Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wet, Lazy Weekend

Burton Dassett
With the recent spring-like conditions it's easy to forget that it's still February, well for 24 more hours anyway! Normal service was resumed this weekend when the Atlantic fronts regained control and we're now into more normal wet and breezy westerlies, much chillier too.

Having said that, this mornings weather looked very nice through my bedroom window, my first lay-in for sometime, and by the time I was out and about after brunch the rain had already set in, so I didn't spend much time in the field.

A visit to Brandon Marsh yesterday morning was a damp affair but I was delighted, having reported the lack of Wren activity in my last post, when I'd recorded six singing during my visit. There was also a temporary increase in Oystercatcher numbers earlier on when 4 birds were reported by JR, but by the time I'd arrived in Big Hide, two had departed. I'd spent the earlier part of my visit in New Hare Covert searching for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. These very shy and secretive birds have appeared around this time at Brandon for the past few years and with the tree canopy not yet in bloom it's a perfect time to search for them. A lone Nuthatch and 3-Treecreeper were the best I could muster.

The other highlights of the morning in or around the pools were 1-Ringed Plover, 31-Snipe, 2-Wigeon, 1-Little Grebe, 4-Shelduck and 6-Cetti's Warbler. In other areas Redwing, Fieldfare and around 40-Siskin were recorded, but the best was 15-Lesser Redpoll, some in beautiful summer plumage, which were feeding on the sandy ground near the Mouse Maze, sadly no Mealy amongst them!

Back at the marina a Yellowhammer was, as per usual, singing on the wires, good numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare in the surrounding fields and a bonus when a single Golden Plover overflew calling.

Where's The Cake?
Today a nice but albeit damp and breezy walk with the wife through Burton Dassett Country Park, an excellent place for migrating birds stopping off. Last time I was here in September I'd recorded Redstart, Yellow Wagtail and Spotted Flycatcher, no such luck today of course but some fantastic views of Common Buzzard feeding at ground level on a nice selection of worms. Also seen were Goldcrest, Pied Wagtail and some small flocks of mixed Redwing and Fieldfare. Once the rain became more persistent we called it a day and headed off for tea and cake back aboard. An enjoyable but lazy weekend!

NB- Worth mentioning that if your planning a visit to Brandon Marsh this coming Tues/Thurs please be aware that we will be working on the East Marsh Pool Islands. This is preparation work for the forthcoming nesting season. Full details on the BMVCT blog.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Sand Martin (Library Picture)
Over a week since my last update due to other commitments, not least putting the final touches to my Reptile and Amphibian section for the Brandon Marsh 2010 report.

To be honest, over the last week I would have struggled to put anything together anyway as things have been reasonably quiet on the birding front, plus a non birding trip to Suffolk at the weekend rendered me unavailable.

After the weekend an early visit to Brandon on Monday had me missing out on two Pintail which were reported on East Marsh Pool. It seems that by the time I'd walked from Wright Hide to Big Hide both birds had flown. A pair of Ringed Plover was the highlight on what was a dreary and damp visit.

Today however has been absolutely gorgeous weather wise and news of the first Sand Martin, reported in Exeter this morning, has now got me scanning the skies with even greater enthusiasm! Brandon Marsh did produce a good selection of species this morning with a couple of Dunlin on the East Marsh Pool, along with Ringed Plover, 6 Shelduck, 2 Oystercatcher and 17 Snipe. Teal numbers continue to drop as many of the continental birds head back to the Baltic and Siberia. Shoveler too are now on the decrease along with Lapwing, but it was lovely to see a good influx of about 30 Wigeon around 1.30pm. Jeff Rankin also reported a female Goosander around lunchtime, which unfortunately didn't stay too long and so I never managed to connect.

In other areas a Marsh Tit was seen and calling near the Saga sign, 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker were drumming in New Hare Covert, and a lone Goldcrest was on the East Marsh Track. Singing Dunnock were in double figures, Water Rail still remain scarce, and although Cetti's Warbler are calling, numbers are not anywhere near last years peak. Sadly, Wren numbers are still very disappointing with only a solitary bird heard calling today and I fear that December may have taken a hefty toll. Also worth a mention that a colleague came across two Frogs while working on the bottom dipping pond today, a very welcome record!

Colts Foot
More signs of spring too with the first Primroses starting to show, and while walking back with the works party on the Newlands track, Colts Foot was also starting to show and in flower. Word of a few early Butterflies sent me on a final walk around the 'Tip' area after work, unfortunately producing a blank. What I did have however was a count of 6 Buzzard which were out enjoying the thermals.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Worth a Blog!

Today turned out to be one of those wonderful days when your expecting nothing special to happen but end up with something worth blogging about! With the weather dry and bright I took the opportunity to complete and few boaty chores and it was during my window cleaning exploits that my first surprise of the day materialised.

I was alerted to a distant trumpeting sound to the south and it wasn't long before 3 Swans were in sight. The call of Bewick is a lot less trumpeting than the Whooper but I could tell almost immediately as I always feel the Bewick looks more goose-like in flight. I needn't have worried about I.D. though as the birds flew directly overhead heading north-east.

Encouraged by the sighting and with the sun now shining It wasn't long before I'd finished the chores prematurely and was out and about, first stop Napton Reservoir, and for a change with my camera in hand.

My second surprise of the day was shortly after arriving at the reservoir when a very pristine looking Stonechat greeted me, sitting for a good 10-minutes on the wire before moving off towards the canal. The pool itself had the usual wildfowl, Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted, plus 8-Great Crested Grebe and around 100 Common Gull. I took a walk to the top end of the reed bed, where it seems that British Waterways have been working once more, stripping a good section of reed out and dumping it very untidily at the nearest available point! The reeds were in fact totally devoid of any birds during my visit.

The walk back in lovely sunshine produced 3-Common Buzzard enjoying a thermal, and being pestered by 2 very persistent Raven. Once the Raven departed I was then treated to some incredible aerobatics as the birds entered display flight, one diving beyond view.

I ended my afternoon at a very quiet Napton Hill enjoying a long converstion with Bob and Pat who run Church Leyes Farm. Bob tells me that his highland cattle have had 3 calfs so congratulations were in order.

Back to the car taking the church yard path, more signs of spring with Snowdrops and my first Lesser Celandine 'Spring Messenger' of the year in full flower.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Spring Has Sprung!

Ringed Plover (Library Picture)
With alarms going off in the boat this morning just before 6am telling me that our external electric supply had failed, I took the opportunity, once I'd reset the system, to get down to Brandon Marsh for a few hours unscheduled birding.

Yesterdays weather system, which had produced some well needed rain, had moved east producing a clear blue sky and I wasn't surprised to be scraping the windscreen of ice when I reached the car. As I was doing so a Woodcock flew east towards Napton Hill, and a single Yellowhammer was already singing from the nearby phone lines.

I reached Brandon around 7.40am and took my usual walk past Sheepfield and on through New Hare Covert. The Covert provided three very boisterous Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and two Treecreeper. When I emerged near the Golf Course some 20+ Redwing were feeding at ground level, these accompanied by 5 Fieldfare, and a Barn Owl suddenly appeared heading towards the back of Newlands, obviously catching up on supplies after last nights rain!

The Alder at Olive Wood Bench had a collection of some 14-Siskin, 4-Goldfinch and 3-Lesser Redpoll.

Once in Big Hide for coffee a good scan of East Marsh Pool produced of note: 6-Shelduck, 2-Wigeon, 5-Pochard, 1-Great Crested Grebe, 12-Snipe and various numbers of Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and Tufted. Only 1 of Saturdays 2 Oystercatchers was on site, but amongst around C300 Lapwing was a single Leucistic, probably the same bird which appeared for a week or so late last year.

The bird of the day though has to be the first Ringed Plover of the year at Brandon which I watched fly in at around 9:15am while sitting alongside John Walton, the bird having then departed after a brief visit reappeared and was still on Tern Island when I left around 10:30am.

A brief sighting of Bittern flying low across the path from Teal Pool and into the reed bed in front of Big Hide as I left should really be my bird of the day, but the first Ringed Plover at Brandon is always a sign that Spring has Sprung!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dreaming Goshawk!

Goshawk or Sparrowhawk?
Having been struck down with man-flu for the best part of last week I tried to do the manly thing and work through it, only to succumb dramatically after working at Brandon Marsh on Thursday!

Today I'd made a miraculous recovery and took the opportunity at first light to take a good look around the marina grounds before moving on to Brandon Marsh. My birding day started off misty and grey and ended for me around lunchtime in glorious, dare I say it, spring sunshine!

The marina itself had the usual suspects on the surrounding feeders, even at this early hour, and was relatively quiet, a brief call of Tawny Owl in the distance was probably the highlight, and so I made my way to Brandon.

Brandon this morning from a birding prospective was an absolute hive of activity. By the time I'd emerged from New Hare Covert I'd counted: 19-Robins, 4-Dunnock, 4-Song Thrush, 2-Blackbird, 3-Goldcrest and 4-Cetti’s Warbler, all calling or in song! Spring was definitely in the air. East Marsh Pool produced the first two Oystercatcher of the year along with of note: 4-Shelduck, 9-Snipe, 12-Wigeon and 5-Pochard.

Have you ever seen Sparrowhawks in display flight? Well if you have, especially from a distance, you’ll know what a shock it can be to the system when in the first few seconds before you calm down your dreaming of Goshawk! Goshawk at Brandon, now that would be something!

These amazing birds have a great tendency in my opinion to look at first glance like a Goshawk in flight. The typical flight pattern is a series of flaps followed by a short glide, but in display the bird spirals high into the air on a thermal and then performs a series of undulating glides across the sky. This is very unlike your normal Sparrowhawk flight pattern and certainly had Burbidge Bob and me dreaming, well for a few seconds anyway we were in birding heaven, but having returned to reality we were treated to two birds performing in the gorgeous sunshine.

After our fantasy birding a nice walk around Farm Pool reed bed through to the Nature Centre to calm us down had a Woodcock, which flew out of the undergrowth as we walked, and a first Toad of the year for me, which scrambled across the path on Top Reedbed. Now, asked Bob, how do you tell a Frog from a Toad?

Well I said: "Toads and Frogs have many similarities, including the way they look. But there are some basic differences between them. For one thing, toads have dry, warty skin, while frogs have smooth, wet skin".

Another few rules of thumb for me when identifying Frogs from Toads:

*A Frogs back is raised with two ridges down each side.
*Toads have a more flattened appearance.
*Frogs move around by hopping on their strong back legs, but Toads walk.

Birding Afloat, always a good source of information Bob.... lol! Oh and by the way the top one is the Toad.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Quiet Time!

Song Thrush
We've now entered that quiet time once again when the birding seems to keep throwing up the same old species and our thoughts now turn to the approaching spring. Am I sounding a little complacent perhaps?

Talking of spring, for me the most exciting time in the birding calendar, there does seem to be signs of the countryside awakening from it's winter slumber. Song Thrushes have now begun to sing and take control of their territories, a sure sign that spring is on the way, earlier a Mistle Thrush was also singing from a lofty perch as I arrived back to the marina.

The month of February can be as harsh as any, with snow and freezing winds. However it is possible to spot hints of better things to come. Although spring is still several weeks away the first signs are there to see. For a short time now at Brandon Marsh the Hazel Catkins have started to expand into golden tassels in order to release their pollen to the wind and the leaves of Bluebells are starting to poke through the leaf litter in New Hare Covert.

Hazell Catkin
This week I've been out and about as usual and have had a somewhat mixed bag. On Thursday at Brandon Marsh the highlights were a brief sighting of Bittern on River Pool and I also flushed two Woodcock while working on the Newlands reed bed. Being February the sluices on the main East Marsh Pool have been reopened and the main Island is now starting to reappear, the many Lapwing are already beginning to take advantage.

A text message reporting six more Waxwings at the marina on Friday while I was on business in London however was my disappointment of the week. Saturday produced my first local Red Kite of the year when a single bird flew across the A425 as I came through Southam in the car.

I'm also feeling a little more confident with regard to the Barn Owl population at Brandon. A survey and clean out of the reserves Barn Owl boxes revealed at least four resident birds. I've also noticed more recently an influx of Goldcrest with my last three visits registering 2/3 per visit. Wren's, Water Rail and Cetti's Warbler, although now beginning to call, do seem to be in smaller numbers than previous years and I fear the December cold snap may have had an effect.

I'd also like to take the opportunity in this post to bring to your attention We're lucky enough at the marina to have a thriving Tree Sparrow population but as you'll probably know these attractive little birds are on the decline in the UK and the site needs your support.

Finally thanks for your feedback on the new Boatbirder Daily, there very much appreciated.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

BoatBirder Daily

I'm proud to announce the first edition of the BoatBirder Daily, a new online newspaper for the discerning bird watcher and nature lover. It's just another in the social networking blogosphere which I love so much!!

The paper will be updated twice daily with a morning and evening edition. It's currently in it's beta stage and I would love any feedback.

The paper can be viewed from HERE or from the link in the right-hand sidebar! You can also subscribe to the paper too if you so wish.

Wigram's Update

Due to some technical issues aboard my boat that needed immediate attention I never quite made it to Brandon on Tuesday but did manage to fit in a good tour of the marina instead.

Last year around this time we were very fortunate and incredibly amazed to have a solitary Bittern on site, a picture taken from aboard a fellow moorer's boat on their mobile phone came as a great surprise, but no reports have been forthcoming this time around! Although we've been lucky enough to have Waxwing on site in December there has been no reports thus far this year. Our local Little and Tawny Owls seem to have gone quiet more recently but I have had several sightings this year, sadly no Barn Owls have been seen!

The amount of feeders that can be found dotted around Wigram's seems to have increased dramatically over the past weeks and it gives the place an enormous sense of well being. It's lovely to see that so many of the moorers have taken the local birds to their hearts.

A few additions to the Wigram's list since my last tour and it seems that our local Tree Sparrow population have a few House Sparrows to contend with now. Other additions to the regular species were 2 Collared Dove that have now decided to pop in occasionally for an easy meal, and my first Goldcrest at Wigrams was seen skulking in the bramble.

Reed Bunting numbers seem to have expanded too with a count of 36 during my walk and it was good to see 2 Brambling still on site. A very vocal Green Woodpecker has also taken a shine to the place and several Fieldfare were also seen feeding from some of the fallen nuts and seeds. Pied Wagtail, a very regular visitor, single Grey Wagtail, Coal Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, plus various numbers of Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, were also noted.

On the water we still have our resident Tufted Duck, affectionately known as 'Tufty' who, due to a damaged wing, has now been with us for nearly a year and our Mallard population is now well over 100, the 2 Mute Swan who produced 6 cygnets last year are still with us too.