Sunday, 22 February 2015

Sunday February 22

I often find myself looking forward to spring at this time of year. Not today though. A hard frost overnight and a grey cold morning with a light, but cold, south-easterly breeze put paid to any such thoughts.

Instead it was a case of spot the difference. A male Stonechat around the horse paddocks had a full tail and was presumably a new arrival. A pair of Mute Swans has reappeared, and there has been a noticeable influx of Fieldfares, with 150 in the area, all feeding on invertebrates in the pasture fields.

The Stonechat
I ignored the marsh to give the Snipe a bit of breathing space, but found that the pool and flashes were largely frozen, so I only counted 15 Teal, 40 Lapwings, and a Green Sandpiper.

At least I got home before the forecast rain arrived.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Tuesday February 17

News from the patch.

Matt Willmott and a colleague have mounted a systematic Snipe flush in the marsh and came up with a remarkable count of 16 Jack Snipe with only 14 Common Snipe.

It seems that the little marsh at Morton Bagot is one of the best habitats for Jack Snipe in the West Midlands.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Sunday February 15

A lead grey sky and no wind on a rather chilly morning. Today I achieved a Morton Bagot ambition, but there was no sign that today would contain anything special as Dave and I trudged round for an hour without seeing very much.

The pool did at least produce a year tick in the form of two drake Tufted Ducks, but the flashes contained only 13 Teal, a Green Sandpiper, six Lapwings, 16 Canada Geese, and four Greylag Geese.

I suggested we try walking through the marsh beside the pool to see if we could flush any Jack Snipe. The answer was an emphatic yes. We kicked up 19 Common Snipe, and 10 Jack Snipe before the moment arrived. The 11th Jack Snipe was not flushed. At last I spotted one on the deck.

Jack Snipe

Not easy to see is it? Just how hard they can be to spot is illustrated by the next photo, with handy caption.

It's about 7 o'clock from the J of Jack Snipe
 After that success the remainder of the trip was pretty pedestrian. The Jack Snipe count was my record count here by the way.

One or two little birds caught my eye.

Coal Tit
and one big bird too.

In general though the numbers of finches etc remains low, and the water level on the flashes is low for the time of year.

Slightly worrying times.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Sunday February 8

A still, sunny morning. The pools and flashes were still frozen, but it didn't feel as cold as recently.

I was a bit late setting off and so Dave was returning from exploring the south end as I arrived. There were no finch flocks down there, and indeed we couldn't find many finches or buntings anywhere on the patch today.

There was also no sign of the Barn Owl apart from a pellet in the ridge field, but the Tawny Owl decided to show itself, though only briefly, before scuttling back down its hole as my thoughts turned to taking a photograph. It was left to a mammal to pose for the camera.

Brown Hare
The pair of Stonechats was still present, and a Snipe flew out of the marsh. We reached the flashes to find a little more of interest than through most of the shooting season. It feels like someone has said "and relax", so the birds have. There were 20 Teal, about 20 Starlings, and another year-tick, two Green Sandpipers preening vigorously.

The Green Sandpipers
We wandered back, noting at least one Sparrowhawk and about 10 Common Buzzards circling. A potential patch tick, a Brown Rat, jumped out of the long grass. I think I've seen a squashed one but can't remember a live sighting before.

Our final year-tick of the day announced itself with its typical "swee" call as a Siskin, appeared high overhead and then disappeared behind the trees of Stapenhill Wood. Four Roe Deer bolted from the long grass of the Ridge Field, the largest party (by one) I have counted here.

Other things to reflect on today were the signs of early spring; Robins and Dunnocks seemed more evident, Skylarks were in full song, Great Spotted Woodpeckers have started drumming, and the snowdrops are out. The only thing missing were gulls. We saw not a single one today, perhaps a reflection of a very dry month.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Sunday February 1

Today was extremely cold from the outset. A fresh north-westerly cut right through you, and although it was largely sunny, a few flakes of snow drifted down from one passing cloud.

At least the shooting season has ended. Unfortunately the birds were slow to accept their change in status, and the Mallard and six Teal on the pool flew off as soon as they sensed our presence. The pair of Stonechats was still present, and we recorded a lot of gulls heading west. Unfortunately almost all were beyond the northern extreme of the patch so they were distant. We counted 123 Black-headed Gulls, seven LBB Gulls and a Herring Gull.

As we returned to dragonfly pool field it looked like it was to be a duff visit, so I snapped a Robin to have something to show for the day.

Shortly afterwards we flushed a female Stonechat, presumably different from the pair 150 metres away near the bridle path we decided.

We thought we would divert to check this, and so we walked along the trackway towards the pond. A little way along I heard Dave, with panic in his voice, urge me to look into the sky near Bannams Wood. I did this and quickly spotted a chunky accipiter heading left. A possible Goshawk. We sprinted down the track as it drifted out of sight, and scanned without success. At this point the waters of identification success became rather murky as we spotted two accipiters displaying over Bannams Wood. They were clearly just Sparrowhawks, and were soon joined by a third bird, also a Sparrowhawk.

The display of Sparrowhawk is typical of several species of raptor. They engage in a sky dance in which they climb to a considerable height, then close their wings and swoop downwards until they reach the bottom of an invisible arc and then repeat the process. It's a great thing to see, but it meant we were less confident that we had seen a Goshawk. With only sky as a reference, how far away had it been? Perhaps it had been a poor view of one of the displaying Sparrowhawks.

We scanned for Stonechats (none to be seen) and returned to the cars. Here the story was to take another twist as Dave spotted a distant accipiter flying away from us to the west of Bannams Wood. It looked interesting. I suggested we drive to Church Farm and scan from there.

We arrived, crossed the road, and started a sweep of the countryside from Bannams Wood, now to the south of us, across to the flashes to our west. Pretty soon we got onto a raptor in the west beyond the flash. For a split second I thought Raven, but no it was an accipiter, and a big one at that. Dark above, pale below. Too long-tailed for Buzzard, too broad-winged for Sparrowhawk. It swung around and we briefly lost it behind the hedge we were looking along, then it reappeared one last time only to disappear behind the wooded Mars Hill.  It had still looked big. We conferred. It had to be a Goshawk.

On checking the maps when I got home I established that our distance from Mars Hill, and therefore from the bird, was just over one kilometre. Not the best view, but no Sparrowhawk would look big at that distance.

This was the first Goshawk we had seen here since November 2013. That bird had obligingly reappeared and shown pretty well, for a Goshawk. Lets hope this one does the same.