Monday, 29 December 2014

Dog walk @ Mayesbrook Park

Took Coco for a walk around Mayesbrook Park this morning. Another glorious sunny day with frost still on the ground.
Carion Crow

Carrion Crow showing it's nictitating membrane
The nictitating membrane (from Latin nictare, to blink) is a transparent or translucent third eyelid present in some animals that can be drawn across the eye for protection and to moisten it while maintaining visibility. Some reptiles, birds, and sharks have full nictitating membranes; in many mammals, a small, vestigial portion of the membrane remains in the corner of the eye.
Common Gull



fuzzy Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit

Sunday, 28 December 2014

A Raptor Fest!

Spent most of today at RSPB Wallasea Wetlands, it was a lovely sunny day with a cool northerly breeze. Most of the raptor action took place late afternoon as the sun began to set. I say most of the action, but probably the best action was around 1pm. I had tracked a distant bird of prey as it hunted over the far south seawall for quite sometime through my scope. I was pretty sure it was the Rough-legged Buzzard, it was moving west, resting for periods either sat out of view or distantly on the far seawall. Eventually it moved inland over the island and hunted for a short while over the winter cover crop, where it showed well hovering and hunting before disappearing and not seen again. A distant Merlin chased a small passerine for about ten minutes before admitting defeat. There were also at least three Kestrels hunting across the island as well as two Marsh Harriers and a ringtail Hen Harrier.

As the sun began to set, you can just make out a Short-eared Owl top right in the image below, not one but at least six short-ears were seen hunting. They were never close enough for any decent images, the two below are my best! The day finished with the rintail Hen Harrier reappearing and showing well as the light disappeared.
Setting sun, Short-eared Owl top right
Short-eared Owl taken from the seawall near the car park

Hen Harrier taken from the car park

What was amazing though was the number of people that were present for sunset. Normally I'd see the odd birdwatcher and a couple of dog walkers. But, today the car park was full and there was a line of people along the seawall, odd groups in the car park and more positioned along the road. It was great to see the reserve being used :-)

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Lackford Lakes

Yesterday I went with Havering Local RSPB Group on a coach trip to Lackford Lakes. It was a great trip with good company, brilliant wildlife and a superb finale at an excellent Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve. If you fancy coming along on the next coach trip which is on Saturday 31 January to RSPB Dungeness in Kent, you can find out more HERE I can fully recommend it.

The reserve is 121 hectares of wetland, woodland, scrub and sandy heath. As well as a visitor centre there are eight hides. Due to flooding access to Bessie's Hide was closed today and Steggall's Hide was closed for refurbishment.

The weather was mild for the end of November around 10c but it remained overcast pretty much all day making photography difficult. The Bullfinch below was probably my best effort, we saw at least six around the reserve.

 The Great Spotted Woodpecker below was hammering chuncks out of the trees in the woodland! Other birds seen from the woodland trail were Treecreeper, Marsh and Coal Tits, Goldcrest and a Muntjac Deer.

Long-tailed Tit lots of these were seen in roving tit flocks.

Other species highlights included at least two Tree Sparrows, Siskin, stunning drake Goldeneye, Marsh Tits on the visitor centre feeders and a stunning Starling murmuration at the end of the day, as 15000 starlings gathered to roost in the reedbed behind the visitor centre, a stunning display.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

South Park, Ilford

Decided to take Coco for a walk around South Park in Ilford this morning, it is only a few miles down the road, but this was my first visit. This Edwardian park has preserved most of its original features from over one hundred years ago such as a large lake, an abundance of large mature trees, shrubs and flower beds.

Coot on the lake

Trees around the lake

A Grey Heron sat on one of the lake's islands

I probably just missed the best of the autumn colours

Froglife sectioned off a small part of the lake earlier this autumn using a floating curtain weighted at the bottom. This will allow pond-dipping to take place in front of the  wildlife education centre.

Saturday, 1 November 2014


Spent most of yesterday at Walton-on-the-Naze. A glorious end to October with warm sunshine and just a light southerly breeze. Our car's thermometer reached 24c and it was officially the warmest Halloween on record!

There were lots of dark-bellied Brent Geese, most keeping close to the shoreline. Image below shows a family with three juveniles (left-hand birds). The family groups stay together throughout the journey from their breeding grounds and whilst here in Essex. Juveniles have pale tips to their median and greater covert feathers, giving them the pale lines running across their back. They also have little to no collar patch.

I've been to The Naze on a number of occasions but this was the first time I've explored the EWT John Weston Nature Reserve. It is quite a large area of dense scrubland and rough grassland with a few hidden ponds and clumps of sycamore. Lots of thrushes, mostly Blackbirds 30+ with a few Redwings and Song Thrushes seen. I stayed a while watching the sycamores where at least five Chiffchaffs were present along with Goldcrests and a small mixed tit flock. Probably my best bird of the day was a Brambling which flew inland over the lagoon at the far end of the reserve and disappeared in to the scrub. also seen were three Stonechats, two Sparrowhawks which gave the crows something to mob, two late Swallows and a good selection of waders. All in all a very enjoyable end to October!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Walworth Garden Farm & The Tower Of London

Today I visited Walworth Garden Farm in the London borough of Lambeth. The farm is a local Charity and Social Enterprise that has been in operation since 1987. They provide environmental education, training in horticulture, garden maintenance services, workshops and courses including beekeeping.

Next spring Froglife will be working with the farm to provide free 'Wildlife Workshops' for the local community.

They have a great wildlife area, the pond has a new dipping platform and is about to have a clear out and some new planting next year. Apparently, it is teeming with Smooth Newts, can't wait to deliver our workshop next spring and see the newts!

 The rest of the wildlife area looks good with log piles, a number of native plants and a place for me to sit!

Loved this butterfly seat

What an interesting tree, is it a monkey puzzle?

They won the Green Flag Award, I'm not surprised!

All these courses and they are all FREE

They have constructed an eco-apiary with a bee observation hive, although the glass could do with a wipe. So fascinating though, I could have watched the bees all day!

As I had to change underground lines at Bank, I decided to take a late lunch and have a look at the poppies at The Tower Of London, I walked from Bank it is easier. I'd forgotten it's half-term, and it was heaving with thousands of visitors, literally thousands! I couldn't get as close as I would have liked, but so pleased to be able to witness this truly awesome memorial.


Look at all those people!

Don't miss the major art installation 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' at the Tower of London, marking one hundred years since the first full day of Britain's involvement in the First World War. Created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, with setting by stage designer Tom Piper, 888,246 ceramic poppies will progressively fill the Tower's famous moat over the summer. Each poppy represents a British military fatality during the war.

The poppies will encircle the iconic landmark, creating not only a spectacular display visible from all around the Tower but also a location for personal reflection. The scale of the installation intends to reflect the magnitude of such an important centenary creating a powerful visual commemoration.

Remember, remember… the toads this November

As they do every November, Froglife are reminding people to thoroughly check their bonfires for wildlife before lighting them …

At this time of year, toads, frogs and newts are all looking for somewhere safe and frost-free to see out the winter. A big pile of logs, leaves and twigs may be the ingredients for a perfect bonfire, but they’re also an ideal hiding place for amphibians, hedgehogs and all sorts of other garden inhabitants.

Here are a few tips to make help make your celebrations more wildlife-friendly:

  • Collect your wood and other bonfire materials in a separate place to where you’ll be having the bonfire, and move them just before you want to light the fire, ideally as late in the day as possible.  If you’re going to an organised event you could get in touch beforehand and ask if they need any help searching for uninvited guests!
  • If you do come across any animals, just transfer them to a similar habitat in another part of the garden.  They may be a little disorientated but the disturbance won’t do them any harm.
  • Just before lighting, have a last check through with a torch and then ensure the fire is only lit from one side so anything left within has the chance to escape.
  • Try to burn only clean, untreated wood on your bonfire, with no nasty varnish, paint or plastics so you don’t release toxic chemicals in the smoke
  • You could create a permanent log and leaf pile specifically for frogs, toads, newts, lizards, hedgehogs and other creatures to hide in over winter in a quiet corner of the garden.  Other wildlife-friendly features include compost heaps and rockeries. Find out more here.

Don’t forget if you do spot any amphibians or reptiles to use our Dragon Finder App to help identify and record your sightings!

So, have fun this fireworks night but remember what might be buried in your bonfire!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Pulbrough Brooks RSPB Reserve

I joined the local RSPB group in Havering on their coach trip to Pulbrough Brooks yesterday. Nestled in the sheltered Arun Valley within the South Downs National Park. This nature reserve boasts a great variety of habitats including wetlands, woodland, and heathland. Pulborough Brooks is home for a wide range of wildlife, and provides a fantastic day out for people of all ages.

Walks lead through hedge-lined paths to viewing areas and hides where the views can be quite spectacular. The meadows are now starting to flood and already beginning to teem with ducks, geese and swans.

The heathland restoration project and the woodlands now have roving flocks of feeding birds including a variety of tits, crests and finches. And, now that the trees are shedding their foliage they were much easier to see.

The welcome could not have been any warmer, with staff & volunteers welcoming us to the reserve, the birds were not bad either! Pretty much our first species seen was Nuthatch with two feeding on the well stocked feeders around the visitor centre. A variety of tits also, including, blue, great, coal & long-tailed along with both Greenfinch and Chaffinch.

 I couldn't resist taking some shots of the House Sparrows which were around the cafe's veranda area.

female House Sparrow

male House Sparrow
Stepping out of the visitor centre and onto the reserve the view is impressive!

For me the best bird of the day was found by Mike as we all took in the view, he found a small gem of a bird in the bushes right beside the centre. A cracking little Firecrest which showed well before moving around to the pond where it was lost to view.  Amazingly, Mike picked up either the same bird or a second Firecrest in the woodland later in the day, nice one Mike!

From Nettley's Hide this male Pheasant showed well and there was a small herd of Fallow Deer, which were delightful to watch.

male Pheasant

Fallow Deer
 The large area of wet grassland bordered by the River Arun to the west and River Stor to the north held good numbers of wildfowl. In amogst the Greylag and Canada geese flocks, we found two Bar-headed Geese and a smart Red-breasted Goose. All three birds are certainly feral and probably originated from collections, they were great to see though.

Bar-headed Goose

Also around the pools were Lapwing, a small group of Black-tailed Godwits, two Ruff and a single Greenshank. I've visited Pulbrough Brooks a few times, but have never walked around the woodland and heath area. Today I put that right, and again there were some great views.

Also, in Black Wood there were lots of fungi, some of which you can see below. I am no expert on fungi, so it was good that the RSPB had placed interpretation beside a number of the fungi.

Turkeytail - This is a bracket fungus or polypore it grows in tiled or tier layers. The concentric multicoloured rings on this fungus resemble the tail of a wild turkey.

Turkeytail Trametes versicolor

Common Rustgill - There were lots of these rusty-coloured spores amongst the conifer debris. They start off umbrella shaped then flatten out and the margons go wavy.

Common Rustgill Gymnopilus penetrans

Common Rustgill Gymnopilus penetrans

Scleroderma citrinum, the Common Earthball, is similar in appearance to a warty potato. Acid soils, especially on the compacted paths in forests, are its main habitat. The colour of these probably poisonous members of the (artificial rather than taxonomically-related) group of fungi known as gasteromycetes or stomach fungi varies from light ochre to mid brown, but usually there is a lemon-yellow tinge, especially to the upper surface. For this reason another of its common names is Citrine Earthball.

Pseudoboletus parasiticus (synonym Xerocomus parasiticus) is unlikely to be confused with any other species, because it occurs only with the Common Earthball, Scleroderma citrinum. It is a rare bolete, and most of the earthballs you come across are not accompanied by this dull-looking fungus. At one time thought to be parasitic on the earthballs, these boletes are now believed to do little or no damage to their 'partners'
Scleroderma citrinum, the Common Earthball with Pseudoboletus parasiticus growing on it