Sunday, 29 December 2013


I have treated myself to a new camera. A Canon Powershot SX50, and went to the patch to road test it and compare the results with my old Nikon Coolpix digiscoping camera. All went well as far as photos are concerned.

Here is one I took by digiscoping a Reed Bunting

and here is one with my new camera:

The results look pretty similar, but the digiscoped image is cropped, while the shot taken with the new camera is not.

Brother-in-law technical support not required, a universal card reader has done the trick.

Anyway, on the camera is a very nice photograph of a Little Owl, a dodgy photo of a Grey Wagtail, and several shots of Reed Buntings etc. Hopefully I will be able to share these with you at some point.

Now is that time:

It was a cold and frosty morning, and with frozen water everywhere I didn't see much else.

A quick summary of the year reveals that I have equaled my previous best year here, (2010) recording 118 species plus Feral Pigeon. Highlights were the Marsh Harrier, Great Grey Shrike, Mealy Redpoll, Whooper Swans, and Short-eared Owls.

There were a number of other good species for the patch, like Whimbrels, Red Kite, Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Goshawk, Merlin, and Corn Bunting, while several more expected species only just sneaked onto the list with one day only sightings, eg Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Little Egret and (disastrously) Tree Sparrow. Birds I failed to record in 2013 included Great Black-backed Gull, Shoveler, and Pintail. The only species I know to have occurred without me seeing it was Crossbill, seen by Matt Willmott...Oh, and a Common Tern seen by Jon Yardley. I had almost airbrushed that one from my memory as I was there at the time, but not close enough to see it.

2014 promises more competition. I still intend to try for a photo list, and Mike is still up for trying a rival list at Middle Spernal Farm Pools plus Haselor scrape, and yes I have signed up for the Patchwork challenge again.

Happy New Year to everyone reading this blog.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Buntings & Bullfinches

A foggy start, but today was to see another addition to the year-list.

As I wasn't sure how long the fog would linger, I began by trying to get a shot in the can, and settled for this obliging Fieldfare at Netherstead Farm.

I decided to tackle the south end first, and found about 150 Linnets, about 50 Chaffinches, and 45 Fieldfares down there. I also began logging Buntings, having noticed that they have been well represented in recent visits. Almost as an afterthought I also started counting the Bullfinches. For some reason the patch seems to be an irresistible draw for them this winter, and I ended up with a minimum of 12 (smashing my previous record; although it had been just four).

Back to the Buntings, I actually didn't count all that many Reed Buntings (just 20), but there were more Yellowhammers than usual. I ended up with 32 (less than half my best count which was in 2007) but more than I have seen this autumn.

Just beyond the dragonfly pool field I started walking along the hedge towards Stapenhill Wood. I could see a Reed Bunting perched up, and another Bunting beyond. This was 20% larger and rather nondescript, and not yellow. It began to dawn on me that I was looking at a Corn Bunting. I gently tried to get my scope off my back and onto my tripod, which is where everything went wrong. The bird clearly had its eye on me and decided to fly off. I saw it was fat bodied and  didn't see any white outer-tail feathers. Sadly it ignored my muttered requests to land, and I watched it keep flying north-west until lost from view.

This is the fourth record for the site, and my second. Three of the previous records were also in mid-winter, so I guess they may occasionally move north with Yellowhammers from their nearest breeding sites south of Alcester.

So sadly, no photo to show. Here is a Robin in the fog instead!

A short time later I heard a Golden Plover, and a little afterwards a small flock flew over, giving a day total of 14. The various water courses were pretty disappointing again; 101 Lapwings, a Wigeon, two Teal, and five Snipe was all the flashes could muster.

There are still quite a few Meadow Pipits about, I would estimate about 15 today, and the Stonechat is still present at the pool.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Another red-letter raptor day

Sunday December 22 started off sunny, a bit cold, and breezy. Dave got to the patch before me, but had little to report. We started off with a view of the female Brambling, but as we reached the small pond en route to the main pool it was apparent that it was going to rain. A thick black cloud caused us to clamber over a fence and walk on the sheltered side of the hedge leading to the pool. This was to prove to be a very good idea indeed.

About half way along the hedge a bird flew out and then banked before heading across the field and away. In the short time available we were able to identify, and get excellent views of the bird; a female Merlin.

female Merlin
This was a great pull-back for Dave, and was a far better view for me than the distant dot I had seen a couple of weeks ago. We noted its barred tail and lack of striking head markings. A minute later Dave picked up another raptor, this time flying along the fence on the far side of the field. It was a Sparrowhawk, and we watched as it landed in a bush across the field. A Kestrel and a Buzzard were also seen as we sheltered from the shower.

In the distance, a flock of 25 Wigeon were wheeling around over the flash, so that needed to be our next destination.

The rain eased and we set off again. Only 100 yards further on I picked up another raptor, this time flying over the pool. Close to Buzzard size but with a longer and distinctly rounded tail I called out "what's this?", and then "Goshawk" as it swung round and started to return the way it had come. I realised Dave hadn't seen it at first, so nudged him and pointed as it continued its progress back towards Bannams Wood. He got onto it before it started to get distant, and we watched until it disappeared over the crown of the wood. Fantastic.

The flashes were devoid of any Wigeon, and we recorded only nine Teal, 2 Green Sandpipers, and 21 Snipe plus a few Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls. A few sorry looking Greylags limped around the field, and we suspected they had been shot at.

On the walk back a few large Gulls were seen heading west, mostly Lessers plus four Herring Gulls. Not enough birds to give any realistic hope of something different. With five raptor species under our belts we were already pretty pleased with ourselves, but more was to come.

Scanning across towards Bannams Wood we saw that the Goshawk was visible again, and above it a small raptor turned out to be a Sparrowhawk. I got the scope up for a better look, but the Goshawk had drifted off. However, Dave then spotted another bird and drew my attention to it. He had finally broken his duck for the year as we watched a Peregrine circling over the wood. Our sixth raptor of the morning.

This third sighting of a Goshawk here in the course of a little over a month does raise a few issues. Do I continue to mention its presence if I see it again? On the one hand the species still suffers persecution from egg robbers, but on the other it is still winter and I notice that its sites are mapped on the new BTO Atlas, and that the species is clearly on the increase and spreading its range. I don't really want to suppress sightings from my own blog, but if they start displaying in February I may have to do so.

Tricky one.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Tuesday December 17

A rare midweek visit coincided with a bright sunny day. A Green Sandpiper flew over the car at Netherstead Farm. I quickly got stuck into trying to photograph birds, and came up with a few images from the hedgerow bordering the dragonfly pools.

Female Reed Bunting

Mostly Buntings.

Female Yellowhammer
The rest of the site contained mostly just the usual suspects, although a female Tufted Duck was a surprise at this time of year. The flashes were very disappointing, just 10 Common Snipe, although 140 Lapwings were flying around.

I was surprised to see that the Stonechat was still present, and then managed to see and photograph the Tawny Owl in its usual spot.

Tawny Owl
Finally, I walked back along the road and then found a female Blackcap at Netherstead Farm. Quite scarce in winter here.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Sunday December 15

The weather had calmed down overnight and the morning was fairly mild, fairly bright, and fairly boring. I tramped around seeing nothing better than 18 Wigeon, five Teal, 150 Lapwings, a Brambling, a Grey Wagtail, and a Goldcrest. The last three would be useful additions when the new year begins.

I am trying to decide how to spice up the birding next year. In 2013 I took part in the Patchwork Challenge, but I found it a bit disappointing because only three other Midland patches took part throughout the year, and the site dealt only in numbers. It would have been more interesting if the participants had been invited to show the list of the species they saw. So I don't think I'll bother next year.

This doesn't mean I won't be doing a list though. Quite the opposite. I have talked Mike into competing against me with a list of birds at Middle Spernal Farm pools just down the road. Our sites are quite similar so I think it could be a good contest. Unfortunately Mike doesn't blog (or even own a computer) so I will have to keep his list on my blog.

Also, I started wondering how many species I had photographed here last year, and came up with a tally of 54, including today's offering:

A Linnet
So that's another list for me to keep. Yes I know, what a sad b****d, but I regard it as fun so its going to happen, and I can't wait.

Expect an increase in fuzzy, distant bird images.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Monday December 9

Despite taking the day off today, I chose to visit the patch for just an hour before dusk. The cunning plan being to check for Owls and maybe get a Woodcock for the year.

Unfortunately there was some hedge trimming taking place at the pool and I ended up just hanging about below Bannams Wood hoping for something to happen...which it didn't.

The highlight I suppose was five Redpolls which flew over calling, and a number of Fieldfares and Redwings which were gathering before going off to roost somewhere.


About 175 corvids, mostly Jackdaws, were also gathering. No Owls though.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Red-letter raptor day

Earlier this week I got a text from Matt W saying he had estimated 700 Linnets, and counted 58 Reed Buntings and 70 Yellowhammers. That being the case it was perhaps not surprising that the first three birds I saw from the Netherstead car-park were raptors. A Sparrowhawk, then a Kestrel after I had erected my scope planning to try to photograph something, then a distant raptor behind the Kestrel flying powerfully away. I got it in the scope in time to see it do the unmistakable wing flicker  which confirmed it on jizz as a Merlin, as it dived over the horizon.

Dave was delayed by a large flock of Linnets by the entry road. I was also counting Linnets and we got a combined estimate of 350 birds, plus about 100 Chaffinches. A couple of Lesser Redpolls dropped in but disappeared before I could photograph them.

I was feeling pretty pleased with the Merlin, but better was to come. There were certainly plenty of Finches and Buntings, but they were well spread out and we didn't really get to grips with a full count. A flock of Lapwings, Dave counted 192, appeared over the flashes, so we made our way there.  We added 11 Wigeon, eight Teal, 12 Snipe, and a Green Sandpiper to the day list.

The return journey was much more exhilarating. We began by finding some fresh Barn Owl pellets in the shed, but the real excitement came as we were making our way across the ridge field. A Short-eared Owl flew up in front of Dave and rose high to the north, suddenly a second bird got up to join it. I was as unprepared as ever to get a shot, but one of the birds was being mobbed by corvids so I had time to get set and have a go. Given that my technique involves getting birds in the scope and then holding the camera to the eye-piece, I tend not to even bother trying to photograph flying birds. I couldn't really see anything on the camera screen so it was very much a case of click and hope. But I got it.

Probably the worst photograph of a Short-eared Owl you'll ever see..but I'm proud of it. Dave said he thought my getting a shot was more unexpected than finding the Owl ! This is a first for Morton Bagot (technically), but it was very much on the radar. Last year I spoke to a duck shooter who mentioned having flushed an Owl from a field once, and he described this species pretty well. I also saw one at Wootton Wawen last year, while birds wintered at Salford Prior gravel pit, about 15 miles away. So definitely on the cards.

I tried ringing the regulars, but only Jon could get down. We kept going, adding a Grey Wagtail, a Brambling, and about 200 Greylag Geese which flew over. I took a photo of this male Chaffinch which had lost its tail.

Dave had to leave, so I decided to join Jon to try to help him relocate the second Owl, which we thought might have gone down over the ridge. On my way to him I heard a calling Grey Partridge to add to the dozen or so Red-legs we had accumulated during the day. We walked across the ridge field but it was all in vain.

I left Jon to continue alone and headed back home. My year list is now my equal highest (118), and I still have a few possible additions to look out for, with GBB Gull probably my best bet.

Who says December is boring.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Sunday December 1

A grey morning, but quite mild with no appreciable wind. No-one else there either.  This being the case I spent more time trying to photograph things than usual and altered my normal routine in the hope of maximising my chances of locating a Crossbill.

I therefore parked at Church farm and entered the site from Bannams Wood, before heading to the willow where Matt saw the Crossbills on Friday. This area had a lot of birds, particularly Redwings, Fieldfares, Buntings, and Finches, but no Crossbills.

The winter thrushes were hard to count as usual, but I only estimated 240 Redwings and 150 Fieldfares. There were about 15 Yellowhammers dotted about, and about 20 Reed Buntings.

This Robin was posing nicely along the bridle path, and I was pleased to get an image of a Wren, given that they rarely stay still for long.

The line of saplings behind the pool harboured several Reed Buntings, and also the wintering Stonechat, and a Goldfinch, both of which obliged by sitting still for me.

Finally, a juvenile Cormorant was perched in the dead tree beyond the pool, so even though it was quite distant I had a go at it as I cannot remember photographing one here before.

The flashes were pretty disappointing again, about 30 Lapwings, eight Snipe, and 10 Teal were on the nearest flash, while the field beyond the furthest scrape contained a flock of 199 Greylag Geese and one Snow Goose.

At Netherstead Farm I walked into a flock of 250 Linnets, and a single Lesser Redpoll. Continuing with the theme of route variation I walked back along the road to be as close as possible to the woodland. The main gain was great views of four Goldcrests at the edge of Bannam's Wood. I tried to get a shot, but they were far too lively to give me a chance.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Patch News

With the weekend approaching I received some encouraging, though slightly gripping, news from Matt Willmott.

The highlight today was two male Crossbills in the rather incongruous setting of a willow tree by the pool. Although he said they were lingering, I doubt that the habitat available there will encourage them to remain.

My Saturday is loaded with non-birding stuff relating to my car etc etc, so I doubt I'll get time to have a look until Sunday.

The supporting cast wasn't too bad either; two Jack Snipe, 200 Linnets, and 1000 winter thrushes headed the line-up.

Its a bit more exciting than a fly-over Redpoll and some Redwings which is the best I have managed on my way in to work this week.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Sunday November 24

A cold grey morning. It definitely feels like winter now. A couple of fly over Herring Gulls were the first for a while, and a Grey Wagtail also flew past, possibly landing out of sight.

Dave and I tramped around seeing a Brambling with over 150 Chaffinches, about 140 Linnets, over 20 Reed Buntings. At least 180 Redwings were flying around with about 150 Fieldfares. A few Meadow Pipits were scattered among the finches, and one was reasonably photogenic.

We decided we would have to take action to try to bolster the species list, so we splashed across the marsh, disturbing 16 Common Snipe and the first two Jack Snipe of the autumn. They have probably been present for some time, and were enjoying the peace and quiet we normally afford them.

The flashes produced 11 Wigeon, 131 Lapwings, and 21 Teal plus a few more Snipe. Most of the finch flock was concentrated on the raised ground east of Stapenhill Wood. In addition to the species already mentioned we added 40 Greenfinches, 12 Yellowhammers, 10 Goldfinches, a Siskin and two Lesser Redpolls.

Finally, after crossing the stubble field, flushing about 30 Skylarks in the process, we ended with a call-only Chiffchaff somewhere near, or in, the little reedbed near Netherstead Farm.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sunday Nov 17

Dave summed up today's visit quite succinctly when he said it was as though last weekend we were Premier League and now we're back in the Vauxhall Conference.

Actually it wasn't that bad, it was just that the emphasis had switched from quality to quantity. There were far more Fieldfares (c300) and Redwings (c150) around. The Skylark flock was at least 60 strong, and 245 Lapwings circled the flashes.

We found a new Stonechat at Netherstead Farm. It showed well, as did a Brambling, but I chose not to photograph them because I did them last weekend! Probably a mistake because although there were plenty of birds after that, they were annoyingly flighty. 17 Wigeon took off from the flashes before we even got settled there, eight Long-tailed Tits shot past, and none of the four or five Bullfinches we encountered stayed around for long enough.

Other flocks we briefly encountered were 100 Woodpigeons, 23 Stock Doves, 80 Linnets, and 80 Starlings. Eventually desperation dictated I snap this out of focus Reed Bunting,

one of at least 20 we found at the south end, and these Chaffinches;

we probably encountered about 40 around the area.

Hopefully next weekend will be more memorable.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Great Grey Shrike

A beautiful sunny morning. Dave arrived shortly after I did, and we stood chatting near the horse sheds at Netherstead Farm where the farmer kindly lets us park.

Dave was scanning the hedge at the end of the "car-park" and I heard him say "Is this a bird?" I looked where he was looking and saw what he meant. If it wasn't a bundle of pale rags in the hedge it was took off, and I spluttered "Shrike". It landed on some posts and we confirmed it was a Great Grey Shrike. I went into panic mode and managed  a shot of an empty post, then a shot of the gravel at my feet, and then a blurred shot of the shrike.

Eventually the bird relocated to wires and a few more measured record shots were achieved.

We rang Mike and Jon, then I phoned the farmer, Paul Harvey, to see if he was OK with us putting the news out. He rang back to say it was no problem. Mike arrived and saw the bird, but it then disappeared.

We decided it must have gone over the ridge, so set off in that direction. I noticed a large raptor with flat wing profile come out of Bannams Wood. Goshawk! I got Dave and Mike on it and got it in the scope as it flapped on slower steadier wing beats than a Sparrowhawk would ever manage. It was an adult, maybe a male. After we lost it we were suddenly surrounded by panicking Jackdaws which had obviously made the same identification.

A female Brambling perched long enough for a shot to be taken.

We rounded the corner and refound the Shrike. It was much closer but my shots of it are so bleached that I am embarrassed to show them. It perched up down the hedge, and then we spotted another birder. This turned out to be Paul from Alcester who had found the Ruff there in September. I joined him and found that the Shrike was now a distant speck on wires across the ridge field.

More birders started to arrive, but we had lost it. I took a shot of a Stonechat which still remains here.

Dave and Nick headed back to the farm where they flushed a Little Owl. I continued to the flash where I counted 116 Black-headed Gulls, 139 Lapwings, a Gadwall, 14 Teal, and a Wigeon plus a couple of Snipe. The Greylag Geese flew in with the Snow Goose still in tow.

Rejoining the others it became apparent that they had had no luck. A Green Sandpiper flew over, and I noticed a late Common Darter dragonfly.

By 12.30 we had to leave, but I hadn't got far before Jon was on the phone. He had relocated the Shrike to the south of Netherstead Farm. Although Nick had had to leave, I understand John Sirrett got to see it, and also a guy from Kenilworth who we saw briefly near the church.

Exciting stuff.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Compton Verney

After another week of work and darkness I was keen to take any birding I could from this weekend.

Today's opportunity came from a visit with Lyn and our friend Mal to a textile exhibition at Compton Verney near Wellesbourne in central Warwickshire.

Last year a similar jaunt paid dividends with an unexpected Hawfinch in the grounds. Lightning failed to strike twice however, and I was left with just common birds to see. Redpoll and Siskin flew over, and several Common Gulls floated overhead.

The Yew trees were yielding a crop of berries which several Greenfinches found irresistible.

The small lake in the grounds contained a few Mallard and a solitary Great Crested Grebe.

A Grey Wagtail lurked near the sluice, where I also heard a Kingfisher.

Its a very nice place to visit. The arboretum is truly spectacular, and I'm sure regular watching would turn up a few scarcities.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A patch first (and second)

Sunday November 3rd began brightly, both in terms of the weather and the birds. Dave and I were birding the track past Netherstead Farm when we noticed that some Redpolls had landed in the top of a tree near the farm. As this was the first opportunity to really look at them this autumn I got the scope out and was immediately struck by the second bird I looked at. Its pale grey head made it stand out from the rest. Dave had a look and agreed with me that it looked good for a Mealy Redpoll, a patch first.

The Redpolls took off several times and landed in other trees, but each time it was quite easy to pick out the paler bird. We were taking turns to look through my scope, and on one occasion Dave got a quick look at its mantle, which also looked pale and frosty. We had no opportunity to see its rump, and they were always too distant to try for a photo, so I'm afraid it will have to be illustrated with a drawing.

Mealy Redpoll
The bird was accompanied by several pink chested males and given that Mealies vary in appearance according to age and sex I cannot rule out the possibility that some of them may have been the same species, but none were as striking as the one illustrated. Eventually they all flew off south, nine birds in all, but I suspect that they will remain in the area.

Pleased with our start we continued our usual circuit. A Brambling was heard, and also Siskin and more Redpolls. The pool contained 235 Mallard and a few Geese, while the flashes produced 13 Wigeon and a female Gadwall plus a few Teal and a couple of Lapwings.

The return journey contained further surprises. A Grey Partridge, a late Brimstone and several Hornets still on the wing. Then I picked up a high flying Swan. By the time I got the scope up it had disappeared behind Bannams Wood and even though it eventually reappeared it was miles away and we could do nothing with it.

Scanning in that direction I got onto a Buzzard and another probable Buzzard flying towards us. I heard Dave comment on a large raptor so I stayed on it. Dave seemed to be get increasingly interested but I couldn't see what he was going on about as it was increasingly obvious that it was just a Buzzard. Then I looked at him and realised he was looking in a different direction. The bird he was on was a large Accipiter. He had seen it emerge from Bannam's Wood and couldn't understand my lack of interest. By the time I got onto the right bird it was more distant, but still looked large and the tail shape appeared slightly rounded. It eventually disappeared into Clouse Wood. Dave was certain it was close to Buzzard size and we decided it had to be a Goshawk, the second record for the patch. Our previous one, which we had had better views of, had been in November 2011.

Another feature of the day was a steady passage of south bound Woodpigeons, usually in flocks of over a hundred strong. We were a bit lax in recording them and so my eventual tally of 530, though a site record, is certainly an under-estimate. Two Golden Plovers also flew south, and we flushed four Partridges which we suspected were additional Grey Partridges.

A pretty lively visit.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Dusky twitch

News of a Dusky Warbler found at Marsh Lane GP yesterday by Glen Giles forced a rapid plan change for this morning. I had a small window of opportunity and so was there for  8.15am to be greeted by news that the bird was present, but not showing.

An hour later and my window was about to close. The Dusky had called occasionally but no one had seen it. I gloomily announced I had to go and took a picture of the hedge it was believed to be in.

I packed up my scope and turned to leave. Just then a chap behind me mentioned that something had "flicked up". I swung round and there it was in the gap between the two right hand trunks of the pollarded willow shown.

It briefly appeared three more times in the next five minutes allowing almost everyone to get a glimpse.

Not a massive twitch, but good by West Midlands standards.

Other birds seen while we stood around were 6 Golden Plovers, several Siskins, and a couple of Redpolls over.

The unremarkable habitat is further proof that rarities can turn up anywhere. What's missing is the birders to find them.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Sunday 27 October

I arrived a bit late this morning to find that Dave had seen the Snow Goose flying over. As we chatted a Chiffchaff called from the copse by Netherstead Farm. However, near gale force westerly winds meant it was going to be a tough morning for seeing passerines. One or two Redpolls and Siskin called overhead, and a flock over 30 Fieldfares flew south, but we decided to head for the water bodies.

The main pool contained 171 Mallards, five Tufted Ducks, two Mute Swans and the Little Grebe. The flashes contained mostly Geese.

I counted 334 Greylag Geese, easily a record for the site (for me), and the single Snow Goose. By now the wind was very strong indeed so attempts to photograph it were hampered by camera shake.

The remaining wildfowl on the flashes were just the usual mix so we decided to try kicking up Skylarks in the hope of something more exciting among them.

We failed, and Dave, whose back was playing up, decided to throw in the towel. I went back to the flashes and managed better numbers of most things; 44 Teal, 210 Lapwings, 21 Snipe, five Wigeon, and two Green Sandpipers. But nothing new.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sunday Oct 20

Cloudy but mild, with a fresh southerly breeze. I was joined by Dave, and we were initially quite optimistic as there seemed to be increased numbers of Blackbirds, Reed Buntings, and Yellowhammers about, and at least 34 Skylarks.

A calling Grey Partridge in the ridge field was a year-tick for Dave. A Stonechat showed well in the regenerating hedge beside the pool, while earlier a Green Sandpiper had flown from the dragonfly pools to the flashes. All the pools have filled up with water during the week as a testament to the amount of rain we've been getting.

However, the wildfowl numbers were a bit disappointing; just 17 Teal, five Wigeon, and 13 Common Snipe. A flock of 146 Lapwings settled in the flash field.

Visible migration had been restricted to eight Redwings and 50 thrush spp (possibly Fieldfares), until our walk back along the stream-line produced first a Brambling call, and then a flock of 60 Fieldfares overhead. Dave reckoned he saw two Bramblings, but I only heard the call. Three Redpolls and three Siskins also flew over during the morning.

Back at the car I realised I still hadn't tried to photograph anything, so as Dave went home, I went to All Saints church at Morton Bagot determined secure something for the blog.

The church dates back to 1282, although it was added to in the late 14th Century, and renovated in the 19th century. Thank you Wikipedia.

As it stands on the highest ground overlooking the patch, my main hope for it is that one day the roof may play host to a Black Redstart.

Not today though. Just a couple of Pied Wagtails.

Autumn is the time for fungi, a subject about which I know nothing.

These interestingly shaped examples were clustered on a piece of sloping lawn adjacent to the church. I think I need to ask Santa for a fungus identification book.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

City Centre birding

My first week at my new employer has come to a close. Pretty traumatic, but I suppose that's the joys of adapting to new systems and routines.

The birdlife of Birmingham city centre seems likely to be somewhat limited, but I still managed a couple of blog-worthy birds.

On Thursday I found, on the pavement of Colmore Row, a perfect (but dead) Song Thrush. There is no way it lived there, so clearly this was a migrant, which probably struck a building. The next morning was foggy, and I could hear the calls of Redwings migrating over Victoria Square.

Thank goodness you can birdwatch anywhere. Just step out of your house or look out of the window and you are there.

Monday, 14 October 2013

More thoughts about the Swans

I think I might have messed up here.

Still no Bewick's at Slimbridge, or anywhere in the country, and my doubts have won the day.

When I first picked them up they did look big, and I wouldn't have been too surprised if they had turned out to be Mutes. But once I realised they had yellow bases to their bills the identification was allowed to rest solely on my perception of the shape of the yellow bill patches. But they were still distant and the yellow was obvious. Could I really have seen if the yellow reached a sharp point? My thoughts about neck length relies on a very subjective analysis and probably shouldn't carry much weight.

On balance I now think they were probably Whoopers, but I'll have to submit them as wild Swans spp.

Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Bad weather birding and wild Swans

The problem with the weather forecast nowadays is that it's so flippin' accurate. This morning I stayed dry for about 30 minutes before the rain duly arrived and intensified.

Dave had elected to head for Flamborough to bird with our old friend Craig, and a call from him last night confirmed what a fantastic time he was having. Rustic Bunting, Leach's Petrels, and a variety of other good seabirds. He even had two Gannets flying inland, as he stared from the train on his way up, somewhere near the Humber Estuary.

Gannets. Jon Yardley texted me on Friday night. He had seen a juvenile Gannet flying over his house in Studley late on Friday afternoon. It had headed vaguely in the direction of Morton Bagot, about two miles away as the Gannet flies.

This morning there were no Gannets on offer (although another juvenile has been seen over Upton Warren this morning), and in the half hour of dry I recorded a couple of Chiffchaffs and six Redwings.

As the rain set in I scanned across flash and pool, sifting through rafts of Mallard, about 40 Teal and 10 Wigeon in the hope of seeing something different. The Little Grebe was still present, but there was nothing new.

The soggy trudge back did produce new arrivals though. I heard a Brambling calling as it flew over unseen, then found two new Stonechats. If you have ever wondered what a Stonechat looks like through a rain splattered, misty telescope, wonder no more.

Finally, another new autumn bird flew over. Actually there were two of them, adult Common Gulls.

OK, I'll admit it, Flamborough has the edge on Morton Bagot.

However, by 3.00pm the rain was clearing and I decided to venture out again. The flashes now contained 127 Teal and 13 Wigeon. I suspect they may have been there earlier, but they were now on the nearest flash where they could at least be seen without grass etc in the way.

I met John Chidwick and we exchanged phone numbers. A thrash across the field produced 25 Meadow Pipits and 50 Goldfinches. I saw John heading off, and could find no sign of this morning's Stonechats.

Eventually I reached the road, and the sun was finally shining. As I walked along I saw three Swans flying high, heading north-west. A quick look threw the bins through me into panic mode. Wild Swans, surely Whoopers. I managed to get the scope off my back and onto my tripod, and to my relief found that the birds had turned and were heading back south-east. I got onto them, and concluded that the yellow at the base of the bills was blunt and quite restricted. Another look through the bins and I felt their necks weren't all that long. They disappeared over Bannams Wood, and I decided that they were Bewick's. They were two adults and an immature.

Since then I have started to worry about them. The date is rather early for Bewick's. There are none at Slimbridge yet. Whatever they were it's a first for Morton Bagot. I suppose I should be influenced by what I saw and thought at the time, and not by the date. But I'll feel a lot better if some Bewick's turn up at Slimbridge tomorrow.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

First Redwings

The first colder weather of the year today, and right on queue the first two Redwings of the autumn flew over our house as I returned from the paper shop.

With the days now too short to allow midweek birding, and with a new job about to start in Birmingham city centre, my opportunities to see birds away from the weekend are now restricted to chance encounters like this.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Sunday Oct 6

I arrived at Netherstead Farm to find the whole area under a blanket of fog. Despite this, a small passerine on top of the the hedge near where I had parked proved to be the first Stonechat of the year. Initial views were of a silhouette, but later in the day, with the sun out, it could be seen properly and I took some shots of it.

Back in the fog first thing however, I lost the bird before I was totally certain of my identification. So when Dave joined me, we edged along the hedge hoping to relocate it. In the process a call alerted us to an arguably more extraordinary sight, as a Kingfisher shot past us and away into the fog. Presumably it was completely lost and looking for a water course. After nailing the Stonechat we decided to stick to the footpaths in case we upset any potential dog-trainers.

As the mist started to clear, the heavy dew was giving away the positions of a myriad cobwebs, and I couldn't resist recording the effect on a five-bar gate.

Once the sun was out the day rapidly warmed up. There were plenty of Meadow Pipits in the grass and on the hedges, but no real overhead migration. The warmth was giving the local insects a last hurrah, and as well as several Hornets, and a few late butterflies, we saw several Common Darter dragonflies, and I was able to photograph two species of Hawker.

Migrant Hawker
Southern Hawker
The pool still contained the Little Grebe, and 13 immature Tufted Ducks, while the furthest flash was swamped with wildfowl. Most were recently released Mallard, but there were also at least 43 Teal, 10 Wigeon, and 108 Greylag Geese. The only waders we could see were 18 Common Snipe, although 57 Lapwings had been flying around.

The only summer migrant we recorded was a singing Chiffchaff, while autumn was represented by a couple of fly-over Siskins and a Redpoll.

I have learnt of a few notable Morton Bagot birds this week. John Yardley had 100 Teal and a Peregrine on Thursday, Mike saw a Hobby and the Snow Goose yesterday, while John Chidwick reported that the Whinchat was also still present yesterday.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Sunday September 29

A moderate south-easterly breeze and clear, reasonably bright, conditions promised much. Dave was able to join me and we spent quite a while birding around Netherstead Farm.

There was a fair amount of visible migration taking place, and we amassed totals of 44 Swallows, 21 Meadow Pipits, and four Siskins all heading south-east. We suffer from being fairly low-lying when it comes to viz mig, and it may be that the totals would have been higher had we gone up one of the hills to the east of the site.

Summer migrants are now at a premium, and apart from the Swallows we only recorded six Chiffchaffs, a couple of unseen "tackers" (probably Blackcaps), and a single Whinchat which remains by the main pool.

The Whinchat
It is also too early for the winter migrants to arrive. Apart from the Siskins, we found four Wigeon amongst 46 Teal on the flashes, and six Golden Plovers which flew north as we were heading back to our cars.

The flashes also contained 110 Greylag Geese, a Green Sandpiper, seven Lapwings, and 21 Snipe, while the pool hosted 15 Tufted Ducks and a Little Grebe.

We met John who was a bit agitated following an uncompromising conversation with a man with several out of control dogs. Apparently he has rented the fields for dog training (which John believed was a reference to the coming shooting season). It sounds as though the next few months could be a little awkward.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Twitching Alcester

I got a text from Matt Willmott on Friday afternoon to say there was a Ruff at St Nicholas playing fields in Alcester. Thus on Saturday a visit to the supermarket with Lyn was combined with a successful twitch at lunchtime.

This sort of unexpected record is what patch birders dream of. I don't know who found it, but I can well imagine their excitement.

Seeing that the Ruff was very confiding I returned later in the afternoon with my camera. Mike, John, and Matt Griffiths were already there, and were surrounded by inquisitive children.

I duly took a series of shots of the bird, this being my best effort.

Juvenile Ruff
I could have got a lot closer to it, but the attention we were getting from the local kids meant the episode developed into an impromptu wildlife lesson as they lined up to look through my scope...through both ends at once after they got bored of the bird!

Inevitably, although Matt was brave enough to lend his binoculars, several kids took to stalking the bird.

And eventually they flushed it, although it didn't go far. I left at this point as I could only see further disturbance ensuing if we continued to pay it attention.

Finally, Man U 1 : Baggies 2. Just the day I needed to distract me from work related difficulties.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Mystery moth

I came home from work to find that Lyn had photographed a moth on the window. There are no identification guides I know of which show the underside of moths so I was unable to even guess at an identification.

Then it came back. I popped outside and photographed it. We then looked through the moth book, and nothing stood out. We decided it was a bright Beautiful Arches, and then read its status. Possibly extinct, rare immigrant. Not that then.

I went back out, but it was nowhere to be seen.

Anyway, here it is.

If anyone has any ideas I would be pleased to hear from them.

Postscript: I've come up with a theory about the moth. Could it be a very worn Copper Underwing in which the upper surface of the forewing has become translucent giving the impression that it is orange? The rest of the moth does look a bit like a Copper Underwing. I can't understand why there is no copper colour showing from below though.

Post-postscript: Thanks to Craig Round who has put me right on the moth. Its a Common Marbled Carpet in a form the book says is "unmistakable"! Ah well, live and learn.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Sunday Sept 22

A cloudy but rather warm day. Dave cried off at the last minute with a cold, so I had the place to myself.

The area around Netherstead Farm was again full of birds, and I eventually located a Whitethroat, three Blackcaps, and the first of up to 12 Chiffchaffs in the hedgerows. Pied Wagtails were more in evidence, with 11 around the stables before most flew off south.

Meanwhile, with Dave absent, I found this adult Peregrine on the pylons.

Somehow the species has eluded Dave all year, and its becoming a bit of a standing joke that if he doesn't come, I'll see one.

Overhead passage was a little disappointing. I eventually accumulated 15 Meadow Pipits, 18 Swallows, and four House Martins heading south.

Walking beside the ridge field I came across this Roe Deer helping himself to Felix Dennis' precious tree saplings.

You've been rumbled
Just act naturally
Continuing with the mammal theme, I reached the pool field and found another creature which some farmers regard as public enemy number one.

I just think they look fantastic. The pool itself contained only a couple of Mute Swans, while the flashes served up 71 Teal, 18 Snipe, and 135 Greylag Geese. A Little Owl was calling loudly, but I couldn't see it.

Moving to view the little pool adjacent to the flash I found myself staring at only the second Little Grebe of the year.

This juvenile bird showed reasonably well through the hedge.

Other birds to impress today were at least 17 Reed Buntings, Robins seemed to be everywhere, and the Green Sandpiper is continuing to find the rapidly draining dragonfly pools to its liking. There are still a few dragonflies about, and I saw a few Common Darters, a Migrant Hawker, and a Brown Hawker. The best butterfly was a Comma.