Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Final day dip at Lineholt

The final morning of 2013 I headed out to the fields of Lineholt by Ombersley Golf Course to try and see the reported Hornemanns Arctic Redpoll. The bird had been seen just 15 minutes before I arrived so I was hopeful despite the horrible weather. Three hours staring at bean poles and marrows in the drizzly rain was rewarded with nothing other than views of some regulation Lesser Redpoll and Meally's. 

I ended up standing with a couple of big year listers. The chap directly on my right was on a stunning 345 species in the year and clocked 39,000 miles. Thats some serious commitment in cost and time. Not sure its great for the environment though. Certainly not something you could do every year. 

I therefore finished the year on a pleasing 226 and certainly learnt plenty more about birds, conservation and the environment. Lets see what 2014 brings. I most certainly would like to visit the Farne Island in Northumberland to visit the Tern colonies, other birds outstanding would be White Tailed and Golden Eagles, Black Gouse, Wyrneck, Black Redstart, Shearwaters,in fact sea birds in general is an area I'd like to improve in. Fingers crossed a gem lands on patch also !

With the forecast looking very poor tomorrow it could be a slow start to the year.

Raptor Persecution continues

Yet another sorry story on the Focusing on Wildlife website today about the tragic ending of life of a Golden Eagle in Scotland. Some of these large shooting estates tell us they are the guardians of the countryside however the environments they create as purpose driven to support their own shoots for commercial purposes. The legislation in place seems to be rarely applied as those who support and frequent these places have a vested interest. 

On the Raptor Persecution Scotland website it gives you the hard facts of 31 Eagles, 7 years and 0 prosecutions. Let us hope 2014 brings some much needed improvements.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Muddy boots at Coney Meadow

With the wind blowing a gale this morning (Monday) I opted to wait until the afternoon to venture out. Knowing the Lake was as normal I opted to head to Upton Warren to start with. 

The Moors had pretty much as expected in December - Greylag, large flog of Canadian Geese, Cormorant, Shoveller, Pochard, Grey Herons, Lapwing, Teal, Tufted Ducks, Teal and a single Cettis Warbler was in its usual place. 

I then headed to the Sailing Pool to locate the reported female Goldeneye which was present swimming along side two Great Crested Grebe.  I was tempted to walk over to the Flashes however I opted to head to the other side of Droitwich to Coney Meadow.

From parking at the church at Salwarpe Village I headed through the churchyard to the canal path which leads down to the meadow. The reed bed lies on your left and is signposted well for new visitors. Local patch watcher Dave Walker was on evening patrol so I joined him down the canal path. As we made it back by the screen we were joined by Tim (Birder Gladys). 

As we waited for the Starlings, two Raven came in to roost of which one then clashed with a Common Buzzard right above us whilst a Snipe took flight from the front of the reed bed. There appeared to be good numbers of Starlings sitting on the distant telegraph wires that were then mixing with those coming in to roost.  As around 1,500 birds displayed a Peregrine flew straight past us and into the flock to catch a late afternoon meal. A catch at the first attempt ! 

That flock were then in no mood to hang around so after two quick fly pasts they went down into the reed bed. After a quiet five minutes another 1000 starlings came into roost also. The noises of the fly pasts and the birds in the reed bed were superb and well worth the muddy boots.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Seasonal birding

 Staines Reservoir
On top of the O2

Man flu struck just before Christmas so not felt the urge to go out as much as normal. I did manage to get out for two hours on Christmas Day to burn the lunch off round the lanes of which Redwings were the dominant species to be seen. 

I headed to London on 27th for a couple of days to visit the outlaws and also to spend a day in the city. I managed to get to Staines Reservoir on the hope of seeing a Black Necked Grebe but sadly no luck. However I did find 14 Goldeneye taking refuge from the blowing gale on the North basin. Other sightings were Cormorant, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, 30 Wigeon, 50+ Coot, Pied Wagtail, 10 Tufted Duck. There was a constant stream of jets taking off just behind the reservoir from the close Heathrow airport. Most definitely a strange place to go birding.

The next morning we heading to Greenwich as we were booked the climb the O2. The weather was stunning allowing fantastic views of the river and the city. The climb was superb and certainly not for the feint hearted. Managed to notch a Great Black Blacked Gull among the local gulls and a couple of Cormorant flying up river. 

Year Review

(File Photo)
2013 has been another good year on the birding front. I've seen some fantastic new birds, visited some superb habitats and met some lovely people.

As I write this blog I have seen 226 species during 2013 and whilst a high percentage were within a small drive from home I've also spent a good few pound on diesel on reaching some of the more harder places to reach given my midlands base.

A few highlights include :-

Slimbridge - Remained a favourite reserve and produced some great birds and spectacles throughout the year. Spoonbill, American Wigeon, Green Winged Teal, Spotted Redshank, Buff-breasted Sandpiper and not forgetting the fantastic Bewick swans. I enjoyed their advanced birding morning and also the Land Rover safari.

Norfolk - thousands of Pink Footed Geese flying over when at Snettisham and the waves of Knot avoiding the Peregrine, Short Earled Owl's hunting at Holme, Little Terns & Eider at Titchwell, Stone Curlews at Weeting Heath, Hawfinch, Turtle Dove, Snow Bunting seeing Common Cranes completely wild. The roost at Hicking Broad was probably the best moment of the year watching 40 Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Cranes, Merlin, Barn Owls all within the same pasture.

Avalon Mashes - An amazing places where I saw Little Bittern, Bitterns, Great White Egret, Garganey and a Woodchat Shrike (Chew Valley) on the way home.

Anglesey - Cremlyn is definitely a place to visit annually to see breeding Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns. South Stack was brilliant to see the Puffins, Clough and sea birds. As a family we had a great trip.

Other notable sightings were a Black-cowned Heron in Leicestershire, Glossy Ibis at Lower Moor, Red-Footed Falcon at Lakenheath on a day of fantasy birding with Craig, Gert and Andy, Temminck`s Stint at Grimley, White-winged Black Tern in Nottingham, Desert Wheatear on Severn Beach, Ring Ouzel at Shenstone and Pied Flycatcher at Baggeridge. Whilst all are not rare for me its about seeing nice birds in attractive habitats.

Closer to home Upton Warren continued to attract a superb range of birds all year round and it's great to have such a superb reserve close to home. I really enjoyed my work party and will hoping to support more this year.

My own find of the year on the local patch was a Common Redstart which was a real delight for a Tuesday morning. Waxwings also made a local visit.

Many people have helped throughout the year in terms of tip off's, advice and photos so would like to mention the Gull expert Craig Reed who has a been a good navigator on a few twitches, Chris Mills of Norfolk Birding who showed some fantastic places in Norfolk, Brian Stretch of Worcestershire Birding, Vern Wright for his blog photos and of course the family for their partial understanding of why I fancy driving 2 1/2 hours to see a bird smaller than a sparrow. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Grebes and wet boots

Another very grey looking day first thing but headed out for a quick lap of the lake. Nothing of a major note however the Great Crested Grebe numbers were back up to their normal level of around 7 whilst the single Little Grebe found on my previous visit was present again. I'm not quite sure where they disappear to certain weeks of the year.

The meadows on the back of visitor centre have become slightly flooded and there were significant numbers of Black Headed Gulls taking advantage of the small flashes.

I saw my first Greater Spotted Woodpecker for a number of weeks where I'd located the Goldcrest previously. The Cormorants (15) were busy feeding around the lake and no doubt teasing the fisherman. Only other notable sighting was 4 Goosander (1 Drake) in the top north east corner of the lake which is a new location for them.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Walking and a bit of birding

Despite a poor weather forecast I headed to the Long Mynd in Shropshire on Sunday with a work colleague as we fancied a good pre-christmas burn out. The weather closed in almost the moment we got out of the car however we were rewarded as after a 15 minute drenching it did clear to show the heathland at its best.

I didn't take my scope due to how bad the weather was however we encountered Red Kite, Kestrel, 2 Stonechat and Raven during the walk. I did hope we might come across a Red Grouse but sadly not luck. 

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Bogey Bird lands at Bittell

The Great Grey Shrike has definatley been my bogey bird of 2013, I've managed to dip a Shrike twice during the year and miss another one when one was reported at a place I'd just returned from much to my annoyance. You can only imagine my frustration when one was reported close to Lower Bittell on Friday when I was on a training day with no chance of making it before dark. Lower Bittell is under 10 minutes in car from home.

As soon as it was light on Saturday I made the short journey to Hopwood hoping to locate the bird.  Within five minutes I saw the Shrike perched on a hawthorn bush in the centre of the field and then fly further away out of view. The Shrike was clearly not enjoying the attention from a local dog walker who was in the plantation. 

I did try and drive to the other side of the plantation without success as I couldn't find the bridge I needed, so I returned to lay-by where I'd originally parked. After a period of about 20 minutes Dave Jackson located the bird flying right. The bird then gave superb views across the plantation where I managed to take a record shot through my scope. Thankfully Vern Wright was on hand to take a great shot that shows much clearly the bird and the habitat.

The Shrike became number 226 on my year list, very pleasing to get this late addition in December. Fingers crossed the bird hangs around for the winter as It would be superb to have such a great bird so close to home.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Reading and lists

I never really kept any sorts of records other than a few scribblings in what ever piece of paper was knocking around in the car when I first started visiting nature reserves. Without knowing any other birders I was quite innocent in regards of lists and news on forums.

I'm a regular at the Warwick Arts Centre so when I knew Alex Horne a comedian I'd seen had wrote a book about birding it was duly purchased. Within a week of its delivery I'd read the book from cover to cover and it certainly made me aware of a number of new things including the keeping of records. I now use the the BTO's Birdtrack every week to record sightings.

Alex Horne's dad had always been a 'birder' constantly on the look-out for his next bird sighting. Alex wasn't so sure. But, determined to get to know his father better, Alex challenged him to a competitive Big Year: from January 1st to December 31st 2006, they would each attempt to see as many species of bird as possible, governed by the basic rules of birdwatching, plus a couple of their own: the birds had to be wild, free and alive; they had to actually see the birds; and they could travel anywhere in the world to do it. The one who saw the most birds over the course of 365 days would be declared the winner. Along the way, Alex would try to finally understand why his dad did what he did, and perhaps even 'get into' birdwatching himself. I would really recommend it. I then passed it on to my own Dad and he totally enjoyed it and perhaps nows understands the interest a bit more.

I'm a big reader and will go through 2/3 books per month. I've just started to read David Cabots & Ian Nisbets New Naturalist book on Terns. Terns are one of my favourite species and these guys have spend their whole lives studying them. I'm already hooked and I'm only a few chapters in. I was fascinated to read  how important Britain and Ireland is to Terns and was surprised that 15% of the worlds Sandwich Tern pairs breed around our shores.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Little Grebe is surprise visitor

West path at Arrow Valley Lake
 1st Winter Little Grebe

I was really undecided where to walk this morning, the forecast was very poor so was surprised to get a couple of hours out in great conditions at the Arrow Valley Lake.

Redwings continued to be hurtling around once again on the path down to lake. On the lake it seemed the Goosander had returned again with 4 males and 2 females being present. When lining up to scope an image I noticed a small Grebe swimming away from me towards the main island. It was a Little Grebe, whilst common in a number of places in Worcestershire its certainly the first seen by myself on patch. Shoveller numbers had increased in an impressive 13, certainly the most I've seen there. Most of them were feeding in front of the Visitor Centre.

I did only see 4 Grey Herons, 6 Cormorants whilst Great Crested Grebe are now down to just 2. 

When heading past the Visitor Centre I opted to turn north and walk along the bridleway back to my starting point.  I don't often walk this way generally however within 200 yards I'd located 2 Goldcrest (showing to 3 feet) which was stunning to watch, Siskins, Treecreeper, Long Tailed Tits, Redwing, Blackbird, Mistle Thursh, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Blue Tits. 

As I left 40 Greylags were circling as struggling to land as the sailing had started. A Common Buzzard was in field by north car park. A superb morning walk.

Slimbridge passing visit

 Pintail & Mallard
 White Fronted Geese
Bewick Swan

It would be a crime to not stop in at Slimbridge when passing on the way home from the Severn Beach.  Slimbridge has always been one of my favourite places since visiting it as a youngster with the family. The place is always a hive of activity throughout the year and I've been on a number of their events through out the years. They always seem to have an eye on the next generation of members and the reserve does have the right balance for the serious birders, day visitors and education.

On the car park I saw whirl of waders flying as a Peregrine was looking for an early lunch. As many as 3000 Lapwing and 1500 Golden Plover were all trying to avoid being taken. 

Key Sightings included :- 80+ Curlew, Dunlin, 4 Cranes from Great Crane project, 140 White Fronted Geese, 120 Bewick Swans, Barnacle Geese, Wigeon, Pintail, Buzzards, Pochard and Teal.

The WWT have started a great little series of videos on You-tube with all their latest news on. The videos are 3-4 minutes in length and are great for a quick watch.

Desert Wheatear on Severn Beach

 Desert Wheatear

The appeal of seeing my first Desert Wheatear and a good forecast at the end of poor week at work was all the motivation I needed to head down to the Severn Beach in Gloucestershire.  The Severn beach is a costal village at the top of the Bristol Channel thats attracts a great selection of birds all year round. The journey down was better than expected as the roadworks at Cribbs Causeway had finally ended.

The Wheatear was easy enough to find as I could see a crowd of birders waiting for the bird. It seemed to have spend the night in some garages and duly made his way from the garages past the substation along the sea wall and down on to the beach.  Viewing was very easy and the bird certainly didn't mind the attention.  The bird looked to be feeding on earwigs and small insects.  Looking at the reports this morning it may well have been the last day the bird was seen. The Desert Wheatear became number 225 on my year list.

I then walked up to New Passage where I took the third of the above photos. Sighting there included 35 Canadian Geese, 60 Shelduck, 500 + Wigeon,  Teal, Curlew, Dunlin and 90+ Oystercatcher.

I then took the short drive to Aust Wath on the passing chance a Short-eared Owl was about. Sadly no sign of the owls but 3 Stonechats were showing well on the fence posts whilst 2 Twite were in the trees  about the speed sign at the end of the slip road.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Golden Plovers at Earlswood

Golden Plovers

An afternoon appointment in Solihull enabled me to stop off in Earlswood as local patch birder Matt Griffiths had reported the return on the Golden Plover in the field by the Hungry Horse. I first approached from Cleobury Lane but the birds were very distant and the sun was coming straight at me. After taking a couple of shots I drove round to Norton Lane. Whilst this lane is substantially busier with cars, the views on offer were excellent. About 200 Plover took flight with 70+ Lapwing and put on a fly pass before flying on however looking at the field there was still another 200+ Plover. I managed to get a few record shots before heading off. 

If any one else is heading that way I'd suggest parking near the resorviers and then just taking the two minute walk as parking roadside is not ideal.

When reading about Golden Plover recently I'd didn't know the birds prompted Sir Hugh Beaver (then chairman of the brewery) to found the Guinness Book of Records in 1955 when querying the speed (up to 60 mph) in Wexford, Ireland.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Learning Digiscoping

 Lesser Black Backed Gull
 Lesser Black Backed Gulls

I've always been intrigued how bidders take such great photos through their scopes. On a few twitches this year Craig Reed @midlandbirder has taken some brilliant shots when using my scope and whilst it seems to be a bit of an art it would be great to get to standard to record some record shots at times. A Nikon Coolpix was purchased and I must say I got absolutely nothing. Kindly Craig shared a few tips and progress seems to be being made. These a just a couple of extra shots from Monday afternoon when the Snow Goose was on the lake.

Snow Goose lands at Arrow Valley

 Greylag flock
 Snow Goose
Snow Goose

Managed at quick lap of the Lake on Monday afternoon as I'd taken the day off as my eldest needed taking to the dentist in the morning. Whilst looking through the assembled gulls including a Lesser Black Backed Gull I was approached by female birder intrigued by what I was looking at through my scope. She told me on Sunday a large flock of geese had been on the take basking in the sunshine, we established there were Greylag after showing her a photo on my phone.

After walking down the west side the flock of 180 Greylag were in the south corner with 5 Canadian Geese. With the flock was a Snow Goose. Whilst in all probability an escapee it will be impossible to know. After speaking to Brian Stetch of Worcestershire Birding he advised there is a large feral population of Snow Geese in Oxfordshire where most of these lone birds probably originate from. There was one reported at the local Morton Bagot this year.

A nice bird to see though, regardless of origin.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Marsh Tit on patch

 Marsh Tit (Arrow Valley Park - File photo)
River Arrow - By Ipsley new lake
The Moors - Upton Warren

Stayed local all weekend so visited Arrow Valley Lake and Park Saturday morning and Upton Warren Sunday morning.

I parked at the bottom of Ipsley Mill Lane and walk around the Ipsley New Lake that was as always very quiet. The hedgerows along the River Arrow were packed with Redwings (80+) again and a couple Fieldfare. Walking back towards the lane I was pleased to see a Marsh Tit practically above me. I had some great views and heard it call before it was disturbed by the charity Santa Bike ride passing by. I did try and relocate but without success.

The walk to lake was mainly about the Redwings again all being very busy with their calls and feeding. Their was a number of Great Tits by the bottom of the highway flyover. 

In the Lake area there were 16 Cormorants who were busy around the reserve whilst I counted 5 Great Crested Grebe, 5 Grey Herons and a single Shoveller. The lake does struggle in terms of wildfowl as the islands restrict the amount of clear open there is, the ducks must fear predators.

After reaching the North side of the lake on the east path I then headed out along the playing fields and scrub land. This is the area I saw a Common Redstart in the spring. I think this this area is one I need to explore more as it has potential to throw up some gems. Today I had to settle for 3 Nuthatches, 2 Jays, Song Thrush, Kestrel and a stonking male Bullfinch. 

Upton Warren looked great in the winter sunshine and on arrival I was greeted by a calling Cettis Warbler and a flyover by a Curlew. Most of the birds were pretty much as you would expect at Worcestershire leading reserve however I watched Lesser Redpoll feeding by Lifestyles whilst a Sparrowhawk flew past as I left the hide. Plenty of diving ducks to be seen including Tufted Ducks (35), Shoveller (8) and Pochard (30). A single Jack Snipe and Snipe were present also.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Local Patch - Arrow Valley Lake and Park

The Arrow Valley Lake and Park was created by Redditch Development Corporation in 1973. The lake itself is approximately 1 mile in circumference is about 29 acres is size and is man made. The soil from the area helped build many of the highway embankments around the town. The Lake has good car parking, Visitor Centre and a a series of paths and walks. The facility is very well used by local people so an early morning visit is recommended if birding. The River Arrow runs through the side of park.

The parks exact border is difficult to gauge exactly however its approximately 2.5 miles in length and runs from Bordesley Abbey in the north to the Washford Mill in the South. The park has held a Green Flag award since 2005.

The lake itself lacks any real width so wildfowl don't appear to be that comfortable. There are two islands within the lake that are home to a heronry and host cormorants. The Grey Herons and Great Crested Grebes are perhaps the signatures birds of the lake. Kingfishers can be found if you are very patient but more riverside than the lake.

Following a post on Bird Forum a number of people including Phil Andrews kindly provided me with a list with birds that have been recorded at the lake in the past. Highlights include :- - Red Kite 22/04/2009, 26/05/2009, Hobby 08/07/2007, Mediterranean Gull 11/02/2006, Kittiwake 13/01/2007, Little Gull 26/12/2008, Black Tern 08/06/2009>10/06/2009, Arctic Tern 17/04/2009, Sandwich Tern 2 on 05/05/2005, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 2 on 02/04/2005, 1 on 28/02/2008, Mealy Redpoll 13/03/2009, Eider 2001, Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Nightingale, Water Rail, White-fronted Goose (2009), Iceland Gull, Smew and Common Redstarts.

The park does have a range of habitats that are sadly not managed as well as they used to be due to resource cutting from the Local Authority. The Visitor Centre feeders used to be very popular with the local winter finches however since the centre went to private hands they have never been refilled. 

I will try and take some images of the different places worth a visit as the blog develops.

Scene Setting

I've been debating writing a new blog for a number of months as I thought it would create my own record of my birding pursuits throughout the year. The end of 2013 will mark the end of five year stint writing a blog for leading UK greyhound trainer Chris Allsopp so a perfect time to start a new project.

For a purpose of scene setting I can remember being a member of the Young Ornithology Club at a young age but sport then played a major role in following years. I did travel North America, Australia and the Mediterranean and always took a field guide but never really recorded any records. I can remember watching closely Bald Eagle flying at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

I've lived in Redditch since 1983 when moving from Kings Norton. Birmingham. I spend many hours cycling, running and walking around my future local patch which is the Arrow Valley Lake. Whilst it will never throw up many birding superstars it's a great local amenity for the community. I discovered the brilliant Upton Warren when my son asked to go there, I had no idea that Worcestershire had such a superb nature reserve. I tend to do a vast majority of my birding at these two places locally. Further afield I'm a regular visitor to Slimbridge and try and get a few visits to Norfolk each year.

2011 was the first year I kept and maintained and records whilst in 2012 I set myself a target to see 200 species within the year. I managed to reach 171 which made me more determined this year. More of that target later in the blog. I record all my sightings on the BTO's Birdtrack. I'm still very much learning and most thank full to all those who have offered advice and guidance. Most of the photos that I will post will either be environment shots or images that some of great local photographers have sent me to help. (Many thanks to Vern who forwarded me some images for the blog banner)

I am a member of the RSPB, Worcestershire & Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.  I use a Swarovaski ATS 65 HS Scope with 20-60 Zoom Eye piece and Opticron binoculars.