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.

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.

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.

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.

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
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.

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.

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.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Friday April 7

I had arranged to take Richard L and Richard B around the patch today. This meant a slightly later start, but we had got our act together by 10.00am. It was a cloudy morning and slightly cool, but with barely a breathe of wind.

The conditions meant that there weren't very many birds singing, but one I had been hoping for did manage a single song phrase before resuming its silence. I refer to a Willow Warbler.  One or two Chiffchaffs and a single Blackcap also gave away their presence in this way.

The main activity took place at the flash field where we got the first sighting of the year of the Little Owl.

Little Owl
To my surprise, the Black-tailed Godwit was still present, although it was on the furthest flash. Also present were a handful of Teal, Lapwings, two Green Sandpipers, Redshank, and two Little Ringed Plovers. A Fieldfare called as it flew off.

Turning round to look at a Raven on some pylons, beyond it we spotted a Buzzard and what was probably a Red Kite, but they were so far away I wasn't 100% certain. I had been scanning all the likely looking fields for a Wheatear to the amusement of my friends, but I had the last laugh when I spotted one in the main ploughed field.

Not the closest view I've ever had.

The best thing of all was that all the Richard's enjoyed themselves.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Sunday April 2

Cloudy at first, then sunny but chilly with a light north-westerly breeze.

A slightly strange start as Dave and I both heard the trill of a Little Grebe near the Dragonfly Ponds, but then failed to locate the bird, which would have been the first ever seen there, despite circling the pools...and no it wasn't a Whimbrel, worse luck.

The only year tick today was a Blackcap singing from the hedge near the beehives. The pool contained two pairs of Tufted Ducks, while the flashes continue to host the Black-tailed Godwit, plus 14 Teal, a few Lapwings, two Redshank, two Shelducks, two Green Sandpipers, and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers.

Time for a token bird photograph.

We also saw plenty of Brown Hares, two Grey Squirrels and a Muntjac.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Sunday March 26

Sunny with a light easterly breeze. Cool.

Dave joined me today, but it turned out to be one of those days where you feel that no matter how much time or effort you invest you just won't find anything new.

The highlight was the continued presence of the Black-tailed Godwit. The flash field also contained two Redshank, three Green Sandpipers, two Shelducks, and 33 Teal.

Black-tailed Godwit
The only summer visitor present was Chiffchaff, the tally slowly rising to five singing males. Winter was represented by 13 Fieldfares, 20 Starlings, and a Redwing.

The return journey was brightened by a somewhat distant Peregrine, which appeared from photographs to be an immature bird, and therefore different from the adult seen earlier in the year.

We need the wind direction to change.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Sunday March 19

As I crossed my patch boundary I noticed 14 Magpies in a tree, a record count. This was to prove somewhat ironic as I noticed a couple of gamekeeper vehicles, and as I approached the pool was greeted by Will with the news that they were shooting corvids today.

It was a morning of sunny intervals and a brisk south-westerly breeze, and my mood nosedived on receiving the news. I was already on a shortened visit due to a family party. Still, might as well check out the flash.

Oh boy, how things were to change. The first bird I noticed was an egret hunkered down in the corner of the nearest flash pool. It turned out to be a Little Egret. I only saw one here during the whole of last year.

Little Egret
I then scanned across the rest of the flash noting six Green Sandpipers, 39 Teal, a Snipe, and in full view a Water Rail. Just the second record for the site. I scrambled to get a photograph, but the bird had disappeared into the vegetation. After about thirty minutes it reappeared a couple of times and I managed a shocking, but identifiable shot of it.

A headless Water Rail
I then scanned the pool and noticed a Black-tailed Godwit. Had it been there all the time?

Black-tailed Godwit
Blooming heck, this was turning into a great visit. A loud gunshot spooked everything and beyond the furthest flash the farmer was tazzing about on his quad bike. The resultant pincer movement left all the waders on the nearest flash. I added two Redshank to the list. Then a pair of Shelducks flew in.

I decided I had seen everything there was, and so moved along the hedgerow to try to get a better view of the Little Egret. I only succeeded in flushing it fifty yards, so I returned to have another go. This time it flew off completely, and shortly afterwards a small wader flew up and did a circuit before landing. This turned out to be the first Little Ringed Plover of the spring.

Little Ringed Plover and Lapwing
I wandered back feeling pretty pleased with my lot, but then came across a corpse of a Barn Owl, which rather spoilt the morning.

A sad end to a fine bird
The cadaver presents something of a mystery. It wasn't there on Friday, but appeared not to be fresh. I assume a fox had partly eaten it, but the cause of death is unclear. I suppose it could have been killed by a vehicle and then transported a mile by a fox. On the other hand it could have met its death by some other means, perhaps overnight, close to the spot where I found it.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

News from Middle Spernall

I had a text from Mike Inskip yesterday afternoon (which I only saw today). He saw a Red Kite and 23 Buzzards at his patch, presumably the same Kite which Richard B and I saw at Morton Bagot.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Friday March 17

An extra day's birding at Morton Bagot today due to an arrangement to take Richard B around the patch. After a few sunny intervals it was cloudy with a rather chilly westerly breeze.

We began by chatting to gamekeeper Will, who was anxious to tell us that various Larsson traps had been set up to reduce the number of crows, and to remind us of the illegality of removing the captors from them. There were apparently various camera traps set up because there has been an upsurge of local wildlife crime involving gangs of men with lurchers arriving at night for hare coursing and deer shooting. We nodded sagely and agreed it all sounded very unsavoury.

We skipped the Netherstead copse because of the lawnmower noise of the hired gardeners, and headed straight for the pool where I was pleased to find the first pair of Shelduck of the year.

About 20 Teal headed were flushed towards the flash field, and the Shelducks also slipped away without either of us noticing.

At the flashes all the waders were on the nearest flash, and comprised six Green Sandpipers, a pair of Redshank, a Snipe, and 14 Lapwings. At least 26 Teal were also present.

Redshank and Teal
A Chiffchaff sang briefly, but the cool weather and breeze was generally discouraging the small birds from singing. A flock of 50 Fieldfares and a few Redwings reminded us that winter is not far behind us.

On the walk back regular scanning for birds of prey paid off when I spotted a Red Kite drifting north. I manage to scope it, but it was too distant to get a photograph before we lost it behind the brow of the field. Other raptors seen were about 10 Common Buzzards. a Sparrowhawk, and a Kestrel.

A very satisfactory visit.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Sunday March 12

A cloudy start with a few spots of rain, but gradually improving by late morning. A very light south-westerly breeze. Dave joined me this morning and we headed on our usual circuit.

A couple of Lesser Redpolls were present in trees by where we parked, and the walk towards the pool was enlivened by several flocks of Starlings, totalling 145, heading north-east. The Little Grebe was still present on the pool.

In the flash field were six Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a Herring Gull along with four Black-headed Gulls. Closer inspection of the two flash pools revealed two Redshanks, three Green Sandpipers, a Wigeon, 48 Teal, and four Snipe.

With one year-tick in the bag a second announced its presence. A singing Chiffchaff is a true sign of spring here.

The journey back produced a tree containing 20 Fieldfares and one or two Redwings, and another pair of Redpolls. This winter has been boringly uncontroversial regarding Redpolls, mainly because there are hardly any here. To redress the balance, compare the (pretty rubbish) photograph of one of the first pair with three photos of one of the second.

Lesser Redpoll

Its interesting how much greyer the second bird looks. I just wish the rump had been paler. I suppose its just another example of variability within Lesser Redpolls.

Other than a female Stonechat, no more interesting birds were seen, but we did flush four Roe Deer.

Roe Deer

Monday, 6 March 2017

Monday March 6

It's been a difficult week. My wings have been clipped by a tummy bug, and latterly by Lyn spraining her thumb. It has left me tied to the house more than would normally be the case. However, this morning I was able to sneak off to the patch for an hour or so.

A lovely sunny morning with a very light north-westerly breeze. I opted to park at the church and do a shortened circuit.

On the pool I found a few geese, a couple of Tufted Ducks, and the first Little Grebe of the year.

Little Grebe
The other feature of the morning was corvids, lots of them.

Corvid willow
Most were Jackdaws, but there were significant numbers of Rooks and Carrion Crows. I headed for the flash field which contained 25 Lapwings, a Green Sandpiper, three Wigeon, 25 Teal, 50 Black-headed Gulls, and a Common Gull.

Common Gull
The Common Gull was in second-summer plumage and so was not the adult seen here in early February.

Finally, an update on the colour-ringed Mute Swan. It had been ringed at Arrow Valley Lake in January 2014. So not an especially riveting recovery, a movement of about five miles in three years.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Sunday February 26

A largely cloudy morning with a moderate south-westerly breeze.

A reasonable start with a flock of 50 Linnets and about 20 buntings,with slightly more Reed Buntings than Yellowhammers in the stubble field. Two Redpolls flew over, quite a contrast from this time last year. The pool contained a pair of Tufted Ducks, always nice to get an easy year-tick.

Tufted Ducks
We continued to the flash pool where we counted two Wigeon, 42 Teal, 43 Lapwings, 17 Black-headed Gulls, eight Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and a Green Sandpiper. I then suggested we went back to the pool to see whether the marsh contained any Jack Snipe.

As we waded across we were soon flushing Common Snipe. Then Dave called me over to say he had found a Jack Snipe on the ground, a rare opportunity to see one well.

Jack Snipe
We sneaked past it, leaving it frozen in tail up mode. Bitterns freeze bill pointing skywards, while Jack Snipe do the exact opposite. We eventually flushed five Jack Snipe (so six including the one we left) and 23 Common Snipe.

As we approached the flash field for a second time we recorded a much more unexpected year-tick. A Kingfisher called loudly from the brook before departing without either of us seeing it. This is the first time I have recorded one here in the first six months of the year, although the species is pretty much guaranteed between July and October.

The pool beyond the flash field contained a pair of Mute Swans, one of which was flashing a colour ring.

55J on an orange ring
This is a new bird, so I will get the details of where it was ringed in due course.

A flock of 84 Lapwings flew in from the north as we headed away, and the final noteworthy bird was a Stonechat in the Dragonfly Pool field.

We are indeed spoilt at Morton Bagot.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Sunday February 19

Another cloudy morning. Mild with a very light south-westerly breeze.

This was not one of our more memorable visits, although it got off to a reasonable start with a very distant female Goosander followed by an even more distant flock of Golden Plovers. Later on we saw about 200 Goldies flying north somewhere beyond Studley but just visible from the patch. Continuing with the theme of distant views, a pair of Peregrines were circling and chasing one another, briefly locking talons before going their separate ways.

There were a few encouraging signs suggesting the commencement of spring, with small parties of Fieldfares going over, 28 in total, and three new Stonechats. These were a dark female in the ridge field, and a male and peachy looking female in the chat field.

Any thoughts of Siberian Stonechat were dispelled when it flew, revealing no sign of a pale rump. Ah well, one day perhaps.

The pool was almost devoid of birds, while the flashes contained at least 93 Lapwings and two Green Sandpipers. Several Teal lurked in the long grass, and Dave spotted a Wigeon which briefly took flight before returning to the puddles in the damp field where it resumed invisibility.

The walk back got us brief views of a pair of Siskins and a Sparrowhawk, while a Mistle Thrush sang from Netherstead.


Better luck next time.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Sunday February 12

With a dodgy forecast and overcast skies I was't too surprised to hear from Dave that he was going to try his luck at Marsh Lane Gravel Pits.

In fact, although there was some light drizzle and a bitingly cold easterly breeze, it wasn't too bad. I decided to head off along the road, but I hadn't gone too far when I managed to see my target species, a Marsh Tit.

With that under my belt I returned to Netherstead and headed out across the fields. At the hedge by the pool I counted 57 Yellowhammers emerging from the stubble field, while the pool hosted a not entirely unexpected first Mute Swan of the year,

At around the same time there was a huge cacophony of sound as approximately 500 Jackdaws and maybe 50 Rooks exploded into the air to the west of the patch. I scanned to see if I could see the cause, and instead picked up a number of gulls heading north, including an adult Common Gull. I typically only get one sighting of these per year.

The field also contained 140 Linnets, but with no wires for them to perch on they remained largely out of view. I pressed on to the flash field and was pleased to see it contained 130 Black-headed Gulls and the Common Gull.

The adult Common Gull
This is the one time of the year when it is possible to see substantial numbers of gulls here, and a prerequisite seems to be the presence of poor weather and lots of standing water.

The Black-headed Gull flock
Also present were nine Wigeon, two Lapwings, and at least 25 Teal, although most of the latter were in the wetter parts of the field and so were largely obscured by grass stems.

There was one more year-tick to be had, but I cannot be too specific about where it was because the edifice involved is strictly off limits. Suffice to say I was very pleased to get a shot of a Barn Owl cowering at the back of a barn without the bird being aware I was looking at it.

A Barn Owl sleeps in the gloom
A very satisfactory morning.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Sunday February 5

A morning of high cloud and low expectations. We decided to follow the road as far as Bannams Wood because I have yet to see a Marsh Tit this year. One of their favourite places has been grubbed out and replaced by a water feature comprising a small pool and concrete waterfall, so it was disappointing, but not surprising, that we didn't find any. I hope they are not going to be added to the depressing list of former breeders which no longer occur; namely Tree Sparrow, Grey Partridge, and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

The route did at least facilitate a record equalling tally of six Coal Tits, while a Goldcrest played hide and seek along the hedgerow. Earlier we had counted 22 Meadow Pipits in the grassy field behind Netherstead copse.

Things got a bit livelier as we headed down the track from the road. Approximately 90 Lapwings swirling in the distance contained one bird with white plumage in one of its wings, and while we were trying to locate it we noticed several flocks (a grand total of 62) of Golden Plovers heading east.

Down at the pool we found the first of two pairs of Coots which have arrived to take advantage of the higher water levels following last week's deluges.

Not the most exciting year-tick, but they all count. By this time we were getting somewhat irritated by constant gunshots coming from somewhere beyond Morton springs, we guessed it could be a clay-pigeon shoot. On the flash field flocks of 50 Black-headed Gulls, 48 Teal, and three Wigeon awaited us but they spooked very quickly, we think in part through being unnerved by the gunshots.

Our second year-tick was a Sparrowhawk which powered across a field and away. After this we were unable to see a great deal of interest before we reached our cars.

Pretty quiet.