Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Wednesday April 29

After a brief period of heavy rain this morning I was quite keen to get down to the patch after work. I only achieved this by 19.00, by which time the low sun was dazzlingly bright, and the wind was a stiff westerly. Not very auspicious.

Which just goes to show what I know, because this was to be a better than average visit. To start with the flash was quite busy, with a pair of Little Ringed Plovers, the pair of Redshank, and no less than six Teal still present.

Peering through the hedge I noticed a Yellow Wagtail standing on the mud. Before you yawn, I feel I should point out that I didn't see one here at all last year, my only record being a single heard-only record. So I decided this bird would be recorded with a photograph no matter what. So yes, here we go again, after a great deal of effort and long periods of trying to relocate it in the middle of the field I eventually took a series of, ahem, record shots, of which this is the best.

Yellow Wagtail
 The bird in question is just close enough to deduce that it is a female. As the sun started to sink to the horizon I thought I had better give the pool a quick look. I was pleasantly surprised to see about a dozen Swallows there, no doubt as a result of the chilly temperature. a little group perched pleasingly on the branch which sticks out of the pool.

Down the road, Haselor was also producing the goods. Jon Yardley rang to let me know he had discovered three Whinchats there, but also that it was almost out of water. This is a pity because I had it down as a secret weapon in the upcoming bird race competition thing which Matt Griffiths is organising for May 9.

Briefly, Morton Bagot is to be temporarily supersized to include Haselor scrape and Middle Spernal to give us some chance of competing with the likes of Earlswood, Newton scrape (wherever that is), Charlecote, and apparently Draycote and somewhere in the Tame Valley. It sounds like two competitions in one to me, but it should be fun anyway. Our team currently consists of me, Dave Scanlan, Mike Inskip, Jon Yardley, and possibly John Coombes.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Tuesday April 28

Ah well, I'm working again.

Nevertheless birds can turn up when and where you least expect. This morning I was walking to our paper shop in Redditch when I heard a half forgotten song. A bird which I have only recorded on two occasions at Morton Bagot was singing just out of earshot of our garden.

The species in question was Garden Warbler. Despite not having my bins with me, I was able to watch it with the naked eye as it clambered about between bursts of song.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Neither a garden tick, nor a patch bird, but a real fillip for the day to come.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Sunday April 26

A cloudy start, although it brightened later, but remained chilly with a light northerly breeze.

With Dave unable to make it this morning I decided to divide my time between sketching and surveying. The target of the former pastime was the Pheasant. There were plenty of males to choose from, although I only saw one female.

It was quite interesting to see the amount of individual variation demonstrated by the cock Pheasants. One showed a broad white neck band and almost white crown, while another would have a narrow neck band and a grey brown crown for instance. But at the end of the day they were just Pheasants, so I headed for the pool/flashes hoping for something better.

In the event it was to be the stonechat field which produced the goods in the form of two male Whinchats. I will have to rename the field as the chat field.

The birds were typically difficult to approach, hence the rather small image. The pool contained only the Little Grebes, while the flashes played host to four Teal, two Redshanks, and a Little Ringed Plover. Given the overnight rain, I had hoped for rather more.

Frustration of the day was two silhouetted and distant wagtails heading west well out of earshot. It looks like Yellow Wagtail is going to be difficult to come by again this year.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Friday 24 April

An early start due to an inconveniently mid-morning doctor's appointment. Once the fog dispersed it was a beautiful sunny morning.

I parked under Bannam's Wood and walked back towards the pool, seeing a silent Willow Warbler in birches, and noting that the Tawny Owl was visible. Traditionally this is around the date I normally do a big day, but this year I have been signed up to do one on May 9 against other patches, but with Morton Bagot being temporarily expanded to include Middle Spernal and Haselor scrape. More of that in a future posting.

Anyway, I couldn't help wondering how I might have got on today had I been doing a big day, and the walk to the flash field produced another migrant in the form of a Wheatear, and my first Cuckoo of the year calling from miles away. At the flashes the Redshanks were still present, and also at least three Teal. My second Owl of the morning was a Little Owl.

Little Owl
At the time I took the photo I thought that its rather chocolate brown underparts might mean it was a juvenile, but I am now sure it is an adult because the crown is spotted.

I returned to my car, and then drove to Netherstead. Here I quickly discovered that a Sedge Warbler was singing well from the reedbed.

Sedge Warbler
My departure was then delayed when I noticed a very pale headed Buzzard perched on a post.

Hmmm, Buzzard?
I edged nearer, never really believing it would turn out to be better than a Buzzard. Eventually it chose to take off, and the views were conclusive.

An unusually pale Common Buzzard
Aren't they always?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Upton Warren

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I rarely stray from Morton Bagot, and these days I almost never twitch anything.

However, the presence of the first ever Red-necked Grebe on the Moors Pool at my old stomping ground of Upton Warren was too much to resist. The additional advantage of the locality is that the concrete hide there is the only wheelchair friendly hide in Worcestershire, as far as I know, so ok for Lyn.

The news was encouraging, and suggested that the Grebe had been touring the pool. Unfortunately, by this afternoon it had evidently decided that the east side of the pool was ideal, this being the furthest place from the concrete hide it could get. so I'm very sorry but my bridge camera could only manage distant record shots, as you will see.

Red-necked Grebe, distant and asleep
Red-necked Grebe awake, but still distant
It looked an awful lot better in the scope, and I was rather proud of Lyn when she successfully picked it up through the bins.

There were also other distractions. A second-summer Mediterranean Gull was standing in the Black-headed Gull colony.

Mediterranean Gull
A very distant Whimbrel was standing on the island in front of the east hide, but too distant from the concrete hide for even an attempted record shot. But much more obliging was a Water Rail which swam in front of the concrete hide a couple of times.

Water Rail
Apart from the Whimbrel, none of these species has yet occurred at Morton Bagot (as long as you ignore a pager message from a few of years ago which I am sure related to a Little Grebe). Cetti's Warblers sang, Sedge Warblers too, and I have to admit that it crossed my mind to wonder whether I should reconsider my current birding strategy.

Naaah! I'll be back on the patch tomorrow.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Wednesday April 22

A sunny morning with a light north-easterly wind.

I began by locating a pair of Red-legged Partridges at Netherstead, the plan being to sketch them.

The rest of the morning was devoted to the very noble process of surveying the breeding birds along the road from Netherstead to Church Farm, and thereafter walking down to the flash field to see what was there.

The answer was not a lot. The pair of Redshanks are getting frisky, and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers was just visible on the back flash with 11 Teal and several Mallards, Geese etc.

Walking around I noted at least two, possibly three, singing Lesser Whitethroats, three singing Whitethroats, and a singing Willow Warbler.

I also bumped into Matt Willmott who also hadn't seen much.

Finally, on the road I noticed a Wood Mouse. It seemed strangely unwilling to run off, and my rather unpleasant photograph illustrates why.

One blind mouse
For what its worth I assisted it off the road and into the long grass. I'm not sure what had caused its affliction.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Tuesday April 21

A rare afternoon session began at 13.30 as I set out from Netherstead determined to find and sketch some of  the Tufted Ducks which should be present.

Despite the late start, it didn't take long to record newly arrived migrants as the first of two Lesser Whitethroats sang in the hedgerow adjacent to the dragonfly pools, and shortly afterwards I saw a House Martin disappear under the eaves of one of the Netherstead barn conversions.

On my way to the pool I saw another House Martin, Common Whitethroat, and Blackcap. There were also lots of butterflies on the wing including Orange Tips. At the pool itself I quickly located the resident Little Grebes, noted a sitting Canada Goose on the island, and finally located a pair of Tufted Ducks.

I got a bit obsessed drawing the male, and only did one sketch of the female. I moved on to the flashes to find that the nearest flash was almost dry and contained only a few Lapwings. The rest of the birds were on the furthest flash, but there was nothing new there, just the usual Mallards and Geese plus seven Teal, more Lapwings, and the pair of Redshank.

One thing I had hoped the late start might bring was a better chance of a good raptor. In the event apart from the usual Buzzards, the nearest I came was this soaring Sparrowhawk.

I will be back to the morning visits from tomorrow.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Sunday April 19

Sunday morning saw me back on the patch. As I waited for Dave an expected year-tick made itself known. A Common Whitethroat sang from the hedgerow at Netherstead. While I was away Chris Lane had texted to report both the Whitethroat and a Sedge Warbler here. The cold wind and grey skies may have prevented me recording the latter, although I did hear a single call coming from the reedbed which I suspect may have been it.

Once Dave arrived we headed for the pools via the road, and I got a poor record shot of the Whitethroat.

We went on to find another Common Whitethroat at the pool, along with a pair of Little Grebes. However, by the time we got to the flash field it had become apparent that this was not going to be the day on which it would feel that spring was really here.

Two things that were really here, at last, were a pair of Little Ringed Plovers, along with 10 Teal, two Redshank, and a Green Sandpiper. No sign of Chris's pair of Shoveler though.

One of the Little Ringed Plovers
The alarm calls of a male Blackcap led to the rediscovery of the Little Owl, a year-tick for Dave, while the field contained a herd, yes a herd, of Mute Swans. As the breeding pair was found to be still present on their pool this meant the first ever double figure count of Mute Swans at Morton Bagot, 10 birds.

Eight Mute Swans in the flash field
The walk back produced a singing Willow Warbler and more Blackcaps as we dejectedly discussed the fact that Hoopoes, Ring Ouzels, and Ospreys had failed to pay us a visit as usual despite this being a record spring for all of them.

I continue to dream.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Holiday snaps

Lyn & I have just come back from a short break in the Peak District, and in time-honoured fashion I am going to subject you to my holiday snaps. However, as I doubt you want to see pictures of me or Lyn grinning at each other, or tons of photos of Chatsworth House (nice though it was) I am going to concentrate on the birding highlights.

So, on the way up we stopped at Carsington Water. This is a great venue for us because the excellent disabled facilities allow Lyn the opportunity to share my passion for birding. We basically headed straight for the Wildlife Centre and recorded what we saw.

First up was a Black-tailed Godwit which was feeding reasonably close to the hide. The log-book said it had been there yesterday, but as I hadn't checked that I still got the frisson that goes with a surprise discovery.

Black-tailed Godwit

After that, I concentrated on birds I do not expect to see at Morton Bagot any time soon.

Great Crested Grebe
Tree Sparrows
It is sad to be putting Tree Sparrows on, but since they disappeared from the patch over the 2012/2013 winter, there seems little immediate prospect of them returning.

Willow Tit
On our journey back to the car-park I heard the once familiar "dzerr dzerr dzerr" call of a Willow Tit, and managed a couple of record shots. Although Marsh Tit is a familiar Morton Bagot bird, I have never recorded Willow Tit there, or anywhere  nearby. It is quite possible that they occurred in the years before I started going, but their population has been in free-fall over the last 20 years, and I doubt I will ever record one on the patch.

Speaking of record shots, I was aware of one scarce bird which has wintered at Carsington Water, but I wasn't expecting to see it.

Great Northern Diver
Not just a Great Northern Diver, but an almost in summer plumage Great Northern Diver. A pity it was about a mile away.

The following day was cold and grey. I had high hopes of Beeley Moor, but the best bird I could rustle up was a female Stonechat. In the afternoon aimless driving around brought us to Lathkill Valley Nature reserve. Lyn had no chance of joining me as there was an extremely steep road down to the beck, so I had to go alone.

It was pleasant in spite of the weather, and reminded me of Dowles Brook in Worcestershire.

A fairly common plant, which looks like it should be rare, grew in profusion at the valley bottom.

Needless to say I had to look it up when I got home. Walking along the stream bank a passing jogger told me a Dipper was showing well "by the bridge". I got to said bridge just as a gaggle of noisy Duke of Edinburgh Award earning students did so, and also just as my camera's battery was about to give up. The upshot was just one shot of the Dipper before it was disturbed.

Two things to note. It is carrying food, so feeding young, and it is BTO ringed. Both of these things I only noticed when reviewing the shot at increased magnification in the back of the camera.

I'm back home now, and hoping to resume patch birding shortly.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Wednesday April 15

A late afternoon visit in glorious sunshine. For the first time this year I didn't need my wellies.

A stroll down from Church Farm produced Blackcap, Chiffchaff, and Willow Warbler singing. The Flash contained the pair of Redshanks, a Green Sandpiper, seven Teal, and four Mute Swans.

I had a quick look at the pool, seeing a Little Grebe and no Tufted Ducks, which I had intended to sketch. Back at the flash field a couple of Snipe and a pair of adult Black-headed Gulls flew in, and I saw a pair of Starlings again (I also saw them yesterday but forgot to mention them).

Heading back it occurred to me I needed to photograph something. Happily Yellowhammers are always willing to pose.

and today a Swallow was also available for a photo.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Tuesday April 14

A warm sunny morning with a light south-westerly breeze.

I decided to start by surveying the south end. In recent years I have got a bit lazy when it comes to assessing the numbers of breeding birds on the patch, so this exercise is good for the soul and good for science. After an hour the best finds down there were a singing Goldcrest and the first of three singing Willow Warblers.

With time slipping away, I opted to march straight to the pool because my second plan for the day was to sketch Mallards. On the way I spotted a female Wheatear in the ploughed field, and then a male in the short sward field. At the pool I was pleased to find another year-tick. A drake Shoveler was up-ending in the shallows.

Not quite annual, but half expected, particularly as one has been lingering at Haselor in recent days. At the flash field I counted a pair of Redshank, and seven Teal. Also present were four Mute Swans, another flew past, and the settled pair remain on the back pool giving a record site total of seven.

The Mallard would possibly get my vote for the most boring bird which occurs at Morton Bagot. They are technically wild, but every autumn a hundred or so are released for the local sportsmen to use as target practice, and so by spring we are left with a mixture of wild birds and survivors. Nevertheless I was determined to sketch them.

Having got that out of my system I headed back, adding to my Blackcap count (I heard three), and also hearing and seeing numerous Chiffchaffs.

As the sun warmed the air, lots of bees buzzed about, and I also logged the following butterflies; a Brimstone, a Small Tortoiseshell, and about six Peacocks.

A Peacock

It was all very pleasant and spring-like.

Postscript: Birds which have characteristics which separate one race from another make me nervous. I have in the past blogged about Greenland Wheatears, but to me even alba wagtails can be a challenge. This possibly makes me more cautious than I should be. Today, I spotted a pale-backed alba wagtail on the ploughed strip near Netherstead farm. There is a pair of Pied Wagtails nesting in the barn there, and the female is paler backed than the male. So when I photographed the bird in question I rather jumped to the conclusion that it must be the female Pied Wagtail.

Alba Wagtail
However, I was tempted to reidentify it subsequently as more likely to be a White Wagtail. I have recently seen the female Pied which nests there, and it is darker backed than this bird, while I think the white flanks are a good indicator of White. The rump colour is pale where it joins the mantle, but may be darker only a little way towards the tail. If this is the case, then this bird should be considered as a paler than average female Pied Wagtail whose superficial appearance is a good cautionary tale against a hasty identification of White Wagtail.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Sunday April 12

A sunny morning should have boded well, but throw in the fact that the wind was a near gale-force south-westerly, and the result was that conditions were extremely challenging.

As Dave arrived we quickly added an expected year tick, as the first of several Swallows flew over. During the morning we recorded several groups of up to four, but it was difficult to be sure whether this meant we saw 16 individuals, or four going back and forth. We took the road route to the pool and flash. A pair of Little Grebes was present on the pool with a pair of Tufted Ducks, while the flashes contained a Green Sandpiper, a Redshank, a Snipe, and at least six Teal.

By this time the wind was at its strongest and we battled back, searching for sheltered spots, and logging Chiffchaffs (nine) as we went. In a sheltered copse we heard a singing Blackcap which remained completely hidden, and that was about it for birds.

Fortunately there were other distractions. There is a little east-facing eroded bank near Netherstead, where every spring we see a colony of mining bees. I have always wondered what species they were and today I have tried to get to the bottom of it. My research has led me to tentatively (and incorrectly as its turned out) identify them as Andrena dorsata, the Short-fringe Mining Bee. See below for correct solution

Mining bee called Andrena flavipes
There appear to be several very similar species of mining bee in the UK and I'm not sure they can be safely identified from photographs, and certainly not fuzzy ones, so I may need to find a bee expert. A bee expert has duly contacted me on 13 April 2015 via Matt Willmott. Many thanks to Jon Curson who says that the species is actually Andrena flavipes, a relatively common species of Mining Bee. At least I got the genus right.

Less difficult to identify was this Small Tortoiseshell butterfly.

Small Tortoiseshell
My first butterfly actually on the patch this year, and this Brown Hare.

Brown Hare

It looks about as thrilled by the wind as we were.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Wednesday April 8

A quick dash down after work on a gloriously sunny evening was, if I'm honest, a bit disappointing.

The flash again contained two Green Sandpipers, a Redshank, and about eight Lapwings, although Teal numbers have risen to 30. The pool contained six Tufted Ducks.

The only point of interest was the presence of a pair of Wheatears in the field behind the pool.

Oh well.
The male Wheatear

Monday, 6 April 2015

Monday April 6

An early morning visit aimed to get some sketching done and to allow enough time for a day out in Warks with Lyn. It was a beautiful sunny start, but I encountered a blanket of fog over the flash and pool when I got there.

It soon lifted and at least 16 of today's target species were found to be sharing the flash with 10 Greylag Geese, eight Lapwings, a Redshank and a Green Sandpiper.

Teal sketches
Once I was satisfied with my efforts I started to head back, and quickly ran into some reasonably close Skylarks on the field behind the pool.

A Skylark in the dew
Continuing to head back I noted that the Tawny Owl was showing, and further up the slope I turned to scan for raptors to find, instead, a hirundine heading north. It dropped down towards the pool where I confirmed its identity as the first Sand Martin of the year. Although they are the first hirundine to reach the UK, they are scarce at Morton Bagot and I don't think I've ever seen one here before the first Swallow.

Back at the road a scan of the large field full of baaing sheep produced a distant Wheatear, probably male, to end a successful little visit.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Sunday April 5

A cloudy morning, after a briefly bright start, with a very light northerly breeze. Dave and I both felt optimistic. He had seen a Red Kite yesterday at Marsh Lane GP, and the pager was reporting a Hoopoe in Redditch and five Avocets at Salford Prior GP. Surely there would be something to see.

But this is Morton Bagot, and after a couple of hours we had managed six Chiffchaffs, a Tawny Owl, three Green Sandpipers, a Redshank, eight Lapwings, 22 Teal, and a record six Mute Swans.

Tawny Owl
The weather deteriorated slightly, it even started to spit with rain at one point, and we could have been forgiven for giving up.

But we are built of sterner stuff and decided that with the weather showing signs of improvement we would press on to do the south end. This was to prove a good move.

A flock of 90 Fieldfares heading north proved that passage was taking place, and the trickle of Meadow Pipits heading west reached a modest 18. We then flushed a Snipe from the ploughed field (the first for a few weeks), and noted that Buzzards were circling and displaying everywhere, with at least 12 in view. Finally we had a bit of proper luck. I heard a flutey "whooor", almost like someone whistling. I even asked Dave if had been him, and strangely he replied he had thought it was me! Then the noise came again and the penny dropped, surely a Curlew. Thankfully Dave spotted it flying west, well south of us. I got onto it, but it was too distant for my auto-focus to lock on.

This might not sound like much, but it was my first here for a couple of years, although Dave gripped me off with the only record last year. The species used to breed here, and like the similarly disappeared Tree Sparrow, was one of the sites star breeding birds. It seems likely this was just a lone bird passing through, or looking for a mate, and it is very sad that Curlews are in such trouble both in Warwickshire and nationally.

Still, it saved the day. The drive home also produced my first butterflies of the year (4 Brimstones) reminding me that sunny days have been few and far between, and also that I must get out more.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Friday April 3

After being grounded all morning due to persistent drizzle I finally ventured out for a "quick look" at Morton Bagot Flash en route to Waitrose.

As is so often the case early optimism that the weather might have dropped something in, buoyed on arrival by several singing Chiffchaffs, was snuffed out as I got to the flashes to discover it was same old, same old. Two Redshanks, two Green Sandpipers, six Teal, and about eight Lapwings.

However, salvation was at hand as I spotted a familiar outline on a branch of one of the oak trees.

Little Owl
Phew, I was just starting to worry that I wasn't going to see a Little Owl this year. With this success under my belt I checked out the pool, no sign of the Little Grebes, and then noticed at least 70 Fieldfares with a few Starlings and Redwings in the hedge across the field. Finally a Redpoll flew over as I headed back to the car.

Next came a brief stop on rival territory. At Haselor scrape, in addition to the usual Teal and Lapwings there was a taste of summer. A Little Ringed Plover. I just need it to head for Morton Bagot next.