Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dreary Day!

A wet and dreary start at Brandon Marsh today but we finally managed to get down to some work on the screening re-build around the new hide mid-morning. Thanks to all for your feedback in relation to the hide, we've started to complete the check list of minor alterations today and the work will be ongoing over the coming weeks.

Spotted Flycatcher - On the path at Brandon leading to the new hide!
The birding was reasonable with several Swift still to be found around the reserve and an estimate of well over a hundred or so House Martin feeding over Newlands, two Sand Martin and numerous Swallows also in the mix. Waders included three Snipe, Green Sandpiper and a single Redshank on East Marsh Pool, with a brief visit from a Greenshank, which I missed while working down at the hide. An Egyptian Goose was also among the Greylag flock once more, two Little Grebe seen and also worth a mention the first Common Gull of the late summer/autumn among the many Black-headed. A single Common Tern flew high south-east at one stage and also noted Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard, a Hobby was reported from Teal Pool Hide but that was another I missed. After lunch a few Southern Hawker Dragonfly on the wing, along with two Gatekeeper, and single Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell butterfly.

Spotted Flycatcher - Nearly nailed this one but just slightly over exposed on the Canon SX50
After work Derek and I went for a walk across the tip area in the improving weather conditions in search of migrants but a phone call from Alan Boddington had us back to the new hide, were Alan had picked up a Spotted Flycatcher along the path leading from the Carlton Hide. Showing very well by the time we arrived and a first for the reserve this year if I'm not mistaken.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bank Holiday

A never-ending entourage of visitors to the boat over the bank holiday period has limited my birding time somewhat but I did manage a morning visit to Brandon Marsh on Saturday. One of the highlights here was the passage of around fifty or so Swifts over the fields out towards the A45, as seen from the Farm Field area. A Hobby also joined the feeding frenzy along with the odd House Martin and several Swallows.

Chiffchaff among the mixed flock.
The best the pools could throw up were a couple of Green Sandpipers but a Long-tailed Tit flock moving through the edge of Willow Wood held Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, ♂Blackcap and what looked to be a juvenile Goldcrest.

Skylark Farm Wheatear - highly cropped on friends camera
The surprise of the weekend was while having lunch at Skylark Farm on the Daventry Road when a Red Kite drifted over heading out towards Southam. As if this wasn't enough, when the friends daughter dragged me off to check out the Reindeer and play area a number of birds caught the eye flitting around the nearby paddocks. These turned out to be several Yellow Wagtail and towards the back was quite a nice Wheatear, picked up and cropped on the friends camera when it came for a closer look!

Friday, August 22, 2014

New Hide

Finally after a number of delays I'm happy to report that the new hide, which has replaced the screen area at Brandon Marsh has now been completed.

New hide at Brandon Marsh to replace the screen area.
If your visiting Brandon over the coming days the hide is open to use but please be patient as there are a few jobs still outstanding. For example the screens leading up to the hide need to be finished, notice board installed and of course like any new project there's bound to be a few snagging issues, so enjoy! A naming ceremony will take place in the coming weeks and I'll publish the details when they become finalised.

Lunch Break!
A Heads Up: The first phase of the Islands and bank strimming took place yesterday and will hopefully be completed on the next volunteers works day, Thursday 28th August, so bare this in mind if your visiting. We managed to complete the main Island (Willow Island), 90% of Tern Island and 40% of Wigeon Bank during yesterdays session.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Locally things have been on the quiet side more recently with the autumn migration dispersal still only a trickle. The best has been Napton-on-the-Hill and the ever present Common Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers, which have been a real pleasure over recent weeks.

Another opportunity to borrow the Wildlife Trusts minibus on Monday so I took fourteen of the Brandon team across to Norfolk and Lincolnshire, visiting RSPB Titchwell and RSPB Frampton Marsh. With the strong north, north-westerlies hopes were high for something special dropping in along the coast.

Love this Meadow Pipit disguise at RSPB Titchwell
We arrived shortly after 10am at Titchwell and our first stop was the Island Hide in the hope that the long staying Spotted Crake would make an appearance. Sadly, not during our stay but the wader count got off to a decent start with Avocet, Ruff, Ringed Plover, summer plumage Golden Plover, at least four Spotted Redshank, Dunlin and a flyover Greenshank. A single Whimbrel was seen by a couple of the team, namely myself and John Osborne and several Curlew and Little Egret were also evident. Marsh Harrier, Hobby and several Swift were other notables and a Wall Brown butterfly was also recorded on the path, in fact the only butterfly seen during our stay.

Spoonbill - This was one of two at RSPB Frampton Marsh
A count of ten Spoonbill on the fresh marsh and Sandwich Terns were a constant, a single juvenile Common Tern was also recorded. The salt marsh had at least two summer plumage Grey Plover but unfortunately we didn't time our visit to the sea shore very well, with the only birds of note for me Sandwich Tern and Fulmar, although Common Scoter was also noted by PB and AJ. We gave up after a short while, when most of us got fed up of being sand blasted! Also of interest a Chinese Water Deer was showing well out in the vegetation across on the fresh marsh.

RSPB Frampton Marsh Glossy Ibis
Next was Frampton Marsh and almost immediately on arrival several of the team shot off to catch a glimpse of the Glossy Ibis, a bird I'd fortunately connected with a few weeks earlier. It was actually showing better than my previous visit but was flushed by a tractor just as I caught up, so I never quite managed to improve on my previous photographs. Showers were becoming more frequent but despite this I was the only individual who braved a full circuit of the reserve, while the other less hardy huddled in the 360 hide! Two Spoonbill, Marsh Harrier, several Snipe, a couple of Brent Geese and a Water Vole by the time I arrived at the 360. Here Jim had picked out an eclipse Garganey and Yellow Wagtails seemed to be everywhere.

Gorgeous Whinchat - My bird of the day!
A similar selection of waders to that of RSPB Titchwell with the addition of Green Sandpiper and Little-ringed Plover but despite so many excellent birds my favourite had to be a single Whinchat, stunning little birds and my first of the autumn. Although a good days birding was had by all, including top fish and Chips in Grantham on route home, that special oddity never quite materialised for us!

** A bonus for Derek and I when leaving Brandon Marsh at around 1:30pm on Tuesday, when a Great White Egret flew at height across the top reed bed, sadly not hanging around and departing out towards the north-west. My last at Brandon was a few years ago!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Patch Visit

Spent my usual Tuesday visit to Brandon Marsh with a couple of hours birding early on and then the rest of the morning was spent with a few of the team extracting Ragwort from the River Meadow and Farm Field. What a thankless job but necessary with the hay cut imminent! Birding highlights were Dunlin and Little-ringed Plover on East Marsh Pool but due to the river being slightly up the recent Green Sandpipers had moved off Teal Pool.

A quick heads-up regarding the new screen hide: All being well we may finally have it in place by the end of next week, so fingers crossed!!

Monday's full 'Super Moon'
Last night (Tuesday) I spent a while on the hunt for Perseid Meteors and watched a really bright pass of the ISS. Couldn't resist taking more pictures of the 'Super Moon' currently 13% closer to earth and 30% brighter, and ended up with a commendable eleven meteors in around 40 minutes, although the light polution from the moon didn't help. The eerie calls of a Barn Owl on several occasions and at least two Fox's barking away to each other.

Immature ♂Common Redstart.
This morning a couple of hours on the patch up at Napton-on-the-Hill had my first opportunity to get a little closer to the Immature ♂Common Redstart. I managed a couple of half decent images and while I was doing so one of Monday's females appeared.

♂Common Redstart
The Spotted Flycatchers had moved a lot further down from their usual spot, the wind now backing more to the west, around a dozen or so were located. A couple of Buzzards were making themselves busy and also recorded during my stay: Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Raven.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bertha Delight

With ex-hurricane Bertha passing through over the last 24 hours I thought I'd pay Draycote Water an early morning visit in the hope that something decent could kick start my search for early autumn migrants. I'd managed a couple of Greenshank at Brandon Marsh on Thursday but had been disappointed to miss a brief fly-by of seven Black-tailed Godwits yesterday morning and so was keen to get back on track.

Juvenile Common Tern from Fridays brief visit to Draycote Water!
Arriving at a very bright and blustery Draycote just after 8:30am I made my way up the bank for a first scan of the water, in fact I was just behind John Judge who'd arrived a few minutes earlier. The first notables of the day were Little-ringed Plover, several Swift in with the many hirundines and decent numbers of Common Tern out towards the centre, a Yellow Wagtail also called as it flew overhead.

While John and I were chatting away I'd called a juvenile Black Tern passing through. However, while following in the scope a second bird caught the eye, which John was already on to and had immediately called Sabine's Gull, what a cracking find and unmistakable really with it's bold upper wing pattern and whats more, in adult summer plumage! Great timing from Keith Foster, who appeared almost immediately and after getting him on to the find it wasn't long before we got the word out. In fact Richard Mays and Dave Cox had also dropped onto the bird as they were returning from Rainbow Corner. Unfortunately, despite being in view for around 45 minutes and settling on the water several times, it never quiet came in close enough to shore for a decent photo attempt. Sadly the bird departed before most birders arrived, last seen heading out towards Rainbow.

Adult Spotted Flycatcher with recently fledged youngster!
After coffee in the Draycote centre I made off for Napton-on-the-Hill, arriving just before Richard, Dave and Paul Cashmore. I was still keen to connect with an immature ♂Common Restart Richard had seen several times over recent days. I'd failed Friday when we visited and was disappointed when Richard rang on Saturday morning to tell me it was back, this when I was off visiting the Black Country Museum. First birds of note on this visit, at least a half dozen Spotted Flycatcher adult and juvenile, in fact it seemed only recently fledged. Also recorded in this small sheltered area, Willow Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat.

Common Restart - A trio on the patch today!
More Spotted Flycatchers with over 10 in total during the visit and then finally Common Redstart but not Richards immature male! This one a lovely female, followed by a second and then finally yes the immature male, cracking stuff, three Redstarts on the patch! As we tracked back to the cars a couple of Kestrel, a single Sparrowhawk and to end a superb 'patch' birding day, a brace of Hobby!!

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Reserve First!

With a break from boating I spent a pleasant Friday afternoon on the patch. First a visit around Napton-on-the-Hill before heading off to the reservoir prior to the rain setting in.

Spotted flycatcher - One of a dozen around the Napton area.
A very creditable double figure count of Spotted Flycatchers, including several juveniles but I never quite managed to connect with the Common Redstart reported on Richards site during my walk. On to Napton Reservoir with more juveniles as I came across what looked to be a newly fledged family of Little Grebe, four in total. The reservoir continues to drop but very slightly and during my visit a Sparrowhawk flew low over the reed bed, causing mayhem before heading off empty handed.

Yellow Wagtail on the bridge at Napton Reservoir
Common Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtail and a brace of Raven over were other notables but very few butterflies on the wing as the cloud cover increased and light rain set in. However, a nice Ruddy Darter dragonfly was my first of the year.

Brandon Chalk-hill Blue
Brandon Marsh this morning produced my first site Purple Hairstreak this year as I passed through New Hare Covert. East Marsh Pool had cleared somewhat from the algae invasion after yesterdays heavy rain and both Little-ringed Plover and Ruff were noted, along with a small passage of a half dozen Swift. Teal Pool held (3) Green Sandpiper and later in the morning a Hobby was hunting overhead and possibly a second bird as we moved around the farm field area.

Chalk-hill Blue - 1st for Brandon Marsh!
I was a very lucky boy after coffee in the nature centre when just as I was about to get into the car to head off home a phone call from Tony Pratley had me scurrying across to the 'Tip' area. Jeff Rankin had discovered a Chalk-hill Blue butterfly, as yet not recorded on the Brandon list. What a wonderful surprise to find both Tony, Jeff and yes, the butterfly showing very well!

Had to indulge myself with a final shot of Chalk-hill Blue

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Brandon Catch Up

Returning to the marina for a few days to complete some of life's mundane chores gave me an opportunity for a catch up at Brandon Marsh today.

One of a number of Swallows enjoying the morning sun
What greeted me first thing as I left the marina was around 30 or so Swallows enjoying the early sunshine from on top of the phone wires. A family of five Bullfinch were also milling around the hawthorn as I made my way to the car park. I also noted three Swift passing through, always a point of note as they'll soon disappear completely for the year!

Some amazing formations of Cirrus cloud to be seen today!
Only a few of the guys were at Brandon today and with Jim ringing at the constant effort site I spent the morning with Derek, Adrian and Martin. With water levels currently very low the main East Marsh Pool is rife with pond algae and as the norm at this time of year the islands and banks are grossly overgrown, more so this year it seems. The birding as I expected was very slow with the only waders of note a Green Sandpiper and Little-ringed Plover, this along with six Common Tern and two parties of young Tufted Duck, six and four respectively. A Willow Tit on central marsh was a nice find and news of a passage Osprey, which passed through on Monday.

Peacock Butterfly - Taken on the Canon SX50 in super vivid colour!
Martin and I continued on alone mid morning after a moth master class with Richard and Dave on 'how to build your own trap', very informative and something I could well get into! The highlights of our tour of the reserve were the sheer numbers of Peacock butterflies and 2nd generation Common Blue to be found. However, the star turn came as we walked the boundary near Brandon Lane when a pristine looking Clouded Yellow shot passed. Sadly, despite our best efforts to catch up, it just continued on without pause! Odanata included: Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker, Common Darter, Black-tailed Skimmer dragonfly and Common, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselfly.

Juvenile Common Whitethroat
Finally a quick stop off at Napton Reservoir, which I have to say has dropped slightly in level, a good thing in preparation for the imminent autumn migration, remember last years Spotted Crake! The highlight today though , the above young Common Whitethroat.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Back In Port!

Another week out exploring the canals in some glorious weather and I even managed to complete a circuit of Draycote Water on Tuesday in the company of Bob Hazell, that's on foot of course, not on the boat! The walk itself failed to produce anything out of the ordinary, although a decent count of (5) Little Egret, (8) Common Tern, (7) Common Sandpiper, (9) Yellow-legged Gull, (2) Grey Wagtail and a single Ringed Plover made for a pleasant day in excellent company.

Grass Snake
One of my nemesis species in front of the camera!
However, I must start with the previous Sundays walk with Dee along the towpath towards Braunston when I managed to take my best ever photo of a Grass Snake. One of my nemesis species as far as photography goes but I couldn't believe my luck when one was basking at eye level atop the hawthorn.

Iridium Flare passing through Cassiopeia - My 1st ever attempt!
With some glorious starry nights I managed to immerse myself in one of my other hobbies, astronomy. The above image is my first ever attempt at photographing an 'Iridium Flare', this is the phenomenon caused by the reflective surfaces on satellites (such as antennas or solar panels) reflecting sunlight directly onto the Earth below and appearing as a brief, bright "flare". There's a fantastic App for the Ipad which actually predicts when one will appear and then by holding up the Ipad shows the exact spot in the sky!

Harvest in full swing - this time the Rapeseed
With the harvest in full swing the local birds are taking advantage with some large flocks of Jackdaws, Wood Pigeons, Linnets and Goldfinches swooping onto the fields for an easy meal. On Friday a Peregrine, a bird which I seem to see a lot of on this stretch of canal, had a go at the flock but came away empty handed. The surprise of this outing was an Osprey, which passed high moving south-west over our mooring at Flecknoe on Saturday evening as Dee an I sat sky-watching. Other species of note: Daubenton's BatHare, Common Sandpiper, Curlew (heard only),Sparrowhawk, BuzzardGrey Partridge, Red-legged Partridge, Barn Owl, Tawny Owl and Yellow Wagtails, the latter of which are becoming more prevalent as we approach Autumn.

Brown Hawker Dragonfly - Canon SX50 HS Powershot
Finally the Butterflies, Dragonflies and Damselflies are too numerous to mention, what a stunning year these are having but amazingly the above image of a Brown Hawker is my first decent attempt at this species.

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..