Sunday, 21 May 2017

Sunday May 21

Dave joined me this morning hopeful that some of the species seen on Friday might still be present. There was a light southerly breeze, but it didn't feel all that warm in the occasional sunny intervals.

Two Hares and Red-legged Partridge were in just about the most artificial habitat that Morton Bagot possesses.

Wildlife on the show jumping arena
Skylarks sometimes sing on the ground

On the morning of my last visit a flock of 10 Bee-eaters were stopping off from an over-shooting migratory flight at Barford, little more than 10 miles away. If only I had known at the time. They were not seen subsequently, so we headed straight for the beehives. Nothing doing of course.

We also tried the Mandarin Pond (as it is now known). Nothing there either.

Normal service seems to have been resumed. The Corn Bunting had gone, but a Cuckoo was still singing. The Little Egret was still present, and we also located the Little Owl. No Gadwalls or Teal, but the Little Ringed Plover was back.

Inevitably, with no new birds to entertain us, I started looking for insects and other mini-beasts. Here are a selection of the ones seen this morning.

Banded Demoiselle
Seven-spot Ladybird
Nursery Web Spider
Mother Shipton moth
Thought to be an Orange-tailed Mining Bee - Andrena haemorrhoa
Same as above
Azure Damselfly highlighting the U shaped mark on first segment
Hoverfly - thought to be Melangyna cincta

Friday, 19 May 2017

Friday May 19

I had just about given up on spring for this year, and arrived in light rain intending to do my final transect of the year with little optimism for anything new. It just goes to show, you never can tell.

Things got off to a steady start as I went down to the flash field to see if the rain had dropped anything in. There is no longer any mud showing due to a week of continual rain, but at least I spotted a distant Little Egret, the pair of Gadwall, and a female Teal.

Once the rain stopped I returned to the road and started walking south. As I reached the hill past the village I glanced at the new pool which had been created by removing some hedgerow and damming a stream, and found a drake Mandarin staring back at me.

Mandarin
Although they probably breed along the river Arrow, just five or so miles away, this was the first I have seen here since 2013.

I continued and bumped into Sue Matthewman on her way out of the Netherstead entry road. I flagged her down and told her about the bird. Sue had been texting me with news that a Barn Owl had been seen recently, which was very good news.

A little further on I heard a Willow Warbler, finally saw the Cuckoo which had been singing for several weeks, and then heard a second bird cuckooing back to it. Attempts were made to video it in flight, but they weren't very successful. Then the Barn Owl flew across my path and dived onto a prey item in front of me. It eventually took off again and I managed a rather fuzzy shot of it.

Barn Owl
Could the morning get any better? It could. On the return journey I flushed a moth from the grass. I don't actually keep a moth life-list, so I am not sure if I have seen one of these before.

Green Carpet
It was still very overcast, and this was pretty much the only insect I saw today. Anyway, as I was skirting the ridge field I noticed a single blob on the wires running across the field. I had left my scope in the car, but alarm bells were ringing and I decided I ought to get a bit closer to rule out the possibility of Corn Bunting. Each time I stopped I took a photo and the image in the back of the camera still looked like it could be anything, but I still couldn't rule out Corn Bunting. Then I heard a faint snatch of song. The books say the sound is like a jangle of keys. It isn't. It's more like a Yellowhammer which runs out of puff half way through the song phrase. I quickened my stride and finally got close enough for a recognisable image. It was definitely a Corn Bunting. My first spring record here, and the first since August 2015.

Corn Bunting
Thirty seconds after this shot was taken it took off and flew strongly south.

I resumed my original course and ended up back at the flash field. Here the Little Egret had got a little closer.

Little Egret

Still just a record shot, but a satisfactory end to a terrific morning.

Never give up.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Sunday May 14

Sunny intervals with a light south-westerly breeze.

Another morning to be spent surveying birds, although a new migrant did pop up just as I walked to my starting point. A female Whinchat appeared briefly on the reeds at Netherstead, before flying to another stem, and then vanishing when I got the camera out.

The actual survey produced no surprises, but at least the sunshine gave me the chance to finally get off the mark as far as odonata is concerned, as I saw two male Large Red Damselflies and a female damselfly which may also have been that species.

Large Red Damselfly
The good thing about knowing next to nothing about moths is that any I do see are likely to be new to me. Thus I photographed a micro moth, which I correctly guessed would be from the Tortrix family. At home I learnt it has the English name (according to one website) of Common Roller. If only it had been a bird of that name.

Ancylis badiana - Common Roller
Butterflies seen included a Brimstone, a Red Admiral, several Orange Tips, and a couple of Small Heaths.

Small Heath
Meanwhile, the flash field and pool both contain too much water to attract waders, so I had to settle for a Little Ringed Plover and several Lapwings. One of the latter was feeding in the horse paddocks at Netherstead, which is unusual.


As far as bird migration is concerned, it feels as though spring is just about over for another year. But you never know.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Thursday May 11

A sunny morning with a very light south-easterly breeze.

I concentrated on survey work this morning, but once I had completed my transect I was able to check the flash field. The most obvious change was the reappearance of water in the nearest flash. This has nothing directly to do with precipitation and is rather a combination of the spring which feeds the field and some manipulation of the water table by the farmer. The result was a disappearance of the mud, although there was enough of an edge for a Little Ringed Plover. The pair of Gadwalls has returned, conditions now being much more to their liking.

Moving on to the pool, there was no sign of the Grasshopper Warbler, although it could easily still be present. Two pairs of Tufted Ducks were present, and the Greenshank has relocated to the edge of the pool.

Greenshank
The pair of Canada Geese now have three goslings.

Finally the sandy bank near Netherstead did at least provide me with an insect tick.

Gooden's Nomad Bee
The Gooden's Nomad Bee is a parasite of several species of andrena bees, although apparently not so much of Yellow-legged Mining Bee which is the species I had understood predominated at the site. perhaps there is another andrena bee waiting to be discovered.

I also noticed my first Small Heath of the year, but it didn't land. I left at 10.15am, earlier than usual, so didn't spend any time looking for damselflies.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Saturday May 6

I left the house at 03.00 and was in the field recording a Tawny Owl at 03.13. Today was the annual all-dayer in which several birding localities in the Midlands compete as teams. Team Morton Bagot was myself and Mike Inskip (Dave having defected to Team Marsh Lane Gravel Pit for the day).

Team Morton Bagot should really be called Team Morton Bagot/Middle Spernal/Haselor Scrape, but its a bit of a mouthful. The fact is that I spent the majority of the morning on my patch, while Mike spent the time at Middle Spernal before joining me late morning for a couple of hours pre-pub. After which we nipped down to Haselor Scrape for a ten minute scan before returning to Morton Bagot for the afternoon session.

My very early start was inspired by the prospect of hearing Grasshopper Warbler singing in dead of night. Unfortunately, I was greeted by silence at the pool apart from the odd burst of song or restless calling of a few light sleepers. So by 04.00 I had added Reed Bunting, Pheasant, Lapwing, Canada Goose, and Lesser Whitethroat to the list.

I then drove to Netherstead where more Reed Buntings and a restless Sedge Warbler were singing from the reed-bed. As it started to get light enough to see my notebook without a torch, the dawn chorus slowly got under way. Skylarks started singing at 04.24 and were gradually joined by Carrion Crow, Blackbird, Robin, Woodpigeon, Song Thrush, Red-legged Partridge, Wren, Whitethroat, Great Tit, Moorhen, Blackcap, Dunnock, Chiffchaff, Greylag Goose, Jackdaw, Magpie, and Tufted Duck.

By this point it was 05.30 and I was approaching the pool. I suddenly realised I could hear a reeling Grasshopper Warbler. So much for these birds singing through the night! To be fair dawn was proving something of a disappointment as it was revealing cloudy skies, some light drizzle at times, and a cool north-easterly breeze. I could forgive the Gropper a bit of a lie in.

The pool also contained some Coot, a pair of Shelducks, and a Mute Swan. I reached the flash field at 05.48 and found it was light enough to scan for waders.  A pair of Little Ringed Plovers were on the nearest flash, now almost entirely consisting of mud, while a Stock Dove cooed at me. On the furthest flash I could see a Greenshank, presumably the one which had been present on Monday. A Chaffinch sang. Then I noticed a wader in the field some distance from the flash. I rushed to the scope and quickly established it was a pluvialis plover in winterish plumage. This spring there have been unusual numbers of Grey Plovers about, surely I had struck gold. Well I had in a way, as I reluctantly had to accept it was "just" a Golden Plover. After a while I realised there were at least two more a short distance from it. The other two were approaching summer plumage. I really should have tried for a record shot, but the light was poor, the distance was great, and the birds started working their way into dead ground so that I could eventually only see their heads. The reason I am making such a fuss of these birds is that they are extraordinarily late. I have never seen one here in April, let alone May. Another sweep of the field revealed a Pied Wagtail, while the first Blue Tit of the day joined the list at 06.08.

Another bit of luck. A movement in an oak tree revealed a Little Owl. Although resident, this species can be very elusive. I started to make my way back, seeing a now silent Grasshopper Warbler when I accidentally disturbed it into the hedge, a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a Goldfinch, a Yellowhammer, and a Buzzard. At the Pheasant pens the Willow Warbler was still singing, and I strolled over to gaze sadly at the still decomposing Barn Owl corpse (I didn't count it!)

More birds appeared out of the gloom; a Swallow, a Bullfinch, a Jay, and at 07.13 a singing Mistle Thrush. A short walk along the road added Greenfinch, and Collared Dove, while back at the car I finally recorded a couple of Linnets at 07.40. I decided to head home, but stopped at the church where I was pleased to add a singing Goldcrest and a House Sparrow.

After breakfast at home with Lyn, I rang Mike to see how he was getting on. Slow he said, but he had still seen Reed Warbler and Little Grebe which I knew were not present at Morton Bagot today. We agreed to meet in an hour's time. I decided to park at Bannam's Wood and walked slowly along the road bordering it. At 09.42 my only patch year-tick of the day was a Swift. The wood also gave up two tricky species; a singing Coal Tit, and even better, a Marsh Tit. Back at Netherstead I hung around waiting for Mike, but the time was well spent as I added House Martin, Great Spotted Woodpecker, a non-calling fly-over Yellow Wagtail, Sparrowhawk, at 10.31 a calling Cuckoo, and a Kestrel. I even got my camera out.

Whitethroat
Mike arrived and we headed for the flash field. A Long-tailed Tit called by the small pond. Mike has unfortunately lost the ability to hear singing Grasshopper Warblers because their song is so high-pitched, so he was hoping I would be able to assist him to see one. Sadly, the show was over, and not peep came from the area it must have still been in. Instead we made it to the flash field noting a rush of Swifts and House Martins heading north, probably 40 of the former and about a dozen of the latter.

Swift
The flash field now contained three Black-headed Gulls (not guaranteed here in May) and a Curlew, presumably the one seen last week.

Curlew
At 11.41 five Starlings flew in. This is another species which largely disappear during the breeding season, although they evidently breed somewhere nearby. A Treecreeper joined the list as it flew back and forth carrying grubs for its young in one of the trees bordering the field. Although the Greenshank was still present, there was no sign of the Golden Plovers.

Earlier this morning I had checked the ploughed field and had seen nothing of any note. However, this time it contained a single male Wheatear.

Wheatear
It was now just after noon, and the drizzle was intensifying. At 12.37 I saw a Rook (Mike had had one at Middle Spernall) and we decided to head to the pub. On the drive down the track we flushed a Green Woodpecker (another one Mike had seen on his patch).

After lunch we decided to head to Haselor scrape. I had expected it to be dry, but it actually looked pretty interesting, with both mud and water. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers were the only waders present, but we did add a Whinchat to the list when I spotted one in the bordering hedge.

The Haselor female Whinchat

Back at Morton Bagot I finally got a Raven (Mike didn't need it), before we spotted a White Wagtail (only the second record for Morton Bagot) on the nearest flash. This is the continental and icelandic race of Pied Wagtail, so doesn't count as a tickable species. Nice though.

White Wagtail
By now it was 15.20 and we were congratulating ourselves for keeping going. The last, 74th, species of the day was a Grey Heron which we disturbed from the pool.

I arrived home and hit the wall, falling asleep almost immediately. I saw 71 species at Morton Bagot, not quite my record, but pretty good on a rather miserable old day in early May.

I wonder how the other teams got on.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Monday May 1

The morning was cloudy after overnight rain, with a few showers, but not as many as feared, and some sunny intervals later. a very light easterly breeze.

I was hopeful that the weather might have stirred things up a bit so I made straight for the flash field. Before I got there though, I discovered that the Grasshopper Warbler was again singing well from the hedge bordering the pool. I got to within five metres of it, but only managed to see it twice.

Spot the Gropper


Once I reached the flash field my initial reaction was one of disappointment. Yesterday's Curlew and Dunlins have been replaced by two Shelducks and two Gadwall. A single Little Ringed Plover was the only wader apart from a few pairs of Lapwings, although the chick was still alive.

I set off along the hedge hearing a hooting Tawny Owl from near the Kingfisher Pool (an unusual locality) and eventually counting four Wheatears in the ploughed field. A Willow Warbler has taken up a territory in Stapenhill Wood and was showing well for a change.

Willow Warbler
The value of doing two circuits was proved when I returned to the flash field. Initially it looked the same, except that the Little Ringed Plover had come to the closest flash. Then one of the two Black-headed Gulls flew from the furthest flash calling loudly and land on the near flash next to a Greenshank. The latter must have snuck when I was looking elsewhere, only the second spring Greenshank I have seen here.

Greenshank
I had hardly had time to text the news out when I noticed a Little Egret striding out of the long vegetation on the furthest flash. I hung on for a while longer but eventually decided that nothing else was going to show up, although the resident Little Owl did put in a brief appearance.

The route back was enlivened by another game of hide and seek with the Grasshopper Warbler, and my first Cuckoo of the year which called once ( and later three times from beyond Netherstead). I didn't manage to see it or the Yellow Wagtail which flew over the ploughed field.

I love migration time.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Sunday April 30

There was very nearly no coverage today. I was tied up with a celebratory lunch and Dave had intended to join me on the patch tomorrow.

Fortunately the weather forecast intervened. Monday is supposed to be a bit wet, which caused Dave to change his plans and visit today. The first I knew of this was when Lyn took an apologetic call from Dave with a list of potential year ticks present on the flash field. Fortunately for me we calculated I had time for a quick dash down before the first guests arrived.

The birds in question were significant from a patch point of view only. After a classic old man jog across the fields (mainly walking, a few brief runs, and a lot of stumbling) I joined Dave to find that the most important, a Curlew was showing well just beyond the nearest flash.

Curlew
A former breeder on the patch, since they disappeared they have been just about annual, with records typically in March or early April. Indeed yesterday I had learnt from Mark Islip that he had seen one fly over some weeks ago, so I felt my chance had gone. Hence the panic.

The second species found were a flock of four Dunlins which had unfortunately relocated to the furthest flash. With them had come a number of Little Ringed Plovers, Dave had seen five, but I only managed to locate four of them. Terrible record shot of the Dunlins coming up.

Blurry Dunlins
This is another species which occurs every year, but often involving just one record. I think this is also the largest flock to be seen here.

Dave also saw a Swift but had not heard the Grasshopper Warbler.

I managed to get back home in a bit of a sweaty state, but with brownie points all safely intact.


Friday, 28 April 2017

Friday April 28

Today I was joined by Richard L and Richard B. Yes I know, the three Dicks. The weather was grey with some drizzle at first, but eventually dried up, with the sun peaking out for a while.

My companions enjoy a good walk in the countryside and although keen to see and hear any birds available, were just as happy looking at bluebells and hares, which was just as well.

Brown Hares
Bluebells in Bannams Wood
We did hear a lot of birds singing, the best being the continued presence of the Grasshopper Warbler, a fly over Yellow Wagtail, and at least three Lesser Whitethroats.

The other ornithological highlight was spotting a Lapwing chick in the flash field. Also present was a Green Sandpiper, and four Teal. These will no doubt have left by next Saturday, when a bird count competition is planned involving this patch and others in the Midlands.

A Grey Heron showed well in the pool
At least three Wheatears are still present on the ploughed field, and Common Whitethroats are on the increase and becoming more visible.

Common Whitethroat
The Sedge Warbler was still singing at the dragonfly pools, but the Coot chicks have been reduced to three.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Sunday April 23

Sunny intervals with a very light westerly breeze. Fairly cool.

While I waited for Dave to arrive I wandered around the Netherstead area, hearing Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, and my first Sedge Warbler of the year. A Peregrine sat on a distant pylon and a male Wheatear ran around in one of the horse paddocks.

Dave appeared and we set off on our usual circuit. We reached the chat field where we scanned unsuccessfully for chats, but all that was forgotten when we realised we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling. It repeated its song well enough for us to get a rough bearing as to which end of the field it was, but I'm afraid that was that. After fifteen minutes it hadn't sung again, we're not very patient at the best of times, and we decided to abandon it and head for the pool.

The pool was unusually productive. Nine Tufted Ducks, a Snipe, and a pair of Gadwall had joined the resident Mute Swans.

A pair of Gadwall
We were trying to see another singing Whitethroat and a singing Sedge Warbler, when Dave pulled up short at a call, and thankfully the bird, a Yellow Wagtail, called again allowing me to hear it clearly. Scanning the sky produced no wagtails, but instead three Sand Martins heading north.

We reached the flash field full of optimism, but saw only the pair of Gadwall, presumably the same birds as earlier, five Teal, three Green Sandpipers, a few Lapwings, and a Little Ringed Plover. This afternoon I picked up a text from Mike from yesterday in which he revealed he had seen amongst other things, a Common Sandpiper here.

Back to the present, we followed the footpath back until we reached the ploughed field where we found six more Wheatears, four males and two females. A couple of the males showed excellently for a while.

Wheatear
At the plantation near the Pheasant pens a Willow Warbler sang, and numerous Blackcaps were in full voice.

We had seen quite a few Orange Tips flying past, but the one butterfly I managed to photograph was a Speckled Wood.

Speckled Wood

However, the visit ended on a slightly frustrating note as a phrase of song broke through our chatting leaving us both wondering whether we had just heard a Garden Warbler. We waited around for a while but whatever it was remained silent. I didn't record any Garden Warblers here last year, so it would have been on a par with the Grasshopper Warbler if we had been able to confirm it.

A darn good visit nonetheless.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Monday April 17

A largely cloudy morning with a couple of very light showers and a light north-easterly breeze. Spring here is still proceeding with the handbrake on.

I took the opportunity to walk the road transect counting singing birds, pausing briefly to photograph a singing male Blackcap.

Blackcap
The singing birds were generally all the expected species, with Willow Warbler probably the scarcest here.

I then headed down to the flash field hoping that the overnight showers might have dropped something in. Before I got into position however I was taken aback to hear a singing male Redstart. This species is more or less expected as a passage migrant in very small numbers, but they are very reluctant to sing until they reach breeding habitat, and this was the first one I had ever heard singing here.

It stopped singing after a couple of phrases, and called a couple of times enabling me to actually see it. It took another 20 minutes of hide and seek before I finally got an acceptable shot of it.

Redstart
They are absolutely stunning birds. I was so pleased to see it that I didn't really mind that the flash field and pool contained a rather disappointingly similar array of species to my last visit, namely 13 Teal, a Gadwall, two Redshank, four Green Sandpipers, two Little Ringed Plovers, two Tufted Ducks, and eight Lapwings.

The ploughed field contained no Wheatears but is proving irresistible to the local buntings, with at least 12 Yellowhammers and two Reed Buntings present today. A pair of Linnets showed well in the hedge bordering the field.

A male Linnet
The Lesser Whitehroat was still singing, but there was no sign of any Common Whitethroats. My only other year tick being a bang on time return of a House Martin to the Netherstead barn conversion complex.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Thursday April 13

Cloudy and cool with a very light north-westerly breeze, quite a difference from last weekend.

Another morning was spent diligently censusing the local birds. A pair of Starlings and a singing Mistle Thrush the most notable species found. However, I was also on the look out for migrants and recorded four singing Willow Warblers, and a fine male Wheatear.

Wheatear
There are now at least three Swallows present, and as well as the Lesser Whitethroat which was still singing spasmodically, I heard and saw the first Common Whitethroat of the year.

At the flash field a Little Owl was showing well, and the Gadwall had moved to the nearest flash. Three Mistle Thrushes flew over.

Little Owl
Gadwall
A scan for waders revealed seven Lapwings, four Green Sandpipers, two Redshanks, and two Little Ringed Plovers, while Teal numbers were continuing to dwindle, now down to eight.

With no butterflies at all because of the cold weather, the only insects were a few hardy Buff-tailed Bumblebees. However, at the dragonfly pools my first chicks of the year were provided by a pair of Coot with at least three young.

Coot brooding two chicks

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Sunday April 9

A warm and sunny morning with a light southerly breeze. For the first time this year there were plenty of butterflies about.

Peacock
Small Tortoiseshell
Brimstone - male
Orange Tip - female
I headed for the south end to walk a transect counting breeding birds. This route turned up the first of two singing Willow Warblers, probably passage migrants.

I reached the flash field and quickly noticed a Gadwall sleeping on the bank of the furthest flash with 20 Teal, two Shelducks, nine Lapwing, and a Redshank.

Sleeping drake Gadwall
It woke up for just long enough for me to see the salient features. I normally see a Gadwall here each year, but it isn't quite annual, so I was pleased to get it under the belt. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers and a Green Sandpiper were present on the nearest flash.

I headed back via the pool, which contained a Little Grebe, a Grey Heron, and three Tufted Ducks. Rather more interesting was the rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat which I heard three times before it decided to remain silent and thus invisible. This was my earliest ever Lesser Whitethroat in the UK.

One species I had been hoping for then flew into view, my first Swallow of the year. I don't know, Lesser Whitethroat before Swallow, what is the world coming to.

At least eight pairs of Common Buzzards were displaying, but I couldn't pick out any other raptors.

Chaffinch
On the return journey I noticed that the colony of Yellow-legged Mining Bees was extremely active, and that there was another species of mining bee, with wasp-like black and yellow bands, also in the colony, as well as numerous Dark-bordered Bee Flies.

Finally I should mention that I saw three species of deer this morning, Roe, Muntjac, and Fallow. The latter rarely visits the patch in daylight hours, and the ones I have seen always seem to be coming from Clowse Wood, as they were today.