Thursday, 31 May 2012

Life back on the patch

This post comprises two visits, a hot sunny day on Sunday May 27, and a sultry grey evening on Thursday May 31.

On Sunday I was probably suffering from post-holiday blues. It was a bit of a late morning start. Dave was far more optimistic than I was, but we still struggled to find anything beyond the usual. I was pleased to see and hear two Reed Warblers, the last of the more or less guaranteed summer residents.

Reed Warbler
It actually took a few years for the habitat created by Paul Harvey to be right for this species. They first arrived and bred in 2010, but then failed to breed last year. Two birds singing in the reedbed, and the Sedge Warblers still being present, is an encouraging sign. A Cuckoo was calling in the distance, and a Little Ringed Plover was on the flash. By mid day we were back at the dragonfly pools, but there was no sign of any of the usual spring Chasers or damselflies. I suppose the drying out of the pools in early spring has killed off all the larvae. A single Blue-tailed Damselfly in long grass near the flashes was all we could find.

Fast forward to May 31. A good count of five Grey Herons in the marsh, a Redshank, two Little Ringed Plovers, the Cuckoo again, and a new brood of four Lapwings to provide the aaah factor. It was like an episode of Springwatch.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Holidaying in North Yorkshire

I'm just back from an excellent week in North Yorkshire. We stayed in a self-catering barn conversion in Commondale, a secluded valley south of Guisborough and west of Whitby. The weather was fantastic after two misty days, May 20 and 21st, and apart from a trip to the raptor watchpoint at Wykeham Forest where I had a very distant view of a Honey Buzzard, most birding was done around Commondale. The fact that I didn't know what to expect there added spice to the exploring. The moors are managed for Red Grouse, and we saw loads of them plus lots of Lapwings and Curlews, but no Magpies, only one Carrion Crow, and no large raptors. My most memorable birds were a Dipper flying about 200 feet up, well above the trees after dusk flying up the valley. I have never seen one flying more than about six feet from the surface before. Also hearing a singing Ring Ouzel and several Redstarts, and watching about 10 Woodcock roding at dusk above the relatively sparsely wooded valley, while hearing Common Snipe drumming. Distant Golden Plovers were calling, and I also saw a Whinchat. Checking the Breeding Atlas on my return, it appears that the male Stonechat I saw may have been unusual locally. Siskins and Lesser Redpolls were easy to find, and the former was supposed to be at least not proved to be breeding in the area until 1991. Further afield I heard a Pied Flycatcher singing, and saw two flocks of 10 Crossbills somewhere east of Osmotherley on random stops. The commoner birds around Commondale had more of a Scottish valley feel, with loads of Willow Warblers, while Spotted Flycatchers and Garden Warblers outnumbered Blackcaps, and Chiffchaff was absent.

Meanwhile at Morton Bagot John Yardley and Mike Inskip saw a Greenshank, two Dunlins, and two Oystercatchers on 20th, and Mike saw a Redshank and two Reed Warblers on 26th.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Thursday May 17

Yesterday evening John saw two Oystercatchers on the patch, and this, coupled with a south-easterly airflow, encouraged me to make a quick dash to the flashes this evening. Unfortunately there were no Oystercatchers, and nothing else to justify my optimism. Two Shelducks, a Wheatear, a Bullfinch and a Green Woodpecker was a pretty poor return.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Lesser Whitethroat

I recall chatting to Mike Lane last year about bird photography. He mentioned that he was particularly keen to add a Lesser Whitethroat to his portfolio as the species posed quite a challenge. On Sunday I noticed his mobile hide parked under a hedge where a Lesser Whitethroat was singing, and he has now very kindly sent me one of the shots he took that morning. I understand it took him 10 hours over two days to get pictures he was happy with.

Lesser Whitethroat by Mike Lane
My own visit this evening was made with Lesser Whitethroat in mind as I wanted to post Mike's picture on an evening when I also recorded the species. Initially I failed completely. It was rather chilly, and apart from 60 Swallows, 12 House Martins, and a female Wheatear there didn't seem to be much to see. Mike was there setting up his canvas hide in the hope of photographing Skylarks. The juvenile Lapwing is now quite large and Mike told me it had hatched from a clutch on the marsh just before the heavy downpour in April flooded the nest site. On my way back I at last heard a Lesser Whitethroat, but in spite of standing within about 20 feet of it, I never even got a glimpse.  
 I couldn't resist taking a photograph of the cowslips which line the hedgerow on the slope up to Bannams Wood. You'll have to imagine the Lesser Whitethroat singing into my right ear.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Too late to see Red Kite

This morning I was unable to go birding until late morning, and was being teased by a series of text messages from John and Dave, but nothing too alarming. Then Dave rang. He was watching a Red Kite. I have to admit that I did see one here last March, but I still cursed my luck and left the house in a hurry. I was on the patch in 10 minutes, but the bird had gone.

You have to be philosophical about it, and I was pleased for Dave as he joined the small club of Morton Bagot birders with Red Kite on their lists. I quickly gained a year tick as there were now three singing Sedge Warblers in the reed-bed and hedgerow west of Netherstead farm.

Sedge Warbler
Until last year Sedge Warbler was just a passage migrant, and could not even be guaranteed to occur. However, the small reedbed attracted about three pairs in 2011, and breeding was confirmed. Just before Dave headed home we had a rather more surprising encounter as at least one Redpoll flew west. I located two birds heading away but as only one call had been heard I couldn't be sure they were both the same species. It was the late date that made this sighting unusual, and it seems quite possible there may be a breeding pair somewhere not too far away.

My circuit thereafter was fairly uneventful. A male Wheatear, a calling Yellow Wagtail, two Shelducks (John had seen five yesterday morning), and 21 Swifts being the best of the bunch. It turned out that John had actually seen four Whinchats (inc two males) on Tuesday evening. There was no sign of a male Redstart which Matt Wilmott had seen yesterday.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Friday May 11

I took the day off today primarily to pay my respects at the cremation of Arthur Jacobs. Arthur was something of a legend in the West Midlands. His initials, AFJ, feature prominently in West Midlands Bird Club reports back to at least 1947. I first met him on 19 August 1979 when I was paying my first visit to Upton Warren. He told me there was a Ruff at the Flashes (a lifer) and pointed out I should get a permit to visit the reserve. Throughout the 1980's and 1990's I was a part of the Wednesday night crowd of birders/boozers along with Arthur and Joyce, his wife. Arthur was an extremely nice man, and I can honestly say that I never heard him say a bad word about anyone. He didn't have many close family members who were still alive, and so the congregation was entirely made up of birders, a lot of them.

 As the service wasn't until 1.15pm I decided to nip out birding first. Arthur would have understood. It was rather chilly with a fresh north-westerly breeze, and Morton Bagot was pretty quiet. A couple of Little Ringed Plovers, a few Swifts, seven Whitethroats, two Lesser Whitethroats, and a Sand Martin were the most notable migrants. The high waterlevels have attracted my first double-figure count of Tufted Ducks, albeit only 10.

Tufted Duck

There was no sign of the two "cracking" Whinchats that John Yardley had texted me about on Tuesday night, and this evening he visited again and reported good views of two Grey Partridges. It's very good news that there is still a pair present, but they are evidently incredibly elusive.

Returning to the crematorium for a moment, another member of the congregation mentioned to me that a Bar-tailed Godwit had been still present last night at a small private fishing pool nearby, and he agreed to take me there on the way to the pub. I understand that the farmer is anti-human (unless they are paying fishermen) so I agreed not to reveal the locality. We duly arrived, found it was still there, and then joined everyone else in the pub. Arthur would have been appalled the delay in reaching the pub.


Monday, 7 May 2012

Monday May 7

I arrived at Netherstead Farm mid-morning, and had about 40 minutes of birding before the forecast rain arrived. In that time I was pleased to hear my first Cuckoo of the year.

Common Cuckoo
I have managed to record this species every year since I have been visiting the patch, although ironically the only spring I failed to get one was the only autumn I saw any juveniles. The species seems to be in serious trouble and I was getting worried that I wouldn't hear its iconic call this summer. As the rain began to fall I flushed a Whinchat from the fenceposts that border the main pool. It was another female, and I suppose could have been yesterday's bird in a different spot. The flashes revealed a couple of species which had been absent yesterday, a Shelduck and a Little Ringed Plover, but then it was rather a case of rain stops play. I did however see a Marsh Tit and a fly-over Herring Gull when I got back to my car.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Whitethroats are back

Today the wind had dropped and the sun was shining. I met Dave at Netherstead Farm, and was feeling in a much more positive frame of mind than yesterday. We started seeing migrants immediately as a female Wheatear was spotted perched incongruously on telegraph wires. It then became clear that Common Whitethroats were much more plentiful than they have been.
Common Whitethroat
 We ended up with a count of six singing males, this is still well short of the 12 - 20 pairs which the farm usually holds but its a start. I then spotted a small bird flying along the fenceline away from us. Did that have an orange tail? We relocated it with the scope and confirmed it was a female Redstart. We reached the main pool where another pleasant surprise was in store as Dave spotted a Lapwing chick, the first of the season. There was also a third brood of Mallards. The flashes seemed quiet and we were about to leave when I noticed a small bird perched on the fence behind the furthest flash. Even through a scope it took several seconds to figure out it was a female Whinchat, the first this year. We ambled back, accidentally flushing a Little Owl from the hedge. Finally, back at Netherstead we saw a grey-backed alba Wagtail. I have seen this bird, a female, twice since late March. It looks like a female White Wagtail but the setting and length of stay makes me wonder. Dave agreed it was far paler than a female Pied Wagtail should be. Attempts to photograph it were thwarted when it flew off over the farm.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Saturday May 5

With the weather turning colder again it seems that this slow spring was again going to grind to a halt. I started at Netherstead Farm for the first time in over a week, and soon found that the cold northerly breeze was inhibiting bird song. Nevertheless I heard and saw my first Common Whitethroat of the year. One bird I was on the look out for was Tree Sparrow. They get noticeably shy during the breeding season, but I soon got excellent views of one. The reason I wanted to see one was to have an excuse to post a truly excellent photograph of the species at Morton Bagot, obviously not taken by me.

Tree Sparrow by Mike Lane
Many thanks to Mike for sending me this shot for the blog. I continued to the pool and flashes. This weekend several localities, Belvide Reservoir, Upton Warren, and Marsh Lane GP in particular, are holding their annual spring all day bird counts. There is no chance of competing with these premiership localities, but had I been going for a day list my next two species would have been valuable additions to the list. A Meadow Pipit flew out of the marsh, and four Teal were present at the flash. The former has usually gone before the end of April, although the habitat might just be wild enough to tempt a pair to stay and breed one year. I had not seen the latter since April 24, and these four were therefore quite a surprise. Finally, a single Wheatear, a fly over Yellow Wagtail, and a singing Lesser Whitethroat sent me home feeling the visit had not been a total waste of time.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Wednesday May 2

This evening the air felt a little warmer, almost muggy. I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of the birds and the habitat. Half way down the first hedge I heard a familiar noise. The staccato rattle of a Lesser Whitethroat is a classic spring sound, and this bird was the latest "first date" I can remember. It was a very welcome addition to my year list although it proved hard to see. I went on to hear a second bird from the hedge behind the main pool. Up to five birds usually sing in spring, and the breeding population is likely to be not far short of that figure.

Lesser Whitethroat
The pools and flashes remain full of water, and the lack of mud will probably limit the opportunities for finding many more wader species. On a positive note I did find that one Lapwing was still sitting, she had wisely chosen a slightly higher part of the flash field, and the dozen or so remaining birds have resumed display and so will no doubt try again. My second year-tick, a Common Swift, flew by right on cue. It was only a year-tick for the patch, as I saw two flying over the M5 yesterday. A second brood of Mallards was present, and the Little Owl was showing well. A single female Wheatear remains, and two Yellow Wagtails flew over. I have finally reached 90 species for the year, but I see that at this time last year I was on 102, so I've got some catching up to do.