26 May 2007

Almost a Cuckoo photo

A quick trip to Brandon Marsh near Coventry this morning, partly to get a photograph of a Cuckoo.
Hmmm. I suppose technically I achieved that, but at a distance of about 150 to 200 yards. I'm not sure the resulting photograph is what I had in mind. Still, a nice morning to be out, some nice birds around, plenty of chatty people to brighten up the morning, and a top-notch cooked breakfast.

19 May 2007

Garden birding

While my morning's birding (see The Cubbington Triangle below) was a little lacklustre, my garden birding has surpassed all expectations since moving to this house nearly five years ago.

I mention this now because while gardening this afternoon I not only heard a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker - my first for ages - but also enjoyed the spectacular sight and sound of two Ravens flying low over the garden, calling as they went. These were the first Ravens I have seen in the area since the spectacular occasion some months back when more than a dozen of them gathered on a nearby hill.

This takes my garden list to 46 - 35 in the garden, eight flyovers, and three heard only (Green Woodpecker, Cuckoo and Skylark). Highlights (apart from those three birds) include several Sparrowhawks, a female Pheasant, a fairly regular Hobby high overhead, a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeders, regular Mallards and a Grey Heron (my pond, while created to attract nature, is both small and relatively new), and a collection of warblers including Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap (a regular winter visitor).

While not small, the garden is certainly no more than a regular suburban size, with about half given over 'to nature' - a pond, longer grass, feeders etc. All in all I'm pretty chuffed with the results - you can add hedgehogs, smooth newts, frogs and toads to the list, plus stuff I'm sure I never see. I'll be intrigued to see what birds take me to 50!

The Cubbington Triangle

I headed to the northern end of my patch today - the walk from Weston-under-Wetherley to Cubbington and back, via Cubbington Woods and the surrounding farmland.

This is a lovely walk, mostly on permissive paths and land which is sympathetically managed for nature by the local farm owner. It was a lovely way to spend a bright and breezy May morning, even if the birding was curiously lacklustre.

Most of the usual birds were on show, but not in huge numbers. Swallows swooped and Skylarks trilled, with a few Yellowhammer, Linnet and Whitethroat to keep me company as I followed the hedgerows. The woods were quiet, with only Wrens and Chaffinches really calling. I scanned in vain for the Spotted Flycatchers which were the highlight of the area in previous years, but had to settle for a few Blackcaps and a nice view of a singing Garden Warbler. Ho hum, c'est la birding vie.

12 May 2007


After a few weeks of mega rarities across the Midlands (while I wasn't able to get out) the natural order is restored and the birding has become that little bit more predictable (yup, you guessed it - now I'm back).

Feeling a little lazy, I chose to go to Brandon Marsh this morning (it is quite close to home, not too far a walk round, and has a tearoom serving great cooked breakfasts).

As far as I could tell there was nothing particularly out-of-the-ordinary to find, but it was still a lovely morning and I thoroughly enjoyed myself - it was my first lengthy trip to Brandon for what seems like ages.

There were warblers calling everywhere - Blackcaps; Chiffchaffs Whitethroat; Willow, Reed, Garden and Sedge Warblers were all in glorious effect. I was hoping for a cuckoo photo, but although one showed briefly and distantly, there was no hope of a picture. Instead I was pleased to get this Sedge Warbler shot, my first of this distinctive and noisy warbler.

Other highlights included: a massive influx of Swifts, now well and truly returned; a pair of Oystercatchers looking after a brood of four chicks; the Common Terns and Lapwings on East Marsh Pool; and great views of a Garden Warbler on East Marsh track (I tend to hear a great many more of these than I ever see).

6 May 2007

Hare today...

I spent a couple of early hours at the southern end of my walkable patch this morning - the fields and farmland around Radford Semele.

There was plenty of wildlife to complement the woodland and riverside birding I did yesterday at Leam Valley. Yellowhammer were much in evidence, cock birds sitting high on hedgerows and singing lustily. A Willow Warbler joined in from a patch of woodland near the village, and the well-hidden village pond harboured a Grey Heron, Moorhen and two Mallards.

Further out from the village I was delighted to find four Lapwings flying about. Although they are relatively common in local farm fields during the winter months, they are getting scarce across the county as a breeding bird. A lot of work has gone into encouraging farmers to operate in a manner that is helpful to birds like Lapwings, so who knows - perhaps this is a sign of better things to come.

A Buzzard patrolled overhead, a Kestrel scoured the hedgerow edges for prey, and high over them both were a good number of trilling Skylarks.

There were plenty of other birds on show, including some favourites like Whitethroat, a Green Woodpecker, and the recently arrived Swallows. But the final words goes to the mammals, perhaps fittingly after yesterday's fox and muncjac deer sightings.

As I returned home along the main farm track, three 'lumps' in a ploughed field turned out to be Brown Hares, and I was able to spend a good 15 minutes watching two males sparring over a female. She was clearly, and submissively, in the 'possession' of one of the males, a situation not entirely accepted by the other. Sadly for him his repeated attacks had got him nowhere near her - I left him regaining his breath and considering fresh strategies.

The photo is not, you may have noticed, of a hare in a ploughed field. Correct. This, as they say, is one I took earlier. In fact, it's perhaps worth saying that I had no camera with me for the whole weekend - something I wasn't much looking forward to. However, I think it did free me up to be a more acute observer - so if you're a birdwatcher reading this and in the habit of taking your camera everywhere (as I am), why not leave it at home every now and again - you might be surprised how it changes your birding experience (PS. I'm taking no responsibility if an incredibly rare bird perches photogenically in front of you on that day).

5 May 2007

Leam Valley on form

Leam Valley was on fine form this morning, offering good views of some of the bird species which can be locally scarce (or at least hard to see).

Spring is in full effect now, and for the birding world this means an explosion of warblers. These fine songsters are generally spring and summer visitors which arrive from late March onwards - they prefer to spend their winters in southern Europe and Africa.

Those on view today were plenty of Blackcaps (I saw three males and one female, and heard another three singing), three or four singing Chiffchaffs, a couple of Willow Warblers, half a dozen Whitethroats and two Reed Warblers.

Given their spectacular red-and-black plumage, Bullfinches can often be elusive. So today I was pleased to find not one but three splendid males, all giving good views. Similarly bright were the two Grey Wagtails I found on the bank of the river, the Kingfisher which flashed away from me at Offchurch Bury weir, the two Green Woodpeckers I watched near the scrape, and the cock Yellowhammer which sat high on a hedge singing its famous little song.

In among the Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits was a single Coal Tit, a bird which shows only rarely at Leam Valley - something it has in common with the Reed Bunting female that joined it.

And the morning's entertainment was not confined to the birdlife - I also got great views of a fox as it trotted around the edge of the wetlands (putting various birds to flight, but being frightened off by a belligerent Mute Swan), found a Muncjac Deer on a footpath in the woods, and spotted a shoal of sizeable Chub swimming together in the shallows.

And as I left, rounding off a very good morning indeed, two Swifts arrived overhead - my first this year.

41 species of bird, two mammals and a fish - plus, as my new pedometer told me, 7 miles, 15,000 steps and nearly 1,000 calories expended. Certainly beats going to a windowless gym for my exercise.