29 August 2007

Snipe at Leam Valley

For every few patch walks where there is nothing much to report, there is a night like tonight - with two (yup, count 'em) firsts for Leam Valley.

Walking down towards the scrape I had three birds in my mind. Perhaps a Common Sandpiper - after all, I have seen them here as autumn migrants before. Perhaps even a Green Sandpiper - that would be a first. Or even a Common Snipe - I know that they have been seen here before, but never by me.

As I opened the hide window, I was greeted by a familar site - two parts of nothing. A few Moorhen, six Coots, and a few Wood Pigeons flying about. But I settled down to scan the whole area, and five minutes later, content that there really was nothing about, I put my binoculars aside for a moment. And that was when I noticed the Snipe feeding directly in front of the hide!

The amazing thing was that there could have been hundreds around that edge, and you would never know. There are huge amounts of water edge which are invisible to prying eyes - this one bird just happened to choose that moment to walk across right in front of me. Hallelujah! So, after a few minutes of taking photos, and five minutes or more watching it feed in the muddy margins, I was a happy man.

Even more so when 85 Canada Geese chose first to fly over in two massive V formations, and then to descend on the water in the late evening sun, as truly spectacular sight.

And more so still when three Teal appeared momentarily from their hiding place on a reedy bank along from the hide - just a fleeting glimpse of these tiny, distinctive ducks, but enough to add a second 'first' to my evening.

26 August 2007

Now that's entertainment

I went out for a quick walk round Radford Semele fields yesterday morning - deathly quiet in the main.

However, early on in the walk I did see one sight that brought a smile to my face. First of all I spotted a fantastic male Sparrowhawk sitting in the branches of a leafless tree about 50 metres away. I could also hear a Green Woodpecker, but it took a moment before I realised that it was in fact a juvenile woodie sitting not 4 metres away in the same small tree. Brave or stupid, I wondered?

The Sparrowhawk looked like he couldn't quite believe it. He just stared at this streaky squawking thing for a minute or so and then clearly though "Stuff it, I'll have that"! He half hopped half flew across the tree, but by now even the woodie had worked out he might be in trouble - and was off. A brief chase saw the little woodpecker escape to squawk another day - but hopefully with a little more caution. The photo is awful, but hopefully it conveys a little of the situation.

22 August 2007

Favourite things - Sandpiper, Woodpecker and Kingfisher

Napton Reservoir seemed quiet after work tonight - the main water semed to hold just 30 or so Coots, a few Black-headed Gulls, a couple of Great Crested Grebes with a juvenile, a couple of Moorhens, nine Tufted Ducks and an impressive 75 Mallards.
But as I continued round to the smaller water, things enlivened considerably. A dozen or so Swallows at first, then 100+ House Martins swarmed overhead. A young Sedge Warbler flashed by, and then an equally young Green Woodpecker landed just a few yards in front of me.
A lone Reed Warbler worked his way through nearby reeds - and then to the finale.
First a Common Sandpiper took a flying tour of the reservoir, noisily piping his presence before settling on a rocky edge. And then a Kingfisher took an easily noisy dart across the water, settling in a crab apple tree not far away.

19 August 2007

Bold bright bird colours at Brandon

The brasher and more brightly coloured birds were in evidence at Brandon Marsh near Coventry this morning.

Jays squabbled in a tree near Carlton hide - pinks, blues and blacks evident despite the distance. From a few branches away, a Hobby watched on. Normally this is the most boldly marked of the raptors, with bright red 'trousers' contrasting strongly with yellow feet. But this appeared to be a juvenile bird, muted and streaky.

A Kingfisher flashed by, an electric-blue lightbulb streaking along the water. Sadly for the watching photographers it did not stop to perch - neither on the specially prepared branch nor the "No Fishing" sign that has been recently erected - surely with an amusing Kingfisher photo in mind.

Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers appeared, an adult and a juvenile. Normally these would be considered boldly-marked birds in their own right, but as is so often the case, they were put firmly in their place by the spectacular greens and yellows of a noisy Green Woodpecker.

On the East Marsh Pool, scores of Lapwing tumbled and fought, their strange calls echoing around the reserve. And a lone Green Sandpiper bobbed around the Teal Pool - although not brightly coloured, this is a wader which reveals a brilliant flash of white on its rump as it flies.

But despite all this colour and mayhem, my favourite bird of the morning was almost certainly the most discreet, with its pale brown, cream and black plumage designed to help it disappear into the mud and reeds whenever it so wishes. In fact there were five of these hidden beauties, Common Snipes feeding with their long bills on the edge of Teal and East Marsh Pools.

All quiet on the Leamington front

An after-work walk at Leam Valled tonight showed how quiet nature can be at this time of year. Zip, zilch, nil, nada - not a sausage.
I walked down towards the hide and can't remember actually seeing a single bird - just hearing a few Chiffchaffs calling in the branches nearby. The scrape itself was quiet, with a few Moorhens and Coots scuttling around the edges and the odd Mallard flying in and out.
As I left the hide, I had my one moment of excitement - a sky full of House Martins, perhaps 30 in all, and a single Swallow skimmed the water nearby.
And then a pleasant walk back to the car, past gathering groups of teenagers who looked if anything even more bored than me.

11 August 2007

Draycote and Napton Reservoirs

A good day's birding today, my first longish session for a while.
I got to Napton Reservoir by 7.15am, and although there was still a slight chill in the air, it looked set to be a fabulous day.
By 8.15am the chill had gone and it was already getting hot. Nothing wrong with the birding either - along with the usual collection of Mallards, Coots and Moorhens I was able to find large numbers of young Sedge Warblers (see photos below of two birds in typically hard-to-photo places), Cettis Warblers, a Chiffchaff and several Willow Warblers, a large flock on Linnets, two pairs of Great Crested Grebes, a pair of Reed Buntings, and as I left some Swallows swooping low over the smaller of the two waters.
Moving on to Draycote, I resolved to walk the full circuit, around 5 miles in all. Two hours later and I had added to my morning list as follows: several Lapwing, lots of Coromorants, a few gulls, a juvenile Common Sandpiper, the long-staying Black-throated Diver, and my personal highlight, a Yellow Wagtail (see main photo) - a gloriously bright bird which sat in the sunshine on Draycote Bank and kept a watchful eye over it youngster.
In just over four hours I had found around 40 species, enjoyed some of the best weather of the year, got some much-needed exercise, and secured some nice photographs to remind me of the trip (old camera, in case you were wondering - I still think the FZ20 is a great camera for birding, and I plan to carry on stowing it in the birding bag for all trips where birding, not photography, is the primary plan).

10 August 2007

Kingisher spectacular at Leam Valley

The fine weather has arrived (although who knows for how long) so it was time for a long overdue walk round Leam Valley.
As I might expect at 7pm on a weekday afternoon in August, it was pretty quiet. As I strolled through the reserve there were some tits and finches calling from the foliage, along with the lone Chiffchaff which I managed to find. A Grey Heron watched impassively from a dead tree near the entrance.
Surprisingly, the scrape was quite busy. Half a dozen Mallards snoozed, with one mum looking after two late chicks. Another Grey Heron stalked the water, a few Moorhens and Coots patrolled the margins, and somewhere nearby a Green Woodpecker and a pheasant called noisily.
And after five minutes or so, the star of the show arrived, a Kingfisher with a new meal in his mouth. After first beating the small fish into submission, he dined handsomely and then retreated to a nearby tree to sit and digest it in the late summer sun.