Sunday, December 20, 2009

Full Circle

My final visit to Brandon Marsh today before Christmas and an interesting one too! As you can imagine all the pools are currently frozen so reduced numbers in the way of wildfowl species.

I arrived at dawn on a stunning but bitterly cold morning and caught up with others from the 'Sunday Crew', who I found strategically located overlooking Sheepfield. Three Barn Owls had been spotted quartering before my arrival but I did manage good views of the one that remained. I was lucky enough to see a second later in the morning from the Carlton Hide, which was out of the box in daylight at around 10am. A single Snipe in flight and an estimated 400 Lapwing, also passing by, are worth a mention.

Other sighting of note were 4 Meadow Pipit which flew across Newlands Reedbed on my way through, 2 Water Rail near the sluice and a third which shot across the front of Main-Hide. After leaving the Carlton-Hide, en route for my Full-English breakfast, a flock of circa 30 Golden Plover overflew East Marsh as I passed by the Main-Hide.

After breakfast both JR and I had a good tour of the the 'Tip' area and Farm Pool Reedbed, with some interesting results! Firstly, an extremely light coloured Buzzard, calling from a nearby tree caught our attention, but after dreaming of Rough Legged etc it turned out to be Common, warmed us both up though! Moving on around the perimeter of Farm Pool a Red Legged Partridge took flight from the reedbed, quickly followed by a single Woodcock.

A very rare visitor to Brandon is Yellowhammer (pictured) and JR had one earlier near Newlands, probably the only confirmed sighting on the reserve since 2007! You can imagine our delight when a second bird was heard and briefly seen as we passed through the area near to the farm buildings. Finally, as we made our way back to the Visitor Centre, a second small flock of Golden Plover overflew in the opposite direction from the earlier flock, around another 30 birds, maybe the same flock as earlier?

Well things have come full circle for me at Brandon! I joined the Conservation Team a year ago this week and have experienced some memorable moments over the past 12 months, covered as part of this blog. I've also met some fantastic people around Brandon and wish them and my reader a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Breakfast Surprise!

A bitterly cold visit to Brandon today but a nice bird count nonetheless and a breakfast surprise!

Having arrived just before first light my first notable of the day was a Barn Owl which entered the box near the Lafarge Works, just visible in the darkness. As I continued along the path towards Sheepfield, with others from the 'Sunday Club', a Woodcock flew over the top, a bird which seems to be getting more regularly seen on the reserve.

Passing Newlands Reedbed a short while later a second Barn Owl of the day flew East and dropped in near the outermost box. A visit to the Wright Hide and East Marsh Pool produced a single Barnacle Goose, 2 Wigeon, male and female Goldeneye, a half dozen Pochard and an eventual count of 10 Snipe, which were all on Wigeon Bank.

After Carlton Hide, where our earlier Barn Owl had left the outer box to quarter the reed bed for a daylight hunt, we paid a brief and fruitless visit to West Marsh before a Full-English breakfast in the Nature Centre. While tucking into said breakfast, this time accompanied by the wife and others from the Conservation Team, a breakfast surprise on the Nature Centre feeders as a lone Brambling appeared, only my second sighting at Brandon this year. This was indeed birding in comfort as further observations over a second Latte produced Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Coal Tit.

After breakfast a final walk across the 'Tip' area of the reserve produced Green Woodpecker, Redpoll, Bullfinch, Fieldfare and Redwing, now taken to foraging in the undergrowth for wind-fall as the berry yield has almost expired.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


A little breather from blogging over the past 10 days due to other commitments, but I'm back with a spectacular site at Brandon today!

Firstly though I can report another personal siting of Bittern from the West Marsh Hide last Sunday 6th, the first I think I've actually seen on the West side. Also of note and well worth a mention were 2 Otters seen by one of our other Conservation Team members from the same hide last Thursday 3rd, a very rare site and excellent news for the reserve.

Back to today's excitement in the form of a Peregrine Falcon (library Picture). I've seen Peregrine on many occasions but today's was only the 3rd I've recorded at Brandon. However, I'd never seen one take prey until today. As I prepared to take the track across Newlands Reedbed towards today's works location I glanced across East Marsh Pool and noticed everything up and in flight. That normally means one thing and I immediately began my search for the reason, more often than not a Sparrowhawk. Today was an exception and as I watched the 100 or so Lapwing rising ever higher and higher my attention was drawn to the Rapter circling the flock. Just as I located what I immediately recognised as a Peregrine the bird swooped with astonishing speed smashing straight into a Lapwing, feathers flying everywhere. Within seconds the bird had it's prey under control and headed East across the marsh for breakfast, one the most spectacular sites I've encountered thus far at Brandon.

After today's high I must end my post with the sad news regarding the death of one of Brandon's own, Ted Jury at the age of 70. Ted was one of the founder members of the Brandon Marsh Voluntary Conservation Team in 1985, and since 1992 was one of the editors of the Brandon Marsh annual report. I met Ted almost a year ago when first joining the team and spent many hours in the hides at Brandon enjoying his company. I will miss him greatly, god bless Ted.

Ted Jury 1939 - 2009

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Bitterns Everywhere!

A beautiful crisp start this morning at the marina but not enough to freeze over the canal. As I left for Brandon, still in darkness, an eerie moon just setting in the West, I heard several calls from the local Tawny Owls as I made my way down the frosty path. (very poetic!!)

I arrived at Brandon, fully dressed in my thermals, for the second of two Tuesday work party's just before 7am.
With phase 3 of the Newlands reed bed extension unofficially underway we're making steady progress in the cutting back of Willow and Birch in preparation. I say unofficial as the main funding for the project is still to be put in place, but the volunteers need no such encouragement to crack on!

Now that the Autumn migration is complete and the first day of Winter has arrived I guess we can expect a quieter time at Brandon until Spring. Mind you having said that, there continues to be a glut of Bittern sightings on the reserve, including a sighting of 2 birds together today on West Marsh. I personally believe that there are at least 3 birds currently on site. In addition to today's sightings two birds were also sighted together on Newlands on Sunday morning, followed closely by a third on West Marsh a short time later. Of course I missed all three, despite arriving at the crack of dawn for an hour long vigil in the West Marsh hide. Can't complain though as my Bittern sightings ratio remains healthy.

Back to this morning and the unexpected sight of a single Woodcock in flight just before dawn, a great time to see one, unmistakable in silhouette as the bird flew back and forth across Grebe Pool, obviously looking for a good day roost spot. Excellent numbers of Greylag and Canada Geese early on, plus 4 Herring Gull and 17 Lesser Black Backed in among the many Black Headed. Other notable's were 2 Little Grebe on East Marsh and 3 Goldeneye, 2 female and a stunning male (pictured) over in the deep water. Still plenty of Fieldfare and Redwing about, although the berry numbers are depleting rapidly and also several Redpoll and Siskin in flight. A couple of Treecreeper and 2 Coal Tit at the Nature Centre also boosted my numbers for the day!

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Birding Wife!

Out and about with my better half today we decided to have a late afternoon visit to the Brandon hides, after a coffee and snack at the Nature Centre.

The wife, who's more expert with mammals than birds, had never seen a Water Rail close up so the plan was to pop into the Big Hide where they are regularly seen in the nearby reeds. After a half hour vigil, with no Rails, we were delighted to observe a male and female Muntjac Deer on the bank opposite, which I have to say looked in fantastic condition in the late evening sun.

We moved on to the Carlton Hide, still with high hopes of Water Rail, and settled in for a final stint. Not a bad evening, the wind finally dropping and good light from the now partially clouded sky. Our first bird of note was a female Sparrowhawk which perched nicely on one of the dead trees to the left, probably in anticipation of an evening snack from one of the few Starlings now beginning to appear. She did try, but unsuccessfully!

Dee was delighted a short time later when a Barn Owl appeared from the box on the far side of Newlands and settled on the trees close by, ready for an evenings hunt. However, the highlight of the visit was the appearance of a Bittern, which flew right to left at the back of the Newlands Reedbed and settled just behind big dead tree. "Oh was that the Bittern" says the wife, "yes" says me "Ah, I spotted him earlier flying the other way but didn't want to disturb you while you were talking to those other guys!" I do love that girl, so polite!!!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Two Firsts

Three visits to Brandon Marsh this week which included two unexpected firsts for my Brandon list!

On my first visit of the week, Tuesday 17th, I was delighted to get my second sighting of Bittern for this Autumn. As I approached the Olive Bench near Newlands a single bird rose from the middle of the reedbed at around 7.36am and flew around 100 yards, dropping down at the rear of the Sand Martin structure, strangely enough roughly in the same spot I had it last week. It's always nice to add to your site species list and during a quick sortie across towards the Farm Area after lunch, with other members of the 'Tuesday Club', no less than 5 Red Legged Partridge (pictured) flew out from within Farm Pool Reedbed, it turns out the first sighting of this species on the reserve since 2004, and a first for me at Brandon.

For Thursdays visit I decided to arrive before dawn in the hope of tracking down a Barn Owl or two and began my search at Sheepfield at around 6.30am. After a fruitless 30 minute observation in one of my favourite spots I was preparing to move on when a single bird came through from the East, disappearing quickly into the wooded area near the concrete plant. Not the best view I've ever had but a Barn Owl nonetheless and always a pleasure to see. A quick trip back to the Big Hide at around 3pm, after the other work party members had departed, resulted in my second addition to my Brandon site list, this time in the form of a single Yellow Legged Gull. In amongst a dozen or so Common Gull but easily identifiable by a distinct red ring around the eye. The bird stayed for around 20 minutes.

On to this mornings visit , Saturday 21st, and on the look out for Great White Egret, a single bird being reported on site yesterday. After a good scan of Newlands at dawn I came up with a blank and decided to head for Big Hide and coffee. The reed area in front and to the left of Big Hide has had a section strategically cut out by the team, affectionately known to us as the 'Elephant Ride'. The area has now flooded nicely and has been cut with the intention of exposing Water Rail and Bittern as they move through the reed. Today I was delighted to observe 2 Water Rail feeding in this area, one species which I believe has had an exceptional breeding year at the reserve and is an accolade to Brandon.

Another bird which Brandon should be proud of is the wintering Bittern, or indeed Bitterns, and today I had yet another sighting of this magnificent bird as one flew high across East Marsh Pool at around 9am, fortunately observed by several other delighted birders. A Full-English in the Nature Centre around 1pm ended an excellent morning and I've since had word that the Great White Egret did in fact reappear at 2pm, well done to George for his Pictures.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Norfolk Weekend (Sunday)

As we left the comfort of the hotel after a hearty breakfast the weather had vastly improved from yesterdays storm.
Our first stop this morning was Wolferton Triangle to try for the infamous Golden Pheasant, and as luck would have it the possibility of Great Grey Shrike, currently reported at Dersingham Bog.

The best strategy for seeing the Golden Pheasant apparently is to sit quietly in your car and wait for the birds to cross one of the two minor roads which form the 'triangle', dawn or dusk are the best times but unfortunately we were a little late. We decided after a short and uneventful period to abandon car and head into the bog.

The reserve comprises of three distinct habitats, mire, heath and woodland. The wet acid peat of the mire is characterised by rare plants, including Bog Asphodel, Round-Leaved Sundew, Cranberry and White-Beaked Sedge. Rare insects thrive here too, including dragonflies such as the Black Darter, and moths such as the Light Knot Grass, of course Winter is not the best time to visit.

The woodland at Dersingham is quite recent and contains Scots Pine, Oak, Sweet Chestnut, Sycamore and Birch. The woodland glades attract birds such as Redpoll, Crossbill, Long-Eared Owl and Sparrowhawk but despite a pleasant walk the best we could come up with were Stonechat, Kestrel and Redpoll, no sign either of Great Grey Shrike, however a local birder did tell us that he'd had it from a distance a little earlier and he believed it was a wintering bird which was here last year.

We progressed further up the coast on what was now a beautiful day weather wise and arrived at RSPB Tichwell. Amazingly this was our first visit to this reserve and so we spent the remainder of the day on site exploring. We decided to take the walk from the visitor centre down to the beach, taking in the Island Hide enroute. The hide itself produces excellent views of the freshwater marsh and reedbed where we had good numbers of Pintail, Wigeon and Brent Geese, plus Redshank, Greenshank, Grey Plover, large flocks of Golden Plover, Avocet, Snipe and around 12 Ruff.

On the walk down to the beach overlooking the marshes we watched 2 Hen Harrier, one being a ring-tailed, plus Marsh Harrier overhead and had Cettis Warbler, Skylark, Meadow Pipit and several Little Egret. At the beach itself we had a nice stroll along the coastline with Sanderling, Black-Tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Dunlin and a small flock of Snow Bunting flew low over the sand. At sea we picked up good numbers of Goldeneye plus 1 Red Throated Diver, 6 Common Scoter in flight and a single Common Eider. A thoroughly enjoyable first visit.

Amazingly on the drive home we passed Wolferton once more and to our delight, there at the side of the road, we picked up a fleeting glimpse of a Golden Pheasant as it disappeared into the undergrowth, a terrific end to a diverse weekend!!

(Pictured above - Sanderling, one of Dee's favourite birds)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Norfolk Weekend (Saturday)

A weekend of contrast as I re-visited the Norfolk coast, a place that has special memories for me and where I lived and worked for several years after leaving home as a young man in the mid 70's.

RSPB Snettisham - We arrived in the early afternoon in gale force winds and horizontal rain, to be honest it would have been quite easy to have abandoned the visit all together and head straight for the comfort of the hotel bar! Notwithstanding, the wife and I donned our wets and headed in.

During the battling 1.5km walk to the first of 4 hides we'd had several Goldeneye and Little Grebe plus Curlew, Black-Tailed Godwit, Grey and Golden Plover, Rock Pipit and good numbers of Redshank, Dunlin and Shelduck on the mudflats. However, one of two reasons for visiting this particular sight was to see the spectacular views of thousands of Knot as they push ever closer following the tide inland. We were not disappointed with some excellent flocks on show, increasing in numbers as the tide drew ever closer.

On arrival at the first hide, where you have the choice to view either the mudflats or lagoons, we settled for a well earned breather. The lagoon produced some excellent numbers of Wigeon, at least 1000+, and upon inspection also yielded Little Egret, battling away in the wind and small numbers of Gadwall and Teal.

After completing the tour of the other hides, which produced nothing more on the species count other than a lone Hare, which bolted across the sea wall, we settled back in the now crowded first hide to witness the main event. Vast numbers, up to 40,000 on occasions, of Pink-Footed Geese, which roost each night on the mudflats and then fly back inland at dawn to feast on the remains of the sugar beet harvest. As we watched in awe, surveying the tide mark in the murk, we also had around 12 Pintail, distinguished by their white breasts against the darkness and gloom, but it wasn't until returning to the car, as the final light dissipated, that we were truly treated to this spectacle as the sky turned black with yet more Pink-Footed!!

Friday, November 13, 2009


I arrived at Brandon yesterday morning (Thursday 12th) around a half hour before sunrise on a beautiful autumnal morning.
Heavy rain overnight had given way to clear skies and the mist was rising off the Newlands reedbed as the sun poked it's head over the horizon. As I approached the reeds, emerging from New Hare Covert, I knew there was another reason for liking mornings like this, cobwebs! Not the obvious fact that lies within their beauty but the fact that I can actually see them. At 6'4" even when I try to walk behind other, shall we say, smaller chaps in the early morning, I always end up with several face fulls as the spiders weave their webs from one side of the path to the other!

Although today produced nothing out of the norm on the pools, (Tuesday I had Dunlin & Redshank on East Marsh), I have to say that I can't remember another time were I had so many smaller birds and such frenzied activity. Me thinks the natural food supply is beginning to run low?

From my vantage point over Newlands quite a number of mixed flocks containing Goldfinch, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll, plus the usual Tit flocks which contained Long Tail, Great and Blue, always worth more investigation as occasionally I find they produce Goldcrest, Willow or Coal Tit within. At one time the remaining 200 or so Starling from our roost flew East, probably from the West Marsh reedbed, and finally some further good numbers of Redwing, mingled with Fieldfare and the occasional tweet of Skylark.

After our work had been completed for the day, (Thursday is work party day), a large flock of around 150 Greylag came over the reserve as we made our way back to the Nature Centre for tea, too distant from my vantage point to check for other species within. Also today, as I reviewed JW's Website, another siting of Bittern.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


I thought a quick post was in order after today's early morning and frosty visit to Brandon Marsh, my reason for this is my first autumnal sighting of one of our wintering Bitterns. Having had an excellent track record of sightings last Winter I was beginning to worry about the poor start I'd made for this season. Therfore I was delighted to catch my first glimpse for this Winter of a single bird which made a short dart across Newlands Reedbed at around 7.20am. I'm now a happy bunny!!
Also worth a mention are yesterday's Female Goosander and lone Dunlin to East Marsh Pool, which I unfortunately missed due to my very enjoyable visit to Twycross Zoo!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Autumns Here!

As predicted the weather took a definite turn this week with more autumnal westerlies blowing in and some welcome rainfall. That said my usual working visits to Brandon Marsh have produced some good and unexpected sightings.

On Tuesday 3rd we took the opportunity to re site one of the several Barn Owl boxes on the top reedbed. Myself and 3 other members of the team were moving through the 'Tip' area of the reserve and spooked a unsuspecting Woodcock (pictured) from it's daytime roost. This is only the second time I've encountered a Woodcock at Brandon since joining the team last December and both times I've almost stood on him before he took flight! I should also mention that I had more Common Darter and a single Migrant Hawker Dragonfly. Amazing in the present conditions!

On Wednesday evening I took the opportunity with other members of the Conservation Team to pay a late evening visit, in particular to catch a glimpse of the current Starling roost. Having strategically positioned ourselves in the Carlton Hide, overlooking the Newlands reedbed, we were delighted to see around 2000 Starlings come in and were further treated to some excellent aerobatics. The main event though was watching the 3 Sparrowhawks that came in for a late evening snack. Fortunately for the Starlings all 3 were unsuccessful in there numerous attempts to wheedle out a lone member of the roost. We were also treated to some good glimpses of Water Rail on East Marsh Pool.

This morning, Thursday 5th, I arrived slightly later than normal and after a phone call from a colleague missed a perched Barn Owl on the oak tree box. I thought my luck was really out when I had a second call informing me of a Whooper Swan dropping in on East Marsh Pool. With a quick spurt I once again arrived too late as our resident territorial Mutes had chased it off.
I needn't have worried however because as I rounded the corner from Newlands an adult male Whooper with 4 juveniles came in from the West. Although never quite managing a landing they did spend about 30 minutes circling the reserve and delivered some excellent low flying views. I should also point out that there is some question over whether the juveniles were in fact Mute Swans but more on this I'm sure in a later post!

NB - Also of note today was another sighting of a single Chiffchaff near Carlton Hide, (not Siberian as some have suggested) and a lone Greenshank still remains on River Pool. Further sightings of Bittern were also recorded over the weekend.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

This morning was probably the last chance to visit Brandon Marsh before it's all change on the weather front as a bank of heavy rain piles in from the West. I would imagine that the many Common Darter Dragonfly I've seen recently on the reserve are making a final bow before the real Autumn arrives overnight!

While shopping in Leamington Spa yesterday I recieved a text message from Brandon regarding a couple of interesting sightings. A Redshank on River Pool was an unexpected visitor for this time of year and a male Stonechat (pictured by Jeff Rankin) near the golf course was the other. Unable to pop over yesterday for a look I was delighted this morning to register both birds in thier reported areas. The Redshank being accompanied by a single Greenshank on River Pool which was also on site yesterday.

The early rain subsided into quite a pleasant morning and during my visit I had good numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing once more, along with some small flocks of Redpoll and Siskin. East Marsh Pool delivered 31 Snipe, 5 Wigeon, 171 Teal, 15 Pochard among others but the star of the show for me today was a very attractive male Goldeneye accompanied by 2 female.

While on the approach to the Carlton Hide I had 2 Skylark over, plus Willow Tit and from within, another appearance of a lone Chiffchaff plus Grey Wagtail, several Bullfinch and 4 Goldfinch.

Also of note today 2 Little Grebe on the West Marsh, plus Treecreeper in Horsetail but no further sightings of the Bittern recorded on Newlands a week ago.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bittern Returns!

NO!! I didn't drive up to the North-East this weekend to catch a glimpse of the Eastern Crowned Warbler, as I'm not a twitcher!! So no more texts please guys :) In fact there's no sign of it today so I would imagine many a twitcher has had a wasted journey!!
Now that's out of the way I did pay a couple of visits to Brandon Marsh this week and spent Thursday morning along with other members of the Conservation Team clearing invasive willow from Newlands Reedbed.
The highlights from Thursdays visit were the first Goldeneye, Siskin (pictured) and Redpoll on site for me this Autumn, plus a couple of Green Sandpiper and a single Greenshank.
This mornings visit, Sunday October 25th, I arrived slightly too late for the Barn Owls now being seen on Sheepfield, nothing to do with the clocks going back I hasten to add, but managed several more Redpoll and Siskin, plus a singing Chiffchaff in Horsetail Glade, a nice record for October 25th. Also quite surprisingly I had several sightings of Common Darter and Migrant Southern Hawker Dragonfly plus a Small Copper Butterfly before the showers set in.
Arriving at the main hide earlier and over coffee I managed to pick up on the birding gossip with other members of the Brandon regulars, having been away in Holland the previous week. It would seem I'd missed out on Peregrine and Golden Plover yesterday however, the great news was the return of our wintering Bittern which had been seen on Newlands from the Carlton Hide on the Saturday morning.
Also of great debate during my absense has been the disputed sighting of no less than 5 Great Egret reported on October 16th. The official consensus seems to be that 4 Great Egret were on site on that day, a fantastic record for Brandon.
** Siskin photograph courtesy of Jeff Rankin

Monday, October 19, 2009

Holland 09 Summary

As ever in birding it's a case of being in the right place at the right time and my recent trip to Holland proved just that!
The first few days birding was definately spoilt by the persistant wind, sometimes gusting at 50mph, and twice we put off travelling to the Island of Texel, which was always going to be the highlight of this visit to Holland.
Friday October 16th - Our first day out took us to the Dunes at Zandvoort in the North West of Holland where we had high hopes of seeing some decent migration but the appalling conditions made us retreat to the nearby reservior. Here we enjoyed an excellent, if not bracing walk, but encountered very little from a birding perspective apart from some decent flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing, the best bit however was the bacon & pineapple pancakes at the nearby hostelry! In the evening back at Dave's house in Den Haag, chilling out over beer and curry, we took the decision to rise early the following morning and assess the situation in relation to our trip to Texel.
Saturday October 17th - Rising at 5.30am and examining the various wind charts via the web it became apparent that Sunday was going to be our best bet for Texel, and so a joint decision by myself Dave and Alan resulted in a trip inland instead to Hoge Veluwe National Park. Although Black Woodpecker, Crested Tit and Hawfinch were a possibility we settled for Great Grey Shrike, Raven and Hen Harrier and so got our real birding list for this trip underway!
Sunday October 18th - Setting out at 5.30am once more we made the 90 minute journey North to Texel. The weather was flat calm and sunny and it was apparent that we'd chosen our day well. You can read in detail my previous post Texel Away Day about what a stunning day this turned out to be but in summary it was one of the most rewarding birding days I've ever encountered, and as it turns out one of the biggest Holland Twitch's for many a year!
Monday October 19th - With Dave back at work and the hire car returned I persuaded Alan to take a 15km cycle ride to the nearby Meijendel Dunes. Here, during my last visit in May, when I first discovered this little gem, the Nightingales where singing in their dozens and the many warblers were just beginning to arrive. I had high hopes for today but as ever when your hopes are high the end result is always a might different! An excellent cycle ride produced more Fieldfare and Redwing arrivals and the usual wintering wildfowl, but a little too late with the summer residents of Meijendel already away and a recent Osprey we were informed had just departed.
Tuesday October 20th - Our final day, but with our flight not leaving until 7pm an opportunity for some final birding and this time it was Alan who wanted another go at Meijendel. I'd discovered through some research the previous evening a large Pine Forest at Ganzenhoek located at the top of the reserve and so we made our way on yet another 15km cycle ride. This time our ride paid dividends with amazing views of 4 Crested Tit, Coal Tit and 2 Firecrest (all pictured), a great end to a fantastic Holland venture.
A Big Thanks - I should also mention again our 2 Dutch birding companions, Marco and Fred, who were complete stars during our trip to Texel and the many Dutch Birders we met during our travels who were exceptionally knowledgeable and extremely friendly. A mention should also go to my lifelong best mate Dave Holloway, a non birder, who as ever gave us 5* treatment! A mention also to Alan Lunn who joined me on this trip and who's probably nursing sore legs and butt this morning not having cycled for many a year!!

You can see our complete 92 species birding list for Holland 09 Here

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Texel Away Day!

After delaying our trip to Texel, North Holland until today due to the recent strong winds, we couldn't have asked for a more rewarding experience now we've finally arrived, we were certainly in the right place at the right time!

We arrived at Den Helder for the 9.30am ferry oblivious to what lay ahead. We did have our suspicions however that something was going on when around 80% of the people boarding were lugging scopes, cameras & binoculars.

Shortly after pulling out for the short 20 minute crossing I took the opportunity of tapping up a couple of 'Dutch Birders' for some local knowledge, always handy to have. The two guys I chose Marco and Fred turned out to be two of the nicest guys you could wish to meet and so our adventure began.

We were invited to accompany them on a trip around the Island and with their finger on the pulse receiving up to date information via birding friends, we were soon on the trail. Our first bird of the day was an amazing Caspian Plover, (pictured above) seen within a small group of Golden Plovers, distant at first but then some good views, a major twitch for Holland, only 2 in history and the main reason for so many birders! In fact Marco commented on the fact that all the top birders of Holland were on Texel today to see this amazing visitor from Russia.

Shortly after leaving and driving for approximately 10 minutes our second major of the day was an American Golden Plover, this time with immediate good views and once again in amongst a group of Golden Plover foraging on a ploughed field. After coffee and having enjoyed more views we were on the road once again picking up a good number of wildfowl and waders, which included Green Winged Teal, Barnacle Geese, Avocet, Snipe, Dunlin and Greenshank.
We arrived at our next destination with Marco and Fred leading the way and another delight in the form of 4 Ross Geese, the smallest of the three varieties of white geese that actually breed in North America. A trio of lifers for both myself and Alan Lunn who is also on the trip with me.

Still trying to catch our breath and stopping a short while to look out to sea, where we had Eider Duck and Rock Pipit on the shoreline, our attention was suddenly drawn inland with the amazing site of a Peregrine actually attacking a Common Buzzard, who under pressure gave it up and came down to earth with a bump, I'm happy to say unscathed.

Our amazing day continued as we made our way up to the North West of the Island and to De Slufter, an area where the heath land meets sand dunes. Upon arrival 4 Snow Bunting made off to the west and there within yet another ploughed field at the base of the dunes were 50+ Shore Larks, their unmistakable yellow heads bobbing up and down behind the soil mounds. After enjoying the Larks for a while Marco recieved yet more information and we were suddenly off in search of a reported Yellow Browed Warbler, our first and only failure of the day! At this point Marco and Fred departed for the 3.30 ferry as they had a long journey home, Fred not living that far from the German border.

After a well earned respite we had a final drive down to the far south of the Island where we had some excellent views of many waders including Knot, Grey Plover, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Bar Tailed Godwit, plus at least 50 Avocet, numerous Wigeon and many Brent Geese. Our final hit of the day before departing for the 6pm ferry were 4 amazing Bearded Tit!

What an astonishing days birding with 79 species and our extreme thanks must go to Marco and Fred, plus my best mate Dave a non birder, who is fast becoming interested, who did all the driving. We'll all certainly sleep tonight!!

American Golden Plover (left) Ross Goose (right)

All pictures featured in above post are library pictures & birds in summer plumage!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Netherlands So Far!

Well where do I start! I suppose the biggest factor of this trip so far has been the gale force winds we've been experiencing since our arrival on Thursday evening.

A trip to the North Holland coast on Friday was a memorable one but for all the wrong reasons. We arrived at the Dunes near Zandvoort in a driving northerly wind with gusts of over 50mph, which was literally blowing sand directly from the shore into our faces.

Having had the briefest of attempts to locate any birds braving the conditions along the shoreline we retreated to the relative calmness of the nearby Zandvoort Reservior.

The 4km walk was extremely pleasant and bracing during which the only birds encountered in flight were several flocks of Fieldfare & Redwing, plus a brace of Common Buzzard, all battling away against the extreme conditions. We also encountered a huge amount of sheltering Coot, with several Great Crested Grebe within, but the highlight of the day were some excellent views of Roe Deer and Fox. We ended the day as darkness descended with bacon & pineapple pancakes at the nearby hostelry.

This morning, Saturday 17th, we were awake at 5.30am to assess the possibility of an excursion to Texel Island, the highlight of our trip, but the wind still a strong northerly, persuaded us to leave Tezel until Sunday when the conditions are set to be more conducive for such a venture. Instead we headed inland to visit Hoge Veluwe National Park, approximately 55 square kilometers in area near Arnhem, consisting of heathlands, sand dunes & woodlands and the possibility of Crested Tit, Hawfinch and Raven.

We spent the day driving & walking various locations, fortunately with some better results from our previous days excursion. Although once again we were very surprised at the lack of birds seen, only 24 species, our days birding list included 8 Raven, 2 Great Grey Shrike, (photographed above by Alan Lunn), a lone Hen Harrier, 5 Common Buzzard and a Raptor species, possible a Merlin which whizzed by too quickly for a definite recognition, we also listed 20 Barnacle Geese on the journey home but no Crested Tit or Hawfinch.

Tomorrow its Tezel no matter what and as I write this post the conditions are perfectly calm!!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More Migrants

A frosty and somewhat foggy start to my usual Tuesday trip to Brandon but with some excellent birding in superb autumn sunshine.
No major rarities on site today, having missed yesterdays visit by 4 Whooper Swan, (can you believe my phone had no signal!!!) but great numbers of wildfowl on the pools and some substantial movement.
My first large flock of the day was circa 75 Jackdaws heading south over Newlands, easily identified in the early morning mist by their unmistakable clucking.
The River Pool Hide produced 2 Water Rail and over coffee in the big hide some 250 Greylag, 12 Snipe and fair numbers of Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, Tufted and 4 Gadwall accompanied by a female Pintail. A short while later 5 male Pochard flew in to join 5 females who we'd spotted earlier from the Wright Hide.
Some maintenance work was required today on several of our Barn Owl boxes and during our travels across the reserve we were delighted to see several large flocks of Redwing, literally dropping in over New Hare Covert, numbers by the days end were around circa 200. Skylark, 7 in number, were also recorded and a single Rook overflew, common enough but a very rare visitor to Brandon.
Also in the autumn sunshine I recorded a single Small Copper and 2 Small White Butterfly, plus a number of Migrant Southern Hawker Dragonfly (pictured).
After the other guys had left I ventured back to the main hide alone for a final wind down and was lucky enough to pick up on a single Black Tailed Godwit, which dropped in on Willow Island for a brief respite, before making off to the west. A really enjoyable day which also included single counts of Mistle Thrush, Chiffchaff and Grey Wagtail.
Today has set me up nicely for my departure on Thursday to Holland and in particular Tezel Island for more birding!!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Redwing Influx.

I felt a quick post was necessary today regarding this mornings visit to Brandon Marsh.
A lot of talk now turns to our winter visitors and watching Autumn Watch on the BBC this Friday there was a lot said in relation to the imminent arrival of Redwing. Indeed I myself went in search of Redwing, Fieldfare, Siskin and Redpoll during Fridays visit and produced a number of Fieldfare and possibly several Redwing in flight.
However, this morning there can be no mistake as a group of us regulars recorded no less than 103 Redwing as several flocks were seen making their way across the reserve. Certainly no doubt then in my mind that these great looking birds have arrived back in force.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Home Turf!

An early morning visit to Brandon to start with on a totally bitter day, good job I'd opted for my thermals!

By the time I arrived at East Marsh Pool for coffee I'd listed Bullfinch, actually my 1st bird of the day, plus Cettis Warbler, Pied Wagtail, the usual Blue, Great & Long Tailed Tits and on route through New Hare Covert I'd also heard a couple of Greenshank calling. Another underrated bird in my opinion that seems to have done extremely well at Brandon this summer is the Jay, a pleasure to see and of course at this time of year nearly always with an acorn in it's mouth ready to bury, I recorded 8 today!

The Pool yielded nothing out of the ordinary and no sign of the Black Tailed Godwit seen over the last few days. However, Teal Pool had the 2 Greenshank I'd heard earlier and a visit to the Carlton Hide produced Water Rail, Kingfisher and Sparrowhawk.

I thought it was about time that I made a real effort to locate Siskin, Fieldfare and Redwing on the reserve and so visited several locations where I knew the first birds of this autumn might be. No luck with Siskin but I did manage 3 pockets of Fieldfare over flying the reserve 4, 3 and 15 respective and it's possible that several of the 15 may have been Redwing, but no doubt the bulk were definitely Fieldfare (library Picture), which goes down as my bird of the day!

After Brandon I dropped in at Napton Reservoir and was shocked by the further devastation of the vegetation around the parking area. This site is being brutally managed by the Environment Agency who should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves! I stood forlorn on the windswept bank for several minutes but did manage, 4 Great Crested Grebe, Cettis Warbler, Little Grebe, Kestrel and a lone Gadwall among the many Coot. A number of Black Headed Gulls, 3 Tufted Duck and a family of 5 Mute Swan were also present.

Having returned to the marina furious with what I'd seen at Napton I decided to have a walk around the perimeter to calm myself down before the rain set in. I was delighted to see that we still have Tree Sparrow on site, plus a Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting managed to send me back aboard somewhat cheered!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Too Complacent?

Since arriving back from my trips to Spain and France I've completed several visits to Brandon Marsh but without any positives on the migration front.

I was sitting in the hide this morning with other members of the 'Tuesday Bunch' on a thoroughly dank and miserable morning complaining of the lack of migrants recently, when the word complacency was uttered!!

Having considered this over coffee, while perusing the 300+ Greylag that had just arrived, the earlier female Pintail I'd recorded and the good numbers of Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Snipe, I had to agree that I've become quite complacent on my home turf. Oh yes and I forgot to mention 2 Greenshank which have now been with us for several weeks.

All considered, for a site of Brandon's diversity, literally smack in the centre of the Midlands and miles away from any coastline we don't do too badly, in fact we do extremely well. As winter approaches I was also reminded of our returning Bittern, probably more than one actually, and further reminded of our resident Cettis Warblers, another reserve success. In fact by the time I departed this afternoon, among others I had also recorded 2 Raven over New Hare Covert, a lingering Blackcap, 2 Chiffchaff and the usual trio of Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel.

After lunch we were also treated to a Grass Snake, who entertained us for at least 20 minutes in front of the main-hide and simply couldn't make up his mind whether to swim out to the islands or remain on the bank. All in all an excellent days wildlife and with all that in mind I'm going to give myself a good slap when I get home later and remind myself of what a wonderful place Brandon is!!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Birding Afloat - France

We arrived in Dijon on Sunday September 20th and met up with our friends aboard their boat Le HoddyDod. Our trip would take us along the Canal De Bourgogne to St Jean De Losne and then onto the River Saone through Auxonne, almost as far as Pontailler-sur-Saone.

Although our trip was primarily a social occasion you can't cruise along any canal or river without the possibility of some good birding opportunities and with this in mind I went fully equipped as ever with scope and binoculars!

Of course birding afloat is no pushover, especially when it's your stint at the tiller, the engine noise and the concentration needed to navigate don't allow time for a detailed observation, particularly as the the French canal's & rivers are still used commercially. The opportunities mainly come when your relieved of navigation duties or moored for the day and you can utilise the time for exploring! That said I already had Great White Egret, many Kingfishers, Common Buzzard, Honey Buzzard and Black Redstart under my belt, the latter of which are plentiful on the roofs and aerials of the local villages.

One such opportunity for exploration came when we moored not long after passing through Auxonne and leaving the wife and our friends to enjoy the fantastic autumnal weather (26C) I made my escape. My walk took me along the towpath side of the River Saone where I discovered an excellent butterfly meadow and several small ponds. My first bird of note during my walk was a Redstart perched on a fence near to open fields, closely followed by male and female Stonechat. I also spent an age trying to photograph one of the many Clouded Yellow butterflies but no matter how many I followed I was unable to catch one with wings spread!
After a while I entered a small copse where I picked up 2 Wood Warbler, recognised by their wonderful song and shortly after reemerging my attention was taken by an Osprey, which followed the river for a few hundred yards before disappearing over the tree line.

The small ponds produced Willow, Reed and Sedge Warbler but no surprises apart from a bird call which I couldn't recognise, when in doubt blame a Great Tit is what I always say!!

Finally, a great week in France was topped by my bird of the week, a Rough Legged Buzzard (pictured), which I spotted hovering just over the tree tops, it's white tail with broad dark band unmistakable. My butterfly count consisted of Clouded Yellow plus Common Blue, Brimstone, Red Admiral, Large White and Peacock.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Unexpected Delight

Having shrugged off a nasty head cold which I picked up in Spain I decided to pay an afternoon visit to Brandon before my departure to France. I didn't really expect much but the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm for this time of year.

I walked my usual route past Sheepfield, where I managed an excellent view of a Stoat, who sat up on his hind legs checking me out before bounding off into the undergrowth.

After a while in the main hide I was joined by Bob Lee one of the other regulars at Brandon and spent a peaceful afternoon checking out the many Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler and Snipe that are now arriving in numbers. Not many Warblers left on site now although I heard several Chiffchaff and Cetti's calling.

The main and unexpected event happened at about 4pm When a major eruption of the pool took place and everything literally took flight. Within seconds an Osprey, (another 1st for me @ Brandon), came from Teal Pool directly over the main hide. The last I saw of him was when he seemed to drop in over the tree line on Grebe Pool. It was a major surprise and ended a perfect birding week. It's off to France for me tomorrow and I must say that I'll have to go some to beat this weeks events!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

La Mata Report - Spain

Although my visit to Spain was initially to visit family I naturally went well equipped for any birding opportunities that might arise! I was really chomping at the bit at one stage when Dee spotted an Osprey flying over the villa heading for the Salt Marshes, which are literally right behind her dad's place!

I was rewarded later in the week however with a couple of lifers when Dee and I managed 2 visits to La Mata Natural Park Lagoons just on the outskirts of Torrevieja, on Monday and Wednesday. The reserve has a surface area of 3,700 hectares. Of these, 2,100 are stretches of water, while the rest is taken up by the surrounding areas (1,400 hectares of the Torrevieja lagoon and 700 of La Mata). A conservation project for the rare Audouin's Gull (pictured left) is one of the parks priorities. I'm also delighted that we managed good views of this delightful looking gull and thus my first lifer on the visit was noted.

My second came after a visit to one of the two hides on the reserve when we managed some equally good views of a single Gull-Billed Tern which came in just shortly after our arrival. It's also worth noting that the reserve also boasts an excellent observation tower too, where good views of many Little Egret, Blacked Necked Grebe and the distant Flamingo's can be observed.

Also on our tour of the reserve we managed good views of Crested Lark, numerous in numbers and several Great Grey Shrike were also a pleasure to see. Two excellent days birding at La Mata were also capped with observations of Marsh Harrier, Hoopoe, Little Tern, Mediterranean & Yellow Legged Gull. Within our wader list we had Golden Plover, Avocet, Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Little Stint & Turnstone! For a complete list of our visit Click-here. Were back in the UK now until Sunday when were off to France to spend a week on our friends narrowboat, more birding me thinks!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Foggy Start!

After an extremely chilly night I woke this morning just before dawn to a fogged in marina and to be honest almost turned over for an extra hours kip!
I made my way to Brandon just before sun up, playing the usual dare with the many rabbits and pigeons on route and arrived around 15 minutes before sunrise.
I took my usual walk past the wind pump, which was eerily still, and on past Sheepfield into New Hare Covert. By the time I spotted JR, who was ringing in his usual spot, Kingfisher in hand, I'd picked up a good number of Bullfinch but nothing more.
Having admired the recaptured Kingfisher, the little chap had been caught earlier in the week, I pressed on to the Wright Hide and a foggy East Marsh Pool. As I scanned through the murk I got sight of a lone Wigeon and had good numbers of Lapwing and Shoveler. Also of mention were 4 Gadwall and at this stage 8 Snipe.
After a coffee I made my way around to the Main Hide, calling in at River Pool and Teal Hide, when JR called to inform me of 2 Green Sandpiper which had just dropped in on East Marsh Pool. The sun by now had cleared most of the early morning fog and it wasn't long before I logged the 2 Sandpipers over my second coffee of the day.
A scan of the many BH Gulls revealed no surprises, that is until I looked across to Newlands and discovered to my great delight a pair of Spotted Flycatchers (Library Picture), enjoying the early morning sunshine, perched on a small piece of dead willow. By the time I'd phoned around my discovery a cameo appearance from a Sparrowhawk seemed to have sent them both into hiding. I did manage a couple more brief sightings but as TJ appeared at the hide around ten minutes later the Flycatchers were gone. However, a lone Water Rail made it's way across the front of the hide which he was lucky enough to see as he entered.
A trip to the Carlton Hide, which was full once more with the photographic community, revealed nothing new but apparently just after leaving a Grey Wagtail dropped in.
I left a beautiful sunny Brandon at around midday with a decent species count which also included 2 Whitethroat , 6 Chiffchaff, 7 Cettis Warbler and a Collared Dove, common enough but scarce on the reserve. I also managed a count of 15 Swallow and picked up a Coal Tit on Central Marsh Path
A few butterflies still around with Comma, Speckled Wood, Small Heath and Painted Lady. It's off to Spain on the morning flight so over the next week it'll be Twitter that will keep my blog updated, as I hope to get some birding in during my stay!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

All Calm @ Brandon

After that remarkable days birding at Brandon, documented in my previous post, things have certainly remained on the quiet side ever since with little in the way of migrants!
That said I did receive a text from JR on Tuesday morning informing me of a juvenile Ruff on East Marsh Pool. Unfortunately I was celebrating mums 89th in Liverpool at the time and was unable to get the tick on what would have been another Brandon first.
Today, Thursday 10th I worked with the conservation team at Brandon where we finished the East Marsh Pool maintenance and I have to say that the pool is now looking in great shape. When I arrived in the early hours it was a chilly 4C and a heavy mist was lying across all the pool areas on a wonderful cloudless autumnal morning. Unfortunately, the only addition to the normal species on the pool were 3 Wigeon that had arrived during the night.
One surprise today I didn't pick up a single Swallow, Sand Martin or House Martin all day long, although they were still plentiful on Sunday's visit the last few days I have certainly witnessed a major passage over the marina. Other summer visitors like Chiffchaff's however were still in evidence as too were Reed Warbler and Whitethroat, our resident Cetti's Warbler's are also now in good song. Not long now either before we welcome back Siskin, Feildfare, Redwing, Redpoll and Bittern to the reserve, although last year Siskin had already arrived by now.
The much cooler conditions are now having a greater effect on the butterfly population and even though the weather today reached a balmy 22C I was only able to pick up 2 Comma (pictured), 1 Speckled Wood and several Whites.
I'm off to Spain on Sunday for a family visit but I'm going fully prepared for some birding which I hope to fit in at some stage over the 5-days. Then 2 days after I arrive back into the UK I'm off for my annual visit to France aboard a friends narrowboat to tour the French Canals for a wonderful week, this will definately be a birding opportunity.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Another GREAT 1st!

When I arrived at Brandon Marsh this morning just prior to sunrise I had a funny feeling that the first of the month would bring something special!
My walk past Sheepfield revealed Great Spotted & Green Woodpecker plus 6 Bullfinch, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Whitethroat and 2 Blackcap, but I had no record of Willow Warbler, another regular in this area.
I spent a good half hour in New Hare Covert just as the sun was hitting the treetops and searched in vane for the Spotted Flycatcher I'd picked up on Sunday. You can imagine my reaction in the Wright Hide over coffee when JR, who was about 45 minutes behind, told me that he'd picked it up on his way through high up in the canopy. Not sure I'll live that one down.
We continued on to the Main Hide with the usual species on view, which included circa 500 Lapwing, good numbers of Shoveler, a single Little Grebe and Pochard plus several Snipe. At Carlton we hit on a lone Lesser Whitethroat and a Green Sandpiper but had to double back to the Teal Hide to pick up on 2 Greenshank which, we were reliably informed, had arrived after we'd left.
After completing some conservation chores over on West Marsh and dodging some heavy showers we headed back to the Main Hide for lunch. As we walked down the Central Marsh Path we received information on a major find for the reserve in the shape of a Great White Egret, (library Picture). The bird had been seen dropping onto Central Marsh minutes earlier and not yards from where we were walking. Doubling back to gain a high view point and after a short scan we were delighted to confirm the sighting. What followed was a frantic hour with phone messages whizzing around and within five minutes I'd personally placed the sighting on my Twitter and on the Branding Birding site. We were then treated to some great views of the Egret after being spooked by a Grey Heron as it toured the reserve before finally dropping in on River Pool. Our final views of the Egret, last recorded on the reserve in 1992 and another reserve 1st for me, were from Teal Hide as is perched precariously on a high willow overlooking the River Avon.
This remarkable days birding ended with a quick drop into Baldwin Hide to confirm views of a Dunlin that had dropped in and some excellent views of 2 Hobby as we arrived back at the car park!! What a day!!!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Merlin and Another 1st

After returning home from Thursday's Brandon work party, where we managed to complete the cutting back of Willow Island & Wigeon Bank vegetation, I took 'Quidditch' out and moored at bridge 100 of the Oxford Canal for the holiday weekend.
The spot where I prefer to moor near Flecknoe affords good views of the surrounding countryside where I often see good numbers of Yellowhammer, Goldfinch and Linnet.
However, over breakfast on the towpath yesterday morning Saturday 30th, I was treated to a rare site of a Merlin (library picture) hunting in the Field opposite! Watching what I first though to be a Kestrel I was suddenly scurrying inside for my scope having picked up a definite bluish flash of colour. Having been entertained by my find for a little over 20 minutes my breakfast ended with the site of 2 Raven heading South-East over the canal.
In the afternoon I took a walk with my wife Dee towards Braunston where we picked up excellent numbers of Speckled Wood and several Common Blue butterfly. Another item of note was a flock of some 40+ House Sparrows which were feeding on a recently cultivated Field.
This morning, Sunday 30th, having been able to position my car nearby to our mooring I took my usual drive out to Brandon for an early morning visit. A chilly start and by the time I arrived the sun was just creeping above the horizon. One of my favourite places at Brandon in the early hours, when the sun is just right, is New Hare Covert. As the sun shines through and lights the tree tops it's very easy to spot movement in the canopy, even at this time of year when the trees are in full bloom. I regularly pick up Treecreeper and Nuthatch and on this occasion another first for Brandon.
Shortly after passing Sheep field I was joined by JR and minutes after entering New Hare JR picked up a Spotted Flycatcher high up in the canopy, were not entirely certain but there may have been two! Anyway we had excellent views of the one for a good 20 minutes before continuing on towards the Wright Hide for coffee and another Brandon 1st for me!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Brandon 1st

On a recent walk through the reserve a sudden sharp blast of wind sent a number of early leaves tumbling to the ground and I suddenly realised that autumn is approaching rapidly, and with it more possibilities of the odd migrant dropping in.
The number of Geese at Brandon are most certainly on the increase with large amounts of Greylag and Canada starting to appear, plus Snipe are once again a regular feature with a count of 10 on Saturday August 26th. Shoveler, at present in eclipse plumage, are also returning and becoming regular to the pools, numbering 15 during my most recent count.
A first for me at Brandon in the form of a single Dunlin (pictured), which appeared on East Marsh Pool during Saturday's visit, this brings my total bird species count at Brandon to 112 since joining the conservation team in December last year. Having said that I continue to miss out on other personal site firsts, which seem to appear on the reserve when I've literally just vacated a hide, or on the odd days I don't visit. This time a Marsh Harrier seen over Newlands reedbed on Friday and during yesterday mornings visit, Sunday 25th, a Spotted Flycatcher observed from Teal Pool Hide in one of the nearby dead trees. A couple of Lesser Whitethroat, which fortunately I do have a tick for on the reserve, were also seen by other members of the 'Sunday Club' at Carlton Hide.
Green Sandpiper and Greenshank were still on site yesterday plus we had brief cameo's from a LR Plover, which settled briefly on Willow Island and a Common Tern, plus I also still picked up the odd Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler calling, although a decent number are still around. Cetti's Warbler are also beginning to call once again throughout the reed beds.

While working on Shotton's Gully on Thursday August 20th I came across a Common Grass Snake who I unfortunately disturbed while moving one of the corrugated sheets. Also pictured above are Common Blue, currently in good numbers & Small Copper Butterfly which are also found in smaller numbers at various spots around the reserve.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Passing Through

Several of my usual visits to Brandon have yielded a little more in the way of Waders recently as the recent rain water continues to drain off the pools, revealing decent feeding areas once again, but more on this shortly!

Firstly, a mention regarding an adult pond dipping session which both my wife and I attended at the nature centre last Friday evening. Not my cup of tea but I'd been persuaded by my better half to attend and have to say that I had a really enjoyable couple of hours. Among other species seen on the evening were Great Crested Newt, Great Diving Beetle, Smooth Newt, Great Water Boatman and some unwelcome Mosquito Larvae!

One bonus of attending the dipping session was the opportunity for an afternoon visit to the reserve which actually paid dividends. A reported influx of 14 Greenshank (pictured) gave way to various sitings around the reserve and I was able to pick up 3 on the Friday evening, followed by 4 in total for Sunday 16th visit. Sunday's visit was also one of those frustrating ones when only five minutes after leaving the Teal Hide a Juvenile Cuckoo was seen and photographed! Nice one George!!

On the butterfly front I've been seeing a further decline in numbers, but many Peacock and various White's still remain on site, plus excellent numbers of Common Blue and several Small Copper.

Today's visit, Tuesday 18th, was noted for 12 Black Tailed Godwit which took flight off Willow Island (East Marsh Pool) at around 8.30am, plus 2 Hobby which flew across the pool feeding on Dragonfly. Also on my list for today were lone Greenshank and Green Sandpiper, plus a Common Sandpiper briefly seen in flight over West Marsh, 6 Snipe, 3 Kestrel, Water Rail, Little Grebe and Nuthatch also added to my list of 53 species.

Finally some exciting news regarding an Otter Sighting at the reserve, which was also pictured by one of the reserve's many photographers!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Harvest Moon

A different kind of post to end a perfect Saturday at our home Marina. The day started with an early breakfast and the usual scan out of the hatch over coffee.

The many Mallard which frequent the mooring and a lone Male Tufted duck which seems to have taken a shine to the locality were on view. The usual Yellowhammer was singing from a nearby Hawthorn and our small Tree Sparrow population were also present. Later in the morning two Common Buzzard were seem circling over the nearby copse.

In recent days a good influx of Swallow have been a delight to watch as they scoop low for a well earned drink. One of my fellow moorers has slightly over reacted in my opinion by putting his fishing keep net over his TV aerial in a bid to stop them from taking a breather, sighting a poor TV reception as the reason!!

This evening we barbecued during which time we watched the odd Common Tern making their way South, plus more Swallows in play and shortly after the sun set we encountered a rising harvest moon to the east, a large ball of light, copper in colour, suddenly appearing from some low cloud. A little while later we were treated to a low flying Bat, probably a Pipperstrelle, as it flew low over the flat calm pool.

The most amazing sight however was what appeared to be a slow moving meteor travelling east at the zenith which seemed to take an age to disappear but appeared to have a small tail as it burned up high in the atmosphere! It was just one of those evenings to remember and well worthy of a mention!!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Brandon - 06/07/09

A beautiful but muggy start this morning but by the time I'd completed my tasks with the Conservation Team the heavens had finally opened.

On my usual walk through New Hare Covert I was lucky enough to get good views of Coal Tit, Willow Tit and for the first time in ages on the reserve Goldcrest, all of which were feeding in one of the golf course Pine Trees. Fewer butterflies than of late but I still managed Small White, Gatekeeper, Peacock and Speckled Wood.

The Lapwing population (pictured) at the reserve continues to increase and the current numbers are probably up to circa 800, a great sight when the flock are put up, a Sparrowhawk the culprit once again at around 7.30am.

As the River Avon is currently running high the River Pool remains the same with water breaking over the bund and into Teal Pool but to be honest very little was on show. Despite this several large Carp were basking quite close to the hide, one of which resembled a Koi Carp, extremely red in colour against the others, which were probably Common.

East Marsh Pool is still suffering from lack of waders due to the recent rain eliminating the muddy areas, apart from a lone Oystercatcher, but offered the usual waterfowl which included Shoveler, Teal, Tufted, Mallard and increasing numbers of Canada and Greylag, 2 Common Tern (1 of which is a Juvenile) were also still present this afternoon.

A visit to the Carlton Hide yeilded the best results for Waders, which this morning included Green Sandpiper and Redshank. The Juvenile Little Grebe was also showing and appears to be fending for itself. Although Sand Martins and a few Swallow are still showing well no records today of Swift, which by now are already beginning their journey south, but who came blame them in the current climate?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Wet Brandon!

Well no surprise in the recent forecast update from the Met Office, to be honest the best way to tell the weather is to put your head out of the door the morning your off birding. I've even lost faith in the 5-day forecast, which changes daily!!
My normal visits to Brandon over the last fortnight have been, as you would imagine, wet ones although I managed another tick on my Brandon list. Recent sightings of a Black Tailed Godwit (pictured)had eluded me over the period but during a visit last Sunday (Aug 2) I managed to pick the little fellow out amongst the Lapwing flock, now numbering around 600, when a Sparrowhawk spooked them over Willow Island. Some excellent views of Water Rail, including 2 young, moving across the area in front of the Main-Hide have also been a regular feature.
I'm pleased to say that our Gadwall and 3 chicks are still in tact and are getting bigger by the day and it would seem that this might not be the only brood of Gadwall on the reserve this year!
Being in my first year at Brandon every experience is new and I have to give a mention to the fantastic butterfly population on the reserve, which has just been a delight, especially on a slow birding day. I have now personally logged 18 more species since joining the Conservation Team and have been able to improve on my recognition dramatically thanks to other members.
Yesterdays visit, Tuesday 4th, turned out to be an excellent birding day, despite the heavy showers. I was able to pick up a very respectable 59 species which unfortunately did not include Sunday's Godwit. The highlight was an amazing show of small birds which included Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Reed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Garden Warbler, Blackcap and Willow Tit.
With the recent heavy rain we have temporarily lost the muddy areas on Teal Pool and the East Marsh Pool although sluices have been set to drain some of this however, the Carlton Pool remains the focus for Waders which included 2 Green Sandpiper, 2 Redshank and the return of a single Snipe, which are reappearing now after a summer break.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gadwall Chicks

Two visits to Brandon this week came up trumps on Tuesday with the first recorded siting of a Gadwall with young since the late 70's! This was in addition to the 3 Teal chicks located last week, which was another rare site at Brandon over recent years.

On a thoroughly wet and miserable Tuesday, (21st July), when the whole morning was spent in the Main-Hide, the highlight of the day was the discovery of our 3 Gadwall chicks. It's days like this when we discover who the fair weather birders are and I'm delighted to say that the usual Tuesday crew all made the effort. Although some arrived slightly later than normal!!

Thursday (23rd July) was work party day and this week we took the opportunity to make another check of the artificial Sand Martin structure, which has now yielded nearly 50 chicks, a major result for the reserve. A respite in the heavy showers also enabled the team to complete the weather proofing of the River, Teal and Main Hides. During the course of today I was also lucky enough to come across a pair of Grass Snake which were sheltering under a section of tarpaulin.
The quiet period continues in relation to irregular visitors to the reserve with only a few sightings of Green and Common Sandpiper over the past week, the latter of which I observed from the Teal hide after work today.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Relative Calm!!

A rest from blogging recently to concentrate on other commitments but several visits to Brandon over the period, culminating in a six hour stint yesterday morning.
During the breeding season and with few migrants about Brandon has entered a period of relative calm, although the few oddities which have travelled through have naturally been missed by yours truly! This has included a visit by four Little Egret on East Marsh Pool and two Black Tailed Godwit on the same day.
Nevertheless while the birding front remains somewhat static there's always other species to keep you company. During a visit on Tuesday July 30th myself and JR joined one of the regular photographers at Brandon Jeff Rankin who had reported a number of Marbled White butterfly in one of the meadows and after eventually viewing several this was another first for me at Brandon.
On work party day, Thursday July 7th, 2 male Pochard dropped in for a short stay plus a lone female Shelduck on River Pool, a couple of Water Rail with 2 chicks and 3 broods of Tufted duck (5+3+6). This was also probably the last day I will encounter a Cuckoo for this year at the Marsh as they are about to begin their journey south.
Tuesday July 14th began as another quiet birding day but this was easily remedied by a visit to Horstail Glade Junction. This is where the path through to West Marsh Hide meets the entrance into Horstail and is an excellent area for Butterfly. Here we picked up an amazing 10 species in just a 10 minute period! These included Red Admiral, Holly Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Green Vein, Peacock, Comma, Large Skipper, Gatekeeper and Small White. In the mid afternoon at East Marsh Pool, and unfortunately just after JR and TJ's departure, myself and PB were treated to a Peregrine (Library Picture) which, putting everything up and into a frenzy was carrying a large amount of prey, possibly a Pigeon!
So to yesterdays visit and a good 6-hour session, highlights being Common and Green Sandpiper, Hobby, Kingfisher, 6 Oystercatcher, Little and Ringed Plover, Redshank, Little Egret at Carlton Hide and a rarity for Brandon in the form of Teal with 3 young. We were also delighted to see a pair of Water Rail with 2 young passing quite often in front of the newly strimmed Main Hide. Not bad for a quiet period eh!!
A brief paragraph on the home front with 2 Red Kite over the Marina on the 15th, a number of juvenile Sedge and Reed Warbler, Reed Bunting and Moorhen also being seen. Marbled White butterfly are also on the top field and Buzzard & Kestrel are also nesting within site of the moorings.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Real Tern Up!

Three visits to Brandon Marsh in the past week threw up all the usual species and included a couple of sightings of Muntjac Deer, both female.

On the Tuesday 23rd visit I was also delighted to have stumbled across a Water Rail family, consisting of one adult and four chicks. I can't recall ever seeing Rail chicks before and was amazed at how black they are at this age.
Thursday as usual was the BMVCT work party day and today this also involved my participation in a guided walk of the reserve for the local rotary club. I'm now becoming more involved in these guided walks and as my knowledge of the reserves history expands with every tour I'm becoming quite an expert on Brandon!

My Saturday 27th morning visit began at a very foggy & muggy Brandon but I was rewarded with some excellent birding and on this occasion, after the sun arrived, a good selection of Butterfly, Damselfly & Dragonfly. Today's bird count consisted of Cuckoo, still calling, plus Hobby, Sparrowhawk, three Green Sandpiper and an overfly of East Marsh Pool by a lone Curlew, who decided to pass us by! A walk through Horsetail Glade had Coal & Willow Tit, plus Nuthatch, who I know have successfully nested here. I also came across a Narrow Leaved Hellborine which is a very rare Orchid for the reserve and one which will have to be carefully monitored.

Some good Odanata (Dragon/Damselflies) views of Banded Demoiselle, Black-Tailed Skimmer, Emperor & Four Spotted Chaser and on the butterfly front I picked up on Ringlet, Small White and Comma.

To end this post I must mention the extraordinary 'Tern' of events which resulted in a pleasant surprise, and made our official recorder at Brandon a very happy man! On one day last week I had an excellent opportunity to take a good photograph of a Common Tern, which has decided, along with two others, to use my home at Wigram's Turn Marina as a fishing area. The bird in question is shown above perched on my mooring post! When I sent the photograph out to a few birding colleagues I was amazed to here that JR, our recorder & ringer, had identified the bird by the rings showing on the feet as one which was ringed, (as a chick), at Brandon Marsh in 2007!! An incredible coincidence.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Brandon - 21/06/09

Mid-Summer's day and an early visit to Brandon I arrived at around 6.45am and immediately met up with AW in the carpark. Its amazing to think that this is the longest day and from here on the nights start to draw in, it doesn't seem that long ago I was observing the Siskin and Redpoll in the bare tree canopies!

Back to today and the first notable was a Lesser Whitethroat heard singing in the hawthorn close to the Sheepfield gate, a brief glimpse as it emerged from deep within. A good tour of all the hides ended up with the usual species and the various young, now getting close to adulthood. On the path away from the Wright-Hide we got excellent views of a female Muntjac, which looked as startled as we did when we came across her, AW getting some good photo's.

I could here a Cuckoo calling from over on the West Marsh for most of the morning which I savoured in the knowledge that he will be departing south imminently. Thus far there have been no signs of Cuckoo young on the reserve and indeed no records of the bubbling chuckle of the female.

At Carlton hide I got a good view of Little Grebe young (2) and then later over on the West Marsh more evidence of another brood, difficult to know the numbers as they were well tucked into the vegetation. Another plus during the visit were a couple of Kingfisher, which in an earlier post I had mentioned lack of numbers, good to see more reports and also several reports of young being seen around the reserve.

After the other troops departed myself and Derek, another team member, took the opportunity to have a good look at River Meadow and the Farmfield. On River Meadow we had excellent numbers of Meadow Brown butterfly plus Ringlet, Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell and male and female Banded demoiselle damselfly.

With the lowish cloud dozens of Swift had come down onto the meadow, feeding on the varous bugs and several times we were buzzed by these amazing birds, silent as they wizzed past your ear! At one stage we accidentally spooked a Grey Partridge, my first on the reserve and the first record this year according to JR the official site recorder! Farmfield produced no additions to the species list, with the exception of 6 Goldfinch feeding on the nettles and a Latte in the Nature Centre with Derek ended a really enjoyable visit.

Pictured : Male Banded Demoiselle

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

French Weekend

We arrived back from France last night after a visit to the wife’s parents on what was supposed to be a non-birding break. Their house, situated a short distance from Chauvigny, lies in a small rural village surrounded by fruit orchards and rolling fields of corn and grassland, an Ideal location for some superb wildlife. My first taster of the said wildlife was the Black Redstart which I awoke to each morning singing from atop the telegraph pole opposite.

On a pre-dinner walk through the garden on Sunday evening, picking cherries and as ever binoculars at the ready, my second notable of the trip suddenly appeared and turned out to be a Little Owl, which flew down from a tree and perched on the log pile opposite. Satisfied with my find I returned to the house for our barbecue and certainly wasn’t prepared for my next birding delight!

During dinner we were enjoying good wine, food and conversation and listening to the incredible mating calls of the many Common Green Frogs which grace the area, and of course the incessant noise of Crickets, when out of the blue at the rear of the garden came the unmistakable calls of a Nightjar! My wife’s parents commenting, oh we’ve heard that before, you can imagine my delight on this incredible find.

My unscheduled birding adventure continued the followed day when a 10-minute drive took nearly an hour to complete, having now got the bug. Amazing what you can discover when you stop every time you see a bird perched on the telephone wires, Red Backed Shrike (pictured), Pied Flycatcher and Corn Bunting all within the first half hour, of course by now I'm really going for it!

Over the remainder of our stay Dee and I discovered two excellent nature reserves within a 25-mile radius of her parents house where we spent most of our day, returning back to the house for dinner each evening and the superb gastronomic delights of her dad. The first was Pinail Nature Reserve, which is a mosaic of 3,000 small ponds surrounded by moor and heathland rich in rare flora and fauna. Here we saw more Stonechat and Linnet you can shake a stick at, but the highlight of the visit was a lone Montague’s Harrier which we watched several times gliding gracefully over the heath. Just prior to arriving back to her parents we watched another Harrier, this time a Hen, foraging over fields close to the house.

Our final day (Tuesday) was the discovery of Reserve Naturalle Cherine, which lies within the Brenne National Park, here we managed to visit two of the three hides on offer. We came across a large and extremely noisy colony on Black Headed Gulls and were delighted to see a whole host of other species, which included Black and Whiskered Tern, Black Necked Grebe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black Winged Stilt, Cirl Bunting and Purple Heron, however the highlight for me was a Great White Egret which drifted like a ghost across the reserve. The drive back to the house yielded Hoopoe, Turtle Dove and Nightingale. Also worth a mention are the other non bird species seen over the course of our break which included Coypu, Fox, Red Squirrel and an extraordinary amount of butterfly activity with Marbled White, Comma, Meadow Brown and Red Admiral in there hundreds!

I dedicate this post to my wife Dee for her unlimited patience!!