Saturday, March 27, 2010

Migration Update 2

I spent an enjoyable 90 minutes in the big hide at Brandon Marsh yesterday (Friday) and my timing was perfect. Just as I arrived I was given the heads-up by Richard May of a Bittern directly in the front reed bed. Within about 15 minutes the bird had appeared and had made the short flight across to the right hand reed bed, disappearing within, my second sighting of the week. The usual birds were also on site and the recent additions of Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Sand Martin were all recorded, 60 Snipe are also well worth a mention.

This morning on the walk down to the car from my boat 3 Meadow Pipit were perched on the newly installed telephone cables, a Skylark singing high up, a call from one of the now resident Little Owls, and fortunately the earlier rain had abated.

On arrival at Brandon I took my usual route to the Wright Hide and recorded my first Willow Warbler of the day singing by the wind pump. By the time I arrived at the hide I'd noted 4 Chiffchaff, 4 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Goldcrest, 4 Song Thrush and 3 Bullfinch. However, nothing could have prepared me for the Sedge Warbler (pictured) singing low in the willow at the back of the hide. In fact I immediately telephoned a firstly dubious JR, who was about 5 minutes in front of me, back to the spot, always nice to have the official recorder in the vicinity on these occasions! To add to the confirmation the bird finally decided to show itself in the morning sunshine, probably the earliest ever record of a Sedge Warbler at Brandon, I'll await Jim's confirmation on that one.

Over the remainder of the morning I'd recorded on top of the usual species 4 Willow Warbler in total, 4 Redshank, 1 Willow Tit, 9 Chiffchaff, 7 Sand Martin, 2 Oystercatcher, 2 Water Rail, 6 singing Cettis Warbler, 2 displaying Sparrowhawk, Buzzards a plenty and my third sighting this week of Bittern, as one flew across the back of Newlands Reedbed. Also still on site and recorded were 2 Fieldfare, 3 Redwing and a small flock of Redpoll.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Migration Update 1

Well I thought it might be the weekend before I'd be posting the first sighting of Willow Warbler at Brandon Marsh, but I'm delighted to say I was wrong. The bird was seen singing, strangely enough in almost the exact same area as the first Chiffchaff, near the Saga sign which overlooks Goose Pool earlier this morning. I also had my first Swallow at Brandon today too, having missed the one that JR recorded on Tuesday afternoon. Sand Martins were also well in evidence this morning with around 50 birds over East Marsh and Grebe Pools. During my work on Phase 3 I also had a second Willow Wartbler calling and Brimstone Butterfly.

After further phase 3 reed bed work had finished at around 1.30pm word came through of 2 Wheatear at Baginton Airport near the fuel tanks, and so off we trundled after tea to take a look. The area is well known to the Brandon team who in recent years have had Redstart and Whinchat, unfortunately before my time! Upon arrival and after a quick scan of the immediate area PB picked up 2 Curlew on the open field, and shortly after we located one of the Wheatear (library pictured) perched on a concrete post, I must say looking in excellent plumage. It's probably my earliest ever Wheatear but I'd have to check that one. After a further scan we were unable to pick up on the second bird.
Another area we checked not far from the airport was a flooded field were JR regularly sees Green Sandpiper and so we went to investigate. Having risked near death as the passing cars whizzed by within inches thinking, who the hell are these idiots, I managed 6 birds in total (JR had 7) in an area where you'd probably just drive by. Just goes to show it pays to be vigilant in this birding lark, (no pun intended).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More Signs

Finally nature is beginning to unlock after the coldest winter since 1981 and there are definite signs with bumblebees and butterflies taking to the skies. Last Sunday at Brandon I came across a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (pictured) basking in the sunshine on River Meadow before flying off, the Coltsfoot, Primrose and Daffodils are also finally breaking through. I have no doubt too that I heard the calls of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker near Horstail Glade in the fog of the early morning, another Brandon spring visitor.

On Monday I stayed local and went in search of a Firecrest that had been reported at Napton on Sunday, only 5 minutes from my location, unfortunately after a 90 minute search I came up with a blank. I did manage a lone Goldcrest, 4 Buzzard and around 25 Fieldfare though and also met up with Denis Woodward another birder joining the search who'd come across from Coventry.

After Thursday's arrival of the first Chiffchaff's you'd be hard pushed now to avoid hearing one anywhere on the reserve, I recorded 8 today in various locations all competing for territory. The first Swallow of the year was also sighted by JR from the Wright Hide this afternoon and I myself had a count of 7 more Sand Martin. As one species arrives another prepares to depart and it was great to see a solitary Bittern showing well on Teal Pool Bund early this morning after an absence of 10 days, a bird which is probably ready to depart any time now.

When I first arrived at Brandon this morning things were particularly quiet with the numbers of Shoveler and Teal now starting to diminish along with the reducing Black Headed Gull numbers. After the Bittern sighting early on things did pick up with a single Little Ringed Plover, 2 Ringed Plover, 2 Oystercatcher now on station, 4 Redshank and a brief visit from a Grey Wagtail. I've also discovered Long Tailed Tit and Blue Tit nests and I'm positive I now know the location of a Kingfisher nest, with 2 birds showing well near the location. Touring the reserve today there are still reasonable numbers of Redpoll on site plus the odd Fieldfare and Redwing and another amazing sight today was 9 Buzzards in the morning sunshine high over the top reed bed. The next bird on the spring hit list is Willow Warbler and I'm positive I'll be reporting on this species within the next seven days.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Update

Well spring has certainly sprung to life for me today at Brandon Marsh with a hatrick of early migrants. Firstly, as I drove down the road towards the nature centre at around 7am a Sand Martin came skimming across the top reed bed before heading off west, a very pleasant start to the day and unless an earlier report arrives to the recorder, the first at Brandon this year.

Secondly, after parking up and heading off down towards Sheep Field a half hour later I heard my first singing Chiffchaff close to the fisherman's noticeboard near Grebe Pool. Although I didn't pick him up visually at the time I did have a Chiffchaff later in the day around the same area and assume it's the same bird. A second bird of the day was also observed drinking at the Carlton Hide by myself and several others.

My hatrick came after the work party had ended and a final walk around the reserve with Derek Bennett. At around 3.30pm 2 Little Ringed Plover dropped in on Tern Island, East Marsh Pool, but unfortunately after identification only stayed briefly before heading off in the direction of the airport.

Also on site today of note were : - 1 Willow Tit, the first I've seen at Brandon for several months and a species I believe suffered in the cold winter, 4 Shelduck, 2 Redshank, circa 20 Redpoll, 1 Goldcrest and a count of 30 Snipe this afternoon before departing. We also had the pleasure of a Weasel on the path leading from the Wright Hide earlier on and 2 Stoats were seen today by other members of the conservation team around the Olive Wood Seat.

** All above photographs are library pictures)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Away Day

As we all wait in anticipation at Brandon for our spring arrivals I arranged an away day today for a dozen members of the Brandon Team with a trip to the Forest Of Dean, Herefordshire.

After an 8am departure from the reserve we arrived 2 hours later at the observation point at New Fancy Lane, where we'd hope to connect with the famous Goshawks. The viewpoint was quite busy today as another dozen or so RSPB members from Weston-Super-Mare local branch had also arrived. After a good hours observation with Raven, Buzzard and reasonable views of Crossbill, we eventually had distant views of Goshawk. If I'm being honest I had hoped to get better views of one of my favourite raptors, but as the guys who'd been here before told me, 'this is as good as it gets', well a Goshawk is a Goshawk in my book so I guess mission accomplished.

Next on the agenda was a visit to Speech House Woodland where Hawfinch have been seen recently, another one of those species which has been elusive to me over recent years. Unfortunately we bombed out on this attempt after a half hour search, much to my disappointment. However, on an ajacent field I don't think I've seen as many Thrush in one area at one time with Redwing, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush, I stopped counting Song Thrush at 17 and Mistle Thrush at 5, they were simply everywhere.

For lunch we arrived at Cannop Pond, where things took a real turn for the better on the species front. First was a good number of male and female Mandarin with Little Grebe also observed, and then a real surprise as 3 Sand Martin suddenly appeared over the pond, our first sighting this year. Another bird registered today, and one which has also eluded me for the last year, was Marsh Tit, and it was great to see one once again after all this time. During lunch our species count continued to grow with more Crossbill, Siskin, Grey Wagtail, Goldcrest, Treecreeper and endless amounts of Nuthatch.

After lunch a final attempt on the trail of Hawfinch, this time a trip to Parkend Church and once again another vigil, and another failure. However, this time at least we were rewarded with close-up views of a pair of Crossbill (male pictured above) . A trip to Symonds Yat quickly followed in search of Peregrine which nest each year in the limestone cliffs, but after a 30 minute observation this also disappointingly failed to deliver. Mind you, you simply cannot fail to be impressed by the astonishing panarama which meets you from the viewpoint, and despite the Peregrine no show the views were certainly spectacular and well worth the visit!

Our final destination on our way back home for those travelling in my car was Upton Warren, just off junction 5 of the M5 motorway, a Worcestershire Wildlife Trust nature reserve. Here the highlights were 4 Avocet, 4 Curlew, 1 Little Egret, 1 Oystercatcher and 3 Shelduck. The whole day, despite a couple of no shows on the hit list was a fantastic day out.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring Running Late?

The talk from most people I've spoken to this week has been regarding the late spring and the fact that not much is showing at present. Personally I think that we've become so used to spring arriving early over previously years that when a normal spring arrives, like this one in my opinion, we seem to forget how it once was.

The general consensus, reading various forums, is that spring is in fact running 3 weeks to a month late compared to recent years. The coldest winter since 1981 has kept the natural world locked up tight, substantially setting back the blossoming of trees and spring flowers, and delaying the emergence of hibernating insects such as bumblebees, and red admiral and peacock butterflies.

Over the last 15 to 20 years, spring has advanced considerably because of the warming climate – according to the Met Office, Britain's average temperature has increased by a full degree centigrade since 1970 – and by mid-February in most years, blossom and spring flowers are in evidence, as well as butterflies on warm days. But this year the natural world is only just awakening. At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for example, where a friend of mine works, the million or so Crocus tommasinianus which form a quite spectacular carpet of pale violet began to flower on Friday – whereas they were out in early February last year.

At Brandon Marsh we are now beginning to see the faintest signs of spring emerging with Celendine (pictured) and Daffodil, plus the Bluebells of New Hare Covert now appearing above the windfall. On a birding front we still await the first call of Chiffchaff, probably sometime this week, and the arrival of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, usually located in Horsetail Glade. Today 2 welcome arrivals of Redshank appeared on East Marsh Pool and as in previous years will hopefully breed. Bittern sightings have been less prolific but 1 on Teal Pool Bund showed briefly yesterday. A Brimstone butterfly was also reported on the reserve today and yesterday I recorded 2 Kingfisher skimming across East Marsh Pool. The real spring is definitely in the air but for someone who's as impatient as me it can't come quickly enough.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


A quick trip to Brandon Marsh yesterday afternoon produced the now regular Goldcrest in New Hare Covert, female Muntjac on Wigeon Bank and a lone Raven flying east (pictured) over the Carlton Hide, easily identified by the Cronk! Cronk! while in flight.

With the sluices currently open on East Marsh Pool and little rain recently the Islands are once again starting to appear in full, with the Flag Iris near the centre of the pool also beginning to re-emerge. The water levels are reduced during the spring and summer to allow birds such as Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher to breed without the risk of flood and of course to entice migrating Waders.

Also worth a mention to anyone visiting this week that Thursday will not be a good time as the Conservation Team will be out and about on East Marsh. We will be preparing the now successful Sand Martin structure for the birds imminent arrival (birds have already been reported In Wiltshire and Dorset) and also refurbishing the Islands in preparation for the forthcoming breeding season. We also plan to build a Shelduck nesting hole, 2 birds are currently on site and have been for a while, so you never know.

The best of the day though for me was at sunset back at the marina were I had a perfect opportunity to observe no less than 3 Little Owl. I've been hearing these birds calling for a good while now and actually identified their roost a few days ago. While replenishing my water tanks I suddenly noticed a single bird silhouetted against the remains of the beautiful sunset, and the subsequent stunning blood red sky, so went to investigate. I spent a superb 30 minutes watching the birds, not sure if displaying or playing, as they called across the marina, occasionally goading each other from adjacent trees, one then decided to dive bomb the other before departing into the darkness, what a treat!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Weekend Visits!

A couple of chilly visits to Brandon over the weekend and if my dashboard temperature indicator is not malfunctioning it was an astonishing -9C when I left the marina at 5.30am this morning.
Saturdays visit was topped off with the Bittern showing briefly in the gap at East Marsh Hide at around 9am, but this morning I left a little earlier with the specific intention of checking out Sheep Field for Barn Owls. I actually think I arrived a little too late as when I finally reached my observation area the dawn was already well advanced. After a 30 minute vigil, which only produced a lone Buzzard heading East, I decided to go in search of the hopefully imminent Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Two birds were on site at this time last year, but thus far no reports have been forthcoming.
I spent around 40 minutes in New Hare Covert where I had no less than 5 drumming Woodpeckers, all of which turned out to be Great Spotted. A very enjoyable 40 minutes though I must say with 2 Coal Tits amongst the many Great and Blue, and as I left for East Marsh Pool the sun was already hitting the canopy, one of my favourite sights at Brandon when the sky is a crystal clear blue.
On arrival at the Wright Hide 4 Oystercatcher were on one of the back Islands, 2 of which departed almost immediately, and 2 Ringed Plover, which looked frozen solid, were on Tern Island. The 2 Shelduck, male and female, are also still around on the pool, and a smaller than usual count of 5 Snipe. I should also mention 1 Barnacle Goose and a lone Little Grebe on Swallow Pool as I made my way past. No sign of a Bittern for me today, although a couple of the team had one at the back of River Pool mid-morning. A visit to the frozen West Marsh had Sparrowhawk, plus a male Muntjac on the bank just prior to entering the hide.
After the Conservation Team meeting finished at midday a quick tour around the west of the reserve produced an amazing 6 Buzzard on a thermal over Central Marsh, and a good looking Mistle Thrush (pictured) on Farm Field. As for my target birds of Barn Owl and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, no joy I'm afraid.
On a final note, thank you for the emails regarding my new Brandon Map, all very possitive I must say and a special thanks to Graham Rowling who pointed out that I had the River Avon running the wrong way! All fixed now Graham.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Spring Is Here

If your like me and believe that spring starts on March 1st then what a cracking start to the new season.

On Monday I thought I'd take full advantage of the good weather and do a full re-fuel of my boat, plus tend to a few maintenance issues. However, it wasn't long before the birding took over and any maintenance took a back seat! Firstly, the call of a Common Buzzard had me looking skyward where no less than 4 were riding a thermal in a clear blue sky, shortly followed by 2 Raven heading East. Over a mid morning coffee a large flock, circa 50, of Fieldfare overflew, and by the time the sun went down a Little Owl (Recently Pictured) was calling from the nearby Hawthorn. I did manage to get my chores done though.

With the clear skies at this time of year comes the frost and a shock to the system was the -7C at the marina before departing for Brandon on the Tuesday morning. Nothing too unusual to report but the Snipe numbers are continuing to grow with a healthy 21 dotted around East Marsh Pool. The 2 Oystercatcher are still on site but are currently spending the latter part of the day on the golf course feeding. On the way across to Newlands for more work on the Phase 3 project I lost count of Reed Bunting numbers which have suddenly exploded. Other notables where a single Goldcrest in New Hare Covert, 4 Water Rail, 6 Cettis Warbler calling, a Kingfisher on Swallow Pool and a flock of circa 100 Redpoll.

Today's visit and works party once again didn't throw up much from the norm but it's interesting to see the decline in Teal on site as we march ever closer to summer. That said excellent numbers of Thrushes around with Fieldfare, Redwing, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush all recorded today, with Siskin and Redpoll still feeding in the Alder. A small flock of 19 Linnet on Farm Field were also well worth the walk with a singing Skylark overhead. 2 Shelduck on East Marsh along with 3 Great Crested Grebe are also worth a mention.

The senseless minority. It has to be said!!

One disappointment today was when I popped into the very busy East Marsh Hide on the way back to the Nature Centre with other members of the conservation team. We have some excellent photographers at Brandon Marsh who are great company, always friendly, helpful and thoughtful and take some stunning shots of birds from the comfort of the hides, without resorting to the tactics displayed in the above photograph. Recent Bittern photographs from the hide have been stunning, but how long before a few mindless idiots chase the bird away?
I become extremely frustrated when I see certain idiots, the minority, who insist on having a 2ft lens 90% out of the hide flap. One particular person today had positioned themselves in such a way that anyone sitting either side of them would have no chance of seeing past the protruding monstrosity! There's good and bad in everyone, birders and photographers alike but for goodness sake let common sense prevail!!

(Picture displayed was taken from East Marsh Hide looking over to Baldwin Hide late last year, without sticking the lens out of the flap!)