Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mid Summer Catch-up!

From a weather perspective it's certainly turning out to be a 'typically' British one! Reading the Met Office weather blog it also appears to have been a particularly windy one too and a lack of high pressure seems to be to blame! Saturdays deluge certainly lived up to expectations, with more Atlantic fronts to come and seasonally cool temperatures to continue in the short-term.

Record shot of Greenshank on East Marsh Pool, Brandon Marsh!
However, there are always benefits to be had and waders appear to be on the move. Last Sunday (19th) for example a Greenshank dropped into Brandon Marsh briefly and a total of four Green Sandpipers are currently to be found on site. Little-ringed Plovers drop in now and again and a single Dunlin was recorded on my regular Tuesday visit (21st).

Green Sandpiper in front of big hide at Brandon
Also of note a Grasshopper Warbler was reeling over towards the golf course from Alban's bench! Closer to home a stroll around the marina grounds the following evening just before sunset yielded a Whimbrel calling in the vicinity, but unfortunately I failed to connect and the bird seemed to continue on.

Avocet - A very gloomy record shot of the Brandon Avocet on Teal Pool
A visit to Brandon Marsh yesterday in the pouring rain produced an Avocet, first seen by Bob Lee and remained on Teal Pool well into the afternoon.

Juvenile Redstart at Napton - Yet another record shot but all good stuff!
Finally there's movement at Napton-on-the-Hill and Spotted Flycatchers have arrived, or fledged close by in small numbers, with at least a half dozen to be found in the paddocks. Another recent find, a Common Redstart, was showing quite well in the late morning sunshine and while visiting it was great to see no less than seven Mistle Thrush come through!


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Local Stuff!

A day out around the local area starting off by accompanying Jim Timms on one of his butterfly transects. Although the day started off a little overcast there was plenty of warm sunshine to be had and many Butterflies and Odanata on the wing.

Silver-washed Fritillary - Plenty on offer but would they land!!
One of the highlights had to be at least four Purple Emperors, including a couple of males, which we managed to get some half decent scoped views of at treetop level.  Silver-washed Fritillary were also quite numerous but trying to get any decent images proved a little harder.

White Admiral - Another brief photo opportunity.
White Admirals were also in decent numbers, along with Small Skipper, Ringlet & Meadow Brown. Smaller numbers of Large White, Green-veined White, Speckled Wood & Marbled White were also noted.

Emerald Damselflies - Double figures during the transect!
A good selection of Dragonfly and Damselfly, the latter producing many numbers of Common & Azure, but my favourite had to be Emerald Damselfly, over twenty seen today! Four-spotted Chaser, Ruddy & Common Darter, EmperorBlack-tailed Skimmer & Brown Hawker also noted.

Six-spot Burnet Moth - One of a half dozen today.
At least a half dozen Six-spot Burnet Moth and the large pools which the transect encircles had a lone Black-tailed Godwit, which Jim tells me is a first in 8 years. However, as he pointed out most of the time he's looking towards the ground! Another birding highlight was a Red Kite, which drifted over Cubbington, a really enjoyable day out!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Boats & Bikes

Moored back out on the 'cut' once more and Dee and I have spent a lot of time cycling the towpath and back lanes of Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, in particular some of the Unclassified County Roads, or 'E' Roads. A real diversity of habitat with rolling meadows, hedgerow and even at this time of year the bounty of a newly ploughed field, although having said that I've yet to spot anything noteworthy! Although Hare's, Red-legged Partridge, Common Buzzard, Skylarks and many Corvids are always a pleasure to watch.

Redundant St. Peters at Wolfhampcote, a National Heritage site.
Swifts have been a feature while sitting sky-watching at the mooring, with a constant passage, including a group of around 50+ passing through late evening yesterday. A Tern Sp. caught the eye flying at speed across the adjacent fields, turning out to be a common but the ground it covered in such a short time was amazing. Bats continue to enthrall us at dusk and a plop in the water which got us excited turned out to be a Brown Rat! Haven't seen a Water Vole along this stretch in a few years now! Ashby Canal is the place for these.

White Admiral - A towpath first!
A first for me on the towpath on Friday was the above White Admiral, which took the eye as I cycled past a small copse. Small TortoiseshellMeadow Browns, Ringlets and increasing numbers of Gatekeepers, along with Large Skippers and the occasional Speckled Wood and Comma are the most abundant butterflies.

Black-tailed Skimmer
Finally one or two Common Darter dragonflies are beginning to appear and a Black-tailed Skimmer was noted.

Eerie Mammatus clouds over Warwickshire!

On Friday evening some amazing formations of Mammatus clouds over our mooring. Composed primarily of ice, these cloud pouches can extend hundreds of miles in any direction, remaining visible in the sky for perhaps 10 or 15 minutes at a time.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Brandon Afternoon

After coming back into port (the marina) for a few days I managed to grab several hours at Brandon Marsh today in the good company of Alan Boddington and a very knowledgeable Dave Mount!

Summer plumage Black-tailed Godwit on East Marsh Pool
Shortly after parking up I bumped into Bob Duckhouse and we both headed off to East Marsh Hide to check out a Black-tailed Godwit. Probably the same bird that Fred Stokes had texted me about on Sunday morning. After locating the bird it was obvious that some better photographic opportunities were possible from the Wright Hide, so off we went.

Newly emerged Ruddy Darter! I first tweeted this as a Common, Thanks to Paul Cashmore for the ID correction!
After lunch Alan, Dave and I decided to head off around the reserve on a butterfly and dragonfly quest and after checking out various pools, with Red-eyed and Blue-tailed Damselflies on Goose pool our first Dragonfly appeared, Ruddy Darter.

Southern Hawker
As we passed through Old Hare Covert towards River Meadow a small Grass Snake cut across the path then two more dragonflies took the eye, Southern Hawker, one of which was duly photographed. We inadvertently flushed an Emperor Dragonfly a short time after which tantalised us for a short while before heading off and the hay meadow itself was awash with Ringlet & Meadow Brown Butterflies.

Newly fledged Blackcap
The river held small numbers of Banded Demoiselle, plus a tiny little chap hunkered down in the meadow sweet, which judging by the nearby parent was most likely a newly fledged Blackcap.

Brown Hawker - My nemesis!
To end the day I was quite happy to manage a photograph of one of my nemesis dragonflies when we came across the above Brown Hawker, which actually landed!

Comma - One of a number of other species encountered today!
Other species of note today included: Comma (7)Small White (3), Red Admiral (3), Small Tortoiseshell (5), Large Skipper (11) and Speckled Wood (1), plus Black-tailed Skimmer Dragonfly (4).

Sunday, July 05, 2015

On The 'CUT'

It's great to be back on the 'cut' after what seems an age and since Thursday we've been moored at one of our favourite spots on the Oxford Canal near Wolfhampcote.

Narrowboat Adamant passing by - A working example of a Steam Canal Tug!
A pleasant cruise down along this stretch which passes through open countryside with a backdrop of hills. The land is agricultural, with just a few houses in sight. There are initially no locks, no villages and the bridges are well spaced, making it a very pleasant rural stretch of canal. There's also a good section of the disused LNWR railway line to explore, a section of which ran from Marton Junction to Weedon and finally closed to passenger traffic in 1963.

Yellowhammers - No shortage here of this 'Red Status' species!
Yellowhammers are constantly singing and the usual farmland species can be found like Linnet and Skylark. Opposite the towpath side Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat and the occasional Lesser Whitethroat can be found in the vegetation. I've completed a few towpath walks along towards Braunston and cycled around Flecknoe, Wolfhampcote and Sawbridge, constantly on the lookout and listening in the hope of picking up Quail and Turtle Dove, the latter of which I've managed here most years.


A disappointing attempt at one of the Common Sandpipers!
Red-legged Partridge and several Hare's on my travels but my yearly local Grey Partridge has thus far eluded me. Common Terns have been drifting by daily along with several Raven and a local Barn Owl has been quartering the fields opposite our mooring. On Friday three Common Sandpipers appeared along the towpath and spent the afternoon close by, with me in tow looking for a decent photo. We watched them head off shortly after sunset, circling a number of times before departing, visible migration in action!

Small Tortoiseshell
Remarkably there's been a complete shortage of Dragonflies in the area but plenty of Azure, Common Blue and Banded Demoiselle damselflies, along with the odd Blue-tailed. Strangely I have also encountered a Beautiful Demoiselle, a species which normally enjoys fast running water. Butterflies have been numerous with Ringlet and Meadow Brown the most abundant but Speckled Wood, Large, Small and Green-veined White have all been noted, along with Large Skipper, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell. Dee has been out with her bat detector and by using recordings taken from the Bat Conservation Trust has identified Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle and Daubenton's.
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Stunning full moon-rise Thursday evening
Other highlights thus far: A fantastic moon-rise on Thursday evening and an equally spectacular thunderstorm on Friday night, a bit disconcerting being moored up quite close to a large tree in a metal boat during one of these! Another surprise, a bold knock on the door on Saturday morning found Richard Mays and Dave Cox come to visit and it was nice to have a good catch up over a tea and coffee.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Brandon Summer Away-Day

Another full mini-bus and a summer away-day with the Brandon Marsh team, this time with visits to a couple of RSPB reserves: Blacktoft Sands in Yorkshire's East Riding and Frampton Marsh, Lincolnshire.

Record shot of ♀Montague's Harrier at Blacktoft Sands - Thanks to John Osbourne for his image!
A pretty painless drive to Blacktoft, arriving shortly after 9am and after checking in at the reserve centre to gather some information, off to the hides. One of the star attractions here are a pair of Montague's Harriers and during our stay the female showed well on occasions, unfortunately mostly at distance, but what a stunning bird to behold. The icing on the cake would have been the male of the pair, but it turned out to be one of those days we're he remained elusive!

Tree Sparrows nesting in the Blacktoft Car park
Other highlights of the visit included Common Tern, Curlew, Little Egret, some cracking Marsh Harrier food passes, nesting Tree sparrows in the car park and three summer plumage Spotted Redshank. We departed after lunch around 1pm, dipping on the recent Ring-necked Duck and weren't surprised to see the bird reported later in day, along with a visiting Red-necked Phalarope!!

Painted Lady - Stunning example just outside the centre at Frampton
After lunch a drive over to Frampton Marsh for the remainder of the afternoon seemed to coincide with some hefty downpours. Before the rain one of only three butterflies seen today, with the above very pristine looking Painted Lady.

Distant record of Mediterranean Gull taken with phone to scope!
The birding, considering the time of year was very good and included some superb summer plumage species such as Spotted Redshank, Ruff and Mediterranean Gull. Other waders on the day included Ringed Plover, Little-ringed Plover, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Black-tailed Godwit. Also of note Common Tern, Little Egret and Pink-footed Goose, the latter possibly an injured bird from the winter.

Finally, as tradition has it a stop on route home for a fish & chip supper at Grantham was a great end to another brilliant day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Summer Routine

It's been a while since I updated so I thought for continuity purposes I'd do more of a pictorial to keep the posts live. To be honest after the mayhem of the recent Grey Phalarope at Brandon Marsh things have settled into a normal summer schedule for me. Boat chores, butterflies, dragonfly's etc. That said most of the action has in fact taken place north of the county, where a Melodious Warbler is singing and showing well. Some excellent photos to be found on social media.

Turtle Dove - Wonderful to catch up with a couple of these gorgeous birds on my travels!
Four-spotted Chaser on one of the dipping ponds at Brandon!
I've stayed local, along with visits to Brandon Marsh and across county into Oxfordshire. The dragonfly list is ever growing, now that we're getting some decent sunny periods and includes: Four-spotted Chaser, Black-tailed Skimmer, Broad-bodied Chaser, Brown Hawker and a stunning Emperor at Brandon Marsh today!

Painted Lady at Brandon Marsh - Turning out to be a decent year for these migrants.
Scorpion Fly - Another easily found photographic opportunity at Brandon
A busy Reed Bunting on the marina top field.
The marina is also a great place to be in the summer with nesting birds such as Reed Buntings, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Robin and for the third year in a row Lesser Whitethroat. Other regulars here include Mute Swans, which have produced five cygnets this time around and other species like Coot and Moorhen have both fledged young.

A juvenile Robin - Another successful breeder at the marina.
Lots of Bee-Orchids and Common Spotted Orchids currently around Brandon.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Fermyn Woods

A break from Brandon Marsh today as Alan Lunn, one of the Brandon volunteers invited Alan Boddington and myself to join him for a day out on a butterfly quest. Destination, Fermyn Woods Country Park, Northamptonshire.

Green Hairstreak - One of only 9 species seen today!
Situated in the heart of the Rockingham Forest 4 miles to the Southeast of Corby in East Northamptonshire, the park offers 15 hectares of meadows, thickets, marshes and ponds. Although the day started off overcast it brightened around midday to produce a glorious afternoon and although butterfly numbers seemed quite low, a very enjoyable day out.

Common Blue - By far the most abundant during today's visit.
Red Kites were a constant companion throughout our stay and a total of nine butterfly species were seen: Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Orange Tip, Green Hairstreak, Brimstone, Large White and Speckled Wood.

Large White
Several day flying moths were also on the wing and included: Common Heath, Burnet Companion and Cinnabar.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

A Real Twitch!

With the strong westerlies currently hammering the UK you always get the feeling from a birding perspective that something unusual might just drop in. When I arrived at Brandon Marsh this morning to take a guided walk of the reserve along with Keith Foster, who knew that our guests were in for such a treat.

Fulvous Whistling Duck (E) - Taken the previous week!
Having stopped off at the Teal Hide for views of the escaped Fulvous Whistling Duck we amazingly (I blame the other Keith) bypassed the East Marsh Hide and headed straight for the Ted Jury Hide!

Grey Phalarope - A real stunner to behold!!
Thankfully Adrian, Derek and Alan Boddington from the Brandon Team were close behind and did thankfully drop in, and in fact dropped onto a stunning summer plumage Grey Phalarope! Needless to say it wasn't long before I abandoned, sorry I accompanied the guests back to the East Marsh Hide, thanks to Adrian's phone call. Thanks must also go to Alan, who I'm sure Adrian and Derek will agree 'saw it first', well done those boys. From here on Alan and I set the social media world in motion and by the time I left the hide at 3:45 there was standing room only, Lee Evans and all!

Grey Phalarope - Another record shot and I'm certain better photo's will soon be available!
The rest as they say is history but you know the strangest thing is that our non birding guests spoke more about the duck and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about! Oh yes and Keith #2 is forgiven!!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wandering Norfolk

After dropping Dee off at Luton airport early Saturday I headed over to Norfolk for the day to meet up with another Brandon volunteer and RSPB leader Pete Worthy. Firstly to check out his new place in Hunstanton and then to drive the back lanes of the Norfolk countryside.

Red-legged Partridge - Despite several encounters, we managed not to run any over!
Eh! The back lanes of the Norfolk Countryside? Yes, a magical mystery tour in which strangely enough you meet very little traffic. It was also a good opportunity to see some of Pete's new patch. Despite not connecting with some of the target birds for the day: Turtle Dove, Montague's Harrier and Grey Partridge, we had a very enjoyable afternoon with Cuckoo, Corn Bunting, many Yellowhammer and equally good numbers of Common Whitethroat throughout the hedgerows.

Plenty of Brown Hare's on the open fields
Plenty of Brown Hare's to be found in the open fields and at one stage Pete led me to a family of Adders, sadly something we're not blessed with in Warwickshire. Also of note a very ragged looking Painted Lady, plus Wall, Common Blue and many Small Heath butterflies.

Yellowhammer - Seen throughout the day!
We ended up at RSPB Titchwell and after tea and cake took a walk of the reserve to find the usual selection of species. Highlights were a day hunting Barn Owl, double figure Little Gull and a family of five baby Pochard, can't remember ever seeing these before! Being abroad for most of May I could also do with a few more year firsts and this was helped by Little Tern and Sandwich Tern, of which there were plenty moving through offshore, along with 300/400 Common Scoter, too distant to ID any Velvet's among them. A brief stop at Holme heading back to Hunstanton produced Grey Plover, Lesser Whitethroat and yet another Barn Owl.

A very forlorn and scraggy looking Chinese Water Deer at RSPB Titchwell
Finally, after an enjoyable day and dinner back at Pete's pad, a stop off and walk at Eldernell around dusk on route home. Here a couple of booming Bitterns, two more Barn Owls, ♂Marsh Harrier, Cuckoo, Fox and a brace of Common Cranes, unfortunately no sight nor sound of any Crakes!