Monday 30 October 2023

Purple Passion 30th October 2023

The Purple Heron is still at Whelford Pools, now for its ninth day. Being so near to my home I am making the most of this rare opportunity to watch such a secretive creature showing itself so extraordinarily well in its chosen area of cut reeds. slap bang in front of a hide.

I arrived at ten or just after and was surprised to see the small car park so full of cars.I assumed everyone would have seen the bird by now and its popularity would have waned somewhat but not a bit of it. Luckily a car was leaving as I arrived so  I had a space to park in..

I was later to learn that on Saturday cars were parked all along the road as the car park was constantly full and the owners of the neighbourng property to the reserve were very annoyed at the disturbance.

The small hide was almost full but I managed to get a space on a bench, with a bit of a squeeze, at the far end.Not the best position to be in, as my view would be partially obscured by a branch from which hung bird feeders but the heron had just flown off so there was no urgency. It would not be back for a while.

For half an hour I saw nothing but a Kingfisher until the heron flew from one side of the lake to the other and disappeared over the trees to my left. An hour later and now having been joined by Mike and Brian, we were sitting and chatting, whiling the time away, when the heron flew in and landed on its usual patch of waterlogged cut reeds.

By now I have become familiar with its routine and watched as it landed at the far right corner of the reeds and then slowly walked across to the other side of the cut reeds, stopping at one point to stand hunched and entirely motionless, a statue with neck, head and bill bent to the water, waiting to strike at any fish that came within range. 

It is remarkably successful in catching fish, almost exclusively Perch, although I did see a video on social media of it with a Pike in its bill that looked well beyond its capacity to swallow.Sadly the video did not show the conclusion and whether it managed to consume the fish or not.

After a pleasant enough hour watching the heron, it moved to one of its favourite fishing spots where it seemed to have most success and sure enough a lightening lunge into the water saw it retrieve a large Perch, which it carried well away from the water's edge onto the cut reeds. Here it struggled for  a while to hold the writhing fish in its bill and indeed inadvertently dropped it at one point only to instantaneously retrieve it. The fish now positioned crosswise in its bill. remained held firm between its mandibles, twisting and flapping its tail. For a minute the heron stood contemplating its next move. Slowly and painstakingly as its resistance subsided the large fish was manoeuvred until its head was pointed towards the heron's gullet and with no little contortion on the part of the heron's bill and gape disappeared down the bird's throat. It had looked impossible but the heron knew better.

The heron stood for a while, replete, but was surprisingly quickly back into action in its remorseless search for more fish.

A late Osprey flew over the lake, it too had been fishing and was carrying a fish in its talons.

I can think of worse ways to spend a Monday.

Friday 27 October 2023

Finding Fungi 27th October 2023

This morning on a day of pleasant sunshine and autumnal stillness I went with Peter to Berks Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust's (BBOWT) Warburg Reserve near Bix, in my home county of Oxordshire.This time I had settled for a more genteel and infinitely less stressful day searching for fungi rather than birds.

Warburg Reserve is hidden away, deep in a valley in The Chilterns and accessed by a narrow and increasingly tortuous, uneven road that becomes little more than a track, which just when you think you have taken the wrong route, opens out to reveal a small discrete car park and tiny visitor centre. 

Although there may be other cars in the car park it is rare to encounter anyone else on the reserve and it is as if the place is deserted but the muddy bridle path suggests it is not so, as footprints, trailbike tyre prints and outlines of horse shoes are indented in the mud on the puddled bridleway

At this time of year the trees are proclaiming the passage of autumn,their leaves now showing more yellow than green and below the stands of beech trees their fallen leaves have coloured the ground a rich mahogany.

In the depths of the valley there is little wind and a sense of time slips away. The birds in the woodland are quiet too, concentrating on searching for food. Only the occasional croak of a startled pheasant echo's from the valley side while Red Kites whistle as they pass unseen above the canopy of the trees.

The stillness is a balm to allay any ills your spirit may feel and here one can lose oneself for a few hours, concentrating on searching for the various fungi that grow on the reserve, currently around 900 species.

Here are a few of those we found on a rewarding meander below the beeches and through the woodland of Warburg Reserve.

Collared Earth Star

Dead Man's Fingers

Magpie Inkcap

Verdigris Agaric

Dog Stinkhorn

Spiny Puffball

Thursday 26 October 2023

Purple Patch re-visited 25th October 2023

I so enjoyed my few hours with the extraordinary Purple Heron at Whelford Pools NR yesterday, I made another visit today. Such an opportunity will not last for long so best to make the most of it, especially as it is so close to my home.

I went later in the day this time, just after noon in the hope the hide would be less crowded than yesterday and my hopes were realised.

The heron was initially out of view but soon walked out from its hiding place in the reeds to my left and behaved much as it did yesterday. I watched it catch two fish, both Perch but today it seemed less inclined to remain on the cut reed patch in front of the hide and flew off on two occasions to other stands of reeds at different parts of the lake.

I spent three hours in the hide this time with everyone keeping very quiet knowing how sensitive the heron is, which made it very relaxing to sit looking out on the tranquil autumnal scene before me.No rustling crisp packets, no inane incessant voices trying to outdo each other on what they had seen on whatever holiday or birding trip they had been on.No endless lists of moths caught overnight or birds seen from their toilet window, that sort of thing.It drives me to distraction but not today thankfully

Would that it was always so.

Now back to the heron and some more images, rather a lot in fact!

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Purple Patch 24th October 2023

A Purple Heron in the neighbouring county of Gloucestershire and only twenty five minutes from my home  was  irresistible. The heron's chosen location was Gloucester Wildlife Trust's Whelford Pools Nature Reserve which was well known to me, as for ten years my company was located in the nearby town of Fairford and I often passed the small nature reserve, tucked away from the road behind some trees, on my way home.

I was in no particular hurry as it was raining first thing in the morning so I left the house at around eight thirty as the rain cleared, leaving a legacy of grey clouds and puddle strewn country roads.Crossing the Cotswolds via familiar deserted rural lanes, on nearing Whelford the clouds had dispersed sufficiently to allow a weak sun to heighten the colours of the autumn trees.

The  reserve's car park is small, with room for less than ten cars and was already almost full on my arrival but I managed to secure the last space available and took a short muddy walk to a small hide overlooking the fringes of a lake. 

Entering the hide, it too looked full but again I managed to squeeze into the last available space on a bench and looked out onto a corner of cut reeds enclosed by a fringe of uncut reeds, concealing a large lake beyond.

The view from the hide at Whelford.The heron frequented the brown area of cut reeds, at the far end by the uncut green reeds

The Purple Heron was immediately visible, its back to me as it stood motionless, neck extended downwards towards the water's edge. It was a study in concentration and caution, absolutely motionless, its back blending almost perfectly with the dead stems of the cut reeds on which it stood. Its yellow eyes were fully focused on the water, the only movement evident, came as it adjusted its stance in anticipation of a strike.

The strike came as a shock, a second's transition from absolute stillness to violent action. The effort put into the projection of neck. head and bill  was so forceful the heron overbalanced, correcting itself upright with splayed wings.

It retreated from the water with a Perch held crossways in its mandibles and after a period of adjustment the unfortunate fish was swallowed head first.

I could but rejoice at this unforeseen opportunity to watch a bird that is,under normal circumstances so evasive, its secretive, reed dwelling existence rendering it almost impossible to view for a prolonged time yet here one was, in a relatively open situation and on view for long periods, unsuspecting of its hushed admirers crammed into a small hide.

Smaller than a Grey Heron, it looks far less robust almost emaciated, its  narrow head and yellow orange bill supported by an unfeasibly thin, noticeably kinked neck which it could stretch out to some considerable distance.Its legs and feet were sulphur yellow and the toes very long and thin. It would move with stealth, slowly and alternately extending each leg to take a long measured stride whilst at other times it would hold one foot in the air, suspended for seconds in ultra caution, before moving on. Sudden movement was an anathema unless to strike at a fish.

A young bird born this year, its upperbody plumage was reddish brown with a white chin and throat, its duller white neck and breast liberally lined with black. Its underbody was sandy brown.The flight feathers were black and its tail extremely short but one was drawn to its head  from which yellow expressionless eyes stared either side of a formidable bill of black, orange and yellow,

The heron, with great deliberation moved along the edge of the water from one side of the cut reed patch to the other. Halting at favoured points, it would stand and regard the water, poised to strike should any fish betray itself. I saw it catch at least three fish, all Perch and it also missed several others.

Purple Herons are not that unusual in Britain with up to twenty birds being recorded annually, mainly between April and October, although they are normally a bird of central and southern Europe where they are migratory, moving south to Africa in winter.

The individuals that reach us are often dispersing juveniles and currently there is another on Marazion Marsh in Cornwall.Occasionally juveniles have been found in my home county of Oxfordshire and in 2010 a pair even bred at Dungeness in Kent. I suppose with the warming of our climate there is a good chance this will be another southern European species that will colonise Britain as have Glossy Ibis, Great, Little and Cattle Egrets. 

For two fulfilling hours I watched the heron, almost constantly on view, until it stood at the furthest end of its secluded corner in the reeds, shook its feathers and flew up and over the reeds but not very far, athough rendering itself invisible in the process.

Cue a mass exodus from the hide. I stepped out into the warm noon sunshine of a late autumn day, the leaves now turning a traditional yellow in an embracing stillness. The melancholy of autumn but I left for home more than happy and content.