Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The "Cheltenham" Dartford Warbler

A rather pleasing digiscoped Dartford Warbler
                                                  Dartford Warbler
Dartford Warbler

I couldn't resist the diversion on the way home from the Forest of Dean to Pittville Park, Cheltenham for a second attempt to see the wintering Dartford Warbler. This long tailed warbler has ended up in an area on wild flowers in the same park that contained the Night Heron last year, amazing.

There was a handful of photographers who were on site when I arrived so I made my way round to the far side of the flower bed. Apparently the bird had been skulking low in the grass but it wasn't any surprise to me that the bird was keeping a low profile for a period of time.

After about 40 minutes the Dartford Warbler sprung on to a flower branch allowing me to get a great scope view. It then proceeded to follow the two regular Stonechats around the flower bed allowing every one present to get some brilliant views. 

Hawfinch Hunt in Forest of Dean

Welcome to the Forest of Dean
Crabtree Hill

An early start took me down the M5 on Saturday for a day in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. I arrived at an undisclosed site at around 8.30am and didn't have to wait to long to catch a view of my first Hawfinch of 2015. Hawfinches are difficult to see if you don't do your research. I estimated I saw 7 in total but the best image I could get ways at a very long range. You can clearly see the birds powerful frame and huge beak. In the same area I also picked up a small number of Crossbills and Siskin.

Nagshead was very quiet in terms of people and it was good to hear the calls of so many birds including Song Thrush, Goldcrest, Long Tailed Tits and Chaffinches. A number of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers were also observed.

I then headed up to Cannop Ponds where I completed a long circular walk along the pond edges and through the forest. This area is great to catch up with Manadrin at close quarters who were joined on the ponds by five Greylags, Tufted Duck, Mute Swans, Moorhen, Coot, Mallard and Little Grebe. On the walk back I picked up a Marsh Tit which was a bonus for the year list.

Next stop was Crabtree Hill for a bit of a Shrike search. Sadly despite a really good look it seems the Shrike had moved on to a different area of clear-fell. Passing Woorgreens Lake a Lesser Black-backed Gull flushed 30 Snipe which took flight and flew in formation before landing again with a single Goosander within the same scope view.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Owls and mud at Hawling

 Short-eared Owl hunting close (Pete Walkden)
 Barn Owl
 The great wall of Hawling
What you guys looking at !
(Pete Walkden)

With the weather set fair and no wind the temptation to head to Hawling was to big a draw on Sunday afternoon. The journey took just under an hour around Winchcombe and into Gloucestershire. Pulling up in my usual place I some what underestimated the muddy road sides as my BMW duly sank to a position of no return. 

Given my helpless position I decided I'd make the most of the time anyway and set my scope up and await the Owls. As if by perfect wish, the first Short-eared Owl appeared out of the long grass and sat up on the wall which I grabbed a quick digiscoped image.

Within a few minutes 4 Shorties were out hunting the meadows. Their distinctive barking call always makes a great listen and it wasn't long before the Owls were clashing in front of audience of birders and photographers. A couple of times one of the Owls rose to around 250 metres before spectacularly descending. Watching these Owls is true natural phenomena and it's great to see them hover quickly before pouncing on their prey.

Thankfully a fellow birder and wife with a Land Rover came to my rescue by pulling me out of the thick mud I was stuck in much to my relief and I then had a quick drive around and found a more firm place to park. With the light fading I decided to try and locate the Barn Owl I saw last year. After about 5 minutes of walking I was treated to some fantastic views of the Owl hunting along the walls and he even perched up where I took a shot (in very bad light).

Another great afternoon in Hawling……………...

Jack Snipe headline at Gravel Pits

 Canada Geese feeding on Pophills fields
Lower Pophills fields

Finally a good morning at Salford Priors Gravel Pits on Sunday where we only had to battle the cold for a change. A pair of Goldcrests greeted me as I got out the car before I spotted a flock of 90 Canada Geese behind the Pophills pit. I picked a small number of Yellowhammers in the hedgerows whilst a flock of 60 Golden Plover could be seen towards Alcester.

The main pit and Pophills were both very quiet and wildfowl numbers seemed low. After passing the workings we tried one of the old lagoons for Jack Snipe and we flushed 10, my highest total on the site. We recorded an additional 25 Snipe on the rest of our walk. 

The wintering Common Sandpiper flew over as we walked the main meadow towards the bunds. We decided to walk over the bunds to try and see what else was about, over head were 6 Common Buzzards circling we also picked up a Sparrowhawk and Kestrel hunting. There are two small pools that can only be seen from the top of the bunds and we found a Water Rail and 50 Teal. Other sightings included a couple of Reed Buntings and a Song Thrush both needed for the Patchwork challenge ! 

Strictly Draycote

 View from the feeder end of the water
A treble - Smew, Goldeneye and Great Crest Grebe
Close up of Smew
Draycote Water

A cold and clear forecast made me determined to make the most of Saturday morning with a couple of good hours birding at Draycote Water. The afternoon would be spent at the NIA (Barclaycard Arena) watching Strictly Come Dancing for the wife's birthday. 

The drive took around an hour and I duly paid my £2.50 parking fee. I headed straight down Farborough Bank where I located the wintering Drake Smew among the Goldeneyes and Tufted Ducks. A super looking duck and I managed to grab a couple of digiscoped images.

There had been a couple of White-fronted and Pink-footed Geese reported lately however there was no sign out on the water or in the fields behind. There were big numbers of Great Crested Grebes along the bank whilst the Pied Wagtails flew constantly backwards and forwards feeding on the rocks.

I then headed round to the far end where I caught up with a flock of around a dozen Tree Sparrow. They did seem to be rather on edge and were not hanging around to be digiscoped. Heading back around the waters edge there were 20 Goosander whilst my first Kingfisher of the year flew past out looking for an early lunch. 

Sadly no time to try out the coffee and cake in the visitor centre, next time perhaps. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Finch flocks at Gravel Pits

 Main Pit
Pophills fields

I hope these photo's don't give the impression that it was a nice today at Salford Priors as it was freezing cold and wet ! 

Pophills Pit was quiet again, no doubt the local jogger flushed everything off early so I explored the fields. My view from the road showed 70 Greylag feeding and there must have been 1000+ Wood Pigeons among the crops.

As I walked down the hedgerow I came across a flock of 20 Yellowhammers and 50+ Greenfinches & Chaffinches. I found a spot out of the wind and watched them come in and out of the crops. They were also joined by three Stock Doves, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Buzzard, Red-legged Partridge, Pheasant, Rook and a mixed flock of Redwing and Fieldfare.

Passing the plantation it was good to see the first Coal Tits of the year and there was the normal good numbers of Goldcrests.

On the main pit there was no sign of the recent Scaup but there were a flock of 140 Canada Geese (my highest number for site). Other sightings included Grey Wagtail, 13 Black-headed Gulls, nice Cormorant, Herring Gull, four Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 19 Little Grebe, eight Pochard, two Shoveler and 20+ Teal.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Warwickshire December Sightings

Warwickshire December Sightings

Warwickshire sightings submitted to Birdwatching magazine. If you have an area that you would like included please drop me a tweet or email.

Brandon Marsh:  Sightings included Shelduck, 62 Wigeon, 38 Shoveler, Goldeneye, three Water Rails, Bittern, Little Egret, Barn Owl, Stonechat, Cetti’s Warbler and Chiffchaff.

Dassett Hills District: A Rose-ringed Parakeet was visiting garden feeders in Priors Hardwick. Merlins were noted at Burton Dassett, Knightcote and Stoneton, while Barn Owls were widespread including at least four at Knightcote. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was at Wormleighton, while Knightcote had sightings of Grey Partridge, Jack Snipe and Willow Tit. Woodcock and Willow Tit were at Fenny Compton, with 85 Golden Plover near Wormleighton Res. There were 42 Wigeon and two Gadwall at Farnborough Park. A huge influx of Woodpigeons to the district including flocks of around 3000 at both Avon Dassett and Wormleighton.

Draycote: Sightings included Pink-footed Goose (19th), two Shelduck, Pintail, Red-crested Pochard, two Common Scoter, 37 Goosander, Smew (from 21st), four Little Egrets, 25 Little Grebes, Merlin, Water Rail, up to four Yellow-legged and three Caspian Gulls in the roost, single Barn and Short-eared Owls, two Chiffchaffs and 30 Tree Sparrows.

Salford Priors GP: Records included 26 Little Grebe, two Shelducks, nine Wigeon, 32 Gadwall, 85 Teal, ten Shoveler, five Pochard, 74 Tufted Duck, single Scaup, Goldeneye and Goosander, Peregrine, five Water Rail, Jack Snipe, 49 Common Snipe, Dunlin, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, a Caspian Gull (14th), Barn Owl, 5000 Woodpigeons, 800 Fieldfare, 665 Redwing, and two Chiffchaffs.    

Tame Valley: Ladywalk NR hosted 21 Goosander, four Chiffchaffs, a Siberian Chiffchaff (23rd) and two Brambling. Scaup were reported at Shustoke and Coton. Up to two Merlins were recorded around Wishaw and Kingsbury. Shustoke also held Red-crested Pochard, ten Goosander, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper and a Peregrine. Wishaw recorded 11 Grey Partridge, 1000 Golden Plover, 41 Skylark and 5 Corn Bunting. Kingsbury hosted 310 Wigeon, Red-crested Pochard, 12 Goldeneye, seven Goosander and Yellow-Legged Gull, while a Water Rail was present at Coton.

Other sites: Earlswood Lakes hosted 20 Goosander, a Woodcock and two Gadwall. Lighthorne Quarry had Water Rail, Jack Snipe, 30 Common Snipe and Green Sandpiper.
Napton Res had Goldeneye, three Water Rail and 1400 Common Gulls, while three White-fronted Geese were at Alvecote Pools. A Merlin was at Radway, with overwintering Stonechats at Charlecote, Morton Bagot (two) and Tysoe. A Brambling was at Combrook.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Mark Avery - Fighting for Birds

A trip to Slimbridge always gives the opportunity to browse the latest releases and try to spot a new gem or one I'd missed. 

Mark Avery's "Fighting for Birds" fell into the later as it was actually published in 2012. A paperback of 324 pages kept me absolutely riveted from cover to cover.

The book charts Mark's journey from boyhood to RSPB and beyond. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Farmland birds which details the battles of birds like Grey Partridge and the Skylark. Both species that have declined dramatically in Warwickshire. 

Some of the issues raised massively increased by own awareness of some of challenges conservation faces going forward. 

Simply an awesome read and great value for money.

Fog on the pits

 Always going to be tough work
Fieldfare at the hedgerows
Pophills Pit

Thick fog greeted me on arrival on Sunday at the Gravel Pits and matters got worst when a jogger flushed every bird on the Pophills Pit except for a few Coot. Not the best start. After watching a Goldcrest at close quarters I set off with Jon on the reverse of our normal circuit hoping the fog would clear by the time we reached the main pit. 

A Grey Wagtail whizzed over our heads and there were good numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare along the east border. Passing the first lagoon the wintering Common Sandpiper took flight away from us. With plenty of time on our hands we walked through the main meadow where we found 20 Snipe and one Jack Snipe.

A pair of Shoveller were on the small pit where the Cormorant roost. Four Cormorant took flight as we passed. 

We then walked to a strip of woodland on the south end of the pits. There were a flock of 15 Goldfinches and then we picked up my first patch Treecreeper ! A real find for us. It was good to see this little bird go about its daily business. Leaving the woodland we flushed another 15 Snipe, one Jack Snipe as two Roe Deer crossed the meadow in front of us. 

Finally reaching the main pit it was good to see the female Scaup was still present among the Tufted Ducks and Pochard. Hopefully the weather will be better next weekend and I can report a more comprehensive species count.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Winter Gulling at Bartley Reservoir

A shocking day weather wise to start the weekend off so I took advantage of the situation to watch my eldest play in a storming Under 19 basketball match which they won by nice points.

As the rain cleared Terry Hinnet who watches Bartley Reservoir text me saying that they had seen a couple of nice gulls in recent days and it might be worth a drive up. If you have never been its best to head for Scotland Lane on the west side as that is generally where the larger gulls are. 

On arrival there was still sailing going so the Gulls were fairly close. I always find it amazing to see so many thousands of gulls just bobbing on the water. @midlandbirder was first to find a gem when he located the second winter Caspian Gull. I didn't see a Caspian at all last year so this was a great start to the year. A Common Gull was on the edge of a Herring Gull flock and I then picked up my first Great Crested Grebe of the year.

We then all moved further up Scotland Lane as soon as we had parked Terry shouted "Iceland" however the flock took off and moves slightly north. The good news was we all managed to locate the bird which was a real gem considering the lack of white wingers this winter.

Fair play to all the regular Bartley Gullers who stand up there night after night not like myself rocking up when there is a sniff of a big gun ! These 3 additions took me to 80 species for the year.

Targets for 2015

2014 brought many highlights and I am hoping for many more in 2015. I won't be pursuing my 264 year list total but will be maintaining a record out of interest. I'll continue my interest in an odd cheeky twitch but I will be spending more time at the Gravel Pits and trying for fine some hidden gems there. I will continue to visit good sites around the Midlands including the normal regular spots of Upton Warren and Arrow Valley Lake.

I've drawn up a list of target birds from the life list that remain outstanding :-

1) Wryneck
2) Wood Lark
3) White-Tailed Eagle
4) Storm Petrel
5) Short-toed Eagle
6) Pallid Harrier
7) Honey Buzzard
8) Corncrake
9) Cream-coloured Courser
10) Spotted Sandpiper
11) Red Phalarope
12) Wilson Phalarope
13) Ivory Gull
14) Franklins Gull
15) Caspian Tern
16) Great Spotted Cuckoo
17) Long-eared Owl
18) Bee-eater
19) Roller
20) Shore Lark

There are many more birds I could include but need to be realistic in terms of percentage chance that species will visit UK.  Cost and be able to go are also major factors.

Little Bustard creates MEGA twitch in Yorkshire

I often get non birding friends ask me how many people go and see a rare bird when one is found. To give those individuals a idea here's a video I saw on Twitter of those who went to Yorkshire to see the Little Bustard. It's amazing how many have got camera's and not telescopes. Might be worth buying a few shares in Cannon or Nikon as the interest in bird photography is massive.

Account opener at Salford Priors GP

Patch mapping
Great Spotted Woodpecker

An opportunity to head to Yorkshire for the Little Bustard was presented to me on the 1st January for the following day however the Father-in-law has been unwell and I didn't want to be three hours away and unable to get back in a hurry.I felt for all those who did go as the Bustard had departed.

I opted to stay local and visit the Gravel Pits for the first time in 2015. This year I'll will be entering the Pathwork Challenge as a bit of a measure of how good or bad the area is. The day started with a real positive when I stopped to chat to a local farmer who then offered to give me access to his 70 hectares of farm land to bird as and when I wanted. The area covered is shown in the map above. 

The main pit was relatively quiet and I did wonder if they was a local shoot that had flushed the main birds. The female Scaup was still present among the Tufties, Pochard, Gadwall and Little Grebe.  

The Goldcrest were calling in their usual spot on the edge of the plantation and I did think I heard a Firecrest but despite my best efforts I couldn't locate it.

At the top of the village there were good numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing in the Christmas Tree field. Always a great site on a winters day.

Over the crossroads on the edge of Hillers I had an hour watching the woodland species including Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinch, Wren, Blue/Great Tit, Green Woodpecker and Nuthatch.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Ferruginous Duck opens New Year account

First view for 2015
Bewick Swans
Ferruginous Duck
Ferruginous Duck
 Little Egret under Holden Tower
Ruddy Shelduck
 Black Redstart
Black Redstart

As per most years I headed down to Slimbridge for the 1st January. It rarely disappoints and a good quality coffee and cake always seals the deal.

A couple of sharp and frosty nights had improved weather conditions for migration so there was around 180 Bewick Swans in the reserve or just outside. A single Whooper Swan was also viewable from Sloane Tower, a Slimbridge first for me.

Looking out in to the Rushy Pen there was an array of birds to watch including a large flock of Pintail that were very close outside the hide allowing terrific viewing.

I quickly popped my head in the Willow Hide to see if there was anything on the feeders to find a Water Rail skulking among the reeds. Sadly the light was to poor to get any sort of image.

The Holden Tower was full of birders on an organised walk but I managed to sneak into a space. A lot of the wading bird flocks had dispersed with the recent cold snap but there was still plenty to note. The male Peregrine sat on the bank waiting to make his move. 

Sightings from the Holden Tower included 4 Cranes, 800 Wigeon, 100+ Dunlin, 2 Little Egret, Redshanks, Lapwing, Teal 300 Golden Plover and 2 Little Stints that were great entertainment - very busy individuals.

I then headed across the reserve to the Asia Pen where I registered for first lifer for 2015 as a female Ferruginous Duck was still present. It was a bit odd watching a rare bird with absolutely no one else present. I had a couple of sessions watching the bird and she was definitely the star of the show. 

The Kingfisher and Ziess Hide didn't have anything of note other than a few pass finches and 50+ Carrions.

On the South Lake a female Ruddy Shelduck was just in front of the hide. Exact origin no one can be sure. Other sightings included 7 Ruff, Black-tailed Godwits, Lapwing, Cormorants, Shoveller, Pochard, Shelduck and Gadwall.

I hadn't been able to track the White-fronted Geese so Dave Painter one of wardens told be to look north from Sloane Tower as they were in a field there. There were around 140 White-fronts and a single Pink-footed Goose.

With it looking like it might stay dry for another hour or so I made the short journey south to Sharpness to see if I could catch up with the male Black Redstart. Literately as soon as I got out of the car I saw him take flight and then gave some great view for an hour before I headed back up the M5.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Christmas Birding at Salford Priors GP

 Pophills Field
Sunrise on 28th December 
Pophills Pit taken from hedgerow side
 Common Buzzard on Old Barn

The Christmas break enabled me to head down to the Gravel Pits for a number of visits. Thankfully the weather was very good even though it was extremely cold. 

Chris & Jon had reported a pair of Shelduck, Caspian Gull whilst @babblingbirder spotted a Barn Owl on the 19th so I was keen to try and find this beauty.

On Christmas Eve I spent a good deal of time on the Pophills Pit side of the site where it was great to see the Yellowhammers at close quarters. There was a number of Sky Larks, Meadow Pipits, Fieldfare and Redwing.

On the main pit there was the second Scaup of the month. Other notable sightings included 5 Great Black-backed Gulls, 30 Gadwell, 2 Shoveller, Kestrel and a Grey Wagtail.

On the 27th I headed down for the last hour of day light and the hope of finding the Barn Owl. After scanning all the pits from the bridge I had a slow drive around the perimeter where I flushed the Owl and followed it down the lane before it went out of sight. Really pleasing to find this beauty. I will certainly be hoping to watch him hunting very soon.

An early start on the following morning was rewarded with beautiful sunshine and some new arrivals on the main pit. A female Goldeneye and 9 Wigeon had joined the Scaup who was with the normal Mallard, Teal, Tufted Ducks, Pochard, Little Grebe and the long staying Green Sandpiper.

The Little Owl was being hounded by a selection of birds so remained out of range of the camera. 7 Greylags flew over with 20 Lapwings.

Just above the road a Kestrel was hunting for an early breakfast whilst the Pophills Buzzard looked on with hope he might get the left overs. 

Sightings around the plantation included Green Woodpecker, Coal Tits, Long Tailed Tits, Great & Blue Tits, Mistle Thursh, Fielfare, Redwing and of course large number of Red-legged Partridges (which still give me a near heart attack every visit).

To the north of the pits I spotted my first site Jay which was a bonus and I also noted Jackdaws, House Sparrow and Collared Doves in the village.

(All images digiscoped as always)