Sunday, 29 May 2016

Sunday May 29

Sunny with a light north-easterly breeze.

On arrival I headed for the reed-bed at Netherstead to confirm that the Reed Warbler was still singing and to try to see it.

Hide and seek with the Reed Warbler
Feeling pleased with this success I went to the south end and started walking north-east. The Willow Warbler was still singing but there was little else of note until I headed down the footpath towards the pool.

Juvenile Tawny Owl
The fledgling Tawny Owl was in the Oak Tree where the adult is regularly seen. I couldn't see any more, but there could easily be a family of them hidden away in the canopy. A little further on and I was being buzzed by a pair of angry Lesser Whitethroats.

Lesser Whitethroat
Clearly their young have recently hatched. Down at the pool I had a brief surge of excitement as I spotted a wader in the shallows. End of May, its got to be something good. In a way it was, my first ever May Green Sandpiper. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

As far as this bird is concerned, autumn has arrived!
I am used to seeing the first returning Green Sandpipers in late June, but May! This bird must have arrived in Scandinavia in mid April, done the business and immediately high-tailed it back to the UK. The adults start moulting as soon as they get here before heading further south from September.

The Canada Geese seem to have added to their brood since I saw them with three goslings a week ago.

At the Flash field I could only see adult Lapwings, but their alarm calls lead me to suspect that at least one chick was hidden in the grass. The Shelduck pair were also still present.

The return journey was largely devoted to finding and photographing insects.

Not a bumblebee. 
Azure Damselfly
The bumblebee-like insect is a hoverfly called Volucella bombylans which mimics a bumblebee's markings. They apparently come in two forms, one which mimics Red-tailed Bumblebee, and the other, seen today, which mimics White-tailed Bumblebee. Dragonflies seen were Broad-bodied Chaser, Large Red Damselfly, and my first Azure Damselfly and Blue-tailed Damselfly of the season.

Finally, shortly after taking a picture of this pair of Swallows;

the peace was shattered by the sudden appearance of a Hobby intent on catching and eating them. I'm pleased to say he missed, but rather less pleased with my efforts to capture the moment.

A fuzzy Hobby
It was all going so well.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Friday May 28

Largely windless conditions with a mixture of sunshine and high cloud.

I concentrated on surveying in the first instance, but the bird population is now pretty settled and the only notable events to report are the presence of two Lapwing chicks in the Flash field, the continuing presence of a pair of Shelduck there, and the fact that the Reed Warbler is still singing at Netherstead.

Once the weather had warmed up I spent most of my time looking for insects. These included my first Broad-bodied Chaser of the year, which looked newly emerged.

Broad-bodied Chaser
A magnificent looking beastie. Further along the hedge I spotted a very pale damselfly which I suspected was a White-legged Damselfly. I am not sure whether I had recorded one here before, so I emailed a photo of it to the Warwickshire Dragonfly recorder, Peter Reeve, who has kindly confirmed it was an immature female of that species.

White-legged Damselfly
Other curious mini-beasts came within range and were tentatively identified.

Rhagio scolopaceus (a species of Snipe Fly)
Same Snipe Fly sp

A pair of potter wasps, probably Symmorphus gracilis
Finding and photographing insects is a very enjoyable diversion when the birding is a bit flat.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Wednesday May 25

After a cold cloudy day I set off after work in similar conditions but within a few minutes of parking I found that the grim conditions had not dissuaded a new migrant from arriving and singing at me from the reedbed at Netherstead. I refer to a Reed Warbler whose arrival was something of a relief.

Typically it remained out of sight despite sounding as though it was barely 10 metres away. Earlier I had spoken to Sue Matthewman who was keen to take part in the House Martin survey for the BTO and told me she and her husband had been kept awake by a Cuckoo singing at 03.30 this morning!

I headed for the Flash, noticing a wading Grey Heron at the pool on the way.

Grey Heron
The light was too poor for a decent photograph and although it seemed to catch several things, I was unable to establish what it was eating.

A couple of Shelducks flew over. The nearest flash had drained to a muddy puddle which supported two broods of Mallard ducklings and three Lapwings. There was no sign that any Lapwings are still sitting, so either they have failed to produce any young this year or more positively any chicks may have been hiding in the grass.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Sunday May 22

A sunny morning with a very light south-westerly breeze was excellent for insects but pretty dire for birds.

The Cuckoo is still calling and as he was driving away Dave performed an emergency stop as it flew across the track in front of him. I was some way behind and saw him stop but missed the bird.

At least 49 Swifts were hawking insects with House Martins high over the fields between Morton Bagot and Studley, and the pair of Shelducks are now on the main pool.

So to insects. The butterflies comprised Large Whites, Small Whites, Green-veined Whites, Peacock, Small Heath and Orange Tips. Dragonflies were Large Red Damselfly, four Beautiful Demoiselles, and two Common Blue Damselflies.

Other insects were photographed but not necessarily identified to species level.

Wasp Beetle
A male Tipula fascipennis
A female Tipula fascipennis

Probably Common Dronefly - Eristalis tenax
Rhingia campestris (or possibly Rhingia rostrata)

I think this is an Ashy Mining Bee

Large Red Damselfly

Green-Veined White
I will be googling the unidentified flies, bees etc in the hope of coming up with some names for them in due course.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Thursday May 19

I've just been studying the results of the 2016 Warwickshire Patch bird race. I was unable to compete, and it was left to Mike Inskip to carry the flag. Sadly he had a pretty poor day and finished on 54 species, leaving Team Morton Bagot 12th (out of 12 - i.e. last). In fact Dave and my 66 species the day before would only have moved us up to 11th. World beaters we ain't.

So to this morning. A light southerly breeze and mainly sunny conditions were good for surveying. I heard the Cuckoo, and saw a Mistle Thrush heading over. However, there was no evidence of any passage migrants, and the wader count consisted of three pairs of Lapwings. The two pairs of Shelducks are still present though, and there are now two broods of Canada Geese.

As the day warmed up I switched my attention to insects, and finally recorded my first odonata species (that's dragonflies) in the form of a Large Red Damselfly which disappeared almost as soon as I had seen it, and then a much more obliging Beautiful Demoiselle, arguably Morton Bagot's most important species in terms of their fragmented distribution in the rest of Warwickshire.

The male Beautiful Demoiselle
There were plenty of butterflies fluttering about, including Small Heaths, Brimstones, Orange Tips, and various Whites. The latter are impossible to identify until they land, and not easy even then. I took a photograph of a Small White....I think.

Back at Netherstead I failed to find any dragonflies, but did at least see a distant Hobby, and then spotted a Red Kite which flew from above Bannams Wood and along the ridge of Clowes Wood, never getting close enough to allow a satisfactory photograph (but several very unsatisfactory ones which I'll keep to myself).

Finally the token bird picture.

Thank goodness for Pied wagtails.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Sunday May 15

A sunny start, but it became mostly cloudy by late morning. A very light northerly breeze kept the temperature on the cool side.

I stepped from my car on arrival and immediately noticed an adult Peregrine on the pylons.

A good start. The reed bed continues to contain only Sedge Warblers, the eventual total for the whole area being four singing males.

An adult male Linnet in full summer plumage
Dave arrived, and we set off on the usual circuit. It was difficult to shake off the feeling that spring migration is at an end, and with virtually no new arrivals to look at we inevitably started concentrating on insects.

The first Small Heath of the year
The pair of Canada Geese on the main pool now have three goslings, while we also noticed a Moorhen with a brood of three on the Clowes Farm pool. Two juvenile Blackbirds were recently fledged but at the Flash field there seems to be only one Lapwing sitting, and the presence of both adult Redshanks may mean that their breeding attempt has faltered. A single Little Ringed Plover was present again, as were the four Shelducks, both pairs engaging in courtship behaviour.

Back to insects, with a continuing dearth of damselflies I was left to photograph this distinctive species of Froghopper.

Cercopis vulnerata
Apparently it is unusual among Froghoppers in that the nymphs develop underground, but like their more familiar cousins they also surround themselves in cuckoo-spit.

The final piece of bird action consisted of a pair of Sand Martins which flew over before joining a spiralling flock of House Martins and Swifts hunting insects in a thermal.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Friday May 13

Mostly cloudy, with a few sunny intervals later. A moderate north-easterly breeze. Cool.

This was not one of my more memorable visits. I diligently surveyed the breeding bird population along the road, the highlight being a singing Willow Warbler at the south end.

The remainder of the area produced a new Sedge Warbler, and about a dozen Swifts. The Wood Sandpiper has gone, but four Shelducks were in residence.

Roe Deer
It was too cool for insects to appear in any numbers, and I didn't see a single butterfly all morning.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Wednesday May 11

If you asked any birder what his ideal weather conditions and times of year were, you may well find him going misty eyed and describing mid-May in overcast, humid conditions with outbreaks of thundery rain and a light north-easterly breeze. In other words exactly the weather we have had for the last two days.

Indeed there are reports of rarities and scarcities all over the country. Would Morton Bagot join the party?

I ventured out this evening trying to keep my optimism under control, this is only little Morton Bagot after all. So my disappointment level was not too great when I discovered that the only new arrivals were a pair of Gadwall (possibly the pair seen in early April). At least the star of the show, the Wood Sandpiper, was still in residence. It obviously likes it here.

The Wood Sandpiper with a Redshank
Other than the usual Lapwings, the only other waders were the resident Redshank and regularly visiting Little Ringed Plover.

The pair of Gadwall
Other birds on offer tonight were a Treecreeper, a Little Owl, a pair of Shelducks, at least five singing Blackcaps, two Sedge Warblers, and 20 House Martins. Sue had reported the Cuckoo this morning, but it was remaining defiantly silent this evening.

I left feeling a bit guilty that I hadn't twitched Arrow Valley Lake (closer to our house than Morton Bagot) to see the five Black Terns which had arrived there today. I suppose a tiny little voice was telling me that maybe they would unexpectedly fly off, and briefly call in to Morton Bagot!

They didn't.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Sunday May 8

A warm/hot sunny morning, Still a very light easterly breeze.

We headed for the flash field where we quickly confirmed that the Wood Sandpiper was still present. Other than that the only notable event was a brood of Greylag Goose goslings on the furthest flash, although we also noticed that a pair of Shelducks were still present.

Traditionally a visit immediately following an all-dayer produces the odd bird missed on the day. Sure enough the Little Owl was staring at us from its oak tree. I sure it was smirking.

As the temperature rose, so numerous butterflies started to appear. Prominent amongst them were Orange Tips, and this time I managed to get some shots.

A male Orange Tip
A female Orange Tip
I also saw my first Small Whites as well as plenty of Brimstones.

At the Pheasant pens (aka the raptor watchpoint) Dave spotted three Swifts, which I eventually saw, but didn't hear a Cuckoo which annoyingly called just once. However we then spotted a distant falcon which circled from afar away near Bannams Wood, getting nearer but higher. I couldn't find it in the scope, but its long wings could only mean it was a Hobby.

At this point Dave got a text about 30 Black Terns at Marsh Lane GP, a pretty exceptional record, and he headed off toute suite. I'm sorry to report they didn't stay for him.

I concentrated on trying to locate damselflies at the Dragonfly Ponds, but was unsuccessful, and decided to head home after 30 minutes or so.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Friday May 6

After making myself ineligible for tomorrow's bird race by failing to keep the date clear, I was determined to do a big day at Morton Bagot anyway. I was therefore on the patch at stupid o'clock (03.20am), I know, pretty daft.

In fact I rather enjoyed getting there in the dark, the stars were spectacular and my first bird was a recently fledged Tawny Owl judging from the rasping calls coming from a tree along the edge of Bannam's Wood.

It's rather fun trying to guess the order the birds will reveal themselves before it gets light; Mallard, Pheasant, Greylag Goose, and Lapwing, were followed by Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler, and Moorhen. At just after 04.00 a Cuckoo started calling.

The first bird I actually saw was a Pheasant, silhouetted against the faint light in the sky at around 04.15 followed by four Mute Swans on the pool (it helped that they were big and white).

Shortly after I took this photograph at 04.25,

another white bird ghosted into view, a Barn Owl. I've been doing an annual all-dayer at Morton Bagot since 2010, but this is the first time I had seen a Barn Owl on the allotted date.

Gradually the light started to build, and the dawn chorus really got going. It tends to be dominated by Robins and Blackbirds but by 06.00 I had recorded most of the common species I was expecting to see.

In similar vein to my comment about the Barn Owl, another species I had never seen on an all-day event now appeared before me; a Badger. It appeared from undergrowth at the side of the pool, but by the time I had got my camera out it was just ambling unhurriedly away with ever turning round.

A rather bloodied Badger (not a Davy Crocket hat)
The stripey head was rather discoloured, perhaps from digging, and it seemed to have a rather raw lower back either from a fight with another Badger or perhaps some kind of skin condition.

I followed its path and reached the Flash field, passing a Cormorant in the dead tree, and a female Wheatear on the ploughed field. A pair of Shelducks took off and flew around, before eventually returning. However, the best as they say, was still to come. As I scanned the nearest flash I picked up a wader which did not have red legs (so not the Redshank), I guessed what it might be immediately, took a couple of record shots, and then set up my scope to watch the first Wood Sandpiper to be recorded here since 2012.

Wood Sandpiper
As this is quite a small bird (Green Sand size) and it remained at the far edge of the nearest flash, my record shots do no justice at all to a cracking little wader. I texted the news out (07.00) and then discovered I had run out of talk time on the mobile.

Turning to the further Flash I found a pair of Oystercatchers, another very handy species for the day list.

At this point a large flock of Carrion Crows (at least 45 strong) appeared and descended towards the pool in a cacophony of cawing. Suspecting they were mobbing something I back-tracked and found that I was right. But it was not a raptor which appeared, but a Fox carrying in its jaws a hapless Coot.

I'm amazed that the Crows had spotted the Fox because they arrived from some distance away.

I headed back to my car, and noticed a blob on a distant pylon which turned out to be the adult Peregrine.

Back home for breakfast, things took a dodgy turn. I had a lot of trouble topping up. One mini-tantrum later, and a phone working again, and I was back on the patch for 10.00, rather later than I had hoped.

The remainder of the day was a bit of an anti-climax. Two pairs of Shelducks were in residence, and I added just four new species by lunchtime; Buzzard, Raven, Little Ringed Plover, and Goldcrest, and then one in the afternoon session, a Sparrowhawk.

This left me with a count of 65 species, seven fewer than last year's record total, but about average for my previous big days.

It was definitely one of the more memorable days though.

As a post-script while I typed this entry, I got a call from Dave who had successfully twitched the Wood Sandpiper, and had also seen a Yellow Wagtail. So that's 66 species seen at the patch today.

Regulars which stayed out of sight were Little Owl, Treecreeper, and Marsh Tit, while I also failed to see such species as Black-headed Gull, Starling, Sand Martin, and Swift.

There's always next year.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Monday May 2

A quick early morning visit to take advantage of the still conditions and mild weather which arrived with the rain overnight. The southerly breeze was noticeably more obvious from 08.30 until I departed at 09.00.

I was relieved to see that there were a few differences from yesterday, the most obvious being the discovery of a female Redstart. This is the fourth Redstart here this spring, something of a record.

There were at least two Wheatears still present, but all the Shelducks and the Little Ringed Plover had gone. A Sand Martin flew over, and there was a new Sedge Warbler calling at the little pond.

Back at the car my departure was delayed by the opportunity to photograph a pair of Wrens, a Robin, and a Dunnock attending their nests.

Just before I left I heard a Redpoll flying over, a somewhat late record.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Sunday May 1

A new month but similar weather. Sunny at first, then cloudy, and a freshening south-westerly breeze. Chilly.

Dave and I slogged round the patch with very little to show for our efforts. The Sedge Warbler that has been singing at the Dragonfly Ponds has finally decided to show himself.

Sedge Warbler
A Peregrine, the usual adult, was visible on one of the pylons. New arrivals today concerned an additional Shelduck, the new one being a drake on the main pool, while a pair remained in the flash field with a Little Ringed Plover, a handful of Lapwings, and a Redshank. The four Wheatears seen comprised one male and three females.

The new Shelduck
As the wind became stronger we gained some respite by walking through the sheltered Stapenhill Wood, but only saw the expected Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Treecreeper, Bullfinches, and other even commoner species.

Warmer weather is forecast for later in the week, so hopefully the wildlife watching will improve.