24 October 2015

A long weekend

Birding on Saturday AND Monday - oh the indulgence of it.

Saturday morning was bleak and grey at Leam Valley, but warm enough. I was hoping for some early autumn movement, and wasn't disappointed. 

A good haul of birds included my first siskins of the year, a small flock of maybe six to 10 birds. Among them was also my first lesser redpoll of the season.

Down on the scrape the teal numbers had grown, with still more birds emerging bright and cheerful from drab eclipse. Three fieldfare flew overhead, a large flock of goldcrest gathered towards the rear of the site, and jays crissed-crossed the whole time.

Incredibly autumnal then, if it wasn't for the final find of the day - the distinct, if faltering, sound of chiffchaff song. Presumably a first winter male, trying out its new vocal abilities having either moved south already or lingered late. A bizarrely summery note on which to finish the session.

Monday was a rare 'spare' annual leave day, so J and myself headed to RSPB Middleton for a proper day out. 

Our aim was 50 species, and we were pleased to reach that by the time we got back to the car. 

While I had been hoping to break my long-standing habit of missing / dipping bramblings (I didn't), and I later became aware we had missed the only passage wader on site (a ruff), it was still a decent haul. 

Highlights included more siskin, a redpoll, a couple of snipe, four or more little egrets, a sparrowhawk and at least three stonechat, possibly more - for a while we just kept bumping into them, which is always nice.

Bird of the weekend: Siskin (Carduelis spinus), a lively and pretty little finch, an autumn / winter visitor only in these parts. One of the easier autumn specials to find (just locate your nearest riverside alders) but still a thrill every time. 

18 October 2015

Midweek moments

Lunchtimes, mornings and evenings after work - this time of year is all about making the most of the light before the clocks go back at Halloween.

A quick lunchtime walk around Langley threw up a healthy handful of hedgerow, farm and field birds, with highlights including goldcrest, nuthatch, a pair of yellowhammer, marsh tit (in its usual run of shrub) and three coal tits. 

Over at the lake, the cormorants have returned - a peak of nine last week, just a couple around this time. 

A lunchtime dash around Leam Valley the next day was strangely quiet - strange that is until I realised there was a working party and two tractor-pulled mowers on site. The birds, quite wisely, seemed to have vacated until the work was done.

However, there were still half-a-dozen teal on the scrape, great views to be had of a female kestrel and, as I headed back for the car park, a grey wagtail sitting motionless on an apple bobbing in a shallow stream / ditch.

An early evening walk round Napton at the end of the week was little more productive - a great crested grebe was the only new bird on the water since my last trip. 

However, the evening was notable for my first autumnal flock of fieldfares, perhaps 25 of them dashing away in the middle distance. I saw the same number again past my back garden on Saturday morning, meaning the autumn is now most definitely here.

Bird of the week: Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris), a large, bright and bold winter thrush; very much a herald of autumn and a welcome part of Britain's winter landscape.

11 October 2015

Pushing ourselves

Today was a birding day, but I'm going to start with a reflection on fishing: my brother always catches more than me.

So why is that? Well, it would be churlish of me not to factor in his superior skill and experience (and I do so hope he never reads this). But another factor is definitely his sheer will to catch. While I'm looking at darkening skies and packing away, he'll be looking at those same skies and thinking: "there's another hour in this; still time for the big one." And so it often proves.

All of which I mention because I think this self-same will to win / optimism / cussedness is an admirable philosophy which can be equally well applied to many other ventures in life - not least birding. So today, whenever I felt like calling it a day, I told myself to stick it out and wait until I caught - I mean found - the big one. And the result was... well, this.

It was a stunning morning as I left the house at 07:30, the mist draped over hedgerow and field and a huge red sun rising over the treetops. When the last of that mist dissipated shortly after I arrived at Napton Reservoir it revealed nothing much, a lone pochard the only non-regular on or near the water.

Instead I spent a fruitful couple of hours hedge and field bashing, hoping (with little expectation) for a yellow-browed warbler but settling instead for some 1st winter yellowhammers, bullfinch, linnet, meadow pipit, a mistle thrush, my second lone redwing of the week and a magnificent sky full of sky larks. Flyovers included raven, a grey wagtail and two pairs of swallow stragglers.

You can't fault the view from
Brandon's Badger Tearoom :-)
Thirty-four species isn't a bad haul for a couple of hours on a small patch, but I still had an appetite for more birds. And for a full English breakfast, which - not at all coincidentally - is how I started my visit to Brandon Marsh.

The breakfast was great, but the sightings board and book didn't look quite so promising. With little having been reported over recent days I was beginning to think I should have made the trip up to Middleton Lakes RSPB on the off-chance that the GWE came back (it didn't).

Still, I told myself, Brandon is a big reserve - there could be anything out there, just waiting to be discovered. Hmmm. After another couple of hours my 'big' find (apart from the welcome site of the recently arrived wigeon) had been a couple of well-hidden snipe on east marsh - my first waders for the day, but not much to show for 4+ hours out and about.

So I decided to make a final stand at Jury Hide - here I vowed to sit until something really interesting dropped in (a peregrine or marsh harrier perhaps, or maybe even the now-mobile GWE!)

To be fair it only took 10 minutes of steely determination (ahem) before I spotted the tiniest movement in the hedges right at the back of the reedbed. A quick scope scan revealed a vivid male stonechat, clear as day even at 200 yards. He was quickly joined by a female and, after a few minutes watching them bounce along that hedgerow, I could finally head home happy that I had indeed seen the day through to a decent conclusion.

Bird of the day: Common Sni... nah, just kidding. It was Stonechat (Saxicola torquata), a long-time favourite of mine. October / November is the best time to find them in this part of the world, and Brandon Marsh as good a spot as any.

3 October 2015

It's not great, but it's mine

I suspect Leam Valley would be few birders' idea of a great patch. Certainly few 'serious' birders.

Despite a reasonable smattering of different habitats, this local nature reserve has proved a tough challenge over many years. Rewards have been modest, with the stand-out discoveries (modest as they have been) significantly outnumbered by visit after visit of same-old same-old mundanity.

It was only as I crossed the entrance footbridge just before 8 o'clock this morning that I realised just how much I'd missed it all :-)

Eerily still, grey but mild, it was a lovely morning to be out and about - even more so given the many-months break since I last ventured forth with binoculars.

The regulars all welcomed me back in turn. In the first dead tree a buzzard loomed large over a squabbling magpie and a great spotted woodpecker. Not much further along the river was a second buzzard and several green woodpeckers.

As ever I was hoping for waders at the scrape. As (nearly) ever there were none. But I was pleased to see a dozen or more female teal busily feeding, and even more pleased when I noticed the lone wigeon on the near shore - a female, and from memory only my second or third here.

Winter wildfowl briefly gave way to summer again as 6 swallows flew west; and then I stumbled across my bird of the day, a late - albeit not bizarrely so - yellow wagtail busily feeding alongside house sparrows and yellowhammers in a nearby ploughed field. Sadly it's not a bird I see much locally, apart from Draycote Reservoir's annual influxes - from memory I can recall a flock near Radford Semele, one of two birds at Ufton Fields and now this one.

Other finds of note were my first redwing of the year (high overhead), several nuthatch, and an intriguing snatch of explosive call which may well have been a cettis warbler. If so, it would another first for this site - I shall certainly be back soon to investigate further.

Bird of the day: Yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava), a lovely little bird which is all too rare as a breeding bird in Warwickshire these days, having suffered terribly from changing agricultural practice, draining and replanting of meadows and so on. A familiar tale for all-too-many species.