Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Wild Winkworth, bits and bobs from the middle of March

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, Spring is now in full swing at Winkworth, although given the changeable and often chilly weather in the last week to ten days, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Still, the trees, flowers, birds and insects around the arboretum cannot hide the fact that the season of new life is very much upon us. 

Down in Bluebell Wood a pair of Mandarin Ducks have been regularly seen up in the Oaks, presumably looking for a suitable hole in which to nest. Chiffchaff numbers are steadily increasing now, with at least six present on the 23rd.
Mandarin Duck pair in Bluebell Wood

There appear to be two pairs of Grey Wagtails holding territory now - one along the dam at the northern end of Rowe's Flashe Lake and one around the car park and property office area. 

In addition to the regular cast of Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Coots, etc on Rowe's Flashe Lake, Pochards have been a fairly constant presence for a while now, with numbers peaking at five drakes and one female on the 16th. Kingfishers are becoming a more frequent sight also, and there were two present on the morning of the 23rd. On the 24th a female Mute Swan was seen on the water briefly in the morning - the first time I've seen one here in the nearly six months I've been a gardener. Twenty-four Canada Geese on the 20th was a particularly high count. The pair of domestic Greylag Geese appear to be nesting, with the presumed female now spending a lot of time curled up on the gabions on the west side of the lake. 
Grey Wagtail male

The squealing of the Water Rail continues to be heard regularly down in the Phillimore Wetland, and a pair of Marsh Tit are also still around. 
Buzzards and Sparrowhawks have been seen most days lately, with at least six of the former soaring overhead on the 20th. Red Kites were seen on the 17th, 19th, 20th, 22nd and 24th. All previous records of this species I've seen at Winkworth have been birds flying over, but the one on the 17th was notable by the fact that it was the first time I'd seen one perched in a tree here, just across the field from the northern end of Bluebell Wood. It was a misty morning so excuse the poor photo!
Red Kite in the mist

Other bits of note in the past few days include a Reed Bunting calling in the Phillimore Wetland on the 24th, and regular Red-legged Partridge calling in the fields just to the east of the lower arboretum boundary.

On the 23rd March there seemed to be a northward surge of Meadow Pipits right across Surrey, and various skyward glances throughout the day yielded small groups moving over the arboretum.

Ravens were seen on the 19th - when one flew west - and the 23rd, when two birds were seen circling high above the upper arboretum.

There are new flowers opening all the time in the arboretum now, particularly on some of the Rhododendrons, Acers and Magnolias. One Rhododendron near the car park is proving particularly popular with insects like this Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) pictured below. 


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Buzzards, bees and butterflies... Early Spring at Winkworth

Meteorologically speaking, March 1st marks the beginning of Spring and so far the month has been largely dry with some very pleasant days indeed, the mercury rising to 14c on the 7th.
Looking across Rowe's Flashe Lake

The increasingly warm sunshine has seen seasonal changes moving at a pace at Winkworth, with signs of Spring springing up all over the place, and something new to see or hear every day.

In the upper arboretum a pair of Jackdaws have been busy building a nest in a chimney on Fox Cottage, and Blue and Great Tits have been seen inspecting nestboxes around and about.
At Rowe’s Flashe Lake, the Mandarin Ducks have been displaying, and the pair of Little Grebes are also still around. A Kingfisher has been seen intermittently, most recently on the morning of the 12th.

The 12th also saw the first singing Chiffchaff of the season, in the Carlotta Glade – another surefire sign that warmer days are on the way!

A pair of Marsh Tits are often to be seen or heard in the Phillimore Wetland where they were very vocal on the 11th. Bramblings were heard in or over the upper arboretum on the 4th, 8th and 12th.

Birds of prey too are taking advantage of the improving weather, with several Buzzards and Sparrowhawks regularly seen and heard soaring overhead on the rising thermals. Red Kites were seen on the 7th and the 10th. On the 13th a Raven briefly alighted on a Scots Pine in the upper arboretum.
Common Buzzard on the lookout

Another sight that always lifts the spirits at this time of year is catching that first unmistakeable glimpse of a bright yellow male Brimstone butterfly fluttering around in the sunshine. The Brimstone is one of the five of our butterfly species to overwinter, the males emerging on the first warm days of the year – usually in March but sometimes earlier - to find and mate with the females. The first such sighting in the arboretum was on 7th March, flying around the Rhododendrons near the tea room, followed by another in Magnolia Wood on the 11th. Other butterfly sightings this month have included Small Tortoiseshell on the 10th, Comma on the 12th and Red Admiral on the 11th and 12th.

Comma (Polygonia c-album)
Red Admiral

Bumblebees, Hoverflies and Solitary and Honey Bees are also becoming more active. Look and listen out for them buzzing about around the arboretum – Prunus ‘Okame’ on the eastern edge of Magnolia Wood is proving particularly popular at the moment – here’s an Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) enjoying the blossom.

Eristalis sp. Hoverfly on Rhododendron (thanks to eyorksbirding for the identification help on this one)

Look out also for the various wild flowers beginning to bloom around the arboretum, such as Lesser Celandine, Dog Violets and Colt's-foot (pictured below)

As I said earlier, Spring is well and truly springing!


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Birds at Winkworth, 23rd-27th February 2015

A changeable few days, weather-wise, with wintry showers and single figure temperatures one minute, and glorious sunshine and rolled-up sleeves the next. In short: a typical February week! A week in which I noted fifty-one bird species in or over the arboretum including Firecrest, Red Kite and only the second record of Egyptian Goose this year.

Down at Rowe's Flashe it was business as usual with Mallards, Tufted Ducks and Mandarins all present and correct, along with the usual pair of domestic Greylag Geese. We now appear to have a pair of Little Grebes, who are both beginning to look very smart as they moult into their breeding plumage, and have been very vocal all week. Pochards have been coming and going, peaking at two drakes and one female on Wednesday morning. The now regular flock of 8-10 Canada Geese was joined on Friday morning by two Egyptian Geese.

Goldcrests were displaying near the boathouse on Friday and, as I mentioned earlier, there were at least two Firecrests about in this area on Thursday morning, plus a possible third one in the Holly Wood in the afternoon.

Birds of prey were represented this week by Sparrowhawk and Buzzard - two of the latter soaring and calling over Rowe's Flashe Meadow on Friday morning - plus a Red Kite circling down in the valley just east of the arboretum on Wednesday afternoon.

Grey Wagtails were seen most days, a male often singing by the boathouse first thing in the morning.

Mandarin Ducks

female Pochard

Egyptian Goose