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!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Blow In!

Draycote Gannet - Click to Enlarge
Having suffered with my back problems for most of the summer I was delighted to complete the five mile walk around Draycote Water today without any side effects, and what a superb day it turned out to be!

Accompanied by Jim Rushforth we made an early start in gale force winds meeting up at Thurlaston and taking a clockwise route. A Greenshank was feeding along Toft Shallows and as we walked past the bird hide a brief view of Hobby heading east.

It's my first visit to Draycote for a good while and looking at the low water it's easy to see why the place is doing so well for Waders. As we reached Farborough Spit several Dunlin were feeding, accompanied by Ringed Plover, Juvenile Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper and a single Little Stint. Yellow Wagtails were in good number too, at least a dozen, and a lone Meadow Pipit was also recorded.

As we continued, almost getting blown off our feet, we met the 'Draycote Duo' (Richard Mays & Bob Hazell) who were good enough to put us on to a Shag, (remember we ARE birding) which we eventually came across near the Sailing Club. Can't remember the last time I saw one of these birds inland and definitely a Warwickshire tick.

Black Tern - Click to Enlarge
After a well deserved coffee and a brief rest bite from the wind we sort out further refuge at one of the sheltered benches. A good scan out towards the centre of the water produced Black, Arctic and Common Tern. Hirundines were in excellent numbers, which included a substantial number of Sand Martins.

Battling on around Rainbow Corner and on towards the Valve Tower produced Wheatear, but unfortunately no sign of yesterdays Red-crested Pochard, although we did manage a single ♀Goosander and a couple of Wigeon. 

After reaching Biggin Bay we took yet more refuge on a well provided bench for lunch and here we enjoyed the lovely sunshine and another Black Tern battling the wind. In the bay itself were more Dunlin, two Greenshank and various numbers of Plover.

One of the reasons for visiting on such a brutally windy day was the possibility of something unusual getting blown in and we weren't disappointed! Over to the west the amazing site of a fully adult Gannet and it wasn't long before we were treated to some great views and several dives. Yet another Warwickshire first and once again I can't remember seeing one of these birds so inland.

A terrific day and worth mentioning the excellent numbers of Chiffchaff around, a single Willow Warbler was also recorded along with a late Swift. An awful day for photography but I did manage a few shots, make sure you click on the images to enlarge!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Proud Moment

Water Vole - A proud Moment for Brandon
A far cry from last weeks balmy temperatures and sunny skies I left the boat this morning in gale force winds and heavy rain. Still, this is perfect weather for downed migrants so I was quite excited about the possibilities!

The marina had the usual two dozen or so Pied Wagtails and I managed two of our resident Tree Sparrow population, plus a a small flock of Goldfinch but nothing unusual. On route to Brandon Marsh I stopped off at a couple of locally known hotspots but alas the wind was simply too strong for any decent birding. Napton Reservoir as you would imagine was like a wind tunnel and the best I could pick out were two ♂ Pochard sheltering in the distance.

I arrived at Brandon around 06:45 and took my usual route, accompanied by Derek Bennet, another of the Brandon Volunteers. To be honest there was very little to get excited about, a Kestrel hunting over the top reed bed, Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler the best of the bunch. It wasn't until Derek and I reached the Newlands area that yet again Jim Rushforth came up trumps with a Spotted Flycatcher, typically in an area we'd recently passed!

Diverting back it wasn't long before I had my first Brandon Flycatcher of the autumn in my sights, keeping a very low profile in amongst the Elder and Buckthorn, but sitting up beautifully occasionally and offering some good views.

The best during the rest of my visit were the hundreds of Swallow and House Martins, plus the odd Sand Martin, which were constantly on the move. A Hobby scooped in while at big hide trying but failing to bag a Hirondine, 1 Snipe on Wigeon Bank and two Green Sandpipers, one at West Marsh and one at Carlton. Also worth a mention were a total of 4 Goldcrest during my visit, always a pleasure to report.

I'm also delighted to report that over the past two days and after decades of work by the Trust and the Brandon Marsh Voluntary Conservation Team, 200 Water Voles have been released on site. This is the ‘next’ phase in the development of the reserve. The water vole is the UK’s fastest declining mammal – so threatened that it is now completely protected by legislation. Populations of water voles have been steadily declining in the UK due to a number of factors including the loss of habitat, pollution and predation so this is a proud moment for the reserve.

The project is also supported by the Environment Agency, Natural England and local landowners.

Thursday, September 01, 2011


Migrant Hawker Dragonfly
If like me you work on the meteorological calendar then today was the first day of Autumn. In real terms it felt like the first day of summer with temperatures up to 23C.

When I went to bed last night at around midnight the sky was crystal clear and when I left the boat this morning at 5.30am there still wasn't a cloud in the sky, a perfect night for migration.

I arrived at Brandon Marsh just before sunrise and spent the first part of the morning with some of the Conservation Team. Not surprisingly there was very little of note as I imagine lots of the warbler population had taken the opportunity to move on, the best was 3 Kingfisher, a lone Snipe and 2 Wigeon on East Marsh Pool.

Conservation Team at Rest!
I'm still not really fit enough to rejoin the working party just yet and knowing that the East Marsh Pool was due it's end of summer hair cut I made my way across to West Marsh. I spent a very enjoyable hour with Geoff Haynes at Steetley Hide, another Brandon regular and we were entertained by a very patient Kingfisher and a very determined Hobby, which kept us spellbound with some amazing aerobatics, two Green Sandpiper's were also recorded.

After leaving Geoff I made my way around to the 'Tip' area and River Meadow for the remainder of the morning. Here the Dragonflies seemed to be having their best day of the year so far with excellent numbers in flight, the best of which were Migrant and Southern Hawker. No surprise then when two more Hobby were recorded both taking advantage of the veritable feast on offer.

Butterflies unfortunately have not had their best year at Brandon, however there were still plenty on offer and I spent a very enjoyable hour photographing and recording the few that were around: Small Copper, Small Heath, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Comma, Brown Argus, Green-veined White, Small White, Speckled Wood and Meadow Brown.

Willow Tit
(Now on the RSPB 'At-Risk' list)
I decided to return to the East Marsh for lunch and took the route through the Central Marsh area specifically in the hope of coming across a Tawny Owl, which has been quite vocal during the day in recent weeks. Although the bird, probably a youngster, was heard yet again I've still to make contact. Two Willow Tit and various numbers of Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were recorded, the latter found in the increasing numbers of Long-tailed Tit flocks, always worth extra scrutiny at this time of year!

I joined the conservation team once more as they were completing the final stages of the East Marsh hair-cut, a bang up job once again with all Islands and banks now cut, plus the famous Bittern Ride, a channel which is cut into the reed bed directly to the left of 'Big Hide' and is an excellent place to see Bittern during the winter months. The final birds of note for the day were two Yellow Wagtail which flew across East Marsh Pool just prior to leaving.

Regarding Tuesday's Brandon visit, which I didn't get time to post, the best on offer was a single Wood Sandpiper, which flew in while I was having lunch in 'Big Hide'.