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.