Thursday, 30 April 2009

A bit of a Lark

Thursday 30th April 2009

I'm not very good at 'twitching'. Although I've been on a fair few over the years. I dither, and try to talk myself out of making the effort to go. I'm Lucky in that Ive got alot of very good birding friends who I could get a lift with but I put off asking until its too late. So when a Crested Lark is identified at Dungeness, Kent yesterday evening I decide to stop twitching. When its still there this morning I start again. Trouble is when I phone round now everybody is already there.
Anyway I respond to a pager message put out by a couple of lads from Lancashire. We arrange to meet at Corley services at 11.00ish and travel on from there. We arrived early afternoon and as we got out of the car saw a large, deep bodied Lark fly over our heads calling. It dropped down behind some Broom and the reaction of mass of of birders who were hurrying towards us confirmed that it was in fact the Crested Lark. The bird soon flew out into the open but was difficult to see in the heat haze. The next hour was spent trying to see the bird on the ground, but usually just as I got my scope on it, it flew, usually some distance. The gallery didnt help matters my following the bird about but on the other hand the bird was rarely in the open for any length of time and was hidden by vegetation so it was necessary to get into position to see along the shingle ridges. Finally I got some excellent views of the bird on the ground and retired to the cafe at the miniature railway station for a cup of tea and a sandwich.( I'd left my Gale's pastie at home). The Lancashire lads Paul and Dave were good company and we all had a good day. Arriving late we didn't have much time for general birding, but we did see Marsh Harrier, Wheatear, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Yellow Wagtail and Linnet.
P.S. The images of Crested Lark were taken in Lesbos two years ago. The Dungeness bird was nowhere near as obliging.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

A second chance

Tuesday 28th April
Having bemoaned the fact that you only get one chance of some species on passage in Warks. a Bar tailed Godwit (152) spent most of the day on Cliff pool, Kingsbury probably the same bird I missed yesterday. So what do I know.
Limited time for Birding today but I had to drive through the Tame valley area, so I was able to pick up the Godwit going out and the Greenshank (153) at Lea Marston coming back. Other birds seen today included Hobby (154) over Cliff pool and one between Dordon and Wood End. Also a Garden warbler (155) at Coton was a first for the year. I must say that the lines of communication about interesting birds in the Tame valley at the moment is brilliant. Thanks in no small part to Tom Perrins but also to a number of enthusiastic Tame valley birders many old hands but several very welcome newcomers willing to share their finds. Other areas of Warwickshire should take note.
The Cranes have raised the issues of County boundaries again. Did you get that..Cranes - raised, never mind. Im happy, having looked at local maps that the Cranes were in Warwickshire albeit briefly. To be absolutely sure it will be necessary to triangulate their position taking a line from Skan hide and Pete Softly's position at the North pit. Only then can the record be passed on to the County recorder.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Common Crane in the Tame valley.

Monday 27th April 2009

County year listing can be great fun but it can also be extremely frustrating in a County such as Warwickshire. Many passage migrants particularly Pelagic species only pass through the County in small numbers, if at all. I've been county year listing since 2000 when I fancied doing something different for the Millenium. My best year was 2001 when I saw 180 species within the existing Warwickshire boundary. 2001 was a great year for wader species in the Tame valley. Since then I've been trying to top that total.
Today the signs looked good, a recent movement of waders through inland counties, the possibility of a rare Tern, heavy rain across the Midlands from west to east. Something had to happen, and it did but not quite what was expected.
It had to be a hide day, although Cliff pool is nowhere near as productive as the pools further north the view from the hide is excellent. A lone Common Sandpiper was the only wader present but I did get a Warks tick in the form of a Common Swift(149). I was joined by Pete Softly. When the rains eased Pete was eager to explore further north, I was eager to have my lunch. I was already on the move when Pete texted to say there was a Cuckoo near the Canal. As I approached the first bridge the Cuckoo (150) could be heard towards Middleton Hall and from thr bridge the bird could be seen high in a poplar tree. Just as I got to the Fisher's Mill viewpoint I had a phonecall from Pete this time informing me he was watching a Bar tailed Godwit and a Whimbrel flying over Fisher's Mill. Panic. Where ? I didn't see them, missed them by seconds. No big deal I hear you say well maybe not if I lived in an East coast County but that was probably my only chance of Bar tailed in Warks. B....r. So the only thing I could do would be to head back to Cliff pool in the hope they had landed there, but not before watching a Hobby over Dosthill N.R. small consolation.
As soon asI entered the hide I knew there was nothing of interest, the birders had the Kingsbury look which comes from spending too long looking at Black headed Gulls. Apparently though the Whimbrel had been seen but flown off before I arrived. Just gets better doesn't it. Well actually........Another call from Pete - that boy was having a day and a half. He spluttered out the words 'Common Crane, 2 circling Dosthill' -Bloody 'ell. I repeated Petes words to the 4 other blokes in the hide and bins and scopes were trained on the skies. Brilliant, there they were, 2 Common Cranes (151) quite high but circling slowly. At one point they started to come towards us but then flew more directly towards the east.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

East Mids rules

Saturday 25th April 2009

Confirmation the group of Whiskered terns at Willington gravel pits just south west of Derby were still there this morning had me driving north early on. The steady rain was encouraging but even as the skies brightened as I arrived the birds showed no sign of moving on. I attempted to take a few photos as the rain fell began to fall again. A steady stream of birders undaunted by the rain, arrived on site, drawn by the unique opportunity to see such a large number of Whiskered terns. I counted 8 birds but some said 10 and my photograph would appear to show 9. There was clearly a good deal of migration occuring with up to 10 Swifts overhead, 2 Hobby, a Whinchat in the meadows and Lesser Whitethoat and Grasshopper warbler singing along the lane. At one point as the skies brightened again the terns suddenly started calling as they flew off low to the South. We assumed they had gone but half an hour later they were back. Much to the relief of many latecomers including Mr Perrins taking a break from his training for the London Marathon and looking very smart in trainers and shorts.
A slight detour on the way back took me to Cossington meadows near Leicester, the temporary home of 2 Pectoral Sandpipers. A lovely spot next to the river. One of the Sandpipers had disappeared overnight and the remaining bird kept its distance on the far side of the scrape. Other birds at this site were Little ringed Plover, Redshank and Little Egret.
Time for a quick cup of tea at home before setting off again to Ladywalk N.R. where a couple of Ruff (148) had dropped in. I also tried for a Whimbrel reported at Marsh Lane N.R. but no sign. Still I couldn't complain it had been a lively and rewarding days birding. Although it seems the East Mids is getting all the birds at the moment, Im sure the West Mids will have its day in the not too distant future.

Friday, 24 April 2009


24th April 2009

Having introduced the world to the Church End Ten yesterday , although there were only 7 on parade, I must add that one of our aims is to sample and judge Savoury meat pies. To this end we have an annual award ceremony when marks are added up and the Pie of the year Award presented. We like our Pork pies, as you can probably tell, but we are but amateurs compared with my friends in Leicester to whom pie appreciation is almost a religion.
I hadnt realised just how seriously pie judging is taken and that there was a National Association dedicated to the British pie. It is good to know that in the currant climate of economic and social gloom good British beer and good British pies are thriving. Cheers!
Only birds noted today in the Tame valley were Black necked Grebe, Common Sandpiper and Little ringed Plover.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

St George's Day Special

St George's Day
Just off for a St George's Day drink at the Church End Brewery. Full report on this and the Nuneaton Wood warbler to follow.
Started the day at Ladywalk in the vain hope of catching up with a reported Garganey. Saw Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher and Grey Wagtail on the river but no sign of the Garganey. Moved on to Marsh Lane and saw 2 pairs of Little ringed Plover, Redshank, Common tern, Common Snipe, Tree Sparrow and Peregrine. I was beginning to ponder my next move when I got a call from Steve Cawthray relaying a message from John Harris that there was a Wood warbler at Windmill Hill Community Nature reserve, Nuneaton. What a great find in an underrated location. On arrival there was no sight or sound of the warbler at the specific location given so with nobody else around I broadened the search but it was when I came back to the Oak tree near the pond that I heard the distinctive trill of the Wood warbler (147). It moved slowly amongst the leaves high up in the tree only giving brief glimpses. Other locals arrived John Galletly, Mark Maddox and Richard Dawkins but the bird became more elusive in mid afternoon. Other birds seen at Windmill Hill included, Lesser Redpoll, Raven, and Treecreeper

To mark St George's day my drinking friends at the Church End Brewery decided to exhibit their patriotism by pursuing the old English custom of drinking beer. Seemed a sensible thing to do in a Brewery. To make it special we agreed to wear red and white. Nothing too demanding but a gesture of our pride in our heritage.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

A quiet day

Green-veined White

Wednesday 22nd April 2009

Not alot to get excited about apart from the weather. Pottered about Alvecote and then Kingsbury Water park and Fishers Mill. Reduced to photographing Mallard chicks and an aerial dual between a Sparrowhawk and a Magpie in which it was difficult to tell who was chasing who.

4 Common tern on Mill pool, Alvecote
Common Sandpiper, Sedge warblers, Cliff pool, Kingsbury
Little Egret, Fishers Mill

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Brandon Marsh

Tuesday 21st April 2009

Again it was a question of grabbing a bit of Birding as and when and I had a couple of hours at Brandon Marsh in the morning. It was a lovely day to be out, and bird song filled the air with Cetti's, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat(145), Willow warbler, Sedge and Reed warbler (146) all demanding attention at Newlands. In the New Hare covert Alban Wincott found a male Brambling in the canopy, unfortunately it chose to stay high up but its splendid breeding plummage could still be appreciated. On East Marsh there was a single Common Tern, while waders were represented by Oystercatcher, Ringed plover, Snipe and Redshank.

Monday, 20 April 2009

No briefs encounter

Monday 20th April 2009
Didn't start Birding till gone 6.00pm on Sunday. So it was a quick dash to Brandon Marsh to dip Whimbrel and then on to Draycote Water for the Slavonian Grebe. I went through the usual dilemma do I really want/need to go etc. but the football was pretty dire so I went for it. I was rewarded by a cracking Slavonian Grebe in full breeding plummage. Its got to be my favourite Grebe.
Today was another late start.The weather was almost too good for passage birds to drop in but you just never know. So there I was looking for warblers round the back of Coton pool when I flushed a White-cheeked Sunworshiper. Frightened the life out of me. Quite rare in the Midlands but more sightings are being reported away from the normal beach habitat in the South. Something to to with Global warming I think. Luckily I had my sunglasses on or the sudden flash of white flesh might have done me a mischief. I had to use all my fieldcraft to back away to prevent further disturbance and embarassment.
After checking Haunch Lane, I moved on to Cliff pool, Kingsbury for some peace and quiet not. The highlight of the visit was Brian Kington doing impressions of John Harris. Unbelievable, and whats even more amazing, the last time I met John at Draycote he was doing impressions of Brian Kington. Should be on the stage that pair. Oh yes there were a few birds : the Med. gull was in its usual spot and a Goosander and Common Sandpiper were on the islands.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

The White throated Sparrow in Hampshire

Saturday 18th April 2009

Travelled down to near Petersfield in Hampshire with Julian, Tom and Adam with the intention of seeing a long staying White throated Sparrow, a new bird for low lister Tom. After some initial Birding gossip down the M40 we, or rather they got down to some serious verbal abuse. It was done fairly, everyone got their fair share of insults. By the time we got to Oxford the initial signs of insult fatigue was setting in and when we were distracted by our first Red Kite just north of Newbury things had calmed down. Julian was making good progress with Adam navigating but we were brought to a sudden halt by an adult male Hen Harrier quartering fields near Petersfield.
The car park at our destination was full but there were surprisingly few people waiting for the Sparrow to appear, which it duly did as we joined them. It was partially hidden but its head pattern and colour was stunning. It then disappeared for nearly one and a half hours but it was worth the wait for the White throated Sparrow as it feed out in the open in front of us. Old Winchester Hill Nature reserve is a wonderful location and other birds seen there included Red Kite and Marsh tit. We had a little wander to look Ring Ouzels which had been seen earlier but with no success.

Decisions had to be made: there was talk of food, Burger King was mentioned but I'd been encouraged to purchase a Rowley's pork pie from the brewery by Steve Haynes the previous evening for just such an occasion. Timing was everything. The team planned to go back via Farmoor Res. to get the Bonaparte's Gull and stop just before Oxford - I couldn't wait that long, the pie had to go.

We headed back, stopping off at Dix pit not far from Farmoor. We had Black necked Grebe, a pair of Scaup, Red Kite and a Little Egret in the Cormorant colony. When we got to Farmoor birders were starting to assemble for the Gull roost. There was time for a bit of general Birdwatching as we waited for the Bonaparte's to appear with a White wagtail as well as a number of Pied, Yellow and a Grey Wagtail. Over the water was a good number of Common tern and 4 Little Gulls. Just as well there was something else to see as the Bonapartes failed to appear as dusk fell. No complaints though, we'd seen alot of interesting birds during the day and had a bit of fun!

Friday, 17 April 2009

A day too late

Friday 17th April 2009

Yesterday was a doing things and visiting sort of day, although I did have to shoot off up the road(A5)to check out a Marsh Harrier which had been reported over fields around Hartshill sewage farm. I also had a quick look in at Coton late in the day where I saw my first Warwicks. Whitethroat(142).
Today I had to give Draycote a go after the unbelievable list of species which were seen there yesterday. Weather conditions were similar except there was no heavy rain. Heavy rain does seem to be an important factor in the appearance of paleagic species at Draycote. Today the mist hung over the water and a walk along Farnborough bank produced a promising start with 2 Wheatears, a Sedge warbler and Whitethroat. Despite the poor visability the familiar shape of John Harris - a stranger to these parts, could be made out. We scanned the water and amongst the Black headed Gulls were groups of Terns and Little Gulls. We reckoned there were 9 Arctic terns and a couple of Common terns. There were 10 Little Gulls, 5 1st summer and 5 Adult. We were joined by Mike Inskip as we made our way along Toft bank. We came across 5 Dunlin feeding along the waters edge. Mike took us on a tour around the reservoir we saw a few more Yellow wagtails and a Common Sandpiper near the windsurfing area. Mike and John dropped me off at the Coffee van and went on to explore Napton. As the weather brightened I walked round to the inlet, a single Great northern Diver was visible. The only other bird of note was a Peregrine falcon over the Sailing club car park.

Ok thats the bird stuff out of the way but there were other sights of interest including a remote controlled lawn mower and a thigh powered perambulator. I cant think of a better description. It was a cross between a child's scooter and ski's. Presumably it was an exercise machine for developing the adductor group of muscles, or inner thigh muscles. Down boy. I thought it was worth a photo anyway.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Bit of a Cock up

Wednesday 15th April 2009

Enjoyed the Football last night, great entertainment. The weather forecast looked promising for Birding today and when the first few messages on the pager came through including a movement of Arctic terns in the East Midlands it was time to get going. I had intended to go to Shustoke Res. first but after a quick look round Piccadilly I ended up at Coton. The weather had deteriorated with a now strong easterly wind and squally showers. A mist had also descended which lasted into the afternoon. This weather report is vital evidence in the story about to unfold. From the hide I soon picked out an Arctic tern amongst the Black headed gulls. I was looking out of the side window of the hide to get some relief from the wind. There was a steady stream of Lesser black backs going through and a more slender looking gull with all black wing tips which I took to be a Kittiwake. The gull continued in an easterly direction. I reported my findings to the voice of the Tame who relayed the info on. I moved on to check Bodymoor Heath water There were 10 Common tern on the Sailing club pool and 4 Common tern and a Grey Wagtail on Bodymoor Heath.

At Cliff pool I met up with Keith Warmington and Ron Thomas, the Mediterranean Gull was good value acting the playground bully. A phone call saying there was a Kittiwake sitting on the water at Shustoke had me scurrying off. The rain was quite heavy when I got to the reservoir but I assembled my scope to look at the only gull at the west end of the water. I was convinced it was a Kittiwake, Yellow/green bill all black primaries dainty posture. Other birders arrived and concurred, I took a few images out of habit for the old blog.
Without photos we would have been happy with that. Even though Steve Haynes threw a spanner in the works and said all he'd seen was a Common Gull we'd have invoked the old 2 bird theory and left it at that.

When I looked at the pictures at home it was clear it was a 2nd summer Common gull. Features which hadn't been apparent in the field, such as a tiny window in the primaries became obvious. Well done Steve. I and a few others got it wrong. but that doesn't matter what matters is that we ended up with the right ID. and those who take every opportunity to run down birders with cameras should acknowledge that photographs can provide a useful identification tool. Here endeth the lesson.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The best is yet to come

Tuesday 14th April 2009

Spent the day at various locations in the Tame valley area. Birding at this time of the year is a bit like roulette, not that I've ever played, you take a chance on what might turn up. A Sandwich Tern at Alvecote, Marsh Harrier through Coton, Common Scoter at Shustoke, Whimbrel at Haunch Lane. You pays your money and hope you get lucky. There was talk of an Osprey through Kingsbury and possible Whimbrel through Dosthill but the only new birds to stay were Whitethroat, Sedge and Reed warblers between Fishers Mill and Dosthill Nature reserve. There was a new Wheatear on the high ground at Picadilly and another on the meadow at Cliff pool. The Mediterranean Gull was still strutting its stuff on the horse shoe island at Cliff pool and there was still one Black necked Grebe at Lea Marston. The number of Lesser Redpoll at Whitacre had gone down since last week and no sign of the Mealy Redpolls which had be reported there recently.
It was a good day for Butterflies, with Orange tips being the most abundant species.