Thursday, 29 May 2014

Black-necked Grebe in round and about weekend

Black-necked Grebe
Tree Sparrow
Common Tern (Earlswood)
Little Gull (Upton Warren)

With a depressing spell of weather over the country it has meant there has been very little movement of birds through our area of the country.

Arrow Valley Lake and Park continues much as usual with a few Common Tern passing through. A number of the Grey Heron young have now fledged and can be seen around the lake.  On the north of the park I picked up a Sparrowhawk  on an evening walk followed by a Kestrel both hunting an evening meal. Both additions to the patch list for this year as I don’t see many in this location. 

I did drop in at Earlswood during the afternoon hoping for a goodie or two but given the lack of passage birds I dug out my old Nikon D80 and tried my hand of getting a few shots of the Common Terns.

On Sunday I was very much hoping for something good to land locally but the nearest nice bird to see was a pair of Black-necked Grebe at West Midland Bird Club’s Belvide reserve located towards Telford.

On the walk down to the reservoir the first feeding area held a number of Tree Sparrow including a good number of very young birds.

Once reaching the reservoir there were hundreds of Swifts in the company of House Martins. The pair of Black-necked Grebes were easily picked out but you needed to look closely to observe the slight difference in size.  The birds appeared to tease us all afternoon as we moved from hide to hide to get the best view. I was quite pleased with the digiscoped images I got in the end given the poor light. Other highlights included a good number of Common Terns and a young Water Vole.

On Monday I walked Morton Bagot with the wife. On the walk down to the flash Whitethroat scrimmaged in the hedgerows but  the normal abundant Yellowhammers were mostly quiet.  Mary Ann located a Grey Partridge showing closely and we also located a pair of Red legs. Skylarks were singing loudest of all but a Cuckoo was doing his best to let us know he was in the viniticty.  The flash was very quiet and was limited to Lapwing, Grey Heron and Mallards.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Pectoral Sandpiper is south Worcestershire delight

Gwen Finch Wetland
Pectoral Sandpiper
Bredon Hill

Six days after my last after work twitch to south Worcestershire I headed back on Tuesday after a Pectoral Sandpiper was reported. With being on cricket taxi duty I was very much undecided whether I could make it to the John Bennett Wetland (Gwen Finch Wetland Reserve) near Pershore. Without knowing where the reserve was or access it was a real gamble but I had a stroke of luck when I was driving on Nafford Road close to the area I saw another birder walking towards the river so I quickly parked and set off in pursuit hoping he was heading to the reserve. Thankfully my hunch was correct and the other birder was Brian Sretch of Birding Today (Worcestershire).

The american wader was well disguised on the shore line but I managed to set my scope up and get some great views and an image. Unfortantley as Brian entered the hide the bird took off and disappeared for 15 minutes before returning. The bird was quite similar to a Dunlin but a bit larger. You could clearly see the slightly down turned curve on the bill and the brown beast band.

May continues to be a great month for me, lets see if the final week can bring some final additions.

Black-winged Stilts at Summer Leys

Vern Wrights Image (Received with thanks)
Distance from hide
Digiscoped Image
Digiscoped Image

Before leaving Otmoor I had a quick check on the RBA website to check if anything else had been reported. I was astounded to see two Black-winged Stilts had been reported at Summer Leys Nature Reserve near Northampton. Given my location I couldn't resist a diversion north east to this stunning reserve. 

On arrival the car park was packed except for a single space right opposite the entrance. Upon getting out the car a lady from the local Wildlife Trust announced to the me the 'the Stilts are best seen from that hide" guiding me to a short path.

Entering the hide the birds were showing brilliantly, first at rest and then feeding. Utterley brilliant, superb birds to see in the Midlands. You could see well the dark green velvet colour of the male compared to brown of the female. 

Turtle Dove and Glossy Ibis at Otmoor

Over looking Otmoor
 Glossy Ibis
 Turtle Doves
Which sign is worst ?

After missing the beautiful Turtle Doves in Norfolk I opted to take the 40 mile trip down the M40 to RSPB Otmoor on Sunday. A relatively easy drive was instantly rewarded as I got out of the car to hear a Cuckoo calling and then a Red Kite soar over after an early breakfast.

Heading up the main path the bird song increased with every step with Whitethroats and Blackcaps taking the honours. Before heading left I noticed a Glossy Ibis feeding in the fields to the left. Sadly he wasn't quite as sociable as the one I'd seen earlier in the year at Brownhills and it was difficult to get any sort of decent image.

I didn't find the Turtle Doves instantly however on my returning journey I picked up their purring call but not just one bird but three in close proximately to each other. These dainty doves looked amazing through my scope and it's superb to see the colours and patterns of their backs and wings in detail. It's difficult to imagine how difficult their migration must have been back to Otmoor given the absolute carnage over Malta which was highlighted brilliantly by Chris Packham. Once the European elections are complete I think it will be time to write to my MEP once again.

Elsewhere on the reserve there were many Lapwing with young, Redshank, Ruff, Greylags and Warblers. As I turned back for the car park a full family of 6 badgers crossed the path five yards in front of me without giving me a second glance. 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Wood Sandpiper at Lower Moor

Lower Moor Flash (Centre)

Thursday afternoons always enables me to finish work a little earlier and it was great to make the most of this time to head down an extra junction of the M5 on the way home to see a Wood Sandpiper reported on Birding Today

This wader had proved rather elusive this May so it was great to catch up with one even though viewing wasn't easy as the sun was right behind the bird. A cuckoo was calling in close proximity to the reserve. 

Lower Moor is very close to Pershore on the way to Evesham. If you are ever heading that way you are best parking on Bridge Street and walking down to the small car park where the flash is. There is room to park but it can get very wet and it's very difficult to pass another car. 

Great Reed Warbler lands at Slimbridge

Great Reed Warbler

Before heading back up the M5 I checked RBA (Rare Bird Alert) to see if the previous days sighting at Slimbridge of a Great Reed Warbler was a one day wonder or whether it had re-emerged.

The reports showed it was seen early but nothing for fours hours by the time I arrived. There was plenty of birders scratching their heads and having their patience tested.  I was starting to wonder myself after 90 minutes of just watching a single reed bed other than three Spotted Flycatchers.

Thankfully I was rewarded when I picked up a feint croaking call which then got louder and louder. It was no doubt it was the Great Reed Warbler but where was it ? Every one had to wait another couple of minutes before it moved from the reeds to the hawthorn bushes before being chased towards the hide the other side of the path. Once there I managed to get some fantastic views much to my amazement and I even managed to get a few seconds of video and a digiscoped image. You could clearly see the very strong bill and the bird was more thrush like in build. Looking at the reports it was only the third time a Great Reed Warbler had visited Gloucestershire. 

Whilst at Slimbridge I checked the progress of the nesting cranes that looked very close to producing the first wild cranes hatched in Gloucestershire for 400 years. The male and female were switching roles and looked to be expecting an imminent new arrival. The film crew who had been following the Cranes could well be rewarded by the weekend.

Ham Wall Delights

  Bittern - This is how you see most of them at Ham Wall
 Landing gear out
 Habitat as you enter reserve

 Reed Bunting
Glastonbury Tor over looks the reserve
A very distant Hobby

After looking at a good weather forecast I opted to take a day off from work midweek to make my May trip to RSPB Ham Wall in Somerset. Despite there being areas of road works I was parked up in under two hours. The reserve can take a bit of finding if you haven’t been before but I had no such problems.

The first of many number of Cetis Warblers called as I put on the walking boots and headed up the path to the reed beds. I could hear the booming Bitterns approaching the first viewing platform and it didn’t take long until I was treated with the first of three different birds I saw during the morning. Before carrying on my walk a Great White Egret emerged at the edge of the water to make it a memorable start to the day.

A number of Marsh Harries including a stunning male was in sight at the second viewing platform. Round me there was constant noise of Reed & Sedge Warblers enjoying the warmth of the morning sun. I was hoping a Garganey might be around but sadly no luck. The Bitterns continued to boom.

As I headed back down the path towards the reed bed where the Little Bitterns were last year a Hobby flew straight over my head looking for an early breakfast, I watched it closely hunt before I saw it later in the morning very high with another Hobby. There were plenty of dragon flies around the reserve and it was really the first place I’ve noticed them in numbers this summer. I did hang around to see if any Little Bitterns were around but I didn’t hear or see any. The lack of the RSPB volunteers probably gave indication to my findings. The final bird at Ham Wall was a male Cuckoo.

As I entered the Shapwick Heath reserve the bird song increased again and a Garden Warbler was on view along side Blackcaps and the common warblers.  On the first flash there was a flock of Black-Tailed Godwits and two Little Egrets. Over head Marsh Harriers continued to hunt to please an increasing crowd of watchers who must have been on an organised trip as when I got back the car park it was full and any new arrivals were having to park on road causing much frustration to the local farmer.

Both Hobby and Bittern were new birds for the year. It must be the best place in the county to get to see Bitterns flying around.

Dunlin delight at Grimley


After a long day birding on Saturday I was back on cricket taxi service on Sunday. A relaxed start to the day was just what I needed. Once dropping the lad at Ombersley I made the short drive to Grimley. On the east shore were 11 Dunlin that seemed to be part of the large passage of the species this week. Large numbers of Swifts, Swallows, House martin and Sand martin were feeding above the water with 4 Common Tern. Elsewhere I found 2 Redshank, Ringed Plover, 4 Oystercatcher and a Common Sandpiper. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Montagu's magic

Woodland walk at Weeting Heath
Stone Curlews
 RSPB Titchwell
Little Tern
On Saturday I headed to Norfolk with Upton Warren birders, Mike, Jarrad and Craig as a spare seat was available. An awful forecast delayed our departure and scheduled route, so we headed straight to Weeting Heath. This small reserve duly delivered it's fantastic Stone Curlews who were very active unlike on my previous visit. Two chicks had been reported in recent days but I could not locate them. In total we observed 4 adult birds including three displaying. On the woodland walk which starts close to the west hide we all heard a recently arrived Stopped Flycatcher which we then located just above us. A superb start the day.

We then headed to North Norfolk's Choseley Barns via the Wolferton Triangle to see 8 Dotterels showing well in a crop field. The area is regarded as Norfolks best site for Corn Bunting but we only managed to locate one at a distance but we did finally see a Grey Partridge (Red Legged Partridge also present) which has been outstanding on my year list. A single Yellowhammer treated us to a couple of fly passes also. 

Then it was the five minute drive to RSPB Titchwell, probably the best nature reserve in England as you never fail to see some amazing birds. I would recommend the Cornish Pasties from the cafe as once again it hit the spot and recharged me for the walk down through the reserve to the beach. 

We got as far as the reed bed pool when two Garganey dropped out of the sky. The male was a real stunner and a target bird of the day. The only time I'd seen these ducks before was at a distance and sleeping so we got good views even though we had to stand on tip toes. Above us the recently arrived Swifts were so close you could have caught them. Yellow Wagtails flew over and a flock of late staying Brent Geese were present on the marsh land to the left of the path.

A Little Tern offered us some superb view as we moved closer to the beach. I managed to grab the above image using the camera I use for digiscoping. Photos were very difficult all day given how strong the wind was. 

Sea watching was very difficult with the swirling sand but there was good passage of Sandwich Terns, a couple of more Little Terns, Gannets, Common Scoter whilst Sanderling and Dunlin could be seen along the coast. Sadly no Eiders or Great Crested Grebes. Other sightings included March Harrier, Spoonbill, Oystercatcher, Avocets, Greenshank, Grey Plover, Pochard, Red Crested Pochard, Pintail, Turnstone, Oystercatcher. Whatever I write it doesn't do justice to a trip to Titchwell.

Next stop was a roadside viewpoint that Craig had researched as a good view for raptors. Within the first five minutes we observed Marsh Harriers displaying and Common Buzzards enjoying the thermals. We were just about to leave when one of the other birders on the other side road called "Male" in which we didn't need any second invitation to see the bird he found was a male Montagu's Harrier. What a bird, simply stunning. The bird really stood out against the greying skies and it was amazing to watch the birds powerful and elegant wingbeats giving an impression of total ease. I'd never seen a Montagu's before and he was a bird I will always remember.

Final stop was Cley Marshes however we dipped a pair of Temminck's Stints which had been flushed an hour before we arrived. Highlights were 5 Little Egrets, Spoonbill, Wheatear and two flight views of a Bearded Tit. A super days birding despite Mike reversing his car into me before heading off to home much to the amusement of Jarrad and Craig.

Tawny at Morton Bagot

 Morton Bagot Pools
Good Evening Mr Tawny

I popped over to Morton Bagot on Thursday evening hoping something special might have dropped into the Flash.  On the walk down to the Flash there were plenty of Yellowhammers in the hedgerows whilst a couple of Swallows and Swifts flew over.

I then bumped into local birder Richard Harbird and joined him on the walk. No superstars were at the Flash so we headed to the local stronghold for a family of Tawny Owls. At first glance it looked like the juveniles had fledged but thankfully we located one high up in the canopy. On the way back to the car a Lesser Whitethroat teased us with his call and brief views. 

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Nightingales and Tawny Owls star on Bank Holiday weekend

 Sunrise at Upton Warrens Sailing Lake 
 Wyre Forest
 Afternoon birding at Edgbaston
A garden Jay
 Mute Swan on Sailing Lake (Upton Warren)
 Young Black Headed Gulls
 Avocets chicks on the ground at the Flashes
Dunlin passage increased through the week

With the cricket season picking up pace with every passing week a very early start is needed to get in some good birding time as well as cricketing umpiring, taxi service for lads and of course watching the mighty Warwickshire Bears.

First stop was Upton Warren to take part in the annual all dayer in which the reserve competes against other similar reserves. On a stunning morning, I started at the Flashes where the first two Avocet chicks had hatched and were being closely watched by their mother. Linnet, Goldfinch and Reed Bunting were all busy along the hedgerows. A single Common Sandpiper shared the scrapes for feeding along with a Dunlin, Little Ringed Plover and around 30 Avocets. The first young Black-headed Gulls were also on the ground. As I headed back along the path towards the Sailing Lake a very late Fieldfare (first ever on Upton all dayer) passed over. Once reaching the Moors Pool I headed to try and find a Redstart which decided to move on very quickly. The pool held its normal suspects including a pair of Common Terns. The warbler numbers had increased dramatically since my previous visit. After a raid of Rob’s delicious Lemon Drizzle, with a pair of Sparrowhawk’s soaring to the south I headed off to Evesham to umpire my afternoon appointment.

Evesham is a very pretty ground on the banks of the River Severn and I picked a number of new species for my umpiring year list including Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Greenfinch, House Sparrow and Kestrel that came to roost in a tree on the side of the ground.

On Sunday I headed down to the Highnam Woods  on the edge of Gloucester very early to try and see Nightingales which I had not seen before. Arriving at 5.50am I did not have to wait long before the first of at least six males were singing path side. The song was superb to listen to and certainly made the journey worth while.  These woods are closely managed by the RSPB and it was interesting to note when I walked into habitat that was unmanaged the bird song dramatically reduced. The views of the Nightingales was very fleeting and if any one wants a long view they would need to spend a lot of time there.  For any one heading that way its worth remembering the car park is closed most of the time due to antisocial behaviour after dark.

With the Bank Holiday weather looking rather glorious I paid the Wyre Forest a visit with the good lady wife nice and early. It was surprising how quiet it was as we only saw two cyclists, four birders and a runner. The Wyre was as normal full of stunning birds with highlights including Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Wood Warbler and Yellow Wagtail. The surprise of the morning was a pair of juvenile Tawny Owls who looked most inquizatitive as we watched from a distance and a Kingfisher fly pass which I’d never seen in that part of the woodland river before.

Bonaparte's Gull kickstarts May

I all most fell off my chair at work on Thursday lunchtime when I saw a Bonapartes Gull had been reported at Marsh Lane, Warwickshire. Needless to say I was faster out the office door than a dog out the traps to make the 40 minute journey round the M5 and M42. However the postcode I had for the reserve was completely wrong and I must have spend a frustrated hour driving round in circles.

You can imagine my frustration when arriving the Warden informed me the bird had flown off site. I was determined to still enjoy the reserve so I headed down the paths after duly paying my £4 permit charge. 

While settling back enjoying the Common Terns I spotted the Bonaparte Gull on the far side of the Tern island. He then flew even closer allowing some great views. Whilst very much looking like a Black-headed Gull at first sight you could easily see the almost charcoal colour of the birds hood and black beak. I managed to watched the bird for about an hour before he took off to feed again but did not return. I'm sure there was plenty of birders trying to find the bird among their Black-headed Gull roosts later in the evening.

Life on a Thursday afternoon……………..superb.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Whimbrel at Grimley to round off April

Whimbrel at Grimley

April ended with a real flourish with some great birds in North Wales and I finished the month with an evening walk over at Grimley. 

A Whimbrel was feeding behind the willow trees on the east shore. The bird was first reported on Sunday so it was unusual that it had been hanging around. Three Common Tern graced the old bridge railings in the centre of the water whilst else where there was several Little Ringed Plover, good numbers of Sand Martins, Gadwell, Cormorant, Redshank and a several Lapwing including 3 recently fledged birds.

On the way back up the causeway towards the car a flock of hirundinidae passed over including my first Swift of the summer. I did call in at Holt on the way back but there was not really anything different.

At the close of the month my year list stood at 209 whilst on Birdtrack it 206 in 86 locations. 

Those birds in April who I've not managed to catch up with yet are Wood Sandpiper, Garganey,  Hobby and Swift. Whilst I'll be hoping to see Spotted Flycatcher and Nightingale in May.

Black Tern visit to Shustoke

 Black Tern

Shustoke Reservoir 

It was typical three Black Terns dropped into Upton Warren on Sunday when I was away in Wales so when I checked reports of a sighting at Shustoke Reservoir I decided to take a chance and make the journey to this Warwickshire site fairly close to the NEC.

As soon as I'd parked and set up the scope the Tern was flying out in front of me. Whilst the light was very poor for digiscoping I managed to get some good views just through the scope. These birds have a real natural beauty and a contrast between the black head and body and the slate grey wings. You can see the size of the bird on image three where you can see a Black-headed Gull behind the Tern. 

For those who don't know Black Terns are rare UK breeders and generally only seen on passage migration.