Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nice Surprise

Pied Flycatcher (Library Image)
I have to say that more recently I’ve not had the time available to spend on birding that I would normally like but as they say, once a birder always a birder, and no matter where you are your instincts are always zoned in for something different.

This weekend for example we spent with friends in Suffolk who are not birders and on Sunday attended the Southend Air Show, aviation being a second passion of mine. I have to say that I was very disappointed with the line up now that the council have apparently withdrawn funding and so with binoculars in hand anyway, found myself straying away from the mechanical flyer's to the feathered kind once more. The highlight of which were two summer plumage Mediterranean Gulls, which were feeding out in the mud flats just out from the sea wall.

After my weekend break I returned to Brandon Marsh this morning and if I’m being completely honest didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. Over the past few weeks the highlights have been Little Egret, a brief visit of juvenile Osprey and Greenshank. Mind you a survey of the Owl boxes throughout the reserve last Thursday yielded some excellent results, with both Tawny Owl and Barn Owl doing extremely well, in total 9 Owlets were ringed.

Alpine Swift (Library Image)
With the trees and bushes now in full bloom and spring migration now over it’s that time of year when you rely more on your instincts and in particular you’re hearing. It was very noticeable today that lots of species had quietened down and are now busy with the task of feeding youngsters. I lost count of the numbers of young Whitethroat that were constantly demanding food from parents. The Islands on East Marsh Pool have Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Redshank and now Little Ringed Plover chicks.

The surprise of the day came in New Hare Covert when searching for my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year with Derek Bennett. We in fact came across a very pristine looking Pied Flycatcher instead, which was a first for me at Brandon, having missed earlier spring visits due to my trip to Canada. Unfortunately, we were unable to re-locate the bird later in the day.

The ringing team were also active today on 'constant effort' and shortly after arriving at the main hide a phone call from Jim Rushforth had Derek, Mike, Adrian, John and myself scanning for an Alpine Swift that had been spotted by two members of the team over East Marsh Pool. Sadly, after around 45 minutes of non-stop scanning, we binned out!

Not many Butterflies or Odanata to report today (Common Blue, Small White & Speckled Wood Butterfly) but there are lots of Spotted Orchids to be found throughout the reserve, unfortunately only small in size, probably due to recent lack of rainfall!

A brief update for the Marina grounds consist of small numbers of Pied Wagtail young and fledged families of Greenfinch, Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler. I was also delighted to see 3 young Skylark in the adjacent field. Yellowhammers are constantly singing from the nearby phone wires too!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Quiet week!

Lots of other commitments over the past week has meant that birding has been at a premium, but I have managed visits to Brandon Marsh and of course kept close contact around the marina and locally.

Fortunately it’s been a much quieter week and it would appear that the main thrust of the migration has come to an end. However talking to other birders and keeping a close eye on the forums it appears that good numbers of House Martins are still missing from breeding colonies. Hopefully these birds should arrive at any time, there was certainly a few more around at Brandon today. The odd rarities still continue to show up though nationwide, Gull-billed Tern in Norfolk and Black-winged Stilt, plus locally a Black Stork near Weedon, which I never got time to see!

Yesterday I took a late evening stroll around the marina grounds and was rewarded with a trio of Owls. Firstly, a Barn Owl was quartering the adjacent field and the large Oak Tree within is still playing host to a family of Little Owls, I managed two perched silhouettes. Finally, a Tawny Owl was calling from the general direction of Napton Reservoir but I never managed to make eye contact.

Common Toad
We seem to have a small population of Pipistrelle Bats here too, as at least 3 spent the evening doing their level best to convince me that they were about to collide with my head at any moment. I’ve also noticed a very healthy community of Common Toads and several had to be avoided as I walked the paths. At least one Lesser Whitethroat is still singing daily and finally the first fledgling Sedge Warblers are starting to appear.

Today an early morning visit to Brandon Marsh, which produced a couple of site year firsts for me. Teal Pool hide, which thanks to Jim Rushforth’s sluice management, is now once more carrying plenty of water, gave up a very pristine looking Greenshank and later in the main hide a juvenile Osprey came floating over East Marsh Pool, before heading off towards Coombe! Surprisingly this is only my second sighting of Osprey at Brandon since joining the team in December 2009. A brief glimpse of a solitary Hobby over Central Marsh Path and the usual selection of warblers and waders were also seen. I was amazed at how quickly the young Oystercatchers had grown, but sadly after starting with four chicks only three remain.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Anniversary Weekend

Rutland Water
Just arrived back aboard after our 2nd wedding anniversary celebrations, which included a day out on the Nene Valley Steam Railway yesterday and a visit to Rutland Water today.

The last time I was at Rutland was in February 2010 when Dee and I went in search of two reported Long-eared Owls on the southern part of the reserve. Our search was successful but at that time there was major construction work in progress. I’m glad to say that the work has now been almost completed and the site is looking in superb shape with new lagoons and hides.

Dee and I began our walk around midday from the Egleton Bird Watching Centre and although it would have been good to see the new lagoons and hide we decided to head to the north. This is one huge place and having visited the south last time this was all new and exciting ground for us. The first several hides and paths produced the usual selection of warblers and the sky was busy with Swifts and many Common Tern. The large Sand Martin structure, which can be viewed from the centre itself, was awash with activity and the Martins were constantly coming and going.

Probably the best viewing came at the Sandpiper Hide, which overlooks Lagoon 4. Here an Osprey was enjoying a well-earned bath before moving off and both Little Ringed and Ringed Plover were constantly on the go. A good number of waders were showing which included Oystercatcher, Little Stint, lots of Dunlin and I managed to pick out a summer plumage Turnstone that was almost buried within the shingle. Two Avocets dropped in for a short stay and Dee picked out several Egyptian Geese amongst the Greylag and Canada, a lone Barnacle was present and a first tick for the year in the form of a single Little Gull.

We moved further around the lagoon to the Dunlin Hide, which produced nothing further of note but a Lesser Whitethroat was singing close by within the Hawthorn, and a very pristine looking ♂Linnet was also singing well from a nearby tree. Amazing how fluent birding can be, by the time we reached Plover Hide, which also overlooks Lagoon 4 and only minutes after leaving Dunlin Hide, a Whimbrel had dropped in and was preening happily near the waters edge. Distant views of Osprey and Red Kite, plus a Grey Wagtail was also seen before moving back towards the centre.

On our return to the centre taking in visits to Shoveler, Buzzard and Crake Hides produced a Kingfisher flypast and ♂Cuckoo, plus a second Little Gull of the day was over the pool. Finally over a nice hot chocolate in the elevated lookout section of the centre, two Little Egret were our final additions and ended a good days birding with a gallant 65 species recorded, thanks to the wife's good book keeping!

Poor light and distance unfortunately ruled out any good photo's!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Local is Best

Common Restart (Library Image)
It seems that more recently the marina has provided the best birding locally for me, with other nearby areas such as Napton Hill and Napton Reservoir not throwing up anything out of the ordinary.

My latest good fortune at the marina came on Wednesday morning while having my usual early morning stroll around the grounds. When I got to the marina entrance a gorgeous looking ♂Common Redstart was perched on top of the canal junction bridge. I can tell you that there’s nothing 'common' about these stunning looking guys, especially with the rising sun shining directly onto him! I can tell you too that I was absolutely gutted that I'd stupidly left my camera back aboard the boat!

Shortly after being mesmerised by the visiting Redstart a very proud pair of Mute Swan’s came passing through the entrance with 5 Cygnets in tow, a very serene and relaxing sight and what has now become an annual event.

Four Spotted Chaser
I did have better luck with the camera later in the afternoon when I went on a Butterfly and Dragonfly hunt in the surrounding fields. My first Four-spotted Chaser of the year followed closely by my first local Small Heath and Small Copper Butterflies. Lesser Whitethroats seem to have taken a shine to the grounds too with the addition of another bird now singing constantly, this now makes three birds on site.

Two visits to Brandon Marsh this week with my usual Tuesday birding day and the Thursday work party. I’m happy to report that thus far the four Oystercatcher chicks are still doing well and there’s now a good collection of Lapwing, Mallard, and Coot chicks to be found, plus Greylag and Canada Goose goslings. On Thursday Swifts seemed prolific with many birds skimming just above the waterline taking on water, two Hobby and a Cuckoo were also seen.

The Mount cousin’s, or as I call them ‘The Boys From The Black Stuff’ discovered a brand new Butterfly for the reserve on Tuesday, when they came across a Green Hairstreak, a picture of which can be found on Brandon Birding. Also worth mentioning that as part of a reintroduction program to the reserve the Butterfly Conservation have released two species back on site, Grizzled Skipper and Dingy Skipper, the latter of which has already been photographed by Jeff Rankin, one of the Brandon regulars.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Rain at Last!

Corn Bunting
The past few days have finally provided some much needed rain to the area, torrential at times with thunder and with the winds currently from the south you just never know what might drop in. With heavy showers now forecast I'll be keeping a close eye on Napton Hill for any downed migrants, although this spring seems to have produced more here at the marina than on the hill!

Speaking of which the last few days have seen a Common Sandpiper near the canal entrance on Friday, along with a Hobby hunting overhead later in the day. Yesterday while driving out of the marina around fifty or so Golden Plover were seen flying north. When I returned a short while later two noisy Arctic Terns flew through heading northwest. Several Skylarks have been singing constantly in the surrounding fields and at least two Lesser Whitethroats are still on site and in song. However, the best was my first recorded Corn Bunting on site, which I found this morning in full song atop one of the hawthorn bushes.

Last night I decided to pay a rare evening visit to Brandon Marsh, something I haven't done for a good while, normally preferring to arrive just prior to sunrise. I got to site around 5:30pm were I met George Wootton who informed me that 3 Little Egret were on site for a short while earlier. The first thing that hit me when I got out of the car was that gorgeous earthy fresh smell you get after a recent downpour. In fact the current water levels are quite low, particularly on River Pool and so the recent rainfall is a godsend. The River Avon, which runs around the southern perimeter of Brandon, is also desperately low.

East Marsh Pool was a cacophony of noise, particularly with a small group of Black-headed Gulls, which I seriously hope make a decision not to nest here, the noise would be unbearable! The usual melee of Little Ringed Plover were constantly on the go, I counted eight today, along with two Ringed Plover, which were moving constantly back and forth from River Pool. The long staying Ruff seems to have finally departed and at last 4 Oystercatcher chicks were seen on Tern Island. 3 Redshank were recorded plus: ♂♀Shoveler, 8-Gadwall, 6-Teal and 22 Tufted Duck, an unusually large number for the time of year!

Carlton Hide was where I spent the rest of the evening on the lookout for Hobby and Barn Owl, the Mayflies were out and a number of Swifts were passing through. 2 Grasshopper Warblers were heard reeling, one of which I got the briefest of glimpses and the second was heard in reeds over by the river Avon as I left a while later. A Cuckoo spent a lot of time in the big dead tree calling, apparently two were seen earlier in the day mating, so nice to know there is actually a female on site, although no reports of one bubbling thus far.

As darkness fell and the threat of rain a constant, a lone Hobby finally arrived hunting over the pool providing some spectacular views while feeding on the wing and a Barn Owl was also seen quartering to the back of Newlands reed bed. On the walk back to the car in the diminishing light a final look at East Marsh yielded a single Shelduck and two Pipistrelle Bats were seen on the Central Marsh Path. As I drove from the volunteers car park past Horsetail Glade a Badger ran across my path and just as I was driving out of the reserve the rain duly arrived!

Anne Norman

Sad news of the death of Anne Norman, the wife of the Brandon Marsh Voluntary Conservation Team Chairman Paul. Anne died peacefully on Friday morning after her battle with cancer.

My prayers are with Paul and his family. For me Anne was an inspiration, a remarkable lady and when I was around her enjoying nature, and in particular the birds, we always had a good laugh, she was a complete joy to be around. For those who met Anne in passing, they would never be aware of her battle such was her positive and friendly nature. I'm just happy to have known her and very glad I gave her a big kiss and cuddle only a few days ago at Brandon Marsh, a place where she will be greatly missed! From here on when I walk the paths of Brandon the birdsong will always be a constant reminder of her presence, I’ll miss her immensely, sleep well Anne xxx

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Dawn Chorus

Spectacular British Spring
For me the British Spring is one of the most spectacular anywhere in the world and this year is probably the best I can remember in a very long time. Likely due to the release of pent-up energy after what was our hardest winter in over 30 years, plus the warmest April on record the cherry; apple and hawthorn blossom has been simply stunning. Looking back over some of my previous years birding notes it's quite clear too that this is one the best years for visiting warblers for a considerable time.

Once again I've spent what has been a very blustery weekend locally, plus an early morning visit to Brandon Marsh on Sunday. Brandon threw up a slight surprise when I discovered the brownest Barn Owl I think I've ever seen peering out of one the nest boxes, a box that I know usually contains Stock Dove. I have heard of several stories of these two species sharing boxes and this seems to prove that this does occasionally take place, especially as a lone Stock Dove was perched forlornly above!

On the home front good numbers of Swift have been passing through and a Red Kite has been seen several times over the marina. Two Lesser Whitethroat have been singing non-stop from the hawthorn but no further sightings of Whimbrel or Wheatear since Friday’s visits.

Today I'd organised a Dawn Chorus Walk at Brandon Marsh for a number of the conservation team and couldn't have asked for a more beautiful morning. Mind you it came as a slight surprise to be scrapping quite a hard frost from the car windscreen at 5am! We met in the lower car park just prior to sunrise, finishing off at around 9am with breakfast in the nature centre. Despite the onset into May there's still lots of birds who've yet to pair off and the birdsong today was just amazing.

As I entered the top gates of the reserve a Lesser Whitethroat was singing, one of our late arriving warblers and another species which seems to be in good numbers this year. As we set off from the lower car park a Cuckoo was calling from Horsetail Glade, a great start for the team. By the time we'd reached Wright Hide and our first look at East Marsh Pool we'd recorded the full range of warblers, with the exception of Grasshopper, which despite having so many reeling over the previous weeks remained elusive, until eventually a couple were heard at Carlton hide.

Yellow Wagtail
Two Ruffs were still present, along with Common Sandpiper and the usual variety of Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Snipe and Oystercatcher. The wildfowl still contained good numbers of Teal, Tufted Duck and two ♂ Shoveler, and for a short time it seemed that we might be treated to displaying Great Crested Grebe’s, but they never quite got there. A bonus was a single ♂ Yellow Wagtail that was eventually seen on Willow Island after painstakingly extracting the location from our very own eccentric Derek Bennett!

A few of the guys headed off for a walk around the ‘Tip’ area and Farm Field after breakfast and this produced the first signs of Spotted Orchid, plus Buzzard, Bullfinch, Green Woodpecker and my first Small Copper and Holly Blue Butterflies of the year. Other notables of the day included: Common Tern, Kingfisher, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Swift and the usual Swallow and Martin's..