Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Getting it right?

If you choose not to go birding every evening, trying to pick the right night is fraught with difficulty.

Tonight I went out, and frankly it was dire. The highlight was the reappearance of the Snow Goose amongst a flock of 64 Greylags. I again forgot to pack a spare camera battery, so the photography ended abruptly after one shot of the Snow Goose disappearing behind a Greylag. I was thus left to ponder on what to blog about.

I thought I had chosen well. It had rained all day, and stopped just an hour before I set out. But one ingredient was missing. I still retain a pager from my twitching past, and although it can be seen as an unnecessary extravagance it does have one use. I think it is a good predictor of birding fortune. Today it was pretty quiet as far as Midland localities were concerned, and I should have listened to it.

Another thing I struggle to get right is flowers. As a beginner I find it annoyingly tough to correctly identify even the most ostentatious plant. Here is an example.

This looks pretty identifiable doesn't it. It was in the middle of loads of similar looking, but white, flowers in a field of old Oilseed Rape. It took me ages to figure it out. Eventually Harrap's Wild Flowers pointed the way to Wild Radish, an abundant weed. Usually white (that's what all the others were) but sometimes mauve. The plant is so abundant that the Collins guide fails to show a picture, and so distinctive that Marjorie Blamey's Illustrated Flora shows the flowers as yellow. To be fair they apparently often are, just not at Morton Bagot.

I could go on about Scentless Mayweed v Scented Mayweed, and my unexpected discovery that Ragwort comprises several species. But I think that's enough for tonight.

Hopefully my next outing will produce a few birds.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

New arrivals and records

Heavy overnight rain. I arrived to find that the morning was sunny and breezy. I was joined by Dave and we quickly found that this was not going to be a day for finding passerines.

However, as we approached the main pool I spotted a Little Egret flying in. It landed out of sight, and we edged forward until I could finally see it through a gap in the pool-side grasses.

Captured at its closest approach

I managed a click and hope shot, see above, before it flew to the back of the pool. However, the Coot in residence was rather belligerent, and it soon flew towards the flashes. I only saw one Little Egret here last year, also in July, and before that all the records had been in January and February 2010 and 2011.

Unfortunately there was no sign of it on the flash, but there were lots of Green Sandpipers. Dave's first count was 16, and eventually we confirmed there were at least 17 present. This was comfortably a site record for us both.

Five of the 17 Green Sandpipers
As usual none of them was close, but the above shot gives an idea of the spectacle. Also present were four Teal and two Gadwall.

Back home I again spent time checking out the Buddlaeia for butterflies, and recorded Peacocks, Large and Small Whites, a Gatekeeper, Meadow Browns, and this Comma.

Comma in front of the dining room
I think this has been the best summer we can remember in the garden for butterflies.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Common Tern over the garden

A quiet day of non-birding, i.e going to the shops and then lounging in the garden watching up to 14 Peacock butterflies on our buddleia.

Meanwhile my sister's tortoise, Fred, who we are looking after, clambered about its temporary refuge. Birds came unexpectedly into the frame as the advancing cloud cover suggested the forecast rain was finally going to arrive.

At about 5.30pm I glanced out of the window. There had obviously been a big hatch of flying ants because the sky above our garden was filled with jinking Gulls, mainly Black-headed. Above them circled an astonishing 75 Swifts. Then as I picked through the Gulls I spotted one with a forked tail. Not a Gull at all, of course, a Common Tern. Superb. I watched as it drifted off to the south. The garden list advances to a pretty nifty 73.

Speaking of Terns, I seem to have lost my mojo as far as local listing is concerned. After waiting for thirty years for a Caspian Tern to be twitchable in the West Midlands, one has finally turned up. But the venue is Rudyard Lake, about as far north in Staffs as you can get, and I just can't be bothered. It would even be a British tick. Shocking.

There has also been a little bit of news from Morton Bagot. Mike Inskip has let me know that two Small Red-eyed Damselflies appeared on Thursday. I also see that John Belsey, presumably, had a small party of Crossbills over his garden in Winyates Green yesterday. So, weather permitting, there will be plenty to look out for on the patch tomorrow.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Tuesday July 23

The omens looked good. Overnight thunderstorms had deposited Wood Sandpipers at Marsh Lane GP and Brandon. Surely Morton Bagot would not miss out?

Well it kind of didn't, but when I arrived at the flashes this evening the initial scan produced the same number of Green Sandpipers as at the weekend, plus 50 Lapwings. I began to lose interest and started to photograph plants.

Then I thought I would check the little pool beyond the flash. The main problem here is that the hedgerow now provides few gaps. Nevertheless, through one of them I could see a female Tufted Duck with a brood of seven ducklings.

Tufted Duck and family through the hedge
Reasonably pleased with this I started to walk back, but stopped to check the flash through the hedge at a place where I could see the front edge, and there stood a Common Sandpiper. Year-tick.

The best of a sorry bunch of record shots
 I also heard a Snipe, and on returning to my usual spot I saw it. Meanwhile the Common Sandpiper was now invisible behind the grass on the front edge. Eventually, it did show again, but further attempts to photograph it were largely thwarted by the vegetation.

The final coup was a recount of the Green Sandpipers which produced a record count, for me at least, of 13.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Return migration gathers pace

Sunday July 21 saw me & Dave birding together for the first time in several weeks. The early signs were encouraging, with plenty of Warblers in the hedgerows including an obvious family party of three recently fledged Lesser Whitethroats. Swifts were still plentiful, although I see I only logged nine.

We discussed a persistently "hooeet" calling bird in the hedgerow as we approached the flash, and the bird in question eventually showed, confirming it was our first Redstart of the year.

The juvenile Redstart
The Little Owl also showed, while the flashes contained 12 Green Sandpipers, 4 Teal, about 12 Lapwings, 50 Starlings, and three Black-headed Gulls. The walk back was through long flower-rich vegetation which inevitably contained stacks of butterflies including Marbled Whites, and the three Skipper species you get here, Large, Small, and Essex.

My second year tick occurred as we reached the brow of the hill by Stapenhill Wood. We both heard the distinctive call of a Greenshank. It called only once and seemed to be south of us. Despite this we headed back to the flashes via the pool in the hope it had gone there, but there was no sign. The detour did pay off a bit though as we spotted three Sand Martins over the main pool, a patch year-tick for Dave.

A later check of the dragonfly pools showed that the water-level is dropping alarmingly, and there was no sign of the Greenshank there either. It must have gone straight through.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


Last weekend I bought yet another flower identification book, this time it was Harrap's Wild Flowers.

As a consequence I had the opportunity to get to the patch this evening to once again tackle my double frustrations, identifying plants and successfully using the macro facility on my camera. In fact the battery in the camera packed up pretty quickly so it was just as well that the birds on offer were pretty much the same as at the weekend, i.e. 10 Green Sandpipers, a few Teal, a Little Owl, and lots of Whitethroats.

Anyway, the first flower to show is this thistle which Mr Harrap and me have decided is a Spear Thistle.

Very common and unsurprising it would seem. Next is another familiar bloom.

The picture seems to have washed out some of the pink stripes, but the soil's quite good! I reckon this is Field Bindweed.

Using the macro lens seems to be a bit hit or miss for me, but I thought the wasps entering our shed would be a suitable challenge.

Blimey, flight identification of European wasps, whatever next.

Some birds would be nice.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Quantity over quality

I used to hate July. At reservoirs or on the coast it was all about waiting impatiently for migration to start hotting up, usually in August.

But increasingly I'm starting to love it, even for birds. The key for me is the quantity of young birds which have now fledged and fill the hedgerows with lively excitement. True, you just end up with good totals of Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers, and Tits. Nothing new, or even unusual, but they keep you on your toes.

The flash pools still contain some water, and also 10 Green Sandpipers. I am posting a superb photograph of one seen by Mike Lane on the water-filled tyre tracks which, earlier this week, still contained enough water to attract this opportunist wader.

Adult Green Sandpiper by Mike Lane
Today, the flashes also contained four Teal, and I got a shot of the Little Owl.

A Peregrine was sitting on the masts, but that was about it for the birds. Stacks of butterflies though, mostly Meadow Browns and Large Skippers, plus Ringlets, Large Whites, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, and a large orange one seen only in flight, presumably a Comma. New dragonflies included Emerald Damselflies, and Brown Hawkers.

Oh, and England scraped home in a very exciting final day of the 1st Test. A perfect summer's day.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Mostly about insects

It is now seriously hot, so my first visit to the patch for a fortnight found a different place waiting for me. Suddenly the field borders are covered in waist-high grasses and wild flowers, much of the water has evaporated from the flashes, and there are insects everywhere.

As far as the bird life is concerned, there were still a few surprises in store. A male Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. This was only my second this year. I also flushed a pair of Grey Partridges, and found that the returning Green Sandpiper count now stands at seven. A Little Owl was showing, and I eventually determined that a highly mimetic warbler singing from the streamline was a Blackcap.

My first good butterfly of the year was a Marbled White.

Other butterflies seen included numerous Meadow Browns and Ringlet, and a good number of skippers, the only ones I identified when I looked properly being Large Skippers. I also came across a pair of Six-spot Burnet moths mating on a grass stem.

Not all insects are good. I don't know what they were, but I kept getting bitten by sinister looking black flies. However, I reached the dragonfly pools which contained a pair of Mute Swans, a Coot on a nest, and stacks of dragonflies.

The dragonflies on view included Four-spotted Chasers, Black-tailed Skimmers, newly emerged Common Darters, Common Blue Damselflies, and several Emperors like this one.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Suffolk Part 2 - Minsmere

No visit to Suffolk would be complete without a visit to Minsmere. It was an opportunity to allow Lyn the advantage of birding in a motorised wheelchair and also for me to show our two birding companions, Mal & Sue, how much fun birding can be. Also of course it was a chance to take some photographs from hides.

Mal & Sue were diligently keeping a list, and they needed almost everything, so even Avocets were a novelty. The first "good" bird I was able to show them was a Hobby which, after flying around over the reedbed, perched obligingly on a post.

Possibly a first-summer bird
The early afternoon gave us the chance to go to Bittern hide, where the Bitterns unexpectedly obliged.

Bittern at rest
Bittern stretching skywards
A Marsh Harrier also showed well until it perched on a sapling in the middle of the reedbed. I could hear a Bearded Tit, and briefly saw it fly across a gap in the reeds.

All this time it had been apparent that most of the waders were visible from east hide. Unfortunately there was no wheelchair access to that hide and I ended up going there alone.

Spotted Redshank
Sitting Avocet
Juvenile Black-headed Gull
Common Tern
Ringed Plover
There were apparently eight Spotted Redshanks on the reserve. I saw four of them, plus the adult Kittiwake. More distant were about 30 Black-tailed Godwits, an adult Ruff moulting out of its breeding plumes, Little Egrets and several broods of Shelduck with a host of other wildfowl and Gulls.

I suddenly realised time was against me and so left the hide and headed back. A flock of about 60 Common Scoters on the sea also contained a drake Tufted Duck. I then joined a small group of birders scoping two extremely distant Stone Curlews. Never afraid to go for a dot shot, here is my best effort.
The Stone Curlew is hiding behind a plant
Also present in the field was a Fallow Deer, and what appeared to be two Red Deer.

Red Deer
I eventually reached the reserve centre, which had closed, and found my companions waiting for me in the car-park.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Suffolk holiday Part 1

June 29th to July 2nd

Just a quick holiday diary. We were based at Wangford, and the birding which took place during this time was centred on the Hen Reedbed Reserve and the adjacent Blythe Estuary.

The Hen Reedbed is a Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve, and we knew it from a previous visit in 2009.

Hen Reedbed pool from viewing platform

The reed bed could be viewed from a viewing platform a short walk from a small car-park. Typical specialities which could be seen were at least four Marsh Harriers, several Little Egrets from a nearby nest site, Bearded Tits, and on one occasion a Bittern. I was chatting to a voluntary warden, Les, who told me that this was the first place in Suffolk where Little Egrets had nested, and also that the Bearded Tit population had crashed in the cold of last winter so that there were only six pairs this year.

I took a few shots of various species. Trying to get one of the Marsh Harriers in flight was a most frustrating experience.

Green Woodpecker
Marsh Harrier
On my first two visits I found that on the estuary itself the tide was well out and so all the Curlews and Black-tailed Godwits were miles away. However, my third visit, on July 2, coincided with a falling tide and as a result the waders were close enough for some record shots.

Black-tailed Godwits and Curlew
My highest count of waders on the estuary was 134 Black-tailed Godwits, 100 Curlews, 40 Redshanks, 16 Avocets, three Ringed Plovers, and a calling Greenshank. Also present were two or three Mediterranean Gulls, and half a dozen Common Terns.

It would be a great local patch.