Wednesday, January 31, 2018

πŸ“– 2018/Update #8 ~ Horned Lark!

🌧 πŸ‘€ 6C Wednesday 31st January 2018 ~ Dropping off a few crew members for the wife at Heathrow Airport early this morning offered the perfect opportunity to visit the nearby Staines Reservoir. Here a long-staying 'possible' American Horned Lark has been in residence along the causeway which separates both the north and south basins.

American Horned Lark ~ female alpestris, praticola or hoyti ~ Canon SX50
I parked on Town Lane adjacent to the eastern entrance to the reservoir and walked up the incline to the causeway, unfortunately just as the rain became a little heavier! On reaching the top it was obvious that I'd parked at the wrong end, I could just about make out a small group of birders at the very end, the other end!! After what seemed an age I finally arrived, now thoroughly soaked and face raw with the hail that was arriving almost horizontal in the brisk wind.

American Horned Lark ~ Thoroughly drenched like me! ~ Canon SX50
Fortunately, the bird was showing just through the railing about 25 meters or so away. To be honest, I didn't spend as much time with the bird as I'd wanted, due mainly to the weather and pissed wet through binoculars and camera. However, I was able to determine that there were certainly several characteristics of the Horned Larks I've seen in the US and Canada and it definitely didn't look like any Shore Larks I've seen in the UK. That said I'm no expert and we'll simply have to wait and see what those in the know decide but for me, a great little bird to see!

American Horned Lark

Friday, January 26, 2018

πŸ“– 2018/Update #7 ~ Eldernell & Beyond!

🌀 8C Friday 26th January 2018 ~ A day out with fellow Brandon Marsh volunteer Alan Boddington starting with a post-dawn visit to Eldernell in Cambridgeshire.

The bank at Eldernell allows extensive views over the Nene Washes where, in winter, thousands of wintering wildfowl (including wild swans) may be seen. Wintering Raptors and Owls can include Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls, while Cranes may be seen at any time, particularly on the far banks.

Alan's excellent Short-eared Owl photo on his Nikon P900
On arrival, just as the sun was breaking through some low cloud two Short-eared Owls were quartering just beyond the car park. From the bridge looking across the flood meadow large gatherings of Whooper Swans in the distance, quite vocal, the distinct calls reverberating in the still morning air. Lots of winter wildfowl too, constantly on the move, particularly when the odd Marsh Harrier passed by (3 during our stay, including one male). A Peregrine was also viewed moving low over the reedbeds, adding to the disruption and putting up large flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing, which only added to the drama! Two Buzzard on the nearby fencing, single Sparrowhawk and at least three Kestrel on the hunt, plus Skylark and Meadow Pipit overhead.

One of at least seven Short-eared Owls today!
 A long chat with the local farmer who tends the meadows here before he drove down towards the Nene bank. As we expected he flushed one of the two Short-eared Owls we'd seen drop down earlier, which flew a short distance before settling back at ground level. However, to our amazement, a further five birds suddenly irrupted from the nearby ground, a stunning sight, particularly as the birds continued to hunt for the rest of our stay. Before heading off, we thankfully connected with four Cranes over towards the Nene bank, a great end to our stay.

Short-eared Owl
The only negative of the day occurred at Deeping Lakes, where unfortunately there was no sign of any Long-eared Owls, despite an extensive check of the island where these birds regularly roost!

Short-eared Owl 
With a few hours of daylight left a whistle-stop tour of Rutland Water, mainly for Alan to catch up on his year-list, having only recently returned from his travels in Australia. Black-necked Grebe, Great Northern Diver, Caspian Gull, Barnacle Goose and Egyptian Goose gratefully added to his increasing list!

Monday, January 22, 2018

πŸ“– 2018/Update #6 ~ Forest of Dean

🌀 10C Monday 22nd January 2018 ~ My timing was impeccable as I arrived at Plock Court Nature Reserve, Gloucestershire for a look at the long staying Penduline Tit. Immediately on arrival, the bird was paying its first visit of the morning to the small reedbed where it frequents, this according to the gentleman next to me, who couldn't believe my luck, having himself been waiting for over two hours!

Penduline Tit ~ Plock Court
Whenever I decide to go on, what for me is a rare 'twitch' I'm always keen to plan a whole days birding and thanks to my short wait for the Penduline I was able to head off pretty smartish to my next stop of the day, Cannop Ponds, in the Forest of Dean. These are a series of manmade ponds and a great place to see Mandarin Ducks, which are regular breeders here. With the reasonably fine weather, the area was busier than normal but despite the dog walkers, ramblers and cyclists I did manage to find twelve birds, mainly skulking in the flooded wood opposite the main pond! A cronking Raven overhead, Marsh Tit and several Coal Tit around the feeders were other day ticks!

Mandarin Pair ~ Always looking stunning, even in the gloom!
From here a quick stop at Parkend, which yielded eight Hawfinch opposite the cricket pitch high in the canopy, but with local patch birds being seen regularly I didn't linger here for too long!

Two of the four Wild Boar that took me by surprise!
My next stop was New Fancy viewpoint, which on arrival seemed devoid of any birds. Indeed a vigil on the lookout area, which I have to say is fast becoming obscured by trees, was a little disappointing, with only the echoing song of at least three Mistle Thrush reverberating, two Goldcrest and the odd passing Siskin. In fact, It was back at the car park where the action took place. Firstly, two Common Crossbill passing overhead, but no sooner had they grabbed my attention than I got the fright of my life. When no less than four Wild Boar appeared from out of nowhere, one intent on barging through! To end the visit in style, having thought I'd initially 'dipped', my one and only Goshawk of the day passed low over the treeline, before being obscured by the low sun, it was time for a well-earned cuppa!

Grey Grey Shrike, Crabtree Hill
I struggled at first to find the next species on my list, a Great Grey Shrike at Crabtree Hill, an area I'd not visited before. With all my information pinned and stored on Google Maps, it doesn't help when you have absolutely no phone signal for the majority of the day, EE take note! Notwithstanding I reverted to the good old Ordinance Survey Map, parking near Woorgreens Nature Reserve and after traipsing across the bogged ground for a good hour eventually found him! Well, actually he found me, they do like to be nosey! Worth mentioning too that the lake held (11) Goosander and the surrounding alder a huge flock of mixed Lesser Redpoll/Siskin, circa 200!

Dipper at Wenchford in the fading light!
My final stop of the day was Wenchford Picnic Site for Dipper. Although I've seen Dipper hear before I'd dipped (forgive the pun) during my last visit with the Brandon Marsh team. No such issues today, when I found one just off the bridge which leads down to the car park.

A few more images of the day....

Great Grey Shrike

Wild Boar

Mandarin Duck

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

πŸ“– 2018/Update #5 ~ Rutland & Eyebrook

🌀 πŸ’¨πŸŒ¬ 3C Tuesday 16th January 2018 ~ A pretty challenging days birding in a stiff and bitterly cold north-westerly breeze, meeting up with Geoff Hood from the Brandon Marsh team for a planned visit to Eyebrook and Rutland Water. Our first stop Eyebrook and by the time we parked up for a look across the reservoir a count of twelve Red Kites had been recorded, with one group of six birds along the A6003 near Rockingham.

Record Image of two Drake Smew at Eyebrook.
In choppy conditions, it wasn't long before a couple of Drake Smew were located. These along with a selection of wildfowl which included a pair of Pintail and good numbers of Tufted Duck, Wigeon and Teal. Double figure Dunlin and circa100 Golden Plover were sent up by yet another passing Red Kite. Buzzard,Kestrel and a male Stonechat also noted from one of the viewing screens. In the fields opposite the reservoir three BrownHares enjoying the sunshine.

Well protected from the elements record shot of Little Owl 
Before heading on to Rutland Water a check of a well-known oak tree, which yielded one of the two Little Owls which reside here.

Our first stop at Rutland Water was the North-Arm and after finding a good spot to shield ourselves from the elements we spent a good 45-minutes scanning. No sign at this point of the hoped-for Black-necked Grebe but a single Scaup, drake Goosander, (2) Barnacle Geese, (2) Egyptian Geese and many Great Crested Grebes.

First of two Great Northern Divers ~ This one from the fisherman's car park
We did thankfully locate the Black-necked Grebe while stopping at the fisherman's car park a short while later out towards the far bank and while here the first of two Great Northern Divers for the day. Two more stops, firstly at the 'Old Hall', where we eventually picked out the Red-necked Grebe despite the increasing swell and then on to the far end of Hambleton peninsula for our second Great Northern Diver of the day!

Great Norther Diver ~ Far end of Hambleton peninsula 
Finally, another stop off back at Eyebrook on route home produced a single Ruff, (4) Redshank, (15) DunlinLittle Egret, (6) Red-legged Partridge and a Muntjac Deer!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

πŸ“– 2018/Update #4 ~ RSPB Burton Mere

🌀 5C Sunday 14th January 2018 ~ Stopping over in Liverpool last night gave Dee and I the perfect opportunity to visit a couple of birding sites on Sunday before making our way back to the Midlands!

Purple Sandpiper ~ Usually asleep, mingled in with Dunlin, Redshank & Turnstones!
After breakfast, we took the short journey across the River Mersey, via the Mersey Tunnel to visit New Brighton Marina. In March 2015 a rare vagrant Laughing Gull resided here for several weeks and when 'twitching' the bird back then I'd noticed a healthy population of Purple Sandpipers were also regularly roosting on the pontoons. Since then, when visiting Liverpool to see relatives I sometimes take the opportunity for a visit, particularly for my annual year-tick! Try to visit in the week though as today, particularly with the sun shining, there were many dog walkers, cyclists & joggers!

Oystercatcher ~ New Brighton 
Before moving on to RSPB Burton Mere a check of the sea and surrounding beach areas, recording many Oystercatcher, Redshank & Turnstones.

PDF of RSPB Burton Mere ~ Download HERE
The gateway to the Dee Estuary reserve, Burton Mere Wetlands straddles the border between England and Wales with a mosaic of freshwater wetland habitats, mixed farmland and woodland. My last visit here was also back in 2015, in fact on the same day as 'twitching' the Laughing Gull. I'd made my way over for a second 'twitch' of the day, this time a Long-eared Owl, but sadly none were on site today.

Black-tailed Godwits from the Marsh Covert Hide
There's plenty to explore while here, including a couple of screens and both the Marsh Covert Hide and Inner Marsh Farm Hide offer close views of Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew and the usual winter wildfowl. However, the most productive area during our visit was Burton Point headland with unrivalled views across the estuary. From here, although distant, a couple of Great Egrets, Whooper Swans and single Marsh Harrier. Some huge flocks of mixed Golden Plover/Lapwing and many geese also straddle the area but unfortunately, due to the distance, it was difficult to pick out any Pink-footed among them! Stonechat, Redwing, Fieldfare & Green Woodpecker brought up a respectable 50 species for the day, now 100 for the year thus far!

Monday, January 08, 2018

πŸ“– 2018/Update #3 ~ Charlecote

☁️ 3C Monday 8th January 2018 ~ A dull, murky and drizzly morning spent at Charlecote near Stratford upon Avon for my annual look at this small population of Corn Buntings.

Corn Bunting at Charlecote ~ This one from last years visit!
I'm always amazed when I visit this site at the sheer amount of birds on view! It just goes to show how the thoughtful planning of set-aside areas and planting of various crops can yield such amazing results. Something as simple as leaving seed heads on a variety of mixed crops and plants to provide feeding stations for the winter birds was something I was frustratingly prevented from doing at Brandon Marsh!

Reed Bunting along the Hawthorn
Just walking along the track for a short distance yielded large numbers of Yellowhammer and Linnet, constantly on the move. Five Song Thrush, a half dozen Skylarks along the ground and the hawthorn skirting the tracks edge providing shelter for double-figure Reed Buntings. Also of note (4) Bullfinch, (20+) Stock Dove, (4) Wren and a dozen Blackbirds! As for the Corn Buntings? Five noted today but unfortunately staying close to the trees in the adjacent field.

One of many Fieldfare!
Finally, a look at the ploughed fields on the opposite side of the main road, which were simply awash with Fieldfare, Redwing, Chaffinch and at least (9) Golden Plover mixed in with the Lapwing flock!

Sunday, January 07, 2018

πŸ“– 2018/Update #2 ~ Brandon Marsh

❄️ ☀️ 1C Sunday 7th January 2018 ~ A couple of visits to Brandon Marsh thus far this year, Thursday 4th meeting up with the conservation team in the nature centre for a catch up and tea, before heading off out onto the reserve. With the paths flooded and the hides empty I decided to head across to the phase three area to check out the ongoing works, managing to inadvertently flush a Jack Snipe feeding near one of the pools!

Shelduck ~ Teal Pool
Today (Sunday) a crisp, frosty morning visit, the flooding receding sufficiently for a walk down to East Marsh Hide, via Horsetail Glade. On route, a Grey Wagtail overhead, plus a small flock of Siskin feeding in the alder, Treecreeper, (4) Lesser Redpoll and a single Great Spotted Woodpecker before reaching the hides. Most of the activity was on the flooded River/Teal Pool and here, along with (22) Teal, a Shelduck and drake Pochard.

Willow Tit
Just prior to reaching the Carlton Hide I was alerted, via the calls, to a Willow Tit feeding frantically near the bench. Even better, when I was chatting with John Walton at the screen area overlooking Newlands a Merlin shot through low over the reedbed. From Ted Jury Hide I could only manage a male Stonechat, more often a pair reported here currently and also during my visit a Woodcock, this while checking out the conservation areas and sluices with Adrian Johnson from the conservation team! Also of note, circa (80) Wigeon dropping on to East Marsh Pool mid-morning and a Great White Egret, unfortunately, the latter shortly after I'd left!!

Monday, January 01, 2018

πŸ“– 2018/Update #1 ~ RSPB Freiston Shore

πŸŽ† ☔️ ⛅6C Monday 1st January 2018 ~ This year's birding exploits began with a visit to RSPB Freiston Shore on New Years Day! We arrived just after noon, just as a passing rain belt began to deliver and so made our way to the only hide on site, which overlooks the large lagoon.

PDF of Freston Shore ~ Download HERE
Of course, it wasn' long before the new year list hit double figures with lots of wildfowl on offer, which included an excellent count of (37) Pintail on the islands. With low tide, waders were in smaller numbers but by the time we'd moved on to, what I call the bus shelter, which overlooks the saltmarsh, we'd managed various counts of Curlew, LapwingBlack-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Snipe, Ruff, Little Egret and 1000's of Golden Plover. Unfortunately, the saltmarsh offered little in the way of raptors but huge numbers of Brent Geese, Wigeon and to a lesser degree Shelduck were all noted.

Stonechat ~ Freiston Shore
By the time we'd completed a full circuit of the lagoon, with Meadow Pipit, Mistle Thrush and Stonechat all additions to the list, the sun had arrived. We spent the remainder of our stay in lovely winter sunshine walking the concrete road as far as, what is referred to as the North Sea Camp Land! I'm guessing this term refers back to the fact that years ago Freiston was a major holiday destination with two hotels and a racecourse.

Snow Bunting ~ Thanks to Dee for the record shot!
This trail has an observation screen which overlooks the banks and reservoir and here the discovery of a half dozen Snow Buntings on one of the islands. However, a bonus was a single bird within the group, a Twite, which didn't stay long but thankfully provided a nice early year-tick! A few more additions both here and on the walk back included Turnstone, Grey Plover, Linnet, Reed Bunting and Kestrel. With the light fading, we made our way back to the car with a creditable 56 species on the list. Thanks to Dee on route back to the cottage a Barn Owl ensured we ended the day with a further addition to the day list!

Another of Dee's Snow Bunting pics!