Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Migration Update #2

Black Redstart @ Napton Reservoir!!
I managed to squeeze in a few hours at Brandon Marsh yesterday afternoon and decided to take a tour of the less travelled areas of the reserve, having established that the pools were extremely quiet!

A number of Butterflies were on the wing and I managed various small numbers of Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Peacock. Just off one of the conservation areas I discovered a small pool which was brimming with Frog Tadpoles, a welcome sight on a reserve that doesn't do too well for frogs and Toads.

Sunday's Blackcap was still vocal in New Hare Covert and also observed was a lone ♂Swallow still hanging around the Lafarge works and probably one of the local nesting ones back on site. Other than the usual sightings it was a pleasant but quiet visit.

Orange Tip
Yesterday evening I took a quick tour of the local areas with Dee and spent a very enjoyable half hour at Napton Reservoir practising flight shots with the camera and enjoying the late evening sunshine. It wasn't until later when reviewing our many images that I got a surprise when I drilled in on a distant shot. To my amazement what appears to be Black Redstart jumped out at me, a very pleasant surprise and a first for me locally.

Sadly no further sign of the Black Redstart at Napton and unfortunately today my usual Tuesday Brandon birding day was rudely interrupted, when I spent most of the morning with other members of the conservation team rescuing the team boat. Which for the second time had been vandalised and sunk by some low life's, who'd intentionally filled it with sand to sink it. Fortunately the individuals involved were photographed and I'm sure things will develop further.

On a positive note I'm pleased to say that the new temporary viewing screen is now finished and open to the general public. The screen allows you to see first hand the work completed so far on the new Phase 3 reed bed development. The path is accessible from the Carlton Hide and will be open until such time as the work begins on the new hide. View BMVCT Blog

Finally from a migration birding perspective Chiffchaff's now seem well established, more Blackcap's are now singing around the reserve and two Little Ringed Plovers were the only additions on East Marsh Pool. More Butterflies on the wing today with Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Brimstone and my first Orange Tip of the year near Primrose Bank.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Migration Update #1

Sandwich Tern
With spring migration now starting to gain momentum I thought I'd delicate the coming posts mostly to recording the most exciting time in any birders calendar. This time last year I was lucky enough to spend the best part of spring in Canada getting a first hand experience of North American migration and so missed the best part of the UK migration period.

With this in mind I've spent the best part of the weekend on the lookout for any new arrivals. With high pressure dominating birds who are currently held up in southern Europe can now make a push northward. First reports of Sedge Warbler and more sightings of Osprey in Warwickshire today whet the appetite. Of course being a land locked county has its downfall and I always feel that anything us Warwickshire birders encounter out of the norm is really hard work.

Having said that Saturday morning at Brandon Marsh didn't produce anything of note on the migration front but today things started to improve a little. My first singing Blackcap of the year in New Hare Covert, a ♂Swallow over the Lafarge works and two Hirundines over River Meadow, difficult to get a definite ID due to the height and bright sun but likely Sand Martin. A Little-ringed Plover also made a brief appearance on East Marsh Pool, dropping on to Willow Island for a brief stay before making off south.

House Martin (Library Image)
This afternoon a very successful 90 minute visible migration stint on the end of my pontoon with wall to wall sky and camera and binoculars at the ready. This actually paid great dividends with Sandwich Tern, House Martin and 3 Swallow. Also seen and heard of note during the watch: 15 Skylark, 7 Meadow Pipit, 3 Chiffchaff, 37 Fieldfare, 4 Redwing and a lone Red Kite, which drifted across the marina at height heading north.

Of course the warm weather is starting to produce other sightings and over the day I managed Peacock Butterfly at Brandon and a first report of Grass Snake was also forthcoming. The marina also produced Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring Has Sprung!

Mining Bee
Although boat maintenance matters have taken precedent over the past week I've still managed to fit in some good birding sessions, mostly early morning and mainly at Brandon Marsh.

Spring is now definitely in the air with a few warm days more recently and last Tuesday I managed my first Butterfly of the year with a Small Tortoiseshell at Brandon. With the warmth building the first Grass Snakes should soon emerge and under one refugia I checked a Field Vole was enjoying a nap before the rude awakening. The flowers are also starting to break through with Coltsfoot, Cowslip, Lesser Celandine and Primrose already recorded and Frogspawn was discovered in one of the pools on the conservation area. Various Bee species are also out and about and a population of Mining Bees has once again inhabited the ground near the large Oak Tree on the Central Path.

Over the week I've dicovered a number of nesting birds on site, Long-tailed Tit, Blackbird, Dunnock, Wren and a Green Woodpecker was busy escavating in one of the woods. I'm certain too that a pair of Willow Tit I've been following recently will nest and the amount of Goldcrest on the reserve is very encouraging.

Yesterdays visit produced my first Little Ringed Plover of the year and this morning I managed my first two Sand Martin, when two birds broke through the murk over East Marsh Pool. With the weather set to continue in a similar vein, early migrants that have made it into southern Europe should begin to pour north. The high pressure system that is now over the UK stretches all the way from northern England to the northern shores of the Mediterranean, with the whole area experiencing light winds. I fully expect to hear the first Willow Warblers at Brandon over the coming weekend.

Green Sandpiper
This mornings Brandon session was blighted by mist and fog but it was good to see four Shelduck on site, two of which spent a long lingering time investigating the newly refurbished Shelduck burrow on Willow Island. A Green Sandpiper was on Teal Pool and at one point the recent two Redshank were joined for a short while by two more, which after some debate flew off north. Good numbers of Chiffchaff are singing throughout the reserve and there are still a few winter visitors around with Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Fieldfare and Redwing all recorded over the past few days!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bitter Sweet Day!

Small Fall Of Chiffchaff Today!
I arrived at the crack of dawn at Brandon Marsh in pouring rain in the hope that some early migrants had finally arrived. My targets for this morning were Wheatear, Sand Martin and Little Ringed Plover, but sadly with the rain hammering down East Marsh Pool lacked any additions.

The best of the early arrival was a Barn Owl quartering Newlands during a lapse in the downpour. Other species of note were 2 Kingfisher, 4 Shelduck, 28 Snipe, 5 Wigeon, a pair of Goldeneye, 5 Oystercatcher and 5 Great Crested Grebe, two of which were displaying.

After many scans of the Gull flock for Mediterranean, having missed yesterdays two pristine specimens by half an hour, the best was a juvenile Yellow-legged. Shortly after I set off with Jim Rushforth for a tour around other areas. It was obvious by the time we got back to the car park that we'd had a nice fall of Chiffchaff overnight when at least 5 were seen and heard singing! Also of note during the walk were 7 Buzzard, 1 Siskin, 1 Lesser Redpoll and 3 Goldcrest. Now here's the bitter sweet news! I've just been informed by a Brandon regular that 2 Wheatear were on Farm Field this morning, an area I normally check but failed to do so today, great to know but what can I say!!

Local yellowhammer Doing Well
This afternoon Dee and I cruised out of the marina and moored at Bridge 101 of the Oxford Canal on route for Braunston, where on Monday morning 'Quidditch' will come out of the water for hull blacking. The cruise was our first of the year and remarkably quiet, only passing one other boat before mooring up. The local Yellowhammer population looks in great shape with 14 recorded on our journey.

This evening I took a walk along the disused Weedon to Leamington railway line which runs right next to our mooring and noticed that a lot of work has been completed in the surrounding area clearing the ditches. This has resulted in a good flow of water around the area and from a birding perspective its actually paying dividends already, when I inadvertently flushed a Jack Snipe from one. Several Hare were in the nearby fields and another 5 Yellowhammer were recorded, along with 2 Kestrel, 4 Skylark and 2 Linnet.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gloomy but Happy!

New addition at Brandon!
I can't believe that this time last year I was twitching a Western-scrub Jay on the outskirts of Vancouver Canada, were on earth has the year gone!!

This week back in the UK I decided to stay local and after a successful day at Brandon Marsh on Tuesday recording 63 species and a year first (Green Sandpiper) today proved to be really hard work. I can take rain, I can take snow and I can take wind but the last few days of low cloud and misty (sometimes foggy) depressing calmness with high pressure dominating is personally my worst nightmare.

Still for those who know me, my cup is always half full and so a visit to Napton Reservoir, Draycote Water and ending up at Brandon once more was my lot for today.

Napton was its usual quietness and it was noticeable that the powers that be had once again been at work cutting down anything that has the audacity to grow. This time it was the reed cutting machine that had sliced away at the bank reeds and then dumped the excess in any place available, most were still floating around. Consequently the only wildfowl of note were various numbers of Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen, along with 2 Great-crested Grebes and 2 Little Grebes which were calling from within the far reed bed. Probably wondering what the hell had happened. Common Gull numbered around 50+ and also seen of note during my walkabout were: 5 Skylark, 3 Snipe, 2 Meadow Pipit, 2 Green Woodpecker and a lone Fieldfare.

Draycote Water was sadly even worse and this was summed up on arrival when I immediately bumped into the Draycote duo Bob and Richard, who told me to turn around and get straight back into the car. I don't think I've ever seen these guys looking so depressed, not because they'd both missed Sunday's Glossy Ibis, ouch!!, but after about 15 minutes I could understand why. Fisherman on the banks, fisherman in boats, works traffic and workers coming and going. All this combined led to a completely devoid water with the exception of about 30+ Goldeneye and the usual Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail and Grebes. I was soon off and on route to Brandon after a dismal 30 minute stay.

Ah sanctity!! I arrived at Brandon and took a leisurely stroll past Sheep Field, through New Hare Covert and on to Big Hide, where I spent the next few hours chatting with Bob Lee and scanning for the imminent Sand Martins and Little Ringed Plovers! During my walk I'd probably ended up with similar sightings to Tuesday, the exception being Redshank and Ringed Plovers which today were absent from East Marsh Pool.

So an interesting and varied day but as usual I'm always glad that god graced me with yet another days birding. I've posted the above a picture of the new Osprey Pole at Brandon Marsh which is now complete. Sadly a new hide for phase 3 is a ways of but in the interim an observation screen is currently in the making and when complete the general public will have their first look at the new project.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

London Wetlands

Ringed-necked Parakeet
With Dee and I attending a christening in Reading today we decided to make a weekend of it and took the opportunity to visit the WWT London Wetlands Centre for the first time on Saturday.

It was shortly before Peter Scott's death in 1989 that the WWT came across this particular site. Originally the 53 hectare Barn Elms Reservoirs in Barnes, south-west London, owned by Thames Water. Barn Elms was built in the 1890's to supply drinking water for the local area, the reservoirs had recently become redundant following the completion of the Thames Water ring main - a vast underground tunnel supplying all the capitals water needs.

By 1997 the landscaping and engineering work was largely complete and planting had begun in earnest. The London Wetlands Centre was officially opened on 25th May 2000. The centre boasts one of the best wildlife habitats in the UK and has been designated SSSI status on account of the nationally important numbers of Shoveler and Gadwall Duck that overwinter.

Little Grebe (Healthy Population)
Amazingly the first species noted on our arrival were four extremely noisy Ring-necked Parakeets, the UK's only naturalised Parrot! In fact the birds could be heard during most of our visit. Dee and I found the centre more organised than the recently visited Slimbridge reserve with less captive birds on show, but you cant help being amazed by this oasis, particularly being surrounded by the sights of London and the constant stream of aircraft on the flightpath to Heathrow.

The reed beds are extensive with Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail heard on several occasions and 10 Little Grebe sightings during our stay suggests a healthy population. A Peregrine was seen making two passes during our stay putting the whole place into turmoil. There are 5 hides plus the Peacock Tower but I have to say that personally for a 6"4' guy the majority are uncomfortable, with the viewing windows in completely the wrong positions! Having said that the 3 storey Peacock Tower is exceptional and offers panoramic views of the whole reserve, I could happily spend the whole day here!

Peacock Tower (highlight of the reserve)
I had hoped to be reporting on a whole array of Wader species during our visit but sadly, with the exception of Lapwing, the reserve was completely devoid of any! This due to the extremely high water levels which completely covered the scrape areas, the local birders tell me this has been an ongoing battle between the trust and its regular visitors. Good numbers of various Gull species (sadly no surprises) and many Grey Heron and Cormorant could be seen. 2 Siskin, 5 Lesser Redpoll and good numbers of Gadwall, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, but surprisingly only 2 Pintail and 3 Shelduck. Our first two Butterflies of the year were also seen but too distant for a proper recognition, although I suspect from size one was possibly an Orange Tip.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Martins and Kites!

Red Kite
With my birding time limited over the past several days I've taken every opportunity to keep up to speed with both the local and national birding news. It's exciting times of course at the moment with the real spring imminent and of course so too the arrival of our amazing summer visitors.

I've noticed that Sand Martin numbers have now reached double figures and a few have also been reported more inland. The first Swallows have also been spotted in coastal areas along with a couple of Osprey and Northern Wheatears. Unfortunately the great British weather has given a slight kick in the teeth to these early arrivals! With temperatures plummeting over the weekend after some recent spring like days you do fear for these gutsy migrants. Martins and Swallows for example rely on airborne insects and of course with the low temperatures (-3C at the marina this morning) these will be hard to find.

Nevertheless in anticipation I spent this morning at Brandon Marsh constantly scanning for the first Sand Martins but I suppose I was being a little premature, with the current conditions probably blocking any further early arrivals, I did however manage another view of a Bittern in flight from the Carlton Hide. More Waders are now moving inland and during my brief visit to Brandon on Saturday morning I recorded my first Redshank for my Brandon list this year.

Chiltern Hills Red Kite
Yesterday morning and this afternoon I had to make a couple of visits to London Heathrow Airport and of course any birder who knows the route from the Midlands is aware of the fact that it passes right through The Chiltern Hills. In 1989 a decision was taken by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to reintroduce Kites to various parts of the UK. Between 1989 and 2004 the RSPB, English Nature and a variety of other partners have been working on a programme to re-introduce Red Kites to a number of sites across Britain, the Chiltern Hills being one of those sites.

The birds have now spread exponentially and today for example I counted an amazing 17 birds in view at one time. I decided on the way back home to leave the M40 motorway and try to get a closer look at these huge birds. The posted photographs speak for themselves but it was a pleasure to spend 45 minutes in the company of these stunning birds.