Monday, 28 September 2015

Wigeon return to misty Salford Priors

 Sunday morning trouble heading our way
 Muntjac Deer

 Sun rising at Pophills
First Wigeon of Autumn

Two patch visits to Salford Priors at weekend sadly didn’t result in much luck on either day. The early morning mist prohibited any searching on Saturday whilst a hot air balloon flushed everything on Sunday morning before we had reached the main pit.

Pophills continues to be quiet and sightings were limited to one Ringed Plover, six Coot, Buzzard and a Stonechat that was in the west hedge .

The two Pintail remained on the main pit whilst eight Wigeon had joined them. Seven were flushed by balloon but lets hope they hang around as I love observing the Wigeon as they come through their eclipse plumage. There was a very young Little Grebe brood to compliment a great summer for the species at the site. 16 Lapwing landed late morning and three Snipe were feeding with the Teal. The only other waders were 3 Green Sandpipers. 

This is historically the last weekend of the year to see and hear warblers and we perhaps saw our last Reed Warbler of summer.  Two Redpolls flew across edge of main pit as we entered the old workings. A small number of Meadow Pipits and Swallows past over heading south. Skylarks could be observed in more plentiful numbers that normal no doubt feeding up before moving on.

Coal Tits, Goldcrests, Nuthatches, Green Woodpeckers, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker could all be observed on the edge of the plantation.

10+ Yellowhammers were using a puddle to drink from by the migrant trap towards the south of the pits. The shrub bushes contained Blackcaps, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds. Long-tailed Tits, Blue & Great Tits.  Starling numbers continue to grow and they were watching us from the top of the old dead tree.

A family of seven Raven were calling loudly as we crossed the meadows where drainage work had unfortunately started. Very disappointing for us all given the population of Snipe & Jack Snipe.

Despite the clear skies raptors were limited to 10 Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and a Kestrel.

Boating birding

Canal boat cruising
Female Wood Duck
Grey Heron on towpath
Swan brood
Lone Barnacle Goose

Whilst the weekend weather wasn’t great for birding it certainly was for cruising down the Worcestershire canals. As a family we had hired a narrow boat for a bit of change and to take advantage of a sport free weekend.

The slow pace of the canal takes a bit of getting use to and I spent time just watching the local wildlife and occasionally jumping off when there was anything of interest. I recorded over 40 species on my Bird Track app throughout the journey. Chiffchaffs, Bullfinches, Grey Herons showed well on various parts of the journey and I picked up a Great Crest Grebe on Lower Bittell.

The odd finds of the day was an American female Wood Duck calling on the canal by the fisheries (no doubt an escapee) and a Barnacle Goose that was feeding with the Canada Geese by the Crown pub.

The only way to Phalarope is Essex

Digiscoped Wilson's Pharalope
Digiscoped Wilson's Pharalope
RSPB Vange Marsh
Twitchers delight
RSPB Vange Marsh
M40 disaster

Days out birding when you spend more time in car than birding are not my idea of fun but sometimes you have to bite the bullet if you want to see a bird that's on your most wanted list.

Wilson's Pharalope is a bird I've wanted to see since I started to bird seriously and given I'd put aside two days for birding I gave up a full day in the field to twitch a reported bird at RSPB Vange Marsh, Essex with the two Daves and Jarrad.  The 2 1/2 hour journey actually took 4 1/2 hours after a fatality on the M40 resulted in a total closure for 2 hours. 

The reserve was created in 2005 and has freshwater water with islands, saltwater lagoon, meadows and scrub land. We joined a handful of birders already looking at the bird on the far side of the lagoon sadly we could still pick out its energetic feeding action using a scope. When the sun went in slightly it was easier to decipher the birds longer neck and plumage. The bird appeared to spend most time wading rather than swimming like other Pharalopes. 

Wilson's Pharalopes are an American wader that breeds in north America & west Canada. This looked to be a first winter bird that has just got lost on its first migration south. The birds in summer plumage are stunning however you would need to be very lucky to see one in breeding plumage in the UK. (I've added this video from Youtube of Wilson's Pharalopes feeding in America)

Other sightings whilst on the marsh included Cettis Warbler, three Little Stints, 30+ Redshanks, 15 Curlew, 30 Shoveler, Hobby, Kestrel six Snipe, 100 Lapwing, 40 Black-tailed Godwit, two Green Sandpiper and three Ruff.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Red-necked Grebe - Cotswold Water Park

Red-necked Grebe
 Red-crested Pochard
Distant Whinchat

With a distant lack of suitable Autumn winds I opted to stay close to home on my first day off  to wrap up my annual leave at work. Destination was Cotswold Water Park with gravel pit buddy Paul. The water park is a real maze of water and you always need a bit of luck to find what you are after.

We found pit 74 and twitchers gate with a degree of ease however we had to settle for just Great Crested Grebes and Wigeon. We had an explore further down the road where a Whinchat and Lapwings were showing by the working pits. Once we returned we instantly had more to view as the 16 Red-crested Pochard came into view with even more Wigeon. As I was trying to count the Wigeon a Little Egret flew over before Paul pinged "got one" and he had picked up a Red-necked Grebe diving on the far right from our view. 

This was both our third Red-necked Grebe after seeing them at Farmoor and also Upton Warren.

As we headed back up the M5 we stopped in at the Birders Store as I'd ordered a star gazing scope for the father in law. Whilst certainly not a stock item, Brian had managed to get the item wanted at a price cheaper then elsewhere. 

Noahs Big Year

It was amazing to read that American Noah Strycker has broken the most species recorded in a single year when seeing a Frogmoth in Sri Lanka. The previous record set by friends of the blog Alan Davies & Ruth Miller was 4341, however Ruth still holds the record for the leading female which will give her the bragging rights in the household.

This sort of record needs total dedication, a great deal of skill, finance and luck. From reading "The Biggest Twitch" book by Ruth & Alan it's essential you have the spirit to ride through the difficult times on journeys such as this.

It will be interesting to see if Noah maintains his level of motivation and puts the record out of sight for many years.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Marsh Harrier lifts the gloom


Two weekend visits to the gravel pits of which both started with a blanket of fog over Salford Priors. For recording purposes I will only blog Sundays sighting if there was nothing additional on Saturday.

Pophills remains very quiet with the waders seeming to prefer the quieter main pit since the drainage works has been completed. It will be interesting if this is the case when we have some genuine north westerly winds blowing.

Viewing on the main pit was very difficult due to the fog but the two Pintail were still present with three Shoveler and Teal. A Ringed Plover was the only wader on view other than a Common Sandpiper.

Sadly no Turtle Dove in the old workings before heading to the migrant traps behind Marsh Farm. First find was two Lesser Whitethroats and whilst watching those a Stonechat popped up into view. I managed to grab a quick digiscoped photo but the light was all wrong to catch this passing juvenile bird. Along the same hedge line a Greater Spotted Woodpecker was showing off and there were also Blackcaps, a Sedge Warbler and Song Thrush.

The bottoms lagoons looked good again with recent rain but sadly there were only three Green Sandpipers to record. Three Skylarks took flight has we headed to the middle lagoon where two Pochard had returned to. 

Up on the bunds I was moaning about the lack of raptors and good birds when a Kestrel hovered right above hidden pools and then another raptor caught my eye. Instantly I knew it was a Marsh Harrier and I then scoped it as a juvenile by its dark brown colour with gold crown. It did one circle as it reached the bottom of reserve but sadly it continued its journey south. This was the second Marsh Harrier recorded this year at the site with the previous one being at the start of May. 

No patch ticks for the year but a nice morning once the fog had lifted. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Titan the Suffolk Turtle Dove

It will be interesting to read reports of this years Turtle Dove breeding across the UK given the late arrival of many birds due to the sand storms that effected their migration. Sand storms are the last thing they need given the tough journey they encounter.

I came across this blog posted from the RSPB about a male Turtle Dove called "Titan" in Suffolk which records the birds journey and summer. Sadly it seems Titan never found a mate and is getting ready for the journey back to wintering grounds of Africa. 

It was interesting to note the bird is feeding 6 km north west of his territory at the moment. This pattern of behaviour might explain why our sightings dipped suddenly. It could well be the case the birds have found an additional & more plentiful area to feed. 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Worcestershire MEGA - Red-backed Shrike Upton Warren

Good birds can't be found on a Monday ! Horror moment when I glanced at the phone late morning to see a female Red-backed Shrike had been found by Phil Wood & Andy Pitt on the Flashes at Upton Warren. As the clock struck 4pm I was quicker down the M5 than Lewis Hamilton to make sure I saw my first Worcestershire Red-backed Shrike.

This was the 4th record at Upton Warren and the first since 1999. Digiscoping was very difficult as the light was awful and the rain was hammering down. 

Other sightings included Sundays Little Stint and two Black-tailed Godwits.

I did head to Salford Priors straight after given the weather however sightings were pretty much as per yesterday.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Sunday Stint at Upton Warren

Little Stint
Little Stint
The Flashes, Upton Warren
Common Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper

With England getting bowled out cheaply in the last one day international and only the awful Villa on Sky I decided to head over to the Flashes at Upton Warren for a couple of hours. The previous days Little Gull had moved on (which I called in for) via a awful match at the Hawthorns however start attraction was a juvenile Little Stint. The bird was difficult to locate initially as it was asleep on a small island between two Lapwing however once awake it allowed some nice views to a packed hide.

A single Avocet remained wildfowl included 30 Greylag Geese, Gadwall, 60 Teal, 50 Shoveler, 100+ Mallard and 55 Tufted Duck.

The Flashes is always a great place to see waders at close quarters and I managed to get a couple of nice shots Common & Green Sandpiper and also one of the 19 Curlew.

I had a good catch up with warden Paul Anthony about the good, bad and the ugly of sport and birding before heading home. Top afternoon and it got better when I heard the Villa had got beat.

Winter ducks start to arrive

 Two Pintail

New drainage is being installed on the Pophills side of the gravel pits which is probably the main reason why there was only a single Common Sandpiper, a couple of Tufties and Coots on the water. Lets hope the new drain installed doesn’t lead to increased water levels as we have some super waders using this side of the gravel pits.

Treking up to the main pit the Goldcrest’s were in good voice and they certainly seem to have done very well this summer. Big number of Red-legged Partridges have been released which are problematic as they tend to flush in big numbers causing other birds to worry and also get twitchy.

On scanning the main pit two Pintail were new arrivals and were the first my record at the site. A useful one pointer in the Patch Challenge which was then doubled when a Redpoll flew high directly over Jon’s head. Other main pit highlights included two Green & Common Sandpipers, a single Dunlin, two Ring Plover (that didn’t stay), a Snipe and 50+ Teal.

When reaching the far end near the south lagoon I picked up two Whinchats on the back of the bund. Both appeared to be juvenile birds. After thinking the Whinchats may have bypassed us its been great to see them at close quarters. Reed, Willow and Sedge Warblers were still present whilst the Reed Bunting appeared to be very busy and two Kingfishers were chasing each on in the usual place.

As we headed around the meadow we came across four Skylarks and there were three Sparrowhawks soaring here high above the old workings. After climbing the main bunds (hoping for a Red-backed Shrike) we found another two Whinchats, one was an adult bird. A small number of Swallows & Sand Martins past over head whilst a number of House Martins were feeding on south meadow.

We did return for a final check to both Pophills and the main pit but there were no new arrivals before leaving.

I did record a Turtle Dove sighting on Tuesday and whilst none were observed on our Sunday visit local birder Jim Winsper found one later in week.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Patchwork Challenge - Midlands League August

The fantastic run of of birds in August including Spotted Redshank, Black Tern & Osprey has taken the mighty gravel pits up to 6th in the midlands patchwork challenge. With a six point gap to the place below we even hang on for another month despite adding not additions in September to date.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Double Whinchat at the pits

With clear skies and northerly winds any possible migration was sadly way above our heads and out of sight. The only waders were the regular Green and Common Sandpiper and two Ringed Plover that were on the main pit. However on the small island two White Wagtails were present which was nice.

Within the first ten minutes of reaching the main pit we record a juvenile Hobby, Peregrine and Sparrowhawk. We did pick up the Hobby again later in the morning when on the bunds. Evidence suggests that the Hobby have bred fairly locally and now using the pits more as their appetite and confidence grows. 

For the second week running there were no Turtle Dove on the site. Fingers crossed they have a safe journey to their winter retreat before hopefully returning next spring. Our only real finds were two Whinchat. One on the south bunds and the other on the main bunds that is always difficult to access. Other notable sightings included:- 2 Lesser Whitethroats, Common Whitethroats, 5 Sand Martin, 30 Swallows, 50 House Martin, 45 Teal, 2 Jay, 2 Snipe,  2 Raven.

If you do visit the pits please drop me an email with any sightings to or via Twitter @neilduggan80 . 

All sightings really help us record whats going on in Warwickshire and monthly submissions are forwarded to the BTO, CEMEX and Bird Watching Magazine.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Black Stork & Red-backed Shrike at Migfest

 View on arrival
 Black Stork feeding in draining ditch
Black Stork allowing great views
 Black Stork displaying ring
Black Stork in flight
Black Stork location
 Touchdown Spurn

Red-backed Shrike
Long journey at Spurn

With an offer of a seat in the car to Spurn I duly booked Friday off work to make the journey north east. With decent northerly winds blowing I was hopeful of some movement on the sea but not so confident on the warbler front.

Leaving the house at 4.30am to meet up with Dave & Dave we made good time to arrive at Sunk Island at around 8am. After some initial head scratching as we got our bearings we duly located the ditch and the back end of a juvenile Black Stork. After ten minutes watching the bird Dave then stopped the farmer ploughing the field opposite who kindly gave us permission to follow patch of the side of ditch which led us getting some fantastic views of the bird feeding, preening in field and in flight as it headed a few hundred feet north. From our original viewing the bird looked black but once close you could definitely make out the dull brown/ green plumage and also its french white ring.

Satisfied by our early morning find we carried on to Kilnsea and found the previously reported Red-backed Shrike showing well in the Corner Field by Sunny Cliff Caravan Park. This juvenile bird was moving on the scrub in front of the old buildings. Two lifers in the same day and the Shrike was one of those birds I'd never had any luck with before.

From there we tried our luck to get a Long-eared Owl but despite our efforts the bird had gone to ground and it wasn't reported again during the day. Wanting to make the most of our time we headed to Spurn for some wader and sea watching. As high tide retreated there was thousands of waders including Redshanks, Grey Plover, Curlew, Dunlin, Knot, Black-tailed Godwit,Oystercatcher, Lapwing & Dunlin.  Walking down the steps from sea watching I picked up a female Pied Flycatcher and a Willow Warbler moving through.

Sea watching highlights included :- 2 Red-throated Divers, Fulmer's, 7 Great Skuas, 25 Arctic Skuas, 5 Common Scoter, Sandwich & Common Tern.