Thursday, 17 May 2012

Flying Machines

As today was bright and sunny this morning, and forecast to remain pretty decent I decided to have a wander round Stodmarsh NNR. I started from the Grove Ferry end and immediately I was struck by two things, first how cold it was, not shorts and T-shirt weather yet, and secondly, how many Swifts there were around and although I didn't arrive until 10 am, how low they were still flying.

I've always thought that Swifts move higher to feed as it warms up and the majority of their insect prey is borne high into the air. It gave me a chance to try and photograph them, a task that I've always found extremely difficult, they move too fast for me!
When you watch them from, more or less, side on, it become obvious what fantastic flying machines they are. The streamlined body and sickle shaped wings are perfect for the fast aerial life style they have. A young Swift doesn't normally breed until it is two years old. Although some do turn up at colonies as non breeders, many stay on the wing until their second year and when they land at their chosen nest site it will be their first landing for 21 months or so!

As usual Reed Buntings were making their presence know by their attempts at a song. Often we hear programmes on the TV or radio about Britain's favourite bird song, it's always Nightingale followed by Blackbird etc. What about a poll for Britain's worst bird song? I reckon the Reed Bunting is an odds on favourite for this title.

This time of year one of the highlights of the Stour Valley and in particular Stodmarsh, is the large concentration of Hobbies that hang around for a few weeks after their arrival from Africa, before dispersing to their breeding territories. Stodmarsh is one of three such assembly sites in England. The others being at Shapwick Heath in Somerset, and Lakenheath in Suffolk.
They are always worth watching and another fantastic flying machine capable of picking insects out of the air, transferring them from claw to bill as they elegantly hunt over the marsh and reed beds. Today there were around thirty or so feeding in the afternoon and the flock held a surprise for us. When I entered the marsh hide I was told by the two occupants that they'd just seen a male Red-footed Falcon at the far side of the marsh, resting on a pile of wood, but that it had just flown off. We informed the small group of birders who were photographing the Hobbies that were hunting over the reed bed looking towards Lampden Wall and I joined Steve Ray in a search through the Hobbies in view. After about a frustrating ten minutes (it's difficult to see them well looking in to the light), Steve alerted me to a bird flying right at the back of the reed bed. As it came in front of some tree the whole of the underside was visible and and from that distance it looked more or less uniformly slate grey, including the face and under-wings. It continued in the direction it was flying, through the trees and despite spending the next two and a half hours searching through the Hobbies I didn't see the bird again. We didn't get any photos of the bird, but we both had no doubt that it was an adult Red-foot.

While this excitement was going on a Cuckoo was playing a cruel game with me. It would perch up at a distance, and as soon as I got a bit interested in it, off it would go, further away and out of sight, only to return later and play the same trick again. I thing Steve Ashton must have got himself a tame bird to get the fantastic photos on his blog!

The Hobbies were not the only birds of prey around. I managed to miss two Red Kites but was content to watch several Marsh Harriers, sometimes over the reeds and sometimes flying very high.

For a big, butch bird of prey they have the most peculiar call when they are displaying in the air, sounding a bit like one of the Little Owl calls.

This male has a rather dark body, which may indicate that it is a young adult of around three years old, although some books describe it as a dark variant.

 At one time there were two, probably a pair, of Marsh Harriers high over the Stodmarsh end of the reserve, having a go at a Common Buzzard soaring over the area. A sight that one couldn't have dreamed of a few years ago.

From the Feast hide there were a few Tufted ducks and this gave the opportunity of another portrait of this handsome drake.
I though this pair, looking bright eyed and bushy tailed were rather handsome.

 Back in the garden the first babies of the year have appeared. I've always found young Starlings amusing. I like the determination they show to attract the adult to feed them. They are very persistent and must be hard to ignore.

 I'm not sure whether this family are from the roof or the "hole" nest in a tree in the front garden.


Derek Faulkner said...

That's a great posting Tony, very imformative. Although I've never heard a Nightingale singing in the flesh, listening to CD's of them it strikes me that perhaps they're a bit overrated, I think Robins can compete with most birds.

Olga said...

One of the birds has a funny cop. Looks very nice!