Thursday, 31 December 2009

On reflection

The following images are my 'Top 20' for 2009, not necessarily the rarest, or the best photographically but the ones which have given me the most pleasure. Hope you enjoy them and have a great 2010.
Purple Sandpiper - Bridlington, E.Yorks.

Whiskered Tern - Willington G.P., Derbys.
Pygmy Cormorant - Turkey

Pallid Swift - Liverpool

Firecrest - Hams Hall, Warks

Little Bustard - Spain

Kestrel - Draycote Water, Warks.

Blue cheeked Bee eater - Turkey

Goldcrest - Hams Hall, Warks.

Hoopoe - Turkey

Wood warbler - Windmill Hill, Warks.

Striated Scop's Owl - Turkey

Storm Petrel - Isles of Scilly

Spur winged Plover - Turkey

Black Redstart - Turkey

Manx Shearwater - Draycote Water, Warks.

Penduline Tit - Spain

Pectoral Sandpiper - Draycote Water, Warks.

Arctic Tern - Kingsbury Water Park, Warks.

Whimbrel - Isles of Scilly

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Size does Matter

Tut !

Wednesday 30th December 2009

The weather matches my mood this morning. Dark and Gloomy. Villa losing to Liverpool of all teams in the last minute Arghh ! This was tempered a little bit by the England Cricketers destroying South Africa but it was a game we needed to win etc, etc.

Got out of the house yesterday to stretch my legs but its going to take more than a few strolls round Fisher's Mill to use up the calories I've taken in over the last few days. Not much doing on the birding front. I had hoped the Short eared Owl might be hunting mid-afternoon but no luck. Its difficult to recall much of note: a couple of Song Thrushes, a large swim of Coots at Broomey Croft with Gadwall. Several gatherings of Teal on the ice free bits of water on the smaller pools of the Water Park. No Wigeon. I checked the large flocks of Canada geese and Greylags and found Canada geese and Greylags. A couple of G. S. Woodpeckers flew over the canal.

Now about this size thing. You will recall I went to see a Siberian Stonechat the other day and I also rambled on about the folly of becoming a Bird Photographer, well if you put the two together it reminded me of the fact I was tutted at at Bevercotes. I've never been tutted at before, sworn at loads of times but never tutted at. It was a silent tut but it was the slow turn of the head and the brief stare that said f... off this is my bird.

What happened was this, there were 5 other birders on site when I arrived at Bevercotes Wood including one guy with a camera and a lens the size of a gun turret on a Battleship. The group were dispersed to scan the area both sides of the path. The lens had positioned itself along a narrow path at the side of a large fenced off area. The lens was clearly on to something. Seeing this an opportunity for a few Blog shots I approached and showing due deferrence to the enormous lens kept well back. I could see the Stonechat on the fence about 4 inches in front of the lens. The photographer was filling his boots. I took a record shot - then came the tut. The audacity, me with my little 100-400 IS daring to have a go. The bird flew, clearly due to the fact that I wasn't wearing a camouflaged hat with attached earmuffs and nothing at all to do with the fact the it got tired of having such an enormous lens waved at it. Anyway I've learnt my lesson, the bigger you are the more rights you've got to dominate the action and block paths with equally big Tripods. I'll have to continue to live off scraps or devise yet more cunning plans based on experience, field skills and luck.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Metamorphosis of a Birder.

Tuesday 29th December 2009

A friend of mine, who will remain nameless, but who lives in Leicester, eats Pork pies, enjoys Real Ale and uses colourful language, is on the change - not in a hormonal or fashion sense but, and I hope he wont mind me saying this, he's turning into a ....Bird Photographer!! There I've said it. I must admit it I've seen it coming for a while, The signs were all there, crap pictures of distant birds in the scarce birds section of Surfbirds. I just hoped that he would come to his senses and go back to being a jovial, sociable birder before it was too late.
I fear though he has gone beyond the Pale now and the situation may be irretrievable as he has recently produced some excellent images and reached the Holy Grail of Bird Photography - the Rare birds section of Surfbirds. Will it change him, will he join the massed ranks of seasonal Bittern snappers in a local hide. Will he join the 'if only I could get a little closer, dam its flown off and changed from showing well to elusive, club. Probably not, camouflage jacket green just isnt his colour.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

A foggy day in Nuneaton

Thursday 24th December 2009

Just thought I'd take take the opportunity to wish you all; friends, birders, blog surfers and nosey buggers an outstanding Christmas and a great new year. Its interesting to ponder what new birds may be found in the new year but I guess weve all got our own wish lists.
Probably wont get out today, just got to get Pork pies for Boxing Day, but got a garden year tick this morning as a small flock of Golden Plover in a tight V formation flew quite low over the back garden, probably disorientated by the heavy fog we've got here at the moment. Its interesting that Warwickshire seems the favoured destination for wintering Great White Egrets at the moment, we certainly seem to have our fair share. Perhaps we can expect more Cattle Egrets and the odd Night Heron as well.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Siberian Stonechat in Notts

Siberian landscape

Siberian Stonechat, Bevercotes, Notts.

Siberian Stonechat

Siberian Stonechat

Siberian Stonechat

Siberian Stonechat

Wednesday 23rd December 2009

Apart from a quick walk round Coton and Fishers Mill yesterday, today was the first time I was able to do some Birding for what's seemed like an eternity. Its just that somethings are more important than Birdwatching - not many I'll grant you, but somethings. I'm just grateful I was able to get out and see the Siberian Stonechat in Notts today. It was only the second one I'd seen, that plus it being a cracking little bird for the Midlands drew me too the frozen wastes of North Notts. Sub species or not was immaterial, it was a great little bird to see and compare with the more familiar birds that winter in Warwickshire. I nearly drove straight there, Sat nav working well except right at the end I drove up a steep snow covered farm track where even Skodas fear to go. I gave it a bit to get me up the slope and pranged the undercarriage, sounded a bit expensive. It wasnt until I slid to the top that I questioned whether I was going the right way. A dog walker (bless 'em) confirmed I was going nowhere and implored me to get out of the car so that he could show me the error of my ways.
A couple of minutes later I was trekking through the snow on what was now a lovely morning. there were a few birders/photographers on site but not looking anywhere in paticular. It wasnt too long though before the bird was located in an area of rough grassland. Eventually it showed well but was always on the move it and had a habit of completely disappearing for awhile.
My journey home was punctuated by an almost fruitless search for a hot drink. The bits of the A1 and A46 I travelled on were not well blessed with coffee outlets. I seem to become invisible when I go in a Little Chef, admittedly the first one was heaving but the second one had only one other couple in and still I was ignored. Must be my green birding fleece blending in with the decor. After 5 attempts I got my coffee, just outside Leicester!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

blog break

Wednesday 16th December

No blog for a few days. Father Christmas is going to upgrade my computer, and hes got a long way to bring it. If I thought I could connect with Pine Grosbeak, Hawk Owl and Hazelhen I'd think about collecting it myself, but its all a bit hush, hush so I'd better not say too much.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The Darts Match !

The Thursday Club Darts team :Mick, Bob, JY, Ben, Paul, Steve, Rich.
The Church End Brewery 1st x1 Darts team.

Friday 11th December 2009

Today saw the inaugural Invitation Darts Challenge at the Church End Brewery at Ridge lane near Atherstone, Warks. The Thursday Club had been challenged by the Brewers and friends to a Darts match. It turned out to be a 2 hour epic. The Thursday club got off to a solid start and established an early lead but the Brewers clawed their way back into it and it was all square by the time the first Ham rolls were consumed. 180s were few and far between, in fact anything over 50 was considered outstanding. Sid Wadell would not have been impressed. Indeed, quite a few players were happy to see all 3 darts hit the board and not the door.

Despite the best efforts of the Brewers, the Thursday club who were taking the event very seriously, began to show their class and pull away. Despite the tactic of trying to ply us with Pork pie and ale (which was very much appreciated) the Thursday club kept their concentration to win the match. The winners were presented with a bicycle as a trophy of their achievement. Which was nice.
Thanks to everyone at the Brewery for setting it all up, it was a lot of fun.

Friday, 11 December 2009

The GOOD looking, the not BAD, and the UGLY

The Good - Kate Humble

The Ugly - a man, three dogs and a bag of Chips.

The Tame valley holds many stories, mostly unobserved and untold. Tales of lust, greed and probably the other deadly sins as well but I havent heard about them. Todays story concerns three people all loosely connected to the Tame valley and who represent the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Actually the 'bad' person isnt bad at all hes actually a very good person but 'The Good, the Good, and the Ugly just dosn't work.

The Good

Choosing Kate Humble as their new president was a masterstroke by the RSPB. Listening to her on the radio the other day had me spellbound by her enthusiastic and common sense approach to her new role. Her engaging personality and her ability to articulate what many birdlovers feel is very refreshing.

The (Bad), not really

Local enthusiast, Steve Haynes is doing his bit to support the RSPB by undertaking a sponsored Birdrace throughout the month of January. Steve, rather than hibernating in his cottage during the short, cold days of January will be searching the length and breadth of Britain to find as many bird species as he can in the month. No small task. Steve is looking for sponsorship for his venture and all monies raised will be donated to the RSPB. So if you see him out and about a few shillings thrust into his cold hands would be much appreciated I'm sure.

The Ugly

If there's one thing that digusts me its seeing people drop litter, its bad enough anyware but it seems worst in the countryside. When I saw a bloke with three dogs and the biggest bag of chips you'll ever see walking up the mound at Dosthill I just knew want was going to happen. The world is divided into those people who drop chip wrappings and those who dont. And another thing the only chips the dogs got were the little, hard, sharp bits left in the bottom of the bag that scratch the roof of your mouth.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Urban birding

Whinchat - Tameside N.R near Tamworth, Staffs.
Looking rather more like a Whinchat today even showing a peachy blush on the breast, but still quite distant and elusive.

Chiffchaff - Tameside N.R.
One of 2 Chiffchaffs on site, a Common Snipe was also seen flushed by a dog walker.

Thursday 10th December 2009

Seeing is believing

Stonechat - Fishers Mill

Whinchat - Tameside N.R., Staffs. Photo by Chris Cook

Female Stonechat - Fishers Mill, Warks.

Wednesday 9th December 2009
A rather clumsy attempt at a comparison between the identification features of winter female Stonechat and Whinchat at distance. Main features just visible in the photos: White at base of tail in Whinchat, more striking cap effect on Whinchat and broader more distinct supercillium on Whinchat particularly behind eye.
When news broke that a Whinchat had been seen at Tameside nature reserve, between Fazeley and Tamworth I was somewhat sceptical. Whinchat in December? unheard of, at least by me. So I dismissed it as a misidentified 1w Stonechat. Oh ye of little faith ! When confirmation came through from Steve Haynes and Chris Cook that it was indeed a Whinchat I just had to see for myself. What was one of the most surprising arrivals in the Tame valley in 2009 showed well in the scope off and on as it spent much of its time foraging in the wet vegetation. Not far away on the edge of the main pool were also 2 Chiffchaff.
I moved on to the Fishers Mill area where I was interested in a pair of Stonechat which allowed a handy comparison with the Whinchat. The only other bird of note was a single Little Egret flying towards the Water Park.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

New species for Draycote ?

Raising awareness at Draycote Water

The Fleece heads for cover

Common Snipe at Brandon Marsh

Fox on the Fairway

Barn Owl
Tuesday 8th December 2009

In an attempt to restore its battered image as a steward of the environment Severn Trent Water is keen to encourage the re-introduction of some long extinct species on its land around Draycote Water, Warwickshire. In an attempt to garner public support Severn Trent workers are walking round Draycote wearing look-a -like garments. The first project concerns the re-introduction of the European Wolf. Preparation for the arrival of the first Wolves is well underway with the prey species; Alpaca, rabbits and bank fisherman well established and thriving. Severn Trent hope, with so much food available, that there should be no danger to the growing hoards of Health tourists visiting the reserve. However, I must say that I was reluctant to turn my back on such a ferocious looking fleece.
My friend John Hague, that fashion Guru from Greater Leicester has already denounced the trend for such fleeces, but I fear it may not be too long before we see Pit Bull fleeces with hoods terrorising our Country Parks.
But I digress, I took the short route round the reservoir in an effort to offset my Pork pie emissions. Despite a thorough look, the Green winged Teal was not seen, neither was the Great northern Diver although one chap was convinced he'd seen 2. The 5 Goosander and female Common Scoter were still present.

After coffee and a sandwich at Morrison's it was back to Brandon Marsh where the highlight was rather distant views of a Barn Owl and a fly past by a Squadron of Common Snipe.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Tame valley to reach a wider audience?

Monday 7th December 2009

Apparently I have it on good authority ( no not John Harris ) that the group in canoes featured in this Blog at the weekend were not pioneers in a Dr Livingston sense but in fact doing a pilot for 'I'm not a celebrity, even though I do have a silly hat, but get me out of the Tame valley anyway' show to be screened on ITV 8 early next decade. I thought I didn't recognise anyone in the canoes so it must be true. I gather the show has been banned in Australia as a result of a case brought by the ASPCA based on cruety to insects, annalids and the odd crustacea. It was decided that being in a confined space with Katie Price caused the creatures post traumatic stress. The producers are looking at one or two possible alternative venues in so called Wilderness areas around Tamworth but the final decision hasnt been made.
I would imagine both the RSPB the RSPCA and John Harris will be keeping a very close eye on further developments.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Exploring the Tame river valley

Pioneers explore the upper reaches of the river Tame river.

Dutch ringed Cormorant - Cliff pool, Kingsbury

Finches over Tamworth, part of a large flock near Fishers Mill.
Saturday 5th December 2009

I didnt think Birders did Christmas shopping but judging my how many folk I saw in the Tame valley I should imagine the shops were doing a roaring trade. After stopping to check the Tree sparrows at Mancetter I spent most of the day in the Tame valley. Geoff Williams was doing the rounds but apart from a few people in the hides at Cliff pool it was very quiet.
There was no sign of any Tree sparrows at Mancetter and the walk around the waterski centre and Dosthill N.R. didn't produce anything unusual. The one thing that did strike me was the numbers of finches around Fishers Mill. One flock of mainly Linnets and Goldfinch must have been close to 100 birds. They had attracted perhaps 3 Sparrowhawks to the hedges and trees on the fringes of the pools and it may not be too long before a Merlin takes up residence in the more open areas. There was no sign of the Smew but the Goldeneye on the Dosthill N.R. reached double figures.
As I wandered round the Waterski pits I pondered on the pros and cons of the development. The bunds did provide good feeding areas for finches and even Short eared Owls, but the high powered motor boats and yells of the adrenaline junkies in tow ensured the water was bird free.
I also wondered about the erosion of the banks in the Fishers Mill area. The river was running high such that the water level in the river was higher than the level in the surrounding area it may not be too long before the banks are breached creating a huge problem for the RSPB reserve.
On Kingsbury Water Park the best bird was a female Goosander on Canal pool, while on Cliff pool the Dutch ringed Cormorant was in its usual spot.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Twice Bittern

Bittern - Brandon Marsh



Friday 4th December 2009

Today I shall be doing Bitterns. The question is are we talking about one, two or perhaps even 3 Bitterns at Brandon Marsh, near Coventry? There are certainly 2, and on today's evidence theres a strong possibility of 3. Having not been to Brandon on Wednesday as I'd intended it became a priority on such a fine day. So after walking the woodland paths I headed for East Marsh and then Carlton Hide. A couple of Cetti's warblers were calling either side of the path on the way to Carlton but the scene from the hide was one of tranquility. A few Gadwall on the water, a couple of gulls and crows flying over and some distant sweaters on the Golf course provided the only signs of life.
Bittern watching can be tedious in such circumstances. You dont know how long to give it, empty Reed beds can only provide so much fun. Even fantasizing about Bearded tit or any other kind of tit can only produce limited relief. Trouble is if you've invested an hour waited on the off chance the time would be wasted if the Bittern appeared 5 minutes after you had departed.

Any road up after about an hour at exactly 11.00 am the Bittern showed briefly as it flew across Newlands. I did managed to get a few rather distant images. Knowing where the bird now was it was worth spending a bit more time in case the bird emerged again, but as it got colder and I got hungrier and as the bird showed no inclination to show itself it was time for coffee and Pork pie. The coffee in the restaurant at the centre was disappointing at £1.45 a go you'd expect it to be at least warm. The Pork pie complete with Colman's mustard was much more satisfying.

Re-energised I was eager for more and visited the parts of the reserve I hadn't been to earlier. An inspired decision. In one hide I found an enthusiastic young women who thought she may have seen a Bittern earlier but had definitely seen a Kingfisher. As I opened the hide window 2 Water rails flew up from next to the hide and shortly after that my new found friend spotted a Bittern swimming across the pool. Over the next 40 minutes we watched the Bittern as it climbed the reeds, stretched, and look around before finally flying deeper into cover. Brilliant. From the earlier sightings the lady had and from entries in the log it looks like there may well be 3 Bitterns in residence at Brandon Marsh at the moment.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Not a lot about

Winter moth - Broomey Croft, Kingsbury

Presumed Common Buzzard

Lesser Redpoll

Wednesday 2nd December 2009

Few things to clear up from yesterday before we get on with todays little adventure. Reed Buntings are flourishing if numbers at Marsh Lane are anything to go by according to Lee Johnson so I obviously haven't been looking in the right places. Nothing new there. And the moth in todays Gallery landed on my car last night as I was leaving Broomey Croft, Kingsbury.

OK, today then. Had a little run out, in a Jeremy Clarkson sort of way, to Draycote Water, that haven of Aquatic goodies. I decided to walk the long way round or clockwise. First thing to see was the Fire and Rescue service checking their inflatables for leaks in anticipation of severe local flooding, perhaps? At least that was my take on what they were doing. Plenty of Blackbirds and Redwings in the hedges as I walked to Rainbow corner where I chatted to a Severn Trent worker who was watching a shoot. There were a few Pheasants getting up but I didnt see a single Partridge while I was watching. An odd looking Buzzard perched in the next field was totally unconcerned by events. At the valve tower were 5 Goosander but no sign of the reported Red breasted Merganser. The walk round the back was largely uneventful except for small flocks of Lesser Redpolls in the Alders. I scanned the centre of the reservoir at regular intervals but there was no sign of the Merganser or indeed the Great Northern Diver. The female Common Scoter was still there though.
In Toft the Green winged Teal was in its usual position on the shoreline and a flock of Fieldfare were in the bushes between the two car parks. I met Lee Johnson and had another go at looking for the Diver but again we came up blank. Lee did spot a massive flock of birds in the far distance beyond the inlet. No idea what they were but from the thousands of birds involved best guess would probably be Starlings.
I had hoped to look in at Brandon but by mid afternoon it was very gloomy so I opted for Morrisons to restock Hula hoops (half price at the moment).