Sunday, 28 February 2016

Final days of February at pits

Great Crested Grebe
 Afternoon flock of Black heads
 Common Gull
 Fallow Deer
  Fallow Deer

As February drew to an end the patch year list had grown to 92 species (97 points) with 10 species added. This weeks additions were a male Mandarin, Kingfisher & Great Crested Grebe on Monday at Abbots Salford. In addition there was a flock of 300+ Black-headed Gulls and seven Common Gulls in a pre-roost whilst wildfowl included six Wigeon and 30 Pochard.

Back at Salford Priors the bird of the week was definitely the Sparrowhawk. I've had fantastic views throughout the week including one brilliant view when I followed a female hunting up a lane to catch a Blackbird and then to see the Blackbird fightback in a hedge to force an escape, probably with a bad headache !

A pair of Oystercatcher are looking for possible nest sites around the pits whilst there looks to be two pairs Shelduck doing the same.

Species still outstanding for the year are Dunlin, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Stonechat, Little Ringed Plover and Redshank. 

Corsham Hooded Meganser

Hooded Meganser
 Eygptian Goose
 Tucked up Green-winged Teal

After a month of birding solely around the patch I broke ranks on Saturday to see the reported female Hooded Merganser at Corsham Lake, Wiltshire. In all likelihood the bird is an escapee however there was enough evidence to suggest perhaps it may just be a vagrant (worth a chance).

During my visit the bird kept it's distance from the bird watchers (however reports on Friday suggested it was opposite to this), the birds wings looked unclipped & in good condition and finally the bird was unringed. 

To add further intrigue to the the birds origin, on Sunday the bird could not be found. Most definitely one for the rarities committee.

On the way home I stopped at a super site I'd never visited before called Ashleworth in Gloucestershire. A dozen birders were there watching a Green-winged Teal who was (in the main sleeping) on a small island. Other sightings included Pintails, Wigeon, Shoveller & a Egyptian Goose. 

Monday, 22 February 2016

Future of Salford Priors Gravel Pits / Marsh Farm

Our regular Peregrine 
Main pit Summer 2015
The local area superstars

Restoration now in full swing including removal of bunds
The reed bed lagoon looking superb is is its last days

Salford Priors Gravel Pits, also known as Marsh Farm, will be restored for agricultural use as per the original planning document written many years ago. Wildlife has blossomed at the site since it was mothballed however many of the great areas of habitat will no longer be there by the end of 2016 and the restoration is now on a tight project plan. The land remains in the ownership of Ragley Estates so there is very little that can be done to preserve these areas.

West Midlands Bird Club would have been very interested in securing the site on a long term lease from Ragley sadly they were not interested in sitting down to discuss options. I must thank Jim Winsper for his superb efforts. 

Given this I continued in my efforts with RSPB's head of Business Conservation Partnerships, Sam Tarrant to arrange a meeting with the key interested parties to ensure CEMEX understand the importance of some areas for the Turtle Dove after an area was ruined in previous months. 

We initiated a meeting at The Broom Tavern with Sam Tarrant & Jenny Oldroyd from RSPB, two representatives from CEMEX including restoration manager, Jim Winsper (West Midlands Bird Club), Biodiversity Manager from Warwickshire County Council, Jon Bowley, Chris Lane and myself.

When land is restored from gravel pits, land returned for wildlife if generally around 10%, this scheme is around 15% so given this and the land ownership problem the below points are probably the best we could have hoped for.

Turtle Dove habitat to be protected as discussed in the meeting. TD forage mix to be sewn in key areas to support the species for next five years.

Water pits to remain are both south pits, central east and the main pit. All other areas will be restored for agricultural use. 

CEMEX will make every effort to install a Sand Martin bank on the Western boundary near the old working & main pit.

All bunds will be removed.

The old right of way patch will be re-installed when the restoration is completed.

CEMEX and RSPB couldn't have been more helpful and listened to every request although there was limited scope of what they could pursue. It is hoped given time we can establish a working arrangement with Ragley for access so we can continue to record wildlife in this area after CEMEX move away from the site completely in 2021. 

There are plans for future pits in the nearby area that are in the public domain for consultation. Whilst there are many downsides for the villagers if the new pits do go ahead there may be some new habitat created. The areas identified do hold an extensive list of existing species. 

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Goosander, Brambling, Siskin & new access

Mondays single Goosander
Greylag Geese
Abbots Salford
Feeding Siskin
Upside down Siskin
 Long-tailed Tits on the feeders
 Goosander pair
 Two of the seven Shelduck on the frozen main pit
Buzzard over Pophills
January Patch Challenge Midland Table

A very mixed bag of weather this week resulted in our first Goosander appearing on Monday which was followed up by a pair on Tuesday which then hung around all week. Paul and I had our first walk around Abbots Salford after access was granted. The walk around the lakes there is much easier that Salford Priors therefore is ideal as an additional area to survey to the pits. The area has two pools, which are used for fishing, a couple of islands, crops fields, pasture, good hedgerows and a river, so I'm hoping we had record a few additional sightings. Previously I could only record what I've seen from the gate. On the one side of the lake three Siskin showed very well right above us. Two Treecreeper landed is the trees on the river bank. The dodgy local Snow Goose was keeping company of the Canada Geese our only disappointment was we never added Kingfisher or Great Crested Grebe to our patch list. 

Chris Lane found a pair of Brambling on Thursday around the orchards which I managed to relocate. I could not get near enough for a decent photo of the stunning male. Chris also found a Stonechat on the edge of Broom but despite two searches I couldn't relocate. Paul Hands recorded a Grey Partridge towards Abbots Salford which is the third record of the year to date.

Sunday's count included :- Mallard, Coot 65, Tufted Duck 128, Little Grebe 14, Canada Goose 87, Lapwing 19, Gadwall 10, Shoveler 4, Teal 52, Mute Swan 2, Jack Snipe 1, Snipe 10, Cormorant 37, Shelduck 2, Oystercatcher, Greylag 180, Pochard 1, Buzzard 3, Green Sandpiper 3, Meadow Pipit 1, Reed Bunting 4, Pied Wagtail 8, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull 3, Linnet 12, Starling 5, Jackdaw 30, Rook 15, Sparrowhawk, Song Thursh, Greenfinch 4, Grey Heron 2, Stock Dove 4.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Ladywalk Bittern

Eurasian Bitterns are one of the most fascinating birds that lives and breeds in the UK, yet their secretive nature makes prolonged views of the species extremely difficult. Not feeling in great spirits I decided to try my luck and do a lap of Ladywalk Nature Reserve. 

On arrival I saw three regular Chiffchaffs and what looked to be the Siberian Chiffchaff about fifty yards in front of the gated entrance. To be fair I was more interested to trying to see one the sites possible three Bitterns. 

I joined three other regular members in the B hide who were very welcoming. All three were staring at the reeds watching the Bittern. Despite only being 20-30 feet away it was very difficult to see the bird until you actually found it. Then the views were brilliant. You could see how the Bitterns camouflage would be a tremendous asset for the bird.

I was able to watch the bird feed on fish and invertebrates right in the middle of the reeds through my binoculars for around 40 minutes around 1pm. On occasions the bird would lie down flat with its break in the water waiting for its prey. It was an amazing sight. The bird did creep right and through a small channel which enabled me to grab a few shots with the bridge camera.

If you fancy going to see the wonderful Bitterns for yourself please remember Ladywalk NR is part of West Midlands Bird Club and if you are not a member a permit is required. 

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Review & Final Patch Challenge Standings of 2015

Final Table
 Bird of the year - Pectoral Sandpiper
Patch star species

Apologies, I thought I'd published this a month ago. A very honourable 7th (joint 6th) for my efforts on the Midlands Patch Challenge in 2015. I managed to record 130 species out of the 139 recorded in the recording area.

The year started well with a Scaup present until 4th January. A wintering Common Sandpiper was present throughout the month whilst a count of 15 Jack Snipe was the highest in the county. A peak of 10,000 Wood Pigeons was recorded in February whilst up to 6 Water Rail were present in south reed bed. Two different Peregrines were recorded and a Merlin was seen hunting a number of times. 

March brought the arrival of Little Ringed Plovers which successfully bred, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and a Stonechat when there was movement throughout the county. 

Five Avocets were the April highlight with other notable sightings including Goosander, two Hobby (from 16th),Whimbrel (19th), Redshank, Yellow-legged Gull, Common Tern, Cuckoo, Common Redstart, three Wheatear, Cetti’s Warbler and 11 Yellow and two White Wagtails. 

A Pectoral Sandpiper found on the 31st May to claim bird of the year honours. This was to be the 191st species recorded at the site. A Marsh Harrier flew south on May's all day Warwickshire bird race competition. Little Egret made appearances throughout the month whilst two Red Kites drifted across from Bredon Hill.  More migrants were observed including Hobby, Sanderling, four Arctic Terns, two Turtle Doves, Cuckoo, 500-1000 Swifts, 600 House Martins and several Yellow Wagtails.

The regular pair of Shelduck revealed a brood of nine of which all successfully left the area. Eight Little Ringed Plovers were noted and a Grey Partridge was a welcome observation.

A juvenile Garganey were the star attraction in July with other key sighting included an Avocet and a Little Stint.

August proved to be the best month of year for the area with a stream of great birds using the pits as a welcome stop on migration. A second Garganey was present until the to 24th, whilst waders included four Little Ringed Plover, nine Ringed Plover, five Dunlin, Little Stint (23rd), Snipe, four Black-tailed Godwit, two Ruff, Spotted Redshank (30th), 11 Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper (16th), eight Common Sandpiper and two Turnstone. Four Black Tern, thought to be a first for the site, was a superb record whilst a Mediterranean Gull (10th) was a rare find. Other sightings included Yellow-legged Gull, seven Common Terns, five Turtle Dove, two Common Redstart, Whinchat, two Wheatear, Grasshopper Warbler, Tree Pipit and several Crossbills.

Three Turtle Dove chicks successfully fledged and were seen around the area before their migration south.

Wintering wildfowl returned in September including two Pintail, eight Wigeon whilst 51 Teal highlighted the lack of the suitable habitat. Four Winchat were present with two Stonechats. 

A Bearded Tit was discovered on the 18th October whilst other monthly highlights included 18 Wigeon, two Pintail, eight Shoveler, Water Rail, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, 95 Lapwing, 32 Snipe, four Green Sandpiper, Dunlin, two Yellow-legged Gulls, Short-eared Owl (22nd), 300 Meadow Pipits, Tree Pipit, White Wagtail, four Stonechats, two Wheatears, a late Reed Warbler (4th), 25 Lesser Redpolls and a Corn Bunting.

November saw yet more finds included two Red-crested Pochard, a Rock Pipit, Stonechat and a Brambling. Three Whooper Swans were also recorded flying over Bidford (9th).

The year closed with a Pink-footed Goose found on the 28th whilst a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was reported at nearby Dunnington and four Grey Partridges were at Bidford-on-Avon.

The site has some very challenging times ahead with restoration being accelerated and a number of key habitats being destroyed. Habitat and access remain a major concern for 2016. 

Many thanks to Jon Bowley, Paul Hands, Anne & Noel, Mark Islip, Chris Lane, Lee Taylor and Mike Inskip.  

Morning at Ladywalk NR

Ladywalk Nature Reserve
Tufted Duck
Little Egret
Green Fich
Look out over the reserve
Greenfinch flock

After meeting Jim Winsper from the West Midlands Bird Club regarding our negotiations about Salford Priors I was really impressed with his genuine passion and drive for the club and to deliver the best reserves possible for the members. With membership being just £30 (which includes access to four reserves and a brilliant annual report) I decided to join up. The club also has a fantastic new website that was launched last year. After multiple patch visits to the pits recently I opted to make use of my membership by visiting Ladywalk Nature Reserve. The reserve sits in the Tame Valley and shows how wildlife can succeed in flooded gravel extraction workings.  

The reed bed is well known for wintering Bittern however despite my best efforts they were playing hard to get on my visit. Whilst on Bittern stakeout duty, the feeders to the side of the B hide were visited by Willow, Marsh Tits and a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. Out in front of me there were a selection of nice birds including Water Rail, Little Egret, Goosander, Pochard, Teal, Shelduck whilst a Sparrowhawk flew through the reserve hoping for an early lunch.

The feeders around the reserve were very busy with a cracking range of the more common birds including Bullfinch, Reed Bunting, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blue & Great Tits.  A Siberian Chiffchaff had been reporting near the reserve entrance however the bitter cold day put pay to any thoughts of a longer session. 

Will have to be next time for the Bittern…………..