Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Spotted Redshank

The clocks have gone forward and tonight was my first evening visit this year. It proved quite memorable. I got to the flash and immediately saw a Redshank and a larger wader feeding in the centre. I was vaguely thinking it could be a Ruff as I erected my scope, and was therefore completely taken aback to discover it was actually a Spotted Redshank.
Spotted Redshank sketches
I called John Yardley and suggested he get here as quickly as possible. While I was waiting for John I started sketching this very active bird. After about 15 minutes I looked up to find it was no longer there. Fortunately I then relocated it on the furthest flash. It was basically in winter plumage but with several dark crescents and blotches on the sides of the lower breast and flanks. The drawings shown are coloured versions based on the originals. John arrived, and then Mark Islip and John's mate Scott. Meanwhile I rang Mike Inskip, who managed to get there from south Birmingham in failing light. A distant Peregrine provided a distraction, but there didn't seem to be much else of note on the pools. As I was leaving I heard the unmistakable call of a Grey Partridge. I called the others over, and I think at least Scott heard it, although it soon stopped calling. I had resigned myself to not recording this species this year because the releases stopped in 2010, and I hadn't seen one since last March. The Spotted Redshank was my fourth patch tick this year, taking me to 136, and the year list has now reached 78.
Just to reiterate the point I made on my last posting. If this bird is there tomorrow, could all birders please stick to viewing from the footpath.

Monday, 26 March 2012

A request to birders visiting Morton Bagot

I have been asked by Matt Willmott of English Nature to remind birders visiting the site that the field containing the two flash pools is private and can be viewed from the public footpath which runs from Morton Bagot church along the small brook and hedgeline on the south-east side of the field.

The view of the nearest flash from the footpath

The area covered by this blog is not a nature reserve. It is owned by three farmers, all of whom have a good relationship with English Nature and are happy to farm the land in an eco-friendly way. Fortunately the site can be adequately birded from public footpaths.

The most sensitive area is the field containing the flash pools which is owned by Steve Green. He has told Matt that he has seen birdwatchers walking across the flash field, and he is not happy about it.

Obviously the landowner's wishes should be respected, particularly as Steve is such a good custodian of the site, it would be terrible to lose his good will. It also makes no sense to go into the field as this could disturb the waders and wildfowl that use it, and in any case it is perfectly possible to see what birds are present without trespassing, although a telescope will help.

Lecture over, I have a couple of pieces of bird news from John Yardley. He saw three Little Ringed Plovers on Sunday afternoon, and this evening 21 Teal and nine Snipe.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Great White Egret

Sunday March 25 - Another unseasonably warm sunny day saw Dave Scanlan and myself meandering our way from Netherstead via the Tawny Owl, which was showing, to the Flash, little realising the excitement that lay ahead. John Yardley had got there ahead of us and reported the disappointing news that the only significant wader present was the Green Sandpiper. A Redshank soon appeared at the furthest flash, but there was no sign of the Little Ringed Plover John had found yesterday. Fortunately, after about 30 minutes it flew in and got added to my personal year list. With just a couple of singing Chiffchaffs and a few Meadow Pipits to add, this looked like being one of the less memorable visits. By 11.30am John had decided to head for home, and Dave and I were going towards our cars. For some reason I scanned the skies to the north and immediately picked up a white Heron flying away. I shouted to Dave that I had got an Egret, and then realised its slow steady flaps could mean it was a Great White. Dave got onto it while I desperately tried to put my scope on its tripod and get it set up. By the time I did this Dave reported it was still going away and I got scope views of it, but all I could say was that it was an Egret and looked large. I tried to call John and got through at my second attempt, just blurting out there was a probable Great White egret flying over and he should look in the direction of Bannams Wood. Then Dave told me it was turning and I should have another look at it. I did so and saw it in profile, but by now almost too distant to pick up with the bins. The bill colour couldn't be determined, but the legs were extremely long and there was a pronounced bump caused by the folded neck.

Great White Egret
The Egret began to circle on a thermal and for a moment I thought it may come back towards us. But then it resumed a steady slow flapping flight and was now heading east in the general direction of Aston Cantlow. We decided we needed to try to see its bill colour and there followed a scene not dissimilar to a Le Mans start as we jumped into our cars and drove back to the road,then headed first north and then east in the vain hope of cutting it off. Sadly it was not to be, and we eventually gave up and started phoning, amongst others, Rare Bird Alert. We decided to call it a probable Great White Egret only because we had not seen its bill colour and although we were sure it was large, not a single other bird had appeared alongside it.  I learnt that poor John had not managed to get onto it, and we met up with him under Bannam's Wood to sympathise. A single male Blackcap singing from the wood was a rather anticlimactic additional year tick. I rang Mike Inskip, who turned out to be visiting the Flashes. He confirmed that the bird had not returned there, and later revealed he had seen a Shelduck here on Thursday.

The above drawing and notes were made when I got home as there was no time to do anything except look at the bird when it was going over. I feel it is a fair reflection of how it looked when briefly and distantly in profile. Given that it probably flew right over us before I chanced to first set eyes on it, it makes me wonder what else flies over unseen.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Early morning birding

female Wigeon
I arrived early as today was technically a gardening day. A Redpoll flew over as I parked under Bannams Wood, and the first of four Chiffchaffs greeted me with its jaunty song. I was pleased to see the Tawny Owl showing well as I made my way down to the pool. Through the mist that was still lingering over the pool I could see something different, my first Wigeon of the year. The flashes were even more shrouded in mist, but the Redshank was still present, and Teal and Snipe were still well represented, with 30 and 10 respectively. My year list has now reached 73 species, but summer migrants remain in short supply.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Waders save the day

 Sunday March 18

This morning I had arranged to take a couple of friends, Richard and Jan, for a stroll around my patch, having enthused about it over a meal several months ago. Naturally I wanted the day to go well and for my guests to enjoy themselves. We had agreed that only torrential rain would cause a postponement, but I was fervently hoping for a nice sunny day.

In the event, the day began cloudy and then became showery with a rather chilly north-westerly wind, Richard generously described it as bracing. We joined Dave Scanlan, and had good scope views of singing Reed Bunting and a couple of male Kestrels. Three Tree Sparrows flew off as I was about to scope them, and by the time we got to the flash pools I was a little concerned that the day might turn into a damp squib.

Fortunately John Yardley greeted us with news of the first Redshank of the year, and also that three Curlews had just dropped in. The rain stopped, and sheltered by the hedgerow we were able to point out a Green Sandpiper plus about 10 Snipe and approximately 20 Teal. About six Lapwings were energetically displaying over the recently ploughed field, but we couldn't find any summer migrants other than a distantly calling Chiffchaff and a few Meadow Pipits.

The return journey produced a good view of a fly-over Raven , a few calling Siskins and a chance to pull apart some Barn Owl pellets, although as usual the bird responsible was not in residence.

Next time I'll try to arrange better weather.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A hint of migration

Tree Sparrow
 A rare opportunity to spend a weekday morning out birding was not to be spurned. The weather was rather grey and misty, but there was virually no wind. I began at Netherstead Farm, getting good views of the local Tree Sparrows. This is a rather special species. Although still reasonably widespread in Warwickshire, they are now very scarce in Worcestershire, so Morton Bagot just a few miles from the Worcs border represents something of a westerly outpost. The numbers are reasonably stable here and the seven I saw this morning is about three-quarters of the breeding season population on the farm.  As I continued over the ridge a small party of Golden Plovers swirled into view. I had the impression that they may have got up from a field, but they showed no signs of wanting to land again and they headed off south-west. This is a species I encounter occasionally during the winter, but these were my first this year. My largest count here to date was 36 in November 2010, but I believe that John Coombes reported about 100 earlier in the winter. There seems to be a small wintering flock near Studley and I think these birds occasionally stray here. Moving on, the flashes were a little quiet, but there was a flock of at least 70 Fieldfares and 100 Starlings in a hedgerow nearby. As I moved closer to them a faint "hweet" call from the hedgerow behind me grabbed my attention and after a quick backtrack I was soon watching my first spring migrant Chiffchaff darting about the hawthorn trying to catch the few small flies available. Although they do winter in the UK, this was undoubtedly a newly arrived migrant, probably from Spain or North Africa. The patch year-list struggles on to a modest 71 species.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Searching for spring

Unusually, Dave arrived on site a good half hour before I did, but he was going to have to leave at 10.00am. We then walked the site discussing what birds were on our wish list for today. Unfortunately on the wish list was where they remained, and by the time Dave had to go the highlights were 22 Snipe, the Green Sandpiper, and the odd Redpoll. It was a lovely sunny day, so I decided that as the air was full of Skylark song, I would try to estimate the number of territories. I came up with 19 which is about the number I usually get, although this is lower than Jonathan Bowley's counts from earlier years. As it was so sunny I had decided to bring my camera and what follows is the Morton Bagot Birder guide to truly awful wildlife photography. My technique is to wander about with no attempt at concealment vaguely hoping that a bird, any bird, will be so good as to land in front of me and then remain in the same place for at least five minutes while I attempt to take a shot of it down my scope. This of course doesn't work, so I switch to plan B which is to aim the camera at the pool and photograph anything that happens to get in the way. This proves barely more successful,  as my shots of blurred Mallards and Teal demonstrate. On the return journey I noticed that the colony of communal mining bees (species unknown) is active. My drive back home produces my first butterflies of the year, two Brimstones, to usher in spring.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

A cautionary tale

I arrived on site at 08.30 and started birding under a heavy grey sky and with the first spots of drizzle there to greet me. I had just reached the small copse by Netherstead Farm when a small looking falcon flew past me, had a pop at something at the edge of the wood and then disappeared behind it. I had seen no plumage features at all but it was definitely a falcon and given it was small, surely a Merlin. After a few seconds of private self congratulation the falcon reappeared from the other side of the wood, but now it looked subtly different, its flight appeared more steady somehow, alarm bells were ringing, it was heading for the nearest pylon where it landed and, yes, it was a Peregrine. I was having difficulty believing I had got things so wrong and spent about half an hour checking fence posts, clinging desperately to the two-bird theory. But another look at the Peregrine told me it was quite a small one, presumably a male, and I have to accept that I had been the victim of size illusion. Judging size of flying birds is one of the trickiest things. We are all biological computers, and if you put the wrong data in, you get the wrong result out.

Never mind, I next found a little flock of Lesser Redpolls, at least 15 birds feeding in the game crop with Reed Bunting and Chaffinches. The main pool is looking more like its old self, and I was surprised to discover that the drake Pintail had reappeared. I was unable to edge past without flushing it, but fortunately I relocated it on the flash along with 51 Teal, 62 Lapwings, 16 Snipe, the Dunlin had also reappeared, and a Green Sandpiper. There were a few more Meadow Pipits about but otherwise spring is still on hold.

 The sun was out by the time I was ready to leave, but the sudden appearance of horse boxes and the sound of baying hounds alerted me to the fact it was time to leave as the local hunt was about to start its own form of nature study.