birding, birdwatching, blackbird, British birds, chaffinch, coal tit, Common Gull, Cosmeston, Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, Gadwall, Great tit, long-tailed tit, Marsh tit, nuthatch, Pochard, Reed bunting, robin, shoveler
7 January Gale-force winds were blasting across the exposed areas around the lake today but, with blue skies overhead, the park was full of people out walking, despite the chill. The wee birds were hungry and I was greeted with much happy peeping wherever I scattered seed and virtually mobbed at the dragon tree in Cogan Woods, by Great, Blue, Coal and Long-tailed tits, Dunnocks and Robins, Chaffinches and Nuthatches, Blackbirds and a Reed bunting were all happy to accept any tasty little morsels.
On the lakes the birds were mostly hunkered down, as it was too windy for flying. Teal, Gadwall, Pochard and a Shoveler were some of the highlights.
17 January After much scrutinising of the huge numbers of gulls that you nearly always find at Cosmeston, I spotted my first Common gull of the year.
23 January A regular Cosmeston-going birding friend had reported an adult Yellow-legged gull the previous day and I fancied a good walk so I headed to Cossie for a look. These was no sign of the gull but I was delighted to see one of the Marsh tits that frequents a particular spot in Cogan Woods, and it became bird number 67 on this year’s list, before I strode quickly home in pouring rain (yep, drenched!).
I’ve been to Cosmeston a couple more times this month but those outings were more about braving the rain to satisfy my cravings for fresh air and exercise than nature-watching, particularly as it’s been too wet to have camera and binoculars out and about. Let’s hope February is a bit drier.
It’s not easy to get a clear crisp photograph of Little Jenny Wren as Wrens flit so quickly through the undergrowth. But, yesterday, at Cosmeston, I got lucky, as this charming little creature popped out on to a branch right in front of me and I managed to fire off several quick shots before it disappeared again. I think, in fact, that the fifth photo below is probably my best Wren shot ever!
Just when I was thinking the wee flying critters had probably all disappeared for winter, up pops this little chap, tootling around on the top of an old fence post that I was checking out for lichen. I’m reliably informed, by experts on a couple of specialist pages on Facebook, that this is a member of the Encyrtidae, one of a large family of over 3700 different parasitic wasps (and that’s just the ones that have so far been identified – there are probably many many more).
Information on the Natural History Museum website states that ‘About half of the species of Encyrtidae are associated with scale-insects … generally as endoparasitoids of immatures or less commonly adults’, which means the wasp’s larvae live inside and eat the larvae, and occasionally the adults, of scale-insects – not a particularly nice way to survive, I have to say. Some of these wasps are also parasitic on the larvae of moths and butterflies – also not nice. Still, the wasp itself is a pretty little thing, and some Encyrtidae species have been used as biological control agents to control insect pests, so the news isn’t all bad.
It was fairly quiet bird-wise on my first monthly visit to Cosmeston Lakes Country Park on 2 December, though there were still good numbers of the various thrushes (Mistle, Song, Redwing and Blackbird) around. A Great spotted woodpecker in the west paddock was a nice surprise – I initially thought it a Jay when I saw that peachy belly. The Tufted ducks amused, as always, and, while I sat watching them, the Brown rat I’d seen before at that particular spot came snuffling around for food. There were two more rats foraging by the boardwalk near the café.
It’s a thrush takeover! On 6 December, I’d scarcely left the house to walk to Cosmeston than I was spotting Redwings, Song thrushes, and a Mistle thrush, plus Goldfinches and Chaffinches, in the trees just across the road. And when I got to Cosmeston it was more – much more – of the same, plus the first Fieldfares I’ve seen there. In Cogan Wood, the little birds were hungry so I shared my flapjack with them – there were even two Nuthatches and a half dozen Long-tailed tits picking up the crumbs on the ground. And the prize for the most colourful birds goes to the pair of Bullfinch that were munching on hogweed seeds.
On 15 December, I finally got a reasonable, though not brilliant photo of a Fieldfare – they are very skittish so it’s hard to get close to them. I finally found a spot behind the berry trees they were feasting in, then just had to be patient and wait for one to pop up to the top of a tree.
In Cogan Wood, one of the resident Marsh tits popped out to say hello – first sighting I’ve had since earlier in the year as they seem to disappear during the breeding season. And there was a Stonechat at the top end of the west paddock. There had been a pair of Stonechats in that area in the autumn but they seemed to have disappeared when the park staff mowed that field, so it was good to see one there again.
Something else happened at Cossie during this visit, something that’s never happened to me before. A squirrel climbed up my leg, not once but four times – the first time it grabbed my finger, the second time it touched my camera. I didn’t have food but it obviously thought I did. It certainly made me laugh.
Over the summer months my eye has been distracted by all the little creatures that move – butterflies and moths, dragonflies and beetles, and all manner of other insects – but now that it’s winter and those creatures have mostly disappeared (you’ll notice one crept in to one of my photos!), my eye is again drawn to the more static beauty that surrounds me. Take, for example, this small grove of trees at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park.
I spent perhaps an hour here the other day, looking in wonder at the incredible variety of tiny lichens and bryophytes to be found on the tree trunks. I haven’t tried to identify these but I’m determined to return to them over the coming months to see which I can put names to and find out more about. For now, I just want to share their beauty.
I’ve only had a couple of visits to Cosmeston Lakes Country Park this month because my volunteer work on the Mary Gillham Archive Project has been taking up a bit more time as we try to get as much as possible done before the project effectively finishes at Christmas – though, having said that, I did spend four hours at Cosmeston last Friday trying to replicate, for the project website, photos Mary had taken in the early days of the park. These are a couple of those: Mary’s photo of the west lake in September 1987 on the left, and my photo from the same spot thirty years later on the right.
But I digress … apart from the berry-eating visitors, the Redwings and the Mistle thrushes, and finally managing to grab a couple of half-decent photographs of a Green woodpecker, I haven’t found anything particularly noteworthy bird-wise at Cosmeston during November. I have, however, been impressed by the numbers of insects still around, despite the fact that it has been noticeably colder, with daytime highs in the low teens and several overnight frosts.
On 5 November, the ‘fireworks’ at Cosmeston were these lovely little Common darters. In an area shaded from the cool westerly wind but warmed by the bright sun, each had claimed itself a fencepost to bask on. And, nearby, a lone bumblebee looked like it wanted to snuggle for warmth into this seed-head ‘duvet’ of Old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba).
On 24 November, though my focus was on finding the exact spots where Mary had taken her photos, I did still have one eye on the wildlife and noticed quite a lot of flies about. Like the dragonflies of two weeks earlier, these two flies and one hoverfly were favouring sheltered spots on wood to make the most of the sunshine.
My usual view of the Green woodpecker (Picus viridis) is a flash of its bright red Mohawk, bright green body and bright yellow rump as it rockets rapidly away from me. They are notoriously nervous birds and, as they usually feed on wide open expanses of grass – all the better to spot the dreaded photographer trying to creep up on them, they easily spot my clumsy attempts at stalking, and fly off at the drop of an ant. So, the few photos I’d managed to get were with my long lens on full zoom, with, invariably, the bird partly obscured by branches, twigs or long grass.
Until last Friday that is…. I was enjoying a wander at Cosmeston, when, having already unsuccessfully stalked one bird, I spotted another in a different field. This time, this woodpecker was completely occupied with poking in the damp soil for ants, and I was on a footpath behind a hedge. I moved to the grassy verge, took care not to step on anything that might crack or rustle, and kept my head down. If the bird looked up, I froze until it got back to its digging. There weren’t many gaps in the hedge so I still couldn’t get very clear or very close shots but I am still ridiculously pleased to have got these couple.
Meet the Stonechat (Saxicola torquata), the bird whose song sounds like two pebbles being rapped together, hence its common name.
These little birds, about the size of your average Robin, usually live a little north of where I live in south Wales, preferring the plantations of conifers that grow in the Welsh valleys and the heathland of the Brecon Beacons. But, come the cooler temperatures of autumn they begin to move south to over-winter in slightly warmer climes.
I saw my first local bird at the Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve on 17 September, a pair at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park on 6 October, and then a solitary female at Grangemoor Park last Sunday, 8 October.
Stonechats are not always easy to spot, as they duck down amongst tall grass and wildflowers in their search for insects and seeds, and their colours act as good camouflage. But, luckily, they also have a habit of perching on the tops of those grasses and wildflowers and on low shrubs so they can keep an eye out for threats – and humans with cameras! – so I have managed to get a few distant photos.
On Friday I went for a wander around one of my favourite local haunts, Cosmeston Lakes Country Park and, while there, I set myself a little challenge. How many critters could I find in one small area, perhaps no more than 2 metres square?
My challenge wasn’t pre-planned: I had seen very little at this point on my walk and was thinking to myself that this was due to autumn and the cooler weather but, when I saw a Speckled wood butterfly at this particular spot – a bank covered with shrubs and small trees – I started wondering how much more there was that I simply wasn’t seeing. So, I stopped and looked harder. There was no poking under grasses or bushes, no sweeping or brushing to encourage movement, just focussing my eyes and ears to really see and hear.
There were, in fact, three Speckled woods – I just hadn’t noticed the other two, plus three different species of spider (the Garden spider was lunching on another critter but it was partly consumed and too tiny to identify), one hoverfly, three species of flies, a gall on Bramble that would’ve been home to the larvae of the tiny gall wasp Diastrophus rubi, and a leaf mine, made by the larva of some unidentified mini-beast. And I’m absolutely sure I didn’t spot everything!