Saturday, August 27, 2011

Marina Update

With the heavy rain showers and more prolonged torrential downpours over the past few days the marina has certainly been the place to be! I’ve spent all my spare time sky watching from the comfort of the boat, my large windows provide an excellent vista with uninterrupted views of the sky and surrounding low hills.

Common Redstart
Visible migration continues at pace with hundreds of Swallows and House Martins, along with the odd Sand Martin, passing through constantly throughout the day. Swifts are now at a premium and I’ve only been able to record a single bird over the last week. The odd Wader has also dropped in with brief visits from Common Sandpiper and Greenshank, 2 Snipe were also seen near the marina entrance Thursday evening.

Things got even more exciting when I took a walk around the dog-walking field early yesterday morning after a heavy downpour and discovered a very attractive ♂Wheatear and was further rewarded with 2 Yellow Wagtail. The best however was on the walk back to my mooring when I was delighted to see 2 Black Tern whizzing through.

Black Tern
Out and about this morning after heavy overnight rain, goodness knows we need it with the canal at a desperately low level, and even more excitement when I came across a very flighty ♂Common Redstart. Later this afternoon a late Swift, 3 Common Tern, 6 Wigeon and yet another Black Tern, this time hanging around a little longer than the previous two.

Most birds from our small Reed Warbler population have departed but a few still remain, no Sedge Warblers have been seen for several days.

Away from the migratory birds a large flock of around 50+ Goldfinch has been constantly feeding within the grounds and smaller flocks of Linnet are also regular visitors. Pied Wagtails are still coming in each evening to roost and a quick count yesterday produced 82 birds, it has to be said mostly Juvenile! Tawny Owls are once again calling each evening from the surrounding woods but no recent signs of our local Little Owls. Common Buzzards, which have had a terrific breeding season locally, have stopped mewing which seemed to be a constant over the past few weeks. Maybe the cooler weather has finally calmed them down.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Visible Migration

Local ♂Bullfinch
Another weekend out on the local canal system and a further sign of visible migration in progress with several Swift and a constant trickle of Swallows, House Martins and Yellow Wagtails. During our Saturday evening BBQ at least 3 Whimbrel were heard passing overhead before the rain set in.

Sunday morning produced 2 Hobby and good numbers of Warblers passing through, in particular Blackcaps, but smaller numbers of Willow Warbler and Common Whitethroat also included 2 Lesser Whitethroat.

Similar to last Thursdays visit Brandon Marsh this morning was awash once again with Warblers feeding up on the many fruit baring trees and plants: Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Garden Warbler. A very pristine looking Willow Tit also made a brief appearance. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to connect with any of the recently reported Spotted Flycatchers.

Today also had several large Tit flocks, always worth a look, and produced Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest within. On the pools the first Pochard have begun arriving back with 4 on East Marsh Pool; 3 Snipe also flew in during the course of the morning and 4 Green Sandpiper’s were on West Marsh Pool.

The biggest surprise of today’s Brandon visit however was when I was walking through the Central Marsh area with Paul Norman. I can’t remember if I’ve ever heard a Tawny Owl calling during the middle of the day before. It took us so much by surprise that Paul, who was a little way ahead, thought it was me having a joke.

This afternoon a tour of the marina grounds produced more evidence of birds fattening up with a feeding frenzy in many of the Bramble and Hawthorn bushes. This evening large numbers of House Martins have taken precedence over the Swallows and can be seen skimming through taking on water as they pass.

A Sparrowhawk was also flushed from the dog-walking paddock as I passed through, not surprising really as the paddock also contained large flocks of Linnet and Goldfinch. Around 15 Tree Sparrows were also very vocal today and it’s good to see our local population still doing so well. Our Pied Wagtail flock is also on the increase with at least 100 birds coming in to roost yesterday evening, in fact they are once again beginning to arrive as I post. Families of Common Buzzard and Raven are also entertaining us with amazing aerobatics as they take to the thermals.

With the poor light and rain this morning photography was at a premium but I did manage the above ♂Bullfinch at the marina late evening, always a pleasure to see.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Seasonal Change

Newlands Phase Three Reed Bed Project
It was a balmy 5C when I left the boat at 6am this morning, Orion was rising to the East and the Pleiades were well up, a definite sign of autumn in the air!

It’s great to be back in the fold once more and this was going to be my second visit of the week to Brandon Marsh after an eight-week layoff with back problems.

On Tuesday I was delighted to be able to completely walk my usual circuit, the highlights being: Hobby, Ringed Plover, Green and Common Sandpiper, with Teal and Shoveler now beginning to arrive back in small numbers. Today I met up around 06.30 with Jim Rushforth our site recorder and we had an excellent start to the day when a Sparrowhawk was seen around Grebe Pool as we passed the wind pump. While we were scanning a second raptor whizzed thru’ shortly followed by at least 200 Lapwing up from the adjacent East Marsh Pool. Our guess was Peregrine but we can only reflect on literally a few seconds observation so we’ll leave that one as un-recorded!

More signs of the seasons changing when a small flock of 16 Siskin flew over our heads as we passed by the Sheepfield Gate. Large numbers of Swallows were also moving through constantly throughout the morning. East Marsh Pool had the usual selection of waterfowl with Shoveler and Teal continuing to arrive. Other highlights before moving on to Carlton Hide were Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker, Cetti's Warbler, Goldcrest, Kingfisher, Barnacle Goose and Common Sandpiper, plus the Jays have begun their Acorn harvesting in earnest with at least 10 birds seen today.

Garden Warbler
Carlton Hide provided the best viewing of the day with a second Kingfisher and three Green Sandpiper, but in particular lots of Warbler activity in the Elder and Bramble: Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Blackcap, plus Bullfinch, Goldfinch and Song Thrush were all recorded. The phase 3 Newlands Reedbed project will be ongoing for at least another fortnight and the plant machinery has now begun to excavate the new pools. I just pray we’ll have enough water in the present climate.

Despite the best efforts of the conservation team Teal Pool is now completely devoid of water and looking around the other pools the situation is becoming quite critical. The River Avon is probably at its lowest level for many years. Even here at the marina the water level I would estimate is at least a foot down on normal and restrictions are already in place at Napton Lock Flight, where traffic is only allowed through from 10 am until 2pm to safeguard the dwindling water levels!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Another Cruise

Lots of Yellow Wagtails Sunday
Another opportunity for a weekend on the canal and for this particular outing we chose to moor next to the old LNER railway bridge just after Bridge 101 Grand Union.

When I cruised back to our home mooring and few weeks ago the combines were out in force raking in the grain crops and over the weekend it was clear to see that now the job is almost done. With the majority of fields cut the birding is made a lot easier and the cruise up on the Friday evening produced of note: Hare, Roe Deer, Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Linnet, Red-legged Partridge, Yellow Wagtail, at least 10 Kestrel and a large flock of House Sparrows as we passed Flecknoe Fields Farm.

I'm getting Closer!
Several weeks ago when we’d moored here with friends I was lucky enough to locate a lone Turtle Dove, my first local patch bird but was unable to get any decent photo’s. You can imagine my surprise when shortly after we’d moored up what I believe to be the same bird flew low across the adjacent field and perched on the exact same power line. Notwithstanding I was able to get a little closer this time resulting in the above image. The bird seems to visit this particular spot in the early morning or late evening before dropping down into the field to feed.

Saturday's weather wasn't as bad as anticipated and although it remained overcast for most of the day it stayed dry with some late evening sunshine. We enjoyed an evening BBQ during which time we watched the full moon rising to the south and despite the moons presence still managed several of the brighter Perseid Meteors. Little Owl and Barn Owl and a small number of Pipistrelle Bats further entertained us, plus many strange sounds of creatures lurking in the bushes behind kept us guessing.

1950's Vampire Jet Trainer
Sunday was a brighter day with longer periods of sunshine and the day was spent just sky watching. An early morning glimpse of Turtle Dove along with the many Common Buzzards and Kestrels hunting in the now bare fields. Delighted to be joined by Paul Norman our Brandon Volunteers Chairman for coffee around midday and we all three sat watching a noisy pair of Raven enjoying a thermal. Interesting to note too that during the course of the whole day I must have counted at least a dozen Yellow Wagtails coming through.

Finally, the cruise home later this evening was spent watching other flying objects as we were treated to our very own flying display, when the Coventry Airbase 1950'2 Vampire Jet Trainer performed a number a acrobatic turns and summersaults right over our heads!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Out At Last!

Wood Sandpiper (Library Image)
Can’t believe it’s been almost a month since trapping my femoral nerve and what’s even more frustrating is the painstakingly slow recovery period. I must admit that it’s sometimes extremely difficult to remain positive but it’s simply not in my nature to be anything otherwise!

Yesterday I was determined to visit Brandon Marsh no matter what and duly arrived at around 7am after a six-week absence. I figured my best plan of action was to park within the reserve compounds as close to big hide as possible and plonk myself within for a few hours birding. Being part of the conservation team does indeed have its advantages.

When I arrived the recent mini heat wave had given way to some much-needed rain and so I made my way tentatively along the central marsh path. I should have known better than to expect a normal visit! I was literally only half way down the path when two recognisable figures, Jim and Derek came bowling around the corner.

Only some quick pleasantries needed as I new instantly we were on to something and before I knew it I’d turned heels and was in Baldwin Hide minutes later looking at a Wood Sandpiper, a not too regular visitor to the reserve.

After that I’m glad to say that things settled down to some normality and I did indeed spend a few hours in big hide catching up with the team on the latest reserve news. The main difference of course since my last visit is the plant machinery now on Newlands reed bed preparing the ground for the ongoing phase 3 project. (A news item in relation to the work can be seen HERE).

The Wood Sandpiper appeared to depart a short while later to be replaced by two other of his related species, Common Sandpiper and at least 4 Green Sandpiper. Interesting to note that A Wood sandpiper was also seen at the nearby Draycote Water, same one?

Juvenile Pied Wagtail @ Wigram's
A little home news now and after a slow tour of the marina this afternoon I located a small party of three young Spotted Flycatchers which seemed to have taken a liking to the place. Common Terns are regularly coming through dropping in to fish each day. Worth a mention too is the nightly visit of around 20+ Juvenile Pied Wagtails, which seem to enjoy perching on the neighbours boat and peering in at us while were having dinner. I also noticed a few more Dragonflies around than of late with Broad-bodied Chaser, Emperor and Southern Hawker.

Butterflies too are in reasonable numbers with Red Admiral, Peacock and my very first Painted Lady of the year, which completely refused to settle for a photograph!

Anyway it’s just brilliant to be able to get out and about once more and see the wildlife (Brandon team included), but as my physio told me yet again today, “your not out of the woods yet” thanks to everyone too for their good wishes and support!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Lone Cruise

Be careful where you navigate!
With Dee away in Scotland at the weekend I decided to take a lone cruise and moor up for a few days around the Flecknoe area, in my current condition this wasn’t as easy at it sounds. Nevertheless after my physio on Friday I set straight off and I’d moored up under my favourite willow tree by around 5pm without incident!

The cruise up wasn’t as busy as I’d expected for the time of year and I encountered the usual wildlife on offer such as Hare, Yellowhammer, Linnet, Corn Bunting, Kestrel, Buzzard and a good selection of Butterflies. Dragonflies and Damselflies seemed to be in better numbers than my last cruise the previous weekend, Banded Demoiselle and Common Hawker the majority. I spent the evening on the towpath enjoying a few beers and watching the many Buzzards and Kestrels trawling the open fields.

On Saturday the weatherman got it completely wrong once again and after predicting a cloud-covered day I woke early to a lovely mist on the water and a completely cloudless sky, which lasted the whole day apart from some fair weather stuff.

Water Vole a rare sight on the canal!
I spent the morning repainting my roof top storage boxes, re-housing the many spiders therein to the freedom of the towpath. Once again I watched one of the rare local population Water Voles, one of the reasons I moor at this particular spot, busying himself swimming in and out of the reeds. An absolute pleasure to watch and a sign that thankfully there arn't currently any Mink around. Another rarity, which only a few years ago was a regular on this stretch, a Kingfisher flew straight past while I was having coffee, a sight to cheer the heart. Another unexpected visitor was a brief stop from a Marsh fritillary butterfly, a species I don’t recall ever seeing in this area.

I was delighted to be joined by one of the Brandon team later in the afternoon when Mike Lee appeared in full cycling kit, cycling up from Coventry especially to see me! We enjoyed a superb few hours over tea and biscuits just enjoying the sights and Mike was delighted to see Hobby, Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk during his stay.

A bit of a lazy Sunday just chilling and watching Lewis blow the Grand Prix and while having a beer in the early afternoon the bird of the weekend in the form of a juvenile Osprey, which floated majestically over the mooring and appeared to be heading in the general direction of Draycote Water.

Spot the Owl!!
I took the decision to take a late Sunday evening cruise back to the marina and set off for home around 6pm. The 2-hour cruise was extremely enjoyable in the late evening warmth with most fields busy with combines the air full of the dust shimmering in the evening sun, the farmers taking advantage of the glorious weather. I must say I would describe it as a very rural British scene and one that makes you proud to be British, a rarity in itself.

A bit of a navigational issue pictured above as one of the ancient traditional wooden working narrowboats has finally given up the ghost, after what is probably nigh on 100 years! Easily seen from a distance as someone has kindly marked the spot with a large blue plastic barrel. We just need British Waterways to get their act together now and remove the blockage!

Two Barn Owls on the cruise home, too distant to photograph but I did manage to take a record picture of a cute Little Owl who was perched on top of the ruins at Lower Shuckburgh. Not easy when the wife’s not around to take the helm, a most enjoyable weekend!!