Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Hen Harrier
Despite saying in my previous post that I'd probably not blog again until the New Year I felt that yesterdays outing here in France was worth an entry.

Over the past few years when visiting Dee's parents we've been keeping a close eye on one of the new local nature reserves at St Cyr, which seems to have taken forever to complete. Well I'm delighted to say that finally we were able to take our first tour of this impressive site yesterday afternoon.

Unfortunately, impressive though it is with it's six large and spacious hides, I feel that like most reserves I've visited in Spain and France the finer details are lacking. For example it appeared that no thought had gone into the approach to each hide, which were completely open to the elements, affording no protection to the birds as the intrepid birder approached! In fact most birds were spooked as we tentatively made our way to each one. There was also a definite shortage of reed planting throughout which I feel will be detremental to the site in later years. 

Having said the above a good number of birds were on display and these included good numbers of Pochard, a single Red-crested amongst them, two Great White Egret also flew in during our tour and Goosander, Wigeon and Tufted Duck were also on the pools. Within the surrounding area I was also lucky enough to locate Stonechat, Cirl Bunting and Kingfisher.

The bird of the day however was a stunning Hen Harrier (ringtail), which was trawling the fields close to Dee's parents, a species which I'm always lucky enough to come across every time we visit.

To finally log off on this years diary, I wish my reader a very prosperous and Happy New Year. Whatever your plans are for 2011 here’s to more excellent birding adventures.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Having been without transport of my own since the beginning of December, and due to my search for new transport taking longer than expected, my birding has been limited to my locality with no visits to my beloved Brandon Marsh.

Having said that I've still managed another local first when walking the towpath last week I came across my first Water Pipit, which amazingly was seen walking on the frozen canal at the junction of the Oxford and Grand Union. Still lots of reports of Waxwing in the locality too and thanks to those of you who have texed me with sightings, it's very much appreciated.

Being an emergency contact for Warwickshire Wildlife Trust I've received several calls over the past fortnight from people requiring advice on injured birds and in particular Raptors, which appear to be suffering more in the current climate. I'm pleased to say that I was able to help in all instances of injury, especially both inquiries concerning Peregrine, and I'm pleased to report that both birds are doing well thanks to the help of Raptor Rescue. Some great feed back too from the finders of both birds!

With the above in mind I've now placed a direct link to the site on the side-bar of my blog for anyone who requires assistance.

Well that's probably it for blogging until next year, hopefully I'm flying out to France on Wednesday to celebrate the New Year with family and friends and so it only remains for me to wish everyone of my followers a very pleasant Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Roger Porter

Having thought about it I don't feel that I should end this years diaries without a mention for Roger, who sadly passed away last Thursday December 16th.
For those who didn't know Roger but who are regular visitors to Brandon Marsh, Rogers work was all around you while you were sitting in the hides enjoying Brandon's beauty! It's thanks to Roger, who gave endless hours of his time, that the hides are so very well maintained.
However, it wasn't just Rogers excellent joinery that I'll remember him for, it was also his pleasant nature and someone who had a great sense of humour. The cake sales at the Nature Centre will also suffer from our sad loss!
Rest in peace Roger, I'll miss you!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Female Brambling
It seems to me that every blog I log onto at the moment has great reports of Waxwings showing up in every corner of the county. But what do we know of this fantastic visitor, folk lore has it that the Waxwing is a harbinger of doom! Do they really foretell a harsh winter to come, looking out the window at the moment you might have to agree, as winter has returned to Wigram's with a vengeance!

The last major influx of waxwings to the UK was in 2004-2005 although there was a reasonable number recorded during the winter of 2008. With so many reports now coming in from around the country the signs are that this will be an exceptionally good year for Waxwings, possibly even the best ever? The real reason is probably down to the fact that there has been a bad crop of berries this year in Scandinavia which is driving the birds across the North Sea to the UK, plus unusually prolonged periods of north and north-easterly winds may also have a bearing. Who cares anyway, you can simply never get fed up of seeing this cracking winter visitor.

In fact today whilst taking my usual Friday walk around the locality I've come across another 5 Waxwing which graced the marina this afternoon feeding on the few remaining Hawthorn berries. Two female Brambling were also on the feeders and my first wintering Blackcap was also spotted in amongst several Tree Sparrow. Two Yellowhammer and plenty of Fieldfare, which I always think look stunning against a snowy background were also on site. Redwing, Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Pied Wagtail were also noted along with a very distant fly past of a single Little Egret.

However, the bird of the day for me was a surprise visitor to an adjacent field and popped in when I was looking for a small flock of Golden Plover I'd spotted this morning coming in. My first Short Eared Owl on the patch spent a good 15-minutes quartering before actually finding prey and then heading off in the direction of Napton Reservoir!

This has ended another good birding week as my Tuesday visit to Brandon Marsh produced yet another look at two Bittern on West Marsh and views of Short Eared Owl over Newlands. My roosting Long Eared Owl, still on a very delicate area of land I'm not yet going to reveal is still present but I promise that if I get permission to divulge it's whereabouts I certainly will. My apologies for the secrecy to those who've emailed but I'm sure you understand.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Hybrid Tufted/Pochard (by Alban Wincott)
A frosty start at -5C this morning after yesterdays balmy +10C but it was good to step off the boat to a crystal clear sky with no sign of fog for a change (and the water is finally back on at the marina!!!)

Both Saturn and Venus were showing well to the east and the first bird of the day was a Skylark which called briefly as it passed overhead in the dark. As I  made my way down the path to the parking area, not for the first time in the last week I heard the unmistakable call of a Curlew in one of the nearby fields, obviously in search of some unfrozen ground.

Having checked out my Long Eared Owl, which amazingly has been in the exact same roosting spot for every visit over the previous week, I eventually arrived at a fog free Brandon Marsh around 30-minutes before sunrise. This morning I decided to take a different route from my normal one and was fortunate enough to come across a Tawny Owl which flew through Horsetail Glade as I made my way through.

The pools at Brandon still remain frozen, with the exception of East Marsh Pool which has a very small open water area close to the Wright Hide. On arrival a good number of Greylag were present and within the group I singled out lone White Fronted and Barnacle Goose. The small area also had a single female Goosander which took flight shortly after my arrival.

After watching the sunrise over Newlands Reedbed scanning for Short Eared Owl with some of the other Sunday crew, the Owl remained elusive by the way, the plan was to take a trip across to West Marsh but this was interrupted by a telephone call alerting us to a possible Lesser Scaup (pictured above) which had dropped into the open water area. A quick detour to Baldwin Hide and then back to the Wright Hide for better views ended up with yet another enjoyable debate! The outcome of which appears to be unanimous on hybrid Tufted/Pochard, still a good debate and worth mentioning too that the recent escapee New Zealand Scaup was also on the pool at the same time.

Shortly after reaching a frozen West Marsh for coffee with Paul Norman and Derek Bennett a Bittern flew out from the River Avon area across the reed bed and in the general direction of Teal Pool, probably my best view thus far this winter. Having said that, things were to get even better shortly after!

Upon leaving main hide around 11am it's always worth taking a final look across to the back of River Pool where quite often a Bittern can be found lurking. Bingo, as we quickly moved into Teal Pool hide for better views a second Bittern flew in and for around 4/5 minutes we were treated to both birds on the ice before the latter flew back out towards the Avon. Two Snipe on East Marsh, at least 4 Coal Tit and the usual Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Fieldfare and Redwing are also worth a mention on a classic Brandon mornings birding!!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Not So Mundane

Amazing Waxwings
This is our 10th day of being iced in at the marina and with my water and fuel running desperately low I'd put aside the best part of today to replenish my supplies. Fortunately through good planning we're able to maintain a single unfrozen water hose, but it does mean making several treks across and back with my containers to the designated area. 

With the early freezing fog I'd felt that today would be a mundane one but it wasn't long before I was cheered by the sight of a lone Woodcock which darted in front of me from the general direction of the Oxford Canal as I took an early morning stroll. The day was to get even better when I then had the good fortune to come across 6 pristine looking male Brambling taking advantage of one of the many feeders. This along with several members of the local Tree Sparrow population, plus Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting and the usual Tit's.

With a good cheer I began my many visits to the water station, but of course once a birder, always a birder, and each visit took even longer as I stopped every time I heard the call of Fieldfare or Redwing, in their hundreds today, along with 5 Buzzard, 3 Kestrel and Sparrowhawk which was being harassed by several Jackdaw and a very vocal Raven! Slowly and after around 3 hours I was in business once more, fuelled and watered and settled for a well earned cuppa.

Having now completed my chores a sudden rap on the door alerted me to one of the neighbours, breathless and in need of calming down! However, it wasn't long before I realised what the excitement was all about when to my utter amazement no less than 26 Waxwing had arrived and had the good manners to stay for around 15 minutes before heading off towards Napton Hill.

A further walk around the marina just prior to sunset and the plummeting temperature produced around 1000 Starling, heading for Napton Reservoir, and around 100 local Pied Wagtail. I thought that was the end to a terrific unscheduled birding day until the local Tawny Owls fired up and several Snipe flew west towards the reservoir, I just love living on the water!!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Not a Good Day!

Out and about this week locally but as you can see from the picture I didn't quite make it to Brandon Marsh for my Tuesday visit thanks to severe black ice!

My normal early morning route to Brandon from the marina is to take the back roads in search of Owls up towards Birdingbury, then on to Marton before rejoining the A roads. Why I decided to take this route in such treacherous conditions on Tuesday morning I'll never know!! Normally I stick to the main roads when the weather is so bad.

Fortunately the car is resting on a huge tree stump, below is another 3 feet and but for the stump I'm certain I would have ended up on my roof.

Anyway, back to the birds and it's good to see so many feeders dotted around the marina at present. We've been completely iced in for over a week now and the overnight temperatures have been as low as -11C. A walk around the grounds on Tuesday afternoon produced many Chaffinch, Reed Bunting, Tree Sparrow and two Male Brambling on or near the feeders.

The Tawny Owls have been calling too and I've managed a few brief glimpses of the local Little Owls in the late afternoons. The local duck population has managed to maintain an open water space where they can be easily fed. Interestingly several Waxwing have been seen once more on the wires but they always seem to manage a visit when I'm not on site, I'm sure my time will soon come.

After a tip off regarding 3 Long Eared Owls on my patch on Monday I finally got the opportunity to have a look myself today and am delighted to say that I managed to make contact with one. What a fantastic bird to have in the area and such a pleasure to see. Due to the sensitivity of the location I'm currently not prepared to divulge their whereabouts, having said that, if at any time they move off and onto a public area I'd be delighted to pass on the information.

On to a snow covered Brandon Marsh after making contact with the amazing Owl but as I expected all pools are still frozen over and no sign of Bittern or Short Eared Owl either. A number of Kestrel and Sparrowhawk were hunting constantly over the reserve and lots of Redwing, Fieldfare and large flocks of Lesser Redpoll/Siskin on site as well. A report of a single Waxwing on Gelder Rose near the Nature Centre from yesterday too.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Staying Local

Red Crested Pochard
It's always a pleasure to be out and about on your local patch, particularly on such a beautiful crisp day like today, but even more rewarding when your showing somebody around for the first time.

Today I was accompanied by Ken Sherlock one of the Brandon regulars, who after meeting up at Napton Church this morning suddenly discovered that despite walking in the area on numerous occasions, had never actually visited Napton Hill or the nearby Reservoir!

Just prior to entering the church yard I'm 95% certain that the first bird of the day could possibly have been a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which flew across the church grounds. Unfortunately, as I was still in the process of sorting out my bins and winter clothing I wasn't fast enough to claim a definite ID. A more in depth tour of the church grounds produced many of the regular wintering species seen here such as Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Redwing, Fieldfare and the usual several Mistle Thrush, and although nothing out of the ordinary was on show it was still a pleasure to see so many birds feverishly feeding up on the vast variety of berries. Fortunately, unlike the cold snaps of January/February, when a cold snap arrives this early there's still plenty of berry stocks available to go around.

On the walk up to the windmill we met up with Bob and Pat who've been running the nearby farm for just short of 50 years and Ken and I were treated to a wonderful guided tour of their land, which produced stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Bob's knowledge of the area seems second to none and the several counties which can be seen from Napton Hill, including there landmarks, were pointed out to us in great detail. During our tour we managed Common Buzzard, Kestrel and the usual passage of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin overhead.

After a blank search of the quarry area, where earlier in the month a Great Grey Shrike had called home for several days, we moved off to Napton Reservoir to check out the waterfowl. Good numbers of Mallard, Tufted Duck and Pochard with the odd Great Crested Grebe, Wigeon and Shoveler on show, plus several Common Gull and three Snipe. The highlight of the day however was a gorgeous pair of Red Crested Pochard (photographed) which were showing exceptionally well in the brilliant sunshine. A Raven was also recorded overhead before we made our way to the marina and tea aboard 'Quidditch'. A final tour of the marina grounds produced Tree Sparrow, Kingfisher and Reed Bunting before a delighted Ken departed.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Birds I DID see!!

Short-Eared Owl ( Library Picture)
Birding, for those who are passionate about this fascinating and sometimes frustrating pass time, consists of various periods of ups and downs, and the past few weeks for me personally have been just that. My last post, aptly entitled 'Birds I didn't see' was basically in response to my recent dormant sightings period of which all birders are familiar, a period when everyone around seems to come up trumps while you seem to arrive too late for the event, or are just simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The last week however has seen a reversal in fortunes and one of those nice periods were everything in the garden is rosy. While working on Newlands Reed Bed at Brandon Marsh last Thursday for example I inadvertently flushed my first Woodcock of the Autumn, and today's usual Sunday visit also came up with the goods.

After a few attempts to make contact with the recent Short-Eared Owl, which has been reported on Sheep Field of late, I finally made contact this morning just after first light and had some excellent but brief views as the bird quartered the field before dropping out of sight, having probably found it's unsuspecting breakfast. Continuing on through New Hare Covert and just after rounding the path to overlook Newlands Reed Bed my first Autumnal Bittern was seen flying low over the reeds in the direction of the River Avon. Unfortunately not seen by all in the party, but thankfully by Jim Rushforth our official site recorder!!

After a stint in the Wright Hide which produced of note a male Muntjac on Wigeon Bank, 2 Little Grebe, 1 male and 2 female *Goldeneye (* a second male was seen later from big hide), plus over 40 Snipe, we made our way through the Central Marsh Path where a Little Egret flew south-east towards Teal Pool.

The best however was probably the last bird of the day and which also turned out to be a first for me at Brandon. Literally on my way out of the reserve at around midday word came through of a number of Waxwing reported in the main Car Park. As I said earlier, 'the right place at the right time' and within seconds I emerged into the car park along with Derek Bennett, immediately beginning our search along with several other enthusiastic souls. Scanning what was a large flock of Lesser Redpoll/Siskin which had congregated in the nearby Birch, Derek had spotted something a little larger near the top of the tree, and yes a single Waxwing, no sooner identified than gone, but a definite sighting nonetheless and a very welcome first for me at Brandon!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Birds I Didn't See!

A foggy day!
Decided to have a well earned break from blogging over the past 8 days and thanks to those who've emailed me seeking assurances that I've not popped me clogs!!

I have been out and about in the field during my blog absence but to be honest I'm going through one of those dormant periods that us birders seem to suffer from time to time. My book of 'Birds I didn't See' as dear old Ted Jury used to say has been getting a good dust off of late. The returning wintering Bitterns at Brandon have eluded me thus far too and several times I've entered hides to be told 'It's just flown off '. The most recent was on Saturday when the wife and I entered big hide just seconds after it's departure.

It all reminds me of last year when meeting George Wootton (a regular Brandon photographer) at the gate on my departure I informed him there wasn't much about, only for George to open the hatch at Baldwin Hide some time later to find a Great White Egret peering at him from point blank range!! The evidence can be found on the front cover of last years Brandon Annual Report.

This mornings visit to Brandon too was a complete blank. I left the marina about 7am on a beautiful clear and crisp morning, Venus shinning brightly to the East, full of beans and hoping to catch a glimpse of yesterdays reported Short-eared Owl on Sheep Field, only for Brandon to be totally fogged in for the day.

Notwithstanding, I've managed everything you'd expect to see in and around the area as we fast approach Winter, Redwing, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and  Fieldfare a plenty and of course I should mention the recent Bearded Tit at Napton Reservoir and Great Grey Shrike on the hill. The marina too is providing some excellent spectacles currently with a major roost of Starlings dropping in each evening, this along with around 100 or so Pied Wagtail and I also noticed late this evening some 30+ Skylark coming into the adjacent field. The local Tawny Owls are quite vocal too at present and we still have regular visits from Little Owl and Barn Owl, so my cup is always half full.

Monday, November 08, 2010


Just back from a weekend on the Trent & Mersey Canal with boaty friends, and various commitments over the past several days, have somewhat limited my birding activities but I did manage a visit to Brandon Marsh last Tuesday and a quick sortie locally. Mind you my local patch is still awash with visitors getting some good views of the current Great Grey Shrike, which for the most part doesn't seem to be too illusive, what a great bird to have on your doorstep!

My Brandon visit produced three separate visits from a Peregrine, which caused the usual havoc on East Marsh Pool, but the highlight of the day was when 32 Golden Plover dropped in around mid-morning. Unfortunately, I was over on West Marsh at the time searching for the returning Bittern and had to make a hasty return to big-hide, scurrying across the central path and passing a couple of very surprised visitors as I jogged passed muttering, "I'm not a twitcher honestly".

Speaking of which I must make comment on Monday nights programme on BBC4 'Twitching' A very British Obsession', which I found to be extremely annoying and frustrating! The one thing that was quite apparent to me was the fact that Twitching for these guys in particular was simply not about the birds! It's about a group of lunatics who are obsessed with wanting to get one up on their fellow lunatics, and in one instance this meant a couple dragging their young daughter from pillar to post in search of their illusive 'tick'!!

When the day comes that I have to confirm my sightings to some primadonna, No! not you Jim :), who wasn't even on site at the time, then I'll give up and start knitting for my hobby. These guys really need to get a life and enjoy birding for what it is, a relaxing and fascinating study of wild birds in their natural habitat, not sitting in a bar on the coast of Ireland pouting because you've not got a tick on a bird, when just outside the door is an array of magnificent species just waiting to be seen!

To finish I must say a quick thank you for the emails regarding my Chainsaw Course, and yes I passed both sections and am now as they say on the paperwork, competent!!! Many thanks too to Warwickshire Wildlife Trust for their financial support.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Shrikes and NZ Scaups!

Great Grey Shrike Record Shot
Upon leaving the boat this morning I was greeted with an array of some fifty Fieldfare passing overhead, two Yellowhammer’s perched on the phone wires, numerous Chaffinch, several Skylarks and at least nine Pied Wagtails still hanging around from our overnight roost!

A quick conversation with a fellow moorer on the way to the car also revealed that I’d missed 7 Waxwings while I was away last week, the birds were reported perched on the adjacent hawthorn by several other moorers on Tuesday, damn!

As planned I made my way to Brandon Marsh to catch up on the news and also to attend a meeting I had arranged for mid morning. Arriving later than normal and taking full advantage of my extra hour in bed I arrived around 9am and made my way straight to big hide. Plenty of Fieldfare, Redwing, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin around, plus a nice male Goldeneye on East Marsh Pool.

However, I was also interested in the reported New Zealand Scaup (escape), which had been posted on Jeff Weeson’s website by Gary Hobbs on Saturday. When I got word of the bird showing on West Marsh I made my way across with a few of the conservation team to check it out. The bird in question was showing well from the Steetley Hide and after the subsequent discussion that took place with Alban, Ade and Derek we left the final identification in the capable hands of Alban Wincott. The consensus is indeed a NZ Scaup and well done to Gary for the initial identification, which was spot on.

NZ Scaup Record Shot ( A Wincott)
My day got even better when I had information come through of a Great Grey Shrike showing at Napton, my local patch, another great find by Richard and Colin I’m led to believe!

Unfortunately my meeting did not allow for a quick getaway but I’m delighted to say that thanks to Jeff Wesson, who’d hung around the locality waiting for me, I managed some good views of the bird on Brickyard Road perched atop telephone cables. The picture top-left is Jeff’s record shot.

Now the question is, is this last years wintering Grandborough bird? As I departed for home it did appear that the bird was heading in that general direction!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Intense Week

Thought I'd post a quick update in case my reader was getting worried as to my whereabouts!

The fact is I've been attending a 5-day chainsaw maintenance and felling course deep within a pine forest on Alcester Heath. I must say that I found the course to be very intense and demanding, and something which has required a full weeks concentration, but although I'm totally shattered at the end, and wishing I'd fitted a bath as well as a shower when I kitted my boat out, it has also given me a most enjoyable 5-days. It was also something which I found to be extremely rewarding, whether I pass my assessment next week on the other hand is of course another matter!!

No major birding over the past several days although I have managed to bird during my lunch breaks and have been lucky enough to see many Goldcrest, a species synonymous with pine, two Crossbill were also present on Tuesday afternoon. Jays, Buzzards and Woodpeckers have also made good companions over the past week.

I did manage to keep abreast of the local activity over the past week and its nice to see Waxwing being reported at Napton Hill, plus another sighting of Bittern at Brandon Marsh, a place that I'm looking forward to visiting over this coming weekend.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Local Day Out!

Wigram's Turn Marina
I could not have asked for a more beautiful day today as I hosted several of the Brandon Marsh team on a tour of my local patch.

Taking visitors around your local area is always a pleasure, but as ever in these situations birds which you see everyday as a normality yourself always have a tendency to let you down! Oh Raven's why do you mock me so!!!

We began on a frosty but gorgeous morning at the church on Napton Hill just after 8am, a well known migration hotspot and an area over the past few months I've personally registered Firecrest, Wheatear and Stonechat. Today a good look around the church grounds, which was awash with birds in every tree, produced lots of species including Redwing, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Bullfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal Tit and at least 8 Goldcrest.

After the church we made our way past Church Leys Farm and up to the current windmill, a windmill has stood proudly on this spot since 1543. However, the present stone-built tower mill is a later structure that was derelict in 1966 but has since been restored and is now a private residence. As you approach the windmill entrance a footpath leads immediately to the right and once through the gate affords superb high level views of the local countryside.

Peter looking non too Pleased!!
Here we spent a good while scanning the area for visible migration and also hoping for something exciting that may have dropped in overnight. Unfortunately the only moment of real excitement was when Peter went skidding down the path arse over  t**. I must take full responsibility having coaxed him down and felt very guilty for the rest of the day, but it does bring a smile to my face every time I recall it, sorry Peter!!

Another good look around the church grounds, coffee and a dusting down of Peter before moving off to Napton Reservoir in the hope of catching up with the Bearded Tit, which I was fortunate to see on Sunday. As you would imagine several twitchers were on site when we arrived : I'm sad to say too that a couple of guys on the private mooring side of the reedbed let the birding fraternity down once again, guys you were on private residence moorings and you should not have been there!! the bird I'm afraid remained elusive during our stay.

A good array of other species observed though with Pochard, Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler and Common Gull on the water and Snipe feeding to the side. Sparrowhawk and Kestrel overhead along with excellent numbers of Fieldfare and Skylark, several of which were resting in a nearby Field.

Lunch at the marina was superb as we spent an hour on the waterside watching flock after flock of Fieldfare coming through, also picking up Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Buzzard and Kingfisher. The surprise of the hour were 2 late juvenile Swallows which flew in, perching briefly on the nearby telephone wires before continuing south. Unfortunately our population of Tree Sparrow which I'd hoped to show off were nowhere to be found, and although we did hear the cronk cronk of Raven on Napton Hill we never did manage to see one! A superb day out nevertheless and despite nothing too rare cropping up (apart from Peter actually getting dirty!!) a good time was had by all.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Local Rarity

Bearded Tit (Library Picture)
I knew this morning was going to be a chilly one but it was still a surprise to be scraping the frost off the windsceen in a temperature of minus 3C. Good job I had the good sense to wear my thermals for today's visit to Brandon Marsh!

Over the past week the visible migration has continued in earnest in my locality and throughout the country too, with some amazing species being recorded nationwide, Green Heron in Cornwall is one that shines out. The first Whooper Swans are beginning to arrive and today at Martin Mere in Lancashire 36,000 Pink-footed Geese were recorded roosting, a new site record and a sight which I would imagine is well worth seeing.

Personally I continue to record good numbers of Skylark, Redwing, Siskin, Meadow Pipit, Redpoll and the odd Brambling over the marina, but the few remaining Swallows and House Martins I witnessed passing through last week have now subsided. I also registered my first Fieldfare of the Autumn on Thursday while working at Brandon Marsh, when seven birds passed overhead. Catching up on the news this morning at Brandon a report of Jack Snipe on site on Friday and the arrival of a lone Bittern yesterday on the west marsh is very exciting news. I've also noticed the local Starlings now beginning to gather and flock into the marina at dusk, and a quick count of our regular Pied Wagtail roost this evening produced over 150 birds.

In general the past week has produced some excellent numbers of migrating and arriving birds, and there is a definite build up of wintering species such as Pochard, Wigeon and Snipe in the area, but up until today there was nothing to get too excited about, that is until this afternoon!

At around 2pm I received a text message regarding a Bearded Tit sighting at Napton Reservoir, in effect right on my doorstep and a species I'd never recorded on my home patch. To the wife's utter amazement I dragged myself away from my beloved Everton, at the time giving Liverpool a major drubbing, and made my way over. On arrival five minutes later two of the local birding regulars Colin Potter and Richard Mays were on site, and after a fifteen minute wait I duly had my sights on my first local Beardy, in flight and pinging away as it flew across the reed bed! Many thanks to Richard and Colin for their excellent find, and well done Everton on a terrific win!!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Back to Normality

Brambling (Library Picture)
Can't believe it's been a week since we arrived back from our tour of Canada, but after recovering from the jet lag and getting to grips with the laundry I was out and about locally to catch up on the birding gossip.

I made my usual trip to Brandon Marsh on Tuesday to meet the guys and it appears that from a Brandon perspective I've missed nothing much! Over the past few months it seems that Brandon is going through somewhat of a dormant period in relation to the unexpected visitor. So far this autumn the site has failed to produce anything out of the ordinary with only a few sporadic Greenshank passing through, none of which I've had the pleasure of seeing. Three passage Osprey last year too, but unfortunately none have appeared at the reserve this time around.

My Tuesday visit produced 8 Linnet plus my first Redwing, Redpoll and Siskin of the autumn and an interesting Leucistic Lapwing on East Marsh Pool, this along with 5 Wigeon and 26 Snipe. A few Chiffchaff are still deciding whether to winter or not and I also came across a Goldcrest and a lingering Willow Warbler. A definite visible migration was in progress with Skylark and Meadow Pipit passing overhead and there were a few Butterflies still hanging on with Red Admiral, Small Copper and Peacock.

In relation to visible migration I spent Thursday at home cleaning the exterior of the boat in glorious sunshine, taking the opportunity with my many tea breaks to catch up with the migrants. Good numbers of Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit and Skylark were constantly passing overhead and the heavy rain that arrived in the late evening prompted me to visit Napton Hill the following morning in search of downed migrants.

On the Friday moring I duly arrived at Napton with great expectations, and although I had high hopes of Ring Ouzel or something equally as special it failed to deliver, although two very late Lesser Whitethroat were a definite surprise. Nevertheless an excellent two hours that felt more like spring with both Chiffchaff and a local Skylark singing away. The mist lingered for most of my visit but the sun duly arrived and I managed Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Redwing, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker, plus at least 11 Mistle Thrush and around 45 passage Skylark.

After Napton a flying visit to Brandon in the afternoon delivered of interest Goldcrest, Treecreeper and 3 Willow Tit. However, the day was ruined by a couple of stupid mothers who were stood high up on the East Marsh bund with the whole pool in flight, there two brats throwing logs into the pool! Fulfilling my warden duties I duly delivered a lecture in relation to behaviour on a Nature Reserve but alas I'm sure it fell on deaf ears!

This mornings visit to Brandon turned out to be a very enjoyable one and was set up nicely when I had two pristine looking Brambling near the Sheep Field gate! Good numbers once more of Redwing and Redpoll with lots of little mixed flocks around which included Goldcrest, Willow Tit, Siskin and a single Chiffchaff. The pools produced good numbers of Snipe 18, Teal 117, Shoveler 94, a count of 3 Wigeon and record numbers of Gadwall with 73. As I'm not normally a bird counter, today being no exception, credit must go to Fred and Alban for the exact counts mentioned, I'm sure they'll thank me for it!! I personally missed a Dunlin which the guys had on East Marsh Pool while I was spending my time in the covert scrutinising the mixed flocks.

Later in the morning two Pochard dropped in on East Marsh Pool and a walk around the 'Tip' area before departing saw more passage Skylarks with the occasional Meadow Pipit mingled in. Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Heath Butterfly and Migrant Hawker Dragonfly were also recorded in the lovely sunshine.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Canada 2010 Summary

Travelling around Canada in a Recreational Vehicle is something that I can highly recommend to anyone of any age and is something that we are already planning to do again next year. With an RV, you don't just get a vehicle - you get access to an entire lifestyle, which Dee and I can fully appreciate living aboard a traditional narrowboat as we do.

During our tour Dave, my long standing best mate, Dee and I completed just short of 1,900Kms in 15 days and in 2 RV's, staying in some amazingly stunning places. Like the U.S, Canada is fully geared up for the RV way of life. There are campgrounds across Canada to suit everyone's taste. From large RV parks with every kind of luxury and amenity, to beautiful and remote wilderness camp sites, you can guess which ones we chose?

For me the birding is simply wonderful, with soaring Eagles and hunting Raptors around every bend and other wildlife always not too far away. For someone like my wife Dee, who loves to go in search of Mammals and Amphibians it's truly magical, and she always comes up with the goods!

Bow Summit
From a wildlife perspective visiting Canada in September can be unpredictable, during our visit we didn't encounter a single Swift or Swallow, plus several other species which I'd hoped to locate had moved on. We also encountered very few wading birds and zero Terns, although our journey was mainly inland and of course the wintering species like Tundra Swan have yet to arrive!

At the higher levels and in the Alpine, waterfowl numbers seemed extremely low. Talking to the local birding population it appears that an early snow which came and went seemed to trigger an early migration, having said all of the above, a bird species count of 118 is an excellent haul and one which produced several new species for our Canada list.

In total we managed 4 Black Bear, always a delight to see but drew a blank on Grizzly this year, Moose remain totally illusive to us even though we drove through a number of hot-spots, this is our second blank year. We managed a small number of Butterflies with Northwest Fritillery, Milbert's Tortoiseshell, Clouded Sulphur, Green Comma and Mourning Cloak.

As ever the weather played it's part and we arrived in Calgary to low cloud 3C and persistent rain, which unfortunately stayed with us through Banff and Radium Springs. From Lake Louise it was an improving picture and the weather during our second week exceeded all our expectations with cloudless skies and temperatures in the high teens, enabling us to enjoy an excellent campfire each evening.

To close the door on this visit, Canada remains a special place for Dee and I having got married in Banff last year, it's a magical wonderland for wildlife enthusiasts like us and the scenery never lets you down! The colours that abound during the Fall are simply breathtaking and the smell of Pine a constant delight, the people are amazingly friendly!

If I could pick a single moment of our trip that sums it all up it would be a moment on Bow Summit, Banff National Park (pictured Above right). The sun shone out and as we looked down in awe of this amazing vista from some 7,000Ft up within the Rocky Mountains 100 Cedar Waxwing appeared and began flying from tree to tree in perfect unison, amazing, stunning, simply wonderful!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Whistler to Squamish & Home

Spotted Towhee
We took the relatively short drive from Whistler, only 50kms, to our final destination of Squamish where we'll spend our final two nights before returning the RV to Vancouver on Saturday.

To be honest I was glad to get back into the wilderness and arriving at Paradise Valley Campground we'd found just that. The campground has several trails, one of which runs alongside Chickamus Salmon River, and we found a number of prints in the surrounding sand, one of which was Black Bear possibly accompanied by a cub. Although too early to enjoy the spectacle, this area also plays host to literally thousands of Bald eagles which gather each winter. The Squamish River Valley has long been recognised as one of the most significant areas of wintering bald eagles in North America. In the 1994 bird count, Squamish had the world record count of 3,769 eagles.

After settling in to our site we took an early evening walk along the river and around the Squamish Fish Hatchery, which is located just across the rail track. During the walk we picked up Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, a very friendly Steller's Jay and Chestnut-backed Chickedee, but the wife picked up her bird of the day! As per usual Dee was alerted to some scratching around the dead leaves well within the undergrowth, normally a Red squirrel Junko or some amphibian, but this time after a good few minutes patiently waiting she came up trumps with a Spotted Towhee, pictured above.

We also located a small lake at the back of the campground where we watched a couple of American Dipper for a short while, and we also came across a huge Pike showing well in the crystal clear water, Dee also flushed a Great Blue Heron, much to her delight.

On Saturday, our final full day, we took a drive down to the Squamish Estuary and just prior to entering the dirt track which takes you down to the waters edge came across no less than three Turkey Vulture enjoying a thermal. We enjoyed the rest of the day in glorious sunshine overlooking the estuary mouth and walking the area, adding a whole host of other species to end our tour list. Black Seal, Western Meadowlark, Townsend Warbler, American Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Swainson Thrush and Gulls such as Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Herring, Mew and Western were all recorded.

Our last evening was spent as we'd spent several others, enjoying a good meal and good conversation around a campfire, along with the company of the many Red Squirrel which have been with us throughout our stay. I write this post having just arrived back aboard my home, Narrowboat-Quidditch and before totally crashing out! Tomorrow I'll complete a final summary and species list of our amazing Canada 2010 Tour, but for now it's goodbye Canada.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Lillooet to Whistler

Varied Thrush
I have to say that the weather during the second half of our tour has exceeded all our expectations; I haven’t even seen a cloud in 3 days! One of my twitter friends in Vancouver tells me that apparently the 45C heat they’ve currently had in LA is filtering up the west coast, albeit 20C degrees cooler, but hey I’m not complaining!

Today’s leg of the tour took us along Highway 99 on a direct route to Whistler, not much chance today of any back road detours. We had very little opportunity to check out any soaring raptors, the traffic as we approach civilisation once again becoming more and more intense, but we did stop at a few points of interest along the route picking up Golden-mantled Squirrel, Western Grebe, Red-tailed Hawk, Great Blue Heron, Common Loon, Northern Flicker, and Red-head.

Dave, who’s been travelling in his RV behind us since Calgary, is convinced he sighted a Rough-legged Hawk as we passed through Pemberton; this conclusion is arrived by trawling through my Sibley’s guide for a likely candidate. Dave is not a birder but is fast becoming one and who can say, we are definitely within the birds range, although it does prefer wide-open marshes and tundra!

Arriving in Whistler I must say that I’m tinged with a little sadness as we’ve now left the real wilderness behind us for this tour and are now entering a more commercial part of the country. Whistler Mountain itself and the surrounding area still has stunning scenery but a walk in the early evening around our campground, with mountain bikes steaming past you at break neck speed, Frisbee throwers, joggers and dog walkers is not my idea of bliss. We searched for a place known as Lost Lake, this is fascinating we thought, only to find the lake awash with boats and more Frisbee throwers, we soon lost it again!

But you know having said the above it’s still a stunningly beautiful place with real friendly people and you never know what you’ll see around each corner, we did manage an addition to our list with Varied Thrush during our walk, a very secretive bird with an amazing orange coloured supercillium and a real pleasure to see.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

100 Mile House to Lillooet

Moutain Bluebird
Breakfast at Horse Lake prior to setting off on the next stage of our tour was enjoyed al fresco and in glorious sunshine. Further scans of the Lake produced 8 Lesser Scaup, 4 Common Loon, 7 Western Grebe, 1 Horned Grebe and 2 Bonaparte Gull, plus more incredible views of a Bald Eagle diving for fish. The nearby Paper birch and Spruce also yielded Mountain Chickadee, Cassin’s Vireo and both Chipping and White-crowned Sparrow.

Prior to setting off down Route 97 for tonight’s stop in Lillooet we visited the 100-Mile Marsh. This marsh is actually situated along a central migration route and includes a great variety of ecosystems from arid sage and cactus benchlands of the Fraser, to sub alpine forests in the east. I think we only scratched the surface of this vast area during our visit today but managed Blue-winged, Cinnamon and Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, Harlequin Duck, and Muskrat on the lake, plus Northern Flicker, Savannah Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird and Purple Finch in the surrounding area. Red-tailed Hawk and Bald Eagle were also recorded.

This leg of our journey to Lillooet started from 100-Mile House southwesterly on route 97 to Clinton where, thanks to Dee’s navigation skills, we took an amazing detour across a mountain track towards Pavilion. The road itself ranged from tarmac to dirt track and at some stages we were actually rising at 14% or declining at 12%. The views were sensational, looking down on occasions to a steep drop into oblivion; we also recorded our first Mountain Bluebirds plus Sharp-shinned Hawk, Merlin, Northern Harrier, Rock Dove, Steller’s Jay, American Pipit, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow and Brown-headed Cowbird. On occasions the detour was hair-raising but well worth the risk, we also took 45kms off the journey!

We rejoined the main highway, this time Highway 99, at Pavilion and are accompanied once again by river and rail, the Fraser River and the Canadian National respectively. As I post overlooking a cloudless sky and the fast running Fraser River it’s time for a full-English breakfast and the next stage of our tour towards Whistler!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Blue River to 100-Mile House

Western-wood Pewee
No Internet or cell phone for the last 36 hours has been spooky to say the least, especially for a techno freak like me, but I’m glad to say that our current stopover has a full wifi service.

Over the past two days we’ve gently made our way southwest, stopping over at Clearwater on the Sunday night and arriving about 20km short of 100-Mile House earlier today. Tonight we’re laid up overlooking the beautiful Horse Lake, at Cariboo Bananza Resort in the intriguingly named town of Lone Butte, where we’ve already recorded Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe and Mule Deer.

Last nights stopover was on the outskirts of Well’s Gray Provincial Park next to a fast running Creek and a walk during the early evening boosted our species count with a Three-toed Woodpecker, Western-wood Pewee and Golden-crowned Kinglet, on the same walk we also encountered Red and a more rare Black Fox. Why is it that each RV Park we visit seems to have stories that occurred the day before, on this occasion it was a Black Bear with two cubs that was on site, suffice to say, no signs today.

This morning an early walk before moving on produced Blue Grouse and Common Yellowthroat but considering this is a renowned Moose area they still have yet to show. Having said that, the hunting season started today and so if you were a Moose you probably wouldn’t show either!! I’m still at a loss to understand why a small number of these animals are still allowed to be hunted in Canada each Fall!

Rare Black Fox
Our progress over the past 48hrs has seen us leave the dizzy heights of the Rockies behind us and into more colourful and tree lined surroundings with less dramatic mountains and some beautifully stunning lakes. We’ve also left behind the North Thompson River and Canadian National Railway, which have recently been our constant companion. The temperature has risen too and the weather a balmy 20C today, although reports have reached us concerning flooding down towards the Vancouver area, our final destination on Saturday.

As for today’s sightings, the several lakes we’ve stopped to overlook have produced good numbers of American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup and Cinnamon Teal but the bird of the day has to been Northern Goshawk which over flew the RV as we approached Lac des Roches Lake, giving some sensational views.

Tonight we’ve enjoyed a good meal, an excellent campfire and some truly amazing sights of the Milky Way, (no light pollution here), and the moon rising over Lake Horse was just magical. The bats have been around too tonight but I’m unsure as to what species they might be.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Valemount to Blue River

After leaving our RV site at Valemount we backtracked slightly on Yellowhead Highway 5 to visit the nearby Starratt Wildlife Sanctuary and Cranberry Marsh.

We took the 6.2km circular route, visiting the two observation decks and from here had good views of Northern Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal, Ringed-necked Duck, Bufflehead and American Black Duck.

The remainder of the walk took place in some strong winds, almost bending the Paper Birch and Englemann Spruce to breaking point, this made the birding hard work but we managed a few further species of note with American Robin, Pine Siskin, Cassin’s Vareo, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk and our first Lincoln’s Sparrow.

From Valemount we continued on Highway 5 surrounded by some stunning scenery, the colours of the trees, shrubs and heathers simply awesome. We stopped briefly to look down on the North Thompson River where we’d sighted a Bald Eagle, amazingly followed by Golden Eagle and immediately understood why these two birds were in close proximity. Looking down on to the river it was awash with literally hundreds of young Salmon, almost turning the water pink!

We arrived at Blue River at around 3pm, which I actually thought was 4pm, after two days of Pacific time I’d forgotten we’d gained an hour, and as we crossed an open rail crossing there sitting mid track, having a snooze, was our first Black Bear of the tour! We watched in amazement as the lights of a Canadian National goods train came slowly around the corner, the Bear nonchalantly moving aside to let the train pass, and within an instant he’d vanished.

Before locating our overnight parking we took advantage of the Blue River, River Safari, in what turned to be an amazing hour in a high-speed boat. The boat takes you through what we discovered is the worlds only inland temperate rainforest and took us through the mountain glaciers and jade-coloured waters. Here we were treated to three more Black Bear, Belted Kingfisher and stunning views of adult and young Bald Eagle, it was truly an unforgettable one-hour!

We eventually arrived at the Blue River RV Park at around 6pm and for the first time since arriving in Canada had our first Campfire, burgers and beer, another awesome day.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wk 1 Calgary to Valemount

It’s really hard to believe that tonight’s stopover at Valemount completes the first week of our tour, and almost 1000kms travelled too thus far through four National Parks, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho. The highlight once more has been the stunning scenery, some of which just takes your breath away. The view from Bow Summit was simply stunning and has to be the most spectacular so far, and from a birders prospective the Cedar Waxing which accompanied the views was the icing on the cake.

From a wildlife perspective this visit has not produced anything like what we encountered in May 2009 with almost all the lakes encountered producing very little wildfowl, or anything else for that matter. We are still yet to connect with any Bears or Moose and the mammal species we have seen thus far have been hard work, but the expectation remains high for our second week with some Bear hot spots on route.

The weather has played it’s part too with temperatures down almost 10C on the norm for this time of year, the low cloud and rain that dogged us on our arrival seems to have returned overnight but the forecast looks good so we live in hope.

Having said all of the above lets not give the wrong impression, on a number of occasions the sun has come shinning through, quickly raising the temperatures to 18C on one occasion, and the birding has produced some spectacular moments. Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Merlin, Swainson’s Hawk and Northern Harrier all on the same day is a stunning haul.

Today we continue southwest towards Well’s Gray Provincial Park and depending on our progress our overnight stay will be Clearweater.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lake Louise to Jasper

Bow Mountain Summit
This was the first time we’d seen Lake Louise in all it’s beauty, when we visited last year it was completely frozen over and there was about 3 inches of snow lying too. If I’m being completely honest, although the lake looked beautiful in today’s bright sunshine, I preferred it in its winter setting.

Unable to visit Lake Moraine on our previous visit last year, the road was closed due to snow, we finally got to see this spectacular lake, some say more beautiful than Louise but personally I think not! The 15km drive to Moraine was stunning and we managed a mammal first for Canada while stopping for photographs in the form of Pika. This intriguing little mammal looks more like a miniature guinea pig with big ears and can only be found high in the alpine, usually amidst boulder strewn fields and slopes. The birding today was slightly disappointing, the only species we could muster was Gray Jay, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junko, Yellow-rumped Warbler and of course the ever present Raven, but today was really more of a sightseeing tour.

The drive from Lake Louise to Jasper is by far the longest, completing 237km passing the Saskatchewan River Crossing and on into Jasper National Park at the Columbian Ice Fields. The weather across this section can change in an instant but luckily only a few snow flurries hindered us on our way.

Cedar Waxwing
During the journey we stopped at Bow Summit (pictured top left) and took the short walk to the top, ending up around 7,000ft. Bow Summit is the height of land between the Bow River system, flowing southeast to Banff, and the Mistaya River flowing northwest. The view was simply awesome and is of a glacial-fed and brilliantly turquoise Peyto Lake. I was also delighted to make contact with a large flock of around 100 Cedar Waxwing swirling from tree to tree and showing beautifully in the bright sunshine, could this get any better!!

We stopped for lunch overlooking the Saskatchewan River and encountered our first Golden Eagle of this visit as it glided majestically over the top of the RV giving some stunning views before moving off down river.

There are many small lakes on route to Jasper and each one was scrutinised but produced surprisingly little in numbers. Lesser Scaup, Blue-winged Teal and Common Loon were the only bird species of note. Other notables were Elk, Mountain Goat, Red Squirrel a plenty and Mule Deer.

Jasper is our furthest point north and we now turn southwest and begin to descend on route to Valemount where we hope to stop tonight.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Golden to Lake Louise

Northern Harrier - Female
After heavy rain overnight, which had settled as snow about 500ft above us, the cloud began to break giving some stunning views of the surrounding snow capped mountains.

Prior to leaving Golden Eco Ranch Dee and I had one last walk around the grounds and down to the River, seeing more evidence of Coyote, and even more Bear Pooh! At the river we watched an Osprey looking for breakfast, and catching too, as he hit the water with amazing speed before heading off with his catch.

On the way back a Northern Harrier was quartering the meadow and a Merlin was perched in the same spot as yesterday evening, high up in a dead pine. As with each morning thus far the local Ravens were calling and a Northern Flicker could be heard deep within the Pinewoods. Arriving back at the RV for departure we’d also added White-crowned Sparrow and Yellow Warbler.

Stopping in Golden for provisions, and also seeing our 2nd Pileated Woodpecker which passed overhead, we spent a short time on an observation deck overlooking a local lake. Here we had Red-winged Blackbird, Snipe, Real Canada Geese and Green-winged Teal. We eventually hit Highway 1, which follows the Kicking Horse River to our first stop of Emerald Lake around midday. Dee and I had visited and walked the perimeter of this stunning Lake last year but decided that it was something worth doing again, and of course Dave was not with us at this stage last year.

The walk is 5.2kms and took us around 3hours with our constant stop start. The Lake itself lives up to expectations and becomes a deep Emerald Green in the sunlight. Unfortunately at this altitude, around 5,000ft, and the make up of the Lake, rock powder which supports very little plant life, the Lake is devoid of any wildfowl. The surrounding Pinewoods however produced Chipping Sparrow, Clarks Nutcracker, Stella’s Jay, American Tree Sparrow, Least Chipmunk, and Red Squirrel.

A brief stop at the Spiral Tunnels to watch a train snaking through this amazing construction before our final destination of Lake Louise, arriving at around 7pm, produced very little more for the day, except for several Elk which were posing for photographs at the roadside. Minus 2C is forcast tonight!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Radium Springs to Golden

Red-tailed Hawk
From the Canyon RV Park, Radium Springs we set off for the town of Golden around mid morning, stopping for a swim in the famous hot springs before hitting highway 95. I’m pleased to say that the weather was much improved with long sunny periods and only the occasional shower, it was quite warm too at times.

Thankful that the low cloud that had dogged us for our first few days had lifted, it wasn’t long before we began to spot various Raptors as we made our way slowly along. On almost every bend American Kestrel and Merlin could be seen, enough Merlin to last you a lifetime in the UK!

Red-tailed Hawk is probably as common here as our very own Common Buzzard and at least 6 were seen before we stopped for lunch on the roadside near Brisco. Our lunch spot looked down on a number of lagoons which branch off the Columbian River, but temping as they were they were inaccessible due to the Canadian Pacific railroad which runs alongside the road for the whole length of today’s stretch. Before moving off we watched more Merlin and also some large flocks of smaller birds, which I believe, were Red Crossbill.

We stopped off at several observation points to take in the breathtaking views and at one stage walked down to stand on the rail tracks which overlooked a magnificent lagoon, Dee and I had passed through this very same spot last year when travelling on the Rocky Mountaineer. Our first Butterflies were recorded; one completely white, the other resembling a Clouded Yellow but more research is required on both. The Lagoon provided very little but Great Blue Heron and Ring-billed Gull were seen.

A short while later Dee spotted our first Bald Eagle of the trip, perched high in a dead tree looking magnificent in the bright sunshine, a couple of Osprey were also observed floating across the river nearby and before reaching Golden we also managed Swainson’s Hawk and a definite on the Red Crossbill.

Golden Eco Adventure Ranch is our overnight stay and once again upon arrival we were warned regarding Grizzly and Black Bear which had been seen very recently. After hitching up to electric and water we decided to set off for a walk along the Columbian River, shall I say with our wits about us!! Amazing views of an Osprey fishing, a second Bald Eagle, Merlin, Great Blue Heron, plus White-crowned and White-throated Sparrow were the birding highlights, but I have to say that the Bear Poo we discovered was even more fascinating, a huge black mound with lots of berries within.

To end a fantastic day my first Pileated Woodpecker flew right overhead as I walked to the shower block, roll on tomorrow!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Canada Update

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
As hoped we managed to fit in an excellent 2 hour visit to Inglewood Bird Sanctuary Calgary before picking up our RV later in the afternoon (Saturday). Our walk around produced a couple of Canada firsts for me, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Wilson's Warbler, a stunning and distinctive bird with unmarked wings and amazing yellow plumage. Dee took some good shots of Mule Deer and went chasing a Black Squirrel and Dave, who's also travelling with us in his RV went nuts with his new camera!

Also seen of interest were Wood Duck, Northern Flicker, Belted Kingfisher, Osprey, Californian Gull, Greater Yellowlegs, Downy Woodpecker, White-crowned and White-throated Sparrow and Swainson's Thrush.

After picking up our unit and supplies we spent out first night at Ghost Dam, around 64km from Calgary on route to Banff. Here the RV site overlooks the dam and sits alongside highway 1A. A short walk before dinner in drizzle surprisingly produced 2 more Wilson's Warbler, plus Red Squirrel and a good number of Herring Gull, but the weather was not kind!

Setting off on the Sunday morning for Banff the weather had worsened with low cloud and persistent rain, so the drive up, entering Banff National Park about 10am, produced nothing of interest on the birding front, the surrounding Rockies totally obscured by low cloud.  However, it was lovely to be here once more, the town where we were married last year. Arriving back at the RV, which we'd parked next to the Bow River, I did manage a Spotted Sandpiper feeding on the river's edge, more Red Squirrel and a good number of Raven which are prolific here.

We set off, using the quieter back road from Banff towards our next destination of Radium Hot Springs, picking up 5 Barrow's Goldeneye at Mule Lake, but once again the weather was appalling with low cloud and persistent rain, ruling out any chance of soaring Raptors.

Having said that we did discover an Osprey nesting on a bridge near the Canadian Pacific Railway at Castle junction which provided some excellent views. Our journey on this stage took us on the Banff-Windermere Highway (93S). Completed in 1922, this scenic 94km drive was the first motor road to cross the Canadian Rockies. At one stage we pass from Banff National Park into Kootenay National Park and also cross the Atlantic/Pacific Continental Divide, we are also now in British Columbia having crossed from Alberta.

We arrived at Radium Hot Springs at around 5.30pm and parked up for the night at The Canyon RV Park, a lovely riverside park set in a valley. The park has a good population of American Robin which seemed to be stripping a nearby tree of berries, and as we reported in to reception there were many signs warning of a roaming Black Bear with two cubs, your in Bear Country now we were reminded.

 Dee and I had a pre-dinner walk around the site and managed Red-naped Sapsucker, Black-capped Chickadee and Cassin's Vario. As I write this post while having breakfast from the RV dinette Dave has just spotted an American Dipper feeding in the creek which runs alongside us!!

Today Monday, and the plan is to have a dip in the famous Radium Hot Springs and then head off to Golden on route to Lake Louise and eventually passing into Yoho National Park. The weather, not kind to us thus far is an improving picture.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Canada Day 1

I thought I'd do a quick update while I'm dealing with the jet-lag and have the hotel wifi at my disposal, as later today we set off towards Banff and on into the Rockies, from there who knows when I'll be posting again!

Our flight from Heathrow with Air Canada was excellent once more arriving into Calgary at around 3.30pm local time. I love this airline, no nonsense, no fuss just good friendly service and good food. The flight across was smooth and we had some stunning views as we flew over Iceland and Greenland. I just can't but help imagine as I look down from 38,000ft the Whooper Swans migration to the UK from Iceland and the amazing Arctic Tern, which has been known to travel an average of 44,000 miles from it's breeding grounds in Greenland to the Weddell Sea on the shores of Antarctica and back, simply stunning!!

The current temperatures on this side of Canada are currently running well below the average for September (17C) and on arrival at Calgary earlier it was a chilly 6C with sunny intervals, as I look out of the hotel window at 4am local time it's 1C and quite misty. The plan today is to hopefully visit Inglewood Bird Sanctuary before picking up our RV later this afternoon, we visited Inglewood before flying back to the UK last year and our post in relation to that visit can be found here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Frampton Marsh

Frampton Marsh 360 hide
Spent the day with other members of the Brandon Marsh Conservation Team and our guests visiting RSPB Frampton Marsh, Lincolnshire.

The reserve is part of the most mature saltmarsh in the Wash and is exceptionally rich in plants, birds and invertebrates. The upper levels, which have extensive zones of sea-lavender, sea aster and sea-purslane, are intersected by large creeks, one of which was the old course of the River Witham before the new cut was made in 1880.

The area supports a breeding black-headed gull colony, while common tern, redshank, oystercatcher, reed bunting, meadow pipit and skylark are all regular breeders. In winter the saltings attract wigeon, mallard, shelduck, teal and brent geese, with large flocks of finches and buntings, notably linnet and twite. The tidal mudflats form part of the wader feeding grounds, which give the Wash its international status. Large flocks of dunlin occur, as well as considerable numbers of grey plover, whimbrel, curlew, bar-tailed godwit and greenshank.

Little Stint
We arrived at the visitor centre around around 9.15am and were welcomed by one of the reserve volunteers who gave us an excellent introductory talk before we moved out onto the reserve. A very blustery day but it remained dry and quite warm for nearly the whole visit.

The reserve boasts 3 hides, two of which have 360-degree views and there are over 3km of new footpaths to explore. We started by taking the footpath directly to the sea wall in the hope of catching some wader activity at high tide. Unfortunately after arriving we realised that it would have to be an exceptionally high tide, if not a tsumami, to reach the reserve as the sea remained about 3km out!

Curlew Sandpiper
Notwithstanding the walk down to the wall produced of interest 2 Common Tern, Greenshank, Little Egret, Meadow Pipit, Curlew and good numbers of Dunlin and Golden Plover. As we continued along the wall A Common Buzzard was seen along with Kestrel and Marsh Harrier.

On the surrounding creeks various Wildfowl were present with Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Shelduck, Little and Great Crested Grebe, Wigeon, Pintail and Egyptian Geese. With the constant wind the best viewing of the day was from the hides with a good selction of waders. These included Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Redshank and more Greenshank.

Little Stint numbered at least 4 along with several Curlew Sandpiper and these undoubtedly where the birds of the day! Personally I missed out on the only Ruff seen but after arriving back at the nature centre did manage two final waders with two Green Sandpiper feeding close by.

Also worth a mention along with the sporadic Sand Martin, House Martin and Swallow was a single Swift which seemed to keep us company for around 20 minutes before heading off on his journey south.

A stop at Eyebrook Reservoir in heavy showers on the return to Brandon gave us a few additions to the day with Hobby, Red-legged Partridge, Shoveler and Pochard. An excellent days birding and some really awful jokes was enjoyed by all, but you know what they say? The old ones are always the best!