26 January 2008

Start of Spring at Leam Valley

This was more like it - a stunning morning, complete with a blood-red sunrise, and plenty of the sounds and sights of early spring.

I guess I should explain, since it is still only January. I know technically it isn't spring, but the bird world starts preparing early. Around this time you can expect to hear Great Tits and Song Thrushes (pictured left) calling out, attracting mates and claiming territories. Plumages start to look their best, and the first signs of life can be found on the trees.

And indeed that is what I found at Leam Valley this morning, combined with plenty of remnants of winter - Siskins and Redpolls in the alder trees, Redwings in the hawthorn scrub and Fieldfares flying over. Among the other nice finds for the morning were three Bullfinch, good views of two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, plenty of Goldcrest, two Jays, three Tufted Ducks on the scrape, and a Mistle Thrush, churring loudly as it flew to a nearby tree.

I enjoyed myself thoroughly, with a grand total for a two hour session of 33 species.

Bird of the Day: Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus), a strong, powerful thrush which I don't see too often 'round here.

20 January 2008

A wander 'round Radford Semele

The rain finally relented this morning, holding off (mostly)for long enough for me to take a wander round the fields to the south of Radford Semele.

Things were pretty lively close to the village, and of the 29 species I eventually ended up with, I'd seen 22 before I even got properly into the fields.

Plenty of finches around (Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and a splendid pair of Bullfinches on the village edge), fields full of Fieldfare, Redwing and Starling, two Buzzards flying across the top of Crown Hill and down into the lower fields beyond, and scores of Yellowhammer erupting from trees, fields and hedges as walked back down towards the farm buildings.

Bird of the day: Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), a vivid splash of colour on a grey winter's day.

12 January 2008

Back on patch - Ufton Fields and Napton Reservoir

A great morning's patch birding, starting at Ufton Fields and moving on to Napton Reservoir.

I was inspired to visit Ufton for the first time in quite some time by the new Warwickshire Wildlife Trust reserves guide - a very good book indeed which rates Ufton as one of the best reserves in the trust's repertoire. And indeed it is a very interesting place, not only for the flora and associated invertebrates for which it is renowned, but also for birds - if you look hard and get a little luck.

The key challenge is that the path runs round the perimeter of what is a largish reserve, meaning that anything in the dense and wooded interior is out of sight. Today was a case in point - I found 25 or more Siskin in an alder tree near the edge, but they soon flew towards the middle and I never did see them again. A few minutes later and I would never have known that they were there.

However, today was a more than decent day, with 28 different species including the aforementioned Siskins, a pair of Bullfinch, a couple of Treecreepers, a Buzzard and two Kestrels, fields full of Fieldfare and Redwing, a couple of Song Thrushes (still curiously quiet for mid-January), my first ever Ufton Teal (a male), great views of a Kingfisher, a probable Snipe flying over, and plenty of Goldcrests around the whole site.

The weather was fine, so I pressed on to Napton, a completely different habitat (deep open water) guaranteeing a completely different set of species. And again, no disappointment today - along with a massive 80 Coots was a Cormorant (flying off towards Draycote), 20 or more Common Gulls with a few Black-headed Gulls, a couple of male Pochard, five Great Crested Grebes and a Little Grebe, and a lone Goosander, a splendid male.

With the Wren and House Sparrows that greeted me when I arrived home, this made 43 species in a few hours local birding. Fantastic.

Bird of the day: Goosander (Mergus merganser), a splendidly sleek creature, and a scarce patch bird.

6 January 2008

Me and my Pentax hit Whitacre Heath

After weeks and weeks with no birding and no photography, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and head to Whitacre Heath - a nature reserve in north Warwickshire with excellent opportunties for the many photographers who visit every weekend.

Arriving early to miss the rush (there were at least half-a-dozen big gun lenses on site by the time I left at 11am), I was greeted by the most stunning sunrise - clear red skies melting into vivid blue, frost on the ground and absolute still. It was a belter.

I set up at the car park feeders, and used my car as a mobile hide for half an hour or so, grabbing some nice shots but quickly realising that the light was really still too poor. This was my first real birding trip out with the Pentax K100d with Tamron 70-300di and Tamron 1.4 teleconverter. It's a real budget set-up, costing a fraction of the price of the big 400 and 500mm lenses, but as today was to prove, it's good enough for my requirements. The only real problem being - not great in low light. So I set off for a wander round the reserve until the light improved.

The first thing I managed to do was find the hide that had eluded me on previous visits. This is the one overlooking rough fields, apparently good for all sorts of treats (I have read reports of Stonechat and Curlews at various times of the year, both relatively hard-to-find in Warwickshire, certainly on my south Warwickshire patch). Sadly today found it oh so quiet, so I moved on.

In fact, I won't bother recording much else by way of birding notes. Suffice it to say that I was really out to enjoy the walk more than anything. A Willow Tit at the feeder hide, a couple of Tufties on one of the main ponds, a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers along the way - all pleasant enough, nothing spectacular.

So it was back to the car for a final session behind the lens, picking up a few nice shots of Reed Buntings, Robins and Dunnocks as the light started to improve. Nice to be back out again, getting a bit of exercise for the shutter finger and giving the binoculars a bit of an airing.

Bird of the Day - Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus), for being there when I needed a photographic model.