26 April 2009

Immigrant Song

I had the misfortune to have a BNP leaflet pushed through my letter box the other day - a misfortune indeed since no one wants to find a pile of excrement on their doormat first thing in the morning (or indeed at any other time of the day). After allowing myself the briefest moment to be thoroughly sickened by the lies and bile, I did the only thing a decent human being could - I tore it into tiny pieces and submitted it for compost. At least some good may eventually come of it in this form.

I only mention the incident because it came back to me when I realised I had just spent the most beautiful Warwickshire morning surrounded by African immigrants. Birds of course, and I'm pretty sure even the BNP doesn't object to bird migration, but who knows what idiocy their stupidity and lack of basic human decency might lead them to?

Anyhow, back to the birds. Brandon Marsh was alive with recently arrived migrants. The warblers included Reed, Sedge and Willow, Chiffchaffs and Whitethoats, as well as the resident Cetti's. All were singing loudly, but sadly there were no Grasshopper Warblers reeling along with them. Over the Newlands reedbeds I saw Buzzards being mobbed and a pair of Kestrels courting, and then I headed off to the pools.

Here I found more recent arrivals - a Ringed Plover and a pair of Little Ringed Plover, a pair of Oystercatchers, three Redshanks, five or six Common Terns, and a small flock of Sand Martins. It was a lovely morning with good weather, good company and plenty of variety. And I finished on a thoroughly 'English' note - my breakfast being of the full English variety. Nothing wrong with this sudden outbreak of patriotism of course, because patriotism isn't the same thing at all as nationalism - as has been often said, a patriot loves his country while a nationalist hates the other person's country. It is a distinction people would do well to remember before stuffing leaflets through my letterbox.

Bird of the day: Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius), a beautifully marked migrant wader with a striking orange eye ring.

25 April 2009

The nature garden

When I bought my house six or seven years ago, part of the appeal was the garden. It's a decent size, it was then a blank canvas (entirely laid to lawn except for a couple of mature trees at the bottom), and it is close enough to open farmland to have decent potential as a nature garden.

Now, all those year's later, I'm finally getting to grips with it. The smart family end near the house looks OK, with flowers and shrubs doing what they are supposed to. But it's the nature area that excites me: with wildflowers like Red Campion in abundance; a mature and natural-looking pond stuffed to the brim with newts, frogs, toads and myriad insects; bird visitors aplenty; Pipistrelle Bats in the summer months; and the odd surprise every now and again.

We've enjoyed a couple of those surprises in the past few days. Our irregular Mallard pair (a sure sign of a mature pond!) have been back more and more frequently, much to the delight of Charlie; and then tonight I got dragged outside into the garden by my wife to investigate a loud rythmic snuffling sound. Fortunately it wasn't the rapid dog we both feared - instead by torchlight we found a pair of amorous hedgehogs availing themselves of the shrub bed nearest the house. I hadn't actually seen a hedgehog in the garden for a few years, so I'm delighted to have them back.

Mammal of the day: European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), Britain's only spiny mammal. Generally solitary and non territorial, but mighty loud when 'courting'.

23 April 2009


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19 April 2009

Blackcaps at Leam Valley

April 2009 has been far from the cruelest month in Warwickshire - despite the occasional storm it has generally been warm and bright, a welcome respite after the relentless grey of a British winter.

Today has been no exception - to prove the point, I have just come in from pottering around the garden in shorts. Taking advantage of the unseasonable pleasantry, I was out this morning for a spot of birdwatching at Leam Valley.

The changes from my last visit were largely in the type of birdsong. The Great Tits and Song Thrushes that dominate in late winter / early spring have now been replaced by Blackcaps and Wrens, plus the relentless Chiffchaffs.

In fact today was the day of the Blackcap, with five singing males all giving good views, and one shuffling past with a female in tow.

The Blackcaps were the highlight of a generally average trek round the reserve itself, so I headed off down to Offchurch Bury for a bit of variety - and was instantly rewarded with a Green Woodpecker, a male Bullfinch, a cock Yellowhammer, a couple of Skylarks and an unidentified pair of wagtails (I see a fair few greys down there, but this looked to have a shorter tail - perhaps it was the yellow I've looked there for in vain for so long).

Bird of the Day: Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), a common and distinctive warbler with a lovely little song that sounds a little like a hurried and confused Blackbird (to my ears anyway).

5 April 2009

Essex boy - Abberton and Fingringhoe

I took full advantage of a weekend in Essex with trips to Abberton Reservoir on Saturday and Fingringhoe reserve on Sunday.

The weather was grey, cool, windy and even momentarily wet on Saturday morning, although it did brighten significantly by lunchtime. The hostile weather meant that standing on the causeways wasn't much fun, so although I lingered long on the first (finding nothing), I paused only briefly on the second. I soon scuttled back however, when the visitor centre boards told me there were four summer-plumaged Slavonian Grebes close by!

Sure enough, I found three of the four just 20m or so from the roadside, and braved the wind long enough to admire this showy little specimen and take a (very bad) record photo through a furiously vibrating 'scope.

All in all it was a grand morning, with 50 or so species on show including: Cettis Warbler, Bullfinch, Linnet (a pair of a bird I don't often see these days), Ruddy Duck (among a full complement of wildfowl including lingering Goldeneye), Egyptian Goose and a fantastic low-flying displaying piping pair of Oystercatchers.

Sunday was a completely different day, with beautiful weather from first to last. It made for a virtually perfect morning's birding, from which highlights included: a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by a Carrion Crow for 10 minutes or more, eight or more little Egrets on the salt marshes, Red-legged Partridges courting loudly and visibly all around me, a flock of Sandmartins overhead (my first this year), Blackcaps singing all around, and (out in the estuary) big flocks of Black-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Redshanks, gulls of all kind, Black Brant Geese, Curlews and Oystercatchers.

Bird of the weekend: Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus), only my second sighting, and my first in 'proper' plumage. A small but striking grebe with wonderful yellow 'ears'.