Larking Around On The Moor

Our last post signed off suggesting that any upcoming birding excursions would require the obligatory layers of winter clothing and waterproofs. So far, the December weather in our corner of UK has been more akin to that of early April than the end of the year. Temperatures have rarely dropped below double-figures and blue skies and sunshine have almost become the norm over this Christmas – New Year period. Bees are still flying, daffodils showing, and some of our birds are displaying nesting / breeding behaviour. What this extraordinary weather will mean come spring-time is anyone’s guess.

Nonetheless, the weather has made for pleasant birding conditions, and we have managed to visit Staines Moor a couple of times over recent weeks. One bird that seems to be a guaranteed sighting on the moor is the Kestrel. I don’t think we have had a single visit without seeing at least one of these falcons.

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Although most frequently seen hovering over the moor, my visit on the 19th December had two Kestrels calling to each other from the ground. This was a sound I most associate with mid to late summer, when young Kestrels are out with their parents undergoing their “life training.” Both our local breeding Kestrels in Hayes and at Cranford Park were training way back in July. I wonder if they are a late brood, another possible consequence of the mild autumn and winter? I’m not sure if this is unusual behaviour for late-December, so if any experts are reading this, please feel free to comment.

I tracked the two down to the concrete bridge where they were both sat in cover. They were quite wary though, and parted at my approach. I did manage to get one of them as it perched on the fence posts next to the River Colne though.

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Once this obliging Kestrel had taken to the air, it was quickly replaced on the same post by this Green Woodpecker.

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I  was about to call it a day when I bumped into Sue Giddens on the moor, so we spent a few hours chasing Stonechats here and there. We believed we probably had two pairs showing quite frequently but any approach to get closer pictures saw them zip off to a safe distance.

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Whilst with Sue we managed to see 1 Water Pipit, 1 Little Egret, a small party of Fieldfare, plenty of Goldfinch and the ever-present Meadow Pipits. We also had a very quick sighting of a Snipe which we flushed on the banks of the Colne. The moor looked beautiful bathed in a golden winter sunset as we left.

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My next visit was a post-Christmas blast of fresh air on 28th December, accompanied by Mrs Sausage. The weather was most un-Decemberlike. Blue skies, a shining, almost blinding sun and temperatures that meant you could quiet easily have birded without a coat. Even the usual Staines Moor breeze was absent.

IMG_0588apic by Mrs Sausage as we stood in the Colne

Our walk through Stanwell Moor brought us two Goldcrest, one noisy Cetti’s Warbler, a single Siskin and plenty of Blue and Great Tits. Staines Moor was pretty lively too. As we entered, a flock of Ring-necked Parakeets were noisily populating the trees by Bonehead Ditch, while a Song Thrush was filling the air with a range of triple repeat calls and song. The moor was looking green and alive, resplendently lush in the bright sunlight.

IMG_0590a pic by Mrs Sausage from the middle of the Colne

Meadow Pipits were making their presence known with their thin calls and skittish flights from cover, while busy flocks of Goldfinch and Starling dotted the middle distance. Our attention was taken by two Skylarks that rose from the still green grass. The pair landed just within photo distance.

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The liquid warbling song of the Skylark is associated with late spring and the warm summer days that stretch into August. Yet here we were hearing them a few days after Christmas. Strange days indeed. We found another Skylark sitting quite exposed on an ant hill as we made our way around the southern end of the moor.

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We were close enough to be able to capture the distinctive Skylark crest as this individual foraged for insects.
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Star of the show today was a very confiding Kestrel, it flew straight past us as we crossed the Colne and settled atop an exposed branch. This was perfect camera fodder and we made the most while we could.

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This fine young Kestrel was unperturbed by our presence and we were able to get fairly close for our pictures. At most, the Kestrel was curious to our presence as some of these face to face shots hint at.

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Despite the pictures possibly suggesting the contrary I can confirm that this young female does have two feet!

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Other species seen on the moor itself included two  Grey Herons, at least two, possibly three pair of Stonechats, several Pied Wagtail along the Colne and, thanks to Tom Gibson who we bumped into, we now know that there was also a Peregrine Falcon on the pylons at the very far end. A lovely few hours spent on the moor with only a few people present and some very obliging feathered friends. With the mild weather set to continue into the New Year it will be interesting to watch any effects it will have in the coming months. We hope to bring you more from the Moor in 2016!

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