Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dream, Nightmare & Reality!

Things have remained particularly quiet over the past week both locally and at Brandon Marsh, as you would probably expect at this time of year, and so finding things to blog about without becoming repetitive becomes somewhat of a challenge. With this in mind I thought a a few paragraphs on what kind of a year it's been for me on the birding front was in order.

Firstly, I'm not actually that good at making lists and so I can't specifically tell you how many species I've recorded this year. What I can tell you is that like all birders my year has had it's highs and lows. For those who know me, they'll tell you of my passion for Canada, the country I was married in during 2009 and which I visit each year with my lovely wife Dee. It was therefore an absolute dream to get the opportunity to live in Vancouver once more in March and April of this year thanks to Dee's work. During this time I walked many miles a day, met some great new friends and visited some stunning birding locations with amazing results. I just can't wait to return in May 2012.

Closer to home and with Dee's parents living in France we always take up the opportunity to visit, who can refuse, with great food, great conversation and great birding. However, this year a trip to France proved to be my worst nightmare. Hours before we were due to fly I trapped my femoral nerve pretty badly and unfortunately not only did I spend almost the entire week in bed during our visit, it practically wiped out my entire summer! Thankfully, it's a situation I'm now able to manage, although it still has it's moments.

To Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve and in fact this week sees my third anniversary since joining the voluntary conservation team, some would say that they can't remember a time when I wasn't at Brandon! Do I take this as a compliment or otherwise? In reality Brandon is a place where I spend endless hours working and birding and I'm proud to be a part of a team of people who devote hours of their time and energy managing and creating an environment for the benefit of our amazing British wildlife. Inspirational, enthusiastic individuals, who work hard, take criticism on the chin (not everyone understands conservation) and who are passionate about the work they do, and long may it continue. Sadly, in the three short years that I've been involved at Brandon Marsh we've lost three amazing characters, and so at this time of year I think a brief pause to remember Ted Jury, Roger Porter and Bob Rothwell, who it was a privilege to know and who are sorely missed.

Finally, a big thank you for all the emails in relation to my previous post regarding the Boundary Bay Snowy Owls, it seems that most, although not all agree! Thank you too for the Christmas wishes Dee and I have received over recent weeks and we both wish you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Very frustrating!

Snowy Owl
For the past week or so I've been receiving emails and some fantastic images from my birding buddies over in Canada.

Most of the excitement has been regrading up to 70 Snowy Owls, which have drifted down from their regular hunting grounds in Northern Canada and the Arctic in search of food.

The majority of the fall has been at an area known as Boundary Bay, an area renown for holding some of the largest populations of wintering Raptors in Canada and one of my favourite birding locations when visiting. Sadly though it appears that the problems we have here in the UK with a minority of mindless photographers, striving for the ultimate shot with no regard for the animal, seems to be a major problem in Canada now too!

I've been horrified by some of the emails I've received over the weekend, summed up by the news item below.

What can you say about these mindless idiots who appear to have no regard for anything other than themselves. These birds are obviously at the point of exhaustion and the last thing they need is to be spooked from pillar to post while they attempt to recuperate! I know that personally I've been criticised in the past for suppressing various sightings, Long-eared Owls at Brandon for example, but is it any wonder with these idiots always a threat!

Anyway back to the UK and a chilly morning at Brandon Marsh produced three highlights for the day. Firstly, excellent views of a Peregrine attacking the Lapwing population. Secondly, good views from the Wright Hide of a Bittern on the front edge of the reeds in front of Big Hide. Finally, some very tasty and welcome mince pies with our morning coffee in Big Hide, supplied by our steely eyed Bittern spotter, Jeff Hood.

Oh yes, worth a mention to tune in to Countryfile tonight (BBC1 @ 7pm) where it's quite possible that some of the footage taken at Brandon Marsh a few weeks ago may be used!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A New addition!

A New Addition Overnight!
Enjoying a coffee this morning at around 6am, after a rather bumpy night, the rain still battering down and the wind still hammering the boat, I was somewhat surprised around 45 minutes later when I stepped onto the pontoon in crystal clear skies and a relatively calm water!

I was further surprised when I noticed that a lone ♂Mandarin Duck had joined with the local Mallard population during the night. In fact my birding day had gotten off to an excellent start by the time I reached the car, when silhouetted against the clear brightening Eastern sky a Woodcock overflew the marina.

Brandon Marsh this morning had received a very welcome overnight dumping of rain and as I drove past the top reed bed a very early Buzzard was making it's way across. I made my way around my usual route and it was soon apparent that a feeding frenzy was taking place. Excellent numbers of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin were feeding high amongst the Alder, and the few remaining Hawthorn berries were being greedily devoured by Fieldfare, Redwing, Blackbirds and Bullfinch. New Hare Covert produced 2 Goldcrest and a single Great-spotted Woodpecker.

Lots Of Fieldfare Locally!
Passing the golf course a ♀Muntjac Deer made a dart across for the relative cover of New Hare Covert and both Water Rail and Cetti's Warbler were heard calling. East Marsh Pool, which now has excellent water levels produced the usual suspects, the best of which were: Kingfisher, 2 pair of Goldeneye, 18 Golden Plover, 9 Snipe, 6 Wigeon and a very pristine looking Yellow-legged Gull amongst the Gull population. Also seen of note during my visit were: Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Willow Tit, Coal Tit and Nuthatch.

With time to spare before my car was due it's MOT I took the opportunity for a walk around a very blowy and somewhat biting Napton Reservoir. Here most of the waterfowl were sensibly taking cover at the top end of the water, with around 50 or so Tufted Duck, 75+ Wigeon, 8 Gadwall and probably the whole Counties allocation of Coot!

A walk to the top end of the reed bed produced at least 75 Fieldfare and the best of the visit, when I inadvertently flushed a Jack Snipe, which was also taking cover from the now buffeting winds. On my return to the marina our new resident Mandarin was still on site, offering good photographic opportunities and my final bird of a very enjoyable day out was a cronking Raven over!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Little About!

One Less Water Vole!
A week on from my last post and despite high hopes very little new on offer around the patch. My birding depression was not helped either by an email I received from my mate Derek Killby in Vancouver, Canada this morning. This read like a who's who of species, the best being 28 Snowy Owls he came across at Boundary Bay, Delta, a place I've visited several times over previous years.

Brandon Marsh over the past several days has been reasonably quiet too, the exception being Tuesday when I managed my best view thus far this winter of a Bittern, when one took flight from the reeds in front of big hide. Several arse end images the best I could muster as the bird flew across towards Newlands, catching me completely by surprise.

On the same morning I witnessed first hand the demise of one of the recently released Water Voles, when I was stunned to see a Heron pluck one from the grass at Carlton Hide. Still plenty of winter visitors on offer though, with several good flocks of Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Fieldfare and Redwing. The daily visit of Golden Plover, numbers usually ranging from 30 to a very healthy 175 continues, although today's visit only saw a count of 9.

Closer to home a tour of the marina and surrounding areas this morning didn't manage any surprises, although a count of 8 Skylark in the adjacent field was welcome. Also recorded were: 6 Red-legged Partridge, 4 Yellowhammer, 32 Goldfinch, 38 Linnet, 11 Tree Sparrow, 2 Bullfinch ♂♀, 1 Green Woodpecker, 2 Kestrel and a lone Buzzard.

Finally, I've now started to upload a few of my photographs onto Flickr and these can be accessed by clicking the link on the header bar above labelled 'My New Photostream'.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Two Winter Firsts

Click  On Image To Enlarge
An interesting end to the week, a week in which I've rubbed shoulders with a household name and recorded my first Bittern and Jack Snipe sightings of the winter.

On Thursday afternoon the BBC Countryfile team were recording at Brandon Marsh for the up coming Christmas episode. With a working knowledge of the reserve a few of the conservation team members were in attendance, which included yours truly. In the late afternoon I was lucky enough to accompany John Craven in a search for Holly and Ivy. Fortunately, with only two Holly Bushes on the whole reserve, my first hand knowledge came in very handy. I'm just glad that I took them to the female of the species, as I couldn't remember initially if it was laden with berries or not. Thankfully my embarrassment was spared, no need to panic either, as you will definitely not be seeing me on the big screen!

Today's visit to Brandon turned up a couple of winter firsts with amazingly only my first brief glimpse of Bittern this winter, when one bird took flight across the reeds as I passed the 'Olive Wood' bench at around 8am. East Marsh Pool still has the 2 long staying pairs of Goldeneye and an amazing count of at least 140 Golden Plover. Golden Plover have now been visiting regularly at Brandon for over a month, an unprecedented sequence as prior to this these birds were a very infrequent visitor. Snipe and Pochard numbers were down on previous counts with only 3 and 17 respectively.

Carlton Hide produced Kingfisher and Water Rail, with a Common Buzzard and Mistle Thrush sharing the big dead tree for a while. However, the best was my first Jack Snipe at Brandon this winter, when one was seen briefly to the rear of the island, before bobbing back into the undergrowth.

Also of note today: Willow Tit (1), Siskin (8), Lesser Redpoll (6), Fieldfare (11), Redwing (11), Sparrowhawk (1), Kestrel (2), Coal Tit (2), Nuthatch (1), Bullfinch (6 - 3♀ + 3♂), Goldcrest (2). A second glimpse at East Marsh Hide, of probably the same Bittern seen earlier, shortly before I headed off to the nature centre for breakfast at 11am.

Locally the Marina still has various numbers of Linnet, Goldfinch and at least 100 Fieldfare are still in the locality, this evenings Pied Wagtail roost had circa 150 birds, a slight reduction from previous nights. The Long-eared Owl mentioned in my previous post is still showing in its regular daytime roost. Finally, with no decent photographic opportunities today I've enclosed the above picture which I took yesterday at the marina, when I noticed our resident Mute Swans having a clean in the winter sun.