Monday, 23 February 2015

Peregrine eyes Wood Pigeon breakfast

Peregrine perched high
Peregrine watching us closely
Old Railway
Wood Pigeons above the fields

The weekend allowed me a double session of patch birding at Gravel Pits. Numbers were similar of both days bar a couple of exceptions. On Saturday I picked up three Siskin calling from the centre of the plantation they were the first of the year at the site. 

The male Peregrine was observed on both days with him showing very well on Sunday. He  seemed to wait for us to reach each area of the pits and when birds were flushed he swooped to get a tasty snack. When up on the bunds the Peregrine was just 20 metres above us.

On Sunday morning there were an estimated 9-10,000 Wood Pigeons and 400 Jackdaws around the farm that were most alert to the hunting Peregrine. Another Shelduck had joined the three from Thursday.

Two wintering Chiffchaff were located in the small pits than run along side the A46. 

Other notable sightings included three Jack Snipe, two Buzzard, Green Woodpecker, two Pochard, 100 Tufted Duck, 10 Little Grebe, Long-tailed Tits, 20 Linnet and a Water Rail.

Midweek at the Pits

An early finish at work enabled me to get an hours birding in at Salford Priors late afternoon on Thursday.

As I parked up I could see a large flock of Greylag feeding at Pophills so I thought I'd try this area first. As I walked along the hedgerow I flushed a number of Yellowhammers whilst there were Sky Larks in good voice again.

Sadly I couldn't see any rare geese among the 95 Greylag who were in company of a single Shelduck and 25 Canada Geese. On the pit shingle Sundays Oystercatcher had been joined by another two Shelduck, Common Sandpiper and a first winter Dunlin. Whilst the light wasn't great I did get a couple of record shots. 

As I headed towards the road I came across 2 Jack Snipe and 5 Snipe in the Pophills field.

Over on main pit a Lesser Black-backed Gull was keeping the Black Headed company. A Dunlin was on the main pit however it looked to be the bird from Pophills. Diving duck numbers were very low as I only counted 24 Tufted Duck and one Pochard.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Oystercatcher returns to Salford Priors

Oystercatcher on Pophills Pit
Patchwork Midlands Mini League

I was pleased with our standing of 12th out of 30 in the Patchwork Midlands Mini League at the end of January. We certainly haven't got the habitat that a couple of sites have that entered. It was interesting we scored the same number of species as @earlswoodbirds but our two 2 pointers (Jack Snipe and Scaup) pushed us up a couple of places and Morton Bagot recorded 64 species. 

After yesterdays excitement up north it was more regulation birding today. Spring is edging closer as the Oystercatcher had returned to Pophills Pit. There was also a single Shelduck and two Wigeon to accompany the regulars. The Skylarks and Yellowhammers were both in good voice with the Skylarks showing very well. 

I didn't pick up anything new in the plantation despite a good walk round.The Teal on the main pit were showing well for a change but the Pochard and Tufted Duck numbers were lower than normal.

I headed over to the hidden pools on the hope of locating a Water Rail but had to settle for one Jack Snipe, 10 Snipe, 115 Teal, Reed Bunting and a flock of 45 Golden Plover which flew over at 10.00am. 

I finished off with a walk around Dunnington and Hillers (great for sausage sandwich and coffee) where the highlights were 2 Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, large flock of Chaffiches and a Long-tailed Tit which had been outstanding on the patch year list ! Phew ! Roll on next week.

Upton Warren getting ready for spring

 North Moors
 Oystercatcher behind Shelduck
North Moors
Reed Bunting on feeder
Moors Pool

With a couple of days off for half term I took advantage of the lads wanting to play basketball in Bromsgrove for an hour to drop in at Upton Warren. 

The team at the site are undertaking plenty of projects ahead of the breeding season including the introduction on some new channels for Bitterns, a new look North Moors Pool with new hide (not built yet) and the path to the west hide has been resurfaced. 

After a quick look at the ongoing work on the North Moors I walked down to the West Hide for a good scan. Two newly arrived Oystercatcher were on the islands along with fourteen Shelduck, Grey Heron and Cormorant.

Other highlights included two Bullfinch, six Reed Bunting, 14 Shoveler and Teal.

Let's hope all the hard work results in a couple of rarities turning up there.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Mersey beat to winter Waxwing

My third and final site to visit was a garden by Orrell Water Park near Wigan. The journey took me within sight of the famous Liver Birds building before crossing the Mersey tunel past Anfield to Orrell. 

I parked up in the Water Park and made the two minute walk to a garden where a local birder had put out many local treats for the local birds and apples for Waxwings. 

As soon as I could see the tree there was a beautiful female bird sat feeding on one of the apples. I managed to get a few digiscoped images but was an effort making sure the house was not in the background. I think privacy of the resident is more important than getting the right light for a digiscope. 

The bird fed quietly and then went across into the park where I managed to get the top image with him sat up very high surveying the local area.

The journey home was a smooth two hours. A brilliant days birding with Hen Harriers, Long-eared Owl, Laughing Gull and Waxwing being the highlights.

Laughing Gull at New Brighton

Laughing Gull on pontoon
Fly past
New Brighton location
Marine Lake, New Brighton
Laughing Gull getting involved in corporate advertising
On his own on the pontoon
An idea for any birders heading this way
I do love a light house

With a reported Laughing Gull (first reported on 3rd February) within 25 minutes of Burton Mere Wetlands I thought it was well worth a try and I'd never seen one before. In all honesty I was expecting it could be hard work however within two minutes from getting out of car I picked the Gull up flying from the beach area to the Marine lake. 

In all honesty the bird is never going to win any beauty contests however it was interesting to note the contrast between the white rump and black tail. I was impressed with how the bird didn't want to associate with any of the other Gulls. Some of us just like our space at times.

This first winter Laughing Gull was the first seen in Cheshire since 2001 and has travelled from the arctic. There were plenty of birders and photographers of which I did notice a couple trying to bribe the bird to come closer with some chips and bread ! It was interesting a second winter bird was recorded across the Irish Sea.

With it being low tide there were no Purple Sandpipers around which was a shame but I did pick up a couple of year ticks with Oystercatcher and Turnstone.

Long-eared Owl at Burton Mere Wetlands

 Can you see me ?
Roosting Long-eared Owl
A great view of the reserve on the walk to the Owl location

The whole week I'd seen a Long-eared Owl reported at Burton Mere but would it play ball and hold out for my weekend visit as it was a species I'd never seen before. 

Arriving in the car park at around 8.30am the helpful member of staff marked my card as to where the Owl had been roosting. If was definatley a wellington boot type of walk along board and muddy patches. The walk is around 15 minutes if you have your foot down and perhaps 30 if you stop at all the great viewing screen and feeding stations.

Once I reached the railway line I turned left and started scanning all the hedgerows knowing the owl would be well disguised. I found the bird almost to the exact spot I was guided to and this beauty was probably only ten metres away. He didn't seem at all bothered by the coming and going of birders wanting to admire him or in fact the trains that were rushing past him on the other side of the hawthorn bush he was roosting in.

I wondered down to the hide where I observed the Ring-tail Harrier, Shelduck, Water Rail, Black-tailed Godwit, Pintail, Lapwing and a nice flock of Wigeon and Teal. 

Skydancing start to the day

 RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands
 Not quite sky dancing
Ring-tailed Harrier on right of frame
Hen Harrier close up from RSPB
Location map

A good forecast and a potential two lifers up on the Wirral convinced me of an away day on Saturday. An early morning alarm call to watch part of the first game of cricket world cup (England got totally outplayed in every department) before setting off up the M5/M6 to Cheshire. 

Arriving in Burton I headed to my usual spot that looked out over the wetlands. Three large skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed over heading to their feeding grounds whilst I lost count of number of Little Egrets looking for an early meal. The hedgerow behind contained a nice flock of Linnets and Goldfinches.

Then the fun started, not one but two Ring-tailed Hen Harriers came up from the marsh and started hunting. It was superb to watch these rare raptors through my telescope allowing me stunning view. They came together a couple of times showing their amazing agile flying skills. 

It wouldn't be long until these birds headed back to the moorland to try and breed, lets hope they head to an area where they won't get persecuted.

This is a great place to see Hen Harriers and is well worth the drive. From the main visitor centre I managed to watch one of those same ringtails hunt the reeds right in front of the centre. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Owls and Kites in Cotswolds

Red Kite above Great Barrington
Always a great site
 Short-eared Owl
 Barn Owl
 Short-eared Owl
Double Trouble

After completing my airport drop off the serious good weather tempted me to head to the Cotswolds for a few hours of exploring. First stop was Great Barrington where I had a good search for a wintering Hen Harrier with no avail. The area was stunning and four Red Kites circled the fields. Other sightings included Kestrel, Buzzard and a Peregrine perched on the airfield mast.

I then made the short journey to Hawling to watch the fantastic Short-eared Owl's. They were already flying by the time I'd arrived so I opted to stay away from the crowds and watch from a small gap near the cross roads.

The decision paid dividends as the Owls started to hunt the edge of the long grass which enabled me to get a few record shots. The Owls even crossed over the roads on a number of occasions so you would wonder if the voles are now running low in the main field. The local Barn Owl then appeared and hunted right in front of me before battling with one of  the Short-ears for hunting rights. At one time the Barn Owl was in the grass only to be bombed by the Shortie. It was awesome viewing. 

Steady start at Salford Priors GP

Gravel Pit birding (Flock of Teal just above skyline)
Sparrowhawk (Steve Nash)

With a late morning airport run looming I had to restrict myself to a just a couple of hours down at the Gravel Pits on Sunday.

Viewing was difficult at times as fog seemed to come and go. A Sparrowhawk was hunting the migrant hill on the farm despite getting harassed by a couple of Magpies. I was quite hopeful a Goldeneye located midweek may be around but sadly no luck. The Green Woodpecker seemed very busy around the plantation as I looked for the Long-tailed Tits that still remained outstanding on the year list for the site. Jon reported he had flushed a Tawny Owl and a Woodcock but neither myself or Lee had the same luck.

The main pit contained the normal suspects however Teal number had increased to 112 and a count of 32 Cormorant was above average. As I edged along the main pit 3 Goosander (one Drake) circled looking to land but then opted to move on sadly. I had a total of 10 Jack Snipe and 25 Snipe throughout my walk and the main meadow had four Skylarks and Meadow Pipits which I watched closely through my scope. Only other notable sighting was the orchard were still full of Fieldfare and Redwing.

A good visit but gutted to have missed Tawny and Woodcock. I did thankfully see our local Barn Owl on the previous Monday evening after Lee had seen him hunting on the Sunday. I would really like to try and capture him on a good photograph but he doesn't seem to come out to hunt until its dark.

The Sparrowhawk photograph was sent to me some time ago by Racing Post photographer Steve Nash who I've known for a good many years. Thought it would be good to show it on the blog.

Earlswood Lakes Caspian Gull

Screenshot of Matt's Twitter feed

Saturday morning took me across a very cold Hereford to watch the youngest in Cross Country County Championships, rather him than me. Brrrrrr!

Once returning home I set off to Earlswood Lakes, about 15 minutes away, to catch up with a 2nd winter Caspian Gull. The Gull certainly didn't make it easy as I trekked around all three lakes on the look out. A couple of Goosander were the highlights and made up for the rather treacherous paths around the Windmill pool. 

Matt (@earlswoodbirds) text me I'd be better staking out both lakes from the causeway. As I headed back around I picked the Gull up swimming with the Black-headed Gulls. As typically happens two walkers flushed the group of gulls and despite my best efforts and then Matt's we couldn't relocate it. The bird has now also been reported at Upper Bittel so I wonder if its roosting there or perhaps at Bartley.

We did pick up nine Goosander flying over as we had a good rattle about this year Patchwork challenge. We came to the conclusion that I was just ahead of him at the end of January as I'd bagged a couple of 2 point birds. Scores should be out this week. Both of us have benefited from other birders now visiting our particular area's which is a great benefit as between us we have more chance of finding a superstar.

The Twitch - Birdwatching can be murder

I'm not a big fan of fiction I prefer to read of 'real life' but The Twitch - Birdwatching can be murder, certainly restored my faith as it was a genuinely funny read detailing the exploits of Edward Banger and his ambition to win the national bird race. 

There were plenty of laugh out loud moments in the book that should keep most people entertained and there are certainly a few moments I could relate to. There are also a couple of cringe moments which perhaps rules out it being read by younger readers.

At £9.99 great value for money, a good first novel by Kevin Parr. 

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

January Warwickshire Sightings

Draycote Drake Smew

Highlight: A juvenile Kumlien’s Gull was in the Draycote gull roost (13th-17th) and was also seen at Bubbenhall during the day.  

Brandon Marsh:  Sightings included five Shelduck, 30 Wigeon, three Goldeneye, Bittern, Little Egret, Water Rail, Dunlin, Jack Snipe, Woodcock , two Barn Owl, Marsh and Willow Tits, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff and a flock of 40 mixed Redpolls and Siskins.

Dassett Hills District: Single Merlins were noted at Bishops Itchington and Wormleighton, but Lapwings were unusually scarce and Golden Plover almost absent from the area. Farnborough Park held 25 Wigeon and two Gadwall. Knightcote had 31 Snipe, three Barn Owls, two Willow Tits and 12 Tree Sparrows. Wormleighton Res had up to four Goosander, Woodcock, Willow Tit, 40 Tree Sparrows and 55 Yellowhammers. A mixed flock of 100 Chaffinches and 380 Linnets was at Hodnell.

Draycote Water: Sightings included a Pink-footed and two White-fronted Geese, six Shelduck, two Pintail, Red-crested Pochard, 49 Pochard, two Common Scoter, 41 Goldeneye, 37 Goosander, Smew, 270 Great Crested and 63 Little Grebes, five Little Egrets, Peregrine, Merlin, Water Rail, 50 Golden Plover, Barn Owl, Willow Tit, three Chiffchaffs and 33 Tree Sparrows. In addition to the Kumlien’s Gull, the roost contained a Mediterranean Gull, five Yellow-legged Gulls, at least four different Caspian Gulls, an Iceland Gull (5th) and Glaucous Gull (15th and 20th).

Salford Priors GP: Records included 17 Gadwall, 95 Teal, 11 Pochard, 83 Tufted Duck, Scaup (to 4th), 60 Golden Plover, 15 Jack Snipe, 34 Common Snipe, Common Sandpiper, Water Rail and up to 3000 Woodpigeons.

Tame Valley:  At Hams Hall ten Chiffchaffs were joined by two Siberian Chiffchaffs and a Green Sandpiper. Wishaw sightings included ten Grey Partridge, Merlin, 700 Golden Plover, 32 Skylark, 200 Fieldfare and five Corn Buntings. Shustoke reported Red-crested Pochard, Scaup, Common Sandpiper and Jack Snipe. Red-crested Pochards also visited Dosthill and Lea Marston. Kingsbury recorded 352 Shoveler, seven Goldeneye, two Goosander, 15 Little Egret, Yellow-Legged Gull, two Barn Owl, Jack Snipe and Stonechat.

Other sites: Earlswood Lakes hosted 22 Goosander, a Water Rail, Peregrine, two Great Black-backed Gulls and two Ravens. Morton Bagot held 25 Common and eight Jack Snipe, Barn Owl, two Stonechat, 17 Redpolls and 238 Linnets.
Charlecote reported Merlin, Peregrine, Green Sandpiper and two overwintering Stonechats. Lighthorne Quarry had Jack Snipe, 36 Common Snipe and Chiffchaff, with seven Goosander, Mediterranean Gull and Chiffchaff at Chesterton. A Jack Snipe was at Alvecote.

Neil Duggan, Matt Griffiths and Jon Bowley (07850 759 334 / 07815 675090)

Round and about

 View of Birmingham from top of Lickey Hills
 Lickey Hills
  Lickey Hills
 Long Tailed Tit
Lesser Redpoll
Salford Priors Patch Walk

All three days over last weekend were all spend within a few miles of home. An interview on Friday enabled me to have morning winter walk around the Lickey Hills. Despite a good hunt around I didn't manage to find any Brambling. It seems there has been a much reduced influx this winter. Sightings were restricted to mainly Coal Tit, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Great & Blue Tits, Treecreeper, Redwing and a few Fieldfare.

On Saturday I met up with my Dad and we had a good walk around Foxlydiate Woods in Redditch. There were definitely signs of spring in the air as I witnessed a few birds carrying nest material. Stars of walk were four Goldcrest that were calling very loudly and were only an arm length away from the path. Always great birds to watch at close quarters.  I having a bit of garden challenge with my Dad and he informed me he had two Linnets on his feeders. Heading down for further investigation and a spot of lunch I found the birds were actually Lesser Redpoll. A great garden tick. As we ate we watched an endless line of garden birds including Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Robin, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Blackbird all visit the garden. 

I headed up to Morton Stanley Park at dusk to try and catch up with the local Tawny Owls. I was unable to locate them whilst there was sufficient light for a photo but I did locate two different birds of which one flew past me through the trees. 

Sunday brought a day for further cold and windy weather. I had intended to go and try to catch up with a pair of Long-eared Owls in Lincolnshire but given the strong winds I'd save it for another day. With the wind blowing I decided to do a bit of walking around the perimeter of the patch. The weather proved to dictate the limited sightings but I found a couple of new areas including another large pool and a potential area that look goods for Chats. Best finds were a long flock of Fieldfare in the orchards, 2 Jack Snipe, 12 Snipe, 95 Teal in the hidden pools and 2 Wigeon. However when the edge of the plantation I picked up a very fast and low flying raptor which I identified as a female Merlin. It was my first Merlin at the site although many have been recorded. I finished January with 65 species giving me 67 points. Long Tailed Tit is a major omission ! Overall I recorded 113 species. 

Local birder Lee Taylor reported the Barn Owl on Sunday evening so I headed down on Monday for a hunt around in the dark. I heard the Owl calling but couldn't locate him until he flew over my head by the Pophills pit. A good point in the bag for February.