Monday, 23 March 2015

Movement slow at Salford Priors

Sunrise at the pits
Curlew (Patch first)
Weekend coffee break
Sunday find
Little Ringed Plover

Three visits to Salford Priors this week to report on. Thursdays after work visit was rewarded with my first two Curlew at the site. The Curlew were feeding in the Snipe meadow but were not very settled as they twice took off and did a large lap of the site before landing again.

I was on site by 6.10am on Saturday and first bird of the day was a single Dunlin and a pair of Common Sandpiper on Pophills Pit. Along the main pit the Reed Buntings were establishing tertitory whilst a Green Sandpiper was on the far side.  There was a flock of 15-20 Pied Wagtails feeding in the old workings area. The first Sand Martin of spring came through at 7.56am which was most pleasing. Singing Chiffchaffs had increased to five across the reserve. 

Fellow patch birder had found a Ringed Plover on Saturday evening so I was keen to try and relocate the bird first thing on Sunday. However I called in to check out the Little Owls first of all. Whilst initially there was no sign as I headed back past towards the car I noticed the female was watching me closely from a different viewing point before disappearing back inside the tree.

Down at Pophills there was no sign of the Ringed Plover. There was a single Common Sandpiper, a pair of Gadwell & Teal along with regular Coot and Tufties. Three Green Woodpecker were flying around the bunds together allowing some great views. There really wasn't much else to report as there has been no significant changes over night. I caught up with Lee by the Snipe meadow as Skylarks sang above us. I flushed a few Snipe up on the bunds before heading back to Pophills for a final look. At the first glance it looked the same as earlier but after setting up the scope I picked up a Little Ringed Plover. I edged along the hedgerow to confirm my identification and you could clearly make out the yellow orbital ring around its eye. Happy days………..A good find at the end of a frustrating morning.

Upton Warren delights (as normal)

Straight on for the Flashes
 Little Egret
 Common Snipe
Pied Avocet 

Opted for a few hours at Upton Warren on Saturday afternoon, as normal the reserve looked fantastic and ready for an influx of migrants.

Starting at the Moors, a Kestrel hovered above the car park as I headed to the east hide. From the hide it was good to see 4 Little Egrets (a bird I've not seen at the gravel pits yet) had moved in whilst a Common Snipe was on the waters edge giving me the chance to get a digiscoped image. A pair of Oystercatchers were displaying on the near island. Other note worthy sightings included 37 Shoveller, three Lapwing, eight Teal, two Gadwall, four Shelduck and 60 Tufted Duck.

I thought I might see a Sand Martin on the Sailing Pool but had to settle for three Great Crested Grebe. As I headed towards the Flashes I picked up five different singing Chiffchaffs.

As always the Avocet were great to observe. One bird fed very close to the hide. Other sightings included 2 Raven (preparing to nest), 25 Teal, four Shelduck, three Oystercatcher, three Lapwing and a pair of Linnets. I did scan the fields a number of times for a Wheatear but they seem very slow in coming through the Midlands at the moment.

Black Redstart twitch at Worcester Cathedral

After an early morning patch walk on Saturday I needed the take my youngest lad to play football in Worcester. After dropping him off I made the short journey to Worcester Cathedral to try and locate the wintering female Black Redstart. Some of the reports indicated the bird was difficult to locate but you can't beat a challenge.

Starting on the College Green looking at the Cathedral from the south side it only took me two minutes to spot the bird who was feeding on one of the flat roofs above the kitchen area. I watched the bird for  thirty minutes before heading back to the playing fields to watch my sons game. 

Friday, 20 March 2015

Vote for Britain's National Bird

Have you voted for Britain's favourite bird yet ? If not give this link a click and register your vote. Not one to sway your vote but voting for Hen Harrier will give the bird a huge profile lift to the general public and will also help its survival.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

First Osprey returns to Rutland Water

It was good to see on social media that the first Osprey has returned to Rutland Water. The eighteen year old bird was first seen at 17th March. No doubt I will make a visit some time this spring to see these fantastic birds. 

Monday, 16 March 2015

Drop in Dunlin & Chiffchaff return

Follow the leader
Dunlin on the main spit
Didn't fancy bumping into this young stag

Cold easterly winds over the weekend has certainly held up migrants arriving in the Midlands. Other than Chiffchaff numbers increasing to five at Salford Priors on Sunday migrant sightings were very limited. Sand Martins and Wheatears have been reported mainly in the south but a few have reached Wales and Cheshire.


Two Dunlin on the main pit were a welcome find. I know a couple of other birders later in the morning also saw them but they did move on during the afternoon. They were joined on the main spit by two Oystercatcher. There was very little to report on but I did manage to record three March patch ticks with Jay, Nuthatch and a single Lapwing. I got some brilliant views of a Green Woodpecker that I flushed as I almost tripped over him. The colours were simply stunning.


Once again I started the morning stopping by to see the Little Owl who was present but was not in the mood to be digiscoped so I headed down to the Wheatear field but sadly the wind wasn't helping the new migrants arriving from the south. I then teamed up with Jon at Pophills pit before starting our circular walk. 

Our regular Common Sandpiper had been joined by a possible mate ahead of the breeding season. There was also pairs of Teal, Gadwall, Shelduck and Oystercatcher.

Tufted Duck numbers continue to grow whilst the normal flocks of Canada Geese and Greylag could be seen all around pits including some pairs who have moved on to the bunds. A Common Gull came through with a flock of Black-headed Gulls whilst 4 Herring & 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were present all morning.

Three Jack Snipe were flushed from the old works lagoon whilst the Snipe meadow contained a dozen Snipe, singing Meadow Pipits and Skylarks.

There were not any Peregrines around but we watched a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by a small number of corvids in the distance. We also picked up the call of Golden Plover but they didn't come into view.

As we returned to our cars a Raven flew over our heads to the plantation.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

New research provides farmers with techniques to help Turtle Dove recovery

 Turtle Dove  - always a stunning site in a british summer (Pete Walkden image)

The study, carried out by the RSPB and part-funded by Natural England (through its Species Recovery Programme), found that cultivating grown seed with a mix of plant species in the autumn creates a habitat rich in seed that is easily accessible – ideal for Turtle Doves, which feed on seeds present on, or close to, the ground. The authors also suggest that light cultivation or cutting during spring would better prevent the plots from becoming too overgrown and, therefore, unsuitable for Turtle Doves.UK Turtle Dove populations have fallen 88 per cent since 1995, with one cause for this decline thought to be the lack of seed from arable plants, which historically formed the bulk of Turtle Doves' diet during the breeding season, resulting in a much shorter breeding season with fewer nesting attempts.This latest research into the management of bespoke seed mixes to provide food for Turtle Doves, which was published in the Journal for Nature Conservation today, is under consideration as a part of a modified version of the nectar flower mix option under the new Countryside Stewardship scheme and could be pivotal in providing food for Turtle Doves on farmland across the UK.
Patrick Barker, an arable farmer in Westhorpe, Suffolk, who took part in the study, said: 'It’s been great to be involved in this research and to find out how we can give Turtle Doves a hand. What was particularly striking was that the areas they prefer don’t look as you’d expect.

Turtle Doves have been declining since the 1970's (© BTO)
'For example, we learned that bare patches on the ground amongst the vegetation give them space to land and move around.
'I hope that our work here will encourage other farmers to do the same, and that this will help Turtle Doves return to the countryside.'
This new management option is part of a wider ‘Turtle Dove package’, deployed within the Higher Level Stewardship scheme agreements on farms supporting Turtle Doves (or with Turtle Doves nearby), which seeks to provide foraging habitat in proximity to nesting Turtle Doves. The other options in this package include cultivated margins, fallows that promote seeding plants, and scrub and hedgerow management for nesting. The options a farmer selects will depend on local land characteristics and farming practices.
Tony Morris, Senior Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science said: 'This research helps our understanding of how to provide food for Turtle Doves on farmland where the original sources of seed food have long since vanished but without unduly disrupting modern agriculture.
'Agri-environment schemes offer the best and perhaps last hope for this iconic species. We're hopeful that, together with farmers and our partners in Operation Turtle Dove, we can reverse the decline of this bird and secure its long-term future in Britain.'
Jenny Dunn, Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, said: 'The results of this research show that it is possible to create a 'farmed' habitat structure similar to that used by Turtle Doves historically - an area with a patchy structure containing both seed-rich plants and bare ground to allow Turtle Doves to access the seed.'
This study is one of many research papers that was published from scientists at the RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science (CfCS), which celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. The team at the RSPB CfCS aims to discover practical solutions to 21st century conservation problems by identifying important problems, discovering their causes, testing potential solutions and ensuring they work when implemented.
RSPB - March 2014

Great start to March at Salford Priors

Little Owl
Can you see me
Tree top watching me
Gravel Pit selfie
Three Oystercatchers
Great Crested Grebes

This weekends double shift of birding at the Gravel Pits was rewarded with some great finds. So often us birders walk miles having to settle for just the local birds but I left genuinely pleased after both morning sessions.


I started off by walking the Pophills field where there were 11 Snipe, a single Jack Snipe, Common Sandpiper, 2 Skylarks and number of Meadow Pipits moving through. The Common Buzzard was sat on top of the Pophills Barn whilst on the Pophills Pit the Common Sandpiper was in the corner and a single Shelduck on the island. A Song Thrush sat in the hedge that split the field and pit.

As I reached the main pit two Lesser Black-backed Gulls were on the spit but the find of the day was a male Stonechat feeding along the edges of the pit. This is the first Stonechat I've found at the pits. They used to be resident until the habit started to be destroyed.

As I crossed the pits I got an amazing view of a male Peregrine chasing a Snipe which ended up with a close escape for the Snipe, on this occasion any way. 15 Linnets flew over as I walked on the bunds whist Teal numbers seemed to have dropped again.

As I walked along the back pools two Green Sandpiper took off and flew round the hidden pools where the Teal have been residing.


A started my Sunday walk by exploring the areas east of the main pits. After a good deal of searching in recent months I finally located the tree where a pair of Little Owl had made their home. I'd had a couple of recent sightings so I was particularly pleased when I could see one of birds looking straight at me from the side of the tree. I couldn't resist watching the Owl go about his business for a good forty minutes before heading down to the main pits.

Two Great Crested Grebe had moved in and were swimming around the end of the pit with the Canada Geese. There was a pair last year but they moved on sadly, lets hope they hang around this year to breed. The pair of Oystercatchers were joined by one of last year juveniles and all three were busy on the island feeding.

Other Sunday sightings observed by myself and Jon included:- six Shelduck, two Buzzard, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, male Stonechat on top of the bunds by the bypass pools,  Peregrine, Pochard, three Shoveler, Green and Common Sandpiper, Jack snipe, 27 Snipe, 21 Cormorants, 128 Greylags, two Grey Wagtail, 92 Teal and at least seven Water Rails. 

With us now into March I will be hoping for find a Wheatear, Sand Martin, Little Ringed Plover whilst Willow Warblers are due at the end of the month closely followed by the Cuckoo.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Super Powered Owls on the iplayer

It was rather ironic that BBC2 showed a brilliant documentary on Tuesday evening about Owls given my recent sightings. The programme shows how silently they hunt and grow from small Owlets. Make sure you check it out, simply brilliant. Super Powered Owls: via @bbciplayer

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Final work party of winter at Upton Warren

 Returning Avocets
 The Flashes

 Shelduck Nest box
Turf digging for nest Shelducks
Rescue of parts from old nest box
Work party in full swing

I felt it was only right to help out on the last work party before the breeding season at Upton Warren on Sunday. Thankfully the weather was kind to us although a few layers of clothing was needed before we headed down to the Flashes.

Before work commenced we had a quick session from the hide. It was great as always to see the returning Avocet whose numbers had already reached 16. We flushed at least 10 Jack Snipe and 20 Snipe before commencing the duties. Other sightings included eight  Shelduck, 20 Coot, a pair of Mute Swan, 11 Curlew, 200+ Lapwing, two Oystercatcher, two Little Egret, 5+ Herring Gull, 50+ Black-headed Gull and a single Linnet.

A good party of 14 included Dave W, Des J, Fraser D, Ian J, John L, Mary O, Mike W, Paul, Phil W, Rich, Tim O, Tracey B, our leader John Belsey and myself were on hand to work through a number of tasks including  rebuilding the two Shelduck boxes, clearing the main breeding island of vegetation, relaying the first flash islandinstalling heavy duty fencing along the stretch north of the hide, clearing the smaller shingle islands, laying wood chippings along the low points of the main path and checking the fox fence.

As always there was good quality home made lemon drizzle and sausage rolls. A great effort by every one. I for one was nursing a stiff back on Monday morning.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Oystercatchers pair up & Little Owls relocated

Oystercatchers pairing up
A very poor photo with phone of Little Owl on hedgerow

A second Oystercatcher joined our first arrival on Saturday and the pair looked to be prospecting for a suitable nest site.

Over at Pophills the Skylarks were in good voice again. I managed to flush four Jack Snipes which I got within inches of. The first bird flushing didn't effect the others and it wasn't until I got close to each bird in turn they revealed themselves. Shelduck numbers had increased to four whilst Teal and Tufted Duck numbers remain the same.

I was over at Upton Warren on Sunday (more of that on next blog) but Jon reported 140 Teal, three Shoveler, an adult male Merlin hunting in the snipe meadow, pair of Peregrines , five Water Rail, six Jack Snipe, 75 Common Snipe, an exceptional flock of 36 Curlews which flew through to north-east,  Green Sandpiper, Common sandpiper, adult Great Black-backed Gull went through with the other four common species , an influx of 50 Meadow Pipits, Chiffchaff still in plantation in addition to 10 Fallow and 6 Roe Deer!

On Monday evening I called past the gravel pits as I headed to Evesham on the hope of seeing the Barn Owl. Passing one of pit signs I picked up a Little Owl on the corner which then took flight. When heading back on the same route two hours later I picked up two Little Owls sat on top of the hedge looking straight back at us in the car. Whilst one of the birds flushed the other one stared back at us allowing me to take a very rough photograph through the windscreen. Very encouraging sighting given none of us had seen a Little Owl since November. As it was a pair we can hope they have found a new home and will breed this spring.

From there we headed down to Pophills were our timing was perfect as the Barn Owl came out of the field to cross the road and then flew right past us and then back across into the Pophills field. As we headed home the bird treated us to another fly past. 

A very good start to March.