Sunday, 29 March 2015

Sunday March 29

As predicted, this morning saw grey skies with water falling out of it, and a strong southerly wind.

Time for the Morton Bagot wet weather plan.

1. Dave decides not to bother with the place. He goes to Marsh Lane GP where there are hides aplenty.
2. I arrive in steady drizzle and spend as long as possible in the car photographing anything which comes in range. Such as:

A female Blackbird carrying nesting material

A rather fine cock Pheasant
3. Eventually get bored with looking at common stuff and get out of the car to walk to the pool/flashes in the hope that the rain will stop and the weather will have deluged the place in migrants.

In fact, the rain did stop for long enough for me to reach the flashes. However there was no arrival of migrants. Instead I had to make do with a pair of Little Grebes, 17 Teal, 14 Lapwings, two Redshanks and a Green Sandpiper. There were a few more Gulls around than of late, with four or five Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a second summer Herring Gull, and three Black-headed Gulls over. Summer was represented by two singing Chifchaffs, but by then the rain had started again and I made a soggy departure.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Saturday March 28

With a pretty dire weather forecast for tomorrow morning, I wangled a quick early morning visit to make sure I got at least one dry birdwatch this weekend. It was still very grey and the south-westerly wind was stronger than I would have liked, but wasn't going to affect my main mission which was to sketch Canada Geese.

About eight Canadas were present, mostly on the pool, but also spending time in the flash field.

It is probably just as well that I was focused on sketching these Geese, because there was precious little else worthy of note. The flash field contained 20 Teal, eight Lapwings, two Redshank, and two Green Sandpipers. It also contained the owner of the field, Steve Green, who drove up on a quad-bike and we had a very pleasant chat. I already knew he was very keen to conserve the field for breeding waders, but I learnt that he had largely created the habitat himself with the support of English Nature. Evidently it had been a poor arable field when he moved into the farm in 1986, and he set about turning it to pasture and then by damming and managing the springs created what I call the flashes (I think he would prefer to call them scrapes). It is great that there are landowners like Steve around who are so interested in the preservation and even creation of wildlife habitats.

He still doesn't want anyone wandering around the field though, so visitors take note.

A Little Grebe was trilling from the main pool, and was obvious when I first took a peek, but then did its usual disappearing trick. I bet its been here since last Thursday, and we just missed it last weekend.

My walk back produced a couple of photo opportunities.


Back at the road I checked out a flock of 30 Jackdaws because Mike had reported a "Nordic" Jackdaw on his patch at Middle Spernal in the week. All the ones here looked like "Anglo" Jackdaws to me. Other birds seen locally include the Goosanders, which made a second appearance at Middle Spernal Pools this week, and a pair of Curlews a fortnight ago at Haselor Scrape, seen by John Coombes.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Sunday 22 March

Another cloudy morning, and still quite cold. A very light easterly.

After an hour or so seeing very little it was beginning to look as though all I'd have to blog about was two Redshank, three Green Sandpipers, and 16 Teal. A flock of 35 Fieldfares headed east at least gave the impression migration was underway, and there was also at least 12 Meadow Pipits in the Stonechat field (but no Stonechats).

However, on the return from the flash we had an abrupt change of fortune as I spotted our first Wheatear of the year. As is typical with the first of the season it was a male and an absolute cracker.


It was originally on posts at the top of a small pasture summit, but was refound in the hedge at the bottom of the field.

There was not much else to report thereafter, a couple of Feral Pigeons were the first of the year (I don't add them to my list but as I am doing Patchwork Challenge and they have deemed them countable, I will add them to my "points".) A flock of 45 Starlings hurried past, and although I didn't make an accurate assessment, the numbers of Buzzards, and a Sparrowhawk, circling and displaying all around was probably well into double figures.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Monday March 16

Weather-wise today was a rerun of yesterday, cloudy, and cold. A few spots of rain too. However, for birds it was a distinct improvement.

I followed the same route as yesterday, and soon heard a singing Chiffchaff just beyond the entrance to Netherstead Farm access road. I also started seeing far more Redwings than yesterday, and eventually reached a total of 98.

Chatting to a lady at the farm where we buy eggs, it seems that Bovine TB has struck her cattle herd and now appears to be affecting most of the local farmers.

Down at the pool I soon spotted my target for the day as the field beyond it had several Greylag Geese, all paired up, just waiting to be sketched. I duly obliged.

Also in the field were 15 Canada Geese. Walking past the pool after I had finished sketching I noticed a tiny splash. A short while later the perpetrator emerged, my first Little Grebe of the year.

Moving on to the flashes it was clear there were lots of birds, and also that most of them were Starlings. I counted 240, plus most of the Redwings alluded to earlier, and about 30 Fieldfares. Beyond them were 22 Teal, a Green Sandpiper, and the Redshank was still present.

The walk back produced a lot of corvids and Woodpigeons swirling about, and eventually a large Sparrowhawk which was presumably the cause of the mayhem.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Sunday March 15

Back to normal today. Dave arrived promptly and we set off on a cold grey day with a light north-easterly to stifle any optimism we might have had about discovering spring migrants.

Our route took us to the road and onwards through the hamlet. A flock of 150 Woodpigeons appeared unexpectedly from behind the wooded hill, but we could not see the cause of their alarm. The cold weather was suppressing bird song and so we had few surprises, although a flock of 25 Chaffinches flew up from a previously birdless field of dead stems on the other side of the road.

A male Stonechat was present in the usual field, which I am tempted to name Chat Meadow. Mute Swan numbers have increased to five with the addition of an immature bird, but at the flashes there are now only 22 Teal present, and just four or five Lapwings. On the other hand it did give us my only year-tick today, as a single Redshank was discovered feeding in the nearest flash.

Redshank (and Lapwing)
Also present were a handful of Geese and two Green Sandpipers. The walk back produced a brief view of a calling Chiffchaff, giving Dave a year-tick, and about four Redwings.

A quick look at the south end produced virtually nothing although a distant accipiter over the woods was clearly a Sparrowhawk.

Friday, 13 March 2015

What's the point of field sketches?

The other week I bought an edition of Birdwatch magazine. Among the usual articles I found one which fired my imagination. It was by Mike Langman, a fantastic bird artist from Devon, and was aimed at encouraging the readership to have a go at field sketches. I have to say I was enthused.

Scroll forward to Thursday March 12. A day off coincided with excellent weather, and my new found zeal found me on site and looking for something to sketch. Of course field sketches are supposed to record that unexpected rarity, but that could mean one field sketch a year at Morton Bagot.... if I was lucky.

So I decided on a more OCD approach. Start with the first bird in the taxonomic order. This meant Mute Swan. The first obstacle was to establish whether any were present, and as it happened my luck was in.

The trials of the day have got me thinking. Should I sketch or should I snap?

The case against sketching:
The first problem is the amount of equipment needed. I have got into the habit of travelling light, just binoculars, camera, and notebook. But to sketch I decided I needed a firm base, and that means telescope, tripod, sketch book, pens, notebook, camera (just in case), and bins. Weighed down by all this stuff, my back was sure to suffer.

The next problem is frankly that sketching is hard. The ideal subject would be a bird which stands still for about half an hour in a field with nothing between me and it. Sadly, not many birds are so obliging, and I soon found that Mute Swans come with their own set of problems. True, they are unlikely to dive into a bush and never be seen again, but on the other hand they float. They float pointing left, then you look up and they are floating pointing away. Five minutes later your subject is back in its original position, but then it sticks its head under the water...and so on.

Sketching is subjective, while a photograph is objective. So perhaps a photograph is more convincing as evidence of the presence of a bird you are claiming to have identified correctly.

Anyway, I shall delay no longer. Here are the fruits of nearly an hour staring at a pair of drifting, feeding, Mute Swans.

Not too bad on the whole, but an hour spent getting an image I could have got in 10 seconds. Mute Swans are not hard to photograph. This brings me to another point against sketching. That hour was spent concentrating solely on those birds. Goodness knows what flew over my head while I was messing around with my pencils. In fact I did get a year tick in the middle of it all as a Chiffchaff decided to shout into my ear (slight exaggeration) to get itself noticed.

And another thing. Sketching is definitely a solitary business. On my typical Sunday strolls with Dave, pausing for an hour to look at a Mute Swan is not part of the plan. If I was to be restricted to Sundays I think I wouldn't bother, but my life is due to change. My work contract is due to end, and praise be, it looks like I am going to get another job working part time. A whole day extra to go birding, on my own, its a sign from God, go sketching young man (well all right, old man).

Which brings me to the case for the defence of field sketches.

Mike Langman makes the point that it makes you really look at birds. And he is right. Admittedly Mute Swans aren't a daunting identification challenge. If you can't identify one, there's no hope for you. Most of my looking involved trying to work out the odd head shape, how long is the bill, the various neck shapes, and the proportions of head/neck.body. I haven't been entirely successful either, but I think there is a composite Mute Swan in there. I also did notice something interesting, the shape of the black area between eye and bill. As it happened a second pair was present on the pool behind the hedge. In stark contrast to the pair I sketched, these birds were overtly territorial. One had flattened out a potential nest (the species is yet to breed at Morton Bagot) and came surging towards me in a testosterone fueled fury.

Just look at that raised wing display, and in particular look at the orangeness of the bill and the black triangle between eye and bill. Blacker and more triangular than on the birds feeding peacefully on the main pool. What does this mean? Are the territorial pair just in a more advanced state of breeding plumage or are they older than the more peaceful pair? I briefly noticed orange rings on the legs of at least one bird in each pair, so it should be possible to find out the answer. All this from staring at Mute Swans.

On a purely personal level I have to admit to a deeper sense of satisfaction from completing a set of sketches than from pointing the camera at a bird and getting a moderately sharp photo.

So I'm turning over a new leaf. The sketches are coming back, just not on a Sunday!

PS other birds seen today included 48 Teal, two Green Sandpipers, about 30 Fieldfares, 20 Redwings, a Goldcrest, and about 20 Lapwings.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Sunday March 8

After a lovely spring day yesterday, when I didn't go birding, today was grey, and rather cold. The wind was technically south-westerly, but it didn't feel it.

My one success this morning happened pretty soon after I had got there. An adult, probably male, Peregrine, flew by and became the 70th species here this year. I was too slow with the camera I'm afraid.

Dave arrived shortly afterwards, and we set off on a circuit. There were precious few signs of spring in evidence, four Goldcrests included one singing at the south end, the Stonechats seem to have moved on, but Redwings and Starlings have increased, about 50 of each, plus a few Fieldfares.

At the flashes we counted 41 Teal, a Green Sandpiper, 24 Canada Geese, three Mute Swans, and a couple of Greylag Geese. Also, the best indication of spring we could come up with was the presence of a small swirling party of 17 Lapwings, probably the birds which will soon be setting up territory.

 As we returned, the weather got steadily worse, and eventually we suffered a light drizzle. Despite this I persuaded Dave we should a look at the south end. This produced very little, the highlight being a flock of about 40 Linnets.

Not a Twite in sight
What else can I tell you about? Back at home the local Blackcaps have started singing. These are actually winter visitors and will soon be heading back to central Europe before the British Blackcaps arrive from North Africa. One of these Euro Blackcaps posed nicely on our garden feeder in the week.

Sadly, wintering Blackcaps are almost unknown at Morton Bagot.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Sunday March 1

The beginning of March is psychologically the beginning of spring. Weather-wise I am not so sure. This morning was sunny, with one brief shower, but oh so windy, a stiff south-westerly. Too cold for insects to be on the wing (although I did see a bumblebee sp over our garden yesterday).

Bird-wise spring still seems a long way off. With most small birds keeping their heads down, Dave and I completed our circuit in quick time. The most spring-like sign was the presence of three Stonechats, a male and two females, in the favoured field.

Last week's Fieldfares have mostly gone, but the flashes have attracted the biggest flock of Teal so far this year, a flock of 67.

Most of the Teal flock
There was very little else there though, just 27 Canada Geese, three Greylags, a few Mallard, and three Grey Herons. The pool behind the hedge did contain more new arrivals in the form of two drakes and a duck Tufted Duck.

So I'm afraid that today was a bit of a duff visit.

Where did I leave those lucky socks?