Friday, May 31, 2013

Canadian RV Tour 2013 Background

With our boat-sitters arriving today it's all systems go for tomorrows departure to Nova Scotia, first stop Halifax. In fact this will be the first time Dee and I have visited the east coast and indeed any of Canada's three maritime provinces, so were excited to be visiting new ground.

Nova Scotia - One Of Canadas Three Maritime Provinces
Nova Scotia or 'New Scotland', so Dee will feel very much at home, is actually located almost exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole (44ΒΊ 39' N Longitude), it's provincial capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the second-smallest province in Canada, with an area of 55,284 square kilometers (21,300 sq mi), including Cape Breton and some 3,800 coastal islands.

Cabot Trail - One Of Many In The Province
The province's mainland is the Nova Scotia peninsula surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, including numerous bays and estuaries. Nowhere in Nova Scotia is more than 67 km (42 mi) from the ocean. Cape Breton Island, a large island to the northeast of the Nova Scotia mainland, is also part of the province, as is Sable Island, a small island notorious for its shipwrecks, approximately 175 km (110 mi) from the province's southern coast.

Osprey (taken in British Columbia 2012) - Province Bird Of Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia lies in the mid-temperate zone and, although the province is almost surrounded by water, the climate is closer to continental rather than maritime. The temperature extremes of the continental climate are moderated by the ocean. Described on the provincial vehicle-licence plate as Canada's Ocean Playground, the sea is a major influence on Nova Scotia's climate. It's cold winters and warm summers are modified and generally moderated by ocean influences. The province is surrounded by four major bodies of water, the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to the north, the Bay of Fundy to the west, the Gulf of Maine to the southwest, and Atlantic Ocean to the southeast.

RV Tour 2012 - Revelstoke Alberta
With over 472 bird species recorded in the Province, and the fact that most of this years RV tour will remain on or around the coast, we're really looking forward to a whole new experience, so stayed tuned for updates. You can also follow me on Twitter:

BUBO Listing

Monday, May 27, 2013

Spring Reflections (Brandon Marsh)

For us birders in the Midlands living in our land-locked counties the spring migration appears to have come to an abrupt halt. The general consensus is that everything is late or just passing us by, borne out by the fact that Hawthorn blossom, normally seen in late April is only just appearing now, some 3 weeks late. In fact at this time of year I normally turn my attentions to Butterflies, Moths and Wild Flowers, but with yet another disappointing year on the weather front, even these are still thin on the ground.

Hawthorn - Around 3 Weeks Late!
Spending the many hours I do at Brandon Marsh birding, volunteering, chatting and listening to the many visitors it's easy to paint a picture of doom and gloom, but you know it's not actually been that bad a year at all thus far! Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Stonechat, Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher, Wood Warbler, Osprey, and even the rare Woodchat Shrike have all been recorded this spring. Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Little-ringed Plover and the nationally declining Cuckoo have also been resident since late March and early April.

Wood Warbler (Another Brandon 1st For Me!)
On the pools there have even been some Brandon firsts for me with Common Scoter (not seen since 2005 and before my time) and Sanderling, plus Whimbrel, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper and Garganey. It's also been an unprecedented year for other passage species like Yellow Wagtail and White Wagtail, when either were being recorded daily over a three week period in April.

Yellow Wagtail - Regular Passage In Mid/Late April
With the added bonus of the Newlands Phase III Reedbed Project and the obvious increase in wetland habitat this produces it doesn't surprise me that this year has also seen more frequent visits from Marsh Harrier and even a rare spring Bittern sighting has been noted. With increased habitat comes an increased food source and I believe it's no coincidence that no less than (5) Hobbies and large counts of Swifts and Hirundines are now being seen regularly feeding over the reserve!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hide and Seek!

After yesterdays appalling birding day things definitely looked a lot brighter today, although the birds I did find could definitely be described as super illusive!

Chiffchaff - Likely looking For His Second Brood!
A quick troll of the local patch, which produced a couple of Mistle Thrush on the wires at the marina and a welfare check on my resident Coot family, who are doing very nicely, I took a drive over to Draycote Water to see if it was worth having a walk around.

Immediately I put my head over the parapet I knew it wasn't for me when my hat took off almost back to the car park in a strong almost northerly. The highlight of my briefest ever visit was the sheer amount of Swifts, literally whizzing within inches from your head and the whoosh of noise as they passed by was just amazing.

Not feeling too energetic I took the decision to have my packed lunch in the general comfort of Big Hide at Brandon Marsh and headed off. The walk past Sheep Field gate produced ♂Cuckoo, a singing Lesser Whitethroat and the usual Warblers were all in evidence. East Marsh Pool was as quiet as yesterday's visit, save for a couple of Shelduck who were well asleep on Lapwing Island.

After lunch a stroll down to Carlton Hide came up with my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year when I discovered one opposite the Carlton overflow ditch. Despite several sightings the bird remained pretty elusive and I never quite managed a descent image. Strangely I didn't manage any Hobbies during my visit today but the screen area produced Willow Tit and a singing Chiffchaff, probably looking for his second brood.

Turtle Dove - Delighted To See Him Back!
Finally, my third visit this month to a local area where I've been lucky enough to have Turtle Dove the last two years paid off. However, it took me quite a while to locate yet another illusive bird and even then I could only manage a record shot before he made off to a wooded area he seems to prefer. This is really good news and I'm sure there will be plenty more opportunities to get some better shots over the summer months.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dreary Day!

An incredibly quiet birding day both at Brandon Marsh and locally with stops at Napton Reservoir and Napton Hill on route home.

Battle-Scared Red Deer on Napton Hill
A misty dank drizzly morning greeted me at Brandon Marsh and the usual energetic dawn chorus was once again subdued, with most birds deciding to keep a low profile. However, I did manage a distant Cuckoo, a few singing Reed Warblers around the Farm and Top Reedbed, and even a Skylark helped out on an otherwise dreary walk back to the car for coffee.

Things brightened up a little weather-wise for my next walk, which took me past Sheep Field, on through New Hare Covert and into Wright Hide. The Covert produced a little more activity and with families to feed Great-spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and Nuthatch were all busy foraging away.

Napton - Great-crested Grebe
A first look at East Marsh Pool failed to throw up any surprises, except for the fact that the usual Hirundines and Swifts, usually down on the water during these conditions, were very few in numbers. Plovers were also thin on the ground with only (3) Little-ringed and (1) Ringed to be found.

A trip to the screen area with the usual Tuesday regulars did provide a little hope, when we lingered for a good while listening to a possible Marsh Warbler, only to come away entirely unconvinced. A second trip for me with the guys around the 'Tip' area and Farm Field, this time in the company of Jim, Martin, Bob and Adrian, plus our resident plant guru Mike Lee, came up with a dreaded Spanish Bluebell, yet another invasive species and one which requires monitoring.

The rest of the days notables included: ♂♀Cuckoo, Hobby, (7) Common Tern, (3) Redshank, (4) Oystercatcher, (2) Garden Warbler, Sparrowhawk and (3) Buzzard. Hirundine and Swift numbers did pick up around mid morning and a welcome flypast of Kingfisher.

Reed Bunting
Napton Reservoir was equally as quiet with water levels well up since my last visit, perhaps even threatening some of the nesting Warblers. Lesser Whitethroat, Little Grebe, GC Grebe, Yellowhammer and a few smart looking Reed Bunting were the best of of my visit, with not a Gull or Tern to be found.

Finally Napton Hill, which was unbelievably quiet and despite the sun finally breaking through on occasions and plenty of flying food in the churchyard, hardly a bird to be found. The sun did bring out several Green-veined and Large White Butterflies, and a walk to the windmill and down to the old brick works was pleasant enough, with the Highland Cattle to keep me company, plus the superb sight of a well battled Red Deer. However, still no sign of Spotted Flycatcher, which despite now arriving in coastal areas, have yet to disperse.

For a guy who's cup is always half full it's difficult to stay positive on my worst birding day for some time and don't get me started on the weather!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Potential Napton Threat!!

I was contacted earlier today by a fellow blogger Kevin Groocock regarding a potential threat to Napton Hill, which up until this point I'd been totally unaware!

Image by:
For those who don't know Napton, the hill on which the village is built is just over 500 feet above sea level and is renown for small falls of migrant birds during the spring and autumn. Over the years it has thrown up the occasional gem such as Firecrest, Ring Ouzel, Snow Bunting, Icterine Warbler and Yellow-browed Warbler. The church yard itself over many years has been a haven for Spotted Flycatchers and photographers and birders alike make an annual pilgrimage to see these summer visitors.

Here's what Kevin kindly forwarded on to me: 'An application to develop land adjacent to Church Lane has been made (Application Found Here)  that many of us feel will adversely affect the amenity value of the land on the hill. The application is for one two-bedroom bungalow, but the adjacent plots (owned exclusively by builders) are much bigger and if a precedent is set we could end up with several hundred new houses next to the church. The application was made rather stealthily (no mention in the parish magazine) and we were lucky to spot the site planning notice before it was removed. We had just enough time to raise a petition and make representation to the district council planner dealing with the matter. We have met a representative of the Council for the Protection of Rural England and believe that CPRE will object to the application'

Kevin also pointed out that while he was investigating the above application he discovered that there is also an application to develop the old brick works on Brickyard Lane. This is obviously something that needs to be monitored with great interest and like myself I would urge any fellow birding bloggers who visit or know this beautiful area to highlight these applications on their individual blogs.

It would be a great shame to lose such a local gem and I for one will be offering my support, thanks to Kevin for the heads up!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Evening Gems!

My Tuesday visit to Brandon Marsh started bright and sunny and almost my first notable of the day was a bubbling ♀Cuckoo as I passed Horsetail Glade. My usual morning walk around the Farm Pool area produced a ♂Cuckoo and the usual selection of Warblers, which included a Garden Warbler on the 'Tip' area and a Grasshopper Warbler reeling on the top reed bed.

Brandon Hobbies Performing Well!
Later in the morning a visit to River Pool Hide during a heavy shower produced around 50/60 House Martins low over the water and with the rain still falling when I reached Big Hide a drenched Yellow Wagtail took refuge on Willow Island, before making off when the rain subsided. Before the heavy persistent rain set in later in the afternoon Jim, Mike and I were royally entertained by (3) Hobbies hawking over the Newlands area. Also of note during Tuesdays visit: (5) Ringed Plover, (6) Little-ringed Plover, (3) Dunlin, (4) Redshank, (4) Oystercatcher and (7) Common Terns.

As birders were always excited when a period of heavy rain arrives right in the middle of any migration period and this was the case over Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, with these conditions comes downed migrants!

Common Scoter Record Shot - Last Reported In 2005
Unfortunately for me I spent the best part of Wednesday in Liverpool and wasn't able to get to Brandon for my usual early visit. However, as luck would have it Fred Stokes happened to pay an evening visit and having just arrived back aboard the boat (having passed Brandon 30 minutes earlier) I received a phone message from Fred.

Thirty minutes later I had two Brandon firsts in the bag, with 3 Common Scoter, last recorded in 2005, a lone Sanderling, last recorded in 2010 which I missed and the bonus of a single Whimbrel on Willow Island, plus (2) Dunlin.

Whimbrel Over East Marsh Pool
Today, I really didn't expect to be scraping the frost from the windscreen at first light and aware of clear skies overnight I didn't expect too much when I arrived at Brandon some 30 minutes later. As it happens I was completely right, with no sign of the previous nights goodies and in fact the worst Plover count for some time, with only (1) Ringed Plover and (2) Little-ringed Plover recorded on East Marsh.

Mind you a couple of Kingfisher sightings and the Hobbies performing over Newlands once more is always a delight and other highlights included  ♂♀Cuckoo and my first Water Rail for a while. Plenty of Butterflies on the wing today which included various numbers of: Peacock, Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Small White, Brimstone and Comma.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Weekend Notes!

Passerine migration seems to have come to a sudden halt after a really good early spring and with the change to strong westerlies more recently the best place is likely to be coastal areas. With colder mornings, only 3C today, the dawn chorus has been a little subdued, although the odd rain shower and low ceiling has produced good numbers of Swifts and Hirundines feeding low over the reedbeds. Sedge and Reed Warbler have also been venturing out and about in search of food, offering some decent photo opportunities, or not!

Reed Warbler - Just Wouldn't Pop Out!!
Brandon Marsh seems to have settled into a regular pattern and the only change to the wader count from Wednesday is the addition of (3) summer plumage Dunlin, which have been around since Thursday. Sadly the (3) Lapwing young I reported seeing on Wednesday appear to have succumbed, possibly to the unprecedented amount of Lesser Black-backed Gulls frequenting East Marsh Pool, not a welcome sight.

Sedge Warbler
On the positive side of things Common Tern numbers have increased, with (6) individuals on Saturday and (4) today and these are already taking an interest in the nesting platforms. Also on the positive I managed two separate sightings of Kingfisher this weekend after a baron period. Reports of Bittern seen from Carlton Hide yesterday and again today are of great interest, can we look forward to the first ever booming Bittern at Brandon? The next few days will tell!

This morning the usual ♂Cuckoo calling over the 'Tip' area and today accompanied by a ♀female, which has her very own distinctive bubbling call and a first of the year for me at Brandon. Also worth a mention from today's visit: Grasshopper Warbler calling from the Top Reedbed and a Mistle Thrush singing from the golf course, a bird that has sadly declined in numbers over recent years.

Common Tern - On passage Through The Marina!
From a local perspective several Common Terns have passed through the marina over the previous few days, plus from Dee's description a possible Arctic Tern, which she heard and saw briefly before I managed to get to the hatch for a look. At least (2) Lesser Whitethroat are still singing and the welcome sighting of a Water Vole on the top reed area this evening. At least two families of Coot to report and the (7) Mute Swan cygnets are all doing well. A check of the top meadow for Butterflies over the weekend, weather affected, produced only four sightings, Green-veined White, Comma, Peacock and a single ♂Orange Tip.

**Good to see Richard out and about at Brandon this morning, (The Cymbeline Lister) allbeit staying put in the nature centre and I wish him a speedy recovery after his recent illness!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Wednesday Update!

The briefest of visits to Napton church yard on Tuesday morning in search of early Spotted Flycatchers produced little of note, but to be honest I didn't really do it justice with imminent chores to complete back aboard!

Lesser Whitethroat - Right Place, Right Time!
A not so early start at Brandon Marsh today after the early morning rain had moved through produced the usual selection of Warblers. These included a Grasshopper Warbler, well photographed recently and still reeling on Swallow Pool reeds opposite the Golf Course and Lesser Whitethroat, which is still singing away just further along the path near Olive Bench. In fact as I passed by he popped up and I managed a slightly better shot than my previous attempt. A good showing of Garden Warbler today too with (5) recorded around the reserve.

Hobby Record Shot - My 1st This Year!
With low cloud and a slight drizzle a good number of Hirundines were low over the pools, which included a dozen or so House Martins, but these were way outnumbered by a real increase in Swifts today, brought down by the low cloud ceiling. Around mid-morning the cloud dissipated to give way, despite the forecast, to a pretty decent morning and while down at the screened area on Newlands my first Hobby of the year swooped in before flying high towards the golf course.

I was hoping that the overnight rain may have brought in something new to the pools, sadly not and today's Wader numbers included (2) Ringed Plover, (6) Little-ringed Plover, (4) Redshank, (2) Oystercatcher, (2) Common Sandpiper, plus three Lapwing chicks on Wigeon Bank. Also of note: (2) Common Tern, (2) Cuckoo, (4) Buzzard, (2) Sparrowhawk and (1) Kestrel.

Small White
With decent conditions for most of the morning, a reasonable number of Butterflies were on the wing, which included: (17) Orange Tip, (1) Brimstone, (2) Small Tortoiseshell, (4) Green-veined White, (2) Comma, (2) Peacock and (1) Small White.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Bank Holiday Roundup!

Brandon Marsh now has the full set of regular summer visitors with all species now reported or recorded as being on site. However, there are a few disappointments, with Kingfisher sightings few and far between and Common Terns, which failed to produce any young in 2012, extremely thin on the ground.

Willow Tit at Brandon Marsh
Early morning visits over the weekend have failed to produce anything out of the ordinary but at least three Grasshopper Warblers have been a regular feature and some of the Brandon regulars are coming up with some superb images of these elusive birds. A record of (2) Redwing for me on Saturday morning is my latest sighting ever of these winter visitors. A day hunting Barn Owl also on Saturday morning is a good sign, with the possibility of young to feed! Also of note this morning were (3) Shelduck, (1) Yellow Wagtail and (2) Willow Tit.

New Arrivals - Cute Or What?
Here at the marina (5) Ravens flew south heading towards Napton Hill on Friday morning and the resident Mute Swans have produced young for the third consecutive year, with (7) Cygnets. At least (2) Lesser Whitethroat have been very vocal, with one still singing just before sunset tonight. At least (1) White Wagtail was in with the usual Pied Wagtail roost this evening and (2) Common Tern passed through late afternoon. The reed beds have come alive with both Reed and Sedge Warbler in song, but sadly I've had no sightings of Little Owl or Cuckoo, regulars here in early May over previous years.

♂Orange Tip - Oxford Canal
With the warm weather come the Butterflies and finally the first Orange Tips are beginning to appear in reasonable numbers both locally and at Brandon, also recorded today my first Common Blue of the year.

This afternoon Dee and I went in search of a Turtle Dove, which has been a regular visitor to an area of the Oxford Canal near Flecknoe for the past three years. Sadly on arrival we discovered that the local farmer has installed a bird scarer close by to protect his crops, in fact it went off during our visit and scared the s*** out of us, were not hopefully of a fourth consecutive year. However, good numbers of Yellowhammer and Linnet were seen during our walk along the towpath, plus Lesser Whitethroat and Skylark.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Scarce Visitor!

Its always nice wherever you are in the world when your the finder of something scarce, but it's even more exciting when you find it on your home territory, and in particular somewhere you regard as your second home.

♀Woodchat Shrike - Scarce Visitor
I arrived at Brandon Marsh just as the sun was creeping over the horizon and took my now usual route across the 'Tip' area and around Farm Field. The first highlight of my day was actually seeing my first Garden Warbler of the year, strangely something that had eluded me over the previous week.

♀Woodchat Shrike With Breakfast!
A Cuckoo was calling but I never quite made eye contact and I stopped for while as I always think it's nice sometimes to let the birds come to you. Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat all made an appearance and after moving off once again a check of Old Hare Covert and down towards the River Avon revealed a Starling with nesting materials, Green Woodpecker and the usual hoard of cackling Jackdaws.

The farm area was pretty quiet save for (2) Linnet and a few early morning Swallows, quite a rarity to Brandon a Collard Dove was sitting on the phone wires across on Brandon Lane. On the reed bed Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and a Grasshopper Warbler reeling away over towards the Willow Wood.

Lesser Whitethroat - FINALLY!
What followed next was strange enough as I could have easily missed this bird! Pausing on the top bund which crosses the reedbeds to listen to the Gropper, I had a final scan of the Farm Pool Reedbed and immediately spotted something I know very well from my trips to France and Spain, Woodchat Shrike. Unmistakable in the bright morning sun and nowhere to be seen when I passed the exact area minutes before. A really exciting find and only the second in Brandon's history, I actually missed the last one in 2009. Also worth a mention and with attention firmly on the Shrike, a Muntjac Deer went almost completely un-noticed, watching us watching the Shrike!

Marsh Marigold
With business in the late morning I managed another couple of hours heading off around the rest of the reserve, finally managing a few shots of the Lesser Whitethroat, which has been singing its heart out for well over a fortnight near the 'Olive bench'. Great to see the Marsh Marigold in full flower, along with the 'Cuckoo Flower' Ladies Smock and the Bluebells are also out in New Hare Covert.

A few Butterflies on the wing mid morning and these included: (5) Comma, (4) Peacock, (1) Brimstone and (1) Small White. My first actual view of a Gropper this year with a brief glimpse of a reeling bird in the Swallow Pool reeds opposite the golf course. No time to do the pools any justice today but several Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel were all enjoying the thermals however, I still await my first Hobby of 2013!