Sunday, 27 December 2015

Sunday December 27

Another grey, mild morning. Very quiet at the patch.

A time of the year for reflection perhaps. I started this process as I lay in bed last night. This was a mistake. After starting off considering what birding means to me, I drifted into related subjects and eventually awoke from a largely sleepless night to announce that I had concluded I was a self-obsessed generalist with limited birding skills. Lyn considered my argument and reassured me that I was self-absorbed, not self-obsessed. So that's all right then.

I will spare you the full analysis, but the thrust of my argument is as follows: Birding can be considered as a science, as an art form, as an obsession, and as a sport. To me it is all four, but in each case I fall short.

The science bit concerns the counting and recording of species, reporting my records to the BTO on Birdtrack, and at the end of the year to the county recorder for permanent archive. It's a shame that this year I have discovered I can't count past 50 without getting confused.

As for art; my photographs can best be described as adequate and my sketching variable in quality. I do not have the patience or the technical ability to develop either.

I used to think I was obsessed with birds, but there are people who contribute 800 lists per year to Birdtrack. That's over two lists of birds seen per day for every day of the year. It makes me look like a part-timer.

Finally, we come to birding as a sport. This relates to the keeping of lists, something I have always done. Ignoring life-lists, the real competition comes from year-lists, and in recent year the emergence of Patch year-lists. These have been formalised by a site called Patchwork Challenge. There are rules, and points systems, all pandering to my competitive streak. I have been doing it for three years, and despite being massively enthusiastic I find that this year I am lying 12th out of 15 in the Midlands comparative league. This is relegation form. The rules are somewhat complicated, but ingenious. I could go through them, but you will be asleep before I get to the end. The ironic thing is that it has occurred to me that my best strategy now is to see next to nothing for the remainder of December in order to get a more favourable "target" for 2016.

So in that respect today's visit was a triumph.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Sunday December 20

A bright sunny morning. I haven't said that for a while. I arrived a tad late and it therefore probably served me right that Dave and I were well short of the pool when all the wildfowl got up because an earlier bird was trying to catch the worm. The earlier bird was Jan and her lurcher, but as far as we could see the worm was just a pile of Mallards and Greylag Geese. Jan confirmed she hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary and joined us on our circuit.

At the flash field I gazed wistfully at the four Grey Herons. The Upton Warren Great White Egret is still refusing to join them. Instead we counted three Green Sandpipers, while high above us a flock of 72 Lapwings wheeled around.

The walk back was somewhat uninspiring. A dozen Siskins flew by, and a handful of Lesser Redpolls were feeding in the usual place.

Lesser Redpoll
Jan headed off, and Dave and I returned to our cars without troubling the scorers further.

Post-script: After lunch Lyn and I were discussing how to spend the afternoon. We could go to Webbs Garden Centre, she suggested. Webbs at Upton Warren? I replied innocently.

You've probably rumbled me by now.

Just a stone's throw from Webbs
It was too far away for me to start lobbing rocks at it, but what's Upton got that Morton Bagot hasn't? Only lots of water, reedbeds, fish.... Coots, and a Great White Egret.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Friday December 18

The weather remains ridiculously mild. A light south-westerly wind and non-threatening cloud cover left me wondering when the next good bird will turn up. Not today.

I was left to look out for signs of confused nature, as reported in the news, but could only come up with White Dead-nettle in flower, and both Honey Bee and Buff-tailed Bumblebee on the wing (although the latter flew over our front garden).

Bird-wise things remain in a rut. The regular visitors have all settled into their winter territories and with no cold weather on the horizon, they show no inclination to move anywhere.

One negative factor today was the shooting fraternity. A constant barrage assailed my ears from the wood in the direction of Studley, and the complete lack of wildfowl was explained by the presence of two duck decoys on the nearest flash. I had hoped there would be no duck shooting there this year, but it seems it was a false hope.

Despite all this, I was able to estimate over 400 Linnets again, the Lesser Redpoll flock was counted at 39, and there were still about 100 winter thrushes evenly split between Redwings and Fieldfares.

Still looking good for surviving into the new year were a male Stonechat, five Meadow Pipits, and two Green Sandpipers.

A tree full of Fieldfares (plus a few Redwings and a Starling)

Lesser Redpolls

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Sunday December 13

I decided to try to dodge the rain by delaying my visit until after lunch. This did indeed keep me dry, but the weather remained grey and dreary, a bit like the birding.

There were still plenty of Linnets on show, I logged 600 using a combination of photographing one flock on the wires and estimating a smaller group which flew over. The pool contained 90 Mallard, one Snipe, and one male Stonechat.

The flash field produced 27 Teal, one Lapwing, and 40 Canada Geese, while the return journey was enlivened by a flock of 15 Siskins.

Pretty quiet.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Friday December 11

Another morning of cloud and pulses of drizzle followed by an afternoon of sunshine. Unfortunately I was there during the morning. The wind was quite light and westerly. Rather cool.

This was quite an interesting visit. To begin with I picked up a distant pair of ducks heading north, the male being a Shoveler. I later found the drake Shoveler with the Mallard flock on the pool, but it flew off with them before I was able to get a satisfactory photograph. This was only the second one this year, the last being in April.

Another bit of good fortune was the discovery that at least one Brambling is still present with the finch flock.

The Brambling
Also still present was a Stonechat at the pool, and two Green Sandpipers at the flash field.

I have always suspected that my ability to estimate the numbers of birds seen in flight becomes distinctly ropey when the flock exceeds a couple of hundred. Another problem area concerns birds which continually fly from hedgerows only to reappear in nearby hedges. The latter issue affects estimates of winter thrushes, and today was typical, with my "counts" of 150 Redwings and 70 Fieldfares probably representing an underestimate of the numbers present.

Linnets were the big story today. A Sparrowhawk flushed a load during the morning, and I jotted down "about 200" in my notebook. Later I drove to the south end where there seemed to be a few more than that. A Pheasant shoot across the road led to regular disturbance causing clouds of finches to rise before pitching back into the crop of linseed (I think). Looking through the birds in the crop I counted 13 Lesser Redpolls with them, but I was dreading coming up with any figures for the Linnets. Then I remembered my camera. Take a photograph of the flock then go home and count the dots, I thought.

How many do you think?
There were far more than I thought. Assuming at least 13 of them were Redpolls, this photo contains 875 Linnets. This is the best count for several years, and even this may be an under-count as it seems more than likely that some Linnets remained out of sight or out of frame.

Pretty impressive. It's not always about rare birds.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Sunday December 6

If you didn't catch it, buy the box set. What am I talking about? It's my favourite TV series, The Detectorists, which came to a close this week after a fantastic second series. This funny, moving series about metal-detectorists may seem to have no relevance to birding at Morton Bagot, but I would beg to differ.

The reason I love it, is that you could easily substitute metal-detectorists for patch birders. Lance and Andy cover their local fields looking for gold, but find only metal ring-pulls and silver paper. They go to poorly attended bird detectorist club meetings, and have their own insider language.

Patch birding is just like this. Dave and I are Andy and Lance. Today was definitely a ring-pull day. It was cloudy, mild, and drizzle set in by 11.00am. The highlights were a distant Peregrine, 40 Lesser Redpolls, 85 Lapwings heading east, and a Tufted Duck.

One day we'll strike gold though!

Friday, 4 December 2015

Friday December 4

Well here we go then, my least favourite birding month began with mild sunny weather and a light south-westerly breeze.

I hobbled round on my one good leg, seeing pretty much the usual stuff. The adult Peregrine made another brief appearance, and there was an impressive flock of at least 40 Lesser Redpolls at Stapenhill Wood.

The pools are now all full of water after weeks of regular rain, and a single drake Wigeon took its opportunity to join the Mallard flock.

The Wigeon hiding among the Mallard
There was a lot of shooting going on by the wood immediately west of the patch, and this may have been why I only counted five Teal in the Flash field, and precious little else.

The sunshine was at least good for photography. Although the birds tended to want to stay out of sight.



Lesser Redpoll

Greenfinch (female)