Thursday, April 18, 2019

πŸ“– #17/2019 ~ White-billed Diver

⛅️17C Thursday 18th April 2019 ~ Despite spending the majority of our time here in Scotland preparing our new property for rental, along with the inevitable waiting around while the electrician and gas people do their thing, we've still managed to get out and about on a daily basis.

Last Thursday (18th) we decided to head up to the northernmost part of Aberdeenshire, even crossing into Moray at Cullen, which if you didn't already know is famous for Cullen Skink, one of my favourite soups.

Portsoy showing the new harbour.
We're determined to discover as much of the surrounding coastline as possible before we make the permanent move up here next year. We began at Portsoy, around an hours drive across country from our property. The fact that this particular area is also an excellent place to see White-billed Divers, which regularly moult offshore between March and May, it was a great place to start. It's actually a beautiful spot with a remarkable 17th-century harbour and like most areas we've visited thus far was extremely devoid of people.

Red-throated Diver ~ Portsoy Harbour
The harbour offers great opportunities for sea watching and along with the usual selection of Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots and Gannets offshore there were a half dozen Red-throated Divers in various plumages. After a time, another birder on the hunt for White-billed Diver appeared and while Dazza headed of rock pooling and checking out the local Shag nesting area we spent time scanning. I'm glad to report that after what seemed an age I finally dropped onto a single bird, someway offshore but nevertheless a single White-billed Diver! Having seen the species in Oregon in 2015 this was, in fact, a UK first for me so some cause for celebration. Simon, the fellow birder I'd met and spent a few hours with was also delighted having failed on three previous attempts and despite having a four-hour journey home by public transport remained in good spirits.

In addition to the above other notables of the day included Corn Bunting at Findlater Castle, Sandwich Terns and two Black Guillemots at Cullen.

A few of Dazzas' photos

Corn Bunting a bonus find at Findlater Castle

Shags gathering nesting material

Sunday, April 14, 2019

πŸ“– #16/2019 ~ Rattray & Strathbeg

⛅️7C Sunday 14th April 2019 ~ We took a drive further north up the coast today, heading to Rattray Head to begin with before moving on to RSPB Loch of Strathbeg.

A wonderfully deserted beach at Rattray Lighthouse
On the road down to Rattray, we parked for a while at the remains of the old St Mary's Chapel, this gives excellent views over the south end of the Loch of Strathbeg. Apparently, it's very good for Corn Buntings too but a fifteen-minute search of the area drew a blank. A large flock of c200 Golden Plover, two large skeins of Pink-footed Geese, plus 18 Curlew, Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were noted before moving on.

Sand Martins at Rattray
Parking at the Lighthouse Cottage which in itself can be good for migrants in Spring and Autumn we had a quick search of the surrounding gorse, locating a pair of Stonechat, before following the track through the dunes down to the beach.

The constant passage of Sandwich Terns
The lighthouse had plenty of Shag roosting and with the tide receding over 100 Sand Martins were feeding over the water. There was a constant passage of Sandwich Terns, some pausing occasionally to rest on the beach and during our long walk, at least two Arctic Terns also passed through. Plenty of Eiders offshore, a smart pair of Long-tailed Duck and several Gannet were diving, brought closer in by the stiff south-easterly.

Gannets on the move
Waders included many Oystercatcher, along with Ringed Plover and Sanderling. Further out passing Razorbill and Guillemot, with a constant flow of Kittiwake and the odd Fulmar. Gulls were represented by Black-headed, Common and Herring.

At RSPB Loch of Strathbeg, we decided to only visit the Fen and Bay Hides which are accessed via the old airfield, were on the odd Sunday you bizarrely find yourself driving through the local stock car race meeting, which thankfully we've navigated before.

The Loch was pretty quiet with the only notables a single Whooper Swan, a group of 6 Wigeon and 4 Teal. The highlight was undoubtedly the huge dog Otter which was constantly feeding during our short stay.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

πŸ“– #15/2019 ~ Bennachie Visitor Centre

Back up to enjoy the new property in Aberdeenshire for the next few weeks before we give it up for rent for around a year or so before the final move.

It's amazing to see, having driven up from the Midlands last Thursday, how far behind everything is! For example, the Hazel, Hawthorn and Blackthorn have yet to bloom, although there are a few signs this morning (Tuesday) that things are beginning to happen. When I visited Brandon Marsh the day before coming up Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were all in full song and the usual Hirundines had all been noted. Since arriving I've only heard a single Chiffchaff and Blackcap, although along the coast and on a few inland lochs I've noted many Sand Martins and the odd Swallow.

Sunrise from the drive across to Bennachie
⛅️-2C Saturday 13th April 2019 ~ I took the short drive at dawn along to the Bennachie Visitor Centre for a walk around the Pine and Larch forest trails, I'll leave the climb to Mithers Tap for another day. It was a chilly -2C and on the road, I had to stop twice for two groups of Roe Deer to cross, it was an awesome sight, particularly with the gorgeous sunrise.

Common Crossbill ~ Bennachie
The centre feeders were devoid of Red Squirrels on this visit, perhaps a little too cold and still quite dark. Siskin appears to be everywhere and it's lovely to hear them singing high up in the trees, interrupted occasionally by the Common Crossbills. The usual woodland species can be found with many Coal Tits, Chaffinch and several Treecreepers, although it's a real learning curve as to which species actually venture this far north, For example, there are only  c260 pairs of breeding Nuthatch in the whole of Scotland, with a winter population of 1250 ~ 1500.

Coal Tit a constant companion
Along my walk, a few Brambling high up in the canopy but just a single Chiffchaff and distant Blackcap heard, plus two Great-spotted Woodpeckers investigating a nesting hole. Through the gaps looking across to the fields and beyond a half dozen Curlew along with Linnet, Skylark and Meadow Pipit, with one or two of the latter performing their familiar parachute drops.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

πŸ“– #14/2019 ~ More Hedge Bashing!

It's been a real slog searching for incoming summer arrivals each morning over the past week with persistent easterlies or north-easterlies and often cloudy days. A high-pressure system building from Scandinavia has blocked any possibility of southerlies and has established itself over the UK during the last day or two, plus it's become a little colder, with -2C on the weather station as I left the marina this morning. Things are simply held up and the forecast is for more of the same for the coming few days.

Little Gull ~ Apparently one of the best spring movements for years
The recent Pied Flycatcher at Brandon Marsh appears to have departed, with no sightings since Sunday although its probably the longest staying on record, five days in all! A Sedge Warbler singing from the reeds directly in front of East Marsh Hide was a one day wonder and the first Common Tern of the season arrived, but only stayed briefly on Monday morning and I missed it. Another brief visitor on Monday a Yellow Wagtail, when one suddenly took flight from Wigeon Bank, having been spooked by the constantly bickering Canada Geese. A stop at Napton Reservoir on route home produced good views of a Sedge Warbler, which wasn't singing and just suddenly appeared high up in the reeds.

Willow Warblers continue to arrive in small numbers
Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs appear to be well established, with a few ♀Blackcaps now on site, one actually collecting nesting material during one visit. The Sand Martins are now visiting the two nesting structures and House Martins and Swallows continue to pass through. Redshank, Little-ringed Plover and Oystercatcher are regularly seen mating, these are regular breeding birds at Brandon and so all bodes well.

I aborted my visit to Brandon on Tuesday morning due to a ridiculously noisy school party! I have no problems with education but it's a mystery to me as to why these parties need to visit the Wright Hide on the main reserve, kicking out anyone who has the misfortune to be inside birdwatching, especially having invested so much in the newly built hide for education at the nature centre.

Anyway, I took the opportunity to nip over to Draycote Water, where double figure Little Gulls and a single Black Tern were on offer. While here a lone Common Tern was also noted. On my way home I stopped once more at Napton Reservoir and was amazed to find a dozen Shelduck. In the eleven or so years I've been moored in this area I've only ever seen one other at the site. A Cetti's Warbler has also begun to call regularly, possible the same individual I picked up calling at the marina during a nocmig (recording nocturnal bird migration) session last Friday night.

Despite last nights clear skies this morning's visit, Wednesday 10th was probably the most disappointing so far, with nothing new, little movement and a bitterly cold wind.

And that as they say is that for a few weeks as I head off up to Scotland tomorrow to enjoy our new land-based πŸ˜Žhome and some new birding locations to explore, but of course I'll still be blogging!

Saturday, April 06, 2019

πŸ“– #13/2019 ~ Pied Flyctacher

On Wednesday evening I received a message that a♂Pied Flycatcher photograph had been posted on my 'Friends of Brandon Marsh' Flickr site. Having logged on, there appeared to be no information as to where exactly on the reserve the photo had been taken, although I could see that the details indicated it had been taken on the day at around 1pm. After an email to the publisher, I managed to ascertain that the bird had been seen from the left-hand end of the Balwin Hide, looking left across towards the trees.

The following day Thursday is 'Work Party' day so before starting work several of the Brandon Marsh Conservation Team, including myself gave the area in question plenty of attention. Despite this, there was no sign of the bird. The previous night's weather had been breezy and overcast and the morning was bitterly cold with a stiff Easterly blowing in, surely the bird was still around?

Pied Flycatcher relocated! ~ My best shot was taken with a soaking wet Canon SX50 ~ A nice birthday treat!
By the afternoon the weather had deteriorated even further, the wind had increased and it was now raining. I decided to give it another go so had my lunch in the Baldwin Hide. It was quite challenging actually with the wind and rain blowing directly through the slats. On the positive side, the weather had brought the hirundines low over the water to feed and there were at least five House Martins and several Swallows in with the many Sand Martins.

Alan Boddingtons better image of the Brandon Pied Flycatcher 
After a half hour, I decided to head back to the lock-up but as I passed by a more sheltered area near the sluices a quiet clicking 'tec' call from above caught my attention. There were several Chaffinches feeding but it wasn't one of these, this was different! When in doubt I always blame a Great Tit but as I scanned a little higher the unmistakable profile and colour of a Pied Flycatcher in the top of the alder, I'd relocated the bird. Fortunately, the rest of the team were heading back a short time later and I'm happy to report that everyone had some excellent views of this rare Brandon visitor, last seen on the reserve in 2015.

Well done to the original finder: Walter Warburton ~ Link HERE

Monday, April 01, 2019

πŸ“– #12/2019 ~ Landmark Day!

Last Friday was a landmark day for Dazza and I when after flying up to Aberdeen on Thursday evening we collected the keys to our new property. We'll be situated in Kemnay, a village 16 miles west of Aberdeen in Garioch, Aberdeenshire.

However, it's likely to be a couple more years yet before we become landlubbers once again and make the permanent move north to Dazza's home territory.

Bennachie ~ Aberdeenshire
A population of Red Squirrels at Bennachie
We spent the weekend settling in and exploring our new surroundings. The property has stunning views looking across to the hills of Bennachie and the ancient tops of Mither Tap and Oxen Craig. Just a 10-minute drive to the Nature Centre, we spent a short time exploring the hills and woodlands. Crossbills were plentiful and there's a feeding station for the small population of Red Squirrels.




On Saturday we took a 30-minute drive to Stonehaven for lunch, where a couple of Black Guillemots were just offshore, then onto RSPB Fowlsheugh just further along the coast. The specular cliffs here are home during the summer months to thousands of seabirds and already in residence were Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Kittiwakes. A single Puffin has arrived back but unfortunately, we were told we'd missed it by minutes. I'm sure there'll be many more by the time we return at Easter. Several Rock Pipits, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were also a feature.

A least four Dippers along the stretch of the River Don
The River Don, which rises in the Grampians and flows eastwards out towards Aberdeen and the North Sea is just a five-minute stroll from the property. On Sunday morning we took a long walk along its banks before flying back to Birmingham later in the evening. The highlights here were at least four Dippers, two female Goosanders, Grey Wagtails and Kingfisher. The woodland was awash with Wood Anemone!

I look forward to returning at Easter for a fortnight of exploration!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

πŸ“– #11/2019 ~ White Stork

Today I attended John Walton's funeral, one of Brandon Marsh's founding fathers. It was an excellent turnout as I'd imagined it would be with a nice service to commemorate Johns life and the time and effort he'd dedicated throughout the years in making the reserve what it is today!

Tagged tweet from Steve Cheshire
After returning from Brandon late afternoon I'd just settled back aboard when I was tagged in a tweet from @britbutterflies (Steve Cheshire), who I'd actually spoken to at the funeral that afternoon. To my amazement, it was showing three photographs of a large bird circling over Ryton Wood. Steve, who would be the first to admit he's not a birder, butterflies his expertise, was asking for ID and quite clearly this was a White Stork! He'd apparently noticed it flying over while trying to photograph a Red-underwing Moth.

I immediately put the sighting out on the Warwickshire Birders Whatsapp group as it appeared, according to Steve, that the bird was heading towards Brandon Marsh.

White Stork at Grandborough ~ Slight red hue from the setting sun
Astonishing it was sighted just a short time later over the Grandborough area by Tim Marlow. Leading on Tim, Theo de Clermont and John Judge (@draycotebirding) had the bird located in a field not far from Grandborough Church, just a ten-minute drive from my mooring. Of course, I was there within ten and managed some excellent scoped views and even a small piece of hand-held video.

Short hand-held video as the bird departed towards Draycote Water

It was a brilliant effort by all from the time the sighting came out to actually locating the bird. From the many photographs taken over the past 18hrs (the bird was still being seen today) it appears that it has no rings, could this be a wild one? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

πŸ“– #10/2019 ~ Spring Migration

It’s an exciting time of year as the days gradually begin to get longer and our summer visitors start to arrive home. I find myself spending endless hours visually searching every bush and tree at Brandon Marsh and in particular listening for the first signs of new arrivals. Thus far this year I’ve managed a very early singing Blackcap in February, my first ever February Sand Martin on the last day of the month, followed by my first Swallow of the year on the morning of March 19th.

Redshank ~ Up to four on East Marsh over the past few weeks
Chiffchaffs now well established
Chiffchaffs began singing a few weeks ago and are now well established with counts into double figures currently at Brandon. Both Oystercatcher and Redshank are now resident and on the morning of March 20th, I inadvertently flushed a Green Sandpiper from the River Pool Hide.

Blackcaps beginning to trickle through
A very early Greenshank was on site for just one day on Saturday, March 23rd, unfortunately, it was the only morning over the past fortnight I didn't visit! After a lone Little-ringed Plover arrived on March 9th numbers have built up and there was four on-site yesterday. Over the weekend a small arrival of Blackcaps with at least two singing during my visit.

Redwings soon heading north
On reverse migration, yesterdays visit produced an amazing three Jack Snipe on Teal Pool and the long staying Whooper Swans were still here Sunday morning but departed very early. Flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing in various denominations have been moving through and there are still a few Lesser Redpolls and Siskins to be found.

Green Sandpiper finally decided to show on Teal Pool
After a frosty start this morning and clear skies overnight things looked pretty good for more arrivals and I was very hopeful that I'd record my first Willow Warbler of the year but sadly not! In fact, it was the quietest the woods had been in recent weeks. Having walked New Hare Covert with Jim Rushforth, best here three Redwings and two Blackcap we arrived in Wright Hide to find just a single Whooper Swan on East Marsh Pool. I had the distinct impression the bird was somewhat agitated, constantly calling and then heading off pretty smartish. Was this a single visitor or one of the pair that has resided with us for the best part of the winter? The mystery was solved a little later in the East Marsh Hide when Martin Durkin informed us that both birds had been in and out very early on and seemed to have got separated.

The best of the rest for today included: Willow Tit, (4) Sand Martin, Swallow, (4) Little-ringed Plover, (2) Redshank, (2) Oystercatcher, (3) Shelduck, (14) Common Snipe, Green Sandpiper but no sign of any of yesterdays Jack Snipe.

Monday, March 11, 2019

πŸ“– #9/2019 ~ Norfolk Weekend

πŸŒ¦πŸ’¨10C Saturday 9th March 2019 ~ Despite the strong winds, heavy showers and more prolonged periods of rain on Sunday, we can reflect on what turned out to be an excellent weekend on the North Norfolk Coast.

Staying at the Premier Inn Kings Lynn Friday/Saturday night we began Saturday morning with a visit to RSPB Titchwell. We decided to make straight for the beach for a quick sea-watch, despite a yellow warning of high wind speed. As expected the conditions were pretty challenging but having found a small area which afforded some protection we managed a half hour scan. Things were pretty quiet offshore with just a few Gannet passing through at distance, a single Common Scoter and Long-tailed Duck in flight. Onshore a good selection of waders along the tideline with Grey Plover, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher.

Close views of Knot on the Volunteer Marsh at RSPB Titchwell
Heading back for some shelter in the Parinder Hide a group of circa 100 Knot provided some close-up views on the Volunteer Marsh, before being flushed by a marauding Peregrine. Our timing was perfect as we reached the hide just as a heavy hail shower blew in.

A small group of the 24 Meditteranean Gulls seen at Titchwell
From the hide, our count of Mediterranean Gulls was briefly interrupted by a Little Gull, which flew through during the heavy showers. Resuming our count, we eventually managed an amazing (24) Med Gulls, mostly hunkered down in the strong wind. There was no sign of the Water Pipit from the Parinder Hide but a quick tally of other sightings, while drying off and having lunch in the centre, included of note: (6) Marsh Harrier, Water Rail, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Little Egret and many Brent Geese.

Red-legged Partridge & Hare taking shelter from the gales
Our next stop was Cholsey Barns for a Black Redstart, which unsurprisingly we didn't connect with, by this time the wind was at its peak but there were far more Yellowhammers than I've seen here during previous visits, plus several Hares, which delighted Dazza and a half dozen Red-legged Partridge taking shelter. 

From here on to Kelling Heath in search of Dartford Warbler and although we were sceptical of seeing any in the conditions we did, in fact, manage some brief views of a male just beyond the railway crossing, having first heard the bird calling close by in the gorse. A Stonechat also added to the day list, plus a brief stop in the fading light at Cley for Snow Bunting, where we also managed three Barnacle Geese.

πŸ’¨☔3C Sunday 10th March 2019 ~ Although more strong winds were forecast the day started off wet but reasonably calm. Our first stop was Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve, having been thwarted yesterday by it's closure due to the high winds. It's our first visit here and I must say it's one the most well kept and organised reserves we've ever visited, a real shop window for the Hawk and Owl Trust who run it. There is a boardwalk throughout the reserve and feeders were everywhere (and full) including at most of the six hides and each one had plenty of activity around them, well worth the £5 entry fee, which helps maintain the costs.

Arctic Redpoll
One of the reasons for the visit was to catch up with an Arctic Redpoll which has been frequenting one of the feeders and it wasn't long before we connected. This along with some smart looking Siskin, Brambling and more Redpolls, both Mealy and Lesser. There are plenty of Marsh Tits and despite the conditions, a Barn Owl was seen quartering on the fen and a Marsh Harrier was also active during our three-hour stay.

Several Marsh Tits during our visit to Sculthorpe ~ This one a ringed bird

Gorgeous male Brambling at the Volunteer Hide, Sculthorpe
After a cuppa in the Nature Centre, we headed off back to the coast for a final look around Cley Marshes. The rain had now cleared through but the wind had returned. We managed a walk to the beach along the East Bank but the conditions for sea-watching were horrendous. However, we did manage to connect with three Pink-footed Geese and six Eurasian White-fronted, plus four Ringed Plover before we decided to call it a day and head home.

Three of six Eurasian White-fronted Geese at Cley Marshes

Friday, February 22, 2019

πŸ“– #8/2019 ~ Springlike Brandon

☁️🌞14C Friday 22nd February 2019 A wonderful springlike day at Brandon Marsh after the mist cleared and despite being half term, when I rarely visit, it was quite bearable.

Song Thrush
The first highlight of the day was a singing Blackcap in Horsetail Glade, although it didn't last for too long, perhaps it suddenly remembered it was still only February. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming and lots of Great Tits singing too with Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush and Blackbird also clearing their throats. I just hope that the winter doesn't have any surprises still up its sleeve like 2018, particularly for a couple of Long-tailed Tits seen nest building today.

These two regular Whooper Swans have graced East Marsh Pool off and on for almost the entire winter thus far.
Over 60+ Wigeon on East Marsh Pool when I arrived at the hide, four Oystercatchers, eight Pochard including six Drakes and four Shelduck, two of which were on River Pool. The regular visiting Whooper Swans also dropped in shortly after I arrived and a Muntjac Deer on Wigeon Bank spent a little time feeding.

One of two Little Egrets today ~ This one on Teal Pool
The Teal Hide had a Little Egret which seemed to be foraging pretty well, catching the odd fish.

Small Tortoishell didn't offer the best photo opportunity
As Alan Boddington and I passed by the Baldwin Hide on our way for a stroll around the Farm Pool Reedbed our first Brandon butterfly of 2019 when a Small Tortoishell landed on the reeds in its attempt to soak up the sun.

Stonechat 'human watching'
At Farm Pool, a Stonechat flitting around the bramble and occasionally popping up on to the posts to check us out was nice and around the reedbeds, Reed Buntings were also singing. Over towards Brandon Lane at least three House Sparrows along the fence, quite a rarity for Brandon but now becoming more regular in this area.