Sunday, January 24, 2010

Routine Change

A change of routine for me at Brandon Marsh today as I decided to to check out the Tip area, Farm Pool Reedbed and River Meadow prior to daybreak. Not a bad decision as it happens as the other Sunday chaps recorded no sightings of Barn Owl from Sheepfield!
I myself was rewarded just before dawn with a good sight of Tawny Owl, (Library Picture), as he drifted across River Meadow from the direction of West Marsh, plus 8 Fieldfare and 2 Redwing flying West over the top reedbed. On the return journey a Woodcock flew East just as I arrived back onto the Tip area, plus a brief view of a Fox's rear end as it disappeared into the reeds. The Avon was running well up this morning and I had doubt's about access to Big Hide and Carlton as I made my way thru' Horstail Glade, which was remarkably quiet.
As suspected the Central Marsh path was flooded on arrival and so I made my way directly to Wright Hide to meet up with the chaps. The Green-Winged Teal, which has been on site since Tuesday was showing well, but I'd missed a female Goosander.
I took the decision to back-track to the car to collect my wellies, after which I just about managed to wade thru' to Big Hide and Carlton. Seen from Big Hide of note were 3 Goldeneye (1M~2F), 32 Pochard, a lone Snipe and 3 Great Crested Grebe. A trip to the Carlton Hide and a 90-minute stint yielded a good number of Gadwall, 18 in total, plus 3 more Snipe, 1 Kestrel and 2 Sparrowhawk, viewed circling over New Hare Covert.
Today was the day that we finally spread the ashes of our dear friend Ted Jury in the memorial garden at Brandon, a man that has devoted many an hour to the sites development, and a man who will be sorely missed. I have some great memories to savour from the short time I knew him and he always made me laugh. Rest in peace Ted.
After the ceremony I managed to pick up on a single Golden Plover in amongst the Lapwing flock on East Marsh Pool, and then after tea in the Nature Centre we were back out onto the reserve, paying further visits to Big Hide and Carlton. This time, and after a painstaking scan of the reeds, we were rewarded with a Bittern, who didn't make life easy for us, the camouflage of these birds is extraordinary! Also showing on East Marsh was a single Shelduck, who disappeared as quickly as he came, a brief look see in Teal Hide revealed 40 Wigeon on River Pool.
Finally Carlton Hide gave us a second Bittern of the day, but this time with excellent views as he appeared in the open directly under the 1st Kingfisher post, well done Monica on a great spot!! However, today's kudos must go to the guy who took off his boots and socks to wade to Big Hide for a Warwickshire 'tick' of Green-Winged Teal, which I'm delighted and relieved to say was successful.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Extraordinary day.

A fairly dank and nondescript day weather wise turned out to be a stunning birding day at Brandon Marsh.
A couple of Barn Owls to start on their normal hunting ground on Sheepfield was a good place to begin, and then on to the Wright Hide as per usual, where the thaw is progressing nicely on East Marsh Pool. The surprise here was 13 Mute Swan, good numbers for Brandon, eventually rising to 15 for the day, plus male and female Goldeneye with the usual other wildfowl evident. A Kingfisher, my first of 2010, also went skimming across the pool just prior to moving on, nice to see after the recent cold snap.
With the flood water receding a trip to Teal Pool, Big Hide and Carlton Hide were possible and on River Pool 12 Wigeon and 4 Gadwall were noted, along with good numbers of Teal.
The first result of the day came at Carlton Hide where Mike Lee, another Conservation Team member had a quick glimpe of a Bittern walking across the ice, unfortunately the rest of us missed it! However, we needn't have been too concerned as almost immediately 2 more Bittern rose from the reed bed and flew a short distance before dropping back in. Amazingly 3 Bitterns in quick succession was a stunning result and for me the first time I'd seen 2 together in flight at Brandon!
As if this wasn't enough a further and unexpected surprise was also on the cards. As the work party were making their way back across Newlands at around 1.30pm I had word, courtesy of Jeff Wesson, of a male Green-Winged Teal (pictured) on East Marsh Pool, which had apparently been viewed from the Wright Hide. As luck would have it the team were passing right by the hide enroute back to the Nature Centre and so it wasn't long before we had him in our sight, the first at Brandon since May 2004. We enjoyed some excellent views of a bird that looked to be in pristine condition, and I suddenly realised that for me personally this was my first in the UK.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Now the Flood!

My first task just before dawn today was to try and locate a Long Eared Owl which I've heard calling just before dawn at the marina recently. Unfortunately, and as ever with birding, there was no sign and no calling on the morning I'd earmarked for a substantial search of the grounds, and so I duly set off for Brandon.

Black ice was a major issue on the back roads this morning and so I made my way gingerly through Birdingbury and Marton village, before finally arriving at 7am. The drive from the main gate to the security gate produced my first real spot of the day as a silhouetted Woodcock flew low just in front of me.

After parking I made my way to the Sheepfield ridge, disappointingly only producing one Barn Owl today, which of course I was too late to see. However, I needn't have worried as shortly after I had good views of a single bird perched just above the 'Oak Tree' box. On to the Wright Hide and East Marsh Pool, which I'm happy to say is starting to thaw nicely, this produced a male and female Goldeneye, Pochard and Little Grebe amongst the usual Tufted, Teal and Shoveler, JR also mentioned 2 Goosander present yesterday, but no sign today. After a further scan the steely eyed 'Bittern Man', as I've now nicknamed him, Mr Geoff Hood, located a single Bittern skulking in the reeds just in front of the Big Hide!

Leaving the Wright Hide we made our way straight to West Marsh, as due to the River Avon currently being in flood the Big Hide, Teal Pool and Carlton Hide are currently un-accessable, much to the disappointment of Brandon's Sunday photographic fraternity!
The West Marsh pool produced a second Little Grebe and a good view of Sparrowhawk as he shot past the hide. On the path leading away we enjoyed an unexpected site of a Field Vole (pictured), who'd obviously been displaced by the flooding. A nice walk over the 'Tip' area and Farm Field had 5 Skylark, Green Woodpecker and Common Buzzard.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Another Twitch!

Not bad for a non Twitcher but two in one week! Well I simply couldn't resist the lure of 17 Bewick's Swans.
Word came through while working at Brandon Marsh this afternoon of these magnificent birds not 5 miles away from our location, why couldn't they be more thoughtful and drop in here I thought?
Anyway after work and a quick coffee, so quick I left half, several of the Conservation Team went a twitching. In convoy and following our beloved leader, we eventually caught up with 14 of the 17 reported birds feeding in a field at Bretford. Magnificent they looked too in the snowy backdrop and once again well worth the effort of another twitch!

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Grandborough day out

If someone would have told me that I'd have Bittern right on my doorstep I'd have told them to keep taking the tablets.
However, it seems that one of my fellow boaters has struck lucky with a sighting directly from her boat window. I've no reason to doubt the lady either as she appears to know her stuff, not the very least the description of what she saw which tallies completely with that of a Bittern sighting.
We're surrounded by reedbed here at Wigram's, and only a small hop to the nearby Napton Reservoir, which also boasts a large reedbed, and so it's not impossible. I myself have paid several visits to the area in question but have come up with a blank, and so for me the report is unconfirmed, but I'm not giving up yet.

I'm not a twitcher either but couldn't resist a visit to the nearby village of Grandborough this morning. Only 6 miles from my location and currently boasting a wintering Great Grey Shrike.
I duly arrived, not really knowing what to expect, but was glad I made the effort. Having eventually found the reported area I wasn't surprised to see other birders in the locality and before long several frozen twitches were on site. Around 300 Linnet were showing well and it wasn't long before the first rapture of the day arrived in the form of a Merlin (Library Picture). I watched in amazement as she took a Linnet right in front of me and departed to a nearby roost for lunch. Over the period she was joined by a male and during my 3 hour stay both birds attacked the Linnet flock on several occasions.
After almost 2 hours and no sign of the Shrike, which was apparently showing well yesterday, I took a walk further down the footpath to get the blood flowing. I had Raven, Fieldfare, Buzzard and a Fox before doubling back to find myself alone with more excellent views of Merlin, but still no Shrike. Not one to give up I persevered for a further 45 minutes and was rewarded for my stamina by a distant view of a Grey Grey Shrike, incredibly appearing to hover for several seconds before perching on one of the many telephone wires. Not the best view I've ever had but a Great Grey Shrike nevertheless.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Big Freeze

As the big freeze continues I took the opportunity to have a good look around our marina in the hope of finding something unusual to the site!

With temperatures remaining below zero during daylight hours the canal and surrounding waterway remains solid, probably around 4 inches from what I've seen. The nice thing is that a good number of long term moorer's have numerous feeding stations strategically placed around the locality, and so the local bird population appears well off. This includes our Ducks, Swans and Waders which consists of good numbers of Mallard, several Hybrid, a lone Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Mute Swan. Interestingly enough the ducks have managed to maintain an unfrozen area of the marina, and as co-incidence would have it, right next to a boat who regularly feeds them!

At Wigram's we also have a good population of Tree Sparrow and I'm happy to report that they were in good numbers today, chattering away within the Bramble and Hawthorn. Another bird which also nests here in the surrounding Phragmites Reed is the Reed Bunting, a bird which tends to become anonymous in the Winter but more recently has become numerous, obviously weather related, I counted 49 on site today. A number of Pied Wagtail were scurrying around the ice too and a Green Woodpecker has taken a liking to my feeding station.
Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Bullfinch are also regular visitors, along with the usual Blue and Great Tit, I also heard a Coal Tit calling at one stage. I noted a hunting Kestrel in an ajacent field, closely followed by a Common Buzzard, and to my delight a Raven flew East To West toward Napton Reservoir, easily recognised by the constant croaking as it flew. Dunnock, Robin and Blackbird were also present but our resident Kingfisher has probably nipped off to the local river in search of food.

Over a glass of mulled wine I spent around 30 minutes on a sky-watch and noted Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Redwing, good numbers of Feildfare and just before dusk a good number of Gulls heading for Draycote Water for the regular nightly roost. However, the best was to come as just prior to getting back aboard into the warmth of the boat a Woodcock skimmed above the ice heading West. Amazingly my 3rd of the week as I recorded 2 of these fantastic birds at Brandon Marsh on Tuesday! More recently our Tawny Owls have become muted as it's been several nights now without hearing one, I'd also hoped for Brambling today but alas it wasn't to be!
(Pictured - A mute Swan decides to head for Warwick)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


An additional work party day to complete more work on the Newlands reedbed phase 3 project took me to Brandon this morning. I don't know whether I'm just becoming immune but it felt a lot warmer by comparison to recent days, only -1C on arrival.
Three Barn Owls, which seem to have now established themselves were seen quartering Sheepfield once more, but the surprise was to come a little later. Firstly though, a visit to Wright Hide where a Little Egret was seen sitting on a fallen Willow just above the ice, a nice tick for only the 5th day of the new year.
On to Teal Pool and the Main Hide for a quick look before work commenced, a few of us then deciding to venture along to Carlton Hide to keep the blood circulating!
However, no sooner had we perched on the benches a phone call from JR, who had remained in Main Hide, sent us scurrying back at break neck speed. On arrival a Great White Egret had just flown in to join his smaller friend on the fallen Willow. What an amazing site and much to the delight and then immediate disappointment of the keen photographer's of the team, who had not brought their camera's!
Sorry but I popped the above picture in to show what you've missed guys!!!
As the snow set in and we made our way back to the Nature Centre for tea, the Little Egret was still present, but sadly his friend had departed. Also worth a mention was a large flock of mostly Lesser Redpoll, circa 100, which packed one of the Alders as we made our way back.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Nice Start!

My first visit to Brandon Marsh for 2010 but only just! Having set off before daybreak on another bitterly cold morning I limped into Brandon 30 minutes later with the water gauge on red and the radiator fan almost blasting me into space. Not another Land Rover head gasket surely!!!

In need of some cheering up I cracked on towards Sheepfield, noting a Barn Owl through the darkness at one of the boxes, before settling on top of the ridge to watch the daylight breakthrough. What greeted me was another 2 Barn Owls quartering the field, and after being joined by the 'chaps', a Peregrine flew from the golf course across towards Brandon Wood. Two early rising Buzzard and a single Kestrel, plus some of Bob's dreadful jokes before moving on.

A Muntjac briefly seen through the gloom in New Hare Covert, but just the normal species on view at the Wright Hide, Main Hide and Carlton Hide, which did have an unusually good number of Reed Bunting, 6 in total. Teal Pool Hide yeilded my first Bittern sighting of 2010, a single bird which sat patiently just in front of the reeds at the back of River Pool. Having enjoyed good views of the Bittern, who departed back into the reedbed as the nearby shooting range fired up on the stroke of 10am, we took in West Marsh and Horstail Glade. The Glade had a surprise for us with a wintering Chiffchaff seen low in the bramble.

After coffee and bacon sandwiches in the Nature Centre a good tour of the rest of the reserve with Derek, which took in the 'Tip' area and Farm Pool Reedbed, before a final walk back around Newlands and New Hare Covert. A patient 20 minutes in the Covert had Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Siskin, Redpoll and some ground feeding Redwing, looking for windfall.
Other notables of the day were Nuthatch, Sparrowhawk, Green Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and Collared Dove, unusual to Brandon! Water Rail, Willow Tit, Coal Tit and Cetti's Warbler were also heard, so not a bad start to the year with a total of 51 species seen and 4 heard. A trip to the garage awaits tomorrow so lets hope it is a Happy New Year!!!
(Picture of a Brandon Bittern courtesy of Jeff Rankin)