Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Ouse Washes

Yesterday twenty five of us boarded the coach and headed north to Cambridgeshire, it was RSPB Havering Local Group's coach outing. This month's destination is the RSPB's Ouse Washes nature reserve right in the heart of The Fens, the Ouse Washes forms the largest area of grazing pasture that floods in the winter in the UK and attracts thousands of wildfowl. During the journey the fog enshrouding the countryside was getting denser as we neared our destination, we were all preparing for tricky viewing conditions. But as we arrived the sun broke through and very soon burned off the fog leaving a beautiful blue sky and a sunny day :-)
Tree Sparrow (right) with female House Sparrow
First stop after our coach driver was giving a round of applause for expertly manoeuvring the coach around the tight 'Ship Inn' bend was the visitor centre feeders. Good numbers of Tree Sparrow were feeding with House Sparrows, Blue & Great Tits, Goldfinches and Collared Doves, The UK tree sparrow population has suffered a severe decline, estimated at 93 per cent between 1970 and 2008. However, recent Breeding Bird Survey data is encouraging, suggesting that numbers may have started to increase, albeit from a very low point. They have all but disappeared from Essex, so very nice to see they are doing ok here.
Tree Sparrow (top) with male House Sparrow for comparison (Tom Bell)
Out on the flooded fens, where the flood water has only recently been let in, were hundreds if not thousands of wildfowl, the majority being Wigeon and Teal, but also good numbers of Whooper Swans. They never came particularly close to any of the eleven hides, but did provide spectacular views with their comings and goings and display antics. There were also Pintail and Goldeneyes seen, along with Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Some were lucky enough to also see Peregrine and Barn Owl. Kingfisher showed well near the pumping station at the entrance to the reserve. All in all a fantastic day with over sixty different species of bird seen.
Whooper Swan (Tom Bell)

Looking out from one of the eleven hides!

We had a huge blue sky all day!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Wildlife Garden Conference @ NHM

Yesterday I attended the Wildlife Gardening Forum's conference in the Flett lecture theatre at the Natural History Museum. This year's theme was European wildlife and nature gardeners and learning from each other. There were speakers from Germany, Belgium, Holland, Ireland and Scotland. All doing really inspirational work with quite a focus expectedly on urban wildlife and a very strong focus on engaging the young. With a number of school grounds and local parks being transformed to encourage both wildlife and people.

A quick refreshment break
 During lunch there were guided walks around the wildlife garden at the museum, we know there are going to be massive changes to the garden as the museum develops the area to become more of an obvious entrance in to the museum. Not all of the changes will benefit the 3,000 odd species of flora & fauna recorded during the last 21 years of the garden's existence. And it was a shame that the guide had obviously been muzzled as far as the development goes having to stick to the corporate script. I think that actually says a lot!!!

An interesting way of keeping falling leaves out of a pond in autumn

Explaining the garden's development!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Recent winter birds

Short-eared Owl - last winter at Rainham Marshes was an exceptional one for short-eared owls, there were at least seven throughout the winter period. Wintering numbers fluctuate, some winters you are lucky to see one, I don't know if it is the small mammal population that governs this, i.e. if they have had a good breeding year then there will be plenty of food for the owls. Or, if it is to do with how well the owls fared breeding, a good year higher number of birds. Or, perhaps it's a combination of both or something else completely. If you know message me @Branta_bernicla I'd love to find out.
Short-eared Owl at RSPB Rainham Marshes December 2015

Slavonian Grebe - a smart looking grebe even in winter plumage. Around 1,000 winter around the UK's coastline but they are pretty scarce inland. We have had a couple in recent winters which stuck around and delighted many in Wanstead and near Dartford. Let's hope for another this winter!

Slavonian Grebe at Wanstead Park January 2015

Slavonian Grebe at Wanstead Park January 2015
Great Northern Diver - All divers are the sort of charismatic bird we all love to see, and GND is a big one as well! In breeding plumage they are awesome, but by November they will all be winter birds or juveniles. with basically a black & white plumage. The bill is big and heavy, the crown often looks lumpy and there is a ghost of the neck band which helps to distinguish smaller birds from similar looking winter black-throated divers. A few thousand winter around our coast, particularly in the north. A handful stray inland, especially to the large inland lakes, such as Rutland Water or the London Reservoirs. And just occasionally to smaller lakes like the one below at Fairlop Water recently.

Great Northern Diver at Fairlop Waters November 2015

Great Northern Diver at Fairlop Waters November 2015

Purple Sandpiper - A cracking medium sized wader which often associates with turnstones around the rocky areas of the Essex coastline. Holland Haven & Frinton are favourite and regular haunts as was Southend Pier at one time.

1 of 4 at Holland Haven February 2014