Saturday, 4 April 2020

Lockdown Day 6 - more new birds

I have to say this lockdown listing is going far better than I expected, and its still all about birds.

I have structured my week so that I get one birding day/mothing evening every three days. Well that was the plan. Wednesday we can forget. Thursday, however, was amazing. And that's despite virtually no birding effort.

The first bird to make itself known was a Meadow Pipit which called from above my driveway as I prepared to face the challenge of self-isolating at Morrisons. Not so surprising. However, late in the afternoon I stepped into the garden for a breath of fresh air and looked up to see not one, not two, but three Peregrines circling high over the garden. Thirty seconds of panic followed as I dashed back in, grabbed my camera, and shot out of the front door. I quickly re-found them and managed a record shot or two.

I must admit that I have recorded Peregrine from the garden before, and it is likely that there is a pair, or maybe two, attempting to breed somewhere in the Redditch area. This species is one of the success stories of the last forty years.

Lets turn to the evening. A lot of birders have invested in a nifty bit of kit called Nocmig. As I understand it, this records sounds and supplies a graphic trace of any birds calling as they fly over at night. The results being reported have been amazing. For example recorders across the north of England and some in the Midlands recorded the sounds made by Common Scoters flying over the night of April 2/3. I, however, do not own a Nocmig recorder, and have no immediate plans to get one. So when I stepped outside at around 21.10 to look at the moon and the stars I was not expecting to hear the Oystercatcher which piped its call notes several times from over the houses to the east. This was a bonafide garden tick.

Oystercatchers, it must be said, have taken to Arrow Valley Lake in recent years. So I am guessing this was one of its birds.

Friday morning was to be my maximum effort birding day. I was later up than I intended, but was still in the garden for 07.00. The day was to bring me 32 species, and add five more to the lockdown list, one of which was a full garden tick.

The first new one was a Great Spotted Woodpecker. It bounced away to the south, but is a fairly regular species here. The next bird was much more unexpected, not so much for what it was, but  for what it was doing.  A Skylark appeared over the garden, quite low, in full song, within seconds of a Peregrine, flying across from the east. I do see and hear the odd Skylark in the autumn and winter, but never singing. My guess is that the presence of the Skylark and the Peregrine within seconds of one another was not a coincidence, and that the lark probably followed the Peregrine from farmland 800 metres away, and was mobbing it through song.

The third new bird for the year was rather less satisfying, even though it was a garden tick. I heard the call of a Linnet and managed to get on it as it hurried to the north confirming it was small and brown and therefore not a Greenfinch, which has a somewhat similar flight call. I would guess that this was a bird which was migrating back north, as the only local flock I know of is at Morton Bagot. In fact a singing Greenfinch  did pipe up later in the morning, but this is a bird I know to hold a territory in the Close.

Also definitely migrating was a flock of 30 Fieldfares which headed directly overhead in a north-easterly direction. The final new bird for the lockdown list was a singing Chiffchaff. I've been hearing these in the last few days at Morrisons, and at a visit to the pharmacy at Matchborough, so the distant song elicited the response "about time too" rather than the fist pump brought about by the earlier offerings. Other birds of note were nine more Meadow Pipits,  two Chaffinches, three Redwings all heading either north or east, and the local Blackcap still in full voice.

The moth trap went out, but temperatures plunged to three degrees overnight so my expectations of the contents this morning were not high.  Before I return to that however, there are more birds to discuss. My early start this morning, aimed at processing moths before the Robins beat me to it, produced vindication of my theory that Little Egrets may fly over regularly from Arrow Valley Lake before I usually get up. This time I was ready for it.

Little Egret

I also added three more species; a pair of Mallard flew around, a Jay squawked from somewhere to the south, and an even more distant Green Woodpecker yaffled to the east of the garden.

So the bird additions since my last post are:

April 2

36. Meadow Pipit
37. Peregrine
38. Oystercatcher

April 3

39. Great Spotted Woodpecker
40. Skylark
41. Linnet
42. Fieldfare
43. Chiffchaff

April 4

44. Mallard
45. Jay
46. Green Woodpecker

Meanwhile, back at the moth trap, my paltry total this morning was just three moths: Common Quaker, Hebrew Character, and Early Grey (new for year).

Early Grey
Actually, Early Grey is one of my favourite moths, having been the first to genuinely impress me when  I first started turning over egg boxes two year ago.

Moth additions:

5. Early Grey

With the weather set to warm up this weekend, there should be a chance that the next posting will contain a few butterflies and no doubt more moths.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Lockdown day 3 - 31 March 2020 - garden ticks

I was pretty certain that this post would be mostly about moths and not birds. How wrong I was.

The last three days have seen a north-easterly breeze and variable amounts of cloud discouraging me from venturing into the garden. So March 29 saw the following ticks:

26. Canada Goose
27. Raven

The latter was seen from my sofa. Not an especially unexpected sighting these days.

March 30

28. Long-tailed Tit
29. Rook

Long-tailed Tit
March 31

This was going to be a proper birdwatch; dawn to dusk, trying hard. My enthusiasm was to be richly rewarded. I had barely stepped onto the back doorstep at around 06.15 when I heard and saw a Blackcap singing from our apple tree. It had disappeared by the time I retrieved my camera and the light wouldn't have helped if I'd had it. Perhaps it was the bird I heard on Thursday.

For the next hour I stood and watched as a succession of birds appeared, often as fly-overs, and the day list gradually grew. Most were birds I had recorded on day one, although I did hear a Song Thrush. But this was just the hors d'oeuvres.

I recently dusted off my old house list, which after updating, stood at 74 species. Not bad, but we have been here for over 15 years. If I'd been forced to predict what new species I could add, the two seen this morning would have been on top of the list.

The first of these was a flock (yes a flock) of four Little Egrets which flew east, low over the houses. Just WOW. Mind you, the reason this species was on the radar was that I have seen one at nearby Ipsley Alders, and another flying up the river Arrow at Studley in the last few years. Even more pertinent are the tens of birds roosting at Arrow Valley Lake about a mile away as the egret flies. Draw a line from Arrow Valley Lake across the bottom of our garden eastwards and you pretty much get to Morton Bagot. To add weight to the theory that this could be a regular flight line, overlooked by me because a.) I don't spend much time birding in the garden and b.) certainly not at 06.30, a fifth Little Egret flew by about an hour later. I still didn't have my camera at the ready!

Slightly less exciting, but still surprising, were six Redwings which flew east. These are regular in the autumn (I hope I'm not still locked down by October) and also turn up in the garden when it snows. However, this mild winter has encouraged very few into Redditch, and it is months since I saw one here.

Moving to the front of the house, I was just in time to see a neighbour accidentally flush a Grey Heron from a back garden on the other side of his fence.

As the sun rose I took a chair out, and my camera, and plonked myself down just in case. An hour later I got my reward. A Red Kite was flying languidly from the east.

Red Kite
Like the egrets, this species was on the radar. Last year I saw one circling over our close as I drove home, but it had gone before I reached the drive so it didn't make it onto the list. This time it soared on.

The remainder of the day saw only a few minor additions bringing the day list to 33 species. However, the lockdown list advanced as follows:

30. Song Thrush
31. Little Egret
32. Grey Heron
33. Redwing
34. Red Kite
35. Herring Gull

It was just warm enough for the rosemary to attract a few bees, but not a single butterfly was seen.

Last night the moth trap went out and this morning I inspected its contents. In fact the best moth was sitting on the doorstep. A large (by micro standards) micro-moth called Diurnea fagella was not only new for the year, but was the first since April 2018 when I was taking my first tentative steps into the world of moth recording. The species also has an English name of Small March Moth, but I only know this from talking to John Sirrett, my moth guru.

Diurnea fagella

The remainder of the seven moths (four species) were species recorded previously this year. The lockdown list list continues thus:

2. March Moth
3. Diurnea fagella (Small March Moth)
4. Hebrew Character.

Here are the remainder.

Common Quaker
Hebrew Character
March Moth

It's a shame about the dull grey light this morning.

My next post will be on Saturday.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Lockdown - Sat 28/03/2020

This is the first of what is intended to be a twice weekly post relating to the species of birds, butterflies, and moths (other creatures may also feature) in our garden at Winyates East on the east side of Redditch. The subject of these posts will continue to focus on our garden as long as government advice remains that there should be no travel except for essential purposes.

Although our garden is in Worcestershire according to modern political boundaries (and therefore for bird records), it is in VC38 which counts as Warwickshire for the recording of all other groups (eg insects).

I'll begin with some images taken from our windows, and in our garden, to illustrate how ordinary and suburban the environment is.

The front aspect looking north
The front garden
As you can see the front garden is very small, and cultivated for flowers and shrubs. 

A view from a back window looking south
Our back garden is a reflection of the fact Lyn and I have different visions of how it should look. The pretty bit is near the house. Lyn is unfortunately unable to garden, but is very willing to direct me. The extent to which I comply can be a bone of contention.

Lyn's bit.
On the opposite side of the garden is a dilapidated shed and a "wild area" which shows what can be achieved by total neglect.

My bit
The garden is dominated by a mature apple tree which produces a variety of apple called Blenheim Orange, and an awful lot of tiny moths at the right season.

Many birders in the UK started keeping lockdown lists of birds from last weekend. My start was delayed until Friday by my reluctance to embrace the concept of not going out, and I have paid for that tardiness as the sunny weather of the past week has given way to largely grey skies and a chilly north-easterly wind. This is not great for insect recording.

So down to business. A combined total of yesterday's and today's birds is as follows:

1. Buzzard - yesterday
2. Greenfinch - heard singing yesterday

Neither of these species was recorded today. Today's list continues therefore as:

3. Blackcap - heard singing
4. Lesser Black-backed Gull
5. House Sparrow
6. Collared Dove
7. Carrion Crow
8. Nuthatch
9. Wren
10. Blackbird
11. Starling
12. Goldfinch
13. Magpie
14. Blue Tit
15. Robin
16. Woodpigeon
17. Greylag Goose - heard calling as they flew over
18. Great Tit
19. Jackdaw - a party of 25 flying over was more than usual
20. Dunnock
21. Feral Pigeon
22. Sparrowhawk
23. Stock Dove - two flying over
24. Coal Tit
25. Chaffinch

The birds featured above are generally the species which occur regularly in or over the garden, the scarcest probably being the Blackcap and the Stock Doves. I will not be producing a full list for each half week, but will only add additions to the tally.

I suspect that invertebrates will feature much more heavily in future. It just so happened that I only recorded one species of butterfly yesterday (and none today) as the weather turned colder. So the butterfly list is:

1. Peacock

You're likely to get sick of looking at moth photos over the next few weeks, but last night the trap produced only two moths of a single species which I had already caught this year, pre-lockdown, so I didn't bother to photograph them.

The lockdown moth list is thus:

1. Common Quaker

Other groups occur, but I'm not going to go into any detail about flies, bees, spiders, worms, slugs etc because I don't really know enough about them.

I did record one mammal:

1. Grey Squirrel

Bloody things.

So that's your lot for now. Until the moth trap starts producing, future posts should be more concise.

Keep safe.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Mixed messages

I really enjoyed birding at Morton Bagot yesterday.

Today, it seems I was in the wrong. The advice on the news this morning (if it was out there yesterday I must have missed it) is that no one is allowed to leave their homes for non-essential journeys. Birding counts as non-essential.

The reason I went birding was that on Tuesday I had seen a Government spokesman saying it was OK to go to the countryside and walk around. I didn't hear anything about time restrictions. I checked the Heart of England Forest website (most of the land at Morton Bagot is owned by HOEF) and it said their land was open to visitors.

The irony is that I'm absolutely certain that by visiting Morton Bagot I was putting no one in danger, and that I am at far more risk going on my weekly shop, or visiting the newsagent than wandering around Morton Bagot on my own.

But above all, I feel guilty for enjoying myself in the field when (almost) everyone else is sticking to their gardens and making the best of it.

So that's what I'll be doing in future. I'll be Morton Bagot Birder in name only for the foreseeable future.

The garden list starts today.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Thursday March 26 - waders at last (and a good moth)

This morning I went to Morton Bagot for my permissible walk in the countryside. Apart from seeing a few folk at the horse barns when I got back to Netherstead, the self-isolation was complete.

It was another sunny morning, and eventually became almost warm. The visit got off to a good start when I heard a snatch of Blackcap song from the hedge by the horse pasture. Unfortunately the bird failed to repeat the burst of song or to show itself. The field contained at least 23 Fieldfares, a Redwing, 17 Meadow Pipits, and 19 Starlings. Later in the day about 50 - 60 thrush-sized birds flew out, and looked to be mostly Fieldfares so my original count is likely to be an underestimate.

Chiffchaffs were well in evidence, and I had logged at least nine by the time I completed the circuit.

As the sun came up I started to see butterflies quite regularly, and eventually recorded three Peacocks, and six Small Tortoiseshells. The only Brimstone was seen as I headed home. So in terms of species Morton Bagot was no more diverse than our garden.

I reached the pool field and discovered that a pair of Mute Swans have arrived, the first of the year. Shortly afterwards a Little Egret flew in and joined the swans on the small top pool.

Mute Swans
Little Egret
It makes a nice change to see the egret at reasonably close quarters, and it reminds me that Mike Inskip was here on Saturday and saw two Little Egrets in the flash field, whereas I had drawn a blank.

Moving on to the flash field, I was pleased to find plenty of birds. To begin with, at least 40 Snipe erupted from the centre of the field and soon pitched down to disappear among the sedges. I could see at least 15 Teal, mainly on the furthest flash, but all the action was on the nearest flash. A Redshank started proceedings off by flying across and landing at the far side near the Snipe.

I hadn't noticed at the time, but if you zoom in on the photograph you'll see that it has a BTO metal ring on its left leg. I wonder where it acquired it?

Shortly afterwards I saw that the two Little Ringed Plovers were present again, and then spotted the first Green Sandpiper of the year. I normally see them from the end of January, so I'm very pleased one has finally arrived.

Green Sandpiper
Unfortunately it chose to remain at the very back of the flash. A quick scan failed to record any grebes, but as it happened I returned to investigate an odd wader call (could have been anything) and instead discovered there were now two Little Grebes present.

Little Grebes
At the Kingfisher Pool there was no sign of the Kingfisher Dave and I saw on Sunday, but I was very taken by the catkins dangling from the large tree behind the pool. Botany is not a strong subject for me, but I have subsequently worked out that the tree is either a Black Poplar or a hybrid Poplar.

The catkins
The tree
I carried on along the Morton Brook, pausing to photograph a Small Tortoiseshell before reaching Stapenhill Wood.

Small Tortoiseshell
Generally my visits peter out after this point, but today something special was in store. As I walked around the ridge field flushing one or two more butterflies, I kicked up a smaller one. In fact, I quickly realised it was a moth. I guessed what it would be (although I couldn't remember the name at first). It landed on a dock (or something) and drooped there long enough for me to get a record shot of the moth in question, an Orange Underwing.

Orange Underwing
My intention had been to study the moth properly and to try for a better image. But by the time I looked again it had gone. I spent the next twenty minutes in a futile attempt to find it.

The problem is that there are two very similar species in Warwickshire. One is locally distributed, and the other, Light Orange Underwing, a good deal rarer. I believe I can see a diagnostic orange indentation into the dark surround of the left underwing (as you look at the moth) which identifies this as the commoner species. Also, although both are day-flying in March and April, Orange Underwing is associated with birch (there are plenty in the ridge field) and Light Orange Underwing with aspen (absent as far as I know).

I do not know whether Orang Underwing has been recorded here before, but I certainly haven't seen one here, or anywhere else before.

So there you are, an excellent way to self isolate and keep ticking over.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Still being good - exploring the garden

This won't last, but for now I am sticking to the garden.

The birding highlight, I suppose, was counting three pairs of Buzzards circling overhead at around 11.00, with possibly a seventh bird floating in from the south.

The local House Sparrows are much happier when I am not in the garden.

House Sparrow
No new butterflies appeared, so I was forced to look at bees. I find photographing bees extremely tricky because they are so busy, as they should be.

Red Mason Bees are attracted to the Rosemary outside the kitchen window, and today I also recorded a Common Carder Bee, and what I suspect was a male Hairy-footed Flower Bee, although that one wouldn't keep still.

Red Mason Bee
Probably a Hairy-footed Flower Bee
Another familiar garden resident to turn up today was a Dark-edged Bee Fly. This parasitic species is bad news for the local solitary bees, but a very nice looking creature.

Dark-edged Bee Fly
The self-isolating ended when I was obliged to go shopping. Waitrose in Alcester being particularly well organised I thought.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Self-isolating at home - Water Carpet

Events surrounding Covid-19 continue the spiral downwards to potential oblivion. It's very frightening if you are a 60 year-old with underlying health issues, which I am.

I am probably still ok to visit the patch, but in the meantime I'm determined to make the best of wildlife watching in the garden.

Birdwise our garden in Redditch is a bit of a waste of space. The feeders attract the usual suspects; House Sparrows. Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Robins etc. The best bet seems to be scanning the skies, but today these included nothing better than Buzzards, Sparrowhawk, and Cormorant.

The insects are a bit more fun. Today I recorded three butterflies; Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone, and Peacocks.

The smaller things are largely a bit too tricky, but bees are often identifiable to species; Tree Bumblebee, Red Mason Bee, and Early Bumblebee were new this week. On the other hand spiders, such as this one which was probably clinging to my lawnmower when I gave it its first run out today, are usually unidentifiable without dissection.

Wolf Spider sp
I think it was a species of Wolf Spider.

The most fun (if you don't own a NocMig recorder for night migrant birds) can be had from moths. You need a moth trap for best results, but ironically this evening a moth was attracted to the kitchen window. I popped out to pot it, and was stunned to see a very impressive moth. In fact a lifer - a Water Carpet.

Water Carpet
The books say this moth flies in April and May, but moths don't read books. OK Water Carpet is not rare, but after two years of trapping regularly in the garden I have never caught one.

Right now I don't feel too bad about staying in the garden.