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!!!