Saturday, 24 March 2012

Out and about again

After a week keeping my leg elevated, I had to get out with my camera again this morning.  Thanks to the high pressure zone stationary over the east of the UK, the weather here has been warm for March, but also increasingly foggy.
I waited for signs of the sun breaking through then headed to Caldecotte Lake - with a fall-back plan to call for a lift home i the leg wasn't holding up.  Spring really is in full swing now. Several hedges,trees and walls on the way provided a perch for singing dunnocks and robins, with a general background of song.

Eight, in front of the hotel
As I approached the lake the path was edged with a swathe of daffodil, blackthorn blossom filled the hedgerows and the sun got stronger by the  minute.  Pairs of mallard were dotted along the dam - sleeping and preening.  I watched this male for a while, demonstrating some eye-watering flexibility to repair his wing feathers.  The rowing club was in full swing, cutting through the remaining fog in front of the hotel. As usual birds were being pushed to the sides of the lake.
Two male goosander inrning sunlight
The winter waterfowl population has dispersed, leaving the usual suspects, although the goosander seem to have decided it may be a good place to live - two males and a female were feeding behind the hotel - one male obviously in charge of the partnership, seeing off the second male if he got too close.  I managed to flank them at one point, using bushes to mask my approach while they were more concerned with one another - but a barking dog finally spooked them and off they went - I believe I saw them later by the cormorant island although of course they might have been different birds!
Dominant male
Goosander take flight
I headed south - follwoing a trail of evidence that Keith had been there ahead of me - small piles of strategically placed bird food- but they's obviously better things to be doing, as the bushes were relatively quiet and there were very few birds on the feeders. My knee was objecting after the enforced rest but there was a final treat before I called for a lift home:  a chiffchaff landed immediately above my head, posing and giving me a clear demonstration of it's distinctive call.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Other people's grass

Lapwings mobbing geese
Work life is intensely busy at the moment, including spending a big chunk of last Saturday in the office! So I was determined to do something different with my time on Sunday (and now it has taken a week to finish the blog entry!) 
Primroses: spring is here!
Having lived here quite a while, I'm almost ashamed to admit I'd never stopped at College Lake Tring, so that became my target for the day.
Ivinghoe across the deep-set College Lake
I arrived just after opening while it was still relatively quiet. The site has a nice visitor centre and a really good choice of bird watching hides, sitting above a chalk pit lake. The near lake has been managed to provide shallow wading and duck feeding areas, with two grassy islands for grazing and nesting birds. That turned out to be the highlight of the visit, as the lapwing appeared to be trying to establish nests, and were seriously upset by the pairs of canada geese grazing the island. They were flying around in a large-winged cloud, dive-bombing the geese. Redshank and a variety of duck (mallard, gadwall widgeon and shelduck) dotted the area.  I followed the bird trail, and there were plenty of hides to view from, but not much to photograph except the spring wildflowers in the hedgerow.
To make things worse I only had the old binoculars with me and they weren't that helpful.
The way up - marked by footpath erosion
So I packed up intending to go to Startops, but that was really busy - nowhere left to park the car!
Belted Galloway
 It was way to nice a day to go tamely home so I headed to Ivinghoe beacon, bit the bullet and headed to the top. On the rough grazing along the Ridgeway a small herd of young belted galloways were earning their keep.  These are a breed that my dad would call "thrifty grazers" - i.e. they can live on rougher pastures - but they are also able to pick across sensitive grassland without damaging it, leaving behind tussocks which the birds like larks can use for nesting cover. Ahead of me the path to the top was obvious - carved into the chalk by the high numbers of feet passing by.
It was a fabulous day, I could see for miles, even with the late morning haze.    The day was made by catching a view of a red kite, and by the singing of the larks - fabulous. The biggest winged presence by far though was the number of model planes being flown from the summit! One thing I had expected to see was more difficult to locate. The once bright chalk lion carved on Dunstable down at Whipsnade zoo seemed to be missing. I eventually found it, sadly dimmed and grassed over: Whipsnade managers have obviously decided to let it fade away.
And why did I call this" other people's grass"? Well I reckon the lake on my doorstep - Caldecotte Lake in Milton Keynes gives me better opportunities to photograph birds and as much variety - more in fact than I saw at College Lake on Sunday!!

Altogether a great walk that will have to last me, as I'm housebound with a fever / infection this weekend. Sigh.
The Vale

The Beacon from the car park area

The view northwards
The Beacon, with distant faded chalk lion

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Singing in the rain

Hanson Environment Centre - lifting fog
I haven't had a proper trip out with my camera for a couple of weeks - I managed 15 mins in the garden last weekend, photographing the insects uncovered by my pruning activities.  It's nice to see the insect numbers going up, although I suspect they'll be suffering today, as the grey rainy day turned to sleet early afternoon.
Yesterday I was out early and decided to try HESC again, getting early light direction, coupled with the remains of a foggy morning.  I hoped that the overnighting birds might be still around to see, but it was disappointingly quiet on the water and the bund.
The up side was the welter of birdsong to hear. The vegetation around the lakes supports a wide range of small birds and they were definitely enjoying the conditions.  I decided to spend some time in the woodland hide. On the way I crossed the raised walkway and got a good view of a particularly obliging dunnock who cooperated as I photographed his singing efforts.
At the hide I settled down after putting out some food to attract the locals. The usual common birds lined up watching me - great tits, blue tits, robins and chaffinch - all diving in before my back was turned.  I watched for a while as they fed, along with brief glimpses of one of the bank voles and a number of the ubiquitous grey squirrels. Eventually the stars turned up - I'm sure there were both Marsh tits and Willow tits - especially as a man turned up later and tried to educate me in the difference!  I thought I could see the points at the time, but looking at my pictures, I'm still not able to say with 100% confidence which is which :-(
I completed my trip round the area as the rain steadily increased - not a completely uneventful trip thanks to disturbing a person trying to break into a hide, but otherwise unexciting as far as the photo ops were concerned (no, I wasn't going to point a camera openly at the low-life- I was on my own! - but I did go get help!)
Despite the rain, the singing continued unabated. As I was leaving a pair of green woodpeckers flashed across the path ahead of me - I did manage to capture a shot of one as he landed in a tree deep in the copse - satisfying as I'd been hearing them all morning.
Green woodpecker - thinks I didn't see him

Singing dunnock

Marsh or Willow? (I think Willow!)

arriving robin

Marsh or Willow? I think Marsh!

Great tit among the catkins

grey squirrel

Marsh tit?