Saturday, 23 February 2013

What a week that was!

Hoping my luck would hold, I headed out in search of a Goshawk. 6.45am on Friday morning found me looking out over the Forest of Dean from the New Fancy Viewing Platform. The last day of my holiday, and I had a feeling my run of luck was about to end. I knew it was a little early for displaying Goshawks, and now it was snowing, I wasn't feeing it.

The temperature was below freezing and the wind chill factor was colder. Two other optimistic Goshawk seekers had arrived at the same time as me, and we dug in, braved the cold and kept on looking and hoping. By 9.30 we retreated to our respective vehicles cranked up the heating and started defrosting, at least the snow had stopped. I was well wrapped up and to be honest quite warm, all except my fingers. Even with gloves on, they were painfully cold.

By 10.00am with warmed fingers and a hot coffee inside me, I was back on watch. Another brave soul had joined the vigil, so we now had four pairs of eyes looking out over the forest looking for a Goshawk.

At about 10.45am, two birds were spotted in the distance. A Crow, mobbing a Goshawk. The second time this week a Crow had aided in getting me a good bird. As they tussled with each other in the air, they drifted closer, providing great views to all four of us. I believe that Crow probably spotted the Goshawk perched and launched its attack. Driving the Goshawk upwards and into view. The weather and temperature were not conducive for display flights, so a mobbing Crow had saved the day and continued my run of good luck.

What a way to end an already exceptional weeks birding. The Forest of Dean was spectacular, and I intend a return later in the year in search of a Pied Flycatcher. I'm already looking forward to it.


Thursday, 21 February 2013

Local Luck

Stayed local on Wednesday, but went birding with a different mindset. Rather than just wandering about enjoying whatever comes along, I set myself some specific goals. A bit of local research online and I picked three local species for year ticks to try and achieve today.

I decided on Red-Legged Partridge, Mediterranean Gull, and Water Rail. So, first stop was Grendon. I parked the car in the lanes and had a walk about in the usual area I have spotted them in previous years. The ground was very waterlogged with standing water in places. A few Pheasants strutting about, but no Red-Legged! So I left the lanes and entered the fields and ten minutes of scanning about later, I had a little covey of 6 Red legs.

Next stop, Shustoke reservoir for the Med Gull. I scanned through the gulls for over a hour with no sign. In the end, the cold got the better of me, so I returned to the car and headed towards Ladywalk with the heaters on full blast. First failure of the day.

I arrived at Ladywalk and headed for the shelter of the feeder hide where I knew a Water Rail was being regularly seen. It was feeding on waterlogged ground beneath one of the bird feeders. Unfortunately, so were two Moorhen! They took real exception to the occasional appearance of the Water Rail and repeatedly chased it off. In the end, I managed a distant record record shot.

There was plenty of activity around the feeders, especially from a flock of about 18 Redpoll.

Lesser Redpoll

And amongst the Lesser Redpoll came my bonus bird, a Mealy Redpoll. Nice to see and another welcome year tick.

I returned home. Two of my three birds accounted for, and a bonus third. Felt pretty good.

The Med Gull was still playing on my mind, so at 2.30pm, I again set off for Shustoke in the hope of the Med. I met up with John in the car park and we walked up to reservoirs edge and spoke with another couple of birders. They put us onto a Common Gull they had located, but said they had not seen the Med. Another Bonus tick!

Common Gull

John and I walked down to the bottom end of the reservoir and scanned about from there. Still no sign of the Med.

On return to our original viewpoint, two other birders had arrived. One of these located the Med just as everyone was about to leave.

What an enjoyable day. This is what days off work are all about. I ended up with my three target birds, and two extra for my troubles.


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

An Ornithological Nirvana


Monday 18th February was one of those birding days that make it all worthwhile. I had driven from Tamworth to RSPB Ham Wall in Somerset on Sunday night. I intending having a quick kip in the car on arrival and then getting to the last reported sighting location of the Pied-Billed Grebe before first light.


All of the above went well, including a couple of hours sleep, and 6.00am found me unloading my gear and donning my boots in the Ashcott car park. Another car arrived and a fellow birder got out. I asked him if he knew where platform 2 was? The area the grebe seemed to favour. The guy in question introduced himself as Brian (Sorry! Can't remember surname.) and said to follow him as he was heading there himself.


Local knowledge and someone willing to share it is invaluable. Thanks Brian. We arrived at viewing platform 2 in the dark and waited for sunrise and usable light values. The temp was just below freezing, it just felt colder! Then, things started getting interesting. A Bittern started "Booming" in the reeds behind me, then in the distance another "Boomed" back. I had never heard Bitterns booming before, a very welcome first for me.

Slowly the light values started to increase and my next treat of the day just came walking along without a care in the world. A Roe Deer Hind. She stopped for a few seconds no more than six feet away from me, looked directly at me, then resumed her travels and disappeared into the trees.

Light values were now much improved, but still not good enough for good viewing. That didn't stop us trying to find our target though. Then, another couple of birders arrived and set up their equipment, the more eyes the better. As I scanned the area, I noticed what looked like black smoke rising from the reed beds in the distance. The black smoke turned out to be Starlings leaving their reed bed roost. I have never seen so many starlings in one murmuration. I couldn't begin to imagine the flock size? 50,000 or more I would guess? It was breath taking. I had yet to see my target bird, but the trip was already very worthwhile.

After some very dedicated searching from the four of us on the viewing platform, one of the other guys suddenly stated that he had it. He pointed us in the right direction and we were soon all on it. The Grebe was partially obscured as it was behind a reed bed and we were viewing the bird through it. It could be seen preening and occasional views of its beak confirmed it was indeed the reason we were all here. Eventually it briefly left the sanctuary of the reeds and entered open water. Very good views were had through the scope, but I failed to get a picture. It was very mobile and was soon hiding and preening again in the reeds. Another 25 mins before it exited the reeds and quickly swam to the right and out of view. I was elated at getting the tick combined with all the other great sights and sounds of the morning. I was a little disappointed not getting a picture though.

I did manage to find some pictures of the Ham Wall Pied-Billed Grebe online. I liked one taken by Paul Rowe. Paul had managed a decent record shot of the Grebe when he visited on Sunday 17th. I asked Paul if he would allow me to use his picture on this blog, and he kindly agreed. Thanks Paul.

By the time I left the viewing platform, it was getting busy with birders arriving all the time.

The early birders

I went for a wander around Ham Wall reserve as It was my first time there. It certainly won't be my last. There were still plenty of starlings about, I like this picture I managed of one.

While wandering around, I also managed to tick Great White Egret, Bittern, and Marsh Harrier. Great views of all three. The Bittern flew in over my head, glided for about 30 yards over the reeds then dropped into them and vanished like Bitterns do.

I found a bench and watched the Marsh Harriers hunting over the reed tops. As I sat there on a bright cold winters morning, drinking my coffee, I thought to myself, "it don't get much better than this."

A report came through on Birdguides that some Hawfinches had been sighted in a Churchyard in Bruton. I decided it was worth a go and at 12.30pm set off back towards the car park. As I walked past platform 2, at least 50 birders were in the area, the Grebe had just shown again after being undetected for the previous hour.

I arrived at Bruton and parked by the Church at about 1.30pm. My first search of the churchyard didn't produce much except a few Jackdaws. On my second circuit, I heard a "ticking" like call from one of the mature Hornbeam trees and stopped to take a closer look. Result! My first Hawfinches. Once my eye and ear were tuned in I watched them coming and going between the Hornbeams in the churchyard for about half an hour. I knew Hawfinches were a big finch, but in the flesh, or feather if you prefer? Their size still surprised me. I tried in vain to get a photo, they were just too mobile. As soon as they flew to a tree, they instantly disappeared into the depths of its foliage, and in the end, with freezing hands, I gave it up as a bad job.

Bruton Churchyard and one of the Hornbeam Trees.


It was about 2.45pm when I left Bruton and started the journey home. I was soon on the M5 and heading back towards the Midlands. However, I felt that in the interest of safety I should stop off and stretch my legs on the route home. So after just over an hours driving, I exited the M5 at Gloucestershire, coincidently, very close to Slimbridge!

A quick two and a half hours at Slimbridge flew by. Another lifer for me in the form of Tundra Bean Geese was very welcome.

Tundra Bean (iscoped)

Also managed a nice year tick of Common Crane, with four of them performing for the camera.

Due to the distance involved, I also used my iPhone through my scope to capture and video the Cranes.

Common Cranes (distance about 250 yards)

And a video.
And that, is just about the end of one of my most memorable birding days. There is however a little bit more. My wife saw this story on Sky news. Strange indeed!
Click on picture to see news story.


Saturday, 16 February 2013

What a difference the Sun makes.

Had a cracking mornings birding i had today. The sun shone, nothing wet fell from the sky, and the birds played ball.

Up and out early with Taz to give her an early morning walk. Got back home about 8.20am and a couple of minutes later, Mally knocked the front door. He told me a decent Siskin flock and a Waxwing were just over the road about 100 yards from my front door. Quick nip across the road and there they were, feeding in the Alders. About 20 Siskin and a lone Waxwing. The Waxwing was a year tick.

A great start to the day and thanks thanks to Mally.

Next, it was off to collect Pete for a visit to Whitemoor Haye. The Moors are still well flooded, so this was the alternative venue for today.

There were plenty of Yellowhammers about as soon as we got out of the car. Some of the brightest coloured I have seen for a long time, or was it just the fact the sun was shining on them?


Along the lanes, Dunnocks were showing well and loudly advertising their presence with their "seep seep" calls.

A little further along our travels and it was time to look for the Little Owls in their favourite tree. It was Pete who managed to first pick them out. They were too distant for the camera, so I attempted a shot through the scope using my iPhone. Not a bad record shot.

It's surprising what wildlife can get used to. An abundance of birds this morning amid the constant drone of Microlights taking off and landing.
Even the swans just grazed without a worry as these odd looking aircraft took to the skies and landed again only 70 yards away from them.
A great morning.

Let's hope the sun keeps shining and the birds are as obliging as they were today.




Monday, 11 February 2013

Variety on The Moors

Pete has been visiting the Moors almost daily, even through the awful weather we have experienced and with the Moors often flooded.


A time will come in the near future, when stuff will stop falling from the skies and the weather will improve. Even in these poor conditions, the Moors have plenty to offer to those that explore it. Pete took a camera the other day and recorded some of the variety of habitat that can be found there, This is just a selection of the habitats that can be found.


The ivy covered areas of woodland


Open Fields
Silver Birch Coppice's
Just a few examples as Pete was confined to the higher areas of the Moors due to flooding. There are also big old Oaks, large areas of scrub land with gorse areas, well established hedgerows, marshes, and of course, the river Anker winding its way through.
Spring will soon be upon us, giving the Moors another face lift and bringing with it an influx of new species. Pete did say he had just topped over 50 species, so the next 50 are up to me? It will be a challenge to get the target 100 species, but interesting trying.



Saturday, 9 February 2013

Draycote Water.

Picked Pete up just before 9.00am and we headed off to Draycote Reservoir. Two Black Necked Grebes had been reported there a couple of times in the week and I hoped they may still be there. Also, there is a long staying drake Smew that I fancied seeing.


We arrived at Draycote just before 10.00am and started getting the kit out of the car. Another birder was just returning and loading his kit back into his car. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked him if the Black Necked Grebes were still around. He told me they were, and not only that, they could be viewed from about 200 yards from where we were standing. He pointed us in the right direction and less than five mins later, we were looking a two Black Necked Grebe.


I tried in less than perfect conditions to get pictures, but it was not to be on this occasion. They were too far out for my camera, so I attempted to take pictures through my spotting scope using my iPhone. Not a chance! The birds were diving at very regular intervals, by the time they were in the scope, scope focused, phone held to eyepiece, they had disappeared beneath the surface again. This combined with the snow, that was now falling heavily and starting to settle beat me.

Snow starting to settle

That tick was easier than expected, so we set off in search of the Drake Smew.
Pete scanning for the Smew


As we walked along the the side of the Reservoir, periodically stopping to scan the vast expanse of water in front of us, we eventually spotted the Smew. The snow had stopped and it had got a little brighter. The Smew was also a lot closer than the Grebes, so again it was time to try for pictures. Initially, the Smew was diving so regularly, it was obviously going to be near impossible to get a picture through the scope. So, out with the camera. Even with the camera, with distances varying from 40 - 60 yards, it wasn't easy. But, with perseverance and very cold hands, I achieved some acceptable shots.



I even managed a short video.


Once we had seen what we came for, we spent some time just enjoying the surroundings, birding, and chatting with a couple of locals. I also managed to warm my hands up enough to take a few pictures through my scope, handholding my phone to the eyepiece. This is fast becoming a secondary interest to me. I enjoy this form of digiscoping.

I attempted a few shots, these two are my best iscoped of the morning.

Iscoped Cormorant

Iscoped Smew (eventually)

Back in the car and heaters on full by 12.00pm. An enjoyable mornings birding.


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Bloody Bittern!

Met John early this morning at Dosthill nature reserve with the intention of looking for the Bittern that has been reported there during the week. We traipsed down the hill and slid through the mud, eventually arriving at the lake opposite the reed beds. Then, we started scanning the reed beds in hope of a sighting. We picked through the reed beds with the scopes for around twenty minutes, nothing stood out, but Bitterns don't do they?

Reeds, reeds, reeds.

We moved positions to try scanning again from a different angle. As John was scanning the reedbed, he suddenly starting pointing and shouted across to me that the Bitten was indeed here, and in flight across the pool. In fact, it had just flown through John's scope view as he was scanning reedbeds. I struggled to find it as it had taken a route behind a small island. As it emerged from behind it, it instantly re-entered the reed bed and did what Bittens do best. Vanished!

John scanning for a Bittern.

My view of it was fleeting to say the least. John on the other hand had a great view and was very pleased. We walked closer to the area the Bittern had entered and spent a while carefully scanning the area. No luck, Bloody Bitterns!


Saturday, 2 February 2013

January on the Moors by Pete

After an interesting January our total species count for the month was 47. Considering the weather conditions meant that large sections of the moors were flooded or snow covered, thus limiting where we were able to walk I’m pleased with the count so far. In fact it’s such a varied and large area I doubt if I’ve been able cover more than 30% of it in detail yet. Clearly you can scan large areas from a vantage point; but the many hedgerows are thankfully old, dense and well above head height. Meaning you cannot check adjoining fields by looking over them when flooding prevents access via the footpaths. Large sections of the wooded sections still have flooded footpaths but hopefully will soon dry out enough to use.

You may have noticed that there are very little if any references to bird calls/song; this is due to the fact that both Sean and I agreed that we would only include clear sightings of species. It’s very important to us both that everyone following these reports accepts that these are all genuine ticks; birds that are not clearly identified are not recorded. Where a similar species may cause confusion we will only record them when we are completely happy with the species I.D.

The woodland feeder

A Kestrel warming itself on a cold morning.
January Species:

Chaffinch/ Robin/Wood Pigeon/ Rook /Magpie /Blackbird/Kestrel/ Mute Swan /Great Tit /Blue Tit/ Jay/ Greater Spotted Woodpecker/Redwing/Fieldfare/Sparrowhawk / Reed Bunting/ Goldfinch /Buzzard /Dunnock /Wren/Heron/Green Woodpecker/ Long-Tailed Tit /Goldcrest/ Black-headed Gull /Yellowhammer/Bullfinch/Cormorant/Herring Gull /Lapwing /Carrion Crow/ Moorhen/Canada Goose /Mallard /Song Thrush /Shelduck/ Mistle Thrush/ House Sparrow/ Treecreeper/ Barn Owl /Goosander / Starling/ Skylark/Meadow Pipit/ Willow Tit /Coal Tit/ Pheasant .

The January Notes