Sunday, 30 November 2014

Short-eared Owls steal show at Hawling

After the Rosy Starling in Bristol and a good session at Slimbridge I was already happy I'd had a great day but I decided to stop at Hawling on my way home to see if I could pick up a wintering Short-eared Owl. I'd never been to this location before but the habitat stood out so finding it was no trouble at all. There were three photographers set up and this number increased to around 18 as the light faded. 

Patience was the order of the day as for the first two of hours I had to be content watching two Stonechats perform along the wall. A Kestrel hunted the Owl fields whilst there was an occasional fly over by Raven, Redwing and Fieldfare.

A Red Kite came into view on the other side of the road and was quickly joined by another 3 Kites and a Buzzard before they went off to roost.

By this time the crowd had reduced to just 5 people of which non were photographers. Our patience was rewarded when 4 Short-eared Owls hunting at the top of field and then edging closer towards the viewing area. I just love watching these birds and it was a case of them passing a glance at us whilst they carried on their daily business. An amazing sight, it must be said. If I lived locally I'd be up there every night without a doubt.To top the day off I found another Shortie hunting a few miles north of the location.  

Thanks to Pete Walkden for file image.

Bewick's Return

Entrance to Slimbridge
Bewick Swan Family
My arty attempt of Pintails
White-fronted Geese
Common Crane (GCP)
Bewick close up
The superb book shop

After a great start to the day in Bristol I stopped in at Slimbridge to catch up with the returning Bewick Swans. It was nice to see them at close quarters in the Rushy pen but also out on the Dumbles with the thousands of other birds. I managed to count around 40 Bewicks include a good number of young birds.

There were two pairs of Cranes showing territorial behaviour and one pair fully chased off the second pair and lets hope they manage to breed again next year. 

From the Holden tower I picked up the Juvenile Marsh Harrier I observed on my last visit whilst other sightings included a Peregrine, 2 Buzzards, 500+ Dunlin, 1000 Golden Plover, 200 Barnacle Geese, 200 Lapwing, 50 White-fronted Geese and 2 Little Stints.

The Tack Piece was full of birds including 4 Crane, 20 Ruff, 50 Curlew, 200 Black-tailed Godwits, 200 Dunlin, 600 Wigeon, 40 Pintail, 200 Teal and 800 Lapwing.

After a good scan and sandwiches on the move I had a good trawl through their great range of books, avoiding drawing the debit card out ! 

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Bristol Rose-coloured Starling

Nice capture from local birder Lee Gardiner (with thanks)
 Can you spot the bird here ?
Area I saw the bird either stationary or in flight

With an additional day off this week I opted to head down to Bishopston, Bristol to try and catch up with the reported Rose-coloured Starling as I'd never seen this species before. Thanks to advice from local birder Lee Gardiner (@urban_birding) I found the area shown on the above map after two slight hold ups with the local recycling service that completely blocked the streets I was going down as they were so narrow.

I've never a great fan of birding around houses but the local residents seemed very friendly and were quite intrigued to ask me about what the bird watchers had been doing by their local church. 

After a couple of laps of the area I returned to my start point on the church park where the bird was last seen and as if by magic the Rosie came in and landed on the top right hand edge of the bush. Accompanied by a number of House Sparrows the Starling was keeping his head down, no doubt to avoid the local Sparrowhawk doing the rounds. 

When another birder arrived the bird did take flight and did treat us to some great views and you could really see his salmon pink colouring. Despite our patience and checking among the Starling flocks we didn't manage to locate the bird again.

If you are heading down I'd suggest you start your search in the region of 

St Bonaventures Parish Club and Church, the gardens that back on to the car park is where we saw the bird for a prolonged period.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

November shower dodging

Autumn at Hewell Grange
Cormorant at Hewell Grange

With the weekend forecast not looking great I decided I'd be better having two sessions locally rather than a long distance trip.

On Saturday I headed down to Salford Prior Gravel Pits where there wasn't very much different from the previous weekend. Sightings included 1 Common Sandpiper, 2 Green Sandpipers, 140 Black-headed Gulls, 81 Coot, 2 Buzzard and 70 Canadian Geese. 

On Sunday just a few miles away near Harvington, a possible Rough-legged Buzzard was reported. That would have been a great bird to see. I'm just trying to find out whether Jon managed to see it. Jon reported an additional Chiffchaff, Jack Snipe, 3 Wigeon and Kingfisher on Sunday.

For my Sunday fix I headed to Hewell Grange where I hadn't been for a good while despite it being my closest site to home. The signing in and out procedure discourages me sometimes as I just want to get the scope out and get going. Whilst there wasn't any superstars I got some amazing views of good number of Goldcrests, 30 Shoveller (which is a great count considering there is 35 at Upton Warren Moors), 200 Canadian Geese, Nuthatch, 2 Cormorant, 9 Great Crested Grebes and my first Kingfisher on site.

Collins Bird Guide App Review

With my Collins Field Guide getting more battered by the week I broke the budget to purchase the new App version for my iPhone. The book version is treated as the bible for us birders so to have this much information in your pocket and no additional weight can only be seen a great help when out in the field.

The lay out is very much like the book and I found it pretty easy to navigate. The main family group are all shown on the same home screen and if you tap once on selection you reach inside that group showing the bird selected group, two taps takes you to the actual birds profile whilst 3 taps takes you to the detailed illustrations. 

The individual birds page gives us illustrations, full description, calls and video clip (these not available for all birds). If you don't have the BTO Atlas you can purchase additional maps at £1.99. 

The search function works very well despite odd comments I'd heard from other birders. I've now used it many times when out in the field. The ability to search by size, colour, habitat and many more option is another great feature. 

The price of £12.99 is expensive if you don't use it however when you consider you have the best field guide available in your pocket at no extra weight then it's a must have.

My only issue is the file size of 669 MB which takes up plenty of memory on the phone. When Apple have issued IOS updates I've had to remove the App and then install again once the software update has finished. In summary you are going to have less space on your phone for music, video or apps.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Kidderminster Black Redstart

Black Redstart showing nicely
Location map

After the weekend success of catching up with two Black Redstarts in Gloucestershire another beauty landed much closer to home in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. After a spot of road rage around Merry Hill I landed in about 40 minutes from work to find Vern with camera looking up at a rather attractive council building, Wyre Forest House. 

The building had a green roof hence the attraction for the Redstart. The bird was observed along the edge above the building entrance and occasionally flying up catching flies on the wooden panels. A county first for myself !

Please note if you are intending to see the bird the Wyre Forest House is a new building so isn't on Google maps. Head for Finepoint Way, DY11 7FB west of the A451.  

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Black Redstart in Sharpness

 Digiscoped Black Redstart
  Digiscoped Black Redstart from distance
 Distance view
 Pied Wagtail
 Grey Wagtail fly catching
Sharpness Docks, Gloucestershire

In my three years of birding seriously the Black Redstart has been a real bogey bird which has just avoided me where ever I have been. There has been no lack of effort as I even double dipped the species a couple of weeks ago 90 miles apart. 

I didn't need a second invitation when Vern and "Breaking" Phil were going for a drive down the M5 at lunch time. ("Sauntering" Phil was apparently shopping, poor chap) 

The docks looked to be a great location for the bird with a number of flat and vegetated roofs and I'd noted in the British Breeding Atlas a breeding dot was shown in this area. As soon as we parked up I saw a bird drop from the large building in front of us into a tree and then pass us to the top of the nearest house. The flight view showed the red on the  tail and once landed you could see his robin size, domed head and vibrating tail. It's sessions like this you really appreciate having a superb telescope. 

During the session we located two different birds that seemed to be working their way around the docks every 30 minutes. The good light enabled me to get a few digiscoped images however it wasn't easy as the birds were on the move all the time. Vern's image can be seen here. With less than a 100 breeding pairs (RSPB) it was a real pleasure to see such a beautiful bird.

Other birds noted during the visit included Grey & Pied Wagtails feeding in the same location as the Black Redstarts, Wigeon on river, Mute Swans flying downstream, Robin, Wren, Black-headed Gulls and a single Curlew. 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Birding home and away

 Oystercatcher - Southampton Docks
Company at the Gravel Pits
Main Pit at Gravel Pits

A Saturday trip to the south coast to watch my beloved Southampton FC resulted in a low flying Red Kite and an Oystercatcher in the docks being the days highlights.

On Sunday I headed down to the Gravel Pits and caught up with Jon by the wildlife lake. The long staying Common Sandpiper and Green Sandpipers were present once again. The warm sunshine seemed to benefit the birds and the hedge line and there were good numbers of Yellowhammer showing well. Across the road in the orchard 500+ newly arrived Fieldfare were feeding whilst the Redwing were taking advantage of the berries behind the main pit. The new migrants clearly caught the eye of the local Sparrowhawk who was doing his best to clinch an early breakfast.

Star of the morning was a female Goldeneye who was showing well on the main pit. I tried unsuccessfully to get a digiscope - the distance and morning mist made it impossible to get anything of decent quality. Waterfowl numbers were down on the previous week but this may have been as I had arrived early and they had not been displaced from other sites. 

The site has a flourishing Little Grebe population, during this visit I counted 22 on the main pit. 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Salford Prior GP flyover treat

Salford Prior 
Surrounding fields
Main Pit 
Severnside Sunday

This spring I got frustrated with the constant disturbance at Arrow Valley so I thought I'd try another area ten minutes from home just over the border in Warwickshire called Salford Prior Gravel Pits. 

The Gravel pits have been excavated there for many years and the land is now being returned to agricultural use which is a real shame as the site did have some fantastic habitat. There has been some super birds recorded there over the years including Montagu’s Harrier, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Temminck’s Stint, Spotted Redshank,  Grey Phalarope , Turtle Dove, Hoopoe, Richard’s Pipit and Aquatic Warbler to name just a few, mostly all found by Jon Bowler ex-county recorder.

There is no public access to the site as it's still plenty of work going on at the site. In just a few months since I've been visiting some great habitats have gone forever, very depressing on some weeks, as the site would have made an amazing reserve.

Highlight on Saturday was a flyover the main pit by a Great White Egret, 3rd record for site. At first glance I presumed it was a Little Egret but as it got closer I got some nice view in the scope. I did try a few digiscoped images but nothing was of a decent quality. 

Other birds observed were 19 Wigeon (with the flock favouring Pophills Pit, viewable from roadside, Peregrine, 16 Shovellor, Teal, Tufted Duck, 24 Pochard, Water Rail, 10 Little Grebe, Greylag, 6 Mute Swans, 2 Great Crested Grebes, 13 Gadwell 3 Snipe, a Common Sandpiper still, Linnets, Cetti’s Warbler singing, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Cormorant, Red-legged Partridge and 2 Chiffchaffs. 

Other sightings reported included a Pintail, Jack Snipe, Goldeneye,  Merlin, Med Gull and 2 Goosander.

On Sunday the aim was to finally rid my Black Redstart hoodoo. Well the hoodoo struck once again as first a drive over to Stourport resulted in nothing a feat then repeated down in Bristol. A double dip ! We did call him at New Passage on the way back home but the birds were distant. Sighting included 700+ Wigeon, 10 Golden Plover, 40 Lapwing, 30 Knot, 100+ Black-tailed Godwits, 500+ Dunlin that treated us to some spectacular flying displays. (Please note this was previous weekend)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Snow Buntings on Malvern Beacon

Montage image
 East path

 Digiscoped images from distance

With a sharp exit out of work it was a case of foot on the pedal for 4 junctions south on the M5 to head to the Malvern Hills. I parked at the Brewers Arms pub in West Malvern before setting off up the path towards the Beacon. I had forgot how steep the path was and the stiff wind made it all the more difficult.

After reaching the summit in 25/30 minutes it was then time to start searching, not easy with it blowing a howlie straight in your face however patience paid off when I picked up some movement a good distance down on the east path. On setting up the scope I found two birds feeding. After observing at a distance I edged closer after some dog walkers passed the birds and they barely moved.  This was the first time I'd seen Snow Bunting in Worcestershire and was very different to where I last saw some on Norfolk beaches.

After reporting the birds to Brian Stretch of Worcester birding I opted to drop into Brian's Worcester shop, Birders Store,  to have a look at his tripods as mine had literally been on his last leg for months. A handsome new beast was purchased and at the same time Brian kindly did a running repair on my binoculars which was much appreciated. Just need to save my pennies for a set of these !

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Lemon drizzle, coffee and Marsh Harrier at Slimbridge

Not long now for the Bewicks arrival
View from the Ziess
Shelduck hybrid 
White-fronted Geese
Marsh Harrier
Captive Crane
Lesser White Fronted
Black-winged Stilt

With the boys indoor cricket season not starting for another week both the wife I set out early for a trip down to Slimbridge. Taking advantage of the early entry for members we were watching the birds on the Rushy pen by 8.20am.

None of the Bewick Swans had arrived which was a shame but a strange Ruddy Shelduck did catch the eye but it seems some type of hybrid. There was 30+ Pintails of which some were very close to the hide.

We then headed straight to the Holden Tower as high tide was approaching. As always there was a great array of birds to been seen. I was good to see the first four of the Lesser-fronted geese had arrived.   Whilst a juvenile Marsh Harrier was hunting along the Dumbles edge. A fantastic spectacle for every one in the hide to observe. Other sighting from the Holden were :- 6 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 3 Little Stint with a flock of 100 Dunlin, 2 Grey Plover, Peregrine, 30 Curlew, 40 Golden Plover, 200 Barnacle Geese and a serious numbers of Wigeon.

Down at the Ziess Hide the Marsh Harrier allowed us closer views, the best attempt at a digiscope is shown above. Teal numbers were 800+, 3 Spotted Redhanks, 1 Greenshank, 8 Avocet !, 12 Dunlin, 30 Redshank, 40 Black-tailed Godwits. Always a great place to watch birds.

We did take in a couple of the enclosures where we watched a pair of Black-winged Stilts very closely in the tropical house before watching the Cranes and Lesser White-fronted Geese.

The morning was finished off nicely with a slice of lemon drizzle and a cappuccino before heading back up the M5.