Monday, 30 January 2012

Garden watching in Scotland

I haven't been out with the camera for quite a while  -just too much to do, but now I have a week off and we are at the cottage in Scotland. Sunday's drive up was cold and wet, and when we arrived there was nothing in the garden to speak of- most unusual.  I topped up the feeders and by Monday morning the chaffinches were telegraphing the presence of the food and the usual suspects started to appear.
Monday was pretty cold - clear, bright with a snell breeze to keep you on your toes. We had to wait in for the telephone engineer so planned to spend the day gardening, pruning the bushes that were a bit neglected during last year's building works.

When I stopped for a cuppa the buzzards appeared along the valley behind the cottage - hunting along the Luce valley, accompanied by flocks of gulls that use the valley as a shortcut from Loch Ryan to Luce Bay.
The treat of the afternoon however was the arrival of a goldcrest in the bushes along the road - perpetual motion all around the house scouring the shrubs for food. It was so active and secretive it was a nightmare to photograph - especially through dirty sunlit windows ;-)  I grabbed a mediocre shot - just enough to record the bird before it moved on. hopefully it is resident - thanks to my iPhone app iChirp, I think I have identified the puzzling calls I'd heard this morning as goldcrests, so maybe I'll see them tomorrow.
Just before I put the camera away, I was treated to a clear view of the timid dunnock - it finally shot out from the bushes to grab a meal and I got a view of its plumage - a seemingly drab little brown bird turns out to have beautiful colouring when you look closely.

Any way, window washing was the order of the afternoon along with a visit from the long awaited BT engineer - hopefully tomorrow's birds will be easier to capture and definitely easier to post online!  However if the weather holds we'll be out for a walk - maybe to see if the dippers are in residence in the river ... the garden birds may have to wait.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Great Linford, Sunday afternoon

As I volunteered to drop Sarah's friend off in Newport Pagnall while out the the supermarket, I thought I'd stop for a quick walk with Sarah  at the Hanson Centre,  Great Linford.
The first hide revealed that the near banks were off limits to the wildlife courtesy of extensive ice, so there was nothing close enough to photograph but across the lake we were treated to a distant view of a great egret. A large number of mute swans were scattered across the lake - I counted at least 60, both adults and juveniles.
We moved on the the woodland hide where I had a small quantity of food to put in the feeders. It wasn't ideal for photographs as we were looking into the sun, but we managed to see a marsh tit among the many robins, tits, chaffinches, and blackbird. Sarah had a go with the camera and captured the dunnock with the frazzled tail feathers.
Then from under a log pile a number of voles began to scurry in and out  picking up grain.

Sunrise, Sunset


This entry was meant to go up on Saturday, but when I got home I discovered my PC data disk was completely full again, so I had to spend my editing hours sorting out the computer.  I hope it is now all sorted for another few months.  I fear a seriously major sort out is required though!
So: Saturday was a peerless January morning. I'd been in two minds about the walk, as I'd agreed to meet a friend at her house at 9am, but once I saw what he morning was like it was too good to pass up. I reckoned an hour round the north lake to get the sun rise, then a cuppa with Yvonne ... sorry Yvonne I was really late!
It was very cold, causing a mist to settle in the valley and drift across the lake.  The sun rise was crystal clear and the geese were already coming and going - greylag arriving and just a bit later, canada geese fidgeting around before finally, leaving.
I bumped into Keith (not surprising really - he always seems to be around in the mornings) and we walked round towards the hotel, where a variety of waterfowl were feeding - a pair of grebes were facing up as if thinking of a dance, then decided feeding was more important.  Then Keith spotted the first goosander.  There were 2 males and a female, wary as ever, paddling across the lake as soon as we stopped to look at them.  Mostly they were hanging with the Canada geese for camoflage - at least while the geese remained.
Keith then headed south and I went off for my appointement, walking round the hotel to watch the variety of birds still gathered there on my way.


To make up for the shorter walk in the morning and to make the most of a lovely day I set out to Willen in the late afternoon to see what was roosting on the lake.  Temperatures has reached the heady heights of 4 degrees C but the first thing that was obvious was the extent of the ice across the lake, covered by a large varied roost of gulls, including one morose looking gang of what looked like lesser black backs.
The cormorants were returning to their roost, teal were squabbling along the reed edges - both beside the hide and also I realised along the edge of the island as the setting sun caught the bright yellow patches. 
Along the wader scrape there was a big flock of lapwing. My first count made it over 50, but birds kept arriving. They settled until the island goats breenged (great Scots word "To move in a rapid, devil-may-care fashion") along the shore and put them to flight.  This time I counted well over 80 flying near me  and there were more to the north - a nice thing to see.

As the sun was setting the temperature dropped sharply and I headed home, finding time to watch a flock of long tailed tits acrobatically hunting  in the bushes below me, and grab a quick shot of the disappearing sun.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Walton Lake rennovation

The river Ousel by the OU
Wednesday - a lovely sunny morning, so I made sure I made a space in the day for a lunch time walk. It's been ages since I did this! I grabbed the camera from the car and headed to the paths across the Ousel and towards Walton Lake.

 I could hear the usual robins, blackbirds and tits in the trees but most were high up and all were being discrete. More signs of the mild weather though. Not only were the daisies popping up along the path, this one was feeding a hover fly.

I got a surprise when I got to the lake though. Walton Lake is a former flood control balancing lake, but onve Caldecotte and Furzton Lakes were completed it's role was obsolete, so the Parks Trust have allowed it to develop into a reed bed.  Over the winter they have been working hard on maintaining the lake habitat. It had become almost fully choked with reeds,  with little open water.

Access to Walton Lake - new vista!

This has now been rectified as the pictures here show.  Trees trimmed and coppiced, reeds cleared channels dredged.   It will be interesting to see what difference this makes to the wildlife. Inoticed some of the channels have floating nest boxes anchored, so hoefully we will see an increase in diversity there. Watch this space!

New channel

Open Water!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Signs of Spring in January

View across the lake to the hotel
After a week of high winds and rain, Saturday turned out to be very calm and at least dry, if overcast at 8am when I set out. I headed to North Caldecotte first. Now that the rowing club is getting so busy, it's a fair bet that wildlife will be "sheltering" in the small bays round the lake.  As expected most birds were behind the hotel, where a good number of coots (as usual) scattered between gadwall, widgeon, mute swans, cormorants, mallard gulls, grebes and greylag. Surprisingly no Canada geese though!
Male Goosander
There was a surprise though: a pair of great crested grebes were practicing their mating dance.  They didn't spend long - more like an orchestra settling in before a concert and running through a few remembered riffs as warm up. They soon returned to feeding. While watching them I caught a black and white flurry dash from the cover of the lakeside bushes - there was the male goosander that everyone had been talking about, but which had eluded me for a couple of weeks. 
All four Goosanders
Coots being Coots
 He is spectacular. I realised the reason for the flurry soon enough- he has paired up with one of the three females I'd seen over Christmas - and the other two were still hanging around - in hope it seemed!  They were a little wary of me - especially when I pointed my lens in their direction it seemed, but the two single females were determindly following him.

 As I moved along towards the weir a commotion set up in the lake. Winter truce appeared to be over and the male coots were being their usual combatative selves again. One fight led to another as males lined up to assert themselves, causing upset all round.
I passed round the weir and hotel to walk under the road bridge to the south lake. There was a chance that the diver might be around there - if he was still here. No such luck though. 


There was one moment of comedy as a rower who was sculling the edge of the lake in a leisure trip rather than the more usual training runs from north to south. Rather than shooting the central piers, he was trying to row between the pier and the shore, but it appeared he hadn't realise the lake level was still a bit low ... I'm surprised his oar escaped unscathed as he collected the concrete floor of the bank.
Black headed gull regaining summer plumage
As I made my way south along the western bank of the lake I wasn't expecting to see anything exciting - the small birds in the reeds are too far away to photograph and most other birds seem to avoid it. I did discover where the canada geese were hanging out though.  However all was not lost - A low fast-flying blur darted along the lake and landed below me -and  I got my first recognisable shot of a kingfisher! normally all I ever get is the tail feathers as they head off!

 The south of the lake was relatively quiet for life in any location I could photograph them. I did notice one or two of the black headed gulls were regaining breeding colours however - yet another sign that the shortest day has passed and the weather is mild. Some Mallards were even a step further ahead and were actually mating too - a bit optimistic of them I thought!

Cormorant roost
By now it was nearly mid-morning and about a quarter of the cormorants had returned to the roost to dry their wings after their morning feed. The colony is never still - there are always some birds coming or going.

While there a greylag came flying in and was greeted by its mate with more bonding dancing with high and low neck posturing and lots of vocals. Spring is definitely on the minds of the birds, that's for sure, although in several locations the great crested grebes (juveniles?) were still hanging around in large winter flotillas.
Posturing greylag
I can't finish without adding the image of the very cooperative robin I met as I left the lake.  A really great morning walk all around.

Grebe flotilla

Got any food?

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Earlier visitors

Back to work today after the holidays. I didn't get a chance to pop out in my lunchtime as the whole country was being battered by high winds and heavy rain.  However I had a chance to catch up with other wildlife enthusiasts in the office and see what they had seen. Locally the smew on the lake over Xmas was a highlight and so I thought I'd use the opportunity to recap the local rare visitors over winter and post up the images of the favourites ....
The Smew, visited over the Xmas break

The Great Northern Diver, temporary resident since November

Monday, 2 January 2012

Getting started: New Year at Caldecotte Lake

Umm a blog. I'd never do that would I?
Well now I have taken the plunge. I've decided to share my camera trips- mostly for the entertainment of my parents tucked in at home in Gloucestershire, but heck - if anyone else is interested, read on.

I like to get out with my camera and record the wildlife I see, and anything else of interest that gets my attention. For 2012 I need to combine that with a bit more exercise, so here I am, setting myself a target of keeping a blog updated at least once a week, with the results of the outing. Hopefully this will motivate the outing on those days when the world outside is less than enticing.

So what did I catch of note today during my circuit of Caldecotte Lake? Not a lot with the camera that's for sure. I saw (amongst others) a bullfinch, long tailed tits, blue tits, great tits, black headed gulls, a black backed gull (not sure which sort) gadwall, tufted duck, mallards, great crested grebe, little grebe, coot, moorhen, heron, mute swans, greylag, and canada geese.

The smew that was hanging round over Christmas had moved on, the great northern diver and the goosander were being elusive. That leaves me with today's highlight, the male and female reed bunting, singing from the tops of the bushes beside the path. The remainder of the birds conspired to keep moving. Even the swans were heading off in the opposite direction.
But for good measure I also captured the picture at the top of this post. A view of the cormorant roost: glowing white where the bright morning sun caught the guano coating on the trees! Charming.