Monday, February 09, 2015

Away-Day #1

The first away-day of the year with the Brandon Marsh team and these trips are becoming so popular I actually have a waiting list for seats on the minibus.

Setting off from Brandon at 06:45 hrs the weather was dry, a lot milder but mostly overcast. However, as we headed east along the A14 the sky cleared to produce wall to wall sunshine for the entire day. Our first stop was in search of a Great Grey Shrike at Burn Coppice, Deenethorpe.

Great Grey Shrike - Yep that's him! Thanks to John Osbourne
On arrival we began our search of the area and it was lovely to see a brace of Red Kite in flight, contrasting beautifully against the backdrop of a gorgeous blue sky. Yellowhammer and Chaffinch were in full song and a few Red-legged Partridge were feeding in the corner of a field. I decided to take a wander along the bridal path and at the end came across a trio of Mistle Thrush, Buzzard, several Goldfinch and three Hares. The main attraction was ably spotted after a short time by Alan Boddington and despite only having distant views of the immobile bird perched atop hawthorn, it was still well worth the effort and a great start to the day.

Nice Lapwing shot thanks to Trevor Griffiths
After breakfast at Peterborough Services, where several McDonald's 'egg McMuffins' where raised in Adrian's absence and I collected the free coffee vouchers it was off to our next stop in search of Rough-legged Buzzard. Some disruption to traffic at Holme Fen due to roadworks but we manged nearly an hour in search only to draw a blank. The bug-bare was that the bird was reported shortly after we departed. Still we enjoyed the challenge and a lovely ♂Stonechat, plus Lapwing, Kestrel, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard and many Goldfinch in the fields to pass the time.

Short-eared Owl - Alan Boddington
Eldernell on the Nene Washes next and almost immediately on arrival a Short-eared Owl was located on the ground not too far from the car park. In fact by the time we moved on 90 minutes later five of these wonderful birds had been seen. Another species high on the list was Common Crane and again we weren't disappointed with at least eight birds seen during our stay. While scanning from the bridge a Kingfisher shot by offering excellent flight views and other species of note included: Red Kite, ♂♀Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Stonechat and Fieldfare.

Crane in flight over Eldernell, Nene Washes - John Osbourne
The rest of a very long and enjoyable day was spent at RSPB Titchwell Marsh on the North Norfolk coast, with a brief stop on route to register Bewick, Whooper and Mute Swan. The fresh water pool to the left as you walk down to the beach has been drained of late and here a Little Egret, Grey Heron, Ruff, Dunlin and Kingfisher, plus Marsh Harrier over the distant reeds. Sadly no sign during our stay of the recent Water Pipit. Lots of Brent Geese through the reserve and distant skeins of Pink-footed Geese were constantly observed.

Curlew - RSPB Ttchwell
From the bench overlooking the freshwater marsh a pinging call alerted us to a pair of Bearded Tit in the nearby reeds, offering excellent views to those who'd not seen this species before and while enjoying these, several Skylark and Meadow Pipit overhead. The pool itself contained decent numbers of Pintail along with various counts of Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon, Shelduck and a selection of waders including: Curlew, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Golden Plover and five Snipe in flight.

Time spent overlooking the volunteer and tidal marshes produced more additions to the day list with Little Grebe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Knot, Redshank and a single Spotted Redshank.

Grey Plover - RSPB Tichwell
The beach and subsequent sea watch is always a favourite of mine and off shore a large raft of Common Scoter produced a very distinct lighter bird within, which the team were happy to confirm as Long-tailed Duck. Several Red-breasted Merganser, Goldeneye and even two Wigeon on the water. The usual Cormorant and selection of Gulls were also noted. A walk out to the tide-line gave closer views of the feeding waders which included: Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Turnstone and Oystercatcher.

Finally, with the sun setting and the temperature dropping the walk back to the car park produced both Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer on the wet marsh, more Bearded Tits, Peregrine and several Marsh Harrier heading in to roost. A Woodcock flew across the road as we headed back and the fish and chips at Eye were a treat to end a brilliant day!

Saturday, February 07, 2015

WWT Slimbridge

Dee and I decided to take a picnic and spend the day at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trusts Slimbridge reserve in Gloucestershire. Not everyone's cup of tea but we always enjoy getting close up to species you may not have the opportunity to come across in the wild.

Snowdrops are out!
A dank and dreary day weather wise but despite the cold lots of Snowdrops starting to show through and the birding was actually quite good too. A quick look in the Hogarth and Zeiss Hides found the pools mostly frozen over and so not a lot to see here, save for the odd Oystercatcher and a single Snipe in flight!

Brown Rat taking advantage!
However, the Martin Smith Hide provided some good views of several Bewick Swans, plus a couple of Common Crane feeding off towards the fenced area. A group of twenty or so Greylag Geese produced a trio of White-fronted Geese within and small selections of waders included: Golden Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew. Asleep on the perimeter were decent numbers of Black-tailed Godwit, Pintail and Shelduck.

Water Rail near the feeding station.
On route to the Holden Tower a stop off at the feeding station had Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, House Sparrow, Blue Tit and Great Tit and offered some close views of a showy Water Rail, several Brown Rats were also taking advantage of the overflow. The tower produced good panoramic views and here good numbers of Teal and over 200 Barnacle Geese feeding on the wet meadow. A brace of Peregrine and a lone Mistle Thrush directly below kept Dee entertained with the camera.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

White Stuff

Lots of the 'white stuff' around this morning and a little dicey on the back roads on route to Brandon Marsh! However, a Barn Owl flypast while moving gingerly along Tomlow Road was well worth the risk.

Lots of Badger and Fox paw prints around this morning.
Lots of Badger and Fox paw prints in the snow this morning and by the time Derek and I had reached the Wright Hide Nuthatch, Lesser Redpoll and Bullfinch had all been recorded. As you would imagine all the pools at Brandon are currently frozen over. That said a small open area out in the middle held four Shelduck, a half dozen Common Gull and a mixture of Gadwall, Teal, Tufted Duck and Shoveler. I'm happy to report that a Willow Tit was calling and located along the Central Marsh Path, the significance of this particular sighting is that it bodes well for the current Brandon Willow Tit Project, spearheaded by the BMVCT.

Little Egret from the Baldwin Hide.
Martin and I were delighted to come across the above Little Egret perched high in the willow to the left of Baldwin Hide when we made or way back along the Central Path. We managed to sneak past the screen and into the hide without too much effort for some photos.

A look around West Marsh and Horsetail Glade produced a calling Chiffchaff, Great spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Coal Tit, Song Thrush and ♂Sparrowhawk. A couple of Mute Swans were walking precariously on the frozen pool, always a little concerned seeing this having rescued one which fell through the ice in my youth.

Mute Swan at Steetley Hide
A walk around the 'Tip' area and Farm Field produced a Fox, Green Woodpecker and Buzzard and although the birding was a little quiet it was a very pleasant morning.

Monday, February 02, 2015

A Little While!

Yes it's been a little while since my last post but up until more recently it's been same old, same old! That said I've now added the illusive Bittern to my year list at Brandon Marsh and have finally caught up with things at Draycote Water.

Black-necked Grebe - Draycote Water
To begin with Draycote Water and a bitterly cold start this morning just as the hazy sun broke over the horizon. The usual abundance of Little Grebe and Great-crested Grebe on arrival and I soon caught up with Richard Mays and Dave just prior to reaching Farborough Spit. A search through the Greylags and Canada's grazing on the field below yielded a couple of White-fronted Geese and a single Pink-foot Goose, although I didn't pick the pinky up until my return journey. The Black-necked Grebe was fortunately still on site providing a year first and I managed a number of record shots in the morning gloom. Worth a mention, a brace of Shoveler out towards the centre and a single Little Egret over on Lin Croft.

Grey Heron
On route back along the bank Richard picked out the drake Smew, way off towards the inlet and nestled in among a group of Goldeneye, which were in good numbers today. After parting company I decided to head off up towards the inlet to check out the Tree Sparrows and on route a single Grey Wagtail, Kestrel, several Goosander and around a dozen or so Teal. The Tree Sparrows were in situ around the feeder and I managed at least fifteen or so of these smart looking birds. The field just to the rear of the feeder held a decent sized mixed flock, consisting of Linnet, Chaffinch, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer, but alas no Brambling within! A surprise was a single Skylark happily singing away right above my position, despite the bitterly cold conditions. Before returning to the car park a Grey Heron provided a good photo opportunity and Pochard numbers seemed pretty good with 37 counted. Although I knew a couple of Pintail were around I didn't manage to connect today, although an enthusiastic biker insisted on showing me his pics when I arrived back at the car!

House Sparrow
The marina itself has been a great place to hear and see Tawny Owls recently and in the still cold air last night I'm positive at least four birds were heard within the grounds. Lots of House Sparrows are taking advantage of the many feeders at present and a reasonable flock of Linnet with several Yellowhammer within have been on the adjacent fields for the past week, but despite my hopes of a Merlin taking advantage I've yet to be rewarded.

Finally, over the near 10 years I've been moored at Wigram's Turn I've always found the marina to be a haven for wildlife. A great deal of thought went into the planting and surroundings when the marina was first built, not by the current owners I hasten to add. However, more recently the marina management hierarchy have made some astonishing decisions and I was appalled a few weeks ago to see the decimation of the west-side reedbed and the cutting back of crucial roosting areas. To what end I'm completely at a loss. Reed Buntings, Wrens, roosting Pied Wagtails and small sheltering mammals regularly seen there have been totally displaced. Absolutely bewildering management and despite voicing my concerns and in typical fashion I'm yet to receive a response!

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!