Monday, 31 October 2016

Oct 31st Sculthorpe Moor

Halloween at Sculthorpe is no different to any other day. There are no pumpkins, witches or vampires. The only thing that comes close to the horror theme here are the midges and other insects flying at you. But I'm not interested in anything ghoulish today. There is always something worth seeing here. With feeders placed everywhere, it is a great place to see birds of many species attracted to them. You never know, with the autumn we've been having, there's always the chance of seeing something special.

Male Chaffinch
The woods were alive with birds, probably thanks to all the feeders. But despite all of these feeders and visiting nearly every hide (except for one which was closed for maintenance work), I was unable to find any bullfinches today. This is unusual as I always see them here. However, we had more luck with nuthatches, marsh tits and coal tits. At the new Volunteer's Hide especially, we enjoyed incredibly close views of all these birds and more. If you've yet to visit this new hide yet, it is an elevated hide that is at the same height as the tree canopy surrounding it. One side overlooks reed beds and freshwater pools. The best side in my opinion, though, is the side facing the trees themselves. Two feeders hang from two trees attracting a flock of goldfinches, while a feeding platform placed on a wooden beam close to the hide's back windows provided close up views of everything else.

Female Chaffinch
Blue Tit
Marsh Tit
Some kind of toadstools
More fungi that I don't know the name of
Birch Polypore (I know this one!)
Sulphertuft (another one that I actually know!)
Common Darter
Caddisfly (I think)
Blue Tit
Though I would have loved the hide to have at least another window or two so that more than just four people can view the birds on this rear side, I have to say that I really like what they've done to get the birds as close to you as possible. Watching them hop closer and closer with caution from branch to branch before taking their turn to grab a seed as quickly as they could before something bigger like a nuthatch or blackbird comes along and bosses them out of the way. With winter just around the corner, the urge to fatten up and store food is just to great to ignore a visit to such an easy food supply.

Coal Tit

Female Chaffinch

Marsh Tit
Blackbird with dark bill (possibly from Scandinavia)

Its not just the local residents like the nuthatches and blue tits making the most of the feeders, there are also birds from further afield here too. Not only did I hear some siskins, fieldfares and spot this blackbird with a darker bill (indicating a Scandinavian bird), I also saw about 3-4 bramblings at the Volunteer's Hide. There's nothing better than seeing a brambling on a fine autumnal day, but 3-4 of them! Wow! Without doubt the special bird I was after today. A good replacement for not seeing a bullfinch I think.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Oct 27th Holkham Hall

Fallow Deer
I am back at Holkham Hall today. With it still being the rutting season, my parents and I are here to try and see some deer on deer action. I wanted to see a proper clash between two males before the rut is over. There was a minor problem though. As it is half term and nearly Halloween, we had no idea it would be so busy here. The hall and it's grounds were packed with people, consisting mainly of families and dog walkers. Cars were diverted to park onto the fields as the main car park was already full. But the most annoying thing to me was that many of these families and dog walkers just waltz right up to the rutting fallow deer, causing them to run in panic. They all need to brush up on how to approach deer!

When it comes to approaching deer, don't get too close and don't just walk up to them. You need to use cover to hide yourself as you get near to them so that they can't see you as much. Keep downwind so your scent does not alert them of your presence. Walk slowly and quietly with careful steps so that you do not make much sound or any sudden movements that may scare them. Plan your route before you start your approach so you know the best way of getting to them using trees and other things to cover behind. And finally, do NOT walk your dog close to the deer! In fact, lead your dog away from them as deer are easily spooked by dogs. I know the deer at this estate are use to people, but they are still not tame and will stress out if you get too close. It really grinds my gears when I see animals in distress when it involves people not knowing what they are doing.

Anyway, back to deer rut 2016 and after approaching them in the proper manner, using trees as cover, I was able to watch them at a reasonable distance with a great view of the action. Though the herd was a bit restless due to passers by in the woods causing them to run around a bit in panic, after a while, they returned to their rutting field by the woodland edge and settled down a little bit. Many of them were females and immature males and they were mostly interested in grazing or snoozing. For the more mature males (called bucks), they were full of testosterone and had other things on their minds.

This buck was probably the most dominant in the herd
Within the herd, there were several large bucks with huge impressive antlers and bulky, muscular bodies. These were the more dominant males that have not given in yet. They show off their physical condition to rivals and impress potential mates by charging around the herd and continuously make loud grunting sounds. They will not eat or sleep during the entire few weeks of the rut. Gradually, one by one, these bucks will tire and give up in defeat until only a lucky few will win the rut victoriously. The prize in defending their section of females within the herd is to mate with as many as they can. One buck, a pale bruiser of a male, was probably the most successful in the herd. We watched him busy sniffing out the females, checking if they were ready or not and mount a couple of them, though he only successfully mated once. Mating is a brief affair, a quick thrust and that's it.
The bucks were sniffing the females to check if they are ready to mate

This buck failed to mount this doe this time round...
...maybe a bit of grooming will help...
...a successful mating!

A clash between two bucks!
Unlike red deer, fallow deer do not form harems in which only one male defends. Instead, males and females mingle together into one great big herd. This can get quite heated amongst the most dominant of the bucks and fights can happen at any time. This was what I wanted to see and sure enough, two bucks obliged with a full on clash. The pair of them began the dispute by walking parallel to each other, side by side. Then their heads lower and their antlers collide with one another. The sound of clashing antlers was incredible! After a few seconds, they had a brief break, but were back into one another's antlers once more. The dispute may have only lasted about a minute, but it was awesome to watch. I am definitely satisfied now.
Going in for round two!
Pink-footed Geese flying over the estate!