Monday, 28 January 2019

Smew at Kemerton Lakes Nature Reserve

This week I have visited Kemerton Lakes Nature Reserve which is managed by Kemerton Conservation Trust. The 46.5 acre wetland reserve lies at the foot of Bredon Hill and was designed out of a formal gravel pit. The main lake is quite similar to the main pit at Salford Priors and shows what can be done with genuine conservation work. As well as the main lake there is a woodland, reedbed and fields so the chance of anything. 

The reason for my visit was to try to see the drake Smew which had relocated from Holt Fleet but now in striking plumage. You can only really view the water from one of the provided hides. This looked very new with a boardwalk. 

The Smew was around 100 metres from the hide feeding well but on occasions went in-between the reeds beds which explains why on occasions visitors had not seen the bird. It's hard to believe it's the same scruffy red head I saw back in 2018.

Other sightings included 7 Wigeon, 8 Shoveler, 10 Little Grebe, 3 Cormorant, Sparrowhawk & a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. 

A very classy reserve and I will be returning very soon. 

Bleak January

With a slow start to the year and some very mixed weather we have edged our way to 77 species for the month. The best bird was a first winter Caspian Gull that was recorded on two separate occasions. The Gulls pattern is very odd with 400+ gulls in on certain roosts then just a handful the following evening. Whether it's the shooting in the day that's effecting their loyalty or something else, we will just have to monitor closely.

Wildfowl numbers have been down overall perhaps for the same reason. Shoveler numbers have topped 50 again with a handful of Wigeon & Pochard that seem to commute to other local pools. The Greylag and Canada geese flocks seem to be have split up and we are still trying to find something different that might have joined the flocks.

In terms of raptors , a female Merlin has been regularly hunting which has been spectacular to see whilst two Peregrines, Kestrel & Common Buzzards have also been observed. There have been no Owl sightings this year as of yet.

The following two Sundays, both myself and Jon have connected with Jack Snipe near the central lagoon. I'm still determined to get a photo of one at site but you almost have to step on them to find them. 

The orchards and hedgerows are still full of Fieldfare & Redwings whilst there does appear to be very good number of Chaffinches this year. Yellowhammers are split between flocks to the east in orchards & hedgerows in Broom.

Other useful additions during the month have included an adult Yellow-legged Gull and a flock of Golden Plover. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Birds, Seals & Beatles

Three birds in shot
Penny Lane is in my eyes and my ears
Sunset at Parkgate
Conwy Valley Hawfinch
After the gloom lifted
Hawfinch high & handsome
Harry taking the Captain walks
Angel Bay Seals
Fantastic views
Beauty in the eye of the beholder
Rose-coloured Starling
Rose-coloured Starling
I take Mrs D to some lovely spaces
Female Scaup
Black Redstart

Great Orme 
We were lucky to have a return visit to North Wales for a bit of complimentary five star luxury so we decided to take in Liverpool on the way. We have been wanting to do a tour of the Beatles landmarks for a long time so we booked Fab4 Taxi tour company. This three hour tour was amazing from start to finish taking in the iconic Penny Lane, Strawberry fields and many more. 

After leaving Liverpool with the light faded we stopped at Parkgate on the Wirral the weather was too windy for Owls but we still recorded a Great White Egret, 6 Marsh Harriers & 3 Little Egret. 

Saturday started very gloomy so we decided to head down the Conwy Valley to try for Hawfinches. Thankfully some local intelligence took us to a great location where they had been seen in recent days. It was just the case of finding them. As we walked along the river we found a cracking male that sat above us busy feeding. After watching a Treecreeper at close quarters we then found another four Hawfinches perched together very high in the company of some Greenfinches.

On the way back up the valley we scanned RSPB Conwy but we couldn't find anything different to what you would expect. Out on the river there were Redshanks, Shelduck and a pair of Great Crested Grebe.

Given our location we had arranged to meet up with Mr & Mrs C & their lovely Labradoodle Harry. We met at Angel Bay where we took in the seal colony and also watched 2 Fulmers flying around the cliffs in glorious sunshine. We headed into Rhos for a coffee noting Dunlin, Redshank, Ringed Plover and Oycstercatchers on the beach. 

As Harry headed for home, I treated Mrs D to an hour among the dustbins & back streets of Llandundo looking for a mankie Starling. The locals were very friendly considering all these strangers were walking around their local streets. We both got a quick glimpse of the bird before it looked flight to fly a few streets aways. Mrs D opted to walk into town whilst I hung on hoping the bird would return for a better view. And…… did the bird return and showed amazingly well posing on a garden wall just 12 feet away from me. It may have only been a juvenile but it was great to see this species so well. We then walked the Great Orme which was very quiet before heading back to the hotel for a great night of amazing food & wine. 

The weather the previous day was a bit of a shock and we probably had used up all our good weather tokens. It was dreary from the moment we walked out the hotel and didn't improve all day. As we headed for home we noted female/1W Black Redstart at Kinmel Bay and a female Scaup at Brickfields Pond in a residential area of Rhyl.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Northumberland birding

Waxwing are back

So worth stopping by
North east specility
Ship Inn - Fav pub in England
Sea watching - session one
An added bonus
Quality nights out
Holy Island Causeway
Long-tailed Ducks
Mrs D showing off

Caught in action
Female Eider
Drake Eider
Sunrise at Chevington
                                                         Twite flock

Determined to get away whenever possible in 2019, an early opportunity came my way by way of a hotel bargain in one of my favourite counties, Northumbria. Whilst being 5 hours away it offers some fantastic habitats and I've got a genuine love of the coast line there. 

In the shadows of the Angel of North, we stopped to see our first Waxwings for a couple of years. The birds were typically showy on a residential street just five miles off our route further north.

Our first destination would be Ship Inn at Low Newton-by-the-sea which is our favourite pub ever. We duly tucked into fresh kippers and a local ale before birding the shoreline.

There were birds everywhere. Starting on the flash on the back of the dunes there were large numbers of Wigeon, Teal & Lapwing.  A flock of 40 Golden Plover were just about to land before a Peregrine appeared flushing everything. On the sea there were 50+ Eider, Shags, Goldeneye, Guillemeot whilst a Red Throated Diver flew past us as we rounded the headland. Amongst the waders were Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper & Ringed Plover.

We then headed to Newham where there we found a flock of 3000 Pinfoots and 4 Taiga Bean Geese which rounded the day off nicely. We had a fantastic meal at town's Italian restaurant which was showing number 1 on Trip Advisor. I guess travelling at this time of year has it's real advantages.

On our second day we spent the morning on Holy Island. Over 330 species have been recorded on this amazing nature reserve that you need to cross at low tide. Setting my scope up at the highest point it was just amazing how much water you could view. It's thought that over 50,000 birds winter here. Within minutes I had recorded 6 Slavionian Grebe, 40 Longtailed Duck, Common Scoter, dark & pale bellied Brent Geese, Red-breasted Meganser, Red-throated Diver & Little Egret. In the bay there were a small mixed flock of Bar & Black-tailed Godwits, the place is magical. What it did lack was a good coffee shop to tempt us into the warm.

Whilst searching in vein for Snow Buntings at our next stop, I did find a flock of Barnacles Geese feeding with Lapwing & more Golden Plover. After a fish & chip lunch were walked the harbour at Seahouses where we observed the Eiders at close quarters in addition to Turnstone, Great Black-backed Gull, Great Northern Diver & Rock Pipit. We finished the day by walking down Beadnell beach which was quiet bird wise as there were a lot of people walking dogs.

On our final day we spent our morning at East Chevington and got there to see the sunrise. There were a flock of 75 Twite feeding actively whilst 4 Grey Partridges had crept to the edge of beach to feed on same seed that's put down for the Twite. A few locals were looking for Owls without luck. We wrapped up the session seeing 4 Whooper Swans flying past whilst there were another five on the main lake.

A brilliant weekend with great company, fantastic food and plenty of local ale. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Review of the year 2018

Salford Priors GP had a great year considering our habitat challenges recording a record 144 species. An adult Caspian Gull being added by Jon on the last Sunday of the year. We didn't have any real superstars but the headline will be us recording 3 Grey Phalaropes on the same day breaking the West Midlands record. Other noteable sightings included a Short-eared Owl,  Arctic Tern, Great White Egret, Iceland Gull, 3 Little Gull and Marsh Harrier which are not annual visitors.

Personally I recorded 231 species around the county yet still didn't run into any Tree Sparrows or Red/Black Grouse. Many thanks to all those birders & friends I've shared some great moments with and those who have slogged round in the mud with me at the pits. Special mention to the Squire, Chris, Rolly, the Captain & Mark C. 

I observed 14 new species of which most involved a great deal of traveling. Surely the midlands can throw us a goodie in 2019. Norfolk took the crown as the county with most lifers from Dorset which didn't get me any this year. October was the key month of year with the Scillies being very kind to us.

1) Snowy Owl (Lincolnshire) March
2) American Bittern (Suffollk) April
3) Green Heron (Pembrokshire) May
4) Moltoni's Warbler (Norfolk) June
5) Greater Sand Plover (East Riding) July
6) Booted Warbler (Suffolk) September
7) Ortolan Bunting (Hampshire) September
8) Grey Catbird (Cornwall) October
9) Grey-cheeked Thrush (St.Agnes - Scillies) October
10) Red-eyed Vireo (Bryher - Scillies) October
11) Rustic Bunting (St Marys - Scillies) October
12) Stejneger's Stonechat (Norfolk)
13) Little Auk (Norfolk)
14) Pied Wheatear (Lancashire)

My top 10 favourite birds in 2018 have been judged based on experience seeing them as much as the rarity as sometimes seeing a rarity is far from a great days birding but something you have to put with if you want to experience more varied species.

1) Red-eyed Vireo - This stunning bird is a real Scilly & Cornwall specility so impossible to twitch from the midlands. Thankfully this bird was found on the day we were viewing the Grey Catbird in Cornwall and it thankfully re-appeared on Bryher to give us another Scillies lifer.
2) Greater Sand Plover - Tied up at cricket this looked it could be one that was out of reach. A strange communication exchange with the Squire led us to leave at 4pm to Spurn. Thankfully the traffic and daylight were on our side to see this fantastic bird when then moved on over night.
3) Grey Catbird - This american superstar kindly stayed the required four nights to enable us to see it on the way to the Scillies in October. After seeing the bird we had a fantastic day around Cornwall taking in some supurb birds.
4) Green Heron - A 3 1/2 hour drives to south Wales resulted in watching this amazing Heron in the garden of the local MP. Expecting a real scrum, the twitch was totally the opposite with everyone present getting amazing views of the bird fishing.
5) Moltini's Warbler - Everything about this twitch could go wrong with distance, logistics and stickability all in question. Thankfully the journey to Blakeney Point went like clockwork we even managed to get a boat both ways to save the massive walk. I had never been to Blakeney Point before so it ws great to explore this area of Norfolk.
6) Rustic Bunting - After five days in Cornwall & the Scillies this bird was an amzing bonus. On arrival it looked we would be lucky to see the bird due to it's location on private land but as it turned out we got amazing scope views.
7) Ortolan Bunting - The Ortolan Bunting made my top 10 rather than the Snowy Owl as this was a way better experience. I'd wanted to see a Ortolan since I'd starting birding so to see one close in a lovely location was very pleasurable.
8) American Bittern - A long journey to Suffolk was needed to see this stonking bird. Our patience was really tested as after 3 hours 15 minutes there was no sign,then suddenly in overtime Rolly picked up the american visitor coming straight towards us down a drainage channel.
9) Grey Phalarope - I was pleased to find not one but three at the pits it was a day which will be long remembered. Thankfully the restoration contractors have moved on so it was great to welome many visitors to the site.
10) Black-throated Diver - A real December surprise on Arrow Valley Lake, Redditch just a five minutes from home. The bird has been present all over Christmas. Fantastic bird to watch at close quarters.

I would like to thank the team at West Midland Bird Club for their continued support and not forgetting the team at Upton Warren which remains one of my favourite places to visit.