Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Highgate Common, Belvide and garden birds

7th to 14th April 2013

Apologies for the long absence.

I managed to get out and about a bit last week to do a spot of bird watching and grabbed some photos along the way.

WARNING! A lot of the photos you are about to see are poor quality record shots so if you were hoping to see magazine quality photos look away now (I'm talking to you Chris Packham).

However, most of the photos are still interesting despite the poor quality and are of some interesting species or interesting features on otherwise common birds. [I would normally pull out the thesaurus at this point but as you can tell I didn't bother].

Our first stop on this digital tour of last week's activities brings us to Highgate Common. Many of you should by now hopefully be familiar with this wonderful piece of Heathland (and woodland) tucked away in the south of Staffordshire.

Highgate Common 7th April

We went for a late afternoon stroll around the northern part of Highgate Common on Sunday hoping to see some solitary bees but the weather was getting a little chilly by late afternoon and we didn't manage to see any. So we took to watching the birds instead and were attracted to the sounds of a Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) singing in the tree tops.

Trying to photograph a bird from below, through twigs and branches, handheld and against an overcast sky with fading light does not a good picture make. However, given my very low expectations I was pleased with how these photos turned out. They show some good ID features and show exactly what one might see in field conditions.

Despite being underexposed (too dark), the following photo does show the contrasting buff upper breast and pale belly on Song Thrush, which might otherwise be less obvious with the correct exposure.

Song Thrush (Turdus Philomelos)
This next photo also shows off the dark ear-coverts (cheeks) as well as the same features as the above image.

Song Thrush (Turdus Philomelos)
You will not find these features on a Mistle Thrush, but light does play a key role in how visible these features are on Song Thrush.

Song Thrush (Turdus Philomelos)

Here the exposure is much better but the ear coverts look less dark and the yellow-buff breast is a little harder to see. However, if you look closely enough you can see the buff running down onto the flanks of the bird as well.

All of the above images show the typical shape of Song Thrush which is fairly short, compact and dumpy, but the next image shows a very different structure to the bird.

Song Thrush (Turdus Philomelos)
This is the exact same bird in exactly the same tree but notice how it's posture has changed. This more narrow, stretched out and streamlined shape is much more reminiscent of Mistle Thrush but if the birds were next to each other then Mistle Thrush would be bigger, paler and heavier chested (oooh er).

As well as Song Thrush we also saw a (Eurasian) Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris). I love these little birds and always enjoy catching glimpses of them in woodland.

Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)
Again it is not the best photo in the world but it is the first time I have been able to photograph Treecreeper and clearly shows the slender down curved bill, small size and two tone colour. It doesn't show the characteristics that enable you to separate this from Short-toed Treecreeper but seeing as how short-toed is a rare visitor to the UK and I heard it make the distinctive calls of Eurasian Treecreeper I'm quite happy with my ID.  

Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)
Rebecca found a large number of feathers in the leaf litter but I don't know what bird they came from. Any suggested ID's are most welcome (someone has already suggested pheasant as a possibility).

Mystery feathers found in woodland on Highgate Common

Belvide Reservoir 11th April

A friend of mine who has recently taken up bird watching had returned to the West Midlands to visit friends and family last week. We had planned to do some bird watching on Thursday but the weather wasn't great with misty conditions and the threat of rain.

Despite the weather it was my only opportunity to go bird watching while my friend was visiting that week so we took our chances and went to Belvide.

And very glad we were that we went too.

Things got off to a very good start with Nuthatch in the woods and both Brambling and Great Spotted Woodpecker showing well at the woodland feeding station.

However, wouldn't you know it, I didn't take my camera out of my rucksack until after the Great Spotted Woodpecker had gone!

I soon got my act together though and managed to get some decent photos of Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla).

Female Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
I genuinely love the way that this female brambling is framed by the green branches and tree stump in the photo above. Unfortunately it can only really be appreciated as a much larger image, which is currently set as my desktop wallpaper!

Female Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
The dark markings on the face of the bird below, coupled with the more extensive orange on the breast and make the below bird a male that is still in winter plumage and maybe a young male at that (1st winter)? My knowledge of Brambling is not great.

Male  Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
The following photo is not the sharpest/most in focus you will ever see but it does show off the wing markings and white rump rather well! I also love the way that the greenish-yellow alula show up on the front of the wings like little horns.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)

I don't know quite why but this male Brambling strikes me as looking rather sad. Maybe it is getting fed up of eating nothing but seeds or maybe it is tired of the long winter we have endured.

Male Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
In the summer months the head of the male is a lovely black in colour. Notice how this individual has more extensive black markings around the head than the other male.

Male and female Brambling  (Fringilla montifringilla)

Female Brambling  (Fringilla montifringilla)
People often get confused between Brambling, which is a winter visitor, and Chaffinch  (Fringilla coelebs) which is present all year round but can have its population increase in winter due to visitors from other countries. 

Confusion is most likely with the females, although both sexes of each species are quite distinctively different. That old saying of bird watching holds true, "you will know it when you see it". 

Male Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Note the completely different head colouration, bill colour and more uniform peachy orange breast/belly of the Chaffinch and the lack of any orange in the wings.

Unfortunately this individual seems to be in the early stages of suffering from that all too common problem for Chaffinches, scaly legs. According to the BTO there are a number of things that can cause scaly legs. The most likely causes here are either mites of the genus Knemidocoptes or the Fringilla papillimavirus which can also afflict Brambling (although there was no sign of infection on the Brambling I photographed). For more information on Scaly legs see BTO website.

Chaffinch  (Fringilla coelebs) in flight
This is another poor flight photo of the same Chaffinch but it does show the green rump to good effect. As noted earlier the rump of Brambling is white not green.

Aside from all the Brambling madness, there was also a male Reed Bunting present.

Common Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Notice the white outer tail feathers and black inner tail in this very blurry flight photo.

Common Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Highlight of the visit was undoubtedly a female Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) that came very close to the side of the Scott Hide and proceeded to catch and eat several fish. It was wonderful to see such a pretty bird so close but despite the close views I didn't manage to get any good photos as the bird moved by the time I managed to grab my camera and I was shooting through a dirty window (excuses, excuses).

You can tell that this Kingfisher is a female by the orange lower mandible. ["Hey man give us d' bill... HEY MAN, D' BILL". Probably a line never said to a waiter in the history of people saying things to waiters].   

Female Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) note the orange lower mandible.

Female Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) note the orange lower mandible.

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
There were a number of birds at the Gazebo feeding station including some lovely looking Goldfinches.

European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis

We didn't stay to look for the Corn Bunting as we were feeling the cold by this point and decided to leave for a nice pub lunch instead.

Garden 14th April

To finish off, I leave you with some photos that Rebecca took of the Siskins we have recently seen in the garden. They have been around for about a week now and are the first Siskins I have ever had in my garden!  There are two males here and at least one female (top left). I can't tell what bird is bottom right but it might just be another female Siskin.

Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

Monday, 25 June 2012

Severn Valley Country Park 20 May 2012

On Sunday the 20th of May we decided to visit the Severn Valley Country Park at Alveley in Shropshire. This is a great place to visit and I'd love to go again.

We took a steep path down from the Visitors Centre to the River Severn to where a bridge crosses the River and carries on towards Park Halt, a small halt (station) on the Severn Valley Railway.

We didn't cross the river, instead deciding to take a left turn and follow the river for a while. This takes you past a picnicking area and then into some woods called Hallclose Coppice.

The Coppice is full of old Oak trees and interesting plants associated with ancient woodland and there is at least one waterfall.

There were lots of ferns but I'm not quite there yet with my plants to take a stab at these. I'd love to go back and spend more time looking at them as I really didn't get to stop for long enough! Although if the weather stays like it is the whole place could end up under several feet of water and we'll all be getting around by boat a la Kevin Costner's Waterworld.

On some well drained gravel waste ground I found some Herb Robert and also some Common Stork's-bill.

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

Common Stork's-bill (Erodicum cicutarium)

Herb Robert is quite a common weed of waste ground and I have some growing in my front garden.

Along the river bank there was some pretty Red Campion which also looked decidedly pink (I can see a theme developing here)!

Red Campion (Silene dioica)

For those of you that don't like the colour pink we also found some Ramsons/wild garlic and Bugle in the coppice.

Ramsons are apparently very nice in salads and various over dishes but I can't say that I've tried them myself. I'd rather leave them in place for others to enjoy.

Ramsons (Allium ursinum)

Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
 One curious thing we spotted which I forgot to take a photo of was either a wishing tree or Celtic Clootie well. This was a tree near a waterfall that had strips of cloth tied to the branches.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Back to old layout

Although I liked the look of the new Blogger "Dynamic layout" for blogs, it didn't display a lot of the extra information I have in the sidebar of the blog and other information was hidden in a "pop-out" menu so I decided to revert to a traditional style of layout.

For  example, I licence all of my photos using a Creative Commons licence but you would not know that by using the dynamical layout because that information was not displayed.

I hope you all agree with me that this format is better but any comments on preference are most welcome.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

May 2012 so far part II

Going through my photos I see that I have things slightly out of order but never mind.

On the 5th of May I paid a quick visit to Kinver Edge and found some Garlic Mustard in the woodland near the Rock Houses.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Then on the 12th of May I found some Sulphur Tuft and Herb Robert while doing some gardening around the front of my house.

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare var. fasciculare)

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare var. fasciculare)

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare var. fasciculare)

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare var. fasciculare)

On the 13th of May we visited Highgate Common with one of my parents dogs and I found quite a few different plants as well as a pair of micro moths mating on my car when we arrived.

Green Longhorn moths (Adela reaumurella)

Frankie (Canis lupus familiaris)

Field Wood-rush is quite a common plant on Highgate Common and can be seen growing amongst the various species of grass. I had found some a few weeks earlier and I went back to get some photos for confirmation.

Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris)

Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris)

Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris)
This species is rhizomatous, meaning that it can spread itself by extending a network of rhizomes (a horizontal underground root like stem) underground, with new shoots then appearing from the rhizomes. You can see this at work in the first picture with several plants within a tightly grouped area. An example of another common rhizomatous plant is bracken.

The Bluebells were still out in force in the wooded areas and formed a nice blanket of blue and white with some Greater Stitchwort.

Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea)
These are native Bluebells and not the Spanish or hybrid Bluebells that are often found in gardens. A member of the public has gone around planting Spanish Bluebells along some of the main footpaths but this should be discouraged as it readily hybridises with our native Bluebell!

Talking of introduced species we also found a large Rhododendron in the woods. It prefers shaded areas on acidic soil and can be a pest if allowed to spread.

Rhododendron  (Rhododendron ponticum

Rhododendron  (Rhododendron ponticum)

Rhododendron  (Rhododendron ponticum)
On the woodland edge there were also some Red Campion (pink flower) in flower.

Red Campion (Silene dioica)

Friday, 18 May 2012

May 2012 so far part I

After the almost complete washout that was April 2012 I have been keen to get out in the field as often as possible in May and document as much as I can. The result so far?.. about three trips to Highgate Common (including a work party), a very short visit to Kinver Edge and a spot of gardening.

Still this was enough time for me to see some interesting looking plants and the occasional insect.

On the 8th of May I went to the regular Tuesday work party at Highgate Common. Despite the awful weather of recent weeks it just about managed to stay dry for the whole day.

The Tree Pipits were obviously ill informed about the recent weather in the UK and have arrived back en masse from Africa to sing their little hearts out from the tops of the scattered trees on the main heathland area. They were also doing their song flight display using any post, tree or tall bush as a launching platform. This behaviour is a good way to tell them apart from the Meadow Pipit and Skylark as they both begin their song flights at ground level.

Other warblers were apparent too with a large number of Willow Warblers, a few Chiffchaff, some Blackcaps and a suspected Whitethroat but no sign of the elusive Cuckoo.

The work party was tasked with clearing away any re-growth of trees that we had cut down over the winter. It was during the course of this work when I noticed this little critter, almost chopped down with the branch it was sitting on.

Drinker (Euthrix potatoria)

Drinker (Euthrix potatoria)
The adult is quite a distinctive looking moth and you can see it by going to the following site

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Highgate Common 03 April 2012

Whilst the rest of the Highgate volunteer work party were building some Dormouse nest boxes for the reserve, myself and another volunteer went out onto the reserve in search of some Emperor Moths (Saturnia pavonia). The males fly in the daytime in search of the females which fly at night. (click on link for photo).

Unfortunately we didn't find any as the weather wasn't on our side. The warm and sunny weather we had been enjoying only the week before had gone and instead we were greeted with a much cooler and greyer day which threatened rain.

It wasn't all doom and gloom though as we did find a total of four Bloody-nosed Beetles (Timarcha tenebricosa)! Pretty good going for the start of April and just rewards for getting absolutely drenched by a torrential downpour just moments late.

Timarcha tenebricosa

Timarcha tenebricosa

Timarcha tenebricosa