Monday, 31 August 2015

Monday August 31

After a day of steady rain during which time no birding had taken place, I was starting to get twitchy by late afternoon. Surely the rain would have knocked something from the skies and into Morton Bagot.

So off I trotted for a quick look.

Normally at this point I report that nothing had turned up. Nothing had turned up. But, it wasn't boring. The Black-tailed Godwit which I claimed to have flown off yesterday was actually still here and showing well on the nearest flash.

Black-tailed Godwit - juvenile
Other than that it was pretty much the usual stuff, five Green Sandpipers, 35 Teal, 14 Snipe, and lots of hirundines. Counting the latter is extremely difficult, but the wires at Church Farm definitely contained 45 House Martins and 21 Swallows before they all flew off. The problem was that the melee over the flash field contained well over 100 birds, and at least one Sand Martin.

A tit flock by the footpath gate at the flash was very entertaining, but the only migrants within it were Chiffchaffs.

Thus ended a rather good bank holiday weekend.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Sunday August 30

A cloudy morning, with a few light showers and a very light north-easterly breeze. Today would turn out to be an excellent one for unexpected visitors.

Things began quietly. A few Siskins called from above the copse at Netherstead, but the excitement started when I got to the field behind the main pool. There were lots of finches and buntings in the hedge and the adjacent wild plant strips. From out of one of these a large bunting took flight, brown rump, no white in the tail, it all added up to a Corn Bunting. This was the fourth record for the site, and the first at this time of year (they have previously been seen in winter or early spring).

The bird flew to the hedgerow where I managed some record shots.

Corn Bunting
When it flew again I could hear its call, a very quiet tic tic, as further confirmation of the record. Later, I flushed it in the field, where it's large size was well demonstrated as it flew with equally large  Skylarks.

The hedgerow also contained a Meadow Pipit, probably the same one as the bird on Friday. A better opportunity to get a decent shot of it though.

Meadow Pipit
Scanning the field I noticed four Whinchats perched up.

One of the Whinchats
I finally got to the flashes, and counted the usual Green Sandpipers, Teal, and Snipe. After a short excursion down the hedge following a party of tits and Chiffchaffs, I returned and discovered a large wader standing in the furthest flash. Grabbing the scope I confirmed it was a juvenile Black-tailed Godwit, I just had time to line it up for a record shot when it took off.

That was close!
I never saw it again, so it must have resumed its migration.

So two year-ticks today. I also counted 11 Whitethroats, 10 Chiffchaffs, three Blackcaps, a Lesser Whitethroat, 50 Greenfinches, 50 Goldfinches, 12 Reed Buntings, eight Yellowhammers, and four Linnets.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Friday August 28

A sunny morning with a slightly too strong south-westerly breeze, and a couple of light showers.

I took the village route, noting a few Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats, and a Blackcap before heading down to the pool. Here a pipit appeared, and flew into the same tree as was occupied by the Tree Pipit a week last Tuesday. Unlike that bird it perched among the willow leaves, and seemed unwilling to settle. It never really looked like a Tree Pipit, but I took some record shots anyway.

Meadow Pipit
It was indeed the first Meadow Pipit of the autumn, a fact further confirmed when it flew off calling.

I continued to the flashes and quickly established that the Common Sandpiper had gone. Instead, I counted 32 Teal, seven Green Sandpipers, nine Snipe, and 26 Lapwings.

The stroll back produced a calling Kingfisher, which I failed to see, and few other birds of note. There was at least a slightly worn Brown Argus to look at.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Thursday August 27

Having changed my mind (never change your mind) about whether to visit the patch today, I was sitting at home watching the athletics when I received two texts from Matt Willmott.

He reported the following at Morton Bagot; 29 Teal, 5 Green Sands, one Common Sand, one Redstart, 25 Lapwings, one Kingfisher, and four Spotted Flycatchers.

Can you guess which of these had me dropping everything and dashing to the patch?

Strange to tell it was the Common Sandpiper. Each year I just sneak one amongst the Green Sandpipers, but they usually either turn up in spring, or between July and the middle of August. I had started to believe I was going to miss out this year.

I arrived to find Matt still present, and able to confirm it was still there.

Common Sandpiper
After taking a couple of quick record shots and a natter with Matt, I was back in time to see Christine Ohuruogu in the 400 metres final. A shame she came last.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Tuesday August 25

Something rare this evening. No photographs. My visit to the patch did produce some birds, but they had a rather familiar ring to them. 57 Lapwings, 10 Green Sandpipers, five Snipe. There was a small increase in Teal, now 22 present.

As I strolled back, feeling slightly glum I must admit, a notable bird flew towards me, then swung round and retreated to the pylons. Only my second Peregrine here this year, the last being on 8 March. I strode towards it, and after 50 yards checked it was still there. It was. Probably a juvenile.   Out came the camera. Now which section of the pylon was it on? Still there. Focus the camera and...oh. It had gone.

Morton Bagot just hasn't read the script this year.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Sunday 23 August

A terrific date, perfect weather (light south-easterly after overnight rain), surely I couldn't fail this morning.

Well I'll say this. I tried my best. I began at Netherstead, recording fly-over Siskin(s) on call, and seeing a Swift circling with the House Martin flock. A Spotted Flycatcher appeared briefly in the copse. Note that word, briefly, it was to become something of a theme.

Continuing towards the pool I saw and heard (singing) two Willow Warblers, and several other warblers before scoping a distant (another word to note) Whinchat. Onwards to the Flashes. Here the Greenshank had evidently gone and I eventually counted 12 Green Sandpipers, 10 Snipe, 57 Lapwings and 15 Teal. I remained here longer than usual. A large bird of prey headed distantly south over Bannams Wood, the wings were held slightly droopily, and it was moving fast in the way that Buzzards don't. I got it in the scope as it briefly circled, but could make out no features at all. The fanned tail was possibly a fraction long, but the head extension looked Buzzard-like, and as it circled the wings went briefly into a shallow V. So distant and brief and probably not a Honey Buzzard. Probably.

Along the hedge behind me, distantly, several Chiffchaffs, Willow Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, and Whitethroat excitedly chased insects. After watching for several minutes I had a brief (there's that word again) view of a Redstart with them.

I decided I should get sketching, but then realised I had left my sketch book at home. Today was starting to fall apart. As I wandered back, the distant cloud started to get closer and darker, and it occurred to me I hadn't even got my camera out of my bag. Back at the car, I still hadn't got a shot of anything.

I decided to check out Church Farm with a view to finding something to photograph. As I wandered around, a Yellow Wagtail flew over, calling. Great, they are scarce in autumn (and in spring come to think of it). I headed in the direction it had flown, but there was no sign. So I decided to  take my scope to the agricultural machinery yard from where I could scan the furthest flash. I returned my camera to the car. Mistake. Running around on the muddy clinker was the Yellow Wagtail, a juvenile with barely any yellow in its plumage. I dashed back for the camera, but returned to find the bird was gone.

It was just one of those days. Token rubbish photo of Swallows on wires coming up.

Also today, England lost the test match, and West Brom lost to Chelsea.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Saturday August 22

Not birding today, but a bird found me.

A single Crossbill flew over our garden in Winyates East this afternoon. Only heard unfortunately.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Friday 21 August

A cloudy morning with a moderate southerly breeze. I was pretty optimistic as we are now in the best early autumn period. I always think of this migration season as having two peaks, one from about 20 Aug to 10 Sept, and then another from 10 to 30 Oct. The first relates to migrants leaving UK and western Europe heading for southern climes, and the second is when the winter visitors pile in, hopefully bringing some Siberian migrants with them.

I picked the route through the village this morning. A few Siskins called as they flew around, and my first Grey Wagtail of the autumn flew over. There were still plenty of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, and Whitethroats in the bushes, but the best area was the hedge line behind the pool. Here I saw a showy juvenile Sedge Warbler, saw the Tree Pipit again (but only in flight this time), and had a brief view of a juvenile Whinchat.

Sedge Warbler
I reached the Flashes and immediately saw there was a new wader present. It turned out to be a juvenile Greenshank.

Greenshank (with B H Gull and a Lapwing's backside)
I scanned the rest of the Flash as there were plenty of birds on it. These proved to be 57 Lapwings, 11 Green Sandpipers, 14 Teal, and four Snipe. The remainder of the field harboured 121 Greylag Geese.

I had intended to sketch the Snipe this morning. They were a bit distant, but I gave it a go.

Not an easy subject as they never stop moving when they are feeding. After completing a page full I looked at the Flash again and could no longer see the Greenshank, so it may have gone.

I headed back, my dreams of finding a rarity subsiding into reality as usual. There were a lot of hirundines in the sky, a rough estimate being 50 House Martins and 50 Swallows, but I'm sure some of them were moving through. As I was scanning I noticed a Swift, and quickly realised it was one of a little party of 14 heading rapidly south-east. I wonder if they will be the last I see this year.

Post-script: I looked in at Pophills Farm scrape, Salford Priors GP late in the afternoon. This site is looking superb and has massive potential for passage waders. We were on our way back from tea and cake at Hillers, so while Lyn sat in the car I gave myself 15 minutes to see what was there. The answer was four Dunlin, five Common Sandpipers, a Green Sandpiper, and a Little Ringed Plover. Note to self: take your scope next time.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Tuesday August 18

My journeys to and from work have been ornithologically lively over the last couple of days.

I'll start with this evening. I was sitting on a bus, stuck in heavy traffic, trying to get home. A text from Mike; Tree Pipit at Morton Bagot. I texted him back; fly-over? I already guessed it wouldn't have been, and sure enough Mike rang me to confirm that the bird had been perched on a willow by the bridlepath, and had then flown into a field. I knew exactly where he meant.

I finally got home and did a quick turn round to be on site by 18.45. After 30 minutes of searching the area in gloomy conditions I was ready to resign myself to failure. But luck was on my side as a pipit got up from the hedge and headed straight for the top of the willow. There was no doubt about it, I had located the Tree Pipit.

Tree Pipit in gathering gloom
To put the record into some context, this is the second I have seen here on the ground, but have also seen a couple of fly-over birds, largely identified on call. This evening's bird was silent.

In my rush to get out of the house I had forgotten my scope, so I didn't spend too long scanning the Flashes. Mike had only seen Green sandpipers and Snipe, and I saw the same.

Now, back to Monday. This is to prove you can see good birds anywhere. I was walking through Kings Heath in Birmingham from my parents' house to the bus stop on the High Street. At the top of Cambridge Road I heard a Parrot calling. I was then just in time to see a Parakeet sp fly from gardens and disappear behind a line of houses. Almost certainly a Rose-ringed Parakeet, but I only saw a silhouette.

A further 100 yards on and I was almost at the High Street, when I spotted a muscular falcon flying towards me across Asda car park. Pigeons scattered in panic and the falcon revealed itself to be a juvenile female Peregrine. It then swooped and dived at the Feral Pigeons for several minutes. The only other occupant of the bus stop, a small lady, eyed me in some alarm as I stood beside her staring upwards, occasionally muttering "oh wow" under my breath as the Peregrine repeatedly reappeared and chased the pigeons.

I did think of trying to explain myself, but I didn't want to make things worse.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Sunday August 16

A bright sunny morning with virtually no wind. Once Dave arrived we chose the village route, hearing a couple of fly-over Siskins and staring at a recently deceased Badger before heading across the fields away from Bannams Wood.

We reached the "bridle path" edge of the pool field and there saw a male Redstart with four Chiffchaffs, two Blackcaps, and two Whitethroats.

The walk around the pool was largely uneventful, apart from a good view of a Sedge Warbler and a fly-through Hobby. The Flashes contained 10 Green Sandpipers, eight Teal, and 57 Lapwings, but still nothing unusual. We turned north west and counted passerines along the hedge. Another Redstart, a Spotted Flycatcher, a Goldcrest, a Willow Warbler, 10 Chiffchaffs, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Whitethroat, and a Blackcap. Most of these birds will melt away over the next few weeks as they head south for the winter.

Jerking us back into summer, Dave spotted a small butterfly in the grass. We soon found another, and photographs were taken. These were Brown Arguses, a fairly local species which just maintains a toe-hold at Morton Bagot.

The upper-wing of the Brown Argus

The underwing of the Brown Argus
The remainder of the visit passed pleasantly enough, but with no new arrivals to raise the pulse rate.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Friday August 14

After a night of heavy rain showers the morning dawned grey with a steady drizzle and a very light north-easterly. Ideal conditions for birding at Midland reservoirs in autumn, but less appealing at Morton Bagot. Nevertheless I was secretly optimistic.

After an hour of trudging round, looking at soggy Red-legged Partridges and the like, I could have been forgiven for giving up and heading home. But I was more determined than that, and chose to do a second circuit. I'm glad I did.

On reaching the chat field for the second time, a scan revealed a single distant Whinchat. The first passage migrant of the day.

The Whinchat
Encouraged, I headed to the Flash field for a second instalment. It contained 13 Green Sandpipers (I later saw a 14th at the dragonfly pools), six Snipe, and two Teal, while a single Sand Martin was hunting insects above the nearest flash.

I then turned my attention to the hedgeline on the other side of the footpath gate. I quickly spotted a Redstart just as the rain intensified. There followed a rather magical half hour in driving rain as I witnessed a feeding frenzy of small passerines catching tiny insects in the lee of the hedge. As well as the Redstart, there were three Spotted Flycatchers, two Lesser Whitethroats, three Willow Warblers, 10 Chiffchaffs, a Goldcrest, numerous Swallows, and plenty of Robins, Dunnocks, Wrens, tits, and finches.

adult Spotted Flycatcher
juvenile Spotted Flycatcher
After the deluge, the rain subsided and I got some shots of the Spotted Flycatchers, although the Redstart had disappeared up the hedge.

The walk back was less entertaining and I was thoroughly sodden, not unlike this character.

Tame, damp, Red-legged Partridge
As predicted my pager tells me the main reservoirs have plenty of waders and terns, like Bar-tailed Godwits and Black Terns. Its a different world, but Morton Bagot still holds its charms.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Tuesday August 11

A sunny day with a very light westerly breeze.

This was a pretty typical early autumn evening visit. Several warblers hid amongst Reed Buntings and Goldfinches in the hedgerow bordering the pool. A red-tailed passerine, presumably a Redstart, flushed ahead of me and then disappeared.

At the Flashes the air was filled with the calls of Green Sandpipers, but after half an hour of scrutiny and counts and recounts, I had to accept the sum total was 10 Green Sandpipers, five Snipe, three Teal, and 25 Lapwings.

The pool I referred to earlier is now definitely just a glorified puddle as this image testifies.

The sunset was pretty though.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Saturday August 8

A largely sunny morning with a very light southerly breeze.

You may be aware that I take part in the Patchwork Challenge, a nationwide competition for patchworkers to see as many species in a year as possible. I was taking stock last night and observed that I have seen just about all of the passerine species I am likely to see before the late autumn kicks in. Any ticks are more likely to come from water birds.

So naturally I then spent almost the whole of this morning staring into trees watching passerines. No wonder I'm off the pace.

The calm conditions and abundance of small birds was just too tempting, and I did winkle  out a few notable birds. The plantation by Netherstead provided a Willow Warbler and about four Siskins along with lots of tits, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs.

Taking the route along the road I quickly discovered the first of two Spotted Flycatchers. It was quite flighty and I just managed one record shot.

Spotted Flycatcher
Further along the road I heard Blackbirds mobbing something, which turned out to be a Common Buzzard.

Common Buzzard
Birds of prey are another group which could potentially contribute to the yearlist, but it will take a good bird.

I finally reached the pool, now just a puddle, and also the flash field. This contained 12 Green Sandpipers and 40 Lapwings. Even the Teal have gone.

It could be a long two months before the winter visitors reappear.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Friday August 7

Not birding today.

But a Crossbill flew north over Winyates East at 09.15 when I was walking back from the paper shop. 50 yards short of being a garden tick, but a result nonetheless.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Thursday 6 August

A cloudy start with frequent showers and a light southerly breeze. It warmed up considerably when the sun came out.

I began by spending quite a while on the Netherstead access road, below the plantation as there were a lot of small birds around. Among these I started to notice calls which sounded like they were being made by Siskins, and eventually I confirmed the presence of at least one juvenile. It disappeared before I could get a record shot. After chatting to Maggie and another lady, both of whom live in the barn conversions, I headed for the wetland areas intent on sketching Green Sandpipers.

After good views of two on the pool, I found a further nine on the flash field. So plenty of opportunities to get sketching.

As usual there were few other waders present, just a Snipe and 54 Lapwings. Teal numbers are still creeping up, they now number five. A Little Owl called, but I couldn't see it. I also had a brief, and distant view of a probable Whinchat.

After returning to my car, I decided to pause on the access road, and quickly located two juvenile Siskins. Unfortunately the light was against me, so the photographic record of the event is a bit ropey.

The two Siskins against the sky.

The heavily streaked back and crown is shown here
These birds are only the second and third here this year. Very unusual to see them in late summer and in juvenile plumage. The species is prone to occasional bumper winters, so these early records may herald a good winter for them.

Keep watching the feeders at the barn conversions.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Tuesday 4 August

This evening's visit to the patch can best be described as quiet.

So I am particularly grateful to Jim Winsper and John Coombes who have independently contacted me to suggest the same identification for the big fish. It is a Grass Carp which is a native of south-east Asia but is often introduced into pools to munch away at the vegetation. As a herbivore (can fish be herbivores?) it is exonerated as a potential culprit in any reduction in dragonfly larvae in the pool.

Anyway, back to this evening. Just before I turned into the access road at Netherstead I noticed a brood of Tufted Ducks on the small pool on the opposite side of the road.

The original brood at the other end of the site was down to two ducklings and no sign of the parent at the weekend, so it will be interesting to see if these birds gain better protection from their mother.

Apart from that, the Teal count has tripled (there are now three!), and Green Sandpipers number at least seven, and possibly 10. I saw four on the main pool, which I accidentally flushed, and then six on the flashes, followed by one back on the main pool as I walked back.

I said it was quiet.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Local bird news

It's Monday Aug 3 and I have had a text from John Coombes to say he saw a Marsh Harrier flying over Coughton Lane towards Coughton Court at 10.30am.

This is a great find for John.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Sunday August 2

Ah! August at last. Although birds have been trickling back south for a month, the deluge starts this month.

Not today though. Dave and I walked around scrutinising every bird in every bush (or so it felt) to come up with 16 Whitethroats, five Lesser Whitethroats, a Sedge Warbler, two Blackcaps, and a Reed Warbler, all probably Morton Bagot locals.

A couple of Sand Martins which flew south with three Swallows were probably migrants, and there were still at least 15 Swifts jinking after insects high in the sky.

The flash contained a Teal, 28 Lapwings, and eight Green Sandpipers.

The day's highlight was a fish! At the dragonfly pools the largest and deepest pool contained a single large fish. We had no idea what it was, but it was about two feet long, and attractively patterned. At the time we were guessing at Crucian Carp, but since getting back I am wondering if it was a Chub. The snout looks a bit funny though, possibly distorted by refraction.

Fish sp
If any anglers are reading this and know what it is, I'd be pleased to hear from you. How it got into the pool is anyone's guess, but it's presence might explain the shortage of dragonflies this year.

So with no birds to show you I thought I'd better produce my first attempt at an oil painting, which I finished last night.

Snipe at Morton Bagot