Monday, 30 November 2015

Woolies & wellies

The east bunds
Essential kit

Visits to the pits can be hard work in the winter as the mud becomes very deep and the wind whistles through making it essential you are fully layered up and fully kitted out with wellingtons and woolly hat. Work around the site continues with more habitat being turned back for agricultural use which I can only think is the reason why the birds remain very skittish, I don’t think the shooting season helps. With no mid-week visits it’s hard to gauge how much disturbance is taking place.

I do enjoy the solitude of the pits and the freedom of just wandering around on my own. The species that dominated both visits was most definitely the Fieldfare. The winter flocks from Scandinavia had truly arrived and I manged to record 600 on Saturday. They could be seen over head constantly looking for left over summer berries.

A family of four Raven were around all weekend over Migrant Hill. 85 Lapwing was an excellent count on Sunday on the main pit whilst wildfowl numbers remain fairly low given the cold weather. Counts included 95 Teal, 4 Shoveller, 17 Gadwall. I’m desperate to try and find a Brambling on site however the only new addition was an adult Great-blacked Gull that flew through late morning on Sunday. The wind was exceedingly strong so I did hope we may get a sea bird coming through but no luck on these visits. Green Woodpeckers are a species that is really flourishing on the site and there are territories all around the site, a bird that is tough to miss on every visit.

I didn’t see any Snipe on Saturday so on Sunday I investigated one of the old dried lagoons and the gamble payed off as I found 15 Snipe and a single Jack Snipe. This time last year there were over twenty Jack’s around the site and this shows how the habitat is disappearing.

On a sad note, last weeks rescued Swan had to be put to sleep as the bird had suffered nerve damage from a bite on the back its neck.  The bird was rung as a one year old in Pershore in 2003. Not a great end to the story however it was fantastic effort from the Vale Wildlife Trust to try and save the injured bird. Please give their website a click as they do wildlife a fantastic service.

Black Country Hoopoe

 Digiscoped Hoopoe
Digiscoped Hoopoe
Digiscoped distance shot of Hoopoe
Entertained audience 

After doing the early morning shift at the pits and dropping the eldest at Basketball I made the forty minute journey to Wall Heath near Kingswinford to see a reported Hoopoe. The exotic looking Hoopoe that are common in the Mediterranean are generally easier to see on spring migration when they over shoot on their journey from Africa.

The location was an old quarry that had been turned into paddocks. If you are heading that way the postcode is DY6 0BP and just walk to the brow of the hill and the bird was showing in the bottom paddock. The bird hadn't shown for over two hours so my arrival couldn't have been better timed as the bird was showing nicely. I managed to take a few digiscoped record shots despite the poor light. Sadly the bird got flushed when a birder entered the paddock from the non-advertised way causing the bird to fly to the thicker grass at the top of the hill when viewing was a lot more difficult. A cracking bird to see in November.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Whooper Swans at Napton

Whooper Swans

Whooper family

Leaving Draycote at 1pm Jon kindly offered to show me near by Napton Reservoir which I’d never visited before. He has recently discovered some Bearded Tits at the site which many locals had enjoyed and Jon has found some great birds in the past there. Upon reaching the water side a male Goldeneye was swimming very close in and there were also a number  Shoveller present.  Imagine our surprise when we saw five large swans coming into land, were they Whoopers ? There were 2 adults and 2 juveniles.  We were both highly delighted, I didn’t have my scope but I did take a couple of shots with my SLR. The male Mutes were quickly charging towards them until they discovered they were actually Whoopers.  

We did a full circle of the site which included walking along the canal patch where a flock of Common Gulls were present. I did put the news out very quickly however I noticed that the Swans had spent less than an hour on site before leaving for pastures new.  Cracking site……..will be calling in there again for sure.

Change of scenery at Draycote

Great Northern Diver
Great Northern Diver

Female Scaup

On Sunday I opted to drive over to north Warwickshire and meet Jon for a walk around Draycote Water. If you have never been it's a great place for a good walk and do some birding the only downside is that is also great for runners, walkers, cycles, sailing and fishing.

First notable bird we found was a juvenile Great Northern Diver that was off Farborough Bank. The bird drifted around the reservoir as first the fishing boats came out following by the sailing bikes. As we walked around we recorded five different wintering Chiffchaffs and we managed some close views of a Tree Creeper. It took us over an hour to find the reported female Scaup that was with the Tufted Ducks in Biggin Bay.

Other sightings included three Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Pintail, 9 Tree Sparrow, 8 Goosander, Kingfisher, 30 Wigeon, 8 Shoveler, 20 Pochard, 30 Meadow Pipits, calling Water Rail & 4 Great-blacked Backed Gulls.

Goosanders drop in to the Salford

Goosanders on main pit
 Anne to the rescue
Feeding geese

Weekend patch visit to Salford Priors on Saturday was bitterly cold with strong northerly winds blowing straight through the pits. Shooting was going on around Pophills and the local beaters flushed everything in their usual unsympathetic way.

Surprise of the morning were two Goosanders that were showing on the south end on the main pit before flying west. Goosander sightings are quite limited so it’s always great to see the species on the patch. Last weeks Red-crested Pochards had moved on however 14 Pochards were in charge on the central lagoon. Other sightings included 6 Shoveler, 2 Wigeon, female Scaup, a single Green Sandpiper along with the usual.

The strength of the wind was playing havoc with newly arrived Fieldfare who were almost flying backwards at times. The Wood Pigeon numbers are starting to build up again so will try and do a full count when the weather is kinder.

The local population of Greylag & Canada’s have found a new home by a small pool north of Pophills and I’m quite hopeful (given it’s quiet location) I may well find a rarer species of wildfowl up there.

The visit did have a bit of twist as Ann & Noel had discovered an injured Mute Swan by the Little Owl tree. The bird didn’t seem to be distressed but most definitely in danger given the population of local foxes. Ann called Vale Wildlife Trust who made the drive across the Cotswolds to be led to the bird. The Swan didn’t make any fuss as he was placed in the sling before being taken back to the hospital. Ann did call later in the day and reported the birds wings had been strapped and had been given antibiotics. The bird did also have a limp suggesting it may have hit the ground heavily.

Halesowen Eagle

Renown for my knowledge about birds friends often ask about rarities that land in their gardens (which are most often Robins!) however last week I was sent this photograph of an eagle pictured outside a house in Halesowen ! 

Nailing the exact species is difficult as its unclear to see the beak but it could well be an escaped Tawny or Steppe Eagle (both of which I understand can be bought on the UK bird of prey market). 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Midlands Minileague October 2015

With August being a distant memory of points galore I only managed a single point in October forcing me out of the top six in the Midland Patchwork Challenge. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Rare Bird Alert honour

I was honoured today to find out that my photograph of the Crag Martin had been chosen as the headline photograph for Rare Bird Alert's weekly email newsletter. In addition the image taken of the twitchers at the Stadium was also chosen to be included in the newsletter. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Crag Martin, Crooked Spire & a mighty hangover

My best shot of the Crag Martin
The Crooked Spire of Chesterfield
Spot the bird ?
Crag Martin on right
Two areas that Crag Martin is located
Chesterfield FC

I almost fell off the work chair when I saw an update from Rare Bird Alert at the beginning of last week that a Crag Martin had been found by patch birder Roy Frost flying around the Crooked Spire,Chesterfield, Derbyshire. It was only the 10th ever sighting of the species in the UK, so the question would be would it stick around. The big listers were already on the way so it was a mighty relief when it was re-found the following morning. 

Accepted records for Crag Martin spread across six months - Britain’s first, at Stithians Reservoir in Cornwall was found on June 22nd 1988 with the second following less than three weeks later, in East Sussex, heading over Beachy Head.Two autumn birds came next, in early September 1989 at Llanfairfechan (Gwynedd) and six years later, on October 8th 1995, again at Beachy Head. The first-ever twitchable bird came along to another inland East Midlands county, thanks to the amazing bird at Swithland Reservoir on April 17th 1999, a bird which famously moved north to Pugneys CP (West Yorkshire) the following day. The second bird of 1999 (unless it was actually the same one…) departed our shores out of Orkney on May 3rd and a seven year+ gap followed until the latest record (until now) was noted at Badshot Lea (Surrey) on October 22nd 2006. Another south coast record came along in 2008, one seen in West Sussex, at Truleigh Hill on September 21st and April’s third record (and just the second “available” one) came along last spring for a three-day stay around Flamborough Head. (What may turn out to be April’s 4th was noted briefly on the Isle of Wight this spring of course). Read Roy Frost's finder in the field article. (RBA)

With out being able to get away from work until the weekend, Saturday's poor forecast and the bird not being reported until late ended the idea to go then so I decided to head up on Sunday morning. I do wish I'd perhaps not been mixing the wine on previous evening as I woke with a cracking headache so the car radio volume had to stay on low. I opted to head to the home of Chesterfield FC first as the bird had been reported there last the previous evening.

I found around sixty birders had already had dawn views of the Crag Martin when I arrived at 9.30am however I didn't have to wait more than five minutes before I saw the bird flying above the stadium around the floodlight. The bird could also been inside flying under the eaves of the stands. Twice the bird flew out of the stadium vicinity and could be seen above the local housing. Given I was in Chesterfield I thought I'd head to the crooked spire anyway as its a land mark I've always wanted to see close up. Once parked up (£1.10 per hour) I was crossing the road when the Crag Martin past over head towards the spire. As I reached the church ground the bird was whizzing around the steeple delighting an audience of around 150 birders. 

With digiscoping out of the question I did try my hand with my SLR and managed to get a couple of distant record shots. 

November Red-crested Pochard at pits

Red-crested Pochard 
Red-crested Pochard 
Female Scaup

The weekend enabled me to visit the pits twice despite the poor weather and high winds. Saturdays highlight were the returning female Scaup on the main pit which I manage to digiscope as best as I could.

My Sunday visit took place with the wife when we headed down in the late afternoon. When we reached the middle lagoon we found Mark who was watching a female Red-crested Pochard that had been found my Jon when doing the WEBS count during morning. This was the first time I'd seen this species at Salford Priors and gives me a valuable point in the patchwork challenge.

Wildfowl count included 18 Cormorant, 22 Little Grebe, 20 Greylag, 1 Shelduck, 27 Wigeon, 24 Gadwall, 94 Teal, 127 Mallard, 10 Shoveler, 9 Pochard, 47 Tufted Duck, 48 Coot, 65 Lapwing, 16 Snipe. Whilst other species included a adult male Peregrine, female Stonechat and a Green Sandpiper (Pophills). 

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Norfolk trip (Day 2) - Salthouse, Cley, Choseley & Holme

Salthouse beach
Salthouse Turnstones
Looking back towards village
Cley marshes
Seal out at sea
Red-throated Diver 
Cley Marshes
Short-eared Owl
Paul on Owl watching duty
Brent Geese

With a hearty breakfast inside us we were off early to Salthouse. The local Turnstones were showing well within a few feet of us as we started an hours sea watching. We managed to get some great views of Red-throated Divers and there were Gannets heading mostly south showing various plumages. We were a bit disappointed there were no Snow Buntings about and we also missed a Little Auk by 15 minutes. On the plus side two very late Swallows past over heading south.

Around at Cley there were a number of Stonechats blowing around in the wind whilst the marsh had a nice selection of birds including Ruff, Dunlin, Lapwing, Teal, Wigeon and Little Egret. Nothing really exciting but on occasions all the waders took flight as a Pergerine came over.

We then decided to try Choseley Barns where we picked up a male Black Redstart at the back of a barn. It must have been feeding around the farm equipment on the concrete pad as the bird disappeared so we decided to move on to Holme.

I love Holme for many reasons and it was the first place I went birding in Norfolk.  At Norfolk’s northwest corner, where The Wash meets the North Sea, Holme Dunes is superbly located to attract migrating birds. It also holds a variety of important habitats which support numerous other wildlife species including natterjack toads, butterflies and dragonflies, as well as a large number of interesting plants.

Various military remains from WWII can be glimpsed around the reserve, including the remains of a target-railway used to train artillery. Much earlier remains have also been discovered including Roman pottery and in 1998, a well-preserved Bronze Age timber circle, which became known as ‘Seahenge’. The circle was uncovered by strong tides, having been hidden for some 4,000 years (no longer at Holme, the structure was removed for preservation purposes by archaeologists). The boardwalk path give you the ability to view the marsh’s and fields at the same time. From the moment we were out of the car we were watching a Short-eared Owl straight in front of us. As that Owl hunted east another Shortie emerged from the marsh so we had Owls in front and behind us at the same time. By now the sea had retreated so the waders on the coastline were a considerable distance away. As the sun dropped we headed back to Midlands delighted with a great weekend birding.

Many thanks to Pete Walkden for use of file images.

Norfolk trip (Day 1) - Titchwell & Warham Greens

Titchwell sea watching
Teal in the rain
Warham Greens
Warham Greens location
Male Hen Harrier
Sunset in Norfolk
Digiscoped Barn Owl in the darkness
End of a great day

Never needing an excuse to return to Norfolk for a couple of days I was delighted when Paul (fellow pit watcher) asked if I fancied heading east to show him the main sites on the coast. With our bed and breakfast booked up well in advance we set off early  Friday morning at 5.30am ahead of the morning rush hour. Sadly the winds were southerly throughout the weekend so the aim would be about trying to see quality birds rather than rarities.

Given the forecast was for rain up to midday we opted to head to Titchwell so at least we could retreat to the hides if the rain got really bad. We went straight down to beach where we were joined by one other birder for some sea watching. Sanderlings, Grey Plover, Oystercatcher and Knot were spread out along the shore line. The Sanderlings got really close a number of times allowing us terrific views.  On the sea we found a nice variation of birds included a Black-throated Diver (unusual for Titchwell), Slavonian Grebe, 46 Common Scoter, Brent Geese, Great Crested Grebes, 5 Red-breasted Merganser and a female Eider. We also walked west where we found a dead Razorbill on the beach and we also came across many Ringed Plovers.  Paul then pulled a beauty out of the bag when he spotted a Great White Egret flying east straight in front of us to end a cracking session of sea watching.

The fresh marsh contained the normal array of goodies including Brent Geese, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck, Dunlin, Snipe whilst a Marsh Harrier battled with wind on the east bank. As we looked south from the Parinder hide we could see a couple of thousand Pink-footed Geese feeding the fields before being moved on by the farms air guns.  A quick pit stop for the normal Titchwell Cornish Pasty was needed to warm the soul before were headed east.

We had a quick session in at Lady Annes Drive, Holkham were we recorded Egyptian Goose for the day list before we moved towards our final stop at Warham Greens where we hoped to see a Hen Harrier. Having never been to this site before and no signage we did have to back our judgement. As we headed down a very uneven drive, Paul saw a Rough-legged Buzzard feeding on a rabbit on a hay bale. Sadly the bird flushed as we were going for scopes but it was another good bird recorded. As the drive worsened we decided to park up and walk the rest of the way which was in hindsight a great decision as really it was only suitable for Land Rovers.

Initially we though we may have been a little early but just after 2.30pm I picked up a male Hen Harrier quartering the marsh. We were buzzing as the bird hunted looking for a late meal before roosting. The action didn’t stop there as we ended up seeing a total of 5 Harriers, 3 Ring-tails and two fantastic males. They were joined by three Marsh Harriers and finally a Barn Owl hunted about 500 metres to our left. A superb day on the Norfolk coast ending with a brilliant sunset.