Monday, March 31, 2014

Playing catch-up!

With family commitments keeping me up in the north-west for the weekend my birding exploits over the period have been non existent. Fortunately, the chaps at Brandon have kept me abreast of the situation and of course the inevitable happened when I received a text on Sunday morning, 'Osprey over East Marsh Pool', many thanks to FS for keeping me up to speed!

Willow Warbler - Another Amazing Journey!
Notwithstanding I arrived at Brandon Marsh at first light this morning, a little later than normal thanks to the onset of 'British Summer Time'. With the present airflow over the UK my hopes were for a few new arrivals dropping in and I began with a circuit of the 'Tip' area, Farm Field and Top Reedbed.

A couple of Blackcap were happily singing away when I reached John's allotment and as I turned along the bund towards the old farm buildings the song of my first Willow Warbler of the year. A single Redwing, becoming few and far between now, Skylark, (2) Linnet and (2) Chifchaff, plus signs of the many cherry trees beginning to take blossom along the Brandon Lane boundary. As I turned to cross between the Farm and Top Pool reedbeds quite a scruffy looking Stonechat appeared on top of the protruding willow but my eye was then taken to a second bird low in the rose-hip. This turned out to be my second first of the year, a Sedge Warbler, a bird I normally hear first at this time of the year before actually connecting with.

Blackcap - One of today's new arrivals?
From here, two Great-crested grebe on Grebe Pool and then a leisurely stroll down to the East Marsh Pool through New Hare Covert produced three more Blackcap, a definite influx since Friday and a second Willow Warbler to the rear of Wright Hide. A Little-ringed Plover was calling over the pool, occasionally settling on Willow island, but had moved on by the time I reached East Marsh Hide. Other notable's on the pool: (2) Great-crested Grebe, (4) Redshank, (4) Oystercatcher, (1) Shelduck, (2) Wigeon and (8) Snipe. After a trip to Carlton Pool, where I'm sad to say that the dreaded Crassula helmsii is making an unwelcome return, I settled back at East Marsh Hide.

The remainder of my stay in the hide had my first Stoat at Brandon for some time, when a cagey looking character came up to the left of the hide, posing briefly but sadly too fast for me to grab the camera. Also the encouraging sight of two Sand Martin taking nesting materials into one of our nesting structures. Before heading off, a nice chat with Mr Potter and a walk through Horsetail Glade which gave up two more singing Blackcap and a singing Goldcrest. Butterflies on the wing included (3) Small Tortoiseshell, (7) Peacock and a single Comma.

Finally back at the Marina a singing Willow Warbler and a hatrick of year firsts for the day, when a ♀Orange Tip butterfly graced the car park.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Calm During The Storms!

With high pressure over Scandinavia feeding in rather chilly easterly winds across many areas along with a scattering of heavy and thundery showers, the last few days have proved to be quite frustrating on the migration front. However, there's better news for the coming weekend with a change to brighter and warmer conditions as the winds veer more south-easterly.

One of today's singing Chiffchaffs - Canon SX 50
An early start Thursday morning at Brandon Marsh before heading off with the work party gave me an opportunity for a look around the Farm Field and top reedbed. A Yellowhammer, quite rare to Brandon was in full song up near the farm and other notables were: (4) Redwing, (2) Linnet and a Goldcrest. As I worked my way around the reserve and on through New Hare Covert a couple of Blackcap were in song. A further sighting of a Marsh Harrier as I passed Newlands may well have been the one I first spotted on the top reedbed on Tuesday, but it was too distant to gain a comparison, so the jury is out. Other highlights were (4) Lesser Redpoll near the Wright Hide and a Red Kite, which drifted south over the River Avon while the team were working on the screen to the back of Carlton Hide.

The Zander Boys!
Arrived at a very misty Brandon this morning (Friday) and although my cup is always half full I wasn't too surprised to find no further spring arrivals. In fact it was one of the quietest visits I've had in some time! Notable's for the morning were a couple of Grey Wagtail, (4) Lesser Redpoll, (1) Blackcap, (3) Cetti's Warbler (heard only), a bakers dozen of singing Chiffchaffs and single House Sparrow, another rarity to Brandon, which greeted me as I passed through the top gate. Plenty of Hirundines late morning, but all Sand Martin and at least a half dozen Buzzard were on the wing. My predictions for the weekend: The first Swallows and Willow Warblers at Brandon and possibly even an early Reed Warbler or two, naturally I'm out of town for the duration!

Back at the Marina the 'Zander Boys' were doing their annual stunning of this invasive species! Each year they pass down the pontoons using the above pictured piece of kit. Electricity is passed through the water stunning the fish which then float to the top and can easily be caught. After extracting the Zander other native species simply wake after a very short period and swim off, fascinating to watch.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Migration Update#3

Leaving the Marina just after first light for Brandon Marsh and a quick check of the feeders turned up a half dozen of the local Tree Sparrow population, noisy lot too but always a pleasure to see! Unsurprisingly a quick scan around before heading off had no sign of any overnight arrivals. A dank and rainy day ensued with a slight easterly wind and could not have been any further from yesterdays springlike weather.

Marsh Harrier perched nicely on willow at the top reedbed!
Despite the gloom I was cheered as I turned into the reserve from Brandon Lane when there perched atop a small willow right in the centre of the top reedbed was the unmistakable sight of a Marsh Harrier. I managed to get Jim, Derek and Martin onto the bird who was still quite happily perched as we made our way down to the pools a half hour later.

After pressing play ensure the 'cogwheel' is clicked on and that resolution 720p is selected to watch in high quality HD.

Yesterdays two Avocets were still on East Marsh Pool, occasionally transiting across to Teal Pool. Although quite close in the light was pretty poor for photographs so I've posted a little video of one of the birds feeding in the rain on Teal Pool.

The rest of the visit produced no new spring arrivals until lunchtime, when a couple of Little-ringed Plover dropped onto East Marsh Pool. The only Hirundines recorded also didn't show until having lunch in East Marsh Hide with a count of sixteen Sand Martin.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Migration Update#2

A really frosty start at the Marina this morning with the on-board weather station showing a chilly -3.5C. A stroll around the Marina grounds produced (2) Yellowhammer and (2) Skylark in song and the first singing Chiffchaff near the dog walking paddock. At least eight Pied Wagtail were on site but unfortunately not a white one among them.

One of two Avocet in the harsh morning sun!
Although the winds are currently in completely the wrong direction, with such a clear night I had high hopes of my first Willow Warbler or Swallow at Brandon Marsh this morning. What I actually got was a real surprise thanks to JR, when two Avocet were busy feeding on East Marsh Pool. After changing my route it wasn't long before I settled at Wright Hide for a few record shots. In fact the birds were still on site at one o'clock when I departed and amazingly had been displaying on several occasions, at one point they even looked to be nest building!

Another record shot of this mornings Avocets.
No further additions to the weekends arrivals but (32) Fieldfare were recorded over Willow Wood and other notables included: (3) Lesser Redpoll, (4) Chiffchaff, (2) Blackcap, (5) Sand Martin, (4) Goldcrest, (2) Linnet and a very credible (8) Common Buzzard enjoying the morning thermals!

Brimstone butterfly enjoying the heat of the sun.
A few butterflies on the wing with (2) Small Tortoiseshell and a single Brimstone, plus my first record of Frogspawn on the reserve thanks to MD.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Migration Update#1

The weather for the weekend didn't look too promising for migration with winds returning to a more north-westerly flow and so I wasn't expecting too much in the way of any new arrivals.

Redshank on Teal Pool - 3 on site Saturday, increasing to 4 Sunday!
A quick tour of the marina on Saturday morning didn't offer anything more of note but Brandon Marsh did produce my first Little-ringed Plover of the year, when a single bird dropped on to Willow Island, East Marsh Pool around mid morning. Other notables during my Saturday visit were a half dozen Chiffchaff and a couple of Blackcap in New Hare Covert. Redshank had increased to three and a single Green Sandpiper was also recorded on Teal Pool. Despite two pair of Oystercatcher still on site, no signs yet of any nesting preparation. Sand Martin numbers had reduced quite considerably from Friday's numbers, with only six seen during my stay.

Lesser Redpoll

It was no surprise to find a light frost when I arrived at Brandon this morning but it wasn't long before a nice selection of birds took my eye near the wind pump. A Linnet singing away atop an alder was a lovely thing to hear but the best was when north met south and something I've never witnessed before! A Chiffchaff happily singing away seemed to take offence with a Lesser Redpoll feeding nearby and a sudden melee took place, with both birds locked in combat before heading their separate ways, priceless!

Blackcap singing once more in New Hare Covert, a very pristine Siskin on the track away from Wright Hide and a further increase in Redshank numbers, with four today around the pools. Single Green Sandpiper still, (5) Oystercatcher at one point, although I personally missed the fifth, but only a single Sand Martin recorded during my stay.

Pure White Pheasant - Well apart from the head!
Away from the migration other notables of the day: Barnacle Goose, (3) Shelduck, (2) Goldeneye, (16) Snipe, (2) Cetti's Warbler heard, (3) Goldcrest, (1) Treecreeper, (2 pair) BullfinchRaven overhead near the farm area and the amazing site of a pure white Pheasant near the roadside on route to Brandon.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spring Migration Hots Up!

Since our Lincolnshire away-day on Monday I've been trawling both my home Marina and Brandon Marsh in anticipation of early migrants, can't get enough of this special time of year.

I had a text from Jim Rushforth early on Tuesday morning, the first Sand Martin over Swallow Pool at Brandon Marsh, ably spotted by Peter Berrill. Arriving a little later than normal due to a few commitments I was delighted to have one of my own over East Marsh Pool a little later in the morning, my first of the year.

Stonechat -  Obviously not struggling for some decent grub!
A quick look around the Marina grounds on Wednesday morning had no sign of Sunday's Northern Wheatear, but I did manage a few quick snaps of a nice Stonechat, which looked to be having no problems finding some tasty morsels. A brief visit on Thursday morning to Brandon had several Chiffchaff in song and two more Sand Martin over East Marsh Pool.

After pressing play ensure the 'cogwheel' is clicked on and the resolution 720p is selected to watch in high quality HD.

This mornings visit to Brandon Marsh had a Blackcap singing in New Hare Covert but it was obvious as I passed the golf course that there had been a major influx of Sand Martins overnight. I counted around thirty or so over Newlands but a short while later I'd given up the count when I estimated well over a hundred or so! In among them, my first House Martin of the year, a really early record for Brandon and possible a second bird for me later in the morning while in the East Marsh Hide with Bob Lee. The surprises didn't stop there with two Little Gulls making an appearance mid morning and in fact they were still there when I left around two o'clock. It was the first time since buying my Canon SX bridge camera that  I've actually missed my big lens and of course the big lens boys filled there boots, when all I managed was a bit of dodgy video (above). Looking forward to the weekend and perhaps the first Swallow or Little-ringed Plover at Brandon?

Monday, March 17, 2014

RSPB Frampton Marsh

Another away-day with the Brandon Marsh team and thank you once more to the Trust for the use of their minibus. A superb days birding at RSPB Frampton Marsh on the Lincolnshire coast, followed by an equally superb fish and chips supper in Grantham.

Whooper Swans - Brief visit before moving on.
We arrived at Frampton just before 9am and thankfully the weather had held to produce a dry bright, if not breezy day. From the parking area a walk down to the sea-bank produced excellent numbers of Skylark and towards the southern end of the wet meadow four European White-fronted Geese were in among several Greylag. On the opposite side of the path out towards the 360 Hide a group of seven Whooper Swans had dropped in but only stayed for a brief visit. Before reaching the bank other species of note included large numbers of Brent Geese, Little Egret, a Peregrine in attack mode and the usual selection of waders: Redshank, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Avocet, Golden Plover, Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew.

Mediterranean Gull record shot using the Canon SX50
A coffee and raptor watch hunkered down from the wind overlooking the salt marsh probably produced the stars of the show, when a pair of Hen Harrier entertained us before we reluctantly moved on. As we approached the end of the sea-bank towards the north-east side of the reserve a small group of Meadow Pipit were in full song and doing there usual parachute drop, a pretty cool thing to watch.

Lunch at the East Hide produced only a single Snipe, seems a lot of work is on-going around this particular pool, with large portions of churned up soil. However, the exotica of the day was seen here and turned out to be an Australian Wood Duck, which was asleep on a nearby Island among the Wigeon. Just outside the hide door a Merlin provided decent views when perched on the ground before eventually making off south.

Black Brant - Thanks to John Osbourne for his photo!
From here we continued on to the Reedbed Hide, where the highlights were a Mediterranean Gull in full summer plumage, Greater Scaup and other wildfowl included: Pochard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Teal, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Shelduck, Pintail and both Great-crested and Little Grebe. During our stay we visited the main 360 Hide twice, on the first visit managing to connect with a reported Spotted Redshank and on our second visit managing good views of a single Black Brant. Which unfortunately departed before I managed a record shot, so my thanks to the vigilant J.O. for the photo.

Corn Bunting
During a tour of the remainder of the reserve our raptor count grew with the additions of Common Buzzard, Red Kite, SparrowhawkKestrel and other birds of note included Oystercatcher, Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer and brilliant views of a very obliging Corn Bunting. A really top days birding despite the lack of any incoming spring migrants.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Search is on!

As the title suggests the search is on, no not for the Malaysian airliner that's been abducted by aliens, what an incredible mystery that's turning out to be, but a search nearer to home for early spring migrants.

Blackcap - New Hare Covert
Lovely weather over the weekend has raised the anticipation levels considerably but to be honest the winds have not been too favourable for us here in landlocked Warwickshire. Still, a healthy haul of Chiffchaff, with six singing birds on Saturdays tour of the reserve and three today isn't a bad lot. New Hare Covert produced a ♂Blackcap on Saturday morning, but with the lack of song perhaps this is one of the wintering birds from Central Europe.

Ringed Plover are late arrivals for Brandon this year but it seems that two pair of Oystercatcher are settling in for the duration and a solitary Redshank has been coming and going. My earliest date for Sand Martin has come and gone but I expect the first birds are imminent. So from a Brandon perspective the waiting goes on.

Little Grebe - One of three on Carlton Pool Saturday morning.
Away from the migration several butterflies were on the wing today with Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Peacock all recorded. I was on the wrong side of the reserve first thing today and so missed a Little Egret on East Marsh Pool but on Saturday morning three Little Grebe at Carlton Hide were nice to see.

Northern Wheatear - Back in the marina Car Park
Closer to home the Yellowhammers and Skylarks are in full song and a nice surprise in the marina car park when I arrived back from Brandon this afternoon. I'd noticed an interesting looking bird perched on the phone wires but in almost direct sunlight. However, after re-positioning myself I managed this shot of my first Northern Wheatear of the year with my now trusty Canon SX50.... Keep watching the skies!! 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chilly Tuesday

The current high pressure sitting off to the east of the UK can offer gorgeous sunny days and crisp frosty morning. Unfortunately, at this time of the year it can also produce low persistent cloud and chilly winds as it rotates clockwise and sadly this was the case at Brandon Marsh Tuesday morning. With a cold north-easterly flow any hopes of early migrants dropping in were soon dispelled.

Nuthatch - Busy preparing a nesting site!
However, a good trawl of the reserve away from the pools produced of note: (2) Chiffchaff, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, several Lesser Redpoll and a decent flock of Redwing/Fieldfare near the farm area. It was also fascinating to stop for a while and watch a couple of Nuthatch busy preparing a nesting site, which they plaster around the entrance, side and roof of the nest cavity with mud in an effort to reduce the hole size. At least two Great-spotted Woodpecker were busy drumming away early morning and Song Thrush were once again in good voice.

Small Tortoiseshell
A couple of Grey Wagtail were also seen around the Goose Pool area and I'm happy to say that around mid morning the sun did finally make an appearance, offering Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and several Buzzards the opportunity to take to the air. Also of note in the more sheltered and warmer areas were Comma and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, plus a couple of colonies of Minor Bees, which nest in burrows underground. If the suns shining take a look around the steps near Baldwin Hide or under the large oak tree along the Central Marsh Path where they can clearly be observed!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Springlike Brandon!

A real springlike day at Brandon Marsh today with lots of bird song including my first singing Chiffchaff of the year near the bench at Horsetail Glade.

Song Thrush - At least 3 singing well on the reserve today.
A Redshank was heard across on Newlands as I passed by the 'Olive Bench' but I never quite managed to make contact. East Marsh Pool continues to reduce in level, albeit slowly thanks to the weekends deluge and a scan of the pool while having coffee in the Wright Hide produced of note: 2♂ + 3♀ Goldeneye, (3) Pochard, (2) Shelduck, (4) Oystercatcher and a single Great-crested Grebe still remains. After coffee a group of eleven Lesser Redpoll were ground feeding near the memorial garden car park and at least one Mealy was also among the group. Passing the Teal Pool Hide a Green Sandpiper flew through to the pool but left almost immediately.

Bullfinch today at Brandon.
An extended visit to the Carlton Hide and screen area with John, Peter and Martin in search of the weekends Stonechat drew a blank, although Derek Bennett one of the volunteers reported a brief sighting earlier in the morning. While at the hide a nice surprise when a Kingfisher took a fish right in front of us and mid-morning a Bittern flew left to right to the back of Newlands. Lost count of the amount of Reed Buntings that were on show today and both Water Rail and Cetti's Warbler were also heard calling.

Little Grebe - West Marsh
A couple of Little Grebe were showing well on West Marsh Pool during a brief visit and a walk around the Farm Pool reed bed produced two Buzzards and a couple of Green Woodpeckers. Other notables were four Skylark over, a Sparrowhawk over East Marsh Pool  and a pair of Kestrel at Newlands. A species roundup can be found on Jeff's site HERE.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Fingringhoe Wick

Staying with friends over in Suffolk for the weekend gave me a perfect opportunity to take a flying visit to Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve, a reserve I've never quite managed to visit before and a place that had similar beginnings to that of Brandon Marsh.

For larger image Click HERE
In 1961 Fingringhoe Wick became Essex Wildlife's Trust's first reserve; when Wick Farm, which had been turned into a lunar landscape by more than 30 years of gravel extraction, was put up for sale. This 125 acre reserve is situated just outside Colchester on the banks of the River Colne with a magnificent saltmarsh. It boasts a diverse range of habitat which include woodland, scrub, heathland, ponds and lake.

Pochard - Not many to be found this winter locally!
We arrived around midday Saturday, our first birds a group of Red-legged Partridge along the road as you drive in, and enjoyed some pleasant sunshine with not a drop of rain during our short stay. From the visitor centre we walked to the nearby Thurstable Hide, here we spent our time scouring the surrounding reeds for a Bittern, which apparently had been showing well earlier in the morning, sadly not during our stay and a shame for our friends Pat and John, who'd never seen one before! The usual wintering wildfowl were on show which included the above drake Pochard, a bird which has proved to be a little scarce this year locally!

Large numbers of Redshank feeding along the shoreline.
Unfortunately a couple of the seven hides available had been dismantled and were in the process of being replaced, so we headed down to the river for a look across the estuary. An excellent selection of waders were on show along the banks which including a large flock of Avocet, with around 200 or so birds, large flocks of Brent Geese, Wigeon and out to the centre, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested Grebe, single Red-necked Grebe and several Little Grebe, looking almost lost in the wash.

A short visit to the 'Geedon Bay Hide' which offers excellent views across the River Colne and with the tide ebbing huge movements of waders could be seen and these included: Golden PloverBar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and several Curlew feeding along the marsh.

Little Egret
A hot chocolate in the Nature Centre, which offers excellent views across the saltmarsh produced Marsh Harrier, Little Egret and a day hunting Barn Owl, my first this year. However, the star of the visit was a stunning ♂Hen Harrier, which was seen quartering the fields near the working quarry as we drove out from the reserve. This is a place well worth an extended visit and is definitely on my list for the future!