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'. 

Goldcrest

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?!

Treecreeper

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

Lapwing

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!   


Kingfisher

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!

25 comments:

  1. The mystery footprint rminds me of a coot/moorhen print.
    Goldcrests are tricky little birds to photograph so well done on getting an image, the Robin singing it's heart out is brilliant. I love the reedbed shot too.

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    1. Yes I think you are right with the footprints there. The morning I took the reedbed shot was probably the nicest morning of the year so far!

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  2. A lovely post - and well done on getting photos of the Goldcrest, Treecreeper and Kingfisher - none of them easy to photo!!

    I really enjoyed reading about your new position - it sounds wonderful and I can see you are going to have loads of fun and learn such a lot. I look forward to reading more.

    Well done too on spotting a Small Tortoiseshell - still waiting for my first butterfly (or moth!!) sighting here !

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    1. Thanks RR :) I was happy with them for first images of each of those species - gives me something to work on! Can always improve :)

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  3. A lovely post, Lou. I'm pleased your new position is going to well. I'm envious of any Goldcrest and Treecreeper photos - I've being trying to take pics of these birds for months and just have blurs! They move too quickly for me. I haven't seen a Kingfisher for a long time, either.
    I love those footprints and that is interesting you've seen a butterfly already this year.

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    1. Thank you Wendy :) It is nice to be learning again! It was quite by chance that the photos were okay, it was quite bad light so I don't know how they came out alright!

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  4. Nice post Lou. Great Treecreeper sighting, prompted me to look for them myself today

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  5. Brilliant to have caught the Kingfisher, Goldcrest and Treecreeper and of course we get the chance to see them too which is lovely. Very good to hear more about your traineeship. That's a fantastic picture of the marsh.

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  6. Seeing a Kingfisher makes an ordinary day into a special day. Nice sighting. It's good to hear the description of your daily job and feel the enthusiam you have for it shining thrrough your words.

    I love the early morning shot and all those footprints. Moorhen the mystery one?

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    1. Yes it certainly does! Days when kingfishers are seen are always remembered! I think moorhen is probably the culprit! Lots of them out on the marsh!

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  7. Really glad your trainee position is going so well. I wish someone would give me a bursary!
    Your kingfisher photo reminded me of an encounter Lucy and I had last year with a couple of kingfishers. We were swimming in the river near Lacock and a couple were flying over us! I imagine they were probably annoyed because we were ruining their fishing!

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    1. Thanks Tim :) There may well be volunteer trainee positions at your local wildlife trust?! That sounds like an amazing encounter! Hard to top that!

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    2. Yes, it was a really lovely encounter :)
      I volunteer at a Living Churchyard Project (via Wiltshire Wildlife Trust) one morning a month, which is as much as I have the energy for at the moment. I also maintain their blog, which is here is you wanted to have a look! http://stgileslivingchurchyard.blogspot.co.uk/ :)

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  8. I still haven't managed any Kingfisher pics so very envious of those:-) Sounds like you are going to be busy with all those courses but what a great thing to do.

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    1. It isn't a very good photo so I can now just aim to take a better photo in good light! I am indeed going to get much busier I think!

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  9. Great post :) Very interesting to hear about your work with the Water Voles. Glad you saw a Kingfisher! They seem to be easiest to see well at Sevenoaks during August, when the year's chicks are dispersing.

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    1. Thank you Marianne :) I'm sure we shall be returning throughout the year so there will be plenty more opportunities for better photos :) Thanks for the advice on the best time to see them!

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  10. What great shots Lou. I've never got NEAR a Goldcrest. Seen a few but how brilliant to have a picture. Congratulations!

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    1. Thanks Em, I was pretty pleased :)

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  11. Enjoyed every last bit of this.
    Oh to see a Kingfisher , I would love it.

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    1. Thank you Willow :) they are such special birds!

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  12. Brilliant photos Lou of some fantastic birds. I've been Kingfisher tracking this week too but so far haven't seen ours. Its usually when I'm not looking for him that he appears sitting on the garden fence- when of course I don't have the camera handy :-)

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    1. Thanks CT! Not only have I been rubbish at reading everyone's posts and writing blogs but also replying to comments - sorry! Thanks for your lovely comment. I hope you have managed to capture an image of your lovely Kingfisher :)

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