Thursday, January 31, 2013

Home Turf

Local Yellowhammer (Library Image)
Because of my recent accident I've spent more time birding at the marina than ever before and have ended up wondering why I don't spend a lot more time here!

Over the past few weeks I've increased the size of my bird feeding area and have spent a lot of time experimenting with different seeds and fruits. The results have been very interesting and I've also managed to encourage one of the local Ravens to pay the odd visit, feeding on the leftover grain I've been giving to the marina wildfowl.

It's just great to see the Mallards, Coots and Moorhens taking advantage of the windfall and for the first time today a couple of Yellowhammer paid a visit to the seed trays. At one time a ♀Sparrowhawk scattered the Goldfinch, Blue and Great Tits making off with one, not sure which, being mobbed as it flew by the local Corvids.

My list of visitors is already quite impressive with in addition to the above: Pied Wagtail, Long-tailed Tit, Fieldfare, Starling, Dunnock, Robin, Tree Sparrow, House Sparrow, Reed Bunting, Greenfinch, and Chaffinch. I'm now in the process of trying to attract any passing Waxwings with a temptation of dangling fruits, we live in hope!!

Finally, some better news tonight with my camera wheeling it's way back to me from repair. Delighted but a little lighter in the pocket.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Brandon Return

Goldcrest at Brandon
A Raven in the adjacent field while topping up the feeders at the marina before I headed off to Brandon Marsh for my first visit in over three weeks.

On arrival I took a slow stroll through New Hare Covert but the wind howling away through the trees made birding quite difficult, the only species of note Goldcrest & Treecreeper. As I emerged near the golf course I managed ten minutes with Phil the greens keeper who was busy clearing up after several Moles had encroached onto one of his greens. A real source of information is Phil and still insisting on telling me the story of a 'Big Cat' seen several times and apparently still roaming the area and more recently making short work of a Muntjac on hole 16! But I'll save that story for another time.

During my visit I took the opportunity to check out a couple of areas I know where Otters cut through to individual pools and it looks as though there is still activity at Brandon with fresh spraint found in two of these areas, so well worth keeping a look out.

Willow Tit
The surprise of the day was while chatting to Bob Lee near Central Marsh Pool. As we were watching a small group of Lesser Redpoll in the surrounding Alders a Pipistrelle Bat came whizzing over our heads, obviously displaced from it's hibernation and very rarely seen during the winter months and particularly in the daytime.

Not surprisingly the reserve is recovering from recent flooding with the main East Marsh Pool the highest that I can remember with very little of any Islands showing. However, all the usual wildfowl were represented: Shoveler, Teal, Tufted, Gadwall, Wigeon and (4♀) Pochard. The only Wader of note a lone Snipe in the reeds in front of Big Hide. Two Buzzard, two Sparrowhawk and a lone Kestrel braved the conditions with some excellent aerobatics in the gale force winds but little else braved the conditions.

Finally, lunch in the Carlton Hide produced little with the exception of Willow Tit and Bittern, when I managed two good views of a single bird flying towards the rear of the reed bed. An enjoyable return to Brandon but sadly still no camera back from repairs so I've used some of my previous images taken there recently to brighten up the post.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Finally Out Again!

Junction of Oxford & Grand Union
After refilling a couple of my marina feeding stations I was delighted to finally be able to take a tour of the marina grounds! Albeit at a snails pace but it's just fantastic to be on the mend and out and about once more. The only downer was the fact that both my camera and lens are currently in for repair, at an extortionate cost I may add and so the best I can do currently is to rely on my camera phone.

I began by checking out the several feeding areas dotted around the grounds and the one thing that hit me straight away was the sheer amount of Reed Buntings we have on site. I don't think I'd be exaggerating If I said well over thirty. I'd also hazard a guess that during the current cold snap we've also had over eight inches of snow, guess I never did take to the metric system.

Marina Entrance
The feeders were a hive of activity. The west side produced the usual Tits plus Greenfinch, Chaffinch the odd Starling and the briefest visit from a Great-spotted Woodpecker. But of course within a marina other species also take advantage and ground feeding among the Blackbirds, Dunnocks and several Pied Wagtail were Coot, Moorhen and Mallard. The east side feeders always produce the variety and here both Tree and House Sparrows were among several Lesser Redpoll, but sadly no sign of Siskin or the illusive Bramblings! A few Fieldfare were on the move and hopefully I'll be able to entice them in with a few apples dotted around.

When I arrived at the marina entrance it was the first real opportunity I've had to take a good look at the canal itself. No surprises here to find it frozen and thus rendering any form of navigation an impossibility. It's at times like this that I'm pleased to be based in a marina during the winter months.

At the top end of the marina there is also a good sized area of reed bed which is always worth a little extra scrutiny. In 2010 during a similar cold period I was astonished when a fellow moorer knocked on my hatch to ask for identification of a bird he'd photographed from his boat window walking on the ice. It turned out to be a Bittern and so you can probably understand that each time I pass the area I tend to have visions of a return visit, sadly not on this occasion.

Aptly Named!
Well after a fortnight of sub-zero temperatures it finally looks like the thaw is on for the weekend but not after more significant snow tomorrow. Of course with a fast thaw comes other obstacles and lest we forget that underneath the current bed of snow the ground is still saturated and the weekend forecast is also for significant rain. I'll leave you with a final image (left) for this post, thank goodness I live on a boat!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Living Aboard!

With the current weather conditions the first thing most people say when they realise you live aboard a boat is 'It must be awful for you at the moment'. Frankly, for me it's one of the more interesting and enjoyable times! How many people have the privilege of feeding Swans and Tufted Duck by hand from their living room window and Pied Wagtails roosting on the roof at night to keep warm.

When we were having 'Quidditch' built in 2004 the major part of the design specification was for a live-aboard boat and yes we do have hot and cold running water. Seriously though I'm not being patronising but we have been asked the question several times in the past. Quidditch is a well equipped vessel with shower room, galley, central heating, broadband, WiFi and Sky TV and so we do have the luxuries of most homes. We also have the added bonus of mooring in a marina during the winter months and so have full mains electric at our disposal.

However, it does get a little more difficult when you've been iced in for over a fortnight like at present. The two biggest issues are of course fuel and water. 'Quidditch' runs primarily on red diesel and with the heating and fire on 24/7 getting fuel on board does become an issue after a while. So too our water supplies and with the pontoon taps turned off we have an on board supply which will last in normal conditions for around a week. What complicates the current situation is of course the fact that with a couple of cracked ribs I'm next to useless and so I thank god for Dee who on Sunday, with me more of a hindrance than a help, ably replenished our supplies with several trips to and from the marina utility area, well done that girl!!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sabbatical Update

Firstly, many thanks for all the calls, text messages and emails, having written off my car in the same week a few years ago the general consensus is that ice and me don't mix that well at the start of the year!

My recovery is going well thanks to my fantastic wife and if I can come up with a decent method of lying down without suffering pain I may even get a good nights sleep soon. Oh and yes I must also say a big thank you for the help from the guys at the marina. Being currently frozen in with the water off on the pontoons and the heating on 24/7 depleting my fuel and on-board water stocks it's not a good time to be laid up. Of course I'll get to know who my real friends are when the toilets are full?

On the equipment front both my lens and camera are now on route to the repair shops and so I wait in anticipation of some better news. Anyway the break from birding has given me an opportunity to catch up on some reading and with my report on Amphibians and Reptiles now due for the 2012 Brandon Marsh Report I've plenty to concentrate on before I begin crawling the walls.

Gatekeeper Seen  During Brandon Transect
Having been part of the Brandon Marsh butterfly surveys, run in conjunction with Butterfly Conservation last summer, I read with interest about an increase in the numbers of grass feeding species in 2012. It seems that despite 2012 being the UK's second wettest year on record, a number of butterfly species enjoyed a bumper year, a study suggests. Overall, the survey showed last year was a washout for UK butterflies. But grassland species, such as the Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Gatekeeper, benefited from "substantial grass growth" in the wet conditions. Recorders counted more than 18,500 meadow brown butterflies - almost twice as many as in 2011. You can read the entire article here on the BBC website, although sadly it's not all good news.

Finally, congratulations to some of my Canadian birding buddies who are currently on a major twitch, in fact a first for Canada no less! A Red-flanked Bluetail is currently showing in New Westminster, SE of Vancouver and thanks to a very shy Derek Killby, who refused a TV interview, for this recording of the event!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Unsheduled Sabatical!

One minute I was trying to locate a calling Tawny Owl at Brandon Marsh in the pitch dark, the next I was on my knees gasping for breath badly winded after taking a nasty fall. Having landed heavily with my camera and lens between me and the icy floor and gasping for breath I managed to struggle back to the car!

So here we go again with another unscheduled birding sabbatical and not too confident that my photographic equipment can be repaired either. After a visit to the medical centre I was told I was extremely lucky not to have damaged my ribs and lung even more than I already have. So, not a happy chappy but glad of the news it could have been a lot worse than it is!

Monday, January 07, 2013

It's January!

How do I know it's January? After returning from the volunteers AGM at Brandon Marsh yesterday, where I had the briefest glimpse of my first Bittern of 2013, the wife had me out on the bikes later in the afternoon. Then, this morning I was cajoled into going swimming at 7.30am and to top it all, no bacon sarnie for breakfast. This is how I know!!

Napton Great-crested Grebe
Notwithstanding I still managed a nice local 5 mile stroll around the patch this afternoon and decided to try a few areas I hadn't visited for sometime now. It was also a perfect opportunity to try out my new Vortex Razor HD binoculars, my excellent Christmas present from my wonderful wife. Another reason I took this decision was after reading RM's blog and an account of an Asio Owl species seen early this morning flying over the perimeter bank at Napton Reservoir. Over the five or so years I've been mooring opposite the reservoir at Wigram's Turn Marina I've familiarised myself with one or two Long-eared Owl roosts. Sadly the last two years have proved to be barren.

I first started at the reservoir where the usual selection of Gulls was not only on the water but in most of the surrounding fields. Suffice to say that after a painstaking inspection the best I could muster was Great Black-backed, not a white-winger among them. The usual Coot-fest was on offer along with a half dozen Great-crested Grebe and besides the many Tufted Duck a lone ♂Pochard stood out. A walk to the east side had Snipe, Jay, Green Woodpecker and Kingfisher but sadly didn't throw up much else with most of the treeline now cropped. I'd love to know what the Canal Trusts 'Management Plan' is for this place, to me it seems that anything that has the audacity to grow is immediately brutalised, hence the persistent breeze around the place!

Crossing the Calcutt locks I took the footpath that runs to the rear of Ventnor Marina and immediately after the gate I was in something that resembled a quagmire, or as Wikipedia would have it, "water infused earth". Anyway I decided to battle on with a nice party of 2♀ and 3♂Bullfinch, Goldcrest and Yellowhammer in the Hawthorn area where I'd recorded LE Owl a few years previous. The footpath takes you past a smart little pool to the back of Ventnor which has quite an intriguing reed bed surrounding it and always well worth a little extra scrutiny. No Owls but a trio of Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Buzzard for my efforts.

Local Raven
The footpath then leads towards Calcutt Spinney, a great place to watch an enormous Jackdaw roost each evening. Here Great-spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and as I made my way back across the open field a 'cronk-cronk' alerted me to one of the local Ravens who dropped in briefly, allowing me the opportunity of a well cropped distant photograph.

Finally, no trace of Asio Owl after checking a few other areas but a really enjoyable few hours with lots of Fieldfare, Redwing and the odd Song Thrush around, oh and I can highly recommend Vortex HD's, a terrific pair of bins!

Friday, January 04, 2013

1st Day Out!

Dunnock Enjoying The Morning Sunshine!
It was no surprise that I chose Brandon Marsh as my first birding day out of the year, in fact I was astonished to find that it was actually my first visit since mid December!

When I arrived just before dawn I decided to head straight for Carlton Hide in the hope that the odd Barn Owl would still be hunting. I wasn't disappointed when after a few minutes I located one quartering towards the back of the reed beds. A quick flypast by a Kingfisher, (3) Cettis Warbler and (2) Water Rail heard but sadly after an hour no sign of the recent Bitterns. After a brief visit to the screen area, where the best was (4) Fieldfare overhead and a Song Thrush in full song I made my way to Big hide for coffee.

East Marsh Overflow
In the four years I've been at Brandon I've never seen the water levels so high with only three small areas of island still showing. In fact as the enclosed picture shows the water is so high it's flowing out of the the overflow pipe and not the actual sluice.

With the recent rains and flood water the whole reserve seems to have taken on a completely different look with reed beds flattened, dry areas now pools and even the Kingfisher perch at Steetley Hide washed away.

With lots of water comes a lot of waterfowl and East Marsh Pool held some good numbers with: (31) Wigeon, (37) Gadwall, (5) Pochard, (38) Tufted Duck and various numbers of Shoveler, Teal, Canada Goose and Greylag. Also present of note was a single Yellow-legged Gull, the long staying New Zealand Scaup (esc), (20) Cormorant, (8) Snipe and (3) Pied Wagtail, plus around 100 Lapwing which continued on through.

Turkey Tail - Trametes versocolor
With all the dampness around it's a good time to have a look for some decent fungus and I managed a nice spread of Turkey Tail as I walked through Horsetail Glade. The glade had lots of activity with (2) Treecreeper, (2) Nuthatch, (3) Jay, (2♂) Bullfinch, Great-spotted Woodpecker and Coal Tit.

By the time I'd toured the rest of the reserve I was encouraged by the amount of Goldcrest on site with (12) recorded. Also of note: Little Grebe at West Marsh, Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk plus various numbers of Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Reed Bunting and Green Woodpecker. All in all not a bad start to the year!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

All Change!

A change of year and a change of name! For sometime now I've been toying with the idea of placing all my birding social media in one basket. A little confusing to have an address of keithsbirding.blogspot for 'Birding Afloat' and a twitter account of 'boatbirder'. So without further a do I give my reader BOATBIRDER.COM the new name for what was Birding Afloat.

Thank you to all those who have my blog linked from their various websites and indeed those who are good enough to have bookmarks for my site. The good news is that you don't need to change a thing, the link will still work perfectly fine although the tab will probably read

I hope I'll still keep your continued support and if I've failed to link your website or blog from the new boatbirder address please let me know. Happy birding for 2013