Friday, 31 January 2014

Friday January 31

Well the weekend is nearly upon us and as I reflect on another week of inactivity (birding wise), I can at least celebrate the triumphs of others.

Not least, Sam Clement, my former work colleague who has made the stunning discovery of a Yellow-browed Warbler in the unlikely setting of Uffmore Wood near Halesowen. She even managed to photograph it.

Closer to home, Mike has visited Morton Bagot today. He duly year-ticked the two Jack Snipe, but reported that the dearth of ducks continues. He then went to his own patch and added four more year-ticks, another Jack Snipe, some Tufted Ducks, Marsh Tit and Bullfinch.

The game is on.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler twitch

By early afternoon I could stand it no longer. Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler would be not only a West Mids tick, but a British tick too.

The sun came out, I got some of the furniture moving done and paint bought from B & Q for the decorating due to start next week (not by me of course, Dave the decorator will be coming to our aid). Time to head for Coleshill.

The actual destination was Hams Hall, and I joined a small crowd hoping to see the bird.

After about 15 minutes it duly obliged. Unfortunately I had made the tactical error of leaving my scope behind, so the views were sufficient only to confirm that I was looking at a Yellow-browed Warbler, though a dullish plumaged one.

On the other hand the call was very interesting. It was definitely Yellow-browed-like, but seemed slower, more deliberate, lacking the upward inflection of the second syllable. It reminded me of a slurred Pied Wagtail call. They are reputed to make a Sparrow-like call too, but I didn't hear that while I was there.

Sadly it never came close enough, nor remained still enough for me to get a shot of it. When I got home it was straight to the bird videos and I was relieved to hear the call notes in the Paul Doherty Warbler video was spot on for the calls I heard.

This was my 435th British tick (but my first since 2008), and my West Mids list stands at 293. I know you don't care, but it keeps me smug  content.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

Its that time of year again.

I did my hour in pouring rain and strong wind, so was pleasantly surprised to do better than last year.

I saw:

2 Blackbirds
1 Blue Tit
1 Coal Tit
1 Dunnock
5 House Sparrows
1 Woodpigeon
1 Blackcap

The female Blackcap was the star bird, but was annoyingly camera shy. You'll just have to imagine that the fat ball feeder wasn't in the way.

Mike rang to say he got great views of the Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler yesterday.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Saturday 25 January

With a forecast for appalling weather for tomorrow morning I switched to Saturday for a change.

This morning the weather was OK, mostly cloudy with a few sunny spells. Water levels higher than ever, and bird numbers a bit depressed. The mild conditions were encouraging Song Thrushes to sing, and more unusually this Redwing was also singing away

When I reached the pool I finally got a year tick as a Green Sandpiper was flying around calling, although I failed to actually see it.

The flashes were a let down again, just 10 visible Snipe and four Black-headed Gulls. However, as I needed them for the photo list I decided to add one as it took off.

33. Black-headed Gull
After failing to find any Owls at the various stake outs I couldn't resist photographing a hedge full of Linnets.

The cunning plan was to walk up to the road and back beneath Bannams Wood to try to get some of the missing woodland birds. On the way, a Fieldfare posed nicely.

One bird which was proving strangely hard to photograph was Blackbird. They are much less tame out here in the countryside, but I wanted to get one on the list so I'm afraid the best I could do was this female.

34. Blackbird
The hoped for woodland birds largely failed to play ball, although I did add another unseen bird to the list, this time a calling Marsh Tit.

Finally I resorted to looking for signs of spring and noticed these Snowdrops under a hedge.

Shortly afterwards, Mike pulled up and we compared notes. He had added Mute Swan and Jay at his patch (plus Black Swan which I told him he couldn't count). He was on his way to Coleshill where a Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler had been found. I am tempted, but it will have to wait for another weekend.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sunday January 19

A beautiful sunny day. Dave couldn't make it, and there was no sign of Jon. This meant a photography day.

The only year tick I gained today was a Mistle Thrush which I could hear singing from Netherstead Farm.

So, to business. After ignoring 160 Linnets which were twittering from the copse, my first target was a female Greenfinch which sat up nicely on a hedge.

19. Greenfinch
Shortly afterwards I heard a Lesser Redpoll, but didn't see much worth recording until I got to the line of trees leading to the pool. Here I finally got some shots of Pheasant.

20. Pheasant
One bird which has been eluding me so far, common though they are, is Dunnock. So although it was distant I decided to add one which perched up on the hedge behind the pool.

21. Dunnock
The flashes contained several Lesser Black-backed Gulls, but predictably they flew off before I could get close enough to add them. About 80 Lapwings and a handful of Snipe was all I could muster. Still no ducks.

Back at Netherstead, the Mistle Thrush had stopped singing, but was now visible.

22. Mistle Thrush
The garden and feeders there also gave me some easy photo ticks.

23. Pied Wagtail
24. Collared Dove
25. Blue Tit
At this point I decided to take to my mobile hide, and drive down to the south end. Here I was greeted by the sight of 300 Linnets on the wires.

Some of the Linnets
Also a few more photo ticks.

26. Chaffinch
27. Meadow Pipit
28. Goldfinch
29. Song Thrush
I finally decided to leave, but further opportunities were in store. Driving past Bannams Wood I noticed a Raven heading for the pylon. I then played a protracted game of hide and seek with it, as it kept disappearing behind girders. In the end, this was my best effort.

30. Raven
And that was that...until the evening. Lyn and I were driving back from shopping in Alcester, going the country route. As we drove through the hamlet of Morton Bagot I decided I really ought to get Woodpigeon on the list.
31. Woodpigeon
Then, driving past Bannam's Wood I noticed a creature at the side of the road. This turned out to be a Buzzard feeding on something. The shot is taken through the car windscreen, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

32. Buzzard
A nice end to the day.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Hillers Garden Centre

In the afternoon Lyn and I went down to Dunnington near Alcester for lunch at Hillers. Of course birds were also on the menu, and the big draw at Hillers is a little hide tucked away at the back of their garden which faces out into the Ragley estate wood, and is baited with food for wildlife.

Today, as the weather and light worsened, we saw and photographed a pretty typical mix of woodland species.

Collared Dove
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Red-legged Partridge
The last one is not really a woodland species, but they are anybody's for a bread roll.

Monday January 13

I took the day off today, although most of the morning was spent paying our respects at the funeral of our friend Nikki.

It was a beautiful morning and after the service I had an hour to go to the patch with the intention of adding to my photo list. I stayed around Netherstead and began with a rather better shot of a Robin than the one I "ticked" yesterday.

Sitting in the car waiting for something to come close is actually a bit frustrating as I had plenty of chances to get shots of other species already on the photo year list, but I did add:

17. Great Tit

18. Carrion Crow
Of the remaining pictures, I think this Yellowhammer is better than my previous effort.

male Yellowhammer
I didn't see anything remotely unusual. The best bird was probably a circling Sparrowhawk.
I rang Mike while I was there as I knew he was visiting his own patch today. He sounded more positive, and was catching up with some of the easy passerines previously unrecorded.

This evening he has confirmed he has added another nine species, the best being a Treecreeper. He also saw the Woodcock again. It sounds as though Haselor scrape remains absolutely dire though.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Wild Swans

A sunny and frosty morning, although it clouded over after an hour. Dave got there before I did, and I quickly discovered I had left my notebook at home. I was keen to start adding birds to my photo list, but my initial attempts at a fly over Raven (image too small), and Fieldfare (out of focus) failed to make the grade. In the distance I picked up an adult Common Gull flying east; a very handy year tick but too distant to get a shot of.

I was nevertheless keen to practice photographing birds in flight in case the "big one" flew over, so my next attempt passed my very generous quality control criterion.

10. Rook
This is the typical view of Rooks at the patch. I really shouldn't put the next one in as the bird looked away to spoil what would have been a very nice shot. But what the hell, a tick is a tick.

11. Robin
Around this time we spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which was another year-tick although I didn't realise it at the time. A number of Fieldfares and Redwings were feeding in the frosty grass at the paddocks, and with Jon Yardley approaching from beyond them I decided it was time to add another common winter bird.

12. Fieldfare (and Redwings)
The three of us teamed up and we wandered along the path towards the manure heap, which contained a good bird for the year, Grey Wagtail.

13.  Grey Wagtail
and also
14. Reed Bunting
This area held good numbers of Yellowhammers, Linnets and Reed Buntings, and among them we heard the distinctive calls of a Redpoll. It was seen briefly and confirmed to be Lesser Redpoll before the whole lot took off and we lost it.

As we reached the pool I suggested we try flushing Snipe to see if we could see any Jack Snipe. This produced 25 Common Snipe and two Jack Snipe. There was no chance of a photo as they were miles too quick. Jon located the Stonechat on the far side of the pool.

The flash contained 114 Lapwings and a Grey Heron, but still no ducks. On the return journey we investigated the tin shed and found several Barn Owl pellets. 

We think that some of these were quite recent, so although I understand that Barn Owls had a terrible year last year, it seems ours is still here. We investigated the contents of a pellet. I don't know whether the picture taken gives enough information to identify its grizzly contents.

The upper mandible of a rodent sp

So now to the exciting bit. Luckily I had got my camera at the ready as we were attempting to relocate a "brown" Bunting. Evidently Dave heard a single "honk" which caused him to look up and call to out to us. Overhead, 11 wild Swans were heading south. I believe they were Bewick's Swans, but I have to admit it was not possible to see any bill detail, so the identification has to rely on jizz. Fortunately I got a shot of them.

15. Bewick's Swans

We had a mid field discussion after they had gone, and decided they had looked narrow necked, and small bodied. Dave reckoned the honk was quite high pitched. So on balance we have decided to call them Bewick's Swans. A Morton Bagot tick.

I have subsequently heard that they were later seen flying over Salford Prior GP.

The day had not quite reached a conclusion however, and a final, rather more mundane, year tick was added when we found a single Coot on the dragonfly pools.

16. Coot

As a final postscript to the Swan episode. Dave has just phoned to point out an instructive photo in "Flight identification of European seabirds" and also to tell me he has read that a single call (as opposed to a multiple honk) is strongly suggestive of Bewick's Swan because Whooper Swan typically gives three or four calls. This is news to me, but after checking with the Collins Guide etc he is correct, and  it firms up the ID.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Wednesday Jan 8

Not much birding for me this week, although I did see a couple of Peregrines in central Birmingham yesterday.

Mike rang to update me on his latest visit to Middle Spernal Pools. He reckons the shooting there has made any wildfowl extremely jumpy, but he did add two year-ticks today, Wigeon and Cormorant.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

On the patch at last

After a frosty night, the day dawned cold and calm. However, the cloud cover increased throughout the morning.

I began by seeing what I could photograph from the car before Dave arrived. A Linnet eventually came in range to get the photo year list off the mark.

1. Linnet
Closely followed by a Redwing.

2. Redwing
Both these species were well represented today. I estimated 100 Linnets and 60 Redwings. Dave arrived and I took a shot of a male Kestrel which in flight was seen to have a damaged wing as a primary feather dangled down. It looked healthy enough on a post though.

3. Kestrel
Shortly after this a year-tick calamity occured (for me), as Dave spotted a Kingfisher which flew rapidly past us. It didn't call, and I just didn't see it. This is a potential banana skin as I have never seen one here before July in any year and the species is not 100% guaranteed to turn up.

Moving on, we tried heading towards the south end in the hope of relocating it. But as expected we failed. Eventually we were back on our usual track and were walking past the pool when the Stonechat popped up.

4. Stonechat
Unfortunately, the only time it was close there were too many branches obscuring it, so I ended up pursuing it for a record shot. This bird may well winter successfully, but if we get some severe cold it may not survive, and like Kingfisher although we should get one again next autumn, its not guaranteed

The flash continued its recent poor run, but I thought I'd add a few of its inhabitants to the photo list.

5. Mallard (Snipe in background)
6. Lapwing
You can never get close enough to even the closest flash to get anything better than a record shot. Beyond the flash the small pool contained a Mute Swan.

7. Mute Swan
This bird appears to be a sub-adult.

At Stapenhill Wood among a good flock of Linnets and Chaffinches, I spotted a female Brambling. Another bird good enough to warrant a record shot.

8. Brambling
 I may see this bird again, but it is missable. You also never know whether next autumn will bring any.

Walking back across the stubble field I got some flight shots of Skylarks, but the images are so small that I will hope to get something better another day. Dave headed off, but I stayed a bit longer hoping to photograph something else. In the end all I got was a blurred flight shot of a Buzzard, and some pictures of an uncooperative Yellowhammer.

9. Yellowhammer
So my year-list is off the mark with a slightly under par 47 species.

Late news: Mike paid a very brief visit to Haselor scrape. All he saw was some Mallards. Tick.