Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Wednesday 3.6.20

I was back on my bike, cycling down to Ferry Meadows CP this morning. My hopes in early June were for something like Little Tern passing through, or perhaps one of the Ospreys which keep being reported around Peterborough, in recent weeks (including at least three times at FMCP). Instead the initial highlights were watching the feeding Swift flock over Gunwade Lake (the largest of the lakes there).
Also, on the shore of Gunwade, there was a family of Pied Wagtails, with fully-grown young, and a single juvenile Grey Wagtail (with a subtly buff breast; but lemon yellow undertail coverts).
But the real highlight came later, when I quickly checked the active Red Kite nest which it is possible to see, if you know where to look. Today, for the first time, I could make out two fluffy white chicks! I think it is the first time I have seen a Red Kite chick in the nest, anywhere!

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Tuseday 2.6.20

Of course, I was at the Quail place again, this morning. In fact, I was at the site at 4.45am, anticipating lots of early morning action. But it was a total no-show. The Quails have gone quiet. Less than a week ago it was possible to hear up to six singing males in this group of fields. But, it seems that all that singing has had its desired effect and the males have attracted females to pair up with and so have no need to keep singing. At least that is what I am hoping.
The rest of the farmland bird gang have no such qualms about singing despite being paired. So, the Sky Larks, Corn Buntings, Reed Buntings and Whitethroats were all putting on a tremendous vocal show this morning.
The final highlights were a close Barn Owl by the car as I drove home, and an impressive number of Brown Hares in the fields. I watched one washing itself, a bit like a cat. It was splaying out its long toes to have a good lick and when it washed its paws it rubbed them together rapidly like it was boxing in March!

Monday, June 01, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Monday 1.6.20

For the third morning running, I saw the Quail in its favoured corner of its bean field. It really is a magical way to start a morning. I presume the combination of the wet winter and the very dry spring has meant that the broad beans are not very dense or well grown, and this has made it much easier to see into this field. Maybe, the coronavirus restrictions have stopped excessive spraying in the fields, too, which would allow Quails (and the abundant Sky larks, Corn Buntings and Yellow Wagtails) there to have insects to feed on.
Talking of Yellow Wagtails, there is one particular male that loves the end of the shabby, bird-filled hedge in this area of south Lincolnshire.

Yellow Wagtail, near Crowland, Lincolnshire, 1.6.20
The Quail action stopped early, so I had time to stop at Deeping Lakes LWT on the way home. On the short drive I saw a Buzzard and three hunting Barn Owls. And at DLLWT itself, there was a pair of Garganeys on the east pit (which I had found on Sunday morning, there). The drake is just starting to go into eclipse, but that did not stop him flirting outrageously (mainly head bobbing) with the female.

Lockdown Diary: Sunday 31.5.20

Of course, this morning, I returned to the bean field where the Quails had been seen on Saturday. And, with patience and luck, I rediscovered one in exactly the same area of the field. The other one has moved on, presumably having found a partner?. This individual, though, was patrolling around the field, covering perhaps 300m on foot before bouts of singing and moving on. I could do this every morning!

But, as on Saturday, as the sun got warmer, so the Quail went quiet. I moved down to Orton Brick Pit in south-west Peterborough, to hope for a return of the Osprey seen the previous day (not by me) and to enjoy the insects and other wildlife in and around the clear waters of this excellent site. A splash drew my attention to a small fish (perhaps four inches long), which turned out to be a small Pike! And swimming a few feet from that (but I failed to get a photo) was a giant underwater bug which is known as a Water Stick Insect. This is the first time I have seen our largest aquatic insect, and what an impressive beast it was: about three inches long and looking like a mantis or indeed a stick insect, or a gigantic underwater Water Measurer.

Young Pike, Orton Brick Pit, Peterborough, 31.5.20

Four-spotted Chaser, Orton Brick Pit, Peterborough, 31.5.20

Emerging damselflies

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Saturday 30.5.20

Today was a momentous day for me. For the first time in my life, I saw a Quail on the ground on British soil. In fact I saw two!
It was early morning (just after 5am) in a broad bean field near Crowland in south Lincolnshire. My friend Hugh W was already on the scene as I parked. And as I got out of the car he beckoned me to hurry. I knew he had a Quail in his sights and 30 seconds later, so did I. Great, glorious, dolloping scope views of a beautiful tiny Quail, shouting his head off at the back of the field. And then, as if by magic, the other appeared just a foot or so away from its ‘rival’. They followed each other along and a cross the ‘tram lines’ between the bean plants, occasionally jumping up vertically to pick an insect from a bean leaf, in rather comical fashion. They are delicately marked, subtle, yet very beautiful birds. The black throat is a sort of anchor-shaped ‘beard’ which expands into view when the birds sing their ‘ waa waa Wit-wa-wit Wit-wa-wit’ song. The head has a central pale crown stripe like a Snipe, and the back has stripes which also recall Snipe.
I love them!

Quail, near Crowland, Lincolnshire, 30.5.20
Later in the morning, when the Quails had gone quiet and vanished among the beans, I headed down to Eldernell on the Nene Washes (further south, in Cambridgeshire). Here, I saw something I have never see before, too. A Marsh Harrier dive-bombing a Bittern in a tree! The Bittern fought back briefly with a stab of the beak, but neither made contact, and the Bittern went back down to earth and disappeared (which seemed to pacify the Marsh Harrier somewhat).

Marsh Harrier, Eldernell, Cambridgeshire, 30.5.20

Drumming Snipe (the sound is made by those outer tail feathers!), Eldernell, Cambridgeshire, 30.5.20

Friday, May 29, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Friday 29.5.20

It is a little worrying that I couldn’t see or hear any Great tits, babies or otherwise, in our garden today. But, perhaps that means they are wandering around our neighbourhood (although our garden is the best for wildlife!). In other news, we have a juvenile Dunnock in the garden, a Stock Dove has been singing from a neighbours’ roof and the Magpie family are still about.
Oh, and the Tree Bumblebees are still thriving in a nest box outside our kitchen window. The pond is an intriguing place at the moment. We have a bit of a plague of duckweed covering the surface. But, when I tried to scoop some of it out, I found the duckweed was crawling with life: from flatworms through amphipod crustaceans, pond snails, soldierfly larvae and even Smooth Newts. So, I have abandoned that particular operation. It doesn’t look as exciting as a pond not covered in duckweed, but it is at least providing a vital home for lots of wee beasties.
Oh, and we have had a Speckled Wood in the garden again. It likes to sunbathe on our rather lichen encrusted white plastic garden chairs…

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Thursday 28.5.20

‘Our’ garden Great Tits are now all out of the nest box and roaming ours and our neighbours’ gardens. They are pretty hidden in bushes and trees, but give themselves away with their constant begging calls. I am not sure how many survived transition from box to garden, but it doesn’t sound like many! Perhaps only one or two…
But talking of birds nesting in our garden, I have news of the magpies which nested in the top of a thin, Honeysuckle-topped Alder tree at one end of our pond. I have been concerned about this pair, which seemed to spend ages making their nest but have since been quiet and elusive. It seemed that they had failed in their breeding attempt.
However, just now (10.230am), I popped out to check (you can only see the nest from a certain angle near our compost bin), and to my surprise, there were two quite large, pale-gaped Magpie babies, already out of the nest, (and already with the start of their tails!), making little rough grunting calls. I will try to sneak a photo later. But I am delighted that these excellent birds have successfully raised young in our garden.
Some people don’t welcome Magpies. I love them!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Quail near Crowland, Lincs

Singing Reed Warbler, Great Fen, Cambs

Singing Corn Bunting, Great Fen, Cambs

Lockdown Diary: Wednesday 27.5.20

Yesterday, for the first time, the Great Tit babies started showing their faces at the opening of the nest box outside our kitchen window. Well, one did, at least. The adults were feeding them frantically, seemingly searching every nook and cranny fo our garden for any morsel they could get their beaks on.
But this morning, there was a twist. Just before I left for my morning cycle to Ferry Meadows [nothing to report, folks, apart from the Red Kites are still sitting on the nest and I saw Banded Demoiselle and Hairy Dragonfly], my son Eddie told me there was a baby Great Tit on the ground under the nest box.

Adult Great Tit at our garden nest box, Peterborough, 26.5.20

Baby Great Tit looking out of our garden nest box, Peterborough, 26.5.20
And he was right. He is out there now, hopping around and perching on a couple of saucepans which just happen to sitting out there as ‘props’ (don’t ask why!). I just hope the local moggies, of which there is an excessive number around here, don’t get curious…
Bay Great Tit on our garden saucepans, Peterborough, 27.5.20

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Tuesday 26.5.20

I got a message last night that a birding friend of mine had heard at least three Quails calling on farmed fenland very near Peterborough. And first thing this morning another friend was there, hearing perhaps five calling males! I was on the scene by 5.20am, but the Quails had stopped calling.
A pair of (really tatty) Ravens flew by, the air was full of Sky Lark and multiple Corn Bunting songs. Red-legged Partridges, calling Yellow Wagtails and the odd Cuckoo. But no Quail. But then there was one calling. Then another. I waled along a track to perhaps record the sound of this one, coming from the middle a fresh wheat field. As I got closer a third bird called which sounded like it was from the track in front of me, less than 50m away.
Suddenly, this bird jumped up and flew across the other bird’s field and dropped down. I was able to follow it with my binoculars flying about 75m. This was only the second time I have ever seen a Quail in the UK! It was also comfortably my best ever view, with details like the face pattern, the long pointed wings and the white trailing edges to the wings visible. No photos, but the video is ingrained in my mind!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Monday 25.5.20

Instead of doing my usual cycle to Ferry Meadows CP, this bank holiday Monday I took a trip to the Nene Washes at a site called March Farmers, where you can walk along the raised bank (the Nene Way) and observe the partially flooded, extensive grasslands. I saw a singing Corn Bunting along the entrance track, had three male Cuckoos cuckooing, a group of three Cranes flew by and the fields were full of Little Egrets, but nothing rarer that I could see.
Back in the day, the trig point along the bank used to attract Yellow Wagtails. And today, I was able to nostalgically relive those memories, with a photo of a male Yellow Wagtail doing just that.

Yellow Wagtail on trig point at March Farmers (Nene Washes), Cambs, 25.5.20 (Mike Weedon)
In the early evening, I fancied a trip to the Great Fen to see how the birds were in this extensive area of managed ‘rewilded’ fen and grassland. There were plenty of Corn Buntings, and a Raven flew by, as did a Hobby. As the sun dropped Reed Warblers and Cuckoos sang, as did a Little Owl singing from the top of a barn. And finally I heard the weird creaky call of a Grey Partridge. Magic stuff.

Singing Corn Bunting, Great Fen, Cambs, 25.5.20 (Mike Weedon)
I took a photograph of a female Reed Bunting with a huge ‘grub’ in her bill; a reminder that even such diehard seedeaters as buntings must feed their young on insects (which of course is the reason they are declining so massively in these times of excessive pesticide use).

Female Reed Bunting with bill full of insects, Great Fen, Cambs, 25.5.20 (Mike Weedon)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Sunday 24.5.20

After yesterday’s Purple Heron (non)incident, I decided to have another go (in the early morning) searching along the River Welland on the road we call the Deeping High Bank (though I suspect that is not its real name). The whole river here is lined with flag irises, and there are plenty of well vegetated ditches in which a Purple Heron could easily hide.
By far the most interesting bird I had was an extremely unseasonal male Stonechat, which I first saw on the road in front of my car. I stopped and it flew up and past the side of my car, but then promptly disappeared. We had one pair of Stonechats breeding in the Peterborough area (in Cambs) a few years ago. But they are generally rare in summer. Was this a breeding bird? Perhaps, we will never know.
Other highlights of the morning included three Grey Partridges, a couple of Marsh Harriers and five Barn Owls, braving the high winds (presumably after an unsuccessful night’s hunting).
I went to check out a couple of partially flooded farm fields which have had one or two passage waders in the last couple of weeks. One of them has a nesting pair of Avocets (which are rare breeders around here, even though in Norfolk or closer to The Wash eg Frampton Marsh, they are common nesters). I doubt the water in the field will last long enough for them to bring up their chicks. But I managed to see that they at least have eggs, during a delicate transition from one adult brooding to the other.
Avocet brood changeover, near Peterborough, 25.5.20
Also on this farmland, there were a couple of Lapwing families, including one with small chicks. I also recored two Greenshanks, five Ringed Plovers and two Little Ringed Plovers, there.

Lapwing chick, near Peterborough, 25.5.20

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Saturday 23.5.20

A friend of mine got up early, very early indeed, for his birding near Peterborough this very windy day, today. He saw various things, mainly a few passage waders, but most striking was a flyover flock of half-a-dozen Crossbills. they were heading south-westish, which meant in the direction of the Peterborough area’s largest pine stand, at Southey Wood (a bit south of Helpston). So, I started my day looking for finches there.
However, within a few minutes of arriving, news came that another friend of mine had just found a Purple Heron, flying along the River Welland by Deeping Lakes LWT (ie less than 10 minutes away by car). So, naturally, I went to try to refind that bird. I must really learn this lesson: Purple Herons are almost impossible to refind around here! I saw one briefly at Maxey Pits (part of the same Welland-based river system) last spring, and watched it land in a small reed-lined ditch; and despite searching for hours on eand, it never reappeared (at least in sight of any birders).
The best I got was hearing a singing Corn Bunting (which seem to be having a good spring around here). Then the wind became so excessive, I turned my attention to jobs around the home…

Friday, May 22, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Friday 22.5.20

I gave Ferry Meadows a miss this morning and had a lie in. This was mainly because I took trip out until late last night, listening for night birds, and was too tired to get up and out before work (I will exercise later, instead). If you are interested, it was moderately still (now it is very windy) in the gloaming and the dark., and I heard perhaps half a dozen Water Rails, maybe three Bitterns and a couple of Tawny Owls, plus some horribly barking Roe Deer. Oh, and the International Space Station went over near 11pm and I even manage to determine some structure on it by looking through my scope!
My drive home was delayed by some roadworks and a hefty detour through the fens, but I did see a delightfully tiny baby fox out there, which was probably only about 18 inches from nose tip to tail tip.
I have just taken a short break from work (the office is our kitchen), to pootle in the garden for a few minutes. Something is always going on. Swifts are whizzing around overhead, a male Blackbird was gathering great beak-fulls of moss for a new nest, and the sparrows were achirruping. Our pond is a bit over-covered with duckweed, but the Smooth Newts seem to like it. There are loads of them in the pond at the moment, and I could see them shifting the duckweed around just now.
Also, I noticed a Water Measurer. We do well for these charming little ‘bugs’. they are like ‘badly-made’ Pond Skaters, without the speed or agility. I took this close up photo when the pond was pretty new, in 2007.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Thursday 21.5.20

A warm and brooding morning, I feel something rare is about to appear around here! ‘Birdy’ is how I would put it. But there was nothing exceptionally rare in Ferry Meadows CP, this morning (yet!). Again, the two Nightingales are shouting their hearts out. Shouting is a bit unfair, as I find their virtuoso singing quite delightful and am enjoying it as much as possible while I can. Who knows when we will next get to enjoy this wonderful song in the park? One bird is particularly showy, reminding me of holidays of yore in Spain and France, where the Nightingales always seem more showy than our birds (the inverse of Robins, I guess!). Here is another photo I took of him.

Nightingale, Ferry Meadows CP, Peterborough
In the same area, there are nesting Lesser Whitethroats, Song Thrushes, Willow Warblers, Dunnocks and Goldfinches. The whole scrubby Hawthorn patch is packed with breeding birds (and the air is full of their songs). Other interesting birds in the park today included a singing male Cuckoo, a fly-by, new-in male Pochard and a pair of Oystercatcher (moderately scarce visitors to the park).

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Nightingale, Ferry Meadows CP

Tawny Owl pair, Eldernell, Cambs

Water Rail song at Eldernell, Cambs

Lockdown Diary: Thursday 20.5.20

I suppose it is because I have got used to having Ferry Meadows CP almost to myself that it comes as a shock when cycling into the park at a leisurely 7am, today, the whole place seemed to be heaving with people. Golfers were playing on the adjacent golf course, the car parks were half full and dog-walkers, fishermen and walkers were everywhere, like on a Bank Holiday. I have become a curmudgeon.
Still, the Red Kite was still sitting on its nest, ignoring the comings and goings (or at least not overly concerned by them) and everything was in its right place (Aprart from a swan nest which has been abandoned/predated and just one dead cygnet remains).
The highlights today were watching a few Swifts come down to the still clam waters of Gunwade lake, open their huge gapes and scoop up water, wings raised above the head like a skimmer (bird that is, not dragonfly). Also, a Common Sandpiper was flying around that lake, the first I have seen there for a while.
But the real stars, today, were the Nightingales. One in particular was singing its heart out and even showing quite well in the sun at times.

Singing Nightingale, Ferry Meadows CP, Peterborough, 20.5.20 (Mike Weedon)

Lockdown Diary: Tuesday 19.5.20

On 14th May (aka last Thursday), we had a California Quail shouting its weird song (‘Ah!’) from a tree in our front garden. Just now, I was talking to my son, Ed, in his bedroom (at the back of the house), when a loud ‘Ah!’ interrupted our conversation. The quail was back! I went down and told my wife Jo, who had missed this weird alien the first time round, and grabbed my camera.
Here are some photos I took of this charming bird (it may not be wild, but it is still beautiful).

California Quail, Peterborough, 19.5.20

Lockdown Diary: Monday 18.5.20

Ferry Meadows CP is rapidly filling up with people! To be perfectly honest, I miss the days when the car parks were closed, everyone and his/her dog were not running free, disturbing nesting swans and grebes, warblers and finches, and fishermen were not lining every side of every lake!
But the Nightingales are still singing, the odd Cuckoo is still calling and you can never stop the Whitethroats from their little bursts of scratchy warble. Again, there was a feeling this morning that nothing was really on the move. Adding new birds to my FMCP year list is becoming increasingly feels like we are entering the summer doldrums.
But I shouldn’t be too hasty in my judgement, as in previous years we have had some of the best stuff (birdwise) at this time of year. For instance, in 2013 Ferry Meadows had Black-necked Grebe, Common Scoter and White-winged Black Tern, all within a few days of each other, in mid-May.

Lockdown Diary: Sunday 17.5.20

The Government has said we can ‘go out birding’, as long as we are sensible and observe the appropriate and safe distancing measures. So, when I heard about some baby Long-eared Owls not too far from home, my son Eddie and I did some exercising together, with binoculars around our necks, yesterday evening, around sun-down.
Almost immediately we saw a hunting Barn Owl, and not too long after saw our first (and only) baby Long-eared Owl of the evening. It was one of the smallest baby LeOs I have ever seen. So cute!

Baby Long-eared Owl (Mike Weedon)
As the darkness grew we heard the famous creaky door squeaking (the begging call of the youngsters), and even were lucky enough to see the silhouette of an adult Long-eared Owl visit the tree the squeaking was coming from. Wonderful stuff.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Saturday 16.5.20

Again, I awoke to the sound of Blackcap singing this morning. I wonder if there is a possibility that they are even breeding somewhere in or near our garden. After all, I was not aware of the Robins during the nesting phase, but the young speckled offspring is still hopping around our lawn.
‘Our’ baby Great Tits are getting bigger, judging by the volume of their squeaking from the nestbox outside our kitchen window. The adults are very accurate at flying straight into the hole in the box, bearing food.
I went to check on our nesting Magpies, and they are still in and around the nest, but with no evidence of any hatching, yet, or at least none I could detect during my brief spying mission.
The other wildlife highlight of my day was a chance to photograph a Hairy Dragonfly. This species is one of the first to ‘emerge’ and fly as adults, each spring. It looks a bit like a small ‘hawker’ dragonfly but there are no hawkers flying this early in the year. In this photo you may get the idea of where it gets its odd name…

Hairy Dragonfly (Mike Weedon)