Sunday, 15 October 2017

Sunday October 15

Morton Bagot never seems to get involved in National birding events, by which I mean unusual numbers of particular species appearing across the UK. Waxwing invasions, Yellow-browed Warbler falls, seabird wrecks, they all seem to happen elsewhere. It doesn't stop you from dreaming though.

Yesterday evening it became apparent that this autumn's event could be an influx of Hawfinches. Dave was obviously thinking the same thing as he greeted me with the comment we should look out for Hawfinches. We never really believed we would actually see one though.

But then, at 10.20am, we were strolling past the pool when I heard a Redwing-like "swee" to my left. I looked round, and up, and there it was "Hawfinch" I bellowed. Dave got on it at once, and we watched in amazement as the chunky finch bounced its way southwards, flashing white in its primaries and secondaries with each flap of its wings.

I fumbled for the camera but it was hopeless. My bridge camera autofocus just can't cope with flying passerines. I got several shots of sky before giving up. You'll just have to make do with an artists impression drawn a little while after it had headed off towards the direction of Bannams Wood.

Hawfinches have two calls. One is a Robin-like tick which may be a contact call used in woodland, but the other is the Redwing-like call which we heard.

Needless to say this was a first for the patch.

In fact the grey and murky morning had been quite entertaining before the Hawfinch added a substantial dollop of cream. Several flocks of Redwings had slipped their way south-west, the total count being 57. Also on the move were 26 Redpolls, three Siskins, 14 Chaffinches, 13 Skylarks, 60 Starlings, and just five Meadow Pipits. Two probable Golden Plovers also headed south before my view was obscured by a large oak tree.

We also counted 12 Bullfinches, 15 Goldfinches, a Chiffchaff, three Goldcrests, and four Marsh Tits in the hedgerows.

The shooting season is now in full swing, and this may have been responsible for slightly disappointing waterfowl numbers, with just 29 Teal, six Snipe, 74 Greylag Geese, and a Green Sandpiper present.

I think that two good birds in two visits constitutes a Morton Bagot purple patch.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sunday October 8

Dave and I arrived promptly and started birding down the access road to Netherstead farm. A sunny morning which became quite warm. A very light westerly breeze.

The first sign that we were going to have a good day came when a flock of 35 Redwings hurried over the plantation, heading south-west. We later saw another four. The plantation and hedges were full of tits and Dunnocks, but as we wandered back I noticed that a grey bird perched distantly on the roof of the stables was perched rather perkily and did an extravagant dip of its body. It wasn't a Dunnock, and I said I think that's a Black Redstart, at which point it flew revealing an orange tail. We hurried over, and had excellent views of it fly-catching from the roof.

Black Redstart
This is the second record for the patch, the first being on the same building in Nov 2015. We texted everyone we thought might be interested, and in the event Mike Inskip twitched it successfully on his way to his own patch (where a Kingfisher was to be a patch-tick for him).

We continued towards the flash field, counting five Stonechats in the Chat Field, and another two behind the pool. A Golden Plover, the first of the autumn, flew west.

The flashes contained 85 Greylag Geese, the immature Mute Swan, 27 Teal, a female Shoveler, two Cormorants, a Green Sandpiper, at least seven Snipe, and 17 Lapwings. We heard our only Chiffchaff of the day in the hedges.

The warm weather was bringing out the insects, and we recorded four species of butterfly; Red Admiral, Speckled Wood, Brimstone, and Comma, and also several Common Darters, and a small gathering of Hornets.

All in all, an excellent visit.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Monday October 2

Mostly cloudy with sunny intervals. A fresh westerly breeze.

The breeze left me wondering what to do as I left the car at Netherstead. However, my mind was quickly made up by a steady stream of Meadow Pipits heading south. I logged them, and anything else which was obviously moving, and got a final tally of 75 Meadow Pipits, three Swallows, five Redpolls, and two Siskins.

In the chat field I counted at least seven Stonechats again, but had the feeling there might be one or two more than that. A single male Blackcap showed briefly in the hedgerow there, while Chiffchaffs eventually totalled six.

The pool offered nothing at all, but most of the birds in the flash field were on the nearest scrape. I counted 178 Greylag Geese, 61 Teal, 16 Mallard, three Grey Herons, five Snipe, and the Greenshank (which I only heard).

Most of the Greylag Goose flock
As usual the late morning added little, although I did flush a Green Sandpiper from the dragonfly pond.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Sunday October 1

Steady overnight drizzle continued through the early part of the morning. Having been to a wedding reception the night before, and with guests staying over, I had more or less decided to give today a miss.

However, a text from Neil stated that a Pectoral Sandpiper at Salford Prior G P had flown off at 10.15am so birders needed to keep their eyes open. That was all the incentive I needed, and at midday our friends had gone and the rain had stopped. Time to check it out.

The pool has lots of mud, but hardly any water, while the flashes contain lots of water but no muddy edge. So I wasn't too surprised to find no American waders present, but was pleased to see that the Greenshank was still present having been missed on Friday.

A couple of Little Egrets took cover in front of the hedge behind the nearest flash.

Little Egrets
The first day of October is unfortunately the first day of the shooting season. Normally you are pretty safe on a Sunday, but I suppose that having waited all year for the this date some "sportsmen" were unable to contain their enthusiasm. A volley of shots rang out from the direction of Clowse Wood, and within seconds the two egrets joined all the other wildfowl on the flash field in panic-stricken flight.

Trying to put a positive spin on this, it did at least allow me to realise that there were at least 50 Teal present (I could probably have counted about 20 if they hadn't all taken off) and also a single Snipe.

The first Siskin of the autumn called as it flew over, while there are still several Chiffchaffs, and two Swallows present.

I plan to return tomorrow for a more thorough visit.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Friday September 29

A slightly delayed start due to the weather still saw me birding in steady, occasionally heavy, rain for the first 40 minutes. However, the rain abruptly stopped and eventually the sun appeared. A light southerly breeze meant it was very mild.

The new dawn which occurred when the rain past meant a big increase in passerine activity as hungry birds rushed to snap up as many newly flying insects as they could. I enjoyed watching several Chiffchaffs, Swallows, a House Martin, and numerous Blue Tits feeding in a frenzy in the lee of the hedge which runs from the village to the small pond south of Netherstead.

I had decided to count some of the commoner garden birds, and came up with totals of 16 Robins, 12 Dunnocks, 10 Wrens, seven Blackbirds, and five Song Thrushes.

A few Swallows headed south during the morning, and my final tally was 14. There was just one brief pulse of 10 Meadow Pipits going south. Warblers present were nine Chiffchaffs and two Blackcaps. The first Redpoll of the autumn flew south.

The Flash field managed to support two Green Sandpipers, two visible Snipe, 120 Greylag Geese, 36 Teal, and a Wigeon.

There are not many finches on site this autumn, 25 Goldfinches being the best count. It doesn't bode well for the chances of a Merlin being attracted this winter. A single Kingfisher was a vocal presence, while a flock of 50 Carrion Crows was an unusually high count.

The sunshine brought out several Red Admirals and Commas, and also small numbers of Common Darters.

All a bit quiet.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Time travel - Sunday Sep 17 - Salford Priors GP

Astute observers may have noticed my cryptic comment at the start of my post a week last Sunday. As you may have guessed I had been to see a bird at a sensitive site. I have been impatiently twiddling my thumbs ever since waiting for it to depart so that I could tell the story.

The previous evening I had taken a call from Neil explaining that a Red-necked Phalarope which had been widely reported from Salford Prior Gravel Pit several days earlier, had not departed as I had assumed, but was still present. I mentioned this to Dave when he arrived at Morton Bagot on Sunday morning, and we decided to go and look at it.

Red-necked Phalarope
What a corker it was. Full details of the discovery and eventual identification can be found on Neil's blog .

I have great sympathy (mixed with envy) for Neil and the group of birders who watch Salford Priors Gravel Pit. The owners, Cemex, are currently "restoring the site". They are bulldozing most of it to return it to agriculture, but have been kind enough to leave a couple of pits for the birds and birders to enjoy. The work is close to completion. Like many gravel pit owners they are not keen to see the general public wandering over a working site due to, I suppose, health and safety concerns. This puts any birders who are tolerated in a difficult position. If they find a rarity, they are obliged to suppress it. Naturally this creates bad feeling among the birding community, but equally the broadcast of a rarity risks any tacit permission for access being placed in jeopardy.

This is why I don't generally go to Salford Priors GP any more.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Sunday September 24

A little pulse of warm south-easterlies gave us a pleasant sunny morning.

There were plenty of insects about which is no doubt the reason we recorded a record-breaking 18 Chiffchaffs. Another species to turn up in good numbers was Stonechat. Seven of them were dashing about the appropriately named Chat Field. This figure equalled the previous record. Two Blackcaps were also seen.

Male Stonechat
I have recently started a new project. This involves inputting all my old records, which stretch back to 1979, onto Birdtrack. The BTO website is excellent for logging current records, but they are apparently pleased to receive historical records. What I get out of it is the nostalgic enjoyment of rereading notebooks written when I was in my early twenties. I am very struck by how enthusiastic I was. Technically studying for a degree at Swansea University, I hardly let a day go by without doing some birding. I occasionally counted very diligently, for example recording 53 Blue Tits in a wood near Swansea one cold January day.

Frankly I felt inspired to count tits this morning. In the three hours we were here I logged 26 Blue Tits, eight Long-tailed Tits, four Great Tits and a Coal Tit. That was without going anywhere near Bannams Wood. There's life in the old dog yet.

Coal Tit
When not logging tits, Dave  and I managed to look up and count overhead passage. It is clear that hirundines are now on the move; a minimum of 25 Swallows and five House Martins flew south. The Meadow Pipit count was 31.

The flash field contained the first Wigeon of the autumn, along with 17 Teal, 96 Greylag Geese, about 10 Mallard, a Green Sandpiper, and two Greenshank.

The only other bird worthy of note, was a Little Egret which appeared in the tree at the pool long after we had left that part of the patch. It was visible through the telescope, but my poor old back was playing up too much for us the give in to any thoughts of going back for a closer look.