Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cracking Day!

Mediterranean Gull Record Shot!
Having tweaked my back a few days ago completing some boat repairs I decided that today's visit to Brandon Marsh would be mostly confined to the hides. I certainly don't wish to go through the trauma encountered last summer when I was completely laid out during a visit to France!

With this in mind I positioned myself in Big Hide at first light in the hope that last weekends Glaucous Gull may well be within the overnight roost. As I opened the flaps in anticipation all hope faded, astonishingly only one solitary Black-headed Gull to be found, a great start to the birding day!

Well my cup is always half full and a quick scan of East Marsh Pool soon diminished my early disappointment. The long staying ♂♀Pintail were still asleep off Willow Island, ♂♀Goldeneye were also having a snooze near the floating rafts and a terrific count of 31 Snipe, my best this year. Further scans produced 5 Pochard, 6 Gadwall, 4 Oystercatcher, 5 Shelduck, 45 Tufted Duck and C100 Lapwing and so the day was definitely improving.

Curlew on East Marsh Pool (click to Enlarge!)
As the morning progressed 3 Cetti's Warbler could be heard calling from the reed bed, a Water Rail made a mad dash from one reed bed to the other and as I chatted to Tony Pratley, who'd arrived to clean the hides, (a volunteer and a person who I must highly commend,) a flock of around 50 or so Golden Plover could be seen circling in the distance high over Newlands reed bed. I'd noticed that a few of the other regulars had arrived and were busy scanning from the Wright Hide and so a quick phone call to alert them to the Plover. This was happily reciprocated when a call back shortly after alerted me to a Curlew, which gassing to Tony I'd completely missed dropping in onto Willow Island.

The day was to get even better when I moved on to Carlton Hide, where after a short vigil a Bittern flew from the right hand reeds towards big dead tree. As if this wasn't enough, less than 5 minutes later a second flew high from the left over East Marsh Pool, eventually dropping down onto Swallow Pool, stunning stuff!

Water Rail (More Like Road Runner!!)
Having settled back into Big Hide happy with my lot and enjoying a coffee and a chat with the guys I didn't expect the day to get even more interesting. It certainly did when the earlier 50 or so Golden Plover eventually dropped down, shortly followed by the arrival of the first 2 Ringed Plover of the year, a sure sign spring is on the way. Could things get even better? Well in fact yes they could with one of Peter Berrill's endless scans of the pool locating our first Mediterranean Gull of the year, and Jim's beady eye picking up 4 Dunlin amongst the scattering flock after an unseen Raptor pass, probably a Sparrowhawk, which was seen later in the afternoon.

A cracking days birding and my best day so far this year at Brandon! A few records shots of today's visitors, but with poor light and distance that's all they are, record shots!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Status Check!

Brandon Willow Tit
To Brandon Marsh this morning for my usual Sunday visit and a catch up with the guys. One topic on the agenda was yesterdays reported Iceland Gull, which none of the team had the good fortune to see! As it happens, after pictures posted on the Brandon Guide show, this was actually a Glaucous Gull, which nevertheless is an excellent sighting!

I've always felt that amongst Brandon's many virtues the reserve also appears to be a haven for a few of the nations declining species. The RSPB status alerts list Willow Tit, Song Thrush and Lapwing as Red and Golden Plover, Common Snipe, Stock Dove and Green Woodpecker as Amber. Another bird regular to Brandon during the winter months and on the Red list is the nationally rare Bittern.

Common Snipe
So today as a change to my normal routine I decided to take a closer look for these species and ended up recording 4 singing Song Thrush, 3 Willow Tit, 11 Stock Dove, 75 Lapwing, 1 Bittern, 2 Green Woodpecker and 12 Snipe. Those who regularly visit Brandon will also know that just prior to Christmas we also played host to anything between 20 to 150 Golden Plover on a regular basis. It's also worth noting that my top daily numbers over the previous 3 months of Lapwing have topped over 500, Snipe 34 and on one visit earlier this month no less than 5 Willow Tit. It seems that as far as declining species go Brandon is definitely a winner!

Long-tailed Tit
Back to the rest of the visit highlights and East Marsh Pool still had the long staying pair of Pintail, plus 2♀Goldeneye, 1♂Goldeneye, 2 Shelduck, 5 Pochard, Water Rail, Kingfisher and 6 Oystercatcher. Numbers of Shoveler and Teal continue to decline as we head towards spring, and by the time I left I'd also recorded of note: 8 Treecreeper, 5 Great Spotted Woodpecker (3 drumming), 4 Lesser Redpoll, 6 Common Buzzard, 2 Nuthatch, 1 Goldcrest, 3 Cetti's Warbler, 2 Skylark over and several Long-tailed Tit flocks.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Glorious Sunshine!

Ruff & Black-tailed Godwit
With the prospects of a beautiful days weather today Dee and I decided to take a picnic and spent the day at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trusts Slimbridge reserve in Gloucestershire.

A few fellow birders I speak to about these types of reserves are rather scathing in their comments (kids running around, families everywhere etc!) and I have to say that I do have mixed thoughts myself when I see birds bread in captivity with wings clipped, after all aren't birds meant to fly? But this is always put to one side when I actually think about the amazing job this organisation does. Captive breeding and release projects for endangered species for example, research, conservation the list goes on, not to mention the protection of some amazing habitats, so you can count me in. I love the idea of children getting to see and learn about our amazing wildlife, the younger they learn, the better for me!

Shelduck♀ & Yes, This Is A Wild One!
In fact from a personal perspective Slimbridge is an excellent place to go birding, offering some superb hides and some amazing diverse habitat. Not to mention the fact that it's a major wintering ground for thousands of Swans, Geese and Waders. Plus, you can have great fun with the camera.

The Zeiss Hide looks out towards the Severn Estuary along with some large pools and reed bed. A selection of Waders were on view with good flocks of Dunlin, which were constantly being harassed by no less than 2 Peregrine. Snipe, Ruff, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew and Redshank were also recorded. The surrounding pools held large numbers of Shelduck, plus 4 Bewick Swan, at least 200 Wigeon and various numbers of Gadwall, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Pintail and Teal, 2 Common Buzzard were also seen. From our vantage point at least 150 Barnacle Geese and around 200 or so European White-fronted Geese could be seen feeding on the Dumbles.

Red-crested Pochard (Captive)
The Hogarth Hide, which overlooks South Lake Scrape, is one hide that provides some excellent opportunities to get close ups of various Waders. It's also one of the quieter hides and so you can take a well earned break from the many visitors.

Finally, the Holden Tower provided much better views of the Dumbles and here we had great views of the Barnacle Geese, plus at least 1000 Wigeon and the 200 or so White-fronted Geese seen earlier. Also present were Great-crested Grebe on Long Ground Pool, several Skylark on the surrounding flats and around 50 or so Northern Shoveler. Unfortunately no sign of the recent Lesser Scaup but a really enjoyable day in the spring sunshine!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

More Signs Of Spring!

Stunning Moon Rise!
Spent the weekend on the home patch and it came as a real shock this morning when I emerged to find an inch of snow lying on the pontoon! However, the bonus of a cold and frosty night was the stunning sight of a waning crescent moon just appearing over the horizon to the east.

As normal when I'm on the home patch I spend the bulk of my time down at Brandon Marsh and this weekend was no exception and there are definitely more signs of spring. The highlight of today however was unbelievably my first sighting this year of a Bittern. Although I recorded one at Tichwell in January I hadn't connected with any at Brandon, this despite the endless time spent on the reserve both birding and working. Glad to get that monkey off my back!

Nuthatch Already Pairing Up!
It's very noticeable now when your out and about that the resident birds are already beginning to pair up. Several sightings of Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Bullfinch over the weekend were all of paired birds. The ♂Pintail which arrived late last week has now been joined by a female and we've also had a pair of Goldeneye on site since the pools thawed. The Brandon Robins are now beginning to sort their territories too, becoming more aggressive towards each other, and no less than 5 Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard drumming today on the lookout for a mate.

The first Oystercatcher of the year was reported on Friday and sightings of Kingfisher are also on the increase. In another 3/4 weeks the first Ringed Plovers are set to arrive, closely followed its hoped by Little Ringed Plover and Redshank, and dare I say it, but my first Sand Martin was recorded last year on March 18th, so I'm getting very excited already.

More signs of birds on the move and if your a regular follower of the five BTO Cuckoo's you'll know that Kasper has now begun to move north 950 miles from his wintering grounds in Africa. I've been fascinated by these guys and their blogs are well worth a read, particularly now they appear to be on the move.

Finally, a quick run down of today's personal numbers at Brandon which included of note: Pintail (♂♀), Goldeneye (♂♀), Pochard (10), Gadwall (8), Barnacle Goose (1), Kingfisher (2), Treecreeper (6), Nuthatch (2), Goldcrest (2), Lesser Redpoll (11), Siskin (4), Great Spotted Woodpecker (6), Snipe (14), Great-crested Grebe (1), Shelduck (1), Wigeon (3), Water Rail (1), Cetti's Warbler (3 heard). Also of note on Saturday's visit were 2 Little Grebe on West Marsh and on arrival today at least 500+ mixed flock of Thrushes which emerged from Willow Wood, probably made up of mostly Redwing and Fieldfare.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Brandon ♂Goldeneye
For the first time this year the local Tawny Owls were calling when I left the boat this morning on route to Brandon Marsh at around 6.30am.

My journey was interrupted on the back road towards Long Itchington by a Muntjac Deer, which suddenly took fright and began darting all over the road. Fearing for its safety I pulled up just as he managed to slip through a hole in a nearby fence and made his escape across the field.

When I eventually arrived at Brandon there was a definite feeling of spring in the air. By the time I reached West Marsh for a Bittern vigil prior to starting work I'd recorded 4 Dunnock in song, 2 Goldcrest calling, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming in Horsetail Glade and 2 Song Thrush also in song.

My search for the illusive Bittern proved to be unsuccessful but I did spot my first Little Grebe on site this year, when one of two finally emerged from the reed bed after calling to each other for a good 10 minutes. A text from JR, who was on the east marsh, regarding a ♂Pintail persuaded me to finally give up my search and I made my way over through the central marsh path. On route across: 2 Mistle Thrush, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, 2 pristine Willow Tit near the Black Poplar tree which were constantly calling, 4 Siskin in the Alder and a small group of about 10 Lesser Redpoll passed overhead.

♂Pintail (still on site this afternoon)
I arrived at Big Hide just in time to see a Sparrowhawk shoot through, causing absolute mayhem on the pool and as if this wasn't enough for the 300 or so Lapwing, a Buzzard soon followed. Now that the pools are once again thawed it's interesting to see birds returning which had disappeared in the icy conditions. A pair of Goldeneye, regular before the big freeze appear to have returned and were endlessly diving over towards the deeper water of the pool.

Good numbers of the usual Teal, Shoveler and Tufted Duck, plus several Gadwall and at least 5 Snipe, but I was unable to make contact with the Pintail from Big Hide as he was busily upending near the west bank, totally hidden from view by the reed bed. A welcome sight were the 2 Kingfisher which darted past towards Carlton Pool, one chasing the other which had a nice fish in its beak.

A little chain-saw maintenance was required prior to attacking more of the invasive Willow, so as I made my way back to the tool stores I dropped into Baldwin Hide to finally make contact with the Pintail, still happily feeding near the bank. Another surprise along the path were 3 more Willow Tits on the central marsh area, giving me a best ever Brandon total of 5 for the day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Suffolk Weekend

Meadow Pipit in good numbers!
Late Friday afternoon Dee and I drove over to Suffolk for a weekend with friends and although the birding wasn't top of the agenda we did manage a visit to RSPB Lakenheath Fen on Saturday.

The drive East turned out to be an interesting one as we cant ever recall seeing the temperature drop as much as it did on this particular journey. We left Napton at +1C around 4pm and by the time we arrived at Wixoe in Suffolk a few hours later the temperature had dropped to an amazing -10C. When we woke on the Saturday morning the thermometer was showing a bitter -14.9C.

Despite the temperature the day was beautifully crisp and clear and so unperturbed we took a leisurely drive the 30 miles or so to RSPB Lakenheath with our hosts Pat and John, arriving in -10C at around midday. This was our friends first trip with us to an RSPB reserve after recently developing a keen interest in birding, I wonder who influenced them?

With the pools frozen over the plan was to start at the Wash-land Viewpoint and then walk the perimeter of the river Little Ouse in the hope that anything interesting would probably be on or around the unfrozen water. Firstly though a quick scan in the immediate area where about a half hour earlier the currently visiting Great Grey Shrike had been showing. Despite a Shrike now-show 2 pristine Stonechat's were constantly flitting from the reed bed up onto the frozen teazel, A Green Woodpecker was ground feeding and 3 Skylark passed overhead.

Hoar Frost on Teazel
The walk along the bank produced some stunning scenery with a large amount of trees and most small bushes glistening in the harsh hoar frost. Canada Geese, Greylag, Lapwing, Snipe, Pied Wagtail and various numbers of Teal and Wigeon were busily feeding along the river banks and excellent numbers of Meadow Pipit were also recorded along the route. Fieldfare, Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird kept a constant search under leaf and several small flocks of Goldfinch were constantly on the go.

On the return trip to the nature centre a day hunting Barn Owl was the highlight and after Dee, Pat and John made their escape for hot chocolate I spent an enjoyable 40 minutes trying once again to locate the Great Grey Shrike, sadly in vain. During my frozen vigil 2 more Stonechat, probably the same birds as earlier, plus more Meadow Pipit, Water Rail and a flypast from firstly a Little Egret and then a USAF Tanker on finals to the nearby American Airbase.

Several Lesser Redpoll on the centre feeders and a very nice Sparrowhawk on the way out, ably spotted by John, the newest member of the world wide birding network. Not a prolific birding day, dipping on both Shrike and the local Cranes, but a greatly enjoyable one with some dear friends!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Good Call

Muntjac Deer
When I woke to a blanket of fog this morning I decided to do my chores first and then complete my usual Tuesday Brandon trip later in the afternoon, hoping things might improve.

Replenishing water, diesel, gas and emptying the toilet is no easy task when your iced in, but I was all complete by mid-morning and arrived at Brandon Marsh around 1pm, thankfully the fog had lifted.

I made my way straight to big hide to enjoy my packed lunch and on arrival met up with another of the Brandon team Ken Sherlock. Ken immediately told me of 6 Goosander out on the unfrozen part of East Marsh Pool. I only managed to locate 4 myself, 2♀ and 2♂ which flew off to the south just after my arrival. Good numbers of Tufted today with around 45, plus a good selection of Teal, Shoveler, 6 Gadwall and around 25 Wigeon. The long staying New Zealand Scaup (escapee) was also amongst them!)

Fieldfare @ Brandon
After tea in the Nature Centre and a catch up with the guys I decided to take a walk over to the top reed bed and Farm Field. I haven't completed this route for some time, an area which has been known to throw up the odd Stonechat on occasions.

During my walk I encountered 2 Bank Vole feeding out in the open and amazingly there are still berries to be had on some of the Hawthorn, here I found 11 Fieldfare making the most of them. A flock of around 20 Goldfinch along with 2 Linnet and 8 Chaffinch were also busy feeding. Buzzard, Kestrel, Song Thrush, Redwing and Green Woodpecker were also recorded. A quick check on the situation regarding invasive Willow and Birch threatening the reed bed inadvertently threw up a Woodcock, which settled back near the Hawthorn bushes after a brief flight.

A final vigil in Big Hide and Carlton Hide towards dusk was worth the effort, particularly with the temperature starting to plummet. A smaller looking Snipe on Wigeon Bank feeding near the waters edge turned out to be my first Jack Snipe of the year, easily identifiable in the scope, especially with its constant bobbing! This was followed shortly after by a Muntjac Deer which tentatively walked along the same bank.

Finally the Carlton Hide, where I recorded Treecreeper, Willow Tit, 2 Water Rail on the ice, a Kestrel using the barrel box over on Newlands and a Barn Owl, which emerged from one of the boxes around 4.45pm. A good call to wait until the afternoon and an excellent few hours birding. The birding day ended when I arrived back at the marina just as a stunning full moon was rising to the east!

Sunday, February 05, 2012


For those who regularly visit Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve its worth knowing that a brand new Iphone FREE App has been developed and is now available for download via iTunes. The BrandonApp features :- Reserve Map, History, Butterfly and Dragonfly Reserve List with ID info and photos, Reserve Guide and access to on-line sightings!

The BrandonApp is also available for Android.

Snowy Days

Like a lot of the UK the marina was hit by around 4/5 inches of snow yesterday evening and overnight. With last years little motoring mishap at the back of my mind I took a slow and steady journey to Brandon Marsh first thing, sensibly using 'A' roads only!

I arrived safely despite very little evidence of road gritting at around 8am, and to my surprise wasn't the first to arrive. Our beloved Chairman Paul Norman, who only arrived back from Iceland yesterday evening, was already on site and probably got the feeling he was still on his winter jollies.

Beauty & The Beast
Brandon in the snow is a wonderland and so Paul and I decided to make the most of it and take a good tour of the reserve's less travelled areas, soon locating several Badger, Fox and Muntjac Deer tracks. Horsetail Glade was magical and despite hearing the tap tap of Nuthatch on numerous occasions we never did quite manage to make contact.

Brandon probably has the most friendliest Robins in the land and so it wasn't long before we were joined by several eagerly awaiting breakfast, Paul duly obliged. The Central Marsh Track seemed to be alive with birds feeding, Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tit, Song Thrush, Redwing, Bullfinch, Dunnock and several more Robin were also constantly on the go. Having heard Treecreepers call many times I can't remember ever hearing one singing, the individual pictured below was probably my first, what a happy little chap.

Singing Treecreeper
The pools are naturally all frozen, apart from a small area of East Marsh Pool which contained of note:- 41 Wigeon, 30 Tufted, 36 Teal, 61 Canada Geese, 42 Greylag, 10 Lapwing, 4 Snipe, 36 Shoveler and a lone Barnacle. After Paul departed, apparently to cook the pasta, I continued my walk alone recording Kestrel, Buzzard, Willow Tit, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest and Muntjac Deer. The highlight today was when I passed a flock of around 10 Long-tailed Tit as all hell broke loose, a Sparrowhawk came swooping in from nowhere only meters from where I was standing, fortunately for the Tits it left empty handed but for me I was simply awestruck!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Winter Walk

Bank Vole
After a slightly late night my alarm went off as normal this morning at 6:30am, but I think it was the reminder of last nights red wine and a temperature of -9C outside that persuaded me to have a little lie in.

Once recovered I decided to head for Brandon Marsh for a winter walk before the afternoons forecasted snow sets in and arrived around 9.30am. One reason for my visit was to have a good look around Horsetail Glade in search of a possible Lesser Spotted Woodpecker I'm sure I caught a brief glimpse of on Thursday morning. Despite spending a good 45 minute trawl of the area I came up with a blank but did manage Willow Tit, Treecreeper, Nuthatch and 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, one of which was drumming.

From here and in the knowledge that the pools were thoroughly frozen I thought a brisk walk of the paths would be best. Not surprisingly only a few hardy souls were about, one guy telling me he'd sighted a Woodcock in flight over Central Marsh. Three Raptors during my walk, a very vocal Common Buzzard, plus Kestrel and Sparrowhawk.

Song Thrush
One thing I did notice today were good numbers of Song Thrush, Redwing and Dunnock all foraging in the wooded areas for wind fall, particularly now that the berry stocks have been completely depleted. Also, with the ground frozen solid and an eerie calm I could here lots of movement at ground level, mostly Grey Squirrel, which seem to have exploded in population over recent months, but I was rewarded with 3 Bank Vole and a Wood Mouse for my patience.

Two small flocks of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin were busy feeding in the Alders and several Jays were having a set-to in New Hare Covert when I came through. Also seen of note during my walk: Long-tailed Tit (6), Goldcrest (2), ♂♀Bullfinch and 3 Snipe in flight over Newlands!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Winter Delights

Waxwing @ Cubbington, Warwickshire
It's seems that mother nature has suddenly woken up and realised that spring is approaching fast, up to this week we've managed to escape without a single wintry blast. Of course we're all aware that this has changed over the last few days, the weekend is certainly looking interesting.

Once again the marina is frozen in, the heating is permanently on, and the water to the pontoons has been switched off! Ah memories of 2010, but will we beat last years record temperature of -11.3C recorded by my on-board weather station here at Wigram's?

Over the past few days I decided to stay local, visiting Napton Hill, Napton Reservoir and of course Brandon Marsh, where on Tuesday morning I inadvertently flushed my first Woodcock of the year.

Before arriving at Brandon on Tuesday I took a second look at a local area, where a few weeks ago Dee and I had located 3 Short-eared Owls. The weather was appalling, with low cloud, a bitterly cold easterly and occasional light snow. Therefore, it was no surprise to me that I drew a complete blank on the Owls. However, the early visit wasn't all bad, recording ♂♀Roe Deer, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Buzzard, plus a decent flock of around 20 Meadow Pipit, 15 Linnet and several Yellowhammer!

2 of 5 Waxwing @ Cubbington
This morning I made my first visit of the year to Napton Hill, the weather although bitterly cold was stunning, unfortunately the birding quite the opposite. The hill was extremely quiet and the best of the visit was a calling Nuthatch, several Fieldfare and Redwing, plus 2 Buzzard.

Napton Reservoir was equally as quiet with most of the waterfowl sheltering in the reeds towards the north end of the water. Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Mute Swan and Pochard were all represented and as I walked to the southern end and back, 3 Snipe in flight and 3 Bullfinch were the best I could muster. Worth a mention that Common Gull were in good numbers, I counted 52 but sadly no surprises within!

With the current weather conditions It's no surprise to me that over the past few days sightings of Waxwings have increased locally, with more venturing inland and I predict even more sightings nationally over the coming weeks. To this end, when a bird-guides alert came up at around mid-morning that Waxwings had once again been sighted locally, I aborted my plans for lunch at the Brandon Nature Centre and headed over to Cubbington, only 6 miles away.

Fieldfare (love the eye colour!)
I arrived at the indicated location and thanks to Kevin Groocock for his excellent direction, I was soon parked opposite a medium sized Hawthorn Tree, and strangely enough so was Geoff Haynes, another local photographer. As you can see from the posted pictures all went according to plan, the only downer was that the sun was directly behind the birds, but I'm still delighted with the results! God knows what the residents of the Old Peoples Home thought, who's windows look directly at the tree!!