Sunday, 29 July 2012

Bush bashing

Sunday July 29. This is a good date for what is sometimes described as bush-bashing, although all it means where I am concerned is spending extra time trying to see passerines in the hedgerows. From the end of July to the middle of August there is a combination of lots of juvenile birds, and the start of passerine migration which means you have the prospect of modest success in finding something different. Part of the spark this morning was having a very brief view of a possible Garden Warbler. I spent a considerable time trying to relocate it, without success, in the course of which I logged passerines which included 20 Blue Tits, six Chiffchaffs, several Whitethroats, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Blackcap, a Nuthatch, and my first juvenile Willow Warbler of the autumn.

A juvenile Willow Warbler
Juvenile Willow Warblers are much prettier birds than the adults, having a suffusion of lemon yellow across the underparts. There have been none breeding on the patch, as usual, so this bird was certainly a migrant.

Earlier, the Flashes were looking good, containing 83 Lapwings, 10 Green Sandpipers, two Common Snipe, and a Teal. There were plenty of hirundines around, particularly noticeable when it started raining and they were swooping low around the copse opposite Netherstead Farm. I also saw two Essex Skippers and a Marbled White.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Tuesday July 24

I made a late decision to go out tonight, and as a result the sun was just about setting as I arrived at the flash. Earlier, I had noticed about 100 Black-headed Gulls, several Swifts and a Hobby jinking around high above our garden in Redditch clearly taking advantage of a hatch of flying ants. The warm evening and almost complete lack of wind this evening meant that there were plenty of little insects to greet me, and also that there were small parties of hirundines plus at least six Common Swifts hoovering up the insect soup.

Common Swift
It is sobering to think that in another week or so these Swifts will be on their way back to Africa. As I watched them I noticed several apparently Swift sized bats, i.e. big ones, flying with them. I assume that these were Noctules. I turned my phone on and found a number of texts from Matt. He had seen a Dunlin and nine Green Sandpipers yesterday. I quickly located the Dunlin, which was quite vocal, and eventually counted 11 Green Sandpipers and my first Common Snipe of the autumn. A Little Owl called, but I couldn't see it. By the time I got back to my car it was nearly too dark to see birds, but I spent several minutes scanning the farmland in the hope of a midsummer Barn Owl. No luck, but ironically one flew over the road just east of Redditch on my way home. I have often been tempted to stretch the boundaries of previous local patches to cater for good birds, but I think this time it was just too far from the area.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sunday July 22

A warm sunny morning boded well for insect hunting, while the autumn bird migration was expected to gather pace. Dave and I strolled to the main pool where we were pleased to find all eight Tufted Ducklings still alive and kicking. The hedgerows are starting to fill with recently fledged Whitethroats, Blackcaps, and Chiffchaffs. The Flashes produced eight Green Sandpipers and three Teal, and I noticed that the autumn release of young Mallards for the "sportsmen" has taken place. We reached the end of the small pools and scanned the hedge on the opposite side of the field beyond. There in the hedge was the day's star bird, a superb male Redstart.
The male Redstart
The remainder of the morning was spent concentrating on insects. We found Large, Small, and Essex Skippers, a couple of Marbled Whites, a Large White, Gatekeeper, and pleanty of Meadow Browns and Ringlets. Dragonflies included Emerald Damselfly, Brown and Southern Hawker, Emperor, and Four-spotted Chaser. None of these was particularly unusual, although Essex Skippers only appeared a couple of years ago, and remain challenging to identify. They seem to be pretty well established here now.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Sunshine at last

After a pretty damp week it was nice to wake up to sunshine. I was a little later than usual after a late night at the Bromsgrove Folk Festival headlined by an excellent band called the Churchfitters. Dave arrived shortly before me, and we soon got a call from John to say he had seen two male Redstarts in the hedgerow at the flash. By the time we reached the area they had disappeared. However, there were nine Green Sandpipers showing well.

Two of the nine Green Sandpipers
Green Sandpiper numbers have increased steadily since the first one I saw here in April 2007. My record count is 11 in 2010, so these nine are a promise of further increases to come. I have a feeling the site record  was set by Matt Wilmott a couple of years ago and rivals the best counts for any site in the West Midlands.
Other birds seen included a Lesser Whitethroat, probably two Sedge and about four Reed Warblers, plus about 10 Swifts.

John was diligently counting butterflies, and we joined him doing so. We saw Small Skippers, a Comma, at least one Green-veined White, a Marbled White, and a Speckled Wood amongst numerous Meadow Browns and Ringlets. For once, dragonflies were much in evidence. A couple of large Hawkers were probably newly emerged Southern Hawkers, and we also saw several Black-tailed Skimmers, Four-spotted Chasers, and my first Common Darter, Emerald Damselfly, and Emperor Dragonflies of the year. The latter involved two males, one of which ended up stuck on the water's surface. It thrashed aoround vigorously at first, but gradually became weaker and eventually lifeless. I'm not sure how it ended up in that predicament, but I felt the other Emperor looked awfully smug!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Sunday July 8

I was joined by Dave this morning and although the Tufted Duck family were not on show, we saw the Spotted Flycatchers and the Black-tailed Godwit to improve Dave's patch year and life lists respectively. There were more Green Sandpipers on show than yesterday, we saw five, but Mike Inskip rang us later, and said he had seen six. Interestingly, Mike was down to see the Blackwit, which he did, but he had been here yesterday morning and hadn't seen it, so it must have arrived around midday. Bird-wise the remainder of the visit was a bit of a struggle, although Sparrowhawks were seen more frequently than recently, and the Tawny Owl was showing in the barn.

As our interest turned to the insects we could find, the most noticeable event was that there were now quite a few Large Skippers around. I normally see this species before Small Skipper, but for some reason my first Small was last week, and Large were plentiful this weekend. We also saw some Roesel's Bush Crickets. This species has spread up from the south coast in the last 10 years, and is now quite common locally.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Black-tailed Godwit

Saturday July 7 - This afternoon I was lounging in front of the telly watching England stuff the Aussies at cricket, when I glanced at my pager as it flashed a message at me. Black-tailed Godwit at Morton Bagot. It is fair to say I was off like a shot, stuffing my sketch book into my bag and phoning non pager owners as I left the house.

I arrived to find the whole area sodden after Friday's rain, but thankfully soon saw the unmistakable sight of a summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwit feeding up to its haunches in the middle of the second flash.

sketches of Black-tailed Godwit
John arrived to tell me that he had met the finder, John Chidwick, as he was leaving. I believe John mainly birds around Earlswood, but is evidently frequently here on a Saturday afternoon. Thank goodness he put his find on the pager. 
Black-tailed Godwit
It was such a lovely bird I couldn't resist doing a colour version of one of the sketches when I got home. It was a locality tick for me, my list now 137. There has been one previous record I know of, involving a bird seen last March by Alan Smith.

The higher water levels meant that I could only see one Green Sandpiper, but a look at the pool confirmed the continued presence of the female Tufted Duck and her brood of eight ducklings. On the way back to my car I worked out the location of the Spotted Flycatchers' nest high in the corner of the barn as the parents continued to feed their brood of fledglings.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

An evening of surprises

The recent bad weather finally abated today, and I was keen to get out. The rather sultry evening was also hinting to me that it could be worth a visit. It certainly was. I decided to park at Morton Bagot church for a change, and had barely crossed the road when my eye was drawn to a movement in a big open tractor barn. Perched on one of the vehicles was a Spotted Flycatcher, and seconds later another, this one with a beak full of insects. Clearly they were breeding.

Spotted Flycatcher
When I first visited the patch in 2007, the species bred at Netherstead Farm, and did so again in 2008. But since then I have only seen them in the autumn. I was therefore very pleased to find this pair.

I continued to the flashes after ringing John. When I got there I immediately saw an Egret flying off. I got on it again after it emerged from behind the hedge and headed south into the sun. Clearly a small Egret I assumed it was a Little Egret. I had noticed there were waders on the flash, and as I started to count what turned out to be nine Green Sandpipers, I heard a Greenshank call, and found that there were two adults with the Green Sandpipers. I tried to subtly shift position to check the other flash pool, but in doing so I flushed everything. John rang to say he had arrived and couldn't see the Spot Flys, so I had to report that everything else had flown off. I have to say I was feeling quite guilty. Fortunately by the time John joined me he had seen the Spotted Flycatchers, and at least eight Green Sandpipers had returned. In the meantime I had seen at least two Tufted Duck chicks on the main pool. Matt had found them last week, I somehow missed them on Saturday, and Dave had counted nine Tufted ducklings, plus 8 - 10 Green Sandpipers on Sunday. Back to tonight, a remarkable 15 Skylarks were suddenly in the air together, and shortly afterwards the Little Egret returned in time for John to see it, before it dropped out of sight beyond the far side of the flash field.

Not a bad evening.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Saturday June 30

A rather blustery day with a mixture of cloud and sunshine. Not my favourite conditions for birding, and by the time I had got to the flash pools it was proving as disappointing as I had suspected it would. There were now five Green Sandpipers present, which is very good for the time of year. I couldn't find the brood of Tufted Ducks which Matt Wilmott had discovered in the week, and the flash flooding which had affected the area on Thursday had left little trace, although the waterlevel in the pool did look a bit higher.

A view of the set-aside borders
I soon became tempted to concentrate on the wildlife beneath my feet. The long grass bordering the fields is fantastic for plants and mini-beasts. The latter included Small Skipper, Small Copper, Common Blue, and Red Admiral butterflies today. I really struggle to name the plants, so I took a few pictures with the intention of trying to identify them later. 
Grass Vetchling
I think the tiny pink flower between my fingers is Grass Vetchling, possibly only locally distributed in Warwickshire. Finally, I had a good view of the Tawny Owl in the barn, which remained asleep throughout the time I was watching it.