30 October 2005

A group day out in North Norfolk

Up at the crack of dawn this morning (thank goodness for the extra hour) to make the two and a bit hour drive to North Norfolk to meet some of the members of Birdforum.net.

About 20 people were there in all, from all across the country and of all ages and levels of birding experience. Together they were good value for a day out at one of the RSPB's finest reserves.

I arrived at 9am, and by 9.15am we had found one of the Yellow-Browed Warblers that have invaded the country this autumn - at last! This gorgeous little bird proved to be the only lifer of the day, but that is not to say there weren't other treasures along the way.

Out at sea were some Velvet Scoters among the Common Scoters, a Red-throated Diver, two Eiders, and then a Fulmar and two Gannets flew by. In scrub land near the car park we enjoyed the briefest views of a male Ring Ouzel, and on the pools a normally-elusive Jack Snipe fed busily but visibly, bobbing in characteristic style. Although I have no photos of him, above is one of many Common Snipes that fed nearby.

I am normally a solitary birder, but this group day was great fun. The organisers, should they be reading this, have my thanks.

26 October 2005

Stolen moments at lunchtime

A few minutes to stroll around some fields, a churchyard and a stream near my office today.

Instantly found myself surrounded by a tit flock - as well as Great and Blue Tits I managed to locate a Goldcrest, a couple of Wrens and a Robin.

Out in the fields I found a Kestrel posing high on a dead tree, joined for a few moment by a sleek Mistle Thrush with its dry, churring call. Scores of Redwing flew hither and thither overhead.

The chur of the thrush was quickly replaced by the harsh 'yaffle' of a Green Woodpecker which almost landed on me as it came flying round a nearby hedge.

Finally, a quick look at the stream on my way back turned up my Star Bird of the Day - a Grey Wagtail, fighting with a Robin by the waterside. Wonderful - if you add the Kingfisher from Monday's lunchtime stroll it's not been a bad week for stolen moments.

23 October 2005

Ryton Pools

A boozy weekend left me far to weak to contemplate serious birding (it's not as easy as it looks, this birding lark). Instead we went for a gentle Sunday afternoon stroll round the nearby Ryton Pools Country Park - and found some rather nice birds.

On Paget's Pool there were a dozen or so Gadwall, a couple of Tufties, and the usual array of Mallards, Coots and Moorhens. Persistently diving between them were three splendid Little Grebe.

The first pleasant surprise was a Snipe feeding on one of the central islands. The second was a Green Woodpecker, drinking at the water's edge and posing perfectly - it was one of those moments for which cameras were invented. Sadly my kit was at home, so I'll make do with my memory.

The third surprise wasn't a bird as such, but rather the promise of future birds. The council have put three Barn Owl boxes up in on the rough grasslands in the centre of the park. This is perfect habitat for Barn Owls so fingers crossed for occupants in the future - I have only seen these superb creatures in East Anglia and would dearly love to find one on my own patch.

16 October 2005

A day in north Warwickshire

I fancied a change today, so I headed up to the north of the county. There, in a fairly urban and often industrial setting to the north-east of Birmingham, is the Middle Tame Valley, a stretch of river, gravel pits, scrub land and parkland which together make up a vitally important bird habitat.

I started at the southern tip of the valley, at Whitacre local nature reserve, and quickly found Green Woodpeckers, two Jays, a Willow Tit and some Goldcrest. I then discovered that leaving my wellies at home was a big mistake. With all the main paths flooded, I headed off to Kingsbury instead.

Kingsbury Water Park is a very different kettle of fish - a huge municipal park covering a dozen or more pools, the river on one side and a canal on the other. Good (unflooded) paths lead to several bird hides, and although water levels were generally too high for waders, some patience was rewarded when up to six Snipe eventually showed themselves.

I then headed north again, this time on foot, walking up to Dosthill pits. Nothing of huge note here, except the huge flocks of Canada Geese and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A couple of Linnet were a nice find, as were eight Redwing, my first of the season, flying low overhead.

11 October 2005

A break from DIY - Sparrowhawk and 'Blackwit'

A long weekend meant gardening and DIY - and a sanity-preserving trip to nearby Brandon Marsh nature reserve.

An exciting morning's birding was just what I needed to help me get away from DIY hell - unfortunately no one told the birds. As I met birder after birder, the story was the same. The rest of the UK may be awash with Yellow Browed Warblers, Cream Coloured Coursers and Laughing Gulls, but south and mid Warwickshire seem to have missed out for now.

Still, nil desperadum. A Black-tailed Godwit was the one visitor of real note at Brandon (a rare visitor to this particular site) and an obliging male Sparrowhawk gave me a great photo opportunity that really made my morning.

2 October 2005

A Reed Warbler on the patch

An exciting find on the River Leam today - a Reed Warbler, my first for the patch.

Having wandered through most of the Leam Valley reserve with little to show, I headed up to the Offchurch Bury weir. And there, picking its way through the reeds and willow scrub was this pale juvenile warbler.

After ten minutes or so of tantalising glimpses, it finally showed properly - with its wide 'spoon' like tail, black-tipped primaries, longish bill and plain face. A splendid bird on a patch with so little in the way of reedbeds.

That was a turning point in the morning, and in short order I then connected with a Grey Wagtail, a Kingfisher, a Jay, a couple of Chiffchaffs, two Swallows and a House Martin - the last three being fairly late-staying summer migrants.

1 October 2005

Early October in the village

Back to the patch this weekend after the excitement of last week's trip to Norfolk.

Things were quiet in the fields surrounding my house, but just as I was hankering after the wide open spaces of East Anglia (or alternatively a nice bacon sandwich) three Buzzards flew low overhead to put on the most amazing display.

I know these birds well, and have watched them from that hilltop many times, but they never lose their majesty, grace or power. As they glided away (harried by a couple of unhappy Jackdaws), a female Kestrel dropped in, first hovering nearby then sliding in on the strong winds, finally coming to rest on a nearby fence.

Beautiful birds both, and enough, along with a pair of late Barn Swallows and two Sky Lark singing against a crisp blue sky, to put a spring in anyone's step. The bacon sarnie was nice as well.