Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rain all week so far and since yesterday bitterly cold winds again.
No sign of any owls; I'm sure the females will be sitting tight on the eggs anyway.
On Monday, however, I did see the first 2 swallows over Scrag; more migrants from Africa! I also saw a peacock butterfly (in the warmer moments of the week); this would have just been roused from its hibernation, amazing to have survived the winter conditions though.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Its been a much warmer if wetter week and as well as the slow-worms there are also several chiff chaffs singing around the scrubby edges of Scrag. They are one of the first of the spring migrants to arrive from Africa and I think I commented last year how good it is to think that these birds and their repeated off-spring, generation after generation, make such an epic journey to breed...at Scrag Copse!
As if in contrast, there were also many redwings and fieldfare calling as they worked their way through the canopy; these are some of the Scandinavian birds that winter here. So, we have birds arriving from Africa crossing over with birds preparing to set off for Scandinavia; as a beautiful corner of Sussex, Scrag truly is a cosmopolitan wood!
I have still been seeing woodcock sporadically; they are such secretive birds relying on their amazingly effective cryptic camouflage, normally the only view you get is a rear-end view as it zig-zags off through the trees. I have only ever seen one on the ground feeding undisturbed. I have also noticed that the other birds call in alarm as the woodcock takes to the wing; with its colouring and bulk, do they think its an owl?
Talking of owls, the female tawny is regularly at the entrance hole to the box; I'm sure the eggs are now laid!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Today, with temperatures up to 12C and the lowest night time temperatures of around +6C since Thursday, I felt it was a good day to try for reptiles. The tins or refuges were warm to the touch and lo and behold we found 2 slow worms. The excellent image on the left was taken by Rob Baldwin, who was down for the day to photograph the woodpeckers. Sadly, the woodpeckers were not kind to him but luckily the reptiles were!
There were also several bumblebees on the wing and I caught a glimpse of a woodcock.
All in all a gorgeous spring day!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The tawny owl female was as the entrance to one of the owl boxes today. I am assuming its the female as it is normally the females that sit tight to the nest site at this time of year having laid eggs within the past couple of weeks. Today she watched me as I walked quietly down the track; I stopped to view her through binoculars but left quickly to avoid any disturbance. I'm very pleased about this.
The volume of bird song seems to have increased dramatically this week with more and more species joining in. Blackbird was very evident but no song thrush; they are elusive at Scrag!
Repeated drumming from great spotted woodpeckers and at one time I had 4 individuals down in front of one of the hides.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wow, it has nearly got to 15C at Scrag a few times this week! That combined with a few frost-free nights may mean we'll see some reptiles. I have had quick searches for adders (which I've never recorded at Scrag) but to no avail. Admittedly, the tins are still quite cold and need lengthy spells of sun to warm them up.
I haven't seen the tawny owls over the last few days; I am hoping that they have now laid and are sitting tight on eggs, which is why I can't see them. I am just going to give them their space; with young birds they'll be much more loyal to their nest-sites and less prone to disturbance.
It's also about now that I get the 1st chiff chaff, the first spring migrant to normally arrive.
So, in all its actually about not seeing things at the moment; it can't be long though!!!

Friday, March 5, 2010

A few days ago I came across some brutal behaviour while walking through Ashstead Common in Surrey. It was a commotion mainly created by carrion crows and magpies that caught my attention and although these birds are often noisy, it was something urgent about their calls that got my interest and soon jays and other birds were alarming too. I often find that this behaviour is often brought on by the discovery of an owl.
However, surveying the scene from a distance I could make nothing out other than the epicentre of the disturbance so I slowly approached; a lot of the crows by this stage were on the ground and fighting amongst themselves. They scattered as I got closer and it was a sad sight that lay on the ground; a tawny owl, dead, one eye missing, apparently mobbed to death. I couldn't help but find it sad that such a beautiful and specially adapted bird had met its end in this way, though why a predator elicits more emotion from us than if it had been one of the magpies dead is strange. It did give me the chance to examine the bird; it was incredibly light but it was the structure of the feet that impressed me most; 4 needle sharp talons 8mm long on each foot; a vole doesn't stand a chance!
On a much more positive note and as if in balance to the previous paragraphs, two of the tawny owl nestboxes at Scrag Copse are now occupied by tawny owls. This is fantastic news and I am over the moon about it. This is the first year this has happened although I suspect one of them may have been used last year but unsuccessfully. This year, it appears that there is a female in each box; one of them is now regularly sitting at the entrance and watches me with her near-closed eyes which helps maintain her cryptic camouflage. It is a great feeling that the boxes made by my father and installed by us both with great frustration and effort are now being used by the species intended (it has been jackdaws that have used them up to now).
They will, hopefully, remain and lay eggs in the next couple of weeks; the males will be hidden close by and although I have scanned and searched for them, I have not located them. Anyway, it is great news indeed and my intention is to steer clear at least until the eggs are laid in order to avoid disturbance.
The owls, especially the males, are very vocal as soon as I get into position for a badger watch. I have carried out a couple in the last month or so. The first was very cold and dark on the night of a new moon and resulted in fairly minimal badger views. It did, however, show me interesting behaviour of a single male that was just walking from one entrance hole to another and repeatedly making a grunting sound. This is a sort of rutting behaviour and he is trying to lure out the female(s) who will have just come into oestrous having just given birth. Although this was not the most eventful, or comfortable, watch I have done, it has added a piece of the jigsaw regarding their behaviour to my knowledge.
A badger watch with Mark Elliott on Tuesday night, however, was a much more active event with 5 adults including Vincent, the dominant boar (he only has one ear), who was out first and scratching well before using the latrine and then off across the field, possibly to secure his boundaries. The following 4 adults gave us a display of digging, bedding collection and mutual grooming before the wind changed direction and we had to leave. All in all though it was a great watch and seems to be marking a general increase in activity across Scrag as the Spring progresses at long last!