Saturday, 8 February 2014

A Quest for the King

A few weekends ago mum and I set off to Sevenoaks NR - our favourite place to meet up with my auntie and cousins. It was really quite chilly so we wound down our car windows so we could chat and ate our picnic lunches in the warmth of the car, whilst still having a lovely view of the nature reserve's wildlife garden.

Once our food had been consumed we donned our wellies and set off along the lakeside path. There were lots of twittering blue tits, great tits, long tailed tits and siskins were out in force too. A very high pitched call alerted us to the presence of our smallest bird - the goldcrest. I got great views and tried to show my auntie and mum where it was. I managed the photo below - not the sharpest image but nonetheless a 'record shot'. 


Our walk up to one of the hides was interrupted by another high pitched call - but this time it was not that of a goldcrest, but a treecreeper. A charming little bird. My auntie and cousins had fantastic views of this bird that they hadn't seen before and I managed a couple of photos too.

Pretty well camouflaged don't you think?!


Once the treecreeper had disappeared off to scale up a different tree, we went into the hide, which was empty and sat and identified some of the birds which were on the lake. There were great crested grebes, lapwings, coots and moorhens a plenty, cormorants, teal, mallards and a goosander.

Moorhen chase

Some more birds illustrating wonderful camouflage


Goosander and Coot

It was lovely to be outdoors and observing these lovely birds with our family, but the bird we were really looking for had eluded us so far. We had previously seen this bird zoom past in the blink of an eye, but the kind of sighting we were really after, was a nice perched still view! Not too much to ask?

Then, whilst walking towards the hide where the bird we were looking for is often seen, I spotted it! Then I doubted myself. I had lent my bins to my auntie and pretty much straight away she locked onto it. The King of our rivers and streams! A fabulous view of it perching! It was quite far away though - hence the noisy and not very sharp photos. But hey I'm not complaining!   


As we arrived back at the visitor centre this  lovely robin greeted us, singing its beautiful melody.
When we checked the visitors book for a list of the species seen so far that day, we noticed that the goosander had not yet been recorded, so I (very proudly and nerdily) asked if I could write it down! I had the photo to prove it, otherwise I don't think I would have been believed. A great few hours spent birdwatching with my family :)

Now, as I promised I'll disclose a bit more information about my new trainee position. I've been there 4 weeks now, which has flown by! As I wrote in my last post, much of my time is spent outdoors, walking the marshes. Part of the 'vole reversal' project on the North Kent Marshes is monitoring/controlling mink populations. American mink were brought over to this country to be farmed for their fur. When people started asking question about the welfare of the mink in these farms, the farmers let a lot of them go and animal rights activists played their part too. Little did they know what a huge problem this would be for 'ratty'. In Denmark and Sweden mink fur farms still exist and they likewise have problems with escapees and consequently large scale control programmes. We have a number of mink rafts which contain a clay pad which enables us to track whether there are any mink in the area. Most of the time it is actually water voles which are using the raft as a toilet! The photo below was taken early one morning whilst checking a raft.

A key part of the project is contacting and maintaining contact with local farmers and landowners. They are given advice on how they can manage their ditches to benefit wildlife and our main focus - the gorgeous water vole. 

As part of my trainee position I have a bursary which allows me to attend study days and short courses. They all have to be linked in some way to water due to the nature of the project I am working on, which is no problem for me! I have been booking courses on freshwater invertebrates, algae, amphibian ecology and grass and rush ecology. All of which I am extremely excited to attend!

On Monday I went on the first of my study days which was on water birds. It was quite informative, I learnt some tips about how to identify the differences between gulls and some other general facts. The course was held at Mote Park in Maidstone so it focused on ducks, swans, grebes, geese and gulls. We did also see little egrets and a kingfisher.

Last Tuesday when we had a meeting with a member of a local conservation group, it was bright and sunny and I saw a small tortoiseshell fluttering about in the hedgerow! It found a sunspot and settled to sunbathe.

Small tortoiseshell (from my phone)

Below are water vole footprints on a muddy bank also seen on Tuesday. The mild weather that we have been receiving means that they still venture out to feed, rather than staying in their burrows in a sleepy state.

Water vole footprints
A beautiful example of a badger paw-print in the mud along a farm track can be seen below. One of the other trainees recently took plaster of paris out with her and took moulds of badger prints to give to the education team! Great idea! They came out really well.

There are always lots of bird prints, lots of them starlings, and the obvious heron prints which are huuuuge! Not sure who these belong to.. any ideas?!

We have also been hearing lots of birdsong. The skylarks seem to have been fooled into thinking it is spring. We encounter a fair few ascending and singing their hearts out. To have January as my earliest record of skylark song only really indicates what the future may bring in terms of possible shifting seasons. Other birds we see include large numbers of curlew, lapwing and a few snipe. Marsh harriers, buzzards and kestrels are often seen too.

That's it for now folks, I hope you've enjoyed reading about my recent jaunts and a bit more about my traineeship! I really appreciate all your kind comments, it makes blogging so much more rewarding when you hear from like minded people! I am going to set aside some time in the evenings this week to catch up with you all!

Peace and Love to you all and I am sending dry thoughts to those of you affected by this ongoing wet weather!