Friday, 29 April 2016

Friday April 29

Normally at this time of the year I am champing at the bit to get out, but this present period of cold weather is tending to dampen the spirits. Today was typical, with a fresh westerly breeze bringing northerly air around a low pressure system and with it lots of cloud, some sunny intervals, and showers of hail.

I am now in full winter plumage.

The birds were hard to find as expected. There was not much singing, and by the time I reached the flash field I was reflecting that the highlight of the morning had been five House Sparrows (more than normal). Some relief was gained by the presence of a pair of Shelducks, the first for about a month, and almost as unusual here in spring, a pair of Starlings on the flash with a Little Ringed Plover and a Redshank. All the Teal seem to have gone.

I was pleased to hear a Willow Warbler singing from the same patch of hedge it was frequenting earlier in April, perhaps it has set up a territory there.

The most enjoyable birding came from under the canopy of Stapenhill Wood which was providing shelter from the wind. At least four Blackcaps, five Chiffchaffs, and a Treecreeper kept me interested, but I couldn't confirm any of the songs related to anything unusual.

So one or two useful birds for next week's bird race, except that I can't take part because we have friends visiting and theatre tickets to use. Perhaps I'll sneak out on Friday and do an unofficial one.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Wednesday April 27

What a strange April it has been. Tonight's visit rather encapsulated the strangeness of it all.

I had planned to go anyway, but Sue kindly texted me that she had heard the Cuckoo this morning, and House Martins were starting to build a nest under the eaves of her garage. Ironically I neither heard a Cuckoo nor saw a House Martin.

I did see a Barn Owl though. Having arrived in bright sunshine, I was making my way towards the beehives when it flew over my head. No chance of a brilliant photograph I'm afraid (I did take an appalling one) it was away over the hedge in a few seconds.

Speaking of beehives, the beekeeper was doing his stuff as I walked past.

No doubt the bees did not appreciate the cold north-westerly breeze. Obviously there was no chance I was going to see any unexpectedly early migrants, such as the Common Swift which I was startled to see flying towards me. This was my first ever April Swift here, my previous earliest one was on May 1 2011.

Shortly afterwards it started to sleet, then hail, spectacularly.

I reached the flash field which contained six Teal, two Redshanks, and a Little Ringed Plover, while 15 Swallows flew around and a male Wheatear paraded on the ploughed field.

The sky stole the show on my return journey.

The evening had one last twist. As I was driving towards the village, a party of six Fallow Deer crossed the road. A patch mammal tick for me. I slammed the anchors on, and ran round to the boot to retrieve my camera while the deer made a smart exit. Fortunately one was a little more curious than the rest.

No doubt these deer are more regular here than I had believed. I actually saw five species of mammal this evening, none of them indigenous to the British Isles; Grey Squirrel, Rabbit, Brown Hare, Muntjac, and Fallow Deer.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Sunday April 24

Conditions were similar to yesterday, with a cold north-westerly breeze and sunny intervals.

Shortly after I got out of my car I heard a Cuckoo, unfortunately it was literally just one "cuckoo" and not a single other note was heard. A year-tick, but a bit unsatisfactory, I hope that doesn't turn out to be the only record this year.

Dave arrived and immediately relocated yesterday's Red Kite. This time it showed well for twenty minutes, and was briefly mobbed by a Raven.

Red Kite
It seemed to have an oddly shaped slot in its right wing. We wondered if it was a wing tag, but even when I have blown up the photos I have been unable to confirm it.

Unlike yesterday afternoon, Lesser Whitethroats were in full voice, and we eventually counted at least seven singing males (a site record). It is very likely that some of these birds were just passing through. Whitethroats are also on the increase, about five being logged.

The route past Bannams Wood produced a pair of Mistle Thrushes, a pair of Marsh Tits, and an adult Peregrine.

The water courses were pretty disappointing again, six Tufted Ducks, 11 Teal, two Redshanks, and a Little Ringed Plover. In the hedge at the flashes I had a brief view of a Sedge Warbler, and we listened to the song of a highly mimetic Blackcap which was doing its take on Blackbird and Sedge Warbler interspersed with normal Blackcap song.

Our return journey took us past three Wheatears before we found a male Redstart in a hedge near the Pheasant pens.

This bird really gave us the run around. It took 15 minutes from the initial brief sighting before we saw it well enough to even confirm that it was one. Another migrant to put in a brief appearance was a singing Willow Warbler.

That was about it for today. The forecast is for continuing cold northerlies, but it seems the birds will get here no matter what.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Saturday April 23

A bonus visit due to Lyn getting the opportunity to go shopping with her friend from Australia. Thank you Maureen, I took full advantage.

I normally avoid afternoon visits, so a 13.30 start seemed less than ideal. It was also a bit chilly, particularly when great cumulus clouds obscured the sun and allowed the north-westerly wind to bite.

Initially I found only a handful of Whitethroats which were reluctant to burst into song. However, as I approached the pool a distant call caught my attention, it called again, and was evidently a north-bound Yellow Wagtail. Frustratingly I couldn't actually see it, but as I scanned I picked up a distant Sand Martin with a few Swallows.

At the flash field I eventually saw two Sand Martins, and later one with Swallows and House Martins over the ploughed field. The flashes contained two Redshank, a Green Sandpiper, eight Teal, a Snipe, and a Little Ringed Plover. Sadly the Yellow Wagtail had not dropped in.

I headed back, scanning the ploughed field to discover four male Wheatears. A Buzzard flew over from the direction of Bannams Wood. It was followed a minute later by another raptor, this time a Red Kite.

Red Kite
This used to be a real rarity here, but in the last few years they have been annual. I suppose we have lost Tree Sparrows, but gained Red Kites.

As I was counting Wheatears in the ploughed field I noticed a distant chat which had me wondering. I switched to the scope and discovered it was a male Whinchat. I did photograph it, but it was rather distant. A Peregrine added to the raptor tally, and as I reached the dragonfly pool field another male Whinchat gave me a second chance for a photo.

What a stonker !

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Thursday April 21

After a couple of sunny days, and with this morning again largely sunny I was hopeful of some more migrants today. Unfortunately appearances can be deceptive, and an increasingly brisk easterly made it feel quite cold.

There were a few signs that spring is advancing; four newly arrived House Martins, two singing Whitethroats, four singing Lesser Whitethroats, and a male Wheatear. But there was nothing new to report.

Walking along the road, I got the opportunity to photograph a reasonably co-operative Backcap, and then found a Mistle Thrush, a pair of Marsh Tits, and a Coal Tit nest-building in Bannams Wood.

The pool contained just eight Tufted Ducks, while the Flash produced a pair of Little Ringed Plovers, a Green Sandpiper, and 10 Teal.

By the Pheasant pens I disturbed, appropriately enough, a pair of cock Pheasants in the final throes of a vicious battle which appeared to leave one of them moribund. I walked up to the loser whereupon it suddenly revived, eventually getting groggily to its feet and literally stumbling away through the grass.

After just coming round
He's ok
No he's not
He lives to fight another day
My accidental intervention probably saved his life.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Monday April 18

A cold grey morning with a chilly westerly breeze.

I walked the length of the road without seeing very much, noting that birdsong was somewhat understated. Eventually I dropped down the the pool to commence a more typical circuit, but things remained bleak.

At least I managed to see one of the singing Lesser Whitethroats, although even that was happier to make occasional "tuck" calls rather than burst into song. The pool now contains a pair of Little Grebes with six Tufted Ducks, while the pair of Redshanks were back on the flash along with a Green Sandpiper, six Lesser Back-backed Gulls, a Black-headed Gull, and 18 Teal.

I completed my route without adding any new migrants, so set off back to the pool, still hoping to see one of the Whitethroats which Dave had seen yesterday. Three Sparrowhawks circled, and four Swallows zipped about, but even the Chiffchaffs were reluctant to sing much.

I gave up and headed back to the car, where I was at least able to photograph a singing Yellowhammer.
Back at the car I was about to take my wellies off when a familiar song stopped me in my tracks. A Whitethroat was singing from the hedge a few yards away.

Probably the commonest summer migrant which occurs at Morton Bagot, but the first of the year is always a bit special.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Sunday April 17

I didn't visit the patch today, but Dave did. He reports seeing a vocal female Redstart and two Common Whitethroats near the pool, as well as three Lesser Whitethroats.

The Redshanks appeared to be absent. Hopefully they will reappear in due course.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Saturday April 16

After heavy rain, sleet, and even a bit of snow overnight and this morning, I was fortunate that it all stopped just as I was leaving the house. Although it was very cold, thanks to a light northerly, the sun was shining by 11.00am.

In fact fate was definitely on my side. Regular readers will know I tend to shun Saturdays and go out on a Sunday. However, this weekend a Sunday Lunch invitation to Ross on Wye was accepted and I changed my plans.

A distant adult Peregrine on a pylon was a good start, and the Sedge Warbler was still singing despite the cold. At the pool I counted 11 Tufted Ducks and a Little Grebe. Then four Pipits flew silently north, they looked quite chunky but it seemed so unlikely that that number would relate to anything like Rock or Water Pipit, that I wrote them off as probably Meadows.

At the flash field the water level was really high and had forced the Redshanks, Green Sandpipers, and Snipe to share a grassy knoll which was now a tiny island. After quite a few minutes I thought I would check the grass for the Pipits and straight away I found a Water Pipit. I scanned left, and there was another, and then another. Although I could not see a fourth, these must have been the birds which had flown by. Fantastic, only the second record for the site, the last being in 2009.

The only shot where I managed to get all three in frame
One of the birds at maximum magnification
I rang Dave, who was at Marsh Lane, and then various others, before settling down to watch the birds so that I could point them out. After 45 minutes or so disaster struck as they all flew up and within seconds I had lost them. Five minutes later Mark Islip arrived, followed by John Yardley, Mike Inskip, and Dave. We set about searching the area, but eventually gave up, having heard a Lesser Whitethroat, and not much else.

The Peregrine
The grassy knoll

I decided I had to head home with, as they say, a song in my heart.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Thursday April 14

The weather forecast suggested that this morning would be pretty wet, so I abandoned my original survey plan and settled for just mooching around the patch. As it turned out the weathermen were far too pessimistic and after a cloudy start the sun came out and the late morning to early afternoon was warm and sunny.

It didn't take me long to add to my year list as a Sedge Warbler was in full song, though invisible, at the dragonfly ponds. This was my earliest record here to date. Continuing with this theme, as I reached the pool a distant rattle (song) told me the first Lesser Whitethroat of the year had arrived. It also remained hidden from view. Not quite my earliest, but only a day out.

After this promising start the birding remained enjoyable, but I was unable to add anything else new. Highlights were a dozen Tufted Ducks on the pool, a trickle of Swallows heading north, a Willow Warbler in the hedge by the flashes, which contained the usual two Redshanks, three Green Sandpipers, three Snipe, four Lapwings, and 12 Teal. A single Redpoll flew over, three Wheatears were on the ploughed field, and Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were singing in numbers, seven of the former, and 11 of the latter. The Little Owl seems to have been gazumped by a Mallard which is nesting in the tree hole the Little Owl usually favours.

A smug looking female Mallard
Willow Warbler
Reed Bunting
Almost all of a Treecreeper !

There was plenty of other wildlife to look at as well as birds. One of the most dramatic incidents was when a pair of Roe Deer bucks came haring past me and chased each other around the pool field, briefly head butting one another, before leaping the fence and making off across the ploughed field.

This rather fuzzy shot was the only one where I got both bucks fully in frame
Insects on show included Buff-tailed and Red-tailed Bumblebees, Honey Bees, and the Yellow-legged Mining Bees in their colony with an attendant parasitic Bee Fly, probably Bombylius discolor. I also saw my first Peacock butterfly this year and a few Small Tortoiseshells and Brimstones.

Yellow-legged Mining Bee, Andrena flavirostris
Spring has definitely arrived.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Sunday April 10

Sunny with a brisk and rather cold south-easterly breeze.

Dave and I took a route through the village this morning, noting two pairs of Tufted Ducks on the pond owned by the newly created Clouse Wood Farm and hearing the Blackcap at the corner of Bannams Wood.

In fact, by the time we reached the pool it was shaping up to be a pretty dull visit. A Little Grebe on the pool, female Wheatear distantly on the ploughed field behind the pool, and Little Owl in the tree at the flash field were all useful catch-up birds for Dave, but I had to wait until I scanned the nearest flash before I could add a year-tick.

This came in the form of a pair of Little Ringed Plovers, which in the context of the visit rather saved the day.

The male Little Ringed Plover
One was a little less sharply marked than the other, indicating that they were male and female. Not unexpected, in fact rather late, but well appreciated none the less. The other occupants were four Green Sandpipers, 13 Teal, two Redshanks, and two Starlings.

A single Swallow was flying around, and as I left I noticed it was perched on wires at Church Farm. Presumably it was hoping its mate will soon make it back from South Africa.

So it was a little bit quiet today as spring creeps slowly on.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Friday April 8

A largely cloudy morning with a few sunny intervals and some hefty showers. A light south-westerly breeze, but still quite chilly.

I set off for the south end with the aim of doing some more breeding bird surveying. As I reached my starting point I was pleased to hear a Willow Warbler singing in the same area one pair held territory last year.

Back at Netherstead two more surprises lay in store. An adult Peregrine powered past, the first since January, and then my earliest ever House Martin at Morton Bagot appeared briefly above the barn conversions.

I continued to the pool, which I was pleased to see contained a pair of Tufted Ducks and a Little Grebe. Several Mallard and a pair of Teal had flown off, but I wasn't expecting what happened next. Another pair of ducks were flying over, and their distinctive shape could mean only one species. The second record for the site of Goosander, the last being three in January 2011. I scrabbled for my camera which was in my bag, and was fortunate to get a record shot as they swung round, and headed south.

These and Tufted Duck are the only species of diving ducks yet recorded at the patch. Feeling pretty chuffed, I continued to the flash field which rather failed to live up to the occasion. Two Redshanks, four Green Sandpipers, three Lapwings, three Snipe, a pair of Black-headed Gulls, and 20 Teal were all that was present. A female Mallard sitting in the tree which sometimes contains the Little Owl was a strange sight.

I then made what was to prove an excellent decision. I returned to the pool. As I approached I stopped to look at a silhouetted passerine in the hedge. It shivered its tail, which meant it was something good. It moved to the edge of the bush and I could see that it was a male Redstart. After a couple of sorties to the ground it headed away down the hedge. As a result I managed just one record shot.

With a flash of its orange tail it disappeared further down the hedge. I sat out a heavy shower, and then went looking for it to get a better shot, but it was nowhere to be seen.

I eventually gave up and resumed my usual circuit, but apart from a few more Chiffchaffs, no further migrants were seen.

To conclude, I stopped at High Field Farm for another dozen eggs, and recorded the singing Blackcap again, along with a calling Nuthatch.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Thursday April 7

This morning I was volunteered to go to High Field Farm (on the patch) to buy some eggs. Never one to pass up the chance to get in some sneaky birding, I took my binoculars. In fact they were not required because the year tick I recorded failed to show itself.

Fortunately the song of a Blackcap is pretty distinctive. It was singing from the garden at the farm along with numerous Robins.

They all count.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Tuesday April 5

My first evening visit this year coincided with bright sunshine and a light westerly breeze.

The low evening sun is a bit of a mixed blessing. Look in the right direction and you get fantastic views of birds which may be having difficulty squinting back.

Pied Wagtail
Unfortunately the approach to the pool and flash field by the shortest route is very much in the wrong direction. I arrived at the pool having seen nothing, and possibly having stepped over a photographer who was stalking the wildlife very professionally, while I presumably blundered past him. Sorry.

The birds on the flash field had a very familiar feel; two Redshanks, four Green Sandpipers, 33 Teal, two Snipe. A couple of Chiffchaffs and a Swallow were the only summer migrants on show.

The sun sank below the horizon and I headed back. As I approached the Tawny Owl tree I stopped to see if it was there. It was. Normally, in the morning, the owl is very hard to approach. The same cannot be said of the evening. I found I could walk right up to the tree.

Tawny Owl at 20.05
By the time I was back at the car Tawny Owls were calling everywhere, and two Song Thrushes were engaged in a vocal battle before they turned in.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Sunday April 3

A cloudy start, with the sun breaking through from mid-morning. A light southerly breeze.

Dave and I chose to head towards the pool by the most direct route, but we were a little disappointed to find that all the new arrivals from Thursday had gone. However, in their place we found the first Swallow of the year over the pool, while the Oystercatchers which had graced the furthest flash had been replaced by a pair of Gadwalls. Although not a punching the air moment, this was still a species which failed to appear last year, so we were quite pleased to see them.

The pair of Gadwalls
The flash field also contained 21 Teal, three Green Sandpipers, two Redshanks, and four Snipe.

We wandered back recording more singing Chiffchaffs, before Dave encouraged me to head down to the south end to check out the remaining ploughed field for Wheatears. None were found, but the decision did prove fruitful as a calling Curlew led to us spotting a group of three heading south. This equals the best count for the site, which was set in 2008. This time I managed a photograph....of sorts.

Three Curlews heading away
The signs are encouraging this year, although there is still no evidence that a pair is re-establishing a territory.

By late morning the sun was out and scanning the skies produced three pairs of Sparrowhawks and at least 15 Buzzards circling.

Common Buzzard
Perhaps if we had stood around all day a rarer raptor may have flown into view, but as that wasn't an option we called time on the visit.