Highfields Highlights

Following the progress of the great crested grebe family has meant frequent visits to Highfields Park which adjoins the main campus of Nottingham University. On one such visit I saw this new display board detailing some of the history of Highfields and the University.

The ariel photograph shows the lake and the Trent Building (with the white clock tower.) The development included a new road (now University Boulevard) with extensive playing fields to the left. I’m not sure of the date of this view but it is certainly prior to the mid 20th century. It is still possible to pick of some landmarks. E.g. the rather grand porticos that were part of the now redeveloped ‘Tea Pavilion’ still stand rather incongruously on the edge of the lake but the site of the Lido (bottom left) to which I was bussed from junior school for swimming lessons in freezing water is now occupied by the Djanogly gallery building.

My various visits have enabled good views of the GC Grebes from different angles. The left hand image shows the whole family as they pass under one of the bridges. The adults are distinguished by their reddish plumage either side of the head where the two juveniles still have black and white stripes. They have clearly grown a great deal since I photographed them on May 30th (right) when they were just about at the limit for hitching a lift on the adult’s back.

The juveniles are not only able to fend for themselves but were also helping their parents to feed the babies. I don’t know if this is common practice but it certainly bodes well for the successful rearing of the second brood.

The two shots of the four babies seem to show some variation in development. The bottom image shows something of the power unleashed when diving for fish.

An Egyptian goose making a splash and gargling? This species has done quite well at Highfields this season.

Finally on the boating lake I saw this ‘dance’ by a couple of mute swans which I think may be a pair bonding ritual. I have not witnessed this before but I have previously posted a clip of something similar donated by a couple of friends. Thanks T&G 🙂

Monday Miscellany

Following my close-up encounter with the Great Crested Grebe family on the boating lake at Nottingham University Park (Highfields) I have made a couple more visits to see If I could get some more shots. On both occasions they were mostly grouped on the opposite bank but I managed some short video clips. I recommend going on to beestonbirdman.blog to view these video clips. Using the link in the email takes some time to download the files.

The male parent hurries in with a fish. Ignoring the older youngster he offers the fish to one of the new chicks who can’t cope with it so it goes to another chick sitting on the female’s back. You can just see it disappearing down the lucky chick’s gullet.

A chick tries repeatedly to get on Mum’s back without success and the male parent brings a fish for one of the others at the end of the clip.

The male parent came quite close to the bank on his fishing trips as did one of the juveniles from the first brood now able to fend for itself.

A couple of mallard ducklings and a rather bolshie swan made pleasing images in the bright sunlight.

Finally, from the garden, a goldfinch taking a drink reminds us to make water available and keep topping it up during this hot weather. I am pleased to report that we have had a few juvenile goldfinches visiting the feeders in the past week.

Baby Boomers

What I saw on my trip down the NET tramline to Nottingham University Park (Highfields) makes me think that the breeding season is never ending. Strolling alongside the boating lake I saw mallard ducklings, young Egyptian geese, mute swan cygnets and great crested grebe with offspring.

Mother Mallard was keeping a careful watch over her brood near the western end of the lake.

Compared to nearby Wollaton Park where many young water birds have been lost to predation this looks a very healthy crop of maturing Egyptian geese resting on a mudbank.

Mute swan family taking advantage of a shady weeping willow.

Nearing the end of my walk I was keeping an eye out for the great crested grebe family that I saw some weeks ago when I was able to take some pictures, one of which was published in Birdwatching Magazine (hem! hem!) I was pleased to see that the juveniles were thriving and ‘over the moon’ to see that the pair had raised another clutch, this time of four chicks. I have selected the shots that show them clearly visible on the female’s back. I think this counts as the SPOT of the YEAR! I hope you enjoy seeing these delightful little mint humbug babies – obviously Notts County supporters! 🙂

House Martins Revisited +

Having confirmed that house martins were nesting again on a shop front in Beeston I had it in mind to return with my tripod so I could get some video clips without camera shake and in the morning when the light conditions were more favourable.

The stills are taken from video clips. It is pretty much impossible to get decent action shots individually with my camera (and my slow reactions). Only one passer-by commented as I stood on the pavement gazing skywards. Most people ignored this strange person taking pictures.

At Attenborough later on that morning I managed to get several shots of a reed warbler (top) in the reed bed adjacent to the visitor centre and a whitethroat alongside the main path. Note that these warblers have somewhat similar colouration, along with some others such as chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler and garden warbler which makes identification a little tricky.

The sunny weather brought out a variety of butterflies and dragonflies. This red admiral opened its wings in stages enabling this rather pleasing series.

Finally this morning (Sat 19th) tidying the edges of our mini pond I caught sight of a frog, so small it could comfortably sit on a pound coin. I suspect that this two foot square repurposed shower tray is its entire world. I must remember to keep it topped up!

Two seconds of Fame and a Footballer

Taking advantage of a fine day we used our free bus passes on Thursday 8th to visit Wollaton Park.

On path different from my usual route into the Park we saw this view of the hall neatly framed by trees. I took a picture thinking, ‘This is one for BBC Weather Watchers.’ Uploading it as soon as I got home I was delighted to see that East Midlands Today agreed. This is my 2 seconds of fame, blink and you’ll miss it!

Hearing the sound of chainsaws as we walked round the lake we expected to see some clearing of fallen trees or the like but in fact it was two chainsaw sculptors at work. Herons and sand martins, I think, on the massive log and the guy in the blue shirt is sculpting a tree stump into what looks like a beaver.

This selection of the wildlife we saw is mainly of a few young birds. Predation has been a problem this season, especially of the Egyptian goslings. From top left: grey heron, moorhen chick, coot chick, slightly older coot chick and young crow. The final image is of a drake mallard in transition from breeding plumage to eclipse that I have described in previous posts.

A few days ago spotted this hoverfly on a stone in our mini pond (an old shower tray let into the lawn). Posting an ID request on Twitter elicited this helpful response. “It is one of the Helophilus species, probably Helophilus pendulus. They are widespread and sometimes known colloquially as The Footballer.” I doubt if either team on Sunday will be playing in those colours.

I have received an email from my milkman (yes, we still get it delivered in ‘rinse & return bottles’) to the effect that Monday’s delivery may be late because of some sporting event on Sunday evening. I heard Nick Robinson on the BBC Today programme this morning refer to ‘Wembledon’. Whatever your sporting preference in ball size or means of propulsion enjoy 😎 your Wimbley weekend 😎

My Old Stomping Ground

For a change of scene yesterday (6th) I walked around what, in the 1950’s, was a forbidden playground (‘over the lines’), now the eastern end of Attenborough Nature Reserve. Sand and gravel were still being extracted, barges ferrying the material to the works which have only very recently been demolished to make way for a housing development known as Chaucer Mews which doesn’t sound like ‘affordable’ housing to me. The ponds resulting from the extraction process are pretty much as I remember them as a youngster but the banks and islands have greened up considerably.

A solitary moorhen makes its way across this secluded pond.

A mallard pauses in its own ‘ring of bright water’. It is probably a male having moulted its distinctive plumage and entered the eclipse season. A pair of cygnets feed under the watchful eyes of both parents.

This bumble bee was to busy gathering nectar from some rather splendid thistles alongside the River Trent.

If it had not moved I might have missed this tiny (2cm) toad on the path. It was taking advantage of the damp weather I am sure.

This year I have become more aware of the succession of wild flowers as the weeks go by. Rosebay willow herb (left) has the alternative name ‘bomb weed’ from its propensity to rapidly colonise bomb sites during the 2nd world war. The right hand picture shows yarrow, one of the smaller ‘umbellifers’ (like cow parsley, hogweed etc.) and the mauve heads of knapweed.

In an English Urban Garden ……..

Today it’s indoor birdwatching looking through the window with camera handy. These were all taken in the garden over the last few days.

A bedraggled bluetit and a likewise great tit rain soaked or moulting after a busy breeding season. I can’t say I have seen any baby tits through.

Sunlight reveals multi colours in an adult starling and a juvenile stands tall. Someone seeing it on Twitter suggested that it wants to be a meerkat when it grows up.

You can tell this juvenile blackbird is a male from the black feathers developing from the tail end. It appears to be eating ants but by the way it is dancing about I think the ants are fighting back. A green woodpecker would have been in its element and impervious to any ant attacks (see blog post 15/06/2021).

I will always find room for a robin portrait. This one stands out well from the dark blue/purple background which is the out-of-focus foliage of our smoke bush.

Town and Country

The first Friday of July took me to an urban setting in search of a bird that chooses to live where we live or at least very close by. It’s one of our summer visitors the housemartin. The particular location is under eves of some shop premises in Beeston where I am informed they have nested for many years. The premises are up for sale and I hope the new owners don’t do anything to discourage them.

As far as I could tell only a couple of the nests seemed to be occupied which is not good news but typical of all hirundines (swallows, martins and swifts) this topsy turvey year we are having weather-wise. The adverse weather has not only affected them directly but also reduced the number of flying insects that they depend on.

The top two images appear to be of an adult bird sitting on eggs and the lower two are obviously of a couple of hungry babies. I took the second one from a video clip as the parent bird came in with food and off again in a few seconds. My reflexes are not good enough to capture that.

Despite the weather on Saturday I decided to go and check on the great crested grebe family. I soon spotted them in the vicinity of their now inundated nest with two chicks on mum’s back. I think I miscounted the other day when I thought there were three. I saw them being fed by the male bird but they were too far away for any clear shots. This is the best I could manage but you can clearly see the two ‘mint humbug’ stripes on the chicks.

A wren and a male reed bunting regaled me with their song as I walked through the reserve and surrounded by freshly washed greenery it felt good to be alive. 😎 😎 Never mind the weather. Enjoy the outdoors. There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. 🙂 🙂

July, so far, at ANR

Small tortoiseshell butterfly posing on the greenery (nettles?). There is a large tortoiseshell butterfly but it is more or less extinct in the UK partly due Dutch Elm disease affecting its preferred food plant.

I took these photographs close to where I spotted the whitethroat chicks on Monday. I’m not sure whether they are of more than one bird or even whether they show adults or juveniles. The mossy, bare branches make an attractive natural perch. PS I am informed by someone from the RSPB (thanks!) via Twitter that it is a juvenile from the dark eye colouration. Adults tend to have more light brown pigment in the eye.

The great crested grebe nest that has attracted a lot of interest lately proved to be empty when I arrived but the family was still in the vicinity. I managed a few distant shots and I can just about make out three black and white chicks on the adults back. This means that all three eggs hatched and the chicks have overcome their first hurdle.

On the same pond as the grebes was a lone Cape ruddy shelduck (left). This rare, South African version has a distinctly darker head than the ordinary ruddy shelduck (right). Neither are seen very often locally.

The term ‘ruddy’ applied in this context refers to the orange/red colouration of this fine looking duck. It is an old word but with an impeccable ancestry. “….. when the Philistine (Goliath) looked about and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.” 1 Samuel 17:42 King James Bible.

Initially I was somewhat disappointed to realise that the bird singing so sweetly on the highest branch of a hawthorn was a dunnock but the pictures turned out to be quite pleasing. Nearer ground level but also on a hawthorn, a female chaffinch seemed unperturbed by my presence allowing me to get some nice shots.

Calendar Bird for July

The Red Crested Pochard is a large diving duck. Its breeding habitat is lowland marshes and lakes in southern Europe and it extends from the steppe and semi-desert areas on the Black Sea to Central Asia and Mongolia, wintering in the Indian Subcontinent and Africa. It is somewhat migratory, and northern birds winter further south into north Africa. It is likely that flocks in the UK are mainly composed of escapees from wildfowl collections.

Calendar picture, taken in Wollaton Park, Nottingham.

Only the male has the distinctive red head and bright red bill. In winter, along with some other duck species the male loses his distinctive plumage and looks similar to the female, while retaining the red bill (lower right hand image). This state is known as ‘eclipse’. Another feature also retained by the eclipsed male is the red eye. Bright plumage is restored in time for the spring breeding season.

The ducklings look similar to many other species but seeing them in a family group is a certain way of identification. These ducklings appear to be developing different bill colours already.

The common pochard also shows sexual dimorphism and the triangular shaped head is a distinctive feature. It widely distributed across Europe and Asia but most breeding birds are found in the UK and Western Europe. In some countries populations are declining due to habitat loss and, regrettably, hunting! 😦 😦