Sunday, 30 December 2012

Sunday December 30

Well, this is likely to have been my last vist to the patch this year. I was joined by Dave S, and we spent a relatively uneventful few hours walking round.

The flash contained four Wigeon, 44 Teal, nine Snipe, and 174 Lapwings. Elsewhere we reached totals of 100 Linnets, 130 Chaffinches, two Bramblings, and a distant flock of at least 200 thrushes, mainly Fieldfares.

I have finally resolved my map-making problems, although I haven't worked out how to show the map on the blog without all the free map tools blurb. This gives the general idea of the size and shape of the area I cover though.
As its the end of the year I feel I should do some kind of round up, and indeed provide a full list of the birds seen in 2012. So here goes:

A total of 121 bird species were recorded on the patch as far as I know (plus Feral Pigeon if you like). I saw 117 of these, my highlights being a Corn Bunting on Jan 28, an Iceland Gull over on Feb 18, a Great White Egret over on Mar 25, a Spotted Redshank on Mar 28, a drake Garganey on Jun 7, a Black-tailed Godwit on Jul 7, a Grasshopper Warbler on Aug 5, and up to two Wood Sandpipers for a fortnight from Aug 15.

The birds I missed were a Red Kite (DJScanlan), two Oystercatchers and a Pink-footed Goose (JJYardley) and a Crossbill (MWillmott).

My full list was:
1.Mute Swan, 2. Greylag Goose, 3.Canada Goose, 4. Shelduck, 5. Wigeon, 6. Teal, 7. Mallard, 8. Pintail, 9. Garganey, 10. Shoveler, 11. Tufted Duck, 12. Red-legged Partridge, 13. Grey Partridge, 14. Pheasant, 15. Little Grebe, 16. Cormorant, 17. Little Egret, 18.Great White Egret, 19. Grey Heron, 20. Sparrowhawk, 21. Buzzard, 22. Kestrel, 23. Merlin, 24. Hobby, 25. Peregrine, 26. Moorhen, 27. Coot, 28. Little Ringed Plover, 29. Golden Plover, 30. Lapwing, 31. Dunlin, 32. Ruff, 33. Jack Snipe, 34. Common Snipe, 35. Curlew, 36. Black-tailed Godwit, 37. Common Sandpiper, 38. Green Sandpiper, 39. Wood Sandpiper, 40. Redshank, 41. Spotted Redshank, 42. Greenshank, 43. Black-headed Gull, 44. Common Gull, 45. Lesser Black-backed Gull, 46 Herring Gull, 47. Iceland Gull, 48. Great Black-backed Gull, 49. Stock Dove, 50. Woodpigeon, 51. Collared Dove, 52. Cuckoo, 53. Barn Owl, 54. Little Owl, 55. Tawny Owl, 56. Swift, 57. Kingfisher, 58. Green Woodpecker, 59. Great Spotted Woodpecker, 60. Skylark, 61. Sand Martin, 62. Swallow, 63. House Martin, 64. Tree Pipit, 65. Meadow Pipit, 66. Yellow Wagtail, 67. Grey Wagtail, 68. Pied Wagtail (and White Wagtail), 69. Wren, 70 Dunnock, 71. Robin, 72. Redstart, 73. Whinchat, 74. Stonechat, 75. Wheatear (and probably Greenland Wheatear), 76. Blackbird, 77. Fieldfare, 78. Song Thrush, 79. Redwing, 80. Mistle Thrush, 81. Grasshopper Warbler, 82. Sedge Warbler, 83. Reed Warbler, 84. Blackcap, 85. Lesser Whitethroat, 86 Common Whitethroat, 87. Chiffchaff, 88. Willow Warbler, 89. Goldcrest, 90. Spotted Flycatcher, 91. Long-tailed Tit, 92. Blue Tit, 93. Great Tit, 94. Coal Tit, 95. Marsh Tit, 96. Nuthatch, 97. Treecreeper, 98. Jay, 99. Magpie, 100. Jackdaw, 101. Rook, 102. Cattion Crow, 103. Raven, 104. Starling, 105. House Sparrow, 106. Tree Sparrow, 107. Chaffinch, 108. Brambling, 109. Greenfinch, 110. Linnet, 111. Goldfinch, 112. Siskin, 113. Lesser Redpoll, 114. Bullfinch, 115. Yellowhammer, 116. Reed Bunting, 117. Corn Bunting.

I am now looking forward to next year, which for me may start on January 5, but I may get a chance to have a quick look on New Year's day.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Wednesday December 26

I was in a rather grumpy mood this morning for reasons I will enlarge on later. I didn't get out until 11.00 am by which time heavy grey cloud had rolled in.

I walked from Church Farm again, and saw nine Siskins in the trees overlooking the corrugated barn.

Siskin
These were nice to see, and were to prove to be the highlight of the morning. The Flash contained a respectable 215 Lapwings, but only 17 Teal and two Grey Herons. While the walk back added 50 Chaffinches and not a lot else.

The reason for my grumpiness was that I had seen a site called patchworkchallenge.blogspot.com which invited participants to submit their yearlists into some sort of playing field leveller in order to produce a yearlist competition which all competitors would have a chance of winning. Well that sounded a fun idea so I tried to produce a map of my area to send them in order to prove my patch was less than 3 square kms (it's under 2 square kms) and to register my interest.

This should have been straightforward apparently, but after downloading (or possibly uploading) various relevant (or possibly irrelevant) applications or whatever they were, I got myself into a complete tangle. Hence the bad mood. The sad truth is that I only have a limited grasp of information technology and it doesn't take much to get me out of my comfort zone, so unless I get a flash of inspiration I won't be joining in.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Sunday December 23

Preparations for christmas are starting to take priority over birding, and with the fear that yesterday's heavy rain may have made the patch difficult to get to, I settled for a late start and for parking at Morton Bagot church.

In fact the roads were fine, and the change in my normal circuit allowed the opportunity to check out the public footpath hedge which runs down to the pool. It contained 30 Greenfinches (I wondered where they had gone) and 40 Chaffinches. I also noticed that three fields below the road and below Bannam's Wood now contain tree tubes, so the tree planting really has started. In fairness those fields never really contained Skylarks in the summer so there may not be any negative impact.

The main feature of the day's visit was revealed when I reached the pool and the flooded flash. The wildfowl numbers have exploded. At least 120 Mallard took off from the pool, while the flash was a swirl of Teal and Lapwings. I managed to creep into position without losing too many, and a count of the remainder produced 167 Teal and 242 Lapwings.



A partialy albino Lapwing amongst the Lapwing flock
  While the numbers were spectacular, the variety wasn't. Four Wigeon flew off as I tried to get closer to the flock, and I counted 16 Snipe and seven Moorhens, but that was about it.

Pretty encouraging though.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Sunday December 16

Another late start (cricket watching), and a major phone malfunction meant that I seemed to have the patch to myself today. The weather has turned mild, but was also largely sunny.

Perhaps as a result of the milder weather I saw far fewer Thrushes, just 29 Fieldfares and 14 Redwings. I also struggled to see all of the finches which I suspect may still have been in the crop, and counted only 90 Chaffinches, 70 Linnets, and single figure totals of the rest.

The flash produced 10 Wigeon and 58 Teal, while the walk back added 59 Starlings heading east, and a single first-winter Common Gull going north.


Common Gull
 With the year now well advanced, it doesn't look as though I am going to add any more year ticks. The arrival of my 2010 West Midland Bird Club report prompts me to reflect on the Morton Bagot list.

There were two species in the report which I have yet to see here. A Willow Tit was recorded on January 23, and there is a note that up to ten Waxwings were seen in December at various sites, one of which was Morton Bagot. The only other species which I know to have been seen in a previous year, but which I have not seen myself, is Turtle Dove. Therefore I believe the Morton Bagot list stands at 140 excluding the pseudo-species Feral Pigeon, which I don't count.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Thursday December 13

I have taken a few days off work, mainly to watch the morning cricket coverage, but as thursday morning was very cold and frosty a late morning visit to the patch seemed a good idea.

At Netherstead Farm I was heartened by the sight of six Lesser Redpolls, including a pink-chested male, clinging to the bird feeders, with a Marsh Tit also present. My plan was to target the very south end for finches, and the flash at the north end, to see if the freezing conditions had lured in any wildfowl.

Initially the south end looked less promising than it had done at the weekend, but then a great swirl of finches and winter Thrushes rose from the crop and it was apparent that I would have my work cut out. Counting the Thrushes was fairly straight forward as they were all ground feeding and turned out to be dotted around most of the fields on the farm. I counted 150 Fieldfares and 70 Redwings, but only a handful of Starlings.


Redwing
The finches were much more difficult as they quickly dispersed and dropped into the hedgerows and back into the crops. Nevertheless, based on an estimation of the numbers seen in flight I reckoned there were 280 Chaffinches (my highest count here to date), 150 Linnets, many more than previously this autumn, and maybe a dozen or so Bramblings, Goldfinches and Lesser Redpolls.

In the distance a flock of 40 or 50Skylarks circled the stubble field. I headed that way and eventually reached the frozen pool. I considered checking for Jack Snipes, but decided not to bother. A later text from Matt Wilmott, who evidently was on site after I had left, told me he had seen two, I assume in this area.

The flash pool looked pretty promising as a substantial flock of Teal flew up. I waited for them to return, and eventually counted 134 standing on the ice. As this is a spring-fed field, I think that the reason numbers always go up in freezing conditions is that there are plenty of ice free channels in the field. I could only see nine Snipe, and was slightly disappointed to see no other wildfowl apart from 13 Greylag Geese.

The cold snap is due to end, and the return to mild westerly winds could mean that finding new birds before the end of the year will be pretty challenging.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sunday December 9

I was a bit late starting after a long evening entertaining friends, and so Dave had been kicking his heels for half an hour before I turned up. Compared to last thursday there were positive signs from the off.  Plenty of Starlings and Redwings were in evidence, and the first Tufted Duck for a while on the pool. The flash hosted 48 Teal, and I just missed a Wigeon which Dave spotted as it briefly flew with Mallards.

Later, 150 Lapwings flew over, but looked to be associating with fields to the west of the patch.

The real revelation was the south end. It looks as though tree planting may have started, and the disturbed muddy field contained about 100 Starlings, 175 Redwings, 60 Fieldfares, and 150 Chaffinches. With the latter were at least 10 Bramblings.


Brambling
 
  The Brambling in the photograph posed nicely on an isolated bush, which occasionally also contained several Lesser Redpolls. It was very difficult to work out the numbers of birds in this area, and I would regard the estimates as minimum figures.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Thursday November 28

Well, it was a nice sunny morning.

I walked around for a couple of hours without any great success. 50 Fieldfares occupied the hedge bordering the stubble field, and about 150 Starlings lifted off from a distant pasture field. The Flash contained 150 Greylag Geese, 21 Lapwings and two Snipe. I sketched the Lapwings and may do something with them at some stage.

I didn't visit the south end, so very few Finches were recorded.

All in all, a little bit dull.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Floods

After a night of heavy rain I was anticipating having difficulty getting to the patch as the undulating roads readily capture run-off from the fields. I decided to go in from the little church on the Henley road as I thought the water might be less deep. Wrong. Well actually it wasn't too bad, but unfortunately someone had got into difficulty overnight and had abandoned their car in the floodwater, blocking the road entirely.

I decided to walk in, and then got a call from Dave saying he was unable to get along the main Henley road due to a deep sheet of water, and was turning back. Fortunately, he then managed to find a way in via Wootton Wawen, and picked me up for the last stretch.

After all this effort it would be nice to report that the floodwaters on the fields had produced a deluge of birds. Sadly not, just lots of water.

Water running through a gate on the Public Footpath
The main pool and flash produced just 2 Teal, 70 Mallard, and 131 Greylag Geese. We arrived back at the car having seen very little of interest, 15 Siskins perhaps the best record. We then set off for the south end. As we approached, we heard a strange trumpeting call. It was repeated several times and we were perplexed. What was it? Perhaps a Whooper Swan, or a Crane. It sounded more like the latter but we couldn't see anything, and the calls became less frequent and more distant. Whatever it was it was, we bitterly concluded it was a big bird, and probably something really good. We probably should have been able to name it, but we had to let it go.

Anyway, we finally found some Finches, with at least six Bramblings in amongst 50 Chaffinches and about 25 Linnets. Then we heard Golden Plover calls and looked up to see 40 heading rapidly east. More Greylags flew north in several small skeins totalling about 60 birds, and finally a really big flock of Golden Plovers, 120 strong, headed west to round off an eventful visit.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Sunday November 18

A sunny and rather frosty morning. Dave and I had a good thrash round and I eventually added a rather soft year-tick, number 117 equalling last year's effort, in the form of an adult Great Black-backed Gull flying with four Lessers far in the distance over Redditch.

Apart from this it was pretty quiet. We counted at least 46 Skylarks over the stubble field, there were 115 Greylag Geese on the flash, there were still around 100 or so Fieldfares and Redwings in evidence, plus 40 Starlings which seem to be exploiting the stubble field containing the Skylarks.


Lesser Redpoll
 It was slightly better for finches, particularly at the south end, and we estimated 50 Linnets, 80 Goldfinches, 80 Chaffinches, 10 Siskins and at least eight Lesser Redpolls. The latter seemed particularly attracted to the seeds of Travellers Joy in the hedgerow at the southern extreme of the patch.

In general, however, the autumn continues to be a little disappointing for both the diversity and the numbers of species on offer.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Sunday November 11

It was back to the patch this morning, where I was joined by Dave. We headed to the south end and soon located at least four Bramblings. Sadly, my attempts to secure a decent photograph were laughably inept. There are still disturbingly few Finches about, just seven Linnets and about a dozen Chaffinches. Back at the copse by the farm we had good views of a pair of Marsh Tits, but from this somewhat underwhelming start the morning actually got worse.

We failed to flush any Snipe in front of the main pool where the only birds in residence were a handful of Mallard and the pair of Mute Swans.



We met up with John Yardley, and the reason for the lack of wildfowl soon became clear as he gloomily explained that three youngsters had been careering around on a quadbike from when he arrived. He had seen flocks of Geese and Ducks heading away as fast as they could manage.

This visit was just about as bad as it gets.


Saturday, 10 November 2012

Compton Verney

Today I found myself being "encouraged" to attend a textile fair with Lyn and her friend Pam. The sweetener was the venue, the splendid Compton Verney, near Wellesbourne, with its equally splendid arboretum and lake. Lyn doesn't really do early, so we arrived at about 11am and having got the girls into the building I made a beeline for the grounds.

I had decided to spend my time trying to improve my field sketching, and so began with the two Great Crested Grebes on the lake, spent a while trying to capture hyper-active Goldcrests, and then some time strolling around the arboretum putting my currently dodgey neck through its paces by scanning the treetops for birds. The trees there are seriously high, a mixture of massive redwood type conifers and a variety of stately deciduous. There were many Redwings in there, but they were incredibly flighty. I ended up sitting on a bench near the ice house and started to sketch a Redwing which was sitting in a slightly less tall Sweet Chestnut. A number of Greenfinches joined it, and then a Chaffinch. I looked up to find that the Redwing had gone, drat. But there, a few feet to the the right of where it had been, sat a HAWFINCH. Gosh.

Hawfinch

I stared at it for about 10 seconds trying to memorise what I could, then I looked at my sketch book to start an outline, looked back. It had gone. I didn't see it fly and I didn't hear it call. Just a pure fluke. Hawfinches have been recorded here before, although I have never been lucky. There was one in February 2009, and a few earlier records scattered through recent decades. Breeding probably occured in Wellesbourne Woods in 1995, so it is possible that these records are wanderers from a tiny local population rather than being continental immigrants.

It was time to head to the restaurant for lunch. When I re-emerged after a frankly excellent meal, the sun was low in the sky and time was at a premium. I could find no sign of the Hawfinch, or indeed any finches other than a fly-over Redpoll. About 30 Tufted Ducks flew around at dusk, and I noticed that about a dozen Pied Wagtails were pitching into the narrow fringe of reeds at the pool's edge to roost. Finally, about 60 Redwings headed away on their way to their communal roost somewhere.

Not bad for my non-birding day.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Monday November 5

A day off in the week coincided with bright sunny weather in stark contrast to yesterday. I began at Netherstead Farm and soon started seeing decent birds. Three Common Gulls flew north, and then I located a Chiffchaff in the small copse by the farm. For a change I headed to the south end of the patch. There was a rather small number of finches here, but they included seven Bramblings.

Brambling
It is starting to look like its going to be a good winter for this species. I understand that the beechmast crop has failed in Scandinavia, so this may produce better numbers. Looking beyond the finches I noticed several parties of large Gulls moving north. These totalled 32 Herring Gulls and 13 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Presumably coming here in the week increases the chances of seeing large Gulls commuting between roost sites and tips which are not open for much of the weekend.

My luck was to change when I reached the pool. I could see Mike Lane photographing the two Mute Swans, and we met to compare notes. It turned out he had seen a Swallow ten minutes earlier. I scanned around as it had evidently been flying about for several minutes, but there was no further sign. A November Swallow is a rare thing in the Midlands. I went to check the flash; eight Common Snipe and 132 Greylag Geese, before returning to the pool where Mike joined me in an attempt to find Matt's party of Jack Snipe.
Not a sausage.

The walk back to the car failed to add much of note, although I noticed that the local Ravens seemed more obvious and vocal than of late. They will be breeding by February, so maybe this is already on their minds.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Fungi

Sunday November 4. A dreary wet morning birding alone on the patch as a cold front arrived just as I did, and departed by early afternoon. The pool was undisturbed, but apart from 120 Mallard and 24 Canada Geese, it contained just a single male Wigeon. The Flash produced 13 Common Snipe. There were still plenty of Thrushes about, I estimated 250 Fieldfare and 100 Redwings, but with my enthusiasm for birding dripping away in the rain I decided to take some photos of fungi.


Beef Steak Fungus
 

Common Funnel
 I have no idea what species either of these fungi is. Nor indeed of this one:

Hairy Curtain Crust
Perhaps some kind soul reading this can come up with some suggestions before I do some internet research and arrive at the wrong conclusion.

PS Jason K has kindly supplied identifications for the three fungi shown above, and I have amended the captions accordingly.

Many thanks to Jason.

Monday, 29 October 2012

News from the patch

Monday October 29. I got a series of texts from Matt Willmott this afternoon. He was paying a very productive visit to Morton Bagot. The highlights were a Crossbill (3rd for the site) which actually landed in a tree by "the scrape" before flying off towards Studley Castle. The previous records have involved fly overs. He then flushed at least seven Jack Snipe and 21 Common Snipe from the marsh on the south side of the pool containing the two Mute Swans. I was about to hail this as a new record count for the site when he texted back to say that he and a colleague had flushed 14 there in 2008. I gather that record was submitted verbally to the Warwickshire recorder, but it seems to have been omitted from the WMBC report for that year. He also recorded three Redpolls, a Brambling, and 72 Linnets. I think congratulations are in order.



Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sunday October 28

Dave and I started birding at 08.00 under cloudy skies but in thankfully calm conditions. It was immediately apparent that there was some passerine migration going on, particularly Thrushes. We logged a record total of 370 Fieldfares going west, along with 135 Redwings, 130 Starlings, and 165 Woodpigeons. Most of the movement was in the first hour.

Fieldfare
Many of the Thrushes were landing in the vicinity of Stapenhill Wood, and it became a bit confusing trying to decide whether we were seeing new birds or brief stayers which were continuing their journeys after being flushed. I suspect our final counts were very conservative. Other birds heading over were small numbers of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, at least three Bramblings, and occasional Redpolls and Siskins. We also noticed that Blackbirds were more in evidence than usual, and logged about 20.

The watery parts of the patch were a bit disappointing. 17 Teal were flying about, and 78 Greylag Geese were on the flash. We saw two distant ducks flying off and considered they were probably Wigeon. The pair of Mute Swans were still present on the pool.

A couple of species which have been scarce lately put in a welcome return, as we counted three Bullfinches and at least 12 Tree Sparrows near Netherstead Farm.

Dave had to leave at 10.00am, so he will be relieved to hear that my second circuit added only a single Goldcrest and about eight Long-tailed Tits to the morning's tally.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Thursday October 25

A day off work today was largely packed with non-birding stuff, but I did get down to Morton Bagot for an hour and a half this morning. As I was pushed for time I parked at the church, hearing a Brambling shortly after getting out of the car. A couple of gunshots from the wood while I was still close to the road caused a great birdy panic as Woodpigeons, corvids, and Mallard rose in the distance. Amongst them I could see a party of eight Wigeon. By the time I reached the flash, it was virtually deserted.

The pool was slightly better, a pair of Wigeon, the Little Grebe, a Teal, and a pair of Mute Swans were in residence. Overhead a few winter Thrushes were flying over, and I eventually logged 24 Redwings and 11 Fieldfares. I decided to cut across the marsh, ironically the course of the public footpath, and here I flushed the first Jack Snipe of the year.

Jack Snipe
Typically it flew just a few yards and pitched back into the long grass. This was actually the first since 2010. I used to flush one each autumn, but then the great drought started and by 2011 the whole site became unsuitable. Fortunately the marsh is back and I had been optimistic that the species would return.

I continued back to the road, but then couldn't resist scoping some Geese which were now on the flash. They were just Greylags, and with them were 11 Black-headed Gulls. Then another Gull joined them, a first-winter Common Gull, the second year-tick of the morning. Common Gulls are surprisingly scarce in this area, and I often only manage a single individual in a year.

My year list now sits at 116.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Barn Owl

Sunday October 21. The foggy start caused Dave to be delayed, so I checked out the churchyard first. There were plenty of small birds zipping about, and through the mist I spotted my first Redwings of the autumn in hedgerow behind the church. I was joined by Dave at Netherstead, but it soon became apparent that the fog would be slow to lift. By the time we reached the flash we had managed to flush a couple of Snipe, see a Little Grebe, and gained the impression that there were more Reed Buntings, Chaffinches and Yellowhammers than last week. The flash produced a pair of Wigeon and a handful of Snipe, plus a Green Sandpiper and 19 Lapwings.

John rang to say he had arrived and was debating whether it was worth pressing on. We felt that the fog was showing signs of lifting, so fortunately he chose to continue. We had just reached Stapenhill Wood when Dave flushed a Barn Owl from the edge of the field. We watched it fly away along the rough field boundary while we bellowed to John, who we knew needed Barn Owl for the site. He appeared over the ridge as the bird landed. We scoped it, while I attempted some record shots, and then a record sketch of what I could see. Shortly afterwards a couple of dogwalkers appeared, and initially walked right past it without flushing it. Then they went back to encourage their dog to follow and their commotion caused the Owl to fly right towards us. It kept coming, I had my camera ready and eventually I pressed the shutter. Nothing happened. My camera had switched itself off. By the time it was back on, the Owl was a distant dot again. This is what it looked like though.

Barn Owl
We remained on the ridge watching little parties of Siskins, 10 in total, and gaining extra Redwings, 37 in total, before I spotted my second year tick of the day. A single Brambling flew past with Chaffinches. Unfortunately my directions were sufficiently naff that Dave failed to see it. My year total for the site is now 114, and the previous two year's totals of 118 and 117 are definitely in sight.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

An eventful day

Sunday October 14. Dave and I arrived at about 9.00am to find that fog was clinging to the fields, although the blue sky above promised better things. It began to lift as we approached the pool. Three Goldcrests flicked about a small tree in the hedge, and then three Jays flew over, then another, and another. Our final tally of 12 was complicated by the fact that duplication could not be ruled out, and the true figure could have been anything between five and 25. I suspect that more than a dozen were involved. We scanned the fence at the back of the pool and soon found our goal, the Stonechat.

The Stonechat
It was rather distant but I was determined to sketch it. The bird kept disappearing so Dave wandered off to check the Tawny Owl hedge. I eventually came up with a tiny pencil sketch I was happy with, and have posted a larger colour version. I heard a Chiffchaff call before Dave returned, but it must have moved on as we didn't see it.

Mike appeared from the distance, and we showed him the Stonechat. He reported that there was no sign of yesterday's Pink-footed Goose, but we wandered in the direction of the flash anyway. Although a few had been heading south all morning, we were surprised by a loosely bound flock of at least 80 Meadow Pipits which headed over to the south-west. We suspected they were leaving a roost site en masse rather than being a part of the continuing migrational trickle of birds. I then spotted a Kingfisher on the dead tree at the end of the pool. Dave just saw it as it flew left across the pool and then disappeared leaving Mike frustrated. There were just a handful of Teal, Snipe, and Greylags on the flash, plus a Green Sandpiper. Mike would later count three after Dave and I headed homewards.

We decided to double back and walk through the pool field in the hope of a Jack Snipe, but we only recorded three Common Snipe. A walk across the stubble also produced just a few Skylarks, Linnets and Reed Buntings. John texted with news that earlier this morning he had seen pretty much the same as us but with the addition of Peregrine and Fieldfare. I have still to see a winter thrush this autumn.

We were almost back at Netherstead when I spotted a soaring Falcon. The others got onto it and I even managed to scope it. By a process of elimination we concluded it had to be a Merlin. The bird thermaled slowly south-east. It lacked the black head and contrasting white face of a Peregrine or Hobby, it appeared too slight and too long-tailed for Peregine, but not long enough in the tail for Kestrel, and with relatively broad-based but pointed wings, the latter ruling out an accipiter species. It was basically uniformly darkish brown on the underside. We were all used to seeing Merlins dashing about, so this soaring bird was quite unfamiliar.

The Stonechat and Merlin were welcome year ticks for me.

Post script: At about 2.30 pm Lyn and I were driving to Stratford through Wootton Wawen when a swirl of birds above the road attracted my attention and led to the following exchange:  "Its an Owl !!! " "What?"
" It's an Owl, a Short-eared Owl!" "Keep your eyes on the road" "I've got to stop" "You can't stop, there's nowhere to stop" We stopped. "Why haven't I got my binoculars?" "Because we're going to Marks and Spencers". I had jumped out of the car after we pulled off the main road onto someone's drive, but sadly the bird was nowhere to be seen. Driving with my neck craned round to the right I had seen that what I had  thought was just another Buzzard was actually a long-winged Owl, presumably Short-eared. Lyn has often said that my driving occasionally lacks focus, and this little episode did nothing to help my cause.

Mind you, blimey, a Short-eared Owl over Wootton Wawen.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

News from Saturday Oct 13

I have had a couple of messages from John. He has found a couple of new for the year birds at Morton Bagot this morning. First a Stonechat, and then a Pink-footed Goose which flew in with the Greylags. The latter is only the second for the site, and the date isn't too bad to consider it wild rather than feral.

I was considering twitching it when a further text told me that the site was awash with horsemen and all the Geese had flown off.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Saturday October 6

A beautiful sunny morning with very little breeze. I was birding alone today, and soon found that the warm weather was encouraging migrants to remain around. Five House Martins were still hunting insects over Netherstead Farm, and during the day two groups of Swallows totalling 22 birds, moved through. I counted four Chiffchaffs in the hedgerows, and noticed that Robins were much more in evidence as at least 12 were making their presence felt around the site, equalling my highest count. Autumn was represented by the odd Siskin, eight Lesser Redpolls, 30 Meadow Pipits flying south, and a Grey Wagtail. A Sparrowhawk disturbed a cloud of small birds from the thistle field, and they proved to be a record estimate of 140 Goldinches. The flash produced 103 Teal,  42 Snipe, and a calling Green Sandpiper.



Robin

I got talking to a chap called William who was putting out feed for the Mallards ahead of this year's shooting season. While I wish duck shooting didn't happen at Morton Bagot, it is long established here and I have no intention of picking a fight with the protagonists. William proved to know his birds and said he did his best to ensure that the punters stuck to shooting Mallard. We had an interesting conversation about the birds he has seen in the area over the years. His most relevent sighting was a Short-eared Owl he flushed from the field behind the pool last October. I couldn't disguise my envy as this was a first for Morton Bagot, and a bird I could well have imagined finding.

 Earlier this year Matt Griffiths drew my attention to a website which implied that extensive tree-planting inspired by the new owner's vision was due to start next year, earlier than I had understood would be the case. William confirmed that this was correct, although the field behind the pool is still protected by the stewardship scheme. I have to say that the potential change in the habitat is a worry as the forest is unlikely to benefit species like Tree Sparrows, Yellowhammers, and Skylarks which are in trouble nationally but are currently doing rather well at Morton Bagot. Time will tell.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Chasing shadows

Sunday 30 Sept dawned a little cloudy, but dry, and it was back to the patch. I met Dave as usual and we followed our usual route. As we approached the pool, a half heard faint twitter caused us to stop. We were both thinking Lap Bunting, but all we could see were Skylarks. One in particular was sub-singing above the stubble, perhaps it was that. We shrugged and continued to the Flash.

Teal
The left hand flash was smothered with 110 Teal and 30 Common Snipe (John had 35 yesterday), while a Green Sandpiper which was calling as we approached seemed to have disappeared. A few Swallows were flying over, and we logged about 10 plus a small passage of Meadow Pipits.

We decided to walk the stubble field in case there really was a Lapland Bunting lurking in there. Our efforts produced about 15 Skylarks and several Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits. We gave up.

However, an hour later as we approached Netherstead we heard a loud "dew" call like a Snow or Lapland Bunting. Again we didn't see what made the call, but we decided to try more stubble walking. Still no result though.

Just chasing shadows.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Pembrokeshire Sept 22 - 29

The lack of recent posts is due to a holiday with Lyn and two friends, Pam & Rheinallt, at St Brides in Pembrokeshire.

It has to be said that the weather could have been kinder, mostly fresh to strong north-easterly winds and two days written off due to rain. I should also say that the birding was limited to early morning walks around St Brides castle, plus one full day of birding.

Fortunately, Thursday 27 September was the most favourable day for weather by a mile, and I was able to spend it walking from the Gann Estuary, up to Dale airfield, then along the coast to Marloes Mere, on to Wooltack Point, and finally back to St Brides. Pretty knackering. The birds were good though.

The Gann contained three adult Med Gulls, four Little Egrets, a Peregrine, and a Bar-tailed Godwit among over 100 Curlews.

On the way up to the airfield I met an excited local birder, Alan Hanson, who had just found a Lapland Bunting up there. I would love to have spent longer on the airfield, which looked superb for birds, but I duly saw and heard the Lapland Bunting in flight, and also logged several Wheatears and an amazing passage of southbound Swallows going through at about 400 per hour. A Golden Plover called overhead, but failed to show itself.

Walking along the southern cliff to Marloes Mere I chanced upon a Clouded Yellow butterfly, pretty scarce this year. At Marloes I was impressed by the habitat, and saw eight Shovelers, a Gadwall, about 30 Teal, several Little Grebes, and a Merlin before I finally located the long-staying immature Glossy Ibis.

Beyond here I started to find Choughs, at least eight, before a look around the Deer Park produced just a few Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs. The walk back to St Brides added little, but my species tally for the day reached 71.

The remainder of the week had produced mainly common birds around St Brides, although seven White Wagtails on Sept 23 and a Manx Shearwater and a Kittiwake on Sept 26 were more noteworthy.

I would love to go back and maybe spend more time birding at Dale airfield and some of the other headlands. The potential for finding your own birds looks considerable.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Tree Pipit, Sunday Sept 16

Dave & I started at Netherstead as usual, and soon noticed there was a steady trickle of Meadow Pipits going south. We eventually logged 35, and heard a fly-over Redpoll. There was also plenty of passerine activity in the hedgerows and reedbed. Most were various species of Tit, but we also recorded Reed Warbler, two Whitethroats, two Blackcaps, and several Chiffchaffs.

Arriving at the bridlepath Dave spotted a Whinchat on the fence, and we eventually counted three of them plus a Reed Bunting and a Meadow Pipit with very white wing-bars. While we were waiting for the latter to reappear (which it didn't) we noticed another Pipit at the top of an old willow. We quickly realised it was a Tree Pipit.

The Tree Pipit
 This is a half decent bird in Warwickshire, but the species has shown itself to be surprisingly regular here in autumn. I have recorded them in four out of six years, but this was only the second that wasn't a dot, calling as it flew south. In fact this bird didn't call at all, but was obliging enough to allow me to get some shots away before it dropped into the long grass and disappeared.

We continued onwards, Dave drawing my attention to a Hobby that zipped past us at close range. I was jotting something in my notebook at the time, which shows the value of having two observers looking. The flash contained 39 Teal and just one Green Sandpiper, but our return circuit produced three Spotted Flycatchers and the first two Wheatears of the autumn to round off another good visit.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Sunday September 9

 A fine sunny morning with only a very light south-westerly breeze. I was joined by Dave S and we started searching for migrants. Although very few Meadow Pipits were passing overhead, we didn't have to wait long for a patch year-tick to turn up. I heard the thin call of a Goldcrest, and Dave got onto the tiny bird as it made its way rapidly down a hedge.
Goldcrest
Although Goldcrests breed in conifer woodland in the surrounding area, it is not unusual for us to have to wait until the autumn for one to turn up on the patch. There just isn't the breeding habitat for them.

The same could be said of our next year tick. Barely five minutes after the Goldcrest, we heard the distinctive sharp "tzik" call of a Grey Wagtail, and managed to get onto it as is bounded away over the fields. My year list has now risen to 109, but there aren't too many more bankers left so I don't think I will equal last year's total.

We had two more interesting fly-over species; two alba Wagtails heading south looked rather pale and may well have been White Wagtails rather than British race birds, and Dave picked out a Sand Martin among the other hirundines. A small farm pond produced the Kingfisher seen a couple of weeks ago, and we later had good views of it on the main pool. The fence posts bordering the main pool supported four Whinchats, no doubt the birds seen by Matt on Friday.

The Flashes contained 33 Teal, and just one Green Sandpiper. Three Cormorants flying over added to the mix.

It is starting to feel distinctly autumnal in terms both of birds seen, and birds not seen. Although we were pleased to find a Sedge Warbler and two Reed Warblers, we saw no Whitethroats or Lesser Whitethroats all morning.

Finally I took Dave to see Haselor scrape. We saw two Green Sandpipers, the Common Sandpiper, and three pale backed, white flanked, juvenile alba Wagtails. If they weren't White Wagtails then I don't how you identify them. This race of Wagtails heads up to Iceland every spring and are readily identified in the Midlands through April. But if you believe the records, they never return in autumn! The fact of the matter is they are just a bit too tricky in non-breeding plumage for many birders to commit themselves, and I'm afraid I am as guilty as everyone else.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Saturday Sept 8

It's funny how the bird composition of sites can change from day to day. Yesterday Matt W counted 44 Teal, four Whinchats and two Redstarts at Morton Bagot. A lot better than my totals the day before.

Today, Lyn and I decided to take a sneaky peak at Haselor scrape on the way to Waitrose. We saw a bird I have yet to record at Morton Bagot, admittedly just a feral Barnacle Goose, plus 94 Lapwings, a Common Sandpiper, eight Snipe, and a Green Sandpiper. This was miles better than I managed on Thursday.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Thursday 6 September

A rare midweek morning looked pretty promising at first. A Siskin flew over my house as I stepped outside, and then Morton Bagot started producing vis mig as soon as I arrived in the form of my first migrating Meadow Pipits. I eventually counted a modest 23, all heading south-west. About 100 Swallows and House Martins were present in an excitable throng, and presently the cause of their anxiety, a Hobby, flew past.

Hobby
This species is pretty regular here through August and September, although this year I have seen fewer than usual. It was also noticeable that there were fewer Warblers about, although I had a particularly good view of a Lesser Whitethroat. The pool produced the usual Little Grebes and Tufted Ducks, but the flash was a bit of a disaster. Not a wader nor a Teal to be seen. I assume some major disturbance had occurred before I got there.

Needing a wader fix, I drove down the road to Haselor scrape, but that only produced a Common Sandpiper and two Snipe.

It is fair to say that the morning's early promise was not sustained.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Sunday September 2

I was joined by Dave this morning, back from a fortnight on Scilly, and we were hopeful of seeing the Wood Sandpiper and some Small Red-eyed Damselflies. The former was last seen on Thursday by Mike, while John had drawn a blank yesterday, so we weren't too surprised that it was nowhere to be seen. More disappointing was the apparent absence of the damselflies, although the mostly cloudy conditions won't have helped.

The day did have its up side though. We found two juvenile Whinchats, Reed Warbler, four Common Whitethroats and the first of two Lesser Whitethroats at Netherstead. Then at the Flashes, although Green Sandpipers were down to five, the number of Teal has risen to 54, and Lapwings to 67. The hedgerow beyond the fishing ponds produced at least one Redstart, at least one Spotted Flycatcher, and our second Lesser Whitethroat.

Whinchat
I was slightly disappointed that we had no visual migration through the day, but we redeemed ourselves slightly on insects, finding a Small Copper and three Migrant Hawkers.

That afternoon I took Lyn for a drive a few miles south of Morton Bagot to try to find a new scrape which Mike Inskip has told me about. We located the place quite easily as it is beside the road which runs between Great Alne and Haselor. I have to say we were impressed. It consists of several quite large shallow pools which you can view without even leaving the car, although the road is a bit narrow. We saw species which are regular at Morton Bagot; five Green Sandpipers, some Lapwing, and about eight Snipe for example. The site also contained a Common Sandpiper and 71 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, species and numbers which I see less often on my patch. Definitely worth keeping an eye on this place, which for the moment I will call Haselor Scrape.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Wednesday August 29

I was hopeful that today's heavy rain might have dropped some waders into the Flash Pools. Unfortunately, it turned out that the only effect was an adverse one. The mud had disappeared under a flood of rainwater and the smaller waders had consequently largely disappeared into the grass. The Wood Sandpiper was still present, but Snipe and Green Sandpipers were apparently down. There was also no sign of any Whinchats, they had probably gone to roost. Matt W had counted a record six yesterday.

There were a lot of Greylag Geese (140), and Teal were up to 30, but you know its been a bad night when you find yourself counting Moorhen; seven for the record.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The longest day (Part two)

I returned to Netherstead by 10.30am, and immediately noticed a difference. The sun was now beating down, and the patch seemed much quieter. I had a mental shopping list of birds I had not seen this morning, but it took a while before the first of these, Lesser Black-backed Gull, made its presence known. On reaching the pool I found I could see Mike Inskip in the distance. He joined me to look at the Whinchats, and then casually dropped into the conversation that he had found some Red-eyed Damselflies in the corner of the main pool on Thursday.

This would be a new species for the patch so we made our way to the poolside and quickly found them. But they didn't look right to me. I remembered that the third segment from the end of the abdomen should be wholly black in Red-eyed, but on these insects that segment was layered with the upper half black and the lower half pale blue. Surely this was a feature of Small Red-eyed Damselfly, a recent colonist of southern Britain, and a species I had never seen. We discussed my thoughts, but Mike remembered that they should show a black cross on the last segment, and we couldn't see that. I resolved to check the reference books at lunchtime, and our attention was diverted by the sight of a young Peregrine circling overhead.

Mike showed me some Midland Hawthorn, a species with different shaped leaves from normal Hawthorn. I wish I knew more about plants. Last weekend Lyn and I had examined some species we didn't know, and had identified them as Wild Marjoram and Black Medick. Mike's friend Roger Maskew, is close to publishing his 25 year project on the plants of Worcestershire. Perhaps it will inspire me to try harder.

At the flashes we saw the Wood Sandpiper, and counted 12 Green Sandpipers. The hedge beyond contained a male Redstart, and after we parted I found another one a little further along. What was to be my last species of the day was a Tree Sparrow chirruping from the Gropper hedge beyond the dragonfly pools.

Lunchtime at home produced some Long-tailed Tits, I could find none at Morton Bagot today, and confirmation that the damselflies had been Small Red-eyed Damselflies. I rang Mike and returned to the pool with my camera. I will try to upload an image from work because my difficulties seem to be related to my network provider and not to Blogspot. Mike reappeared and agreed with the new identification, we even managed to see the black cross on the last segment of the abdomen of one of the insects. You clearly need to be standing right above them to see this feature properly.We reckoned there were at least 20 present in one corner of the pool alone.
One of the Small Red-eyed Damselflies
The day ended at 17.30, and a slightly disappointing tally of 57 bird species. The Kingfisher had taken my patch year list to 107, and it had been a pretty memorable visit.

The longest day (Part one)

Saturday 26th August was the longest day of the year, but only in the sense of hours spent in the field. I had decided to get up pre-dawn to get to the patch early, but a night of fitful sleep and worry that I would oversleep caused me to get up too early. I stumbled out of bed at 3.30am with Lyn mumbling that I was mad, an opinion I found it hard to disagree with, and was driving to the patch before 04.00am. In my mind's eye the journey would be laced with Badgers, Foxes, and perhaps an Otter or two. In reality all I saw were a few moths and a small rodent skipping into the roadside verge.

After parking up I set off down the road. The silence really strikes you at this time, my welly clad feet such an intrusion that I tried to walk slowly and more carefully so as not to spoil the moment. My ears were straining for wild sounds, initially restricted to the thin "sip" sounds made by Dark Bush Crickets in the hedgerow. My first bird was a calling Pheasant, then as I approached Netherstead a young Tawny Owl started hooting. By now my eyes were more accustomed to the dark and although there was partial cloud cover, it was surprisingly easy to see. The ambient light from Redditch to the west created a dull glow across the sky, although where the cloud broke I could see plenty of stars.

By 5.00 am I could hear the hum of distant traffic as the world started to wake up. By now I was heading for the flashes, and was beginning to hear some water birds; Greylag Goose, and Moorhen. A Little Owl called, but I scanned in vain for any sign of a Barn Owl which I had hoped might justify the early start. Mallards quacked, startled Skylarks called, and I could hear the restless calls of Green Sandpipers, Snipe, and Lapwing before the gloom revealed 19 Canada Geese standing in the marsh.

Normal  birding was resumed as it gradually became possible to use my scope. The eventual total for the flashes was 27 Teal, 13 Snipe, 12 Green Sandpipers, a record count (for me), 54 Starlings,44 Lapwings, and one Wood Sandpiper. My prediction in my last blog that the Wood Sandpipers would go overnight was proved only partly correct as the brighter juvenile did indeed leave, but fortunately this duller bird has remained.

By sunrise the cloud had virtually disappeared and the angle of the strong sunlight was making life difficult as I had to walk adjacent to its penetrating rays. I stopped at a particularly lively hedge and watched the first flock of an eventual 70 Goldfinches interspersed with the occasional Whitethroat and Chiffchaff. Then I found I could hear a voice, and noticed the birds were getting nervous and streaming down the hedge past me. These included a Song Thrush, difficult to see of late. The voice revealed itself to be that of Antoinette who was walking her two free running, large and boisterous Alsations, which barked and bounded excitedly as they saw me. So much for dog training school. Their owner changed direction and with a friendly wave succeeded in encouraging them to head off up the ridge. I set off slowly along the hedge, and at the small pond at its end heard an almost forgotten sound. The first Kingfisher of the year was visiting, and I just had time to see it head off across the fields.


Kingfisher
 Back at Netherstead I finally managed to see one of the tacking sylvia Warblers which turned out to be a young Blackcap. Pishing at the reedbed instantly produced an agitated Reed Warbler, and eventually another three. It was now approaching 9.00 am and I was heading back to my car to go for breakfast when I got a text from John Yardley. He had found four Whinchats, so I hurried to join him as these were the first this autumn. They were where they turn up every year on passage, on the barbed wire fence bordering the main pool. Superbly characterful little chats. A fitting end to my early morning section.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Wednesday August 22

The first sound I heard this evening as I arrived at Morton Bagot church was the sad little bleep my phone gives out when it runs out of charge. That being the case it was probably fortunate that this evening's visit produced no new arrivals. This does not mean that there was nothing of interest though. At the Flashes I immediately found I could hear the "chiff chiff" call of Wood Sandpiper. I eventually found that both birds were still present, but the fact that they were calling constantly leads me to suspect they may be on their way tonight. The flash field is looking damper than ever, with the two flash pools now linked by a series of channels and damp patches in the grass. The Wood Sandpipers were favouring this area, as were at least 22 Common Snipe, about 60 Starlings, and 46 Lapwings. On Monday Matt Wilmott had counted 29 Snipe, but it is quite likely that even this count is only a proportion of the numbers present. Teal numbers have increased, now 19 present. The two Little Grebes were still on the main pool, and I could hear a Little Owl calling from the hedge bordering the flashes. I headed back to my car, logging four calling Chiffchaffs and four Common Whitethroats on the way.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Buddleia bonanza

Sunday August 19 was a warm, largely sunny, and slightly humid day. I arrived at Netherstead Farm and, before I had really started logging birds, noticed that the Buddleia by the horse paddocks had rather a lot of insects on it. In the next 15 minutes I counted 60 Peacocks, three Brimstones, a Large White, several Meadow Browns and three Small Tortoiseshell butterflies on the three Buddleias in the compound. So impressive was the bush that I took Lyn to see it this afternoon, and we added a few more Large Whites, a Skipper sp (Small?), and a Red Admiral.

Back to the birds, the small reedbed contained three Reed Warblers, while about 50 Goldfinches, 50 House Martins, 30 Swallows and 30 Linnets were zipping about the area. I slowly headed to the flashes, seeing a male Redstart, the first of three, the others being an immature male and a female, en route. The pool contained an adult and an immature Little Grebe, two female Tufted Ducks plus the brood of six, and the first of two new broods of Mallard.

As I approached the flashes I was joined by Mike Inskip. He and John had seen just one Wood Sandpiper this morning, plus the Common Sandpiper. We scanned the left hand flash and eventually found that there were actually two juvenile Wood Sandpipers, 10 Green Sandpipers, the Common Sandpiper, and eventually 21 Common Snipe plus 120 Starlings,  67 Lapwings and seven Teal. Pretty good.


The brighter of the two Wood Sandpipers
 Mike headed off while I meandered back, adding only the female Redstart and three Tree Sparrows to the daily tally.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Saturday August 18

I haven't been out today, but a couple of items of news are worth reporting.

Firstly, I understand that John Chidwick has had two Wood Sandpipers on the Flashes today.
Secondly, I have discovered a glitch with Blogspot which is preventing me from uploading any of my drawings or photographs.

At the moment I have no idea how to get around the problem.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Wood Sandpiper

Wednesday Aug 15. I decided to resume evening visits to the patch, and it turned out I picked the right night. Scanning across the Flash I counted 12 Green Sandpipers, the juvenile Dunlin, the Common Sandpiper, and oh yes a juvenile Wood Sandpiper. This is actually my third record for the site, which is quite remarkable given the long list of waders which have still to occur. I hadn't brought my camera, so I texted everyone I thought might be interested, and then checked out the Flashes more carefully. A Shoveler, 12 Teal, three Snipe and 73 Lapwings. The main pool now contained two adult Little Grebes, and the Tufted Duck family was still intact.  I  decided to go home to get my sketch pad and camera.

Wood Sandpiper by Alan Matthews
On returning, the light was starting to fade and my photographic efforts were even more abject than usual. Fortunately, Alan Matthews had responded to my text and appeared with his new camera. He has kindly sent me his best effort taken in the fading light but still miles better than any of mine. I made some field sketches which I intend to work from to produce a drawing for this post when I have more time. In fact both the Wood Sandpiper and the Shoveler were new for the year, so my year list moves to 106.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Sunday August 12

This was an odd sort of visit. Dave was able to join me after a week working abroad, and he ended up with three patch year-ticks and I with one, and yet there didn't seem to be that much about. The first notable bird was a Sand Martin, the first this autumn, which flew over as we reached the main pool. The female Tufted Duck still had six ducklings, and behind her we spotted the second Little Grebe of the year. Finally, the Flashes contained my first Common Sandpiper of the year.

Common Sandpiper
It seems strange that while the site is knee deep in Green Sandpipers, nine today, it can be quite a struggle to record Common Sandpiper each year. Not enough water perhaps. Other waders present were a juvenile Dunlin, 77 Lapwings, and seven Common Snipe. The Teal numbers are up to 11, and there was an impressive 40 Starlings, and 50 Goldfinches. Where we fell short was finding passerine migrants. No Redstarts or Spotted Flycatchers, and just one Sedge Warbler, six Whitethroats, three Chiffchaffs and two Blackcaps. We also met John Yardley, who has been away, and he told us he had seen a Reed Warbler.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Classic early August birds

Thursday 9 August. On a beautiful sunny morning I began birding at Netherstead Farm, counting 60 House Martins and 30 Swallows resting on wires behind the dragonfly pools. I headed for the Flashes as usual, seeing the first two of an eventual tally of four male Common Redstarts, a record day count for the site. For some reason the hedgerows at Morton Bagot really attract this species on passage. I can think of several important Midland birding sites which do not fare as well.  I noticed a photographer in his hide at the main pool so I crept past him and then discovered that a second Tufted Duck has a brood of ducklings, this time six. The Flashes contained further surprises as there were three Dunlins, two adults and a juvenile, amongst 10 Green Sandpipers, nine Common Snipe, and 73 Lapwings. 
Spot the Dunlin
 I continued down the hedgerow, seeing a Brimstone butterfly and then hearing the distinctive calls of Spotted Flycatchers. I stood at the gate to survey the back hedge and eventually got at least five Spotted Flycatchers with several Chiffchaffs, the fourth Redstart, and several Goldfinches and Linnets. The Tawny Owl was again in the shed, and I finished back at the dragonfly pools which were alive with Common Blue damselflies, Emerald Damselflies, Common Darters, a Ruddy Darter, and a few Emperors and Brown Hawkers. All very satisfactory.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Grasshopper Warbler

Sunday Aug 5. I finally managed to drag myself away from the Olympics this morning, and arrived to find still conditions and initially a few persistent showers. The hirundines over Netherstead were extremely vocal, and after 30 minutes the cause of their anxiety revealed itself as a Hobby which powered past. Hobbies visit every year in August and September to take advantage of the readily available young Swallows and Martins. I continued to the Flashes where I quickly found at least two Spotted Flycatchers in the hedge, one of which was a begging juvenile. I suspect they were the family from the barn. On the Flash itself 75 Lapwings, 11 Green Sandpipers, and two Snipe was pretty much the same as last week. I noticed there were at least 19 Starlings, considerably more than there have been since last winter. The return journey was fairly uneventful until I reached the wheat field behind the Dragonfly pool field. I could see several Reed Buntings, a Tree Sparrow, and a Whitethroat in the hedge, but then a warbler flew from the crop and into the hedge. Even in flight I suspected a locustella, and to my delight it then perched in full view at the edge of the hedge. Face on it was pretty bland, with little contrast on its face and a slightly yellowish tinge to the underparts. It kept flicking and cocking its tail, which was well rounded. Surely this was a Grasshopper Warbler. I edged forwards, and the bird stayed in view as it moved around the hedge. I glimpsed some dark stripes on its back, phew, and then its long streaked undertail coverts. It allowed me the time to get my tripod off my back, to attach my scope, and then to see it through the scope. I cautiously got my camera out, turned it on, prepared to take a shot, and then it flew back into the wheat. Doh ! There didn't seem to be much prospect of it reappearing and I wasn't about to trample the crop, so I tried to jot a few sketches down, and there follows a colour version of them.

The Grasshopper Warbler
I decided that the bird was a juvenile based on the cleanness and neatness of the feathers. Reading up, on getting back, it would appear that both adults and juveniles are quite variable in plumage.

The only previous record for Morton Bagot was a singing bird which Jonathan Bowley found in April 2007, which I heard a couple of days later. This was not only my first sighting here, but also the first I have seen in autumn for many years.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Bush bashing

Sunday July 29. This is a good date for what is sometimes described as bush-bashing, although all it means where I am concerned is spending extra time trying to see passerines in the hedgerows. From the end of July to the middle of August there is a combination of lots of juvenile birds, and the start of passerine migration which means you have the prospect of modest success in finding something different. Part of the spark this morning was having a very brief view of a possible Garden Warbler. I spent a considerable time trying to relocate it, without success, in the course of which I logged passerines which included 20 Blue Tits, six Chiffchaffs, several Whitethroats, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Blackcap, a Nuthatch, and my first juvenile Willow Warbler of the autumn.

A juvenile Willow Warbler
Juvenile Willow Warblers are much prettier birds than the adults, having a suffusion of lemon yellow across the underparts. There have been none breeding on the patch, as usual, so this bird was certainly a migrant.

Earlier, the Flashes were looking good, containing 83 Lapwings, 10 Green Sandpipers, two Common Snipe, and a Teal. There were plenty of hirundines around, particularly noticeable when it started raining and they were swooping low around the copse opposite Netherstead Farm. I also saw two Essex Skippers and a Marbled White.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Tuesday July 24

I made a late decision to go out tonight, and as a result the sun was just about setting as I arrived at the flash. Earlier, I had noticed about 100 Black-headed Gulls, several Swifts and a Hobby jinking around high above our garden in Redditch clearly taking advantage of a hatch of flying ants. The warm evening and almost complete lack of wind this evening meant that there were plenty of little insects to greet me, and also that there were small parties of hirundines plus at least six Common Swifts hoovering up the insect soup.

Common Swift
It is sobering to think that in another week or so these Swifts will be on their way back to Africa. As I watched them I noticed several apparently Swift sized bats, i.e. big ones, flying with them. I assume that these were Noctules. I turned my phone on and found a number of texts from Matt. He had seen a Dunlin and nine Green Sandpipers yesterday. I quickly located the Dunlin, which was quite vocal, and eventually counted 11 Green Sandpipers and my first Common Snipe of the autumn. A Little Owl called, but I couldn't see it. By the time I got back to my car it was nearly too dark to see birds, but I spent several minutes scanning the farmland in the hope of a midsummer Barn Owl. No luck, but ironically one flew over the road just east of Redditch on my way home. I have often been tempted to stretch the boundaries of previous local patches to cater for good birds, but I think this time it was just too far from the area.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sunday July 22

A warm sunny morning boded well for insect hunting, while the autumn bird migration was expected to gather pace. Dave and I strolled to the main pool where we were pleased to find all eight Tufted Ducklings still alive and kicking. The hedgerows are starting to fill with recently fledged Whitethroats, Blackcaps, and Chiffchaffs. The Flashes produced eight Green Sandpipers and three Teal, and I noticed that the autumn release of young Mallards for the "sportsmen" has taken place. We reached the end of the small pools and scanned the hedge on the opposite side of the field beyond. There in the hedge was the day's star bird, a superb male Redstart.
The male Redstart
The remainder of the morning was spent concentrating on insects. We found Large, Small, and Essex Skippers, a couple of Marbled Whites, a Large White, Gatekeeper, and pleanty of Meadow Browns and Ringlets. Dragonflies included Emerald Damselfly, Brown and Southern Hawker, Emperor, and Four-spotted Chaser. None of these was particularly unusual, although Essex Skippers only appeared a couple of years ago, and remain challenging to identify. They seem to be pretty well established here now.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Sunshine at last

After a pretty damp week it was nice to wake up to sunshine. I was a little later than usual after a late night at the Bromsgrove Folk Festival headlined by an excellent band called the Churchfitters. Dave arrived shortly before me, and we soon got a call from John to say he had seen two male Redstarts in the hedgerow at the flash. By the time we reached the area they had disappeared. However, there were nine Green Sandpipers showing well.

Two of the nine Green Sandpipers
Green Sandpiper numbers have increased steadily since the first one I saw here in April 2007. My record count is 11 in 2010, so these nine are a promise of further increases to come. I have a feeling the site record  was set by Matt Wilmott a couple of years ago and rivals the best counts for any site in the West Midlands.
Other birds seen included a Lesser Whitethroat, probably two Sedge and about four Reed Warblers, plus about 10 Swifts.

John was diligently counting butterflies, and we joined him doing so. We saw Small Skippers, a Comma, at least one Green-veined White, a Marbled White, and a Speckled Wood amongst numerous Meadow Browns and Ringlets. For once, dragonflies were much in evidence. A couple of large Hawkers were probably newly emerged Southern Hawkers, and we also saw several Black-tailed Skimmers, Four-spotted Chasers, and my first Common Darter, Emerald Damselfly, and Emperor Dragonflies of the year. The latter involved two males, one of which ended up stuck on the water's surface. It thrashed aoround vigorously at first, but gradually became weaker and eventually lifeless. I'm not sure how it ended up in that predicament, but I felt the other Emperor looked awfully smug!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Sunday July 8

I was joined by Dave this morning and although the Tufted Duck family were not on show, we saw the Spotted Flycatchers and the Black-tailed Godwit to improve Dave's patch year and life lists respectively. There were more Green Sandpipers on show than yesterday, we saw five, but Mike Inskip rang us later, and said he had seen six. Interestingly, Mike was down to see the Blackwit, which he did, but he had been here yesterday morning and hadn't seen it, so it must have arrived around midday. Bird-wise the remainder of the visit was a bit of a struggle, although Sparrowhawks were seen more frequently than recently, and the Tawny Owl was showing in the barn.

Sparrowhawk
As our interest turned to the insects we could find, the most noticeable event was that there were now quite a few Large Skippers around. I normally see this species before Small Skipper, but for some reason my first Small was last week, and Large were plentiful this weekend. We also saw some Roesel's Bush Crickets. This species has spread up from the south coast in the last 10 years, and is now quite common locally.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Black-tailed Godwit

Saturday July 7 - This afternoon I was lounging in front of the telly watching England stuff the Aussies at cricket, when I glanced at my pager as it flashed a message at me. Black-tailed Godwit at Morton Bagot. It is fair to say I was off like a shot, stuffing my sketch book into my bag and phoning non pager owners as I left the house.

I arrived to find the whole area sodden after Friday's rain, but thankfully soon saw the unmistakable sight of a summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwit feeding up to its haunches in the middle of the second flash.

sketches of Black-tailed Godwit
John arrived to tell me that he had met the finder, John Chidwick, as he was leaving. I believe John mainly birds around Earlswood, but is evidently frequently here on a Saturday afternoon. Thank goodness he put his find on the pager. 
Black-tailed Godwit
It was such a lovely bird I couldn't resist doing a colour version of one of the sketches when I got home. It was a locality tick for me, my list now 137. There has been one previous record I know of, involving a bird seen last March by Alan Smith.

The higher water levels meant that I could only see one Green Sandpiper, but a look at the pool confirmed the continued presence of the female Tufted Duck and her brood of eight ducklings. On the way back to my car I worked out the location of the Spotted Flycatchers' nest high in the corner of the barn as the parents continued to feed their brood of fledglings.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

An evening of surprises

The recent bad weather finally abated today, and I was keen to get out. The rather sultry evening was also hinting to me that it could be worth a visit. It certainly was. I decided to park at Morton Bagot church for a change, and had barely crossed the road when my eye was drawn to a movement in a big open tractor barn. Perched on one of the vehicles was a Spotted Flycatcher, and seconds later another, this one with a beak full of insects. Clearly they were breeding.

Spotted Flycatcher
When I first visited the patch in 2007, the species bred at Netherstead Farm, and did so again in 2008. But since then I have only seen them in the autumn. I was therefore very pleased to find this pair.

I continued to the flashes after ringing John. When I got there I immediately saw an Egret flying off. I got on it again after it emerged from behind the hedge and headed south into the sun. Clearly a small Egret I assumed it was a Little Egret. I had noticed there were waders on the flash, and as I started to count what turned out to be nine Green Sandpipers, I heard a Greenshank call, and found that there were two adults with the Green Sandpipers. I tried to subtly shift position to check the other flash pool, but in doing so I flushed everything. John rang to say he had arrived and couldn't see the Spot Flys, so I had to report that everything else had flown off. I have to say I was feeling quite guilty. Fortunately by the time John joined me he had seen the Spotted Flycatchers, and at least eight Green Sandpipers had returned. In the meantime I had seen at least two Tufted Duck chicks on the main pool. Matt had found them last week, I somehow missed them on Saturday, and Dave had counted nine Tufted ducklings, plus 8 - 10 Green Sandpipers on Sunday. Back to tonight, a remarkable 15 Skylarks were suddenly in the air together, and shortly afterwards the Little Egret returned in time for John to see it, before it dropped out of sight beyond the far side of the flash field.

Not a bad evening.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Saturday June 30

A rather blustery day with a mixture of cloud and sunshine. Not my favourite conditions for birding, and by the time I had got to the flash pools it was proving as disappointing as I had suspected it would. There were now five Green Sandpipers present, which is very good for the time of year. I couldn't find the brood of Tufted Ducks which Matt Wilmott had discovered in the week, and the flash flooding which had affected the area on Thursday had left little trace, although the waterlevel in the pool did look a bit higher.

A view of the set-aside borders
I soon became tempted to concentrate on the wildlife beneath my feet. The long grass bordering the fields is fantastic for plants and mini-beasts. The latter included Small Skipper, Small Copper, Common Blue, and Red Admiral butterflies today. I really struggle to name the plants, so I took a few pictures with the intention of trying to identify them later. 
Grass Vetchling
I think the tiny pink flower between my fingers is Grass Vetchling, possibly only locally distributed in Warwickshire. Finally, I had a good view of the Tawny Owl in the barn, which remained asleep throughout the time I was watching it.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Autumn wader passage begins

I returned to the patch after missing last weekend. Dave and I slogged round to no great effect, seeing two Small Heath butterflies, the Tawny Owl in its shed roost site, two Teal and six Tufted Ducks. Fortunately for us John Yardley was having more success, and he rang to say he had found a Dunlin. We headed back to the flash and eventually located his summer plumaged Dunlin on the furthest flash. Mike turned up and also saw it. I then noticed that four Green Sandpipers had appeared in the corner of the nearest flash. Presumably they had been in the long grass earlier on. Autumn passage has begun.

Dunlin
This is the first Dunlin I have seen here in June. On balance we felt it was probably returning south rather than still heading north. Perhaps it was just too late on the breeding grounds to find a mate.