Monday, March 23, 2015

Forest of Dean

The second Away-Day of the year for the Brandon team and this our annual visit to the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. Target birds for the day, Goshawk, Hawfinch, Mandarin Duck and Crossbill.

Another Away-Day for the Brandon Team - Canop Ponds
However, before the forest a detour into Worcestershire in search of a Yellow-browed Warbler, reported recently at Sedgeberrow, Red Kite on route. The bird is at a small sewage treatment works SP023389 and so we thought it worth a go. On arrival we spread out and it wasn't long before a few of guys picked the bird up to the back of the plant. Although quite elusive after about 45 minutes most of the team had at least a brief view and so we moved off pretty content.

View from New Fancy Viewpoint
With the weather set to deteriorate as the day wore on we decided to head for New Fancy Viewpoint. For those who don't know the history this is 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. We were quite lucky today as almost immediately upon arrival a Goshawk was located overhead and by the time we moved on to our next destination two were recorded along with Buzzard, Raven and also of note: Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Greenfinch and plenty of Coal Tit. Sadly, unlike other years a distinct lack of Crossbill.

Hawfinch - One of a pair at Park End Church
Park End next in search of Hawfinch and here we stopped first at the cricket pitch and then on to Park End church for a spot of lunch. At the pitch someone has actually placed feed under one of the many yew trees and it wasn't long before both male and female birds were located. We spent a good while watching these stunning finches ground feeding and a few of us managed several record shots. After lunch at the church, with Nuthatch, Peregrine over and a couple of Mistle Thrush a walk down to the woods and back. Another pair of Hawfinch located high in the canopy along with Great Spotted Woodpecker and Treecreeper.

Several Song Thrush in song today! This one taking a breather
Onward to our next destination of Canop ponds, recognised as one of the best places in the UK to see Mandarin Ducks. On route here a first for the whole team with good views of a feeding Wild Boar, even worth turning the bus around for a second view, although no chance of parking meant zero pictures. The Mandarins were a delight and time spent around the pools produced two Grey Wagtail, two Marsh Tit, Chiffchaff, Little Grebe, Raven, Mistle Thrush, Green Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Gorgeous Mandarin Ducks at Canop Ponds
Wild Peregrines have long been associated with Symonds Yat Rock and so no visit to Gloucestershire is complete without dropping in. Peregrines bred well here until the early 1950's when the effects of pesticides drastically reduced the national population. From then on it goes from strength to strength and we weren't disappointed. A nice distraction from the birding was a couple of Bank Voles, which were chasing each other around the floor debris near our parking spot. A pair of Peregrines were in residence along the cliff with some good occasional flight views. Fairly quiet though with the exception of two Mandarin Duck on the River Wye below.

Finally on route home we decided to stop off at Ashleworth Ham, which lies in the floodplains of the Severn Vale and is part of a much larger SSSI. It floods easily, particularly over the winter, which makes it the perfect wetland for overwintering wildfowl. A reported Garganey was only seen by a couple of the team immediately on arrival, before heading up the bank and out of view for the remainder of our stay. A recent Green-winged Teal seems to have moved on but good numbers of Eurasian Teal, Wigeon and a few Gadwall and Shoveler were on site. Along with seven Little Egret and two Snipe. A little diversion up the road yielded a trio of Red-legged Partridge and another trio, this time Fallow Deer ended another great day out just as the heavens opened!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Weekend Update

My usual trips to Brandon Marsh over the weekend haven't produced any further spring migrants, but there's been lots to see with a number of species busy nest building. These have included Nuthatch, Long-tailed Tits and Dunnocks.

Long-tailed Tit - Proud owner of a new house!
Areas close by to Brandon have been very productive and after reports of Little-ringed Plover and Ringed Plover at the old Peugeot site Jim Rushforth and I headed over for a look on Saturday. Indeed we connected with two of each, along with Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Skylark. A further report of a Wheatear at Coventry Airport a little later was tempting but I was all cosy and back aboard by then.

Record shot of ♂Wheatear at Coventry Airport today
A later start at Brandon on Sunday and a look across the tip area and farm fields produced little but at least three Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming in Horsetail Glade. I passed on my coffee and toasted teacake in the nature centre to try for yesterdays Wheatear and was rewarded with a stunning male, most likely yesterdays bird and my first of the year! Looking forward to taking the Brandon Team on an away-day to the Forest of Dean tomorrow.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring Equinox Eclipse!

At 6:45 p.m. EDT today the sun appears directly overhead at Earth's equator, making the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. This year, the spring equinox has the unusual distinction of coinciding with both a supermoon and a total solar eclipse (87% here in the midlands). According to, there hasn't been a solar eclipse on either the March or September equinox since 1662!

View from the volunteers notice board at Brandon
What better place to view such an event than Brandon Marsh and so I arrived, unbelievably, to clear blue skies shortly after 9 a.m. By the time I'd set up the tripod and camera the eclipse was well underway, climaxing at around 9.35.

The climax
A very noisy Barnacle Goose was a constant companion on Goose Pool and at least a couple of Chiffchaff's were singing close by. Shortly before 9.30 there was a definite eerie atmosphere descending across the reserve, even the Barnacle had fell silent! The light had definitely reduced and the birds did in fact begin to quieten down. I suppose the whole event only lasted minutes before things began to return to some normality but what an amazing experience.

The moon starts to move away!
After the major event a tour of the reserve produced the first Little-ringed Plover on East Marsh and the afternoon warmth helped a number of Butterflies take to the wing and these included: (9) Brimstone, (1) Small Tortoiseshell and (1) Peacock. No further spring arrivals but one or two Great-spotted Woodpeckers drumming, nice views of a Bank Vole and both Nuthatch and Long-tailed Tits nest building added to a very enjoyable day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Still in Anticipation!

As we're now midway through March I did actually think that I'd be posting a little more about newly arrived migrants, but after early encouraging signs the easterlies set in, dashing any further hopes!

Chiffchaff - New arrivals each day!
Last Thursday (12th) the Brandon team spent the morning preparing the Sand Martin structure and Islands on east marsh for the forthcoming breeding season. It was actually quite fitting that no sooner had we completed the task the first half dozen arrived while we were having lunch in the hide, then duly moved on through! That evening I spent a couple of hours at the Draycote Water Gull roost and despite connecting with a couple of Iceland Gull it was the first evening the Glaucous Gull had gone AWOL!

Since then I've spent many hours both at Brandon and around the patch in the hope of new arrivals. Despite the lack of It's very encouraging that at Brandon Marsh we're getting regular sightings of Willow Tits around the bespoke nesting boxes, I've connected at every visit. Also of note a couple of Marsh Tits were trapped and ringed by JR on the 'Constant Effort' site last Saturday.

Muntjac on Wigeon Bank
Last Friday morning I spent an hour at Draycote Water in the gloom and despite close in views of the long staying Black-necked Grebe the best I could manage were the calls of Redshank and Grey Plover. Three Mediterranean Gulls over the past week back at Brandon, including one during today's visit. A definite increase in Chiffchaff numbers with six noted today and other species of note today included: Mistle Thrush (4), including one singing, Fieldfare (25 over), Goldcrest (4), Redshank (2), Oystercatcher (4), Snipe (9), Shelduck (2), Cetti's Warbler (2) and a Muntjac deer on Wigeon Bank was my 1st of the year!

Monday, March 09, 2015

In Anticipation!

With the recent south-westerly winds things are finally beginning to hot up around the country with the first arrivals of Sand Martins, Ospreys and Wheatears. For me and of course most birders it's an exciting time to be out in the field with every visit filled with anticipation during spring migration.

Willow Tit - Several sightings bodes well for the Brandon project
Plants are springing to life at Brandon Marsh with Primrose, Lesser Celandine, Snowdrop and Coltsfoot all in bloom with Marsh Marrigold close behind. There's some good bird movements too at present and visits over the weekend and today have been quite productive. A Saturday morning session threw up a couple of pristine looking Chiffchaff, along with a count of ten Lesser Redpoll, soon to disperse. A couple of Willow Tits were found around the River Pool path, in close proximity to one of our specially designed boxes and this bodes really well for our ongoing Willow Tit project. Oystercatchers, ranging from two to six at times are now established on east marsh and it's hoped that like previous years there on site to breed once more.

Cetti's Warbler - At least two on territory at Brandon
Sunday morning a Marsh Tit gave himself away calling near Sheep Field and my first singing Chiffchaff along the path towards Carlton Hide. The wintering Bittern, proving so elusive recently, has been on the move with a couple of sightings, including great flight views from the Ted Jury Hide, along with equally good views of a Water Rail directly in front. At least  two Cetti's Warblers seem to have established territories and are calling regularly and during my ongoing tour three pairs of Bullfinch, two pairs of Goldcrest and a single Linnet near Olive Bench!

Corn Buntings in Warwickshire, a rare treat!
This morning trios of Pink-footed Geese and Shelduck, plus a single Dunlin on East Marsh Pool before Jim picked out a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull among the Black-headed Gulls! A couple of Great Black-backed Gulls too over the weekend, March can be a very lucrative month for Gulls at Brandon. After which Jim and I headed off to check out some Warwickshire Corn Buntings. On arrival we were greeted to a birding frenzy with 100+ Stock Dove, even larger numbers of Yellowhammer, at least twenty Corn Buntings and to top it all a hunting Merlin attacking the flock, awesome stuff!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

North-West Twitch

Visiting my dear old mum in Liverpool today gave me the perfect opportunity to add to my growing year list and catch up with a long staying rarity.

Very obliging Laughing Gull at New Brighton
I left the marina around 5.30 am just as the almost full moon was setting to the west on a crisp clear morning. The local Tawny Owls, a little quieter of late were calling as I made my way along the pontoons. A dash down the M6 and across the M53 had me at my first destination of New Brighton in just over two hours. I'd arrived in one of my old childhood birding grounds in search of the long staying Laughing Gull. To be honest the bird was exactly where I was told it would be sitting on a pontoon on the marina lake. A real opportunity to take a closer look at this unusual UK visitor, normally found on the north and south American coast.

Laughing Gull
Also on the pontoons sheltering from the strong breeze around a hundred or so Redshank, along with the odd Dunlin and an excellent count of eleven Purple Sandpipers, unfortunately all fast asleep!

One of eleven Purple Sandpipers - Sadly asleep during my stay!
After thawing out and breakfast in the nearby Starbucks I was on the road once more to RSPB Burton Mere, around a half hour drive. After catching up with the wardens at the centre I made my way around the relatively new pontoons towards the site of a roosting Long-eared Owl. After a phone call to Jim Rushforth for better instructions, Jim had visited last week, it wasn't long before I'd located this stunner. My third year tick of the day and all before lunch!

Roosting Long-eared Owl - Burton Mere
With time pressing I watched the Owl for a short while in the hope of a little movement but he was well asleep so I made my way back to the centre. Amazingly my forth and final tick of the day came in the form of a Merlin, which was perched nicely on the fence opposite the centre and smack in the middle of the wardens scope!

Laughing Gull - A final image!
Arriving back at the marina around dusk and to end a very productive day a Barn Owl was quartering the adjacent field as I made my way back to the boat, priceless!

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Norfolk Weekend

Temp - 8C/11C - Mostly Overcast Occasional Sun - Wind NW @ 25/35 mph Gusting

It's always nice to escape to the coast when your living in a landlocked county like Warwickshire. In fact it's been ten years now since we first arrived at our current mooring on the Oxford Canal, how time has moved on! Anyway I digress, so back to our Norfolk trip and Dee had found another Premier Inn bargain weekend, this time staying at Kings Lynn.

Saturday we decided to begin at a very blustery Hunstanton and took a stroll along the sea-front and down towards the cliffs. From time to time Purple Sandpipers can be found along the wooden piles here and so it was worth a try. The usual waders could be found in various numbers including Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank and Dee's all time favourite Sanderling scurrying around as usual!

At the top end we took a stroll along the beach and past the cliffs where it was nice to see several Fulmar already in residence, this being the largest breeding colony in Norfolk with around 460 birds at its peak. A few Meadow Pipits and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwit before we headed back to town, sadly no Purple Sandpipers on this occasion.

Black-tailed Godwit - Muddy feast!
After lunch we spent the remainder of the day walking the Burnham Overy area. Despite the constant breeze and overcast conditions it was reasonably mild and the walk down to the shore produced Kestrel, singing Skylarks, a single Snipe and huge flocks of Brent Geese and Golden Plover. Common Buzzard, Red Kite and ♂♀Marsh Harrier constantly harassing the waders which included Dunlin, Curlew, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and Oystercatcher. Still a few Fieldfare and Redwing ground feeding and Starlings were in good numbers. The surrounding pools contained huge Wigeon counts, Pochard, Gadwall, Teal, Tufted Duck and the odd Shoveler. On the mud flats one or two Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, more Dunlin and several Little Egret dotted around.

Blowing a 'hoolie" at Titchwell too!
The wind along the shoreline was displacing large drifts of sand making observation difficult and a large raft of distant Common Scoter, which apparently contained Velvet Scoter within, was impossible to determine. With the conditions as such we never bothered to try for the trio of Shore Lark apparently further along the dunes and in fact the walk back to the car yielded the best of the day. First, excellent views of Rough-legged Buzzard, with Red Kite and Little Egret in the scope at the same time, several Pink-footed Geese and a day hunting Barn Owl, always a pleasure to see. With the light fading a stop at various sites on route back to the hotel produced a brace of Barn Owl, Hare and five Egyptian Geese to end an enjoyable day.

Dee's photo - Sanderling braving the swirling sands! 
Sunday was even more windy, in fact it was blowing a hoolie and this along with the bright conditions was always going to make the birding a challenge. A vigil at Wolfreton Triangle for the elusive Golden Pheasant once again proved fruitless. I don't know who keeps posting this on bird guides as we were there at the exact time it was posted but like any birding, right place, right time!

With the freshwater marsh bursting at the seems RSPB Titchwell was generally disappointing with no sign of the Water Pipit during several attempts at scanning the drained wet meadow, although a Stoat running along the peripheral of the reedbed was a nice sight. A trio of ♂Red-crested Pochards and a single female on Patsy's reedbed was a nice year tick, plus Little Grebe, several Pintail, many Brent Geese and over forty Avocet packed on the only piece of dry land on the freshwater pool. A couple of Cetti's Warbler on route to the beach with Skylark, Linnet and Meadow Pipit overhead. The sea was naturally choppy and with little movement, the only observations on the water were a half dozen Goldeneye, a couple of Great-crested Grebes and several Common Gull. Dee managed a Weasel, which darted across the path on route back and a Greenshank was heard but unfortunately not seen.

Dee's photo - Red-crested Pochard - year tick!
Finally, a stop off at Eldernell for an hour on route home before the rain set in, still both Bewick Swans and Whooper Swans to be found along the roadside as you drive down. On arrival the wind was still gusting and despite not seeing any Short-eared Owls, disappointing for Dee who's not seen one this year, we still managed a stunning ♂Hen Harrier, Red Kite, ♂♀Marsh Harrier, Kestrel and Common Buzzard. Cranes could be heard in the distance but the rain put paid to any attempt of finding them.