Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sunday January 31

A grey morning with almost constant drizzle. Despite these discouraging conditions I was joined by Dave, and guess what, we spent an hour in the car picking through the Lesser Redpoll flock. I counted 135 birds, but even I was forced to conclude that they all looked like Lesser Redpolls.

Actually, I am coming to the conclusion that Lesser Redpolls vary even more than I thought they did. Several showed grey, heavily streaked upper rumps, several are pale grey headed, and so on. None, however, looked larger than a Blue Tit and although we may yet discover a Mealy, I think perhaps there are none present.

Mostly Lesser Redpolls (right hand bird is a Linnet)
More Redpolls
The rain seemed to ease by late morning so we headed off on a circuit. The two male Shovelers were present again, and also the tail-less male Stonechat.

At the flash field we counted 32 Teal, a Lapwing, and a Green Sandpiper. The small pool behind the hedge brought the day's only year tick, a drake Tufted Duck.

This has been a very good January in terms of species seen, and if you include Feral Pigeon (which I have to for Patchwork Challenge) it leaves me on 73 species (76 points). However the down side is that this is the figure I normally achieve by the end of February, so I think the remainder of the winter could become a bit of a slog.

You never know though.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Thursday January 28

This morning was bright and sunny, though cold. I was joined by Mike who had seen a Redpoll with a white rump in flight on Monday. We made a bee-line for the field but were presented with a reduced number of about 30, our sole highlight being a dog-fight between the adult Peregrine and a Carrion Crow.

We headed off on a circuit, and I was pleased to gain an easy patch year tick by spotting a pair of Mute Swans on the pool. They soon flew off.

But before they left I added another year-tick as I noticed two Shovelers on the small upper pool with Mallards.

It is not particularly evident from my photo, but they were actually both immature drakes. Mike noticed the male Stonechat in the field, and it came close enough for a good shot at one point.

Mike has, surprisingly, never seen the Tawny Owl here, so I was pleased to spot it peeking out of its hole. Unfortunately, by the time Mike aimed his scope at the tree it had disappeared again.

The flash field contained 34 Teal and two Green Sandpipers. We also saw Nuthatch and Treecreeper on the walk back, and a Siskin flew over calling.

Back at the Redpoll field the numbers had increased to about 80 - 100 birds, but they were difficult to approach and we were unable to confirm the presence of anything other than Lessers. In fact, I did notice another Redpoll with pale in its rump, but it didn't have any other Mealy features, and I have decided to leave the species as a pencil tick until I am 100% certain.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Sunday January 24

A cloudy, mild morning. Dave arrived before I did, and we were keen to get to grips with the Redpoll flock, if it was still there. We drove down the track and soon established that at least 100 were still feeding in the crop field. Unfortunately they departed to the north soon afterwards, and we eventually got bored waiting for them to return.

We opted for a circuit of the patch, meeting Jan and her mutt halfway round. The pool field contained 12 Pied Wagtails and four Meadow Pipits, but no waterfowl. However, the nearest Flash hosted 63 Teal, two Green Sandpipers, and 76 Mallard. A flock of about 20 small finches flew silently by, and we suspected they were Siskins.

The remainder of the circuit past without incident so we drove back down the track, and soon found the Redpolls again. They were at the far side of the field and we wasted too much time scoping them from my car, Dave having not brought a tripod.

Eventually we decided to head across the field, and we were surprised to find that the Redpolls were not unduly troubled by our presence.

We on the other hand were greatly troubled by identification issues. Initially, we could see only Lessers, although we each had brief views of "interesting" birds. Eventually they landed in a nearby bush, and while I scoped a noticeably paler bird, Dave drew my attention to another which was showing a pale rump.

I switched to the bridge camera and attempted some shots. Unfortunately my auto-focus was confused about what I was trying to do, and the result was this blurry image.

Mealy Redpoll ?
The rump looked pale enough to me, and I was convinced it was a Mealy Redpoll. Dave, however is always cautious, and he wouldn't commit himself.

I also took a photo of the other pale bird.

To me, this also looked like one (although I didn't see its rump).

We watched as the flock swirled above the crop, both straining to see evidence of a pale rump on the birds in flight. Dave thought he saw something once, but on the whole they looked unremarkable. Things then got gloomier and tenser as I had a great view of a pale-rumped bird in a small tree. I showed Dave the bird expecting the issue to be resolved, but no, Dave was still not happy. Frustratingly, my attempts to photograph this bird were thwarted as I struggled to work out which part of the tree it was in.

Dave and I have been birding mates for nearly thirty years, we almost never disagree on an identification, and as we respect each other's opinion it was stressful to find we couldn't reach agreement on these pesky birds.

We could at least agree that there were a lot of Redpolls, Dave counted 115 in the flock we were studying, and later I counted up the Redpolls on the wires from a photograph, and got a figure 137.
On the walk back to the car we saw a female Stonechat, definitely!

Post Script: I've since heard from Mike who went down on Monday and saw two Mealy Redpolls including one with a white rump that showed well on a flying bird, something Dave and I struggled with.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Friday January 22

This evening I diverted my route home after dropping my Mum and Dad back at their house, to take in a nocturnal visit to the patch.

Parking in the lee of Bannam's Wood it took me exactly twenty seconds at 21:30 to add a hooting Tawny Owl to my year list. The only other bird recorded on tonight's jaunt was a Mallard quacking on the pool.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Thursday January 21

It was a cloudy morning. The frost was gradually chased away by rising temperatures, while some of the ice-bound pools started to thaw.

I gritted my teeth and drove down the track past Netherstead ready for another battle with my birding nemesis, the Redpolls.

After an hour in the car I had discovered a couple of things: There were record numbers present, and I am still not certain I nailed a Mealy, but I think there are some there. Let me explain.

The record count came when the whole flock lined up on the wires. There was also a significant number of Linnets, so I didn't bother with a photo-count and simply totted the Redpolls up, reaching an impressive tally of 105 before they flew back into the crop.

As I was going along the line, I noticed several pale headed ones, but chose to ignore them to get a final figure. Thereafter I concentrated on trying to confirm the presence of at least one Mealy Redpoll among the Lessers, and if I found one, trying to photograph it.

The trouble with Redpolls is that when they are in the crop you basically can't see them. When they suffer a panic attack and land in the hedge, you get twenty seconds or so to scan through them with a scope, and if you do get an interesting one, by the time the camera is ready the flock has invariably returned to the field. So you have to wait for the whole process to be repeated.

In the end I picked out a distant Redpoll which briefly turned to flash an apparently white rump, putting me in mind of a Brambling's rump. Problem was, the bird was otherwise quite brown. Then it flew off.   Later on I noticed a fairly unremarkable one facing me on the wires which was only slightly smaller than the Linnet it was next to, it then flipped around to face away revealing an obviously pale rump streaked with grey. Then it flew off.

The size issue is a real problem. Mealies should be bigger than Lessers. Several promising birds presented themselves, like this one.

But then look at the same bird in the flock, and it looks too small.

The bird in question is bottom left. Cf the Linnet, top left.
In this case I didn't see its rump at all.

After all my effort, I decided to head for a quick tour of the patch to look at easier stuff.

Reed Bunting
The Teal count at the Flash field was a respectable 45, the Stonechat has survived the cold snap, and I counted 11 Song Thrushes during the morning.

I plan to return on Sunday to resume my Redpoll battle.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Sunday January 17

This post contains too much birding terminology according to my chief critic (Lyn), so I have been told (encouraged) to clear up all of the bits which made her say "what the hell does this mean?" Explanations are in brackets.

A grey morning with snow falling at first and a very light south-easterly breeze. Pretty promising conditions. I arrived early and, scanning south from Netherstead, I picked up a medium sized bird which suddenly accelerated before disappearing to the west. Its jizz (general impression/appearance) suggested Merlin, but did I get enough on it?

Dave arrived to find me battling with my conscience, very tempted to tick it. At this point the waters muddied still further as I noticed an undoubted adult Peregrine perched on the masts. Could it have been that? The Peregrine flew to a more distant mast while I allowed my conscience to win, and let the possible Merlin go.

After counting 98 Linnets on the wires at the south end, we headed north for the pool. The main pool was largely ice-free, but also lacked birds. However, Dave noticed a different duck among a party of Mallard on one of the smaller pools, and quickly confirmed it was a female Wigeon. The second year-tick of the day, and I had almost forgotten the trauma of throwing away a probable Merlin. As soon as you give up on these birds they progress in your mind's eye from possible to probable. By tonight I'll be certain I am denying myself a definite Merlin!

Sleeping female Wigeon
The pool field also contained a male Stonechat, a Meadow Pipit, and at least five Snipe. Three Teal flew towards the Flash field where we counted a total of 39 Teal, 79 Greylag Geese, and five Canada Geese.

On the return circuit we decided to walk through Stapenhill Wood. This gave us a Treecreeper and a few Fieldfares and Song Thrushes. Back at the cars I suggested we have another look at the south end. On the way down there was an explosion of sound as at least 800 corvids took to the sky, the majority being Jackdaws, the rest mostly Rooks. While I tried to see the cause of this eruption, Dave was grilling Redpolls in the hedgerow, (he was looking at them closely, not cooking them!) and muttering about a pale one. It flew as I was setting my scope up, and we could see nothing in the remainder but Lessers. There were a lot though. Dave counted 57, while I observed that there were only two or three Linnets with them. When they flew we thought there were even more than that, and a "photo count" shows 63 little dots in flight, so I'll say 60 plus a handful of Linnets. Either way this is another Morton Bagot record Redpoll count.

Looking at the birds in the crop I found a noticeably grey headed one, which we decided was quite interesting but not a definite Mealy. Some large Gulls flew over, allowing the day's Herring Gull count to reach 14, much better than any count from the whole of last year.

So an interesting morning, pointing to plenty of reasons for future scanning of the Redpoll flock and the chance that there could be a Merlin about.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Friday January 15

A cold start, with even a dusting of snow on the road. Sunny though.

The good thing about doing a year-list is that, in January, even unremarkable visits can produce enough mini-highlights to keep you positive. Today was such a day.

A bad start though, as I realised I had forgotten my notebook. I chose to take the road through the village hoping to add a couple of woodland species, and taking photographs when the opportunities arose.

The morning took a further downturn when I noticed a gentleman crashing about in the marsh, mobile phone clamped to his ear. He didn't seem to be a birder, so I'm not sure what he was doing other than ensuring there would be no ducks on the pool by the time I reached it. A single Coot and the male Stonechat did remain however.

The Flashes differed in that the nearest was frozen, and the furthest wasn't. Four Grey Herons, 17 Teal, and 75 Greylag Geese were visible from the viewing spot. I moved on, but then returned when I thought I had heard some more Geese arriving. In the event it may have been just a movement of the birds I had seen earlier, but my return was rewarded by the presence of a Green Sandpiper, which landed on the nearest flash before flying to the furthest.

At this point I was joined by Colin and his wife, and we had a nice chat. It sometimes pays to hang around because over the course of the next 30 minutes a Marsh Tit appeared in the trees above us, three Siskins flew over, and then among a flock of 30 Redwings which flew in, I picked out a couple of Starlings. Another year-tick.

They headed off towards Redditch, while I carried on towards Netherstead. My last year-tick of the morning appeared as I reached Stapenhill Wood as six Lapwings flew over.

Hopefully my next visit will serve up some quality birds.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Sunday January 10

This morning I was joined by Dave for the first time this year. After the usual overnight rain, it was cold and sunny with a very light westerly breeze.

We wandered towards the pool without seeing anything particularly remarkable, and discovered that the pool contained only a handful of Mallard. So we decided to wade (literally) into the marsh to see what we could flush. The outcome was just three Snipe plus the hoped for Jack Snipe.

We then headed for the flash, but before we reached the viewing position, three Grey Herons flew up, and with them a Little Egret. They all landed at the back of the flash field, but I struggled to get a shot of the Egret. In the event I managed one fuzzy one before they took off again, and I took two more distant record shots before we lost it behind the hedge.

Little Egret flying off
We continued the circuit without finding anything else especially noteworthy, although we did count 29 Lesser Black-backed Gulls heading east, and 175 Linnets on the wires at the south end. Earlier, a similar number had been noted near Netherstead, and were considered to be different birds. I suppose I should mention that four Feral Pigeons flew over. I can count them towards the Patchwork Challenge total, but will just note them on my own year list.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Friday January 8

A bright frosty morning. I was a little late getting going, but as the state of the minor roads to the patch could be described as wet with icy patches, it's probably just as well.

I expected today to involve the mopping up of easy year-ticks, but it turned out to be better than that. I chose to walk from Netherstead along the road through the hamlet as most of the birds I "needed" were woodland species.

Eventually I heard a Nuthatch, and a Bullfinch, and saw a few Long-tailed Tits and a Goldcrest. As I said, mopping up the easy stuff. A peculiar looking tit searched for food in the conifers at Greenlands.

I eventually worked out that it was a Coal Tit exhibiting evidence of either albinism or leucism, its mantle and crown being randomly covered in whitish feathers.

I turned down the footpath from the road and at the bottom of the hill met Stephen Coffey. He is employed by the Heart of England Forest charity who own most of the patch. I'm not sure what his job title is, so I'll have a guess at Conservation Officer Head Forester (thanks Sue). Anyway, we had a very convivial chat during which he mentioned he had flushed a lot of Snipe from the pool field whilst checking out a report of duck decoys on the pool. (These were actually at the flash which does not come under their remit).

After we parted company I observed that the pool field now contained the male Stonechat and nothing else, while the flash was partially frozen but hosted 33 Teal and a single visible Snipe. I also added another year-tick as a Siskin flew over calling.

I strolled back until I reached the ridge field, where I flushed several partridges which I couldn't confirm as definite Red-legs. A shoot was taking place towards Studley, so I thought I would back track to see if I could find them again.

In the event I could not relocate them, but instead had great views of two adult Common Gulls which flew languidly south. Always a tricky species to record here. Unfortunately my camera was in my bag, and so by the time I had got it out and switched on, they had disappeared behind the hedge. I continued to the end of said hedge, and then started back along the other side with partridges still in mind. Suddenly, a partridge sized bird got up with a Snipe-like squawk. I realised immediately it was a Woodcock, and had reasonable views as it lumbered off. No chance of a photo, but too good a bird for a simple line of prose, so I jotted down a quick (very bad) sketch, and worked it up into something nicer when I got home.


To put the record into context, my last Woodcocks on the patch were in 2010, and only one of those was within the current patch boundaries. It is likely that these birds do occur more regularly, as Will the gamekeeper was telling me he had flushed two in October 2015. I wonder whether today's bird's presence was explained by disturbance from the nearby shoot. Perhaps it was the one that got away.

One last year-tick was waiting for me. Stephen had seen one earlier, and as I headed along the track back to Netherstead I flushed a Green Woodpecker, my 60th species this year.

Definitely one of my better days.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Sunday January 3

After a new year spent up north with friends over-indulging in gluttony and alcohol, we returned yesterday afternoon. I decided to further delay my first patch visit of the year until this morning, to give it a good go. Needless to say I awoke to heavy rain.

However, a new year brings new optimism, so I decided the answer was a vehicle-based safari. Only certain parts of the patch are available from a car, but as the wind direction was north-easterly I was able to stay pretty dry.

After a poor start at Church Farm, from where I could see the furthest flash in the distance and noted not a single bird on it, I started accumulating passerines at Netherstead where numerous tits and finches swarmed around a feeder. The highlights here were Marsh Tit and Coal Tit.

I then scanned the dragonfly pool field, where the furthest hedge provided a flock of 70 Fieldfares and Redwings, and then two male Bramblings. This was a good piece of luck as it took me until November to record Brambling last year.

Moving on, the pasture field beyond the barn was plastered with corvids, including 236 Jackdaws. Beyond that I could see lots of Linnets at the south end crop field, so I drove down for a closer look. I estimated 300 Linnets and at least 25 Lesser Redpolls, all of which scattered when a Sparrowhawk made a successful charge across the field, departing with a luckless finch. The hedge adjacent to where I was parked periodically filled with frightened passerines including a female Brambling.

female Brambling
Lesser Redpoll
I eventually decided to head home with the rain still pelting down, en route flushing a Jay as my 39th species.

I am writing this post at 13.00 and I may go back this afternoon if it stops raining.....It did, so I went back.

Almost immediately it started raining again, but it was really just showery, with the wind now coming from the west. I parked at Church Farm and did a quick mini-circuit taking in the Flash field and the pool. This added another 13 species, the best being Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Snipe, Teal, Meadow Pipit, and Herring Gull.

A huge flock of Jackdaws, c 400, was gathering on the sheep pasture with about 30 Rooks, 29 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and the Herring Gull. As the sun finally came out, I had to leave as I had food shopping to do. Rather gallingly a large flock of geese flew in at this point, but they seemed to be mostly Canadas and there was no sign of any Pink-footed Geese (one has been at Salford Priors between Christmas and New Year).

A steady start then, but pretty good considering the weather.