Thursday, 31 March 2016

Thursday March 31

A sunny morning with a very light northerly breeze. I began by continuing with the survey of breeding birds, concentrating on the eastern edge. This involved walking along the road. The first four of an eventual six singing Chiffchaffs brightened the first hour.

On reaching Church Farm I scanned the distant flash field and saw two Oystercatchers. This might not seem too momentous, but consider this. These were the first Oystercatchers here since 2013, and were only the sixth record for the patch. It is also the earliest ever record, and all previous records have related to single birds. I was therefore pretty pleased to see them, and headed down the hill to try to get a record shot.

The Oystercatchers
It took a while to reach the flash field, and my route passed the pool was to produce two more year ticks. On the pool, after seeing two pairs of Tufted Ducks I spotted the familiar shape of a Little Grebe.

Little Grebe
It did what they always do, and slipped into the sedge before I could get close enough to improve on the above shot. Never mind, shortly afterwards I found the first two Wheatears of the year in the field behind the pool.

The male Wheatear
The female Wheatear
Finally reaching the flash field, I disturbed a Curlew, which evidently flew off calling without me actually seeing it, and then counted 16 Teal, six Snipe, four Green Sandpipers, two Redshanks, and a Little Owl. It was also here that I photographed the Chiffchaff shown above as it landed on the ground to finish off a small bee it had caught.

All in all an excellent visit.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Monday March 28

Overnight Storm Kate had battered our windows and deposited bucket loads of rain on the garden. Surely, surely, it would produce a scarce bird at the patch. I practically skipped out of the house full of optimism.

Sadly it doesn't pay to be too optimistic at Morton Bagot, rather like supporting West Brom, and after an hour of splashing round I had to conclude the only thing the storm had produced was high water-levels.

At the flash field the grass was overwhelmed by floodwater, and consequently many of the Teal and Snipe had disappeared into it, resulting in disappointing counts of nine Snipe, 16 Teal, three Green Sandpipers and two Redshank. One of the latter species avoided getting its feet wet in a rather novel way.

I scanned the ploughed fields in a vain attempt to find a Wheatear, but none had arrived. Continuing the recent theme of photographing mammals, I was able to get some shots of a nice Roe Deer buck instead.

And that was about it. Except, if you have ever read Bill Oddie's very funny Little Black Bird Book, you will know there is a chapter called "brightening up a dull day" which explains how to have rubbish views of birds which are probably something common but just might be something good. My entry in this category for today was a favourite subject - the distant accipiter.

I went for the record shot because I thought it looked biggish, and not flappy like a Sparrowhawk. Unfortunately the long tail leads me to believe it is the common species, presumably a female.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Hiller's Garden Centre, Dunnington, March 25

The afternoon was too nice to avoid going out again so Lyn and I went to Hillers for lunch.

Now I don't normally blog about lunch, and nice though it was, birds are very much the focal point of this post. A near miss from within the restaurant complex was a probable Red Kite which flew south. Sadly my binoculars were in the car and the view was very brief.

However, after retrieving them we headed for the little hide overlooking the wood. As is often the case it was full to bursting with proper photographers, but on this occasion one of them was getting quite excited about a "pretty little bird" with the Chaffinches.

After a certain amount of jostling I managed to get a shot of it, a female Brambling.

At this point the party was gatecrashed by a herd of Fallow Deer. The hide was rapidly filling with other folk all snapping away on their mobiles.

Shortly afterwards I noticed that a Goldfinch on the new feeder had been joined by a less common species. A male Siskin.

The hide was now starting to resemble the black hole of Calcutta, so we took our leave.

I wish all our trips to Hillers were this good for wildlife.

Friday March 25

A gorgeous sunny morning with a light westerly breeze.

Although I pretty much saw the same birds as yesterday, the sunshine lifts the spirits and you just feel like you've had a good day.

There were plenty of encouraging signs. A handful of Meadow Pipits heading north, two Chiffchaffs singing, and a new male Stonechat stopping off to hunt flies at the horse paddocks.

The flash field and pool contributed 52 Teal, two Tufted Ducks, two Green Sandpipers, 12 Snipe, and three Redshanks.

It's not all about birds though. The sunshine brought out plenty of bees and at least a dozen Brimstone butterflies, which appeared to be unphotographable due to their perpetual motion. However, eventually one decided to play fair.

I spent a short while watching Waterboatmen sculling their tiny bodies through a small pond, and then noticed a Common Toad sitting among the waterweed about six inches beneath the surface.

I cannot remember seeing a Toad here before.

The rest of the easter holiday sounds like its back to wind and rain, so I'm glad I made hay while the sun shone.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Thursday March 24

Another grey morning. It is still chilly although the wind is now south-westerly.

A complete contrast to my last visit. Not a single new migrant appeared, and I didn't even record a Chiffchaff.

The best I could muster was three Redshanks and five Green Sandpipers in the flash field.

I was left trying to photograph some common birds.

A female Pied Wagtail

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Sunday 20 March

I arrived to find conditions pretty much the same as the last few days, grey, chilly, a northerly breeze. By the time Dave joined me there was little sign that we were going to have an excellent morning. But we were.

The first stroke of good fortune came after Dave suggested we check out the old Curlew field. There was nothing in it, but he then spotted a small party of Snipe circling well to the north. With them were three small waders which we identified as Dunlin, the first here since one last May, and equalling the largest count for the site.

We jettisoned our original plan to walk across along the road, and hurried towards the flash field where we suspected the waders had gone. Half way there, a wader call to our left had us checking out another flock. This time they were 12 Golden Plovers. They wheeled around for several minutes before heading off east.

Nine of the Golden Plovers
As we approached the flash field a Curlew called, and we watched as it headed off to the north-east. I was too slow with the camera this time. However, we were pleased to find that the Dunlins were indeed on the nearest flash.

The three Dunlins and a Redshank
Also present were a few Lapwings and Snipe, 25 Teal, two Redshanks, and three Green Sandpipers. The trees beyond hosted about 100 Starlings, at least 30 Fieldfares, and several Redwings.

At this point spring officially arrived when we spotted the first Chiffchaff of the year fly-catching in the hedgerow.

On our return circuit we spotted a large flock of distant Golden Plovers, Dave reckoned about 200. I tried to get a photograph to count later, but they were too distant. However, later on another flock of Golden Plovers were close enough for a photo count, and contained 138 individuals.

138 Golden Plovers
So our final tally is either c 200, or c350, depending on whether the last flock were part of the 200, or a completely different party. Very impressive whatever.

It turned out we weren't the only ones having a good morning. A text from John Coombes revealed that a Gadwall had provided him with a Haselor Scrape tick. We could do with it coming here as we didn't get one last year.

Other notable sightings this morning were a pair of Mistle Thrushes, a Lesser Redpoll, five Mute Swans, a pair of Tufted Ducks, and two adult Black-headed Gulls.

Mistle Thrush
Common Buzzard

Friday, 18 March 2016

Friday March 18

The high pressure system continues to sit over the UK feeding cold north-easterlies which are blocking migration and causing frustration to birders throughout the country. In addition this morning was resolutely cloudy.

So given all this negativity, I am pleased to say I recorded a decent bird this morning. A single call tipped me off, it called again, and then a third time, this last one the closest. A Curlew was evidently flying over, but though I scanned around I failed to clap eyes on it. For the first four years that I visited Morton Bagot a pair of Curlews held territory in one of the fields and they were guaranteed every March. Then sheep were introduced to their field and the habitat was eaten. The Curlews returned no more.

The latest West Midland Bird Cub annual report, which cover 2013, records just two pairs for the whole of Warwickshire. However each spring sees the occasional bird returning from the coast like a lost soul searching for a mate and some habitat to make a nest in. Their favoured field is now back to how it was, so perhaps all is not yet lost for this wonderful species.

I tramped around, noting a small flock of Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings in a grassy field near Netherstead. A single Siskin flew over, while at the flash field end of the site I counted 110 Redwings, 30 Fieldfares, 90 Starlings, 54 Teal, five Snipe, a Redshank, and three Green Sandpipers.

It certainly doesn't feel like spring yet.

Long-tailed Tit
My camera lay dormant in its bag for most of the morning, so was only brought into action in the final few minutes when a Long-tailed Tit posed for me.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Sunday March 13

With the wind direction still in the north-east, albeit very light, this morning's sunshine produced only home grown signs of spring.

There were seven Lapwings displaying over the fields, a second Redshank has turned up, and a couple of Meadow Pipits flew over. The flash field contained 55 Teal, with eight more on the pool, three Green Sandpipers, and eight Snipe, while a new female Stonechat was taking a break in its short migration back to whichever heath it will breed on further north. A single Redpoll called as it flew over, as did a single Siskin.

I tentatively identified a bumblebee buzzing around blossom in the village as a Buff-tailed Bumblebee, and got shots of a fresh out of hibernation Small Tortoiseshell.

Small Tortoiseshell
Reed Bunting
Hopefully, next weekend will see a bit more action.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Friday 11 March

Frustratingly, the fog appeared around 07.30 and was therefore completely set in when I arrived. I decided to take a circuitous route around the south end in order to try to time my arrival at the flash field to coincide with the lifting of the fog.

I was not surprised to see that the Redpoll field has been ploughed since my last visit, and as a consequence I saw no Redpolls all morning. However, I did discover a strip of game cover on the western edge of the south-westernmost field on the patch which had attracted 80 Linnets, 12 Chaffinches and about 30 Fieldfares.

At this time of the year I start hoping to observe newly arrived migrants. However, the wind direction until today has been largely northerly or easterly, so I struggled to find very much.

A Lapwing in the mist
The ploughed fields did at least attract plenty of Pied Wagtails, I counted 18 in total. A couple of Meadow Pipits were seen including one heading north-west. Overhead, 42 Redwings headed north-east.

The fog did indeed lift as I reached the flash field, but it only revealed 17 Teal, three Green Sandpipers, a Redshank, a few Lapwings, and 16 Snipe. The pool contained a pair of Tufted Ducks.

As I write this post, the sun is shining and a Small Tortoiseshell has just flown past the window. Warmer days are on the way.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Sunday March 6

Cloudy with a light northerly breeze. Cold. Spring may be just around the corner, but it doesn't feel that way yet.

Dave and I walked around without finding too much of interest. Several of the fields have been ploughed since my last visit, and other than the fields with planted trees, only the main Redpoll field remains unchanged. Unfortunately, it contained only about 60 Lesser Redpolls and a dozen Linnets today.

The most interesting discovery was a Cormorant which hopped out of the narrow Kingfisher Pool and landed on the ground, they are normally in trees or flying over, and we had never seen one in that pool before.

Cormorant of the Atlantic race Carbo
A sizeable flock of birds appeared distantly over Bannams Wood, they were a mixed flock of about 200 winter Thrushes and Starlings.

The flash field contained 41 Teal, three Green Sandpipers, and a Redshank.

We need some milder weather to get things started.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Thursday March 3

Mostly cloudy with a light north-westerly breeze.

It's certainly been the year of the Redpoll. I arrived this morning to find there had been yet another increase in numbers.

Almost all Redpolls
I have zoomed in on the above photo, and counted 225 Redpolls and 21 Linnets. When you consider that the record count here before this winter was 24, you get some idea of how extraordinary this phenomenon is.

Whether they are all Lesser Redpolls is hard to say. I couldn't find any obviously big ones amongst them, the Linnets being a handy reference point. However, I could well be playing it too safe, and the fourth from the left on the lower wire in the above photo looks semi-interesting. Trouble is, I find I soon start looking at similar birds in the same shot and end up none the wiser.

The rest of the patch contained little that was new. A female Tufted Duck on the pool was about the only addition. The Redshank is still here, as is a male Stonechat, three Green Sandpipers, seven Coots, three Lapwings, and 29 Teal.

Part of the field above the pool was being ploughed all ready for this year's crop of Wheatears.