Sunday, 27 January 2013

An unexpected duck

Heavy overnight rain and a rapid thaw saturated the site but also produced some unexpected surprises. I started at Netherstead Farm, and bagged my first year-tick, an adult Herring Gull before Dave arrived. It was noticeable that there were a lot of birds airborn in the strong south-westerly wind.

We headed for the main pool, which turned out to be overflowing with water, but to contain only a pair of Mute Swans. The flashes were much more productive though. We could see John scoping something, and as we reached him he showed us a smart drake Gadwall. This was the first here since July 2010, although I see from my Birdtrack records that I have seen the species on four previous occasions. As I erected my scope I was told the ducks were all flying. When they returned, there was no Gadwall, hence no photograph.

A drake Gadwall

Fortunately many of the 90 or so Mallard which John had estimated, and 115 Teal, did return straight away. Amongst the Teal we could see at least 20 Snipe.

On the way to the pool we had noticed many Gulls on the pastures beyond Stapenhill Wood, and we continued to the mound hoping to see the Gull flock. In the end we had to venture just beyond Stapenhill Wood to get a reasonable view of the floodwater. The sight that greeted us was little short of miraculous. Approximately 700 Black-headed Gull were stretched across the field, a new record count.

A part of the Gull flock is just visible in the distance.
I was sure there had to be a good Gull amongst them, but eventually, buffetted by the gale, we could only find 31 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 13 Herring Gulls, and an adult Common Gull with the Black-headed Gulls. Compensation came in the form of a third year-tick, a humble Meadow Pipit which flew over calling.

I persuaded Dave we should drive to Church Farm and from there try the flashes again. This manouevre failed to add much to the day, just a single Grey Heron.

The year list has now reached 69. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Big Garden Birdwatch

As usual I took part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch this morning, and as usual the birds failed to co-operate in the allotted hour.

My stunning results were:

Blackbird 1
Blue Tit 2
Robin 1
House Sparrow 4

This was in spite of there being plenty of food out for them. The usual hard luck stories ensued; the Fieldfare which Lyn has been seeing all week put in a brief appearance but failed to return during the hour, and even more annoyingly, two Long-tailed Tits feeding on the tree just beyond the garden visited two minutes after the hour was up.

I noticed that psycho the Blue Tit has decided to waste another year of his life attacking his reflection in a window of the house just beyond our garden. No doubt he will carry on all spring as he did last year. Stupid bird.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sunday January 20

I wasn't sure what state the minor roads would be in today, so decided to drive to St Mary's church Oldberrow and walk the ten minute journey to the patch boundary. In fact it wasn't too bad, and after making the surprise discovery of two Ostriches/Emus (not sure which) in a field along the road, I started seeing wild birds by about 8.40am.

In fact one of the first birds I saw was quite unexpected as a Green Sandpiper flew out of a stream and landed on a fence post.
The Green Sandpiper
I suppose tringa waders often perch prominently in the breeding season but I cannot remember seeing a Green Sandpiper doing so in the UK. I continued to the pool, which was largely frozen and lacked birds entirely.

The main pool
By the time I got to the flashes it was snowing steadily. My initial optimism at the sight of plenty of birds ebbed away as I eventually established that only the regulars were present; 20 Canada Geese, 82 Greylag Geese, 59 Teal, 91 Mallard, 44 Lapwings, 20 Snipe, and four Moorhens. In truth many were hunkering down in the damp snow covered grass and it was impossible to be sure that I had seen everything.

I carried on and was feeling resigned to gaining no year-ticks today. That was until I reached the tin shed. As usual I squatted down to peer into the gloom, but as I did so a beautiful Barn Owl ghosted out and floated off over the thicket. My feelings of awe and elation were mixed with guilt as clearly the bird would have been much better off spending the day undisturbed. Hopefully it found a dry bolt hole somewhere. I just about manage to record this species each year, but never more than one sighting per annum.

This was to be my only year-tick today, so I am now on 66. I headed past Netherstead Farm and then back along the road into the teeth of what was now a bit of a blizzard. The only noteworthy discovery was a potentially Waxwing-friendly cotoneaster in the garden of the property adjacent to Bannams Wood. A bush to keep an eye on this winter I think.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Waxwings from the garden

After the trauma of driving home from work through heavy snow yesterday, I decided to settle for a nice quiet day watching cricket (the less said the better), and generally relaxing in the house with Lyn. Inevitably this resulted in a great deal of garden birding, our feeders fully stocked, and the snow scraped away to reveal apples placed on the lawn.

For the most part we just saw the usual House Sparrows, Dunnocks, and Blackbirds, although a Pied Wagtail very nearly landed in the apple tree before choosing the neighbour's peach tree instead.

Then, having earlier noticed about 20 Fieldfares flying around I spotted what I thought might be a Fieldfare at the top of a tree further down the close. My binoculars revealed it was a bit better than that, and I shouted "Waxwing" and rushed to get Lyn. In fact it was a clump of Waxwings, we initially thought three birds. I opened the back door to chuck another apple out and found I could hear them calling even though they were about 150 yards away.

Shortly afterwards we saw them fly off (in the general direction of Morton Bagot !) and counted four birds as they flew.

The clump of Waxwings
I have seen Waxwings from the garden before (2005 and 2010) but these were my first this winter as I have made virtually no attempt to twitch any.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Tuesday January 15

An afternoon visit to the doctor gave me the chance to make a rare dusk visit to the patch. I arrived at Church Farm shortly before sunset, and walked/skidded carefully across the icy road before making a beeline for the flash.

I hardly ever come at this late hour in winter so I had various Owls and other crepuscular species on my mental shopping list. As I approached the flash I could see that it was occupied by a swan, but somehow it never looked as though it was going to be a good one, and indeed it proved to be a Mute Swan. It is still unusual to see this species away from the pool, and  it was a year-tick so I'm not complaining. The Teal numbers have risen to 70, but there was only one Lapwing present. A flock of 70 had earlier been seen over Redditch from our living room window.

The Mute Swan
The walk back to the road produced four Red-legged Partridges, a calling Goldcrest, about 30 winter thrushes (mainly Redwings), and 330 Jackdaws heading to roost. Back at the road I stood and scanned in vain until I was finally ready to admit defeat. Not before a second year-tick though, as two vocal Canada Geese could just be seen as they flew into the flash.

My final bird, a Tawny Owl, hooted as I changed my footwear back at the car. The two slightly underwhelming additions to my year-list brought the total to 65 (67 points).

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Sunday January 13

It feels like a very long time since my last visit. A week feels interminable when you are leaving for work in the half light of dawn, and returning well after dark. Anyway, by 08.15 I was starting the day at Netherstead Farm, seeing a female Brambling with about 20 Chaffinches, and my first year-tick, a distant Cormorant, before Dave joined me. We quickly added a fly-by Grey Heron as my second year-tick. Seven Pied Wagtails dropped in unexpectedly, before heading off to the south.

A lot of Rooks had been flying over, presumably from a roost, and I counted 50 by 09.00, and we then found a flock of 50 Skylarks in the stubble. I felt there were quite a few winter Thrushes about, and the first of these were in the hedge on the northern edge of the stubble-field. Gradual accumulation through the day got me to totals of 80 Fieldfares and 30 Redwings.

The day's highlight came shortly after we were joined by John Yardley. A first-winter Common Gull flew north, and we later saw it again with a flock of 90 Black-headed Gulls just beyond Stapenhill Wood. Not much of a highlight you might think, but the species is fairly scarce, though annual, on the patch. At least 33 Teal were feeding on the partially frozen pool, but we flushed them to the flash, where we counted 35, plus about 80 Lapwings.

Back at Netherstead Farm we spotted my fourth year-tick of the day, a Marsh Tit. This species breeds in small numbers in the surrounding woodland, but is sometimes attracted to the feeders around the farm.

Marsh Tit
We then headed for the south end, hopeful of finding a Brambling for Dave. In fact it was to prove a disappointment, as most of the finches were Chaffinches, and there were no Linnets at all. However, the one compensation was my final year-tick of the day, as two Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew north.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Sunday January 6

Another grey, mild day, and this time I was joined by Dave as I again decided to start at Church Farm. This was pretty tough on Dave who is suffering from a bad back and sciatica, and in the end we cut out the south end to save him from continuing discomfort.

Having established a year-tick platform yesterday, I was keen to mop up as many easy ones as possible, and the first of these, a Greylag Goose, flew past while I was waiting for Dave to arrive. I also saw a flock of 35 Siskins burst out of the alders by the tractor sheds, and later added another dozen elsewhere giving me a personal record count of 47 for the day. A flock of 220 Starlings and 40 Fieldfares flew into the pasture field below the sheds, making quite an impressive sight.

Once Dave joined me, I suggested we walk up the road to Bannams Wood, and then down the hedge-line to the pool in order to see if the Tawny Owl was showing in its usual hollow. A Coal Tit in the corner of the wood was another year-tick, and the walk back was to accrue four more, which I see is another record count, albeit a soft one. The Tawny Owl duly obliged, tick, and we reached the pool where a further tick was in store. A pair of Coot were on the pool. This was actually a bit of a surprise as there haven't been any for about a month and in 2012 I had to wait until February for them to turn up.

Tawny Owl
The main objective was to give Dave a chance to see the Jack Snipe, and we flushed six (another personal record) in exactly the same spot as I had seen them yesterday. Eight Common Snipe also went up, and as yesterday I chose not to disturb the rest of the marsh. My reasoning was that any further sightings of Jack Snipe could easily involve duplication.

Jack Snipe
 The flash produced 37 Teal, about 80 Lapwings, a Snipe, and another surprise year-tick, a Green Sandpiper. This was the first here since mid-autumn, but I do normally get one in January. Things then settled down as we trudged back towards Netherstead, although I noticed that a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming, the mild weather no doubt turning it's thoughts towards spring.

The walk back along the road was a departure from our usual routine, and it was noteworthy for the number of Coal Tits, Goldcrests (seven), and Bullfinches we came across. Only three of the latter, but when I think of where the ones I saw yesterday were, there must have been at least eight birds on the patch this weekend. Two more easy year-ticks were added, a Treecreeper and a Nuthatch, leaving my list on 57 (plus Feral Pigeon).

We spoke to John, who was making a late arrival, and he later texted to say that he had seen five Jack Snipe.

A pretty satisfactory day.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Saturday January 5

I don't know what it is about the turn of the year, but after weeks of going through the motions I'm suddenly keen as mustard again. This was my first full morning on the patch, and of course there were year-ticks a plenty.

The very mild winter, so far, has meant that Goldcrests are easy to find, and in fact I heard the first as I stepped out of my car at Church Farm. I had decided to do a longer circuit in the hope of seeing more birds. I saw four male Bullfinches in this north-east part of the patch after having had very few sightings since last winter.

I had a cunning plan. I have been deliberately avoiding the marsh recently, and the hope was that I might flush a Jack Snipe. The early indications were good as I soon flushed 15 Common Snipe. Then, in the middle of the marsh, two Jack Snipe got up, a couple of steps later another, and then a fourth from behind me. This was easily my best ever count, but I chose to leave the marsh at that point as I expect Dave to be accompanying me tomorrow, and I am hoping there could be even more.

The flash was rather less impressive, just 14 Teal and 105 Lapwings. A flock of 60 Linnets was circling the set aside field, and a dozen Skylarks were in the air, several singing.

The mild weather is encouraging a lot of birds into song, Robins, a Mistle Thrush, a Song Thrush, and several Great Tits joined the chorus. The south end produced a similar count of Chaffinches as the north, a combined total of at least 105, and with them were 10 Bramblings. The only Lesser Redpolls I saw were two on the feeders at Netherstead, but half a dozen Siskins were also in the area.

My last bird of the day was a Sparrowhawk, and my year list stands at 50 (plus Feral Pigeon) after two visits. There are still some easy ones available for tomorrow, I've seen no large Gulls, amazingly no Geese, and no Herons for example. More worryingly, I haven't seen any Tree Sparrows for over two months. They seemed to be present in good numbers in the lead up to the 2012 breeding season, but I didn't see too many young birds and I'm wondering what effect the wet summer had on chick survival. Hopefully they will reappear later in the winter.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

January 1 2013

In my last post I intimated that I might manage to go birding on the patch on New Year's Day. The reason for the uncertainty was that we were spending Yew Year's Eve with friends in a posh hotel and I wasn't sure there would be time to go birding.

I needn't have worried, as the gang was up for a pre-lunchtime walk, and I suggested my patch might be a good venue. Cunning plan or what. Thus by about mid-day we arrived for a short sojourn around the south end beginning and ending at Netherstead Farm.

Our friends love walking, and have a general interest in the countryside to varying degrees.

Off-message straight away
A couple of horses immediately attracted their attention, but I did my best to show them some birds, eg Buzzard (but they missed the Peregrine that shot over it), Fieldfares and Redwings, Chaffinches (plus a Brambling seen only by me), and they might have heard Lesser Redpoll if I hadn't been gassing as it flew over.

My New Year's Day list for the Patchworkchallenge was thus a very weak 23 species (24 pts thanks to the Peregrine) by the time we returned to the cars. Many thanks to Bill though, who patiently helped me download an excel spreadsheet notwithstanding that I do not have Microsoft Excel installed.

As everyone left, I thought I might dash back to the patch at dusk. By the time I arrived it was really too dark (16.35), and I just heard Song Thrush and Pheasant for the year list. I also counted about 600 corvids, about 500 Jackdaws plus about 100 Rooks, roosting in the wood to the north of the patch.

The final incident was a brief view of a probable Woodcock as it flew across the road as I drove home. Unfortunately this was just outside my patch boundary, so it doesn't count for the list.