Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Last Oenanthe this spring

With spring migration virtually over - Wanstead already has that feel of mid-summer about it. I've turned my attention to a couple of other local sites I like to keep my eye on.

Firstly Rainham Marsh, I'm a big fan of the reserve and it's a great place to catch up with our usual marsh habitat summer migrants; Hobby, Cuckoo, Reed, Sedge and Grasshopper Warbler, but I always feel it should attract a bit more, and on many occasions I've left the reserve feeling a bit disappointed. Having spoken with Howard Vaughan it's also been a poor spring for passage waders, the water levels have looked good but the birds just haven't arrived, and the ones that have, didn't stay very long - lets hope the reserve can have a change in fortunes this autumn.

The other place is KGV reservoir, as a permit holder I enjoy access to this site. This is another place which should be a real magnet for birds, but again I feel it under performs, this differs from Rainham as it suffers from being under watched - on the odd occasion I do visit, I rarely see another soul. There are a few regulars which cover the area but with two expansive areas of water to check, along with scrubby pockets of habitat which run alongside the river also worth a look, it's no surprise that stuff gets missed - I recently circumnavigated just the south basin and timed my walk at around 90 minutes, which goes to show the size of the area.

Being at the peak of Red-necked Phalarope passage I was checking and hoping one had dropped in at the reservoir - sadly not this time, and the only bird of note was a female Northern Wheatear - I thought I'd seen the last of these locally this spring, so I had no complaints about seeing just one more.

Female, KGV Reservoir, London

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Super Dad

The blogpost title is not a reference to myself but a very special male Great Tit.

It was great to discover that a pair of Great Tits were using one of our garden nest boxes, this was a garden first and the whole family were keen to see how they progressed. The proximity of the nest box on the back of the house, also meant restricted games of football and cricket in the garden, but as I explained to my two children, this would only be for a couple of weeks - but to them I bet it felt like a lifetime.

Things were progressing well, the eggs hatched and we could hear the calls of the noisy young inside the box. But shortly after, I noticed the female bird had sadly disappeared, most likely predated by a local Sparrowhawk or by one of the many cats which frequent the neighbourhood. With up to eight hungry mouths to feed, the inevitable happened and those noisy calls became a lot quieter as the days past and dad struggled to feed the whole brood on his own. But this Great Tit never gave up and persevered, continuing to feed the remaining birds, probably just three of four of the more advanced or strongest birds. He tirelessly went back and forth, spiders seemed to be a favourite food source and I would often seen him covered in cobwebs. I did my best to aid him by keeping the sunflower hearts topped up in the bird feeder, just to make sure he had a ready available high-energy food source nearby.

Adult, Male, Nesting

Adult, Male, Nesting

Adult, Male, Nesting

Knowing the young were due to fledge any day soon I kept an eye on the nest box and each morning I would listen out for their calls through the back window, but this morning when I checked I could see three young Great Tits bouncing around on the lawn - I could also see a bloody cat in the garden! Banging on the window to scare off the cat, I could see it eyeing up one of the young birds, I quickly unlocked the back door and dashed out there, only to find the cat had scarpered and there was only two juveniles left - my heart sunk, the hard work of this brave single parent was almost wiped out in a flash.

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

I spent the next hour sat in the garden watching and protecting - from a distance, the remaining two birds, as dad continued to feed them both. Thankfully no cats returned, although I had to scare off an inquisitive Magpie.

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

The photo below was the last one I took before the pair scrambled up the fence and took a brief shaky flight into my neighbours garden, I could still hear them calling but they were now out of sight. There is a large Elm tree just a couple of doors down and the birds seemed to be heading for the safety of that.

I'd like to think that these two birds would have survived to adulthood and will fledge young of their own one day, but given what perils are out there, their chances are only slim. I also hope super dad can find another partner soon as it's still early enough in the season for another brood - that's if he can find the energy.

Juvenile, Fledged