Monday, 26 May 2014

Rubbish recording

An unpromising landscape in the winter, and an unpromising definition, the local tip starts its transformation in spring to a place full of potential for those prepared to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the goings on adjacent. That term "wasteland" which to many creates an image of desolation and lifelessness, to my contrary imagination conjures up scenes burgeoning with interesting specialist plants and insects, and those which prey upon them.
From a very early age, exploring the destitute canal-side buildings of Birmingham, the undeveloped bomb sites, and the scars of the city's largely dead industrial heritage, I very quickly realised that in nature there is no such thing as wasteland, there are only windows of opportunity. Bombs and bulldozers are not the only means of breaking concrete and lifting tarmac, the astonishing power of plant roots will do an equal job albeit in a different timescale, though quite how the tiny tortured roots of these stunted starving botanical frontiersmen actually do this job, however well the physics is explained, is still a thing of mystery and magic to me. I only know I am grateful that they do because these industrial wastelands were, apart from municipal parks, my woods and fields, as natural a playground as I could imagine and one where I learned the utmost respect for all those species that clung to life with an extraordinary tenacity in what appeared to be almost impossible conditions, and each paving away (perversely) for further species to move in and take over. In the more exciting places, sometimes it was hard to see the skeleton of a ruined building under the flesh of plants that had found a foothold there, or find the concrete floor under the soil that had formed over the top of it; all these things gave me hope when I looked at the urban "regeneration" that was going on around me. One day, there will be a lot more wasteland, and one day you will have to look very hard to find our footprints, and one day when we are gone, such plants and animals that survive us will make the most of their transient window of opportunity and once more flourish.
Enough. The present is what we are interested in here. As the Tip's spring flush of growth begins, spring migrants also start passing through or stopping off to feed and some even staying to breed, sometimes Wheatears, Stonechats, even Whinchats or more exotic still a Black Redstart or Ring Ouzel. More regular are Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, Nightingale and Cuckoo which make use of the mix of wooded areas, brambles, scrub and "wasteland" to rest and feed and sing and nest.
When it comes to singing, although many people disagree, the generally accepted king of the choristers is the Nightingale, and if you are lucky you might get more than one of them setting up in competition as here (to avoid disappointment I did not point the camera in the direction of where the birds were singing as they were deep under cover)

Up until a decade ago, not long after the Chiffchaffs arrived in spring, the air was full of the song of the Willow Warbler even from my house, indeed they used to breed in the park. Now however they have largely abandoned these southern climes for more northerly ones apparently due to global warming. Although its not exactly a scintillating song, I miss it so it was nice to hear it quite late at the tip, maybe at least 1 pair will stay to nest. Note the snow-like willow fluff falling, sometimes its so thick it coats the ground in drifts.

This last one is the most familiar to everyone, even if they have never heard one for real. So much so it needs no introduction other than to say just prior to this there were 3three chasing eachother of which only two were calling.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Neither fish nor fowl... oh, hang on a minute....

The meadow's drainage ditches and the occasional flooding of the adjacent river and canal ensure that even in the the shallowest and most transient of pools there is often a very large population of small fish mostly comprising of Rudd and Pike, but a few other species too. Of course all this protein swimming around does not go unnoticed by those that enjoy nothing more than the freshest of fish suppers. Also of course, the sharp eyesight and lightening reactions needed to catch these aquatic snacks are also of use in evading both me and the camera as I endeavour to hide behind a reed stalk.
Grey Herons have been very numerous here until the last couple of years when they mysteriously disappeared. Of course we are surrounded by jealously guarded fisheries... anyway... all of a sudden there seems to have been a bit of an influx and numbers are higher than for some time.

Although at a distance this Grey Heron spots me even as it is landing

It never looks quite comfortable 

and 30 seconds later heads off  for less heavily populated margins

I was so intent on looking out for the Great White Egret that I almost missed this jewel of a bird hovering close in front of me before dropping like a stone to snatch its priced tiny bar of silver. Fortunately it hopped straight onto the nearest bit of "land" to gulp down its meal

I am begining to think this hiding behind the reeds milarkee is actually working rather well it isnt

A brief look "over there" and this electric blue bolt of lightening streaked across to the far side and out of practical sight. A real treat for a minute

Another bird that is quite often seen but very difficult to get close to on the meadows is the Snipe. Nearly every time I see them they are either asleep at the back of a distant pond or exploding from their hideaways a few feet in front of you and zigzagging away at astonishing speed leaving autofocus watching pieces of grass and distant trees. On this bright and blustery day for some reason a handful were actually happy to feed rather closer than the more usual quarter of a mile, this one not actually flying away but just to an adjacent dining area.
All seems at peace in Snipe world and whatever invertebrates they are finding seem to be in good supply

At times, each little "island" seemed to have its own Snipe on it

I'm not sure I'm as invisible as I think I am
I say, can I come aboard?
Repel all boarders!

I guess thats a "no" then. I've never seen Snipe squabble before but this particular individual was pretty aggressive to any other bird invading its personal space

Running away when you have wings is an irrelevant option

Actually it just did a circuit and came back down just a few yards from where it had taken off

Incoming Shoveler, one of several flocks that arrived and landed out of sight
Apart from the Cormorants, I think these were mostly Wigeon

More incoming Shoveler. There is always one show off

Despite the sudden drop in temperature, Common Darter were making the most of the sunshine and plenty of mating wheels were in the air after lunch

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The meadows and the Great White Egret

There is nothing quite as exciting as a surprise. When you spend a lot of time watching the wildlife of one place in particular, surprises necessarily get fewer and further between - or so one might think. Every time I stand and watch the comings and goings in the ever changing mosaic of meadows, scrub, floods and reedbeds I cannot help but hope that I will see something there that I have not seen before. Most times, I am not disappointed. It might not be a new species, sometimes its a piece of behaviour, or an unexpected interaction, an aberration, or just the way the light is playing on the water, but on this day, it was a new species for the meadows.
While photographing nicely reflected albeit a little distant Lapwings, I suddenly saw an Egret coming low over the reedbeds and as I don't have great shots of Little Egrets here I flicked the settings quickly and shot a few frames. The problem with just looking down a viewfinder is that size is very difficult to judge and you are just concentrating or panning with the bird and trying to get different points of the wing beat. Then the ageing grey matter starts to kick in, other things register, the feet are black, the wingbeat's elongated, the bill's yellow.... oh goodness!

And then it dropped down back out of sight in the reedbed. This is a very large bird, around the size of a Grey Heron, but dazzling white. I looked for it for hours the next day to no avail but the day after that I caught up with it at a distance and then so did a few other people,

and for all we know, its still there. And thats why I keep going back.

(Thanks to Sandy and Nathalie for helping me make my mind up to resurrect the blog!)

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Gavin and Gertrude Greenfly's family day out

The aphids in my garden are multiplying rapidly and I am going to try out a home-made garlic spray to discourage them from the patio roses, it will be interesting to see how effective or otherwise it is. I was photographing a lovely fresh Speckled Wood on part of the Test Way the other day because the dappled light was fabulous and was pleased with the results. I must admit I hadn't noticed the greenfly at the time, but I think they add rather than detract from the picture.
I know they are the scourge of gardeners, but aphids are an important basal link in the food chain at this time of year so I don't really want to use any sort of poison, especially one which may have adverse effects on the pond. There is always a bit of a lag at this time of year between aphids and their predators but largely I have to force myself to remember that natural control will balance out over the summer if left alone, although on some plants judicious squashing early on will prevent unsightly damage.

An interesting beetle a bit further down the path was the Wasp Beetle, here on a Comfrey leaf. If you didn't know its name then you would probably guess it (like I did)

unless of course you came up with Tiger Beetle which is something entirely different, and by coincidence here is a Green Tiger Beetle I snapped at Bentley Wood..

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Finally getting round to posting up the best Osprey photos

I am so busy taking photographs for a couple of pet projects lately that I am not finding time to sort through everything and post up things of interest here. I am not yet over the Osprey excitement, and every time I start sorting the photos I find myself studying them more carefully. Anyway, the following are definitely the best in terms of clarity and detail that I managed to take over the week so I am going to just post these up and move on!

There is something mildly disturbing about a very close and very large bird of prey giving you a hard stare!


All that time spent standing around waiting for something to happen was worthwhile whenever I look back through these pictures, some truly memorable moments.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Crow attack!

Just a few shots of the now departed Fishlake Osprey attracting the attention of a local Carrion Crow - something it did on many occasions! Its not very often that a Crow gets top billing when co-starring with an Osprey but on this occasion I can't help feeling its the Crow that steals the show...