30 September 2006

You might not like me when I'm angry...

Lots of bloggers seem to spend their time in a state of perpetual fury, so although I like to keep The Hornet's Nest focused on nature and the gentler things in life, I thought I'd give it a try.

Grrrr. Grrrrrrrrrr. This is fun, I'm getting really angry now. And why? Because blogger decided to 'lose' all my template modifications and leave me with no links or features on my sidebar. No 'About the Hornet's Nest', no links to 'My favourite Blogs' and no RSS subscription - just the old basic blog. How dull.

So last night I spent three hours rebuilding the thing, not my idea of a good time (although I did get to add an email subscription service for those of you without RSS readers). I hope you've missed The Hornet's Nest, sorry for the three weeks of incomplete service, and welcome back.

I feel better for that.

10 September 2006

Cetti's Warblers at Napton Reservoir

Along with most birders, I've heard many more Cetti's Warblers than I've seen.

This is a classic 'lurking' bird which loves to stay deep in cover - and yet draws attention to itself with the most extraordinary call, half bird-screech, half electronic voice box. It simply has to be heard to be believed.

It is also not very common in Britain, and has only really colonised here in recent years (nearby Brandon Marsh on the outskirts of Coventry happens to be a real stronghold for them).

So I was delighted to hear two at Napton Reservoir this morning, and even more delighted to see them both for perhaps a minute in all. That is a long Cetti's sighting, believe me. They are quite large warblers, a warm rufous-brown in colour, but generally unremarkable in looks. What really gives them away (apart from that call) is their large, rounded tails which they hold erect, giving them the appearance of a large Wren.

I got extremely excited at the prospect of photographing a Cetti's, but sadly, by the time the camera was out, a Sedge Warbler (I think a juvenile) had taken their place in the reedbed.

Other highlights of the morning were the Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins still gathering at the site ready for their forthcoming migration, the Reed Buntings around the whole site (perhaps a dozen in all), and a pair of Buzzards mewing loudly and low over Ufton Fields on my way home.

9 September 2006

My secret wish list

I imagine that many patch birders have their secret wish lists - the rare birds which they think might, just might, turn up on various parts of their patch.

Patch birding can be quiet, particularly when compared to dashing off to the big birding hotspots, or chasing down twitchable rarities. So, as one wanders around a birdless patch of land on a particularly unpromising day, one tends to finds oneself thinking: "Those conifers would be perfect for a Crossbill or two - it's bound to happen sooner or later!"

So here is my wish list for the various parts of my patch, with my own guess at how likely they are to appear in the next three years:

Leam Valley - spring migrant Wheatears on the hill (50%), Barn Owl over the meadow (75%), Green Sandpiper on the scrape (75%), Firecrest (10%).

Ufton - Turtle Dover (75%), Crossbill (25%), Firecrest (10%), Yellow-browed Warbler (2%).

Cubbington Wood - Goshawk (5%), Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (30%), Woodcock (25%).

Offchurch - Barn Owl on the estate (75%)

Radford Semele - Quail (30%), Red-legged Partridge (50%)

Napton Reservoir - Black-necked Grebe (25%), Wheater (50%), Osprey (1%).

Across whole patch - Raven (50%), Red Kite (75%).

So, not much to ask. All would be patch firsts, and six would be lifers. I'll keep 'em peeled then shall I, and let you know how I get on?

3 September 2006

Star birds at Leam Valley and Offchurch

Nearly every birding trip has its star birds, the ones that linger long in the memory.

Sometimes these are 'megas' - rare vagrant birds, unusual migrants or something else a bit out-of-the-ordinary.

On other days, however, they can be more familiar birds - perhaps an old favourite you've not seen for a while, or a particularly good view of something. This morning's walk through Leam Valley, up to Offchurch and back to Radford Semele was one such day.

It was quiet at first, but a few hours of walking, waiting and watching led to some great birding. Two Chiffchaffs offered great views, giving me the chance to study their tail-wagging feeding behaviour. Their plumages were also worthy of note - one dull brown but the second altogether brighter and more yellow.

House Martins filled the sky at one point, perhaps 40 or 50, and that's something I could never tire of. A few more days, perhaps a couple of weeks, and they'll be off to their wintering grounds in East Africa - an amazing thought.

While watching from the hide, a Sparrowhawk flashed by and two Jays showed well. In the hawthorn bushes to the right I got a brief, but welcome, sighting of a male Blackcap, perhaps the most striking of all the warblers.

On leaving the hide, I found a Coal Tit among some Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit. This was first Coal Tit of the year, and my first ever at Leam Valley. As I walked across the Offchurch Bury Estate, Lesser Black-Backed Gulls headed south above my head, and the sound of Jackdaws filled the air.

My arrival at Offchurch provided the final star bird, a beautiful Nuthatch in St Gregory's churchyard. This is a lovely little spot, deliberately managed for nature (and the place where I memorably found my first ever Spotted Flycatcher a couple of years ago). Across my whole patch I have only previously found Nuthatch at Cubbington Woods, so this was a nice find to wrap the day up.

Three-and-a-half hours, 31 species and some real smashers. Time for a cooked breakfast...