Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Biggest Twitch to Worlds End

Worlds End at dawn
 Black Grouse
 Worlds End
 Grey Wagtail
Nant Ffrancon
 Meadow Pipit

After a brilliant day with Alan Davies (The Biggest Twitch) previously I opted to take advantage of one of his trips to watch the Black Grouse lek in North Wales. 

I met Alan at 5am and we made the short journey up on to the top of the Moors. We arrived at the lek in darkness but the noise of the Grouse bubbling call was extremely loud - so loud you would estimate there were at least 30-40 birds however we counted 13 in total as the light lifted slowly. It was interesting to watch the jousting at close quarters. The dominant males in the middle of the lek appeared more interested in their own superiority and completely missed a rare appearance of a female bird on the edge of the lek. During the lek a Red Grouse and a Red-legged Partridge appeared, obviously to see what all the fuss was about. It was definitely a session of birding I will never forget, simply awesome.

As we drove to the other side of moor we saw another two Red Grouse fly across low and quickly whilst a Whinchat was calling loudly and sitting up wanting to get noticed.  Once parked up and refreshed with a Hot Chocolate (luxury birding, I know) we walked up through the moor for a higher view. At least another 15 Black Grouse could be picked out at various points whilst a great range of woodland birds were observed here and slightly further down the valley including Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Redstart, Coal Tit, Dipper, Stonechat, Crossbill, Raven, Pied Flycatcher, Wood Warbler and Stock Dove.

After a rather hearty full welsh breakfast (whilst watching Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Buzzard) we headed through Betws y Coed and stopped off to watch Dippers and Grey Wagtail riverside. The birds offered superb views and were just happy carrying on their daily business.

Our final stop was the beautiful old glacial valley called Nant Ffrancon. As soon as we arrived numerous Wheatears were picked up and the call of Ring Ouzel rang round the valley. We watched a male and female Ouzel on the steep banks of the valley whilst a Raven was making it very difficult for Common Buzzard. In a area of small trees a returning Garden Warbler sang his heart out in the company of the Willow Warblers.

As we headed back round in a circle we picked up around 20 Sandwich Tern feeding off the sea front at Ross, no doubt they will be heading to Cemyln Bay on Anglesey.

This rounded off a brilliant day and I'd urge anyone to look up the Biggest Twitch. Alan and Ruth know every bit of North Wales and I enjoyed the fact I could take in the stunning scenery instead of concentrating on the driving. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

It's raining Terns at Earlswood Lakes

 Arctic & Common Terns from the Causeway
 Common Terns

On Thursday evening I was just heading down to Arrow Valley when I received a text from Matt at Earlswood Lakes that Arctic Terns were passing through. I noted the s on the end of Tern so was hopeful it was more than just a single bird. 

Arriving on the Causeway in pouring rain the sky were full of Terns ! A real spectacle at an inland reservoir. It was very difficult to count the birds but there was at least 20 Arctic and 20 Common Terns. They were superb viewing and they were joined by a good number of Swallows feeding over the water. A single Grey Wagtail was also very close in front of us. We watched 20+ Arctic Terns rise gradually before setting off further north on their migration, perhaps bound for the Farne Islands where I will be visiting in June.

Whitethroats return

 Ipsley Meadows
Common Whitethroat

Common Tern

With a week of mixed weather I've been down to Arrow Valley plenty of times hoping to catch some thing new. It's a bit strange some times when you are the only person there walking in the rain. However this was rewarded when I managed to observe two Common Terns land in the south corner of the lake for about 15/20 minutes. Once rested they did a couple of laps of the lake before gradually getting higher and flying north east. (Arctic Tern also reported this week)

The scrub land on the back of the east path has been a hive of activity this week before 4 Common Whitethroats seen on Thursday along with Long Tailed Tits, Chiffchaffs, Greenfinches, Willow Warblers along with the normal resident birds.

Two Heron chicks are now clearly visible but I'm still unclear how many other nests are actually being used this year. 

Two Reed Warblers were also new migrants to arrive on lake side. 

After a ramble around the east side on Saturday I walked down the River Arrow to Ipsley Meadows, an area I remember well from my childhood. Despite the persistent dog walkers (all very friendly and keen to find out what I'm watching) its an area that has matured and could well attract some nice birds. On this visit I found at least two Lesser Whitethroat. Despite my best efforts I was unable to get any sort of image for a record but I will be trying again.

Operation Swift

Every summer we get screaming Swifts around the house which always gives us a great deal of pleasure to watch from the garden, so this year with the help of my Dad I've installed 2 Swift nest boxes on the house. 

Swifts are generally one of the last spring migrants to arrive, but the first to leave. Swifts are now on the Amber List  meaning they're birds of conservation concern. Their numbers have declined dramatically in the past 10 years and one of the possible reasons is that their nest sites are being destroyed.
Whilst a small number of Swifts have been reported nationally we are still awaiting the first one in Bilbury Close. I will of course post any updates.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Digiscoped Video

A walk in the Wyre

 Tree Pipet Bench
 Knowles Mill
Moors Pool (Upton Warren)
Swallows at Arrow Valley Lake

It was off to the Wye Forest on Sunday morning for a spring walk despite there being a sharp cold breeze. Parking at the end of Dry Mill Lane I headed down the railway line where Willow Warblers and Chiffchafs were calling. 

The usual Pipet field on the left of the patch delivered instantly as I observed a Tree Pipit land and then call. Tree Pipit are always difficult birds to find so it was good to get a good view even if it was fleeting. 

Dropping down towards Knowles Mill I picked up a pair of Wood Warbler calling and clearing enjoying themselves. 

When reaching Knowles Mill I noticed a Dipper feeding only to be flushed by a loose dog ! Some people have no idea. Once the carless dog owners had moved on I got treated by a flyover by the same Dipper and some views of Grey Wagtail. Further along the river I re-located the Dipper and managed to get some video footage.

After a quick coffee at Webbs I spent a few hours at the Moors, Upton Warren. Two Arctic Tern had passed through earlier in the morning but no more appeared. A good selection of Warblers were busy on the East path whilst other sighting included Teal, Shelduck 10, Gadwall, Tufties, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Sedge & Reed Warbler and good numbers of Swallows & Sand martins.  

As the weather worsened during afternoon I dropped down to Arrow Valley in case a Tern or Little Gull had dropped in. Whilst there was no superstars 30+ Swallows were feeding joined by my first Sand martins and House martins.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Dotterel at Long Mynd with a dodgy hamstring

Long Mynd
The Shropshire Way
Female Pied Flycatcher
Male Pied Flycatcher
Common Redstart
Yellow Wagtail

After really looking forward to a good Easter break I ripped my hamstring on Thursday evening at circuit training which felt like being shot on the back of the leg. However the report of Dotterel on the Long Mynd made me just pass an early morning fitness test (well I could hobble) and head off to Shropshire picking up Upton birders Phil and Vern on the way.

Despite it being a Bank Holiday we seemed to be ahead of the traffic and quickly made our way to the location. Some of the roads were very high with very steep banks so that kept us entertained. About 25/30 birders were already roadside but the views were very distant. A jogger however, running where he shouldn't have been flushed the birds a bit closer to enable everyone to get good scope views. I counted 11 birds including 4 stunning females. I wanted to see these birds for a long time so I was seriously pleased. Red Kites, Sky Larks and Meadows Pipits were also observed all around us.

From here we headed to some quiet woodland to try and locate some more migrants. This small channel of woodland was like a bit of paradise as it contain multiple Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts, Dipper (seen twice), Kestrel, Goldcrest, Nuthatches …….it was brilliant and we had the place to ourselves for plenty of time. A local walker kindly pointed out a distant bird which when scoped it was my first Cuckoo of the year. Over head we had Buzzards, Curlews and Raven.  

On the way home we stopped in at Venus Pool for an hour and managed to get some stunning views of 6 Yellow Wagtails feeding on the ground close to edge of one of the lakes which also held Teal, Oystercatcher, Lapwing among others.

Earlswood delivers early migrants

With a late start planned at work I headed over to Earlswood Lakes on Tuesday morning to meet up with Matt. Whilst waiting on the causeway an early returning Common Sandpiper was on the side of the Engine Pool and then treated me to a fly pass when a couple of dog walkers flushed the bird. The Windmill Pool was hosting 4 roosting Common Terns are always great to see. 

Once Matt arrived we headed to some scrub land where a Lesser Whitethroat could be heard instantly and then showed on and off for about 40 minutes. My first Common Whitethroat was also picked up in the same location whilst Chiffchaffs and Reed Buntings were also enjoying the spring sunshine. 

A great start to the day……..

A bit of Lesser Spotting

Last week I opted to take a short drive to an undisclosed site to hopefully see one of Britain's most elusive birds the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. A two hour wait was rewarded the above video clip.

This bird has suffered huge losses in its population since the 1970's so it was great to get some superb views. Hopefully the nest will be successful and help support the ever deceasing numbers. Nothing more to add really the pictures say it all. Well worth watching until the end though. (Please do not email me for location details)

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Gropper makes early return to Coney Meadow

Arrow Valley Lake
Goldeneye (Sheepwash)
 Goosander (Sheepwash)
Sunset at Coney Meadow

Starting work slightly later on Tuesday gave me a great chance to walk around Arrow Valley. The Grey Heron’s certainly didn’t seem to be as settled as they were last year. A couple of the nests looked in poor condition and it will be interesting to see how the next few weeks develop. The first Willow Warblers were noted along the east path with growing numbers of Chiffchaffs. A Greater Spotted Woodpecker flew over me and then sat up on a tree top allowing good viewing whilst the Nuthatch was in its usual place. Very few ducks on the lake, whilst Greylags out numbered the Canadian Geese. The Great Crested Grebe were at their normal levels.

At lunchtime I had a flying visit to Sheepwash where a female Goldeneye was gracing Sandwell’s Urban Park. Only other notable sighting were 4 female Goosander, Kingfisher and Lesser Redpoll.

After a recharge at home I drove over to Coney Meadow at Droitwich. Dave Walker had located a very early returning Grasshopper Warbler. At 7.39pm it started to reel about 15 feet in front of us. Whilst difficult to see at first the bird did sit in a channel we could see before becoming more elusive. We only managed glimpses in flight from this point despite how close the bird was.

Highly satisfied we headed up to the Church yard where a Tawny Owl was calling. Within a couple of minutes the Owl treated us to two flypasts inside the wood. Superb evening at Coney once again. This small area of Worcestershire has certainly been kind to me when visiting.

Taiga Bean & Hooded Crow star in Slimbridge Twitch

 Black-tailed Godwits
 Taiga Bean Geese
 Hooded Crow
 Hooded Crow

Despite a full day in Cambridgeshire the day before and a bad forecast the draw of super birds at Slimbridge made it another early start. On the way to picking up @midlandbirder in Stourport I stopped in Shenstone to locate a couple of Corn Bunting. As I approached Stourport, Craig text me to drive through to the field gate as two of the local Mandarin were sitting up on a tree by the river.

Once arriving at Slimbridge we headed straight to the Holden Tower to locate the two Taiga Bean Geese. A seriously rare bird in these parts. They are normally only ever seen in small numbers in Norfolk. The birds were close enough to enable us to get some excellent views. Other notable sightings were 5 Little Egret, 14+6 Golden Plover, 2 Peregrines, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Pintail and Skylark. 

It was then down to the Kingfisher & Ziess Hide to locate the Hooded Crow. After about 30 minutes I saw the Crow land in the field. I'd never seen one of these birds before and I  was struck with how striking he was. Whilst in the Kingfisher hide we observed a pair of Kingfisher sat outside the nest they were excavating. It was brilliant to watch the Kingfisher at close quarters, normally I only see these birds flying fast. Upon leaving the hide a Swallow past over head - a sure sign that summers round the corner.

Off to the Ouse

 Whooper Swans
 Black-tailed Godwits
 RSPB Fen Drayton
 Upton crew scanning 
 It's all to much for two twitchers

Saturday it was off to Cambridgshire with three fellow Upton birders, Mike, Craig and Jarrad. Our target bird was a Baikal Teal and we were very hopeful when we saw an audience of birders watching over the lake as we arrived at RSPB Fen Dayton. Despite the bird being present for a couple of weeks the Teal had elected to disappear over night. The four of use walked the reserve in hope but sadly no luck in over 3 hours. 

From there we set off for the RSPB Ouse Washes which is a huge reserve with many hides. You could spend many hours here and miss many a rarity given the huge expanse of land and water. With some helpful advice from the locals we located a female Ring-necked Duck. Although distant you could clearly see the bird and was the first time I'd seen this type of duck. We actually viewed from two separate places, the second place was because a Spoonbill had been reported. The Spoonbill was very active which was great to see and was also in full summer plumage. Other notable sightings included Kestrel, Marsh Harriers, 50+ Ruff, 200 Black-tailed Godwit and Whooper Swans.

Little Gull at Bartley Reservoir

                                                    Little Gull in front of Shoveller

With Little Gull sightings reported around the country it was frustrating being stuck at work on Friday however a late afternoon confirmation that one was still around Bartley Reservoir and traffic jammed M5 made me take a chance. Parking on the dam it didn't take long to pick out the Little Gull that was mainly in flight on the far end of the reservoir. I opted to drive round to Scotland Lane hoping for a closer view but it remained distant although I grabbed a couple of distant record shots. I had a quick catch up with Halesowen birder Hughie King before leaving.