Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Tuesday May 11 - Earlswood Lakes

 You could argue that there has never been a better time to visit Earlswood Lakes. Workmen are swarming all over it, doing something major. As a result the water level is low and acres of mud and gravel have been exposed. If you are out for a pleasant stroll in the countryside don't go to Earlswood, but if you're a birder.....well, mud = waders.

Or at least it should. I decided to abandon Morton Bagot for the morning and see what I could find. I don't think I've been to Earlswood since I twitched the Night Heron in 2011 (and even that wasn't actually at the lakes when I saw it). 

Morton Bagot is about two miles from our house, but Earlswood's only about four and a half miles away and has an enthusiastic and highly competent band of birders watching it regularly. I met one of these, John Oates, while I was there. He told me he had seen four Ospreys there this spring, and  reeled off a tidy list of commoner waders which had also dropped in, the best being Greenshank.

By the time I came across John my list was at lower end of my hopes for the day. It included Little Ringed Plovers, Oystercatchers, and a Common Sandpiper. The latter was a year tick.

Little Ringed Plover

My ears were faring better than my eyes. I had heard singing Garden Warbler, Reed Warbler, and a fly-over Yellow Wagtail

Other tough Morton Bagot birds readily available were Common Terns, a Sand Martin perched in a tree (I have yet to see one perched at the patch) and numerous Great Crested Grebes.

Common Tern

Sand Martin - back-lit unfortunately

On joining John he pointed out a curious immature large gull which may or may not have been a hybrid, and was confounding even him. I had no chance. A Yellow Wagtail called, and he quickly spotted it parading on the shingle bank in front of us. By the time I got my camera out it was on its way, usual story.

He confirmed that today was a bit quiet on the wader front, and I didn't appear to have missed anything.

I can see myself coming here again in August or September, before the contractors finish and the place returns to normal.

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Sunday May 9 - its good to chat.

 I set out this morning with mixed feelings. It rained all day yesterday and Twitter had been alive with reports of waders passing through. I was snug and warm at home, we were entertaining my mum, and the only wildlife in my life were the four moths I had caught overnight (two worn Pugs, a Garden Carpet, and a Peppered Moth if you're interested).

So this morning the rain had gone and it was brightening up. What could have been here yesterday? I'll never know, but maybe something had stuck. Just as I was arriving I got a call from Dave; Sanderling and Ringed Plovers at Marsh Lane this morning, so guess where he was going. 

The problem with hoping for waders at Morton Bagot these days is that there's nowhere for them to land. Yesterday's rain will have raised the waterlevel, and what little mud there had been will have been swamped.

But there's always chats. This is a good place for them, and on entering the chat field I duly found one. A Stonechat. Given what I think happened last year, let's just say this was an intriguing sight.

Stonechat

I chose to keep my distance.

Down at the flash field it was as expected, no mud, no waders. Well, two Lapwings if you want to be pedantic, and a pair of Shelducks. As I was moving on I heard a Yellow Wagtail call twice as it flew over, but I searched the sky for it in vain.

Anyway, back to the chats. Perched on vegetation in the weedy field was a lovely female Whinchat. I circled around to get the sun behind me.

Female Whinchat

Not as gaudy as last week's males, but a subtle beauty and a sure sign that spring passage is not yet over. And as if to emphasise the point, a quick scan of the rest of the field added a female Wheatear to the chat list.

Wheatear

I checked my phone and discovered a missed call. Dave had rung for a chat. It turned out he was having an excellent day, and had just found a Little Gull at Marsh Lane. Ironically he and the team had sat in the hides all day yesterday for no reward at all.

Meanwhile, back at Morton Bagot, my chances of adding anything else were thin. Extra warblers had turned up; three Lesser Whitethroats, 10 Whitethroats, three Sedge Warblers, and two Reed Warblers. Nothing to get too excited about. Still no Cuckoo calling.

The change in wind direction has brought warmer weather, and insects were much in evidence. St Mark's Flies (those dopey black ones that seem determined to fly up your nose) were everywhere, and I got my first shot of a Large Red Damselfly this year (although I did see one briefly on May 1).

Large Red Damselfly

I should also mention that the ringers have had another success. A Lesser Redpoll they caught on 18 October 2020 has been controlled at Laidley's Walk, Fleetwood in Lancashire on 18 April 2021, a total distance of 200 kilometres north-west.


Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Wednesday May 5 - staying local brings rewards

A bright sunny morning, but still cold. Heavy showers approaching. I know I should have joined the crowds heading down to Worcester to stare at a Lesser Yellowlegs and add it to my county list,  but there's something wrong with me. I can't be bothered. Maybe tomorrow if it's still there.

On Sunday Dave visited the patch and found a Swift, two Little Ringed Plovers, and a Starling (scarce here in spring). 

After putting my moth trap out last night, I was disappointed to find it empty this morning. So I needed the patch to do the business. I started off walking along the road below Bannams Wood. It was good for flora, but the birdy highlight was a singing Whitethroat utilising telephone wires.

Bird on a wire

I hurried to the flash field where the pair of Avocets, missing on Sunday, was back, while the Little Ringed Plovers were absent. Are these birds working shifts? Four Shelducks had returned but I couldn't see any Teal, while the cool weather had encouraged seven Swallows and a Sand Martin to swoop around looking for low-flying insects.

Mr and Mrs

Walking down the brook I could see no sign of any Fieldfares (or the Ring Ouzel), but did spot two male Wheatears in a ploughed strip which Dave and I had speculated should attract Wheatears. Today, it did.

Wheatear

You can't beat a Wheatear. Or maybe you can. The best was saved for last.

I had reached the "raptor watchpoint" above Stapenhill Wood, and was engaged in the fruitless task of trying to photograph a singing Lesser Whitethroat. A bird appeared on a bare twig a few metres away. I focused on it, and found it was a Spotted Flycatcher

Unfortunately, as I fumbled with the camera it flipped off to the right and disappeared behind the scrub. I hung around for about twenty minutes, one eye on the approaching storm. It did not reappear, but at least I pulled back Swift.

Swift - my entry for bird photograph of the year.

On the walk back I saw my one and only butterfly of the day, a Speckled Wood.

It's too cold. Brrrrr.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Sunday May 1 - West Midlands All-dayer

 I'm absolutely knackered. Perhaps because Covid robbed us of last year's spring all-dayer I was up well before the lark this morning. In fact I was in the field for 03.50. The first three birds heard were Greylag Goose, Woodpigeon (a clatter of wings), and Tawny Owl.

Owls were likely to be a problem. The resident showy Tawny Owl has not been showing lately, and I haven't seen a Little Owl since the start of the year. As for Barn Owl, well that clocked in as species number nine. I heard two birds doing their Nightjar-like purr, before one of them shrieked at me from an oak tree. Final vindication for the early start came from a couple of reeling Grasshopper Warblers


There's always a pesky Song Thrush getting in the way.

Shortly after recording the first of three Grasshopper Warblers, Skylark joined the party as species number 12. By now it was light enough to see my notebook, and the dawn chorus was gathering pace.

I reached the flash field just as a little mist started to form, but not enough to obscure two Shelducks and an Avocet. Yes, half of the pair was back for the big day. Later on I added a record shot.

Avocet

On completing my dawn circuit the total was on 40, and included Treecreeper and Reed Warbler, which could have proved tricky.

After breakfast I returned to find my teammates. Yes its true, I actually have a team this year. Back at Netherstead, after making short work of finding a Kestrel I rang Martin Wheeler to see where he was and what he'd seen. He was at the pool field and had found a Whinchat. I told him I wanted to make a detour down the access road for the possibility of Willow Warbler, which I duly heard, and then meet him at the Whinchat. Well I met him OK, but the Whinchat had disappeared. A flock of 30 Swallows was an unexpected sight, given how few there have been here.

We continued to the flash field where the light was much improved, and we quickly added Teal and Snipe. We also spotted three House Martins (the local colony has not returned from Africa yet), and in true bird race style I forgot to add them to the list (until now). Martin then spotted the next good species, a party of 10 Fieldfares at the top of a distant tree. A Black-headed Gull appeared (I've had trouble with them in the past, but this year they were easy peasy).

At about this time we heard from our third team member. Tony Kelly had arrived and had started birding. Poor Tony has a seriously knackered knee and was hobbling around on a stick. Despite this he had heard a Mistle Thrush, the first of three pairs of this normally difficult species we found. During the afternoon I found two adults and a juvenile near the church.

Juvenile Mistle Thrush

We tried hard to relocate Martin's Whinchat, but were unsuccessful. Martin spotted a Bullfinch (species number 61 for the day), and we had great views of a tiny male Sparrowhawk as it shot past us to wreak havoc further down a hedge-line. 

Tony decided to call it a day, while Martin and I paid a second visit to the flash. This paid off when I spotted three Sand Martins, the first here this year. We couldn't see anything else, so continued along the Morton Brook.

About fifty metres further on I found the bird of the day. Scanning the far hedge line I came to a gap, and through it, neatly framed by a triangle of branches in the hedge, stood a Ring Ouzel. "Fuck" I said. The urgency was apparent to Martin, and this was not just any old Ring Ouzel, it was a belting male facing us, chest on. I got Martin on it, but as I phoned Tony, and while Martin was putting his scope up, the bird disappeared.

At first I wasn't worried. It must have just hopped to the side, gone behind the hedge. We'd see it again. But then a flock of thrushes appeared. 35 Fieldfares (or maybe 34 and the Ring Ouzel). We lost them behind trees, and a couple of minutes later two dog-walkers appeared in the field. All became clear. So no photograph (when I could have got one if I'd been quicker).

We headed to Netherstead, congratulating ourselves on our good fortune. We were on 64 for the day. Not bad at all. Martin headed off, and I jumped in the car to return home. I made a brief stop to let Lyn know I was on my way, and at that moment a Green Woodpecker yaffled from the safety of Clowse Wood, species 65.

For the afternoon shift I was solo once more. I was also flagging. There was nothing new on the flash, and I ended up in Stapenhill Wood failing to hear any Marsh Tits. Another couple of Treecreepers was some compensation.

As I wearily made my way back across the weedy field, the sound of a corvid, a Raven I think, mobbing something had me looking in its direction. An adult Red Kite was being chased by the corvid, and I got a few record shots.

Red Kite

Soon 66 became 67 as the final bird gave itself up. We had been fairly sure there was a Coot on the bulrush fringed top pool, but it had not been playing ball.

Missing from the list were Goldcrest, Marsh Tit, Coal tit, and Nuthatch. I could have tried harder at the death for these, but I'd had enough.

The absence of a Cuckoo was the biggest disappointment. I hope it returns soon. 

I won't be getting up quite as early for the September all dayer.

The full list: 
1. Greylag Goose, 2. Canada Goose, 3.Shelduck, 4. Teal, 5. Mallard, 6. Tufted Duck, 7 Red-legged Partridge, 8. Pheasant, 9. Grey Heron, 10. Red Kite, 11. Sparrowhawk, 12. Common Buzzard, 13. Kestrel, 14. Moorhen, 15. Coot, 16. Avocet, 17. Lapwing, 18. Common Snipe, 19. Lesser Black-backed Gull, 20. Black-headed Gull, 21. StockDove, 22. Woodpigeon, 23. Collared Dove, 24. Barn Owl, 25. Tawny Owl, 26. Green Woodpecker, 27. Great Spotted Woodpecker, 28. Skylark, 29. Sand Martin, 30 Swallow, 31. House Martin, 32. Meadow Pipit, 33. Pied Wagtail, 34. Wren, 35. Dunnock, 36. Robin, 37. Whinchat, 38. Ring Ouzel, 39. Blackbird, 40. Fieldfare, 41. Song Thrush, 42. Mistle Thrush, 43. Grasshopper Warbler, 44. Sedge Warbler, 45. Reed Warbler, 46. Blackcap, 47. Lesser Whitethroat, 48. Common Whitethroat, 49. Chiffchaff, 50. Willow Warbler, 51. Long-tailed Tit, 52. Blue Tit, 53. Great Tit, 54. Treecreeper, 55. Jay, 56. Magpie, 57. Jackdaw, 58. Rook, 59. Carrion Crow, 60. Raven, 61. House Sparrow, 62. Chaffinch, 63. Bullfinch, 64. Greenfinch, 65. Linnet, 66. Goldfinch, 67. Reed Bunting.

PS: I've just seen the final scores of the other teams. We came 22nd out of 30 teams. The winners topped 100 species. More relevant to us, Earlswood scored 74. So we're still in League 2.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Wednesday April 28 - tales of the unexpected

 The early morning rain was the first for weeks, and I left the house very optimistic that it might have dropped something in. There was also the question of whether the birds piling up on my last visit would hang on for the West Midlands Alldayer on Saturday.

There was no sign of any Grasshopper Warblers, but the late start and cool northerly breeze was probably a factor there. Bird song was generally a little subdued, and in particular a Reed Warbler which had joined the Sedge Warbler singing from the reedbed at the dragonfly pools was very hesitant and barely audible.

There was no sign of any Whinchats, Wheatears, or Fieldfares and I had a sinking feeling as I reached the flash field. Rather like watching West Brom trying to hang on for a vital three points as the final whistle approaches, I just knew that the Avocets would be gone. Sure enough, they had. To add insult to injury, no waders had dropped in to replace them. On the other hand, four Shelducks and three Teal remain. 

No hirundines flew over the nearest flash, but just as I was giving up, a flash of colour turned out to be a Kingfisher. Quite expected later in the summer, but unprecedented here in April. I tried to take it as a good sign for the weekend, but suspect it will be a one off.

As I headed towards the "raptor watch point" above Stapenhill Wood I spotted a Fox seconds before it noticed me.

A lurking Fox.

Normally the last half hour contains nothing worth putting in the blog. But not this time. I was walking down the hedge bordering the south end of the ridge field when a thrush-sized bird burst out of a bramble patch and flew across my path before crashing into a hawthorn hedge at roughly waist height from the ground. I had no chance of getting the bins on it, but as it was only about a dozen metres away my train of thought went from "what the hell's that?" to "Water Rail" just as it disappeared from view. In that time I had noted it's tailless appearance, rounded brown wings, and long orangey bill which all added up to only the fourth Water Rail I have seen at Morton Bagot.

I peered into the hedge for some time, but to no avail. My guess is that the wet weather caught this night migrant out, and it had just landed anywhere that provided cover, notwithstanding the lack of aquatic habitat.

I've had an email from Tony. They managed a short ringing session last night in the reedbed at the dragonfly pool and caught two Sedge Warblers and a Wren. The Grasshopper Warbler was singing at the time, so it should be still around on Saturday.

Sedge Warbler

I'm not going to be able to do the GMS on Friday night because of the early start demanded by the alldayer, so the moth trap will be going out tonight instead.

PS: The trap was empty. Too cold.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Tuesday April 27 - twitching.

 When someone makes the effort to phone you about a rare bird it is very bad form to stick to whatever plans you had for the day. The correct approach is to grab your optics, kiss the wife, and rush out of the house within seconds.

Today I got a call from Dave, followed almost immediately by one from Mike W. There is a Bonaparte's Gull at Upton Warren. I have a pretty decent Upton Warren list, and this American bird was a first for Worcestershire. It was a no brainer, but still I dithered.

There is no access to the reserve at present, except for the two wardens who presumably found it. Access to the Moors Pool at Upton Warren is along the public footpath on the wrong side of the river Salwarpe, so views could be poor.

Anyway after 30 minutes I went for it.

I arrived to find two birders present, struggling to find the right bird. A helpful phone call from Mike W in the hide to another birder who was arriving behind me pointed us in the right direction. It was flying around the far side of the pool.

It was actually quite easy to pick up in flight, its white underside primaries an absolute give away even though it was a first-winter bird. A fraction smaller than the many Black-headed Gulls with a light, jinking flight recalling Little Gull. The main problem was that it kept disappearing behind willows in the foreground.

By the time I got my camera out to attempt a record shot, it had landed on an island. Cue dodgy record shots. 

Bonaparte's Gull (middle gull)

Bonaparte's Gull (small black bill showing in this shot)

It was clear I wasn't going to get any better views, so I headed off.

In true twitching style I made no attempt to look at anything else, but was vaguely aware of singing Cetti's Warblers, and Blackcaps, and watched an Oystercatcher flying over.

I just need the Bonaparte's Gull to follow a few Black-headed Gulls to Morton Bagot. Its only 15 miles, you can do it!

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Sunday April 25 - It just keeps on getting better

 This morning was pretty chilly, a fresh easterly taking the edge off the temperature. 

I was still sorting myself out by the car when the first good bird made itself known. A Grasshopper Warbler was singing loudly from a patch of scrub by the stables. Dave arrived and the bird started singing again. Then it stopped, and we failed to see or hear it thereafter. The first of three Lesser Whitethroats also piped up while I was waiting.

A walk back down the access road gave us more warblers, including the only Willow Warbler of the day. We also had brief views of a Marsh Tit. The first of three Sedge Warblers was singing by the time we returned to the Dragonfly Pools.

But the real action started as we walked past the field formerly containing a pool. Dave scanned back towards the footpath and spotted two birds of interest. He thought they were chats, and then that one at least might be a Whinchat. I saw a silhouette which did indeed look chat-like, but at that moment we noticed someone walking down the footpath directly towards the birds. He turned out to be a birder, Martin W, and we readily agreed he could team up with us as we searched for the, now missing, chats.

Eventually we found them again, and they were indeed Whinchats. In the course of the search we heard a second Grasshopper Warbler reeling at the back of the chat field.

A stunning male Whinchat

It took a while to see both birds, and we only really did so when, after two Sparrowhawks had gone across the field, the Whinchats headed for the hedge.

Two male Whinchats

We started to walk across the parched pool bed, and kicked up a third male Whinchat. It was time to check out the flash field, although we were delayed by a very close, and almost invisible, Lesser Whitethroat. I was tempted to add some film of a singing blackthorn bush, but I think I'll spare you.

The flash field was very entertaining. The two Avocets were still present and were later joined by a pair of Shelducks. Three Teal were lurking at the edge of the sedges, and at least 10 Black-headed Gulls noisily took off when one of the Sparrowhawks reappeared. With them we spotted a single Little Ringed Plover as it flew around calling. Dave glimpsed two Snipe, and we counted three Lapwings.

They need to stay until Saturday's West Mids alldayer

With the weather remaining cold I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that the Fieldfare flock, now 50 strong, was still present. There was a black bird with them, a Blackbird. Drat.

Fieldfares

The flash field had one more decent bird hidden behind the sedges. A Green Sandpiper, only the second this year, flew out and promptly settled in a place where I couldn't photograph it.

We continued to where I had seen the Wheatears on my last visit, and sure enough we found a male Wheatear. With it was yet another male Whinchat.

Whinchat number four.

The day very nearly went into stellar mode when I spotted a fast moving falcon in the distance, it disappeared behind the ridge, only for Dave to get on it as it headed rapidly southwards. We both felt it was probably a Hobby, but the views were not good enough to be sure.

Finally, Martin spotted the only House Martin of the day as it flew rapidly north over Stapenhill Wood. All in all it was an excellent morning.