Thursday, 30 July 2015

Autumn passage commences at Salford Priors GP

 Main Pit as Autumn approaches
 Little Egret
 Little Ringed Plover
 Turtle Dove
 Little Stint
Little Stint
 Reed Bunting
 Grey Heron
Hungry Fox

Autumn passage has started at Salford Priors with us finding some great birds passing through. Pophills and the main pit has seen the water level drop revealing plenty of mud and shingle islands. This blog will bring together findings from a number of visits in recent weeks.

I'd only seen a Little Egret fly over the pits so it was great to be there to see one come into land on the main pit before settling on the old works lagoon. The bird appeared to be fairly settled and has since been joined by a second bird for a few days.

Myself and Paul both headed down last Friday night in shocking weather hoping to find a goodie or two. After a good search we finally came up trumps when I located a Garganey on the far side of the main pit. We were both buzzing. It was difficult to sex the bird but when we refound the bird on Saturday on Pophills it looked like a Eclipse Drake.

During this visit I managed to get some great views of the Turtle Dove visiting the site. Other breeding birds which look to have done well are Sparrowhawks, Kestrel, Mute Swan, Cuckoo and Linnet. 

We met Mike as we were leaving who was off to find the Garganey however after getting home and just finishing a shower Mike text me to say there was a Little Stint on the main pit ! It was back in the car within seconds to meet Mike to see the great summer plumage bird. It was the best views I'd ever had of the species. Two great birds in two days. Both two pointers in the patchwork challenge !

Other wader movement has seen us record up to 10 Green Sandpiper, 6 Common Sandpiper and Redshank whilst there are big numbers  of Swifts and hirundines feeding low, including 120 Sand Martins on Sunday.

Wood Sandpiper at Slimbridge

Wood Sandpiper
Love this painting
 Gluten free carrot cake

Our annual trip to Taunton cricket festival with our youngest gives us all an excuse to have a relaxing week and I can normal get in a couple of sessions of birding in-between matches. 

On the journey down I thought it would be rude not to call into Slimbridge for a few hours and take advantage of the hides given the shocking rain and dull skies. The weather did have one bonus in that there was no one else there except a couple of the regulars.

First stop was the Robbie Garnett hide where the reported hard to find Wood Sandpiper was showing nicely to the right of the channel with seven Green Sandpiper. The bird looked to be a juvenile by it's markings. They can be difficult birds to see but this is the second one I've seen this year following one at John Bennett NR, Pershore. Out on the tack piece there were four Common Cranes.

I then headed up to the Holden Tower where the normal Peregrine was looking for his morning breakfast which I then caught up with again in the Ziess Hide when trying to attack a flock of 50 Dunlin.

Other sightings included 16 Avocets, 120 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Ruff, 40 Redshank, 75 Lapwing, 10 Shoveler, three early Wigeon arrivals, 30 Gadwell and two Common Tern.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Heard but not seen

 Paul surveying Middle Spernall
Middle Spernal

Paul Hands and I were just about to take a Saturday afternoon walk around Salford Priors to hear Quail that had just been reported at Middle Spernall. Given the close proximity we made the short journey and we parked up by Purity Brewery before walking down the public footpath to the reported area.

An initial search proved fruitless but are we walked close to the deer hedge we heard two Quail the other side of the hedgerow literately yards away. We tried all angles to get a view but without luck. As Paul walked along the fence line he flushed a Sparrowhawk that had just taken a young Thrush fledgling which was then chased by another Sparrowhawk. As we headed for another view point we picked up the calling again but still no view.

This was the first time I'd heard Quail so it was great to get so close to home. 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Kingsteignton Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern
                                                      Gull-billed Tern
                                                       Gull-billed Tern
                                                   Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Snapped by Paul
Gull-billed Tern
Spotted Redhank (Centre)
You-Tube Video - D.Boult

As many of you know Terns and Owls are my favourite species so the temptation to head to Devon on my middle day off with new binoculars in hand to see a rare Gull-billed Tern was always going to prove to much. So after I dropped a couple of texts outs I headed south with Paul and David after meeting up on the M5.

Destination was the Passage House Hotel in Kingsteignton which I've stayed at on previous visits to Devon. A two minute walk up the river took us to a small gathering of the five birders who had reported the bird was still present and within a minute we were treated the first of many fly pasts by the Gull-billed Tern. This rare Tern isn't recorded very often perhaps only twice a year in the UK & Ireland. They winter in Africa and breed in open flat lakes and marshes.

The new binoculars allowed me to get some very close views of the birds short, thick, black bill. We headed under the A480 where you could see the bird perched where you could see the longer legs and the bird feeding on the estuary worms and insects. After a great session we headed to RSPB Bowling Green Marsh where we spent time on the viewing balcony and the hide. Highlights included two Greenshanks, Spotted Redshank, hundreds of  Redshank & Curlew, Black-Tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers and Green Sandpipers.

The journey back home was a bit grim as the weather had closed in however a Starbucks Frappacino and knowledge we had seen the Tern made the last few miles much easier.

Red-footed Falcon in Stoke on Trent

 Probably my best digiscoped image of the Red-footed Falcon
Red-footed Falcon
 Munching Red-footed Falcon
 Not my SLR !
 Not my SLR !
 Black Redstart
Little Owl 
You Tube Video of the Falcon

I don't like going through the dreaded M5 / M6 junction any time but the draw of a first summer male Red-footed Falcon in Staffordshire proved to bigger draw on Sunday. The traffic was reasonable however more of a concern of heavy showers which would effect viewing opportunities. Thankfully on arrival at Chatterley Colliery north of Stoke on Trent the sun came out to make the viewing very pleasurable.

There was around 100 people present to watch the very close Red-footed Falcon from the roadside. I imagined the views would be distant but the bird sat up around 200 metres away and came even closer when a birder threw pet shop locusts for the birds much to the delight of the photographers. These falcons originate from eastern europe and face their own challengers but its hard to work out why the bird was in Stoke on Trent ! A great bird for the Midlands, that is for sure.

Whilst on site I had a wander up the road to locate the reported female Black Redstart which was feeding on the side of the old buildings and gravel area. Whilst finding the Black Redstart I found a Little Owl on the far roof of an old building at the back of the site which I then pointed out to others present. I had another thirty minutes watching the falcon in the company of Brian Stretch from Worcester Birding before heading to cricket at Halesowen.

I do find it frustrating when twitchers arrive at a site they insist on driving past all the parked cars on the hope they park under the birds nose ! You wonder why this country has an obesity issue when people won't walk a couple of hundred yards. 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Closing days of June at Pits

 Green Sandpiper
 Turtle Dove
Water level dropping
 Goldfinch in old workings
 Brown Hare
 Common Whitethroat

I had two visits to pits at the weekend in contrasting weather with Saturday bringing warm and sunny whilst Sunday was windy and wet.
Find of the day on Saturday was a juvenile Turtle Dove that showed well at a distance before dropping down out of sight. It’s fantastic that another generation of Turtle Doves could be off an running again.  The gentle purr of the Turtle Dove is one of the sounds of summer in the UK. We are blessed that Turtle Doves still return to Warwickshire and they were one of the main reasons I discovered Salford Priors just nine miles from home. The dramatic population fall of one the UK’s most beautiful birds has led to the worrying statistic that the bird could well be extinct by 2020, just five years away ! They have suffered a 95% UK population decline since 1970 and a 74% decline across Europe since 1980.

For those who are not aware (I know I get many non birders reading the blog) Turtle Doves are summer visitors in the UK. They generally arrive in late April and depart in September. They migrate in groups ranging from 5 to 30. These migrants are at particular risk from hunters in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Malta, Italy, Austria and France.  The word “Turtle Dove” comes from the French word tourterelle which is a description of a turr turr sound.

Turtle Doves form strong pair bonds that may last for years and these pairs are counted by  the singing males. Their purring song can carry a considerable distance. These beautiful birds breed show a preference for open lowland habitats with hedgerows, scrub and small woods. They avoid heath, large woods and plantations. They feed mainly on the seeds and fruits of weeds and cereals, found mostly on the ground.

Turtle Dove chicks feed on ‘crop milk’, a secretion from the crop (an expanded portion of the alimentary tract) of the parent. Incidentally, like other pigeons and doves, these birds can drink directly, pumping up water rather than filling their beaks and then tipping their heads back to swallow, like other birds.

For a bird that has been a symbol of devotion for centuries, the poor Turtle Dove is having a very difficult time. Declining rapidly in numbers in the UK, it is at real risk of disappearing as a breeding species here within the decade. That soothing song, a familiar summer sound just a generation or so ago, is becoming a genuine rarity.

At the start of the 20th century, they were still apparently increasing in range and numbers, but from the 1970s onwards they declined severely across Europe and disappeared from many places where they had previously been common. Breeding success is low, and the number of breeding attempts per pair halved between the 1960s and the late 1990s: this reduction in reproductive output is sufficient to explain the population decline of UK breeding Turtle Doves. The problem is that, as yet, we do not know exactly why this is happening.
Even outside the breeding season, there are serious problems. This is the only migratory dove species in Europe, and each year they will make the long journey to and from their wintering grounds in Africa, around the Sahel desert. On the way, many birds will fly over the Mediterranean. In this area, and especially in Malta, there is a long tradition of shooting them in spring, on their way back to their breeding grounds. This is now illegal under EU law but remains stubbornly entrenched, despite passionate campaigning by the RSPB and others.
A study in 2010 of the distribution of Turtle Doves in Warwickshire is focused into 3 main areas; the north-west of the county, south east and the east. The concentration is very low with large areas devoid of any records. The Warwickshire landscape contains many small woods in agricultural land and so should be perfectly suitable for Turtle Doves.

A three-year project, led by the RSPB and conservationists, will aim to reverse a decline in the population of the farmland bird and aim to restore plants the birds feed on to the countryside. The birds' diet consists almost entirely of small seeds from wild plants, which grow among crops. Changes in farming practices in recent decades mean these wild flowers - including vetch, fumitory and clover - are now scarce. Farmers are being encouraged to plant these seeds on their land to the hope to help the remaining birds.
It may be a case that global warming issues on top of changing in farming practices may prove the battle to save the birds is a step to far but we can only try.
There are a number of ways we can all help :-
1)  Report sightings via Birdtrack
2)  Make a donation to Operation Turtle Dove
3)  If you know a farmer mention the plight of Turtle Doves and how their habitats directly affect Turtle Doves in the UK and its advantageous to use products that are Conservation Grade accredited. 

Continuing with the weekend sightings a pair of Oystercathers had returned to Pophills once again whilst large numbers of Swifts were in company of House Martins and Swallows feeding above the main pit & Pophills. As I walked across towards the main pit on Sunday I was scanning for an elusive Tern (still outstanding on my Gravel pit year list) when a Whimbrel past though over the east side of the main pit, nice year tick for the site. Finally I recorded six Green Sandpiper on the bottom lagoon again.