Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Surprise Visit!

Brandon Sacred Ibis (Pete Worthy)
With the boat renovations proceeding well I've actually managed several trips to Brandon Marsh since my last post, the latest of which was this morning in the rain.

Firstly, what have I missed over the past week or so? Well I thought a major wind-up was taking place when on Thursday morning I received a text from Jim Rushforth from the Brandon Conservation Team alerting me to a Sacred Ibis which had allegedly dropped in to East Marsh Pool. Thursday is work party day at Brandon and I had decided to give it a miss and felt this may have been the reason for the wind-up! I won't repeat my reply to Jim but after several back and forth texts it took a phone call from Mike Lee to actually convince me it was a true story.

Small Tortoiseshell (Rare This Year!!)
Anyway here's a little background on this sub-Saharan African species: A Feral breeder in France - Birds escaped from Branfere Zoo, Morbihan, Brittany and have been observed in the wild since c.1980. They first bred at the beginning of the 1990s at Huric, Golfe du Morbihan and in 1994 in a heronry at Lac de Grandlieu, Loire-Atlantique. Population in France est. 280 pairs in 1994. As an African species it is not in category A of the British List so no ticks on this one guys. As for Brandon it will likely go down in the 'Exotica' section of the annual Brandon report.(research by: Jim Rushforth)

The other highlights at Brandon over the past week have included greater numbers of Butterflies on the wing and having hardly recorded any Small Tortoiseshell this year, I'm glad to report that two were noted this week. Peacock, Red Admiral, Essex Skipper, Small Skipper and Large Skipper were also noted. Gatekeepers are now in reasonable numbers after a slow start with Meadow Brown being the most prolific. It goes without saying that this is still a disastrous year for Butterflies.

Ruddy Darter
Odanata have included Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, Brown Hawker and good numbers of Common Blue Damselfly, mainly over the pool areas.

Finally, on the birding front I managed Hobby, Little Egret and a lone Snipe on Saturday morning and after a slow start this morning in the rain three Green Sandpiper on Teal Pool and single Dunlin and Common Sandpiper on East Marsh Pool were the best of the day. As for breeding species, 3 families of Tufted Duck (4,5,1) plus a lone Gadwall chick was the best of the morning. With only two adults on site this morning Brandon still remains devoid of any Common Tern chicks this year!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Local Stuff!

Finally - New Paint for 'Quidditch'
With the predicted summer arriving on schedule I've finally managed to get some paint onto the boat, having been waiting since May for at least 3 days without rain, so apologies to my reader for the lack of posts!

With the boat renovations taking priority and while having a break from Brandon Marsh it's meant that I've been able to concentrate more on the marina grounds during any down time. Last year the dog walking meadow which was alive with wildlife, including nesting Skylarks, was prematurely cut mid-summer. This year I asked the marina management if they would consider leaving it wild and thankfully they agreed producing a superb wild meadow area which has already paid dividends. The earlier highlights being successfully nesting Skylarks and Mute Swans, the latter producing six cygnets which are growing by the day.

Green Hairstreak
Yesterday I managed a good scout of the meadow and was delighted with the amount of wildlife seen. Meadow Brown Butterflies were abundant plus various numbers of Marbled White, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Small Tortoiseshell, Small Skipper, Large White and Small Copper but the surprise of the day was a lone Green Hairstreak along the Hawthorn bank. Dragonflies included Brown Hawker, Black-tailed Skimmer and Common Darter, Damsels seen were Common Blue, Banded Demoiselle and Azure Blue.

Song Thrush
Earlier in the year I'd noticed Grass Snakes nesting in the area used as a dumping ground for the grass cuttings and today I managed a couple enjoying the glorious sunshine. During my walk Linnets seemed plentiful and I'm happy to report that the localised population of Tree Sparrows have also had a good year, I found at least eight. Singing Yellowhammer, Greenfinch, Song Thrush and the constant call of a young Common Buzzard from the adjacent field, plus two Common Tern and Green Woodpecker were the other highlights. A decent number of Swallows were also a constant companion swooping low over the meadow in search of flies.

Dee and I had dinner alfresco for the first time this year and we counted at least 30 Pied Wagtails, including several young birds, which come into Wigram's each night to roost. As darkness fell a walk to the canal junction produced two Daubenton's Bat skimming the water, a distant Little Owl and a Reed Warbler was constantly chattering away in the reed bed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Summers Day!

Jetstream Set To Return North
Is there light at the end of the tunnel? After an appalling spell of weather over recent months it seems that the culprit, the ever present 'Jet Stream' is finally about to head north!

According to the Met Office an Azores high is likely to build from the early part of next week thus returning the UK to a more normal summer weather flow. Well I always feel that the best way to tell the weather these days is to stick your head out of the window but I really hope that this time there right.

Marbled White
Brandon Marsh was once again flooded out on Sunday but we enjoyed a real summers day today (Tuesday) and despite not prolific a good number of Butterflies and Dragonflies were once again on the wing.

My first Marble White Butterfly of the year was located on the Farm Field area and after a tiring tour of the reserve I'd recorded various numbers of: Small Skipper, Small Heath, Small Copper, Red Admiral, Comma, Meadow Brown and Ringlet. A few Whites were seen, too distant to ID and unfortunately there were a few marked absentees with no sightings of Gatekeeper or Common Blue, two species which should be easily found at this time of year! Dragonflies included: Brown Hawker, Black-tailed Skimmer and Common Darter.

Bladder Campion
The birding is extremely quiet, in fact pretty dire at present and so the usual Tuesday crew took the opportunity to have a good trawl of the reserves flora. There are always winners and losers when it comes to the recent weather but a definite winner is the reserves meadows. Being accompanied by such a knowledgeable group is a real bonus and for someone who knew nothing about wild flowers when I arrived 3 years ago I can now boast a decent knowledge bank of my own. Thanks to Alban, Jim and particularly Mike Lee our up an coming guru for there constant fountain of information.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Take Action Now!

The Westminster government have announced a cull of badgers in England with the Welsh Government opting for vaccination of badgers to combat the spread of bovine TB. The RSPCA believe that vaccination, increased levels of testing and improved biosecurity are more effective ways of dealing with the problem in the long term. Take action now and urge the government in Westminster to follow Wales' lead! Please sign HERE today!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Alternate Pass Time!

Large Skipper
With the appalling weather continuing, the excitement of my recent Whiskered Tern in the past and not a lot of movement on the birding front its difficult to compile a post that will excite my reader. In fact I'm missing more than I'm seeing at the moment, a sighting of Marsh Harrier at Brandon Marsh recently and more Otter sightings by my colleagues are typical examples.

Of course this time of year with the birding reasonably quiet I'm normally concentrating on Butterfly and Dragonfly movements, but as you would imagine the weather is having a devastating effect on species populations. Having said that a rare opportunity did presented itself last Tuesday at Brandon and I did manage a small array of Butterflies with Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, Common Blue, Small and Large Skipper all being recorded. I'd unfortunately missed a couple of Little Egrets on East Marsh Pool early morning but a Greenshank, Ringed Plover, two Little-ringed Plovers and Hobby sort of made up for it! It was also a pleasant surprise when 9 Shelduck overflew the reserve around mid-morning, possibly a family party but there was no sign of them dropping in anywhere

♀Southern Hawker
Thursday until around mid afternoon was probably the best break of weather for many weeks and although work took precedent at Brandon Marsh it was noticeable that a far greater number of Dragonflies were on the wing. I managed Emperor, Ruddy Darter, Black-tailed Skimmer and Southern Hawker, the only bird of note was a lone Green Sandpiper on Wigeon Bank. *I did intend to clear some of the vegetation to the front of Carlton Hide but didn't have the heart when I found at least 8 photogrphers (lenses poking out of the slats) being entertained by a young Kingfisher. How the bird put up with the constant shutter noise I'll never know!!

The Amazing Red Arrows!!
With things a little slow I took the opportunity to concentrate on another passion of mine aviation, and Dee and I had a terrific day at RAF Fairford on the 7th enjoying the Royal International Air Tattoo. Dee had originally booked when we learnt that the only Lockheed Super Constellation in Europe, and indeed one of only three in the world flying, would be appearing for the first time in the UK in over eight years. Sadly a few weeks prior to the show the Connie blew number two engine and was withdrawn.

Mig-29A Fulcrum
However, despite the weather the line up was exceptional with the first display of the Avro Vulcan (Vulcan to the Sky) after it too had recently damaged engines. Also worth a mention and a real favourite of mine was the amazing Mig-29 Fulcrum of the Polish Airforce and some astonishing aerobatics from the Korean Black Eagles, the Swiss Patrouille, The Royal Jordanian Falcons and of course the amazing Red Arrows!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Light Relief!

Brandon Top Reed Bed Sept 1974 Courtesy of Peter Berrill BMVCT
A work day at Brandon Marsh today and if truth be known quite a leisurely one with some light path clearance. The wind pump is also up and running after a major overhaul ensuring water is once more being pumped up to the top reed bed. Mind you the reserve is certainly well off in that department at the moment.

A little bit of nostalgia and of course well before my time at Brandon but Jim Rushforth sent me the above photograph which dates back to September 1974. It shows the top reed bed and in the background you can see the farm in it's heyday. Amazing how things change, at this particular time Bearded Tits were a regular feature.

Back to the present day and despite the weather forecast it turned out to be the nicest day for ages with quite a few Butterflies and Dragonflies finally on the wing. Several Red Admiral, Comma, Green-vein White, Speckled Wood and my first Ringlet of the summer were all recorded. A good few Black-tailed Skimmer and Broad-bodied Chaser were also seen and one of the team also reported an Emperor Dragonfly!

A Brandon Ruff (From Earlier This Year)
On the pools I managed 9 Common Tern plus 4 Green Sandpiper on East Marsh and while having lunch in the Big Hide the earlier Ruff, which flew in around 9am, was also still present. At one time six Oystercatcher were on Willow Island which included the two juveniles, now almost fully grown.

Also recorded today of note were Ringed-Plover and a quartet of Raptor's, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Hobby and Common Buzzard. On the smaller side another look at the family of Treecreeper near the Saga sign, where Goldcrest and Lesser Whitethroat were also heard.

To end on a disappointing note: the Brandon Team were disappointed to find that at least one photographer had decided to cut a hole in the phase 3 reed bed screen, probably to enable him/her to shove their lens through!!! You don't need to know my thoughts on these selfish planks!!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Brandon First!

Brandon's 1st Ever Whiskered Tern
With family taking precedent over birding at the weekend I still felt I had a perfect opportunity for a quick twitch while visiting Liverpool and hopefully my first UK Little Swift.

Not being a twitcher by nature I felt that I couldn't really miss an opportunity of a slight detour to one of my old birding haunts at New Brighton where the bird had been showing near the RNLI Station. Mind you in those days New Brighton had a glorious sandy beach and as a child it was always a Sunday treat to take the Mersey Ferry across!

Sadly as luck would have it, having been around for well over a week the bird chose the very same day I intended a visit to go AWOL! This is one of the reasons I don't twitch.

Today I decided to make a start around the marina before heading off for my Tuesday visit to Brandon. Although the rain was falling once again two Skylark were singing over the adjacent fields and three Yellowhammer were also in good form along the phone wires. By the time I reached the car park I'd further recorded a single Lesser Whitethroat and four of the resident Tree Sparrow population.

With the rain still falling when I reached Brandon Marsh I took the decision to head straight for the hides. An adult Grey Wagtail was on the smaller Island at Goose Pool but no sign of the recent juvenile. A party of young Treecreeper could be heard near the Saga sign along with a nearby calling Goldcrest.

What happened when I reached the Teal Hide for my first look at the pools will go down as one my most memorable moments ever at Brandon without even knowing it. A number of Common Tern fishing towards the back of River Pool immediately took my eye but a smaller bird darker in colour firstly had me thinking juvenile Black Tern. Soaking wet and struggling to get the camera from the bag I just managed to fire off three quick shots before the bird was forced over the willow towards the River Avon by the Common's. Also on the pool and worth a mention was a single Green Sandpiper.

I'd ended up with 3 slightly blurred images having not had time to sort the settings and not being one to scrutinise my photo's immediately it wasn't until I sat in Big Hide with a few other members of the team before I realised what I actually had, thanks to Alban for giving me a heart attack! It turns out that this is the first ever record of Whiskered Tern at Brandon Marsh and I couldn't tell you how delighted I am to have unwittingly found it!

Suffice to say that most of the team spent the remainder of the morning in the hides hoping for a better glimpse which sadly never came. Also worth reporting of note: Hobby, 2 Adult Ringed-plover + 1 Juvenile, 2 Little-ringed Plover and 6 Oystercatcher.