Saturday, July 19, 2014

'On The cut'

A delicious BBQ Friday, followed by a storm-watch late into the night has produced an interesting few nights on the 'Cut'. However, a rather gorgeous end to a stormy few days on the Oxford Canal this evening. Maybe we'll get the chance to have a decent sleep tonight.

Moored at one of our favourite spots on the Oxford Canal
It's strikes me (no pun intended) that living aboard a steel narrowboat moored in the open countryside, with several large trees adjacent during some intense thunderstorms is somewhat dangerous! But hey we survive one more day to tell the story.

Sensible Yellowhammer singing from under the shaded canopy!
Not managed to venture out too far today but the wildlife has in fact come to us. Yellowhammers have been a constant companion singing all day long, with decent numbers of Linnet and Reed Buntings toing and froing across the newly ploughed fields.

Reed Bunting perched nicely opposite the mooring
In fact the local Red-legged Partridge have been quite vocal too in the nearby fields. Plenty of Hares around and several Lapwings appear at dusk to feed in the fields opposite, calling well into the night. Swallows seem to come in just prior to dusk looking for a decent roosting plot, this species choosing to only migrate during the day! A Curlew was heard calling during the respite in thunder claps on Friday night, probably just heading through.

Green-veined White among the Large and Small White
Butterflies have ventured out in between the storms and the most popular on this stretch of canal seem to be the whites, with Green-vein, Small and Large White all recorded. Other species of note: Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Buzzard, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Skylark and a decent Swift passage..

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Titchwell to Frampton

A welcome day off the patch with Trevor Griffiths from the Brandon team and after an early start and stop off for breakfast we arrived at RSPB Titchwell in Norfolk just after 9am.

Highly cropped photo of Barn Owl
Our first stop was over at the viewing screens at the end of the east trail, which unfortunately had been closed off beyond here for ongoing work. Our first notable of the day was a Barn Owl sitting in the bright sunshine on the opposite viewing screen and as we panned across left a Cuckoo was also enjoying the morning sun. Trevor insisted on using my canon SX50's full digital zoom on both birds, the results of which can be seen above and below, they were pretty far off but a great start to the day. Before moving on some excellent displays from a family party of Marsh Harriers, including quite an impressive food pass.

Another distant view, this time a Cuckoo
I'd never witnessed Titchwell looking quite this way, a high tide of over 7 meters had pushed water right through, covering large parts of the grassland meadow and the tide line was right up to the sand dunes. At least ten Spoonbill on the freshwater marsh and a selection of waders which included: Redshank, Oystercatcher, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Little-ringed Plover, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Avocet and Spotted Redshank, with some still in almost summer plumage. Offshore a constant passage of Sandwich Terns, with one or two Little Terns and Common Terns seen and on the water small pockets of Common Scoter. Other species of note included: Skylark, Linnet, Meadow Pipit and Stoat.

Not the most pristine Painted Lady but my 1st of the year nevertheless
Numerous butterflies on the wing at both reserves with a selection of species seen, plus excellent numbers of Small and Large Skippers, highlights, Grayling & Painted Lady. Sadly no sign of any Scarce Tortoiseshell among the numbers, although several have been spotted along the Norfolk coast.

Glossy Ibis - One of a trio of excellent birds
After lunch we headed off to RSPB Frampton Marsh in search of a trio of species and hit lucky on arrival with the first on our list, Turtle Dove, when one was perched nicely on the phone wires. After parking we headed off towards the sea-bank and as we approached the path which leads down to the 360 Hide our second of the trio, Glossy Ibis was feeding out towards the Island. We hadn't even reached the sea-bank when the final of the trio Lesser Yellowlegs was located feeding, but sadly way too far for a decent photo.

Several Hare were seen at RSPB Frampton
At the sea-bank a couple of summer plumage Grey Plover overhead and the photographed Painted Lady. A visit to the hides had similar waders on offer to Titchwell but a nice looking Hare was very obliging and as we walked along the track away from the 360 Hide a Water Vole scurried across the path!

Yellowhammer - Another addition to the day list
The remainder of our visit added Bar-tailed Godwit, Yellow Wagtail, Yellowhammer and Snipe and a walk along the public footpath just beyond the car park before heading off located two more Turtle Dove, probably juvenile, perched on the barn roof across the grass meadow. A great end to a great day out!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Local Stuff

After finally resolving some frustrating on-board power issues I needed to clear my head and so a spot of fresh air at Napton Reservoir in the late afternoon was called for! The vegetation which surrounds the small pool next to the car park was teaming with activity and so a good place to start.

Small White at Napton
Despite the overcast conditions it was humid and bright and butterflies included: Marbled White, Small white, Green-veined White, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Small Skipper, Meadow Brown, Large Skipper and Common, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselfly, plus a host of mating Soldier Beetles were also noted. The only Dragonfly of the visit was a single Black-tailed Skimmer.

Marbled White in good numbers!
The main reservoir was devoid of any fisherman for a change and here at least two families of Great-crested Grebe, with two and three young respectively. As per usual the Coot population has increased somewhat and other birds of note during my stay were a couple of Raven overhead, single Kestrel and the Swifts are definitely on the move out with a constant passage south.

One of the many Juvenile and adult Pied Wagtails around the marina this evening.
This evening a lovely sunset and Moon-rise at the marina with goodness knows how many Pied Wagtails in the roost, there were at least 25 birds on the pontoon opposite alone. A walk around the grounds at dusk failed to yield a Barn Owl which has been very busy lately but I did manage my first Pipistrelle and Daubenton's Bats at the marina this year.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Summer Update #2

A few more Yellow Wagtails are beginning to appear at the marina, with two birds peering into my window from the adjacent boat when I opened the blinds on Sunday morning, plus a single bird on the raised bank as I walked to the car.

Yellow Wagtail - One or two beginning to appear at the marina!
A reasonably quiet visit to Brandon Marsh on Sunday morning with nothing to get too excited about save for a couple of Common Sandpipers. Dee and I took a stroll along the Oxford Canal later in the afternoon, one of the highlights was watching one of several juvenile Starlings piggybacking one of the local sheep. Several freshly emerged Gatekeepers along the route however, the surprise of the walk was a Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly, a species which is more at home around rivers and streams and the first I've recorded along any stretch of the local canal.

Newly emerged Gatekeepers along the Oxford Canal
With Dee attending a wedding fair at the Brandon Hall Hotel this evening with one of her mates I managed to dodge the bullet and take in a bonus visit at Brandon Marsh. Although the rain had turned almost torrential by the time she dropped me off I spent an enjoyable hour or so in the Teal Pool and East Marsh Hide. Teal Pool held juvenile Redshank, Green Sandpiper and a single Snipe but a pleasant surprise was a nice Wood Sandpiper, which suddenly dropped in from River Pool.

Hitch hiking Starling.
East Marsh Pool had lots of Swallows, Sand Martins and a decent number of House Martins feeding low over the water. Two juvenile Common Terns were among five adult birds and waders included single Little-ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and Common Sandpiper. Just prior to heading off a couple of young Yellow Wagtails dropped onto Willow Island and a surprise as I headed down the Central Marsh Track was a bubbling ♀Cuckoo! After dinner at TGI Friday's Dee and I were treated to the eerie calls of a Barn Owl, which was quartering the fields opposite our moorings when we arrived home!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Summer Update!

As we move into the month of July it's looking as though this year will certainly have some good news for many species and in particular those affected by last years dreadful spring. For the first time at Brandon Marsh there is now clear evidence of nesting Buzzards and thanks to Alan Boddington for showing me the location. As everyone is now aware Barn Owls and Kestrels have also done well on site and walking around the reserve today it's clear that many warblers are doing just as well.

Blackcap Juvenile - A couple of families seen around the reserve today!
As I arrived at Brandon this morning a Cuckoo was calling, quite a late bird for the reserve and Grasshopper WarblerChiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and the deafening song of several Wrens were all in evidence, some of which are most probably looking for partners for second broods.

Reed Warbler Juvenile - yet another family of young warblers!
Lots of  Butterflies on the wing today in the warm sunshine with some huge counts of Ringlet and Meadow Brown along with smaller counts of Comma, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and single sightings of Small Heath, Small Skipper, Gatekeeper, Large White, Green-vein White and Small Copper. The surprise of the day was a Red-eared Terrapin on East Marsh Pool, another unwanted illegal release by some thoughtless individual.

Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moth
The marina has been playing host to a family of Common Terns over the past fortnight and a Lesser Whitethroat continues to patrol the grounds and can be heard singing from first light. In the surrounding fields both Red-legged Partridge and the less common Grey Partridge can be found and a Skylark nest I've been monitoring on the meadow has successfully fledged five birds. The same meadow had at least a half dozen Marbled White butterflies and several Burnet Moths when I visited this afternoon. In the evenings the odd Daubenton's Bat can be seen skimming the water and the eerie call of a Barn Owl occasionally is a welcome sound.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Evening Delight!

Each year around this time Dee and I like to take in a night visit to Brandon Marsh and among other things we love to go searching for Glow Worms. These amazing and fascinating little bio-luminescent creatures are great fun to seek out. Females have unfortunately only a few weeks in which to attract a mate and lay eggs. After this, sadly they die. As well as attracting a mate, the glowing green abdomen is also a warning to predators to stay away.

The amazing bio-luminescent Glow Worm!
As ever we'd invited members of the conservation team and their wives to join us and began at the screen area which overlooks the Newlands reedbed. As most are now aware Brandon is once again playing host to a family of Barn Owls, fantastic news considering the appalling year they had in 2013. Jim had in fact ringed these birds a little earlier in the month and it was a real delight to see that all six original birds were practically fledged. As we stood mesmerised by the young birds one of the parents flew in and during our stay some of the young Kestrels, another nearby breeding success, could also be seen. A reeling Grasshopper Warbler, calling male Cuckoo and bubbling female were other highlights during our short stay.

Grainy image of four of the six Barn Owl young (taken almost in the dark!)
Having had Otters during last years visit to the Carlton Hide we were not as lucky this time around but enjoyed silhouetted views of a hunting Hobby over the treetops of the distant New Hare Covert. Chris Wiltshier was good enough to bring along his Bat detector and I was astonished to see how this excellent piece of kit performed. None of the team are Bat experts but judging by the frequency variation I would imagine that at least three or four different species were heard and seen!

Finally to the Glow Worms and I'm happy to report that we managed a reasonable eight examples, sadly down on the previous years but a real delight to go in search of and a first encounter for one or two of the attendees. Oh and yes, the call of a Tawny Owl echoed over the reserve as we departed not long before midnight.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


We've finally entered the period I term as the birding doldrums. That time when any remaining passage migration tails off and the birds settle at their nesting grounds to get down to business. It's certainly looking as though this year is going to be an excellent one for a number of breeding species which have suffered more recently, such as Barn Owls and Kestrels. One of the features of the year thus far helping these birds out has been the incredibly high Vole numbers reported around the country and Brandon Marsh also has some good news stories on these two vulnerable species, but more on that later in the year.

Moored Grand Union
Amazing 'Hay pooper'

I normally use this quiet time to complete boat repairs and servicing and also to get out and about on the canal system and recently I've been exploring a stretch of the Grand Union Canal which runs from Napton to Braunston. Over the years this particular stretch has become exasperated by the sheer amount of marina extensions in such a confined area and the resulting major increase in traffic is having an affect. For example when we first arrived in this area some 8 years ago, Kingfishers were a regular feature, along with Water Voles but sadly I've not recorded either locally in over 3 years.

1st Marbled White of the season - Stockton Cutting
Moored up near Flecknoe last Friday I spent the day completing some boat chores and watching the local farmers cutting and wrapping the hay with some amazing machinery. This gave the local Wood Pigeons a major food source, with bugs a plenty being scooped up and at one stage a Peregrine took full advantage scattering, attacking but unfortunately leaving empty handed. Shortly after a Red Kite, not that regular to the area, drifted easterly as I was having a tea break and to complete at trio of excellent raptors a Hobby quartered the fields opposite for a short while before heading off. Over the five evenings we've spent out Barn Owl and Tawny Owl were noted but sadly no sign of any Pipistrelle or Daubenton's bats, such a regular feature on this stretch last year.

Broad-bodied Chaser - Brandon Marsh
I've spent a little less time at Brandon Marsh more recently but last Tuesday's regular visit produced a couple of Hobbies and a Grasshopper Warbler. Today (Wednesday) I hosted a guided walk along with Keith Foster  for the Rugby Gardeners Guild, highlights Fox on Wigeon Bank, Hobby and Cuckoo and after lunch headed off alone. Bee Orchids and Common Orchids and with the sun shining I managed some new butterfly additions to the seasons list and in total registered: (14) Meadow Brown, (2) Ringlet, (2) Peacock, (2) Small Tortoiseshell, (4) Speckled Wood, (4) Brimstone, (1) Small Copper, (2) Red Admiral, (3) Common Blue and single Small and Large Skipper. Dragonflies now on the wing included: Black-tailed Skimmer, Broad-bodied Chaser and Southern Hawker.

Friday, June 13, 2014

On The Cut!

Lots Of Sedge Warbler along the canal.
Out on the 'cut' (canal to non boaty peeps) for an extended stay on the Grand Union Canal and had an extremely pleasant cruise yesterday evening with the highlights Hobby, Roe Deer and Little Owl.

One of two Hare's opposite our current mooring!
The farmers are already gathering the hay and this is giving the opportunity to actually see things in the temporarily bare fields. Several Lapwings have taken advantage already with a small number on nests and both Grey Partridge and Red-legged Partridge were also noted. One or two Hare's are currently in the fields opposite our mooring and earlier I spotted the most yellowish Yellowhammer I've ever seen.

Juvenile Swallow enjoying the morning sunshine.
It certainly looks like our farmland birds are having a good year with plenty of Skylark, Linnet and Yellowhammer young around, plus a number of young Swallows were perched enjoying the early morning sun.

Monday, June 09, 2014


With boat maintenance taking priority at this time of year my birding time becomes a little limited. Fortunately this often occurs at a time when the birds have settled down to breeding anyway and finding things to blog about can also become somewhat difficult during this period.

Brandon Volunteers Away-Day!
That said I had use of the Wildlife Trusts minibus on Monday and took a number of the Brandon volunteers on a visit to Weeting Heath and RSPB Lakenheath Fen. We began at Weeting Heath, which is probably the best site in the country to watch Stone Curlews. On arrival we each parted with our £3.75 ( no concessions here) and made our way around to the two hides which overlook the open stony ground of this Breckland habitat, which makes it ideal for these amazing birds. We weren't disappointed, as almost immediately after opening the hide flaps two birds were located, producing good views in the cooler morning air, a visit later in the day is often hampered by heat haze.

Stone Curlew - Personal Library Photo
Weeting can often be a good spot to see Mistle Thrush and Woodlark too and despite connecting with (4) Mistle Thrush during our stay sadly none of the later were recorded. While taking a walk along the woodland trail it's worth stopping for a while on the opposite side of the road to the reserve itself to scan the fields. These fields can be quite lucrative and to be honest yielded far better than the reserve itself. Here at least a half dozen Stone Curlew were viewed, including juvenile birds and Curlew, Shelduck, Buzzard, Skylark and a couple of Roe Deer were also seen. A few of the guys also had both Red-legged and Grey Partridge.

Marsh Harrier - One of several during the visit.
By the time we reached Lakenheath the temperature and the humidity had soared dramatically but we managed to avoid the predicted thunderstorms, which simply didn't materialise. Mind you by the time we completed our tour I would have gladly taken a soaking. Sadly there are no Golden Orioles to be found this year but Cuckoo's were around in good numbers, with several heard and three flying across the reserve at one time. The new hide, which is the first and only fully enclosed hide on the reserve, was I'm sad to say a real disappointment! The hide itself is well built and offers good viewing opportunities but unfortunately by the time you've walked along the boardwalk, where there is screening but on the wrong side, you've spooked anything that may be feeding on the peripheral of the reedbed which surrounds the small area of open water and a backdrop of large trees. In my view a complete waste of funding on behalf of the RSPB and suffice to say not a single bird in view.

Reed Warbler - Very few photographic opportunities today!
Stopping off at the viewpoints which overlook these immense fens produced some excellent moments, with Bitterns in flight and also booming, one of my highlights of the day. Marsh Harriers are a real success story here with at least two food passes observed but only two Hobby over the reserve during our visit was a mystery, Lakenheath boasting up to twenty on occasions in previous years. Another sad note is the predation of the young Cranes which had successfully nested this year, and despite a good search along the River Little Ouse we never managed to connect with any of the adult birds. Another bird we dipped on today was Turtle Dove, which apparently nest on the opposite side of the river. Other birds of note included Buzzard, Cetti's Warbler, Kingfisher, Common Tern, Sedge and Reed Warbler. A number of butterflies were also recorded: Common Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Small Skipper and Red Admiral.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Brandon Frustration!

Spent the weekend out of the marina and moored up on the Grand Union Canal, which despite the weather forecast turned out to be very pleasant. Having said that, butterflies were certainly at a premium but we enjoyed the company of a family of Linnets, which were nesting nearby and the Yellowhammers, Skylarks and Blackbirds forever in song, reminded me of those great English summers we used to enjoy when I was a lad!!

Linnet - Grand Union Canal
I'd not been to Brandon Marsh for nearly a week so decided to take in an early morning visit. I suppose it was no surprise to see that the water levels have risen and while sitting in the Wright Hide my heart went out to a couple of Coots on East Marsh Pool, who are barely keeping the nest above water! Fortunately one of the pair was busy going back and forth and making a good job of building up the nest, so thankfully it all looks very hopeful.

One of several juvenile Great-spotted Woodpeckers around Brandon today!
Bids of note included: A lovely family of Great-spotted Woodpeckers, Lesser Whitethroat, (3) Garden Warbler, Cuckoo pair and a Grasshopper Warbler. The sun shone for most of the morning allowing a number of butterflies to take to the wing. The path leading down to the Carlton Hide had a half dozen Speckled Wood, possibly newly emerged and the 'Tip' area and River Meadow produced a couple of Brown Argus, (15) Common Blue, (2) Small Copper, (2) Green-vein White, (2) Orange-tip and a single Peacock. Several Chimney Sweep Moth were also noted on the meadow.

Lesser Whitethroat
Finally, I was saddened to see that where a Grasshopper Warbler has been reeling away recently the reedbed has clearly been damaged in what looks like an attempt to get as close to the bird as possible. It's seems to me that this year at Brandon has been somewhat of a nightmare! Some will remember earlier in the year a pair of Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers in Horsetail Glade, which were exposed and subjected to hoards of photographers and idiots with bird microphones, the birds stayed a few days and departed.

I've always been a believer in none suppression of sightings and getting the word out so that all can enjoy, in fact I personally put the word out on the Woodpeckers in question, having discovered them with other members of the Brandon Volunteers, something in hindsight I regret! But I'm sad to say that the time may have arrived when I too will think twice before putting the word out. Despite there being a really sound group of regular caring photographers at Brandon there are simply too many selfish, clueless, idiots around with cameras and the well-being of the bird must be the priority, not the so called holy grail of the perfect photo!!