Mippits, Murder & Moor

The weekend before Easter was marked by a short visit to Cranford Park. Almost spring-like conditions saw a flurry of feathered activity in the woodland. The Great Tit and Blue Tit residents were very visible and active as their nest-making and mating season gets underway. My personal favourites are the Long-tailed Tits. Normally preceded by their high-pitched “tsee-tsee-tsee” these small and highly mobile little birds can be seen all year round at Cranford, moving from tree to tree in small flocks.

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The Great Tits were especially vocal, and the range of calls frequently made me check to make sure we didn’t have an exciting new arrival at Cranford. With around 40 different calls and songs, it’s hard to keep a track of the full range of Great Tit noises. Another bird making plenty of very distinctive noise, was our first summer arrival, the Chiffchaff. I counted three during my short visit but this will surely increase as we move into April. I was quite surprised to find we still had one winter visitor at Cranford though. On the very edge of the park towards Harlington, I heard a familiar “chack” sound. Well covered by some very twiggy branches were a good dozen Fieldfare. They were quite flighty and keeping well hidden but I did manage this record shot through the branches.

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Recent damp conditions had also encouraged fungi growth in the woods. These Inkcaps were especially prominent. IMG_3134a

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Other sightings included the almost guaranteed Buzzard, a single Kestrel, a singing Mistle Thrush, parachuting Skylarks, half a dozen Meadow Pipits, Stock Dove and Wood Pigeon, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Jackdaw, Parakeets and noisy but almost invisible Goldcrests. Easter Sunday greeted us with blue skies, sunshine and warm temperatures. We also had a murder right in front of our flat to start the day.

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Crows are a common sight among the rooftops where we live, but this collection of corvids was the most we have seen gathered onto one building. They were noisy as well; a mixture of croaks and caws and an audible tap tapping of their bills could be heard quite clearly from our balcony. Despite being a common bird, there was something almost ominous with their presence in such numbers.

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Undeterred by the “birds of doom” gathered opposite, we decided to make the most of a glorious looking day and investigate a new patch in our local area, Staines Moor. Small picnic packed, we set off on the short jaunt around the M25. We parked up, donned our walking boots and set off in the wrong direction. The erroneous detour proved fortuitous however as a Buzzard flew directly over our heads, mobbed by a party of what I am sure were Great Tits. Path corrected, we headed towards the moor, greeted by this female Blackbird, tail up and all.

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Mrs Sausage was most enamoured by the lambs on the reservoir banks, although the jury is out on whether this due to cuteness or potential dinner!

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Commensurate with the spring weather was the constant calling of Chiffchaff. They could be heard all along the pathway alongside the reservoir and onto Stanwell Moor. Despite nearly every single Chiffchaff we saw putting itself directly in line with the sun, I managed to get a few shots of.

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Staines Moor itself is an expanse of mixed habitat. Lots of scrub and grassland, some woodland and even some small reedbeds intersected by small streams and the River Colne. I have long been a reader of Lee Dingain’s excellent blog about Staines and Stanwell Moor. Having seen this patch for myself, I can see why he enjoys this patch of land. Hard to believe it’s right next to Heathrow Airport and the M25.

The dominant species of our visit to Staines Moor was without doubt Meadow Pipits. Against the fairly consistent sounds of Skylarks, the high pitched “tseep tseep trill” of the Mipits was everywhere. Occasionally we would see some perched on the posts adjacent to the River Colne, but the general trend would be for them to appear from the longer grass, rise, hang, and parachute down, wings half open as they trilled. Small and very mobile, they were easily put up from their grassy hides. We sat still on the grass near some exposed branches they had previously vacated and waited patiently. We were rewarded soon enough as they returned to the same perch after some more aerial display.

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It would be hard to imagine a more perfect way to spend a few hours than watching these lively, attractive birds displaying almost golden hues in the sunshine.

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Other sightings during our visit included one Cormorant flying over, Green Woodpecker, a calling Pheasant, plenty of Great Tits, Blue Tits and Robin, Canada Geese, shy Wrens, and like at Cranford Park, there was also a very vocal Mistle Thrush. Up at the Butts on the moor, we also had a small flock of Linnets which stayed just long enough for this murky record shot. IMG_3185a

And this Goldfinch which presented itself to us just as we were making our way back.

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With so much more to explore, we will definitely be back at Staines Moor soon.

A final flourish to the Easter weekend saw a short visit to Cranford Park on Bank Holiday Monday morning. Nest building is well under way for many of the residents, and I found a Jackdaw pair carefully taking nesting material into their new hole.

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Chiffchaff numbers were up on my last visit just over a week ago, they could be heard calling from several locations among the woodland. Wrens and Robins were also more visible now. I just managed a quick shot of this Wren with nesting material before if disappeared.

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The place to be however was the wood circle. I quietly approached as this Magpie was sunning itself on one of the logs, the rays catching some of this birds less-seen colouring.

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Bees and butterflies were showing in some number too. I saw my first Peacock Butterfly at Cranford around 3 weeks ago, perhaps a little too early for survival into spring. On Monday though, there were Peacock, Brimstone and this slightly tatty Small Tortoiseshell around the park.

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Highlight of the morning by some distance was the sight and sound of 6 Buzzards circling high over the park. There has been a movement of these birds of prey across the South East of England at the moment. Although they are resident in the UK, numbers do come down to the south and east of the country for the winter period and these may well have been part of that movement. We are lucky enough to have at least two, perhaps more Buzzards in regular attendance at Cranford Park. The sight of 6 of these large birds circling overhead and calling on Monday was superb.

There you have it, a somewhat lengthy bumper Easter edition. I hope you enjoy reading it. Please click on the pics for larger versions and check our Flickr page for the better quality images.

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