Thursday, 30 May 2013

Marsh Harrier - dip

This morning Morton Bagot hosted a Marsh Harrier and a Red Kite, and I wasn't there to see them. The lucky guy was Mark Islip, but apart from the fact he saw them at 8.30 (per John Yardley, who is currently in Wales) I don't know any other details.

What I do know is that there are three types of dipping. In ascending order of pain they are:

1. You are at work or on holiday and hear about a bird on your patch, but can do nothing about it until you get home. This only really hurts if you are away for a week and the bird stays for about four days.

2. You are on site but the bird flies through and is seen by someone else, e.g Common Tern last week. Only really upsetting if the bird in question was a Bee-eater or something else that you know will never occur again.

3. You were planning to go this morning, but at the last minute change your plans. This is what happened to me this morning. My reason for not going? It was raining. How pathetic.

Instead, after emerging from the doctor's surgery with the text from John burning a hole in my coat pocket, I decided to stick to my secondary plan which was to call in at Haselor scrape and then go and survey Morton Bagot from the road after the rain had stopped in the lame hope that either birds would still be there. They weren't, but at least I ticked a new local birder, Keith Fletcher, at Haselor Scrape. He had been watching three Redshank chicks, but only one remained for me to see.

The Marsh Harrier was the second for the site, the previous one (which I did see) was an adult male in April 2011.

Congratulations to Mark for a terrific find.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Haselor Scrape

News reached me this week of some pretty impressive chick counts at Haselor scrape. Both Johns counted 30 Lapwing chicks several days ago, and John Y had four Redshank chicks there on Saturday.

I was tempted to see for myself this morning, and although far fewer Lapwing chicks were visible (still alive?) I at least saw two of the four Redshank chicks.

Hiding in the vegetation
showing well

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Springwatch ?

Monday sees the start of another series of Springwatch on the BBC. For all its faults (let's go over to our Beavers) etc I do have a soft spot for these programmes. Where else do you get to watch live wildlife and original footage of British creatures from the comfort of your own armchair? My only gripe is the fact that it airs in summer, not spring.

I visited the patch today, a glorious sunny morning, and found it had all the sleepiness of early summer. The only new arrivals I could detect were at least four singing Reed Warblers (a new record count) from three localities around the site. One of the two in the reedbed was incorporating some excellent mimicry of a Blackbird alarm call into its song.

Back at the flashes the single Little Ringed Plover shimmered in the heat haze on the furthest flash, and as an homage to Springwatch I recorded the following storyboard:

A cock Pheasant struts innocently into the middle of the field.

Alone at last
Suddenly the Lapwings attack.

Duck !
Lapwing ?
After several minutes of this the Pheasants (it turned out there was also a hen Pheasant hidden in the grass) flew off. A victory to the Lapwings, three pairs of which were defending at least five chicks. Another pair, possibly two, were defending territory on the fallow field behind me.

Back at Netherstead Farm I was hailed by Granny P, who produced her grandchild, Sam (apologies if I have remembered his name wrong). The little lad assured me that he was four years old, his granny having  said he was nearly five, and I was asked to let him look through my scope. Young Sam has been watching birds since he was first handed a pair of binoculars, and evidently loved it. Birds being birds there was absolutely nothing to show him, so I settled for some distant apple blossom and he quickly picked up on how to see an image through a scope by looking down into the lens to avoid just seeing black.

I really hope he does develop an interest in wildlife. Four years old might seem a bit young to start, but that was my age when I got the bug so why not?

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A blast from the north

This evening I went birding in spite of the strong wind blowing from the north and bright conditions, my least favorite combination. One big plus was that John had fixed the thread on my scope so I was keen to photograph something, anything really.

The Flashes offered a summer-plumaged Black-headed Gull and a Little Ringed Plover. Nah! The pool produced my first subject as I found there were now two pairs of Greylag Geese with goslings.

Awwh !
This is the first year that Greylags have nested on the pool, so two broods is pretty good. Moving on I tried a distant shot of the female Wheatear which is still present (and blurred), almost got a shot of a hovering Kestrel (I did get the shot but the subject was heading out of the frame), and finally failed to even see a loudly singing Lesser Whitethroat.

Back at the road I eventually got a dodgey picture of a Swallow sitting on wires.

The Swallow about to fly off
I also had a nice chat with one of the farming twins from Church Farm. Like all the farmers I have encountered around here he was very friendly and interested in the wildlife on his land. He seemed to know about the blog, and if he took exception to me accidentally walking his dog last week, he didn't let it show.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Dipped a first for the patch !

This morning I was joined by John Coombes. He has the distinction of finding the best bird at Morton Bagot ever to be successfully twitched, namely the Great Grey Shrike in February 2010. It was, he told me, only his second ever visit. I was keen to meet him in order to put a face to the name.

We ambled from Netherstead Farm past about three singing Reed Warblers and maybe a couple of Sedge Warblers until I got a text from John Yardley to say that he had a Redshank on the back flash. This was a patch year tick, so our pace quickened a fraction.

Then it quickened a lot as John rang to say that a Tern had flown in from the north and was circling overhead. Alas, we were still too far away and by the time we rushed past a female Wheatear adjacent to the pool I knew I was going to dip. John was doing his best to relocate what he was sure had been a Common Tern, but the game was up. At least I can no longer go around saying the patch has never even had a Tern.

We saw the Redshank, and at least three broods of Lapwings although counting chicks accurately in the long grass of the flash field was nigh on impossible. We ended up back at the dragonfly pool where I finally saw my first odonata of the year in the form of an unidentified immature damselfly.

Just before we packed in, however, an adult Peregrine flew past and landed on a pylon. The first here for a couple of months.

I am using John Coombes' visit as an excuse to post an old photograph I took of the Shrike on the day it disappeared (coincidentally by the way).

A blast from the past
I departed earlier than normal to watch the cricket (good move), while John Yardley kindly took my scope and tripod away to see if he can drill out the base and put in a new thread.

A couple of noteworthy garden birds yesterday were a very late Siskin over, and a party of 33 Swifts.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Wednesday May 15

Yeah, I guess I should have gone. I wouldn't have got there much before 7pm, and of course there was no way the Great Reed Warbler would resume its migration on a cold wet filthy night. Unfortunately the GRW hadn't heard that, and duly left.

Today was National Sanderling day, or so it seemed. Even Earlswood had one. But after tramping round with a little friend I was unable to shake off, I failed to see anything better than three Swifts and a Little Ringed Plover.

My four-legged friend
At least the dog enjoyed the walk. More so than the local Hares who had a bit of a work out.

John texted from Haselor scrape, where he was knee deep in Lapwing chicks (10) and had also seen Redshank, Shelduck and Common Sandpiper. I went anyway, and saw all the above plus Little Ringed Plover and three Tufted Ducks swimming in two-inches of water.

My future patch extension?
I think this place will definitely get a decent bird before the year is out. (That should put the kybosh on it).

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Stick or twist?

There was a time when news of a West Midlands tick could have had me dropping everything and heading for the bird without a second thought. This sort of thinking has left me with a pretty impressive West Mids list of 292.

However, age seems to be dulling my need to add an extra tick to that particular book. At 11.14am today a text alert sounded on my phone as I sat at my work station. A Great Reed Warbler had chosen today to appear at Grimley near Worcester. Twenty minutes later an old friend, Terry, rang to give me detailed directions, and to tell me that everybody who was anybody in the county had seen it.

Cue the weather forecast. Torrential rain was set to arrive during the afternoon. I can no longer ask my boss for permission for an impromptu holiday at extremely short notice. In short, I was stuck and faced with the prospect of a soggy evening staring at a small reed covered pond.

Stick or twist..... I stuck.

I have not had much luck with Great Reed Warblers. It is somewhat tenuously on my British list thanks to a brief flight view of the long staying Welney bird back in 1981. Sure, I could hear it singing alright, but a view is required for a lifer. Many years later I twitched another stayer, this time at Netherfield lagoon in Notts. We picked a foul day, such as today, and were unable to see the bird, though it sang well for us.

The West Midlands has had only four, the first two were pulled out of mist-nets at Brandon in Warks in the 1970s , the third, also at Brandon, tantalised would be twitchers, including me, the morning after its discovery in May 2005. It was apparently a female, and I didn't see it. The one I should have got was at Barton in Staffs in 2007, but I had been birding all day and felt knackered. Stick or twist. I should have twisted. It was gone next day.

I know I should get up at dawn, but I can't be bothered. If it's there in the morning I will go tomorrow evening.

With this kind of thinking I doubt I'll ever get to 300.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Sunday May 12

Some birding days will not stay long in the memory, and this was one of those. The weather was an uninspiring combination of cool westerlies, and increasing cloud.

Dave and I did our best, but by the time we decided to try Haselor Scrape, we had managed a view of last week's Reed Warbler, three Little Ringed Plovers, a Wheatear, and eight Tufted Ducks.

Haselor was also poor, but on the drive back to Morton Bagot we saw a Swift fly across the road. Dave decided to go home, while I scanned from the road near the church and was eventually rewarded with another Swift. One for the year-list at least.

By now I was suffering from irritating equipment failure, as it looks like the thread on my scope is too worn to enable me to attach scope to tripod with any confidence that it will not unexpectedly fall off.

With no birds or insects available I reverted to photographing and attempting to identify some common wayside flowers, coming up with Greater Stitchwort, Cowslips, Dandelions, Field Forget-me-Not (I think), and Meadow Buttercup (again, I think).

Greater Stitchwort

Very pretty though.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Magnificent Seven

It absolutely chucked it down from at least 5pm when I left work to 6.30pm when I set off from the house to go to the patch. But my timing was superb because by 6.45pm the rain had passed through and the sun was coming out. It was also appreciably colder.

The question was would this downpour produce birds.

My first success owed nothing to the weather as I finally caught up with the pair of Grey Partridges. They still weren't really playing ball though and scurried over the ridge before I could get my scope set up. Behind them the pool contained eight Tufted Ducks and the pair of Greylag Geese with two surviving goslings.

I got to the flashes and could see a Little Ringed Plover, but next to it was a Ringed Plover, then another, and another. Initially I thought four, but then counted six, and I texted that figure out. 15 minutes later I looked again, and there were actually seven Ringed Plovers and two Little Ringed Plovers.

Steve McQueen
The great thing about watching a little patch like Morton Bagot is that relatively mundane species can take on the mantle of giants. This was only the fourth time Ringed Plover has occurred here, two singles in 2007 and two at dawn on 28 Aug 2010 being the only previous records. So not only were they a great year tick, but they also blew the previous highest count out of the water.

I had no chance of getting all seven in one shot as they were spread quite widely. I did manage four, but as is typical for me everything was horrendously out of focus. The above is my best effort at a record shot.

Roll on the weekend.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Sunday May 5

Birding alone today, I arrived at Netherstead at about 09.00am. The early sunshine had already given way to substantial cloud cover, but with a light southerly breeze adding warmth the sun frequently got the upper hand.

Today was to tick along nicely, the first notable bird being a rather late Redpoll which I heard around the little copse by Netherstead. The small reedbed played host to the first of a record five singing Sedge Warblers, and then a year tick in the form of a Reed Warbler singing invisibly just a few feet away.

Sedge Warbler
I probably spent too long trying to see it, because whilst walking along a hedge well short of the pool I spotted a long-winged brown wader with a white rump flying away far to the west. It was probably a Curlew but I didn't see it well enough to rule out several other wader species.  

The pool contained proof that the pair of Greylag Geese had bred successfully, although I could only see two small goslings. The ploughed field contained two Wheatears, but the real revelation came at the flashes. After moaning grumpily about the state of the furthest flash on Wednesday, and then being put right by Matt, it was immediately apparent that the work the farmer had done to reflood the area had been dramatically successful

The furthest flash flooded once more
The left hand flash also held a little more water, plus a nice summer-plumaged Dunlin, which was being given a hard time by the local Little Ringed Plovers. Things got even more lively when a second pair of LRPs dropped in. 


Moving on, I heard a Cuckoo calling. It sounded closer than on previous visits, and the calls turned out to be coming from one of two Cuckoos chasing each other over the horizon. 

Encouraged to keep going I decided to return to the flash. On the way I had my second year-tick as a distant falcon revealed itself to be a Hobby.  

The small pond contained a pair of Coot with chicks as well as another of the five Sedge Warblers. 

A look at the insects available as it warmed up gave me Orange Tip and Peacock butterflies, and an interesting bee which I think was a species of Cuckoo Bumblebee.

I've definitely got my enthusiasm back.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Competitive Birding

This morning I arranged to let Nick Barlow have some line drawings for his forthcoming 2011 Marsh Lane Bird Report. I had heard that the Marsh Lane birders were doing an all day list in friendly competition with Belvide Res in Staffs and Upton Warren in Worcs, so I was pretty confident I would find Nick there.

I arrived at about 10.15, and with no sign of Nick and frequent heavy showers sweeping across from the west I decided to cower in Car Park hide and spend my time seeing a few birds which are unlikely to turn up at Morton Bagot.

How nice to have the luxury of a hide from which to take a few pictures. The following potential Morton Bagot megas were seen;

Dream on
Not going to Morton Bagot for their holidays
and some birds were actually close;
Lapwing approaching the hide
Meanwhile, hanging around the car-park got me my first Swift (and embarrassingly my first 50 or so Sand Martins) of the year, followed by another bird which would be very welcome on the patch, a Garden Warbler.

Nick arrived and I was almost swept up into the excitement of the competition. They were on 73 species, but Upton Warren had been on 80 an hour earlier. I then discovered that a Yellowhammer I had heard flying over the car-park was another day tick.

Sadly I had to drag myself away, but the results are now in.

Marsh Lane 80
Upton Warren 89
Belvide 91

It always seems to end up in this order, but there is no doubt that this competitive day, the nearest birding comes to sport, was great fun for all the "teams" taking part.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Setting the record straight

I had a garden tick this morning, a Common Whitethroat. It stayed in the garden for long enough for me to dash to the car to get my tripod, marry it with my scope, get the camera switched on and take a, it flew off just as I was preparing to snap. Still, clearly spring is not over.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Spring is over ?

I always get a bit maudlin at the end of April, and I'm afraid this evening was not able to raise my spirits. It seems as though spring has ended, with only Swift and Reed Warbler to look forward to. The vegetation thinks its still late March, but the birds have already reached summer.

Reasons to be cheerful.
1. I have replaced the flash player on my camera and that seems to have done the trick. I was going to photograph something this evening, but only this Greylag Goose stood still long enough.

It's even in focus !
2. It was a beautiful evening, and the pool can look great even without any unusual birds swimming around on it.

Reasons to be glum.
1. The birding highlights were a Wheatear and two Little Ringed Plovers.
2. The furthest flash has been churned up either by an agricultural machine or by the adolescents on a scrambling bike who arrived as I was leaving. It hardly had any water in it anyway, but now looks like black waves of mud frozen in the act of crashing onto a seashore.

I'll snap out of it by the weekend.