Sunday, January 31, 2016

Diary Entry #12

Visiting friends this weekend in Berkshire so the birding was literally non-existent. However, my first Barn Owl of the year flew over the car yesterday evening as we headed to the M40, the bird seen as we passed the Cropredy turn on the A423, bringing my year list thus far up to 107. Also (5) Red Kites, (2) Kestrel and (2) Buzzard on route home along the A34 this afternoon!

Daniel Dönnecke took this photograph of the redwing that has been spotted in Saanich. (Daniel Dönnecke)
As a point of interest I'd be intrigued to see if any of my birding buddies over in Canada will be making the effort to connect with a Redwing, which is causing a stir over on Vancouver Island. Everything is relative I suppose but the full story can be found HERE.

Off to the Forest of Dean tomorrow for the first Brandon Marsh 'Away-Day' of the year, so looking forward to that!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Diary Entry #11

A single Tree Sparrow on the feeders among the many finches and tits was a lovely sight this morning while having coffee. And if your an aviation enthusiast like me so too the pair of US Air Force F/A 18 Hornets which did a couple of low passes over the marina!

On route to Brandon Marsh for lunch in East Marsh Hide a quick stop at a flooded field I've been monitoring just prior to entering Birdingbury yielded a single Green Sandpiper. At Brandon a Chiffchaff in Horsetail Glade as I passed through and the first Oystercatcher of the year was on East Marsh Pool, a similar arrival date to 2015. A count of (24) Pochard (6♂) was an increase of one since Sunday and others of note included: (2) Little Egret, (4) Shelduck, (2) Great-Crested Grebe, (2 pair) Goldeneye, Water Rail and a single Great Black-backed Gull among the usual hoard. The three Goosander were on site according to others but I never connected today. Fred Stokes reported a drake Mandarin Duck yesterday but no sign today!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Diary Entry #10

After a report of a Barn Owl sunning itself on one of the boxes on Farm Field I've tried a couple of early visits to Brandon Marsh to see if I could connect but to no avail. The last sighting of a Barn Owl at Brandon to my knowledge was way back in June 2015 after the population crash, so a sighting would be most welcome!

Brace of Snipe in the dull conditions at East Marsh Hide!
Not a bad visit this morning with the highlights on the pools: (2) Little Egret on Teal Pool, (3) Goosander, a male and two female on East Marsh Pool, along with (2) Great Crested Grebe , (4) Shelduck, all male and a brilliant count of (23) Pochard, which included four males. A couple of Water Rail were feeding for a long period in the channel and (2) Snipe were also showing well right in front of the East Marsh Hide. At one point a Cetti's Warbler flew from left to right across the gap. Over on Wigeon Bank a female Muntjac Deer passed through, shortly followed by a male. As we passed by the Carlton Ditch a Peregrine was on the hunt overhead and finally a sighting of Willow Tit, having only heard one last week! Lesser Redpoll and Siskin also recorded during the visit and a nice surprise was a Marsh Tit at the Café, which kept coming down for brief visits to the feeders while we were having coffee!

Brambling just above my feeders!
At the marina on Saturday morning while sitting watching my feeders I managed to snap the back end of a Brambling from the window but no sign since!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Diary Entry #9

A brief look around the marina after this mornings rain before heading off to Draycote Water produced an unusual visitor, a Great Crested Grebe. We do occasional get them wandering into the marina, most likely from Napton Reservoir, which is situated on the opposite side of the canal.

Great Crested Grebe - Occasional visitor, probably from Napton Reservoir.
A few hours at Draycote Water this evening to take a look at the gull roost. As luck would have it in the company of John Judge @draycotebirding Keith Barnsley @Peregrinkeith Bob Hazell @bobhazell and Keith Foster. Unfortunately no sign of the recent Glaucous and Iceland Gulls but thankfully John saved the visit with a 2nd winter Caspian Gull. The long staying drake Smew was also viewed offshore of the sailing club!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Diary Entry #8

A cracking pre-dawn sky and -3C before I headed off for a hospital appointment today, so the only birding I managed was late afternoon with a walk around the marina grounds with the big camera. As you would imagine with temperatures in the minus the marina is currently frozen in.

Stunning view as I pulled back the curtains this morning!
A good look at the various feeders didn't throw up anything out of the ordinary with the usual House Sparrows, Blue Tits, Goldfinch, Reed Buntings, Pied Wagtails and even a Moorhen picking up the excess. No sign at all today of any Tree Sparrows.

1st Red Kite of the year drifting northward over the mooring!
Two Ravens heading off towards Napton Hill as I completed my walk, plus a distant perched Buzzard and formations of Gulls heading to the Draycote roost. However, the best was saved until last, when just as I was about to call it a day my first Red Kite of the year drifted over. I managed a few snaps before the bird floated northward.

Regular Reed Buntings in the surrounding reed beds & feeders!

A Moorhen on the garden list!!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Diary Entry #7 Brandon Marsh

Spent quite a productive few hours at Brandon Marsh this afternoon in the company of Derek Bennett. At Grebe Pool (1♂+2♀) Goosander were asleep on the fishing pontoon and (20+) Siskin were feeding in the alder near the 'Saga' sign.

At least (8) Gadwall on Teal Pool
After a long chat with Jim Timms, who I forgot to mention Dee and I bumped into at Horsbere Brook for the Penduline Tits on Saturday, we headed off for Teal Pool Hide. No sign of yesterdays reported Bearded Tits but (8) Gadwall on the pool and a flyover brace of Little Egret, which were heading east. At the East Marsh Hide we spent an hour and had a decent count of (12) Pochard, along with (2) Great Crested Grebe and (5) Wigeon. While still in the hide a Bittern was observed flying from the Carlton Pool across Alban's Reedbed area (formerly Newlands) right to left at 14.30.

A quick visit to the Carlton Hide had a second sighting of the Bittern, which flew up from the far end of the pool before dropping down almost immediately behind the reeds. A brief stay at the Ted Jury Hide was quiet, with the exception of (2♀) Bullfinch and a single Barnacle Goose was feeding on the golf course among the Canada Geese.

Other notables on the walk back to the centre included Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Willow Tit at Carlton Ditch, unfortunately only heard and (4) Lesser Redpoll in the alder at the same spot. The Goosander seen earlier asleep on Grebe Pool were now on the move when we passed by!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Diary Entry #6

Dee and I had already planned to visit WWT Slimbridge today but as luck would have it a couple of Penduline Tits were still showing well at Horsbere Brook, a short diversion from our route.

One of two PENDULINE TITS at Horsbere Brook today!
We arrived mid morning and weren't surprised to find a large group already there. Once parked in the layby opposite the Premier Inn we were on site within minutes. In fact it only took around 20 minutes or so before the birds appeared, pretty close in as it happens and right in front of our position. Now if all twitches were like that I'd probably be hooked. Cracking little birds, so delicate and stunning and well worth the effort! A Stonechat was also a year 'tick' during our stay.

Another shot of the gorgeous PENDULINE TITS
On to WWT Slimbridge next a place Dee and I enjoy a couple of times a year, always nice to get close up to certain species you'll probably never see in the wild. The Hogarth Hide was well frozen but we did manage a Pink-footed Goose which was mixed in with some Graylag Geese.

Distant record shot of Common Crane today!
At The Zeiss Hide four Common Cranes flew in, soon joined by a fifth but once again the pools were frozen. A Buzzard perched on a distant tree but the majority of birds were well off towards the estuary. Most birds today could be found on the Rushy, Tack Piece and Dumbles with a good selection of waders including: various numbers of Redshank, Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, (500+) Dunlin and (15) Ruff, a single Little Stint was probably the highlight!

Another record shot - This time White-fronted Geese
On to the Holden Tower and two more Common Crane, plus a good flock of circa 150 Barnacle Geese, along with (5) White-fronted Geese and some large distant flocks of Canada and Greylag. Bewick's Swans numbered around 100 and at one stage a Peregrine caused a few issues.

Bewick's Swans - Always a pleasure to see!
Also of note during an enjoyable visit various numbers of: Pochard, Pintail, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal and a single Water Rail.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Diary Entry #5

Needed to fuel up the boat and fill the water tanks this morning so didn't get out until after 10am. I decided to stay local today and so took a stroll in the glorious sunshine from the open barn at Granborough as far as Toft Lake. The road closure at Lower Shuckburgh Road was a bit of a surprise!

Lots of Starlings, Redwing and Fieldfare in the surrounding fields and along the footpath double figure Bullfinch in the hedgerows and Goldfinch taking advantage of the teasel. At Toft Lakes a Little Egret took flight and a couple of Buzzard over. On route back to the car a single Snipe was flushed and Linnet and Yellowhammer recorded. Other raptors during the walk included both Kestrel and Sparrowhawk.

A walk this afternoon around the various marina feeders produced the usual Chaffinch and Goldfinch, plus (3) Greenfinch a more unusual visitor here. However, the highlight were (2) Tree Sparrows. Overhead during my walk were the usual Ravens, when (3) went cronking over!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Diary Entry #4

Our local Little Owl was back at the marina this morning calling from atop one of the telegraph poles at dawn.

I paid my first visit to Wolston Gravel Pits this morning and took the public footpath as far as the River Avon and then circled back. The site almost backs on to the southern end of Brandon Marsh, which lies across the other side of the river with Brandon Wood Golf Club as the barrier. An enjoyable walk but watch out for the plant machinery and read the signs. I actually managed a year first in the form of (4) Red-legged Partridge, which were flushed by one of the workers who was taking measurements! Other species of note included (6) Skylark, Meadow Pipit and a flock of circa 100 Linnet! The site has great potential.

I had my lunch in the East Marsh Hide at Brandon Marsh, where I was told the Bittern was lurking once more in the reeds to the left. Unfortunately not seen during my stay but a Cetti's Warbler which flew across the gap in front of the hide was good to see.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Diary Entry #3

A few hours at Draycote Water this morning heading clockwise from the Visitor Centre to the 'Inlet' and back. I arrived just after 9am with a bitter north-westerly wind blowing and rain in the forecast. The drake Smew was easily spotted just off one of the fishing pontoons and single Raven over.

One of two Grey Wagtails during today's visit
At Hensborough Bank a large flock of Graylag Geese held nothing more of interest within and so too a smaller group of Canada's. Scans out towards the centre yielded the usual Tufted Duck and Goldeneye, a Grey Wagtail on the shoreline the only other species of note.

Scaup sheltering in Rainbow Corner!
At 'The Overflow' a stop for a brief respite had a small group of Long-tailed Tits, along with two Redwing searching the leaf litter. As I rounded Rainbow Corner I paused for a coffee in the relative shelter and while a shower passed. While here a couple of Treecreeper and a single Goldcrest in the small copse. On the water (8) Goosander and sheltering within a group of Tufted Ducks a single Pochard and the long staying Scaup.

Linnet feeding on the Alder at Draycote today!
Circa 30 Tree Sparrows were utilising both feeding stations and at least a half dozen Yellowhammer were also noted. On my return trip thanks to a call from @Bobhazell picking out a pair of Pintail nestled in at the bottom of the 'Inlet', which I missed on my first pass. Despite two Great Northern Divers on site today I never managed to connect with either during my short stay!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Diary Entry #2

An early Raven cronking away overhead and both Venus and Saturn adorning the eastern sky as I stepped foot off the boat this morning.

I arrived at Brandon Marsh just as the sun breached the horizon and made my way straight to East Marsh Hide, Grey Wagtail on the cement works roof on route. At the hide I spent an enjoyable 90 minutes before heading off to the Nature Centre for the Conservation Team AGM. The reserve was flooded out during my visit on Friday but it always amazes me how quickly the River Avon recedes.

At the hide I was made aware immediately that the Bittern was lurking in the reed bed to the right and it wasn't long before it betrayed it's whereabouts. First the twitching reeds and then obscured views of the bird through the reeds near the waters edge, amazing camouflage but once your aware easily picked out! Also of note during my stay (2) ♂ Bullfinch worth a mention plus (2) Pochard,(3) Little Egret and single ♀Goosander at East Marsh. A pair of Goosander on Grebe Pool as I made my way back to the centre!

A walk around the marina this evening at dusk had circa 20 Pied Wagtails in the roost, Little Owl calling but way off and a group of Fieldfare beautifully silhouetted in the Oak tree before heading away to roost.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Diary Entry #1 Catch Up!

Couple of entries to catch up with before I complete a quick write up on todays visits to Draycote Water and Brandon Marsh.

Turnstone RSPB Freiston Shore
Firstly a visit to RSPB Freiston Shore on January 2nd prior to returning home from our New Year break in Lincolnshire got the year list off to a good start. A nice selection of waders were recorded including: Golden Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Knot, Redshank and Turnstone. A walk down to the shed which overlooks the shore held Sanderling, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Little Egret. Most of the usual winter wildfowl were also registered including Pintail, Shelduck and both Wigeon and Brent Geese were well represented! The highlight of the day was undoubtedly a Merlin which terrorised for a short while before heading off empty handed.

On Monday last my first visit to Brandon Marsh was quite successful, when for the first time in ages the Bittern was actually in the channel at East Marsh Hide, unfortunately disappearing into the reeds before the camera was out! Lots of reed twitching for the next hour or so in anticipation ended with no further sign. Not a bad visit with 43 species during my stay, including a Marsh Tit at the 'wind pump', which was calling and showing quite well.

Great Northern Diver - One of two seen at Draycote Water
Today I managed a whole day in the field, starting off at Draycote Water, where on route circa (50) Golden Plover flew over the A426 at Kites Hardwick, (9) more were seen in flight while at Draycote itself. I was hopeful I could nail the long stayers pretty quickly but ended up starting at Rainbow Corner and 'The Inlet'. As it turns out the wrong side of the site completely, but I did manage (15) Goosander, single Little Egret and one of the Great Northern Divers. Tracking back to Farborough Bank I finally connected with the ♀Scaup, which was fast asleep in among the Tufted Duck and catching up with @bobhazell at Farborough Spit I finally laid eyes on the drake Smew, which was way over towards Toft!

Brandon Marsh was completely flooded when I arrived around midday but I managed to wade, wellies nearly flooding over, to the East Marsh Hide, where I met up with Bob Lee. Bob had the Bittern early on but the best I could manage during my time was: Cetti's Warbler, ♀Goosander, (70+) Wigeon, pair of Goldeneye, Great-crested Grebe, (2) Snipe, (2) Pochard and Little Egret.

Friday, January 01, 2016

2015 Review

2015 has had many highlights with visits abroad to Spain, France and America. Several 'Away-Days' to various sites around the UK with the Brandon Marsh team were also possible, thanks to the use of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust's minibus and for this I'm grateful.

The first 'Away-Day' took place on February 9th with a visit to Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, stopping first at Burn Coppice, Deenethorpe for a Great Grey Shrike, then moving rapidly on for Short-eared Owls and Cranes at Eldernell. The rest of the day was spent around the North Norfolk coast and in particular RSPB Titchwell, a reserve I managed to visit a number of times throughout the year.

Laughing Gull at Birkenhead - A rare 'twitch' for me!
On March 23rd the second 'Away-Day' of the year saw the team visiting the Forest of Dean and here the highlights were the delightful Mandarin Ducks at Canop Ponds, Hawfinch at Park End and fabulous Goshawks at New Fancy Viewpoint. March also saw the amazing Spring Equinox Eclipse, where I spent the entire morning at Brandon Marsh photographing the once in a lifetime event. I also managed a rare for me 'twitch', when I stopped off in Birkenhead on route to Liverpool for a long staying Laughing Gull. Managing also to record Purple Sandpiper and Long-eared Owl, the latter at RSPB Burton Mere.

Alpine Swift - Always a challenge to snap!
At the start of April Dee and I spent a week in Spain celebrating my birthday, staying with my lifetime buddy Dave in his stunning villa high up near Mijas overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We visited a number of sites during our stay which included Guadalhorce, an excellent reserve near Malaga Airport, Ronda and Fuente de Piedra. Too many highlights to choose from during our weeks stay which included Booted Eagles, Short-toed Eagles, Griffon Vultures, Egyptian Vultures, Alpine Swifts and Red-billed Chough to name a few. Closer to home another 'Away-day' on the 20th, this time visiting Paxton Pits for Nightingale and Cavenham Heath National Nature Reserve for Stone Curlew and singing Woodlark on a wonderful day out!

Western Grebe - Klamath Falls
Nearly the whole of May was spent on the West coast of America. Here Dee and I flew into Seattle and then drove the amazing route 101 along the stunning Oregon coastline to the Californian border, stopping at Tilamook and Coos Bay. Our return journey to Seattle took us inland stopping at Upper Klamath Falls, Bend and Hood River covering an amazing 2000 miles.

Ash-throated Flycatcher - Oregon 2015
Total Species Count 174 - With 25 New North American species including: Lewis Woodpecker, White-headed Woodpecker, Tufted Puffin, White-tailed Kite, Snowy Plover, Snowy Egret and Red-shouldered Hawk. Only a single new mammal to add to our North American list, when Dee discovered a Porcupine roosting in a tree! Sadly very few Butterflies or Odanata due to the weather, so no additions there.

This summer plumage Grey Phalarope caused a major 'twitch' at Brandon Marsh in June!
On June 2nd one of the major highlight of the year was a stunning summer plumage Grey Phalarope, which graced Brandon's East Marsh Pool for several hours, bringing birders from far and wide in a frenzy of activity. June's Brandon Marsh mid-summer 'Away-Day' took us to RSPB Blacktoft Sands in Yorkshires East Riding, where we managed to connect with a ♀Montague's Harrier, sadly no sign of the residing male, which managed to elude us.

Cirl Bunting at Teignmouth Devon
July and August settled into the usual quandary, with most birds on their breeding grounds and little movement, but Dee and I had a few extra 'ticks' for the year when we spent a few days in Devon. Firstly we managed to catch up with a small group of Cirl Buntings at Teignmouth and a stunning summer plumage Slavonian Grebe at Cockwood Harbour.

Griffon Vulture on migration!
September was a busy month with visits to Spain and France. Firstly a visit to Spain, where Dave and I drove down to Gibraltar and Tarifa to witness the amazing raptor migration. Apart from the shear numbers of birds crossing 'The Straits', including 1000s of Honey Buzzards, Booted Eagles and Griffon Vultures there was plenty more to rave about, including a superb Rüppell's Vulture. Later in the month a visit to Dee's parents in France gave us the opportunity to take in some of our favourite reserves including the La Brenne region and La Pinail, a great place to see Dartford Warbler, which duly obliged. We also discovered a few new reserves for us including station de lagunage near Rochfort and further around the coast Natural Reserve Moëze-Oléron. While in France we also managed some spectacular views of the Luna Eclipse and with little light pollution the blood red moon was simply stunning!

Isabelline Shrike at Beeston Common
October and yet another Monday 'Away-Day' led us to Norfolk, managing excellent views of an Isabelline Shrike at Beeston Common. In fact on the Friday of that week I returned to Norfolk once more and bagged a second Isabelline Shrike at Holkham Pines, plus Short-eared Owl, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pallas's Warbler and Yellow-browed Warbler on an unprecedented days birding.

Red-billed Chough - Ireland
The beginning of November saw Dee and I in Southern Ireland and after spending a few days sightseeing in Dublin we spent a wonderful week within the Dingle peninsula on the south-west coast. Stunning weather throughout our stay and highlights included Red-billed ChoughSpoonbill, Little Gull, Lesser Scaup, Glossy Ibis, Black Redstart and Gull-billed Tern! Our final 'Away-Day' of the year for the Brandon team took place on Monday 23rd and stops at Eldernell and RSPB Ouse Washes finished our travels. Water Pipit was one of the finds of the day but to finish with some superb views of a Short-eared Owl was a great end to the year.

Gorgeous Smew at Draycote Water
December was a quiet month for me on my birding travels but with the nearby Draycote Water producing some nice finds, including Smew, Scaup and more than one Great Northern Diver, there was little need to travel. Having said that, currently staying in our rented cottage in Lincolnshire did offer us the opportunity to visit RSPB Frampton Marsh on Tuesday, our final destination of the year, managing to record Merlin, Peregrine, drake Scaup and Grey Phalarope, a brilliant end to a superb year! Here's to 2016