Saturday, December 19, 2009

Like most of Eastern England, we have been having stunning though extreme weather over the past few days; the thermometer outside the main hide recorded a minimum temperature of minus 6.2 centigrade and that was before the snow hit!
As I arrived at the storage shed today I was joined by
three robins. Every turn I took I was accompanied very close, within a metre or so, by a beautiful 'fluffed' up robin perching on a white-crystal branch. It was a touching experience even if their only motivation is food; it was still nice to have them accompany me. Unfortunately, the padlock was frozen and I had to pour coffee in the lock to de-frost it so I could get some mealworms for them. Interestingly, as soon as I got the door of the shed open, one of the birds flew straight inside the shed and appeared to be searching around. Within a minute, it flew straight out again with a large house spider in its beak; fascinating that the bird could seize the opportunity of an unusual source of prey so quickly.
Snow at Scrag gives me chances that I cannot afford to miss; yesterday, however, I couldn't even get drive anywhere as the van was blocked in by an abandoned vehicle, grrrrrr! Luckily today I could get to the wood reasonably easily and get good images of birds around the feeding area. Its a win-win situation; I feed the hungry birds and get great images at the same time.
Well, if this cold spell is a bit too much for you at the moment, it will be spring in just over 6 weeks time!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Between super, heavy downpours today, as well as the odd clap of thunder, there were periodsof beautiful, heart-warming light. Luckily, I was in the Goldfinch Hide during some of these spells and captured this gorgeous goldfinch as it fed on the teasel heads. It was one of those magical hours with a superb number as well as variety of birds feeding in low, bright early-winter light. At one stage there was a nuthatch, great-spotted woodpecker, goldfinch and various species of tit including red-listed marsh tit just 4m from me! This year has been so busy for me that I have been making a concious effort to shoot more images myself and short, magical spells like this in the hides reinforce how enjoyable it is. It was also good to see the male sparrowhawk trying his luck too!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Hunt...again!

On Friday, I came across the Surrey Union Hunt comprising 20 riders in full regalia and as many dogs riding through Scrag and the surrounding woodland comprising Rusper Wood as a whole. The dogs were scattered and so were the riders. It appeared that a general search/hunt was under way. I spoke to the hunt master and pointed out that they were on private land and that they had no right of access; he apologised and stated that the dogs had caught a scent and that he and his colleagues were just trying to recover the dogs. They then wanted to leave via an area to the south. I, in short, told them to leave the way they had entered. After more apologies, they left. Strangly as soon as they were told to leave they called all the dogs together very quickly; they were obviously unable to do this until I had arrived. This is the 2nd time this year this hunt has entered and ridden through the wood; this causes a great deal of damage and disturbance; they have been informed in writing earlier in the year that they have no access .

Friday, November 13, 2009

During another woodland birds' photography workshop yesterday, proceedings were interrupted when a sparrowhawk again made a deadly attack run through the feeding birds before deciding instead to take a bath in the in the shallows of the pond in front of the hide. This gave me the chance to grab just a few reasonable shots like this one before she sunk down behind the rushes to bathe properly. The shot shows that it is a female which is interesting because most of the sightings at Scrag, 95% I would say, are of male sparrowhawks especially in winter. This is actually the third time in as many weeks that I've observed sparrowhawk bathing in exactly the same spot, so it has given me the plan to maybe set up a small temporary hide at the pond edge in order to get that all elusive perfect portrait of wild sparrowhawk. I took one several years ago on transparency and have been endeavouring to do the same on digital format. My plan is to provide a natural perch close to the pond edge; a sparrowhawk is more likely to want to perch on something solid and upright before taking a bath - you can see in the image that she has perched on this log laying next to the water's edge. Raptors are vulnerable from attack when they bathe and I have noticed they often choose very small, quiet ponds to bathe in. Anyway, it looks as if this pond has been chosen as suitable, so with perch, hide and potentially a very, very long wait I may get the shot!

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Last night, or late afternoon in fact as it now gets darker so much earlier, I set up to photograph the badgers again. It was very, very dark when I got myself in place; the moon, although just past full hadn't yet risen and a hail storm and period of torrential rain had ominously darkened the sky. Sitting there cold, wet in a dark wood, I did wonder, 'what am I doing?' I often do this though on a solo badger watch or photography shoot; there's always lots of better things to do popping into my mind instead of sitting there alone in a darkening wood looking at a pile of earth!
These misgivings didn't last long though. Having settled at 5.05pm after just setting up the flash units, I was surprised when at 5.16pm, 2 then 3 stripy heads emerged; in fact they may have been out a couple of minutes before I even noticed them; I just didn't expect them so early. I was fully prepared for an hour of tawny owl vocals before I saw any badgers!
Anyway, they, or certainly one, performed fantastically, moving into the exact baiting spot and not being bothered at all by 3 flash guns firing! The shot above is one of about 20 images I managed to take before the badgers moved off allowing me to retrieved the flashes and leave.
The walk out, was lovely; the moon, now risen, was slanting through the trees and bathing the east side of Scrag in silver pools. Driving up the track I was also lucky enough to get a tawny owl perched at headlamp height. It sat there fully illuminated by the van's lights for about 5 minutes, scanning the ground and undergrowth beneath it; it is not often you get such a prolonged view of an apparently relaxed adult tawny. I shall check the same spot as I leave on Friday; if it's a regular perching spot it may prove valuable.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Yesterday started with a total drenching; fortunately, the group who had turned up to learn about woodland bird photography were a pragmatic group and made the most of it. The weather improved as the day progressed and in the end we had some good light and some good bird behaviour topped when the sparrowhawk made a pass and then perched on top of one of the feeders just 4m from people in the hide!
The weather today, by contrast was beautiful though a little colder than it has been over the past couple of weeks. I took this image of one of the many fly-agaric fungus that has emerged outside the bird hides.
While I was having my lunch and watching all the birds at the feeders I was again treated to a close fly-by from the stunning male sparrowhawk; what a bird!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Last night was halloween night and I thought the best way to spend it was with a badger watch. There was a slight mist over the meadow and the nearly full moon was slightly hazy as it rose, though still easily bright enough to cast long shadows through the trees. The tawny owls were very vocal as they tend to be at this time of year. We caught a glimpse of a female perched behind us and she repeatedly called from the general vicinity of the sett; this is good news as she seems to be holding a territory where one of the tawny nest boxes are.
The badgers came out at 5.50pm; I was expecting them at 6'ish. They fed noisily on the peanuts and raisins I had laid down for them; I had to lay this outside the main sett entrance as I haven't been laying anything for them down since June or July. In the end, we got about 30 minutes of fairly relaxed viewing before they were spooked (no pun intended on Halloween night!) by something and retreated to the sett.
Another eerie sound in the night but a very, very welcome one was the chilling scream of a barn owl as it hunted across the meadow! I just hope they start to use the barn owl boxes again.
It was a fantastic way to spend the evening; deep in the woods and the badgers performed well as usual maintaining my 100% 2009 record, however, it was the owls and their evocative calls that, for me, were the highlight.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Scrag is now looking particularly beautiful; the autumn is rapidly approaching the peak of colour and fortunately we haven't had a blow so the golden leaves are still firmly on the trees. Field maple is probably the first to go really yellow, followed by hornbeam and then oak. I have been out capturing the colour on camera and will attach some images in the next day or so.
I have also been busy trying to coax a robin to a regular perch; I have done this before very easily in gardens where the birds are habituated to people, but in Scrag it has been taking some time. Eventually, however, the resident robin around the storage shed has started taking the bait, mealworms in this case. So, I intend to keep this up and re-build the unsuccessful robin hide nearer this location; this will provide another shooting hide for photographers.
The birds in the general baiting area are now in good numbers after a slow start at the beginning of the month. I think the chilly nights, sometimes down to freezing a couple of times have triggered this. The cold nights will be killing off some of the invertebrates so the feeders are becoming more attractive to them. All groups on the woodland birds workshops are getting plenty of great spotted woodpecker opportunities. The nuthatches, however, are proving less reliable; they are very much present in Scrag generally but are visiting the feeders less often than they have in the past, possibly it is just a question of time.
The group of photographers I had last Thursday were lucky to witness a sparrowhawk kill right in front of the hide. After a scream of alarm calls and frantic commotion in the edge of a hornbeam, the male sparrowhawk then swerved across the front of us showing his cinnamon barred underparts and prey gripped in his talons. He took his meal to the back of the hide area to consume before gliding, 10 minutes later, down to the pond for a post meal drink. Dramatic stuff!
As far as work goes, the badger platform now has a set of safer steps running up to it instead of the step ladder; I always had my heart in my mouth as members of public negotiated the step ladder in the dark! I have also stapled chicken wire to the bridge where the public footpath crosses the stream; another dangerous spot, especially in the wet! I want to get all these jobs done well before the winter takes hold.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I know, I know, I have neglected the blog and a couple of people have reminded me of this. I apologise but I was away in Brazil as usual at this time of year and returned to unreasonable jet-lag and the start of the beginners photography workshops for both Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.
Anyway, what about Scrag? Well, I have been very surprised at just how dry it has been there of late; in fact it is the driest I have ever known it. This is great for getting the van closer but perhaps not so good for the wildlife. At this time of year the badgers put on another 50% bodyweight to help get them through the winter (although badgers do not hibernate). They will often get this from the harvest of nuts and berries but as usual they do rely on the worm supply and with it being so dry the ground is rock hard and cracked and I assume the worms are deep. This may affect the badger's mortality over the winter if they struggle to get their reserves up and if we have another brutal winter like last year.
Anyway, the drop of rain we had today was very, very welcome though I think it has only managed to soften the surface; at least when we get a decent amount of water it won't just run off. I noticed today as well that there was an explosion of fungi due to the rain; I'm hoping to see a few good species over the next few days as this moisture seeps down.
The woodland birds' photographic workshops have started again and there are fairly good numbers of birds coming down to the feeding areas. There do seem to be less woodpeckers this season though, but that just may be because I haven't seen them. I had a great view of the male sparrowhawk as it made a killing run towards the feeders; it came in 'contour hugging' just a foot or so off the ground before darting up past the nut feeder. On this occasion it missed but last Thursday I saw him successfully devouring one of the small birds. Apart from that all the usual suspects are there and the marsh tits are back; they always disappear from the feeders during Summer.
Overall, there is a general yellowing of the leaves, especially the field maples and hornbeams. The bracken is also yellowing and giving the whole place an autumnal feel, especially with the low slanting sun. Despite this there are still dragonflies zipping around and slow worms under the refuges when it is sunny. However, I sense there is a definite advancement of autumn now that we have had a couple of cold nights and a bit of rain.

Monday, July 20, 2009

This badger image was taken last night by Graham Saxby during a badger photography one-to-one session. It was taken using manual flash and is the first time Graham has done this. I think he would have preferred a lower viewpoint for a more intimate portrait but the wind was not friendly and we had to change position to the top of the viewing platform. However, I think he's done an excellent job and was surprised at how easy it was once certain rules were obeyed.
If you wish to learn more about badger photography please email me via the website

Friday, July 17, 2009

The heat wave definitely seems something in the distant past with much lower temperatures and reasonable amounts of rain, especially last night. That being said there is still plenty of woodland butterfly life with many silver-washed fritillaries and white admirals mating and laying eggs. I have a brood of white admiral caterpillars in a breeding cage in the kitchen feeding on honeysuckle, their larval foodplant. I've also got a couple of commas muncing away on nettles
The image is of a silver-washed fritillary; I often get asked 'why are they called silver-washed when they're mainly orangey?' All fritillaries are 'orangey', so they have to be named after more subtle markings and in this case its the lovely effect of silver washed over the hind-wing. Its a tough butterfly to photograph and you can often chase after them in vain. My tactic is to set up at just one flower and wait for the butterflies to come to me.
I have just bought a load of native pond plants from Pete the Pond. He has a fantastic small garden with 42 ponds in it! they are packed with pond plants so if you want to buy from him call him on 07970 891711; he also refurbishes and sets up new ponds. All my plants are now in the mud around the edges and I'm hoping they at least get half a season's growth this year to become established. I'm seeing at least 4 dragonfly species around the pond and I saw southern hawker laying eggs in the margins. I also had a sizeable grass snake and 2 baby 'boot-lace' grass snakes under a couple of the corrugated iron refuges. I've come to realise how important these refuges are for the reptiles and also how they get used; if the metal is either too cold or too hot the creatures are in the surrounding vegetation and with this in mind I now know how important it is to have log piles and piles of bracken close by to allow the snakes and slow worms to move around making the most of each feature. In the late autumn, therefore, I shall be enhancing and adjusting what I have done so far.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The return of the Emperor!

With a combination of factors; cold winter, warm progressive spring, the recent warm/hot weather, there has been an explosion of woodland butterflies; white admirals, silver-washed fritillaries, purple hairstreaks and of course most spectacular, or at least the most elusive, the noble and royal purple emperor!
I have now, amazingly and beyond my expectations, identified at least 3 master tree areas resulting in some incredible aerial and ground level views. This butterfly does not nectar and normally just stays high in the canopy which is why they are so elusive. Yesterday at Scrag I counted at least 6 adults including violent aerial clashes between territorial males. This is indicating that there is a good population in the wood complex overall as I am only able to see the insects from ground level vantage points where there is a clearing that allows me a view; there are probably many more areas that I cannot see.
I am not ignoring the other butterflies though; I have a female white admiral that has laid eggs on some honeysuckle in a breeding cage in my living room. I'm hoping to watch the life-cycle right through to emergence next year; its a good way to learn more, get some photographs of various stages and release a good number back into the wood.
Anyway, I'm back up there now to chase the emperor!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Last night was the last of the Sussex Wildlife Trust badger evenings of the 2009 season. They were enormously successful this year with most being fully booked and all producing badgers meaning a 100% success rate. I must admit the continued success on each watch was meaning more pressure for me to produce badgers and thankfully it ended last night with no dissatisfied customers and no disturbed badgers. Private watches are still continuing if you are interested as well as one-to-one photography evenings.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I must admit after the bluebells have gone I feel a little sad at Scrag. Its silly really, there is plenty of other flowers to find just not quite as overwhelming as the blue sea of bluebells. Once again ragged robin is in flower; this is one of my favourite wild flowers and I have managed to find a couple more spots where it is hanging on at Scrag. There is also plenty of herb robert, foxgloves, sanicle as well as honeysuckle.
The canopy and under-storey is alive with fledgling birds cheeping and tseeping away. I have already seen young blue, great and long tailed tits, nuthatch, wren, robin and today goldfinches already hanging around the niger seed feeders. Not surprisingly, I have also seen and heard a lot more activity at the sparrowhawk nest; sparrowhawks eggs are timed to hatch at the same time as the fledging of the small woodland birds; it means easy meat for the predators!
I have a sneaking suspicion that a tawny owl pair are occupying one of the tawny nest boxes (yippeeeee! about time too!). I have disturbed an owl there several times as I have tracked badger paths as well as finding white-wash beneath some of the field maple surrounding the oak that has the box. The female will just sit close by and keep vigil during the day. I can hear movement from the box itself but I think the young are too small to get to the entrance hole. At the moment I am steering clear of the site; I want this pair to breed successfully and maybe develop some loyalty to the site - too much disturbance may lead to abandonment. But I shall check it periodically and hopefully a couple of fluffy owl chicks will poke their heads out soon.
In the last 8 days I have spent 7 of them with the badgers; on one evening, a solo photography session, I had 9 adult badgers, the most I have ever counted!
So, in summary, it is all happening at Scrag as usual!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Last night I had a fantastic solo badger photography session. As well as getting some great shots, I had 6 badgers out feeding, playing and even climbing (sort of) trees! When I'm photographing badgers I normally like to get my shots and then get out swiftly and quietly so I can leave the wood before its too dark. However, their behaviour was so compelling I just sat there watching, I was a little concerned at one stage when they were chasing each other that they were going to crash into me! I think I managed to get a documentary shot (haven't checked yet) of Vincent (after Van Gogh) because he only has one ear.
At around 10 after a slight lull in behaviour I decided to leave. In order to not disturb any badgers I move trying to mimic badger sound, shuffling leaves with my feet rather than left-right stamp of human foot-fall. In this way, I managed to retrieve both flash units and get away from the sett. I think, however, that my movement was so convincing that I had three badgers join me on the way out. They playfully sprinted past me and had a couple of fights before disappearing from sight, but not hearing. I take not disturbing my badgers very seriously and it consequently took me another 40 minutes of walking like a badger to eventually leave!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Something seems to have happened at the badger sett. I'm not sure what it is, but I think there are only 3 adults at the main sett and their emergence is very, very slow and nervous. Whether this is as a result of inter-group politics or some form of human disturbance I am not sure. Somewhat chillingly, I found an old shotgun cartridge on top of the sett at the weekend.
Anyway, it has gone from 6 or 7 animals emerging confidently at around 8pm to just 2 or 3 slowly poking their noses out up to an hour later. Running badger events is fantastic, especially as last night none of the 8 SWT attendees had seen a live badger before, but it can be very stressful when they are nervously emerging so late.
I shall be there on my own this evening to photograph so we shall see.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


It has been a mixed week of badger watching mainly dominated by the weather. Tuesday 12th was a great watch; very typical with up to 6 badgers out , nice and relaxed. Thursday, however, it poured with rain from the moment the group was on the platform; it was a disaster for the poor but stoic people with me. There were perhaps sightings of 5 badgers, but they were brief and elusive. In essense I learnt that they don't bother coming out in heavy rain. Although I probably already knew this, it was good in a sense to witness it directly. Badgers would appear at the sett entrances and sniff as usual but then just sink back down as if to say, 'no way, not tonight!' The best thing to see for me though were the puffs of 'smoke' that appeared every few minutes at the front of the main sett mound. It took me a while to realise that it was puff ball fungi being hit by the rain drops creating an ethereal cloud or spores. Dispersal in action.
Friday's watch was cancelled from the track due to another prolonged downpour as soon as I met the group, grrrrr!
Tonight's (Saturday's), however, was perhaps the best badger watch I have ever witnessed. We were on the platform for just 10 minutes when 3 badgers emerged relaxed and confident. This number grew to 6 with lots of behaviour and feeding. During a lull in activity a fox marched up confidently from the north and also started feeding around the sett! We had excellent views from 5 or 6 metres; in one view of my binoculars I had 2 badgers and the fox. The two badgers then trotted off SW followed by the opportunist fox.
We then had 4 badgers out feeding close to the platform. The finale was a play-fight and chase between the last 2 at the sett before they trundled off west.
Pure magic!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I have just run the first Scrag Copse Photographic Experience weekend and it went a hundred times better than I hoped. The weather was fairly good; it didn't rain at least. However, the group were fantastic and the social aspect around the camp fire blended with some great wildlife made it for me. In the evening there was a badger watch which turned up at least 5 badgers despite being interrupted by a spooked roe deer doe.
We also got a couple of grass snakes, slow worms (which were ignored in favour of the grass snakes), butterflies and a few woodpeckers, nuthatches and goldfinches.
Despite the bluebells being just a few days over the flowers were spectacular with yellow archangel, wild strawberry and bugle coming to a peak.
In essence it was good to see everyone relax over the weekend and start to enjoy the smaller stuff in the woods such as the moths that I trapped overnight; it wasn't a great catch but was the first time I had done this at Scrag.
I am pencilling in next year's event already; please email me if you wish to be considered for this.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wow, Scrag is looking spectacular at the moment; the bluebells are beginning to form that mist of blue across the woodland floor. These drifts blend into the rich green of dog's mercury and all interspersed with primroses, wood sorrel and golden saxifrage. The hornbeam is in leaf, an almost acid green along with hazel and hawthorn. The main bird hide was shrouded in blackthorn blossom for about a week. This blossom has now turned yellow-brown to be replaced by the leaves.
On sunny days the rides and paths are the fly-ways of orange tip butterflies. There seem to be a lot more this year and this could bode well for all the other butterfly species yet to emerge. Pray for a settled spring.
The badger watches are producing between 5 to 7 adults on each watch. No cubs yet, but I feel they are imminent, maybe tonight! The adults, however, are enough entertainment for the evening; as well as feeding they scratch, play-fight, dig, scent and just generally look in great condition.
This afternoon I am trying to photograph the orange tips followed by a badger watch for Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I think it is fairly typical April weather at the moment; bit of rain, bit of sun, pleasant temperatures. With this in mind there seemed to be more birds at the feeders yesterday after a worrying drop off during the warm sunny weather last week. I only say worrying as there are more 'woodland birds' events to go over the next 10 days or so and I like to get the birds for the customers! However, breeding season is well under way with nest material being stuffed into the tit boxes; sometimes they are a little over-ambitious with the wad of moss they try to get through the 28mm hole!
I watched a pair of great spotted woodpeckers mating at around 6pm; excellent, please make more woodpeckers but please excavate your nest hole at head height and in good light, so I can set up a hide on it, thank you.
Did a badger watch with my parents yesterday. After a slow start, we happily watched up to 5 badgers out around the sett. They came out a little later than on Tuesday, so I had to use the red light on them. This doesn't disturb them and allows easy viewing as I don't have to hold it. Terry Goble gave me this light for my birthday last year, thanks Terry, it's great! I think he gave it to me because I borrowed his previous light for the whole year, sorry.
So, in the end it was a lovely watch and we left as the full-moon was rising.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

After a day teaching woodland bird photography at Scrag Copse, I met Dave and Penny Green for a badger watch. This was, surprisingly, my first watch of the year so I was excited to say the least. We only had to wait 30 minutes before the first badger, the dominant sow, emerged and dragged a big pile of bedding underground. She soon reappeared and mooched around the sett mound, quickly joined by two other males. We watched for about 50 minutes, testing the reaction to using laser dots (no reaction at all), red lights (surprisingly wary) and we even used a thermal imaging camera which was a great way to count the badger numbers.
Overall it was a fantastic start to the season and I'm looking forward to the next one on Thursday. If you are interested in a private badger watch for a group of up to 6 people, please contact me via the website
Alternatively, contact Sussex Wildlife Trust on 01273 497561 to book onto an organised watch. i suggest booking soon as all the events and available nights are filling up quickly.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I know, I know, but I have been so overly busy I have not had a slightest chance of updating the blog recently. I have been dashing into Scrag to get jobs done but my main task at the moment is finishing the woodpecker hole survey at Chidingfold Forest before the leaves obscure vision too much. Combine this with teaching many photography workshops and I have not had a day off since January!
However, I'm sorry for the lack of updates so here's a synopsis of events at Scrag:
  • 5 slow worms and a grass snake yesterday
  • blackthorn is just flowering nicely
  • chiff chaff singing repeatedly around the hide
  • goldfinches are now joined by 6+ siskins, this is super!
  • lesser celandine, wood sorrel, golden saxifrage flowering
  • wren carrying nest material
  • woodland floor is now green with dogs mercury and bluebells (not yet flowering)
  • hawthorn and hornbeam just coming into leaf creating a light green blush
In short Scrag Copse is entering the advanced stages of spring and things are getting very, very exciting. I am badger watching this Tuesday and I hope very soon to be able to update you about how many badger cubs there are this year. Thanks for sticking with the blog.

Monday, March 16, 2009

1st Migrant

Today, I heard the first spring migrant bird at Scrag, a chiffchaff. It has flown from its wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa to arrive at Scrag sometime Saturday night/Sunday morning. I heard no chiffchaffs on Saturday at Woods Mill reserve while I was working but heard one yesterday and have heard 3 more today so I feel I can safely estimate their arrival time. They have a very simple call, even irritating after a while, but it is certainly a notable day when I hear the first one of the year.
I also found the first slow worm at Scrag today under one
of the reptile refuges I put out. I thought I would find some reptile evidence especially as it got up to 15 degrees today.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I apologise for my somewhat sporadic blog entries of late; I have recently started phase 2 of a big woodpecker survey across Chidingfold Forest in West Sussex. It is actually a woodpecker hole survey and involves finding and mapping as many woodpecker holes across all the Forestry Commission owned woodland in the area. In this way, the trees and possibly the surrounding areas can be saved from felling. This is not actually to preserve woodpeckers as they make many holes through the year and always nest in a new one; instead it is to preserve the trees so they can be later occupied by 'secondary hole-users' such as bats. The area to be covered is great and the terrain hard. Combine this with the need for it to be done before bud-burst due to the visibility and it means I am spending as much time as possible surveying.
Scrag, however, is looking very spring-like at the moment with increasing numbers of primroses poking through the leaf litter. Hawthorn is just bursting into leaf; it leafs before it flowers, whereas blackthorn flowers before it leafs. There is a lot of pair-bonding behaviour among the birds with groups of birds chasing eachother through the canopy. As a reminder of winter though, there are still flocks of redwings and fieldfares flying over. One fantastic sighting on Tuesday was the lesser spotted woodpecker feeding and calling in the top of a birch! I wish it would come down to the feeding area.
In all spring is really here, very obviously now and heart warming; I just hope with all the other work going on I can enjoy it!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Hunt!

On Monday, as I was trying to find a woodcock that settled just in front of me, I caught sight of a man on a quad bike speeding across the neighbouring area of woodland; I think he realised I was there. This is the reconnaissance run.
Then, yesterday, according to a local resident, the whole hunt went through with up to 30 dogs. This has chewed up a the public footpath as well as the access track that we all rely on to occasionally get vehicles into the woodland for the 3 months of the year that it is not too wet. I have not followed the obvious trail to see if any gates or hedges have been destroyed as I am waiting to hear from other woodland owners to see if they have given permission. The worse hit area appears to be my neighbour at Tilgate Wood.
Apparently, at one stage there was so much squealing that it is felt a kill was made.
This angers me on a number of levels; the damage, the disturbance to wildlife as well as to my photography workshops that form part of my income. It is also the sheer arrogance. Maybe I should turn up at their stables and drive across their fields churning it all up, driving through fences and hedges! Maybe they will rely on their argument of being 'custodians of the landscape' - yeah right. Can you detect that I am somewhat annoyed?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I taught another woodland bird's photography workshop today at Scrag Copse. The weather was spectacular with stunning blue sky and mild temperatures. I took a couple of reconnaissance walks to try and find adders. I had a report of one found at Pulborough Brooks yesterday and although early it certainly felt like perfect conditions to find them today. I have never found one at Scrag before and I was out of luck today. I even lifted some of the corrugated refuges I've laid for them but no luck at all. Oh well, I'm sure they are here, it may just take a bit more searching!
Overall the day went well with lots of woodland bird activity; I was, however, a little disappointed with the woodpeckers, they just were not as co-operative as usual. A nice development though is the return of regular goldfinches; I now intend to shift the niger seed feeder to the front of the new hide to provide excellent late in the day entertainment. This shift will have to be done slowly and gradually as I do not want to lose them again if there is a break in feeding caused by the finches not finding their usual food source.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

This is a perfect time of year to learn your bird songs; there are still only several bird species singing so you don't get the April/May cacophony that can be very confusing and overwhelming. Another key point is the lack of leaves on the trees meaning that you can actually see the bird producing the song. My process for learning bird song was to hear the bird singing, then go through the process of locating the bird. I would then spend time watching the bird singing and so the whole process stamped the song and species in my brain. Doing this when there is a veil of leaves obscuring tiny birds can make the task very frustrating. Using CD's or tapes is best done when you get home just to reinforce what you've heard earlier in the field and not, I feel, to be done to learn bird song before you go out.
Robins will sing pretty much throughout the winter after a silent phase in August/September but in February they are gradually joined by song thrush, dunnock, blackbird, great tit and I even heard tree creeper at woods mill last week.
If it is a cold, wet or blustery day the general singing is much reduced; why would they bother expending energy to fight against the prevailing conditions. However, a mild, still period such as we're having this week will trigger more song. Sometimes, birds such as robins, song thrushes and blackbirds will sing repeatedly from regular singing posts. I found a good one used by a song thrush on Monday, unfortunately, it is very high in the top of an ash so no chance of photography. Oh well, I must carry on searching as it is a shot I have always wanted. Song itself is a pronouncement of territory and probably serves two purposes, 1) Hello ladies, I'm here! and 2) Be aware guys, I'm here, so stay away!
Casual observation of all the nest boxes, even the ones I put up just a few days ago is revealing interest and visits from both blue and great tits. The nest box I put up outside my bedroom window is regularly being visited by a blue tit pair; I may regret this in May when the young start begging at 5 am!
So, I think the pair-bonding and nest-site phase of the breeding season is well under way, so if you have nest boxes to go up, get them up now!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Well, the snow is all gone now but it has still been bitterly cold especially at night. I think last night was the first frost-free night since December. Fairly mild frost-free nights are now forecast for the next few days at least and I feel that this may be the trigger for some amphibian movement. I'm going to be checking the ponds around the area for the appearance of frog spawn; it would be great to get this in the new pond!
I have finally managed to erect all the outstanding nestboxes in the week. This is a very satisfying task as it will hopefully mean a lot will be occupied in a couple of months time and help the bird population overall as well as providing fantastic photographic opportunities as the birds approach the boxes in the breeding season with their beaks full of caterpillars!
I actually lost count of the boxes but think it is about 25 or so. I know I should have recorded it exactly but I forgot the permanent marker pen so couldn't number them as I went around. I will do it this week though and I'm even going to get GPS references for each box so I can find them all in the future. This year I have put up a lot of open-fronted boxes as well as tit boxes in order to hopefully get more thrushes and robins nesting. I have also placed 3 open-fronted boxes along the banks of the stream in the slim chance that the grey wagtails nest; it would be a great bird to add to the breeding list!
If you intend putting nest boxes up in your garden then I suggest that you do it soon; I have seen many birds already checking out the boxes not to start the breeding season early but they will certainly be staking a claim on territories and surveying prospective breeding sites well in advance of the breeding season.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Well, what a spectacular couple of days we had at the beginning of the week? As soon as I saw the snow at 5am on Monday, all other work was cancelled and the decision was made to spend the day at Scrag. With the conditions though this was no simple undertaking as merely getting out of Brighton was hard enough let alone dealing with the remote roads near the wood itself. However, once there, I took images of the wood itself in a bit of a rush; I was worried that it would melt away all too rapidly. I need not have worried though as the continuously falling snow and low temperatures meant that it was there to stay for the day at least! This also gave me the opportunity to shoot all the usual woodland birds but in snow; this increases my stock collection and also possibly makes them more saleable - everyone likes the 'robin in snow' shot after all. During the day I was joined by Keeley Bishop who comes on a lot of my photographic workshops; she also couldn't get into work! It was a fantastic day and absolutely magical to be in the wood. On Tuesday, I taught 2 students woodland birds photography who were originally booked for Thursday - the once in a decade conditions, however, made it easy to make the switch of days. Conditions on the day were more settled but with brighter sunlight, so sadly as the afternoon progressed the snow was visibly melting through the viewfinders. We all managed to get some fantastic shots before making the slushy drive home.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I just wanted to say thanks to my friend Patrick Roper for the gift of his book 'Chequer - wild service tree' written by Patrick. I know you'll get this Patrick as I've included the words wild service tree, so thank you. The book is published by Sage Press and there are others available such as Oak, Hawthorn, Ash etc. They are excellent reference points for the history of our trees.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It was a beautiful day at Scrag, cold and misty at first but once the sun broke through, it was lovely to construct the new bird hide. I built this one with my father over Christmas in his big garage and its aim is to provide an alternative shooting position for up to 3 photographers when the later afternoon, light is more dominant. The main hide can get a little shady from 3pm onwards in winter when the sun is lower, so this one should really enhance the woodland bird's photography workshops. If you are interested in attending one of these superb days please visit the website
All day there were 2 robins singing from the blackthorn area as well as the occasional great spotted woodpecker drum. Spring is approaching and if you look at the woodland floor it is obvious with the new season's primrose leaves emerging as well as bluebell clusters appearing (not the flower, the plant) and dog's mercury too! By my reckoning the start of spring is in the first week of February, but everyone moans at me when I say that. However, if you spend enough time in the wood there are so many plants beginning to emerge it can't really be denied that growth is starting.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

It has been a busy week at Scrag this week. The warmer temperatures have meant that I have been able to get on with some nagging jobs before the start of teaching in February. I started a bit of thinning along the south side of the stream. It is a potentially lovely strip of woodland with areas of good ground flora, but it is being shaded somewhat by young hawthorns and blackthorn. They are only a few centimetres in diameter so I brought them down with a bow-saw and worked up the brash with billhook. Its very satisfying work and I've been using the resulting brash to create a brash hedge along the edge of the public footpath which is better than burning it.
Last year a large hornbeam came down in a storm and it created a gap in the canopy and a nice light glade which had a resident speckled wood butterfly guarding the area territorially. However, there is still a huge pile of branches and dead vegetation shading it out still so I have been gradually clearing that up and again using it in the hedge. Creating a lighter glade will result in more ground flora and maybe some grasses which will be beneficial for butterflies.
I have now treated all the bird boxes I previously made from recycled floorboards so there are about 25 boxes now to go up as soon as possible.
On a negative side the bridge that floated downstream after a flood into the neighbouring land has sadly disappeared!! I was waiting for the ice to melt and water level to drop so I could float it back upstream but annoyingly someone got there first.
During an afternoons work, I heard a loud commotion from a couple of dogs that went on for some time. Later, I also found the freshly severed leg of a roe deer. Not very pleasant but I was s
urprised at the damage to the bone and considering that we don't have any wolves around here I assumed it was caused by the dogs. These are another pair of dogs that are annoyingly being allowed to run wild throughout the local area. On Friday, I saw them again at around the same time of day chasing another 2 roe deer. The deer seemed to be staying well ahead but the dogs seem relentless. I think I know where these ones come from, so if there are any more problems I will have to pay a visit.
A little more positively, the jay that now feeds at the
baiting area gave me some nice opportunities the other day. This will be good for the upcoming woodland birds workshops.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So Much for Squirrel Proof!!!

Well, I think the picture says it all! This could be Houdini the squirrel but he got stuck. I found him trapped and struggling inside this supposed squirrel proof nut feeder at around midday today and when I finished he was still there at 4pm. Now, although I don't want squirrels at Scrag due to the damage and the effect they have on breeding bird populations, I felt it was no way to die for any creature; freezing to death. So, with a thick pair of work gloves and throwing my coat over the feeder to prevent him panicking, I dismantled the whole thing to let him out. Fortunately, it all went smoothly as I had no desire to have set of sharp teeth hanging from one of my fingers. Hopefully, he has learnt from his experience. I now have to take the nut feeder back for a refund; they are not cheap and I do not want to turn up to find a frozen squirrel in a cage next time I arrive.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Yesterday saw a spectacular hoar frost across Scrag Copse with every tree was frozen into a crystal sculpture. When I first arrived at the wood every single branch and twig was coated in feathery, translucent ice crystals. I think the overall temperature rose to a maximum of 1 degree and as the morning progressed, some sun broke through causing exposed areas of the hoarfrost to melt, however, most of the wood remained frosted in ice throughout the whole day. Looking through the icy chaos of the branches towards the sunlight was a spectacular sight!
It was good to crunch through both the leaves and the frost and has the added advantage that my boots aren't getting heavy with mud. I have to make the most of this as thick mud is a fact of life at Scrag. At one stage throughout the day I was alerted by the sound of rustling leaves and I thought someone was approaching. When I scanned with my binoculars, however, I realised it was a large flock of redwings. They were rolling along the woodland floor throwing leaves behind them as they searched for invertebrates. It was difficult to estimate the size of the flock but I would say close to 100 or so and collectively their leaf sifting activities caused quite a lot of noise even from 30m distance. The normal view of redwings in the woodland is as they fly overhead, 'hupping' so it was a pleasure to watch them so engrossed in their feeding. They're a dynamic looking small thrush with orange-red underwings and flanks. They have a pale stripe above the eye with a similar pale moustachial stripe and this gives them a slightly annoyed or angry look. As I watched them, leaning against a birch, there were some sudden alarm calls from the canopy from magpies and jays and then the whole redwing flock took to the wing in fright. They all flew directly past me just above the ground so close to me that I could hear their wings. I scanned for the avian predator that had clearly caused the commotion but got no sighting. Overall though it was a lovely winter experience in the woods.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Capture to Computer Workshops

There are still a couple of spaces available on the next Capture to Computer workshops. These workshops cover photography and Photoshop techniques to get the best from your images of wildlife. They take place at Woods Mill the headquarters and reserve of Sussex Wildlife Trust near Henfield.
If you are interested in attending this workshop please visit and click on the courses page.

Bitter, was the only way to describe the weather today at Scrag! We have now had a very cold 2 weeks and in fact this winter overall so far has been very cold; I have heard it is the coldest for 30 years and tonight is forecast to be the coldest yet.
As a result, I have not been visiting as often as I would like despite having jobs that need to be done. However, there is little point in expending the petrol just to be there for a couple of hours. I feel that my only responsibility is to ensure that the birds are fed. The bird population at Scrag is an asset and as such helping their winter survival is important. Besides, imagine being a tiny bird trying to get through this arctic spell, they deserve our help.
The squirrel-proof feeders have certainly proved a worthwhile investment. Previously, a stocked feeder would last 1-2 days at most before being ripped open by a squirrels. Now they are lasting up to 6 days. This is good for me as I don't spend so much on nuts and certainly good for the birds as they have a prolonged and guaranteed supply of energy-rich food.