that will climb to the top of a reed to announce their presence, Reed Warblers will stay low, using a louder voice to let others know they are available. As a result I find them most frustrating to photograph, but always up for a challenge, yesterday I set myself that objective. So I decamped to North Marsh hide at Tophill and settled down.

There was plenty of singing, so the signs were good that I would at least get an opportunity. There was a fleeting visit by a Kingfisher, but the Reed Warblers were a little more circumspect. However, they did begin to show, and eventually after waiting and watching for a good hour and a half I was given some excellent views.

Perhaps the Reed Warblers had been nervous given the singing male Cuckoo on the other side of the river?

On my continuing walk around the reserve I was told that one of the Barn Owls had been seen hunting late into the morning around Hempholme meadow – the same area where the over-wintering Short-Eared Owls had been so successful. So I thought I would spend a little time by the wire fence to see if one might make an appearance. Twenty or so minutes later I was rewarded with the sight of an adult quartering the field, hovering over a potential target, and pouncing on an unsuspecting vole. The prey was taken off to a nearby fence post before being whisked off back to the brood of hungry chicks.