Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Wednesday April 30

A glorious sunny morning with a light south-easterly breeze. Perfect for photography, not so good for turning up unusual birds.

Nevertheless my photo year list got an immediate boost when the Sedge Warbler in the reed-bed finally decided to play ball.

73. Sedge Warbler
At least two other Sedge Warblers were singing, and also a Reed Warbler here which I also saw, but failed to get a shot of, and another in a nearby hedge. After this mini triumph the remainder of the visit was a bit underwhelming. The female Gadwall was on the furthest flash, the Cuckoo eventually started singing, and I finally got a record shot of a Blackcap, one of about six I heard during the morning.

74.  Blackcap
In the absence of notable birds my attention turned to insects. The sun brought out an array of butterflies including this Large White.

Large White
and more Brimstones than I have seen here since March.

I had hoped to get my first damselflies of the year, but I couldn't find any. Instead there were lots of  sinister looking flies.

St Mark's Fly
As a final postscript, Mike Lane phoned me this evening to let me know that he had found a party of fledgling Tawny Owls in the usual tree. A target for tomorrow perhaps.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Garden Birding

Today my dad came round, and I am keeping him amused by showing him how to blog. Bear with me.

One bird I photographed yesterday has not yet been featured at Morton Bagot, because I haven't got near enough to one.

But I got one from the garden.

This Jay perched briefly in trees about three gardens down.

Hopefully one will feature in a later posting of Morton Bagot birds.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Monday April 28

Well this is a turn up, birding on a week day. A grey and cool morning with a light easterly breeze.

I started at Netherstead Farm and quickly added a photo-tick as the Swallows there are starting to perch on the weather vain.

72. Swallow
I probably should have waited for a sunny morning, but what the heck. Moving on to the reed-bed, there are now two Sedge Warblers in residence and they were driving each other nuts resulting in much singing and many song flights. While I failed to get an opportunity to take a decent photo, a Reed Warbler started singing. This is my first April record here, but I was unable to see it despite spending quite a bit of time trying.

A circuit of the patch produced little, although one of the Blackbirds has developed an annoying habit of doing Curlew impressions. A Wheatear showed well on the field behind the pool.

That was about it until I spotted a Pheasant on a gate just before he saw me. His solution was to lie flat and hope I hadn't seen him.

Nice try
The Cuckoo sang briefly, but I still haven't clapped eyes on it. A Redpoll flew over calling. A couple of Greylag Geese  flew past, giving me the chance to try a flight shot.

At least the House Martins were back. My next (and last) attempt to do the spring big day will be next weekend.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Sunday April 27

I wasn't planning to go birding today, but discovered a window of opportunity when I offered to go to Aldi (via the patch) to get supplies.

It was just a quick dash down to the flash and back. On the way down I noticed that the recently erected Owl box was a Stock Dove.

At the Flash I saw that the mud had returned, and so had the Little Ringed Plover. In the distance two Ravens flew around, and then an immature Cormorant flew over.

I headed back to my car, but shortly before I got there five Black-headed Gulls flew over.

One of the five. This one's an adult.
This was fairly unusual for the time of the year, and thus became the most notable species seen.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

They went

My plans were foiled by the weather. Heavy rain in the early hours led me to decide to sleep until a respectable hour. When I finally did get to the patch my decision seemed vindicated when I located the Tawny Owl in the hedge beyond its usual tree.

Tawny Owl and Cormorant
 The immature Cormorant presented me with the opportunity to get both birds in the same shot...if you look hard enough. A new Sedge Warbler burst into song and for a while I was tempted to do a big day despite the normal start time. A pair of Wheatears appeared in the field, but then I got to the flashes and my early optimism drained away.

One thing not draining away was the water-level which had risen overnight. I had hoped the rain might have dropped a wader in, but instead it took one away, as the lack of mud meant no sign of the Little Ringed Plover. The Teal had also gone, but were replaced by the female Gadwall which has been visiting occasionally for almost two months.

Still with half a mind to do a big day, I recorded species diligently. Nine Whitethroats, seven Blackcaps, four Chiffchaffs, two Sedge Warblers, and two Lesser Whitethroats but no more passage migrants. The Cuckoo was still calling, and I recorded Bullfinch and Treecreeper in the wood. A Carrion Crow swooped down and took a hapless Lapwing chick.

By 10.30 am I had all but given up. A fly-over Redpoll buzzed, unseen, but the day lacked a spark. Even the House Martins normally resident around Netherstead Farm had disappeared.

Aware I was also failing to photograph very much, I went for this Moorhen.

But went you start photographing Moorhens you know its time to give up. So I did.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Will they stay, or will they go?

Well its approaching that time of year again. The annual big day. Many sites do one; Upton Warren, Belvide, Marsh Lane for example. They all do theirs in May.

Not me. I have always preferred late April, usually around the 22nd. This plan is probably coloured by my spectacularly successful day in 2011 when I scored a still unbeaten 70 species, including Marsh Harrier and Wood Sandpiper.

My thinking is that I stand a chance of collecting birds like Teal, Snipe and Green Sandpiper  which have usually left by May, while the only birds I could miss would be Swift and possibly Reed Warbler. Also, the earlier date is better for passage migrants like Redstart.

Sadly the plan backfired spectacularly in 2012 when I was too early for even staples like the Whitethroats, and managed a pitiful 60 species. Last year was better, but still only 65. This year I have shifted the date, and the current plan is for Saturday.

But the weather could be a big fly in the ointment. It currently looks to be wet, and even worse, blustery for most of the morning. Also, the birds aren't playing ball.

I went out this evening. No Green Sandpipers or Snipe again. The only positive was that the Teal are still present, in fact they have doubled in number to a respectable four.

Hanging in there
Another bright spot this evening was the presence of the first brood of Lapwings. There were four young chicks running about, but only two made it into shot.

The Little Ringed Plover was the only other wader in residence. Being evening there was not much song, but I did hear Whitethroat, Blackcap, and Cuckoo.

Frustration of the evening was an extremely faint call of a possible Yellow Wagtail, which I followed up with a distant dot bouncing away into the distance in a way not incompatible with the way a Wagtail would fly, or a Pipit. That was the problem.

I just need it to turn up on Saturday...assuming I do the same.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Monday April 21

The weather was back to where it should be today. Sunshine and just a hint of an easterly. Naturally I couldn't resist another visit. Just a quickie I told Lyn. Fortunately she understood what I meant.

Parking by Bannam's Wood I was greeted by a singing Great Tit.

I took its picture just in case there was nothing else to see. I needn't have worried. The walk down to the pool took in the Tawny Owl, while the pools contained 13 Tufted Ducks. The flash was quiet again (two Teals and an LRP), but three Wheatears were again present in the rough field.

One of the Wheatears
I returned to the car, and then decided to drive to Netherstead Farm, just in case. This paid off when after five minutes a Cuckoo started singing somewhere across the fields to the west. Every year I worry that none will return, so its presence is a relief.

It got me thinking about my top five favourite bird songs. I think they would be as follows:

1. Blackbird
2. Cuckoo
3. Curlew
4. Wood Warbler
5. Turtle Dove

Sadly only the top one is guaranteed at Morton Bagot, while numbers four and five are little more than aspirations.

Later this afternoon I took Lyn back to hear the Cuckoo. Needless to say it failed to perform, but at least the Sedge Warbler, which was apparently absent yesterday, was in full voice.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Garden Raptor

Having got home, and in the middle of "jobs" I got called to the kitchen window by Lyn. On the fence sat a superb male Sparrowhawk, a species I have yet to come close to photographing at Morton Bagot.

I took a load of shots before it finally flew off, but I think this one of it having its feathers ruffled by the wind is my favourite.

Easter Sunday

A bit different to my last visit. Grey oppressive clouds and a brisk cold easterly. It all made for a rather challenging morning.

The highlights were two singing Goldcrests (neither of which could I see), and continuing with the theme of hidden birds I also heard seven Blackcaps, five Chiffchaffs, two Lesser Whitethroats and two Common Whitethroats.

The flashes were dull again, two Teal and two Little Ringed Plovers, but at least they did supply my only photo year tick today.

71. Cormorant

Looking closely at my photograph of this sub-adult Cormorant I have been trying to convince myself that the shape of the back edge of the bare patch of skin at the base of the bill points to it being of the continental race sinensis. However, the photo may be not sharp enough to clinch it either way.

I ended up resorting to trying to identify wild flowers. These Cowslips were quite easy.

As usual I ran into trouble with the rest. I decided I had seen Cow Parsley, Wood Forget-me-not, Greater Stitchwort, White Dead-nettle, and some sort of dog violet. I did take some shots but the wind was blowing everything about so most came out a bit blurred.

The woolly hat came out of retirement. It was that cold.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Good Friday

I love April. Even when its quiet, its good. This morning Dave and I wandered around in bright sunshine enjoying everything the patch had to offer. The first new bird was a Sedge Warbler singing from the hedgerows and reedbed at the dragonfly pools. It failed to show itself, but while we waited we could hear the first of an eventual four Lesser Whitethroats, and saw a few Swallows, House Martin, and Chiffchaffs.

We ambled to the flashes past plenty of Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Orange Tip, and Green-veined White butterflies.

Green-veined White on a Dandelion
The flashes were a bit of a let down. A single Little Ringed Plover and a pair of Teal were the best birds we could muster. Worryingly for the "big day" I plan for the end of the month there were no Green Sandpipers or Snipe, and the Teal may well also depart. The rough field was more productive, and we located four Wheatears; two males and two females.

We returned via Stapenhill Wood where more Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were joined by our first Common Whitethroat of the year. It was singing well, but was hard to see. A nice male Pied Wagtail at the horse paddocks was worth a photo.

Pied Wagtail

By 11.00am Dave had to go, but I decided to return to the flashes. Scarcely out of the car-park I couldn't resist photographing this pretty flower.

I am rubbish at plant identification. I believe it to be Cuckooflower, but the book says they are rarely white (usually pink) so I'm not sure. As I passed the pool the second Common Whitethroat of the day burst into song, and eventually I got some shots of it.

69. Common Whitethroat
I also had a good view of a male Reed Bunting.

There was nothing new at the flashes, although I could just about see a Little Owl, and so I returned home.

Then after lunch, Lyn and I made our annual pilgrimage to see the Bluebells in Bannams Wood. This is still on the patch so I also tried to find birds. Blackcaps were singing strongly and chasing one another through the foliage, but I couldn't get a shot. At least the bluebells couldn't get away.

Although the Blackcaps proved elusive, I did add a bird to my photo year list.

70. Marsh Tit
This Marsh Tit sang briefly and stayed long enough to round off an enjoyable day's birding.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Wednesday April 16

A clear, but late, evening's birding began with me determined to take some bird shots, come what may. So just in case there was nothing of interest to see, I began with one of a flock of around 40 Linnets.

At the flashes my worst fears were confirmed as I found eight Teal, three Snipe, a Little Ringed Plover, and two constantly calling Green Sandpipers amongst the obligatory Mallard, Greylag Geese and Lapwings.

The field behind me contained two Wheatears, a male and a female. In case anyone thinks its a doddle to locate and count these birds, I am sharing a spot the bird photograph (with handy caption to help out).

and the "it" that was "here", was this female Wheatear.

Nearly missed it.
Back on the flashes five Pied Wagtails appeared, but no other species of wagtail joined them, and I decided to head home.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Migration steps up

A beautiful sunny morning with a light westerly breeze. Perfect for ballooning unfortunately.

What goes up must come down
An event was taking place towards Studley, and most drifted off to the south-east. There's always one though, and this chap drifted north-east, then lost height, flushed everything from the flashes, then got the basket tangled in a tree (per Dave, who witnessed the spectacle from near the church) before finally getting away.

Once they'd all cleared out, the birding got interesting. Swallows were heading north and west all morning in dribs and drabs, no more than a fifteen in total, but they lifted my spirits. Then, to my surprise, I heard the unmistakable dry rattle of a singing Lesser Whitethroat. Dave joined me and we went to investigate, eventually seeing it before it flew off across the hedgerows. We later bumped into the same bird about 200 metres away, before relocating it at the original spot where I managed to get some shots of it.

67. Lesser Whitethroat
Lesser Whitethroat singing strongly
I am not that good at remembering my earliest dates for summer migrants, but I think this is my earliest ever.

Meanwhile, at Netherstead Farm, the first two House Martins of the year appeared. We made our way past the pool, a Common Snipe flew from the marsh, and reached the flashes, where things looked distinctly quiet. The Teal numbered just seven, and the Green-winged Teal had gone. There were a couple more Snipe on view, plus a Little Ringed Plover, a Green Sandpiper, and a Little Owl.

The field behind us had been roughly ploughed since Wednesday. It looked good for Wheatear, but initially we could only see Linnets and Skylarks. Then Dave spotted a male Wheatear.

68. Wheatear
Around the same time I got onto a Sand Martin as it flew west over the flashes, a second followed a few minutes later. This was more like it.

With the sun still shining brightly, butterflies were also trying to grab our attention. This Peacock was starting to look a little tatty.


But we also saw a some of newly hatched spring insects; a Green-veined White, and several male Orange Tips. We were not done with birds either, as a Siskin flew over, and at least two Blackcaps were out-singing the two or three Chiffchaffs in Stapenhill Wood.

Orange Tip
Back at the cars, having just photographed the Lesser Whitethroat, we decided to drive to the church and walk back down to the Flashes. This produced our final year-tick reward in the form of a singing Willow Warbler, although we couldn't see it. Then, another Lesser Whitethroat started singing, and closer scrutiny of the field produced a total of five male Wheatears.

Spring really has arrived.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Friday April 11

More news from the opposition. Haselor scrape has now produced an Oystercatcher, seen by John Coombes and Mike Inskip. Another tricky bird for the Morton Bagot patch.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Thursday April 10

A text message from Mike. He has had two Common Sandpipers at Haselor scrape today. Its a good place for the species, and bang on time, whereas at Morton Bagot they scarcely occur in most years.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Wednesday April 9

Does evening birding get duller than this?

Starting at 19.10 I made the mistake of ignoring a couple of singing Chiffchaffs, 20 Yellowhammers, and the Tawny Owl, all of which I could have photographed, in order to reach the "Wheatear field" as I like to call it.

Sadly there were still no Wheatears bouncing around on it. Next stop was the Flashes. By the time I got there the the light was fading fast, and after a quick scan so was my optimism. True, the Green-winged Teal was still present along with 41 of its European counterparts, and three Green Sandpipers. But there wasn't much else.

The light faded and I was left with a stark choice of landscape photos or sheep.

So here are both.

The flashes with quad bike for added interest
A tree (Oak)
Pink woolly jumpers

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sunday April 5

Rain? What rain? Having said I was forsaking the day's birding due to the forecast, the day dawned grey but dry, and if anything it brightened up slightly. So a change of plan was negotiated, and I joined Dave for another go.

It was also much windier than yesterday, and for some reason such conditions often cause gulls, normally absent, to fly over. It was a gull, well two gulls, which provided the morning's only highlight.

We had started at the church, still expecting rain to wash out proceedings, and marched swiftly to the flashes. Over the fields beyond the flash field a small group of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were joined by one, then two Common Gulls. Not quite a year tick (I saw one fly through in January), these are still scarce birds here. Worth a punt for the photo year list as we may not see any more this year.

Distant though. So sorry about this, but here is a true "record shot" of them.

66. Common Gulls
They came no closer, and we turned our attention to the flash itself. The Green-winged Teal was still here, and 36 Teal, two Snipe, and a Wigeon. Yawn.

A quick circuit of the patch produced a lateish Redwing, two singing Blackcaps, four Chiffchaffs, and about five fly-over Cormorants. We returned to the flash to find more gulls, mostly Lesser Black-backs (barely half a dozen), three Black-headed Gulls, and a second-winter Herring Gull. Also, the flash now contained five Green Sandpipers.

Back at the cars, Dave headed off while I wandered around the church looking for something to photograph. I came up with a Jackdaw pretending to be Father Christmas

Ho Ho Ho
and a singing Dunnock.

There will be better weekends.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Reality check

After the excitement of the last few weeks I suppose it was inevitable that a quiet day was on the cards. I switched to Saturday because the forecast for tomorrow predicts rain for most of the morning.

It was pretty cloudy this morning, but the rain held off. Good visibility and a light south-westerly breeze. It never felt as though migrants would be on the move.

So nothing new to see. The main diversion at the flashes was the presence of two Little Owls in an Oak tree.

The two Little Owls

Scanning the flashes produced the usual suspects; a drake Wigeon, 33 Teal, two Snipe, and the female Gadwall. I then did a quick circuit and returned to add a Little Ringed Plover and three Green Sandpipers to the list. Oh, and this chap is still here.

It seems almost sacrilegious to say this, but I'm getting a bit bored with the Green-winged Teal now. However, not everyone is, and I met a couple of birders, Colin and Dawn, who were visiting the site for the first time. I enjoyed pointing out the waders on offer, and also a pair of Ravens which had been flying around all morning.

A Roe Deer

So no new migrants on offer, unless you count a Blackcap which sang, unseen, from the middle of Stapenhill Wood, but enough to keep me going.


This afternoon John Chidwick saw a Yellow Wagtail at the flashes.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

A gentle reminder

The news is not so good today. The Avocets have gone, and the only bird I have heard about is the first Swallow of the summer.

Matt Willmott (English Nature) has the ear of the local landowners, and I'm afraid one of them has been bending it. I'm not sure what has happened, but I have been asked to remind visiting birders to stick to the footpaths.

We enjoy very good relations with the locals, and they have always been very friendly. I suppose the little purple patch of the last few weeks has encouraged more visitors than usual, and although I can honestly say I haven't seen anyone stray from the footpaths, I guess someone must have.

Anyway, stick to the paths please (buy an Ordnance Survey map if you have to), and hopefully there will be no need for any friction to develop.

Good birding


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The rarities keep on coming

I had planned to go to the patch tonight anyway, but the speed with which I would get there was increased considerably by a phone call from Lyn at around 16:00. Mike Lane had phoned to say he had found two Avocets on the flash.

Bloody hell! I tried hinting loudly to my boss what a shame it was I couldn't just get up and go, but it was no good,  I would just have to sweat it out. I did the decent thing and texted the regulars, so by the time I was home most people had seen them.

By 18:45 I was there, hot and sweaty, and relieved. They were still there.

65. Avocet
I remembered the camera, but not the spare battery. After taking several shots of sleeping Avocets, I got the chance to take one of them feeding..and then the battery ran out.

Mark Islip and Mike Inskip were there when I arrived. Dave was on his way. So what else was here? Well the Green-winged Teal was still present, with 38 Teal for company. The Green Sandpipers built up to five by dusk. A single Little Ringed Plover, and a couple of Snipe, plus the usual Lapwings etc.

A reminder that it is still very early spring came when 11 Fieldfares flew over, and several Meadow Pipits flew out of the field behind us.

Once Dave had arrived and ticked, we decided to use the last of the murky light to check out the pool. This contained an impressive 14 Tufted Ducks, just one short of the record. We also noticed that the Tawny Owl was showing, though we remained far from its tree.

I suppose like most patch watchers I have a little hit list of "birds I would love to see on the patch". That's two crossed off this spring already.. What next?