Monday, 29 October 2012

News from the patch

Monday October 29. I got a series of texts from Matt Willmott this afternoon. He was paying a very productive visit to Morton Bagot. The highlights were a Crossbill (3rd for the site) which actually landed in a tree by "the scrape" before flying off towards Studley Castle. The previous records have involved fly overs. He then flushed at least seven Jack Snipe and 21 Common Snipe from the marsh on the south side of the pool containing the two Mute Swans. I was about to hail this as a new record count for the site when he texted back to say that he and a colleague had flushed 14 there in 2008. I gather that record was submitted verbally to the Warwickshire recorder, but it seems to have been omitted from the WMBC report for that year. He also recorded three Redpolls, a Brambling, and 72 Linnets. I think congratulations are in order.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sunday October 28

Dave and I started birding at 08.00 under cloudy skies but in thankfully calm conditions. It was immediately apparent that there was some passerine migration going on, particularly Thrushes. We logged a record total of 370 Fieldfares going west, along with 135 Redwings, 130 Starlings, and 165 Woodpigeons. Most of the movement was in the first hour.

Many of the Thrushes were landing in the vicinity of Stapenhill Wood, and it became a bit confusing trying to decide whether we were seeing new birds or brief stayers which were continuing their journeys after being flushed. I suspect our final counts were very conservative. Other birds heading over were small numbers of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, at least three Bramblings, and occasional Redpolls and Siskins. We also noticed that Blackbirds were more in evidence than usual, and logged about 20.

The watery parts of the patch were a bit disappointing. 17 Teal were flying about, and 78 Greylag Geese were on the flash. We saw two distant ducks flying off and considered they were probably Wigeon. The pair of Mute Swans were still present on the pool.

A couple of species which have been scarce lately put in a welcome return, as we counted three Bullfinches and at least 12 Tree Sparrows near Netherstead Farm.

Dave had to leave at 10.00am, so he will be relieved to hear that my second circuit added only a single Goldcrest and about eight Long-tailed Tits to the morning's tally.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Thursday October 25

A day off work today was largely packed with non-birding stuff, but I did get down to Morton Bagot for an hour and a half this morning. As I was pushed for time I parked at the church, hearing a Brambling shortly after getting out of the car. A couple of gunshots from the wood while I was still close to the road caused a great birdy panic as Woodpigeons, corvids, and Mallard rose in the distance. Amongst them I could see a party of eight Wigeon. By the time I reached the flash, it was virtually deserted.

The pool was slightly better, a pair of Wigeon, the Little Grebe, a Teal, and a pair of Mute Swans were in residence. Overhead a few winter Thrushes were flying over, and I eventually logged 24 Redwings and 11 Fieldfares. I decided to cut across the marsh, ironically the course of the public footpath, and here I flushed the first Jack Snipe of the year.

Jack Snipe
Typically it flew just a few yards and pitched back into the long grass. This was actually the first since 2010. I used to flush one each autumn, but then the great drought started and by 2011 the whole site became unsuitable. Fortunately the marsh is back and I had been optimistic that the species would return.

I continued back to the road, but then couldn't resist scoping some Geese which were now on the flash. They were just Greylags, and with them were 11 Black-headed Gulls. Then another Gull joined them, a first-winter Common Gull, the second year-tick of the morning. Common Gulls are surprisingly scarce in this area, and I often only manage a single individual in a year.

My year list now sits at 116.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Barn Owl

Sunday October 21. The foggy start caused Dave to be delayed, so I checked out the churchyard first. There were plenty of small birds zipping about, and through the mist I spotted my first Redwings of the autumn in hedgerow behind the church. I was joined by Dave at Netherstead, but it soon became apparent that the fog would be slow to lift. By the time we reached the flash we had managed to flush a couple of Snipe, see a Little Grebe, and gained the impression that there were more Reed Buntings, Chaffinches and Yellowhammers than last week. The flash produced a pair of Wigeon and a handful of Snipe, plus a Green Sandpiper and 19 Lapwings.

John rang to say he had arrived and was debating whether it was worth pressing on. We felt that the fog was showing signs of lifting, so fortunately he chose to continue. We had just reached Stapenhill Wood when Dave flushed a Barn Owl from the edge of the field. We watched it fly away along the rough field boundary while we bellowed to John, who we knew needed Barn Owl for the site. He appeared over the ridge as the bird landed. We scoped it, while I attempted some record shots, and then a record sketch of what I could see. Shortly afterwards a couple of dogwalkers appeared, and initially walked right past it without flushing it. Then they went back to encourage their dog to follow and their commotion caused the Owl to fly right towards us. It kept coming, I had my camera ready and eventually I pressed the shutter. Nothing happened. My camera had switched itself off. By the time it was back on, the Owl was a distant dot again. This is what it looked like though.

Barn Owl
We remained on the ridge watching little parties of Siskins, 10 in total, and gaining extra Redwings, 37 in total, before I spotted my second year tick of the day. A single Brambling flew past with Chaffinches. Unfortunately my directions were sufficiently naff that Dave failed to see it. My year total for the site is now 114, and the previous two year's totals of 118 and 117 are definitely in sight.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

An eventful day

Sunday October 14. Dave and I arrived at about 9.00am to find that fog was clinging to the fields, although the blue sky above promised better things. It began to lift as we approached the pool. Three Goldcrests flicked about a small tree in the hedge, and then three Jays flew over, then another, and another. Our final tally of 12 was complicated by the fact that duplication could not be ruled out, and the true figure could have been anything between five and 25. I suspect that more than a dozen were involved. We scanned the fence at the back of the pool and soon found our goal, the Stonechat.

The Stonechat
It was rather distant but I was determined to sketch it. The bird kept disappearing so Dave wandered off to check the Tawny Owl hedge. I eventually came up with a tiny pencil sketch I was happy with, and have posted a larger colour version. I heard a Chiffchaff call before Dave returned, but it must have moved on as we didn't see it.

Mike appeared from the distance, and we showed him the Stonechat. He reported that there was no sign of yesterday's Pink-footed Goose, but we wandered in the direction of the flash anyway. Although a few had been heading south all morning, we were surprised by a loosely bound flock of at least 80 Meadow Pipits which headed over to the south-west. We suspected they were leaving a roost site en masse rather than being a part of the continuing migrational trickle of birds. I then spotted a Kingfisher on the dead tree at the end of the pool. Dave just saw it as it flew left across the pool and then disappeared leaving Mike frustrated. There were just a handful of Teal, Snipe, and Greylags on the flash, plus a Green Sandpiper. Mike would later count three after Dave and I headed homewards.

We decided to double back and walk through the pool field in the hope of a Jack Snipe, but we only recorded three Common Snipe. A walk across the stubble also produced just a few Skylarks, Linnets and Reed Buntings. John texted with news that earlier this morning he had seen pretty much the same as us but with the addition of Peregrine and Fieldfare. I have still to see a winter thrush this autumn.

We were almost back at Netherstead when I spotted a soaring Falcon. The others got onto it and I even managed to scope it. By a process of elimination we concluded it had to be a Merlin. The bird thermaled slowly south-east. It lacked the black head and contrasting white face of a Peregrine or Hobby, it appeared too slight and too long-tailed for Peregine, but not long enough in the tail for Kestrel, and with relatively broad-based but pointed wings, the latter ruling out an accipiter species. It was basically uniformly darkish brown on the underside. We were all used to seeing Merlins dashing about, so this soaring bird was quite unfamiliar.

The Stonechat and Merlin were welcome year ticks for me.

Post script: At about 2.30 pm Lyn and I were driving to Stratford through Wootton Wawen when a swirl of birds above the road attracted my attention and led to the following exchange:  "Its an Owl !!! " "What?"
" It's an Owl, a Short-eared Owl!" "Keep your eyes on the road" "I've got to stop" "You can't stop, there's nowhere to stop" We stopped. "Why haven't I got my binoculars?" "Because we're going to Marks and Spencers". I had jumped out of the car after we pulled off the main road onto someone's drive, but sadly the bird was nowhere to be seen. Driving with my neck craned round to the right I had seen that what I had  thought was just another Buzzard was actually a long-winged Owl, presumably Short-eared. Lyn has often said that my driving occasionally lacks focus, and this little episode did nothing to help my cause.

Mind you, blimey, a Short-eared Owl over Wootton Wawen.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

News from Saturday Oct 13

I have had a couple of messages from John. He has found a couple of new for the year birds at Morton Bagot this morning. First a Stonechat, and then a Pink-footed Goose which flew in with the Greylags. The latter is only the second for the site, and the date isn't too bad to consider it wild rather than feral.

I was considering twitching it when a further text told me that the site was awash with horsemen and all the Geese had flown off.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Saturday October 6

A beautiful sunny morning with very little breeze. I was birding alone today, and soon found that the warm weather was encouraging migrants to remain around. Five House Martins were still hunting insects over Netherstead Farm, and during the day two groups of Swallows totalling 22 birds, moved through. I counted four Chiffchaffs in the hedgerows, and noticed that Robins were much more in evidence as at least 12 were making their presence felt around the site, equalling my highest count. Autumn was represented by the odd Siskin, eight Lesser Redpolls, 30 Meadow Pipits flying south, and a Grey Wagtail. A Sparrowhawk disturbed a cloud of small birds from the thistle field, and they proved to be a record estimate of 140 Goldinches. The flash produced 103 Teal,  42 Snipe, and a calling Green Sandpiper.


I got talking to a chap called William who was putting out feed for the Mallards ahead of this year's shooting season. While I wish duck shooting didn't happen at Morton Bagot, it is long established here and I have no intention of picking a fight with the protagonists. William proved to know his birds and said he did his best to ensure that the punters stuck to shooting Mallard. We had an interesting conversation about the birds he has seen in the area over the years. His most relevent sighting was a Short-eared Owl he flushed from the field behind the pool last October. I couldn't disguise my envy as this was a first for Morton Bagot, and a bird I could well have imagined finding.

 Earlier this year Matt Griffiths drew my attention to a website which implied that extensive tree-planting inspired by the new owner's vision was due to start next year, earlier than I had understood would be the case. William confirmed that this was correct, although the field behind the pool is still protected by the stewardship scheme. I have to say that the potential change in the habitat is a worry as the forest is unlikely to benefit species like Tree Sparrows, Yellowhammers, and Skylarks which are in trouble nationally but are currently doing rather well at Morton Bagot. Time will tell.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Chasing shadows

Sunday 30 Sept dawned a little cloudy, but dry, and it was back to the patch. I met Dave as usual and we followed our usual route. As we approached the pool, a half heard faint twitter caused us to stop. We were both thinking Lap Bunting, but all we could see were Skylarks. One in particular was sub-singing above the stubble, perhaps it was that. We shrugged and continued to the Flash.

The left hand flash was smothered with 110 Teal and 30 Common Snipe (John had 35 yesterday), while a Green Sandpiper which was calling as we approached seemed to have disappeared. A few Swallows were flying over, and we logged about 10 plus a small passage of Meadow Pipits.

We decided to walk the stubble field in case there really was a Lapland Bunting lurking in there. Our efforts produced about 15 Skylarks and several Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits. We gave up.

However, an hour later as we approached Netherstead we heard a loud "dew" call like a Snow or Lapland Bunting. Again we didn't see what made the call, but we decided to try more stubble walking. Still no result though.

Just chasing shadows.