Sunday, 31 August 2014

One for the conscience

A warm, largely sunny morning with the barest hint of a westerly breeze.

Dave and I were pleased to be finding the first few Meadow Pipits of autumn going south, a Grey Wagtail called as it too headed over, and there were still plenty of warblers in the bushes. These included Reed Warbler, and this Sedge Warbler, which had been bathing in the small pond.

Sedge Warbler
Shortly afterwards things went a bit strange. Dave had been staring at a Woodpigeon on the overhead cables, when a medium sized wader flew through his bins. He tried to get me on it, and said he thought it could be a Greenshank. I couldn't see anything, and thoughts of the Curlew I had missed in March began to rear their ugly head. Dave lost it, and we were both scanning the horizon when it reappeared, and this time we could both see it. It did look like a Greenshank but was just too far away. No calls came to put our minds at rest. I tried to get the scope up, but although Dave gave me a running commentary as it eventually disappeared behind Bannams Wood, I never saw it again.

So should we count it? The first, and quite possibly only one to turn up this year. I really wanted to count it. We both thought it looked like one. But what did we really see? Just a Greenshank-shaped bird. No plumage features, and no calls. Dave wouldn't commit himself beyond 90% sure, and so I will let it go. Drat it.

One bird which was noticeably more obvious this morning was Jay. We saw about five, one of which succeeded in creeping onto the photo year-list.

96. Jay
Rather like the Starling a month ago, I have just lost patience trying to get a decent shot, so this bird which landed at the far end of a stubble field will have to do.

The Greenshank apart, Dave was having a good morning. I pointed out the Whinchat in the weedy field, and he picked out the third Common Sandpiper of the year at the flash. Both were year-ticks for Dave. The flash also hosted 10 Green Sandpipers and 46 Teal.

With the sun out, insects forced their way into the day.

Southern Hawker
Common Blue
The tatty male Common Blue is the only male Blue I have seen here this year. They must be having a bad season.

We scanned the skies for raptors, counting 13 Common Buzzards, a Sparrowhawk, and the Kestrels, but nothing out of the ordinary turned up today.

So we were left to rue what might have been.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A bit more Ruff stuff

I know I have sometimes whinged that weather doesn't affect Morton Bagot, and it's all just luck blah blah blah ! Well tonight just screamed Go Birding at me. 27 August, wind a light south-easterly, cloudy and humid. What's not to like.

So I got there as quickly as I could (19.10) and marched to the flash, being delayed only by a Badger (more of that later). Scope set up and bingo, four juvenile Ruff. Fantastic. This weather had, as I had hoped, done the business. Rotten for photography though.

The four Ruffs grouped together
They were all actively preening and I suspect they may have arrived pretty recently. A scan over the rest of the flash revealed an increase to 43 Teal, twenty or so Lapwings, and on the far flash at least five Green Sandpipers.

At least I had remembered my mobile phone this time. I headed back, and was just going past the pool when an odd call, strangely Snipe like, had me wheeling round in time to see three Grey Partridges disappearing over the ridge.

Well I just had to ring Lyn, who managed to sound interested despite the fact that she was immersed in the Great British Bake-off. My only slight twinge of regret was that even the Ruffs weren't a year-tick, but then a bird which was, popped onto the top of the hedge and Lyn got to hear "Whinchat" shoe-horned into the conversation.

By now it was basically dark, so the following shot is purely for the record.

95. Whinchat
I will very surprised if I don't get a chance of better views at the weekend. Speaking of good views, that Badger. I was rather stopped in my tracks soon after I arrived to find it feeding on the shoreline of the pool just the other side of the fence. Then the penny dropped. The photographers must have put out bait, probably peanuts, which the Badger was wolfing down.

I soon tired of waiting for it to put its head up, and when I moved on so did the Badger.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Autumn big day

Well it's that time of year again. Sunday, August 24. A dawn to (nearly) dusk attempt to see as many species at the patch as possible. I didn't do one last year, so I have to look back to 2012 for my comparison. That one was a few days later and produced a rather disappointing total of 57 species, although they did include a long-staying Wood Sandpiper, plus Redstart, and Whinchat. I was determined to do better this time.

So I was on the patch at 5.30am by which time it was too dark to see birds, but light enough to see my notebook. The first birds were the ever quacking Mallards, shortly followed by my main target for the early start, several calling Tawny Owls.

I spent a couple of hours wandering around, the cold, still air encouraging mist to form over the flashes and pool. At the time, the highlight seemed to be a Sparrowhawk (although I did see one in the evening as it turned out). There were three species which I only recorded on this early jaunt, the Tawny Owls, plus a Common Snipe which flew out of the marsh, and a Coal Tit at the edge of Bannams Wood, so it was just about worth the effort.

After a break for breakfast I was back on the patch, this time at Netherstead. Dave joined me after his holidays, and he soon found the first good birds of the day as two juvenile Peregrines shot passed. Later, one of them circled overhead, the first since the spring.

Juvenile Peregrine
I had been fretting slightly at the apparent lack of Warblers from my early visit. Perhaps their numbers were greatly reduced. I needn't have worried, the hedgerow by the barn produced a Willow Warbler, two Whitethroat, and a Lesser Whitethroat, and we soon had a magical half hour by the small pond as we were surrounded by flicking, calling warblers including two Reed Warblers. We also saw some juvenile Bullfinches, and then a Kingfisher flew in and landed briefly in the dense branches of a pollarded willow.

93 Kingfisher
On the basis that I may not get a second chance, I am adding this dreadful record shot to my photo year list.
We headed on to the flashes, seeing more Warblers including a second Willow Warbler. The flashes produced no new waders, but the six Green Sandpipers, and 28 Teal were at least joined by a Wheatear, the first of the autumn.

Dave spotted a Hobby, which I just got onto, but that was our last day tick before Dave headed for home. I had other ideas and headed back to the flash. A Grey Heron rose from the pool, and I found that the Hobby was catching dragonflies. Matt Willmott had seen it on Thursday so I was half expecting it would be there. It then disappeared, but I relocated it at the flash, and was pleased to find it was regularly perching in the dead tree.

94. Hobby
It was interesting that its regular sorties over the flash barely disturbed the Lapwings and Green Sandpipers feeding there. It was as though they knew it was only after dragonflies. I walked back through the weedy field, and this tactic, as expected, added Skylark to the day list. I was eventually back home at 2pm, feeling completely knackered, but with 61 species to my name.

After lunch, plus half an hour crashed out on the sofa, I was back in the field for the late afternoon shift with a small list of birds I was hoping to see. Walking through the village I bumped into two ladies who sometimes walk the Harvey's dogs doing just that, but being followed by Fluffy, the Harvey's cat. They were very anxious to encourage it to go home and so I ended up grabbing the moggy and carrying it back home. No birds then. I then resumed the walk and at Bannams Wood I heard a Nuthatch call. One down. I continued to Church Farm and then down the hedge-line. Over the pool to my left was another day tick, Black-headed Gull. Two down. Finally, although no waders had turned up (surprise surprise) the Flashes did at least produce my final day tick in the form of five Starlings. A grand total of 64 species, only one fewer than my spring big day.

The now obligatory Badger lolloped along the fence at the far edge of the flash field, and I then walked into Mike Lane and (Peter Preece ?) preparing to set up a hide with the intention on photographing this same Badger at the pool. Good luck guys.

Major misses were Pied Wagtail (they just seem to have abandoned the place, and my guess is that they have found a nice ploughed field somewhere and are all there), Treecreeper and Goldcrest (certainly present but elusive).

No year ticks, but a pretty satisfactory day.

The full list

1. Greylag Goose 2. Canada Goose 3. Teal 4. Mallard 5. Tufted Duck 6. Red-legged Partridge 7. Pheasant 8. Grey Heron 9. Little Grebe 10. Sparrowhawk 11. Buzzard 12. Kestrel 13. Hobby 14. Peregrine 15.Moorhen 16. Coot 17. Lapwing 18. Green Sandpiper 19. Snipe 20. Black-headed Gull 21. Lesser Black-backed Gull 22. Stock Dove 23. Woodpigeon 24. Collared Dove 25. Tawny Owl 26 Kingfisher 27. Green Woodpecker 28. Great Spotted Woodpecker 29. Magpie 30. Jay 31. Jackdaw 32. Rook 33. Carrion Crow 34 Raven 35. Blue Tit 36. Coal Tit 37. Great Tit 38. Marsh Tit 39. Skylark 40. Swallow 41. House Martin 42. Long-tailed Tit 43. Chiffchaff 44. Willow Warbler 45. Blackcap 46. Whitethroat 47. Lesser Whitethroat 48. Reed Warbler 49. Nuthatch 50. Wren 51. Starling 52. Blackbird 53. Song Thrush 54. Robin 55. Wheatear 56. Dunnock 57. House Sparrow 58. Chaffinch 59. Bullfinch 60. Greenfinch 61. Linnet 62. Goldfinch 63. Yellowhammer 64. Reed Bunting

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Wednesday Aug 20

A text from Matt W tipped me off about the birds present at the patch today. 14 Green Sandpipers, a Redstart, three Snipe and 80 Lapwings. So pretty reasonable but no need to rush there.

When I finally did arrive this evening I started to find that mammals were taking centre stage.

This Brown Hare seemed a bit slow to realise I was looking at it. I plodded on to the pool and flash. At the latter I found that Matt's figures eclipsed my own. I could only manage five Green Sandpipers, about 30 Lapwings, and 19 Teal.

The hedgerow contained a good flock of L T Tits and Warblers, with at least six Chiffchaffs and a Lesser Whitethroat seen. A Kingfisher called from the pool behind the hedge, and I set off on another futile attempt to photograph it. I didn't even see it. Returning to where I had first heard it I did get a nice surprise. A Badger was running about on the bank above the pool.

The light was starting to go by this time. Probably the best bird of the evening then put in a brief appearance. A Common Swift. This may well prove to be my last sighting of one this year.

Finally, I have been a bit remiss in failing to mention Mike's exploits on his patch at the weekend. The old boy finally visited his patch and turned up two patch ticks; Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher, and rather more impressively, a Clouded Yellow butterfly.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Monday August 18

Having been birding for almost my entire life, I do not expect to go to my local patch and come across a bird I cannot identify, but that's what happened this morning. It was actually a bird call, and those generally require some sort of previous experience, preferably recently.

This is what happened. I had nipped down to the flash to check it out, and found it was much as yesterday, 21 Teal, 11 Green Sandpipers, and two Snipe. So far, so boring. After a short trip down the hedgeline I was returning to the only bit where the trees thin out sufficiently to allow a view when I became vaguely aware of a disyllabic rather flutey call which was a bit like the begging call of a young Buzzard. Lazily I decided that must be what it was, and the noise seemed to fade away. Ten minutes later I heard it again, and I convinced myself this time it could be some kind of wader.

The calls got louder and louder, and I scanned the sky anxiously through my binoculars and by naked eye, but I just couldn't see anything. Its very difficult to describe calls. I wrote it down as " a liquid "kil - lee" with a slight upward inflection on the second syllable. It was vaguely like an Oystercatcher I suppose, but it wasn't that. Whatever it was flew quite rapidly south-west, and I could still hear it calling faintly in the distance for some time. I tried to drag some clue from my memory banks, but nothing came to mind. Perhaps it wasn't a wader, I can recall hearing an escaped Cockatiel once, and thinking that sounded wader-like. Maybe it was just a Parrot!

I hung around hoping for a second coming, but it was not to be. Instead I witnessed the surprising sight of a flock of 22 juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls heading west, and also two Sand Martins going south.

Back at the car I realised I hadn't photographed anything, and decided that a Collared Dove on wires above me would have to do.

Birding can be a frustrating business, but its kind of nice to be reminded that even after 50 years of birding, there is still plenty to learn.

Token bird !

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Sunday August 17

I arrived at Netherstead at about the same time as a weak weather front. So the first hour was spent sheltering from showers and a brisk westerly breeze. I spent the time beneath the copse opposite the entrance to Netherstead Hall, watching 60 or so hirundines, mostly House Martins catching insects on the sheltered side of the copse.

A few Tits were also feeding at the edge of the copse, and while looking at them I spotted a Spotted Flycatcher, the first this year.

92. Spotted Flycatcher
It seemed to be an adult, and was reasonably easy to photograph. Always a relief to get this species on the patch list each year.

I then went on my usual circuit. The weather improved, and eventually the sun came out. It remained annoyingly windy though. The hedge at the Netherstead end gave me a Lesser Whitethroat, and another hedge, this time at the far end of the pool produced a briefish view of an adult male Redstart. I can't help wondering if this is the same bird as the one in the same area in early July.

I reached the flash and was disappointed to find that there was no sign of the Ruff, nor any Snipe. The latter were probably just hiding in the grass somewhere, but it looks like the Ruff has gone. There were still at least 11 Green Sandpipers, 13 Teal, and 80 Lapwings present. Then a Kingfisher flew past, heading down the hedgeline. I relocated it by the pool, but just failed to get a shot. A family party of four Kestrels sailed overhead, and caused panic amongst the members of the Long-tailed Tit/Chiffchaff flock. It also contained a single Goldcrest.

The strong wind and lure of the test match had me abandoning the visit just before mid-day.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A decent wader at last

It's been a long wait. Since the Avocets in early April, the patch has failed to produce a single half-decent wader, until tonight.

Since Sunday's storm the weather has been a mixture of sunshine and heavy showers, and I certainly noticed that the water-level on the main pool had risen since Sunday. At the flashes the level seemed much the same, but almost the first bird I looked at was something different. A juvenile Ruff.

91. Ruff (with Snipe and Lapwing)
I struggled in relatively poor light to get any decent images, and these are the best of the bunch.

The interesting question to me is why tonight? It may just be luck (and to be fair it may not have arrived today), but I like to look for explanations. Perhaps the very bright moon has illuminated the water for a night flying migrant, perhaps it was the heavy showers, perhaps it came in with other birds. There were 87 Lapwings (a small increase), 10 Snipe (a large increase), 15 Teal, and 12 Green Sandpipers tonight. All of the latter were on the furthest flash, but fortunately the Ruff wasn't.

I wandered back feeling pretty pleased. A Sedge Warbler was present in the hedge bordering the pool, where there are now six adult and full-grown juvenile Tufted Ducks in addition to the six half grown ducklings. Back at Netherstead the hirundines were getting excited, and after a while a Hobby drifted through. Finally, the roosting corvids got themselves noticed as about 240 Jackdaws and a few Rooks launched themselves into the sky.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Sunday August 10

I had intended to sit at home today. It chucked it down all morning, and we had our friend Mal coming for the afternoon. By 3.00pm  the rain had gone and had been replaced by a gale force westerly. Surely all this weather must have dropped something down, I thought.

I cracked, and blew oodles of brownie points promising I would be back in an hour. Another triumph of optimism over experience, the latter has taught me that the wild weather, which does indeed produce birds at Midland reservoirs, fails to have any effect at Morton Bagot. Perhaps its just too small.

Within minutes of arriving I found that once again the patch was untouched. The Green Sandpipers, Snipe, and Teal were all still present, and no other waders had joined them. I did get one slice of luck though. A rapidly moving bird caught my attention above the flash, not a wader, but a Hobby. It was far too quick for a photo though.

The main pool was also unaffected by the conditions, and I was left to wonder what would be worth photographing. The answer came when I remembered that yesterday I had noticed that there were actually two, not one, Little Grebe chicks. They were still present and a lot less wary than their pesky parents.

I suspect I will continue to visit the place after storms pass through. Perhaps one day my optimism may be vindicated.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Saturday August 9

With ex-hurricane Bertha on the way it seemed sensible to switch my birding day to this morning. Sunny and only a light westerly breeze. Unlike last weekend, plenty of Warblers were zipping through the bushes. Seeing them properly was a bit of a problem though. While I was chasing after the first of several possible Lesser Whitethroats I came upon a more significant species in terms of the Morton Bagot year. A Willow Warbler.

When I first started birding in the Midlands 30 + years ago, this species was everywhere and easy to see. Over the years they have definitely got scarcer and whilst I would admit that Morton Bagot doesn't contain classic Willow Warbler habitat, I suspect it used to be commoner here too. This year has been particularly bad. I recorded just a single bird singing on one April date in spring, and didn't even see it. So today's migrant was the second of the year, and the first I have actually seen.

All this explains why I considered it to be sufficiently scarce to require a photo for the year matter how bad it was.

90. Willow Warbler
 All I can say in my defence is that it looked better in the scope. I managed two shots, and unfortunately it was preening when my finger hit the shutter for the better of the two. (Its head was behind a leaf for the first). Check out the primary projection, about the only ID feature showing.

The rest of the walk round produced just the usual stuff. At least five young Whitethroats showed well, with a family party of Yellowhammers in the same bushes.

The Flashes contained 13 Green Sandpipers, two Snipe, 11 Teal, 70 Lapwings and over 100 Greylag Geese. There was no sign of the Shoveler though.

On the way back I finally got a shot of one of several Brown Hawkers. They seem to be having a good year.

The only other things worth mentioning are that there were a few Black-headed Gulls heading south, about 10 in all, and a second female Tufted Duck now has a brood (of one duckling) this time on the pool west of the flash.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Wednesday August 6

This evening was still and sunny at first. Gradually this gave way to almost complete cloud cover. Birding a small patch is all about dreaming of the big one, impossible dreams, and the occasional little victory.

This evening's bonus bird came as I was gazing at the flotilla of newly released Mallard on the main pool wondering if they would ever pull in something different. Scarcely had this thought floated away when something new did indeed drop in. A Shoveler, the first since March, and only the second in the last two years.

The remainder of the pool was filled with the usual stuff, although I did notice that the single female Tufted Duck with its brood of six had been joined by two more females.

At the Flashes I immediately regretted not packing my scope. At least 12 Green Sandpipers were split between the two flashes, and four Common Snipe were newly arrived on the nearest. Six Teal there were forced to swim nervously into the water as a Fox skirted the back of the pool.

Passerines this evening consisted of a Whitethroat, two Chiffchaffs, two Reed Warblers (one of which was singing despite a beak full of insects), 50 Goldfinches, 40 Swallows, 20 House Martins, and two Swifts.

The forecast for the weekend is for a return to wind and rain. I hope they have got it wrong.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sunday August 3

Sunny, breezy, fluffy clouds. Oh dear, a fluffy cloud day. Over the years I have nurtured a growing dislike of this type of weather. Blue sky and fluffy cumulus clouds scudding across from the south-west = no birds.

This is doubtless a drastic over simplification, but today was pretty typical. The breeze strengthened to the point where it was difficult to see passerines. The ones which did pop out were almost exclusively Chiffchaffs.

I reached the flash where I was pleased to count 13 Green Sandpipers and the Common Sandpiper plus  110 Greylag Geese and the juvenile Shelduck. Perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad morning after all. For a change I decided to enter Stapenhill Wood. This tiny wood has been left to its own devices for many years and consists of many rotting stumps, tall Ash trees, and a jungle of hawthorn and blackthorn. I was soon fighting my way through shoulder high nettles and brambles remembering why I so rarely go into it. The rotting wood is no doubt great for beetles etc, and also for fungi.

Unfortunately, despite buying a book on the subject, I remain entirely ignorant on the subject. This is some kind of bracket fungus.

Returning to my car I decided to try the flash again. En route I spotted the Little Grebe on the pool, and also proof that the pair had bred successfully.

Little Grebe chick
At the flash the cows had decided to visit the near flash en masse, and this had one beneficial effect. The Green Sandpipers were no longer spread out, but were (apart from one party pooper) all lined up for a group photo.

12 Green Sandpipers
All dots of course, but the cows were not content to leave it at that. They edged forward and flushed most of the waders to the near edge where I could get a better photograph to give you some idea of what a Green Sandpiper actually looks like.

A Green Sandpiper
This is about as close as I can get unless the waterlevel starts to drop on the main pool. That was about it. I recorded a single Swift and three Teal, two Whitethroats, and three Reed Warblers. The autumn migration will have to wait for another weekend.