For ShareMondays and WexMondays this week I just couldn’t resist the delightful little grebes, on the Glasshouse Lake, at RHS Wisley Gardens! Both parents take turns on the nest incubating the eggs and warming the chicks, or out on the waters collecting food and extra nesting material to keep their precious brood safe and secure. There were three tiny chicks and several eggs still to hatch when I visited on Saturday. The adults are very busy and will be for some time to come! The chicks crawl up under the wings of the adults to nestle in against their backs for warmth. In this family portrait the male grebe is feeding a nymph (possibly dragonfly) to the striped chick. It was really heart-warming to watch the care these two parents afford their new babies, a truly tender moment.
I finally built up the courage to visit Tice’s Meadow Nature Reserve on Saturday. Surrey BTO membership secretary, Penny, had told me that there was disabled access so I nervously set off to meet up with the team managing the reserve at their woodland birdhide. After a bit of time figuring out the RADAR key padlocks to allow access for my wheelchair I was quickly surrounded by wildlife. Speckled wood, meadow brown and green-veined white butterflies danced all around me! I was so captivated that I nearly missed this little fledgling pop up into the cut branches it had been foraging around. I thought my eyes where deceiving me, the speckled head of a young robin and the tail feathers of a…of a….no….can’t be…..(takes photos then checks BTO online and does a little wheelchair dance)….that’s the tail feathers of a redstart! Whoop! Just so thrilled that this wonderful little bird stuck around long enough for me to get a few shots. The female adult was already calling to it from nearby shrubs. She’s quite drab, a glance had made me think female or juvenile blackbird, but smaller. They didn’t visit the woodland birdhide but we were delighted to see lots of juveniles there too, including greenfinch, sparrow, chaffinch, nuthatch, robin, goldfinch and bullfinch! It was lovely to meet the team managing the reserve. Warm, welcoming and passionate about sharing the joy of nature and wildlife with everyone. They already have local schools visiting and events for young people with learning disabilities. Several RADAR key access points have been installed and plans are afoot to have the main pathways made properly wheelchair accessible. At the moment the ground is hard and that allows the wheelchair to get around without too much difficulty but there are deep ruts to be avoided. I really hope that the team manage to get all the funding needed to develop the pathways and progress with other projects they have planned, including providing more learning activities for the children who regularly visit. I had a very successful Big Butterfly Count around the meadow areas by Horton’s Mount! So many blues on the wing. I think I might have finally fallen down that rabbit hole into Wonderland!
Finding a family of whitethroats (one of our many summer visitors from the warbler family) living next to the bird hide at Heather Farm has been a real treat! They’re actually behind the hide which makes it harder to hide from them. They, however, are very adept at staying hidden even when I can clearly hear them. Often the first clue is the tutting noise from one of the adults as they call the fledgelings out. Eventually one will make an appearance as I keep as still and silent as possible!
The next clue is the rustling and shaking in the brambles. The juveniles are in there somewhere! They eat a mix of insects and berries so are really enjoying feasting on the early blackberries. I watch the trail of movement through the brambles until one of the youngsters finally pops into view!
They don’t see me as a threat as I stay in the shadows of the hide, still and silent. Soon three fledgelings are bustling about on the brambles, before moving up into the branches of the three silver birches in this little grove. They really seem to enjoy the seeds of the birch trees! Two of these trees have been greatly affected by this summer’s heatwave. The seeds have matured early and the leaves have browned as the tree sheds them to conserve it’s dwindling water supply. The birds are easy to spot in the green leaves but utterly camouflaged against the browns, as you can see in my lead image!
Eventually the adults led their brood into the reeds near the boardwalks at the entrance to the wetlands centre. The reeds swayed and shook for a while to show their progress but they were soon well hidden from my sight or that of potential predators. I loved watching the little family and hope to see more of them before the end of the season. The previous morning I had attended a bird-ringing event at the centre, led by Surrey BTO, Horsell Common Preservation Society and The Thames Basin Heath Partnership. We had ringed lots of blackcaps, tits, reed warblers and wrens but the whitethroats had evaded us! It’s wonderful to see the success of this recently created nature reserve growing year on year. Today I’m sharing my camouflaged whitethroat as part of WexMondays.
Another image captured at Thorpe Lake where I go open water swimming every Tuesday. The grebes are beautiful and fun to watch too. I often see them stamping the water like this, churning it up, before they wash and preen. The sight and this image really made me smile so it’s the perfect one to post for ShareMondays!
This composite of a common tern, performing an aborted dive at Thorpe Lake OWS, is for Wex Mondays and dedicated to my Dad. When Mum and I are out swimming with the birds and fish, Dad stays on the lakeside, keeping a watchful eye on us and our feathered friends. Can’t wait to dive back into the waters of the lake tomorrow in this crazy, hot weather!
This is my third image from my encounter with this dear little blackcap. After feeding and cleaning it’s beak, it hopped up into the branches of the shrubs, in the the riverside hedgerow, to preen. Some of those feathers are still quite downy and the gape (oral flanges) in the corners of the beak are clear to see. I have no idea exactly how old this fledgeling is but it certainly seems to be fending for itself well! The brambles were providing a feast for bees, butterflies and birds. My mum might just have sneaked a few ripe berries for herself too!
I’m sharing this second image of the juvenile blackcap, that I encountered yesterday, for today’s Fotospeed challenge. I haven’t had to crop these images much at all. I was so close to my subject I could hardly believe it! The blackcap was very aware of me and the numerous passers-by on the Thames Path, but was completely unfazed, gorging itself of the bountiful berries before hopping further up into the brambles to clean it’s blackberry-stained beak. I loved the way the light caught it’s face as it turned and stared straight down my lens!
Last week brought so many fantastic photography opportunities, but the ones that I most want to share in this weeks Monday photo-challenges are among the last few images that I captured yesterday in the late afternoon. I was with my parents at The Weir in Walton, on the banks of the Thames, near Sunbury Lock. There was an abundance of wildlife in the brambles and trees along the river path. I almost missed this juvenile blackcap picking blackberries. It’s often the song that first alerts me to the presence of a bird but this little one was being very quiet. It’s efforts to pick the blackberries where rather clumsy though and the sight of a shaking bramble bush gave the game away! I took a closer look and a shaft of sunlight caught upon this cheeky little face. I was pretty sure the youngster was a blackcap having seen an adult male in the vicinity earlier on. It’s perfect habitat for them as they feed on both berries and insects! I’m sharing this first image for Wex Mondays. More to follow!
While a young coot chick might look pretty bald, this is not actually the origins of the phrase. It’s in reference to the white frontal shield of the adult coot (see image below). This similarly applies to the name of the Bald Eagle, which has a fine head of white feathers. Bald also appears in the word Piebald, referring to horses, birds and other animals that are black and white. So where does this word for white actually come from? Annabel Rushton sheds some light on this in the RSPB community blog:
You often hear the phrase ‘bald as a coot’, but as you can see from the photo, they are covered in feathers. Even the chick, though a little sparse on its head, has a flame of red and orange down. So where has the saying come from? Well the word ‘bald’ is actually derived from an old English word ‘bala’ which means ‘white patch’. If you look at a coot, they have a white patch above their beak known as a ‘knob’ or a ‘frontal shield’. It is this that has given rise to the term ‘bald as a coot’, rather than because they are featherless.
Coot and chick at Claremont Landscape Gardens
The Idioms website adds:
A coot is a water bird which has marking on its head that gives it an appearance of being bald. It does have feathers on his head but it is the way it looks from a distance that gives this expression its shape.
This phrase has been in existence since several centuries with the first literary use being in 1430 in ‘Chronicle of Troy’ written by John Lydgate.