Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dream, Nightmare & Reality!

Things have remained particularly quiet over the past week both locally and at Brandon Marsh, as you would probably expect at this time of year, and so finding things to blog about without becoming repetitive becomes somewhat of a challenge. With this in mind I thought a a few paragraphs on what kind of a year it's been for me on the birding front was in order.

Firstly, I'm not actually that good at making lists and so I can't specifically tell you how many species I've recorded this year. What I can tell you is that like all birders my year has had it's highs and lows. For those who know me, they'll tell you of my passion for Canada, the country I was married in during 2009 and which I visit each year with my lovely wife Dee. It was therefore an absolute dream to get the opportunity to live in Vancouver once more in March and April of this year thanks to Dee's work. During this time I walked many miles a day, met some great new friends and visited some stunning birding locations with amazing results. I just can't wait to return in May 2012.

Closer to home and with Dee's parents living in France we always take up the opportunity to visit, who can refuse, with great food, great conversation and great birding. However, this year a trip to France proved to be my worst nightmare. Hours before we were due to fly I trapped my femoral nerve pretty badly and unfortunately not only did I spend almost the entire week in bed during our visit, it practically wiped out my entire summer! Thankfully, it's a situation I'm now able to manage, although it still has it's moments.

To Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve and in fact this week sees my third anniversary since joining the voluntary conservation team, some would say that they can't remember a time when I wasn't at Brandon! Do I take this as a compliment or otherwise? In reality Brandon is a place where I spend endless hours working and birding and I'm proud to be a part of a team of people who devote hours of their time and energy managing and creating an environment for the benefit of our amazing British wildlife. Inspirational, enthusiastic individuals, who work hard, take criticism on the chin (not everyone understands conservation) and who are passionate about the work they do, and long may it continue. Sadly, in the three short years that I've been involved at Brandon Marsh we've lost three amazing characters, and so at this time of year I think a brief pause to remember Ted Jury, Roger Porter and Bob Rothwell, who it was a privilege to know and who are sorely missed.

Finally, a big thank you for all the emails in relation to my previous post regarding the Boundary Bay Snowy Owls, it seems that most, although not all agree! Thank you too for the Christmas wishes Dee and I have received over recent weeks and we both wish you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Very frustrating!

Snowy Owl
For the past week or so I've been receiving emails and some fantastic images from my birding buddies over in Canada.

Most of the excitement has been regrading up to 70 Snowy Owls, which have drifted down from their regular hunting grounds in Northern Canada and the Arctic in search of food.

The majority of the fall has been at an area known as Boundary Bay, an area renown for holding some of the largest populations of wintering Raptors in Canada and one of my favourite birding locations when visiting. Sadly though it appears that the problems we have here in the UK with a minority of mindless photographers, striving for the ultimate shot with no regard for the animal, seems to be a major problem in Canada now too!

I've been horrified by some of the emails I've received over the weekend, summed up by the news item below.

What can you say about these mindless idiots who appear to have no regard for anything other than themselves. These birds are obviously at the point of exhaustion and the last thing they need is to be spooked from pillar to post while they attempt to recuperate! I know that personally I've been criticised in the past for suppressing various sightings, Long-eared Owls at Brandon for example, but is it any wonder with these idiots always a threat!

Anyway back to the UK and a chilly morning at Brandon Marsh produced three highlights for the day. Firstly, excellent views of a Peregrine attacking the Lapwing population. Secondly, good views from the Wright Hide of a Bittern on the front edge of the reeds in front of Big Hide. Finally, some very tasty and welcome mince pies with our morning coffee in Big Hide, supplied by our steely eyed Bittern spotter, Jeff Hood.

Oh yes, worth a mention to tune in to Countryfile tonight (BBC1 @ 7pm) where it's quite possible that some of the footage taken at Brandon Marsh a few weeks ago may be used!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A New addition!

A New Addition Overnight!
Enjoying a coffee this morning at around 6am, after a rather bumpy night, the rain still battering down and the wind still hammering the boat, I was somewhat surprised around 45 minutes later when I stepped onto the pontoon in crystal clear skies and a relatively calm water!

I was further surprised when I noticed that a lone ♂Mandarin Duck had joined with the local Mallard population during the night. In fact my birding day had gotten off to an excellent start by the time I reached the car, when silhouetted against the clear brightening Eastern sky a Woodcock overflew the marina.

Brandon Marsh this morning had received a very welcome overnight dumping of rain and as I drove past the top reed bed a very early Buzzard was making it's way across. I made my way around my usual route and it was soon apparent that a feeding frenzy was taking place. Excellent numbers of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin were feeding high amongst the Alder, and the few remaining Hawthorn berries were being greedily devoured by Fieldfare, Redwing, Blackbirds and Bullfinch. New Hare Covert produced 2 Goldcrest and a single Great-spotted Woodpecker.

Lots Of Fieldfare Locally!
Passing the golf course a ♀Muntjac Deer made a dart across for the relative cover of New Hare Covert and both Water Rail and Cetti's Warbler were heard calling. East Marsh Pool, which now has excellent water levels produced the usual suspects, the best of which were: Kingfisher, 2 pair of Goldeneye, 18 Golden Plover, 9 Snipe, 6 Wigeon and a very pristine looking Yellow-legged Gull amongst the Gull population. Also seen of note during my visit were: Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Willow Tit, Coal Tit and Nuthatch.

With time to spare before my car was due it's MOT I took the opportunity for a walk around a very blowy and somewhat biting Napton Reservoir. Here most of the waterfowl were sensibly taking cover at the top end of the water, with around 50 or so Tufted Duck, 75+ Wigeon, 8 Gadwall and probably the whole Counties allocation of Coot!

A walk to the top end of the reed bed produced at least 75 Fieldfare and the best of the visit, when I inadvertently flushed a Jack Snipe, which was also taking cover from the now buffeting winds. On my return to the marina our new resident Mandarin was still on site, offering good photographic opportunities and my final bird of a very enjoyable day out was a cronking Raven over!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Little About!

One Less Water Vole!
A week on from my last post and despite high hopes very little new on offer around the patch. My birding depression was not helped either by an email I received from my mate Derek Killby in Vancouver, Canada this morning. This read like a who's who of species, the best being 28 Snowy Owls he came across at Boundary Bay, Delta, a place I've visited several times over previous years.

Brandon Marsh over the past several days has been reasonably quiet too, the exception being Tuesday when I managed my best view thus far this winter of a Bittern, when one took flight from the reeds in front of big hide. Several arse end images the best I could muster as the bird flew across towards Newlands, catching me completely by surprise.

On the same morning I witnessed first hand the demise of one of the recently released Water Voles, when I was stunned to see a Heron pluck one from the grass at Carlton Hide. Still plenty of winter visitors on offer though, with several good flocks of Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Fieldfare and Redwing. The daily visit of Golden Plover, numbers usually ranging from 30 to a very healthy 175 continues, although today's visit only saw a count of 9.

Closer to home a tour of the marina and surrounding areas this morning didn't manage any surprises, although a count of 8 Skylark in the adjacent field was welcome. Also recorded were: 6 Red-legged Partridge, 4 Yellowhammer, 32 Goldfinch, 38 Linnet, 11 Tree Sparrow, 2 Bullfinch ♂♀, 1 Green Woodpecker, 2 Kestrel and a lone Buzzard.

Finally, I've now started to upload a few of my photographs onto Flickr and these can be accessed by clicking the link on the header bar above labelled 'My New Photostream'.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Two Winter Firsts

Click  On Image To Enlarge
An interesting end to the week, a week in which I've rubbed shoulders with a household name and recorded my first Bittern and Jack Snipe sightings of the winter.

On Thursday afternoon the BBC Countryfile team were recording at Brandon Marsh for the up coming Christmas episode. With a working knowledge of the reserve a few of the conservation team members were in attendance, which included yours truly. In the late afternoon I was lucky enough to accompany John Craven in a search for Holly and Ivy. Fortunately, with only two Holly Bushes on the whole reserve, my first hand knowledge came in very handy. I'm just glad that I took them to the female of the species, as I couldn't remember initially if it was laden with berries or not. Thankfully my embarrassment was spared, no need to panic either, as you will definitely not be seeing me on the big screen!

Today's visit to Brandon turned up a couple of winter firsts with amazingly only my first brief glimpse of Bittern this winter, when one bird took flight across the reeds as I passed the 'Olive Wood' bench at around 8am. East Marsh Pool still has the 2 long staying pairs of Goldeneye and an amazing count of at least 140 Golden Plover. Golden Plover have now been visiting regularly at Brandon for over a month, an unprecedented sequence as prior to this these birds were a very infrequent visitor. Snipe and Pochard numbers were down on previous counts with only 3 and 17 respectively.

Carlton Hide produced Kingfisher and Water Rail, with a Common Buzzard and Mistle Thrush sharing the big dead tree for a while. However, the best was my first Jack Snipe at Brandon this winter, when one was seen briefly to the rear of the island, before bobbing back into the undergrowth.

Also of note today: Willow Tit (1), Siskin (8), Lesser Redpoll (6), Fieldfare (11), Redwing (11), Sparrowhawk (1), Kestrel (2), Coal Tit (2), Nuthatch (1), Bullfinch (6 - 3♀ + 3♂), Goldcrest (2). A second glimpse at East Marsh Hide, of probably the same Bittern seen earlier, shortly before I headed off to the nature centre for breakfast at 11am.

Locally the Marina still has various numbers of Linnet, Goldfinch and at least 100 Fieldfare are still in the locality, this evenings Pied Wagtail roost had circa 150 birds, a slight reduction from previous nights. The Long-eared Owl mentioned in my previous post is still showing in its regular daytime roost. Finally, with no decent photographic opportunities today I've enclosed the above picture which I took yesterday at the marina, when I noticed our resident Mute Swans having a clean in the winter sun.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Time To Reflect

With the autumn migration over and the likelihood of any further rarities dropping in diminishing by the day, it's time to reflect on what kind of autumn it's been, putting aside the fact that it's possibly been one of the warmest on record.

I suppose from a national perspective it will probably go down as one the best ever for rare and scarce migrants, although not being a twitcher I contented myself by reading the many reports from around the country. The late part of September saw the remnants of two Atlantic hurricanes hit UK shores, bringing with it North American waders and land birds. A flock of 26 Buff-breasted Sandpipers gathered in Wexford, whilst on the Isle of Scilly an early Red-eyed Vireo was joined by Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler and Baltimore Oriole.

My personal best during this time was my first local inland Gannet, when one dropped in at Draycote Water. At the beginning of October high pressure stretched from the UK all the way to North Africa and the resulting winds provided ideal conditions for our departing summer visitors. From the middle of October the winds turned more easterly and continued on and off until the end of the month. Despite Redwing and Fieldfare entering the country in their thousands accompanied by some early Waxwing, the highlight would have to be the 50 Short-eared Owls which made landfall at Tichwell, Norfolk on the 13th.

From a personal perspective I managed some of my very own migration highlights with Short-eared Owl at Brandon Marsh, plus Crossbills at Napton Reservoir and two very early Bewick Swans on my own doorstep, when I discovered two birds resting at the marina.

Long-eared Owl (Library Image 2010)
In November I managed a week on the Lincolnshire coast with my wife Dee and here we managed further migration highlights when we were lucky enough to see a Short-eared Owl make Landfall at Donna Nook and on the same day recorded Snow Bunting, Lapland Bunting and Merlin. Also seen of note during our stay was my first UK Arctic Redpoll at Spurn, accompanied by Brambling, Long-eared Owl, Wood Lark and my first Whooper Swans, Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese of the autumn at Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore.

All in all I'm quite happy with my lot for the autumn migration, which also includes good numbers of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin, and over the past several days a trawl of my local Long-eared Owl roosts has also turned up my first local bird of the autumn!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Draycote Today!

White Fronted!
After three attempts I finally caught up with a local Short-eared Owl this morning which a fellow boater had put me on to quartering a field off the Napton to Stockton road. It's great to have one on the local patch and I just hope it decides to hang around for a while longer.

The gloom had finally lifted overnight producing a slight frost and a crisp start to the day so I decided to head off to Draycote Water for a wander. I opted to park in the main car park today instead of my usual parking spot at Thurlaston, and on arrival I met up with the Draycote guru's Richard and Bob and decided to let them accompany me around 'The Pond' :)

I have to say that although the birding wasn't that prolific I really enjoyed the time spend with the guys, which included lots of banter, most of which was at my expense! I won't mention the missing White-fronted Geese, oops!!

It was quite a surprise for me to see how the reservoir had decreased even further in water mass since my last visit several weeks ago, something that must surely be of great concern for Severn Trent Water.

A walk along Farborough Bank up to the Spit produced of note ♂ and ♀ Goosander, a lone Yellow-legged Gull out on one of the islands, shortly after followed by a single ♀Common Scoter, which remained distant. Lapwing were in excellent numbers and a huge flock seen across towards Draycote Bank had 7 Dunlin within.

Fly Agaric @ Brandon!
A decision to backtrack for a look at Rainbow corner turned up around 45 Golden Plover over, an extremely agile Peregrine, which attempted but failed to take a Wood Pigeon mid flight, and a few remaining Skylark heading south.

Having failed to locate the recent White-fronted Geese a decision to return to Farborough spit proved successful with 10 birds located in the field below the bank.

Time spent scrutinising the surrounding field proved fruitful with Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard and Richard managed a lone Grey Partridge, which was accompanied by 5 Red-legged, of interest too were around 15 Guinea-fowl which were fun to see.

After departing Draycote and lunch at Brandon Marsh I managed once again to miss the Bittern by minutes on East Marsh Pool. In the hour or so I spent at East Marsh I managed the 2♂ and 2♀ Goldeneye, which are still on site, and finished with: 132 Golden Plover, 6 Wigeon, 6 Gadwall, 22 Pochard, 9 Snipe, 26 Common Gull, 9 Lesser black-backed Gull, plus excellent numbers of Teal and Shoveler. The walk back to the nature centre yielded: 5 Lesser Redpoll, 4 Siskin, 2♀ Bullfinch, and small numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gloomy Day

Resident Swan Family
With heavy rain pounding on the boat roof at around 5am and the forecast of yet more fog and low cloud I made a concious decision to turn over and have a lay in this morning.

I also decided to take a look at a nearby field after a text message last night tipped me off regarding a Short-eared Owl seen at dusk, and so didn't arrive at Brandon Marsh until just after 9am, no Owls in sight!

Not the best decision I've made when a phone call from Brandon came through with news of a Bittern showing well on East Marsh early on. Needless to say I've still not as yet made contact this autumn, but hey it's early days.

Despite the gloom Brandon had it's moments, the best of which were the 2♂ and 2♀ Goldeneye, still around from Saturday, plus 4 Cetti's Warbler heard, 3 Lesser Redpoll, 5 Siskin, 1 Kingfisher, 87 Golden Plover, a half dozen Wigeon and a brief glimpse of a Chiffchaff from the Big Hide. Carlton Hide, which I'm glad to say is now filling back up nicely with water, held 5 Snipe and a single Water Rail. The escaped New Zealand Scaup was also around at West Marsh and 6 Skylark flew south on the walk down.

Lots of mixed Thrush flocks today which included excellent numbers of Blackbird, at least 20 or so of which had black beaks, more likely 1st winter Scandinavian. It's also worth noting that 3 Song Thrush were heard singing too.

A stop off at Napton Reservoir on route home, nearly crushing 6 Red-legged Partridge who ran out in front of me, produced circa 70 Wigeon, Great Crested and Little grebe, a lone Grey Wagtail and a huge flock of around 150 Fieldfare, with smaller numbers of Redwing mixed in.

Despite the unfortunate extraction (don't get me started!) of a huge amount of reed bed back at the marina, the Pied Wagtail roost still contained good numbers with around 250, and as the weather finally broke to the west the sky was awash with literally thousands of Gulls heading for the Draycote roost!

Posted above is a picture of our resident Mute Swan family taken from my window, which I thought would brighten up this post on an otherwise gloomy day!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hectic Week

It's been such a hectic week I haven't even had the time to update the blog with details of our last day before coming home from Lincolnshire last weekend, when we visited RSPB Freiston Shore on the Friday.

One of the main reasons for my lack of blog time has been the work involved in finishing a presentation that I gave at Brandon Marsh on Wednesday evening, which covered my birding exploits in Canada. I have to say that it was really enjoyable to relive the moments of our RV tour last September and it was a good turnout too!

Freiston Shore for those who have not visited before lies around 4-miles east of Boston and consists of salt marsh, lagoons and off shore flats. Dee and I visited last year and thought it would be a nice end to our trip. The weather certainly didn't improve during our whole week and as it started, it finished with low cloud, mist and a cold easterly.

The highlights of the day was a healthy population of Tree Sparrows and good mixed flocks, which consisted of Goldfinch, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. The lagoons held excellent numbers of Wigeon, Shelduck, Little Grebe and Teal, the surrounding marsh had Brent Geese, Pink-footed and 8 Barnacle Geese, which were our first of the week.

A walk out to the observation point which looks out to the distant sea, (once again the tides were unfavourable), yielded Marsh Harrier, Merlin and plenty of Redshank and Curlew. Finally, a small tidal pool at the rear held a lone Black-necked Grebe, a good end to the week.

When I stepped off the boat this morning on route to Brandon Marsh it was a crystal clear sky, by the time I arrived at Brandon some 30 minutes later the mist had rolled in making observation difficult. I'm definitely ready for those Atlantic lows to start taking control. I spent a half hour vigil overlooking Sheep field in the hope of Short-eared and Barn Owl, but alas it wasn't to be.

However, things improved when I accidentally flushed my first Woodcock of the autumn when one took flight right in front of me. Despite several sightings of Bittern over the previous week the bird continues to evade me, although a few of the other chaps in the conservation team have managed views. I'll never here the last of that one!!!

Also of note during my early visit were: 2♀ and 2♂ Goldeneye, Gadwall (5), Snipe (9), Golden Plover (32-over), Cetti's Warbler (7-heard), Goldcrest (2), plus various numbers of Pochard, Teal, Tufted and Shoveler on the pools, with Siskin, Redwing, Fieldfare, Lesser Redpoll, Kestrel and Buzzard elsewhere.

While completing my boating chores after arriving home a large group of around 150 Fieldfare took flight from the direction of Napton Reservoir, closely followed by a couple of Sparrowhawk s!!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Foggy Spurn!

Spurn (Seen on a clear day!!)
Spurn Point is somewhere that I’ve heard lots about but strangely enough have never visited. Spurn is a very unique place in the British Isles, only three and a half miles long and down to only fifty meters wide in places with the sea either side.

Extending out into the Humber Estuary from the Yorkshire coast it has always had a big affect to the navigation of all vessels over the years. Help to some and a danger or hindrance to others. This alone makes Spurn a unique place. Bird observations have taken place here since 1938. This included a roll-call of species, the beginnings of a recording system, which later became standard in bird observatories and continues today at Spurn.

The day did not start well! Having been informed by the local weather forecast (and someone who will remain nameless) that today was probably the best day to visit, as soon as we left the outskirts of Hull, having earlier crossed the Humber Bridge in lovely morning sunshine, the fog blew in!

Having relieved us of our £3 a very nice guy from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust proceeded to make me feel even better by informing us that only an hour before our arrival the sky had been a lovely blue and that the fog had only just rolled in off the sea!

Notwithstanding, we continued on and decided to check out Chalk Bank hides, which overlook the estuary. Here we scanned the fog, Dee picking out a single Little Egret in the scope and one or two movements in the gloom but alas it was to no avail. Things did however improve immediately after decamping from the hide when Dee spotted a Short-eared Owl in flight, dropping down into the grass not far from us to the delight of our friends John & Pat.

Wood Lark (Library Image)
Did things improve even more? Happily yes they did, when after an hour or two of checking out every movement in the gloom we came across our second decent bird of the day with good views of a lone Woodlark near the RNLI centre. A walk out to the point across the dunes produced a Long-eared Owl, which had been accidentally flushed by an earlier birder, and we enjoyed a number of good flight views as the bird flew several times trying to find another decent roosting spot.

By the time we reached Spurn Point the fog had lifted sufficiently to allow views out to sea and we spent a good while here with a flyover of Great Northern Diver, around 70 Pink-footed Geese and various small numbers of Wigeon, Common Scoter, Brent, Shelduck, Red Breasted Merganser and Scaup. The best as far as our friends were concerned were the two Porpoise (probably harbour) which breached the water, showing their dark back and fin.

The walk back across the dunes produced Goldcrest, Mealy Redpoll, one of which I’m convinced was Arctic, although to be honest I’ve only ever come across this species once before, Black Redstart (2) and numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing, sadly once again bombing on the earlier reported Waxwing!

A chat with Paul Doherty at the car park, who I eventually recognised by his voice, which I’ve heard many times on his excellent DVD’s, revealed that I’d also bombed on Siberian Chiffchaff and a late Willow Warbler and he did raise an eyebrow when I mentioned Arctic Redpoll, but did say that one had been reported a few days ago!

On the drive out a Roe Deer on the road and pausing several times to check out the many Waders on the incoming tide, I recorded of note: Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Knot, Ruff, Redshank, Turnstone, Sanderling and BT Godwit before certain others in the car got a little cranky :)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Donna Nook Revisited!

Lapland Bunting (thanks to the Seal Warden!)
Everyone loves Seal pups right? and so it was no surprise that our guests suggested a trip to Donna Nook, having seen a selection of Dee’s photographs from our Sunday visit, and who are we to disappoint.

Unfortunately the weather hasn’t been on our side during our weeks stay here in Lincolnshire and so on arrival the gloomy conditions persisted. However, around mid afternoon the first signs of brightness out to the west, followed by the odd sunny break, seemed to act as a catalyst and produced a good deal of movement on the birding front.

Firstly, a Short-eared Owl being mobbed by several Crows came in off the sea, eventually coming to rest just in scope range, shortly followed by our second Ringtail Hen Harrier of the week, which threw the whole area into frenzy. As if this wasn’t enough, overhead two small raptors also being mobbed turned out to be Sparrowhawk and Merlin. Raptor heaven!

After enjoying a cup of soup from the car park catering van and a chat with one of the Seal wardens, who kindly put me onto a small group of Tree Sparrows, 3 Brambling, 2 Lapland Bunting and distant views of 4 Ruddy Shelduck, I managed to persuade everyone to take a walk south along the sand dunes.

The bird movements continued throughout our walk with various size flocks of Knot, Golden Plover, Oystercatcher and Dunlin, plus 18 Black-tailed Godwit, too many Shelduck and Brent to count and our first Snow Buntings, when 4 came down along the path in front of us!

Snow Bunting
Large flocks of Fieldfare were once again a constant, mingled with Redwing and more Blackbird today, plus the usual flow of Skylark and Meadow Pipit. Also recorded of note were: 2 Whooper Swan, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Linnet, and Goldcrest.

Needless to say John and Pat, our close friends and guests for the rest of the week have taken a slight shine to this birding lark (no pun intended) and unselfishly I’ve suggested to everyone that a visit to Spurn Point may be worthwhile!!

Thanks to Dee for the photo's.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

In The Gloom!

Whooper Swans @ Frampton Marsh
Over the previous couple of days Dee and I have managed visits to both Frampton Marsh and Gibraltar Point. With our non birding friends joining us at our holiday cottage for the remainder of the week we thought we’d try and cram in as much birding as possible before their arrival.

RSPB Frampton Marsh is around a 30-minute drive and boasts coastal wetland, reedbed, large freshwater scrapes and wet grassland. The reserve also has 3 hides, two of which offer 360-degree views, plus there are over 3km of footpaths to explore. Despite the gloom, constant drizzle and bracing north-easterly wind the birding, although no prolific, wasn’t too bad and taking occasional shelter in the hides we managed a good session.

Raptors included Kestrel and Merlin but the highlight was watching a Peregrine making several attempts to capture a very tricky Redshank. Fortunately for the lucky Wader the battle ended Waders 1 Peregrine 0.

At Frampton the newly arriving Whooper Swans continue to pass through and Dee managed to capture an adult bird and juvenile in flight despite the awful photographic conditions, 7 birds were seen in total. Also beginning to arrive in small numbers are Pink-footed Geese and we recorded 5 during our stay. Also seen of note were: At least 500 Brent Geese and various numbers of Shelduck, Goldeneye, Pintail, Pochard, Gadwall, Little Egret, Redshank, Curlew, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Skylark and Meadow Pipit.

The weather had only improved slightly by the time we reached Gibraltar Point on Tuesday morning, at least it stayed dry, but once again Dee and I enjoyed a decent day. This reserve covers 3 miles of coast from Skegness to the Wash. Habitats include sandy and muddy seashore, sand dunes, saltmarsh and freshwater marsh with ponds and lagoons.

Grey Plover in the gloom!
On arrival a quick look at the recent sightings board revealed Twite, Woodcock and Snow Bunting and you’ll be interested to know that we bombed on all three! However, another very enjoyable days birding which included Marsh Harrier and some great views of Grey Plover, Dee taking the opportunity of a prolonged photo session, one of which is posted above!

 Despite the tide being way out a good selection of species to report with: Sanderling, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Grey Plover on the beach area, plus further large number of Brent and more Grey Seals. Large numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare continue to flood in on the easterly wind but sadly no Waxwing amongst them yet!

At the cottage a Tawny Owl can be heard nightly and through the night last night some decent passages of Whooper Swan and Pink-footed Geese could be heard regularly, in fact as I post another 20 or so Pink-footed are passing through.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Donna Nook

Arriving Saturday evening at our cottage in the Lincolnshire Wolds, where we’ll spend the next week, Dee and I decided to spend our first day at Donna Nook on the Lincolnshire coast, which boasts a large population of breeding Grey Seals.

Grey Seal Pup!
Grey Seals in Britain make up around 40% of the worlds population and are found mainly on exposed northern and western coasts. Every autumn they congregate at traditional breeding sites, the timing of pupping varies around the coast from September through to November.

The largest gatherings of breeding Grey Seals normally occur on uninhabited islands in the Hebrides and Orkney in Scotland. Pupping on sand banks or sandy beaches is unusual, which makes Donna Nook on the east coast a very rare and spectacular place to see them. Even more spectacular when you consider the fact that Donna Nook is also an RAF bombing range during the week!

Dee and I arrived at around 11am and this being our first visit we were quite surprised to see so many visitors and ended up parking in the overflow car park. A quick hop over the sand dunes and you’re suddenly confronted with the amazing sight of Grey Seal bulls, cows and pups within feet of the controlled fenced area. It’s an absolute delight seeing the newly born pups this close up, some only days old, and I can highly recommend a visit.

We eventually dragged ourselves away, two memory cards later on the camera and enjoyed a very bracing walk north along the sand dunes. Unfortunately the tides were not in our favour but there was still plenty of birding on offer.

Hen Harrier Ringtail
Large flocks of Brent Geese, excellent numbers of Shelduck and Redshank, plus what I suspect were large numbers of Dunlin and Knot too far out to identify. Curlews were also in good numbers and Skylark and Meadow Pipit were a constant. At one stage a large Starling flock suddenly took flight as a fully adult Hen Harrier (ringtail) came in from across the dunes. Dee managed to fire off a few distant shots with the camera, the best of which is posted.

A chat with a couple of local birders had us on the lookout for Snow Bunting and a reported Cattle Egret but we bombed on both. We did however manage a superb flock of around 40 or so Tree Sparrow, along with Yellowhammer, Linnet and Reed Bunting. Also seen on our walk were: Pintail, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Kestrel, Common Buzzard, plus a lone Pink-footed Goose.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Winter Visitors

I was fortunate to miss the heavy downpour that arrived just after midday as by coincidence I'd left the work party at Brandon Marsh early due the wife's birthday celebrations.

This morning a Barn Owl was still hunting well after sunrise near the golf course, probably due to the heavy overnight rain which we desperately need. Stills lots of our winter visitors at the marsh with the now resident Fieldfare, Redwing, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll, plus at least 35 Golden Plover on East Marsh Pool.

1st Bewicks of the Autumn!
The surprise of the day came about when I was having a coffee on the pontoon chatting to my neighbours. I'd noticed two Swans in the far corner of the marina tucked away in amongst the reeds. They looked slightly smaller than our resident Mute Swans and I sensed straight away that they might be something different! My neighbour, who's not a birder by any means, couldn't quite see what all the fuss was about, it's only a Swan says he!!

Camera in hand I approached with my usual amazing stealth, almost breaking my neck as I gingerly climbed up the bank. Fast asleep I waited, patience is not a virtue, and eventually one raised his head to offer the picture posted above, before dropping back to sleep! Their still asleep as I write.

First Bewick's of the autumn for me and right on my doorstep, what a delight.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Autumnal Bliss

Dropping off one of the wife's work colleagues at Heathrow Airport at 6.30 this morning prior to my usual Tuesday Brandon visit I was amazed to see no less than 6 Red Kites already on the wing when I passed the usual hotspot on the M40 motorway at Wycombe! A re-introduction area for these magnificent birds several years ago they are simply spreading like wildfire, to see their huge silhouettes against the early morning gloom was just wonderful.

Red Admiral on November 1st!
A gorgeous autumnal day at Brandon Marsh once the early showers moved through and some surprise visitors too when 73 Golden Plover dropped on to East Marsh Pool at around 10.30am. At the time Paul, John, Peter and I had just been watching a day hunting Barn Owl at the rear of the Carlton Hide and quickly doubled back to big hide for a glimpse.

Lots of Fieldfare, Redwing, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin have now started their regular demolition of the summer berries and seeds with the latter tucking into the Alder, and the Thrushes devouring the Hawthorn berries. Several Skylark were moving south during my stay, 2 Green Sandpiper were on Teal Pool and the usual selection of Pochard, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted and Mallard were on East Marsh Pool. Also seen of note were: Circa 350 Lapwing (this includes 1 Leusistic), 3 Bullfinch, 2 Nuthatch, 1 Grey Wagtail, 6 Jay, 3 Cetti's Warbler, 3 Goldcrest, 2 Water Rail and 3 Snipe.

Migrant Hawker
Birding aside the most remarkable thing for November 1st was the amount of Dragonfly on the wing with around 30 or so Common Darter, the females of which were constantly dropping onto West Marsh Pool to lay their eggs. Also seen were 2 Red Admiral Butterfly, obviously not ready for hibernation just yet, and a single Migrant Hawker.

A record count this evening of our roosting Pied Wagtails here at the marina, with over 250 counted! I really must endeavour to check them all out one day!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Local First

Common Crossbill
Since my visit to Draycote Water last Tuesday birding has been somewhat of a premium of late, the best of which was connecting with a Short-eared Owl at Brandon Marsh on Saturday morning.

Last Thursday I spent my usual day with the Brandon Marsh conservation team and managed to finish off Kingfisher Pool, which we've managed to open up after many years invasive growth, thanks to the current lack of water.

With little time on my hands I've still managed some local birding and this morning took the opportunity to have a look at the nearby Napton Reservoir at first light. It turned out to be a very pleasant 90-minute visit which started off with a Sparrowhawk flying low in front of the car for nearly the whole length of the road leading to the car park. The bird finally came to rest on the post of the gate that leads to Calcut Marina and offered some excellent views.

If you know the reservoir and are planning a visit soon it's worth spending a little time looking over the small building site which has appeared in the field at the marina/reservoir entrance. Here there were good numbers of finches drinking from the standing water, which included 2 Brambling amongst the Chaffinch flock. Also noted were 2 ♀Bullfinch, 11 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Pied Wagtail, 4 Fieldfare, 3 Siskin and a lone Grey Wagtail.

The best of the waterfowl on the reservoir itself were: 1 Little Grebe, 15 Wigeon, 2 Pochard, 56 Tufted Duck, 7 Teal and a single ♀Pintail. A walk to the southern top end of the reed bed flushed 2 Snipe, a Water Rail was calling from within the reeds and a Goldcrest was also feeding in the Hawthorn. When I finally arrived at the southern corner a small flock of birds caught my attention but from the calls I was already getting excited! A small number of Common Crossbill, quite flighty and I managed to count 12 birds before they made off north across the reed bed, a first for my local list.

Thirty minutes of sky watching produced of note: 28 Fieldfare, C250 Starling, 34 Redwing, 2 Siskin, 8 Lesser Redpoll, 18 Lapwing, 6 Linnet, 2 Meadow Pipit and 15 Skylark.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Change of Plan

Meadow Pipit
A change of scenery today as I decided to abandon my normal Tuesday visit to Brandon and headed off at first light for a walk around Draycote Water.

After parking at Thurlaston the walk down to the water in the dark had a calling Tawny Owl off towards the Gray's Barn area. Arriving a little early with very little light the first thing that struck me were the thousand's of Gulls heading away from their overnight roost, the first time I've actually witnessed this, but what an amazing sight.

A slow walk around towards Toft Shallows had the first calling, Lesser Redpoll, Fieldfare and Redwing overhead and by the time I reached the hide the light had improved sufficiently to allow a good scan of the large Tufted Duck population, sadly no Scaup amongst them! Unfortunately the serenity of the early morning was short lived as the first fisherman duly arrived and having kitted up made his way down to the waters edge, scattering everything in his path.

Now I'm all for everyone enjoying his or her hobby or favourite past time but purely from a selfish birding perspective I can see how annoying this is for the regular Draycote birder. By the time I left at around 12.30 several boats were out and at least two dozen fisherman were at the waters edge, scattering the birds from pillar to post!

Progressing along Toft Bank towards Farborough Spit, where a small party of C20 Linnet were feeding, accompanied by several Meadow Pipit and lots of Pied Wagtail, I settled for my first coffee of the day and a good scan of the water. No waders in sight with the exception of several Lapwing, good numbers of Great Crested Grebe and a selection of Black-headed, Common, Herring, Lesser and Great-black backed Gulls. Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Pochard and a ♀ Goosander in flight were also recorded.

♂ Goldeneye
I eventually arrived at a very sheltered and serene Rainbow Corner, after passing a very noisy Sailing Club area, where lots of contractors were on site. At Rainbow I came across my first decent Wader of the day when a lone and slightly late Greenshank gave itself up, constantly calling in flight but finally settling. This was accompanied by an eventual 9 Dunlin and my first Goldeneye of the autumn with several ♂ and ♀ on show.

I spent a very enjoyable 45-minutes in the pleasantly warm autumn sunshine with Tim Marlow who I'd not met in person before. During our chat a Peregrine came through heading south-west and visible migration produced C50 Golden Plover, a constant flow of Skylark and wave after wave of Starlings, well in excess of 500 by the time I left Draycote.

Also seen of note were a small Number of Little Grebe, a single Red Admiral butterfly and also worth a mention were the 14 Herons which suddenly dropped down in the ploughed field behind the Inlet, a very enjoyable visit.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pleasantly Mild

Local Tree Sparrow Population
A very mild autumnal morning when I reached Brandon Marsh at first light with the temperature well into double figures, helped by a rather warm and brisk south-westerly wind.

The unusual site of 3 Buzzards circling just before dawn and no sign of the recent Short-eared Owl, but offset by good views of a hunting Barn Owl near the golf course and two Tawny's. A good deal of visible migration too with a constant flow of Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Redwing and Fieldfare. Also recorded were circa 30 Skylark over and 2 Meadow Pipit.

East Marsh Pool was once again devoid of any decent waders, other than the usual excellent numbers of Lapwing and 2 Snipe. 17 Pochard today too, plus good numbers of Tufted Duck, Shoveler and Teal, unfortunately only 2 Gadwall were seen. The escaped New Zealand Scaup, which has re-appeared once again, was in amongst the Tufted, easily identifiable by it's upright tail and flattish head, another sign if observed for any length of time is it's aggressive nature towards other Tufties.

The remainder of the reserve produced of note: 5 Pied Wagtails, Grey Wagtail, Mistle Thrush, 3 Cetti's Warbler, Nuthatch, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Coal Tit and Bullfinch.

After watching the destruction of Manchester Utd on Sky I took the opportunity to have a late afternoon walk around the marina grounds and surrounding fields. Several Linnet, Goldfinch and small numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare were feeding in the numerous Hawthorn. 2 Buzzard on the wing, plus Kestrel and 2 cronking Ravens heading off towards Napton Hill were also seen. Our resident Tufted Duck seems to have been joined by two new friends who seemed only to happy to accept some hospitality I provided from the boat hatch.

The bird feeders provided by some of the other boaters were a little quiet with so much natural food currently on offer, and as usual it was good to see that our resident Tree Sparrow population is still as healthy as ever with 9 birds counted! A great moment of excitement was short lived when 5 Swans heading over Napton Reservoir turned out to be Mute! Also from my vantage point which overlooks the reservoir a group of 15 Wigeon were also seen in flight.

The surrounding fields held several Skylark, probably downed by the strong breeze, and a closer look at a small flock of Lapwings produced 2 Golden Plover amongst their number.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Brandon Today

I spent the morning completing more work with a few of the conservation team clearing the Kingfisher Pool at Brandon Marsh, an area that due to lack of water recently has become more accessible. The pool is located adjacent to the path that runs down towards the West Marsh Steetley Hide

An early start prior to starting work produced the Short-eared Owl once again on Sheep Field just before sunrise, at one stage the bird flew high pursued by a couple of persistent Crows, a Tawny was also heard calling from Horsetail Glade.

By the time I reached Newlands reed bed, where 3 of the juvenile Barn Owls were perched on the Owl box, I'd recorded 4 Cetti’s Warbler, small numbers of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll, plus 5 Jay, still busy burying acorns! A Willow Tit was calling and seen along the Central Marsh Path, an area that they seem to favour these days.

A little bit more in the way of visible migration with several Skylark over and close to the Carlton Hide, were 2 Snipe were feeding, a large group of Redwing with several Fieldfare were stripping berries from the Hawthorn. A Water Rail was also out in the open and provided some good viewing opportunities.

Other birds of note on the remaining pools were Common Gull, which are now on the increase with 8 recorded today, plus an excellent count of 22 Pochard, Teal and Shoveler numbers are still increasing, with 8 Heron and 8 Cormorant also noted. The Lapwing count was up to around 250 today.

Over lunch at the Steetley Hide a Kingfisher seemed undisturbed by all our activity, and a lone Grey Wagtail was doing it's level best, unsuccessfully, to catch several Common Darter Dragonflies which were busy dropping eggs into the pool. Also recorded were: 3 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Green Woodpecker, 2 Nuthatch and when I drove out of the reserve a small flock of around a dozen Siskin were near the bicycle parking area.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Autumns Arrived!

Saturday's Water Rail
Well it seems that autumn has definitely arrived overnight as a cold front pushed in behind some locally well needed rain.

I arrived at a crystal clear and somewhat calm Brandon Marsh before dawn to have a check on the Owl situation around the reserve. We're well aware that several of the Barn Owl boxes have residence but I wanted to have a check on the Tawny population, see if the recent Short-eared Owl was still around, and also check a few hot spots for Long-eared Owl.

After a walk through Horsetail Glade which had a single Tawny Owl Calling I arrived at Sheep Field and immediately located a Short-eared Owl quartering quite close to the Brandon Lane railway bridge. I was joined a short while later by Martin and Derek just prior to sunrise, who managed several quick views before the bird made off towards the golf course area.

No sign of Long-eared, a little early for Brandon perhaps and still a lot of leaf on the trees despite last night strong winds, making the search even more difficult. I was also quite optimistic that last night may have brought in something different like Woodcock or even the first Bittern of the autumn, but to be honest things were quite dire once the sun came up and the wind increased. Talking of Bittern, we have a sweep stake running at Brandon for the first arrival and without going into too much detail, guess who's already blown his £1. Oh for the Easterlies!!

East Marsh Pool held some good numbers of water fowl with a good influx of Pochard (8♀ and 6♂), 14 Wigeon and excellent numbers of Teal, Shoveler and several Gadwall, 4 Snipe were also noted. The only other highlight was a Sparrowhawk perched in willow on Wigeon Bank for a short while, which caused mayhem amongst the large Lapwing flock.

Visible migration appeared none existent today in the strong wind with only 1 Skylark heard, Fieldfare were nowhere to be found but I did manage a small number of Redwing. A Siskin flock of around 20 birds was seen along with a small number of Lesser Redpoll, 2 Brambling were also heard over!

Other species of note included Goldcrest, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Kestrel, Nuthatch, Grey Wagtail, 11 Pied Wagtail near Farm Field and Kingfisher at West Marsh. Still a few Butterflies on the wing with 4 Red Admiral and several Common Darter Dragonfly were also seen around the reserve, particularly on the footpaths, no doubt trying to enjoy the last of the autunal heat.

With the lack of photographic opportunities I've posted a Water Rail which I was fortunate to have all to myself for a half hour in Carlton Hide on Saturday morning. That is before two numpties bundled their way in, poked their lenses out of the windows and sent the bird scurrying back into the reeds!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

West Meets East!

Fieldfare (also arrived yesterday at the marina!)
I'm still not sure whether I prefer the autumn migration to the spring, it does seem that things appear to be more dramatic in the autumn as west meets east. The sky constantly in flow with flocks of Skylark, Redwing, Siskin, Redpoll and the odd lingering Tern or Hirundine. Or I suppose it could also be the fact that one of my favourite birds is the Fieldfare and I came across a flock of 30 at Brandon today.

It was good to be back working at Brandon Marsh, chain-saw in hand, with the conservation team for the first time since injuring my back in June. I must say though that I'm completely knackered and I know I'm going to suffer in the morning, but it's all worth it!

Talking of Brandon I must mention Tuesdays visit which proved to be a very pleasurable one. Having witnessed two apparent juvenile Barn Owls last Sunday while searching for Hen Harrier, Jim our licensed ringer decided to investigate our Newlands Owl boxes. We also took the opportunity to invite a few regular Brandon photographers to join us, Kath, Martin and Geoff.

Young Barn Owl (Picture by Kath Everitt)
I'm delighted to report that a late brood of five birds was found, sadly one a fatality, but the other four healthy and duly ringed. An amazing feat considering the disruption which has taken place during the Newlands Phase Three project.

Back to today and before work another look for Sunday's Short-eared Owl, this time drawing a blank, but a couple of Tawny Owl heard and PN had a Barn Owl quartering Sheep Field before us apparent late comers arrived!

A cracking count of 5-Water Rail, with 2 at Carlton and a further 3 at West Marsh Hide while working. More Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet and around 200 or so Redwing, plus more Skylarks heading south and 3 Fiedfare before coming across a flock of 30 at Carlton Hide after work.

Also of note today: Goldcrest (2), Snipe (2), Kingfisher (1), Cetti's Warbler (6), Wigeon (3)

** As I post Short-eared Owl has just been reported on Brandon Birding - VIEW-HERE

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Harrier Quest

Hen Harrier (Library Image)
Reports of Hen Harrier (♀Ringtail) at Brandon Marsh Saturday evening had me arriving just before dawn and meeting up with a few of the guys from the conservation team.

The original plan was to make straight for the Newlands area where the bird had been reported. However, that was soon overtaken by a phone call from Jeff Hood, who'd arrived a little earlier, and was reporting a large bird of prey on Sheepfield, too dark to identify at this stage.

As we met up with Jeff it wasn't long before a firm ID on Short Eared Owl quartering the field, great views from the Railway Bridge and probably my 1st encounter at Brandon with an autumn visitor.

From here it was straight on to Newlands and our continued quest for Hen Harrier, on route encountering our first Redwing of the autumn with 3 over. Positioning ourselves strategically at the no-entry sign, which offers good views of the reed beds, we began our vigil. During our two hour observation more Redwing, ending up with around 30, a constant passage of Skylark, plus 2 Barn Owl, Redpoll, Siskin, 2 Green Sandpiper, 2 Snipe and Sparrowhawk.

1st Redwings of the Autumn!
After two hours and no sign a decision to move around to the Carlton Hide and you guessed it, within 50-yards of leaving our position a phone call came through to inform us of a sighting, almost simultaneously as the bird flew right over our heads. A quick jog back offered brief but good views as the bird dropped down into the reed bed, quest complete and a first for me at Brandon!

A Chiffchaff was heard calling along the Central Marsh Path. East Marsh Pool had the usual selection of Shoveler, Teal, Tufted, Gadwall and around 350 Lapwing, plus the first Common Gulls I've encountered at Brandon for a while added to the several Lesser-black backed, Black-headed and earlier Herring Gull.

Another look for the Hen Harrier at Carlton Hide produced 2 House Martin over, a good looking ♂Stonechat at the base of the big dead tree, Water Rail and Kingfisher. Several more views of the Hen Harrier (to distant to photograph) ended when the bird flew high and to the East, probably on it's way!! The final bird of an excellent visit was a lone Grey Wagtail which overflew the volunteers car park.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Limited Time

Lesser Redpoll My 1st Of The Autumn
With birding time limited this week I managed a few hours out this morning both locally and at Brandon Marsh.

A brief stop at Napton Reservoir for another glimpse of the long staying Black Necked Grebe and sure enough the bird was out in the open and showing well at the top end of the reed bed. On the road down to the entrance a mixed flock of Goldfinch and Linnet, which unusually included around 10 or so Reed Buntings! Nothing further of note at the reservoir so a few hours at Brandon followed.

A walk past the wind pump and on towards Sheepfield, picking up a small flock of 11 Siskin, 4 Bullfinch (2♂ + 2♀), 5 Skylark over and 2 Meadow Pipit, and a lone Kestrel sitting on top of the Sheepfield Owl box. Spending a little time in New Hare Covert I managed 3 Goldcrest, ♂ and ♀ Blackcap and a lone Chiffchaff within a couple of Long Tail Tit flocks. In fact the whole covert was a cacophony of noise from the Tit flocks, I just wish I could have spent a little more time scrutinising.

Walking past the Newlands area my first good view of 6 Lesser Redpoll, I've been hearing odd birds passing over recently at Brandon but had never managed to get any decent views until now.

A Willow Tit on the path down to River Pool Hide, which produced a lone Green Sandpiper and 6 Wigeon, the Big Hide provided 6 more making 12, 2 Snipe and a lone Pochard and while I was sitting a second Green Sandpiper came over from the Newlands area. Unfortunately Carlton Hide is still desperately low on water but provided 2 Chiffchaff, 3 Swallow and a House Martin.

Finally, and running short on time, a Little Egret overflew the Central Marsh Path heading towards the West Marsh area as I walked back to the Nature Centre.

I should also mention my Butterfly count for today, although quite windy the air was dry and the temperature a mild 16C so a few were on the wing. 4 Small Copper, 3 Comma, 2 Red Admiral, 4 Small White and single Peacock. Also seen was a single Southern Hawker Dragonfly.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Rutland Picnic

Golden Plover
As the mini heatwave draws to a conclusion, hitting temperatures in the late 20's, Dee and I thought we'd better make the most of if before we're brought back down to earth.
Of course the current weather is no good to us birders as in such favourable conditions most autumn migrants continue on their way while the goings good, and who can blame then.

With the possibility of not much migration activity we decided to play it safe and pay a visit to Rutland Water Nature Reserve, only around a fifty or so mile trip so no real effort. With one of Dee's superb picnics packed we set off arriving at Rutland around mid-morning, a pleasant surprise, we literally had the place to ourselves. In fact I can honestly say we didn't see more than a dozen people before leaving shortly after 4pm.

Like most of the English reservoirs and lakes Rutland is also very low on water and so lots more muddy areas are showing. Our first stop at Lagoon 4 produced little out of the ordinary, the Osprey pole looking rather fore lorn after the recent departure of it's summer residents back to Africa, although a Kestrel sitting on top perusing it's surroundings looked happy enough!

One of many Egyptian Geese
On the lagoon itself good numbers of Egyptian Geese, which seem to be on the increase, around a dozen Little Egrets and a Lapwing flock which had 14 Golden Plover among it's numbers, and although almost in winter plumage looked stunning in the bright sunshine. Also on view of note were: Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Pintail, Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler. The flats had several Snipe, 2 Ruff, 5 Pied Wagtail and C30 Linnet.

The surrounding wooded areas held Chiffchaff, Blackcap and a very late solitary Willow Warbler was heard singing. Excellent numbers of Dragonfly, which included Southern Migrant, Ruddy and Common Darter. Butterflies still on the wing were Small White, Peacock, Comma and Red Admiral.

Not much seemed to be in flight today on the birding front, that is until while sitting in one of the hides overlooking Lagoon 3 a Peregrine caused mayhem amongst the Lapwing flock. The bird continued causing chaos for around a half hour until finally, out of our view, the bird made off with it's prey.

After our picnic and before arriving back at the centre for a well earned ice cream we'd further recorded Buzzard, Hobby, Siskin, Wigeon, Curlew, Greenshank and Green Sandpiper. Back at the centre in the upstairs observation area a good scan of the lagoon added several Pochard, 8 Snipe, and 6 Ruff to our numbers. The final birds recorded were 3 House Martin, our first Hirundines of the day, which over flew as we were departing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dee Estuary

NEW Visitor Centre @ Burton
Another superb away-day with several of the Brandon Marsh conservation team and this time a trip to the Dee estuary.

Once the Burton Marsh fisheries and three years in the making our first port of call was to the newly opened RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands Reserve, which boasts a new visitor centre and a £40,000 hide which overlooks grasslands and pools.

The centre itself provides panoramic views for miles around and it wasn't long before we'd recorded Wigeon, Little Egret, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Snipe, Ruff and Little Stint. A Pectoral Sandpiper had also been showing well the day before and although very briefly seen by the reserve staff today, we were unable to connect during our stay.

Looking across to the new hide!
The new hide is bright and airy and although strangely some of the windows are permanently closed, the majority open fully and provide extremely good viewing. The hide has an excellent all round view, from the newly planted reed beds and across to the older Inner Marsh Farm hide. Good numbers of Geese, which amongst mostly Greylag and Canada included single Pink-footed, Barnacle and Ross, although I'm not entirely convinced the Ross is a pedigree, although I'm told by Colin Wells the site manager that the bird is not ringed! Pintail, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and Greenshank were also observed.

After Burton Mere a short drive to Parkgate to catch the high tide and a short stop along the front at Neston to search the small pools which produced Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Little Stint and Ruff, along with good numbers of Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail.

Lunch at Parkgate overlooking the Estuary was extremely pleasant in the beautiful warm sunshine, but sadly with the wind in completely the wrong direction and not a particularly high tide views were distant. However, it did produce the best of the day with a stunning ring tail Hen Harrier. A distant Tern, probably common, good numbers of Little Egret, Shelduck, Curlew and a constant flow of Meadow Pipit and Skylark overhead made it worthwhile.

After lunch a short drive to where a Great White Egret had been reported earlier and although we bombed on the Egret good numbers of Redshank were seen on the mudflats along with more Little Egret, Curlew but only a single Oystercatcher.

Finally a stop at Inner Marsh Hide on the way back through initially took us on a wild goose chase (no pun intended) and the least said about this the better. Although the unscheduled walk did produce 4 Wheatear and a lone Stonechat! Suffice to say that when we eventually did get to the hide it was a slight disappointment adding nothing new to our birding list. Also seen today of note were: Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Buzzard, Swallow, Linnet and Chiffchaff. A superb day out!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Brandon & Local

Napton Reservoir Black-necked Grebe
An early start at Brandon Marsh today arriving just after 6.30am. Despite the weather forecast saying otherwise a bright but chilly start.

A quick look at the Top Reedbed on arrival proved disappointing after Thursday's Wheatear and Whinchat, and even worse was when I eventually arrived at Farm Field later in the morning only to find that the farmer had cut it completely back. 3 Yellowhammer, quite a rarity at Brandon, were a bonus, but bang goes any chance of some late autumn Butterflies!

The remainder of the reserve still had plenty on offer with 2 Nuthatch, and as I emerged from New Hare Covert some small signs of visible migration with 4 Meadow Pipit over, closely followed by 4 Siskin. A Water Rail heard on Swallow Pool and a very pristine looking Willow Warbler by the entrance to Newlands. By the time I arrived at Teal Pool Hide I'd recorded: 5 singing Cetti's Warbler, 6 Chiffchaff, 2 of which were singing, plus 2 Dunlin were feeding on the mud.

Thursday's ♀Wheatear @ Brandon
Nothing out of the ordinary on East Marsh Pool with the exception of a lone Wigeon, 5 Snipe and 2 Kingfisher, which came whizzing through. Eventually some reasonable numbers of Swallow and House Martins began to appear and at one Stage a Sparrowhawk threw the whole pool into a frenzy!

Carlton Hide was very quiet on the pool which now holds very little water, a lone Snipe was the only bird of note. However, the surrounding Hawthorn produced; ♂ and ♀ Blackcap, Willow Tit and Chiffchaff.

After leaving Brandon I stopped for a brief visit to Napton Reservoir where the Black-necked Grebe was showing quite well, this time enabling me to get some better record shots. Nothing further of note here but as I arrived back at the marina parking area 2 Raven came cronking over along with 4 Skylark heading south.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Stunner!

What a pleasant Surprise!
Having just got back from shopping and a very enjoyable lunch with Dee in Leamington Spa I decided to have a quick look around the marina grounds and surrounding fields for anything unusual, tis the season. What followed next was quite surreal!

With some thunder rumbling away in the distance I decided not to wonder too far but to be honest I didn't have to travel too far at all. As I walked up the pontoon I noticed quite a large looking bird perched in one of the trees in the adjacent field, my first thought was Common Buzzard, quite prolific in the area, but immediately I knew I was mistaken!

I stood for a second in complete amazement before turning on my heels and back aboard in search of the camera. Nowithstanding I did manage a few distant images, the best I've posted, before the bird took flight over towards Napton Hill. A truly brilliant experience but all too damn fast, goodness knows what the Magpie perched above the bird thought!

I spent the next half hour in shock, I'd just never expected to see an Osprey literally on my doorstep. Anyway the marina itself still has the two large flocks that I mentioned a few days ago. Around 50 Goldfinch and C150 Linnet in the surrounding Hawthorn, plus I managed a half dozen of our Tree Sparrow population and 2 Chiffchaff.

Three Common Buzzard dodging the heavy showers, a grounded Skylark, plus a few lingering House Martins and Swallows were also recorded. Finally, a lone Meadow Pipit overhead and ♂ Bullfinch ended a most enjoyable and stunning hour.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Brandon Surprise

Ruddy Shelduck?? - Record Shot
For several weeks now Brandon Marsh has been desperately quiet and so when I arrived this morning I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary, but thankfully that was all to change.

I stopped for a while to chat to Jim Rushforth who was ringing near the Olive Bench and in particular to have a look at a very noisy Green Woodpecker he'd just captured. By the time I settled at the Wright Hide I'd managed to record a late singing Willow Warbler near Sheep Field, a half dozen Chiffchaff, 2 juvenile Goldcrest and a lone Buzzard, who was helping himself to a slice of rabbit.

Several members of the Conservation Team joined me and as we sat chatting the first surprise of the day was an Arctic Tern, which made a complete circuit of the pool before heading off south. Very nice, in almost 3 years of being involved at Brandon this was a reserve first for me.

Ruddy Shelduck?? - Record 2
The second surprise of the day was when Mike Lee pointed out a large duck on Willow Island, which must have appeared as we were observing the Tern, on inspection the first thought was Ruddy Shelduck or Cape Shelduck. Over the course of the next 45 minutes I was able to get around to Big Hide and take numerous record shots of the bird so a more detailed assessment can take place. Not great pictures but we'll see.

As the rest of the team departed for work I had a quick coffee at Big Hide, during which time a Peregrine made a brief appearance, spooking the whole of the pool. I decided to take a tour to the west of the reserve, taking in the 'Tip' area, Top Reed Bed and Farm Field. A few remaining Butterflies were on the wing which included: 8 Comma and various smaller numbers of Gatekeeper, Small Copper, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral and Small White.

Farm Field Whinchat - Click To Enlarge
The Farm Field area produced ♀Whinchat and ♀Wheatear, an area of the reserve that always throws up the odd surprise during the migration periods. I then decided to complete the whole circuit before having lunch at the Nature and this took me past the main gate where yet another ♀Wheatear was showing well. The final surprise of the day was when I recorded a second ♀Whinchat; unbelievably in the exact same hawthorn bush I recorded one last year!

When I left after lunch and a coffee with the Conservation Team a Whinchat was still showing very well from the bus parking area, with both Max Silverman and Jeff Rankin doing their level best to obtain a decent photograph? I'm sure there will better ones available than my record shot soon!

***UPDATE - General consensus is that this is a Cape Shelduck (Escapee)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

More Goodies

Tuesday evening I managed to get across the canal to Napton Reservoir in search of the reported Black-necked Grebe which Richard Mayes had kindly informed me about earlier in the day.

I was joined by Kevin Groocock and luckily enough the bird was still on site but remained quite elusive, darting in and out of the reeds, but a local tick nevertheless!

The weather overnight was clear and the wind had dropped to a gentle breeze when I left the boat this morning just before 6am. As I walked up the west path to my car I was alerted to no less than 3 juvenile Kestrel, which were making enough noise to wake most of the slumbering boating population.

Southern Hawker Click to enlarge
With Brandon Marsh desperately quiet of late I decided to revisit Draycote Water after Monday's excellent days birding and arrived just as the sun was breaking over the horizon. At first glance as I entered from Thurlaston church the place seemed pretty quiet but thankfully this didn't last long!

As I rounded the corner towards Toft Bank an adult Merlin flew silently over my head, disappearing into the trees over towards Grays Barn, a great start. On the shore Monday's Shag was having a breather on Toft Bank and several Dunlin were also on view.

I decided to have coffee at Farborough Spit and had an exceptional half hour recording Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, 6 Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, 3 Greenshank, Redshank, 1 Common and 3 Arctic Tern, plus Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear and Raven.

After moving further down Farborough Bank towards the Sailing Club I met up with the Draycote duo Richard and Bob who delivered a little bit of sad news. Apparently Monday's Gannet had been reported dead over towards Lin Croft Point. It wasn't long before a short scan across in the general direction confirmed the news. A little baffling as the bird seemed to be in great condition and showed no signs of fatigue or injury on Monday!

A stunning Southern Hawker Dragonfly (I look forward to your pictures Bob) another 2 late Swifts and a total of 5 Greenshank before my back decided I was pushing it a little and I departed to Brandon for lunch.

Brandon still remains quiet and the best of the visit was 2 Wigeon on East Marsh Pool, 3 Green Sandpiper on Teal Pool and 2 Willow Tit near the Central Marsh Path. Over lunch in the Badgers Tea Room I was treated to some good views of Spotted Flycatcher. Birding luxury, Brie and Bacon Pinini, Coffee and Flycatcher, what more could you want!

Finally worth reporting that upon my return to the marina two huge flocks were recorded around the dog walking pound. At least 50 Goldfinch and C150 Linnet, a great end to the birding day!