Wednesday, April 25, 2007

This Damned Light, Carruthers

A bizarre thing happened today. I didn't see it, but someone visiting Kay saw a nuthatch fly into one of the nest boxes we put up for the house sparrows above the garage. When I say 'fly into' I mean that literally. Not in through the hole, but crash - into the box. It fell stunned to the floor, but flew off in it's own good time.

I know they are in the small copse 100yds up the road, because I've heard them, but I've never heard one from the garden, let alone seen one. And why would a hole nesting bird get it so wrong? The sparrowhawk was around today so maybe it was being chased, but Emma didn't mention a sprawk. Odd. Maybe it was the light. Talking of nuthatches and light ........

Last weekend I finally had a chance to go back to the Forest of Dean, to try out my new makeshift hide and more specifically to try it on the hawfinches, assuming they were still there. Sitting in the car park waiting for Chris Grady a nuthatch caught my eye. Perched at a hole it didn't take much to work out that it was nesting there. The light was poor (after all those gorgeous days - life isn't fair sometimes), but I got a few snaps. They do show how the birds had filled in the hole with mud to take it down to the right size for them. As the books say the way the mud blended with the bark was quite impressive.

Nearby a long tailed tit was collecting feathers for a nest that Chris pointed out in the hedge. In fact at one point it had so many it looked more like the feathers were collecting the tit. Focusing aganst the hedge was a bit tricky for my Panasonic, but at this resolution the snap almost looks acceptable. This was the first LTT nest I had seen, but it was as neat as I had expected. Good site to revsist when they're feeding the young.

So it was off to the hawfinch site. The hide went up easily enough and it wasn't long before a female great spotted woodpecker dropped in nearby. So at least it wasn't completely scary.

Next up were three grey squirrels, and again the hide seemed to work. This wasn't a tourist spot where they are particularly tame, so something was right.

And then finally came the metallic 'tic' call of the the stars of the show, although the light only held for the first visit. They were a bit shy, staying to one end of the clearing - not because of my hide, though. Chris had already explained that they had been doing that for a little while - possibly the result of the ringers using this as a netting spot. Still an improvement on my past views, even if not the best pics. The sheer size of the bill is quite remarkable, but the other thing I had never noticed before this year was the pattern of the blue feathers over the males rump. If you click on the last picture you might see this on the bigger version that appears. Better still click on my link to Chris' website and see some fabulous close ups which show this beautifully.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Our Garden - Very Local Patching

Maybe it's my Scottish bloodline, but I can be a bit of a skinflint at times. I had this idea that a hide would be useful, but I'm really not sure how much I would use it so I decided to try and put one together myself. A real value dome tent from Florida - £10, you have to admit it's a bargain - and some camouflage material to go over it. A bit of judicious cutting and sewing by Kay's mum - how else would she wish to spend her time when she came to visit! - and I had windows and 'blinds' . I decided to try it out in the garden, and certainly these blue tits didn't seem too bothered. I love the shot below for the bird's expression (I know, but can't I anthropomorphise sometimes?), and so should probably have posted at a higher resolution, but I'm not on broadband yet and pictures are so slow to upload. You can always click on the picture for a bigger version.

The great tits didn't play ball, so I just got rear end shots.

Inevitably the sparrows got in on the act, but the male couldn't quite seem to work out how to reach the food.

Elsewhere the collared doves have cottoned on to the using the feeders, but the balance needs can be a bit of a weakness.

Our 3 young blackbirds are thriving on raisins, and the mealworms should come tomorrow, so I expect to get some better snaps than this through-the-kitchen-window grab.

Down at the pond the Lady's Smock paints a picture of spring ......

whilst various water based larvae make their final bid for the bright lights of the adult world. I think this may have belonged to the mayfly that flitted briefly around ......

and I am sure this one belonged to the large red damselfly that perched nearby.

In the pond itself we have a nice little colony of newts that appeared within weeks. Trying to get a half decent picture last year was becoming a bit of an obsession, until the moment of ultimate shame and embarrassment when the tripod complete with camera toppled in - thank God for insurance

This year the newts include a pale form that appears almost golden. It stands out a mile, so I guess it's lucky we don't seem to get any pond predators. The small crest can just about be seen on the second shot.

Local Patching II

A trip to Newport wetlands started with a quick look at Caldicot levels and the little owl again. I missed a much better shot of this pheasant, as seconds before the sheep had bent it's head down and given it a good sniff!

At the wetlands it was mostly just the usual suspects. The hawthorn was in full leaf - much earlier than last year, meaning the chances of seeing the many Cetti's warblers in full view were much reduced.

My favourite footy arses - both little and great crested were around, but I suspect I've missed the courtship displays of the gc's.

This reed bunting was in full song, though, but not quite so tame as in times past, hence the somewhat distant view.

There was one bird that stood out though. In many days of walking around the reserve in the last couple of years I've only seen the bearded tits once. Last Sunday I saw them on 5 different occasions, 'pinging' away just like the calls on my birdsong CD! One pair seemed to be working repeatedly over a lagoon - hopefully nesting there and giving the chance of better pictures in the future.

This, sadly, was the best shot I managed - and this is heavily cropped! Still as a record shot it does show the male in classic pose.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Local Patching

After going on about Florida and Powys I decided it was time to get back to some more local wildlife - why say it's a blog about Monmouthshire and beyond if it is all beyond!

We've had a few walks recently, and whilst there hasn't been anything stunning it's lovely to see signs of spring everywhere. The blackthorn lights up the hedgerows - you can tell it from hawthorn because the blackthorn flowers on bare stems.

Primroses and dog violets abound this year

and this patch of bank was covered with celandine and violets, with cuckoo pint in the lower left of the shot - yet to flower.

We wandered through various local woods - I was trying to see if there were any nest holes obviously in use - and the anemones carpeted the floor, frantically getting their growth in before the leaves above unfurl and take away all their light

In one small area we found several patches of what the Americans would politely call 'scat' - or shit as a shovel man might say. After some puzzling it dawned on me that these must be badgers dung pits - communal latrines often established where two or more territories meet. No sign of a sett, but something worth exploring over the coming weeks.

Venturing slightly further afield I paid a visit to Northwick Warth, just over the old Severn bridge. Some Merlin had been seen fairly regularly over the rough grassland, but none were in view. There was a male wheatear in the distance, but most of the action was in the hedgerows.

The bullfinch played their usual game of hide and seek, with this sadly being the best shot

but the chiff chaffs were back with a vengeance, singing their little hearts out from any natural spire they could find

Small flocks of linnets twittered past, occasionally pausing, but usually out of range for snaps.

They seem to be a bird widely ignored on on the sightings lists - too common and unspectacular I guess, but I like them. Last year in the same area I caught one in the evening sunlight framed by blackthorn. Technically it could be a better and sharper shot, and the bird is too far away, but in terms of the glowing colours and background it is a favourite still.

The rookery at Pilning is in full flow, although the birds were twitchy even when I was shooting pictures from the car

Back to Monmouthshire and I made an early morning run down to the Caldicot levels

When I first started this blog I wrote about little grebes and their reported habit, when startled, of diving into weed and hiding with just their bill sticking up. I've still never seen it, but this moorhen did something similar, staying buried mostly underwater for probably a minute before it emerged to swim away, tail flicking in what I took to be an avian V sign.

The fields mainly contain sheep

but one given over to arable contained something that caught my eye. I never got a better view than this shot through the scope, but from the behaviour and size I presume this was a hare that had found a form to lie up in for the day

Again the hedgerows chiff-chaffed away, and wrens and tits were everywhere.

A lone wheatear kept it's distance

but the highlight for me was my first ever sighting of a little owl. It kept a beady eye on me, but still seemed quite relaxed and would pause in it's stare periodically for a little preening.

Nice to be reminded that the grass can be green on your own side of the fence as well as further afield.