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.