Monday, 28 September 2009

Aquatic warbler in Warwickshire

Monday 28th Sept. 2009

It was a strange experience, the whole day was strange. In response to a phone call which I got several hours after it was sent I set off yesterday to Salford Priors Gravel pits where an Aquatic warbler had been discovered. I aborted the mission at the end of my road. Unusually, common sense had kicked in as I realised with the light fading I probably wouldnt get there before the bird went to roost. So I went on news that the bird was still there the following morning. I was aware that there was no access to the site but reasoned that some access might be arranged at some point in the day.
As I parked up I was met by John Harris who had been making the aquaintance of the site manager who had politely told John to bugger off. With no access we patrolled the perimeter fence to get the lie of the land and do a spot of bird watching. John had already seen Peregrine and Stonechat and it wasn't long before we added Osprey, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Hobby to the raptor count. We also had Green Sandpiper, Linnet, Meadow pipit, Green and Great spotted Woodpecker. We kept to the public footpath which at one point gave a good view of the whole area. We were amazed to see a group of birders in high vis. jackets and hard hats clearly flushing an area of reeds in the centre of a grassy field. Somebody had obviously arranged access despite pager messages to the contrary. When we approached the group we were told that special access had been arranged and that the group had had an induction programme to show them how to wear a hard hat and high visability jacket. There was no way we could be included in the group having no hats or jackets so we made our exit. As we left we met up with other birders eager to have the chance to see a National let alone Warwickshire rarity.

By late afternoon over 20 birders had gathered. The group organised themseves around the dried up pond. Spotters were sent round the back of the reeds and were soon indicating they had located a bird. The group waited patiently as they scanned the vegetation for movement. The Aquatic warbler did come up from time to time and as directions were passed along the group gradually everyone got to see the bird, albeit briefly. A Whinchat tried to confuse the issue and a Raven flew overhead.
Quarries are sensitive sites, being potentially dangerous to staff and visitors. 'Elf and safety is a key issue for staff, and birders should be aware of why access is prohibited during the working day and not attempt to 'sneak in' and jeopardise the goodwill established by local birders.

Having missed the Boddington Aquatic I was well chuffed at seeing this bird so well.

Pie talk

Monday 28th Sept. 2009

In response to a comment made by my good friend the Earl Gray I should inform him that Pork pies became extinct on the Orkney Isles around 1800. Largely due to the increasing popularity of Sheep based products amongst the indigenous population. There are, I believe small numbers of feral pies on North Ronaldsay thought to have originated from escaped lunches of pioneering Leicestershire birders. There have also been ill-fated re-introduction schemes organised by well meaning Pie conservation organisations in the early 1900s. Such schemes were not well thought out and most of the pies were eaten well before they reached Scotland. Many pies were ambushed in an area now known as South Yorkshire. Gangs of peasants would leap out into the road, such as it was, shouting, 'Ay up, give us your pies' in a threatening manner causing the Pie herds to abandon their precious pies and trudge back to Leicestershire, muttering 'yall rit me duck' to each other.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Playing catch up

Common Rosefinch - Thornton, Leics.

Common Rosefinch

Common Rosefinch

Common Rosefinch

Dunlin = Draycote Water

Rock Pipit


20th/21st & 27th September 2009

Its that time of the year when things can happen very quickly, birds turn up in the most expected places like South Ronaldsay and the most unexpected like the sleepy village of Thornton in Leicestershire or Broom in South Warks. They also turn up at often most inconvenient times. In between there are bits of local birding. So just before going to Orkney in the hope of seeing a Sandhill Crane I was in Bentley Woods where I was chuffed to find a Spotted Flycatcher and a pair of Crossbills. The following day it was back to Draycote Water, the Pec had gone and so to the paparazzi. The regulars were there though, Bob Hazel was trying to photograph a Greenshank, Francoise was trying, but in the most charming way and adding a splash of colour to the scene. Bob and I tried to out do each other in finding the most masochistic techniques in bird photography. I went for sitting on Brambles while Bob went for the potentially excrutiating sitting on a pocket full of conkers technique. We both survived although Bob was talking in a slightly strange way for a while. In addition to the Greenshank there was also a Rock pipit and a couple of Dunlin.
Moving on, I had a phone call from John Hague yesterday telling me get myself to Thornton to see a rarely seen visitor to Inland counties, a Common Rosefinch. I was unable to respond immediately due to family commitments but got there early the next morning. There were already a number of birders at the garden viewpoint on Main Street. The garden looked down over an area of shrubs and trees towards Thornton reservoir. The area held a good population of sparrows and finches and it wasnt long before the juvenile Rosefinch was spotted in adjacent gardens feeding on Elderberries. The guy who owned the house, himself a birder, was great, making sure everyone saw the bird in his scope. The bird eventually fed on the ground in the next garden but was difficult to see through the border plants. As others arrived and the small patio area filled up it was time to go.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane - Burwick, South Ronaldsay

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane


Great Skua

What you lot doing 'ere then

The crew - Dougal, Tony and Neil


Pink footed Geese


'Whats in ere then'

Black Guillemot

Sandhill Crane

23rd - 24th September 2009

After a phone call to Tony Shepherd I met up with him and the rest of the crew Dougal and Neil and we were off on another little adventure, this time to South Ronaldsay, one of the Orkney Isles. As twitches to the Northern Isles go this one sounded pretty staightfoward compared to some of the trips my friends had been on before. The journey to Scrabster was uneventful as Tony and Neil shared the driving. We arrived at the ferry in good time and managed to grab a bit of sleep before we boarded the ferry. I had been assured that the ferry was 'like an aircraft carrier', and I wouldnt need any sea sick pills. Squalls of rain driven by a strong westerly breeze restricted visability and gave the coastline particularly the Old man of Hoy, a mystical quality. Half an hour into the crossing I was wishing I'd taken something but it wasnt long before we were docking in Stromness and setting off for Burwick about 1/2 an hours drive. We found the bird just as we were hit by another heavy squall and had to scurry back for shelter in the car. It was a frustrating few minutes to wait before we could get the 'scopes up and have a proper look.
Finally we were rewarded. The Sandhill Crane was feeding in a large stubble field with a big flock of Curlew, Gulls, Starlings and a few Rock doves. The birds were wary and frequently flew as a ring tailed Hen Harrier kept them on their toes.
There weren't a huge number of birders around but there were several familiar faces.
We made our way back slowly stopping to take in the more regular Orkney species such as Twite, Great Skua and Eider. Skeins of Greylag and Pink footed Geese passed overhead as they moved to their wintering grounds. Back at Stromness we enjoyed a meal and I took the opportunity of photographing an obliging Black Guillemot in the harbour, while Neil booked some overnight accommodation on the mainland.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Birding at Draycote

Saturday 19th September 2009

In the vain hope of getting to a respectable total of species seen in Warwickshire this year I visited Draycote Water again. I had hoped to see a Wood Sandpiper that had been reported but I quickly learned that the bird had not been seen since early morning. All the other waders had stayed though and I caught up with the Ruff that I missed yesterday. Down in Toft there was a posse of photographers near the shore line clearly indicating that the 'Pec' was 'showing well'.

I have mixed feelings about people who photograph birds, being one myself I can understand the pleasure and sense of satisfaction getting a good image can give but I can also understand the feelings of birdwatchers as some idiots creep ever nearer and eventually flush the bird. Bird photographers are not going to go away, they are a fact of modern birding and can contribute a great deal to birding in general in terms of helping identification and promoting interest in birds. But and its a big but they have to be aware of the birds needs and be aware of the needs of other people, but of course this could apply to anybody whether they've got a camera or not.
I've said before that anything which disturbs a birds normal behaviour pattern must be avoided. A wader on a muddy patch at Draycote water in September or October is there for a reason. It needs to break its journey South to desperately biuld up its energy levels in order to complete its migration. If it is forced to leave its favoured feeding area its chances of survival may be reduced.

There are other criteria birders /photographers need to bare in mind. Habitat, even bits of scrub should not be damaged in order to get a better view. On the first 2 counts I have no problem with the photographers I saw with the Pectoral Sand at Draycote. They approached and equally importantly left the bird with great care. The bird continued feeding quite normally and there was no apparent damage to the habitat. However, I do have a concern that the general public, seeing the photographers might follow their example and set up picnics or whatever on this part of the shore much favoured by waders. Despite being a large reservoir the areas suitable for feeding are relatively small and should be protected at all costs. Severn Trent seems blissfully unaware, fishermen and the general public need adequate guidance so it is up to local and visiting birders to set a good example.

Friday, 18 September 2009

A Well Spotted Crake

Bar tailed Godwit - Draycote water

Bar tailed Godwit

Bar tailed Godwit

Pectoral Sandpiper - Draycote

Pectoral Sandpiper with Dunlin

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

Wheatear - Draycote

Spotted Crake - Ladywalk

Friday 18th Sept. 2009

Living half way between Draycote water and the Tame valley, its often a toss up as to which one I go to for a days birding. Draycote is the more likely to turn up a wider range of species but the Tame is a more peaceful day with always the chance of a good raptor or owl with the north end in particular attracting wader species. On Friday I went for Draycote, I started in Toft, the Pectoral Sandpiper and 2 Dunlin were in exactly the same spot as 2 days before. A Bar tailed Godwit was a new bird though spending most of its time asleep on the shore near the Windsurfing area ,and there was a sizable flock of Meadow pipits around the inlet area. There were also a fair number of Yellow wagtails about and a single Wheatear.
Returning to Toft I was disappointed to find virtually all the fishing boats concentrated in Toft. It didnt seem to worry the few waders that were there but Severn Trent have got to sort out their policy on conservation. Its all very well having glossy brochures with pictures of Kingfishers but it really just a front as I dont see any evidence at Draycote at least, that they are trying to preserve habitat and promote the well being of Wildlife.
I went home but as I started to indicate to pull into my house I got a text from Tom and a phone call from Steve Cawthray telling me there was a Spotted Crake at Ladywalk, I cancelled the indicator and kept going. When I got to Riverwalk hide Steve Haynes and Steve Cawthray were there scanning the edges of the shallow pool to the right of the hide. The bird hadnt been seen for nearly an hour so I was very lucky when it emerged from behind the vegetation to feed in the open shortly after I arrived. So a good day with good birds at Draycote and in the Tame valley.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

In the Club - not

Thursday 17th Sept 2009

Couple of images I thought I'd Share with you. The Tufty Club with a very small membership. c/o Mr S.Haynes. Also a job advert which might be of interest to a Birder good at giving Bed baths. c/o a Guernsey website
Not much else to report though except another local sighting of Hobby over Attleborough Fields, Nuneaton.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Just one of those days

Hobby - Dosthill

Wednesday 16th September

Garden watch or perhaps raptor watch : 10th Sept. record 5 Common Buzzards in the air together seen from garden.
6th, 11th and 16th Sept. Hobby low through garden at 7.30am ish either SW to NE or reverse.

After the excitement of the last couple of weeks I was due for a bit of a let down. I spent Tuesday morning staking out Dosthill in the hope that the reported Marsh Harrier would drift into Warks. in the event it didnt drift anywhere. I gave it every chance but I retired back to the car for Pork pie and crisps. Had I stayed a little longer I might well have seen Steve Haynes' 3 Gannets, an amazing record. So no Marsh Harrier and no Gannets. Some compensation was offered in the unmistakable form of Graham Mant who waved cheerily from the other side of the valley. Actually it must have been National Wave at somebody Day cos the people in an RSPB Land Rover also waved enthusiastically as they drove past on the other side of the river. They probably mistook me for someone else but it was very nice nonetheless.
So how do we salvage something from the day? I know, lets see if we can dip the Rose coloured Starling again.
Well I did my best. A car load of birders had come down from Barnsley to see A Spotted Crake somewhere and the Rose coloured Starling. Things must be tough in Yorkshire. After an exchange of ay ups I left them at the churchyard to walk round the estate. It was part of a cunning plan to avoid seeing the bird. It worked perfectly. I returned to find everyone going home with the satisfaction of having seen the bird perched on a roof right in front of them. I'm left with no bird and nobody to ay up with, apart from the ongoing 'What you looking at' from the local residents, everyone of whom claimed to had the Starling in their garden for the past month.
I did see the Rose coloured Starling in flight eventually.
On Wednesday the plan was to go to Stratford with an old friend of Jan's who now lives in Australia and who was spending a few days with us. It would also give me the opportunity of visiting Tony Shepherd who lives down that way. While we were catching up with news and having coffee we get a Mega alert. My worst fear (in a birding sense) had been realised. I was in the right place but everything else was wrong. I didnt want to ruin Jan and Ann's day but if there was a chance of seeing a new bird. Fortunately for me the bird had flown off which gave me a bit of thinking time. Tony's phones were going off two at a time as the embryo of a twitch began to develop. I rang Jan who was brilliant and suggested we bring the plan to visit Nuneaton market foward an hour, with none of that 'now is the hour of our discontent' attitude. (Well we were in Stratford.) With the Tufted Puffin not relocated we returned home. As far as I know there's still no sign of it, what a relief.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The Pectoral Sandpiper twitch

Pectoral Sandpiper -Draycote water

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

Sunday 13th Sept. 2009

Clearly there was unfinished business from yesterday so it was back to Draycote water. As I scuttled along Farnborough bank there was little strength in the early morning sunshine but it was a lovely morning nonetheless. As I reached the elbow the clutch of birders could be seen at the start of Toft shallows. The Pec was clearly where the Curlew Sand had been the previous evening. As I approached I could see all the usual suspects were there but there was little time for greetings as the bird was as close as it was going to get, so the urge to take a few snaps for the records was strong. The Pectoral Sandpiper (163) kept company with a Dunlin and a Ringed Plover but there was no sign of yesterday's Curlew Sandpiper. As the Pec wandered further away and the sound of camera shutters faded it was time to say hello and get sociable, Steve Seal had driven down, Dave Hutton, Judge John, Alfie and the Hall boys were there. If Clint Eastwood had been there we'd have had the full cast.
3 waders flew in causing some discussion as to their make. I thought all 3 showed a white rump but others were convinced they were Ringed Plovers. They landed on the far shore and scouts went sent out in search of the true identity. Eventually word came back that they were indeed Curlew Sandpipers. There was a half hearted attempt to invoke a 2, 3 bird theory but conversation had long since moved on to more trivial subjects.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Curlew Sand 1 - Pec Sand 0

Pectoral Sandpiper - Draycote Water

Curlew Sandpiper - Draycote Water

Curlew Sandpiper

Saturday 12th September 2009

The last place I want to be on a sunny September afternoon is Draycote water. So there I am, at home mowing the lawn, pruning the trees, wondering if one of the Booted warblers will turn into a Sykes Booted warbler when Tom, the Terry Wogan of Tame valley birding, informs me that a Curlew Sandpiper has been seen at Draycote. I hate gardening more than Draycote in the summer so off we go. Its my worst nightmare people everywhere, mayhem. It gets surreal as a tank emerges from a farm and tarearses round the fields like a scene from El Alemein.

At the hide a couple of waders are on the far shore. Luckily Martin is there with his scope so we're able to identify Dunlin and Curlew Sandpiper. I go for a walk round to Biggin Bay but only find a single Common Sandpiper.
On the return around Toft a Ringed Plover and the juvenile Curlew Sandpiper are near the wall totally unconcerned by the bicycles, prams, children on roller skates and everyone else passing by. Even photographers cause little bother to the bird feeding energetically along the shore line. The walk back to the car park provides a surprising amount of birdwatching considering the number of people on site. Yellow wagtails, mainly juvs were the most numerous,adorning the hedges and dead Elms with good numbers of Lesser Whitethroats a single Common Whitethroat and a few Willow/chiffs.
I arrived home happy to have seen my first County Curlew Sand of the year, but whats this, my pager tells me of a Pectoral Sandpiper in Toft. What? I couldn't have missed it could I? The time given on the pager is a few minutes after I left. Oh well thats birding for you. Sorts out tomorrow morning though.

Pubs, ducks and potatoes

Ringed neck Duck, Westport Lake Staffs.

Ring necked Duck

Ring necked Duck

Ring necked Duck
Friday 11th Sept. 2009

Beautiful early autumn day, best time of the year. Started off at Alvecote which had been turning up a few migrants, checked the hedges both sides of Mill pool and found Willow warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat. Bumped into Roy and his trusty companion but he too was having a quiet day. The plan had been to move on to to Kingsbury/Drayton Bassett but I was lured into deep Staffordshire by a Rose coloured Starling near Stone which offered the nearest thing to excitement on offer within a reasonable distance. Did I say excitement? Most exciting thing on view was Graham Mant doing his impression of Gypsy Joe. I also had a slightly embarassing rendevous with a couple of incredibly attractive Eastern European potato sorters. Eat your heart out Steve. Anyway the Starling is clearly an early morning bird so despite the attraction of a 3 course meal for a fiver at the Winghouse pub I moved on a little deeper into Staffs. For once the old Sat nav was spot on so it didnt take me long to get to Westport lake, Stoke for a look at a Ringed necked Duck. Was it a little too photogenic?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Back in the valley

Black tailed Godwit - Cliff pool, Kingsbury

Black tailed Godwit

Wednesday 9th September 2009

After all the excitement of Jan's birthday it was time to relax in the valley. Having not been there for some while I was playing catch up. To be honest there wasnt an awful lot of catching up to do. There were a couple of Black tailed Godwits on Cliff pool. I took the long walk up the canal. At Fisher's mill there were more people than birds. I had high hopes for Fishers Mill this autumn but reed planting, high water levels, weeds and human activity have minimised the suitability for waders.
I moved on up to the Drayton Bassett pits. On the way I had a rarity. A cyclist who was prepared to stop to let me pass - I called him through, for which he thanked me. There is hope for mankind. In mountain biking, birding and every other human activity people are divided into those who have good manners and those who don't.
At Drayton Bassett there was one Redshank, one Common Snipe, one Green Sandpiper, a Peregrine and a Hobby.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Pallid Harrier

Pallid Harrier - Haddenham, Cambs.

Pallid Harrier - Haddenham, Cambs.
7th Sept. 2009

I'd seen Pallid Harrier before, in Kent and a roosting bird near Stiffkey, Norfolk. The Kent bird was distant but tickable but if theres a chance to get better views of a bird I like to go for it. A bird in Cambridgeshire was an opportunity too good to miss. Again my Sat nav went against all my own instincts and refused to recognise the existence of the A14, but I knew best. We had a slight disagreement around Huntington but it was quickly resolved. I think were both learning to understand each other a little better now and I can see a more mature relationship developing. I pulled up next to a few birders cars and started to scan the surrounding landscape. the main body of birders was further along the track but we had a good field of view or view of field so I plumped for staying put.WRONG! After over an hour there was a message on the pager saying the Harrier was showing again. We dashed to where the rest of the birders were watching only to be told by Lee Evans that the bird had landed on the ground about 1/2 mile ahead of us but not before giving 'crippling views'- cheers Lee. At least now we knew exactly where the bird was. It was just a question of waiting,and waiting. I decided to use my initiative and move to another track alot closer to where the harrier had gone down. There were only a couple of 'locals' there. After another hour or so a further pager message informed us that the Harrier was sitting in a ploughed field. We located it straight away as it was relatively close to our position. We moved to the end of the track to get closer views and were rewarded with excellent flight views culminating in the Harrier taking a Meadow pipit using its telescopic legs and amazing agility to great effect. I was able to obtain some stunning photographs using SAS like field skills and my extensive knowledge and experience of photography.

There were also 4 Marsh Harriers and 2 Hobby seen in the area.