Thursday 27 September 2012

Mystery Roach

I had decided to spend last night on a gravel pit, with those gorgeous green tench and the slightly less lovely bream as the primary targets. No problems if a carp or two should get in the way of the peace and tranquillity of course. It proved  interesting,  with bream rolling all night, fairly near my groundbait,  carp splashing about in the distance, and with the odd tench ever so casually breaking surface close in amongst the prolific elodea pondweed.
 I had gone with the intention of photographing some little bank voles that had kept me company right through my previous night shift on the water.  I had not knowingly seen voles before, but didn't take the big camera last week, and so had the SLR in tow this time.  Inevitably, as a result, the bank voles made themselves completely absent for the whole night.  Not one appeared on the platform from where I fished.  But five or six wood mice darted about onto the open area, grabbed  morsels of groundbait and then returned to the grassy bank.
The mice most people are acquainted with are house mice.  I remember seeing them in my grandmother's terraced house.  She used to catch them in the kitchen.  None of these new-fangled traps for her.  She coated one side of a sheet of brown paper with treacle and left it on the floor.  In the morning the mouse would be trapped, its fur solidly glued to the treacle.  She would then wrap the mouse up in the paper, hit it with her solid cast metal flat iron, and consign its remains to the bin.  The house mice always looked very dirty creatures to me, but wood mice always seem to have a glorious sheen to their coats.

  Two Woodmouse Photos Taken Near My Feet

At times they stayed for minutes, confident that I did not intend to harm them, and the most in view at any one time was five within a yard of my feet.  They sit upright on huge pink hind legs when feeding, their big ears sticking up like miniature Sky aerials, whereas the voles I saw last time seemed to prefer being on all fours. The voles were also much slower, and I cannot help but wonder whether the owls, that are quite common in the trees around the lake, have fed well during the last week grabbing them as they leave their holes for the fishing platform.  Vole-au-vents?
I don't propose to describe the fishing here and now, but shortly after the first rays of daylight there was an unusual event.
To my right, and above some fairly deep water, maybe 20 feet plus, covering an area of at least 80 yards square, there were fish rising.  A lot of fish rising.  But the rises were almost all very splashy, and I suspect they must have been roach.  Much too small for carp, far too frantic for bream or tench, and the lake does indeed hold a good head of roach, as I had proved a couple of weeks ago. The splashy rises continued for  30, perhaps 45 minutes before stopping completely.
I have absolutely no idea what these fish were doing.   A local told me that the splashy rises happen almost daily, and certainly at this time of year.  There was little or no surface fly life, the lake was flat calm.  So what were all these roach doing? And why were the rises so splashy?  Why were they all congregated in that one area?  There were few, if any, elsewhere on the lake.  Had all the roach assembled in one area?  Or was it just in that area that the roach behaved thus?  Other areas of the lake have a similar character. It is a mystery that has me flummoxed.

Saturday 22 September 2012

The Sparrowhawk Returns

Just a short note:  Gordon still lives on, but the continued presence of the sparrowhawk has made all the local birds wary, and the bird feeders are now deserted for much of the day.

Today the hawk made a dash at a goldfinch.  It missed, and both the goldie and the hawk hit the lounge window.   The finch left a single feather stuck to the glass, and three inches to the right, the hawk left its clawprints visible on the glass.   The centre very long forward pointing toes, clearly identifying the bird.  The photo may, or may not be clear to the reader.

After its clash with the glass, the sparrowhawk flew a yard or so and perched, initially on my privet hedge, and then on the edge of next door's conservatory roof, posing rather nicely for a couple of pictures.

I think that, by clicking on the photos, you will get a larger version of them.

This pose reminds me of those emperor and king penguins in the Antarctic, the males shuffling around with the egg balanced on their feet, Very upright with the breast feathers allowed to droop down to warm the egg.   After less than a minute the bird flew off again, giving me a blurred and unusable third photograph as it did so.  The bird visits the garden daily now, but I doubt I will get much better photos, unless I catch it in an action shot.

Saturday 15 September 2012

A Gluttonous Greenfinch

     I live  in a large town, but in a fairly leafy area which has always had a few birds and other wildlife to watch.   Robins, blackbirds and blue tits were always frequent garden visitors, but other species have  been fairly rare...until recently.    4 or 5 years ago I caught a glimpse of a pair of goldfinches flitting about in the trees in next door's garden.  A birdfeeder was purchased, stocked with peanuts, but the goldfinches did not return. My wife persevered, added more feeders, and even a couple of nest boxes.   Slowly the birds started to visit...greenfinches, coal tits, and great tits were early arrivals.  The addition of other seeds, particularly those of sunflowers tempted other species too.   The list now  includes long tailed tits,  nuthatches, greater spotted woodpeckers and quite a few other species.   Jays  take the peanuts daily, and the goldfinches have finally arrived in numbers, especially this year, to feed on the other seeds.   As many as 25 of them squabble on the feeders at any one time. 
One of the young goldfinches.
The goldfinches flock, often with a dozen or so greenfinches, adults and young alike. The goldfinches had two broods this year, and young with various developments of plumage colour are there to be seen.  Sparrows and starlings remain absent, and are observed in the garden no more than once a year.  A couple of hundred yards away is a council estate, and there, in the more open spaces between the houses, sparrows and starlings abound.  Maybe they don't like trees and shrubs?
     The flocks of green and goldfinches on the feeders are regularly scared off by the arrival of larger birds: jays, magpies, even collared doves.  They then perch in the dead sycamore tree in an adjacent garden, waiting until the coast becomes clear.   But one greenfinch, a young male, began to act differently last month.   Let's call him Gordon.  A few weeks ago Gordon became reluctant to leave the food. He would remain on the bird table, despite the nearby presence of jays and other big birds. And he really liked his food, eating so much that we began to notice an increase in his girth...quite a large increase in his girth. He has become quite fat, and thus is now easily recognised amongst the other greenfinches.
Typical Gordon: fat, fluffy and scruffy, food dripping from his chin, wings akimbo.
   As the days have passed he has become ever more attached to the food, rarely straying far from his next meal, a meal which usually is taken very soon after his short rests.  He no longer stands up, but squats down, legs invisible.  In the evening, when the other birds fly off to roost, he remains much later, finishing off the last scraps of food, finally, at dusk, hopping into the nearby privets to sleep away the night.  He can fly, but his flight is slow and fluttery, struggling to gain height.  His wings no longer seem to fit  properly, and won't lie flat against his ample body as he feeds.  When Nina, my wife, adds fresh food in the morning, Gordon remains on the table, no more than a couple of feet from her.  She has developed a soft spot for Gordon.  She has taken to shooing away the jays and magpies.  She stands in the lounge and tries to scare them away, so that her favourite smaller birds can get to the food.   The jays in particular are highly intelligent birds and are starting to ignore her, remaining on the patio, 3 or 4 yards away, wondering why this mad woman is wildly waving her arms about.  There were five of them on the patio one morning.
A jay, on the patio, ignoring me completely.
       I have feared for Gordon for some time.  His spot in the hedgerow is unlikely to remain warm enough as Winter approaches, and our bird table, with its regular visitors, has occasionally attracted the attention of a sparrowhawk.  We returned from shopping one day to find the bloodied remains of a male bullfinch on the back step.  So our Gordon, with his slow reactions, tendency to sleep on the feeders, and poor flight is, I feel, holding a very short straw.
       And indeed, he had a lucky escape yesterday evening.  As usual, he was on the table, long after the other goldies and greenies  had gone to roost.  As I watched he suddenly flew down to the ground, this being unusually athletic for Gordon.  He had spotted the sparrowhawk as it swooped in for the kill.  The hawk missed his target, and finished the attack perched on a patio seat.    Nina, protective of Gordon as ever, and not realising that the hawk had missed, leapt up and waved her arms around, scaring off the bird.   Two seconds later I would have had a superb photograph of it, not more than two yards away.   Had it either failed or  succeeded in its attack, there was no longer any point in it being scared away.  The deed was either done or not done, and it was far too late to wave at it through the window.   But I understand how she reacted, almost instinctively, to protect her little finch. So I bit my lip, and just about suppressed my wish to moan at her.
A photo of the same sparrowhawk, standing below the bird table.
There can, I am sure, only be one end game, Gordon will soon end up as breakfast, or perhaps supper for our local hawk.  He is too slow, too lazy, and the presence of many of his near relatives is too great an attraction for the sparrowhawk.  I have not, as yet, seen the hawk catch any birds, but she did snatch a woodmouse after swooping low across my lawn a few weeks ago, and then slowly dismembered the little rodent whilst perching in my apple tree.

Hawk With Partially Eaten Mouse.
A Day Later.

     After a day spent feeding heavily yesterday, Gordon is now nowhere to be seen.  We last saw him about 8 PM last night, as he flew off, to our surprise, into a nearby tree.    The hawk also visited us last night, and appeared to be hunting...and therefore hungry.    This morning the "sprawk" was back again, still looking for food, so maybe our greenfinch has survived, but moved on to stage a sit-in on someone else's bird feeders.   The hawk was near our feeders at 6.45 this morning, and in low light  ( 0.5 seconds at F 5.6 ) I managed this photo.   Very pleased with it, for, with the prevailing light conditions, cloud at dawn, I was lucky she ( I am fairly sure it is a female) did not move and blur the photograph.  Sunlight would have been far better of course!

The sparrowhawk stayed around for another hour or so, chasing and being chased by the jays, and finally being moved on by the magpies, which slowly crowded it out of its tree, by creeping ever nearer on the branches, chattering loudly.  I suspect it will be back, mainly mornings and evenings when the low light is to its advantage.

48 Hours Later Still

     Nina is a happy bunny again, ecstatic almost: Gordon has returned.   Two days away from the food have told on him, and he now looks a  little slimmer, as he joins 4 or 5 long tailed tits on the table.   He has also gained some degree of caution, following a lesson in living dangerously, and flies away when the magpies arrive.   He still doesn't fly as far away as the other birds, which effectively disappear, but satisfies himself with putting three or four yards between him and the nearest magpie.   But the sparrowhawk has, in Gordon's absence, visited each morning and evening.   Sometimes the hawk sits near the birdtable for up to 20 minutes at a time, which does not seem to be the best tactic, as it scares away all her potential prey, including Gordon.   But, and don't anyone tell Nina, I am sure Gordon is doomed before the week is out. Once the sprawk gets back into stealth fighter mode, and attacks under the radar, that will be it.