Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Frustrating Times!

Sooty Copper (New to our list for France)
I can’t tell you how frustrating the past few weeks have been not being able to get out at Brandon or my local patch! Apparently I’ve damaged my femoral nerve quite badly and the prognosis for recovery is anything from one month to three. So I suppose I’d better get used to it!

Anyway I’m trying hard to make the best of things and Dee and I took the boat out at the weekend along our favourite stretch of the Oxford Canal for a change of scenery. Butterflies were out in good numbers with more Large Whites about than of late and several Peacock were also on the wing. I did manage a few sortie’s up the towpath, although not very far, and had a decent count which included Small Copper, Common Blue, Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Red Admiral.

Sedge Warbler
A large flock of Goldfinch entertained us all weekend, around 30 or so, which were constantly coming and going into the Weeping Willow Tree we were moored under. In the reeds opposite a very busy Sedge Warbler was constantly feeding her brood. Yellowhammers were as prolific as normal and a pair of Raven seemed to be regular in the area too. I’m unsure whether it’s the painkiller drugs or not but a Quail heard several times in distant fields remained unseen and a mystery?

The past few weeks have also given me an opportunity to identify a number of the Butterflies Dee photographed in France. Thanks to Fred Stokes for his help on this one and it appears we’ve now added two new species to our French list with Sooty Copper and Knapweed Fritillary.

Young Tufty @ Wigram's
Common Terns are beginning to pass through the marina on a more regular basis now as we head towards the autumn. Buzzards have had a great summer locally with seven seen in thermals from the window as I write this post. The unusual sight of a family of six Tufted Ducks, accompanied by a not so vigil parent, which have now been on the marina waters for the past 10-days and are becoming quite daring and even competing for food with the local hybrids! A very vocal Barn Owl has been quartering the surrounding fields more recently and Dee and I got some good silhouetted images as it passed over the mooring at dusk the other evening.

It's seems that the word is out that Napton churchyard is a great place to see Spotted Flycatchers once again. Several visitors to the area have emailed or texed me to confirm this. Hopefully and god willing I’ll make that short trip soon!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Wheeled Home

Granville Fritillary
We arrived back from a very enjoyable but frustrating visit to France yesterday evening with Ryanair and for the first time I find myself quite impressed with this so called ‘low-cost’ airline, we only use them when there is literally no other alternative! My praise was mainly due to the fact that being unable to walk I was delivered to and from the aircraft in a wheelchair! Forgive the pun but a far less painful exercise than purchasing priority boarding.

Unfortunately I never did manage to get to Chauvigny for the Bastille Day celebrations but we did manage another drive out, this time to La Pinail reserve, one of our favourite spots whilst staying at Dee’s parents. Situated in the Châtellerault area, this is the only Natural Reserve of France to be found in the district known as La Vienne.

The result of millstone quarrying has given way to a mosaic of 3,000 ponds, which are surrounded by moor and heath land rich in rare fauna and flora. Amongst the many bird species you can find here such as Montague, Hen Harrier and Dartford Warbler are 48 species of dragonflies.

Black Redstart
As per usual on route to Pinail we stopped to check out every bird we found perched on the wires and every flower meadow to check out the butterflies. I had Dee, ‘god bless her’, going from pillar to post, camera in hand, recording literally everything that moved. Unfortunately one of the problems I’ve now got is getting the camera back when things return to normality; Dee enjoyed my new lens and had a great time!

We lost count of Red-backed Shrike; one seemed to be around every corner, and also managed Stonechat, Whinchat, Pied Flycatcher and Black Redstart. Butterflies included Swallowtail; so flighty Dee was unable to get a decent shot, plus Marsh Fritillary, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Long-tailed Blue, Short-tailed Blue, Silver-studded Blue and Wall.

Migrant Hawker
We eventually arrived at La Pinail and happily I struggled on my newly acquired crutches to enjoy at least a tiny part of the reserve. Yet another Turtle Dove, which seem to be doing well in this area, a Purple Heron that over flew but the most frustrating thing was hearing Dartford Warbler and not being able to get anywhere near! No signs of any Harriers on this visit but lots of Linnet and the odd Stonechat. We eventually headed for home after adding Yellow Wagtail, several Dragonflies, which included Migrant-hawker and along with the Common Green Frogs we located a single Natterjack Toad.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's What You Make It!

Today's Red-backed Shrike by Dee
By now I would have hoped to be reporting on my birding exploits here in France, but fate dealt me a nasty blow shortly before arriving at the airport on our way here, when by back finally gave up the ghost rendering my left leg almost useless. I can’t even explain the excruciating pain that accompanied it, something I’ve never experienced before.

I eventually arrived with Dee at Limoge Airport to be greeted by her mother, who looking for the usual 6’5” strapping husband accompanying her daughter through arrivals looked down to find me squashed into a wheelchair, a sight to behold.

So, since arriving on Sunday evening I’ve literally been a prisoner at Dee’s parent’s home, but did manage short drives out yesterday and today with Dee, having been drugged up by an excellent French doctor. Mind you I use the expression a prisoner light-heartedly, as yet again Dee and I have been treated like a lord and lady by her parents, home grown and home cooked food, beautiful wines and excellent conversation.

Dee's Turtle Dove Record Shot
The grounds of their beautiful house have also provided a haven for many species of birds, butterflies, insects and mammals and quite simply provided me with my very own personal nature reserve. Birds of note whilst sitting in the garden have been; Turtle Dove, White Wagtail, Black Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Hobby, Black Kite over, plus many Common Buzzard. Barn, Tawny and Little Owl have also been heard from our bedroom window and while sitting out in the evenings having dinner we’ve been entertained by both Noctule and Pipistrelle Bats, the latter of which roost in the door overhang.

Each evening Dee has toured the grounds with her mum and dad in search of Glow-Worms and with great success, seeing several on each trip. As a bonus for me, who absolutely adores thunderstorms, we were treated to real cracker early Monday morning which produced some spectacular lightening and seemed to rumble on forever.

Scarce Swallowtail By Dee
During our drives out we managed to locate several butterfly meadows and while I sat in the air-conditioned car finger pointing Dee went exploring, paying for it with a few nasty bites but producing some excellent shots of Scarce Swallowtail, Marbled White, Clouded Yellow, Granville Fritillary and several more yet to be identified! We also discovered a very active family of around five or six Red-backed Shrike, which entertained us along one the many secluded country lanes. Corn Bunting, more Turtle Doves, Kestrel, Buzzard, Wood Warbler and Nightingale, unfortunately being slightly late in the year not entertaining us with a song.

Tomorrow is Bastille Day and hopefully all being well I’ll make it to Chauvigny for the celebrations and so were told a magnificent firework display, even if I have to sit in the car! So despite my predicament my cup always being half full I can honestly say that with a fantastic wife at my side and with the help of Susan and Graham I’m having a great time. I must also say a big thank you to all who have texed and emailed to see how I'm doing, much appreciated.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Brandon Cuckoo

Cuckoo & Dunnock Record Shot!
Despite suffering from a bad back and gammy leg I decided to play the martyr and head for Brandon Marsh just after sunrise before the real summer returns later this afternoon.

As an alternative to my usual route I decided to head firstly to the West Marsh in the hope of recording some Kingfisher photographs in the morning sunshine. Walking through Horstail Glade this early in the morning is always a delight and currently it’s awash with an excellent spread of Enchanters Nightshade. A Nuthatch calling and a Chiffchaff singing made for an idyllic location and I sat on the bench at the top end of the glade for a short while just enjoying the peacefulness.

I arrived at the West Marsh Hide and was greeted by a very generous Kingfisher who posed patiently for several shots before heading off across towards the River Avon, job done! Martin, a very quiet young lad who I often see around Brandon, joined me a short time later and we sat enjoying the sights and sounds before a phone call from Jim Rushforth had us scurrying away.

Jim had rang to tell us of a young Cuckoo which he and Mike Lee had come across being fed by a Dunnock close to the wind pump. I can tell you that when Martin and I arrived a very short time later my back and leg had just about given up the ghost!

Juvenile Cuckoo @ Brandon
Anyway after relocating the bird in question shortly after arriving, as per usual the bird had disappeared, both Martin and I spent a happy 15 minutes snapping away, the only downer was poor light and the fact that the bird was 6 feet into the bottom of a Willow. Anyhoo I’ve posted two of my photos, one a record shot of the bird being fed, apologies for the blurries.

After leaving the hard working Dunnock and her giant size toddler and for that matter Martin, who was still frothing at the mouth, I spent a very enjoyable morning with the other Tuesday chaps touring the reserve. I didn't bother to investigate the damage that had been caused by some mindless morons who had decided to burn down the Roman Roundhouse on Saturday evening. However, I was delighted to hear that some other numpties who decided to extract the lead from the barn roof over the weekend had been captured red handed by the local constabulary!

Other birding highlights of the morning were 5 Green Sandpiper on Carlton Pool, 3 Redshank, 1 adult/2juvinile, on Teal/River Pool and 5 Little Ringed and two Ringed Plover on East Marsh Pool. The general consensus regarding the two Wood Sandpipers reported on Saturday is that they were probably the two juvenile Redshank.

Finally, Butterflies were in excellent numbers today which included the first signs of some second generation Common Blue, plus my first White Admiral of the year, which flew past the tool store.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Weekend cruise

Dark-green Fritillary
We met up Friday evening for a BBQ with our mooring neighbours, who’d been out cruising for the week, at one of our favourite mooring spots, bridge 100 of the Oxford Canal.

The cruise down in the warm evening sunshine took around 90 minutes and had the usual selection of bird species, with Yellowhammer in good numbers and it looks like they’ve had an excellent breeding season. Lots of Butterflies too along the towpath with Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small and Large White and Small Tortoishell.

After an excellent evening I took the opportunity, if I’m being totally honest feeling a little hung-over, early Saturday morning to take a stroll along part of the old LNWR railway line. The old rail bridge is right next to our mooring and trains ran along this branch line from Weedon to Leamington Spa, with stops along the way at Napton & Southam, Stockton, Flecknoe and Long Itchington. The line closed to passenger traffic in the mid 60's but freight trains used it for a little while longer, it’s a superb place to explore and can throw up the odd surprise too!

Skylarks were in good song as I made my way along the old line with several Brown Argus and good numbers of Small and Large Skipper Butterfly very evident, along with Common Blue Damselfly and Southern Hawker Dragonfly. Birds of note included Linnet, Meadow Pipit, Tree Sparrow and a Red-legged Partridge took flight as I almost stepped on him.

On the return journey I took the path back towards the canal towpath arriving at Nethercote Bridge 101, taking the opportunity to photograph a number of summer plumage Linnets and various Butterflies, including a very good looking Dark-green fritillary. I spent a while on the bridge enjoying the early sunshine and watching the first boats pass under when I was suddenly aware of a purring noise I’d not heard in the UK for a number of years. Coming from deep within a field of crops, I’m not entirely sure of what crop, the distinct call of Turtle Dove!

Quite excited by my find I then spent the next 30 minutes trying to find a needle in a haystack, the crops were at least 6ft high. Notwithstanding I decided to track back around the towpath towards the old rail bridge and was rewarded by the sight of one of my favourite birds perched and calling from the power line. As I approached for the perfect photograph he was off, a couple of appalling record shots all I could muster.

Anyway my first local patch Turtle Dove and as Dee and I sat on the towpath a little while later having breakfast the bird returned twice to the same power line, unfortunately making off each time I approached with the camera!

On the cruise back to the marina on Sunday morning a Red Kite floated over at Flecknoe, followed shortly after by a Hobby, doing his level best in search for breakfast. Other notables for the weekend included; Adder, Common Shrew, Stoat and Common Frog!