Friday, 30 September 2016

Friday September 30

A largely sunny morning with a light to moderate south-westerly breeze.

This being the last day of September, it is the calm before the storm of the shooting season, which starts here tomorrow. On the plus side the gamekeeper was telling me that the Pheasant shoots and dog-training are to be restricted to October this year, and the days to avoid are Saturdays, with some shooting on adjacent land on Fridays. It could be a lot worse.

The story of the morning was the steady trickle of Meadow Pipits, a few of which paused on their migration. The final tally was a respectable 91. There are also still plenty of hirundines around, with at least 14 House Martins and 20 Swallows taking the chance to snack on insects before they head south.

Meadow Pipits
Also around Netherstead was a single Stonechat, six alba Wagtails (two of which were definitely Pieds, and the remainder may well have been), a Blackcap, and three Chiffchaffs.

Over at the pool and flash field I counted 11 Green Sandpipers, 10 Snipe, 42 Teal, and a Little Grebe. No doubt they'll make themselves scarce when the shooting disturbance starts.

A couple of indications that autumn is here were a single Redpoll over Netherstead, and seven Siskins over Stapenhill Wood.

There were noticeably high numbers of Hornets buzzing about, and dragonflies consisted of several Common Darters and a Migrant Hawker.

Migrant Hawker
Finally, I have to report that the Woodpigeon seems to have come to his senses, and is no longer trying to incubate a stone in the car-park.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Sunday September 25

Overnight rain was followed by a largely sunny morning with a moderate southerly breeze. Dave and I arrived at just before 09.00 am and within 30 minutes were staring at a bird in a quite remarkable plumage.

As you may have guessed from the habitat, it was a Reed Bunting. On the face of it a pure albino, but some darker feathers in the secondaries and tail suggested it may have been exhibiting an extreme symptom of leucism. Fortunately it behaved and sounded like a Reed Bunting. Within a few minutes it took off and headed south. It is proof that even apparently resident species actually migrate to some degree, since I suspect we might have noticed it if it had been around all summer.

The rest of the morning passed pleasantly enough. We recorded the first four Stonechats of the autumn, had a distant view of a late Whitethroat, and scanned through the hordes of House Martins still milling about (at least 44), until I eventually spotted a single Swallow.

The pool has very little water in it, but still enough to support a single Little Grebe. The flash field was much busier than on my last visit. We counted nine Green Sandpipers, 17 Snipe, 28 Teal, and 26 Greylag Geese.

Little Grebe
The return journey had very little extra of interest, although a Painted Lady butterfly flew passed us at  Netherstead. The Woodpigeon is continuing to sit on its nest despite the fact that the stone has been moved out of the nest cup. So it has not been psychologically damaged by the stone's removal, perhaps by the bird itself, although it is obviously in need of psychiatric care in any case.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Thursday September 22

I arrived in grey cloudy conditions, the overnight drizzle having barely ceased. Fortunately the cloud had rolled away to the east within an hour leaving a morning of sunny intervals and an extremely light north-westerly breeze.

My first impression was that there were a lot of passerines about, including about 50 House Martins, 50 Swallows, and an apparent increase in Dunnocks and Robins. As I headed along the track towards the copse at Netherstead, I was surprised to hear a Willow Warbler singing. This beat my previous latest date here by eleven days. Unfortunately it soon stopped and must have retreated towards the copse, where all I could see and hear were about three Chiffchaffs.

I made slow progress towards the pool, logging a Lesser Whitethroat, two more Chiffchaffs, and four Blackcaps before disturbing a Muntjac which rushed away across the stubble field.

Muntjac in full retreat
A little further on I located a Whinchat in the hedge bordering the now almost dry pool.

Several flocks of Canada Geese, totalling 63 birds, headed west, but there was no sign of a Barnacle Goose with them. At least one Grey Wagtail and a modest 27 Meadow Pipits flew over. The Flash field was hopeless, containing just nine Teal and a Greylag Goose. I did however see a Kingfisher for the second visit running.

The final say comes from the sitting Woodpigeon.

Still sitting
I investigated the nest and found this;

Rather tragically the bird is sitting on a stone. I had a look at my last photo and noticed that the same stone is just to the right of the nest cup. This means that either some well-meaning person has picked it up and placed it in the centre of the nest (which I suspect is the case), or somehow the bird has moved the stone to the nest itself.

The bird returned to its nest after I withdrew, and I am now in a quandary as to whether I should intervene and "predate" the stone since the bird is clearly wasting its time sitting on it, or continue to observe to see how long it takes the pigeon to realise its error.

Tricky one.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Sunday September 18 - red letter day

September can be a frustrating month at Morton Bagot. All the expected summer migrants have been seen, and it is too early for any late autumn scarcities to turn up. Until today, it was all going along rather predictably.

Shortly after Dave joined me we spotted a nice Whinchat posing on a hedgerow near the dragonfly pools.

We strolled on along the access road until we were clear of the copse. Several small flocks of Canada Geese had gone over, and I had actually commented to Dave that it was a pity none of them had a Barnacle Goose in tow. It was therefore somewhat surprising when the next flock, this time about 40 strong, did indeed include a tiny Barnacle Goose. It took a few seconds to get Dave on it, and shortly after he latched onto the bird, the whole flock disappeared below the rise. So no photo.

Although this was a first for Morton Bagot (as far as I know), and was certainly my first, it also stands less than a 1% chance of being anything other than a feral/escape. But everyone else (except for a few honourable purists) counts them, so its going on the list.

The best, however, was yet to come.

A large flock of hirundines, about 60 House Martins and 20 Swallows, were hawking insects over the copse. We were standing on the access road watching these birds, in between checking the copse for other migrants, when some hirundine alarm calls caused us to spin round in the hope of a Sparrowhawk or a Hobby. Instead, a large dark bird was flying towards us, and I momentarily thought of Cormorant until I realised it was a Buzzard....or was it?

As it got closer I realised that the underparts were a smooth dark blackish-brown colour with no pale pectoral band which is almost always shown by Buzzard. Oh heck. The tail was a little longish, the head protruded a bit. Dave must have been going through similar thoughts as we both, simultaneously blurted out HONEY BUZZARD. Although I had my camera around my neck, there was no time to do anything with it. The bird was in active flight, but with a more languid and deeper stroke than is typical of Common Buzzard. I thought the centre of the tail tip showed a slight notch. But before we could get anything else on it, it had flown past us and behind the copse.

At this point we decided on different strategies. Dave ran towards the road hoping to get a view of it beyond the copse, while I remembered a gate in the opposite direction. On arrival I quickly saw the bird again, still purposefully flapping south with deep, slow wingbeats, and I managed to fire off a few distant record shots until it disappeared over Clowse Wood.

As record shots go, these are the pits. But hopefully they convey the long-wingedness, and un-Buzzardlikeness of the bird. It is very likely that the bird was a juvenile, as they tend to be either very dark, like ours, or very pale with a dark face mask. Quite different from the adults.

After that, the remainder of the visit was always going to be anti-climactic. Not that we cared. We saw about six Chiffchaffs and three Blackcaps in the hedgerows, a Green Sandpiper, two Snipe, and 59 Teal at the flash field, and a number of insects.


Back at the car I noticed that the Woodpigeon was still sitting on its "nest".

Silly sod.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Friday September 16

For the first hour and a half I was dodging the increasingly frequent showers while a moderate north-westerly breeze caused the temperature to be a lot lower than yesterday. Eventually the sun came out.

Today's star bird turned up as I was putting my boots on. A Red Kite flew over, mobbed by a corvid. Not as rare as they used to be, but still enough to lift the spirits.

Red Kite
The next thing to come to my attention was a constant trickle of Meadow Pipits heading south, with a final total of 60. I also recorded 80 House Martins and 35 Swallows heading west.

I moved on towards the flash field, where 19 Snipe were flying around and at least 56 Teal kept company with six Green Sandpipers and a Greenshank.

I estimated 100 Goldfinches in the fields containing thistles, but there was no sign of Sunday's mystery bird.

Finally a potential note to British Birds. A Woodpigeon has been present near the base of a telegraph pole at Netherstead stables for at least a week. When I first saw it I had assumed it was injured, and chose not to approach it. I was surprised to see it was still there when I got back to the car today, and so decided to see how badly it was hurt. However, as I approached, it flew off strongly. I noticed some brown sticks or vegetation on the ground where it had been, so thought perhaps it had found something particularly nutritious to eat. What I actually found was this:

It appears that the dopey bird has built a nest, and though it contains no eggs or young, is determinedly sitting on it. A ground-nesting deranged Woodpigeon, whatever next.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Sunday September 11

A lovely sunny morning with barely a puff of wind, and pleasantly warm.

I made a small diversion on the way to Netherstead so that I could photograph a line of hirundines on the wires at the church.

Mostly Swallows
A sure sign that autumn is on the way. Although this particular group consists mainly of Swallows, it later became apparent that the very large number of hirundines milling over the site were dominated by House Martins.

Once I had reached Netherstead, and was joined by Dave, we quickly found ourselves knee-deep in migrants and unusually high numbers of some scarce residents. To begin with we estimated 470 hirundines as a minimum figure, and decided that the split was roughly 300 House Martins and 170 Swallows.

Three Mistle Thrushes headed north-west, the first since the spring, and seven Jays flew past. Five Ravens also went over. The hirundines were constantly being alarmed by raptors, and we saw three Sparrowhawks, two Hobbies, and the immature Peregrine. The latter was more interested in some passing feral/racing pigeons and headed over us with a luckless bird clutched in his talons.

The warbler count was buoyed by a record count of 10 Blackcaps, as well as three Lesser Whitethroats, about five Chiffchaffs, and a Sedge Warbler.

Sedge Warbler
I mustn't forget to mention that there was a constant trickle of south-bound Meadow Pipits, and our final figure of 39 undoubtedly underestimates the true numbers moving through. There was also an inexplicable passage of Lesser Black-backed Gulls today, with a final total of 24 heading south.

At the pool where I photographed the Sedge Warbler and saw we saw most of the Blackcaps, we blundered into a Kingfisher, which might have made a good photographic subject had it not seen us first.

A little further on, a Whinchat graced the hedgerow bordering the pool. The pool itself contained a large flock of Teal, a Little Grebe, and a Greenshank.

Predictably the Teal and Greenshank were unable to bear the sight of us creeping past, and they all headed for the flash field. Here we added a Green Sandpiper and counted 107 Teal. A Yellow Wagtail, and second Grey Wagtail of the morning flew over unseen. I was particular irritated by not seeing the Yellow Wagtail as it was only my second this year, and both were heard and not seen.

The walk back provided the usual insect distractions, with a Small Copper posing well, and a female Migrant Hawker dangling from a nettle.

Migrant Hawker
Finally, in bushes near the Ridge Field, we heard a call which neither of us recognised. It repeated it several times. I would describe the call as vaguely sparrow-like but buzzier, a sort of "zieeoo". Eventually a small party of Goldfinches flew out and closely following them a brown finch-like passerine which didn't immediately trigger any memory cells. Dave reckoned it had some kind of pattern on its head, while I noted it had two narrow white wing-bars. Neither of us noted white in the outer tail feathers. It was a bit bigger and longer in the tail than the Goldfinches. We could rule out all the familiar birds on call, including juvenile Linnets and Greenfinches which I know sound more sparrow-like than the adults.

It flew off across the field with the Goldfinches, and though we set off in pursuit, we did not see or hear it again. Our best guess is that it was some kind of escape, but definitely not the Yellow Bishop which has been seen here this year.

All in all a very entertaining morning.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Upton Warren twitch

Yesterday evening I got a call from Terry Hinett to let me know that he had heard there was a Baird's Sandpiper at Upton Warren. This is an American wader which is, I'm pretty sure, the first record for Worcestershire. It was 19.30 and cloudy. I decided that it was too late to get there, and that I would wait for news next day.

The news this morning was good, and I set off in heavy rain at about 09.45. By the time I arrived the rain had stopped. I made my way to the main hide at the flashes, which as expected contained a forest of tripod legs and birders. I sat down and duly saw the bird. It was at the far edge of the flash, about the same distance away as the nearest flash is at Morton Bagot. Too distant for my camera to produce any half decent shots.

Fortunately I am quite happy to settle for exhibiting rubbish record shots, so here they are.

Things to note are the short bill, spangled brown and white pattern on the wing coverts and mantle, and in particular the very long rear-end caused by the primary feathers extending much further than the tip of the tail.

I decided to go into the lower hide, which proved to contain just three other birders. This allowed me time to let my attention to wander to the other birds on the flashes. I counted a minimum of 75 Teal, 62 Shovelers, two Common Sandpipers, two Avocets, and a Kingfisher. I also had a brief binoculars-only view of what appeared to be a Wheatear perched on a post. Annoyingly it had disappeared by the time I switched to my scope.

The walk back took in lots of passerines in the bushes including Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, and several vocal Cetti's Warblers.

It was almost as enjoyable to catch up with birders I haven't seen for years, including John Belsey who gave me the story from initial discovery of the bird by a lady who knew it was something worth calling John about, through some delegated birding mates who worked out it wasn't a Little Stint and after considering every calidrid in existence (I may be exaggerating here) came to a tentative, but correct, identification. John himself had to change his plans to get down there in fading light to confirm their suspicions.

Well done to all concerned.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Thursday September 8

The passage of a weak cold front meant a cloudy start followed rapidly by bright sunshine. Still reasonably warm, but with a moderate south-westerly adding a slightly fresher feel.

For the first hour I was determined to prove my previous posts wrong by searching for warblers. Helped by two tit flocks which typically carried a few warblers with them, I eventually tallied five Whitethroats, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Blackcap, and seven Chiffchaffs. Clearly they are still around, but probably in reduced numbers.

Another difference from my last visit was that the exceptional numbers of hirundines have now reduced back to more expected levels, with about 30 House Martins and 20 Swallows present.

By the time I got to the flash field I had not photographed anything, and was dismayed to find that the nearest flash was completely birdless. The furthest flash by contrast contained at least 58 Teal and a newly arrived Greenshank.

So time for a token bird shot.

Juvenile Greenfinch
The walk back took in the brambles and nettles which border the field, an absolutely splendid place for looking for insects (and blackberries).

Female Dark Bush Cricket

Rosel's Bush Cricket
Fly on a Blackberry
Ichneumon Wasp Achaius oratorius being approached by a small spider

Small Copper

Common Blue - a bit past its best

Further on, I was noticing that there were a great many Daddy Long-legs's on the wing, when a passing Hornet was obviously thinking the same thing. It landed abruptly and started munching on something.

Strangely long legs for a Hornet
Watch out, there's a Hornet about
I'll try to get back to looking at birds next time.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Sunday September 4

After a weekend in Yorkshire attending a wedding I was back in Warwickshire by early afternoon, and so was back in the field by 15.20. I am not especially fond of afternoon birding, but this afternoon certainly proved to have a few points of interest.

To begin with it was immediately apparent that there were a lot of hirundines hunting insects in relatively warm, breezy conditions under mainly cloudy skies. Even as I was putting my wellies on I heard the sharp alarm call of a Sand Martin, and looked up to see a party of eight heading south through the milling House Martins. This was a new record count for Morton Bagot.

Given the number of hirundines it was no great surprise to see a distant Hobby, and later two Sparrowhawks and the young Peregrine. Actually assessing the number and variety of the hirundines was extremely challenging, but with birds swirling in every direction I eventually smashed the House Martin record, with 300 estimated, and reckoned about 100 Swallows were also in the mix.

The downside of this afternoon's effort was the dearth of passerines visible in the hedgerows, with just one Chiffchaff and no other warblers recorded. About 100 Goldfinches are still feeding on thistles, but there seemed to be fewer Greenfinches.

The Flashes still look in good condition and hosted the juvenile Little Ringed Plover, and Common Sandpiper still, while most commoner species are maintaining their numbers, with 39 Teal, and 11 Green Sandpipers, but only two Snipe visible.

Shortly afterwards, a small brown passerine flew over and landed in the weedy field. It looked interesting, so I headed to where it had landed, and was not too surprised to discover that it was a pipit. Unfortunately it failed to call before disappearing into the field again. Suspecting a Tree Pipit I again flushed it, and it again failed to call before disappearing somewhere beyond a distant hedge. So in the end I had to leave it as unidentified.

Finally, I was informed that a pair of Barn Owls have nested successfully in a large Ash tree in the back garden of Netherstead Hall, with three young owls fledging successfully. Its very nice to receive news of confirmed breeding of this species on the patch.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Thursday September 1

Today is the start of meteorological autumn according to the weatherman. I decided to start at the church for a change, and enjoyed a sunny morning with a light westerly breeze.

The first notable bird was a classic autumn species, a Grey Wagtail. After flushing it from the roof of a farm building, I relocated it at a small pool by the roadside.

Grey Wagtail
Continuing with the autumnal theme I failed to detect a single Whitethroat during the morning, suggesting there has been a bit of a clear-out since my last visit. As I approached the pool, I noticed about 40 Teal circling over the Flash field in the distance, and two-thirds of them seemed to head off to the south. They were probably going to Middle Spernal, where Mike has seen the Garganey in the last few days. Two Whinchats were present in the Chat field.

When I finally reached the Flash field, I quickly spotted a newly arrived juvenile Little Ringed Plover, but also saw only one Green Sandpiper, three Snipe, and six Lapwings.

Little Ringed Plover
At this point I decided on another change in my usual routine. I walked back to the bridle track, set up my scope and spent 20 minutes sky-watching. This is exactly the time of year when Ospreys fly over central England on their way south, although they are always careful to give Morton Bagot a wide berth.

The plan was not completely without merit because, in between seeing Buzzards and Sparrowhawks, I did see a juvenile Peregrine soaring over. Not really evidence of migration though.

Juvenile Peregrine
The only other noteworthy moment was when I picked up a tiny dot jinking its way towards me high over the ridge field. As I wondered what it was, assuming perhaps one of the many Goldfinches, it suddenly dived down to land in the hedge right next to me. It was a Chiffchaff....migrating?