Sunday, 28 June 2015

Sunday June 28

After a disconcerting amount of early morning rainfall, I arrived to find it pepping up. It showed no sign of abating when Dave arrived. So we had a bit of a soggy start.

One possible consequence of the rain was the sudden appearance of a large (for Morton Bagot) flock of Swifts, 62 in total, which headed south-west. We were not sure whether they were actually migrating or just reacting to the conditions. One bird which hasn't migrated, surprisingly, is the male Cuckoo which could be heard calling from woods to the south.

As well as the Sedge Warbler singing in the reed-bed, the reverend Reed Warbler decided to give up his oath and also started singing on this Sunday. He can consider himself defrocked.

By the time we reached the pool, the rain had stopped. The water level looked lower than ever, and the pool eventually contained three Green Sandpipers, three Little Ringed Plovers, and a Redshank. The Little Grebes seemed to be absent.

Green Sandpiper
With dull, slightly chilly, conditions persisting there were few insects on the wing and the visit rather petered out. A Hobby put in a brief appearance, and a Coot tried to hide under the algae on the dragonfly pool.

Up periscope!
Instead of heading home early, I suggested we check out a small conifer wood I now know to be called Morgrove Coppice. The Crossbills had headed south last week, and I was wondering if they had gone there. Well we didn't see any, but I was very impressed by the place. It's only 100 metres south-west of my self imposed patch boundary and consists of a stand of Scots pines and a few Larch trees. It also contained a very substantial tit flock which kept us entertained for much of the time we were there. I'm not sure who owns it, but its probably part of the Dorsington Estate land. A public footpath skirts its northern boundary and the rest can be seen from the road.

I am very tempted to extend my patch to include it.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Thursday June 25

A warm, sultry day. I had decided to take my sketchbook with the aim of drawing Herons. Unfortunately none were present, so I had to consider my fall back plan, which was Buzzards. A possible reason for the lack of Herons was the continuing drop in water levels, which has left the nearest flash almost dry, and a substantial muddy edge to the main pool.

An early surprise came as I headed for the pool. I looked up to see a Common Tern flying over (talk about buses, seven years without a tern and then two in a week). In fact, there were probably two as once one had disappeared I spotted another heading away. I also took a photo of it which looks less like a gnat and more like a bird.

Common Tern
Trying to formulate a theory for why Common Terns are starting to appear, it could be that the dry summer is causing pools to dry up, or even fish deaths, forcing birds to travel further afield in search of new areas to feed. At the pool I counted three Little Ringed Plovers, all adults.

female Little Ringed Plover
Despite the Flash being reduced to a puddle, it contained two Green Sandpipers. The pool beyond the hedge contained a pair of Tufted Ducks, the male being ringed. As I had the scope I had a stab at reading the ring, and came up with 0662 but I 'm not sure that will be enough to establish where it might have been ringed.

Where did you come from?
The walk back was very pleasant. The long grass, now waist high, contained all sorts of insects and flowers to look at. On reaching the ridge I thought I had better start looking for Buzzards. They were not performing very well today, and I failed to find any perched. But after half an hour I had a few sketches in the bag.

Among the birds I saw on the way back were two Nuthatches checking out woodpecker holes.

Insects including several infestations of black aphids, all on thistles. Yuck.

Aphid sp
I have seen very few dragonflies this year, so I was pleased to add a female Emperor, and a female type Black-tailed Skimmer.

Black-tailed Skimmer
The soft mud at the dragonfly pools contained fresh tracks.

Badger tracks?
Butterflies on the wing included my first Marbled Whites of the year (which all refused to alight, so no photo), plenty of Large Skippers, Small Heaths, Meadow Browns, and a Ringlet.

Meadow Brown
All in all another worthwhile visit.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Sunday June 21

A few sunny intervals, but mostly cloudy with a moderate westerly breeze. Not very auspicious, or so I thought.

I whiled away time waiting for Dave photographing grasses in the hope of identifying them later; it could be a lot later. A Starling fed in the horse paddock, and the reverend Reed Warbler stuck to its guns by failing to sing. Instead, a Sedge Warbler belted out its song from the reedbed.

Once Dave arrived we proceeded towards the pool. As we walked along the hedge line 100 metres short of our destination, a loose flock of finches flew noisily from the other end of the hedge. It took a couple of seconds before the penny dropped. I yelled "Crossbills" as their "kyip kyip" calls became clearer as they flew past us. We saw them well enough to see their crossed bills as they flew by and away to the south. Nine of them in total. To put the record into context, these were the first Crossbills I have seen here for four years. There is another record from about two years ago, involving a pair seen by Matt Willmott.

I had no chance at all of getting a record shot (not even of the standard of my Common Tern effort). After congratulating ourselves on our good fortune we headed onwards to the pool where, on the longest day of the year, we saw more evidence of the turn of the year. The first returning Green Sandpiper called and then appeared in flight. We briefly relocated it at the edge of the pool before it headed towards the Flashes.

The Green Sandpiper on the flashes
Also at the flashes were two Little Ringed Plovers, a Redshank, and a Little Owl. On the walk back we spent time looking at insects.

Azure Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Painted Lady
However, we hadn't entirely given up on birds. The sky was full of Swifts, our highest count being 46. We also saw a Hobby, and two Sparrowhawks. A Skylark showed well as it collected grubs for its fledglings.

All in all an excellent start to autumn!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Friday June 19

A cloudy morning with some sunny intervals, and rather cool for June.

This morning I carried out my last transect survey of the season looking principally for birds. Despite this, the first interesting creature I saw was an insect, my first Common Emerald Damselfly of the year.

Common Emerald Damselfly
Subsequently the temperature struggled to get warm enough to encourage many insects onto the wing. The birds were a little predictable, the highlights being a rapid fly past by the adult Hobby, a Cuckoo still singing in the distance, a variety of warblers including the reverend Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, and two Lesser Whitethroats, and four immature Mute Swans which flew around before trying to land on the pool, where they were quickly seen off by the resident pair.

Mute Swans
The flashes contained two Little Ringed Plovers, a Redshank, and a juvenile Little Owl in the usual tree, while the pair of Little Grebes remain on the pool.

With little else to divert me I took the opportunity to photograph a few plants for my long neglected Flowers of Morton Bagot page.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Tuesday June 14

An ideal evening for a visit to the patch, light, but not too sunny, and warm with very little wind.

I was greeted by the sound of a Reed Warbler singing away. This bird seems to have an aversion to singing on a Sunday, I may have to dub him the Reverend Reed Warbler. Moving on to the pool, a single Sedge Warbler sang briefly there.

At this time of year you start to learn the outcomes of the breeding attempts of the local birds. I was particularly pleased to confirm that the anxious calls of the female Lapwing at the pool did indeed mean that she had a chick to care for.

Lapwing chick
This particular chick was quite well grown, but it has a very uncertain future. It never ceases to amaze me that any ground nesting waders manage to raise young to the fledging stage.

At the flashes the presence of two adult Shelducks and four adult Little Ringed Plovers may point to an unsuccessful outcome, but there is still a single Redshank present. A Little Owl started calling and suddenly two appeared in the oak tree. One was pursuing the other very vocally, and I am pretty sure that they were an adult and a juvenile.

They looked quite different from one another, the juvenile being more chocolate brown and hardly spotted on its crown. I have always assumed they were breeding, but it was good to see some evidence for it.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Sunday June 14

A sunny start, but soon clouding over. Dave opted for another look at the Melodious Warbler, so I was on my own.

I decided on a bit more surveying, noting that the Reed Warblers have disappeared again. On my way to the flashes I spotted a distant Hobby hawking over trees just over the ridge of the field behind the pool. The recent rain has half filled the nearest flash, which contained a Redshank, while the vegetation obscuring the further flash has grown another half inch.

Walking back along the streamline I was keeping my eye open for the Hobby in case it was perched in one of the ashes, and I got lucky.

The adult Hobby
It had been sitting with its back to me, and I got a shot when it turned its head before it flew off in a panic. A few more butterflies were out, and I recorded Speckled Wood, Small Heaths, Peacock, and my first Red Admiral, Meadow Brown, and Large Skipper of the year.

Large Skipper
But the best was yet to come. I could see a few Swifts wheeling around, high in the sky, and decided to count them. I got to 14, when a Morton Bagot tick flew through them, a Common Tern. This was the first tern of any species I have seen here, although it's actually the second for the patch, Jon Yardley having seen one a couple of years ago. I decided to try for a record shot, so took three shots of sky. The problem being that the bird was too high up to be visible through my lens. Through the binoculars I could see that it had briefly circled with the swifts, and then continued languidly north.

I zoomed in on the images at the back of the camera, but could see only a few blurred Swifts, and was about to delete the shots when I discovered I had actually captured it in the second image, (either that or a passing gnat). So here it is, patch gold.

Common Tern (it's in there somewhere)

Friday, 12 June 2015

Friday June 12

So, back to the patch. Yesterday's excitement gave me a renewed enthusiasm for looking. If a rarity can turn up in the middle of nowhere at Cornets End, why not here?

A rather cloudy start, the temperature gradually warmed up leaving the day distinctly sultry by late morning. An early boost to the morale was the discovery that the Reed Warbler was not only present, but also showing quite well.

I later found that there were at least two present.

I decided to resume my censusing, walking along the road to Church Farm. Highlights were a calling Cuckoo, and a couple of Coal Tits.

Down at the flashes I discovered that the nearest was nearly dry, and the furthest was largely screened by long grass. It did contain two drake Teal though. Waders were represented by a Redshank and a Snipe. A Little Owl called, and showed quite well.

At the pool the water level is also lower, perhaps bringing the promise of waders when the return passage gets under way next month. For now it contained three adult Little Grebes.

Walking back to the car, I disturbed my first Painted Lady of the year.

At the dragonfly pools the water is continuing to evaporate away, and no dragonflies were visible. Perhaps they have failed to survive the drought. The damp mud was good for the House Martins industriously collecting it for their nests, and also exposed a number of mammalian footprints.

Badger tracks?
Brown Rat tracks?
I think I'll stick to birds.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Did I see it?

In recent years my enthusiasm for chasing rarities has definitely waned, but a Melodious Warbler is a bit special. There have been, I think, two previous West Midland records, neither twitchable. If there was any chance at all, it had to be taken.

The species breeds in south-west Europe, no further east than France and Italy, and the majority of British records occur on the south and west coasts from August to October. Spring records account for less than 10% of UK records, although both W Mids records were in that season.

I arrived at 7.00 pm, and was greeted by the news it hadn't been seen or heard since 5.45pm. Oh dear. An hour later there was still no sign and I decided to take a "crowd" scene for the blog.

Then about five minutes after the shot was taken, a burst of song was heard from the direction of the birders in the distance. They are playing a tape of the bird, we said, and wandered over to see if it had got a response. But it hadn't been a tape, it was a real live Melodious Warbler.

A small bird flew past, and the song resumed from where it had landed. The hunt was on, and over the course of the next hour the bird was glimpsed and lost, glimpsed, and lost again, and finally pinned down to give acceptable views. I even got some record shots.

Although I have seen a handful of autumn birds before, on Scilly and Lundy, none had called, so I was very interested to discover what they sounded like. It was quite vocal, and I would describe it's call as a sparrow-like chatter. I had heard them singing in France 10 years ago, but could barely remember the song. It's very hard to describe songs, but I'll have a go. It was rather monotone, a series of fast notes strung together like "tittertetitttertetitttertetitter" on the mellifluous side of scratchy. I would hardly describe it as melodious though. Whoever named it had obviously never heard a Blackbird, or even a Blackcap!

Melodious Warbler
Melodious Warbler showing lack of pale wing panel, and short primary projection
What a relief to have seen it. It had been found, I understand, by Alan Dean (legend). The sort of discovery that gives hope to all other struggling patch workers.

As I am putting the finishing touches to this posting, on Friday morning, my pager tells me it is still there. The location is along a bridleway directly opposite the Marsh Lane lorry park, i.e. on the opposite side of the dual carriageway. It is then a five minute walk to a bank of bushes which it frequents. Go and see it.

Rutland Water

Today I was expecting to do a long, possibly tedious, photo post about a rare away-day to Rutland Water. Lyn and I had arranged to meet friends, Dave & Sue from Cambridge, at a venue midway between us, and the reserve fitted the bill.

Lovely warm day, plenty of birds to look at, including a distant Osprey, Hobbies, a Little Egret, a good view of a Garden Warbler, a sitting Avocet, a Grey Partridge, and lots of Red Kites, like this one.

If you sense I am galloping through rather, you are not wrong. As we left the pub I took a call from Dave. There was a hippolais warbler sp near Marsh Lane GP in deepest Warwickshire West Midlands. After this news it was hard to concentrate. Dave (Cambridge) had to leave by 3.00pm, but we could stay on if we liked. Then a text from Dave (Kenilworth), its a Melodious Warbler.

So at 3.50pm Lyn and I headed home. The journey was horrendous, and it was 6.25pm before we finally got home. I had convinced myself the bird would not be showing, but Lyn encouraged me to go for it.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Sunday June 7

A warm sunny day, despite a light north-westerly breeze.

Dave and I traipsed around with limited optimism that any unusual birds would be found, and indeed we were offered only slim pickings. The edge of Bannams Wood produced a pair of Marsh Tits feeding two recently fledged juveniles.

Juvenile and adult Marsh Tit
A Goldfinch posed on wires.

While down at the pools the water level had dropped sufficiently to allow a Redshank to visit.


It also appeared likely that at least one pair of Lapwings has young as they were extremely agitated.

With the temperature rising, insects were always going to feature heavily.

Carder bee sp
probable Catharis cryptica (a species of soldier beetle)
Common Blue Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly
At the dragonfly pools the water-level has fallen further raising the possibility they could dry out this summer. At least three Broad-bodied Chasers were seen there, but nothing else.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Upton Warren in a wheelchair !

Today was our "steel" wedding anniversary. What lovely romantic idea could I come up with to celebrate it? I know, I thought, take Lyn to Upton Warren to see the Avocets.

I have always wondered how do-able the Flashes might be. For those who might not be aware, Lyn has mobility problems which have left her restricted to a wheelchair. My most recent visit to Upton Warren left me impressed by the improvements they have made, and optimistic that we could share the wildlife spectacle.

So how did we get on? Well the good news is that we are still alive, just.

I had been talking to Alistair at the sailing club, and he very kindly agreed I could drive to the top of the steps. Steps ? Oh yes, the first obstacle. They looked quite shallow and broad, though containing a bend to the left, and I was confident we could get down them, which we did. After that, the only issue was overhanging nettles as we trundled along the narrow boardwalk, then over rough ground, and more boardwalk to the accessible main hide.

Once in the hide I moved the movable benches before realising I hadn't considered that the slats were too high for someone sitting in a wheelchair (unlike in the concrete hide at the Moors Pool). So a bit of a minus point for the reserve I'm afraid, but nevertheless with a bit of effort Lyn managed to get onto the bench and the birding could begin.

The best thing about this hide is how close you are to the birds. Avocets, Black-headed Gulls, Lapwings, all with chicks, just yards away. The highlight was the discovery that the Little Ringed Plovers have bred, and one extremely cute chick was showing well, sometimes.

Little Ringed Plover with chick (not showing at all well)
A 22-spot Ladybird decided to join us in the hide.

As the weather was showing signs of going downhill, we decided to make tracks. There was still time to take a few more photographs.

possibly Pyrochroa serraticornis
Then we got to the steps. A lot harder going up than down. I first tried going up forwards, but after the second step I found I was having trouble getting purchase on the gravel which each step was composed of, so I did a 180 degree turn, briefly tipping the left wheel of the wheelchair off the step in the process. At this point Lyn sustained a slight injury (nettle stings) but our dignity was intact. I eventually succeeded in hauling the chair backwards and got to the top step. The gate at the top opened towards me, a bit of a problem. More huffing and puffing and we got through.

I was now definitely a heart-attack candidate, while Lyn was trying to overcome the onset of a nervous breakdown, but we had done it. Upton Warren Flashes is possible in a wheelchair. Don't think we'll be back though.

Happy anniversary darling.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Thursday June 4

After a lovely sunny day I suggested to Lyn we pay a late evening visit to the patch to try o see a Barn Owl. She readily agreed and within 15 minutes we were sitting by the reed bed by Netherstead Farm failing to see any Barn Owls.

However, it wasn't boring. The Pied Wagtail roost I saw last summer has reformed, although curiously all the birds I saw were adults. Difficult to judge numbers, but maybe a dozen birds. I also heard a Reed Warbler singing away, only the second this year.

The sunset wasn't bad either.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Wednesday June 3

So here we are then, flaming June. I did a quick dash around the patch this evening, stopping to chat to photographer supreme, Mike Lane. He told me this was his favourite time of year because of the opportunity it afforded him to photograph birds on or near the nest.

I wished I could agree, but with my preference for trying to winkle out migrants, the scarcer the better, June is a month of treading water. Spring is over, autumn is yet to begin.

This evening was pretty typical. I can't show you my best photograph, in case the blighters are planning to breed. Instead you'll have to make do with a rather nice tree.

The Canada Geese at the flashes (and possibly the cows) could see something they didn't like the look of, probably a fox or a badger, but it remained hidden.

The best I could do, rarity-wise, was a rubbish photograph of the Shelducks which have returned to the distant flash.