Thursday, January 19, 2017

Local Little Egret

Little Egrets are the Collared Doves of my generation. A bird imprinted on our minds as a scarce sought-after rarity. so when one turned up in the stream at the bottom of my road I got the camera out.

The stream, complete with passing post van. 
The Egret. It was stirring up the bed with its foot, no doubt hoping to dislodge some prey. It has been seen to eat a couple of items of prey.
Its had enough and decides to go up the bank ...
... and wait for a bus.
No bus, so it flew into a nearby tree.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Patch outing

A cold frosty morning with low numbers of birds, so time spent on some "art" photography.

A Little Owl flew into the old oak tree in the big field after some hassle from a Jackdaw. I've often looked for this species in that tree so nice to see it there today, even if just briefly.

A Little Grebe below Feakes Lock was new for the year. Some good views of three Bullfinch, but typically tucked away in undergrowth made photography challenging.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bee ID

2017 hasn't really got going yet for me. So here's a photo of a bee from last year. It is here so I can link to it from another ID site that seems to have various size and format limits. I think it may be a cuckoo bee so any views on this will be gratefully received.

Longish abdomen, yellow on the flanks, no pollen, possibly Gypsy Cuckoo Bee or Vestal Cuckoo Bee?


This has been confirmed as a Cuckoo Bee, either Vestal or Gypsy. In which case I probably saw quite a lot of these last summer. There are various explanations of things to look for including both anatomical features and behaviour, but for me the abdomen seemed quite long and distinctive.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Patch 2016 - final thoughts

This year saw a quite intensive watch of the patch. Many of the highlights are in the previous posts but the first Red Kite for the patch – seen three times- and breeding Sparrowhawk deserve a mention.

Even so, given the first half of the year and the history of birds on the patch, the second half was a bit of a disappointment. A bit like your favourite football team holding on to win 2-1 having been 2-0 up at half time. Some birds were noteable by their absence – no Whinchat, Redstart, or Wheatear. No unusual ducks on the pond, despite all the UK dabbling ducks having been seen here in the past. And there were some absences of a more serious nature. Yellow Wagtail, which used to breed over the railway line, not seen once. Grasshopper Warbler, which a few years ago bred at four sites along this stretch at the valley including the patch, now reduced to one possibly two sites. The decline of these trans-saharan migrants continues.

Despite this, my enthusiasm remained undimmed during the year. There was something very relaxing about heading off for a couple of hours catching up on events on the patch. An influx of Blackbirds in December. Stonechat relocated slightly down river beyond Pishiobury Park. Two thousand Woodpigeons in the air at once.

The reality of the patch is that there are wildlife stories everywhere. The seasonal ebb and flow brings drama on every trip. So next year, even if it’s a rarity-free zone, I will be out searching for the next story from the patch.

Just to illustrate the point, here’s a picture from the garden. Its some blackfly, with some Ants in attendance. Why are the ants there? Its in the section under ecology here.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Patch 2016 - Things that fly that aren't birds.

I tried to expand my interests into all things flying, so Bees, Butterflies, and Odonata (Moths I will keep for another year). It didn’t really work this year.

I had hoped to expand on my single cuckoo bee of 2015, but no such luck. And telling apart the four black/yellow/white species didn’t really work out well. I had fun with Red-Tailed and Tree Bumblebees but next year I need to make a proper effort.

One of those black/yellow/white ones
I saw a few dragonflies – Banded Demoiselle were everywhere, Common Blue, Azure, and Blue-tailed Damselfly on the river, Common Darter, Brown Hawker and Emperor Dragonfly, but White-legged Damselfly and Willow Emerald Dragonfly were seen on the Stort, but not by me.  So some work to be done on this group of insects.

male Azure Damselfly
 Butterflies went slightly better. The stand-out ones for me being Marbled White in the field below Nursery Wood in late June, and getting some Essex Skippers later in the year. No sign of any hairstreaks in Pishiobury Park, or a repeat of the large orange floaty thing there from last year either.

Essex Skipper I believe - black-tipped antennae.
In previous years I've seen Pipistrelle and Noctule Bats in the park. I didn't try particularly hard for b at this year, but still didn't see either. Not good news for our local Bat population ...

So for 2017, some more attention to those cuckoo bees and nailing the commoner ones. And maybe some more attention to those odonata.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Patch 2016 - The pond and back to Nursery Wood

juvenile Mute Swan making a rare appearance at the pond.
Back to the bridge, turn east through a bush and follow the path up toward the railway. The land rises and from here you can look north towards the housing estate of Lower Sheering/Sawbridgeworth. Immediately north is what was formerly an ordinary pasture. In 2006 the drain keeping the field dry was blocked with the intention of creating a pool for shooting wildfowl, and a shallow flood formed in the South western corner. We had a purple wader patch in 2007 and into 2008, but the field and surrounds has become overgrown. The pond usually dries out in summer but is full during the winter periods, and for the last few years has become home to a variety of wildfiowl and associated water-loving birds

There are often a variety of species of duck on the pond. Teal in winter, peaking at 9 in the first half but over 30 on 16 Dec this year, Mallard peaking at 14, Gadwall usually build up in late winter with a maximum of 5 this year but double figures in previous years, Shoveler are occasional with a peak of 5 on 22 Feb. Coot and Moorhen are usually present but rarely reach double figures. Mute Swan occasionally appear – two pairs breed further down the river.

Noteable this year was a pair of Little Grebes that were present in early summer and may well have attempted breeding, but the presence of Lesser-Blacked Backed Gulls from Harlow and the resident Crows make breeding hazardous for any water bird. Otherwise a Water Rail was heard in the first winter period, and Little Egret and Grey Heron are seen here on occasion. The surrounding vegetation also gets birds with Cetti’s Warbler, Sedge Warbler, and Whitethroat all present in the breeding season with at least one Reed Bunting pair present.

Shoveler on the pond in early Spring this year.

The rough field by the footpath has regular Yellowhammer (peak of about 30 in January) and Chaffinch in the hedges (also peaked at 30 on the patch in mid Jan), and Meadow Pipit in the field in winter.

Occasionally I walk up beyond the railway line following the footpath onto farmland.. The main noteable sighting this year was a Hobby perched on the ground here for 10 minutes – the only decent view on the patch this year.

We’ve nearly finished. Just time to return back to the footbridge, head north then almost immediately turn left along a path that skirts a very wet field. Frequent Goldcrest, tit flocks, and Whitethroat in summer here, and Jays which may be seen anywhere on the walk are slightly more common here. A Barn Owl flew through late one day in December.

The path leads into Nursery Wood, a small but mature woodland in the Eastern corner of the Park. It was possible to stand in a spot in June and see three nest-holes in action; Nuthatch, Great-Spotted Woodpecker, and a honey-bee nest. Tree Creeper are occasionally present here too.

juvenile Starlings in Nursery Wood in June. Not a common bird on the patch.

That just about finishes the walk. Just time to sit on the bench by the gate and look back over the park and add some species to the list. I had a pair of Greylag Goose fly over on 19th April, the only patch Lapwing on 1st April, and the only Patch Snipe on 24th October (there are probably Snipe round the pond and possibly Jack Snipe but there seems little point in disturbing them).

So that’s the walk complete. Next I’ll do a round up of some of the features of the patch not covered in the last few posts.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Patch 2016 - Feakes Lock

Carrying on down river we get to Feakes Lock. This area is the nexus of a number of types of habitat, and forms a small oasis of lowland heaven in mid summer. The river/canal itself has a small tributary just below it, and this area is overgrown with bushes and trees. Beyond is a rough pasture used for horses and rearing pheasants. There is a single large tree on the corner – The Cormorant Tree, so called because it is the single most reliable spot for this species. Opposite the lock is a couple of small rough wet fields with some patches of reeds, and beyond them is the wooded fringe of the grounds of Pishiobury House. Meanwhile behind is an overgrown corner of a field, the field itself, rising toward the railway line, as fringed by a ditch with a few willows and bushes along it.

Cormorant Tree just below the Lock
This is my favourite spot on the walk. From here there are Cetti’s Warblers in the reeds and river edge, Grey Wagtail is a feature during summer together with a large number of warblers.  In winter there are thrushes and finches. The wooded corner of the field held a mixed flock of finches during February/March this year, up to 30 Linnets, 20 Goldfinches, a Bullfinch or two and up to 5 Lesser Redpoll, no doubt part of the mini-invasion around this time. There are often ChaffinchesYellowhammers, the odd Reed Bunting, Song Thrush and Dunnock here too. Further up in the field was a pair of Stonechat on 22nd October with the female seen again on 2nd November. In summer this area is alive with Whitethroats in the field and Blackcaps in the hedges. This area also hosted a Little Owl, seen occasionally hiding in bushes over the summer period but not in either of the winter periods.

Buzzards may be seen anywhere on the walk, but the back of Pishiobury is a favourite spot.

Finally mention should be made of this year's star bird, Black Redstart, on 12th April. First seen in a tree in the field on the Herts side of the lock, it spent about ten minutes hopping around on a log.

Little Owl being shy and bashful.

Black Redstart
One of the Lesser Redpolls
Looking north over the rough farmland