Thursday, 30 July 2015

Thursday July 30

A rather cool morning with sunny intervals and a moderate north-westerly breeze.

I walked around without finding too many new migrants. There were at least seven Green Sandpipers and a single Teal. The post-breeding Lapwing flock stood at 56 individuals.

The hedgerows still contained lots of birds, but probably only local breeders and their progeny. I particularly like seeing the crisp plumage of juvenile warblers.

juvenile Common Whitethroat
juvenile Lesser Whitethroat
Other young birds included two recently fledged Reed buntings barely able to fly, and two juvenile Bullfinches. A young Great Tit made a spirited attempt to catch a large moth (probably Large Yellow Underwing), but the insect was just agile enough to get away.

The moth wouldn't agree, but its time we had some Flycatchers here.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Tuesday July 28

It is at this time of year that my thoughts turn away from insects and towards birds. Migrants start to appear, so every visit to the patch comes with a sense of anticipation that today could be the one day this year to produce something truly memorable.

The thoughts of insects however, seem to turn to me. This evening was a little cool, but very still, and consequently as I stalked around hedgerows looking for birds, I had an entourage of annoying little gnats stalking me.

My fans
It's not all bad though. I like to think of myself as a mobile bird table, because this evening all this insect activity did not go unnoticed by a procession of migrant passerines.

First to show was a Whinchat which flew from the hedge line by the pool and flew high to the south before appearing to descend towards the chat field in the distance. Then a lively tit/warbler flock kept me alert, providing at least one Willow Warbler, a Lesser Whitethroat, and a Coal Tit  with other tits and Chiffchaffs. On the far side of the flash field an immature male Redstart hawked insects, while a Sand Martin joined other hirundines and about ten Swifts to hoover up the insect soup.

A Kingfisher showed briefly over the nearest flash. However wader activity was disappointing again, with just three Green Sandpipers and 52 Lapwings. One predictable feature of early autumn is the arrival of hoards of Greylag Geese, and this evening a flock of 129 arrived noisily from the west.

Greylag Geese
So tonight was good, but not that good. But there will be plenty more opportunities.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Sunday July 26

I awoke to find lead grey skies, but no rain. An opportunity to get to the patch before the rain set in perhaps.

So, unusually, I parked on the roadside at the north-west corner of Bannams Wood and walked down to the pool. The rain started shortly after I left the car, but was initially very light. A quick look at pool and flash revealed a similar scene to yesterday, four Green Sandpipers, a juvenile Shelduck, and 56 Canada Geese.

Green Sandpiper
On the walk back the rain intensified and was at its peak when I spotted an interesting long green bush cricket on a stem. My attempts to photograph were a complete failure, which is a shame because it might have been something quite good, like a conehead sp.

Back in the car I drove to the bend at High Field Farm and started to reverse into their drive to turn around. Dave rang from Marsh Lane Gravel P it, where it was not raining, so I started to reassure him it was pouring here, and he hadn't missed anything. Kingfisher! I yelled down the phone as quite amazingly one flew along the hedge, passed the car, and behind me into the High Fields Farm garden.  I could hear a great deal of hilarity on the other end of the phone as Dave relayed the find to the other occupants of the hide he was sitting in.

After I hung up I sneaked guiltily into the High Fields Farm property, wondering whether they had a garden pond. But I could find nothing. However, since getting home I have checked the map and there is a tiny dot of blue at the far edge of the field beyond the farm, so I guess that it where it was heading.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Saturday July 25

After steady drizzle all day yesterday, and with a similar forecast for Sunday, today seemed like my only window of opportunity to get some more birding done.

Rainfall is supposed to halt migration, leaving bewildered waders stuck in places they would rather not be. Like Morton Bagot? Sadly not.

After a good tramp round the most migranty birds I could find were five Sand Martins which flew back and forth over the furthest flash. There were at least five Green Sandpipers on the nearest flash, with another, perhaps different, on the pool.

It was a bit breezy, so most passerines were keeping their heads down, and there came a point when I felt I was in danger of having no photographs to exhibit. Fortunately a juvenile Green Woodpecker decided to land in front of me.

Green Woodpecker
Insects were slightly less prominent than usual, the weather being a little cool for July, but eventually I had a good view of a female/teneral (immature) Common Darter.

Common Darter
On my drive back home I got a text from Mike. He had found a Little Stint at Salford Priors gravel pit. So there you go, scarce migrant waders do turn up in bad weather, just not here.

Nice one Mike.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Thursday July 23

My last visit to the patch was always going to be a hard act to follow, so I was not surprised that today was less eventful.

After exploring the environs of Netherstead Farm, I made my way to the pool, which was lower than ever, and contained just a single immature Lapwing. I had set myself the goal of sketching Lapwings today so I wasn't too displeased.

It soon flew off, heading for the flash field. I did the same and found myself looking at a mirage. Water in the nearest flash. But it was true, it really was wet. I'm not sure how, my guess is that some water from the furthest flash has been allowed to drain into the nearest. Whatever the reason, it was a real shot in the arm, and makes me much more optimistic for the coming wader passage.

I relocated the Lapwing, plus an adult bird, and resumed the sketches.

Other birds on the flash included a new brood of Mallard, a juvenile Shelduck, and four Green Sandpipers. The latter were keeping to the near side, and were therefore hard to see behind the obstructing vegetation.

After deciding there was nothing else to see there I carried on with the circuit. About 25 Swifts continue to career about amongst numerous House Martins and Swallows, and the Goldfinch flock remains strong, although I only counted 75 or so.

I had a good view of a female Roesel's Bush-cricket and numerous butterflies of various species.

Roesel's Bush-cricket
If you think that's got a funny name, the next insect I am going to show you beat's it hands down. At the dragonfly pools the water is now really low, and we are left with a puddle surrounded by damp mud which is covered in some kind of small aquatic snail (I haven't tried to id them) and thousands of small flies. I took a closer look at the latter and found they were really attractive little beasts.

After a bit of research on the old interweb I have found that they go by the name Poecilobothrus nobililtatus. Just trips off the tongue doesn't it.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Sunday July 19

A good day's birding at last. It began somewhat inauspiciously as cloud thickened, and several showers whipped in. The breeze remained a brisk southerly.

There were plenty of tits and a few warblers in the copse by Netherstead Farm, including a sub-singing Willow Warbler.

The first piece of good fortune occurred when I reached the pool. I edged along, trying not to disturb the Green Sandpipers, when I noticed a larger wader with them. A Greenshank. This is the first I have seen here since 2012, although I should point out that Dave and I probably had a fly-over bird last August, and we heard, but failed to see, one in 2013.

It showed rather well too. I sent a text to Dave, he had cried off due to a late night party, and continued my usual route. A Sand Martin flew over the pool several times, and an immature Cormorant perched on the dead tree by the pool before flying off. Apart from the fifth Green Sandpiper of the visit, the flashes contained 41 Greylag Geese and nine Canadas. The pool behind the hedge produced the next surprise as a female Tufted Duck was present with six ducklings.

Continuing along the hedge, the main feature seemed to be a big flock of 120 Goldfinches in the thistle field, plus a few Whitethroats, and Blue Tits. However, all that was to change when I stop dead, thinking I had heard a different song above the twittering of the Goldfinches. A few seconds later there was no doubt about it, "wet my lips, wet my lips" the song of a Quail. As it happened, I had learned yesterday that there were two singing just up the road, at Middle Spernal. So the question is, is this a part of a mini-influx, or has one of the Middle Spernal birds simply relocated? Whatever it's origin, this is only the second year I have recorded the species here, the last being in 2010.

It called several more times before I rang Dave. He said he would come over, so I hung around until he arrived. During that time, not a peep was heard from the Quail, and I soon turned my attention to the butterflies which were appearing now that the sun was out. The highlight was the presence of at least one Essex Skipper.

A male Essex Skipper
This is yet another insect species which has extended its range over the last 20 years, and is now fairly widespread in the same habitat that contains the closely similar Small Skipper.

Dave arrived and after visiting the Greenshank we made what proved to be a futile attempt to hear (let alone see) the Quail. I left Dave to continue looking, and made my way back to my car. However the day wasn't finished with me yet, and as I walked past the dragonfly pools, a plaintive "hweet" call sounded suspiciously Redstarty, and eventually I was able to confirm my identification. Another call to Dave, and after a few minutes he was with me, and able to point out there were actually two Redstarts in the hedge, both juveniles.

A very distant Redstart
So after three weeks of very little to report, today felt very special.

Finally, pleased to report my Dad is back at his home and on the mend. Meanwhile, at my home, conversation was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a Hummingbird Hawk Moth on the lavender.

Hummingbird Hawk blur (middle right)
Shocking photo, but a garden tick. Quite a day.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Thursday July 16

Today has not been a good day. My poor old dad had a fall last night and has ended up, for the first time in his 86 years, as a reluctant guest of the QE in Birmingham. Naturally all plans were shelved and we spent most of the day keeping him company.

This evening I was back home and decided on some "ornitherapy" to try to cheer myself up. Mike had texted the presence of a Redstart on his patch at Middle Spernal, so I was hoping for something similar as we entered the more interesting end of July.

Sadly there was little new to see. The Flashes continue to be hopeless (too high, and too dry respectively) so only the main pool offered any hope. But even this could only boast five Green Sandpipers, which at least allowed reasonable views.

Green Sandpiper
In the end I resorted to photographing a few wild flowers, including White Melilot and Lucerne, which I have added to my flower page. A couple of Common Darter dragonflies were on the wing, and a Sparrowhawk shot passed when I reached the road.

At least I didn't make the mistake of listening to the Test Match today.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Sunday July 12

The mid-July doldrums continue at Morton Bagot. This morning started cloudy with the odd sunny period and then went downhill as increasingly frequent and heavy showers drenched us.

Not good for insects then. We did see an immature Roesel's Bush Cricket, but other than that just a handful of butterflies and damselflies.

As for birds, the Green Sandpipers were back, four being logged. The highlight, if it can be called that, was a Shelduck on the nearest flash.

Adult Shelduck
Another possible candidate for bird of the day was a distant Sand Martin. It was that bad. Swift numbers remain comparatively high, with 35 counted, while there is a noticeable accumulation of Goldfinches in the field behind the pool, at least 50 estimated. Lesser Whitethroats have bred, there was an adult and at least two recently fledged youngsters, and both Reed and Sedge Warblers continue to sing.

We need a lot of rain. Preferably on days we are not birding.

PS I almost forgot. On the drive along the track, a Weasel ran across the road behind Dave's car, but in front of mine. I have seen Stoat here before, but I think Weasel is a first.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Red-footed Falcon twitch Saturday July 11

After announcing I wouldn't be twitching the Red-footed Falcon north of Stoke yesterday, I duly did a complete U-turn and went to see it today.

The journey up the M6 was as tedious as I had suspected, particularly the return journey. Lyn had considered coming with me, but I wasn't sure whether the bird would be easy to view from a wheelchair at Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, so she decided against it.

As it turned out she would have seen it easily as it was viewable from the entry road without difficulty. I took my sketchbook in case it was distant, but it was easy to photograph.

West Mids tick 296
The bird was a first-summer male, and perched on fence posts, periodically flying down to a lawn in front of one the colliery buildings. On the other side of the fence was a sloping pasture field containing a couple of horses. Having brought the sketchbook it seemed a shame not to use it so I started sketching. Half way through I became aware of a fat old bloke walking through the field clapping his hands. The falcon flew off. Thanks mate!

While waiting to see if it would return I noticed a little flurry of activity as someone spotted a distant Black Redstart. It was not a great view, but you could see it was a female/immature (probably the latter) bird. I heard a Siskin fly over.

The Falcon was relocated back down the road, but more distant, so I resumed sketching activity, before I decided it was time to head back.

Earlier this morning the omens had been good when I found a bathroom-tick in the form of a moth which I eventually identified as a Small Phoenix. I caught it and let it go in the garden. It promptly flew to the brickwork on the side of the house.

Small Phoenix

Friday, 10 July 2015

Friday July 10

A largely sunny morning. I have to say there was very little to report. The highlight was a Hobby seen a few times as it hunted dragonflies over the main pool.

Other than that there was a pair of Teal on the furthest flash and 30 Lapwings on the nearest. No Green Sandpipers!

I was concentrating on finding and sketching Kestrels. They are the ideal subject as they sit about and let you get on with it.

I should, of course, be on my way to Stoke to see the Red-footed Falcon, which would be a terrific West Mids tick. However, Stoke seems a really long way, and I had a few things planned this afternoon, so I doubt I will go.

The only other bird of note today, was a Little Grebe on the only deepish pool, behind the flash field.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Wednesday July 8

A cool sunny evening. Not much to report really. A pair of Teal on the drying out pool, three Green Sandpipers and a handful of Lapwings on the flash.

The highlight was a small flock of mixed finches and warblers, including Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Whitethroats, and a very angry Lesser Whitethroat which mobbed me with its hard "tuck" calls. Presumably I was uncomfortably near its nest or fledglings.

The Lesser Whitethroat

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Sunday July 5

A rather cloudy, cool morning allowed the opportunity for photographing some chilled butterflies, but also meant that dragonflies were hard to find.

As far as birds were concerned there was no real change to report, apart from a record count of 98 Swifts hunting insects over the farmland. Four Green Sandpipers and a Little Ringed Plover, plus 20 Lapwings occupied the ever increasing muddy margins of pool and flash. The local Tit flocks are now much in evidence, and one by the flash included Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, and about six Chiffchaffs.

Butterflies included an estimated 100 Meadow Browns and Ringlets, about 20 each of Marbled Whites, Large Skippers, and Small Tortoiseshells, and smaller numbers of Small Heaths plus a Comma, a Peacock, a Painted Lady, and the first Small Skippers of the year.

Small Skipper
Large Skipper
Marbled White
Other interesting insects included a little group of male Dark Bush Crickets, and two Large Yellow Underwing moths reflecting how variable the pattern of the upper wings can be.

Dark Bush Cricket
Large Yellow Underwing
Another Large Yellow Underwing
One slightly disappointing piece of news concerns Margrove Coppice. I was able to speak to the gamekeeper there, and he confirmed that it is private, so can only be viewed from the road or from the footpath along it's short northern edge.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Scarlet Tiger

I wasn't birding today, but a visit to Hiller's Garden Centre near Alcester produced a couple of very beautiful moths, one of which I photographed. I knew immediately that they were tiger moths, and a quick look at a children's moth book in the gift shop left me certain they were Scarlet Tigers.

Scarlet Tiger
When I got home I checked my Lewington moth book and confirmed that I had the identification right. I had a quick look at their status and found them described as "local".

At this point I decided to look at my copy of Larger Moths of Warwickshire and found a photograph of one under the heading "vagrant moths". Eh? A quick look at the text and it turns out that there are only four Warwickshire records. The county status is described as "uncertain" and "suspected vagrant".

I need to tell someone.

PS Thank you to Kevin for his comments about Scarlet Tiger. He has seen them in his garden in Stratford, so perhaps they are not as rare as they were in 2006, when the Warwickshire moth book was published. Insects seem to be capable of incredibly fast status changes, e.g. Tree Bumblebee and Roesell's Bush Cricket. Global warming in action.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Friday July 3

A sunny morning with a light south-easterly breeze.

I set out with my sketchbook with the intention of finding a Grey Heron, and this time one was present. It was a juvenile bird and stood, half obscured by the long grass, on the nearest flash.

It stayed just long enough for me to complete a couple of quick sketches, before, probably fully aware of me hiding behind the hedge, it decided to take off and fly away.

Earlier, I had become aware of plenty of insects. Some were biting me, but others were butterflies and dragonflies. In particular Marbled Whites were very plentiful, but just as flighty. The only one I managed to photograph had seen better days.

Marbled White
Also on the wing were lots of Large Skippers, Small Heaths, Meadow Browns, and a single Brimstone and a Small White.

Small White
Both Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler were singing in the reed-bed.

Sedge Warbler
The waders on the main pool comprised four Green Sandpipers, and a Snipe. Mirroring the butterflies, there were many dragonflies on the wing. The pool behind the nearest flash was particularly good, lots of Black-tailed Skimmers, several Emperors, and a variety of damselflies. I spent a long time here due to a flight view of a dark dragonfly I couldn't put a name to. I only saw it twice as it got attacked by Black-tailed Skimmers, and shot away.

male Black-tailed Skimmer
I am tempted to speculate on what the mystery insect might have been. It was the size of a Black-tailed Skimmer, and I got the impression of a blob-ended rear to the abdomen. Perhaps it was just a rotten view of a female Black- tailed Skimmer, or a Four-spotted Chaser, but more optimistic thoughts led me to  hope it might be a Downy Emerald (unknown in Warwickshire) or a Hairy Dragonfly (very rare in Warwickshire).

Dream on.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Wednesday July 1

After a blisteringly hot day, the full force of which I only experienced for half an hour at lunchtime in Birmingham city centre, I was curious to know how the patch was bearing up.

So this evening I had a brisk stroll to the Flashes and back to Netherstead. As expected the pond on the way to the main pool now has a very extensive shoreline. The main pool, which is very shallow for much of its expanse, is showing an increasing amount of mud, but only three Little Ringed Plovers and a Green Sandpiper were in evidence.

Perhaps surprisingly, the two Flashes are now very different from one another. The furthest has plenty of water and no birds, while the nearest has been reduced to little more than a puddle, but hosted 24 Lapwings, and four Green Sandpipers.

Ironically my ornithological highlight this week came from my journey to work on Monday, when I heard a Siskin call as it flew high over King's Heath. This seems a strange record, but it's not unprecedented for early Siskins to turn up in good Crossbill years. The next few weeks will determine whether this will be one of them.