Monday, August 22, 2016

Away-Day RSPB Frampton Marsh

Another away-day for the Brandon Marsh team, sixteen of us arriving at RSPB Frampton Marsh shortly after 9am. A stiff breeze was blowing from the south-west which was maintained throughout the day, warming up quite considerably by late afternoon and only a minor shower to contend with.

Distant record shot of Turtle Doves at the barn - Four today!
Initially most of the guys decided to head off along the sheltered treeline which eventually tracks around to an open barn, favoured by Turtle Dove. Once the landscape opened out a look back across the reserve and towards the barn initially flushed two birds perched up in trees, which appeared to fly down towards the barn. We edged a little further down the track and finally four Turtle Doves were observed , mostly around the barn area and the nearby apple trees. The large lagoon adjacent to the track produced a selection of wildfowl including Pintail, Wigeon, Little Grebe and even a single Barnacle Goose among the Canada Geese resting on the bank. A couple of Yellow Wagtail while here, (6) Snipe in flight, plus Swallow, House Martin and two Sand Martin noted. By the time we'd skirted along the southern edge of the reserve and around towards the sea bank and salt marsh Skylark, Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, summer plumage Golden Plover, Sparrowhawk, Whitethroat and three Swift were added to the now growing day list.

Whinchat - So many photo opportunities missed today but I just wanted to enjoy the birds!
From here a first look across the salt marsh from the bank in what was a challenging wind produced (2) Kestrel, (3) Marsh Harrier, several more Yellow Wagtails which were abundant today, Whinchat and a total of five Wheatear by the time we reached the gate down to the central path. Further scans before Heading to the '360' Hide for lunch produced Knot and a look over the pools on the fresh marsh during a rain shower registered our first of many (200+) Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlin and the first of three or four Little Stints.

Unprecedented 200+ Curlew Sandpipers at Frampton today!
A chance to catch up over lunch in the hide gave some really close views of Curlew Sandpiper. While here Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Little Stint, Avocet and huge numbers of Black-tailed Godwit.

Good comparison of Curlew Sandpiper (left) and Dunlin bill!
After lunch the most adventurous among us decided to walk the 4 mile round trip along the river to Witham mouth, something that's been on my bucket list for sometime. Difficult to bird the many bushes along this stretch in the strong breeze but Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were noted and along the river Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank, with the odd Wheatear every so often along the bank. A bit of a surprise was a single Brent Goose on the salt marsh! We arrived some time later at the mouth which offers excellent views out to sea, but it was probably not the best timing as the high tide was much earlier in the day! After settling, or should I say collapsing on rocks and an ideally placed length of plank first birds of note were a stunning summer plumage Grey Plover and a couple of Little Terns on the mud, one seemingly a juvenile bird, with mum occasionally dropping in to feed. Many Seals basking on the sand banks, Bar-tailed Godwit, more Grey Plover and Curlew, then distant views of a Peregrine. We spent an enjoyable time here, probably better observed at high tide and arrived back at the centre some time later happy with our lot but nevertheless knackered.

A Barn Owl quartering as we left on route for fish and chips was a fitting end to a really enjoyable and spectacular days birding.

Little Stint - Courtesy of Fred Stokes

Species Seen:

Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Brent Goose, Barnacle Goose, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Wigeon, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pheasant, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Peregrine, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Ruff, Knot, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Green Sandpiper, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Little Tern, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove, Barn Owl, Swift, Green Woodpecker, Skylark, Sand Martin, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Robin, Blackbird, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Wren, Whinchat, Wheatear, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Magpie, Jay, Carrion Crow,
Starling, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting

Friday, August 19, 2016

Diary Update #50

After a weeks cruising it was back to home base and an opportunity for a visit to Brandon Marsh!

Fred Stokes - Encounter of the blurred kind!
In my absence Fred Stokes had seeming done it again with a terrific find of Purple Heron on Wednesday morning. Some confusion as to the sighting to begin with (not by Fred I hasten to add) but due to the fact that he was the only observer and the initial 'back of the camera' photo he texted across while on site was inconclusive! However, the flight shot he then sent out late in the day (above) put the sighting into a better perspective!

A brace of Pintail on East Marsh Pool
Todays visit for me was less exciting but nonetheless very enjoyable, with some good birds on offer. A brace of Pintail, Common Sandpiper, Ruff and a trio of Green Sandpiper initially. Then shortly after the rain set in an influx of six Common Tern, possibly a few more as the morning wore on with departures and arrivals.

Ruff on Teal Pool
Most of the visit was spent in East Marsh Hide, breaking for a full English breakfast midmorning in the company of Paul Cashmore, Richard Mays and Dave Cox. Then during rain intervals a sorte to the Ted Jury Hide with Alan Boddington and Bob Lee.

Little Egret - One of two seen today!
The notables for the day along with the above included: A second Common Sandpiper, (3) Snipe, (2) Little Egret, Willow Tit and Yellow Wagtail over.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Diary Update #49

A tour of the marina early morning produced fifteen Pied Wagtails on the pontoons and three Yellow Wagtails in the adjacent field. After breakfast back aboard I spend an hour at Napton Reservoir and here the highlights were Raven over, Yellow Wagtail and after a patient 20 minute wait, a juvenile Common Redstart on the fence in the sheep field, although elusive!

Purple Hairstreak from River Meadow
A few hours at Brandon Marsh later in chilly conditions for the time of year. From a birding perspective things were very quiet and the short time I spent in the hides only managed to produce five Green Sandpipers, Little Grebe and a Hobby.

Barn Swallow at rest in the Brandon car park! Contemplating the long journey ahead?
I spent some time on River Meadow searching the treeline where I'd come across a White-letter Hairstreak a few weeks back and was amazed to find a Purple Hairstreak in the very next tree, probably two of Brandon's most elusive species in the bag for another year!!


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Back To Blogging

After a small blogging sabbatical I thought I'd get things rolling once more with a couple of visits to Brandon Marsh after an extended absence. My Friday visit was all about the waders and Saturdays the odanata, butterflies and bugs with some excellent results.

Record Shot - One of six Black-tailed Godwit on East Marsh
East Marsh Pool is currently looking very enticing for any passing waders as we head towards autumn migration, with water levels perhaps the lowest I've encountered for sometime, thus exposing a lot of the islands. This was borne out by Friday mornings tally which included Common Sandpiper, (7) Green Sandpipers, (4) Oystercatcher, Little-ringed Plover, (2) Little Egret and brief visits from a half dozen Black-tailed Godwits and single Curlew, sadly the latter with a severely damaged right leg. Also of note during my stay: (6) Common Tern and a Hobby from the Ted Jury hide.


White-letter Hairstreak - River Meadow, a great place to find them!
Saturday was a little quieter on the birding front and so after lunch in the nature centre, which seems to get more expensive every visit, I took off around the reserve to concentrate on butterflies and odanata. This proved to be an excellent idea, with lots on the wing and included a rare for Brandon White-letter hairstreak, when I came across one along the treeline of River Meadow, an area in which I've seen them in the past.

Red Admiral - Having a good year
Red Admirals seemed to be in large numbers with (17) recorded but at the other end of the scale only a single Common Blue noted. In total ten species seen and included (4) Speckled Wood.

Ruddy Darter - First of the year!
Dragonflies proved to be abundant, recording year-first Ruddy and Common Darters and also included Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker, Migrant Hawker and Black-tailed Skimmer.


Spotted Flycatcher's back at Napton!
Closer to home I was delighted to receive a call from Richard Mays last week notifying me that Spotted Flycatchers where once more at Napton-on-the-Hill. This seems to be an annual event now when good numbers disperse in the area each year. I wasn't disappointed, with six birds seen during my visit and the bonus of a Common Redstart in the mix.


Saturday, July 02, 2016

Glow Worms!

Last night was our annual Glow worm survey at Brandon Marsh and prior to setting off around the reserve at dusk a BBQ in the courtyard, attended by several of the conservation team. Dee has organised and continued this small event since we first accompanied the late Anne Norman and Paul Norman, our former chairman on a survey some years ago.

The amazing Glow Worm
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. Sadly, probably due to the recent weather conditions only six were located along the transect this year, our lowest ever!

IPhone snap! - Pyramidal Orchid  - A 1st for Brandon
During our tour of the reserve we were delighted to see two thriving Barn Owl families and also, perhaps unusual for the time of year, a small murmuration of Starlings on Alban's reedbed, with around two hundred or so birds. Bats included Pipistrelle and Dubenton's and one of the stars of the evening was the above Pyramidal Orchid! First identified by Jim Timms during a butterfly transect a little while ago and in fact as it turns out a first for Brandon Marsh!


Monday, June 27, 2016

Brandon - Away-Day

As per usual at this time of year I tend to take a little sabbatical from blogging but interrupt occasionally if there's anything worth telling. On Monday I borrowed the 'Trusts' minibus for another Brandon Marsh jaunt, this time taking 14 of the conservation team to Norfolk for a days birding, Red Kite on route.

With the Norfolk highlight being the Great Knot the obvious place to begin was Holme, where the bird occasionally prefers to start its day before heading off. With a three hour drive getting here, including the usual breakfast stop, it was no surprise to find the bird had departed shortly before our arrival. Of course the day wasn't all about this 'Mega' visitor and so we spent a little time exploring the area.

A few of the team headed west along the boardwalk in search of Turtle Dove, and a few including myself preferring to check out the immediate area. While here a distant bird flying towards us from the marsh appeared at first contact to be a Black-headed Gull but almost immediately the realisation that this was in fact a Skua! In fact it was an Arctic Skua, which drifted right overhead, before breaking east, probably offering the best views I've ever had of this species! A Turtle Dove then flew east, in fact right into the path of a Marsh Harrier, which thankfully paid no interest. Looking out to sea a dozen or so Gannet, plus Little Tern, Sandwich Tern and a large raft of Common Scoter. It was at this time that news came through of the Great Knot, which was now at RSPB Titchwell.

Great Knot at RSPB Titchwell - Thanks to John Osbourne!
We arrived at Titchwell, pretty rapidly, having rounded up the team post haste and It wasn't long before we found ourselves looking across the fresh marsh in search of the 'Mega'. A task in itself, with at least 1000 or so Knot to scan! The word was that the bird was towards the rear from our standpoint, so the obvious answer was to relocate and view from the 'Parrinder Hide'. A good decision as not long after we'd located the bird, albeit fast asleep! The above picture shows our view of the bird initially but thankfully better views of the bird on the move were obtained later in the day! Of course there are some excellent photographs to be found on social media, including HERE on Penny Clarke's blog.

Also of note while at the reserve a summer plumage Spotted Redshank and various counts of Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew, Little-ringed Plover, Dunlin, and a record of ten Red-crested Pochard on Patsy's Pool. Marsh Harriers included at least three juveniles and lunch on the beach while sea-watching produced: Little Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Little Gull and Common Scoter.

Always nice to see Grey Partridge in the English countryside!
From Titchwell a stop at Cholsey Drying Barns included Yellowhammer, Corn BuntingGrey Partridge and Yellow Wagtail and further brief stops at March Farmers and Eldernell in Cambridgeshire before fish and chips at Eye! Although a good number of Little Egret at Marsh Farmers, no Great Whites during our stay, although a Cuckoo was nice to see in flight and a couple of Painted Lady butterfly and my first Scarce Chaser dragonfly are also worthy of note.

Scarce Chaser - Although quite worn my 1st of the season!
Eldernell produced a single Common Crane, along with Hobby and Marsh Harrier, plus some superb views of a hunting Barn Owl.

John Osbourne's excellent photo of Barn Owl at Eldernell!

Species Seen:

Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose,Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Tufted Duck, Common Scoter, Grey Partridge, Pheasant, Gannet, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Hobby, Moorhen, Coot, Common Crane, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Little-ringed Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed, Knot, Curlew, Great Knot, Arctic Skua, Black-headed Gull, Little Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Little Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, Barn Owl, Swift, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Robin, Blackbird, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow,
Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting

Monday, June 13, 2016

Birding Spain - June Visit!

With the temperature reaching 40C once again my last few days of this visit have been spent hanging around the villa grounds. However, on Saturday I wanted to do a little reconnaissance on an area of Zapata that I've seen mentioned in various birding reports. The area in question is actually on the opposite side of Malaga airport from the reserve at Guadalhorce, and also forms part of the Rio Guadalhorce.

Juvenile Cattle Egret at Zapata
It took a little finding but eventually after a bit of perseverance we came across the area after crossing a ford! Immediately on arrival a Night Heron took flight and a Yellow (Blue-headed) Wagtail Motacilla flava iberiae and Little-ringed Plover were feeding on the peripheral.

Booted Eagle over the villa..
After a brief walk around the area it was apparent that this is excellent habitat, even being so close to the runway and backing onto an industrial area. We drove several of the tracks and had many Crested Lark, including juveniles, House Sparrow and came across a few juvenile Cattle Egrets too. Three Bee-eaters also made an appearance and a young Stonechat sat on the wires! Not really doing it justice on this visit I look forward to future visits, particularly in the spring!

Booted Eagle from the terrace..
I've not visited Dave before in June, preferring Spring or Autumn migration and with the temperatures soaring at this time of year I think from a birding perspective a wise decision is to stick to that. Having said that it's been an excellent visit, in particular to see Dave and the villa refurbishment, which looks stunning and also to visit some new areas. As usual the terrace birding has been brilliant with Crossbills in the morning, hundreds of Common Swifts in the daytime and Owls at night. Other birds for the terrace list included: Red-rumped Swallow, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Golden Oriole and Bee-eater. I'm already looking forward to my visit here in September for the raptor migration down in the Straights!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Birding Spain - El Chorro

Dave decided he wanted to take me to an area I hadn't visited before called El Chorro, which is in fact one of the most popular rock climbing areas in Spain. It's located next to Desfiladero de los Gaitanes ("Gorge of the Gaitanes"). The gorge was famous for a dangerous bridge called Caminito del Rey (King's little pathway). The path provided access to a hydro-electric plant and took its name after an official visit by Alfonso XIII of Spain in 1921.

Woodchat Shrike at Ardales
On route to El Chorro and about an hour inland from Malaga is the small, picturesque town of Ardales, and the national park that shares its name. One of the main draws here is the stunningly beautiful turquoise lakes that calmly sit amongst the rugged Andalusian landscape.

Crested Lark at Ardales
Although the area is mostly used for recreation its well worth a stop and birds of note during our short stay included: Woodchat Shrike, Spotted Flycatcher, Crested Lark, Serin and various numbers of Grey Heron, Little Egret, Black-headed Gull and Great-crested Grebe. However, the highlight had to be three Gull-billed Terns, which offered excellent flight views before settling on the distant bank.

El Chorro
El Chorro as you would imagine is quite touristy but thankfully today reasonably quiet, save for the many who were returning after venturing up the Caminito del Rey. Dave and I took a leisurely stroll, very leisurely in 40C up to the start point of where the 7.7km walk begins! Not today thank you!!

Several Griffon Vulture nesting on the gorge.
Almost on arrival it was obvious that Griffon Vultures were nesting on the gorge, with several enjoying the thermals before settling on the rock face. As we moved further up the path a couple of Blue Rock Thrush offered some brief views, perching on a fence but not long enough for a photo. When we reached the top a dozen or so Alpine Swift came into view and then a call I recognised alerted us to a couple of Red-billed Chough. In a small cave a pair of Red-rumped Swallows were nesting, both parents busily coming in and out with food.

Rock Bunting - Almost within touching distance.
The surprise of the day for me was when Dave and I paused for a while in the shade and right in front, almost within touching distance, a Rock Bunting carrying what appeared to be a grasshopper! I would image we were literally right on top of the nest as the bird seemed reluctant to move, so after realising this we quickly moved on.

Busy Rock Bunting!
As if this wasn't enough excitement another bird sitting on the rocks above our position turned out to be a Black Wheatear, in fact there were two. We watched for while, me desperate for a photo, as the birds teased, until finally both flew across the gorge, the white tail against the black body and blue sky looking almost surreal in the bright sunshine! After pausing at the top for a while to enjoy the Alpine Swifts and Griffon Vultures we made or way down recording of note: Serin, Spotless Starling, Chiffchaff and a family of Coal Tits.

View of the African coastline from the villa this evening!
This evening back at the villa a strong breeze cleared the heat haze producing some excellent views of the rugged African coastline across the Mediterranean. Several Crossbills passed through, Booted Eagle over and endless Common Swift. A Golden Oriole, first heard calling below was finally located but didn't hang around.

Diary Update #6 - Birding Spain

Spent the rest of yesterday afternoon at the villa! With the temperatures soaring to 40C in the late afternoon it was far to uncomfortable to be out and about.

Kestrel - Not happy with a Booted Eagle which just arrived over his patch!
So Dave and I just relaxed in the shade watching the many Common Swift overhead, plus a couple of Red-rumped Swallow, which drift around the place for most of the day, likely nesting nearby.

Booted Eagle over the villa..
Sky watching is always a treat here, with the mountains to the west and the Mediterranean just down below, we're never disappointed. First a Short-toed Eagle drifted over, followed not long after by a Booted Eagle. A local Kestrel perching up to keep an eye on what he was up too.

Booted Eagle on the lookout!
The Booty hung around for a while, possibly the same bird which we saw earlier in the day with a huge prey before dropping down out of view. Other birds of note: Sardinian Warbler, Common Crossbill, Serin and Blackcap. In the evening Scops Owl and Tawny Owl!