29 April 2007

First Cuckoos of Spring

The call of the Cuckoo is perhaps the quintessential sound of spring. Sadly, like so many sounds from the natural world, it has been getting much scarcer in recent years.

Fortunately I still hear them across my patch. Last year the only one I heard was calling somewhere near my garden (an early evening treat it repeated often over the course of a month or so). This morning I was able to find at least three - one at Napton Reservoir, and two at Ufton Fields.

Unfortunately, and despite some careful searching, I wasn't able to track any down sufficiently well to actually see them, but simply hearing that most distinctive of calls was among the highlights of my morning.

There were plenty of other highlights: a pair of Common Sandpipers at Napton, an influx of Swallows over the water and a beautiful low-flying Lapwing; at Ufton there were great views of a male Blackcap and then a Garden Warbler, the flashing white rump of a passing Bullfinch, and the gentle floating song of perhaps a dozen Willow Warblers.


Without (I hope) offending anyone's faith, I feel the urge to paraphrase - "Forgive me all, for I have (blog) sinned - it has been nearly a month since my last post."

What can I say? Plenty of reasons (life), no excuses - I just haven't had the time to sit down and put hands to keyboard.

However, here by way of a catch-up is a whirlwind review of the birding I managed in April.

I've taken a couple of trips to Leam Valley, where spring has been bursting out but the birding has been relatively quiet. Highlights there included some nice photographs of Chiffchaffs and Song Thrushes (one of which is top left), watching an ambitious fox put to flight by a pair of Swans, and finding my first Tufted Ducks on the scrape. Told you it had been quiet.

A trip to Essex enlivened things a bit - at Fingringhoe Wick I enjoyed the coastal aspect, including plenty of Little Egret, Golden Plover, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Curlew and other common waders. At nearby Abberton I was able to photograph a bold pair of Linnets (a photographic first) , and the next day on the Blackwater Estuary I found a handful of Ruff and some late-staying Brent Geese among others.

Back on my patch, Ufton Fields made for an enjoyable early morning walk last weekend - again, nothing outstanding to report, but lots of the more common birds to enjoy - including my first Tufted Ducks at Ufton, a pair of Little Grebes and plenty of freshly-returned warblers.

And finally I managed to squeeze in a really quick visit to Brandon, where birding of late has been pretty good. Others have managed to find such rare Warwickshire birds as Ring Ouzel and Wood Warbler - I was happy however with a more modest haul including Little Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, four Common Tern, some late Sand Martins and a Hobby flying high over East Marsh Pool.

2 April 2007

Wonderful Warwickshire birding

A simply superb day of birding in mid-Warwickshire today. A day off work, fine sunny weather, three sites and a pile of birds, some rare and some not - what's not to like?

I started at 7.30am, checking out a set-aside field near the Napton Reservoir for Barn Owls. No owls in sight, but a best-ever Chiffchaff photo opportunity. Nice start.

At the reservoir itself there was still an early chill, not helped by a bitter north wind. Chiffchaffs sang around the site, perhaps five in all, and there was an abundance of Reed Buntings flitting from hedge to hedge. As the temperature rose the Chiffchaffs were joined in song by some Skylarks, Chaffinches and Great Tits. Then came an extraordinary but familiar sound - the explosive call of the Cetti's Warblers. It's not uncommon to hear of these secretive birds one at Napton these days, but this time I got good close up views as well - a real bonus.

I moved on to Draycote Reservoir, the region's biggest water, hoping for some more early migrants. Not many on show today - a few Chiffchaff and a lone Swallow, with no Wheatear in sight. But there were still plenty of birds to enjoy, and plenty of great photo opportunities to grab. Highlights included two Great Northern Divers, a Sparrowhawk high overhead, a couple of Treecreepers, a lone Wigeon and Goldeneye, plus a Goldcrest.
By this point I was well satisfied with my morning, but there were plenty of highlights still to come. I went to Brandon Marsh, and highlight one was breakfast - full English of course. Highlight two was the Grey Wagtails at Streetly Hide. Highlight three was the array of waders on East Marsh Pool - an Oystercatcher, three Redshank, a few Lapwing. Then a group of 20 or more Sand Martins flew overhead - I was so busy watching these that I almost stood on an exceedingly unimpressed Grass Snake.

And then for the finale, as a male Garganey flew into view. This is a decidedly uncommon bird, our only summer migrant duck with perhaps only 100 or so seen annually in this region. They are famously secretive so always a thrill to find. In fact, this was only the second I have ever seen, and the first in Warwickshire. The perfect day was sealed.

In fact, there were so many photo opportunities, that I have only managed to squeeze in a few here - from the top, these are: A perfectly posing Dunnock at Brandon; the Chiffchaff near Napton; A Pied Wagtail and then a Meadow Pipit, both at Draycote; and finally the drake Gargany at Brandon.