Sunday, 20 May 2018

Sunday May 20

Another warm sunny day, this time the very light breeze being southerly.

Dave joined me and quickly proved his worth. While I was watching a circling Sparrowhawk, Dave got onto a pair of Swifts among the hirundines seeing it off. This is the latest first date for Swift since I have been coming here.

We set off on the usual circuit and as we reached the pond we were greeted by the song of a Reed Warbler coming from the bulrushes at the back of the pond. Not exactly ideal breeding habitat, this could be a late arrival unable to find a place in more traditional reed habitat. We stood around trying to see it, and although I eventually did, the views were too brief for a photograph. A singing Blackbird on the other hand, couldn't have been more co-operative.

A few metres further on Dave located the adult Tawny Owl close to where we had seen it last week. The next tree contained, as I had hoped, two fluffy fledglings.

Tawny Owl chicks
We continued towards the flash field, taking in several Small Tortoiseshells on the way. They may have had a slightly better winter.

Small Tortoiseshell
The flash field contained virtually the same as on Friday; two Shelducks, a Gadwall, two broods of Lapwings, a brood of Coots, and three broods of Mallard. A party of 17 Canada Geese were charged by the herd of frisky bullocks now occupying the field. They waddled away in alarm.

The walk back along the tall hedgerow is always great for insects, and today was no exception. We saw two moths; Mother Shipton and Silver-ground Carpet, and numerous Large Red Damselflies, Beautiful Demoiselles, and Azure Damselflies, with a single Broad-bodied Chaser.

Silver-ground Carpet
Azure Damselfly
Also we saw the most extraordinarily colourful fly (at least I think it was a fly). In fact it wasn't too hard to discover it was actually a wasp of a group called Ruby-tailed Wasps, Chrysis spp. I also found out that they are pretty much unidentifiable to species level without detailed examination.

Ruby-tailed Wasp spp

Shortly afterwards birds came back into focus. There must have been a lot of flying ants because about 20 Lesser black-backed Gulls, 10 Black-headed Gulls, and two distant Hobbies were helping themselves. Then Dave spotted a female Whinchat perched on birch saplings in the young forest now gaining a foothold in the ridge field.

We ended the morning at the dragonfly pools where several blue damselflies defied identification by refusing to settle, but a male Broad-bodied Chaser and a Four-spotted Chaser were more obliging.

Four-spotted Chaser
I had almost forgotten to mention butterflies. As well as several Small Tortoiseshells, we saw four Brimstones, an Orange-tip, a Green-veined White, and about 15 Small Heaths.

Small Heath
The three new birds for the year represent the last hurrah of spring I should think. Summer is just around the corner, so its time for Springwatch!

Friday, 18 May 2018

Thursday May 18

It's always nice, indeed a relief, when you take someone around the patch and are able to see something good. It is probably over a year since both Richards joined me, and we certainly picked the weather, it being a beautifully sunny morning.

My friends are excellent companions in that they are happy to walk around and see a few Hares.

Brown Hare
So when a Fox appeared in the pool field and starts hunting the Brown Hares, they are left very happy indeed.

The hares definitely had the measure of the fox which never came close to a successful kill. It eventually got wind of us and ran off.

Then things got really good. A pair of Hobbies appeared and after initially simply circling, they started to treat us to what can only describe as horseplay as one occasionally picked up speed and dived spectacularly towards the other.

I even noticed a white butterfly fluttering dangerously close to them, and was not too surprised when the nearest bird plucked it out of the sky and started consuming it on the wing.

At the flash field all was pretty much the same, a drake Gadwall and a pair of Shelducks standing out. The highlight though was finding that the two broods of Lapwings were still intact, with a total of five chicks, three of which were large enough to be practicing a bit of wing flapping.

The stroll back produced plenty of interesting insects.

Hoverfly which mimics a bee, Volucella bombylans
possibly Grey-patched Mining Bee
Beautiful Demoiselle - male

Beautiful Demoiselle - female
We counted about six Beautiful Demoiselles without trying especially hard, probably the best emergence I have seen here. We also saw several Large Red Damselflies and an Azure Damselfly.

And the hawthorn hedgerows just look fantastic at this time of the year. You can't beat it.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Sunday May 13

It's been a slightly below par year for birds here. This morning was bright and largely sunny with a very light westerly breeze. Quite a few of the expected species have been absent, and after a good look round, they remain so. No Swifts, no Sand Martins, no Whinchats.

On the other hand we had an absolutely belting view of a Tawny Owl in a small oak along a hedge which has never held one before. Or at least we hadn't seen one there.

Tawny Owl
We rang the photographer Mike Lane, who we had seen earlier, and tried to explain which tree it was in. I hope he saw it.

Inevitably, the week after an all-dayer, you find yourself noticing birds you missed on the big day. In our case this comprised a female Wheatear (it looked possibly to be the Greenland race to me) and five Black-headed Gulls.

Black-headed Gull
The flash field looks in great nick, as it has done all Spring, but although it was nice to see that the two broods of Lapwing chicks are still doing well, a single Little Ringed Plover remains the only wader present.

We started to consider other creatures.

Brown Hare
There were plenty of Hares visible, if you looked carefully. But our main attention was taken by insects. Some early dragonflies are now on the wing.

Broad-bodied Chaser

Blue-tailed Damselfly
As well as a Broad-bodied Chaser and a Blue-tailed Damselfly, we saw about 20 Large Red Damselflies. We spent a little time at the one spot on the patch where you sometimes see Beautiful Demoiselles, but we drew a blank. Compensation was provided by the sight of an enormous queen Hornet.

The butterfly count was steady, with single figures of Large White, Brimstone, Orange Tip, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Green-veined White, and Speckled Wood.

Speckled Wood
We also spotted a small moth, which has turned out to be the first of its kind I have noticed. It took me a long time scrawling through images of moths before I worked out what it was.

Small Yellow-underwing
This is a day-flying moth which is described as fairly common in Warwickshire, although there have been no local records for fifty years. Probably only because no-one has looked.

Another group which interests me, but is a minefield when it comes to identification, are bees. Here are some we saw today.

Probably Ashy Mining Bee

Nomad Bee sp

No idea
In the last image the apparent yellow of the hind leg is, I suspect, a coating of pollen. If anyone comes up with an identification I will update the caption.

Finally, I have news (well rumour). I have heard from two sources that shooting of Pheasants and Partridges at Morton Bagot will not resume in the autumn. It will be interesting to see what affect this will have on the local bird population.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Saturday May 5

Up with the lark, well actually before the lark because today was the annual West Midlands Alldayer, when various "teams" try to count as many species as they can in 24 hours. Dave couldn't make it so I recruited Mike Inskip who was to join me at 05.50. I started at 04.20, and appropriately the first bird was a Tawny Owl which it was just light enough to see in silhouette before it hooted to confirm its identity. A minute later the first Skylark was singing, Pheasants were calling, and a Cuckoo was cuckooing. All this activity being audible from the edge of Bannam's Wood where I had parked.

I then drove to Netherstead with the intention of walking towards the Flash before returning to await Mike's arrival. The walk was quite eventful. Two Sedge Warblers were singing from the reedbed, and as the light slowly improved I witnessed a Goosander flying off into the gloom. It was starting to get misty, but this fortuitously cleared for a few minutes just as a Barn Owl flew by with prey in its talons.

I met Mike along the road and he drove me back to my car before we headed for the Flash field retracing my earlier steps. The Little Grebes were still on the pool, and the species score slowly mounted. The ploughed field failed to produce any Wheatears (they were a bit of a long shot) and it appears that this year has been a very poor Spring for them.

The Flash field gave us a Shelduck, three Gadwall, and two Little Ringed Plovers. We found a tiny Lapwing chick, and later in the day I was to find a second brood (of three older chicks). I suppose you are always hoping for a passage wader to add a bit of spice, but unfortunately we were to be disappointed.

At 07.30 I headed home to see Lyn and to get some breakfast while Mike headed to Middle Spernall Pool to see if he could find anything there. Our patch for the day was a combination of Middle Spernall and Morton Bagot.

I returned at 09.00 am and stopped at Church Farm, seeing a couple of Swallows on the wires and adding House Sparrow, Pied Wagtail, Collared Dove, and the only Starling to be seen on the patch today, in the process.


Mike had added a Reed Warbler at Middle Spernall, plus a Lesser Whitethroat, although we later heard the latter at Morton Bagot. I decided to walk down the road so that I could meet him on his return. This proved an excellent plan. A bird was singing from the hedgerow, and to my delight it popped into a small sallow where I had a clear view of it, a Garden Warbler. We failed to record this species here last year. Remarkably I continued to the end of the road where I heard another one, although this time I didn't see it.

Mike joined me after 15 minutes and we walked along the hedge hoping to refind the now silent Garden Warbler. We failed to do so, but did add our only Yellowhammers of the day (they are getting scarcer here every year), and heard a Willow Warbler.

We chose to walk along the road with the intention of adding some missing woodland species, and duly ticked off Long-tailed Tit, Mistle Thrush, and Coal Tit before we headed down the fields towards the pool once more. Back at the flash field there appeared to be no arrival, but then Mike spotted the Little Owl staring at us from one of the trees there.

Little Owl
We also heard sounds of mobbing followed by the hoot of another Tawny Owl. By now we were starting to run out of available species. There was no sign of the Treecreeper I knew to be nesting, so we had to content ourselves with watching the first Large Red Damselflies of the season, about ten of which were on the wing.

Large Red Damselfly
As the temperature rose there were now a lot of insects on the wing, and our hope of a tick was briefly elevated by the sight of a falcon catching and devouring insects in flight. It was rather silhouetted, but always looked long-tailed, and we were forced to conclude it was just a Kestrel exploiting an unusual food source.

However, at Stapenhill Wood our luck improved dramatically. I spotted a small bird on top of a distant ash. A Spotted Flycatcher. I got Mike onto it and attempted a record shot which I took just before it leapt into the air to catch a passing insect before returning to the tree, but lower down and out of sight.

Spotted Flycatcher - a true record shot!
We blundered into the wood trying to relocate it, but were unsuccessful. To give this some context, this is the earliest here by about 20 days, and as far as I can work out is my earliest in the UK for about 33 years.

By the time we got back to the car we were hot and thirsty. We went to the pub.

Mike had to leave at 14.30, so I birded on alone. We still needed Sparrowhawk, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, and Treecreeper. At this point I will admit I got distracted by the fantastic little dirt bank beside the track which leads to the beehives. It contains a diverse colony of solitary bees, any of which would be new to me if I could only identify them. Here is a selection from the day.

Blood Bee spp - Sphecodes spp
Bronze Furrow Bee - Halictus tumulorum
Nomad Bee spp - Nomada spp
Eventually I got back on track and returned to the base of Bannam's Wood where I at least managed to see and hear a Marsh Tit.

I returned home out around 16.00 and promptly fell asleep. I awoke to the extraordinary news the West Brom aren't relegated yet. Their fantastic last minute win was a shot in the arm and I resolved to head back to the patch for the evening shift.

This produced the final bird for the day, an immature Peregrine on the pylons.

So our final total was a creditable 68 species (67 at Morton Bagot). Species missed included Sparrowhawk, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, and one or two others which on another day might have been seen, like Goldcrest, Black-headed Gull, Cormorant, Sand Martin, Little Egret, Hobby, Herring Gull, and Swift. Blimey if we'd got all those we'd have beaten Upton Warren!

PS Many thanks to Steven Falk for assistance with the bee identifications.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Sunday April 29

Cloudy with a light north-easterly breeze. Cold.

There are days when you get out of your car and within ten minutes of comparative silence you know its going to be an uninspiring day. The cool breeze and limited birdsong suggested that today would be one of those.

So, trying to be a little more upbeat, Dave and I quickly saw the Sedge Warbler that had been singing out of sight last weekend. At the pool the sound of trilling Little Grebes was confirmed as meaning that last week's bird had found a mate.

But the flash field, oh dear. Just six Lapwings, three Gadwalls, a brood of Mallard, and a few Coot and Moorhens. However, the ploughed field now hosted both a female and a male Wheatear.

We tried going off piste (we had half thought we had heard a tringa wader, perhaps a Redshank), so we walked to a couple of small pools just beyond the patch boundary. This only turned up another pair of Lapwings.

Back at the ridge field Dave spoke with a sense of urgency (always a good sign) and this had us craning our necks upwards to watch what turned out to be a circling Peregrine.

Finally, the dragonfly pools, which rarely contain anything unusual, came up trumps.

The pair of Gadwall were the first I have seen on the pond, and the small size of the pools allowed for a close photo.

So not the best visit, but as I like to tell myself, there's always something to see.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Sunday April 22

A sunny morning although it clouded over later. The breeze was fairly light and south-westerly. Also, a great date. This weekend is probably my favourite on the Morton Bagot calendar. It invariably turns up a host of year-ticks and often something scarce.

This morning was good, but a little more luck and conviction it could have been so much better. The first of my six birds which were new here (for me) for the year was a Cuckoo. A male gave a single call before Dave arrived, and much later in the morning he was also able to hear it.

A good start, but then the thing I dread; a probable good bird. I was in mid stride walking along the Netherstead track when I was brought up short by what sounded like the flutey trill of a Whimbrel. This would be the first here since the same weekend five years ago. All I needed to confirm it was to hear it again, or to see it, or for Dave to also hear it. None of the above happened (Dave had not yet arrived). So I was left to make the call, to count it or not. I decided against it. AARGH. There are very few birds that sound like Whimbrels, just Little Grebe, and at a stretch female Cuckoo. What excuse did I have? I was wearing a hat...not a good one (the hat or the excuse).

Anyway, Dave joined me  and we got on with looking for birds. A Sedge Warbler sang from the reed-bed, but we couldn't see it. The butterfly count gradually mounted as we saw several Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells, Brimstones, and Orange Tips.

Orange Tip
Skirting the Chat Field we heard the first of eight Lesser Whitethroats, and the first of five Common Whitethroats singing. All remained elusive, with just distant or brief glimpses achieved. A single female Wheatear was seen on the ploughed field.

We reached the Flash Field and scanned optimistically. A single Little Grebe was an unusual sight on the normally shallow nearest flash.

Little Grebe
Also present were three Gadwalls, four Teal, two Little Ringed Plovers, and two Green Sandpipers. But still no Redshank, are we going to miss out this year? I caught sight of a passerine flying through my field of view as I scanned with the scope. My suspicions were confirmed when we spotted a male Yellow Wagtail. We soon discovered it was accompanied by a female and briefly by another male.

Male Yellow Wagtail
Female Yellow Wagtail
Unfortunately they were never close, and within fifteen minutes had disappeared altogether. Although I do record this species every year, it is often just a brief fly-over so to get the chance to photograph one (even as a record shot) is unusual.

There are far more insects around now. They are always a welcome distraction when the birding starts to flag.

Alder Fly - probably Sialis lutaria

A flock of 30 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and five Herring Gulls was surprising. Presumably they were Redditch breeders searching for a good source of food.

We did a big loop taking in the south end, but were virtually back at Netherstead when the next new bird sang briefly. A Willow Warbler, scarce as ever here, and apparently still declining.

Our final, and best tick though is a species which is getting more and more frequent every year. A Red Kite was flying towards us and went right overhead before disappearing over the copse. Amazingly, a few minutes a second bird appeared, this one circling for ages. The original bird also reappeared to add to the sense of wellbeing.

Red Kite A
Red Kite B
Notice how the second bird has a small notch between the secondaries and the inner primaries, while the first bird does not.

The Whimbrel aside, this was a very good visit.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Sunday April 15

After the first warm day of spring yesterday, today was a bit of a setback weatherwise. The grey skies were back and despite a moderate southerly breeze it was rather chilly again.

Any thoughts of walking along the road were scuppered by the presence of a cycle race, and indeed a nasty crash at the bottom of the slope before the Netherstead turn. We later saw two ambulances and hope that the cyclists involved were not too badly injured.

While I was waiting for Dave I saw the first House Martin of the summer, although it disappeared thereafter. The only other new migrant we could find was Lesser Whitethroat. In fact we recorded three singing birds around the site and even glimpsed two of them.

Disappointingly, the ploughed fields were almost devoid of birds with the exception of about 80 Linnets still feeding on the field by Morton Common Farm. The real frustration is that the Flash Field is still not pulling many migrants in. A single Green Sandpiper and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers were the only waders other than Lapwings (and there were only four of them).  The situation was a bit more positive as far as ducks are concerned. In fact six Gadwall was a record count for the patch, while there was still a single Shoveler and about eight Teal.

Drake Gadwall
At the end of the visit our morning was summed up as we struggled to convince ourselves we had heard a distant Willow Warbler near Clowse Farm. In the end we gave up, but I did see an interesting looking bee on the fence.

Clarke's Mining Bee Andrena clarkella

It is some kind of mining bee, probably Andrena clarkella, but I suspect the slightly out of focus photo may not prove acceptable as a record shot.