Friday, 23 March 2018

Friday March 23

A cloudy morning with just a couple of brief sunny intervals and a rather brisk and surprisingly chilly southwesterly breeze. It didn't feel spring-like at all. Having missed out on a visit last Sunday due to snow, I was hoping to make up for it today.

The early signs were not promising, no Chiffchaffs, no Wheatears, and just three Meadow Pipits none of which were actively migrating. On the other handed there was a party of about 12 Fieldfares, and another of 20 Starlings moving south-west.

The pool did at least show some promise. A flock of 13 Tufted Ducks, mainly on the top pool. was just shy of the site record. Then a diving dot in the middle of the main pool resurfaced to show itself to be the first Little Grebe of the year.

The Tufted Duck flock
Little Grebe
The Little Grebe did what they always do, after allowing me a couple of crap record shots, it disappeared completely. No doubt cowering among the sedges at the back of the pool.

This late spring has left the hedgerows and trees well behind where they normally are in terms of leaf cover, and as a result it is impossible to sneak up to the border of the flash field without flushing everything. So today I was left to estimate the numbers of waders and ducks as they scattered from the nearest flash. The whole field is very wet, and looks very promising indeed. The first thing I noticed was the number of Coot present. Adding the small numbers from the other little pools I ended up with a count of 27 which is more than double the site record.

I estimated 30 Teal and 16 Snipe as they rushed to get out of sight, and I suspect there were more than this. Also present were two pairs of Shovelers, one pair of Gadwall, at least 15 Lapwings, a pair of Greylag Geese, and two Green Sandpipers.

The return to Netherstead was pretty uninspiring, one or two March Hares failing to get frisky and although the temperature was apparently 12 degrees there was scarcely an insect in sight.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Sunday March 11

Despite the morning being slightly curtailed by the fact today is Mother's Day, this was a reasonably successful visit.

Though cloudy at first, the sun soon broke through and with a very light southerly, the temperatures reached spring-like levels.

The first new bird for the year was a Jay. How we have managed to birdwatch here for two months without recording one is something of a mystery. Anyway with that one in the bank, we strolled towards the pools with a spring in our steps. There was plenty evidence of movement with a small flock of Fieldfares and Redwings flying north, while all morning flocks of Starlings (the total reached 140) did likewise. A single Green Sandpiper flew from the direction of the Flash Field.

At the Flash field we quickly established that a pair of Shelducks was present. At least one has been here off and on for the last fortnight, but this is the first time our visit has coincided with the species being here. At the gate, Dave pointed out a Little Owl back in its usual tree.

Little Owl
Although they must be present all year, we only ever see them from early spring.

The flash pools contained 62 Teal, seven Snipe, 11 Lapwings, and a Shoveler. We weren't sure whether the latter was a year-tick, but I can confirm it was.

For once, the return journey was also interesting. Morton Bagot is not a great place to see gulls, but we were seeing regular flocks of Black-headed Gulls heading north, and then found that floodwater in the field to the east contained a lot more of them. Among them were a few Lesser Black-backeds, and a single first-winter Common Gull. We eventually reached a small rise from where we could count the gulls, and decided on a total figure of 160 at least.

Black-headed Gulls
Suddenly the gulls all took off, and after a few seconds we spotted that the reason was an immature Peregrine causing mayhem.

So no actual summer visitors, but plenty of signs that they are not too far away. By late morning a number of solitary bees were buzzing around, but none landed for long enough for even a tentative identification.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Sunday March 4

With temperatures starting to rise, the thaw is on and the beast from the east is receding from memory. Time to visit Morton Bagot. The main roads were fine, the minor roads were not. Half way there I was getting quite concerned. Snow drifts on either side of the road and long periods of impacted snow making it touch and go on the hilly bits. I called a halt at the crossroads 50 yards short of my patch boundary. I'm glad I did.

The road looking from Bannams Wood.
It remained misty and grey for almost the whole of the morning. This made it hard getting any reasonable photographs of anything. A Fox trotted across the flash field, no doubt anticipating another season of decimating the Lapwings' breeding attempts.

The shallow scrapes were almost completely frozen and initially all I could see were 42 Black-headed Gulls and 19 Teal. Then I started to notice Snipe. They were gathered in groups in several places across the field and were all animatedly feeding in the thawing marshy areas. I eventually counted 34 Snipe and six Lapwings.

Everything left when a couple of dog-walkers, their dog running free, appeared on the other side of the field. To be fair they were scrutinising a map so I am guessing they were at least trying to follow the footpath from which they had strayed.

I headed south towards Netherstead. The pool was partially frozen, but there was enough water for a pair of Mute Swans and three Coot.

The fields seemed rather quiet, apart from the song of some intrepid Skylarks. My mammal list started to expand; Brown Hares, Muntjac, two Roe Deer, and a Rabbit. The tracks in the snow told of another resident.

Badger tracks
I had brought some seeds with me, intending to spread it wherever the finches had gathered. Unfortunately I hardly saw any, so spread them in a couple of likely spots. No doubt the pampered Pheasants will hoover them up.

The walk back along the road finally brought me a year-tick. Not the expected Jay, which continues to make itself scarce, but a Grey Wagtail which flew over me in the hamlet.

Before I headed off I made another trip to the flash field, the highlight being two Common Gulls which both flew east. One was a first-winter, the other an adult.

Adult Common Gull
What this visit needed was a splash of colour.

Job done.

So I girded my loins for the return journey. Fortunately, the sun came out, the thaw got to work, and the hill between me and Redditch was safely negotiated. Phew !

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Sunday February 25

A cold sunny morning with a very light south-easterly.

Dave and I set off expecting the water bodies to be frozen, but in fact it wasn't as bad as we had feared. In fact the pool was almost completely ice-free, and the small top pool held a pair of Gadwall and a few Teal.

Drake Gadwall
Unfortunately that was about as good as it got. The Flash field hosted 27 Lapwings and 48 Teal. Our patch tally of Coot reached nine.

Dave spotted an egret in a distant field of corvids, and eventually we saw it perform a brief fly around before disappearing from sight again. We decided it was probably a Little Egret.

The lack of small birds is now extremely apparent, and I was left to take some pretty abysmal shots of a Buzzard displaying.


Thursday, 22 February 2018

News from the patch and its surrounds

I missed a text from Chris L a few days ago. He had been to Morton Bagot and had seen a Shelduck and a Wigeon. These would both be year-ticks, but they are species I expect to see without too much difficulty this year.

Potentially more exciting, he also had two Tree Sparrows at Castle Farm, literally within sight of the patch. Just three fields away, but it might as well be an ocean because Tree Sparrows are site faithful to a ridiculous degree.

Nevertheless it proves the area did not lose all of its Tree Sparrows in that fateful winter five years ago.

Slightly further away, Neil D alerted me to the presence of 14 Hawfinches at the Virgin Mary Church  near Studley castle. Lyn and I called in on the way back from Hillers, but without binoculars, and they seemed to have disappeared. Definitely a place to watch though.

Finally, if you followed the link to Neil's blog you will see that there has been a mini-murmuration of Starlings visible from the top of the car-park in the middle of Redditch this week. Worth a look.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Sunday February 18

A cloudy morning with hardly a breathe of wind. The rather mild weather was encouraging more songbirds to sing, including Chaffinches, Skylarks, and Reed Buntings. Both Mistle and Song Thrushes were also in full voice, although they have been at it for over a month.

Song Thrush
Apart from 40 Lesser Redpolls, there were very few finches on the site again. The pool contained 16 Teal and four Tufted Ducks, the latter being an entirely predictable year tick. The Tawny Owl was visible in its usual tree.

Tufted Ducks
Teal taking fright
The flash field was better than last week, although that's not saying much. It contained 28 Lapwings, 23 Teal, two Snipe, five Black-headed Gulls, a Green Sandpiper, and the male Stonechat.

And that was about it.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Sunday February 11

Sunny intervals and cold with a fresh south-westerly breeze.

It was hard work again today. The flash field contained a Green Sandpiper, a Lapwing, five Black-headed Gulls and at least 39 Teal.

Walking past Stapenhill Wood I could hear lots of Pheasant alarm calls. The cause became clear as a Fox appeared in the field beyond.

Finally, I managed to get some shots of displaying Ravens over Bannams Wood.

Not a sniff of a year tick though.