Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Weeks Review

Last Thursday morning was a real treat at Brandon Marsh with Teal Pool hosting a selection of birds that any local birder would be delighted with and what's more all showing at close range. The selection contained: (3) Green Sandpiper, (1) Common Sandpiper, (1) Wood Sandpiper, (1) Greenshank, juvenile Water Rail and from Big Hide a short time later, a distant Red Kite thrown in for good measure. A birder with a camera's dream, sadly guess who'd inexplicably left his at home!!

Green Sandpiper - Teal Pool Hide (Monday)
Over the weekend period the settled high pressure finally gave way and normal summer service was restored! With heavy torrential rain forecast overnight Saturday and into Sunday the signs looked good for any early passage migrants to drop in during the deluge. Unfortunately a morning visit on the Saturday, which was remarkably quiet save for a couple of Green sandpiper and single Common, was all I could manage with other commitments keeping me away until Monday. It came as no surprise therefore to get a text message with news of a summer plumage Turnstone at Brandon Sunday morning. After five years working and birding at Brandon, this would have been a site first for me so a little disappointing.

Goldfinch - Several feeding on the thistle around the screen area!
Notwithstanding, an early morning visit yesterday (Monday) paid off, with the Turnstone still on East Marsh Pool and very grateful to get another Brandon first, incredibly my sixth new Brandon species this year! Before leaving (4) Mistle Thrush from the screen area and several close feeding Goldfinch offered a few nice photographic opportunities.

Large Skipper
Today was my normal Tuesday visit to Brandon Marsh and despite rain in the forecast I managed a totally dry morning. A walk past a rather quiet Sheep Field and through New Hare Covert had a couple of Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker. However, just prior to entering Teal Pool Hide a small foraging flock produced Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Tit, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Other birding highlights of the day included: (7) Oystercatcher, Little-ringed Plover, Hobby and a summer plumage Dunlin on East Marsh Pool.

Peacock - Seemed to be everywhere today!
A walk around the River Meadow and Farm Pool areas with Jim, Derek and Martin produced a superb array of butterflies, far too abundant to complete a realistic count with 14 species noted, including a 2013 first Small Copper and increased numbers of Common Blue and Red Admiral from recent previous visits. Strangely only two dragonfly species noted today with Brown Hawker and Black-tailed Skimmer.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Flying Things!

It's that time of year when I give up a few paragraphs of my blog over to one of my other passions in life and no surprises when I tell you that it also involves flying things!

Stunning Flypast!
Each year Dee and I pay a Saturday visit to RAF Fairford during the weekend of the Royal International Air Tattoo. This year we were joined by our dear friends John and Pat Gibson, John being somewhat of an aviation expert, formerly the engineering director for Monarch Airways and always worth a good aviation story, not to mention a fountain of information.

Brietling Super Constellation - My all-time favourite!
The two main highlights for me this year was firstly the Brietling Super Constellation, an aircraft capable of crossing the Atlantic without any stop-overs, but unfortunately only on static display and the previously unseen flypast of the Red Arrows alongside British Airways spanking new Airbus A380, a real sight to behold.

B-25J Mitchell with the amazing F4 Corsair
Other personal highlights were the 1949 Hawker Sea Fury, Red Bull's immaculate B-25J Mitchell, a gleaming silver World War Two era bomber and accompanied in flight by the F4 Corsair. The Swedish Air Force SAAB JAS-39 Gripen with it's superb maneuverability and of course the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Red Arrows and the Avro Vulcan Bomber XH558, a terrific day out!

Another Show Stopper! 1949 Hawker Sea Fury...
Back to the birding and a visit to a very thundery Brandon Marsh early morning, which despite a slow birding time of year threw up a few goodies. Firstly a couple of Common Snipe, my first since the spring and later in the morning a very nice looking Wood Sandpiper flew in around 10:30 am. Also of note: Hobby (1), Common Sandpiper (1), Green Sandpiper (1), Little-ringed Plover (4), Oystercatcher (4) and Common Tern (5), not including the two young birds which appear to be doing quite well on the nesting rafts.

Speckled Wood at Brandon Today.
After the morning downpours a significant improvement in the weather after lunch enabled Derek, Mike and I to take a tour of the Tip and Farm Pool areas of the reserve, where a host of butterflies, damselfly and dragonflies were on the wing in the now humid conditions.

Dragonflies of note: Southern Hawker, Black-tailed Skimmer and Brown Hawker. Butterflies Noted: Marbled White (6), Large White (5), Gatekeeper (7), Peacock (2), Comma (5), Red Admiral (2), Small Skipper (2), Large Skipper (1), Small Tortoiseshell (3),  Speckled Wood (2), Brimstone (1) plus excellent numbers of Small White, Green-vein White, Meadow Brown and Ringlet.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Glorious Summer!

A third consecutive weekend out on the Canal sums up what's fast becoming one of the best summer periods for several years. There's no doubt too that it's not only great for us boaters but for the UK's resident and visiting wildlife as a whole. After suffering a few disasters over the previous few years our visiting warblers, hirundines and swifts for example, finally have food a plenty and in lots of cases appear to be enjoying second broods.

Another glorious weekend out on the UK waterways!
Looking back at some of my butterfly records over previous years things are looking a little brighter too for a number of local species, in particular Meadow Brown and Ringlet, which seem to be everywhere at the moment, but of course only time will tell as to whether the recovery is significant or not!

Sedge Warbler busy feeding young.
Dee and I literally spent the whole of the weekend moored under a large willow tree on the Oxford Canal near Flecknoe, just watching the world go by, in fact from a boating perspective the canal resembled the M25 motorway at times and so being moored was a bonus, particularly in the 30C+.

Linnet - Seem to be in good numbers this year.
Even spending a short time in one place you get a feel for the local wildlife and I spent a lot of the time watching a pair of Sedge Warblers caring for their young, constantly in and out of the undergrowth opposite. Also nesting close by were Common Whitethroat, Dunnock and Moorhen, the latter of which seemed to be only caring for one chick. In the evening a huge number of Jackdaws could be heard at a distant roost and at one point a small party were overhead heading off a couple of local Buzzard. The dawn chorus, which with all of the hatches and windows open seemed to be almost deafening at times, has a different edge to it on the canal with Linnet, such a lovely song, along with Goldfinch and Yellowhammer. Sadly no Owls during our stay, something we normally never fail to see, with Barn Owls a regular feature on this stretch of canal.

Of course a summer weekend wouldn't be complete without the company of butterflies and these included excellent numbers of Ringlet and various numbers of: Meadow Brown, Small White, Large White, Marbled White, Large Skipper, Comma, Speckled Wood and Brimstone, plus a single Fritillary flew by, sadly too quick for a positive ID. Lots of Brown Hawker dragonflies busily feeding on the many insects but never landing long enough to entice me out of my chair to attempt a photograph.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


After our recent trip to Canada and unscheduled few days in Scotland things are finally returning to some normality!

Weekend on the Oxford canal
Like most people I've been out and about enjoying the countryside in 'summer' and have even managed a couple of weekend cruises out along the Oxford Canal. These produced numerous butterflies, odanata and bird species including of note: Lesser Whitethroat, Yellow Wagtail, Common Tern, Barn Owl,  and a dozen or so Yellowhammer. On Saturday evening a Daubenton's Bat entertained us skimming over the water close to the boat on several occasions.

Friday last had Dee and I completing our annual Glow Worm search at Brandon Marsh and this year we were joined by several of the Brandon volunteers and wives. I'm happy to report that these charming little bio-luminescent insects seem to be doing reasonably well and for a few of the team it was actually their first experience of seeing one. From my perspective it seems that this current hot spell has somehow rebooted the whole of nature and it was a real surprise to find no less than three Grasshopper Warblers reeling away at Brandon during our late evening visit. Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Sedge Warbler were all recorded in full song and hopefully this bodes well for what could possibly be the forerunner to second broods.

Meadow Brown - Considerable numbers at Brandon today!
Today's visit to Brandon Marsh in glorious sunshine produced a whole host of flying bugs, odanata, and butterflies on the wing, the breakdown of which were: (3) Marbled White, (4) Speckled Wood, (1) Common Blue,  (4) Comma, (3) Small Skipper, (6) Large Skipper, (1) Small Heath, (1) Red Admiral, (1) Brimstone, (2) Large White and (3) Small Tortoiseshell. I literally stopped counting Meadow Brown and Ringlet, which were in considerable numbers throughout the reserve. Brown Hawker, Common Hawker, Southern Hawker and Black-tailed Skimmer Dragonflies, plus Azure, Common, Red-eyed Damselfly and Banded Demoiselle were also recorded.

Longhorn Beetle
On the birding front, not too much time devoted to the hides with Hobby, Sparrowhawk, (2) Green Sandpiper and the usual selection of youngsters, which included Oystercatcher, Little-ringed Plover, Great-crested Grebe, Lapwing, Mute Swan, Gadwall and Tufted Duck.

The only disappointment to an otherwise excellent visit was when Mike, Derek and I reached River Meadow to find it being mutilated by a grass cutting tractor. A real disaster from a conservation point of view, as the meadow had been looking stunning with lots of wild plants, odanata, bugs and butterflies. As we arrived just after the event butterflies had been dislodged and were literally everywhere and plants had simply not been given a chance to seed, a real disaster zone. As this is not currently part of the BMVCT remit and totally out of our hands, I have spoken to the trust manager and the chairman of our group in the hope that the grass cutting timings can be reviewed.