Thursday, 30 March 2017

Patch MEGA: Red-necked Grebe at Salford Priors Gravel Pits

A weekend of patch birding started on Saturday full of hope of finding an early Wheatear, Blackcap or even a passing Osprey, yet despite searching the only new arrivals were more Chiffchaffs.

Sunday started well, which I'll write an additional blog about. After checking Pophills & the plantation & finding a couple of Chiffchaff I started scanning the main pit. My main intention was to spend most of my time looking for Wheatear but a strange sleeping Grebe caught my eye. Its size was like a Red-necked Grebe but surely not here at Salford Priors. I sprinted to the car for my scope before double checking my original thoughts which were confirmed when the bird woke up and started to feed. 

To find a Red-necked Grebe, a first record for the site, was brilliant but to find one displaying summer plumage was just unbelievable. These grebes winter in western & southern Europe and it did strike my mind it could be the bird from Draycote Water relocating. However another Warwickshire birder confirmed that bird was still present. Most of the regulars made the trip down to see the stunning species and there were a few twitchers in the afternoon. 

I managed to take a few records shots and a bit of video for the site records before heading home. Paul was present into the evening when the bird was still there however there was no sign on Monday, not unexpected. 

Other sightings included 6 Green Sandpiper, 7 Sand Martin, 2 Oystercatcher, 3 Little Ringed Plover.

Salford Priors super Red Kites

On the way to the pits on Sunday one of the regular Red Kites caught my eye and given the superb weather (although cold) I thought I'd stop and watch the bird as it was very close to the road. Kites don't have the power of some raptors so have to reply on scavenging on dead carrion & earth worms but they certainly are capable of taking small voles & rodents when pushed. 

On this occasion a dead lamb was the attraction and the bird was soon joined by his partner who circled the field making it amazing viewing. The Kites did have to battle with the local corvids & for a short time a Buzzard also joined in the action.

A pretty good start to Sunday morning............

Black Grouse & much more at World's End

I had been determined to book a couple of Fridays off work but the slow start to spring & being stacked out with projects had made it more difficult that normal. This week I was going to be sticking to the plan whatever, so arrangements were put in place to head to Wales with the Squire. The alarm was set for a staggering 3am leaving the midlands at 4am. Motorway closures either side of the part of the M6 we used ensured a smooth passage ensuring we arrived as the sun began to rise.

The bubbling noises of Black Grouse greeted us from our parking space that we were lucky to get as more birders & photographers arrived. This was the first time Paul had seen Black Grouse and we got a wonderful display in fantastic weather. With the more dominant males in the centre of the lek, the birds on the outside dared not stray into the arena for more than a few seconds before retreating quickly. There were around 30 red blooded Grouse but it was difficult to get an exact count as birds were hidden whilst a few left the lek before returning. If you ever visit yourself you need to sit quietly in your car whilst the lek is in progress and be quiet. Under no circumstances get out of your car !

After enjoying the Black Grouse for about ninety minutes the birds had departed so we headed further north to a couple of locations I had visited before. Travelling over the moor I picked up a distant raptor and after quickly parking up we jumped out where there were two Hen Harriers, a male & a ringtail. Absolutely stunning, there really can't be many better sights. At the same location we also recorded a Sparrowhawk & a distant Goshawk, quite a start to the day.

While we could hear the Red Grouse we wanted a perfect view for Paul to record his 13th lifer of the year. Suddenly Paul slammed his brakes on as he spotted a Red Grouse sitting tight in the heather. The colours of birds neck were just majestic. 

We were determined to find our first Wheatear of the year however it took until late morning when we found four on the top of Horseshoe Pass. Other sightings Chiffchaff, Snipe, Stonechat, Curlews and at our final stop we found a flock of calling Crossbills however we only managed to see the females well. 

An epic day out and we safely back home by 5pm very tired but still ready for a good weekend of birding ahead.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Mark Clarke joins team Salford Priors

Local photographer Matt Clarke has been a welcome new addition to the team this year at the pits who has a great eye for photography. Matt's kindly offered to forward a few of his shots from Salford Priors for use on the blog. If you are into Flickr then give him a follow on this link

Still about the patch…..for now

Sandwell Valley Bullfinch
Oystercatcher near the river at Sandwell Valley
Bullfinches paired up
Red Kite over Dunnington
Chiffchaff in plantation
Green Sandpiper
Kestrel watching closely
Upton Avocet

Black-headed Gulls ready for a busy few months

Another cold spring week (that certainly put off those planned early migrants) lead to me doing all my birding close to home. On Tuesday I visited RSPB Sandwell Valley for an early morning walk before work. Eight Wigeon remained from the previous week although they were on the river not the marsh. There was only one Goosander as the others have left for their breeding grounds. The bird of the morning was most definitely the Bullfinch, as many as eight were all in one bush looking splendid in the sunshine. I recorded two Chiffchaffs in different parts of the reserve whilst the only other birds of note were three Oystercatchers.

With the sports taxi covering basketball in Coventry & local football Sunday it kind of suited me being around so I could see all the action and get some more patch time under my belt. I teamed up with the Squire on Saturday morning and we did the pits, Abbots Salford & a small piece of land that’s always worth a mooch. There really wasn’t many changes, Abbots Salford had 24 Sand Martin above the lake whilst our additional walk found good numbers of Chaffinches, a new Chiffchaff & a late flock of Fieldfare.

On Sunday I started early trying to cover as many areas as possible. An additional Little Ringed Plover has joined the first pair which could seen on Pophills and the main pit along with 5 Green Sandpipers. That’s a pretty good count compared to other local reserves. The successful pair of Sparrowhawks from last year were displaying giving encouraging signs and there were two new Chiffchaffs in the plantation singing loudly. The regular pair of Shelducks looks to have chased out the competition from last week. I picked up the regular Red Kite  at 8am flying over Dunnington & later again on the way home near Weethley Church. The duck numbers have fallen considerably within a week but Shoveler bucked the trend with seven recorded.

A winter male Wheatear was seen late morning by Jon but couldn’t be located late afternoon by anyone else. Water Rails were recorded on the main pit and were calling from the Reed Lagoon.  

The wind had really picked up by the time I reached Abbots Salford where the Sand Martin flock has increased to 40, whilst other birds of note were a pair of Pochard, 3 Chiffchaffs, female Peregrine & the heronry was busy with birds building nests.

After watching Dusty clinch a last gasp 2-1 win for his football team we headed over to Upton Warren for an hour in afternoon. 30 Avocets were present but no Green Sandpipers or LRP's. 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Migrants start to trickle in & a surprise patch visitor

At last…….Little Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Egptian Goose
Pophills (Saturday)
Fallow Deer
Reed Lagoon
Three of the Shelduck
Fallow deer on Sunday
Reed Bunting
I was full of hope that Saturday may be the day of the first genuine migrant to land at the pits however as much as I searched, including the railway line it was just the usual suspects. Sunday brought new hope with over night rain and misty conditions. The first discovery was a new car parked in Jon's spot near the plantation. After we initially thought some one may be ahead of us on count day those worries subsided when the driver of the vehicle was in the driving seat fast asleep ! Most odd……….

Jon joined me as I approached Pophills and were were both pleased to find two Little Ringed Plovers on the island. The first of two Green Sandpipers was present and plenty of wildfowl but no Garganeys ! As we reached the main pit seven Wigeon took flight trying to avoid the WeBS count and a Water Rail was feeding on the far side. A different Great Crested Grebe was present to add a bit of variety. One of only two Snipes recorded flew from the marsh behind the bund which appears to get smaller every week.

Find of the day was an Egyptian Goose that had joined up with our resident Greylags on the meadow. The light wasn't great so I took a few shots at a distance as I didn't want to flush the flock knowing a few of the regulars would be down later in the morning. 

The Reed Buntings (around 20) are now very condensed in one area due to the ongoing restoration, lets hope the reeds remain untouched for this breeding season. Five Shelduck have now returned and are fighting over each other for territories. They kept appearing all over the site as we did our walk. 

The first two singing Chiffchaff were by the reed lagoon fly catching towards the top of the hedgerow. Close to the same area there were four male Meadow Pipits displaying (there were 40 passing through on Saturday). As we headed back to the main pit we past the Squire & Mark who had called in to patch tick the goose. We had a final check of the main pit & Pophiils before retiring. Other sightings included :- 11 Little Grebe, 15 Cormorant, 2 Grey Heron, 4 Mute Swan, 167 Greylags, 3 hybrid geese, 73 Canada Geese, 24 Gadwall, 58 Teal, 75 Mallard, 5 Shoveler, 143 Tufted Duck, 10 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, 7 Moorhens, 99 Coot, 2 Oystercatcher, 4 Lapwing, 2 Snipe, , 115 Carrion Crow, 90 Jackdaw and a Siskin.