Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I have been absent from Scrag for the last 3 weeks, mainly because the van was written-off, so I have had no transport.  It always feels strange walking in after a break as if things have moved on a little without me, which I'm sure they have and do so anyway, whether I am there or not. 
It was very quiet; the birdsong is all but silent apart from the occasional wren starting up from the depths of some bramble.  Otherwise there were no song birds at all.  There was, however, the mewing of buzzards overhead as well as some spectacular views as they circled just above gaps in the canopy; sometimes the light just catches them and instead of a dark silhouette of a raptor, you get the deep russet across the wings.
There was also the repeated squeaking of sparrowhawk young, apparently still in the nest; they must be ready to fledge soon.
The bracken area is impassable as usual at this time of year and I had difficulty getting anywhere near any blackthorn in sunlight so I could search for brown hairstreak butterflies.  I have never seen these at Scrag but know they are in adjoining areas so I'm keen to get a record.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Yesterday evening was the final Sussex Wildlife Trust badger watch of the season.  My 2011 100% success rate was maintained with up to 5 badgers out for well over an hour.  They gave a lovely show too; mutual grooming, play-fighting, collecting bedding; it was one of the smoothest and most relaxed I have done.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Emperor Strikes Back!

Two purple emperors came down yesterday to the baiting areas for the Purple Emperors & Woodland Butterflies photographic workshop; a great success and just overwhelming for me to see these magnificent and elusive insects again.
There were also silver-washed fritillaries galore, the woodland glades resembling a scene from the tropics!
The Badger Biology course I ran for Sussex Wildlife Trust yesterday ended in a badger watch with badgers for 2 hours 45 minutes; I think the longest yet and still maintaining a 100% success rate this year.
10 glow-worms on the way out too!

Friday, July 1, 2011

I know its been a long time but it has certainly been the usual busy season at this time of year.  The past month has consisted of badger watching several times each week which has been hugely successful; there are now only 2 Sussex Wildlife Trust watches to go and the pressure is on to maintain the 100% record so far this year!
The cub is now looking quite robust, especially as he is now weaned and feeding quite well for himself, especially now the wood is wetter after all the rain; I think this individual will do well.  He is now pretty much the same dimensions as the adults, but his behaviour is still very cub-like as bounces around the set, with his tail sticking up like a loo-brush.
I also set up a project on a treecreeper nest site which was lovely despite the birds being tricky to capture on camera; they would often land and then be in their nest within a nano-second.  At one stage I had 6 tripods occupied with some piece of kit or other trying to trigger infra-red beams or flash units to get some kind of natural looking shot.  It was good experience, however, and a pure pleasure just being in the hide for hours on end.  The birds fledged last week, leaving just one dead chick behind, which was being crawled over by beetles the last time I checked; all part of the cycle.
It is now woodland butterfly season and I am trying to spot purple emperors again; it's the usual story, laying out stinky stuff and getting a crick in the neck staring up at the canopy, hoping to get a view of their magnificent flight, but especially hopeful that they come down onto the stinking bait.  My first white admiral this year was on the 9th of June, which is the earliest one I have ever seen; due to the weather, probably, I not seen many since!
Finally, it has been nice to see on the way out of the badger watches, up to 3 glow-worms next to the track.  This is about the most I've seen here, so possibly they are increasing, although I am aware that their population can vary from year to year.  A good sign though.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I took this image of one of the badgers a couple of nights ago.  I was surprised as the first badger came out at 6.40pm and I was totally unprepared; they occasionally do this at this time of year.  However, I managed to get all the flashes mounted and turned on without causing any disturbance.  It still took a further 2 hours for her to move into the correct spot to get the shot!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I have spent a couple of afternoons in the fox hide waiting for Mr Fox over the last week; annoyingly, after some very regular and bold appearances, he now seems to have become more shy.  Luckily, there is a great tit nest in the base of an old hornbeam just a metre or so from where I am sitting. So, to pass the time, I have been recording the time interval between visits from each of the adult birds. I am waiting to amass more times to get a more accurate amperage but one thing I have noticed is that when there is a long time gap of 5 minutes or so between a visit, the second bird comes in within a couple of seconds of the first, suggesting, maybe, that the pair of birds forage together, at least when they travel further afield.  This may confer an advantage, as far as predator detection is concerned, with two pairs of eyes rather than just one.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sadly, the woodpecker nest hole I have been keeping under observation for the past few weeks has met with disastrous results - the tree fell down!  That'll teach the pair who chose the easy option of chiselling out a rotten birch as they often do.  Woodpecker, however, excavate several alternative holes, so they have, hopefully occupied another site.
I built a makeshift hide to photograph the fox on Tuesday, however, clever Mr Fox circled around the back and rumbled me; I did say the hide was makeshift!  I have now erected a better, well camouflaged and light-tight hide which may prove better.
Two foxes came in to the badger watch last night but were quickly chased off by the badgers.  In all, there were possibly 4 adult badgers plus the cub.  There was a good display of behaviour including bedding collection, mating and play.

Monday, May 9, 2011

I have been away working on Skomer Island last week photographing puffins and did not have time to update the blog before I left with the exciting news.
On the badger watch on 30th April, as well as a sow, we actually had a cub present!  This is very exciting as I have not confirmed any new cubs over the last couple of years.  The cub appeared quite well developed and I suspect has been reared at another outlier sett; it is also possibly the sole survivor of a litter.

I have another watch tonight and hopefully will get another sighting.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I checked a nest box yesterday and was a little shocked to have a blue tit hiss and lunge towards me as I opened the lid.  I don't blame her at all as a huge primate levers open her nest-space and potentially threatens her eggs.  I have never experienced such aggressive, and effective, threat displays from a blue tit though; they normally just hunker down and look vulnerable.  Good for her though.  I gently closed the lid and left her to it.
Again a fox came in to the badger sett area last night during another Sussex Wildlife Trust badger watch.  This fox, who I bumped into three times yesterday came in close and fed for 40 minutes as we all watched motionless before she was chased off by an adult badger erupting from one of the holes.  This is becoming a regular occurrence and is providing a a good warm up show before the badgers emerge.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Again it has been a busy time at Scrag as the badger 'season' gets under way.  On Sunday I guided a cameraman for Tern TV filming badgers for an ITV1 documentary airing in the summer.  Luckily the first badger emerged just after 7.30pm with plenty of ambient light for the first batch of filming.  Later, the next badger fed among the bluebells in front of us, luckily totally unconcerned by the bright LED lights we put out.  The documentary is apparently about wildlife crime, so hopefully our efforts will help raise awareness to badger baiting around the country.
Last night, I ran the 1st Sussex Wildlife Trust badger watch of the year and a journalist from Sussex Life was present, so the pressure was on.  I needn't have worried as for pre-badger entertainment, first one then a second fox came in to feed within 7m of the group.  While watching the second fox busily munching, as if entering stage left out came the first badger!  After a few minutes contented mutual feeding the badger caught a whiff of fox and charged straight at it eventually chasing it across the sett and away through the bluebells.  The fox, staying just out of the heftier mammals grasp, slinked through the shadows until the badger resumed feeding.  Reminiscent of jackals at a lion kill in Africa the fox delicately returned and managed to feed some more before again being repeatedly chased away.
After an hour of this inter-mammal species action all had dispersed and we, as the 3rd mammal present, followed suit, returning to the cars by an early 9pm.  An account of this will be appearing in the June issue of Sussex Life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This weather is exceptional!  Butterflies such as orange tips, brimstones are now patrolling the edges and rides of the woods looking for a mate and the odd speckled wood is perched in dappled sunny spots.  I have watched the nuthatches take over one of the nest boxes and plaster the large hole, enlarged actually by woodpeckers, with mud.  I heard, a few days ago, the male great spotted woodpecker excavate a nest hole; this is quite low down and, if used, will be suitable for a hide.  They do, however, excavate several potential holes before settling on the chosen one, and these are normally a bit too high to set up a hide on.
The mauve-blue mist is now forming across the whole woods as the bluebells start to emerge; Scrag is beautiful and fascinating at any time of the year, but right now and for the next month, it is at its best.

Friday, April 1, 2011

It was a good Woodland Birds' workshop day yesterday; the goldfinches were the stars.  After an on-off presence this season due to squirrels ripping apart their feeders, the adapted metal ones I installed a few weeks ago have certainly done the trick; normally I will lure them onto teasel heads, but yesterday I lured them onto sprays of blackthorn blossom to give a nice spring-like feel to the image.
Nuthatches were harder to capture yesterday; possibly the recent spring weather has distracted them onto other tasks.
I am pleased that we have had a couple of substantial downpours; this will be crucial to the badger sow that may have delivered cubs in February.  She will be lactating and needs as much food as she can get; the dry weather means worms are deep underground and this would make up 50% of her diet.  If she can't get enough food the result would be that the cubs starve.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Yesterday was my first day back at Scrag after a trip, leading a group, to India.
It couldn't have been a better day to come back with bright, spring sunshine and 15 degrees.  There were the first brimstone butterflies patrolling the woodland edges in search of a mate and their larval foodplant, purging buckthorn.
Flowers are out too, with violets, lesser celandine and large clumps of primrose.
I checked under the reptile refuges, hoping for slow worms, grass-snake or even adders, but unfortunately only found a bank vole.
While checking one of the owl boxes a dog-fox ran straight past me, within 10m or so.  The wind was from the east so he was oblivious of me.  I also found an area of disturbed earth where a vixen had a litter last year; unfortunately, last year, she moved them, but I shall keep an eye on the site for developments as the earth looks freshly disturbed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Goldfinches are finally feeding on the feeders again after a 3 month absence. Although, the birds have been around, the squirrels have repeatedly torn open the niger seed feeders and have meant an irregular supply of food.  
Now they are back though, they are going through the feed at the rate of knots!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Same location, different animal!
A nice piece of footage that one of the remote cameras caught a couple of weeks ago.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The brown leaf-litter ground layer is now turning green.  It's a subtle thing but the primrose leaves and deep, green stars of bluebells are taking over giving the ground a spring-like green tinge.
The dawn chorus is being added to species by species with blackbird joining in.
Interestingly, on a drive home on Thursday night, I had to dodge a group of toads crossing the road; sadly some had already been flattened.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Having spent the past 2 weeks in first the Masai Mara in Kenya and then the Virunga Volcanoes in Rwanda it was a bit of a culture shock driving straight to Scrag from the airport, arriving just at dawn.  Although it wasn't cold, it was grey, gloomy and blustery.  I needed to stock the feeders before going home and the greyness wasn't enticing me to stay.
However, being 6 weeks after the winter solstice, it is now spring and the birds were singing with robin, song thrush, great tit, coal tit, dunnock and even goldcrest contributing to the growing dawn chorus.  I also heard great spotted woodpecker drumming.  Plants were also evident with primrose, bluebell and lords & ladies pushing through the leaf litter.
I also watched a fox trotting through Scrag from the west and then turn north to pass just 30m from me.  The wind was in a good direction and I watched totally undetected.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The first day of woodland bird photography workshops for 2011 today.  And what a day it was despite the grey conditions.  The sparrowhawks were regularly coming through making close passes to all hides providing breathtaking entertainment. Simon Davis, in the woodpecker hide, managed to get this shot of male sparrowhawk as it perched on the ground after missing the birds at the feeders ; it was too close to fit in the frame; a nice and rare problem.  All in all a good start to the year's workshops.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This brief footage was captured on one of the hidden remotes over the last few days.  Although the quality is poor, they are an excellent way of telling presence of a species in a particular location as well as times, which is very important if you are running events.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year

We carried out several tasks at Scrag yesterday including the usual stocking of the bird feeders both at the main hide area as well as the storage area where the robin comes down for her mealworms and just hangs around generally, making nice company.  I say 'her' but I don't really know, I've just never witnessed her singing, so just assume it's a female.  She followed us up to the badger sett and just sat above us as we ate our sandwiches, occasionally flitting down for crumbs.  Although, I am aware that it is merely cupboard love, it is just good to have her around; I'm sure they evoked affection even in our hunter-gatherer days going back many thousands of years.
We coppiced a single hazel; I need some poles to make a new hide and the smaller poles will be used in the garden.
I also checked the remote cameras which give me an excellent idea of what or who is passing through key areas; this gives me an idea of whether a hide in a certain location is a good idea or will merely result in sitting getting bored for a few hours.  I captured this ghostly image of a fox in December.