25 May 2008

Another rainy Bank Holiday in Leamington Spa

The May Bank Holidays have lived up to all the cliches - roads full of traffic, queues in the car parks of DIY stores, and endless rain. Fortunately we birders are made of stern stuff...

Actually I generally avoid birding in the rain at all cost. I think it's an age thing - as a younger man I could be found trekking across mountain ranges in the foulest of weather, but these days I'm more inclined to sit it out and wait for a resumption of drier weather.

Sadly, with nothing but rain forecast for the rest of the long weekend, today presented me with little choice. So having dragged out my old wet weather gear (waterproof jacket, trousers and silly waterproof Aussie-style hat), I set off for a walk to, and round, Leam Valley.

It had actually dried up a little by the time I arrived, and a few of the residents were taking the opportunity for a sing-song - Whitethroat, Blackbirds, Robins, three Chiffchaff, a couple of Song Thrush and Dunnock. When I arrived at the scrape, the drizzle had started to fall once more, so I settled into the hide with some relief. And it was nice to see the scrape about as busy as it gets.

A pair of Mute Swans and their neighbours the Canada Geese both had youngsters in tow - three and four respectively. Two Swallows flew low over the water throughout my stay, joined periodically by a few Swifts and House Martins. Two adult Grey Herons watched on impassively as a youngster stalked methodically around the edge. And all the time, a little colony of Reed Warblers chirruped away, flitting from reedbed to trees and back again.

But I forgot to mention my star bird! Although I come to it last, I actually saw it first, before I even got the reserve - and in fact saw it twice. First, as I was walking out of Radford Semele, I looked up just as its silhouette swept across Lewis Road. "Surely that's a Hobby," I thought to myself as it attempted to pluck a House Sparrow from a rooftop. But with only the briefest of views I decided I couldn't be sure. Then, as I walked down Radford Road towards the reserve, I saw it again, attempting exactly the same manoeuvre with a Starling on a television aerial - again with no success.

It was my first Hobby of the year, and found hunting just a couple of hundred yards from home - a real bird of the day.

Bird of the day: Hobby (Falco subutteo), a sleek elegant falcon which hunts small birds, dragonflies and other large insects. When seen swooping in silhouette like today, it resembles a giant Swift with long, swept back wings.

24 May 2008

Ufton, Harbury and Napton - in a gale!

Although this morning started a little gloomy and overcast, it quickly became a fine and breezy day - perfect for a little patch birding.

I started early at Ufton Fields, and enjoyed a very satisfying stroll. It was truly a walk for the ears, with plenty of strong birdsong to compensate for the difficulty of actually seeing birds in the full summer foliage.

Nearly all of the expected residents were in good voice - three or four Chiffchaffs and a couple of Willow Warblers, three Blackcaps and a couple of Garden Warblers, a Song Thrush, plenty of Robins, a couple of Blackbirds, Blue and Great Tits and the first Sedge Warblers I have ever found at Ufton (and a good number too, judging by the amount of song).

I did manage to lay binoculars on bird a few times though - always nice to see Bullfinchs and Jays, and the Coal Tits that I found were my first for quite a while.

So with 32 species under my belt, I moved on to Harbury Spoilbanks to find... nearly nothing. Highlight of this very short walk was the high density of singing Willow Warblers, perhaps five in just a couple of acres of wood and scrub.

Undeterred, I headed off to Napton Reservoir. Breezy at the best of times, the reservoir seemed to be enjoying a full-on gale this morning, so having given the water a cursory glance (Great Crested Grebe, a pair of Tufties, 20 or so Coots and a pair of Mute Swans with six young), I dived into the better protected fields.

This proved a good move, allowing me to warm up again and to find a few extra species - Swift, House Martin and Swallow, plenty of Skylarks, a Reed Bunting, and a lone Lapwing flying overhead. And then I walked back around the reservoir and left the fishermen to their hurricane.

Bird of the Day: Coal Tit (Periparus ater), a widespread and fairly common little bird, but not always easily found on my patch. It favours coniferous woods, and although it is a fairly drab member of the tit family, it is easily distinguished by its white striped nape. I found the photo above on Flickr by the way (yes, with a Creative Commons licence!). It was taken by simondbarnes, and is an absolute stunner. It's well worth visiting his photostream for plenty more great bird photography.

18 May 2008

Sunshine in West Warwickshire

After a couple of less-than-glorious days in Warwickshire, today started bright and dry (abeit with a stiff cool breeze). Perfect for a morning's birding in West Warwickshire with my occasional birding companion Jon.

Although the main migrant passage seems to have quietened down in the last week or so (just about the same time as I resumed my county birding in fact!) there was still plenty on show for me to enjoy in the farmland, gravel pits and river pools that we visited.

There were plenty of waders on show, although none of the rarer migrants we might have hoped for - having not seen much in the county for six months or so, I was perfectly happy with a haul that included Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Redshank and Lapwing. Overhead were very good numbers of Swifts, some House Martins and the residents of a decent Sand Martin colony.

Several Buzzards and Kestrel flew regularly overhead (although none of the Red-footed Falcons I have been told to look out for), and in the hedgerows and scrubs we gathered a decent haul of smaller birds - including Linnet, Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Wren, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Sedge Warbler, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Chiffchaff and Reed Warbler.

There were a few wildfowl species around - Mallards of course, plus Tufted Ducks, Gadwall and a lone Shelduck.

Add to that a smattering of other species - Grey Heron, Green Woodpecker, Coot, Canada Geese, Stock Dove, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon, Cormorant, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Pied Wagtail for example - and the chance to catch up on a little bit of local birding news from Jon, and you have my ideal kind of Sunday morning.

The photos show a view across the gravel pits, the patterning on some deep-drying mud, and part of the Sand Martin colony.

Bird of the Day: Linnet (Carduelis cannabina), a gorgeous little passerine which favours thick bushes and gorse - it's fairly common locally, but I rarely get close enough for a good look at its colours.

11 May 2008

Leam Valley

This morning was my first real patch walk for months - up and out the house before 7am, and ready to enjoy some absolutely superb weather.

The temperature was warm, the light was lovely and the air was full of the sounds and scents of early summer. It was a real treat for the ears with Wren, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Sedge Warbler and a lone Willow Warbler among my favourite vocalists - but the highlight was a sporadic-singing Cuckoo, my first at Leam Valley.

Other birds on show included a pair of Mistle Thrush, a pair of Tufted Ducks, a few Long-tailed Tit, a male Bullfinch, Green Woodpecker, Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, a pair of Swallows low over the scrape, and a high solitary Swift.

But the real star was the reserve itself and the surrounding countryside - early morning sunlight streaming through the new leaves, the scrape bursting into life with reedbeds beginning to take hold, and yellow being this year's colour on the Offchurch Bury fields (rape seed after last year's blue linseed / flax). No photographs of birds then, but a few bits of scenery - the aforementioned sunlight through leaves, the view from the hide back towards the recently burned St Nicholas Church in Radford, and those fields of rapeseed.

Bird of the day: Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), a striking warbler with a wonderful mellifluous song.

A (very) little bit of April birding in Warwickshire

I've had very few opportunities for birding during April, but here's an overview (if only to keep my notes up to dates).

Early in the month I took a quick walk around Ufton Fields and enjoyed a good numbers of returning Chiffchaffs, a couple of Willow Warblers, a pair of Mistle Thrush, and views of Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

I followed this with a disappointing walk around Napton Reservoir - disappointing because the banks on one side have been completely cut back, leaving the reservoir looking barren and uninviting - and lacking in cover for the variety of birds that can normally be found there. At least I found my first Swallows of the year.

Back in Radford Semele, the Swallows, then House Martins then Swifts arrived (early, mid and late April respectively). My pond continues to attract a pair of Mallards, we have had plenty of Buzzard sightings low over the house, and my best garden birds were a Jay and a Goldcrest (the former a garden tick, and the latter a pretty rare visitor).

Away from my normal patch, my favourite find was a Lapwing flying low over fields near Claverdon, as I drove home from work one evening. I never grow tired of those.

And just before the end of the month, I managed to squeeze in a quick trip to Brandon Marsh, adding a bit of variety to my birding with a few waders (Common Sandpiper, Lapwing and Redshank), waterfowl (including a pair of Shelduck) and sundry others (plenty of Sand Martins).

Bird of the Month: Red Kite (Milvus milvus), a large number of which have been constant companions as I travelled up and down the M40 instead of doing any 'proper' birding!