Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A charm through the gloom

The fog lay thick through the dawn swirling in the orange glow of the street lamps. As the lights switched off one by one still the fog obscured trees and houses, a thick blanket through which the cool blue of morning now seeped through. Thought murky, damp and cool, the morning was still with not a breath of wind. Beads of water droplets gathered on the branches and last few leaves of the almost bare trees, on the spiky needles of evergreens and on the fine, black mesh of the net. Hanging, glittering in the murky light like tiny strings of fairy lights before they were shaken away.

Stunning adult male Goldfinch

Even before the nets are fully open birds were gathering in the top of the tree. Bold, brazen, perched and looking down on the activity below, and yet cautious, not willing to go any closer for now. Once the ringers are clear of the nets the birds venture down, working their way through the shelter of the tree to the food hanging so conveniently beneath its slender boughs. Inevitably and as planned, as birds leave the feeders some are caught in the pockets of the net.

As the morning progresses the dull and murky fog was never far away, so that the forest surrounding the small open patch of paddocks and garden was never more than hazy shapes of tree and branch. The gloom was only broken by the splash of brilliant colour and character by those little feathered beauties that fell into the net. A whole charm of Goldfinch. Some are adults, with bright bold colours and fresh pristine feathers. Velvet black wings, clean bold white patches, vivid red, stunning yellow and the soft chestnut brown merging into a white belly. Then then were the youngsters, feathers a little more worn, colours a little more muted.  

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker

It is not just the Goldfinches that brighten this gloomy morning. The raucous cry of woodpeckers cuts through the gloom. There is a different beauty in the bold black and white pattern and the flash of bright red of these birds. The first two caught are young females, there are brown worn feathers in the wing and their heads are completely black. The third is an adult male, the wing is completely glossy and black, and there is a strip of brilliant red cutting through the black at the back of the head.

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker

With lunch time approaching the number of birds starts to dwindle and it is time to pack up and head for home….

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Birding in the rain

The small wooden hide sits on the edge of the lake overlooking its troubled water. A strong wind creates small waves and white caps on which hundreds of coot and ducks bob up and down, buffeted by the elements. The surrounding trees sway and bend, their leaves ripped from them, swirling up into the grey sky. Inside the hide it is quieter; its dusty interior smells a little musty and there were cobwebs crammed into every corner and under every bench. The sky through the open windows darkens ominously. The ducks, coot, grebes and gulls carry on swimming, milling, diving and resting. Slowly at first large heavy rain drops begin to patter on the top of the hide and on the waters surface. Still the ducks, coot, grebes and gulls carry on. The pace of the rain drops picks up. Soon they are pelting down; a torrent of water from the laden sky deluges the birds. It rains so hard the water of the lake bubbles and boils as rain drops bounce back up. Still the birds carry on. Coot bob their heads back and forth, Tufted Ducks and Little Grebes pop up like a bubble breaking on the surface then dive back beneath the waves with a little jump. 

Coot in the storm

Still the rain pounds the surface of the lake and drums on the roof of the hide. Just in front of the hide a sleek, streamlined bird with dark back and cap, a pale chest and face, and a thin dagger like bill, breaks the surface, appearing seemingly from nowhere. It is a Great Crested Grebe, and as the rain continues to hammer down the bird continues to fish. Time and again it slips beneath the bubbling water, time and again it reappears, shakes its head a little and then continues to look down into the murky shallows, searching. It disappears again, and a moment later reappears with a stocky fish clamped between its bill. The grebe manoeuvres the fish, adjusting its position before lifting its head, stretching its neck and swallowing the fish whole. Another little shake of the head and it is off searching once again. 

Great Crested Grebe feeding in the rain

The rain rolls over the lake and its feathered inhabitants like water off a ducks back. For what seems like an age the lake is pounded, its distant shore obscured, the birds along its back edge mere shadows in the mist. Until finally the rain eases, the mist lifts like a curtain and even a small glimmer of sunlight briefly streams through the clouds onto the now calm waters of the lake. 

Little Grebe in the calm that follows