Friday, 30 December 2016

Friday December 30

My last visit of an eventful year. Sadly, although it started a little misty, the fog got steadily worse and I eventually gave up. Not how I would have liked to have ended my year.

Before it set in I counted 65 Chaffinches at Netherstead, easily the most seen this winter. Subsequently it was a case of blundering about and seeing silhouetted shapes in the mist.

Somewhere out there is the furthest flash and at least 19 Teal standing on the ice
Mystery bird competition follows:

Bird A
Bird B
Bird C
Bird D
That was exciting wasn't it.

The answers are as follows:

A Yellowhammer, B Fieldfare, C Greenfinch, D Chaffinch.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Tuesday December 27

A beautiful crisp frosty morning. What could possibly go wrong.

I parked at Church Farm for a change, and quickly noticed that the flashes were ice-bound and birdless. Never mind, I headed down the track towards the pool, and paused to photograph the Tawny Owl.

Shortly afterwards, I heard voices. I hoped it was cyclists riding along the road, but then I heard chivvying noises and knew I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. As shots rang out small birds flew by me in a panic, followed immediately by Roe and Muntjac Deer. A Peregrine flew over.

At this point it occurred to me that the shots were getting closer and I turned to retreat back up the footpath to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

I am normally quite good at avoiding shoot days, having been tipped off about Saturdays in October, and had thought Boxing Day might be a good one to miss. Unfortunately it seems as though my luck had run out this morning.

Reed Bunting
Back at the road I noticed the Peregrine returning. It was pretty high up, but I watched anxiously as it flew over the hunting party. In fact, no shots rang out, and the Peregrine circled for several minutes before putting on speed and heading off. I wondered if it had actually been attracted to the shoot by the sight of fleeing birds. Somewhat ironic.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Thursday December 22

With Christmas on the horizon there is still no birding early Xmas present for me. The morning was sunny after overnight frost. The flashes were frozen, but the pools weren't.

The result was a few Mallard, two Cormorants and a Grey Heron around the pool, while I flushed three Common Snipe from the path. Thrush numbers are down to about 20 each of Redwings and Fieldfares, and I could see 25 Meadow Pipits in the pasture field beyond Netherstead.

A handful of Lesser Redpolls flew around calling, but most of the finches present were Linnets.

The highlight of the morning was a Small Tortoiseshell which fluttered above Netherstead barn, before finding the sunniest spot it could. The temperature was just 9 degrees at the time.

Small Tortoiseshell
I hope it manages to return to hibernation tonight, and remains torpid until March.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Sunday December 18

A foggy start forced us to walk along the road where most birds were close enough to be seen reasonably well. Friday's Pheasant shoot seems to have left one cock bird completely unconcerned.

Walking the road does at least produce a slightly different selection of birds, with Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Goldcrests, and a couple of Mistle Thrushes being seen. The trees by Greenhills are often the best place on the entire patch for Bullfinches, and we ended up with a count of at least ten, not far from the patch record.

Five of the Bullfinches
The Tawny Owl was showing as we headed down to the pool, where the fog lifted to reveal not very much really. We counted five Wigeon, 63 Teal, 23 Mallard, 82 Greylag Geese, and a Green Sandpiper.

There were still plenty of Woodpigeons, we estimated about 600, and a few large gulls flew over. However, the "best" bird was a Feral Pigeon (or racing pigeon) which just about says it all.

Feral Pigeon (or racing pigeon having a breather)

Friday, 16 December 2016

Friday December 16

A cloudy misty start with a very light southerly breeze. A few sunny intervals during the morning.

The first bird I looked at today was a Collared Dove. So what? You may say. Well I've been getting a little concerned for the local Collared Doves. They were down to two pairs this summer, and I haven't seen one at all for about a couple of months, until today, when there were two.

In fact Pigeons produced the biggest headline today. A large flock rose from the stubble field only to resettle there a few minutes later. I had guesstimated 700, which would have been a new record. Then a gunshot rang out as the Pheasant shoot started up from the direction of Clowse Wood. The Woodpigeons erupted from the field and I managed a camera shot of them before they dispersed.

Nearly 1000 Woodpigeons
Counting the dots when I got home I have come up with a figure of 895, and as there are clearly more just outside the frame it seems certain that there were at least 900 present, and probably close to 1000.

Soon, however, my attention switched to geese. I could hear a substantial flock of Greylags from the direction of the flash field. When I got onto them with my bins I thought I could see a slightly smaller one with them. Unfortunately by the time I reached the field they had all disappeared. I was left with thirty or so Teal, four Lapwings, and a Green Sandpiper to look at. Two Siskins flew passed. This is a species I have found extremely hard to photograph here, so I had them in mind when I set off along the hedgerow. As it happened, I did see them again in a distant alder, possibly with more Siskins. I chose to divert across the brook to try to get closer. Eventually I found the flock again only to discover they were Goldfinches, with just two Siskins. As I mentioned, I hadn't got a decent shot of Siskin here.

I still haven't !

At this point I started to hear geese again, and found that the flock of Greylags was in flight once more. They all looked like Greylags apart from one Canada Goose, and after they went down I decided to walk across the strip field to try to gain height. This did allow me to see the Greylag Geese settled in a distant field, and I got a count of 115. As I was putting my scope away I noticed a medium sized duck pitch down towards the flash. Suspecting a Wigeon I returned to the place I view the flash field from and flushed three female Wigeon and at least 40 Teal.

The three Wigeon

At this point I got onto a small party of distant geese. The scope was up and I established they were Greylags, and that one was a bit smaller than the others. Sadly when they joined the main goose flock all I could see were Greylags so I am forced to conclude it was just a small Greylag.

Meadow Pipit
So that was it. Back at the car 30 Lapwings flew overhead, but the patch remains pretty dull.

Meanwhile the week at Ripple has just got better, with Great White Egret and Cattle Egret turning up on the pools adjacent to where the Dusky Warblers are. Perhaps I should move down there.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Sunday December 11

Following a very wet day yesterday Dave and I were back on the patch hoping for a change in fortune.

A Stonechat was present at Netherstead, about 400 Woodpigeons still gorge themselves in the stubble field, while 57 Teal and 50 Mallard continue to dabble at the flash and pool. A Green Sandpiper was the first this month, while the Tawny Owl peeped out of its hole, the lack of leaves allowing it to be seen for the first time since spring.

A singing Robin
What we needed was a plan, and we had one. The marsh in front of the pool was too dry in October, but now it is nice and damp. Time for a kick around to see whether there were any Snipe in there. As it turned out we flushed 36 Common Snipe and seven Jack Snipe, the first of the latter since last winter.

This success led us to try our luck in Stapenhill Wood, but that produced only a calling Siskin, and four Lesser Redpolls.

Lesser Redpoll
The only other thing to report is a small trickle of gulls over, totalling one Black-headed, 18 Lesser Black-backed, and three Herring Gulls.

A final year tick looks a remote possibility at the moment.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Twitching the Dusky Warbler

This morning I decided I was fed up of seeing nothing at Morton Bagot. Instead I would drive to the other end of Worcestershire, where I had every chance of seeing nothing at a place called Ripple.

I don't know about Man of the Year, but if there was an award for Place of the Year, Ripple has being putting itself forward as a strong candidate in the last few weeks. First there were four Scaups, followed smartly by a good shout for an immature Lesser Scaup. The finder, Andy Warr, then went on to distinguish himself still further by finding an impossibly skulking Dusky Warbler in unbelievably dense scrubland. It didn't stop there. On Tuesday, Rob Prudden was twitching the Dusky Warbler, and found a far rarer bird, an eastern race Black Redstart. A big twitch ensued next day, and although the bird had flown, they nevertheless established that there were actually two Dusky Warblers present.

Meanwhile, in sunny Redditch I have been dithering. Any temptation to go last weekend was forestalled by news that the Dusky Warbler was tending to be seen briefly early morning, and then heard occasionally, before disappearing for hours, or in some cases for the rest of the day. I was then at work until yesterday, when it wasn't reported at all.

Nevertheless I headed down there this morning, arriving at about 09.15. I eventually found a group of four twitchers staring silently into the scrub.

It's in there somewhere
I joined the vigil, and after about 15 minutes I briefly got onto a small brown bird in the scrub to my left. As it flicked right I announced "small brown bird" to anyone who was listening. I stared and stared but whatever it was didn't reappear. Instead, about five minutes later, a quiet "tuc" call to our right had the twitchers pricking up their ears. "That's it," they said. Several more calls followed as the bird evidently made its way southwards through the scrub. No one managed to see it.

All rather annoying really. I did not get anything useful on the bird I saw. It could have been the Dusky Warbler, or it could have been a poorly seen Wren. As for the call, a lot of things go "tuc" which aren't Dusky Warblers, but Blackcaps, Garden Warblers, and other sylvia Warblers tend to be louder. On balance I think it almost certainly was the bird we were looking for, and though I would love to tick my millisecond view of whatever it was, I can hardly add it to my Worcs list if even I'm not certain.

I eventually got bored and turned around to look at the 400+ Wigeon, 57 Teal, seven Shovelers, 20+ Tufted Ducks, 10 Pochard, seven Great Crested Grebes, two Little Grebes, and a drake Goldeneye which were swimming around the flooded gravel pits behind us.

The M50 viewed from the east shore (plus a big flock of Wigeon)
A great place, but I doubt I'll be back.

PS: I gather it showed well to one couple of early risers at 08.00 am. The early bird and all that.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sunday December 4

A bright sunny morning with a light north-easterly breeze. Most of the pools /flashes were frozen solid, and this meant there were hardly any duck, just ten Mallard, and three Snipe which came up from the crop field.

In fact it was pretty hopeless all morning. A melanistic Pheasant vied with a flock of 76 Lapwings heading south to be the bird of the day.

Still, it was good light for photography. I noticed a photographic hide, presumably Mike Lane's, in the ridge field. His photos will undoubtedly be brilliant. Mine are more amateurish, but acceptable to me.

Song Thrush
Blue Tit
The last couple were taken during half an hour of sitting in the car watching a hedge. I know its what you should do, but I can't see me having the patience very often.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Friday December 2

A dull, cloudy morning. Still quite cold, with no obvious breeze. All the flashes and pools are still frozen following the freeze up earlier in the week.

There didn't seem to be very much change in the birdlife since last weekend. The winter thrushes are continuing to strip the hedgerows. Numbers are very hard to assess due to their tendency to fly off en masse, only to regroup in another hedge elsewhere on the patch. However, at least 90 Fieldfares, 50 Redwings, and 15 Blackbirds were involved.

The stubble field by the pool contained a big flock of Woodpigeons which took flight while I was still some distance away, and later repositioned themselves in various trees all over the area. This was a bit of a shame because my photo produced a count of 466, which is not too far short of my highest estimate for the site.

The Woodpigeons
It seems unlikely that every Woodpigeon feeding on the patch was in this flock, while some are obscured by trees, so there probably was an opportunity the set a new record. To be fair, there may also have been a few Stock Doves in with them.

Stock Dove

The flash field contained 64 Teal standing on the ice, while three Snipe flew around.

Later on I walked into the high pasture field west of Netherstead. It contained 22 Meadow Pipits, 140 Starlings, and more thrushes. From here I could also look west, seeing two Cormorants and a dozen Black-headed Gulls, before several flocks of Greylag Geese flew over.

Greylag Geese
The cold weather has meant that insect activity is all but finished. However, several small spiders kept attaching themselves to me, and I couldn't resist photographing one of their webs.

Rather an attractive structure. I have no idea which species the tiny money spiders clinging to the web were.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Sunday November 27

A rather cold, cloudy day with a very light north-easterly breeze.

We initially spent quite a long time checking the hedgerows around Netherstead because there were a lot of passerines to look through. Most were thrushes, and we ended up with an estimate of 300 Redwings and 250 Fieldfares in the whole area. These figures were the best we could manage given that birds seemed to be arriving and departing all the time as they took advantage of the berry harvest. We may well have underestimated the true number.

Today was really all about numbers and not really species variety. We estimated 100 Woodpigeons, 150 Jackdaws, and 30 Rooks. Smaller birds included 60 Linnets, 30 Chaffinches, and about 20 buntings, with Reed Buntings slightly outnumbering Yellowhammers.

The flash field was a bit disappointing, containing only 45 nervy Teal and a Lapwing. At least 56 Greylag Geese were just visible on the ridge behind the furthest flash. An additional flock of Lapwings seen distantly as they flew over fields towards Studley was estimated at 136 by Dave, although my later photo-count came up with a figure of 108.

A pair of Stonechats is still present, and we also saw eight Lesser Redpolls, a Siskin, and a Grey Wagtail.

Grey Wagtail
I nearly forgot. The reason for the nervousness of the Teal, Woodpigeons, and thrushes was probably the continued presence of the adult Peregrine.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Thursday November 24

A cloudy morning with a moderate north-easterly breeze. There has been a lot of rain since my last visit, so I was expecting a rise in water-levels. I was nevertheless taken aback by the change in the pool. It has gone from a muddy scrape with a puddle of water at one end to, well, looking like a pool again.

Before I reached it I managed to miss an opportunity to photograph a female Siskin which flew into the hedge in front of the Netherstead barns before briefly dropping into the vegetation by the small pool to have a quick drink. All too quick for me unfortunately. It has been a very poor autumn again for this species.

Moving on to the pool again, the hedgerow from where the photo was taken contained lots of buntings; 20 Yellowhammers and 12 Reed Buntings, plus a pair of Stonechats. One of the Yellowhammers was noticeably colourless, and I managed one rubbish photo before it flew off. Probably just a very dull female Yellowhammer, but I wouldn't mind a better look.

Spot the birds competition (two normal Yellowhammers and a grey one)
The higher water-levels proved their worth at the flash field. Although the Teal count was back to 60 birds, they had been joined by five Shovelers and a Wigeon. These were the first Shovelers this autumn, and the second-largest party ever.

The only shot with all five Shovelers
Two males and a female (the other two were imm males)
The walk back incorporated a walk across the stubble, where I counted 150 Woodpigeons, 120 Jackdaws, 11 Skylarks, and a Snipe.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Sunday November 20

Having seen a weather forecast on Friday night which implied Sunday would largely be a wash-out, Dave had resigned himself to sitting in the hides at Marsh Lane GP, while I had decided on a lie-in with a possibility of some late afternoon birding.

It therefore came as a bit of a shock to the system to be awakened by a phone call from an alarmingly chipper Dave at 08.20 this morning, and to be informed it was not raining and he would be setting out in ten minutes.

I managed to get us up and breakfasted in record time, but it was still  09.45 before I joined Dave at the patch. The early signs were promising, with lots of small birds around. At the chat field I spotted an adult Peregrine sitting on a pylon, the first for several weeks.

Moving on we then spotted a flock of at least 120 Black-headed Gulls flying low westwards just beyond the hedge bordering the flash field. Our optimism for the day received a major surge because this was way above the numbers we normally see here, and was probably the largest flock of the year.  They also represented an opportunity to check for other Gulls (frankly any other small gull species would be a good find here), so we hurried towards the flash. On our way at least 30 Yellowhammers flew from the hedge bordering the pool, but we didn't take the time to look carefully at them.

It therefore came as a crushing disappointment that not a single gull had lingered. It wasn't all doom and gloom though, because Teal numbers had almost doubled from the the previous highest count this autumn. At least 191 were present, (this evening I have discovered that this is just six short of the highest ever count here) along with five Wigeon and about 25 Mallard.

Some of the Teal
The Teal were noticeably jumpy, and the reason for this became clear as the adult Peregrine powered across the nearest flash causing panic among the ducks.

We eventually returned to our cars, noting a Grey Wagtail, and about 100 winter thrushes before we got there. Dave headed off, while I decided to try to take some photos from the car despite the poor light.

Song Thrush
I drove off, but stopped in the village to photograph a Nuthatch perched on telephone wires.

A final stop came at the last bend before the crossroads. The hill towards Bannams Wood looks the sort of place you could imagine seeing a Ring Ouzel (we never have), and today I decided it also had potential for a Great Grey Shrike. None were present of course, but it did produce a good record as I spotted about 100 Golden Plovers flying far in the distance between Morton Bagot and Wootton Wawen. A truly enigmatic species. There must be fields they favour somewhere in the area but they almost never land in, for example, the flash field. I guess Morton Bagot's fields are just too small to tempt them.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Friday November 18

A lovely sunny morning was ideal for a walk around the patch with the two Richards. They both enjoyed it, and so did I despite a slightly disappointing list of birds seen.

The highlight was definitely going into Holy Trinity church, which dates back to the 13th century, although it seems there was a substantial rebuild in the nineteenth century. All the rectors back to Ralph Bagot in 1282 are listed in a framed parchment on the wall, and the pews each had crocheted cushions with bird and animal designs on them, a nice touch. I particularly liked the Golden Oriole design !

We counted 57 Teal, two Snipe, and a Green Sandpiper at the flash field.

The pale Buzzard
A particularly pale Common Buzzard provided the best photo opportunity.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Sunday November 13

Sunny intervals with a very light south-westerly breeze. Very pleasant conditions for birding in, but benign conditions tend to produce little change, and so it proved today.

The first hour produced lots of birds. These included a Grey Wagtail, 196 Linnets counted on the wires over the ridge field, over 100 thrushes were mostly Fieldares and Redwings but included about eight Blackbirds, six Song Thrushes, plus 57 Skylarks, while at least 170 Starlings flew west during the morning.

The usual three Stonechats were still present, while there were 86 Teal, six Wigeon, five Snipe, and a Green Sandpiper in the vicinity of the flash and pool fields. As a largely gull-free zone this was quite a good day as we saw three Black-headed Gulls, 19 Lesser black-backed Gulls, and four Herring Gulls, mostly flying west.

It was at least good for photography.

Meadow Pipit
Lesser Redpoll

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Thursday November 10

A bit of a false start this morning when I suddenly realised I was supposed to be attending a doctor's appointment. So it was 11.00am before I finally started birding. Sunny intervals, showers, and a light westerly breeze.

The most notable unusual birds seen were a very distant flock of 62 Golden Plovers heading south over Studley. Redpolls were present with the other finches, but it was hard to get good views. Once again the ones I saw well seemed to be Lessers. The hedgerows also sheltered about 100 Redwings and 60 Fieldfares.

One encouraging sign came at the flash field, which contained plenty of water and an impressive 103 Teal, 36 Mallard, five Wigeon, two Lapwings, and a Green Sandpiper. Actually all the pools showed signs that water-levels are recovering.

Pigeons were well in evidence with about 200 Woodpigeons and 50 Stock Doves flying out of the stubble field. At least one Stonechat was present at Netherstead.

Reed Bunting
So as far as my year-list goes, I remain stuck on 117 (118 with Feral Pigeon), which is equal to my three best previous years. Something of a glass ceiling which I seem unable to break through.