Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Wednesday August 29

I was hopeful that today's heavy rain might have dropped some waders into the Flash Pools. Unfortunately, it turned out that the only effect was an adverse one. The mud had disappeared under a flood of rainwater and the smaller waders had consequently largely disappeared into the grass. The Wood Sandpiper was still present, but Snipe and Green Sandpipers were apparently down. There was also no sign of any Whinchats, they had probably gone to roost. Matt W had counted a record six yesterday.

There were a lot of Greylag Geese (140), and Teal were up to 30, but you know its been a bad night when you find yourself counting Moorhen; seven for the record.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The longest day (Part two)

I returned to Netherstead by 10.30am, and immediately noticed a difference. The sun was now beating down, and the patch seemed much quieter. I had a mental shopping list of birds I had not seen this morning, but it took a while before the first of these, Lesser Black-backed Gull, made its presence known. On reaching the pool I found I could see Mike Inskip in the distance. He joined me to look at the Whinchats, and then casually dropped into the conversation that he had found some Red-eyed Damselflies in the corner of the main pool on Thursday.

This would be a new species for the patch so we made our way to the poolside and quickly found them. But they didn't look right to me. I remembered that the third segment from the end of the abdomen should be wholly black in Red-eyed, but on these insects that segment was layered with the upper half black and the lower half pale blue. Surely this was a feature of Small Red-eyed Damselfly, a recent colonist of southern Britain, and a species I had never seen. We discussed my thoughts, but Mike remembered that they should show a black cross on the last segment, and we couldn't see that. I resolved to check the reference books at lunchtime, and our attention was diverted by the sight of a young Peregrine circling overhead.

Mike showed me some Midland Hawthorn, a species with different shaped leaves from normal Hawthorn. I wish I knew more about plants. Last weekend Lyn and I had examined some species we didn't know, and had identified them as Wild Marjoram and Black Medick. Mike's friend Roger Maskew, is close to publishing his 25 year project on the plants of Worcestershire. Perhaps it will inspire me to try harder.

At the flashes we saw the Wood Sandpiper, and counted 12 Green Sandpipers. The hedge beyond contained a male Redstart, and after we parted I found another one a little further along. What was to be my last species of the day was a Tree Sparrow chirruping from the Gropper hedge beyond the dragonfly pools.

Lunchtime at home produced some Long-tailed Tits, I could find none at Morton Bagot today, and confirmation that the damselflies had been Small Red-eyed Damselflies. I rang Mike and returned to the pool with my camera. I will try to upload an image from work because my difficulties seem to be related to my network provider and not to Blogspot. Mike reappeared and agreed with the new identification, we even managed to see the black cross on the last segment of the abdomen of one of the insects. You clearly need to be standing right above them to see this feature properly.We reckoned there were at least 20 present in one corner of the pool alone.
One of the Small Red-eyed Damselflies
The day ended at 17.30, and a slightly disappointing tally of 57 bird species. The Kingfisher had taken my patch year list to 107, and it had been a pretty memorable visit.

The longest day (Part one)

Saturday 26th August was the longest day of the year, but only in the sense of hours spent in the field. I had decided to get up pre-dawn to get to the patch early, but a night of fitful sleep and worry that I would oversleep caused me to get up too early. I stumbled out of bed at 3.30am with Lyn mumbling that I was mad, an opinion I found it hard to disagree with, and was driving to the patch before 04.00am. In my mind's eye the journey would be laced with Badgers, Foxes, and perhaps an Otter or two. In reality all I saw were a few moths and a small rodent skipping into the roadside verge.

After parking up I set off down the road. The silence really strikes you at this time, my welly clad feet such an intrusion that I tried to walk slowly and more carefully so as not to spoil the moment. My ears were straining for wild sounds, initially restricted to the thin "sip" sounds made by Dark Bush Crickets in the hedgerow. My first bird was a calling Pheasant, then as I approached Netherstead a young Tawny Owl started hooting. By now my eyes were more accustomed to the dark and although there was partial cloud cover, it was surprisingly easy to see. The ambient light from Redditch to the west created a dull glow across the sky, although where the cloud broke I could see plenty of stars.

By 5.00 am I could hear the hum of distant traffic as the world started to wake up. By now I was heading for the flashes, and was beginning to hear some water birds; Greylag Goose, and Moorhen. A Little Owl called, but I scanned in vain for any sign of a Barn Owl which I had hoped might justify the early start. Mallards quacked, startled Skylarks called, and I could hear the restless calls of Green Sandpipers, Snipe, and Lapwing before the gloom revealed 19 Canada Geese standing in the marsh.

Normal  birding was resumed as it gradually became possible to use my scope. The eventual total for the flashes was 27 Teal, 13 Snipe, 12 Green Sandpipers, a record count (for me), 54 Starlings,44 Lapwings, and one Wood Sandpiper. My prediction in my last blog that the Wood Sandpipers would go overnight was proved only partly correct as the brighter juvenile did indeed leave, but fortunately this duller bird has remained.

By sunrise the cloud had virtually disappeared and the angle of the strong sunlight was making life difficult as I had to walk adjacent to its penetrating rays. I stopped at a particularly lively hedge and watched the first flock of an eventual 70 Goldfinches interspersed with the occasional Whitethroat and Chiffchaff. Then I found I could hear a voice, and noticed the birds were getting nervous and streaming down the hedge past me. These included a Song Thrush, difficult to see of late. The voice revealed itself to be that of Antoinette who was walking her two free running, large and boisterous Alsations, which barked and bounded excitedly as they saw me. So much for dog training school. Their owner changed direction and with a friendly wave succeeded in encouraging them to head off up the ridge. I set off slowly along the hedge, and at the small pond at its end heard an almost forgotten sound. The first Kingfisher of the year was visiting, and I just had time to see it head off across the fields.

 Back at Netherstead I finally managed to see one of the tacking sylvia Warblers which turned out to be a young Blackcap. Pishing at the reedbed instantly produced an agitated Reed Warbler, and eventually another three. It was now approaching 9.00 am and I was heading back to my car to go for breakfast when I got a text from John Yardley. He had found four Whinchats, so I hurried to join him as these were the first this autumn. They were where they turn up every year on passage, on the barbed wire fence bordering the main pool. Superbly characterful little chats. A fitting end to my early morning section.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Wednesday August 22

The first sound I heard this evening as I arrived at Morton Bagot church was the sad little bleep my phone gives out when it runs out of charge. That being the case it was probably fortunate that this evening's visit produced no new arrivals. This does not mean that there was nothing of interest though. At the Flashes I immediately found I could hear the "chiff chiff" call of Wood Sandpiper. I eventually found that both birds were still present, but the fact that they were calling constantly leads me to suspect they may be on their way tonight. The flash field is looking damper than ever, with the two flash pools now linked by a series of channels and damp patches in the grass. The Wood Sandpipers were favouring this area, as were at least 22 Common Snipe, about 60 Starlings, and 46 Lapwings. On Monday Matt Wilmott had counted 29 Snipe, but it is quite likely that even this count is only a proportion of the numbers present. Teal numbers have increased, now 19 present. The two Little Grebes were still on the main pool, and I could hear a Little Owl calling from the hedge bordering the flashes. I headed back to my car, logging four calling Chiffchaffs and four Common Whitethroats on the way.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Buddleia bonanza

Sunday August 19 was a warm, largely sunny, and slightly humid day. I arrived at Netherstead Farm and, before I had really started logging birds, noticed that the Buddleia by the horse paddocks had rather a lot of insects on it. In the next 15 minutes I counted 60 Peacocks, three Brimstones, a Large White, several Meadow Browns and three Small Tortoiseshell butterflies on the three Buddleias in the compound. So impressive was the bush that I took Lyn to see it this afternoon, and we added a few more Large Whites, a Skipper sp (Small?), and a Red Admiral.

Back to the birds, the small reedbed contained three Reed Warblers, while about 50 Goldfinches, 50 House Martins, 30 Swallows and 30 Linnets were zipping about the area. I slowly headed to the flashes, seeing a male Redstart, the first of three, the others being an immature male and a female, en route. The pool contained an adult and an immature Little Grebe, two female Tufted Ducks plus the brood of six, and the first of two new broods of Mallard.

As I approached the flashes I was joined by Mike Inskip. He and John had seen just one Wood Sandpiper this morning, plus the Common Sandpiper. We scanned the left hand flash and eventually found that there were actually two juvenile Wood Sandpipers, 10 Green Sandpipers, the Common Sandpiper, and eventually 21 Common Snipe plus 120 Starlings,  67 Lapwings and seven Teal. Pretty good.

The brighter of the two Wood Sandpipers
 Mike headed off while I meandered back, adding only the female Redstart and three Tree Sparrows to the daily tally.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Saturday August 18

I haven't been out today, but a couple of items of news are worth reporting.

Firstly, I understand that John Chidwick has had two Wood Sandpipers on the Flashes today.
Secondly, I have discovered a glitch with Blogspot which is preventing me from uploading any of my drawings or photographs.

At the moment I have no idea how to get around the problem.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Wood Sandpiper

Wednesday Aug 15. I decided to resume evening visits to the patch, and it turned out I picked the right night. Scanning across the Flash I counted 12 Green Sandpipers, the juvenile Dunlin, the Common Sandpiper, and oh yes a juvenile Wood Sandpiper. This is actually my third record for the site, which is quite remarkable given the long list of waders which have still to occur. I hadn't brought my camera, so I texted everyone I thought might be interested, and then checked out the Flashes more carefully. A Shoveler, 12 Teal, three Snipe and 73 Lapwings. The main pool now contained two adult Little Grebes, and the Tufted Duck family was still intact.  I  decided to go home to get my sketch pad and camera.

Wood Sandpiper by Alan Matthews
On returning, the light was starting to fade and my photographic efforts were even more abject than usual. Fortunately, Alan Matthews had responded to my text and appeared with his new camera. He has kindly sent me his best effort taken in the fading light but still miles better than any of mine. I made some field sketches which I intend to work from to produce a drawing for this post when I have more time. In fact both the Wood Sandpiper and the Shoveler were new for the year, so my year list moves to 106.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Sunday August 12

This was an odd sort of visit. Dave was able to join me after a week working abroad, and he ended up with three patch year-ticks and I with one, and yet there didn't seem to be that much about. The first notable bird was a Sand Martin, the first this autumn, which flew over as we reached the main pool. The female Tufted Duck still had six ducklings, and behind her we spotted the second Little Grebe of the year. Finally, the Flashes contained my first Common Sandpiper of the year.

Common Sandpiper
It seems strange that while the site is knee deep in Green Sandpipers, nine today, it can be quite a struggle to record Common Sandpiper each year. Not enough water perhaps. Other waders present were a juvenile Dunlin, 77 Lapwings, and seven Common Snipe. The Teal numbers are up to 11, and there was an impressive 40 Starlings, and 50 Goldfinches. Where we fell short was finding passerine migrants. No Redstarts or Spotted Flycatchers, and just one Sedge Warbler, six Whitethroats, three Chiffchaffs and two Blackcaps. We also met John Yardley, who has been away, and he told us he had seen a Reed Warbler.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Classic early August birds

Thursday 9 August. On a beautiful sunny morning I began birding at Netherstead Farm, counting 60 House Martins and 30 Swallows resting on wires behind the dragonfly pools. I headed for the Flashes as usual, seeing the first two of an eventual tally of four male Common Redstarts, a record day count for the site. For some reason the hedgerows at Morton Bagot really attract this species on passage. I can think of several important Midland birding sites which do not fare as well.  I noticed a photographer in his hide at the main pool so I crept past him and then discovered that a second Tufted Duck has a brood of ducklings, this time six. The Flashes contained further surprises as there were three Dunlins, two adults and a juvenile, amongst 10 Green Sandpipers, nine Common Snipe, and 73 Lapwings. 
Spot the Dunlin
 I continued down the hedgerow, seeing a Brimstone butterfly and then hearing the distinctive calls of Spotted Flycatchers. I stood at the gate to survey the back hedge and eventually got at least five Spotted Flycatchers with several Chiffchaffs, the fourth Redstart, and several Goldfinches and Linnets. The Tawny Owl was again in the shed, and I finished back at the dragonfly pools which were alive with Common Blue damselflies, Emerald Damselflies, Common Darters, a Ruddy Darter, and a few Emperors and Brown Hawkers. All very satisfactory.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Grasshopper Warbler

Sunday Aug 5. I finally managed to drag myself away from the Olympics this morning, and arrived to find still conditions and initially a few persistent showers. The hirundines over Netherstead were extremely vocal, and after 30 minutes the cause of their anxiety revealed itself as a Hobby which powered past. Hobbies visit every year in August and September to take advantage of the readily available young Swallows and Martins. I continued to the Flashes where I quickly found at least two Spotted Flycatchers in the hedge, one of which was a begging juvenile. I suspect they were the family from the barn. On the Flash itself 75 Lapwings, 11 Green Sandpipers, and two Snipe was pretty much the same as last week. I noticed there were at least 19 Starlings, considerably more than there have been since last winter. The return journey was fairly uneventful until I reached the wheat field behind the Dragonfly pool field. I could see several Reed Buntings, a Tree Sparrow, and a Whitethroat in the hedge, but then a warbler flew from the crop and into the hedge. Even in flight I suspected a locustella, and to my delight it then perched in full view at the edge of the hedge. Face on it was pretty bland, with little contrast on its face and a slightly yellowish tinge to the underparts. It kept flicking and cocking its tail, which was well rounded. Surely this was a Grasshopper Warbler. I edged forwards, and the bird stayed in view as it moved around the hedge. I glimpsed some dark stripes on its back, phew, and then its long streaked undertail coverts. It allowed me the time to get my tripod off my back, to attach my scope, and then to see it through the scope. I cautiously got my camera out, turned it on, prepared to take a shot, and then it flew back into the wheat. Doh ! There didn't seem to be much prospect of it reappearing and I wasn't about to trample the crop, so I tried to jot a few sketches down, and there follows a colour version of them.

The Grasshopper Warbler
I decided that the bird was a juvenile based on the cleanness and neatness of the feathers. Reading up, on getting back, it would appear that both adults and juveniles are quite variable in plumage.

The only previous record for Morton Bagot was a singing bird which Jonathan Bowley found in April 2007, which I heard a couple of days later. This was not only my first sighting here, but also the first I have seen in autumn for many years.