Monday, May 31, 2010

Flitters, Flutters and Stop-Start Sprinters!


The very warm weather which many of us in the UK experienced a week or so ago was nice while it lasted but it certainly didn't last long! We had some persistent rain here in the last couple of days but it hasn't had much impact on the very dry ground especially as there have been some blustery winds which have dried things out considerably. However, at the moment everything still looks beautifully green and fresh.

'The old hills that for a mans lifetime hath stood
Unmolested mid brushes and burrs
The worn ways leading along to the wood
And the rabbit tracks into the furze....

Though simple to some I delight in the sight
Of such objects that bring unto me
A picture of picturesque joy and delight
Where beauty and harmony be.'
(John Clare)

~~~

I haven't yet seen as many different varieties of butterflies as I would have expected but during the very warm weather, while enjoying a walk close to home, there were lots of Speckled Woods about.

Speckled Wood Butterfly


I also saw this white butterfly taking nectar from a Herb Robert flower. I'm not too good at identifying whites, I don't think it is either the Small White or Large White and it doesn't look like the Green Veined White which I photographed last year. I'm pretty sure I have seen and photographed it before but by the time Summer has gone and we are into a new year I have forgotten what I learnt the year before :( therefore, I am going to leave it to those more expert than myself!

Green-veined White Butterfly (probably male)

(Thank you very much to Greenie. for the ID)

This little Fat-legged Beetle was gleaming in the sunshine on a Buttercup. It is so called because the male of the species has swollen looking femora (thighs). Other names are Thick-legged Beetle and Flower Beetle.

Fat-legged Beetle (Oedemera nobilis) (male)

This little beauty gave me the run-around, flitting from bush to bush, it was very difficult to 'pin down' and this was the best I could do before it took off again. It looked much blacker than the photo shows. I am assuming it is a Damselfly (although it almost seemed too small) but I haven't been able to identify which one possibly because it may be immature, I'm sure someone will know :)

Beautiful Demoiselle (female)

As I said, I knew 'someone' would know and of course he did!
Thanks again to Greenie :)

Back on safer ground now, during the same walk, there is no mistaking what is probably Britain's favourite bird, I photographed this one singing its heart out which gladdened mine immeasurably.

Robin

'Oh! for a strain as gladsome and free—
Oh! for a voice of such melody—
Oh ! for the spirit-like flow of song,
Heard for a moment, remembered long.'
(Henry Righton)

~~~

All of the following photos were taken during recent visits to Draycote, the light conditions were not always favourable and some of the birds were a very long way away. Whenever we go there we are usually guaranteed to see Pied Wagtails flitting around, searching for insects and landing momentarily on the rocks.

Pied Wagtail


On a visit in April, I spotted, in the top of a tree what I assumed to be a Yellow Wagtail. In my experience it is unusual to see a wagtail in a tree and I took some very poor photos which on careful examination showed that I had found the Blue-headed Wagtail which had been seen there at that time! Unfortunately they were much too poor to show but nevertheless I was pleased to have seen it. Getting back to more recent visits to Draycote I was happy to see my first Yellow Wagtails of the year. This is sadly another bird on the red list of endangered species in the UK!

Yellow Wagtail


It was also nice to see these Ringed Plovers, there were two, each standing completely still, apart from constantly turning their heads. In common with some other birds including other plovers these attractive little birds will defend their nests and young against predators by feigning a broken wing, calling and leading intruders away from the nest, once the potential threat is far enough away the plover will fly off. When hunting for food they employ a stop-start, run and pause technique.

Ringed Plover

'They sprint eight feet and -
stop. Like that. They
sprintayard (like that) and
stop.
They have no acceleration
and no brakes.
Top speed's their only one.'
(Norman MacCaig)

This lovely Great Crested grebe was quite close to me for a change, what elegant, graceful looking birds they are, even when dripping wet after diving for food!

Great Crested Grebe

These two were much further away and I hoped they were going to perform their beautiful 'weed dance' but unfortunately after some initial overtures it fizzled out.


As well as water birds there is always lots of birdsong coming from the trees and hedgerows at Draycote and this Dunnock was enjoying some sunshine

Dunnock

and so was this very smart looking Great Tit.

Great Tit

This next photo is especially for someone who is not feeling too well at the moment as I know it is his favourite bird. I hope it may help to cheer you up a little, Keith :)

Pheasant

'Oh! beautiful bird in thy stately pride,
Thou wast made in a waste of flowers to hide,
And to fling to the sun the glorious hues
Of thy rainbow-gold, thy green and blues!
Yes, beautiful pheasant, the birch-wood bowers,
Rich many-formed leaves, bright tinted flowers,
Broad masses of shade, and the sunshine free,
In thy gorgeous beauty are meet for thee!'
(Mary Howitt)

~~~


Wherever I go at the moment there seem to be lots and lots of Rabbits which is not surprising considering that it has been estimated that in five years a single pair could have around a million descendants were it not for the many mishaps to which rabbits are exposed!

Rabbit

I was very pleased to get photos of two birds I have never managed to capture before, the first was a Kestrel which was a long way away from me and the light wasn't good but here it is anyway.

Kestrel


And finally my first captures of a Green Woodpecker. Again it was a very long way away and I scrambled down a rather steep bank to try and get closer, needless to say I soon spooked it and it was off and away all too quickly!

Green Woodpecker

'Hark! heard ye that laughter so loud and so long? -
Again now! - it drowneth the wood-linnet's song!
'T is the woodpecker laughing! - the comical elf!
His soul must be merry to laugh to himself! -
And now we are nearer - speak low - be not heard!
Though he's merry at heart, he's a shy, timid bird ...

... soon as a footstep that's human is heard,
A quick terror springs to the heart of the bird!
For man, the oppressor and tyrant, has made
The free harmless dwellers of nature afraid! ...

And then, when we're up at the end of the lane,
We shall hear the old woodpecker laughing again.'
(Mary Howitt)

Have a wonderful, Nature filled week wherever you are.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

From Swan to Speedboat!


This month of May continues to feel more like March here, or even February! It has been cold and dull for most of the past week with only the occasional glimpse of sunshine. The verse below is really about April but I thought it was very appropriate.

'The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.'
(Robert Frost)

~~~

I glanced out of the window yesterday and thought the Stock Dove which visited me on Big Garden Birdwatch day had returned but when I opened the door for a better look I realised it was a Feral Pigeon and, while very common birds in more urban settings, I thought I would include a photo as I have never seen one in the garden before. I do hope it doesn't tell its friends as I really don't want my garden full of them!

Feral Pigeon

It is descended from the Rock Dove. I think it has lovely plumage and looks much nicer in a garden setting rather than wandering dusty streets as we so often see them.

At the same time, I photographed this juvenile Wood Pigeon, unlike the adult it has no white marking on the neck and is quite fluffy looking. I was slightly confused by the very distinct black wing bars and if anyone would like to tell me that it is in fact a juvenile Stock Dove I will be more than happy...but I think it unlikely.

Wood Pigeon (Juvenile)

This lovely little Robin seems to be very busy in the garden at the moment so I am hoping it may have a nest hidden away somewhere.

Robin

'Tis true; and therefore still we find
That gentle spirits love the robin
That comes as Wordsworth says, "When winds are sobbing;"
Pecks at your window; sits upon your spade,
And often thanks you with a serenade.'
(Mary Howitt)

~~~


We visited a small Nature reserve a few days ago, unfortunately it was a very dull day with only brief moments of sunshine so the conditions were far from ideal for photography. However, I was happy to see these lovely Cowslips which were a welcome splash of bright colour.

Cowslips

I also saw another of my favourite Spring flowers.

Lady's Smock

'Where the grass is damp and green,
Where the shallow streams are flowing,
Where the Cowslip buds are showing,
I am seen.

Dainty as a fairy's frock,
White or mauve, of elfin sewing,
'Tis the meadow-maiden growing---
Lady's-Smock.'
(Cicely Mary Barker)


'When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smock all silver white
And Cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight.'
(William Shakespeare)


The colour of these pretty flowers, also known as 'Cuckoo Flower', vary from white to pink but are more commonly pale lilac. The ones I saw were very pale with just a hint of lilac. Its leaves were once popular in salads as the plant is closely related to Watercress.

The scent wafting from this Crab Apple blossom was beautiful.

Crab Apple Blossom

~~~

This Great Tit posed nicely for me.

Great Tit

~~~

We sat for a while in the hide, overlooking one of the reclaimed gravel pits, and watched a pair of proud Coot parents out for an afternoon swim with their family

Coots

and no sooner had they left the stage than enter proud Mrs Molly Mallard with her family. Her erstwhile husband, Mr Malcolm Mallard, having done a runner of course (or should I say a swimmer) as soon as incubation was well underway!

Mallard Duck and Ducklings

I noticed a bird flitting around the edges of the water, it was intent on playing hide and seek with me and unfortunately this was the only photo I could get. It is only the second or third time I have managed any sort of picture of a Reed Bunting.

Reed Bunting (Male)

~~~

When we visited a small lake, one day last week , I saw this Swan sitting serenely on its nest. Considering how, when building a nest, they seem to fling the material around haphazardly, I am impressed by how relatively neat the finished article is. It reminds me of a large wicker basket which, I suppose, is pretty much what it is really!

Mute Swan on Nest

'Queen-Bird that sittest on thy shining-nest,
And thy young cygnets without sorrow hatchest,
And thou, thou other royal bird, that watchest
Lest the white mother wandering feet molest.'

(Charles Lamb)


Some time later, after that scene of calm serenity, we were at the opposite end of the lake and about to make our way back to the car when, seemingly from nowhere, into view zoomed one very angry Swan! Of course I have seen Swans acting aggressively many times but this one was particularly persistent. Whether it was the mate of the one on the nest I don't know but it somehow hardly resembled a bird at all and seemed to have metamorphosed into an almost surreal, feathered speed boat!

'It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage!'
(Robert Frost)

And the object of its derision?

This hapless Canada Goose and its mate, who had previously been swimming around, minding their own business!

Canada Geese

They were left marooned and bewildered on the bank trying to work out how to get to the opposite side of the lake and into the reeds, where I suspect they had a nest, without unwittingly antagonising the Swan again. It made eye to eye contact with them,

before patrolling up and down for a while, until it was sure they had got the message.

When it was happy that they had, it looked to me like it was taking a curtain call and inviting applause!

And the Canada Geese? They made a sudden dash for it and with much loud honking flew across the lake and out of sight into the reeds. They went so suddenly and quickly that the Swan had no time to return...and I had no time to record their escape with my camera...

~~~

Finally, as we haven't seen much blue sky in the last couple of weeks, I thought I would post this photo of a Squirrel, taken at Draycote during April when it seemed Summer had arrived early...how easily we are lulled into a false sense of security...

Grey Squirrel

'In the joy of his nature he frisks with a bound
To the topmost twigs, and then down to the ground;
Then up again like a winged thing,
And from tree to tree with a vaulting spring.'
(Mary Howitt)

Enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Simply Spring

The new month seems to have brought a change in the weather, it has been very cold here for the last few days but I suppose we have been quite spoilt for some weeks with such mild temperatures and glorious sunshine, perhaps we forget how early in the year it still is.

'The world's favorite season is spring,
All things seem possible in May.'
(Edwin Way Teale)

~~~

To continue with some photos taken in the last few weeks, I saw this pretty little Blue Tit at Draycote, it seemed to be wondering what on earth I was doing pointing a camera at it!

Blue Tit

But this Chaffinch was unconcerned by my presence.

Chaffinch (Male)

'The cock Chaffinch in Spring
Is as stunning a little bird
As any in the world.
It should be prized for its commonness'
(Simon Barnes)
~~~

Compared with last year Draycote seems surprisingly lacking in gulls at the moment but this time last year we hadn't discovered the place so perhaps a little later in the year there will be more. However, we did see this Black-headed Gull which had found something interesting to eat.

Black-headed Gull

There is definitely no shortage of Coots

Coot

and soon there will be more, this one was contentedly sitting on its nest.

'Oh Coot! oh bold, adventurous Coot,
I pray thee tell to me,
The perils of that stormy lime
That bore thee to the sea!

Amid the foaming wave, thou sat’st.
And steer’dst thy little boat;
Thy nest of rush and water-reed
So bravely set afloat.'
(Mary Howitt)
~~~

This Tufted Duck was looking very smart in its monochrome plumage

Tufted Duck

and this one was out for a swim with his wife.

These Great Crested Grebes were looking serene in the early evening sunshine

Great Crested Grebe

while this one was enjoying a fish supper!


~~~

It was quite strange to see this colourful Pheasant with a watery backdrop but it seemed quite contented as it scratched around for food. The strange black marks on this photo and on the one of the Pheasant at the beginning of my post are actually the dratted flies which I mentioned in my last post!

Pheasant (Male)

'... And to see 'mid the growth of all lovely things,
The joyous Pheasant unfolds his wings,
And then cower down, as if to screen
His gorgeous purple, gold, and green!'
(Mary Howitt)

~~~

This Canada Goose looked more in keeping with its surroundings.

Canada Goose

As we walked past some bushes I heard rustling noises and spotted this Rabbit looking rather well fed.

Rabbit

This Cormorant (I wondered if it was a Shag at first) looked, to me, like a witch in her black, hooded cloak, astride her broomstick!

Cormorant

~~~

During a visit to one of the small, local lakes I saw this Swan looking resplendent in its finery

Mute Swan

'Wild bird of beauty,
Strong, and glad, and free!
Dwelling on these waters,---
How pleasant it must be!
Like a gleam of sunshine
In shadow passing on,---
Like a wreath of snow, thou art,
Wild and graceful swan!'
(Mary Howitt)


While this Mallard was in reflective mood :)

Mallard Duck (Male)

I am always amused by the large and rather ungainly feet of Coots and Moorhens and this Moorhen illustrates my point.

Moorhen

~~~

In the last few weeks, wherever I have been, the constant call of the Chiffchaff has teased and tantalised me. I have scoured the trees so many times with my binoculars to no avail but on a walk quite close to home, just as I was about to give up, this one suddenly appeared in the open. It was a fair distance away and this was the best of a bad lot of photos.

Chiffchaff

I was hoping to visit a Bluebell wood this weekend but the weather has turned very cold and we have had prolonged, heavy rain. This photo was taken as they were just starting to flower about ten days ago

Bluebell

'My hundred thousand bells of blue,
The splendour of the Spring,
They carpet all the woods anew
With royalty of sapphire hue;
The Primrose is the Queen, 'tis true.
But surely I am King!
Ah yes,
The peerless Woodland King!'
(Cicely Mary Barker)

and this photo taken just a few days ago shows how frighteningly quickly the year is moving on with this Horse Chestnut tree already starting to show its 'candles' which will eventually bear Conkers during the season which begins with A and which I really don't want to be reminded of :)

Horse Chestnut

~~~

Finally (well nearly), we returned to Draycote, one day last week in the hope the flies might have gone. They were still there but thankfully not in such huge numbers. I was pleased to see this very proud mum out and about with her new family.

Female Mallard Duck and Ducklings

I counted eleven ducklings so she has a busy time at the moment especially as dad abandons his family once incubation is well underway, leaving mum to raise the large brood on her own!

Now, finally (really!), regular readers may remember my many fruitless searches last year at Draycote for the elusive Lesser Scaup. Well this year I have been several times in the hope of spotting the two Great Northern Divers which have been seen there for some weeks but as is usually my luck, they have eluded me each time. However! On my latest visit, while scanning the water for the Divers, my attention was caught by a duck which looked unfamiliar. It was quite a long way out so the photos are not wonderful but on my return home after checking my books I was thrilled to discover I had found a...

Garganey Duck (male)


Shy and secretive, the Garganey is a dabbling duck, meaning that it feeds by skimming rather than diving or 'upending'. The male has a distinctive 'crackling' mating call. The RSPB says of it,

'The garganey is a scarce and very secretive breeding duck in the UK. It is smaller than a mallard and slightly bigger than a teal. The male is most easily recognised with a broad white stripe over the eye. In flight it shows a pale blue forewing. It feeds by "dabbling".'

It was great to see a new bird.

Enjoy this beautiful season of Spring, wherever you are.