Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Brilliant Year End!

Dee and I spent the last day of the year touring around the many 'etangs' (man-made lakes) of the La Brenne region of France, a place we've become very familiar with over recent years.

More tests with my Canon SX50 - You would not believe how far off this Stonechat was!
Taking the usual back roads on route our first birds of note were Merlin and a very confusing almost cream coloured Common Buzzard, strangely enough, not the first we've encountered around this particular region. On arrival at La Brenne our first stop was the Chérine Nature Reserve and after parking up we made our way down to the hide which overlooks Etang Du Gabriere. The walk down in pleasant sunshine produced a pair of Stonechat and the usual Redwing and Fieldfare, feeding on the remaining berry crops.

Cormorant - More from the Canon SX50 HS at distance!
The lake itself, usually a cacophony of noise during the breeding season was much quieter and held a large number of Cormorant and a typical selection of winter wildfowl, the highlights being: Pintail, Pochard, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal and Gadwall. A Peregrine made a brief appearance with an attack on the Lapwing flock, but fortunately for the flock left empty handed.

Great White Egret - Full 50X zoom and a mile away, impressive!
La Brenne is also a great place to see Great White Egret and at least two were mingled in with several Little Egret. The walk back to the car produced our first ♀Hen Harrier of the day, plus our second Merlin and a surprise, when a Woodlark came down in the brush just in front of us in full song!

Pochard - Canon SX50
With the wildlife visitor centre closed we continued our tour dropping in at various lakes, including Blizon and Foucault lakes, where there are a couple of hides and here the highlight was a second ♀Hen Harrier, followed shortly after by a ♀Marsh Harrier. A couple of other private lakes we managed to view from the road were very lucrative, the first holding at least sixteen Great White Egret and the second a dozen Green Sandpiper. The only other wader of the day, apart from Lapwing were a couple of Black-tailed Godwit, a great end to the year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

French New Year

We arrived in Limoges France on Sunday evening after the usual Ryanair fiasco. Please bring back the Easyjet flights into Poitiers!! Fortunately, we'd had the foresight to book legroom seats in advance, which also includes priority boarding and so by the time we stowed our luggage in the overheads, we settled to watch the fiasco of 'find the luggage space' unfold. The fun didn't stop there! As by the time the crew had organised the trolley's, we were already on our descent into Limoges and so we didn't even get a chance to enjoy a nice glass of wine during the flight to lighten the experience!

The 90 minute drive north to Ste Radegonde was a joy, little traffic, Barn Owls and Fox on route and an amazing starlit sky at Dee's parents, no light pollution here. I managed to spend a good half hour stargazing around midnight after an excellent dinner, with the eerie call of a nearby Barn Owl and Tawny Owl to keep me company.

A real challenge trying for a flighty Firecrest with the new Canon SX50!
Waking around 11am after a rather late night, I took a stroll around the cherry orchard and the huge grounds that accompany Dee's parents house. Although quite a dull morning it was a good opportunity to further test my new Canon Powershot SX50 HS.  By the time I'd reached the wooded area at the bottom of the garden I'd recorded Jay, several Chaffinch and a couple of Chiffchaff. I paused for a while to explore the area and was delighted to come across at least two Firecrest, Nuthatch and Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. From the wood itself you emerge into the village and here an apple orchard held a good supply of windfall. A small House Sparrow population were taking advantage of the fallen fruit, along with a couple of Blackcap and a single Marsh Tit, which I finally got a positive ID on after hearing the unmistakable 'pitchoo' call.

A better effort in poor light of this Blackcap - Canon SX50
After breakfast we headed off for Réserve naturelle du Pinaila reserve Dee and I have come to know very well. The mosaic of over 3000 small pools, moor and heathland are a real haven for harriers, chats and a great place to see Dartford Warbler. Unfortunately today wasn't our day, as on arrival it was evident that the area just beyond the reserve was playing host to at least two 'Chasse' (French hunts). The noise of horns blowing, hounds barking and 'maniacs' screaming was spine-chilling. Even more amplified by the stiff breeze, I can't even imagine what fear and dread the animals being hunted must have felt, let alone all other surrounding wildlife! Suffice to say, the birding was poor and although we walked the tracks, I was uneasy during my whole time there.

Lac de Saint-Cyr
Finally with the rain now falling, we made off for Lac de Saint-Cyr which is a large lake, a section of which has been developed into a Réserve Ornithologique. Only constructed a few years ago Dee and I have followed it's progress and were keen to see how it was progressing. With several hides surrounding smaller pools, three of which are only used during guided walks to protect the wildlife, it's a good place to see Kingfishers and one of my favourite, Coypu.

Coypu - One of five today - Full normal zoom in rain on the SX50
We weren't disappointed, with at least five Coypu and a couple of Kingfishers, which delighted Dee's mum. The only down side and a critic from our previous visits was the shielding of the pools. With the newly planted trees and bushes still yet to flourish, most of the wildfowl is spooked when you approach the hides as your almost in full view, still the potential for future years after this develops is huge.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Festive Birding

As with most of the country over the Christmas period, with the exception of the day itself, the weather here on the north-west coast has been abysmal, with strong winds and torrential rain the order of the day! With family commitments too, this has resulted in very little birding time over the festive period.

Whooper Swan 
However, Dee and I have managed a couple of outings. Firstly, a few hours at WWT Martin Mere on route to Liverpool on Tuesday and with the winds still gale force, accompanied by torrential downfalls, the birding was certainly a challenge.

Whooper Swan battling the strong winds!
One of the highlights here over the winter period are the thousands of wildfowl on the reserve and of course the hundreds of Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese that reside in the area over the period.

During our stay we managed most of the hides and a good number of the compounds. Wildfowl and Wetland reserves are not everyone's cup of tea, but Dee and I are life long members and always enjoy our visits, what better place to get close up and personal with some of the worlds rarer wildfowl species.

Asian Otter at feeding time.
One of the treats of the day was getting a personal one to one with the wardens who look after the Asian Otters and we had a good chat at feeding time, a meal of fresh mussels. The Asian is the smallest otter species in the world and are also the least aquatic of all the 13 species of otter, fascinating creatures. The oriental small-clawed otter lives in extended family groups with only the alpha pair breeding; offspring from previous years help to raise the young. Due to ongoing habitat loss, pollution, and hunting in some areas, the oriental small-clawed otter is evaluated as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Oriental small-clawed Otter
After the otters a final look at the wetlands provided good views of Peregrine hunting and decent numbers of Wigeon and Pintail.

Pintail in good numbers
Today a few fascinating hours spent around the Wyre Estuary and Skippool Creek. With the tide out the estuary provided decent numbers of Shelduck, Redshank, Curlew and the odd Little Egret and Bar-tailed Godwit, Skylark and Meadow Pipit. Unfortunately, we never managed to connect with a reported 21 Twite, seen a few days previous. A quick look at the Blackpool sea front near the go cart track provided our annual Purple Sandpiper, when at least a single bird was in among the many roosting Redshank and Turnstone along the sea wall. A few Scoter Sp. were also out to sea, but without the aid of my scope I'd have to call common.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Cup Half Full!

Greetings to my reader and apologies for the lack of updates recently, this entirely due to the shortage of any major action around the patch. Not surprising really, with excellent berry crops and temperatures still above the seasonal average in Scandinavia and northern Europe, there's still little movement into the UK from some of our winter favourites such as Smew, Bittern and Waxwing. In fact amazingly, there have even been reports of Barn Swallows still being seen on some of our southern coasts in the past week!

Grey Wagtail - Frequently on the marina grounds.
That said, my cup is always half full and you can't complain when you've got a few long staying goodies on the patch like Great Northern Diver, Red-breasted Merganser and Long-tailed Duck at Draycote Water and Yellow-legged Gull, Black-tailed Godwit, a huge Starling roost and lots of wintering wildfowl at Brandon Marsh!

Thankfully, our Tree Sparrows have returned!
Living on a marina is also a real bonus, now that the moorers can once again put feeders out! Long story of some weird management decisions recently. Thankfully, both our Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrow populations have returned and several were making us of the re-installed feeders the other morning. Our regular Pied Wagtail roost has been fluctuating of late, but a decent count of over a hundred was managed on Friday evening. Both Chiffchaff and Blackcap have also been recorded around the grounds, small numbers of Golden Plover and Lapwing are often found in the adjacent fields and a couple of Grey Wagtails have also been a regular feature. I've now been given permission, after a long battle, by Lord Shuckburgh's son to place a Little Owl box in one of the local fields I've been monitoring and thanks to James at the Crossroads Garage for his help in securing the permission. Hopefully I can entice some of the declining local birds to take advantage of the new home.

Reed Bunting - back on the feeders!
Should also mention a very entertaining half hour or so spent flat out on the pontoon on Friday evening. No not the wine, but the Geminid meteor shower, which produced a half dozen or so really bright meteors, before I finally succumbed to the cold. Despite chastising Richard on a number of occasions regarding his self imposed blogging sabbatical,(cymbelinelister.blogspot.co.uk/) sadly to no avail, it's up to me to pass on the local astronomical news. With this in mind the ISS, or 'shed' as he knows it, will be making several bright passes over the UK this coming week just after sunset, details HERE.

Finally, I'll be spending Christmas week once again on the north-west coast, after which I'm off to France for the new year, so I'm very hopeful of some decent birding over the period, which I'll naturally keep my reader up to date with. So whatever your doing over the Christmas and new year, make time for the birds and keep watching the skies!!

Friday, December 06, 2013

Cynical Me!

Apologies if you think I'm being a little cynical, but isn't it strange that barely several days after the bank and off shore fishing stops for the winter at Draycote Water, some nice birds decide to drop in! Long-tailed Duck, followed today by this immature Great Northern Diver!

Managed this image of today's Great Northern Diver - Off Farborough Spit
Also around at Draycote today and thanks to Bob Hazell for the information: Red-breasted Merganser, ♂Pintail and Long-tailed Duck, which was also showing well off Farborough Spit!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Midweek Update!

I was just about to set off for Brandon Marsh on Monday when I received a call from Richard Mays. The steely-eyed Bob Hazell had picked up a juvenile Long-tailed Duck at Draycote water. A quick change of plan and I was onto the bird within half an hour thanks to the boys.

Record shot - Juvenile Long-tailed Duck
I did manage a record shot of the bird in pretty poor light, which was showing just off Farborough Spit.

After a coffee in the centre with Richard I headed off to Brandon, which I have to say, has been awash with birds over the past few days. It was also really encouraging to see the Carlton Pool full of water once more and currently weed free, a Grey Wagtail was even checking out the tarpaulin, which has been put over the removed Crassula helmsii, to kill it off!

Returning to Brandon this morning for my regular Tuesday visit and as I mentioned earlier, a real feeding frenzy was continuing at pace. Fieldfare, Redwing and several Bullfinch were stripping the hawthorn, Siskin were enjoying the alder and to my surprise and delight, a dog Otter on the central marsh pool, stunning stuff.

Siskin - Not a great day for photography!
East Marsh Pool held a pair of Shelduck, along with of note: (11) Snipe, (3) Pochard, (1♀ + 3♂) Goldeneye, (2) Wigeon, Yellow-legged Gull and the usual selection of wintering waterfowl. At the Carlton Pool and screen area Alban and I were surprised to come across a couple of Chiffchaff, feeding low in the reedbed, followed soon after by a couple of Willow Tit near the bench and a couple of Lesser Redpoll were also noted.

Also seen during our stay: Kingfisher, (2) Water Rail, several Reed Bunting and of course the thrushes were hammering the hawthorn. A Cetti's Warbler was heard and other highlights around the reserve: (3) Treecreeper, (3) Goldcrest and a solitary Mistle Thrush over!

Also worth a mention was a Mealy Redpoll, which was caught and ringed by JR during a Brandon ringing session on Sunday.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Away days!

Birding is often about being in the right place at the right time as so it appeared to be last weekend while visiting my dear old mum in Liverpool. On the Saturday morning a bird-guides update appeared "2nd winter Ring-billed Gull - Asda supermarket - Walton", a cracking piece of luck, only five minutes away from mums house, job done! A picture of said bird can be found HERE on Austin's Birding Blog.

Moving on to last week and with my back problems returning to haunt me I decided to give Brandon Marsh works party a miss on Thursday, opting instead for joining the team a little late in the day, when all the hard work had been done!! As a sub-note I'm happy to report that the work on Carlton Pool is complete for now and the new path through to the screen area (soon to be hide) is also open to the public.

Carlton Pool - Sluices open and water slowly returning!
However, my plans changed when a phone call from Richard Mays had me travelling over to Kings Newnham, a locally well know spot for wintering Swans and only a few miles from Brandon. A number of Whooper Swans and White-fronted Geese had been reported by Colin Potter and Richard had been good enough to pass the information on. On arrival along Kings Newnham road at least a hundred or so Mute Swans were present, plus a large number of Wigeon and Canada Geese. Unfortunately, after an hour or so trawling the surrounding fields I never managed to locate any of the reported birds!!

Friday was a different story all together, as once again I had the use of the Wildlife Trusts minibus and so with fourteen of the Brandon team, we headed off for the Ouse Washes. Excellent views of Red Kite on route along the A605 with four in total. A stop at a lay-by in search of Common Cranes around the Guyhirn area produced a very light phase Common Buzzard and an array of Mute Swans, along with both Bewick Swans and Whooper Swans in the same field. We finally connected with an amazing thirteen Common Cranes in a second lay-by near the 'Chill Out Cafe', an area I'd seen them a few weeks prior.

Whooper Swans - Personal library image
The late morning, lunch and early afternoon was spent in the heart of the fens at RSPB Ouse Washes, enjoying the many hides which overlook the flooded pasture. As you would imagine at this time of the year the place was awash with wildfowl. During an enjoyable few hours the team managed the usual wintering ducks, which included of note: Goldeneye, Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, Tufted, Gadwall and stunning numbers of Wigeon. Waders were represented by Redshank, Ruff, Dunlin, Snipe and large flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover were constantly on the wing. More Whooper Swans and Bewick Swans were also noted and other additions included a couple of ♀Marsh Harrier, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, plus Meadow Pipit, Little Grebe and Water Rail, the later heard but not seen.

With the day closing in our final stop was Wicken Fen, National Trust Reserve, the very first nature reserve to be owned by the National Trust and has been in their care since 1899. It remains one of the most important wetlands in Europe and a great place to watch harriers coming in to roost. I have to say, we were not disappointed!! A fly-by Kingfisher along one of the ditches before we eventually arrived at the tower hide for our vigil.

Wicken Fen - Library Image 
As dusk approached at least a half dozen ♀Marsh Harrier came in over the reedbed and a huge flock of Jackdaw were seen and heard clucking away in the distance, a lone Cetti's Warbler briefly called within the reeds. At least two dozen Cormorant had claimed a high lookout point, plus a trio of Fieldfare perched close to our vantage point, a solitary Mistle Thrush over. It seemed to me that we'd all gathered to witness the highlight of the day, which were undoubtedly the trio of Hen Harriers, a female and two stunning males, which entertained us until the light had almost gone. A stunning end to another excellent away-day and a very bright Venus off to the west in the now cloudless skies, Wow!!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Norfolk Tuesday!

Temp - 2/5C - Sunny start then Hail showers late afternoon - Wind ➝ NW @ 18 mph

Another chance for a Norfolk away-day yesterday with Pete Worthy and Ken Sherlock from the Brandon team. A Red Kite over the A14 on route and our first stop was the 'Chill Out' Cafe at Guyhirn (A47), where (7) Common Cranes were showing nicely but at distance in the fields opposite the pull-in.

Highly cropped record shot of ♂Parrot Crossbill at Holt
A great start to the day and so from Guyhirn it was a direct route to Holt Country Park for the recently reported Parrot Crossbills, a bird which occasionally irrupts into Britain from Europe after the cone crop has failed. There is also a small stronghold for these birds in Abernethy Forest, Scotland. Unfortunately, our arrival at the country park was not quite what we expected! As we drove into the parking area a car reversed out from one of the parking bays straight into the side of Pete's car, putting a couple of nice creases into the driver and rear doors. Without going into too much detail I thought Pete dealt with the whole episode with great restraint and didn't let it spoil the rest of his day.

Parrot Crossbill - demolishing another pine cone!
As you would expect a good turnout from the birding fraternity put us directly onto the birds, with 2♂ and 2♀ showing intermittently from high in the canopy. A pleasant forty minutes or so watching and photographing these amazing birds, which remained in the same tree during our whole stay, simply demolishing each pine cone with their powerful deep 'parrot-like' bills.

Turnstone at Salthouse
Cley Marshes next and a short stay at the beach car park in bitterly cold north-westerly winds, managing (3) Red-throated Diver, (3) Gannet, several Guillemot, and (2) Skua Sp. too distant for any positive ID. After lunch at Salthouse, watching the many Turnstone in the parking area, back along to Cley locating both Black Brant and Pale-bellied Brent Goose in among the many Brent Geese. While the two wusses Pete and Ken returned to the car during a hail shower my intrepid self took a walk along the East Bank past Arnold's Marsh. Here a good scan of the pools had of note: Grey Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Little Egret, Shelduck, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Bar-tailed Godwit. A pair of Marsh Harrier were constantly scouring the marsh during my stay. Unfortunately, no sign of Scaup, one having been noted on the marsh in the nature centre listings earlier in the day.

 ♂♀ Parrot Crossbill - Birds of the day!
With the remainder of the daylight fading, hate these short winter days, we made off for RSPB Titchwell for sunset. On route lots of Pink-footed Geese in the surrounding fields and with the rain now having moved through an excellent but brief view of Barn Owl, which hovered over a field as we drove slowly past. The sky had cleared to produce a stunning sunset over Titchwell, with the unmistakable Pink-footed Geese silhouetted against the red of the sky. Our hope of Barn Owl and Short-eared Owl never quite materialised but the harrier roost held over (14) birds, all marsh and a Peregrine made a brief appearance, having a tentative nudge at one or two harriers before heading off. Water Rail, Cetti's Warbler and the pinging of Bearded Tit all heard before finally heading home!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Patch Review

Increase in Goldeneye
Highlights over the last several days have been a Peregrine Falcon at Brandon Marsh on Thursday morning, followed a little later in the day by my latest ever inland Swallow, seen while working with the team on Carlton Pool. To be honest though, by the time I got onto it (busy strimming), it was a dot in the distance, but thankfully most of the guys had good views as it flew through. On board yesterday evening around 10pm, the unmistakable honking of Whooper Swans overhead the marina. One of the bonus's of having the hatches open on such a mild night.

Fieldfare - Large increase this past week!
Back to Brandon and Woodcock finally appear to be arriving in small numbers, with several sightings around the reserve and both Siskin and Lesser Redpoll are now well established, making good use of the alder seeds. Equally, Fieldfare numbers have increased dramatically, this on the back of earlier arrivals of Redwing, Goldcrest and our overseas Robins. Bullfinch numbers have also increased with (4)♀ and (2)♂ feeding near sheep field on Thursday morning. There is still a small visible migration of Skylark over the reserve, with nine counted on Thursday. Golden Plover have also been a regular feature more recently, with around fifty or so birds maintaining a presence on East Marsh Pool, (5) Snipe were also recorded today. Wood Pigeon, a bird not normally associated with migration, have also been on the move in big numbers.

Wood Pigeon - On the move!
Winter wildfowl have increased over the week too, the best personal sighting I've managed was this morning with (3) ♀Goldeneye, (3) ♂Goldeneye, (1) ♂Pochard, (3) ♀Pochard and of course both Shoveler and Teal remain in good numbers and are now emerging into full plumage. Wigeon have declined from the unprecedented numbers of early November, but fifty or so are a regular feature, dropping in occasionally late afternoon. However, we still await the arrival of this winters first Bittern sighting, last years initial arrival being November 2nd. Finally, a couple of Willow Tit calling near the inlet while walking back from Carlton Hide this morning are worth a mention. A bird on the UK's red-list but thankfully still a regular to Brandon Marsh.

Redwings - Stunning winter visitors!
I enjoyed a nice amble around Draycote Water on Friday, along with Keith Foster and Bob Hazell, on a beautifully crisp and flat calm morning. A couple of Shag were first seen atop the valve tower from distance and then by the time we arrived back at the sailing club, better views of the pair just offshore. Plenty of Meadow Pipit along Farborough Bank, a single ♀Goosander off Farborough spit and a very elusive Little Egret at the inlet were other highlights. Bob tells me that a Nuthatch we heard calling within the copse at the feeding station was quite a rarity for Draycote and of course watching the Tree Sparrows around the same area is always a treat, such smart looking birds! Other notables for the visit: Grey Wagtail, (4) Treecreeper, (8) Siskin, a half dozen Goldcrest and a single Yellow-legged Gull.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hit and Miss!

It's been a strange few days with a few hits and plenty of misses. On Monday Jim Rushforth asked if I'd like to accompany him on a drive across into Nottinghamshire to take a look at a Pied Wheatear, which had been reported as showing well at Collingham Pits. As we were heading that way anyway, we were also going to seek out the long staying Glossy Ibis at Lowdham.

Unfortunately on arrival at Collingham mid morning, on a horrible, dank and rainy day, we were reliably informed that the bird had not been sighted. Despite the lack of Wheatear we still enjoyed an hour or two at the pits, constantly scanning for the bird and recording a decent variety of birds which included: Red-crested Pochard, Pintail, Pochard, Redshank, Green Sandpiper and Little Egret.

Glossy Ibis - Record shot in very poor conditions!
Our second target bird, Glossy Ibis, turned out to be an incredibly easy find. As we drove past the reported location, a field next to the Peugeot garage at Lowdham, the bird was happily feeding away and easily visible from the car as we drove past. Fascinating to find such an amazing bird feeding alongside a busy main road, right alongside a garage and small housing estate.

Today's usual visit to Brandon Marsh turned out to be a frustrating affair, with any birds of note staying one step ahead of me. Probably due to my late arrival (9am) but I managed to miss out on a Dunlin on East Marsh Pool, Stonechat on Newlands reedbed and not one but two Woodcock, inadvertently flushed by Martin Durkin, who was a half hour ahead of me and taking my normal route around the farm field area.

Song Thrush - Lots of Thrushes on the reserve!
Even with my disappointments it wasn't a bad morning all round, East Marsh Pool held of note: (2) ♀Goldeneye, (2) Pochard, (2) Little Grebe, (50+) Golden Plover and a single Yellow-legged Gull. The rest of my tour recorded various numbers of Redwing, Fieldfare, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin, plus (1) Green Sandpiper, (2) Snipe, (2) Song Thrush, (9) Skylark over, (2) Goldcrest, (2) Meadow Pipit, (2) Treecreeper, (2) Coal Tit, (3) Pied Wagtail, (3) Bullfinch, (3) Great-spotted Woodpecker, (2) Green Woodpecker (4) Buzzard, and single Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Nuthatch and Kingfisher.

Surprise of the day was a single Butterfly, (possibly Small Tortoiseshell), which shot past the big hide while Jim, Derek and I were having lunch!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Sunshine and Gloom!

Today's star attraction - The infamous Draycote Albino Squirrel
As we're all aware this year has produced a bumper berry crop but I have to say that with several visits locally over the past week I can already see that our winter thrushes are making inroads! At Brandon Marsh on Tuesday good numbers of Redwing were making short work of the hawthorn berries near sheep field and at Carlton Hide a group of Fieldfares had similar ideas. At least a half dozen Bullfinch were also making good use of the excess. Skylarks are continuing to move south, although in fewer numbers than previous weeks and Golden Plover are also beginning to appear inland, with over a hundred or so at Brandon on Thursday, a good fifty of which hung around East Marsh Pool for most of the day. A single Ruff, which occasional goes AWOL was once again showing well and a Green Sandpiper was also heard but not seen.

Grey Wagtail  - Is that a fly he's eyeing up?
Today a morning visit to Draycote water in glorious sunshine, followed by an afternoon visit to Brandon Marsh, by which time the rain and gloom had completely set in. First Draycote, starting off with a couple of Treecreeper in the car park when I met up with Keith Foster. Along Farborough bank there still remains a good number of Meadow Pipit, along with the usual Pied Wagtail, and a couple of Grey Wagtail, which gave a few photographic opportunities. Out on the water distant views of a ♂Goosander over near the inlet, along with a couple of 'Redheads', closer in and a whole-lot more obliging, one posing nicely in the morning sunshine.

Goosander enjoying the morning sunshine!
I'm always surprised by the sheer amount of Great-crested Grebe that reside at Draycote and today was no exception, I didn't have the patience to count them all but they must have been well in excess of 200. Tufted Duck were also well represented, along with a single Little Grebe, several Gadwall and a couple of ♀Goldeneye. After Bob Hazell joined us we decided to walk as far as the hide (Sparrowhawk on route) in the hope of catching up with the infamous albino squirrel. Sure enough and right on cue I managed to finally get a couple of decent images for the scrap book. By now the sun had gone and with the sky looking laden we made our way around to the windsurfers car park, where a small number of Brambling had been showing. Thirty odd Golden Plover over the valley as we made our way, but sadly no sign of Brambling, having been forewarned by Richard Mays that a Sparrowhawk had crashed the party. We did manage a couple of Goldcrest, (six in total for the day), a lone Chiffchaff and a second Sparrowhawk before the rain came.

Another Albino shot to finish!
A short stay at Brandon Marsh in the rain and gloom after leaving Draycote, the highlights of which were: Yellow-legged Gull, Water Rail, Kingfisher, (3) Snipe and Goldeneye, which to me looked to be a different bird than the one seen of late! No sign of yesterdays Golden Plover and just prior to heading off a group of twenty or so Wigeon ended the day.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Stormy Cornwall

A long weekend in North Cornwall, predominantly to celebrate my wife Dazza's birthday, but also to enjoy the Cornish coastline and surrounding moorland. From a weather perspective we couldn't have picked a more diverse and turbulent period. Hurricane force winds Saturday, heavy rain Sunday and gorgeous sunshine today!

Stormy Cornwall
After waking on Saturday morning to a Tawny Owl calling right outside the bedroom window, we decided to start with a tour around the peripheral of Bodmin Moor after breakfast. A wild and windy start, at one stage braving the elements and battling our way down for a look around Crowdy reservoir. As you would imagine this produced very little in the gale force wind, save for a lone Buzzard and some hardy Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits. The water itself, which resembled something out of the well known TV series 'Trawlermen', was devoid of any wildfowl, likely sheltering somewhere more sensible.

Golden Plover on the moors.
However, some of the surrounding moorland held large flocks of StarlingLapwing and Golden Plover. At Padstow a small number of Shag had taken advantage of the relatively quieter waters of the bay and the local fishing boats played host to several small congregations of Turnstone feeding along the pontoons. Later in the afternoon, after a traditional Cornish pastie lunch, we moved on to Port Issac and spent a considerable time watching fascinated by the stormy seas. Lots of Gannet close in, skillfully braving the huge waves, while large numbers of Herring Gulls, not so bravely sheltering on the cliffs below. A few more interesting sights further out skimming the wave tops, but without the aid of my scope difficult to raise any positive IDs. A Peregrine also made a brief appearance along the cliff tops, scattering several Pipits, this while Dazza was taking her souvenir pictures of Doc Martins surgery!

Record shot of Dipper at Boscastle
Sunday, Dazza's birthday, a trip to Widemouth Bay for her favourite pass time 'rock pooling', which we thankfully managed to complete before the rain and high tide arrived. Personally I spent the time mostly sea watching and searching the rocks with Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Rock Pipit and Gannet to keep me amused. Mind you I'm always in awe of her patience and knowledge base and she tells me that Snakelocks Anemone, Red-sea Anenome and Tompot Blenny (a bloaty fish) were all logged. As the rain became heavier we moved on and enjoyed afternoon tea in Boscastle, after which a short walk along the river to Boscastle harbour produced Grey Wagtail, Shag and a surprise pair of Dipper. On route back to the cottage, we were entertained by several large murmurations of Starlings, which were seen at various points along the A39.

Another Dipper record shot!
Today, before heading home and with the sun shining at last, we decided to revisit Boscastle and Tintagel after yesterdays washout. At Boscastle we took a walk along the river once again, seen of 2004's disastrous floods and managed to relocate yesterdays Dippers. The walk takes you down to the harbour, where the outgoing river meets the incoming tide and here a Kingfisher was basking on a nearby rock. Several Grey Wagtail were also found along the harbour walls and waders included Oystercatcher and Turnstone. Remarkably, from a vantage point above the harbour, we also managed to pick out a small number of salmon, which were beginning to make their way upstream to spawn.

Gulls a plenty!
Our final stop was Tintagel and after walking down to the the castle, with various numbers of Meadow Pipit, Jackdaw and Herring Gull, we spent a half hour sea watching before heading off home. Still good numbers of Gannets and at least one Balearic Shearwater ID'd offshore,  a couple of Rock Pipit below our vantage point and on the surrounding cliffs a lone Kestrel and a couple of Shag.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Little Birding Time!

Happy Halloween!!!

Apologies to my reader for the lack of updates over the past week but unfortunately other commitments have allowed me little time in the field.

Record shot of Mandarin at Brandon Marsh!
What birding I have managed has been mainly local with visits to Napton churchyard, Napton reservoir and of course Brandon Marsh.  Best I could manage at the churchyard on Monday was a trio of Mistle Thrush having a real set too, a couple of Siskin and several Lesser Redpoll. I did also manage to fit in an hours vigil at Woodford Halse, where a Hoopoe has been showing well over the past week, but sad to say not during my short stay! Mind you the black cat seen twice in the car park during that time may have had an input! Kudos must go to the site owner too, who I managed a short chat with, a very pleasant and accommodating guy and delighted to have a bird of this ilk on his property!

At Brandon later on Monday afternoon a pair of Mandarin Duck on East Marsh Pool was a pleasant surprise. So too a nice sighting of Marsh Tit (very scarce at Brandon) near the volunteers car park this afternoon, first heard and then found while I was packing up after another day battling the Crassula helmsii on Carlton Pool.

Carlton Pool - Finally the end is in sight!
Talking of Carlton Pool I think that with the superb efforts of the volunteers we can finally see daylight, as the image above shows. Hopefully another couple of weeks will see an end to the project. A lot more Lesser Redpoll and Siskin on the reserve today, along with Redwing, Fieldfare and Goldcrest. A lone Ruff still remains feeding up on east marsh, along with ♂Goldeneye. Also of note today: Several Skylark over, Grey Wagtail, Green Sandpiper and high numbers of Wigeon!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Brandon Marsh

Several visits to Brandon Marsh over the past week in wind, rain and shine and despite not throwing up anything too out of the ordinary, there's still plenty to be found.

Jay - remarkable birds!
Jays, one of my favourite and vastly underrated birds are up to their usual autumn tricks, fighting among themselves for territory and then off burying acorns in preparation for the forthcoming winter. In fact their probably responsible for most of the young oak trees around Brandon, often forgetting exactly where they've hidden most of their booty!

Lesser Redpoll 
Redwings continue to arrive in decent numbers, though mostly found deep in cover and currently very skittish, feeding in the lower levels of hawthorn. Fieldfare on the other hand are still in smaller numbers and during my Tuesday visit I only managed to record four birds, which flew south calling over Sheep Field.

Tuesday also produced more Siskin and Lesser Redpoll sightings and at one stage near the volunteers tool store at least a single Brambling was heard overhead. Goldcrests and Robins are also beginning to increase in numbers, with some of our continental visitors beginning to arrive and join our sedentary population, continental Blackbirds can also be found on the reserve.

Siskin can be found high in the alder!
Today a surprise on arrival just prior to dawn, with a Little Owl calling from across on Brandon Lane, a bird not often seen or heard on the reserve. The pools continued to host two hundred or so Wigeon, very unusual for Brandon to sustain such high numbers (we must be doing something right) and a first winter ♂Goldeneye remains on East Marsh Pool. Snipe numbers are low for the time of year, with only two birds noted today and Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail can also be heard, mainly from Carlton Pool. In fact these were quite vocal today while the team were clearing more of the dreaded Crassula helmsii. Today was also a good day for vis-mig (visible migration) and Skylark passage was constant, along with various numbers of Meadow Pipit, Siskin, Redpoll and Redwing.

My highlight of the week was undoubtedly my close encounter with an Otter this morning! As I walked past the primrose bank a huge splash alerted me to something on the fisherman's pool. Suddenly, what I suspect was probably a young animal, came out of the water and ran up the bank only feet away from me, before a change of mind had it launch itself back into the pool and away. Having seen Otters on the reserve on several occasions, this was a stunning sighting and I'm unsure as to who was the most startled by the event, the Otter or me!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Quick Update

After a few recent trips further afield the past week has been spent either at Brandon Marsh, continuing the fight to clear Carlton Pool of the dreaded pygmy weed, or birding locally. We seem to have made real inroads into clearing the pool and I would imagine that, weather permitting, we could even begin to let the water back in some time soon. We're under no illusions that this will actually cure the problem, Crassula helmsii is almost impossible to eradicate and will certainly return, but at least it will give us a standpoint and the opportunity to instigate an ongoing management plan.

Real progress at Carlton Pool
On the birding front the most noticeable thing at Brandon is the continuing influx of winter thrushes, with Redwing and Fieldfare noted in reasonable numbers, Siskin and Redpoll have also been building but more slowly. Shortly after leaving on Tuesday afternoon I received a phone call from George Wootton reporting eight Black-tailed Godwit on East Marsh, to my knowledge this is the first godwit sighting of the year.

Fieldfare's returning!
On Friday I decided on another morning visit to Draycote Water and met up with the usual Draycote regulars. The water itself is still extremely quiet, with only a small flock of Wigeon in flight of note, but visible migration was still very evident with Redwing, Blackbird and Skylark movement overhead and in among the dozen or so Meadow Pipit along Farborough Bank, my first Rock Pipit of the autumn. Another local autumnal first was a Merlin, which flew through while chatting to Richard, continuing on across towards the inlet. A short time after, while still chatting away, a phone call from Bob Hazell sent us scurrying along towards the hide in the hope of seeing a Black Redstart which he'd picked up. Sadly, even by the short time it took us to get there, the bird had been flushed by joggers and cyclists and despite a good search of the area we never managed to relocate.

A nice fall of Brambling at Napton Churchyard, with around twenty or so birds was a nice diversion on the way home from Draycote. During my stay Buzzard, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Green Woodpecker and Goldcrest were also noted and with no birding this weekend, a non birding visit to see friends in Suffolk, I'm looking forward to getting out on the patch again this coming week.