Thursday 18 September 2014

Tragedy, pheasant pluckers and ticks in paradise!

The day started well enough with one of the infrequent visits from one of the local jays, the feeders were buzzing with Blue and Great Tits and a small gang of greenfinches squabbled at the sunflower heart feeder.

Our occasinal jay

All was well with the world but, as I was working on the Wader Quest accounts and Elis was vacuuming upstairs prior to a visit from friends, my computer went off and the sound of the vacuum cleaner emanating from above momentarily died and then started up again. My computer turned itself back on in safe mode and I was about to start a rant about electrical companies when Elis called to me from upstairs.

I went to see what she wanted and found that she had seen a swan lying in the field, under the power lines.

Swan lying in field near the power lines.

That swan had not been there earlier, I had just scanned for lapwings, it was evident that the bird had flown into the lines, killing itself and caused a blip in the supply.

We ventured down the field and as we approached I thought that we may be mistaken, the bird looked as though it had been there some time, all dirty and its insides looked eaten away, but closer inspection reveal fresh blood oozing from a wound on the fore wing and the nostrils and the palpable smell of burnt flesh in the air, a smell that took me back for an instant to my Fire Service days. There were no rings on the bird.

Unsure of what to do, we certainly didn't want to leave the bird in the middle of the field to look at every time we scanned for lapwings, so we carried the corpse to the hedge and left it there. Perhaps the local foxes will at least feel it is their lucky day.

A little later Elis again, spotted a buzzard sitting in the field, it was eating something right where the lapwings usually rested.

Common Buzzard (right) with Carrion Crow.

We could not see what it was so once again we traipsed down the field, this time the corpse was a female pheasant.

I then heard a sound that was familiar to me, but I couldn't place it at first, it was an excited short soft whistle. As we approached the lake it suddenly dawned on me that what I could hear was a wigeon or actually several of them. Panic stations! Pausing only to photograph a couple of implausibly large mushrooms, we dashed back to the house and set the scope on the lake.

Sure enough, there they were about 10 wigeon, a cottage tick.

Long view of Eurasian Wigeon with Eurasian Coots and Tufted Ducks.

I spent a couple of minutes thinking that it was strange that we hadn't yet seen a teal on the lake from the house and mused about the possibility of pintail later in the winter. I was just starting to suggest another duck species, when lo and behold I found one, a gadwall.

These two ducks now bring us up to 66 on the Cottage list, which takes us one higher than our new garden list rival Frode in Norway who accepted the challenge of a garden year list competition, his 64th bird being a Marsh Tit.

We saw this dragonfly sitting on a twig on the way down the field, 

A little later we saw what we feared was going to be another swan death. This bird flew along the length of the power lines at the same height and suddenly it veered towards the lnes and then thankfully it saw them and turned away again.

Mute Swan flying up the field.


Wednesday 27 August 2014

Danish garden list.

OK, it's not my garden, but it is the garden of the house of our friends with whom we are staying, having a rest after the Dutch Bird Fair and the long drive up through The Netherlands and Germany to Denmark.

Crossing the border from Germany to Denmark

The day started well when I looked at the local trees and noted that many are elder with loads of berries. I told Elis to look out for Icterine Warblers among the many warblers that were feasting on the fruit. There were Common and Lesser Whitethroats,

Common Whitethroat

Chiff Chaff,

Common Chiff-Chaff

and Willow Warblers,

Willow Warbler

a single Reed Warbler the odd Garden Warbler,

Garden Warbler

and many, many Blackcaps.

Female or immature Blackcap

Male Blackcap

Elis started to make her favourite squeaking noise, and bird dropped down from the canopy of the lagrer trees behind the elders, it them popped momentarily into view, it was an Icterine Warbler.I felt very smug, but it didn't sit still long enough to be photographed!

The second morning we repeated the walk around the local area and found that many of the warblers were gone, the only addition to the list of birds was Pied Flycatcher, which also eluded Elis' camera.

Other birds seen uncluded;

High flying migrating Grey-lag Geese
Young Bullfinch

Marsh Tit sitting in a very twee fashion.

Last but not least House Sparrow.

Monday 11 August 2014

Three more additions to the cottage list.

Recent events have been rather more birdy and wildlife filled than of late.

A while back the farmer came and cut the oil seed in the field behind the cottage. This meant we could see the lake again and we spotted a Common Sandpiper (No. 60 on the list) on the only patch of mud we can see from the cottage, later in the day there were two of them.

Not long after that the number of pigeons on the field started to grow as they came and gleaned for seeds. A number of Feral Pigeons came, many of them white or with varying amounts of white in them and then one day, in among the Wood Pigeons was a single Stock Dove (61). This stayed for one afternoon and the following morning but has not been seen since.

Stock Dove with Wood Pigeons on recently cut field.

A couple of days ago the farmer ploughed the field and I stated that I thought this might bring in some Lapwings. The next morning I was proven right as three fed down near the lake (62).

Mammal wise we saw some young foxes gambolling, a Muntjac crossed the field and a Hare was seen in the long grass the other side of the stream that brings the mammal total to 8.

Red Fox

Muntjac Deer

Then there were  couple of amphibians. A Common Toad that was found in the flower bed...

Common Toad.

... and a Smooth Newt that was found under a paving slab that I lifted.

This is my pet newt. I called her Tiny. Why? Because she was my newt!!! My newt... minute... geddit? LOL ROFL etc. Oh never mind.

Last night we twitched the Pectoral Sandpiper at Manor Farm, finally seeing one of the good waders that have visited there, by the time we got there it was getting dark and the distance meant no usable photographs were possible,

As if that wasn't all exciting enough, the last couple of days a Great Egret has been staying on the lakes. But we could not see it from the cottage. Tonight, after a suggestion form local birder Rob Norris that it might be roosting at Linford (HESC) and therefore would fly past our cottage, we kept vigil.

A Little Egret got us going, as did a silhouette of a Grey Heron. Elis went downstairs to get some wine (seriously stressful this birding from the bedroom window) and when she did the bird appeared. It was low over the willows.  I called to her turning my head away as I did so and when I returned my gaze I could no longer see the bird! A tantalising wait to see if it would appear from behind the willows became an agonising wait and still nothing.

Not the greatest shot of a Great Egret, but good enough, what a 'garden' tick. Not sure why it flew with its beak open most of the time.

Then Elis spotted a heron/egret flying high. It was our bird, it must have flown almost directly upwards from where I saw it to get that high. We watched it fly over the motorway and then begin to drop down towards HESC as Rob had suggested. What a garden tick! (63).

I like living here!

Thursday 24 July 2014

Cottage list reaches 60

As the cottage list reaches the magical 60, I now learn from my neighbour, with whom I am most definitely NOT having a race hem hem, that his list is sixty-something, so sixty isn't good enough to draw level after all.

However that did not diminish my delight in hitting this milestone with, would you believe, a wader; Common Sandpiper.

Common Sandpiper. Gloucestershire, England. July 2012.

Using the scope the day before I noticed the oystercatchers down by the water's edge and with them a nearly fledged chick, great news that they bred on our humble little lake. I checked the next day, but although I could not see the oystercatchers I was unconcerned as there is a large area they can hide in out of my view. But, teetering along by the water's edge this time was a  Common Sandpiper, pumping its tail-end up and down like he was pumping something up!

Eurasian Oystercatchers. Bangor, Wales. September 2012.

A little later I looked again, once the heat haze had diminished, and found that there were in fact two Common Sandpipers.

Today we had a visit from a group of Long-tailed Tits, this little chap came right up to the back door; an adorably scruffy youngster. These have to be my favourite non waders!

Long-tailed Tit. The cottage Garden, Bucks, England. July 2014.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Volunteers beware!

If you are a foreign national and coming to the UK to volunteer, please check to see if you need a special visa before coming, otherwise you will be treated like a criminal, slammed in a prison cell and deported on the next flight back to where you came from by the UK Border Agency, as happened to our dear friend Odette when she came to volunteer at the British Bird fair.

I don’t normally write about things that don’t directly concern birds or wildlife, but this has made my blood boil!

I am not a great fan of uncontrolled immigration; immigration yes, but uncontrolled no, indeed I have lived as an immigrant for some years myself. I believe that defending our borders from those that mean us harm is an unfortunate, yet essential, facet of modern life, but recently, ladies and gentlemen, you’ll be pleased to hear that the UK Border Agency has protected you from a 58 year old lady from Brazil who had come here to volunteer at the British Bird watching Fair. This lady is one of the sweetest, kindest people you would ever have the privilege to meet (if the authorities had let her into the country).

Unfortunately she was unaware that she required a special visa to come to the UK to volunteer and at her exchange with the border control officer she excitedly told the guard what she was planning. Her feet did not touch the ground. Ironically if she had lied, she would be with us now; in fact she would be doing good work, for no pay, to help one of the UK’s biggest wildlife events to raise money for conservation, another of her passions.

She was able to ring us and let us know what was happening and I rang the border control to vouch for her. She pleaded that she would no longer volunteer which would then mean the tourist visa would be complied with and I, for my part, said that I would be responsible for her; I was told an officer would call me back, he or she never did. 

I cannot believe that senior border staff do not have the power to be compassionate in circumstances like this, or do the words "computer says no!" apply here where compassion cannot be shown to good people resulting in them being treated like criminals with no distinction being made between them and those that really do mean us harm; in which case we really are a small minded Little Britain!

Odette volunteering with children in Brazil
Even if you accept that she had breached her visa conditions, it was not as if she was trying to come here to fleece the British Government coffers and abscond with them or deprive a British (European?) worker of a job, she was coming to volunteer for crying out loud, to work without pay for the good of others! 

In addition she was the least likely person on the planet to outstay her right to remain here if that was what they were concerned about, she has property, family, a job and is part way through a veterinary course in Brazil all of which she loves with a passion, including the country itself, she is fiercely proud to be Brazilian and has no wish to live anywhere else.

Odette is a seriously scary serial volunteer!
What happened to her next left me feeling nothing less than ashamed here’s the story as it unfolded:

She arrived at about 13 hrs on Saturday from Brazil and was immediately detained in a small room, being interviewed for hour after hour, until 02 hrs when she was informed that she was being barred from entry to the UK and then bundled into a prison van with two people from Iraq and whisked off to a prison with razor wire on the top of the high walls.

Scared now and without friends, she was taken through several doors and gates, all of which were slammed shut and locked behind her as she progressed deeper into the prison. A last she reached a reception area where she was once more interviewed and underwent a medical examination. It was, she said, a nightmare that she never wants to go through again.

The next day she had the humiliation of being escorted through the airport and frog-marched, flanked by two policemen, to the door of the aircraft. There the police handed her passport to the flight attendants and instructed them to hand Odette, and her passport, over to the Federal Police upon arrival in Brazil.

We should all be grateful to the authorities for saving our skins from this real and present danger in the form of a generous, gentle lady who came to volunteer us to death!

She later wrote that happily she was back in her beloved Brazil. She doesn’t suppose she’ll ever be able to return to the UK (and why would she want to) and while she was enduring all that psychological pressure she resolved to write a poem in which she talked about the liberty of birds and how they freely cross frontiers and hoped that one day we humans could be this way too. She left the poem in the ‘Suggestions Box”!

Contrary to what the UKBA may think, volunteers are good people who do nothing but sefllessly contribute to society, science, conservation, humanity... the list is endless.
As if this tragic tale is not embarrassing enough, this poor lady had just had a cancer scare which thankfully turned out to be benign, but she had weeks of worry and fear before getting the good news and was so looking forward to her stay here, helping out at the Bird Fair to forget all her woes.

I don’t think that she will be rushing to return to our shores, Britain’s loss, and in the meantime we will give unfettered access to goodness knows who from heaven knows where, and we can do nothing about it, except pay for the consequences when it all goes horribly wrong and then to be told we cannot deport convicted criminals as they have a right to family life.

Odette on a previous happy visit to the UK

To the border control staff I say this. Do your job, but please do it with compassion and try at least to be selective about how you treat people, especially when you know that their only crime is being naïve and above all honest.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Some garden stuff.

As mentioned in the dualling raptors and crow blog, we had three more new birds including our first Long-tailed Tits. These birds are always a welcome sight and jointly, along with Northern Lapwing, hold the accolade of my favourite bird. There was a small family party which included this youngster.

Young Long-tailed Tit.

The female Greater Spotted Woodpecker is still visiting regularly...

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker.

and the male is coming more often too...

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker.

today he brought along with him a young bird which sat on the fence while he fed it.

Males feeding juvenile with the red cap.

A Blue Tit was doing the same on the feeders.

Blue Tit feeding young.

Other young birds in evidence included this Greenfinch.

Juvenile Greenfinch

Other regulars to be good enough to pose for photos recently are the Dunnock, Blackbird and fine pair of Goldfinches.

Dunnock, love that red eye.

Male Blackbird as beautiful as he is mellifluous.

A stunning pair of Goldfinches gracing our feeders
I do love living in our little rose covered cottage.

Roses by the front door of our little piece of heaven.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Crows on the attack.

We sometimes get raptors flying over the cottage, a real treat for me as there were precious few about when I was a nipper. Today we had a new raptor species for the garden in the form of a Hobby although Elis was unable to get pictures of its short but sweet appearance, maybe next time? We have been half expecting this species as they are not that unusual in this part of England. This takes our garden total on to 58 with another new bird yesterday, a Pochard on the lake, and yet another, Long-tailed Tit, the day before that.

Anyway, the point of this blog was to show you the excitement that Elis captured the other day when a Common Buzzard flew over and a crow took exception to it...

Common Buzzard minding its own business.

Crow spots the buzzard and starts to rise up towards it almost surreptitiously.
The buzzard overtakes the crow which comes up from behind to make its presence felt.
The buzzard spots it coming...

turns first this way...

and then the other to try and lose its assailant.
The crow resumes its attack...

they almost touch...

the buzzard tries to out manoeuvre the crow...

and begins to look a little irritated.
Having lost some height the buzzard needs to gain some altitude again and catches a thermal...

but the crow is relentless in its pursuit...

it just won't give up...

it lunges again at the buzzard...

which flips and stalls, a trick that any Spitfire pilot would be proud of, and the crow now finds itself in front...

having now got the upper hand the buzzard drives the crow back into the trees, and it is over. The buzzard goes on its way and the crow lurks in the trees scolding its nemesis.

Then, later the same day when a Red Kite came over the over confident crow was off again.

A beautiful Red Kite glides into view...

the picture of serenity it glides on...

and glances up to see?
Yes! You guessed it... an in-coming crow!
Which wastes no time in clobbering the kite...
Unfortunately Elis then loses them as they tumble out of the sky but when she picks them up again the kite is now behind the crow which has lost a couple of tail feathers in the affray.
For the second time that day the crow now regrets its foolhardy lunge and tries to make off with the kite in hot pursuit.
The crow just manages to out flap the kite and make good its escape back once more to the trees...
and the kite lopes off, presumably feeling a little smug while the crow once more swears insults at the leaving victor whilst nursing its sore tail.

It doesn't do to mess with the raptors around here I can tell you.