Thursday, April 30, 2009

Brandon - 30/04/09 - Work Party

As I made my way to the car, taking a slow walk down the marina west path at around 6am this morning, Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds not 10 feet away and Yellowhammer singing from the Hawthorn once again, I reminded myself of how privileged I am to lead the life I do! I cannot at any stage see myself ever wanting to return to bricks and mortar. Just sitting in the dinette drinking my morning coffee and waiting for 'Fred', our resident hybrid goose to arrive at the hatch for his morning slice of bread, is something that brings a smile to my face every day, rain or shine.
Thursday as ever is work party day at Brandon and the usual willing bodies were on hand to play their part in the conservation of the reserve.
Both myself and JR met early and had our usual stroll prior to starting work. The usual Warblers, Wildfowl and Waders were on view but a new visitor had arrived today on East Marsh Pool, a Little Egret (pictured), not a first for the reserve but always a pleasure to see and who only hung around until about 9.30am. It would also seem certain now that a Little Ringed Plover pair have settled to nest on Tern Island, which is a bonus compared to last year, when breeding was abandoned due to harassment from Lapwing and a breeding pair of Ringed Plover.
All our regular summer visitors are now on site and what remains for the rest of the season is to pick out the more unusual visitors to the reserve, Wood Warbler, Nightingale and even Red Rumped Swallow would be a dream. As this is my first summer working on the reserve I'm really looking forward to honing my skills on Butterfly, Dragonfly and Damselfly identification, although as far as Butterflies go I'm not too shabby!
Something else to look forward to is my impending trip to Canada, which is now only 7 days away, not exactly a birding holiday, I'm actually getting married, but an ideal opportunity nevertheless, but don't tell the future wife!!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Brandon - 28/04/09

Ironic I suppose but my first bird of the day was a Yellowhammer singing from atop a Hawthorn as I made my way down the west path of the marina to my car. Ironic, because surprisingly Brandon has not had a single record of Yellowhammer for well over a year!

I completed a full day at the Marsh today and ended up with an excellent species count of 65, probably my best ever at the reserve. My first of the day was a Cuckoo calling from the Poplar over on Goose Pool, just prior to JR arriving, and my final species was a Hobby (pictured), which I observed from the Carlton Hide at around 4.15pm.

On our usual walk around to the Wright Hide we picked up a single Lesser Whitethroat near Sheepfield and located a Grasshopper Warbler on Newlands, surprisingly no Garden Warblers were heard, but I did pick one up later near the Carlton Hide. The East Marsh Pool had the usual selection but in addition today, a Wigeon, which was asleep on Willow Island, a solitary bird that seems to drop in from time to time. A Common Sandpiper was also present and we are almost certain that we have 2 pair of Little Ringed Plover, one of which may now be sitting.

While completing some maintenance issues on the reserve with the rest of the team we were lucky enough to catch site of a Tawny Owl and at one time, while having lunch in the main hide, a group of 5 Buzzard had located a thermal and were happily circling, getting ever higher and higher. As each day passes more and more young are being seen with numerous broods on show such as Mallard, Canada, Greylag and Coot.

I completed a walk of Farm Field in the hope of finding something different after the 'Tuesday' boys and girls had departed, but unfortunately the farmer had a nice fire going and had his tractor out, thus scuppering any chance I may have had!

Also of note today was a Muntjac Deer, which PB picked up on Newlands as we made our back to the Nature Centre. One of our regular visitors to the reserve also informed us that he had seen a Mink yesterday, most likely the same one I observed on Saturday and roughly around the same location, plus he observed a single Yellow Wagtail on Willow Island.

A full listing of today's observations can be found HERE

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Brandon - 26/04/09

An early but unexpected frosty start to my visit today and a short post too as not much has changed species wise from yesterdays visit, plus I really need to catch up on my sleep and do some chores.
An increase in the Plover population for a short while this morning with 4 Little Ringed Plover and 3 Ringed Plover showing. In addition, more Common Terns had arrived, totalling 8 and a Common Sandpiper was seen in front of the Baldwin hide. While in the Teal Hide a Cuckoo flew westerly while calling. The highlight of the day was my first Hobby of the year, seen from the Main Hide, a second followed shortly after.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Brandon - 25/04/09

Arrived this morning before the short downpour to a Cuckoo calling from across the marsh. I'd made a commitment today to assist KB with a guided walk of the reserve, with guests from St. Pauls church, Stockingford. Prior to the walk, which was scheduled to begin at 9.30am I had the opportunity to visit both the Wright Hide and Main Hides.
On the walk past Newlands reedbed I picked up the usual Warblers with the Sedge in particular showing well. After JR arrived we had a good scan of the main pool, picking up an additional Little Ringed Plover, now numbering 3, and noted 2 Shelduck, not seen for the past few weeks. At one stage 9 Lesser Black Backed Gulls were on site and for a short while it felt as though we were at the seaside!
We decided to track back to Newlands for a more thorough look and were rewarded by a Grasshopper Warbler reeling a short distance in. After a short spell in the Main Hide, prior to tracking back for my walk, we'd picked up 2 Common Sandpiper, only the second time this year the species had visited, plus 3 Common Tern.
The highlight of the day was to come during our guided walk and was indeed a bit of a surprise. As the group were leaving the Baldwin Hide a cry of "Otter" suddenly erupted, which immediately sent me spinning on my heels, only to reveal an American Mink glaring in my direction from the boardwalk, then just as suddenly he was gone. After ushering the group back into the hide after the excitement I made a quick call to JR with the news. As bold as brass, and while I was discussing our alien predator, the little chap had the audacity to re-appear and stood glaring at me once more, he even had a good walk around the boardwalk before departing! A beautiful creator to behold but a very unwelcome visitor to any reserve.
Prior to the end of today's visit I'd claimed my first Common Swift of the year, quickly followed by several more and a first Garden Warbler near Sheepfield.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Brandon - St Georges Day!

Work Party Day today at the Marsh but due to a tweaked back muscle I was given light duties by our beloved leader and had a more leisurely day than normal.
On the drive down from the main entrance to the lower car park at around 6.30am I was lucky enough to pick up my first Grasshopper Warbler for Brandon, which I heard from the car window, reeling from the top reedbed. A short while later, while making our way to the Wright Hide I picked up my second with JR on Newlands, not a bad start to the day!
On arrival at the hide I would have to say that the East Marsh Pool was the quietest I'd ever seen since joining the conservation team last December. Fortunately, by the time we moved off to the Main-Hide, 3 Common Tern had arrived, plus a solitary Yellow Wagtail on Willow Island. Also present of interest were 4 Redshank, 5 Snipe, 2 Lesser Black Backed Gull, the now ever present pair of Little Ringed Plover, and lone Ringed Plover. Another possible first for the team is the regular sight of Sand Martins moving in and out of the artificial nesting structure (pictured), signs are pointing to a definite nesting pair.
At coffee in the Carlton Hide, just prior to starting work, we were once again delighted to see a Bittern take flight from Newlands across East Marsh Pool and out towards West Marsh. The final treat of the day was while having lunch in the Wright Hide and a phone call from PB sent us all scurrying into the open for 2 Raven flying high overhead, yet another first for me at Brandon.
Subnote: On arrival back at the marina this evening it's nice to here our first Sedge Warbler arrivals, singing from the surrounding reeds.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Brandon - 21/04/09

Back at Brandon this morning with Nightingales still reverberating in my ears from my Holland trip!
With clear blue skies and a temperature of 21C the chances of any migrating birds dropping in on route were slim. With such excellent conditions any migrants were more likely to continue on their merry way. It seems that over the weekend I did miss out on 2 Whimbrel on Willow Island and a passing Osprey on Sunday.
I met up with JR who was ringing once again and gave a hand for the rest of the morning but with no great success due to the sunny conditions.
Shortly after PB had joined us we did however pick up on a single Lesser Whitethroat on Newlands, our first for the year. A little while later we had a phone call with information on a late wintering Brambling that had been located in New Hare Covert and moving around to investigate it wasn't long before we picked up our second first for the year, high in the canopy. These two were the highlights for the day, even after a good stint in the Main-Hide and a thorough search of Farm Field for Wheatear and Chats. A couple of other reports of species picked up today by other birders were Bittern on Newlands and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in New Hare Covert, plus PB did have Cuckoo before meeting up.
Another bonus today were good numbers of butterfly species which included the first Speckled Wood (pictured), plus Brimstone, Comma, Peacock and Orange Tip. I could really get more into butterflies if the damn things would just stay still long enough to identify, but I really do enjoy their company at Brandon!
A quick visit to Napton Reservior on my way home failed to locate anything of interest, not even a Warbler to be heard or a Gull or Tern to be seen!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Hague Surprise 18/19th April

I’m just about to return to the UK from Holland on what was supposed to be a non birding weekend, visiting my best & lifelong non birding friend!
However, unawares to him his latest continental posting at The Hague is literally a short bike ride away from what I can only describe as ‘birding heaven’. I should have known a few surprises awaited me when, travelling on the train from Schiphol Airport to The Hague I had the good fortune to spot Hen Harrier and Ruddy Shelduck!
As you may know, everyone bikes in Holland and my friend is no exception, and so on Saturday we took an exceptionally long ride. What greeted me at Meyendel a short time later was a major shock to the system, considering I was totally unprepared and without my own equipment.
Meyendel, a huge coastal water filtration centre which supplies The Hague and the nearby districts is comprised of many small lakes surrounded by common reed and a selection of wooded areas and sand dunes, a bike route runs through the centre and the reserve also consists of a Visitor Centre and Café. It reminded me of a huge Brandon Marsh but on the coast.
We were literally yards into the reserve when we were greeted by a loud whistling crescendo, followed by song that can only be that of a Nightingale. I struggled to keep control of my bike as I immediately swung back for identification to discover it was indeed a Nightingale, but could I get sight, not a chance!!
Without going into greater detail, as I could write a post 10 pages long, over the Saturday and Sunday I’d stopped counting at 2 dozen Nightingales and by the time we’d arrived back on the Sunday evening my non birding weekend had logged Nightingales a plenty, Red Crested Pochard (pictured), Egyptian Goose, Grasshopper Warbler and Marsh Harrier a well as the before mentioned Hen Harrier and Ruddy Shelduck! This was without even trying and also without walking the many footpaths that run throughout the reserve or exploring the coastal perimeter. At one stage we had a brief chat with one of the rangers who also told us that the area we were standing in was a haven for Bluethroat. I can assure you that my next visit will be a well prepared one, what an amazing find!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brandon - 16/04/09 - Work Party

A thoroughly wet and dank Brandon produced a couple of surprises and brightened up what would have been a miserable work party day, referring to the weather of course!
My normal early walk with JR produced the usual species which now includes Whitethroat & Reed Warbler, our latest arrivals and just prior to meeting up I encountered a really attractive male Muntjac Deer on the New Hare Covert track. Once again JR made the comment " I've got a good feeling about today", a statement which usually produces nothing out of the ordinary and always brings a wry smile.
However, there are always exceptions and today was one of them. Arriving at the Wright Hide, where we were joined by PN, a quick scan located a single Wigeon, unusual on the reserve for this time of year, our now regular pair of Little Ringed Plover and the other normal Wildfowl and Wader suspects. Scanning Willow Island in more depth with my scope I immediately produced 3 Yellow Wagtail, one of which was the European Blue Headed version (similar to the one pictured), not seen on the reserve for some considerable time. As if that wasn't enough, what followed was even more of a surprise. While we were enjoying the Wagtail JR picked up a large brownish bird flying west across East Marsh Pool, this was immediately identified as a Bittern! If anyone would have told me that I would be seeing Bittern on the reserve in mid April I would have called them nuts, nevertheless a Bittern it was and a Bittern at any time is an absolute delight.
The only unfortunate thing regarding the Blue Head is that it's not recognised as a stand alone species and so I'm unable to add a tick to my year list, but a good one to pick up anyway and an excellent mornings birding.
Having now had time to digest and reflect on our sightings I'm still convinced that our wintering Bittern left a good time ago and that today's sighting was probably a migratory bird. That said, my heart would love to believe that somewhere on the reserve still hides a resident bird.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Brandon - 15/04/09

On arrival today I made the decision to head for the Wright Hide without delay, and what a decision, minutes after arriving the thunder and rain began with gusto!
I sat for a while just admiring the storm, I'm a great lover of storms, but immediately I turned to the birding I spotted my first Common Tern of the year perched on the south goal post, East Marsh Pool. After a further scan I located a single Ringed Plover and a couple of Little Ringed, the latter of which I watched mating later in the day. During the storm I counted a small flock of 25 Black Headed Gulls, which looked like dropping in but continued on their way.
After the storm passed I was left with a blustery N-Easterly, overcast and a temperature of around 8C, not bad considering the forecast was for the warmest day of the year!!
I took the decision to walk through to New Hare Covert and passing Newlands reedbed on my way picked up another year first, a Whitethroat singing happily from a bramble. Shortly after, yet another first of the year, as I heard my first Reed Warbler singing from within the Newlands reedbed. No sign unfortunately of a Wheatear, which was noted and photographed on the golf course yesterday.
My visit to Teal Hide and the Main Hide yielded Redshank, Oystercatcher, still sitting, and great views of a Sedge Warbler from the reedbed directly in front of the Main Hide, a Common Buzzard flew across N-Westerly shortly after. I met Jenny, a member of the Conservation Team, and her friend a little while later and decided to go for coffee in the Nature Centre. We took the route back through New Hare Covert and as we emerged to look across Sheepfield we heard the unmistakable call of a Cuckoo (pictured). Four firsts of the year today isn't a bad count at all, my visit lasted from 6.30am through until around midday.
Sub note :- House Martins, Swallows, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers are now plentiful on the reserve. I didn't do my usual count today so I'm unsure of my total species numbers!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Brandon - 12/04/09

Had 3 hours at the Marsh this morning before heading off to visit our adopted mum and dad in Suffolk!
JR was ringing so had a good tour of the reserve on my own and picked up my first Common Sandpiper of the year on the Teal Pool Bund. It was one of those "I'm the only bugger who saw it" type events, as it was off within 5 minutes of alerting JR to it's presence!
A couple of Sedge Warbler again but still no sign of a Grasshopper Warbler, Willlow Warbler & Blackcap are now plentiful having only arrived last week. I also came across 2 Willow Tit on Newlands.
The White Fronted Goose which I saw regularly in the winter months flew in again with a number of Greylag, and 2 Little Ringed Plover were on Willow Island when I left.
The usual species were all present and at one stage I watched a Fox walking across the Teal Pool Bund.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Brandon - 11/04/09

The dust had almost settled after yesterdays Avocet, the first in over 20 years at Brandon, which I unfortunately missed. However, meeting JR, our official Brandon recorder at around 6.15am, it became apparent that I wasn't the only person who missed the event, enough said and no more mention of the 'A' word!!
As the Marsh continues to flourish at a fantastic rate and now the first Bluebells are beginning to show, it wasn't long before I registered my first Sedge Warbler (pictured) of the year, singing from the Swallow Pool reedbed. As we listened across Newlands for Grasshopper Warbler we did pick up 3 Linnet flying north, but no luck on the Grasshopper, which was apparently heard reeling yesterday. No sign either by the end of my visit of the early Cuckoo, which was reported over Thursday late evening and Friday.
Just prior to entering the Wright Hide I was amazed to find a Water Rail, not discreetly feeding within the reedbed, but about 10ft up in a tree, an extraordinary site! East Marsh Pool gave us 2 Little Ringed Plover and a single Ringed Plover, as well as Redshank and Oystercatcher, the latter of which is now sitting. A pair of Pochard are also on site, unusual for this time of year.
While moving around to the Main-Hide we had good views of 5 Redpoll feeding in an Alder canopy, Blackcap and Willow Warbler were numerous and Chiffchaff appear to have completed their territorial battles and were singing less. Swallows are now arriving in numbers after a steady trickle, and we had 4 House Martins overhead at one time, Sand Martins are well established and are still visiting the artificial structure!
After another walk past Newlands, where a Whitethroat had apparently been heard earlier, and a final walk over at Farm Field, I ended the day with a total species count of 58, which incidentally didn't include a Whitethroat.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Brandon - 09/04/09

A brief update for Brandon today as the Work Party tasks took priority over birding. The main work was the clearing of Shotton's Gully of reed and debris, with the aim to provide a better flow, this is a natural stream which runs under the path from the Nature Centre through to Horstail Glade. We came across several Common Frogs & Toads during the work and released them unharmed further up stream.
Nothing unusual on arrival at 6.30am, although the possibility of the first Sedge Warbler of the year was always on the cards. Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Sand Martin are now well established on the reserve, a few Swallows and House Martins are also mingled in, plus there are now a good number of nesting species such as Long Tailed Tit, Treecreeper and Nuthatch.
A pair of Ringed Plover and a single Little Ringed were visible for most of the day on Willow Island along with Redshank and Oystercatcher.
After our debrief myself and Derek had a wonder down to the Main-Hide in the late afternoon and were fortunate to pick up 2 Yellow Wagtail on Willow Island, which only stayed for minutes before flying off to the East of the reserve, the first record for this year. Another surprise came when I had a quick look at Jeff's website before bed where a Cuckoo calling had been recorded, a remarkably early sighting!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Brandon - 07/04/09

Well despite a leisurely cruise back from Welford we didn't manage to turn up anything more interesting than we did on the way! However, what has surprised me on this cruise is the amount of Tree and House Sparrow's we've seen over the period, is this a recover in numbers I wonder?
We still made good time and managed to moor for the night just after Braunston, a short distance from the marina, thus allowing me to pick up my car and arrange an unscheduled visit to Brandon.
It's amazing, only a week since my last visit, but things have moved on at a tremendous pace, Marsh Marigold, Violets and Primrose are showing well, plus it won't be long before we lose the advantage of bare branches as the trees come into bloom.
Today's visit began at 6am and my first bird was a single Swallow flying over the cement works, the usual Song Thrush were in good form and a Cetti's Warbler called from the Grebe Pool reedbed. When I arrived at New Hare Covert a pair of Willow Warbler were singing and flitting from bush to bush, Spring is definitely in the air. I met up with JR and it wasn't long before I had my first Blackcap at Brandon for this year, a couple more were heard singing during my visit.
The best was yet to come! At around 9.30am we were together with several other members of the 'Tuesday Club' in the main hide, when a Red Kite was spotted heading straight for us by JR. We were lucky enough to have excellent views as it scoured the East Marsh Pool, as pictured above by one of the team. Eventually the bird departed over the Carlton Pool in an S-Westerly direction, the second visit in a week of a Red Kite to Brandon.
A walk across to West Marsh came up with a Mallard, accompanied by a number of ducklings, who were very badly behaved and insisted on scuttling in and out of the reeds, we were totally unable to get a good count. Another good spot of the day by Jr over lunch in the Main Hide was a single Little Ringed Plover on Willow Island, which seemed to suddenly materialise, as none of us spotted him coming in.
Butterflies were also in good numbers today with Peacock, Comma and Orange Tip spotted across the reserve.
An excellent day back at the Marsh and a very excellent species count of 60 for the day.
Subnote :- Docking Quidditch back at Wigram's at around 5.30pm I was delighted to see the first Swallow of the year this evening, flying through around 7.30pm.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Cruise to Welford

As you may have read on my main blog we've arrived safely in dry dock at Welford Boat Station. From a birding perspective the cruise was slightly rushed due to the time factor, trying to navigate and bird at the same time has it's limitations at the best of times, as you can imagine!
Nevertheless, it was great to be out and about once more on the system, camera and binoculars at the ready. I'd forgotten how many Grey Wagtails there are on a canal, as they are more often associated with fast flowing rivers. We came across at least 6, mostly around the lock gates or under the bridge eaves, where they love to nest.
Wednesday's weather was lovely with clear blue sky's, and I must have picked out at least 10 Buzzard, abundant Chaffinch, a few Siskin, and a good number of Yellowhammer, which always appeared to be calling at every turn. On the section out of the Braunston Tunnel we had a Kingfisher fly past too, a trip just wouldn't be normal without one! We moored for the day around 3.30pm at bridge 27 of the Leicester Section - Grand Union Canal, luckily enough quite close to a local copse, so I had the opportunity for a good walk before dinner. The small wood was disappointingly quiet, but I picked up ChiffChaff and Great Spotted Woodpecker before arriving back for a well earned cuppa!
Thursdays 3 hour short cruise to our destination was a major contrast weatherise, from the previous day, with low cloud and a slight drizzle. However, we did pick up on a number of Golden Plover feeding on one of the farm paths, and a little later I had my first Red Legged Partridge (pictured) of the year, once again feeding, but in the open fields. Another slight surprise as we rounded a turn was the sight of a Cormorant having a fish in the canal a slight distance ahead, Dee also spotted a female Muntjac from within the undergrowth, which watched us with great interest as we cruised past.
Our return cruise, beginning Sunday evening, will be at a more leisurely pace, so lets see what turns up!

My species list for my current or last cruise can be found HERE