Thursday, January 27, 2011

A First!

Mediterranean Gull Adult Winter (Library Picture)
Spent today at Brandon Marsh with the Conservation Team and external tree felling contractors for more work on the Phase 3 Newlands reed bed extention. The more work we do on this project the more excited I'm becoming.

Prior to work we made the usual tour of the reserve and on the walk around to Wright Hide, feeling the wroth of a bitterly cold easterly wind, a Woodcock was in flight as we approached the Sheep Field gate and a lone Barnacle Goose was on Swallow Pool.

Having settled in the Wright Hide for some shelter and in the hope of something a little more unusual Jim came up trumps with an Adult Mediterranean Gull in amongst the flock. I've been at Brandon now for just over two years and for me this was a first for the site, in fact the first for Brandon for just short of 2 years (Feb 2009). Unfortunately, as soon as I'd made contact with the bird the flock was up and on it's way, but I did manage some excellent flight views as it made it's way out to the north.

Teal Pool Hide produced 2 Shelduck on River Pool and retiring to Big Hide for coffee a brief view of Bittern in flight on Newlands, the usual Goldeneye and a couple of Wigeon on the bank were the best I could muster. A brief visit to Carlton Hide produced my first Goldcrest of the year and 3 Bullfinch.

After the work party myself and Derek Bennett made a quick sortie to the Big Hide before leaving, picking up a 3rd Shelduck of the day (this mornings 2 were still on River Pool), a single Snipe, and in amongst the Greylag flock was Tuesdays Pink-footed Goose.

My birding day didn't end after leaving Brandon because as I passed through Marton Village on my way home a flock of around 20 or so Golden Plover passed overhead heading east!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Burns Night

Pink-footed Goose (library picture)
One of the bonuses of being married to a Scots lady is Burns Night. Celebrated in great style aboard 'Quidditch' with traditional Haggis, Neaps, Tatties and a wee dram to wash it all down. The reason I mention this is simply the fact that I need to do a quick blog before festivities begin (he pours a quick one) and any typo's should be forgiven.

Out and about over the last week as usual and yet another early start at Brandon Marsh on Sunday morning. Firstly though a good sweep of the Marina on Saturday afternoon produced a slight increase in our Tree Sparrow population with 22 recorded, my previous best was 18. No signs of Brambling this time around on the various feeders but as dusk fell the local Little Owls were vocal once again, I didn't even bother to count the Gulls on route to the Draycote roost, which literally numbered thousands!

Back to Sunday at Brandon and only a single Barn Owl at the Carlton Hide this time around. East Marsh Pool produced 2 Shelduck and the long staying pair of Goldeneye, plus 2 Snipe and a Bittern in flight, suddenly thrusting up from the reeds in front of the hide and heading off towards the Sand Martin structure.

In other areas a small flock of Siskin are still hanging around but I only managed to locate 2 Lesser Redpoll within. A walk around Farm Pool had 2 Skylark over and good numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing on the adjoining fields which, having now devoured ever berry in sight, have now begun ground feeding. Also my first drummimg Greater Spotted Woodpeckers of the year were heard and a quick look around the main car park before departing produced a couple of Linnet near the Lafarge works.

On arrival today's visit produced very little of note, apart from a lone Barnacle Goose on Swallow Pool and similar species to Sunday, until around mid morning when another Keith sitting next to me in the Big Hide located a Pink-footed Goose within the large Greylag flock which had just dropped in. The flock only stayed a short while but did reappear a little time later once again accompanied by the Pinky. Interesting to note too that a small number of the large Lapwing population appear to be on station.

Short of time (more chores) I made a quick visit to West Marsh where the escaped New Zealand Scaup has reappeared, but the best of the day was on my return to Big Hide. A quick look to the rear of River Pool from Big Hide steps picked out a Bittern just diappearing into the reeds towards the river. Then as I sat for a quick lunch a second took flight, firstly producing a complete circle back into the reeds, then a short time later heading towards what seems to be a favoured flight pattern, heading for the Sand Martin structure before vanishing behind.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Woodcock in Flight
Having dropped off one of my wife's work colleagues at Birmingham Airport at 5am this morning I had the perfect opportunity to get down to Brandon Marsh and complete a pre-dawn observation, something I haven't done for a good while, and I must say that the conditions could not have been more favourable.

A full moon which gave an amazing light and crystal clear skies provided the perfect setting, but I have to say that sitting in the Carlton Hide at -6C for a couple of hours is not for the faint hearted, It can also be quite eerie!

The first species of note was a Green Sandpiper calling as I approached Big Hide and seemed to be heading in from the direction of the River Avon. Unfortunately after sunrise I wasn't able to get a sighting of the bird anywhere on the pools. As the sky began to slowly brighten to the east 2 Woodcock were observed in flight silhouetted and heading east over Newlands reed bed.

After my earlier post 'Out and About' which made grim reading for our national Barn Owl population I was delighted to see my first Barn Owl of the year at Brandon, which mysteriously appeared on the ledge looking into the box located directly across from the hide. I didn't actually spot it coming in but after observing him through my scope, which had been permanently trained on the box, he immediately dropped inside.

Just after 7am and the most amazing moon-set Derek Bennett had arrived, another Conservation Team member, and his timing was to perfection. No sooner had Derek sat down a Short-Eared Owl came floating in from the direction of the River Avon and after briefly quartering disappeared south. A second Barn Owl then came in from our left and after a brief visit to the box decided to hunt once more before finally calling it a day!

Also worth mentioning were 3 Shelduck on East Marsh Pool and a Marsh Tit which was seen at the volunteers car park where I had returned to thaw out in my car before starting work.

As a footnote 2 more Woodcock were seen across Newlands reed bed while completing more work on the phase 3 reed bed extension. An absolutely wonderful morning!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Draycote Water

Female Scaup
Today I'd arranged a walk around the 5-miles of Draycote Water for several members of the Brandon Marsh Conservation Team and we duly met up at our normal meeting place at Thurlaston Village at 8 am. Our hit list for today consisted of Brambling, Smew and Scaup, three species which were reported on site recently. Although we had a biting north-westerly wind and occasional low cloud drifting in, the walk was completed in gorgeous sunshine for the most part.

The first birds of the day were the normal population of House Sparrow which are resident in the area as you walk down to the water from the village. We normally take a clockwise direction and so it wasn't long before we reached Toft Shallows. I must say that although the usual selection of Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck and the remainder of the Gull roost was present the area seemed pretty quiet.

Moving on along Toft Bank and rounding Farnborough Spit, having had a nice group of Redwing, we continued our search for the reported male Smew and female Scaup, at this point unsuccessfully, but did manage 3 Skylark over, Great Black Backed Gull, Pochard, good numbers of Goldeneye and Pied Wagtail.

When visiting Draycote it's always handy to meet  the locals and so it was good to see two of the most regular visitors on the horizon, Bob Hazell and Richard Mays. It wasn't long before we had the information we required and as we approached the Visitor Centre our first positive of the day was a gorgeous looking male Smew.

Coffee at Hensborough Bank, noting a large flock of Wigeon coming in on the opposite bank, and more searching in vane for the female Scaup before Richard appeared once more, kindly locating the bird on our behalf out on it's lonesome towards Draycote Bank, local knowledge is a wonderful thing. By now we had two out of three on our hit list, along with a number of male and female Goosander, plus a distant but large flock of Lapwing, but unfortunately very little else of any note.

At the Inlet Richard came to our rescue once more pointing out the area where he had recently located a number of Brambling and almost instantly I had three birds scoped. We spent a good while in this location so that everyone had managed at least one Brambling, which appeared quiet flighty within a large group of Chaffinch and Linnet.

Lunch in glorious sunshine near the Valve Tower and by the time we arrived back at the village we'd also had of note a second view of Smew at Lin Croft Point, likely the same one as earlier, plus Kingfisher thanks to Alban, Sparrowhawk, Little Grebe, Buzzard and 3 Stoat which had crossed our path as we progressed around. Not the most prolific days birding at an extremely quiet Draycote, but a most enjoyable one and many thanks to Richard and Bob for their help along the way.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Brandon Bittern

In yesterday's post I mentioned the 'Secretive Bittern' which I had located within the reeds at Brandon Marsh but failed to give any decent views. Well it appears that after I'd left the hide said Bittern decided to make an appearance and I was sent these excellent pictures by Monica Shooter who's husband Tony took these superb images!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Out and About

Recent numbers paint a grim picture
I've been very concerned over the past few months regarding the lack of Barn Owl sightings both locally and at Brandon Marsh, particularly with regard to the recent cold snap. Therefore I wasn't surprised when I read the latest BTO bulletin which painted a very grim picture with increased numbers of reported dead ringed birds (recoveries).

In recent winters they have typically received 30-40 dead Barn Owl reports in December, but in 2010 the December total topped 100. Reports of dead ringed Barn Owls are continuing to arrive at BTO HQ and this January’s total may reach the record of 81 birds that was set last January during another unusually severe winter.

On a brighter note I've managed several visits both locally and at Brandon Marsh, where I also ended up this morning, managing to connect with a very secretive Bittern at Big Hide, found skulking in the reeds. Also on the pool was a single male Shelduck and a Barnacle Goose was also seen on Swallow Pool. Worth mentioning too that I heard 4 Cettis Warbler during my visit, these birds suddenly deciding to let us know that they did OK during the recent cold snap and a Fox, my first this year, was also seen briefly on Wigeon Bank. 6 Snipe were also resting on Willow Island.

On Thursday while working over on Phase 3 of Newlands reed bed I flushed 2 Woodcock and am delighted to say that both Ken and Mike, members of the Brandon team, managed good views of one of them, a first for them both.

My Saturday early morning visit produced Short-Eared Owl which I located perched on a small dead tree at the far side of Newlands reed bed near the golf course. Still some small mixed flocks to be found of Lesser Redpoll/Siskin but personally I haven't managed to connect with the recent Mealy Redpoll. I also discovered a wintering male Blackcap near the saga sign, the bird was with a mixed group of Tits.

Little Owl
Locally our resident Tawny Owls have began calling once more and just prior to updating this blog I managed to catch 2 Little Owl which were silhouetted against the darkening sky in an adjacent field. Today when I dropped in on my roosting Long Eared Owl I discovered to my delight that there were 2, although very very hard to pick out!

Finally, a trip to Heathrow Airport yesterday on business produced no less than 12 Red Kite, which if you know the M40 motorway can always be seen in good numbers when passing close by to High Wycombe, where they were re-introduced some years ago. Plenty therefore to add to my new year list, if only I actually kept one!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mixed Fortunes

Smew (Library picture)
Today was a day of mixed fortune for my regular trawl around the local countryside and my usual visit to Brandon Marsh.

Starting off at Brandon I arrived shortly after a heavy downpour, just after first light. Meeting up with Mike Lee at the volunteers car park we made our way (eventually) taking our regular route past Sheep Field where we normally stop over in search of Owls. This is where my day got off to a poor start!

Meeting up with Derek Bennett another Brandon regular we found to our dismay that we'd unfortunately just missed both Barn Owl and Short Eared Owl which had been quartering the field just minutes earlier. How long did you take getting ready Mike :)

Arriving at Wright Hide it was good to see East Marsh Pool finally ice free with a good selection of wildfowl on offer which included Pochard, Gadwall, Shoveler, a welcome return of a single Great Crested Grebe and Goldeneye (2 male + 2 female). On route to the Big Hide the other usual supects were also present Bullfinch, Siskin, Redwing and Fieldfare, but Lesser Redpoll was another species that eluded me today.

Coffee in the Big Hide produced Snipe to add to the days sightings and some excellent views of Bittern as the bird first flew from the reeds directly in front of the hide across to Newlands, and then returning a short while later. More views of the same bird later while having lunch. Having chosen to remain in Big Hide while some of the other guys moved on to Carlton Pool I also missed a Little Egret in flight which was seen moving West across the rear of the reserve. Not the best day I've ever had at Brandon but the Bittern is enough to cheer anyone up, Mike was also forgiven!

Next stop Napton Reservoir and I see that the 'slasher' brigade have been hard at it once more. Managed by British Waterway's I simply can't understand why they feel the need to cut down anything that has the audacity to grow here. The place looks almost baron and whoever drew up the management plan for this site wants lynching!

A walk around the windswept site and up to the top of the reed bed produced a half dozen Wigeon, 8 Pochard, 6 Gadwall and the usual 150 or so Coot.

However, I was somewhat cheered, albeit briefly, as I made my way back to the car when a very pristine looking male Smew dropped in, only to leave a short time later, probably in total disgust at the state of the place.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Interesting Start

Bewick Swan @ Bretford today!
Having recently returned from France and with the festivities finally at an end it was time to get down to what I like doing best, a good old trek around the county and a good catch-up with the chaps!

Setting off just before dawn in the hope of catching at least a glimpse of this mornings solar eclipse sadly I arrived at Brandon Marsh to an overcast sky. Making my way to the regular lookout in search of Owls it wasn't long before the Brandon regulars began to appear in the morning gloom, unfortunately our Owls didn't and we ended up drawing a complete blank, and so onto the hides.

The pools of course are still completely frozen but nevertheless a few brave Lapwing, 2 Snipe and small numbers of Teal, Gadwall and Mallard were there to make up the numbers. Siskin appeared to be in good supply with at least 100 counted overall, mainly feeding on the remaining Alder seeds. The only other highlights were Redwing, Fieldfare, Buzzard and Kestrel until we decided to have a look down near the River Avon, here we discovered 5 Tufted Duck and 3 Pochard. The walk back to the car park across Farm Field came up with the best of the day for Brandon when 13 Golden Plover over-flew heading South.

Pink-Footed Goose
It was time to go twitching, something that only happens when times are hard at Brandon, and so we made our way over to Bretford in search of the reported Bewick Swan. On arrival we immediately made contact with said bird which was fast asleep within a group of around ninety Mute Swan, also present on the field were a number of Skylark and circa 150 Wigeon, which were on the opposite side of the river. Thanks to Dennis Woodward, who arrived shortly after, we were also able to catch sight of a lone Pink-footed Goose which was amongst a small flock of Greylag on a nearby field.

Happy with our lot at Bretford we then decided to make our way over to Rugby and in particular Essex Street where a number of Waxwings were reported yesterday. Thanks to Peter's GPS we duly arrived and instantly made contact with around twenty or so birds. Unfortunately, as quickly as we'd made contact the birds departed in the general direction of the railway. A twenty minute vigil over lunch failed to make any further contact.

Finally, after heading off home I stopped briefly for a quick tour of Napton Reservoir which produced of note 4 Goosander, several Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Pochard and my final bird of the day which was a Woodcock which I inadvertently flushed as I reached the top end of the reed bed. Not a bad start to the year and as a sub-note I also dropped in on my roosting Long-Eared Owl, which incredibly has now been roosting in exactly the same spot for nearly 6-weeks!

Above pictures are courtesy of Kevin Groocock - Many thanks Kevin.