Monday, January 19, 2015

Round Up!

Despite the lack of posts I've certainly been out and about around the local patch and have managed several visits to Brandon Marsh and a quick catch up at Draycote Water. Only managed the ♂Smew and brace of Common Scoter during my visit to Draycote and got totally wet through for my efforts. A big thank you to Mr Hazell for standing me coffee and cake in the cafe while drying off.

My visits to Brandon tend to be pre dawn affairs, I've always felt Brandon is best before mid morning. Tawny Owls have been very vocal and I've managed a couple of Barn Owl sightings, with birds apparently using both boxes on Newlands to roost. Not managed to catch up with a very illusive Bittern thus far, despite the bird being very regular before Christmas just prior to dawn.

Sundays Brandon visit threw up my first Woodcock of the year while waiting for the no show Bittern. Plus later in the morning very brief views of a single Jack Snipe among a half dozen Common Snipe on Teal Pool, ably spotted once again by Mr Hood! A single Shelduck has graced East Marsh Pool, along with varying small numbers of Goldeneye and Pochard. A Little Egret has been quite regular over January but no sign over the last couple of visits. Last Friday I spent a good half hour watching a pair of Marsh Tits in New Hare Covert, constantly calling with that amazing 'pitchoo' call, so no ID issues to contend with.

Robins everywhere at Brandon!
The Great Tits are now singing throughout the reserve and I dare say it won't be long before the Song Thrush's do the same too, yes its time to set out their territories once again. Robins are everywhere, there's at least one wintering Chiffchaff to be found and a reasonably sized flock of mixed Siskin/Lesser Redpoll, but the prize for the local year list has to be the illusive Bittern!

Friday, January 02, 2015

The New Year

A Very Happy New Year to my reader! Yes it's time once again to begin planning the birding calendar and of course if your lucky enough a chance to travel a little farther afield. Currently planned for 2015 are trips to France, Spain, Iceland and Oregon State in the U.S, somewhere we're very much looking forward to. To start with though a nice leisurely beginning to the birding year and a stroll around the Forestry Commissions Chambers Farm Wood with the wife and friends on New Years Day.

First bird of 215 - Fieldfare
The wood is at the heart of the Lincolnshire Limewoods and part of the Bardney Limewoods National Nature Reserve. This is one of the largest woodlands in the area and is located on the site of several medieval woodlands. It's a mix of ancient woodland, plantation, meadows, rides and ponds. The walk also gave me the opportunity to get the year list off the mark. Ordinarily I'm not a great list maker but this year I've decided to compile at the very least a European and UK year list. First bird of the year a Fieldfare and by the time we arrived back at the cottage all the regulars were in the bag: Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Wood Pigeon, Carrion Crow and Blackbird, plus the additions of Siskin, Treecreeper, Jay and Goldcrest.

One of several pups to be found!
Today we headed off for a very bracing stroll around Donna Nook National Nature Reserve, renown for it's breeding Grey Seals. Keen to show our friends I wasn't too sure if any Grey Seal pups would still be around and to my surprise I wasn't disappointed. At least a half dozen pups were located but alone and resting up for the journey out to sea, around a mile or so from here. Apparently they are weaned for around three weeks and then left to fend for themselves. They all seemed to be doing quite well and hopefully will make the short journey soon according to the wardens.

More pups! You've just gotta love em!
Despite birding not being the priority for me today I did manage further additions to the year list with: Turnstone, Redshank, Dunlin, Knot, Brent Goose, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, a large flock of around forty Goldfinch and the usual selection of gulls.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year End

To celebrate the end of another year Dee and I decided to rent a cottage in the heart of the Lincolnshire Wolds and invite a few friends along to see in the new year. Set in the tiny village of Benniworth, Fiddledrill Barn is a place we've stayed a number of times before.

Fiddledrill Barn - arriving to a gorgeous sunset
With family and friends the priority we still managed a couple of visits to both Gibraltar Point and RSPB Frampton Marsh. Gibraltar Point had too many dogs and families visiting during our stay and it wasn't a real surprise that it didn't yield anything out of the ordinary. Best of the day was a Merlin and out to sea several Red-throated Divers and a half dozen Great Black-backed Gulls, along with a number of inquisitive Seals coming close to shore.

The inquisitive Seal!
The wader count was a little more impressive with Little Egret, large numbers of Redshank and various counts of Ringed PloverCurlew, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, KnotTurnstone, Oystercatcher and a couple of Grey Plover. Brent Geese were majorly represented and while heading back to the car park a Snipe on the meadow and a Water Rail scurrying along the ditch as we passed over the small bridge.

A stop at the Harvey Hide before heading off produced a Kingfisher, and more geese, this time a huge flock of Pink-footed Geese, which were constantly on the move from field to field. The water, mainly frozen, held Little GrebeTeal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Tufted Duck but only a single ♀Goldeneye.

Golden Plover - Large numbers on the flats.
Arriving at RSPB Frampton Marsh car park my first sad duty was to tell a guy sitting in his car that he had a dead Fieldfare wedged in his grill. The guy, who was with his family, was genuinely mortified but I did ensure his children were out of earshot. The Marsh was bitterly cold but we managed a circuit, taking short refuge in the hides.

Unfortunately most of the main pools were frozen but the odd open area had Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Gadwall and Teal. The surrounding fields yielded large numbers of Golden Plover, Lapwing and Wigeon, along with smaller counts of Ringed Plover, Curlew, Dunlin, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Meadow Pipit and Skylark. A Peregrine was constantly on the prowl setting off large scale panic and the hawthorn along the roadside, still holding small stocks of berries, held many Fieldfare and smaller numbers of Redwing.

Wigeon - Even the strong sunshine couldn't melt the ice!
Only a single distant Marsh Harrier to report around the reserve and no sign along the sea wall of the recently reported Snow and Lapland Buntings. Again large flocks of Brent Geese feeding on the mudflats, smaller flocks of Greylag and the occasional sight of Little Egret and Shelduck. Two lonely looking Pink-footed Geese on the opposite side of the wall and a large flock of Linnet, which gave up at least two Twite.

Finally, while having a hot drink back at the centre a Tree Sparrow on the feeders and just prior to leaving a trio of Bewick Swans flew in, including a single juvenile. Several Yellowhammer in the car park before heading back for the celebrations.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Post Christmas

A chilly -4C at the marina this morning and a crystal clear sky as I scrapped the morning frost from the windscreen, three cronking Ravens heading off towards Napton Hill, my first birds of note.

I arrived at Brandon Marsh a little before sunrise almost simultaneously with Trevor Griffiths and we both set off for a tour of the reserve. Things were pretty quiet, save for the odd Redwing and around twenty or so Wigeon overhead as we reached the Wright Hide. East Marsh Pool was half frozen but with plenty more wildfowl, including a half dozen Gadwall, plus a drake Pochard and three females, quite rare to Brandon this year. Plenty of Gulls on offer but nothing to set the pulse racing.

Siskin in the pre dawn!
As we left the hide a mixed flock of Siskin/Redpoll were feeding high in the alder and a commotion on Swallow Pool was almost certainly the two Otters later seen by the chaps in the East Marsh Hide. A Trio of Goldcrest on our way around to big hide, plus Treecreeper, Great spotted Woodpecker, Kingfisher and a calling Nuthatch. The River Avon is currently running quite high, the water still rising along the east marsh track but passable in wellies! A stop off at the hide for a catch up provided the addition of a single Shelduck and a Buzzard perched in the willow over on Wigeon Bank.

Apart from a calling Water Rail nothing further to report at the Carlton or Jury hides but some good views of the river in flow along the path to the Jury Hide. The local landowner has made an excellent job of clearing the meadow opposite and the view of the river is now much improved. Bird of the day was when passing the Carlton Ditch and Martin thankfully spotting and calling a Bittern in flight as it flew from the Teal Pool across to Newlands, looking stunning in the bright sunshine.

Off to Lincolnshire until the new year so hopefully a few more posts before the year end with a couple of birding trips planned.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Winter Soltice

It's not often I go this long without posting to my blog, so I thought I'd better get a final one in before Christmas. To be honest there hasn't been much to blog about, in fact you can always tell when things on the birding front are a little quiet when fellow bloggers begin to reminisce about better times!

Sunrise at Brandon -Winter Solstice
For me my cup is always half full and if you look hard enough and happen to be in the right place at the right time you'll find things, like a sneaky Stoat at Brandon Marsh on Thursday and an amazing Merlin encounter for Dee and I at the back of Sainsbury's on Saturday morning. I suppose I should clarify why Dee and I were at the back of Sainsbury's.  For those who know 'The Shires' retail park in Leamington Spa there is a pathway that leads to the Tachbrook Park office complex to the rear of Sainsbury's. The landscaping in this area consists of lots of rowan, hawthorn and pine trees and to our amazement while walking through from Dee's office we unexpectedly encountered a Merlin, which fizzed past us only feet away before crashing into a small flock of feeding Long-tailed Tits, disappearing into the distance empty handed!

Lots of Fieldfare around the Marina
On the local front the marina still has an adequate supply of blackthorn berries and so we've been blessed by some large flocks of winter thrushes making the most of what's left. At least two Barn Owls have been busy and can be found quartering the adjacent fields on most evenings and with the same fields holding plenty of water, Lapwings and decent numbers of Skylarks can also be found. Tawny Owls have been very vocal of late and I've even managed to locate one of the their favourite calling spots, but sadly our tiny population of Little Owls are nowhere to be found these days. This too could be said of our Tree Sparrows, despite the odd sighting around the feeders numbers are really down on previous years.

One of a couple of Little Egret at Brandon Marsh
Brandon Marsh has also kept me busy on the chain saw with a number of coppicing and other projects on the go, plus a replanting of some small areas of Horsetail Glade will be discussed at our next meeting. The birding has been somewhat poor with wildfowl numbers frighteningly low but things were brightened recently by the arrival of a wintering Bittern. Amazingly you could set your clock by this bird at present! Simply stand near the 'Olive Bench' overlooking Newlands reedbed between 7 and 7:15am and observe the silhouetted figure as it flies across the path, normally settling on Swallow Pool, quite surreal. Apart from the Bittern Sundays winter solstice visit produced three Tawny Owls, a couple of Little Egret on East Marsh Pool and at least a single wintering Chiffchaff can regularly be heard around the River Pool area.

With another year ending all that remains is to wish my reader a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous birding New Year.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Quieter Times

It seems that things have now settled down into normal winter patterns on the birding front with the winter Thrushes, Siskin and Redpolls all recorded at my regular site visits. Brambling and Golden Plover are still thin on the ground locally and with a reasonable number of Short-eared Owls around the country a regular local one would be nice.

Wintering Blackcap
The Tawny Owls have been very vocal at the marina of late, one bird so close that it had Dee and I convinced it was sitting on the boat roof. With moorers once again able to place feeders around the moorings we're starting to get regular visits from Tree Sparrows once again. A species that seemed to desert us for a short while during recent months. One bird of note residing at the marina presently is a wintering Blackcap, my only sighting thus far since the summer.

Nuthatch - New Hare Covert
What has been rare this autumn is those wonderful crisp frosty mornings and so with the forecast for Wednesday morning predicting such a start I was at Brandon Marsh before sunrise for a look around. A Barn Owl quartering Sheep-Field and a nice count of nine Pheasant on the recently extracted bramble area as I made my way through to New Hare Covert. Redpoll and Siskin overhead, along with Great Spotted Woodpecker and both Redwing and Fieldfare. The covert held four Goldcrest, Green Woodpecker along with Treecreeper and Nuthatch.

Robin numbers increasing
The pools had the usual winter wildfowl and eight Snipe but no sign of the recent Goldeneye. A lone Little Egret, which spent most of Tuesday perched and overseeing the conservation work we were carrying out on East Marsh Pool, was still on site. Other highlights around the reserve included a couple of Grey Wagtail on Willow Island, Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail calling, plus two wintering Chiffchaffs were also noted. There's also been a considerable increase in the Robin population recently with local birds being joined by those from the continent. Otters have been regular visitors this week with a number of reports from other team members but unfortunately not for me. At least three pair of Bullfinch during my tour and a half dozen Skylark flew south as I walked up to the farm area, where I also startled a Fox which bolted across the reedbed. The farm is actually up for sale and this would explain the major clear up operation that has taken place up there. Nearly all of the old rusting farm equipment and old cars have been removed and sadly a small section of Elder has been decapitated in the process, usually a good feeding area for Finches.

Brandon Team at work
Inspired by BBC Countryfile's article on the Lancashire Wildlife Trusts 'Wigan Willow Tit Project' the Brandon Team began our own Project today. It is estimated that a least two pairs of these threatened species reside at Brandon and we'd like to attract more! With Brandon's diverse habitat there are lots of  ideal nesting areas. The UK population has fallen by 90 per cent in the past 30 years placing it on the red list of species of conservation concern. Willow Tits prefer the scrub where they dig their own nest hole in rotten wood in soft timber tree stumps, less than a metre from the ground. We can help them by creating logs (pictured) that will be attached to healthy trees. These logs will eventually rot providing the perfect nesting site!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Nene and Ouse Washes

Today I took the Brandon Marsh team on the last Away-Day of the year to visit the Nene and Ouse Washes, finally calling in at Wicken Fen. Thanks once again to the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust for use of their minibus over the past year, and what a fantastic finale in glorious autumnal conditions!

Another Away-Day
After a brace of Red Kite on route our first stop was a look at the Nene Washes and our chosen spot along Eldernell lane. This is an area which comes off the A605 just east of Coates. Access is gained almost opposite the last in a line of council type houses. Continue until you reach the wash barrier bank and park in the small car-park between the bank and Moretons Leam (Grid ref: TL 318992).

More swans join the Bewick's and Whoopers on the Nene Washes!
Arriving in glorious autumnal sunshine It wasn't long before a trio of Whooper Swans got the day list off to a good start. A pair of Marsh Harrier next, Common Buzzard, Kestrel and then at distance along one of the many ditches a couple of Common Crane came into view, even display dancing briefly during our stay. Hen Harrier ring-tail next and perched on a nearby electricity pylon the unmistakable outline of a Peregrine. Several large flocks of Fieldfare passed overhead during our stay along with the odd Redwing, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Green Woodpecker and Greenfinch. Huge flocks of mixed Lapwing and Golden Plover were given little respite by the constant raptor movement and at one point three Roe Deer were also on the move. Yet another raptor during the drive back down to the main road, when a Sparrowhawk flew across the track in front of the bus.

Whooper Swans just off the A605
A stop off along the A605 on route to RSPB Ouse Washes for a look at approx. 150 Swans, mainly Whooper Swans but several Bewick Swans were also among the group.

Short-eared Owl at RSPB Ouse Washes
The late morning, lunch and early afternoon was spent in the heart of the fens at RSPB Ouse Washes enjoying the hides and tracks which overlook the flooded pasture. After parking in the centre car park a walk south to the Welches Damn hide saw yet another mixed flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover take flight. It wasn't long before the culprit was identified grounded in a recently ploughed field, a stunning Peregrine making light work of a captured Golden Plover. Lunch in the hide and a selection of wildfowl included: Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Gadwall and Wigeon.

Short-eared Owl looking quite menacing in the strong sunlight!
Just prior to reaching the second of the three hides along this section four Bearded Tit teased us for a good while popping up and down and flying along the reeds, but my attempts to get any decent images proved fruitless. A coupe of Stonechat were also along the same stretch of reedbed. Then came the bird of the day for me when my first Short-eared Owl of this autumn appeared, quartering for a while before actually settling on the edge of the same field the Peregrine had utilised earlier! A look North of the reserve centre at the Kingfisher Hide before heading off to our final destination had additions to the wildfowl list and this included of note several pairs of Pintail, Pochard and strangely only a single♀Goldeneye was recorded.

My arty-farty attempt of sunset at Wicken Fen
With dusk closing in fast our final destination was the National Trusts Wicken Fen and our reasoning for finishing here was to take a look at the renowned harrier roost. A Little Egret flew west as we parked up and after finding our strategic position on the reserve we settled down for the show. I have to say it will go down as one of my best UK birding experiences! First the Marsh Harriers appeared with several females and a single male, then the Hen Harriers, with a trio of ring-tails and a stunning male, this followed by at least three quartering Barn Owls, one passing almost overhead. As if this wasn't enough excitement the whole spectacle took place as we stood in the heart of the reedbed with pinging Bearded Tits and calling Water Rails and Cetti's Warbler all around. Fieldfare, Redwing and even a Great Spotted Woodpecker overhead, plus some huge flocks of Starling and Jackdaws going to roost. A new moon graced the crimson sky to the west and as the temperature plummeted and the mist descended over the reeds a Woodcock to end a fantastic day as we made our way back to the car park.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Autumnal Sunshine!

After an early doctors appointment I decided to pop over to Napton churchyard and enjoy the rarity that is autumnal sunshine. On arrival I was greeted by four Mistle Thrush having a little set-to, until finally things settled down with one bird actually breaking into full song.

One of four Mistle Thrush at Napton
The usual Napton dog owners club were still hanging around: You always know when their about as it seems they spend the whole time screaming at and chastising their dogs, which this morning seemed to be giving the cow population along 'the gully' a hard time!

At least a half dozen Greenfinch, a single Goldcrest and a few Chaffinch were feeding within the Yew Trees, along with a good number of continental Blackbirds, Song Thrush and several Redwings. Overhead a couple of Lapwing flew south but the local Ravens were nowhere to be found. I spent a further half hour or so on site, fascinated by a couple of Pied Wagtails, which were feeding on insects enticed out by the suns heat on the church parapets. I finally gave up when a transit van arrived with another hoard of dogs, the barking of which I could hear halfway down the lane as they approached.

Managed a few images of Lesser Redpoll
Next to a sunny Brandon Marsh with a light north-easterly and I spent my first 20-minutes or so trying to get a half decent shot of at least one of a trio of Lesser Redpoll feeding in the canopy near the wind pump. After achieving a couple of record shots I made my way towards the sound of a strimmer working away and I could also see smoke rising in the still air over near Sheep Field. As expected the Tuesday crew were in action, along with an old friend of Brandon Marsh, Mike Lee, a real loss to us when he moved over to Shropshire and someone who insists on driving nearly 100 miles to join us on occasions, there's dedication for you.

Gorgeous red crown of Lesser Redpoll
After a catch-up with the guys, who'll be pleased to know I'm back on the chainsaw this Thursday after getting my stitches removed today, I took a brief tour of the reserve.

The River Avon is pretty high up after the recent rains so River Pool Hide was inaccessible but East Marsh Pool had the expected wildfowl, Shoveler, Teal, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Gadwall and a single ♂Goldeneye. Carlton Pool held three Little Grebe but the Jury Hide was very quiet. To be honest It was a bit of a whistle stop tour before heading off but my walk did record: Linnet, Goldcrest, ♂♀Bullfinch, Kingfisher, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, (2) Cetti's Warbler and (4) Water Rail heard and a single Skylark over.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Final Day

Our last day on the Scottish west coast and once again the weather surprised with some lovely clear spells before the rain finally arrived mid afternoon. Having spoken to a few local birders regarding our Snow Goose at Cuil Bay yesterday, the general consensus is that it was in fact a wild bird, so if I had a tick list I suppose I could have the tick!

Islandadd Bridge
We decided to spend our last day further south from the cottage and have another look around the Add Estuary and Loch Sween. We arrived at Islandadd Bridge mid morning for a look over the mud, exposed by the low tide. Almost immediately a bird caught the eye low over the peat bogs of Moine Mhòr, our first ♀Hen Harrier of the visit and thankfully on our last day! A Buzzard, Kestrel and Raven next but then across towards the distant hills the unmistakable sight of not one but two White-tailed Eagles, which after brief views disappeared into the pines, closely followed by several Hooded Crows.

Red-breasted Merganser - One of many during our stay
Just along the Crinan Canal towpath from the bridge British Waterways have provided an excellent bird hide that gives superb views across the exposed mudflats. Here Dee and I spent a half hour locating of note: Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Red-breasted Merganser, ♂♀Goosander, Wigeon, Teal, Shag, CormorantStonechat, Meadow Pipit, Herring Gull, Common Gull and Great Black-backed Gull.

Goldeneye - seen on most Lochs.
After lunch at Tayvallich overlooking Loch a' Bhealaich we moved further south heading for an eventual look across Jura Sound at Keillmore. These are single track roads that offer passing areas great for viewing and we stopped several times to scan Linne Mhuirich, a long narrow inlet about halfway down Loch Sween on the north side. At one such stop a couple of Greenshank, several Ringed Plover, Goldeneye, Little Grebe, ♂♀Red-breasted Merganser, and a lone Tufted Duck. A few stops later we hit the jackpot if your a Swan lover, with over 100 Whooper Swans and bizarrely, sticking out like a sore thumb, a single Black Swan in their midst. Also of note:(5) Shelduck and a single Kingfisher.

Seal - More from Dee's exploits.
From here there are three gated sections with little turning space before you eventually end up at journeys end at Keillmore. This offers great views across Jura Sound to the Island, a terrific place to sea watch, or if your Dee, rock pooling! The weather had somewhat deteriorated by the time we arrived but the odd bright spell helped visibility. On the water at least two Black-throated diver, Great Northern Diver and at sea Black Guillemot, Guillemot at least two Pomarine Skuas , Manx Shearwater and a small number of Kittiwake passed through, but several other distant Skua Sp. will have to remain a mystery. So too a small black bird with a distinct white rump that flashed by low over the water and set the pulse racing. In the surrounding area (14) Ringed Plover, several Rock PipitGrey Seal and Dee managed Springtail and Shore Crab during her dipping session.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Penultimate Day!

Our penultimate day in Scotland and on Friday Dee and I were heading off into the Highlands and a visit to Fort William. Over breakfast at the cottage before departing a large fall of thrushes hit the lawn during a heavy downpour, with around thirty or so Redwing, Song Thrush and Fieldfare.

Fall of Thrushes including Fieldfare!
A stop off on route at Ardmucknish Bay yielded Red-throated Diver and possibly the same Great-northern Diver here a few days earlier. As fate would have it a couple of Snow Geese had been reported at Cuil Bay Loch Linnhe, just a few miles off road from our route to Fort William and so a slight detour was called for.

Red-throated Diver Ardmucknish Bay
On arrival at Cuil the ever present Rock Pipits, Red-breasted Mergansers, Eider, Goldeneye and Shag were in evidence and a Peregrine made a brief appearance, but the search was on for a Snow Goose, apparently in among a flock of Canada Geese.

Snow Goose (blue morph)
There were a few large groups of Canada's in the surrounding fields but at this stage no evidence of Snow Geese. After a half hour or so we finally managed the above photographed bird in with several Canada's feeding, a blue morph version. Snow Goose appears as a wild bird in Scotland annually, those seen in summer are escapes. A small population moves between the islands of Coll and Mull in the Scottish Inner Hebrides. There are also scattered birds elsewhere so whether this bird was feral or wild, it was still a great bird to come across.