Monday, 21 February 2011

Ducking and Diving at Draycote

After last week's, optimistic 'Suggestions of Spring' post, showing Snowdrops, Winter Aconites and Daffodil buds it has felt more like Winter again here with low temperatures, rain and dreary days.

'Ah ! wherefore still the leafless wood,
The angry, roaring, raging flood,
That headlong rushes red as blood?
Ah! wherefore still, snow, sleet, and hail,
When vegetation should prevail.
And winter end her dismal tale?'
(Stephen George Kemble)

It was a pleasure, after an enforced absence, to be able to visit Draycote Water again recently but unfortunately when we arrived the wind had picked up and made walking and trying to hold the camera steady, an uncomfortable experience.

I love Draycote. It is one of the only places within easy reach to see birds which wouldn't usually frequent this landlocked area. The problem there is though, that unless you have the time to walk the five and a half miles around the whole perimeter, the decision has to be made as to which is the 'right' way to walk. As I don't usually have enough time to go all the way round my luck is that unfortunately, when looking for a particular bird which I know is there, I inevitably manage to pick the 'wrong' way. I always check the Draycote website before I go so this time was hoping to see the drake Smew off Farborough Bank where it had been sighted the day before and for several days previously. Of course, as is nearly always my luck, when I visited it had moved to the other side :( Oh well! We made the best of it and I was pleased to see a pair of Goldeneye Ducks. The Goldeneyes have a slight look of the Smew I think.

Goldeneye Ducks

'From troubles of the world I turn to ducks,
Beautiful comical things
Sleeping or curled
Their heads beneath white wings.'
(Frank W. Harvey)

What a striking bird the drake is.

Goldeneye (Drake)

The female has an attractiveness of her own too.

Goldeneye (Hen)

'And when beneath the pool
They dabble, and when they swim

And make their rippling rings,
0 ducks are beautiful things!'
(Frank W. Harvey)

Diving ducks (as opposed to dabblers) such as the Goldeneye can of course be frustrating to photograph due to their habit of disappearing under the water just as one is about to press the camera shutter but I can be pretty well always guaranteed to see another diving duck there, the Tufted Duck and I managed to catch this one just before it dived.

Tufted Duck (Drake)

We walked to the hide but as seems to nearly always be the case at Draycote it was locked. If it hadn't been I would have had a much better view of this mixed group of ducks which included Mallards, Teal and the odd Wigeon and Gadwall.

A Mixture of Ducks

'Tails uppermost, or waddling
Sailor-like on the shores
Of ponds, or paddling -
Left! Right! - with fanlike feet

Which are for steady oars.'
(Frank W. Harvey)

In the field on the far side of the water, among the Crows, I saw lots of Fieldfares but unfortunately they were too far away for photos.

In the trees, I spotted this Squirrel.

Grey Squirrel

'Small as he is, he knows he may want,
In the bleak winter weather, when food is scant,
So he finds a hole in an old tree's core,
And there makes his nest, and lays up his store.'

(Mary Howitt)

A little further on, I saw a gull, walking in the grass below the trees, which I think may be a second winter Common Gull or just a Common Gull in Winter plumage but as I am no expert on gulls and in my experience Black-headed Gulls are far more 'common' than Common Gulls, I stand to be corrected.

Common Gull?
(Edit: Thanks to Warren for confirmation of my ID)

The following photos were all taken at Draycote too but at the end of October, during a visit I didn't get round to posting here.

As is usually the case there were plenty of Pied Wagtails on the rocks looking for a tasty insect or two.

Pied Wagtail

I was pleased to see a good number of Meadow Pipits foraging on the grassy bank at the side of the path. They weren't too bothered by passers by, just flying a little further on when approached, before settling again.

Meadow Pipit

'Birds are poetry come to life and set to music'
(Elizabeth Gordon)

On this occasion I got a better view of a Teal

Teal Duck (drake)

and also of this Gadwall which entered into a prolonged and sometimes synchronised preening session with a Mallard. I watched them for some time hoping that the Gadwall would give me a better pose but it was far too busy with its ablutions to worry about photo opportunities!

Gadwall with Mallard (above and below)

The Cormorants at Draycote are usually seen standing sentinel on boats or buoys but the one in the photo below was in the water seeking its next meal


While this Canada Goose looked as if it was trying to will something to appear for its meal!

Canada Goose

Well that's it for now...enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Suggestions of Spring

It is that tantalising time of year when we can all too easily be seduced into thinking that one welcome day of milder temperatures and golden sunshine spells the start of Spring, only to have our hopes dashed the next day with a return to penetrating, cold winds and rain. It was therefore frustrating when one of the aforementioned Springlike days, last Tuesday, coincided with prearranged appointments, however we managed to snatch an hour or so to visit a small, local lake. The wild and unforgiving cold winds which we had experienced day after day, for what seemed much longer than the five days they actually lasted, had gone and the sun had put in a much needed appearance.

'Spring is coming ! spring is coming
Infant leaves are on the trees;
And the little birds are humming
Songs upon the pleasant breeze'
(Mrs. C. H. Waterman Esling)

How lovely it was to be greeted by the sight of Snowdrops... lots of them... some growing in drifts as far as the eye could see!


'The little snowdrop comes
To herald in the spring,
In robe of spotless white,

With hope upon its wing.'
(Ann Stuart Thompson)

I have never seen any particularly unusual birds there but always think it a shame that the more familiar species are overlooked by many of us because they are familiar; if, for instance, we had never seen
a Mallard before, surely we couldn't fail to be delighted by such a striking and entertaining bird!

Mallard Ducks

I think the same is true of the Moorhen with its comical feet and bold red frontal shield.


A Moorhen incubating eggs was observed by scientists, during heavy rain, covering itself with a sheet of polythene and then removing it once the rain had stopped!


In addition to the Snowdrops it was a delight to find another cheerful flower which I have always loved, the colourful Winter Aconite, a member of the Buttercup family, whose flowers open only while the sun is shining.

Winter Aconites

'Oh, the New-year's Gift a welcome flower!

For she gladdens the gloom of the wintry hour.

When a brief gleam of sunshine dissolves the first snow,
It is pleasant to gaze on her beautiful glow ;
At a time when no object in nature looks bright,
Save the golden hue of the Aconite.'
(Agnes Strickland)

I often hear (but rarely see) woodpeckers during visits to the lake but on this occasion there was no sign of one, however I will slip in a (poor) photo of one I saw there in November which I didn't get round to posting.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

There are always plenty of Great Tits to be seen there.

Great Tit

The song of the Great Tit has been found to change in noise polluted urban areas. Where there is low frequency background noise pollution, their song has a higher frequency than it does in quieter areas!

There is usually a Robin singing its little heart out to accompany our walk.


Sweet bird, on yonder leafless spray,
What means that song so blithe, so gay ?


The land which adjoins the lake is part of the estate of a manor house and has parkland which houses Red Deer. While not as exciting to see as the Roe Deer I recorded on an earlier post which were living totally in the wild it is still lovely to see these beautiful animals. Due to there being unsightly scaffolding on the house last week the following two photos were again taken during our visit in November but are a portrayal of what we saw last week without the unsightly metalwork.

Red Deer

How can anyone even contemplate killing magnificent creatures such as these for pleasure?

Finally I saw these Daffodils in bud, another sign that Spring is just around the corner.


I hope Spring is just around the corner where you live too... Enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Curtain up on the Big Garden Birdwatch 2011!

The stage was set and the audience waiting last weekend but would the star performers turn up? It was, of course, the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch weekend and the stage had been set by making sure all the feeders were topped up and by putting some extra apples, sultanas and suet treats out. The feeders and tables, as usual, contained mixed seed, sunflower hearts, suet sprinkles and dried mealworms. This audience of one chose Saturday for the hour long performance and waited with eager anticipation. So at 1pm, with binoculars at the ready, it was camera, lights, action for a matinee performance! On this occasion though the big spotlight in the sky failed which meant that unfortunately the camera was redundant

'Ah! little dreamt I of the cloudy sky,

Which o'er my path would cast the dreary shade;
That, as on light'ning's wing my bliss would fly,

And every flower of hope's creation fade!'
(Samuel Dobell)

I am very pleased I decided to pick Saturday for my count as Sunday was an unusually quiet day in the garden, I suspect that the Sparrowhawk was around or the troublesome cat from next door! Anyway on Saturday a handful of star performers did turn up and my count was as follows.

Chaffinch 7

Greenfinch 6

Blackbird 5

Starling 4

Goldfinch 3

Blue Tit 2

House Sparrow 2

Wood Pigeon 2

Coal Tit 1

Great Tit 1

Robin 1

Dunnock 1

Collared Dove 1

And now the star performers and top of the bill, in no particular order :)

Blackcap 1

Brambling 1

Redwing 1

As it was such a bad day for the light all of the photos (some taken through glass) are from my archives with the exception of the Brambling. I last saw Bramblings in the garden three years ago. I first noticed them on the ground feeding amongst the Chaffinches and a small flock then visited each day for some weeks, they were a delight to watch but unfortunately I didn't have a decent camera at that time so although the light was bad last Saturday I managed to at least get some record shots through glass of this very welcome little visitor.


I had been hoping to see some ever since the weather turned wintry but hadn't been lucky but I was going through some photos yesterday which I took in December and which again fell victim to bad light, I was just about to delete some which I had taken of Goldfinches when to my amazement I noticed that in the top corner of three of them was...a Brambling!! So it just goes to show that sometimes there are birds visiting our gardens which we are just not aware of. I really must look more carefully and more often in future. I also forgot to mention on my last post that I had been visited by a Great Spotted Woodpecker!! It was at the far end of the garden on one of the peanut feeders and unfortunately I wasn't able to get a photograph, I fear it may have been a one off visit as it was during the very bad weather but I'll keep hoping.

Now, back to the count and the largest amount of birds I saw at one time were Chaffinches.


Greenfinches are regular visitors


as are Goldfinches and although I only recorded 3 during my hour's count, I usually see them in much larger numbers.


'Sometimes goldfinches one by one will drop

From low hung branches; little space they stop,

But sip, and twitter, and their feathers sleek,
Then off at once, as in a wanton freak;
Or perhaps, to show their black and golden wings,
Pausing upon their yellow flutterings.'
(John Keats)

Blue Tits are seen most days

Blue Tit

and so are Great Tits

Great Tit

The male Blackcap has been around the garden for some weeks now. Last year on Big Garden Birdwatch day I recorded 2 males and 1 female but this Winter I haven't seen a female so far.


I am pretty sure I saw a Tree Sparrow on a seed feeder at the far end of the garden but unfortunately it wasn't there long enough for me to be certain so I couldn't record it. I did see a couple of House Sparrows which are nowhere near as common in the garden as they used to be.

House Sparrow

'In simple suit of russet brown,
I thus am daily dressed,
While other birds on me look down;
Yet I've a peaceful breast.
No envy for the loud and gay
Shall e'er my bosom harrow ;
More lowly, I'm more blest than they,
A fearless, trustful sparrow !'

(Hannah Flagg Gould)

Of course it was no surprise that the Starlings turned up, they can never resist the fat treats.


I don't think there is a day goes by without Blackbirds in the garden.


It is always lovely to see the Robin. I don't see it every day although I usually hear it so I was pleased it appeared to have its name recorded on Big Garden Birdwatch day. I like to put grated cheese and dried mealworms out as a special treat for it in the Winter.


'Come here, little Robin, and don't be afraid,
I would not hurt even a feather;
Come here, little Robin, and pick up some bread,
To feed you this very cold weather.

Cold Winter is come, but it will not last long,

And Summer we soon shall be greeting;
Then remember, sweet Robin, to sing me a song,
In return for the breakfast you're eating!'

Apart from the Brambling the biggest surprise of the hour came when I was watching the Blackbirds eating apples which I had scattered on the ground. I suddenly realised that one didn't look quite right, I took a closer look through the binoculars and was thrilled to see a Redwing had dropped in to join the performance!


And so the curtain closed on another year's Big Garden Birdwatch and it was nice to have a couple of surprises. One notable absence this time though was the Long-tailed Tit. I haven't seen any in the garden for some time but of course they do tend to all flit in together in a rush and disappear again just as quickly so it may be that I have missed them but they definitely didn't put in an appearance for the count this year. Have a great week...and enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.