Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Worcestershire way

 Lakeside at Hewell
 Lake at Hewell
Song Thrush
Hewell habitat
 Greater Spotted Woodpecker
 Avocet return to Upton Warren (Flashes)

After a number of back to back busy weekends I opted to stay closer to home to drop in at the close Hewell Grange Prison as I'm very lucky to have permission to visit this private lake and woodland.  When the signing in and out takes in a procedure that needs to be followed it's great to have the place to yourself. Hewell Grange is a county house in Tardebigge on the edge of Redditch. The mansion was finished in 1891 whilst the gardens were designed by Capability Brown and Humprey Repton. Th estate was sold to the Government in 1946 and has since become a prison of various designs.

As I headed down to the lake the over night corvid roost was waking up and creating quite a spectacle. In the field lakeside  60+ Fieldfare were accompanied with 30+ Redwing and a Green Woodpecker. The lake held 3 Great Crested Grebe, 100 Black-headed Gulls, 3 Herring Gulls, Coot, 20 Tufted Duck and a number of Mallard.  The regular flock of Canadian Geese were in the meadows on the east side of the lake.

Bird song was the loudest I'd heard this year and a Song Thrush seemed determined to be the loudest. A flock for 6 Redpoll fed lakeside and all the following were also noted :- Jackdaw, Treecreeper, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Dunnock, 3 Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Robin, Magpie and Rook.

I was then on cricket practise taxi duties so I took advantage of the session by calling in to Hilliers when I saw two Munjac Deer, Raven, Nuthatch and a number of garden birds. I did glimpse a view of a Marsh/Willow Tit but I didn't get a good enough view to ID it. 

I was unsure on Sunday where to head but given the roadworks on the M5 that could hamper my trek to Slimbridge I turned towards Upton Warren. This was my first visit to the Flashes this year. It was good to see the feeding station refurbished in the December work party was working well with plenty of visitors. 4 Avocet has returned to their spiritual home and were feeding on the far side. Other species of note were Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Fieldfare, Redwing, Green Woodpecker, 2 Oystercatcher, 2 Shelduck,  Stock Doves and Goldfinch.

Late afternoon I headed down to Arrow Valley Lake where over 300 Black-headed Gulls were strangly on show. 50 would be a good number normally. I observed at least 5 of 8 Herons showing nest building tendencies but it was looked tough work in the howling wind. Great Crested Grebes had increased to 16. It was great to see 4 Reed Bunting back in the reeds as I hadn't seen any on site for a period of months. 11 Cormorants, 40 Canadian Geese and 3 Herring Gulls were all noted. 

Four seasons in Devon

Wind battered Dawlish Warren
 Slavonian Grebe
 Shags enjoys rare sunshine
 Great Northern Diver
 Teign Estuary
 Berry Head
Brixham Harbour

A family break to Devon was the next destination for my blog.  The hotel sat on the mouth of the Teign estuary so a late Sunday afternoon walk was rewarded with a wintering Green Sandpiper, 4 Avocet, Curlews, Oystercatchers, Little Egrets and Shelduck.

Sadly the rain arrived on Monday morning as forecast which made the couple of hours at Dawlish Warren very restricted due to it blowing an absolute howlie with driving rain just to increase the displeasure. Despite wearing water proofs I was soaked to the skin within an hour !  Despite the conditions I noted 20 Red-throated Divers, 3 Great Northern Divers, 40 Kittiwakes, 6 Fulmars and 3 Great Crested Grebe. 4 Great Black-backed Gulls. I had hoped to bag a few extra target species but the weather ended those hopes.

After picking the family up we headed down the coast and stopped at Maidencombe. A Shag fed by the rocks off shore at this secluded beach. More divers and Great Crested Grebe were viewable through the scope however the real find was 3 Velvet Scoter. I watched them closely however it was difficult in the increasing wind. Needless to say I bounced up the steep steps with joy as I'd never seen this duck before.  This was the only birding possible for the day as the weather closed in completely but I did have a scan around Torquay Harbour where a Slavonian Grebe was taking refuge.

Thankfully the the following morning was more like spring and a short drive to Broadsands was rewarded with Cirl Bunting and an off shore Great Northern Diver. A lovely place but it did seem to be the dog walking capital of Devon some what ruining the impression of a beautiful place.

Next destination was Berry Head, a stunning area of natural beauty. There were a large number of Shags and Guillimots on the Brixham side of the head whilst Fulmars and Raven soared off the cliffs. We then headed down to the harbour where a Slavonian Grebe was swimming alongside more Shags and many Great Northern Divers giving great views.  A walk along the sea wall found more Divers and 20 Purple Sandpipers roosting. A delightful find and probably taken for granted by the local birders. A Turnstone appeared at my feet and was clearly comfortable with the interest before heading for the car (us not the Turnstone!).

It was interesting to note on the BTO email this week that there was a large increase in reported divers. Clearly the stormy weather has forced to Divers to feed much closer to shore allowing great viewing.

Year List moved to 161 on UK400 spreadsheet and 160 on Birdtrack.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Red-flanked Bluetail Twitch

I’ve never been on any major national twitches before but after hearing a Red-flanked Bluetail had been found just off the M4 only 25 minutes from Severn Beach I thought it was worth a trip.

There was no mistake I was in the right place by the huge amount of parked cars in the area as I arrived at the destination. I followed a path down to a pretty valley where about 50-60 birders were all watching a large bush closely. I could see the back of the bird but nothing more. 

Fellow Upton Warren birder/photographer spotted me and kindly shepherded me to a space by him allowing for great views. The bird was flying down to a stump of grass to feed where I managed to grab a few record shots. Vern as always was getting some brilliant shots.

This smart Robin looking bird is best known as an Autumn visitor to the UK. This beauty should be wintering in South East Asia/Indian sub-continent in much warmer climes before heading back to Russia or Siberia to breed. Despite this there has been 30+ recorded visits since 1993 it was a life tick for many hence the terrific national interest. A brilliant find by patch birder John Barnett.

As always there was a handful of birders who just couldn’t wait for the bird and started to climb to the valley to steal a view. They were duly shouted at to avoid it kicking off.  The best quote was from a birder who offered one of the valley climbers a swim in the brook ! 

Many thanks to Upton Warren photographer Vern Wright who kindly forwarded a brilliant image I've used at the start of my mini video.

On the way home I stopped in at Aust Warth on the hope of seeing a Short Eared Owl. I had to make do with a pair of Stonechat, Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipet. There were plenty of waders including Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher and large flock of Turnstones.

I did stop at Slimbridge as an elusive Bittern had been reported. Needless to say it had taken cover in the reeds. I’ve still never seen a Bittern at Slimbridge or Upton Warren. 

Draycote delivers

 Draycote Water
 Long Tailed Duck
 Tree Sparrow
 Great Northern Diver

After being stuck down with a bad reaction to a course of tablets my kind doctor prescribed, I thought I’d opt for an easy walk to help me get back on my feet at Draycote Water near Rugby. The reservoir lies to the east of Coventry so took about 45 minutes to reach.  Signage was good for first time visitors like myself. The parking cost was £2.50 for an all day ticket which personally I was happy to pay given paths, parking, toilets facilities and visitor centre.

There is a five mile path that surrounds the reservoir but given I wasn’t still 100% I opted to try two smaller walks either side of the Visitor Centre. There were good numbers of Goldeneye accompanied by Tufted ducks and Great Crested Grebes.  As I headed towards the south east corner I located the reported Juvenile Great Northern Diver. Like the Diver at Swan Lake, Sandwell he dived for long periods and it was interesting to look up they can dive up to 60 metres beneath the surface.

Looking left towards Hensborough & Saddle Bank I picked up a Long Tailed Duck swimming at the back of the Tufties. I manage to grab a record shot in very grim light.

I followed the path a little further to get some great views of Tree Sparrow in a hedgerow which I was told was a great spot to see these elusive birds. You could clearly see the Chestnut cap, white cheeks and black cheek spot. I’d only seen Tree Sparrow in Norfolk previously so it was good to get a year tick close to home.

After exploring this end of the reservoir I returned to Visitor Centre and headed up the Farborough Bank. The bank was full of Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails. A great spot for Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail come the spring ! Within a couple of minutes I’d found what I was really after…….a drake Smew. This Scandinavian or Russian stunner gave some stonking views before flying off to the other side of the reservoir.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

RSPB walk at Throckmorton

I saw on the local RSPB website a morning walk led by Worcestershire birder Andy Warr so I thought I'd try it for a change. The hope was to find a few of the rarer Gulls however with all the local flooding the winter population of gulls had been reduced to just 500-600 gulls from the normal thousands. The only gulls located were Black Heads and Herring Gulls.

Around 20 people took part and enjoyed the walk through some very wet terrain. A family of Raven honked noisily as we headed through an orchard which also held Great Spotted Woodpecker, Redwing, Stock Dove, Long Tailed Tits, Mistle Thrush,Goldfinch and Fieldfare.

The lagoons were quiet other than Greylag, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Pochard, Shelduck, Canadian Geese and nine Little Grebe. A couple of Skylark, Buzzard, Snipe and a single Lapwing flew over head.

The far side of the tip saw thousands of Starlings present. Andy estimated that around 10,000 roosted there and it was certainly the biggest roost in Worcestershire. A raptor, most probably a Sparrowhawk put the flock up to give great views. 

The stench and huge amount of plastic bags swirling around the hedgerows wasn't the best of experiences but was pretty much as expected. I certainly couldn't walk round there every week !

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Crossley Guide a worthy buy

Whilst The Crossley bird identification book might not be the traditional field guide I must report personally I found it a great reference tool. The book's revolutionary plates shows photographs of birds in typical habitat, enabling users to picture species as they would look in the field. 

The guides tries to illustrate all plumages, as well as showing the birds at different distances from the observer in panoramic lifelike settings.

My only area to improve would be amount of pages dedicated to very common birds such are garden tits. Copies can be picked up for around £10.00 on Amazon, a rare bargain considering how much work went into producing a book of this quality.

Goosander land at Mill Pond

 Goosander on Mill Pond
 Little Grebe
Mill Pond

I haven't visited the north of the patch for quite a while so I had a tour round hoping to try and find any new arrivals. The Fisheries were very quiet except a flock of Canadian Geese and a huge flock of corvids. A number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew over before I headed to Mill Pond by Forge Mill Needle Museum.

You can park in the museum car park and stand on the footpath that heads towards Abbeydale. I found 3 Goosander, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Tufted Duck, 20 Mallard, Song Thrush and a Little Grebe to round off a pleasant walk.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

150 up at Cotswold Water Park

Ruddy Shelducks
Ruddy Shelducks
Ruddy Shelducks
Pit 44
Central area of the Water Park


With the Saturday morning weather forecast looking hopeful I decided to head to the Cotswold Water Park. The water park covers over 150 lakes made by gravel extraction over a 40 mile radius. A simple hours journey went very quickly and a couple of Kestrel were observed. The Park lies just to the south of Cirencester and there is a nice Visitor Centre and Cotswold Outdoor store called the Gateway Centre as you peel off the A419. Ideal for a mid morning coffee and cake.

With so many lakes to see I contacted local birder Bob Phillpott who marked my card to where the good numbers of birds were at the moment. His tip to take the wellington boots was a great one given the local flooding.

My first stop was a flooded field near Down Ampney where 2 Ruddy Shelducks were feeding close to the road side. They did a quick lap of the field before settling where I take a distance digiscope image. The road was flooded in places and the car got a decent soaking. A Little Egret looked on struggling to understand what all the fuss was about.

I then took the short drive to a central point where I could explore a number of the pits. Plenty of Chaffiches were in the car park and I then picked up a close Yellowhammer (first of year) and a Goldcrest. On pit 44 there was 1 Male Goosander, 4 Great Crested Grebe, 20 Red Crested Pochard (another year tick), 20 Tufted Duck, 1 Cormorant and 2 Moorhen. The Pochards moved considerably closer after a while so I thought it was worth getting a minute of video coverage given their stunning colour.

I was very keen to find a wintering Smew but despite some intense scanning I couldn't locate one. I was relieved not to see one had been reported once I'd got home. Flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare were present all over the park. Other sightings including a flock Wigeon, Red Crested Pochard, Pochard, Goosander, Grey Heron, Goosander, Canadian Geese, Tufted Ducks. A pair of Common Buzzard took flight from a hedgerow as I headed back to the car. 

On the way home I stopped at Ufmoor Wood near Halesowen for my second attempt to see the reported Yellow-Browed Warbler. No luck again despite a number of Worcestershire birders all doing their best. The wood was pretty quiet in fact, I only picked up one flock of Long Tailed Tits in two hours along with Goldcrests. I did find a pair of Marsh Tits on my Thursday visit close to the main path. 

Year list passed the 150 mark by the 1st February so a great start to the year. Big targets for this month are Smew and Jack Snipe. I have a half term trip planned to Devon and hope to see Cirl Buntings for the first time.