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.