29 September 2009

An away day at Rutland

Oh, it doesn't get better than this! A day off work meaning a third consecutive day's birding - what an indulgence.

So, with Draycote and Leam Valley covered on Saturday and Sunday, and everyone else in the county now squabbling over a big twitch (Aquatic Warbler in the south of the county), I decided to leave them to it and head out of the county. Having weighed up the relative merits of Slimbridge and Rutland Water (both about 90 mins away, one south west and one east) I settled on the latter in the hope of some good passage waders.

And it was pretty good from the word 'go'. I arrived to be told that four Whooper Swans had dropped in overnight, and there they were, right in front of the visitor centre. Not exactly lifers, but the one I had previously seen always seemed a bit doubtful to me, so it was good to bag four absolutely stone-dead legit birds (non-birders might be wondering how a swan can be anything less than legit - sorry, it's a long story).

Also on that first lagoon was a Black-tailed Godwit (with another five spotted in flight shortly after), a Ruff (distant views from here, much closer a little later on), plenty of Egyptian Geese, Little Egrets and Cormorants, and some Lapwing, Green Sandpipers and Redshanks here, there and everywhere.

Moving on to the next lagoon, I was ecstatic to lock straight on to an oncoming raptor - not only was it a Peregrine doing a low pass in front of the hide, but it was playing with / sparring with a Hobby as well. A real result - although I watched a Peregrine in Derby city centre just a few weeks ago, I never see enough and they must be a contender for one of my favourite birds. And as for a Hobby - I'm not actually sure I've seen one at all this year (a sad state of affairs indeed).

Elsewhere I found a small flock of Golden Plover, a male Pintail and a few Shelduck - none of them rare, but none likely to turn up on my patch too often. And to cap it all, I could add Kestrel, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk to the day's sightings, meaning I had seen five raptors in all - there aren't too many days that can be said.

Bird of the day: Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus), a large white swan with a distinctive yellow wedge of colour on its black bill. A spectacular winter vistor.

27 September 2009

Patch treasure - Green Sand and Red Fox at Leam Valley

Back on patch this morning, and feeling much better for it - what a great return to Leam Valley.

Over the years I've grown really fond of this local patch of river, wood and scrape, and it's never more beautiful than early on an autumn morning as the mist lays on the flood plains across the river.

It was quiet at 8am, with even the birds only just starting their day. At first there was just a little Robin song here and there, but gradually the Blue Tits, Wrens and everyone else joined in. As I strolled along the river I startled Moorhen after Moorhen - five in all - and Carrion Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws started to cross hither-and-thither overhead. Half way to the hide I had my first real magic moment - a Red Fox just across the water from me. I froze, watched it pounce unsuccessfully, and then moved into position for a photo. It heard the first shot, turned and looked at me, gave me a great second shot, and then it was off into the undergrowth.

As soon as I sat down in the hide and looked out over the low low water and shallow pools, I knew I needed to leave quickly. Not because of any problem, but because far away to my left I could just make out a wader - I needed to get down to the viewing screen to find out what it was! I half-walked half-ran there, waders being a rare treat indeed at Leam Valley. And there, nice and close was a Green Sandpiper - a migrant I had long hoped to find here, but never had. A Leam Valley tick and a patch tick to-boot. Hurrah.

From then on the birding was great. A pair of Teal nosed around the end of the scrape, a flock of Long-tailed Tits flew past and around me, and Jays busied themselves with their acorn storing. Down at Offchurch Bury weir there was at least one, possibly two, Grey Wagtails, a cock Yellowhammer in all its glory, and a Kestrel being persistently mobbed by a Jackdaw. Finally, as I left, a Chiffchaff sang loudly (and a little unseasonably) from trees near the golf course.

Only 28 bird species (plus a fox), and nothing of spectacular rarity. But still my perfect morning's birding.

Bird of the day: Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), a distinctive, contrasty bird (dark on top, white below) and a classic migrant / winter wader.

26 September 2009

All quiet on the Draycote front

I'll keep this brief. Got up, went to Draycote, walked all the round with scope, 'pod, camera and all, got... precisely bugger all. Well, pretty much bugger all anyway - I suppose the exercise will have done me good.

Bird-wise it was one Common Sandpiper at Rainbow Corner, four Lapwings around Tofts, four or five Yellow Wagtails along Farborough Bank, a pair of low-flying Great Spotted Woodpeckers belting past me on the road by Biggin Bay and pretty much sod all else (to be fair, I am excluding large numbers of Pied Wags, Coots, Tufted Ducks, Little and Great Crested Grebes, Mallards and Teals).

And the only other thing worth mentioning was one sighting I really didn't need - a fisherman who decided to walk from one side of Tofts Bay to the other via the shoreline of the conservation area. Funnily enough that made a quiet sit in the hide a great deal quieter as all the birds quickly buggered off. Smart work Einstein.

Bird of the day: Erm, Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) at a push. A striking bird and always a pleasure to see, but it really shouldn't be a highlight in the middle of autumn migration :-(

19 September 2009

Pectoral Sandpiper and 'barwit' at Draycote

A superb morning's birding.

First of all, Draycote's latest star attraction - a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper - did the decent thing and hung around long enough for me to see it. Despite having been there since Monday, it showed no signs of being in any hurry to move on, and was there to greet me at 7.15am (my earliest start in quite a while). I watched this smart little American bird on my own for quite a while before moving on as the number of birders, and the inevitable photographers, started to grow.

Up at Tofts Shallows there was little to add apart from a solitary Common Sandpiper, so I headed off to Hensborough Bank, my other 'best guess' for a good place for autumn waders. On my way round I found plenty of Yellow Wagtails, a juvenile Shelduck that crossed low over the water, good views of a pair of Meadow Pipits, a Green Woodpecker, hundreds of low-skimming House Martins, a Yellow-legged Gull, and plenty of other diversions. But the wader count looked set to disappoint as Hensborough turned up nothing but a pair of Lapwing.

However, I set the scope up near Rainbow Corner for a final scan, and instantly locked on to a distant godwit - bar-tailed as I worked out through closer examination. So I set myself down on the wall, and waited as it worked its way towards me along the waters edge. Great views of a super wader, and one (I later learned from my records) that I have never seen before in Warwickshire.

With a lifer and a county tick already under my belt, I headed off to Brandon to see whether yesterday's Osprey had hung around. It hadn't, which served me right for trying to push my luck.

Bird of the day: Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos), a scarce passage migrant from America or Siberia. To be honest, I enjoyed finding and watching the 'barwit' more, but the Pec's rarity wins the day and secures it my coveted 'bird of the day' award! I've linked my poor picture (it was early and quite dark) to a better set of photos taken by proper bird photographer Steve Valentine so you can see what it looked like. The larger barwit photo is all my own work though, as are all the others (I particularly liked the three Snipes posing on an otherwise quiet morning at Brandon).

16 September 2009

A Mersey surprise

A city break in Liverpool afforded us the opportunity of a quick dash up the region's bountiful coastline.

We arrived at Crosby Beach (home to Anthony Gormley's art installation Another Place) at high tide, and watched for half an hour as the tide turned and flocks of Redshank, Dunlin and Knot started to gather on the exposed flats.

A quick dash up the coast then took us to Formby, a beautiful stretch of dunes and pine forest with a real star turn - Red Squirrels. I have been to favoured locations for this rare, and endangered, species before and always drawn a blank. With just half an hour to spend at Formby I wasn't at all hopeful. But as I stood in the car park with a cup of tea in hand, I heard high pitched squeals I didn't recognise (always a good sign), looked up, and there were two Red Squirrels bouncing through the tree tops. Hurrah - instant success and good views. If only it was always like that.

Mammal of the day: Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), the 'classic' British squirrel now sadly decimated by disease, habitat loss and competition from the introduced Grey Squirrel.

1 September 2009

Hawker at Home

I arrived home tonight to find this beauty patrolling my drive - a Southern Hawker (unless someone better than I on the subject of dragonflies needs to correct me).

A fabulous thing to find outside your back door - not rare but dazzling nevertheless. To quote the Warwickshire Dragonfly group's website: This is a widespread and common species. It is enterprising and often visits gardens to mature and breed in quite small garden ponds.

Insect of the day: Southern Hawker (Aeshna Cyanea).


The changes in the weather which had brought in one lot of migrants (at Draycote, see previous post) had also encouraged a lot of other migrants to take the next step on their journeys south. So when I arrived at Brandon on Bank Holiday Monday, there was frankly little to see.

The view from Carlton Hide was desolate. Just mud, water, a few Teal, some Stock Doves in the trees and a line of bored photographers all praying for a Kingfisher. Teal Hide revealed some juvenile Moorhens, and River Hide was no better. Where were all the sandpipers (common and green) and the Greenshank which had been reported all last week?

Sadly now gone, so even the main East Marsh Hide was quiet - the resident waterfowl, plenty of Lapwing, a Kestrel hovering overhead, a line of Black-headed Gulls and... bingo, the flash of yellow leg that revealed the final gull as a Yellow-legged Gull. Not a rarity perhaps, but a scarcity, and enough to salvage a desperate days birding at Brandon.

Bird of the day: Yellow Legged Gull (Larus michahellis), only recently recognised as a species in its own right, rather than a sub species of the Herring Gull. They are the same size as Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and adults have darker grey backs and wings than Herring Gulls, but are paler than the lesser black-backs. The real giveaway (if you are able to catch a glimpse of them) is the bright yellow legs (a Herring Gull has pink).

Autumn birding back on patch

The weather has changed - still pleasant enough, but notably cooler and breezier. That means changes in the local birding.

I went to Napton and then Draycote Reservoirs on Sunday morning to see that for myself. Napton was v. v quiet - just Tufties, Coots, Moorhens, a few Great Crested Grebes (along with three juveniles) and the odd Mallard here and there. But Draycote had some of the birds I was expecting to mark the real start of autumn passage.

First were the Yellow Wagtails, perhaps six or seven dotted around. Then I found one of four Wheatears which had been spotted - these little bouncing birds are a real favourite of mine. In the muddy banks of Tofts Bay were a pair of Common Sandpiper, and all over the water were big flocks of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins, gathering to begin preparations for their long migrations south. A Lesser Whitethroat completed my birding morning, although I reportedly missed a Whinchat by not many minutes.

Back in the village, I was later treated to great views of a Sparrowhawk as it flashed around the gardens and houses, startling everything including our last remaining House Martins.

Bird of the day - Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), a colourful little bird with a bright white rump, similar in lots of ways to the Whinchat I enjoyed so much last week.