Monday, 28 February 2011

A Mill, 2 Kites, some Larks and a surprise.

There was only one day forecast to be sunny last week so I decided to make the most of it and visit College Lake in Buckinghamshire (bad choice, as will become clear later). I arrived at about 9.30am and the first sound I heard was a Chaffinch singing from amongst the trees that surround the car park. I made my way through the new visitor centre to the first hide which overlooks most of the site but in particular the marsh area. Here I spotted Canada Geese, Mallard, Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Ducks, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Lapwing, Coot , Moorhen, Water Rail, Cormorant, Carrion Crow, Wood Pigeon and a single Oystercatcher. The next hide is situated low down at just above eye level to the marsh area, it’s just occurred to me that these hides must have names, I’ll check next time!

 I sat here for about an Hour or so watching the activity on the marsh by this time my “bad choice” had started to make itself apparent, I’d forgotten that it was half term school holidays and now groups of adult and children had started to arrive. Now I’m all for teaching children about our wildlife and countryside, in fact I think it’s a must, but should it not be pointed out to the adults in charge of these children that these types of sites are not free for all playgrounds and that they must respect the facilities and areas that have taken, mostly volunteers, lots of time and effort to create. Sorry about the rant but there were children, some old enough to know better, climbing all over the seats with their muddy shoes on, opening and closing the hide windows, running around and stamping to make a noise on the wooden floor of the hide and for the most part with no checking or reprimand from the adults in charge. If they want their kids to run wild why don’t they take them to a theme park (I guess they would have to pay to get in there though!). I left the hide after one child asked the woman with her “what’s that bird over there” pointing to a Grey Heron only to be answered with “that’s a Flamingo”. I was going to say something but decided that I might just get some verbal abuse for my effort. SORRY, rant over now.

Before leaving the site entirely I took a walk around the small woodland and garden display area, here I saw my first Chiffchaff of the year calling from a perch high in one of the trees. I also saw Snowdrops and Winter Aconites.

Honey Bees from the few hives in this area were busy on the various shrubs that were just starting to bloom.

How many times do you pass a certain place and say to yourself “I’ll stop and have a look at that one day” and never do? Well, I’ve got such a place on my route home from College Lake it’s called Pitstone Mill. This time I didn’t have a choice, I had to stop! Just before reaching Pitstone Mill there is a 90 degree bend in the road and as I drove around this bend there in front of me were two Red Kites slowly circling above the road just over tree height. So on a snap decision I turned abruptly into the next available entrance, which just happened to be the small parking area for the Mill. (Now, if it was you driving the car behind me I must apologise for the sudden braking and sharp turn and assure you that I don’t normally drive like this). Having successfully stopped the car and fumbled about for the camera I relocated the Kites, as they were slowly moving away, and managed to take a few photographs alas in my haste only this one is of any use.

As I had at last stopped at the mill I thought I’d best have a look.

On my way through the fields down to the Mill I could see and hear three Skylarks singing as they slowly climbed into the sky before rapidly descending in a couple of steep dives. I stood watching and listening and letting my mind wander back to when I was a kid, growing up in the Cambridgeshire countryside, laying eyes closed, in the long grass on a warm summer evening listening to what seemed like wall to wall Skylarks doing “their thing”.
So the day didn’t turn out to be too bad after all, three year ticks and some reminiscing thrown in for good measure. 

Sunday 27/2/11   The Surprise!

Although it was a nice sunny Sunday morning I knew that the weather forecast was for a wet afternoon so I decided against going out and instead opted to give the camera gear a clean and check over and generally chill out and watch the birds visiting the feeders in the garden. To my surprise just as I looked up through the window down with the House Sparrows came a female Siskin, it was just by pure chance that I had the camera in my hands and was able to fire of a burst of  four shots before it was gone. 

Then to my even greater surprise, about 30mins. later a Blackcap made two quick darts from the Buddleia bush to the bird table, this time though I didn’t have the camera to hand  and I don’t think I would have been quick enough anyway!

So all in all, not a bad week, with 5 new year ticks added to the list. Let’s hope this coming week will be as good.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Wet Woody and The Dark Intruder


A couple of days ago, you know the one, when it rained!  A Wood Pigeon settled on my shed roof looking in a bit of a state (the Pigeon, not the shed roof!  Although my wife’s favourite saying at the moment is “you know that shed roof will need fixing soon”) anyway as I said, the Pigeon looked in a bit of a state I think it possibly had had a bit of a run in with a car or maybe the local feline.

It sat on the shed in the rain for about two hours looking very fed up and occasionally shaking the water from its head. Eventually it moved to the top of the bird table where it sat for another half hour or so with the rain bouncing off its head, allowing me to go outside in slippers and t-shirt and with the camera covered in a tea towel, to take some close-up pictures.

It’s a good job the neighbours were all at work and couldn’t see me wandering around the garden getting wetter and wetter taking pictures of a thoroughly fed up Pigeon!
The good news is that it eventually it moved onto the bird table proper and started to feed on the seed and the next day it was back in the garden feeding as normal, if still looking a bit dishevelled.

While out walking in the woods the other day I encountered something that I had only seen briefly twice before, both times whilst I was driving the car and couldn't stop.........Black Squirrels!

There are a couple of theories as to where the Black Squirrel came from. One is that it is a mutation of our native Grey Squirrel (having excessive quantities of the black pigment melanin) and the other theory is that native American Black Squirrels were introduced to Woburn Park Bedfordshire at the end of the last century by the then Duke of Bedford and that they promptly jumped the wall and escaped.

I don't know which one is correct but now that I know where I can find them I will go back some time and see if I can get some better quality photos.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Weekend

Just a few pictures to brighten up the weekend which, in this neck of the world, looks like being grey, wet cold and miserable. I was woken at 4 o`clock this morning by the rain beating on the bedroom window, so much for the weekend lay in!

Enjoy the pictures.

Blue Tit

Tree Sparrow


Carion Crow

Long-tailed Tits


Reed Bunting

Mallard (female)

Wherever you are and whatever you`re doing this weekend, have a good one.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A serenade and a surprise ending

With sunny weather forecast  for yesterday I decided to visit Marston Vale in Bedfordshire or to give it it`s proper name The Marston Vale Forest Centre and Millennium Country Park.

Most of the lakes in this area are reclaimed pits left over from clay extraction for the brickworks for which this part of Bedfordshire is most famous. The brickworks now though have all but disappeared.

All thats left of the Brickwork Industry in Bedforshire

Scanning the car park trees drew a blank so I walked over to the steps (made from recycled railway sleepers) that lead to a small area of reeds, where in the summer it`s good for Dragonfly watching. There is also a feeding station located here which was being visited by Great, Blue and Long-Tailed Tits and Reed Buntings, on the ground underneath were Blackbirds, Chaffinches and a Robin relentlessly chasing off a poor old Dunnock. 

I stood here watching the comings and goings for about three quarters of an hour. At the same time as also watching a male Great Spotted Woodpecker as he slowly made his way from tree to tree closer and closer to the feeders, finally flying off when a couple of people came by with 4 German Shepherds (dogs, not........!).

I now moved on to the large Stewartby Lake. After a lot of rain over the last few days the paths to the lake were wet and muddy with large areas of standing water. Not a lot to see on the lake either, a large raft of Gulls, a few Tufted Duck, Mallard, Coot and a couple of pairs of Mute Swans.

I decided not to walk all the way around the lake and made my meandering way back to the Visitor Centre. There were a surprising amount of people around for a Monday morning mostly dog walkers and joggers all trying to recover from the excesses of the weekend, I suspect. And In the sunshine lots of the trees and bushes were looking colourful as they start to “wake up” after the Winter.

There is a bench along this part of the walk were I decided to sit for a while and just take in the sunshine and my surroundings and right on cue a Robin started to serenade me from his perch in a small tree just across the pathway. What an enjoyable three or so minutes just sitting in the sunshine listening to a beautiful performance that I`d like to think was put on just for me!!

After purchasing my ‘permit’ (£2.50) I set off to walk around the ‘Wetlands Trail’ (a new hard surface path had been laid since my last visit). Up until reaching the first hide, apart from a couple of rabbits running for cover, there was little wildlife to see. One thing that did stand out was a small area of reeds glowing brightly in the sunshine as they swayed in the breeze.  From the hide, which overlooks a lake called ‘The Pillinge’ I noted Cormorants and Lapwings on a small island, the ever present Gulls, Little and Great Crested Grebe, Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks and Coot.
The second hide overlooking a small lagoon and reed beds revealed nothing apart from the normal `Swans, Tufties and Coots.
On my way around the lake and back to the Visitor Centre I passed by a large area of reed beds again swaying gently in the breeze but by now the clouds had increased and there was little sun to make them glow.

 And then my highlight of the day Four Goldfinches settled and started to feed in, what I think, is an Alder tree and accompanying them a single Lesser Redpoll (a year tick for me!) I did however managed to get a couple of photos (in poor light) clicked off before they where gone. 

All in all a pleasant few hours.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

More from Verulamium

As promised here is another selection of photographs from my recent trip to Verulamium Park in St.Albans in Hertfordshire.

Carrion Crow
Feral Pigeon
Tufted Duck (with necklace)
Grey Heron (or Pterodactyl !!)
Female Mallard
Female Mallard
"who you looking at"

                                                     Black-headed Gull

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Where Romans once roamed

Yesterday I visited Verulamium Park in St. Albans.

Here`s a brief description courtesy of Wikipedia. (sorry but the links don`t work!)

Verulamium Park in St Albans, Hertfordshire. Set in over 100 acres of beautiful parkland, Verulamium Park was purchased from the Earl of Verulam in 1929 by the then City Corporation. Today the park is owned and operated by St Albans City and District Council
The park is named after the Roman City of Verulamium on which it stands. The City walls and outline of the main London Gate can still be seen. Archaeological excavations were undertaken in the park during the 1930s by Sir Mortimer Wheeler and his wife Tessa, during which the 1800 year old Hypocaust and its covering mosaic floor were discovered. The Hypocaust Mosaic is on view to the public and currently protected from the elements by a purpose-built building in the park. On the outskirts of the park is Verulamium Museum, which contains hundreds of archaeological objects relating to everyday Roman life in what was a major Roman City. A pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, is also located on the edge of the park. This pub has been listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest such establishment in England.
A main feature of the park is the ornamental lake. Construction started on this project during 1929, giving much needed work to the unemployed of St Albans during the depression. The lake is fed by the River Ver. And one, of the two, islands in the lake supports one of the few heronries to be found in Hertfordshire, On North-eastern edge of the park is St Albans Cathedral and on the North-western edge is St Michael's Church,

The morning started out frosty and dull but soon brightened up into a mostly sunny, but chilly day. I was quiet surprised to find that the lake was almost completely frozen over (I didn`t think it had been that cold!) with just a few gaps in the ice where the wildfowl had gathered.
Sightings List:-
(On the lake) Mallard, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Mute Swan, Coot, Moorhen, Canada Goose, Grey Heron,  
(In the parkland) Wood Pigeon, Feral Pigeon, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Blackbird, Blue tit, Great tit and a Robin heard singing but not seen!      

On the Heronry island I counted Eight Grey Herons mostly standing on or tending the nests, but two appeared to have ‘sitting’ birds already (a little early perhaps? maybe they were just resting!)                                                                                                                             
 There was also a large flock of gulls resting on the ice in the centre of the lake, mostly Black-headed with a few Herring and at least one Lesser black backed. And on the river that runs beside the lake there were lots of 'hybrid' ducks of  many varied colours and designs along with a large number of Coots (I counted at least 70!)

I`m afraid I got a little carried away with the beautiful lighting from the low sun and took in excess of 800 photographs!!  Here are a few and I`ll post some more when I`ve processed them. 

Roman Wall
The Bridge at the north end of the Lake
The Heronry
Male Pochard
Female Pochard
Male Tufted Duck
Female Tufted Duck
 And finaly a Tufted Duck with what appears to be an elastic band around its neck. Fortunatly it didn`t seem to be bothered by it, and I suppose at this time of year a little bit of bling can`t do any harm!!