31 July 2005

A quick Sunday morning at Brandon

Managed 90 minutes at Brandon Marsh this morning, partly birding and partly giving a new self-made digiscoping adaptor the once over.

The adaptor worked brilliantly, but sadly the light wasn't all that it could have been. Still, I managed some reasonable pictures of a Great Crested Grebe chick, a male Ruddy Duck (one of two on site, with a female), and two Snipe, feeding on East Marsh Pool.

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Apart from these birds it was a quiet morning, but I did linger to enjoy good numbers of Lapwing, a Lesser Black-Backed Gull pair with two juveniles, a few Green Woodpecker, and a family of Kestrels (male, female and juvenile) playing together near the Carlton Hide.

30 July 2005

Corn Bunting and more local 'treeps'

A morning walk in and around Cubbington Wood turned up some nice birds this morning. On my way there I stopped off near another local village, Long Itchington, to look for Corn Bunting. Although these are basically brown birds with few distinguishing features (apart from a nice 'jangling keys' call), they are a good sighting for most birders because their numbers have plummeted over recent years - a victim of changing agricultural practices. It is probable that the bird only managed to establish itself in NW Europe thanks to new farming practices introduced way back (ie centuries ago). Now farming practices are changing again and they are in serious trouble in the UK.

Because of this I was delighted to see two birds, and hear several more calling. One thing that you can't accuse the Corn Bunting of doing is skulking - they have a preference for high, obvious song posts - telegraph wires in this case.

On to Cubbington, where the wood itself was deathly quiet - none of the usual woodland suspects.

The hedges and fields around it threw up better birds - a family of 8 or more Tree Sparrows (including juveniles, and my first 'treeps' in this area), various warblers (Chiffchaff including young, Whitethroat and a female Blackcap with a juvenile), at least four Buzzards at a nearby site (three flying low out of woods calling loudly and another calling from within), Yellowhammer and Green Woodpecker.

Good butterflies too, with Painted Lady, Peacock, Red Admiral and Gatekeeper among the few I was able to identify.

28 July 2005

They're flying tonight

The sky over my garden was buzzing with House Martin (and a few Swift) tonight, all performing the same strange flight patterns. And the reason? Well, a quick look at my records from this time last year provides the clue.

Last year it was Starlings not House Martins but they were doing exactly the same thing - catching the large number of flying ants which have evidently just hatched. Due to the slow airspeed of these insects, the birds catching them behave in an unusual manner, slowing right down to pluck them from the sky, almost stalling as they hover for a few micro seconds to feed. And it is not just Starlings and martins that behave in this manner - I have seen House Sparrows do likewise on other occasions (also when the Mayflys first appear over the nearby River Leam, a month or so earlier).

The similarity of habit between these very different birds species is amazing, as is the coincidence of date. Last year I noted the Starling behaviour over my garden on July 27th, and today's display was of course on July 28th.

24 July 2005

Local 'treeps'

A good local birding walk today, two hours on a slightly overcast Saturday morning (which made a pleasant change from the recent blast-furnace heat we have been 'enjoying').

I walked all around the fields of Radford Semele, a combination of arable and sheep farming land with some areas of scrub, good shaggy hedges and a couple of farm ponds. Just about everything I was hoping for turned up - Linnet, Sky Lark (despite the iffy weather), Buzzard, Whitethroat, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, loads of Yellowhammer (more than 20 in all), a male Sparrowhawk gliding into some scrubby woodland near the village pond, and perhaps best of all, half a dozen or more Tree Sparrow (also know as 'treeps' by some), including some youngsters. These are much much rarer than they should be, and to see them so close to home is a real treat.

22 July 2005

Egrets? I've had a few (sorry)

Amazingly, another Little Egret turned up tonight, and this time even closer to home. Leam Valley is my local nature reserve, a stretch of water with woodland, parks, arable farmland and a 'scrape', an area of shallow open water overlooked by a hide. This can often be completely devoid of birdlife, but has also provided me with much local birding pleasure (the scrape is less than a mile from my house).

Tonight we arrived to find a Little Egret patrolling the margins, a wonderful bird giving great views.

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One of its most notable characteristics is that although its long legs are black, its feet are bright yellow (when they are not covered with mud!). The overall impression is of a skinny ballerina in yellow socks. This is quite striking and fascinating to look at, as is the birds habit of agitating the mud with his feet to stir up food items. I could watch them for hours, and tonight I did.

18 July 2005

South by South West

The latest stage of our holidays around the British coast took us from the New Forest in Hampshire to St Ive's in Cornwall. Last year's trip down the east and across part of the south coast was a birding bonanza, taking in hotspots such as the Farne Islands, Bempton Cliffs, Titchwell, Minsmere and Dungeoness.

This year, for whatever reason, we managed to miss out on most of the birdlife, but enjoyed our holiday nevertheless. There were some birding highlights however - Redstart in the New Forest, Sand Martin and Little Egret at Poole Harbour, a brief glimpse of Pied Flycatcher in Yarner Wood, Devon, and plenty of Wheatear on nearby Dartmoor.

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These Swallows on our Devon campsite were also wonderful to watch, swooping low around the tent and perching on a nearby farm gate.

17 July 2005

The first returners

A quick trip to nearby Brandon Marsh today, and a chance to catch up with my first early returning migrants.

Green Sandpiper have been breeding in the far north and east for the last few months (Arctic Circle? Siberia? too lazy to look it up I'm afraid). Now they are on their way south again and there is every chance of finding them in shallow water across the UK. There were two today on the Teal Pool, although I'm sure there are more around - Brandon is a well-known spot for them.

Less expected was the Little Egret that first perched high in a tree overlooking East Marsh Pool, and then flew down to feed. These wonderful white heron-like birds disperse widely after breeding, and there are a fair few around on inland freshwater sites at the moment. But even so, this is far from a common bird in these parts - only my second ever in Warwickshire.

There's more to life than birds

While July sends everyone else into summer rapture (particularly if the weather is as splendid as it has been of late) for birders it is a time of restricted interest. We are between migration, spring a distant memory and autumn a month or two away. Our resident breeders have bred, and parent and offspring alike are lying low in the heat. Everywhere is the eerie sound of silence, perhaps broken every now and again by the call of a wren or chiffchaff.

To deal with this, some birders go abroad for their kicks. Some make summer their season of DIY (in order to build up credit with him / her in doors and earn more free time during the excitement of autumn migration). And others turn their attention to non-avian natural history.

Sadly, my knowledge of wider flora and fauna is limited, but I am trying to tackle this with enthusiasm if not ability. A couple of quick pictures to show the marvels that are out there if you look properly.

First a stoat - I found a family of these playing in nearby woods a few weeks ago, a thrilling find that captivated me totally for the few minutes they were in view.

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Second, a Gatekeeper, not a rare butterfly, but the first one I have taken to the trouble to look at seriously and identify. There are plenty in my garden at the moment, confirmation perhaps that my wildlife garden is finally taking proper shape!