Saturday, September 13, 2014

France - La Brenne

I spent the early morning in the in-laws garden chasing down yesterday evenings Black Redstart but the best I could mange was a top half shot of the little fellow hiding behind next doors chimney! Firecrest was next and once again a close encounter of the 'blurred kind' but simply fantastic to have these little gems right on the doorstep.

Black Redstart giving me the run-around!
Dee and I arrived in the La Brenne region around mid-morning after stopping off at various locations on route,  Tree Pipit, Stonechat, Whinchat, Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Honey Buzzard, Common Buzzard and a couple of juvenile Marsh Harrier all recorded by the time we'd parked up. Renown to be one of France's best kept secrets and only a half hour drive from Dee's parents house this is without doubt one of our favourite birding hotspots. A patchwork of fishponds, heath and red sandstone outcrops La Brenne is an area of rich flora and fauna delicately preserved by its ‘National Park’ status. Known locally as 'The Land of a thousand Lakes' this is a rich tapestry of habitats including marshes, deciduous woods, dry heathland and farmland.

Great White Egret - All around La Brenne
Starting off at Etang (French for man-made lake) De La Sous the short walk to the hide always produces and by the time we'd settled the usual Great White Egrets and Cattle Egrets were a constant companion. The surrounding marshland was awash with Stonechat and two Spotted Flycatcher were also noted. Butterflies still on the wing included Common Blue,  Small Heath, Clouded Yellow and Wall.

Short-toed Eagle - A first for Dee and I in the Brenne
The lake itself was remarkably quiet but it wasn't long before the possible culprit was identified, a Marsh Harrier enjoying her catch towards the back end. Most of the action was airborne with both Peregrine and Hobby making an appearance and then a huge bird heading towards us at height turned out to a Common Crane, a very early one in fact as these birds normally winter late October to March. As if that wasn't enough as we exited the hide another large raptor overhead turned out to be a stunning Short-toed Eagle. My research tells me that there are only one or two pairs around this region and in fact it was a first for Dee and I at La Brenne.

Dee's discovery - A nice Pied flycatcher
Next stop the hide at Etang Ricot and immediately after parking in the woody area Dee came across a nice Pied Flycatcher. Nuthatch, Cormorant, Little Grebe, Chiffchaff, Short-toed Treecreeper and European Pond Tortoise was the best we could manage before heading off for lunch.

After lunch we parked up at the Brenne's Wildlife Visitor Centre and took a walk down to the hide which overlooks Cistude Lake. Two more Common Crane flew across high from the east but generally the lake was quiet with the exception of Little Egret and the usual Great White's. A couple of Kingfishers were entertaining for a while and another view of Short-toed Eagle in the distance was welcome.

Juvenile Red-backed Shrike
Our final stop for the day in the late afternoon were the two hides at Foucault Lakes. From the main hide a couple of Coypu but off hunting in the distance over Blizon Lake was our one a only Osprey of the day, offering well scoped but distant views. The walk down to the smaller of the two hides had the usual half dozen or so Stonechat and this time accompanied by a couple of juvenile Red-backed Shrike, one of which posed beautifully momentarily. Unfortunately Dee had the camera set on flight shots and over exposed! Shame but a really terrific day in the Brenne ending with our only two waders of the visit, Snipe and Green Sandpiper.

Monday, September 08, 2014

RSPB Frampton

As I left the boat this morning before sun up the winter constellation of Orion was shinning brightly to the east, with Jupiter to the left in Cancer and Venus low on the horizon, winter is definitely on the way!

Some late summer work still to do for this Goldfinch!
When I reached RSPB Frampton Marsh, Lincolnshire a few hours later the early mist had given way to a gorgeous morning with at least a dozen or so Barn Swallows on the wires to greet me. The car park was alive with Meadow Pipits, Yellow Wagtails and Goldfinches and by the time I'd got organised and ready for my walk I'd added Linnet, Skylark and Yellowhammer to my day list. I managed distant views of a small raptor which sent things scattering, I had the distinct impression this was a Merlin, which was happily confirmed by one of the RSPB early birds a few minutes later, my first of the autumn.

Nice size comparison, grooming Curlew Sandpiper/Little Stint
First stop was going to be the East Hide for the early morning waders and I wasn't disappointed with (4) Avocet, (6) Curlew Sandpipers, (2) Little Stint and a distant but adequate view of Pectoral Sandpiper. Plenty of Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and (4) Ringed Plover before an overhead pass from a Common Buzzard scattered the lot. I enjoyed a further half hour or so with Common Snipe, Golden Plover and (6) Northern Pintail to add.

Next was a walk along the 'Tabb's Head track' which eventually runs along to the mouth of the River Witham. In fact I didn't have to walk far before my target bird, a reported Barred Warbler was located. Several birders and photographers had their eyes and cameras firmly on a bird perched atop a hawthorn bush. Unfortunately as I approached said bird decided to do what these birds are notorious for and go a skulking! The usual happened next, happy photographers showing off their superb images. Anyway I managed a couple of half decent views after an hours vigil, well, one from deep within another hawthorn and the best one when the bird appeared in the open but all too briefly, time to move on!

Obliging but slightly distant Whinchat
A stroll along the sea-bank next with ♀Marsh Harrier and a rather sick looking Brent Goose, poor thing. The walk back along the wet grassland trail had a nice and obliging Whinchat, the Glossy Ibis was still in it's usual spot, (2) Spotted Redshank and a second look at the Pectoral Sandpiper, which was nestled among (8) Curlew Sandpipers.

Little Stint
Lunch in the 360 Hide gave up my one and only eclipse Garganey of the day, (2) Pochard and various numbers of Wigeon, Shelduck, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Teal, Gadwall and Northern Shoveler. Other notable's seen during my stay included House Martin, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Reed Warbler, Redshank, Curlew and Peregrine ended a top days birding.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Brandon - Week in Focus

Spent most of last week working at Brandon Marsh helping to complete the strimming of the Islands and banks and even managed on Tuesday to make a start on the areas in front of the new Ted Jury hide! It was a wonderful surprise to encounter a couple of Water Voles on East Marsh Pool, prompting us to abandon the cutting of the vegetation in that particular area! Frogs, Toads and Field Voles were also in evidence and it was also encouraging to see plenty of fish in the pool. The 'Bittern Rides' are now cut into the reed beds in front of the East Marsh Hide for better viewing of our wintering Bitterns. However, as you can see from the image below it didn't take long for the local Water Rails to take advantage.

One of two Water Rails in the 'rides' on Friday morning.
There have been several Otter sightings over the past week and I've found several locations with fresh spraint, obviously a good sign that there's currently more than one on site. There remains a good deal of warblers still around too with Sedge Warbler, Garden Warbler, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff all recorded in the first week of September, the latter two actually still in song. The first Cetti's Warblers have also started to call deep within the reed beds and out of sight as usual! Our Sand Martins have all moved on with over 50 juveniles ringed by JR this season in the nesting structure, a real success story. SwallowsHouse Martins and he odd passage Sand Martin continue to pass through but I've not managed to record any September Swifts thus far. Willow Tit's have also began to make an appearance, after what seemed a summer absence, with one on the Central Marsh Path and two at the new hide.

Wigeon slowly appearing.
Wigeon are beginning to make an appearance with eight recorded on one particular day and both Teal and Shoveler numbers continue to increase slowly. A flock of over forty Linnet were up near the farm area on Tuesday but only a lucky few managed to catch a glimpse of a Marsh Harrier, which passed through on Wednesday afternoon. Meadow Pipits are also starting to make an appearance with five seen in various areas over the week and one or two reports of Grey Wagtail, a Yellow Wagtail I could hear calling on Friday morning was never located.

Common Snipe
Waders have certainly been thin on the ground with a couple of Green Sandpipers, mostly on Teal Pool and a count of four Snipe on Friday morning is the highest for me this month.

Female Migrant Hawker
Finally, lots of Dragonflies on the wing with some excellent numbers of Migrant Hawker, along with Southern Hawker, Ruddy and Common Darter. It's also a good time to see Speckled Wood butterfly in the shaded areas around the reserve

Monday, September 01, 2014

Summers End!

Well from a meteorological or astronomical point of view, 'that's the end of summer 2014', so I thought I'd best catch up on the blog, new month new post so to speak!

Dakota C47 Sky-Train Overflies French Minesweeper M650 in Boscombe harbour!
I've not really had much to blog about over the past week or so regarding any of my pastimes, having made a few wrong choices recently, which areas to visit etc. I missed the Draycote Water Cattle Egret by minutes and finally compounded by the sheer bad luck of arriving at Bournemouth Air Festival on Saturday to witness two Lancaster bombers in flight, only to find the visiting Canadian Lancaster had shed an engine and was not displaying. Still a good time was had and some of my favourites still appeared, like the amazing Avro Vulcan, Hawker Hunter and the C47 Sky-train, one of the workhorses of WW2.

Hawker Hunter - Another real favourite
I arrived at Draycote Water this morning (Tuesday 1st) in between the rain showers and met up briefly with Richard and Dave along Farborough Bank. I was aware of an immature Shag being reported by Tim Marlow so before heading off in search managed a good little spell with the dynamic due which yielded: Redshank, (2) Lesser Whitethroat, (2) ♂BlackcapCommon Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, (6) Meadow Pipit, Goldcrest, Peregrine and well over 50+ Yellow Wagtails by the time I'd caught up with the Shag and turned for home. On route back 24 Greenfinch was a superb count, along with (6) Common Tern and (3) Yellowhammer.

Spotted Flycatcher - One of eleven at Napton!
I abandoned a stop off at Napton Reservoir which coincided with a real downpour and headed off back to the boat for lunch. By the time I returned later in the afternoon the sun was breaking through but the best I could manage was a single Spotted Flycatcher on the lower fields with no sign of Richards Whinchats from his Sunday visit.

However, Napton-on-the-Hill was a real treat in the late afternoon with an amazing hours birding. The so called 'Gully' was a flurry of activity with Common Redstart, (11) Spotted Flycatcher, (2) Hobby, (11) Raven and (4) Buzzard. A walk around the marina this evening in search of any of the three Tawny Owls I heard calling last night proved fruitless but (8) Linnet, (4) Tree Sparrow, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and my first Willow Tit on site made it worthwhile.

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!!