Thursday 4 April 2013

Forest Of Dean

I'm always looking at where I can visit that is new to me, and being centrally placed in England, makes it relatively easy to reach most. Even the border of Scotland is only 200 miles away, though that does make it a tad far for a day trip!

Over the years I've explored the Midlands mainly, and slightly further afield to the likes of Shropshire and Northants, Leicestershire and parts of Derbyshire, but an area that had started to attract me was Gloucestershire, in particular the Forest Of Dean.

SatNav reckoned the drive would be only just over an hour to reach the outskirts of the forest, so when the Easter break arrived, and it wasn't raining (or snowing either, of late!) I woke at 5am and headed south west, to an area called Parkend. I had a number of targets for the day. Hawfinches and goshawks being the main ones, though admittedly both unlikely, and also perhaps a glimpse of a wild boar.

The latter had certainly been busy, with almost every area of unfenced grass being dug up and turned over. Looks messy, but it seems to provide the birds with far easier feeding grounds, and the large numbers of blackbirds, robins and song thrushes around proved the point.

Despite my efforts, visiting several "hot spots" for hawfinches, the best I managed was a brief call from one high in the canopy, before it vanished, and in the end, I ditched the idea of looking for a goshawk. I've heard that the views from New Fancy View Point are distant, to say the least, with 2 different people telling me that they've seen them from there, but the goshawks are specks in the distance, miles away. The best I could muster was a buzzard in a tree.

A spot possible for finding hawfinch, although a local had informed me that they're "thin on the ground" at the moment, is RSPB Nagshead. My SatNav has the reserves within its Points Of Interest database, so finding the site was easy, though I have to admit that the Lower Hide was a disappointment. Who made it? The Normans? The "windows" are so narrow it was a job seeing out with my bins, let alone getting a lens through. Even if hawfinches do turn up there over the coming months, I can't see how I can get a shot other than a record one, unless the bird perches on the window ledge!

The day was turning into "one of those" when I clocked something rather large, poking around in some bushes beside the road. A wild boar! I was far too close to get anything decent with the camera - in fact I could barely squeeze just its head into the frame.

Completely unfazed by passing traffic, it continued snuffling through the vegetation, climbing up an embankment and off into the distance.

With the increased numbers of visitors, and most sites becoming crowded, I headed home, vowing to return again. Which I did, only a couple of days later, after reading that garganey had been seen on a couple of the lakes in the area.

I've seen these small ducks before, but always at a huge distance. They had been seen on two lakes, Woorgreens and Cannop Ponds. I had planned to get up early and head over to Woorgreens, but I awoke to cloud and decided it'd be better to wait for news before setting out. Wise move, as they'd gone from Woorgreens, but the Cannop ones were still present.

Unsure of where to go at Cannop Ponds, I spotted a couple in camo with cameras, and was just starting to ask them when I realised it was Clive & Jill. Nothing like great eye sight for you! We walked along the edge of the lake to where they'd seen them earlier in the day, only to find the garganey had moved to a smaller pond, and were feeding amongst cut-back reeds.

Not the most attractive surroundings, but pretty close, and by far the best views I've ever had.

There were 3 drakes and a single female. And they were busy feeding continuously in the pond, up-ending all the time, making timing the shot crucial, to avoid a headless duck.

With flat light from the clouds above, the pics were never going to win any prizes, but I was just pleased to have caught up with them. My attention switched momentarily from them to a few mandarin ducks which landed in the main pond behind. Such colourful, vibrant ducks.

And so plentiful, as I scanned the rest of the lake - maybe as many as 30 either on the water or sat under nearby trees.

Before leaving I saw a red kite soaring high overhead, being mobbed by the gulls. But the garganey seemed content in this smaller pond, and with time ticking on, I chose to head off. I fancied a bit of a mystery tour drive towards a place called Guiting Power, where an osprey had been seen earlier that week.

Having sold the Scooby recently, the twisty lanes reminded me of the fun that car used to provide, though to be fair, the Yeti handles very well and is genuinely amusing to drive down such roads. Hasn't quite got the same acceleration or noise, sadly. But perhaps the sound of a flat four roaring and the exhaust backfiring isn't the best thing to have when trying to find easily startled wildlife. And that's what I found. Rounding a corner, I spotted a pair of feathery bundles perched on an old gnarled tree. Little owls!

They seemed pleased to see me, as the local ones do. Unlike the local ones, these didn't move when I parked the car up and had to then reverse a bit when I found a branch obscuring my view.

The rest of the drive involved avoiding snow drifts, tractors and resisting the charms of Cotswolds' pubs, before finding my way back on to a main road, and heading home.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Nature's Feast For Siskins

There are many birds I'd like to see visiting my garden, but most I just have to accept are unlikely. It'd be a bit sensational if a merlin perched up on the fence, though to be honest, a sprawk doing that would make a change from their usual high speed attack runs, scaring everything away and not posing for a picture after.

One bird that I could hope for though, during the winter months, and one that has visited my Dad's garden is a siskin, but despite my efforts to date, I've not seen one. And it's not like I haven't tried. I put out all manner of foods for the birds, black sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, general mixes, nyjer seed, peanuts, suet blocks and balls. The garden birds have a better diet than I do! Redpolls yes, siskins, no.

So when I was contacted and asked if I'd try out some products from a company called Nature's Feast, I thought "Why not". I have of course heard of the company before, as (Wildlife) Kate works with them and I'd purchased a Twist Feeder from her some months back.

Unwrapping the box I had been given, I found another Twist Feeder inside along with 3 packs of seed. Black sunflower seeds and hearts, plus a new one on me, High Energy Supreme. A mix of all manner of goodies by the sound of it: naked oats, sunflower hearts, red and white dari, red and Japanese millet, chopped peanuts, canary and nyjer seed, suet pellets, hempseed and vegetable oil. And most interestingly, on the bag it claimed to attract siskins!

Moving one of the feeder posts closer to my conservatory, to make it easier for me to see what was on them, without reaching for my binoculars each time, I rigged up an existing black sunflower seed feeder (attracts blue, great and coal tits, plus green, bull and chaffinches) and hung the new Twist Feeder next to it, hoping the familiar one would bring the birds in, and then the new one would take their fancy.

I was interested to see how the 3 seed mixes would fare, as before I'd used sunflower hearts, black sunflower seeds and a general mix, and the birds had barely touched the mix, favouring the hearts first and then the black seed.

Unsurprisingly after closing the conservatory door and plonking myself down to watch, nothing whatsoever arrived to use the feeders, not even the resident robins! Give it time, I thought...

I think the new feeders and food were in good time, as shortly after putting out the new feeder, winter had another blast, and I found the garden under a foot of snow! And both feeders were being used, thankfully. Aside from the finches and tits, I noticed that the house sparrows had also taken a shine to the new feeder along with starlings, which usually target only the suet balls / blocks. The robins seemed to enjoy chasing the dunnocks from the food, and anything spilled, was gratefully accepted by the blackbirds, collared doves and anything missed by them, hoovered up by the fat wood pigeons. Even the pair of song thrushes braved the blackbirds to reach some of the bits.

The benefit of the new feeder is that you can easily see which of the mixes is being consumed the most, and I could see that one was almost empty already. I initially thought as it was light in colour, that it must be the hearts but it wasn't. The High Energy Mix was proving to be popular, so I filled that back up, and sat back again to see what was eating it.

Finches - flocks of greenfinch, a couple of bullfinches and chaffies. The goldfinches stayed down the far end of the garden, hogging the nyjer seed feeder. Then I saw something bright and yellow. Despite being closer, I grabbed the bins anyway for a look.

Yes!! A vibrant male siskin, waiting in the branches of the nearby buddleia bush. A short fluttering flight and it landed straight on to the Twist Feeder and started to merrily peck away at the seed.

Better still, seconds later, a paler bird appeared - a female siskin, and she joined him on the feeder.

Fabulous. Getting a shot meant scuttling out of the conservatory and upstairs, for a clean shot out of the bedroom window.

I've only seen a pair so far, but I'm almost out of the favoured mix, so I'll have to get some more if it works this well.

The local squirrels have also found the feeder, and a way up to it, but as it's well made and rugged, it isn't damaged by them, unlike some feeders I've purchased and seen chewed to bits over time. And as the feeder is of a decent size, it doesn't need to be refilled daily.

Admittedly, I am fortunate to have a decent sized garden and a good variety of birds visiting it. People often ask me what they could do to attract different birds to their gardens, and I've always suggested using a variety of seed mixes. After this experience, I'd have to recommend Nature's Feast feeders and food to them, as not only have they kept the usual suspects well fed, but attracted a new one too.