Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year End

To celebrate the end of another year Dee and I decided to rent a cottage in the heart of the Lincolnshire Wolds and invite a few friends along to see in the new year. Set in the tiny village of Benniworth, Fiddledrill Barn is a place we've stayed a number of times before.

Fiddledrill Barn - arriving to a gorgeous sunset
With family and friends the priority we still managed a couple of visits to both Gibraltar Point and RSPB Frampton Marsh. Gibraltar Point had too many dogs and families visiting during our stay and it wasn't a real surprise that it didn't yield anything out of the ordinary. Best of the day was a Merlin and out to sea several Red-throated Divers and a half dozen Great Black-backed Gulls, along with a number of inquisitive Seals coming close to shore.

The inquisitive Seal!
The wader count was a little more impressive with Little Egret, large numbers of Redshank and various counts of Ringed PloverCurlew, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, KnotTurnstone, Oystercatcher and a couple of Grey Plover. Brent Geese were majorly represented and while heading back to the car park a Snipe on the meadow and a Water Rail scurrying along the ditch as we passed over the small bridge.

A stop at the Harvey Hide before heading off produced a Kingfisher, and more geese, this time a huge flock of Pink-footed Geese, which were constantly on the move from field to field. The water, mainly frozen, held Little GrebeTeal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Tufted Duck but only a single ♀Goldeneye.

Golden Plover - Large numbers on the flats.
Arriving at RSPB Frampton Marsh car park my first sad duty was to tell a guy sitting in his car that he had a dead Fieldfare wedged in his grill. The guy, who was with his family, was genuinely mortified but I did ensure his children were out of earshot. The Marsh was bitterly cold but we managed a circuit, taking short refuge in the hides.

Unfortunately most of the main pools were frozen but the odd open area had Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Gadwall and Teal. The surrounding fields yielded large numbers of Golden Plover, Lapwing and Wigeon, along with smaller counts of Ringed Plover, Curlew, Dunlin, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Meadow Pipit and Skylark. A Peregrine was constantly on the prowl setting off large scale panic and the hawthorn along the roadside, still holding small stocks of berries, held many Fieldfare and smaller numbers of Redwing.

Wigeon - Even the strong sunshine couldn't melt the ice!
Only a single distant Marsh Harrier to report around the reserve and no sign along the sea wall of the recently reported Snow and Lapland Buntings. Again large flocks of Brent Geese feeding on the mudflats, smaller flocks of Greylag and the occasional sight of Little Egret and Shelduck. Two lonely looking Pink-footed Geese on the opposite side of the wall and a large flock of Linnet, which gave up at least two Twite.

Finally, while having a hot drink back at the centre a Tree Sparrow on the feeders and just prior to leaving a trio of Bewick Swans flew in, including a single juvenile. Several Yellowhammer in the car park before heading back for the celebrations.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Post Christmas

A chilly -4C at the marina this morning and a crystal clear sky as I scrapped the morning frost from the windscreen, three cronking Ravens heading off towards Napton Hill, my first birds of note.

I arrived at Brandon Marsh a little before sunrise almost simultaneously with Trevor Griffiths and we both set off for a tour of the reserve. Things were pretty quiet, save for the odd Redwing and around twenty or so Wigeon overhead as we reached the Wright Hide. East Marsh Pool was half frozen but with plenty more wildfowl, including a half dozen Gadwall, plus a drake Pochard and three females, quite rare to Brandon this year. Plenty of Gulls on offer but nothing to set the pulse racing.

Siskin in the pre dawn!
As we left the hide a mixed flock of Siskin/Redpoll were feeding high in the alder and a commotion on Swallow Pool was almost certainly the two Otters later seen by the chaps in the East Marsh Hide. A Trio of Goldcrest on our way around to big hide, plus Treecreeper, Great spotted Woodpecker, Kingfisher and a calling Nuthatch. The River Avon is currently running quite high, the water still rising along the east marsh track but passable in wellies! A stop off at the hide for a catch up provided the addition of a single Shelduck and a Buzzard perched in the willow over on Wigeon Bank.

Apart from a calling Water Rail nothing further to report at the Carlton or Jury hides but some good views of the river in flow along the path to the Jury Hide. The local landowner has made an excellent job of clearing the meadow opposite and the view of the river is now much improved. Bird of the day was when passing the Carlton Ditch and Martin thankfully spotting and calling a Bittern in flight as it flew from the Teal Pool across to Newlands, looking stunning in the bright sunshine.

Off to Lincolnshire until the new year so hopefully a few more posts before the year end with a couple of birding trips planned.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Winter Soltice

It's not often I go this long without posting to my blog, so I thought I'd better get a final one in before Christmas. To be honest there hasn't been much to blog about, in fact you can always tell when things on the birding front are a little quiet when fellow bloggers begin to reminisce about better times!

Sunrise at Brandon -Winter Solstice
For me my cup is always half full and if you look hard enough and happen to be in the right place at the right time you'll find things, like a sneaky Stoat at Brandon Marsh on Thursday and an amazing Merlin encounter for Dee and I at the back of Sainsbury's on Saturday morning. I suppose I should clarify why Dee and I were at the back of Sainsbury's.  For those who know 'The Shires' retail park in Leamington Spa there is a pathway that leads to the Tachbrook Park office complex to the rear of Sainsbury's. The landscaping in this area consists of lots of rowan, hawthorn and pine trees and to our amazement while walking through from Dee's office we unexpectedly encountered a Merlin, which fizzed past us only feet away before crashing into a small flock of feeding Long-tailed Tits, disappearing into the distance empty handed!

Lots of Fieldfare around the Marina
On the local front the marina still has an adequate supply of blackthorn berries and so we've been blessed by some large flocks of winter thrushes making the most of what's left. At least two Barn Owls have been busy and can be found quartering the adjacent fields on most evenings and with the same fields holding plenty of water, Lapwings and decent numbers of Skylarks can also be found. Tawny Owls have been very vocal of late and I've even managed to locate one of the their favourite calling spots, but sadly our tiny population of Little Owls are nowhere to be found these days. This too could be said of our Tree Sparrows, despite the odd sighting around the feeders numbers are really down on previous years.

One of a couple of Little Egret at Brandon Marsh
Brandon Marsh has also kept me busy on the chain saw with a number of coppicing and other projects on the go, plus a replanting of some small areas of Horsetail Glade will be discussed at our next meeting. The birding has been somewhat poor with wildfowl numbers frighteningly low but things were brightened recently by the arrival of a wintering Bittern. Amazingly you could set your clock by this bird at present! Simply stand near the 'Olive Bench' overlooking Newlands reedbed between 7 and 7:15am and observe the silhouetted figure as it flies across the path, normally settling on Swallow Pool, quite surreal. Apart from the Bittern Sundays winter solstice visit produced three Tawny Owls, a couple of Little Egret on East Marsh Pool and at least a single wintering Chiffchaff can regularly be heard around the River Pool area.

With another year ending all that remains is to wish my reader a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous birding New Year.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Quieter Times

It seems that things have now settled down into normal winter patterns on the birding front with the winter Thrushes, Siskin and Redpolls all recorded at my regular site visits. Brambling and Golden Plover are still thin on the ground locally and with a reasonable number of Short-eared Owls around the country a regular local one would be nice.

Wintering Blackcap
The Tawny Owls have been very vocal at the marina of late, one bird so close that it had Dee and I convinced it was sitting on the boat roof. With moorers once again able to place feeders around the moorings we're starting to get regular visits from Tree Sparrows once again. A species that seemed to desert us for a short while during recent months. One bird of note residing at the marina presently is a wintering Blackcap, my only sighting thus far since the summer.

Nuthatch - New Hare Covert
What has been rare this autumn is those wonderful crisp frosty mornings and so with the forecast for Wednesday morning predicting such a start I was at Brandon Marsh before sunrise for a look around. A Barn Owl quartering Sheep-Field and a nice count of nine Pheasant on the recently extracted bramble area as I made my way through to New Hare Covert. Redpoll and Siskin overhead, along with Great Spotted Woodpecker and both Redwing and Fieldfare. The covert held four Goldcrest, Green Woodpecker along with Treecreeper and Nuthatch.

Robin numbers increasing
The pools had the usual winter wildfowl and eight Snipe but no sign of the recent Goldeneye. A lone Little Egret, which spent most of Tuesday perched and overseeing the conservation work we were carrying out on East Marsh Pool, was still on site. Other highlights around the reserve included a couple of Grey Wagtail on Willow Island, Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail calling, plus two wintering Chiffchaffs were also noted. There's also been a considerable increase in the Robin population recently with local birds being joined by those from the continent. Otters have been regular visitors this week with a number of reports from other team members but unfortunately not for me. At least three pair of Bullfinch during my tour and a half dozen Skylark flew south as I walked up to the farm area, where I also startled a Fox which bolted across the reedbed. The farm is actually up for sale and this would explain the major clear up operation that has taken place up there. Nearly all of the old rusting farm equipment and old cars have been removed and sadly a small section of Elder has been decapitated in the process, usually a good feeding area for Finches.

Brandon Team at work
Inspired by BBC Countryfile's article on the Lancashire Wildlife Trusts 'Wigan Willow Tit Project' the Brandon Team began our own Project today. It is estimated that a least two pairs of these threatened species reside at Brandon and we'd like to attract more! With Brandon's diverse habitat there are lots of  ideal nesting areas. The UK population has fallen by 90 per cent in the past 30 years placing it on the red list of species of conservation concern. Willow Tits prefer the scrub where they dig their own nest hole in rotten wood in soft timber tree stumps, less than a metre from the ground. We can help them by creating logs (pictured) that will be attached to healthy trees. These logs will eventually rot providing the perfect nesting site!