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