Sunday, 29 January 2012


Chaffinch drawn by Richard Harbird
January 29
Today's Chaffinch flock was in game cover close
to Netherstead Farm. The estimate of 200
equals the previous best total, which was
recorded in December 2007. This is one of the
commonest birds on the patch throughout the
year, and numbers swell every winter, some
no doubt originating from the near continent.

Misty morning

29 January 2012. Rather a late start as we had friends who stayed over, and we wanted to ensure they enjoyed a cooked breakfast. I also spent an hour recording garden birds for the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. Ironically, the bird of the day, a Blackcap, appeared just after the allotted time had elapsed. Anyway, I met Dave Scanlan on site, and we trudged round. The flash field had frozen overnight and so there were no Lapwings or water birds there. We did see a Green Sandpiper in the dragonfly ponds near Netherstead farm, but the main feature of the day was an opportunity to estimate the large flocks of Finches etc now present. The Chaffinch flock was about 200, which equals my previous highest winter estimate, Linnets totalled 400 or so (about half the number we recorded last winter), there was an impressive 40 Yellowhammers (no Corn Bunting), about 25 Reed Buntings, and at least 12 Tree Sparrows. We also watched a Brown Hare lolloping towards us along the path, only becoming aware of us about 20 yards away, at which point it turned tail.

I should probably add that yesterday's Corn Bunting was my 133rd species for the patch, and number 62 for the year.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Morton Bagot tick

I arrived this morning with the intention of sketching the wintering Ruff, if it was still here. I parked under Bannam's Wood and walked down to the pool, which I was pleased to see had more water in it than last week. After counting a dozen Yellowhammers in the hedge bordering the pool I noticed another passerine, which I assumed was another Yellowhammer on the top of a distant dead tree. A few yards further on and I looked at it again. Something was starting to ring alarm bells. I started to assemble my scope, and half way through the process it flew and headed past me, it looked brown and rather large for a Yellowhammer. Fortunately it then landed on top of an oak tree, showing no white in the outertail. I scoped what I was now certain was my first Corn Bunting for the site. The fawn rump and a useful size comparison with a smaller and longer-tailed Yellowhammer which briefly joined it clinched the identification.

I have reproduced some hurried field sketches. It was cold and I was excited, that's my excuse for the dodgey quality. I may try to post a nicer line drawing later.

There have been two previous records of Corn Bunting, Jonathan Bowley saw one in 2007, and Chris Lane, Matt Griffiths and John Yardley gripped me off last January. I had heard that another bird (or small flock?) had been seen near Spernall, which is only a few miles away, in December, so I suppose the sighting wasn't so unexpected.

I continued to the flashes after the bird disappeared, and had a reasonable view of the Ruff, so I've included those sketches too.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The flash pools

 I thought it was time to post a couple
more shots of the site.

These are the spring-fed flash pools in
a field owned by farmer Steve Green.
English Nature are encouraging him to
leave it damp, and it attracts almost all
the wildfowl recorded.

In the snow last winter it produced
hundreds of Teal, many Snipe, and a
few other species of dabbling ducks.

This winter it has been great for Lapwing
but unfortunately not much else.

It nevertheless remains my best hope for
irregular waterfowl migrants.

Sunday, 22 January 2012


Lapwing drawn by Richard Harbird

This winter, Lapwing numbers have
exceeded previous counts, and today's
total of 530 beats my previous best
of 393 in December 2011.

The Lapwing flock favours the flash
pools but is difficult to approach, and
readily heads for neighbouring

A few pairs will stay to breed and
conservation effort has this species
firmly in mind.

An ill wind

I arrived on site and was joined by Dave Scanlan this morning to find that a strong westerly wind was making the birding tough. Generally, birders quite like gales as they can produce new birds. However, this rule applies more to reservoirs or coasts. On farmland all that happens is that the birds get flightier and harder to find.

Although there were no additions to the year list this morning, we gained ample compensation from a record count of 530 Lapwings and the accompanying Ruff. I made an effort to count the Yellowhammers scattered around, and got to 21 by the time we finished, although I didn't cover the whole of the site and from speaking to John Yardley, who we scoped in the distance, there were obviously additional birds we didn't come across.

The only other notable creature was a near miss for a personal mammal tick for the site when what I think was a Weasel ran across a gap in the hedgerow. Unfortunately I didn't see it well enough to be certain it wasn't a Stoat, but I didn't see a black tail tip and it looked the right shape.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Flying Cormorant
 Cormorants are pretty regular in the
winter months, but almost never
land. Until the 14 seen today, my
highest count was 11 in October

Frosty morning

Sunday January 15. I met Dave Scanlan at Netherstead farm, and we began the first frost affected visit for at least a month. The pool and flashes were frozen, but the cold weather has at last enticed some ducks, nine Teal, to visit. A couple of fly-over Mute Swans and a record count of 14 Cormorants, which flew around after approaching from the Studley direction, were also new for the year. The year list advances to 61 species.

First bird of the new year was a Pheasant

Pheasants are very common locally
and are released for shooting in
nearby woods every autumn.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The story so far

Hello, welcome to my blog

I discovered the area known as Morton Bagot on 11 Feb 2007 while exploring the 10km square immediately east of where I live. It seemed to have the only Linnet flock and the most substantial Lapwing numbers in the area, and also a reasonable amount of water. I later learned that the farmer at Netherstead Farm, Paul Harvey, had created a small pool with the encouragement of English Nature and also that he farmed in a game-friendly way which benefitted the local wildlife. Beyond Paul's farm was a field containing a spring-fed flash which also looked to have potential.

The whole area was just a five minute drive from my house, and although I diligently spent the next four years covering the 10km square for the BTO's Atlas, the honeypot of Morton Bagot increasingly lured me in.

Gradually I started to find good birds; a Garganey in 2007, a Wood Sandpiper in 2008, and a Water Pipit and Ring Ouzel in 2009.

In 2010 I kept my first year-list for the site, and spent little birding time anywhere else. I amassed a total of 118 species including a Pink-footed Goose, a Little Egret, and a Great Grey Shrike (found by John Coombes).

2011, although it produced a slightly lower personal yearlist of 117, was even better for scarcities, the highlights being Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Quail, White-fronted Goose, and a Goshawk.

That brings me almost up to date.

My first three visits in 2012 were on January 1st, 8th and 12th. Last year's drought has reduced the main pool to a puddle, while the mild weather has greatly reduced the attractiveness of the flashes to wildfowl. Despite this, an impressive 337 Lapwings accompanied the wintering Ruff and a Green Sandpiper, which had turned up in December, on the 12th. This year's list stands at a modest 58 (if memory serves me right).