Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The late shift

This evening I didn't get to the patch until 8.15pm for no better reason than a desire to watch the cricket highlights.

It was a sunny, quite still evening, and the reed-bed at Netherstead immediately provided me with a little reward as an agitated Reed Warbler mobbed me.

Reed Warbler
I arrived at the pool just in time to see a birding couple heading back up the slope to Bannams Wood. I failed to recognise them, and wondered what they had seen. At the flash I was initially met with a birdless scene. Not a thing on the nearest flash, and only Geese and a few ducks visible on the furthest. Eventually I spotted a Green Sandpiper, a few Teal and the Shelduck. Then a cow arrived for a drink and spooked a previously unseen Common Sandpiper. Things were looking up.

The Redstart started calling in the hedge, and I just caught a flash of orange but not enough to determine age or sex. Another call, this time Common Sandpiper. It had evidently flown to the nearest flash. The light was fading but I got a record shot.

Common Sandpiper
More calls, this time Green Sandpipers. Seemingly from nowhere six Green Sands joined it. Presumably they had all been hiding on the furthest flash. Satisfied that I wasn't going to see anything else I started to head back. Eight Swifts appeared, and hawked late flying insects over the pool. Scanning the pool itself, a movement caught my eye. A fluffy grey tail disappeared behind a patch of sedge. I thought I knew what it was, and sure enough I was soon proved right.

Eat your heart out Springwatch
This was my first daylight Badger here. I did see one in the car headlights once, and the discovery of the occasional corpse proves there is a healthy population, but for a diurnal birder like myself this was, as they like to say on the telly, quite a treat. The final bird of the evening was a seventh Green Sandpiper, this time on the pool.

Not a bad evening.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Pacific Golden Plover

This weekend turned out to be all about numbers. Yesterday was great. We went to see a Henry IV Part II in Stratford followed by a splendid meal with friends in the rooftop restaurant. Marvellous. On the other hand, birding being a numbers game, one or two things were niggling away. To start with, on my walk back from the paper shop I spotted a large bird heading west over our house. I sprinted the 50 yards back to the house, found my bins, and dashed to the garden. It had gone. I think it was a Kite, but not convincing enough to get on the garden list. Then, just before our friends arrived my pager told me there was a Pacific or American Golden Plover at Middleton RSPB.  Oh heck. A last check of the pager before we set out. It was American G P , phew! Don't need it. Later that day, in the evening, I glanced at my pager again. It had been a Pacific GP. Not just a Mids tick, but a British tick to boot.

It was a warm night and our bathroom got a new moth. Marbled Beauty. I log them, but I've never bothered to count them up. Its not like they're birds.

So, this morning the PGP was still there. Off I went. It's so long since I went to the Tame valley that the RSPB reserve at Middleton didn't exist. So that was a tick too. I was slightly disappointed with it. Not enough signs (hard to believe at an RSPB reserve). A lot of my fellow twitchers looked distinctly lost. If I'm honest, the Pacific Golden Plover was a bit disappointing too. It wasn't the bird's fault, it was in stunning summer plumage, but it was also miles away. A dot, which kept disappearing behind vegetation. Too far away to photograph with my little camera. But since when did that stop me. Record shot coming up.

Its about 5 o'clock from the Little Egret !
Still a tick is a tick. Bird number 294 for the West Mids, and 436 on my British list. There were some other birds there but I was pining for my patch and by 10.45 I was back at Morton Bagot.

Strictly speaking there is nothing to report for the rest of the morning. But my competitive juices were still flowing and photo-ticks presented themselves. First up was one of two Nuthatches chasing each other around in the copse at Netherstead.

88. Nuthatch
In my now restricted morning, I marched to the flash where another species which has avoided my camera so far was waiting for me.

89. Starling
My excuse for putting this completely duff shot onto the blog is that I have lost patience with the species. There were stacks last winter, but they were all either flying over or feeding distantly on fields to the north of the patch. Amazingly none breed here, so I just get the odd wanderer from Redditch. They like to keep company with Lapwings and hence its now on the photo-list.

I did get a couple of shots of other birds which I like a bit more.

The flashes also contained 4 Green Sandpipers, 79 Lapwings, seven Teal, a juvenile Shelduck, and 34 Greylag Geese including a white one.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Wednesday July 23

This evening it was warm and sultry. Perfect for biting flies! I met fellow sufferer Mike Lane as he was lugging away half a ton of camera equipment including his hide. At least he'd seen some birds. He mentioned a Cuckoo (presumably juvenile) and also that up to three Little Egrets have been visiting College Lake in Studley lately.

I continued to the flash where things seemed pretty stable. I saw four Green Sandpipers, two Shelducks, 65 Lapwings and five Teal.

Juvenile Shelduck
Lapwings and Shelducks
The highlight of the evening was not the invisible Redstart (still calling) nor the visible Chiffchaff (also calling) but was my first Southern Hawker dragonfly of the year which was attracted to the flies buzzing around my suffering form. I was cheering it on, feeling like a human bird table, well dragonfly table strictly speaking.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sunday July 20

It was a largely overcast morning, but pretty warm with hardly any breeze. Dave and I started from Netherstead as usual, and steadily accumulated pretty typical bird species, including several family parties of Whitethroats, and also juvenile Sedge Warbler, Kestrels, and Green Woodpeckers. At the main pool the first brood of Tufted Ducks this season totalled six ducklings.

Perhaps it was the presence of this brood which caused us to hurry past and get to the flashes. Here, the despair I exhibited in midweek was proved to be unfounded. The near flash was full of water, and birds. Specifically two adult and three juvenile Shelducks, 67 Lapwings, seven Green Sandpipers, a Redshank, and two Teal.

The three juvenile Shelducks
During our walk we had been noticing that there were a lot of Skippers on the wing, some tatty Large Skippers, and about equal numbers of Small and Essex Skippers posing their usual identification challenge.

Essex Skipper showing its diagnostic dipped in ink antennae tips
We reached a gate over which we often peer. The hedgerow on the far side of the field can be good for migrants. Today came up to the mark when Dave spotted a juvenile Redstart shivering its tail and allowing me the opportunity of a poor quality photo year-tick.

86. Redstart
A little further on I got a nice shot of one of several Common Emerald Damselflies.

Common Emerald Damselfly
The area of long grass at the back edge of the patch is great for insects at this time of the year, and a faint "tip" at my feet led me to find two male Dark Bush Crickets squaring up to one another.

Dark Bush Crickets
The thistle heads were full of Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns, and also a single Small Copper. However, one butterfly which has been a little scarce here this year was pointed out by Dave.

A really tatty Red Admiral
We completed our circuit. Dave had to leave earlier than usual so I decided to head back to the flashes with a plan in mind. Last night I had phoned Mike Inskip to see if he had seen anything on his patch lately, and he said he had found some newly emerged Small Red-eyed Damselflies. I therefore headed back to the pool where they had been found last year, and sure enough about a dozen were present exactly where we saw them in 2013.

Small Red-eyed Damselfly
This species only turned up in the UK for the first time as recently as 1999, but since then they have successfully colonised pools across much of southern Britain. Including here.

I returned to Netherstead feeling pretty pleased with the day, and found it had one more card to play. The 50 or so hirundines were panicking over Netherstead and in their midst was a female Sparrowhawk.

87. Sparrowhawk
A photo year-tick to round the morning off.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


The grey low cloud present when I arrived this evening soon started to produce drizzle. With no wind to speak of I soon found I was getting very wet.

About 40 Goldfinches were on thistles at Netherstead, but the trudge to the flash produced very little. I am starting to think there is something wrong with the flash this year. There should be plenty of Green Sandpipers by now, but not a single wader was present (apart from a couple of Lapwings).

As the rain set in I found I was hearing lots of birds calling "hweet". Six in all. Of these, I suspected four could be Redstarts and two Chiffchaffs. However, the two species sound very similar, and the only bird I actually saw was confirmed to be a female or immature Redstart.

Back at Netherstead I decided to sit in the car and watch the rain pelting down onto soggy Pied Wagtails and Reed Buntings in the reed-bed roost.

The only other species I saw in the reeds was a single Reed Warbler. As the cloud slowly eased away, the sun came out and the sky became a spectacular mix of grey and pink clouds set against a bright blue background. On the drive home I stopped to take a picture of a Buzzard silhouetted against a part of this backdrop.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sunday July 13

Rather a cloudy start with a few showers of fine rain. As I was waiting for Dave to arrive I was surprised to hear, above the fizzing of the overhead pylons, the distant reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler. It was still here. I worked out it was singing from the field or hedge at the extreme south of the patch.

Dave and I approached and spent about an hour trying to see it. We eventually worked out exactly where it was.

Grass hopper Warbler
It was in this grass somewhere, but eventually we had to settle for extremely brief views and no photo.

As the weather improved we set off around the rest of the patch. A darter which showed well proved to be our first male Ruddy Darter of the year.

Ruddy Darter
The pinched-in shape of its abdomen is one of the best features of this dragonfly. Our bird list was pretty moderate. The Redstart was calling, but we couldn't see it, and two Little Ringed Plovers were the only waders apart from a few Lapwings on the flash.

The grass in the flash field has been cut, so the furthest flash is now visible, but contained only a few Mallards and two or three Teal.

So back to the insects. I got shots of a few common ones, and also a Flowering-rush.

Common Blue Damselfly
Gatekeeper (Hedge Brown)
A rather pale Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet
So a little bit quiet apart from the continued presence of the Grasshopper Warbler, now in its third week.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

You couldn't make it up !

After a lousy day at work a stroll around the patch was just what I needed. A calm sunny evening. I parked at Netherstead and walked to the flash. The flash was just wet mud, and contained an invisible calling Green Sandpiper. The invisibility continued as I at last pulled back Kingfisher, heard only, and also heard the invisible Redstart again.

As I returned to Netherstead it occurred to me I hadn't photographed anything. The moon was showing well so I decided to aim at it and photograph the first bird flying past it. Ten seconds later something did. Click.

I looked through my bins to see what it was. It was a Little Egret. Good grief.

Getting closer
It flew languidly towards me. I thought about looking at it again but the photo opportunity was too good to miss.

85. Little Egret
For some reason it was flying with its bill open. Cooling down I suppose.

Into the sunset
It continued its westerly journey as a silhouette heading for the bright lights of Redditch.

Oh, and I found my mobile phone....on the back lawn.

Monday, 7 July 2014


This morning the realisation dawned that I had lost my mobile phone. The smart money is on my not so smart phone being somewhere in the long grass at Morton Bagot.

So this evening I set off to look for it. I got very wet and eventually gave up.

Still, my camera and bins came with me so I thought it was only right that I checked out the flash. Waders had arrived, not exciting ones, but waders none the less.

The four Green Sandpipers now had two juvenile Little Ringed Plovers and the first Common Snipe of autumn for company.

The LRPs and a Green Sand (proper record shot)
Common Snipe
From the hedgerow by the flashes I could hear the Redstart again, and also saw an unexpected Goldcrest. Moving on to the pool I finally got a shot of the adult Little Grebe on its nest.

Back at the car the reedbed is again attracting roosting Pied Wagtails, 21 this time. Quite a few Swallows and House Martins were swooping around, so they may also be roosting there.

So its off to the shops for me tomorrow.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

And another thing

In the afternoon my family headed for Hillers near Ragley Hall for a double celebration of my mother's and sister's birthday.

What has this to do with birds? Well its just that from the little hide in the corner of the garden there I saw something I have only ever seen once before -  many years ago. During the latest breeding bird Atlas I failed to record this event anywhere.

What you are looking at is a Red-legged Partridge and three tiny chicks. Hard enough to see on a bare surface, and just about impossible in long grass.

I saw a family party of Red-legged Partridges at Bittell Reservoir in the 1980's, but I can't recall seeing any since.

Mostly about insects

A fine sunny morning. Dave joined me at 08.45 and we headed to the last known location of the Grasshopper Warbler. Sadly we were too late (either in the day or in the week) and no sound was heard.

My attention quickly turned to insects. It is now Skipper time and the increasingly worn Large Skippers have been joined by a new hatch of Small Skippers. The site also gets Essex Skipper and so I took lots of shots hoping to find one, but we eventually concluded we were recording only Smalls.

Small Skipper
The key features shown here are that the black tips to the antennae, though prominent, do not wrap around to the underneath, and also this male has a relatively long black scent line which is not parallel to the forewing. All very tricky.

As a relief from the Skippers we saw plenty of easy butterflies, including the first Gatekeeper among lots of Meadow Browns, plenty of Marbled Whites, and a few Small Tortoiseshells, Large Whites, and Small Heaths. I also got a shot of the underwing of a Comma.

Comma (showing the eponymous punctuation-mark)
 Dragonflies were also everywhere.The first half dozen Brown Hawkers of the year all failed to settle, while I did get shots of Four-spotted Chaser, Broad-bodied Chaser, and this male Black-tailed Skimmer.

Black-tailed Skimmer
Various blue damselflies were present with Emperors and Common Darters. However, my best "what on earth is that?" moment was provided by this beastie.

Volucella pellucens
The good old Internet gave me its name and added that they are a fairly common and widespread hoverfly. Pretty impressive though.

Another impressive insect which now occurs quite commonly here is Roesel's Bush-cricket.

Roesel's Bush-cricket
It's another indicator of a warming planet. Ten years ago they were restricted to the south coast, but they soon advanced in range and once here they became plentiful.

So did we actually see any birds? Well yes, we got one notable species for the time of year in the form of a juvenile Grey Wagtail. Unfortunately I failed to get even a record shot before it flew towards Netherstead Farm and was seen a few more times in flight. The flashes produced only three Green Sandpipers and three Teal. The pool still contains at least one Little Grebe, while a young Great Spotted Woodpecker posed nicely to have his picture taken.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Mystery birds

I'll start with a mystery bird photo. Answer at the end of this post.

Headless chicken?
The flashes contained four Green Sandpipers, but no Common Sandpiper. The early autumn feel was enhanced by the presence of a substantial Tit flock which also featured a Nuthatch, Blackcap and several Chiffchaffs, one of which was giving a very strident "hweet" call. "Hweet". I say Chiffchaff, "Hweet" Hmm. I started to get interested in seeing it. "Hweet". It was somewhere on the otherside of a thick hedge. "Hweet". It stopped calling, so I wandered on. "Hweet". Oh for goodness sake. "Hweet tick" Now I was really interested. I climbed the public footpath gate, currently padlocked! and tried walking to the point where I heard what I was now pretty sure was not a Chiffchaff. The light faded and there was no further sound. After another 10 minutes a bird flew and landed in the hedge. I focused on a superb male Redstart before it flicked back into the thickest part of the hedge.

I resumed my walk back just as the last rays of sunshine burst from beneath the cloud cover bathing the whole landscape in a glorious orange glow. The pool still hosted a Little Grebe, while 12 Swifts and two Sand Martins hawked insects overhead. Another sound entered my consciousness and stopped. Then started again. It was faint, but surely a reeling Grasshopper Warbler. I headed across the field away from the pool and stood at the top of the ridge. Sure enough it started again, still distant but much clearer. I decided it was singing from the hedge at the back of the ridge field but decided not to investigate further. Presumably the bird heard on June 22 is still here.

Back at the car a cacophony of Tawny Owls was hooting from Bannams Wood. The sun still hadn't quite set.

Oh yes, the mystery bird.

What a disappointment.