Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Tuesday December 30

Today was a good day. It began very cold (sub-zero) with a thick layer of frost, all water-courses frozen, and a layer of cloud which meant the temperature would only rise slowly.

A Chaffinch on a frosty branch sets the scene well.

I wasn't sure whether Dave would be joining me so I decided to head through the village and along the road below Bannams Wood. By the time I reached the wood it was clear I would be on my own today, and I soon found a co-operative party of small birds. These included a Treecreeper, and a Coal Tit which I managed to add as my last photo year-tick.

101. Coal Tit
Also in the party were at least six Long-tailed Tits, a Marsh Tit, and a Goldcrest. Sadly the latter just wouldn't play ball and remained as the one that got away as far as a photograph is concerned.

At the end of the wood I turned to head towards the frozen pools. A familiar shape was perched on the pylon above me.

 The adult Peregrine was my first bird of prey today, and it was not to be my last. At the bottom of the slope I checked the Owl tree and sure enough it was back in residence.

Tawny Owl
I reached the gap and scanned for the Stonechats. There was no sign of them, but instead I found something a lot better.

Barn Owl
The Barn Owl was sitting in an ivy-clad pollarded willow on the far side of the field. I cranked the camera up to maximum magnification to take some shots. I could have got closer, but at some point I would have flushed it and I prefer not to do that. It stretched its wing and looked around, but seemed pretty content. Only my second sighting here this year.

A little further on I could hear a Kestrel calling. I could feel a theme coming on. Raptor day.

There were actually two, which is no doubt why one of them was calling. The flashes contained not only ice, but also a ramshackle canvas shooting hide, several decoy ducks, and one or two ex-Mallards. Obviously yesterday had been the day to avoid.

About 30 Skylarks swarmed across the field ridge, and I chose to walk through the little wood. This added nothing to the day, but back at the dragonfly pools corvid calls led me to the pale Buzzard which had alighted on a hedge.

Common Buzzard
It suddenly looked round and appeared anxious...and then there were two.

Shortly afterwards the sun came out and I was tempted to stroll to the little pond to see if I could add anything more. About 30 Yellowhammers and a few Chaffinches were feeding on the track, and as I left the area half a dozen Lesser Redpolls appeared.

Lesser Redpoll
I felt it was about time I had a good day here. Looking back, the year has been a game of two halves. The first four months producing rarities like a flock of Bewick's Swans, a Green-winged Teal and a pair of Avocets before the middle of April. Then the going got tougher, a Grasshopper Warbler sang but remained largely unseen for several weeks, a couple of sightings of juvenile Ruffs in August, and after a Yellow-crowned Weaver gave us the runaround in September, a Marsh Harrier flew through while I sat at home researching the weaver. It was to be one of those autumns, a real slog with few highlights.

But 2015 will be another year. Let the fun begin.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Sunday December 28

A beautiful frosty morning with hardly a breathe of wind. Dave was there comfortably before me, but hadn't seen much of note.

Indeed our walk around today confirmed only that the usual suspects were largely still present, though ominously we couldn't find the Stonechats. We reckoned there were at least 40 Yellowhammers present, a single Coot was new on the pool, and the shed contained some fresh Barn Owl pellets.

It was great for photography though.

The highlight came when we returned to the cars. A little flock of seven Lesser Redpolls appeared in the birches and a couple showed well enough for photos.

Lesser Redpoll

The only gull we saw was a single immature Herring Gull which flew over, and the only ducks apart from Mallard were three Teal.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Friday December 26

A year-tick at last, and almost as soon as I had stepped out of the car. In fact I was changing into my wellies when a little group of seven large Gulls flew by, and four of them were Great Black-backed Gulls. Rather conveniently one was an adult (the others first-winters) and they were with Herring Gulls, a useful size comparison. Less helpfully my camera was in a bag in the boot, and I judged I would not have time to get it out and get a shot away. These were my first Greater Black-backs here since Nov 2012.

The photo-list then had another near miss as I chased a Goldcrest along a hedge by the car. I managed several shots but each just shows bits of Goldcrest. If I could piece them together I might have a whole bird!

Never mind, the grey still morning was rather frosty, and I was pleased to find no evidence of sportsmen, so I had the place to myself. The pair of Stonechats was still present, the pool was largely unfrozen but only contained five Teal among the usual Mallard, Canada Geese, and two Mute Swans.

The field behind the pool was covered in frost and contained a little flock of Skylarks.


I counted 28 in the field and later flushed more giving a total of 48. Pretty typical numbers. I decided to return along the road, and this allowed me to see a Treecreeper, a couple of Marsh Tits, and a Nuthatch hammering away at the bark of a tree. I suspected it had wedged a nut or acorn in there.


So the addition of Great Black-backed Gull brings my personal total up to a paltry 110 species for the year, seven or eight short of my usual score.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Sunday December 21

The shortest day began cloudy and gloomy with a moderate south-westerly breeze. My camera has been restored to me so I was keen to use it. Dave joined me and we wandered around with realistic expectations given how rubbish its been lately.

From that standpoint we had an ok morning. The pair of Stonechats was still present, and a Redpoll called as it flew over. The flashes remained poor, just 12 Teal, while 70 Lapwings were circling high overhead. Things picked up as we walked along the back hedge. It was clear that there was a decent sized thrush flock, and we estimated 100 Redwings, 60 Fieldfares, a Mistle Thrush, and about 10 Starlings.

The one that got away was a possible Chiffchaff we heard calling somewhere along the hedge. We eventually saw a Goldcrest, but were unable to confirm our suspicions. As well as the thrushes there were a lot of finches here, feeding on the dead heads of flowering crops. We estimated 50 Goldfinches and 30 Chaffinches, and then the bird of the day, a female Siskin, which called before landing in an ash. I went for the camera but the bird flew before I could add it to the photo year-list. This was only my second record this autumn.

The remainder of the walk was pretty quiet apart from another sighting of the Peregrine, and a pterodactyl which flew over.

Well ok, it was a Grey Heron.

Saturday, 20 December 2014


We have changed our Internet provider and are having teething troubles. This is just to see if its still working.

I am half expecting everything to go Tits up (the only bird reference in this posting) so if Morton Bagot Birder disappears unexpectedly, I can only say I will try to reincarnate myself at some stage.

Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Sunday December 14

Oh dear, I'm afraid the birding remains stuck in a Morton Bagot-shaped rut, or possibly a trench.

Dave and I completed a pretty quick circuit, mainly because there wasn't much to look at. Our highlights were the Peregrine (for the third weekend running) circling near Bannams Wood, and 180 Linnets with 40 Chaffinches in game cover.

Other than that all I can say is that the flashes produced nothing at all, although the pool behind the flash hedge did contain 15 nervous Teal. The water courses are now ice-free, as well as bird-free, and the most notable species on our return journey was a Mistle Thrush.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Saturday December 13

A crisp frosty morning tempted me out for a Saturday stroll along the road which borders the patch. I could see that the flashes were frozen solid so I concentrated on the area between Church Farm and Bannams Wood.

It was a bit quiet if I'm honest. The highlights were nine Ravens which flew over Church Farm, and a good total of Meadow Pipits in the adjacent pasture, with at least 17 eventually taking flight.

I did have designs on sketching the little birds in the wood, particularly Goldcrests, but they were not playing ball and I only managed three brief and distant views of the latter in the treetops, not really enough to produce anything worth while on paper.

I'll try again tomorrow.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Sunday December 7

On Monday my camera was sent away to be fixed, so today I was birding without it. The photo-list ended on 100, but I had a vague idea to break out the old sketch book and continue the project in field sketches.

This is why I found myself back under Bannams Wood staring at Tit flocks as the early morning rain abated. I saw a Goldcrest high in the trees just as Dave drove around the corner and asked what I was up to. He parked up, but the pressure was now on and instead of a Goldcrest I located a Coal Tit, another little blighter that had eluded the camera.

I had a couple of opportunities to jot something down. After a year of drawing nothing I am a bit rusty, but anyway here are the fruits of my labours.

The actual field sketches are the two little ones, and the colour version based on the upper one was done when I got home. I didn't want to subject Dave to an hour of chasing a Coal Tit round so we drove to our usual starting point and began birding from Netherstead.

We felt there were more Redwings about, perhaps because of the colder weather earlier in the week, and also saw that the male Stonechat was still present. Another bird which was unusually prominent was Raven, and we saw at least seven by the time we got to the flash. A possible explanation for their presence was the sight of several dead bodies (birds) floating in the first flash. Also present were 50 live Teal, about 60 Mallard, a pair of Wigeon, and 40 or so Lapwings.

At this point we were suddenly surrounded by dogs and a polite shooter ambled up to apologise for the disturbance he and his mates were about to cause as they sent the dogs to "pick" the corpses. We watched as the dogs flushed everything including about five Snipe we had not seen. The corpses were mostly Mallard, but included a Teal and a Greylag Goose. Dave had the presence of mind to ask when the shooting season would end, and we were told Feb 1.

The return journey was enlivened by distant views of a Peregrine in a dog fight with a Crow over Bannams Wood.