Sunday, March 31, 2013

Blank March!

Typical morning view from aboard!
Having been hammered by a real bout of man-flu over the last 48 hours I was determined to drag myself out this morning no matter what. Another reason for wanting to get out today was the fact that I can't remember the last time I've failed to record local Sand Martin, Swallow or Willow Warbler in the month of March.

It seems that over the past weeks the weather routine has resembled something similar to ground-hog day. I wake up to a frozen canal and beautiful sunshine, the canal thaws, the cloud comes late afternoon, the skies then clear, temperatures plummet and the canal freezes over once more!

Fieldfare moving through
When I finally stepped off the boat this morning I was greeted by a cacophony of Fieldfare passing overhead. By the time I reached the car park Linnet, Redwing and Meadow Pipit were also among the flock ground feeding on the top meadow. I also managed to pick out a single Chiffchaff within the Hawthorn, once again only calling and not in full song.

When I reached Brandon Marsh I noticed a good few birds ground feeding on the 'Tip' area and decided that instead of making my way to the hides I'd have a walk down to river meadow and the farm area in the hope of catching any spring arrivals. Nearly all the ground feeders were Redwing, along with (2) Song Thrush and (8) Goldfinch.

Chiffchaff (still not singing)
Old Hare Covert held a dozen or so Jackdaw, several Starling and (3) very frisky Great-spotted Woodpecker, their drumming and calling constant. However, the best was a lone Brambling in flight which disappeared into the covert and which I was unable to relocate. As I walked around the Farm Field area Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard and Kestrel were recorded along with another 'hweeting' Chiffchaff. A couple of Nuthatch were calling high up in the Poplar and when I arrived back at my car in the volunteers car park for a coffee no less than 6 Jay were having a real set-to in Horsetail Glade.

Finally catching up with a few of the chaps on my way to the hides it appears that once again things have been happening during my absence, with no less than three separate Marsh Harriers recorded, along with Woodcock and Chiffchaff actually singing. The best I managed during my brief visit to the hides was a single Little-ringed Plover on East Marsh and Chiffchaff (not singing) on the Oak tree next to Carlton Hide!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Migration?

GS Grebe - 1 of 4 today at Brandon!
With various commitments over the last week taking priority over my birding, today was my first opportunity to get back out into the thick of things. Having said that the spring migration, so eagerly awaited by us all, seems to be on hold thanks to a persistent northern high pressure system blocking any Atlantic fronts and blowing in bitterly cold easterlies!

My thoughts go out to those few hardy Swallows and Sand Martins that have actually managed to make it through, god only knows what fate awaits them. As some of you may know one of the ♀ Rutland Ospreys returned as early as March 21st and watching her on the live web-cam, one can only watch in admiration as she seems to be coping extremely well, returning occasionally with a nice fish.

Over the last several days I've managed to miss a few goodies at Brandon Marsh, a classic ♂Marsh Harrier on Friday, as Jim Rushforth described it, two Rock Pipits on East Marsh Pool on Sunday, thanks to Fred Stokes and yesterday the first Little-ringed Plover of the year, plus a fly-by Little Gull.

Chiffchaff - New Arrival or Wintering?
Arriving at Brandon this morning to complete a full species count just after sunrise, my first stop was New Hare Covert, recording a couple of Great-crested Grebe on the aptly named Grebe Pool on route.

My walk takes me past Sheep Field and during my time at Brandon this area has always been the place to find the first singing Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Whitethroat of the spring, and usually in that order. Today no singing individual but this guy gave himself up by his familiar 'hweet' call, a new arrival or a wintering bird?

By the time I reached Wright Hide I'd managed the usual woodland birds with: Great-Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Nuthatch. A lone Kestrel looked frozen solid on one of the Hawthorn as I passed the golf course, but as I opened the hide flaps a first sign of spring with (2) Little-ringed Plover on Willow Island. Also of note on East Marsh: A second pair of Great-crested Grebe, (1) Little Grebe, (1) ♂Pochard, (2) Oystercatcher and (4) Shelduck. The best of the wildfowl numbers were 41 Shoveler and 14 Gadwall.

Redwing - 120+ today opposite the main exit
There are still small numbers of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll to be found, mostly ground feeding on windfall near the Wright Hide and when passing Farm Field I inadvertently flushed 15 Snipe, which unusually were feeding on a flooded area near the farm. Unfortunately the remainder of the reserve failed to yield any surprises with the best of the regulars being (3) Common Buzzard and a single Sparrowhawk.

Finally, just as I was about to enter Brandon Lane on the way home I noticed a number of birds on the field opposite the exit. When I went to investigate I stumbled on over (120) Redwing ground feeding, along with (6) Pied Wagtail and a dozen or so Goldfinch. Well worth keeping an eye on that one over the coming months!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Forest of Dean

Mandarin Ducks at Cannop Pond
I'd Managed to secure the use of the Trust's minibus on Monday and so myself and fifteen of the Brandon team headed off to the Forest of Dean for the day. Target birds: Goshawk, Manadarin Duck and Peregrine.

Another Gorgeous Manadarin
The Forest of Dean has been recognised as one of the best places in the UK to see Mandarin Ducks and a count by the RSPB in 2010 found there to be almost 250 Mandarins, mostly living around Cannop Ponds, so this was our first stop.

Mandarin ducks are not native to this country, they are native to the far East and first appeared in this particular area in the late 1980's, having escaped into the wild. The Forest is actually the most important place in Britain for them and despite being an invasive species to the UK these beautiful birds don't seem to be causing problems for any of our native species.

We enjoyed around 45 minutes with the Mandarins in cracking conditions, a Mistle Thrush constantly in song throughout our stay and during the visit I also recorded of note: Grey Wagtail, Little Grebe, Nuthatch, Jay and Raven.

New Fancy Viewpoint!
Our next stop was New Fancy Viewpoint, formerly the site of the New Fancy coal mine and the old spoil heap now provides spectacular views across the Forest. It is an ideal place to watch birds of prey soaring above the woodland and in particular at this time of year Goshawk.

During our stay the conditions were ideal, with plenty of fair weather cloud and light winds. It wasn't long before the first Common Buzzard were spotted taking advantage of the odd thermal and not to be outdone, several Raven were also noted. Albeit brief, a Mistle Thrush gave some great views atop a conifer, but of course the main event was the Goshawks and today they did not disappoint. Three birds recorded during our stay, sadly too high and distant for any spectacular photographs but an absolute delight to watch soaring in the breeze.

Wild Peregrines have long been associated with Symonds Yat Rock and so we decided to have lunch here. Peregrines bred well here until the early 1950's when the effects of pesticides drastically reduced the national population. In 1982 the re-occupation of this site started when three young were reared but the following year the nest was robbed. After this event in 1984 the RSPB, in co-operation with the Forestry Commission made a protection scheme and for the first time Peregrine Falcons in the wild were shown to tourists. Since then the Rock has had many visitors to see the Falcons and volunteers have helped to safeguard these impressive birds.

Although too early for breeding a couple of these stunning Falcons were seen throughout our stay and although the cloud cover had increased the rain held off. Unusually for the daytime a Tawny Owl was clearly heard calling but unfortunately we were unable to locate the bird. A Nuthatch also kept us entertained with several visits to the strategically placed nuts and several sorties to a nearby nest box. Also seen during our stay: At least 6 Fallow Deer, more Mandarin Duck on the river Wye below and the totally unexpected sight of two more Goshawks in display flight!!

Avocet in the Rain
After lunch a visit to Parkend Church, a good spot on occasions for Hawfinch. With none reported recently it was a shot in the dark but although we drew a blank on the these elusive finches the visit paid off with at least (4) Brambling.

Finally, a stop off at Upton Warren NR on route home. Despite the rain beginning to fall it was still an enjoyable end to the day recording of note: (16) Avocet, (11) Curlew, (2) Oystercatcher and a cacophony of noise from the many Black-headed Gulls on site.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Brief Update

River Avon in flood again!
I've been out and about on several occasions since getting back from Norfolk last Monday but to be honest there hasn't been much new to report on. Still, at this time of year it's all about anticipation with some early migrants already arriving back into the UK, so there's no telling what might show up.

During Thursdays work party at Brandon, when the team prepared the Islands and Sand Martin structure for the forthcoming nesting season, I recorded my first Butterfly of the year with a Peacock on the wing in the lovely sunshine.

Visits to Brandon Marsh today and yesterday proved to be a wash out weather wise with no sign of the recent Green-winged Teal, which was likely out on the flood plain with other Teal. Yesterday morning a brief visit from a lone Dunlin on East Marsh Pool, Water Rail, (4) Oystercatcher, (2) Willow Tit and (2) Goldcrest were the only other highlights. Unfortunately, heavy overnight rain sent the Avon back into flood this morning and by the time I'd visited Carlton and Big Hide in my wellies, the water had already risen by a few inches along the Central Marsh Path.

Elusive Cetti's Warbler
Currently there are plenty of birds calling with Water Rail, Little Grebe and Cetti's Warbler very vocal today. Some of our winter visitors are still around and Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and Redwing were also recorded. Worth mentioning too that the ringing team had a Chiffchaff in the nets earlier, but obviously no way of telling whether the bird is a new arrival or a wintering one.

The past week at the marina has had a pair of Common Buzzard in display, several Skylarks in full song and a small build up of Yellowhammer around the place. I've also noticed that a few Fieldfare are roosting, there were at least 3 this evening. Finally, I had to laugh earlier in the week when one of the moorers reported seeing a Rat at my bird feeding station, demanding that we have traps placed all around the grounds. HELLO!! We live in the country!! Town folk with boats......

Monday, March 11, 2013

Norfolk Sunday

My Beach Hidie Hole!
Saturdays heavy rain had given way to snow flurries when I set off for Holme Dunes first thing Sunday. For those unfamiliar with the site: Holme has a range of coastal habitats including sand dunes, freshwater pools, grazing marsh and saltmarsh. Much of the site consists of natural habitats maintained largely by coastal processes.

With the strong wind whipping up the snow flurries it was impossible to walk and bird against it so I decided to find a decent sheltered spot and hunker down for a while. The pools were mainly taken up by large numbers of Wigeon with a few Teal and Gadwall mingled in, the beach held a selection of Waders battling away against the elements including: Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Grey Plover, Ruff, Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher. A group of around 20 or so Snow Buntings passed over at one stage followed by a couple of Skylark. Despite exceptional numbers of Gulls there wasn't a 'white-winger' to be found and the only sea duck located was a lone Common Scoter.

After a half hour or so I put my back to the wind and ended up near the Hunstanton Golf Links. Here sheltering within the Hawthorn and Blackthorn was a lone Chiffchaff and a rather bedraggled looking ♂Brambling!

Another look at RSPB Titchwell and here I managed better views of the ♀Long-tailed Duck with the only additions to Saturdays visit being (3) Spotted Redshank and (4) Ruff. I didn't bother going to the beach, it was simply impossible.

A flooded Holkham produced 100's of Wigeon, Greylag Geese, (2) Marsh Harrier and a lone Common Buzzard. Of course the Pink-footed Geese are already on route back to Greenland.

Turnstone - Battling The Elements!
Salhouse next for my customary coffee from the 'man in a van' and with the weather brightening slightly an opportunity to get the camera out for only the second time. Can't say this has been one of my luckiest visits to Norfolk, with yesterdays Snow Buntings nowhere to be found. However, you can always rely on the resident Turnstones to produce!

My final stop of the weekend was at Cley, where I managed several Red-legged Partridge in the adjacent fields, (2) Little Egret, another Marsh Harrier and a couple of mad March Hares. Finally, a few shots in the gloom of the many Avocets at Cley, a nice way to end the weekend!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Atrocious Norfolk

Simply put I don't think I can remember a time when I've been out birding in such horrendous conditions! A constant easterly with a wind chill of around -3C and the rain relentless since starting out first thing this morning. As I arrived back at the hotel just after 5pm, it had finally turned totally to snow.

I met up with Steve Chapman, a former regular at Brandon Marsh who's been lucky enough to move to Norfolk recently, at a relatively deserted RSPB Titchwell just after breakfast. After donning the wets we decided to start at the feeding station area, where among the usual Finches were 2♂ and 1♀Brambling, plus a lone Siskin. A brief look at Fen Hide produced little and so off towards the Freshwater Marsh recording good numbers of Snipe over the wet meadow, Little Egret, Cetti's Warbler, Skylark in song (what was he thinking) and several Meadow Pipit. A short stop at Island Hide proved pointless with the wind and rain hammering through the flaps.

Finally some respite at the Parrinder Hides and here we spent around 45 minutes drying out with of note:Long-tailed Duck, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Pintail, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Pochard, Wigeon and Shelduck.

A walk down to the beach had a lone Spotted Redshank on Volunteer Marsh and the briefest of visits against the bitter wind had: Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Turnstone. A sea watch was just impossible and at any rate frost bite was setting in! To add to our tally Marsh Harrier, Golden Plover, Brent Goose and Grey Partridge were all noted on route back to the car, plus a possible ping of Bearded Tit, but I'm not convinced.

Before Cley Marshes a stop at Choseley Barns, were the best we could do was a single Corn Bunting and a couple of Yellowhammer. Coffee at Cley and after drying off yet again a walk to The hides overlooking Pats Pool produced nothing further of note, dipping on the reported Spoonbills. However, the 30 or so Avocet huddled in the middle are well worth a mention.

Salthouse next and by this time the sea was starting to crash near to the shingle and the rain was beginning to turn to sleet, but this didn't seem to bother (7) Snow Bunting feeding happily near the car park, occasionally joined by the resident Turnstone population. At this point the coast guard turned up and after a brief chat turns out that they were on the lookout for a guy in a kayak who had unfortunately gone missing near Gt. Yarmouth.

Totally bedraggled our final destination was Cley beach and here a walk to the disused pillbox flushed a couple of Pipits, one of which turned out to be a Water Pipit, the other we failed to relocate.

Finally, Steve totally pulled one out of the bag, with a Purple Sandpiper feeding on one of the small pools along with good numbers of Dunlin, Turnstone and Golden Plover. A good birding day but an atrocious days weather!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Early Movement

Great-crested Grebe from Wright Hide
After what seems like the longest winter ever finally things are on the move, albeit slowly. With the winds to the south over the past few days a few early migrants are already starting to make UK landfall.

Today several Northern Wheatear reports in addition to a single Swallow and a couple of Sand Martin sightings earlier in the week. Despite the weather reverting back to wet and windy over the coming days I'm certainly looking forward to my long weekend in Norfolk, with the hope of further early migrants dropping in.

Grey Wagtail at the Lafarge works
I've made the most of the glorious weather over the last few days with a couple of visits to Brandon Marsh (Ringed Plover on Sunday) and several sorties around the locality but my bird of the week has to be a Ringed-necked Parakeet, which bizarrely flew over the car while I was waiting at traffic lights coming out of Leamington Spa this afternoon!

This morning I located Brandon's current Green-winged Teal, not on River Pool where it's spent all of it's stay thus far, but on East Marsh Pool, fast asleep on Willow Island. Probably due to River Pool being partly frozen first thing!

Despite the glorious weather not too much on offer the best of which were: (3) Goldcrest, (4) Song Thrush in song, (4) Oystercatcher, (2) Great-crested Grebe, (6) Shelduck, (6) Snipe, (7) Lesser Redpoll ground feeding near Wright Hide, Yellow-legged Gull and a lone Grey Wagtail at the Lafarge works. No sight or sound of Bittern to my knowledge this week (no booming Bitterns ever recorded at Brandon) and it's around the time they normally move on so time will tell.

Local Chaffinch in action!
Locally Redwing and Fieldfare are becoming more scarce as they move further north-east but my feeders are still getting a hammering from the local Sparrow, Chaffinch and Goldfinch population. Three Ravens have been taking advantage of the odd thermal over Napton recently and two Common Buzzard were also displaying over the marina. The most encouraging signs have been several Skylark on the wing and in full song, always a delight!

Yesterday evening Dee and I listened to a couple of Muntjac Deer calling around bedtime and there are also signs that a local Fox has been active within the marina. I'm also keeping an eye on the local Coots, who have an unfortunate habit of building nests on various boat decks, only to be extracted when the owner arrives at the weekend and fancies a cruise out!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Saturday Birding!

♂Brambling at Brandon Marsh
Good start to the day with two Muntjac Deer on the road at Stockton as I made my way to Brandon Marsh this morning.

In fact it was an excellent start all around with a text from JR as soon as I'd parked up at Brandon 'Brambling in the nets'. I made a quick dash to the ringing area just in time to see this wonderful specimen being weighed and measured before release.

Making my way around the rest of the reserve this morning there was plenty of bird song on offer with Song Thrush, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler and at least three Goldcrest calling. At least three Great-spotted Woodpecker were constantly on the go in Horsetail Glade. Interesting too  that even at this early stage in March Treecreepers are already pairing up, with two pairs seen during my visit.

Treecreepers already pairing up!
The main East Marsh Pool was reasonably quiet with Sparrowhawk over, the long staying Yellow-legged Gull, (2) Shelduck, (4) Snipe and (2) Great-crested Grebe the best on offer. A very brief visit to a noisy Carlton Hide, where apparently I'd missed a Bittern by minutes and an even shorter stay at the screen area where (2) Oystercatcher and a second pair of Shelduck were seen.

A Willow Tit on my way to my final stop of the visit, River Pool Hide, for another look at the recently arrived Green-winged Teal, which I found fast asleep on the bund in between River and Teal Pool. Also of note on River Pool a third pair of Shelduck and (2) Water Rail getting quite frisky with each other, spring is definitely in the air!