Sunday, 26 February 2012

February blues

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Herring Gull
 If I had to say what was
my least favourite month
I would probably go for
Admittedly last weekend
saw a fantastic addition
to my patch list, but today
was more typical.
The highlight occurred
shortly after I arrived as
a long line of calling Gulls
appeared over Spernall
Wood and headed west.
I counted 150, most of
which, about 120, were
Herring Gulls. The rest
were Lesser Black-backed.
As a rule, the more
frequently seen species
here is Lesser Black-backed, and there is a small but significant breeding population in nearby Redditch. Herring Gulls are more usual in mid-winter and today's record-equalling count was quite surprisingly late in the season. Very few of either species were seen during the rest of the day so I suppose these were birds heading from a roost site somewhere, perhaps Draycote although that is a long way to the east. Dave Scanlan arrived shortly after the spectacle and we worked the area for the rest of the morning adding only typical species in uninspiring numbers. We met up with John Yardley, who had also seen the Gull flock. Yesterday he had seen 90 Teal and a Green Sandpiper, but today we could only see 33 Teal and no waders on the flash. We wandered a little further than usual, finding half a dozen Siskins and a similar number of Snipe in and around a boggy field across the little brook. Early signs of spring were restricted to the Rooks gathering at their rookeries and a little more bird song. Roll on spring.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Iceland Gull

I decided to visit a little earlier than usual to beat the forecast rain (It's now 10.30am and it still hasn't got here), and this decision has paid off in spades. To cut to the chase, at around 09.00am I was approaching the dragonfly pond area near Netherstead Farm and about to head home when a large white bird appeared from below a slight ridge to my right. It was so white that my first thought was Mute Swan, but when I looked at it I realised it was a large Gull. Bloody hell! I watched as it languidly drifted and flapped to the south-west. I knew I needed to get a size estimate and scanning a little left got onto a Herring Gull, similar size. What age was it? I thought I could make out a hint of brown on the body, so not an adult, but it was so pale so perhaps a 2nd winter. By now it was somewhat distant but was catching up with four LBB Gulls, still about the same size. I decided it must be one of the Iceland Gulls currently visiting Throckmorton Tip about 15 miles to the south-west. I assembled my scope and looked again, but it had gone.


Iceland Gull

The elation I felt was tempered by the views being less than ideal and the fact that I was alone. Its always better to share good birds. Earlier I had located the Tawny Owl in its favoured tree, so that's two year ticks today. I couldn't see Mike's Little Owl, but the Dunlin, Curlew, and Green Sandpiper were still here. I thought the Dunlin looked longer billed than the one two weekends ago (I actually felt it necessary to see its rump in flight just in case) , although the Curlew should be the same one. I counted 161 Teal and 276 Lapwings. Another good thing was that the main pool is starting to fill up.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Friday 17th Feb

I got a call at work from Mike Inskip, who was making his first visit to Morton Bagot this year. His most interesting news (to me) was the discovery of a Little Owl. This species was , like Curlew, a nailed-on year-tick until 2011 when they seemingly abandoned the patch. I was aware that the species has been in a mysterious decline nationally and I had just about accepted that it could be lost to the area. Clearly, I was too pessimistic. Mike also saw a Curlew, a Dunlin, and 155 Teal.

Monday, 13 February 2012

More news from yesterday

Monday Feb 13. You can never see everything when other birders are about.

Two additional records from yesterday concerned a Merlin reported on the Worcester Birding/Birding Today website, now known to have been seen by Alan Matthews and his dad. Nice one guys.

Also, Mark Islip went down in the afternoon and saw at least 200 Teal. I guess they were out of sight when John and I were checking out the flash in the morning. There is a pool hidden by phragmites beyond the fence. I rarely check it, because doing so causes unwarranted disturbance to whatever birds are on the flashes.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Grey day

Sunday Feb 12. I arranged to meet Dave Scanlan as usual, and my walk to the paper shop (Redditch)  had produced a Blackcap in full song and 18 Magpies from the kitchen window, so I was feeling quite optimistic. Dave arrived looking pale and shaken, he had received the dreaded text message from his other patch, "three Smews at Marsh Lane GP". Within 10 minutes he heard they were confirmed correct and were drakes... see ya' Dave.

I continued alone and eventually reached the flash without really seeing anything of note. John Yardley was there, but it was apparent that Thursday's large flock of Teal were not. I eventually counted 36, but at least the drake Pintail was still present. A couple of distant Coot provided the day's only year tick.

By the time we got back to Netherstead Farm the only highlight had been the continued presence of the Peregrine. John headed off, and I decided to drive down the track to the south end of the farm to check out the Linnet flock. I estimated 600, which is the best count I've had so far this winter. I then made a late decision to return to the flashes. On route I scoped three Lesser Redpolls in a hedge near the farm, but was then gutted to find that the same two teenagers that messed up the birding last weekend were again skating around on the ice.

 Linnets are an important farmland bird, and Morton Bagot harbours a small breeding population and attracts very large numbers in winter. They are particularly drawn to a crop at the south end of the recording area, but also to game feeding areas. In 2011 numbers peaked in late February, my highest personal estimate being 1200 on Feb 20, although I did hear that Matt Wilmott had recorded 2000 around this time. This year I think there are fewer, but they still make an impressive sight, particularly when they line up on the telegraph wires which bounce and sway under the weight of birds.

PS Wolves 1 West Brom 5. Come on you Baggies!
PPS Dave got the Smews by the skin of his teeth.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Record Teal count

10 Feb 2012 This is just a quick note to say that I have heard from Mike Inskip that Matt Wilmott counted 250 Teal at Morton Bagot, probably yesterday. This beats my personal best total by over 50, and shows that last Sunday's build up in Teal numbers has continued through the week. I hope they are still there on Sunday, which will probably be my next visit.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Feb 5 Further thoughts on snow

I don't really understand why the overnight snow produced so many new arrivals here. John Yardley has told me that there was next to nothing on the flashes yesterday, but my experience of last winter was similar. The site remained essentially iced over, the only unfrozen area being the field between the two flash pools, where I assume the spring bubbles up. Perhaps the damp patches are more obvious from the air.


 My poor quality photographs continued with shots of the Ruff and the Pintail. The year list has had a bit of a boost, and now stands at 66.

Wader influx


  The overnight snow arrived as forecast, and I decided to risk the drive as far as Morton Bagot church. I am very glad I did. After a couple of Nuthatches calling from Bannam's Wood were a soft year tick, I waded my way through the snow to the flashes. The early signs were promising as I could hear Greylag Geese calling, and could soon see swirls of Mallard (115), and plenty of Lapwing. I quickly found a Curlew, the first here since December 2010. This used to be a dead cert year tick as a pair bred every year in an area of rough grassland. Last year the new owner of the field decided to graze his cattle on it, so the Curlews did not turn up. Scanning through the Lapwings, I saw that the Ruff was still present, and there was also another year-tick in the shape of a Dunlin. This species is just about annual, and can turn up at any time of year, but it's still a great addition to the day. I couldn't see anything else, so decided to walk around the fields. It was apparent that there had been an influx of Skylarks (60), while two Sparrowhawks caused great panic as they chased each other across the field. On returning to the flashes an hour later I could see that there were some Teal largely out of view behind the fence at the back of the flash field. I then had another look at the main flash and found a drake Pintail. This is only the third record for the site for me. I phoned John Yardley who I knew was on his way on foot from Studley. A Green Sandpiper and several Snipe made the wader tally six. This was turning into the best visit this year. John arrived and saw all the good stuff, at which point a great flock of Teal and Snipe flew in from beyond the fence. I counted 97 Teal, 90 Black-headed Gulls, and estimated 20 Snipe and about 200 Starlings. The reason for their sudden appearance soon became apparent as two lads and a dog came through the gate and started skating about on the ice. As the birds made a rapid exit, so did I.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Corn Bunting

Sat Feb 4. Not birding today, except for watching Redwings and Fieldfares in the garden. John Yardley has texted me from Morton Bagot to say that the Tawny Owl is showing. The bird sits in a tree hollow near the main pool and is sometimes visible in the early morning.

Corn Bunting
 After a frustrating week stuck at work I am looking forward to getting out tomorrow, although the snowy forecast may put a spanner in the works as the country roads leading to Morton Bagot can be treacherous for a birder to drive to. I thought I would post a colour drawing of last weekend's Corn Bunting.