Friday, 30 December 2016

Friday December 30

My last visit of an eventful year. Sadly, although it started a little misty, the fog got steadily worse and I eventually gave up. Not how I would have liked to have ended my year.

Before it set in I counted 65 Chaffinches at Netherstead, easily the most seen this winter. Subsequently it was a case of blundering about and seeing silhouetted shapes in the mist.

Somewhere out there is the furthest flash and at least 19 Teal standing on the ice
Mystery bird competition follows:

Bird A
Bird B
Bird C
Bird D
That was exciting wasn't it.

The answers are as follows:

A Yellowhammer, B Fieldfare, C Greenfinch, D Chaffinch.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Tuesday December 27

A beautiful crisp frosty morning. What could possibly go wrong.

I parked at Church Farm for a change, and quickly noticed that the flashes were ice-bound and birdless. Never mind, I headed down the track towards the pool, and paused to photograph the Tawny Owl.

Shortly afterwards, I heard voices. I hoped it was cyclists riding along the road, but then I heard chivvying noises and knew I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. As shots rang out small birds flew by me in a panic, followed immediately by Roe and Muntjac Deer. A Peregrine flew over.

At this point it occurred to me that the shots were getting closer and I turned to retreat back up the footpath to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

I am normally quite good at avoiding shoot days, having been tipped off about Saturdays in October, and had thought Boxing Day might be a good one to miss. Unfortunately it seems as though my luck had run out this morning.

Reed Bunting
Back at the road I noticed the Peregrine returning. It was pretty high up, but I watched anxiously as it flew over the hunting party. In fact, no shots rang out, and the Peregrine circled for several minutes before putting on speed and heading off. I wondered if it had actually been attracted to the shoot by the sight of fleeing birds. Somewhat ironic.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Thursday December 22

With Christmas on the horizon there is still no birding early Xmas present for me. The morning was sunny after overnight frost. The flashes were frozen, but the pools weren't.

The result was a few Mallard, two Cormorants and a Grey Heron around the pool, while I flushed three Common Snipe from the path. Thrush numbers are down to about 20 each of Redwings and Fieldfares, and I could see 25 Meadow Pipits in the pasture field beyond Netherstead.

A handful of Lesser Redpolls flew around calling, but most of the finches present were Linnets.

The highlight of the morning was a Small Tortoiseshell which fluttered above Netherstead barn, before finding the sunniest spot it could. The temperature was just 9 degrees at the time.

Small Tortoiseshell
I hope it manages to return to hibernation tonight, and remains torpid until March.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Sunday December 18

A foggy start forced us to walk along the road where most birds were close enough to be seen reasonably well. Friday's Pheasant shoot seems to have left one cock bird completely unconcerned.

Walking the road does at least produce a slightly different selection of birds, with Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Goldcrests, and a couple of Mistle Thrushes being seen. The trees by Greenhills are often the best place on the entire patch for Bullfinches, and we ended up with a count of at least ten, not far from the patch record.

Five of the Bullfinches
The Tawny Owl was showing as we headed down to the pool, where the fog lifted to reveal not very much really. We counted five Wigeon, 63 Teal, 23 Mallard, 82 Greylag Geese, and a Green Sandpiper.

There were still plenty of Woodpigeons, we estimated about 600, and a few large gulls flew over. However, the "best" bird was a Feral Pigeon (or racing pigeon) which just about says it all.

Feral Pigeon (or racing pigeon having a breather)

Friday, 16 December 2016

Friday December 16

A cloudy misty start with a very light southerly breeze. A few sunny intervals during the morning.

The first bird I looked at today was a Collared Dove. So what? You may say. Well I've been getting a little concerned for the local Collared Doves. They were down to two pairs this summer, and I haven't seen one at all for about a couple of months, until today, when there were two.

In fact Pigeons produced the biggest headline today. A large flock rose from the stubble field only to resettle there a few minutes later. I had guesstimated 700, which would have been a new record. Then a gunshot rang out as the Pheasant shoot started up from the direction of Clowse Wood. The Woodpigeons erupted from the field and I managed a camera shot of them before they dispersed.

Nearly 1000 Woodpigeons
Counting the dots when I got home I have come up with a figure of 895, and as there are clearly more just outside the frame it seems certain that there were at least 900 present, and probably close to 1000.

Soon, however, my attention switched to geese. I could hear a substantial flock of Greylags from the direction of the flash field. When I got onto them with my bins I thought I could see a slightly smaller one with them. Unfortunately by the time I reached the field they had all disappeared. I was left with thirty or so Teal, four Lapwings, and a Green Sandpiper to look at. Two Siskins flew passed. This is a species I have found extremely hard to photograph here, so I had them in mind when I set off along the hedgerow. As it happened, I did see them again in a distant alder, possibly with more Siskins. I chose to divert across the brook to try to get closer. Eventually I found the flock again only to discover they were Goldfinches, with just two Siskins. As I mentioned, I hadn't got a decent shot of Siskin here.

I still haven't !

At this point I started to hear geese again, and found that the flock of Greylags was in flight once more. They all looked like Greylags apart from one Canada Goose, and after they went down I decided to walk across the strip field to try to gain height. This did allow me to see the Greylag Geese settled in a distant field, and I got a count of 115. As I was putting my scope away I noticed a medium sized duck pitch down towards the flash. Suspecting a Wigeon I returned to the place I view the flash field from and flushed three female Wigeon and at least 40 Teal.

The three Wigeon

At this point I got onto a small party of distant geese. The scope was up and I established they were Greylags, and that one was a bit smaller than the others. Sadly when they joined the main goose flock all I could see were Greylags so I am forced to conclude it was just a small Greylag.

Meadow Pipit
So that was it. Back at the car 30 Lapwings flew overhead, but the patch remains pretty dull.

Meanwhile the week at Ripple has just got better, with Great White Egret and Cattle Egret turning up on the pools adjacent to where the Dusky Warblers are. Perhaps I should move down there.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Sunday December 11

Following a very wet day yesterday Dave and I were back on the patch hoping for a change in fortune.

A Stonechat was present at Netherstead, about 400 Woodpigeons still gorge themselves in the stubble field, while 57 Teal and 50 Mallard continue to dabble at the flash and pool. A Green Sandpiper was the first this month, while the Tawny Owl peeped out of its hole, the lack of leaves allowing it to be seen for the first time since spring.

A singing Robin
What we needed was a plan, and we had one. The marsh in front of the pool was too dry in October, but now it is nice and damp. Time for a kick around to see whether there were any Snipe in there. As it turned out we flushed 36 Common Snipe and seven Jack Snipe, the first of the latter since last winter.

This success led us to try our luck in Stapenhill Wood, but that produced only a calling Siskin, and four Lesser Redpolls.

Lesser Redpoll
The only other thing to report is a small trickle of gulls over, totalling one Black-headed, 18 Lesser Black-backed, and three Herring Gulls.

A final year tick looks a remote possibility at the moment.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Twitching the Dusky Warbler

This morning I decided I was fed up of seeing nothing at Morton Bagot. Instead I would drive to the other end of Worcestershire, where I had every chance of seeing nothing at a place called Ripple.

I don't know about Man of the Year, but if there was an award for Place of the Year, Ripple has being putting itself forward as a strong candidate in the last few weeks. First there were four Scaups, followed smartly by a good shout for an immature Lesser Scaup. The finder, Andy Warr, then went on to distinguish himself still further by finding an impossibly skulking Dusky Warbler in unbelievably dense scrubland. It didn't stop there. On Tuesday, Rob Prudden was twitching the Dusky Warbler, and found a far rarer bird, an eastern race Black Redstart. A big twitch ensued next day, and although the bird had flown, they nevertheless established that there were actually two Dusky Warblers present.

Meanwhile, in sunny Redditch I have been dithering. Any temptation to go last weekend was forestalled by news that the Dusky Warbler was tending to be seen briefly early morning, and then heard occasionally, before disappearing for hours, or in some cases for the rest of the day. I was then at work until yesterday, when it wasn't reported at all.

Nevertheless I headed down there this morning, arriving at about 09.15. I eventually found a group of four twitchers staring silently into the scrub.

It's in there somewhere
I joined the vigil, and after about 15 minutes I briefly got onto a small brown bird in the scrub to my left. As it flicked right I announced "small brown bird" to anyone who was listening. I stared and stared but whatever it was didn't reappear. Instead, about five minutes later, a quiet "tuc" call to our right had the twitchers pricking up their ears. "That's it," they said. Several more calls followed as the bird evidently made its way southwards through the scrub. No one managed to see it.

All rather annoying really. I did not get anything useful on the bird I saw. It could have been the Dusky Warbler, or it could have been a poorly seen Wren. As for the call, a lot of things go "tuc" which aren't Dusky Warblers, but Blackcaps, Garden Warblers, and other sylvia Warblers tend to be louder. On balance I think it almost certainly was the bird we were looking for, and though I would love to tick my millisecond view of whatever it was, I can hardly add it to my Worcs list if even I'm not certain.

I eventually got bored and turned around to look at the 400+ Wigeon, 57 Teal, seven Shovelers, 20+ Tufted Ducks, 10 Pochard, seven Great Crested Grebes, two Little Grebes, and a drake Goldeneye which were swimming around the flooded gravel pits behind us.

The M50 viewed from the east shore (plus a big flock of Wigeon)
A great place, but I doubt I'll be back.

PS: I gather it showed well to one couple of early risers at 08.00 am. The early bird and all that.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sunday December 4

A bright sunny morning with a light north-easterly breeze. Most of the pools /flashes were frozen solid, and this meant there were hardly any duck, just ten Mallard, and three Snipe which came up from the crop field.

In fact it was pretty hopeless all morning. A melanistic Pheasant vied with a flock of 76 Lapwings heading south to be the bird of the day.

Still, it was good light for photography. I noticed a photographic hide, presumably Mike Lane's, in the ridge field. His photos will undoubtedly be brilliant. Mine are more amateurish, but acceptable to me.

Song Thrush
Blue Tit
The last couple were taken during half an hour of sitting in the car watching a hedge. I know its what you should do, but I can't see me having the patience very often.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Friday December 2

A dull, cloudy morning. Still quite cold, with no obvious breeze. All the flashes and pools are still frozen following the freeze up earlier in the week.

There didn't seem to be very much change in the birdlife since last weekend. The winter thrushes are continuing to strip the hedgerows. Numbers are very hard to assess due to their tendency to fly off en masse, only to regroup in another hedge elsewhere on the patch. However, at least 90 Fieldfares, 50 Redwings, and 15 Blackbirds were involved.

The stubble field by the pool contained a big flock of Woodpigeons which took flight while I was still some distance away, and later repositioned themselves in various trees all over the area. This was a bit of a shame because my photo produced a count of 466, which is not too far short of my highest estimate for the site.

The Woodpigeons
It seems unlikely that every Woodpigeon feeding on the patch was in this flock, while some are obscured by trees, so there probably was an opportunity the set a new record. To be fair, there may also have been a few Stock Doves in with them.

Stock Dove

The flash field contained 64 Teal standing on the ice, while three Snipe flew around.

Later on I walked into the high pasture field west of Netherstead. It contained 22 Meadow Pipits, 140 Starlings, and more thrushes. From here I could also look west, seeing two Cormorants and a dozen Black-headed Gulls, before several flocks of Greylag Geese flew over.

Greylag Geese
The cold weather has meant that insect activity is all but finished. However, several small spiders kept attaching themselves to me, and I couldn't resist photographing one of their webs.

Rather an attractive structure. I have no idea which species the tiny money spiders clinging to the web were.