Wednesday, 18 January 2012

A Typical January day

"I see skies of grey, and rainclouds loom, above snowdrops white and yellow primrose blooms. And I think to myself, what a wintery world"

Its a bit gloomy today; everything is damp and the sky is a blank pale grey. Drizzle is falling and makes ripples on the surface of the small pond in my garden whist the tree behind the house shows black, its bark darkened by rain, in stark contrast to the neutral sky. But from the damp ground, new shoots are appearing. Snowdrops nod their delicate white heads under the shelter of the fence and Primroses tentatively turn their lemon yellow faces, to the weak winter sun. 
The Wood Pigeons, like last year, are once again attempting to nest in the rafters of the open garage and parties of Blue Tits dive through the gardens, pausing on the feeders to steal a sunflower seed or two. 
Starlings sit in the top of the Oak, arguing and chattering with sounds that sound like they belong in a Star Wars movie and huge flocks of Goldfinches, easily 30 or 40 individual birds, tumble from the tree's branches in a swirling mass, seeming almost unable to make their minds up which direction to go. Some head for the feeders in mine and my neighbours gardens whilst others disappear off only to reappear moments later as if the wind had blown them back into the tree. 

The week did not start with damp mild weather however. The last two days have been cold, and yesterday morning, frost etched each leaf and twig with glistening crystals and pot-hole puddles froze to ice. At the local pond, a sheet of ice enclosed the water and trapped the fingers of overhanging tree branches if its wintery grip. After weeks of mild weather, the cold surprised the fingers, ears and noses of all who ventured outside unprepared! 

This tree is a large oak close to my home, photographed across a farmland field. I am thinking of photographing this view at regular intervals throughout the year, to track the changes of the seasons - time lapse style. So watch this space!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

A 'Raily' Good Start to the New Year!

"Rallus aquaticus, the Water Rail, a fairly common but highly secretive bird of wetlands, far more often heard than seen" ...or so the field guides say...

At the RSPB reserve of Pulborough Brooks there is a visitor centre which includes a huge floor to ceiling window with an unbeatable view across the wetlands to the rolling south downs. 
Beyond this window is a pond, edged with reeds and rushes; a fantastic place to see dragonflies during the summer months. Between the pond and the visitor centre window are two clumps of brambles, bisected by a grassy slope that stretches the few metres to the edge of the pond. sometimes some seed is tossed out onto the grass, A treat for the noisy raggle-taggle mobs of house sparrows, cheeky characters popular with all the visitors. 

"But wait a moment!" I hear you say, "Thats not a Sparrow!" pointing at the bottom of the picture. 

With that characteristic triangular tail held upright, long red dagger beak and huge spreading feet, it can only be a Water Rail. 
This particular individual has taken up residence in the brambles and around the pond outside the visitor centre and has been providing regular and close views through out the day all weekend, and has continued its performances into this week. Although still very nervous and often dashing back into the undergrowth to hide from perceived danger in typical water rail way, visitors who stand still, quiet and patiently at the window are being treated to fabulous views of this normally extremely secretive bird strutting around 3-4metres beyond the glass. It is not often that a bird such as this allows such close observation and it has been brilliant to get the chance to really study and enjoy the species. 

The following photos were taken from within the visitor centre whilst working there on monday. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Out with the Old, In with the New!

Happy New Year!
One week into 2012 and dear old Southern England is unseasonably mild and damp, with sunny mornings and cloudy, grey afternoons leading to an early dusk. Daffodils are blooming in sheltered spots and the morning air is filled with the sweet songs of Robins, the flute like whistles of blackbirds and the strong repetitive melody of Song thrushes, in a tuneful announcement of the new day. It almost feels like an early spring; better not put the warm woolly hats and gloves away yet though, there is surely a cold snap to come, before spring truly arrives. 
2011 was a quiet year, busy with work and study commitments, with little chance for birdwatching and enjoying the wider countryside beyond my back door or place of work. One of my highlights of the year had to be volunteering with the RSPB Date with Nature team at Chichester Cathedral, famous for it's breeding pair of Peregrine Falcons. This was the second year I had joined the team at Chichester and it was a fantastic experience; the birds are real stars and it is wonderful to share them with so many people. 
I had to wait until the week before Christmas for what was perhaps my most exciting bird sighting of the year - Short Eared Owl! These beautiful birds had evaded my efforts to see them for a long time, but this year has seen many Short Eared Owls spending the winter in Sussex. A West Sussex wetland, Waltham Brooks, managed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust, has been one of the many sites graced by the presence of multiple owls attracting swarms of excited birdwatchers, experts and novices alike, who have been treated to outstanding views. I was lucky enough to visit on a beautiful sunny day, filled with the whistling of widgeon and teal, golden rushes waving in the breeze. The sun shone through the feathers of the owls as they performed over the reeds, gliding over the wetlands, twisting and turning in the air, sparing with one another over the best hunting grounds. It is the sort of experience that draws you back time and time again, I certainly intend to return before the end of the winter!
But what of 2012? Well it looks to be as busy as ever but I have decided that however busy it gets, it is important to get out and about and enjoy the delights of the countryside and its wildlife as often and opportunity allows - it can only have a positive effect! And the bird sightings have already been fantastic, but that will have to wait for another Blog-post when I have sorted the photos! - so watch this space...