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.