30 July 2006

Spotted Flycatcher at Ufton Fields

After a successful early morning at Leam Valley, I pressed on to Ufton.

A good move indeed, because although things started quietly, I soon found a Spotted Flycatcher perched on a hawthorn bush near the IBM Hide.

This little grey bird is pretty non-descript in appearance, but somehow manages to convey bags of character. They are not at all easy to find in Warwickshire these days, so I have been fortunate to locate them in several parts of my patch in the last year or so - here at Ufton, at Offchurch, and in and around Cubbington Woods.

Little Ringed Plover at Leam Valley

Perfect patch birding - this morning I found three Little Ringed Plover on the scrape at Leam Valley.

This is by no means a common bird, and certainly not one I have found here on my many previous visits. In fact, like the Little Egret I reported on a few days ago, it is a species I have only previously found in Warwickshire's major bird reserves - Brandon (where pairs have successfully bred in recent years), Kingsbury and Draycote.

Now here, at 7am on the outskirts of Leamington Spa, were three more. One female with two juveniles - a few days if not more apart in age, with one moving into adulthood and the other still bedecked in downy feathers. The female was every inch the concerned mother, calling constantly to ensure her youngsters stayed in close proximity. They, children through and through, remained content to feed non-stop, ignoring her rising-falling calls, and even failing to notice when she flew away all together. She was, of course, back within moments, unable or unwilling to leave these two little birds alone just yet.

These plovers were of course the result of a successful breeding attempt, perhaps somewhere else in the county, and were now starting to move on, preparing for the long journey south (because the Little Ringed Plover is a migratory bird, a summer visitors only to these shores).

These beautiful little birds were of course the highlight of the morning, but an honoury mention should also go to a Brown Hare I spotted at the far side of the scrape at the same time - I am always fascinated by these mammals, and delighted to see them.

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27 July 2006

Little Egret at Wootten Wawen

A lunchtime stroll in Wootten Wawen (a Warwickshire village just outside Henley-in-Arden) found a Little Egret busily feeding on the edge of the manor house pond.

While still quite an unusual sight in Warwickshire, this elegant white heron-like bird is certainly becoming more common across the UK, even breeding in a number of coastal locations (I think Poole Harbour may have been the first). Over the last decade or so, the warmer climate seems to have helped this species to spread north from its former southern European strongholds.

It is still rare enough, however, to make it a rare lunchtime treat, with Wootten Wawen now only the fourth Warwickshire site in which I have seen a Little Egret (after Ladywalk, Brandon Marsh and Leam Valley).

24 July 2006

Garden action from the Swallows and Starlings

There has been much frantic activity of late in the skies over Chez Hornet.

As the flying ants take to the air, so do the Starlings, post-breeding flocks of 200 or more birds determined not to miss out on a feast and convinced they are at least the equal of any flycatcher. It's an annual favourite of mine to watch them launch into the air, hover for a few frantic seconds while snapping at the ants, and then descend for a brief rest before repeating the whole process.

Meanwhile, the Swallows from the nearby farm have also bred successfully, and the skies over the house are filled with adults and juveniles alike. They often rest on the wires outside the front of the house, affording great views and generous photo opportunities.

With Swifts screaming overhead, House Martins chattering among them, and a persistent Wren or two in the garden, there's a veritable orchestra to enjoy at this time of year in the garden. Posted by Picasa

23 July 2006

Napton and Ufton - neglected corners

My local patch is basically defined by two waterways - the River Leam which snakes first north and then east from my home, and the Grand Union Canal, which runs directly east. Along the river to the north are some familar villages, such as Offchurch and Cubbington, and also the great Warwickshire woodlands of Princethorpe, Wappenbury and Ryton. The canal route makes its more direct route towards two outlying and much neglected treasures in my patch - Napton Reservoir and Ufton Fields.

Napton today was alive with fishermen, perhaps a dozen in all around this small body of water. Coot and Mallards aplenty were to be found, along with eight Great Crested Grebe and a couple of Common Terns - firsts for the patch. My favourite bird of the morning (a 6am start no less) was a Common Sandpiper which flew low from bank to bank, doing its best to avoid me but still proving unmistakeable, even at distance.

Ufton is a funny place, often quiet and yet so full of potential. Today there were few birds - some Mallards, a couple of Coot and Moorhen, but finally three Bullfinch and a Green Woodpecker to enliven the walk. But what magnificent dragonflies the place has - brilliant blue and huge like birds. The picture is a cheat - it's of an Emporer Dragonfly and I haven't got a clue if they have these at Ufton. But it looks right, and it certainly conveys the beauty of these creatures. Posted by Picasa

21 July 2006

A hobby at Brandon

The Eurasian Hobby, Falco subbuteo, is one of my favourite birds - a slender-winged aerial acrobat which can twist and turn like a guided missile in pursuit of dragonflies, swallows, house martins and even swifts. It has brilliant yellow talons which stand out like neon lights against distinctive red 'trousers', and an equally prominant facial 'moustache'.

I've been lucky enough to see these beautiful creatures flying high over my garden, and also hawking for insects across lakes and reservoirs. But tonight I had the all-too-rare opportunity to study one at rest, sitting in a dead tree across from the Carlton Hide at Brandon Marsh. Only a few moments, but priceless nevertheless.

Not having my camera was an added advantage, because it meant I didn't spend those precious few moments fumbling for lenses or shutter release cables - instead I was able to just sit and enjoy. Instead of a photo, I think the picture above does a much better job of showing the beauty of this spectacular bird. Posted by Picasa

19 July 2006

Good butterfly intentions

For a second year running I intended to find more out about butterflies - and failed.

Not enough time, blah de blah de blah - usual rubbish excuses. However, I'm pretty sure this is a Red Admiral, sitting on a teasel.

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Frog Attack

No birds in July, but loads of frogs!

The garden pond is now in just its third year, but already it looks pretty natural. A lot of self seeding plants have started to appear, and reedmace, sedge and other introduced plants are starting to spread.

Tonight I sat and watched half a dozen large frogs lounge in and around the margins, enjoying whatever shade they could find as shelter from the oppressive heat. The variety of their colouring is amazing - from light green to really dark browns and greens, all superbly camoflaged against the rocks, mud and grass.

16 July 2006

All quiet on the birding front

After yesterday's birdless walk around Brandon, today I thought I'd try a walk around Leam Valley.

Hmmm, some people never learn. Not totally birdless, but about as close as it gets. Plenty of Whitethroat, Wren and Wood Pigeon around, a couple of Chiffchaffs, and a pair of Kestrels over Offchurch Bury were among those birds I did find.

But the Reed Warblers were again the highlight, five or six birds singing and perhaps 20 in all (including juveniles) along an 80m stretch of the river.

Can winter start in July?

Took an early(ish) morning trip to Brandon Marsh today. As expected in July, the birding was quiet.

On the Carlton Pool were the highlights of the morning - four Green Sandpipers, something of a speciality at Brandon in recent years. These little waders are among our earliest return migrants. They have already bred in the far north of mainland Europe and are now on their way south again to wintering grounds in Southern Europe / North Africa (although in recent years, some have actually wintered in the UK).

Which all begs the question - is summer already over?

2 July 2006

Leam Valley scorcher

The forecasters got it right - it was a scorcher. 30 degrees plus by lunchtime, so I planned on beating that kind of heat with an early start. It turned out to be not as early as scheduled (alarm at 5.50am, up by 6.30am), but not a bad effort.

Without a car for the weekend, I planned a complete circuit from my house, down to Leam Valley, around the scrape, then right across the Offchurch Bury Estate to Offchurch itself and back via the Millennium Cycleway. A much-needed downpour at first light seemed to have sent insects and birds alike into a frenzy of activity, so all looked set fair.

And indeed it proved to be so, the walk uncovering plenty of uncommon, if not actually rare, sights. Along various stretches of the River Leam I found perhaps ten Reed Warblers (where previously I had only found a single bird in three years), a dozen or more Whitethroat (including great views of a newly fledged juvenile), a quarrelling family of five Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Grey Wagtail picking his way over the lily pads, and several Moorhens including a juvenile.

Other than the birds, I was thrilled to observe a grass snake swimming a short stretch of river before disappearing under a weeping willow. I also noticed a couple of beautiful Marbled White butterflies as I crossed the estate.

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In the Leam Valley woods I found some real favourites of mine, several Jays, a pair of Bullfinches (I got even better views on the return leg when I found another pair on the cycleway near Offchurch), a Song Thrush, two Goldcrest (one a juvenile) and a probable pair of Marsh Tits (sadly they made no sound, so I cannot confirm 100% whether they were Marsh or Willow).

Chiffchaffs sang on the Leam / Offchurch leg of the journey, and Willow Warblers on the Offchurch / Radford Semele return (I have no idea why this should be, but the difference was marked). Swallows swooped over the scrape, while a pair of Grey Heron fished. Skylarks and Yellowhammers sang over farmland throughout the walk, their sounds accompanying me through the last mile or so as the temperature soared and I wilted, staggering back into the village after nearly four hours out and about. 40 species of bird recorded and a cooked breakfast in prospect - that's how to start a Sunday.