27 November 2005

Hawfinch and Bittern - Warwickshire wonderland

Possibly my finest ever self-found this morning - a Hawfinch at Draycote Reservoir. There had been reports of one in the country park during the week, but it was on the far side of the water that I found mine - well, to be fair it did fly down in front of my car! Nevertheless, I was able to watch it for a minute or so, drive down to grab a couple of birders fellow birders, and get back to find it again for more (albeit brief) views.

With Hawfinch sightings in Warwickshire being a rarity indeed (often just one or two a year) this was a fantastic find, but then when we left via the country park, we were able to spot a second bird, a beautiful male giving fantastic lingering views. A brilliant experience all round.

Normally that would be enough for any one day, but the double lure of breakfast and a reported Bittern at Brandon was enough to convince me to press on. Breakfast was fanastic, and then, after 20 minutes waiting in East Pool Hide, the Bittern moved, stalking left to right across a specially cut channel. Smashing. Then, from the far side of the water, I watched (and grabbed a record photo) while it adopted its camouflage position - head straight up in the air, totally still. Then it was off for a slow flight across the whole water before dropping down in Newlands.

What an amazing morning.

20 November 2005

Great Northern Divers and a proper winter

Ah, now that's more like it! Minus 4 degrees, a mist so thick you can't see the water's edge , and a Great Northern Diver on the local reservoir - that's what I call a proper winter's morning.

After a few busy weeks with little or no time for birding, I was up at the crack of dawn today and down to Draycote by 7.20am. The mist was a real pea-souper, and to start with I could see only a short distance to the very edge of the water. Gradually things improved, and I found most of the usual winter birds - large numbers of Coot, Moorhen, Tufties, Wigeon, Lapwing etc. I was also pleased to find my first winter Goosander (2) and Goldeneye (perhaps a dozen in all).

On the far side (Draycote Bank) I discovered a Great Northern Diver - a wonderful bird that when feeding actually spends more of its time beneath water than above it. I've often mused on which environment it would call home, given the choice.

Anyway, despite my six warm layers (including a fab new padded army jacket), I was in need of some warmth and nourishment after a couple of hours. So I headed off to nearby Brandon Marsh for a hearty breakfast, and then ventured out for a final hour's birding. Three Snipe, a Sparrowhawk, a Common Gull and my first Fieldfare of the season were among the highlights, along with a fox which we watched prowl the far bank for five minutes or more.

13 November 2005

Winter warmers on the patch

It's slowly starting to get colder round here, but I still think it's still ridiculously mild for mid November. I layered up for an early morning walk round Leam Valley today but just a few hundred yards from the house I began to think I might pass out from the heat (not hot as such, but certainly a good 5/6 centigrade). After a quick adjustment I set off minus one layer, a hat and the gloves, and strolled the mile or so down to the reserve.

I had one bird very much in mind this morning, and found it almost immediately - Redpoll. Three darker birds (Lesser) and one pale, almost frosted bird (Mealy?) were feeding off wiry grasses, surrounded by Blue and Great Tits. Although Redpoll are not uncommon in the winter, I don't see too many of them - indeed these were my first for 2005. Such long and clear views were a real treat.

As I moved along the river I found plenty more to be pleased with - Redwing feeding in the hawthorn trees, a splendid male Bullfinch attacking berries with gusto, Goldcrest hopping frantically through the trees, and a male Reed Bunting - another common but hard-to-find-in-these-parts bird.

The scrape was empty, so I headed across the fields up to Offchurch, the neighbouring village. I found few birds but enjoyed the walk enormously.