Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Tuesday April 30

I was only able to get out birding today in mid afternoon. My target was Grey Partridge again. I was unsuccessful again. There were one or two interesting things to talk about though.

On my last visit I had noticed a Kestrel mantling a prey item in the ridge field. It remained in the same spot for over an hour as I saw it as I was heading to and also returning from the flash. I had assumed it was on a rodent or something. Today however, I found a half-eaten cock Pheasant in the same place. BWP states it can take prey items up to the size of Lapwing, but will also eat carrion. I would therefore imagine that the Pheasant was discovered as a carcass and had not been killed by the Kestrel.

The field behind the main pool is probably best described as set aside, but since the farmer has scraped in much of the vegetation it has become a great draw for all sorts of birds. Today I estimated 200 Woodpigeons and 30 Stock Doves as well as finding five Wheatears and a male Whinchat. I also accidentally flushed a Skylark off a nest containing three eggs. As I never deliberately search for nests, this was, I think, the first Skylark nest I have ever seen.

The Flash contained just the pair of Little Ringed Plovers, and the pool hosted 12 Tufted Ducks. The Little Owl was showing so I took a few photos.

Little Owl refusing to look at the camera
I reported my failure to find the Grey Partridges to Mike, and he texted back that he hadn't seen any Crossbills at Hillers. A nil - nil draw then.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Good birds on a non-birding day

I had taken today off to recover from yesterday's exertions, and Lyn and I decided to go to Hillers Farm Shop at the edge of the Ragley Estate for lunch. I took my bins because one nice thing about Hillers is that it includes an extensive garden, and tucked away in the corner is a small hide overlooking a tiny pond in the bordering woodland.

As we made our way through the garden I was vaguely aware of some odd song notes coming from the top of a Scots Pine. I stopped to look and was astonished when a female Crossbill appeared in a gap below the crown. Lyn has never seen Crossbill, so we spent a while trying to see it again. During that time it became apparent that the tree-tops also contained several buzzing Redpolls, and at least one Siskin. Then a male Crossbill appeared and sat in front of the orangey tree bark. We went to the hide and mentioned this to the one incumbent, who thankfully knew what Crossbills were and commented he hadn't seen any for years.

When we left the hide, no Crossbills having appeared at the pond, the chap joined us to search for them. We heard calls several times, and finally five Crossbills flew out, with one later returning to give Lyn a reasonable view as it perched in a larch.

On the way back home we called at Haselor scrape. It contained four Snipe, two Yellow Wagtails, a Shelduck, and a Redshank. This was my kind of "non-birding" day. Driving past Morton Bagot I noticed Mike's car. I rang him and found he had just seen the pair of Grey Partridges which gave me the runaround at the weekend. He later joined us for a cup of tea and a biscuit (or two), and said he had been unable to find the Whinchats.

I have just completed a colour drawing of yesterday's male based on my sketches, and it is depicted here.

 I have another day off work tomorrow, and again it is a non-birding day. So watch this space!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Persistence pays off

Determined to give it my best shot I drove through the darkness, passing a Muntjac with its kid en route, and arrived to start birding at 04.35am. A Pheasant called to announce its presence as I opened my car door, and within a few minutes Tawny Owl was safely secured for the day list. My main target for this cold pre-dawn start was Grey Partridge, but sadly I failed to hear any at all as it slowly became light enough to tell the Red-legged Partridges from the Hares and Rabbits in the ridge field.

I cut my losses and headed for the flash. Here a Little Owl swooped into a tree, but there appeared to be nothing else to see. By 07.15 I was heading for breakfast. I did at least locate a single female Whinchat,  hear a distant Cuckoo, and record Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal Tit, and Marsh Tit by the time I reached the car, but on balance I felt the morning had been disappointing.

An hour later I was back at Netherstead where I joined Dave hoping for a change in fortune. I was on 50 species, which wasn't too bad really, and we set about mopping up the easy ones I had missed this morning. Linnet, House Sparrow, Buzzard, Robin (would you believe), and Lesser Black-backed Gull all fell as we met up with John who was lurking near where he had seen the Whinchats yesterday. Scoping across the field  we located two distant chats, which appeared to be a male and female. While I was watching, Dave called out a Jay. I didn't get on it and the species would elude me all day. Dave then found us a Wheatear, and we saw one of two Little Ringed Plovers which John had seen on the flash. A pair of Starlings was seen before John headed off. Shortly afterwards Dave called Yellow Wagtail, and I managed to hear it before it was lost behind the hedge. Our last three day ticks before a brief interlude at Haselor scrape were Sparrowhawk, Raven, and House Martin.

At Haselor we saw a Redshank and a Shelduck, but I am not counting those on the day list as I currently regard it as a separate site.

By lunchtime I was dead on my feet and welcomed Lyn's suggestion that I have a power nap. What a poor old soul I am. The hour's kip did me the world of good though, and by 15.00 I was back on site determined to at least try to sketch the male Whinchat. By now the westerly wind, which had been almost non-existent first thing, was both strong and cold. In the lee of a sheltered hedge I had a nice view of a female Blackcap, and on the way to the flash this Fox trotted past.

It seemed to be heading for a lamb's carcass, but eventually sensed me watching and ran off. At the flash I added my 63rd species of the day as a Snipe was in view. Shortly afterwards I scanned the horizon behind me and picked up a suspiciously familiar silhouette. Swinging the scope around I was thrilled to confirm only my second ever Red Kite on the patch. It was circling low and I could see it twisting its forked tail and splaying its long fingered wings, seen in profile to be kinked downwards from the hand. I thought about whether I had time to risk a record shot but it wasn't really close enough. So instead here is one I drew earlier.

Red Kite
I walked up the slope away from the flash hoping to relocate it, but it was nowhere to be seen. Texts were sent to Dave and John (sorry guys) and I prepared to continue toward where the Whinchats were. But suddenly my progress was arrested by a louded piping call. I looked around and watched as an Oystercatcher flew from the direction of the flash and away over the pool. This was almost as exciting as the Kite. I failed to see one here last year, and this could easily prove to be the only one we get in 2013. I rang John, and as I did so I spotted it again, heading back north and possibly losing height. John could stand it no more and announced he would come back out.

I saw him shortly afterwards but we had different goals, as I went to sketch the pretty stunning male Whinchat and John headed for the flash. Sadly the Oystercatcher must have moved on.

My final day tally was a pretty respectable 65 species, and between us we record 66 on the patch today, only four short of the all time day-list record.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Wrestling with temptation

So far this year Morton Bagot has been OK, but not great. Carol and John have both texted me to say that there is now a pair of Whinchats on the patch. I am, despite the colder spell, going to do one of my twice yearly all day birdwatches there tomorrow. Hopefully I will break 60 species at least, unlike my disappointing day last April.

Meanwhile, down the road, all the waders etc which we should be getting here are currently sitting pretty on Haselor scrape. Today it contained three Common Sandpipers, eight Snipe, a Redshank and a Yellow Wagtail. Which brings me to the point of this post. Should I extend the patch to include Haselor?

It's tempting. The pros are that it would add to the available wader habitat, and seems to attract Gulls more readily than Morton Bagot. It is also at the side of the road so can be covered quite easily in a 10 minute sweep of the bins whereas a visit to Morton Bagot takes at least an hour. From a Patchwork Challenge point of view by adding the area including the road on the 10 minute journey to the site would still be within the rules as the area would increase to just 2.245 square kms, well within the maximum area allowed.

On the other hand, it feels like moving the goalposts half way through the game. It is also just another shallow water body, so still no diving ducks and probably still no Terns.

I could consider it as a second patch, but its so small it wouldn't really be satisfactory. It's like a light snack to Morton Bagot's square meal.

On balance, I think l'll keep the patch as it is this year. But next year I may well include it.

And another thing, I keep seeing diddy little Sparrowhawks over Bannams and Spernal Woods. I am really tempted to retro tick  the Accipiter sp I saw in March as a Goshawk.

But I think I can resist that one.

Friday, 26 April 2013

The cold returns

A sunny morning but the overnight passage of a cold front resulted in a breezy chilly visit. I was also constrained on time and so didn't take any photos (that I'm not embarrassed to show), or do any sketching.

I started at Netherstead and found at least two singing Sedge Warblers and the first of two Lesser Whitethroats. Scanning the former crop field failed to produce any Grey Partridges, but the ploughed field contained at least eight Wheatears (probably Greenlands) and a female Whinchat. Unfortunately I lost the latter after I had erected my scope. It had been on the ploughed stubble with the Wheatears, and I would have liked a better look really.

The flash was very disappointing considering the overnight conditions. Just a solitary Little Ringed Plover, although at least three Lapwings are now sitting.

That was about it. I had a good view of a Willow Warbler, and eventually counted six Whitethroats and three Blackcaps.

Although most of the summer migrants are now on schedule, I noticed that the botany is still lagging behind, for example there is no sign at all that the Bluebells are close to flowering in Bannams Wood. It won't be too much longer though.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013


Today felt like a good day to go birding, so I wasn't too surprised when I got a text at work from Matt W. He was watching a pair of Grey Partridges at Morton Bagot, and kindly supplied details of where they were. It sounded like I just had to turn up.

My journey home produced a bit of a mega bird as a Hobby flew over Winyates Green just north of Badgers Nursery. This could be my lucky day.

It wasn't.

I failed to find any Partridges other than Red-legged, and despite staying until well past dusk I couldn't convince myself that I could even hear Grey Partridge. That said, I probably did. It was just that each time I heard a "possible" it was too distant, or drowned out by other birds (and by a helicopter on one occasion) and was never followed up immediately by further calls. Still, its great to know that at least one pair is still around.

I did manage one year-tick, a Sedge Warbler was singing from the Netherstead reedbed. The Flash wasn't too bad either, containing a Curlew, a Little Ringed Plover, at least five Snipe, two summer-plumaged Black-headed Gulls, and then a late Green Sandpiper which flew in from high above me.

Green Sandpiper
Other snippets were six Redpolls which flew west, three Wheatears, three Chiffchaffs, and two Whitethroats. Notably absent were any Teal, Tufted Ducks, or Gadwall.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

A scarce visitor at last

For the first time this spring I found we were birding on a reasonably nice morning, not much wind and a  temperature which was about the seasonal norm. The birds responded accordingly. As Dave arrived I could report a distantly calling Cuckoo, and singing Common Whitethroat, while Dave had followed up a "tack" call in a hedge by the road which proved to have been made by a Lesser Whitethroat.

Text messages from the last couple of days spoke of Curlew and Redshank being present on the flashes, and we set off in that direction. We then got a call from John. He had seen a Curlew and two Whimbrel, which seemed to drop in to the flash as he stood watching.

We put on a spurt, and on arrival found he was quite right, two Whimbrel and a Curlew were strutting around the field, eventually reaching the back flash.

Two Whimbrels dwarfed by a Curlew and two Greylags
My camera is still partially functional and I took some record shots notwithstanding the birds were about as far away as they could be. I was chuffed with the Curlew, but the Whimbrels were the real stars. This is the third record for the site, the previous ones being a singleton on April 30 2007, and three on Apr 24 2010. John was phoning around to alert others, and learned from Mark Islip that there had been two at Arrow Valley Lake this morning which had flown off. This is just five miles west of us, so they were surely the same birds.

Scanning the rest of the flashes we noted there were now just four Teal, and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers. Dave and I headed off, and eventually found three female Wheatears, about six Meadow Pipits, two fly-over Redpolls, a singing Blackcap, and a singing Willow Warbler my last year tick of the day.

I made a brief attempt to find Dave's Lesser Whitethroat on the way home, but it was not performing.

A quick post-script. I was at Compton Verney yesterday where the birding highlight of a glorious spring day was a distant Red Kite.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Even windier

Note to self; try to be more adaptable to the conditions and do not just go birding on a Wednesday night and a Sunday morning come what may.

This week Monday was a lovely sunny day. I finally saw a butterfly on my way home, a Peacock on the outskirts of Redditch. But it was too near Sunday so I didn't go birding. Tuesday evening I was supposed to be replacing a fallen fence panel with the help of a neighbour. He didn't show up.

This morning started encouragingly, I could hear a distant Willow Warbler from my front step, and there was a female Blackcap in our apple tree. Also, it was a Wednesday, so birding would happen. But the weather gods were against me, and by the time I got home from work it was blowing a south-westerly gale. I went anyway.

It wasn't a complete disaster. A nice summer plumage Dunlin and two Little Ringed Plovers were on the flash, a pair of Swallows was flying around, and the pair of Gadwall was still present. All attempts to photograph birds would be best consigned to the dustbin, so here instead is the Oak tree which the Tawny Owl lives in.

Rather a splendid old tree.

Think positively. I will have a really good day here when the summer migrants show up in force. So that'll be Sunday then.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Too windy

The only year tick achieved today concerned two House Martins flying around Netherstead Farm. We saw these shortly after arriving, but it soon became apparent that the strong southerly wind was going to hamper our chances of finding passerine migrants.

What it did seem to do was produce unexpectedly high numbers of large Gulls flying south, we counted 40 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and eight Herring Gulls by mid morning. The main pool now contained even more Tufted Ducks, a new record count of 15, mainly drakes, and a pair of Gadwall which we unfortunately flushed.

Nine Tufted Ducks and a Coot swim through the scope.
 After I failed to get all 15 Tufted Ducks in same same shot, we moved on to the flashes, which now contained  four Green Sandpipers and 17 Teal. Earlier we had flushed a flock of about 100 thrushes, only Fieldfares were identified, but they were blown towards the north and we failed to relocate them.

The route back produced a butterfly sp for Dave, probably Small Tortoiseshell, but I missed it and this is now officially the longest I have ever gone from the start of a year without seeing a butterfly. We heard a Blackcap singing from Stapenhill Wood, but that was about it. Dave had to leave at 11.00, and I decided to head back to the flashes to see if anything else had dropped in. En route I met another birder, probably the rarest event at Morton this year, a lady called Carol. We succeeded in finding a pair of Shelducks as they flew in.
The pair of Shelduck
Nothing much else was in evidence, and I headed home.

This has been the poorest year I have ever experienced here. No Curlews or Grey Partridges are left, and it looks as though even Tree Sparrow has now been lost as my single sighting in February has not been followed by any more. As far as migrants are concerned, we have been living on scraps since the Wood Sandpipers left last August.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

First Swallow

With the forecast dodgy for tomorrow I decided a quick early morning visit to the patch was in order. A beautiful sunny morning it was, and I decided to give my camera another chance to perform.

The highlight was my first Swallow of the year which flew briefly around the main pool. Also present was the site's first double figure count of Tufted Ducks.

12 Tufted Dots

Four Chiffchaffs were singing in the hedgerows,  and three Green Sandpipers were on the flashes. Finally, I spotted a Blackcap lurking in a hedge and was able to take this magnificent photograph of it.

Sadly, my camera failed its test again and several shots were lost. It's going to have to go back.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Camera Blues

On Tuesday my camera was returned to me by Nikon fully repaired, they said. Indeed my first shot seemed to confirm that all was well.

Tonight I set out for the patch determined to photograph something. The Flashes were very quiet. The two Green Sandpipers were too distant to be worth snapping, so I resorted to getting shots of a pair of Tufted Ducks on the main pool.

Two Tufted Ducks and a Coot
So far so good.

Then on viewing the images on the camera the screen went black and I got a troubling message; file contains no image data. The upshot was that I got six or seven perfectly acceptable images, and two which looked like the vertical hold problem you used to get on an old analogue TV.

As for the birds, there were still plenty of winter Thrushes; 70 Fieldfares and 26 Redwings, while a couple of Chiffchaffs called invisibly from the trees. A Greylag Goose is sitting on a nest on the island, and I heard a Tawny Owl calling from within its tree hollow.

It could be back to the drawings next weekend though.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Pheasants in the garden

When Lyn and I first started "walking out" nearly ten years ago, gosh, her interest in birds was largely restricted to their use as a solution to crossword clues.

However, after years of indoctrination into the dark arts of bird recognition, she is now a pretty nifty garden birdwatcher. It's no longer safe to leave the house confident that she will not, as birders say, grip me off with an undeniably good find. Especially when her camera is to hand.

Yesterday it was a Wren perched on flower pots a few feet from the window, and today she surpassed herself with these two characters.

Where's the field gone?

Mind the Hellebores
These female Pheasants pranced around the garden for ages, but had gone by the time I got home. Not quite a garden tick, but fantastic for all that.

I await the call about a Hoopoe with some trepidation.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The prizes are down the road

The patch had some competition today. Yesterday I had managed to become separated from my mobile phone, and then forgot to check it. Had I done so I would have learned that Mike had found a Black-tailed Godwit at Haselor scrape, ten minutes down the road from the patch.

This morning I discovered his message, but felt inspired to get to Morton Bagot in the hope that there was also something there. Dave joined me, but after about an hour we had found nothing better than three Green Sandpipers, two Chiffchaffs (one of which was singing), 23 Teal, a record count of 12 Coot, four Tufted Ducks, 23 Teal, two Little Ringed Plovers, and a Little Owl.

Little Owl
Oh and a first for Morton Bagot. Unfortunately just an escaped Snow Goose which flew in with some Greylags. There had been a white Greylag earlier this year so I initially ignored Dave's mutterings about an apparent Snow Goose which was flying in. I have never counted Midland Snow Geese as anything other than escapes, and this one won't be getting on my list either.

At this point my phone rang. It was Mike to say that the Black-tailed Godwit was still at Haselor. He then announced that Matt W had found a Water Pipit there last night and he was hoping to relocate it. We basically put on a bit of a spurt at this point with the vague intention of returning later.

We joined Mike at the scrape and ticked the Black-tailed Godwit. After about 30 minutes I spotted a Pipit crawling around a spit some distance from the road. The three of us then made a complete meal of trying to decide what we were looking at. We even rang Matt to ask him whether his bird had been in summer plumage. It had been, and so was clearly not the bird we were scoping. In the end the bird flew, possibly to a part of the scrape we couldn't see, and without calling. We hung around and eventually left with opinions divided.

The problems were distance from the bird, a surfeit of hope, and the fact that the bird was rather grey headed for a Meadow Pipit. The breast was streaked on a rather buffish background and contrasted with whitish, but streaked flanks. It had a hint of a pale super, but not enough of one.

Since getting home I have trawled through Internet images of both species and believe I have found an image of a Meadow Pipit, taken in March, which is a pretty close match. It is surprising how much Meadow Pipits vary between seasons and ages. All this deliberation took too big a chunk out of the morning and so the patch was left without being revisited.

On a brighter note I understand my camera has been fixed and it should be back with me this week.

Thursday, 4 April 2013


I have to admit that I have been using the continuing cold weather as an excuse to avoid a resumption of evening visits now that the clocks have gone forward.

In my absence, Matt W has been making hay, or rather counting Snipe. Loads of them. I got a text from him this afternoon saying that he, accompanied by the farmer, counted 126 Common Snipe on the main scrape today.

Now I am guessing he meant what I call the flashes and that the farmer was Steve Green who owns the land which the rest of us are not allowed to walk on. From the fence line you can often see bits of Snipe emerging and disappearing, and I often wonder how many there actually are. This count, whether it was made on the main pool or the flashes is a terrific effort and to put it into a regional context, it beats any count of Snipe reported in the West Midlands in 2010, the latest WMBC Bird Report to have been produced.

I suspect that by leaving the land largely undisturbed, we have all contributed to the success of the species here this winter , and I consider it a small price to pay for a more productive wildlife habitat.