Monday 30 November 2009

News in brief

Monday 30th November 2009

Popped into Kingsbury Water Park briefly on my way back from Sutton but didnt see much in the way of birdlife. There were 3 Shelduck and 4 female Goldeneye on Cliff pool where the windows of the hide were kept firmly shut as the cold wind freshened through the afternoon. A Willow tit made repeated visits to the feeding station outside the hide and Fieldfares fed in the hawthorns along the track towards the canal. A Sparrowhawk wheeled lazily above Broomey Croft meadow but that was about it.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Plovers and Sandpipers

Golden Plover near Hurley

Golden Plover

Golden Plover

Lesser Black backed Gull

Common Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper

Friday 27th November 2009

Blue skies and a light breeze lifted the spirits and encouraged me to get out and 'do a bit'. First birds of the day were a flock of several hundred Golden Plover over the huge fields of winter wheat between Furnace End and Hurley. I watched the birds from the car as they wheeled above me. A quick look at Shustoke produced nothing new and Coton had only 1 Little Egret and a Kingfisher on the Fishing pond.
Along the river at Hams Hall were a Common Sandpiper and at least one Green Sandpiper along with a good number of Teal and 3 Grey Wagtails. At Ladywalk I saw a Willow tit but no sign of the Marsh tits around the feeders.
So as the end of the year fast approaches its difficult to see how my County year list will achieve respectability. The damage was done in missing what wader passage there may have been. With no Whimbrel, Sanderling, Wood Sand. or even Little Stint you're never going to get much of a total. A cold snap could yet bring in a Glaucous Gull or a Long tailed Duck but time is running out fast.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Nuneaton to Draycote Water via Bristol

My journey time from Nuneaton to Draycote Water is usually about 35 minutes. Today it took 5 hours. I had picked up the initial message about an unidentified Petrel species in the Severn estuary and dismissed it, although the idea of going to Severn beach (a place I'd never been did interest me) with strong South westerlies continuing to blow. The next best thing was either Draycote water or Shustoke where Steve (up at the crack of dawn ) Haynes had seen a Kittiwake the previous day. I decided on Draycote, and was well on my way when the second message that the Petrel was hanging about came through. I phoned Tony Shepherd (when it was safe to do so) and picked him and Neil Howes up at Warwick 20 minutes later. I soon had the Skoda up to top speed and passed at least 3 lorries on the M42 and about 7 on the M5 not bad eh! We eventually reached Michael Wood services where we stopped to wait for some positive news. We would have gone on but we had some dodgy info about the tides and with the winds easing we reasoned the prospects of seeing anything let alone the mystery Petrel were becoming remote.
After leaving the lads in Warwick I resumed my journey to Draycote. I needed to stretch my legs if nothing else, and the moral of the story is 'if ...........'

Monday 23 November 2009

Grey Phalarope at Fishers Mill

Grey Phalarope, Fishers Mill - Warks./Staffs

The usual suspects

Grey Phalarope

Grey Phalarope

Grey Phalarope

Short eared Owl

Grey Phalarope, Fishers Mill - Warks./Staffs.

Grey Phalarope, Fisher's Mill, Warks/Staffs

Monday 23rd November 2009

It started as a regular Brandon Marsh visit. A couple of Water Rail showed well, Cetti's warblers were in good voice and one showed itself as it chased a wren in front of East Marsh hide. A wander through the woodlands produced little so it came as a bit of a relief when news of a Grey Phalarope at Fishers Mill gave the day a definite focus. I picked up a friend John Smart at home and then moved on to Middleton. As we drove along the A5 a flock of Golden plover flew over heading for their usual wintering fields opposite the MIRA centre. As we walked to Fishers Mill I wondered if would be able to add another bird to my Warks year list but thoughts soon turned to survival as torrential rain struck and the path became a bit of a quagmire. Steve Cawthray had some cheery news as we approached the Fishers Mill bridge saying that the Phalarope had just flown north to the next pool- definitely in Staffs. However, as we approached the pool just 2 bedraggled birders were looking at a small white object just in front of them. Lee Johnson had braved the downpour and was getting great views of the Grey Phalarope (174) just in front of him.
Over the next hour a steady stream of regular Tame valley birders joined us having dragged themselves away from the bookies or the omnibus edition of Home and away. The rains cleared and there was an enjoyable banter amongst the assembled crew. The group fragmented as several people walked to higher ground for an Owl watch. John and I tagged along and it wasn't long before we were rewarded by the sight of a Short eared Owl high up being mobbed by a couple of Carrion Crows. We climbed the spoil heap to view the whole area and didnt have to wait too long before spotting presumably the same Owl trying to hunt over the Water ski centre bund. It was struggling though as it was harassed by a flock of Black headed Gulls. The Owl again took to the skies going even higher than before finally being lost to view. So what had started as a slow day ended with a flourish. Again thanks to the RSPB group and Tom for getting the news out.

Saturday 21 November 2009

Spot the dodgy Photo

Juvenile Great northern Diver, Shustoke Res.

Juvenile Great northern Diver

Another place another time

Juvenile Great northern Diver

Juvenile Great northern Diver
Saturday 21st November 2009

Felt like winter had arrived strolling round Dosthill this morning. Mild but dark with rain in the air. Stayed on the east side of the river but apart from a dozen Meadow pipits and a Grey Wagtail there was little to brighten the day. What looked like a wing tagged Common Buzzard drifted over. The bird appeared to have a white disc on the upper left wing. There was a flock of c30 Redwing in the Hawthorns and several flocks of Goldfinch. Cliff pool at Kingsbury Water Park had a couple of Goldeneye, a Willow tit and a couple of Wigeon, the only other bird worthy of note was the ringed Cormorant : red ring on left leg, silver ring on right leg. On Canal pool there were 6 Little Egrets on the islands.

After a coffee at The Cedars it was on to Shustoke for a bit of a social. Well it would have been a social if there had been anyone there I knew although I did make out Dave and Richard stalking their prey on the far side. There were plenty of Sailing boats on the water and I took out the camera for the first time to take advantage as the juvenile Great northern Diver was forced into the edge of the reservoir. However, the weather deteriorated and it was soon time to retreat.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Great northern Divers at Shustoke Res.

Adult Great northern Diver just beginning its moult - Shustoke Res.

Great northern Diver

Great northern Diver

Thursday 19th November 2009
With such a sustained period of South westerly winds there had to be a chance of a sea bird being forced overland and seeking rest on a Midland reservoir. Both Draycote and Shustoke reservoirs had good records in this respect, living half way between the two, which one should I go for? I set off for Draycote, the Green winged Teal was in its regular place in Toft bay but there was little else new in as far as I could see. I'd just bought a coffee when I picked up a message saying there was a Great northern Diver at Shustoke reservoir, followed shortly afterwards by another message saying that there were indeed 2 Great northern Divers at Shustoke. At Draycote you almost expect to find a Great northern Diver in the winter months but in North Warwickshire they are a rare occurence. The birds found jointly by Lee Johnson, Steve Haynes and Brian Kington constituted one of very few records for this site. After finishing my coffee with indecent haste I said farewell to Bob Hazel and Richard Mays who was still seething that he had not had any info about the reported Pomerine Skua the previous day, and headed North.
Most of the usual suspects were already in position when I reached Shustoke. It soon became apparent that the Divers were spending most of their time under water and only surfacing briefly. I managed to get brief views of both birds from the car park area but decided to walk round the res for a closer look. As usual I seemed to be accompanied by a continual stream of untethered dogs. The birds remained largely underwater and mobile but I managed to get much better views of the adult bird. It was just starting to moult into winter plummage but still retained most of its distinctive breeding plummage. Thanks to all concerned for getting the info out. It was a unique opportunity to see a special bird in our area.

Tuesday 17 November 2009


Glossy Ibis, Fisher's Mill - a great addition to the Warwickshire list.

I keep lists for fun. I've always kept lists of things that interest me from Butterflies to Breweries. Its a collecting instinct I suppose, but combine it with a love of Birds and its not surprising I spend so much time trying to see new species. Its not a competition I just enjoy seeing birds I haven't seen before whether they are in Europe, in the UK, in the Midlands, in Warwickshire or my garden. Its difficult to say which gives me the most pleasure to be honest: an exotic finch in Turkey, a Sandhill Crane on Orkney or a Purple Sandpiper at Draycote water. They were all great to see at the time. The Sandpiper is a case in point, a common enough bird on the North east coast but I was chuffed to bits to see one in my own County where records are like Hen's teeth. Its not just about the bird either, its the whole experience including the quality of views available, which could be down to the elusive nature of the bird or the numbers of people around also struggling for a view. Ticking a movement at the bottom of a hedge is not my idea of Birding no matter how far you've travelled or how long you have waited. I guess most birders are like that judging from the number of attempts some of them make to get a 'tickable view', although there are folk about who are slightly less discerning.
The Crested Lark was a case where the rarity value in terms of UK records was high but the total experience, the long drive, the difficult viewing, the crowd, the bird itself was a bit disappointing. In contrast the Eastern crowned Warbler was a great 'twitch'. The build up of excitement and anticipation as the dawn broke, great views (eventually), excellent viewing, the buzz of the assembled birders, the stunning little bird itself and the breakfast, made for a great experience. But you had to go for both of them if you could.

Monday 16 November 2009

Quiz of the Day

Team Thursday Club

Prize giving

It hadn't been a bad weekend but it hadn't been a particularly good one either - Birding had been very limited and the Sport from an English perspective had been quite frankly rubbish, second rate, depressing. The Rugby was most dissappointing and thats being polite. Scared to pass the ball, aimless negative kicking, why bother playing if players are too scared to express themselves and have a go.

So there was one last chance to save the weekend. The Church End Brewery Quiz. Team Thursday night had been forced into a late change in personel, but undaunted we went through a vigorous warm up routine with a pre quiz pint of Vicar's Ruin. The team got off to a cracking start with full marks on the first round, confidence was high as questionmaster Al tested us to the full over the next couple of rounds. Despite a couple of indifferent rounds the team: Mike, JY, Soon to be Father Ben and myself took the positives out of the first half and had another pint. We were gelling well as a team with everyone contributing. We were playing without fear, looking round the room the other teams were putting on a front but we knew we only had to keep it going and stay positive to come at least fifth. As the second half moved on a couple of inspired answers gave us the momentum to close out the match in style. Cracks were beginning to show in our opponents resolve. Tell tale unshceduled comfort breaks, frequent requests to repeat questions. We'd got em rattled. Despite our lack of previous form we were starting to look like favourites. As Jan toted up the final scores we knew it was going to be close. It was like a Penalty shoot out, actually it was nothing like a penalty shoot out but we knew we could look each other in the eye and know that we'd given it our best shot, we could hold our heads high knowing that the glorious traditions of the Thursday club had been upheld. Am I going on ? Anyway we came second by one point and won a little prize which we'll drink another day.
Thanks to Al and Jan for organising the evening

Friday 13 November 2009

Green winged Teal returns to Draycote?

Green winged Teal, Draycote Water

December Moth

Scarce Umber


Friday 13th November 2009

I learnt a valuable lesson today; never write a Blog whilst under the influence. That Boston Fat Boy I mentioned yesterday must have been stronger than I thought ( by the way I think the name comes from the American hops not the Brewer) - as I mis labelled a female House Sparrow, very embarassing. Anyway moving on - swiftly, today was a Draycote day. I like to get over there at least once a week particularly now when its a little quieter. At the moment the water level is as low as it has been for a long time so theres still a chance of a wintering wader finding its way inland.
The Green winged Teal was a lot easier to find than last winters individual as it paddled on the open shoreline in Toft bay in company with only a couple of other Teal. The Great northern Diver was also there but keeping to the centre of the reservoir. The skies got darker and darker until it began to rain quite heavily just before I got back to the ex cafe. Richard Mays had told me to check out the walls of the ex cafe for moths including Sprawler and December moth which were duly snapped along with Scarce Umber.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Tree Sparrow in Warks.

Tree Sparrow

Female House Sparrow

Thursday 12th November 2009

Quiet day yesterday birdwise, places to go, things to do, people to see, but I did manage to get a few shots of some Tree Sparrows.
The Thursday Club was in fine form, as were the Ales at The Church End Brewery. With many of my favourites on at the same time it was difficult to choose being limited to just a couple. I opted for Goats Milk and Boston Fat Boy but Nuns Ale and Hoppy Poppy are equally tasty.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Caspian Gull at Coton

Caspian Gull, Coton lakes. Photo by Lee Johnson

Wednesday 11th November 2009

A typical November day damp and dreary but a walk was called for. It started at Mancetter, bridge 36 on the Coventry canal along the towpath to bridge 23 at Judkins quarry Nuneaton and back. Getting on for 10 miles I reckoned. Not quite as spectacular as Venice but a pleasant walk even on such a dull day. Canals and their towpaths can be useful to access areas with no public rights of way but the downside is that the view of the surrounding habitat is often restricted by hedges and banks and the path is all on one level.
People who live, or spend a lot of time on barges at moorings quite often put out feeders for the birds and at one such mooring there was quite a little feeding station which attracted Tree Sparrows as well as the usual 'garden birds'. I counted a nice little flock of 7 Tree Sparrows. The rest of the route produced little of great interest. The only flocks apart from Corvids, Woodpigeons and Goldfinches were c12 Pied Wagtails and c20 Meadow pipits in a field of winter wheat next to the Windmill Hill Marina. Jays continued to busy themselves preparing for winter but there were few thrushes except a single Yew tree near Hartshill in which Redwing, Mistle and Song Thrush were feeding.
Being close to home I went back for refreshments before setting off again for Coton for the Gull roost. Alan Dean and Mark Priest were already in the hide and it wasnt long before we were joined by John Harris. At 3.30pm Alan spotted the adult Caspian Gull (172) which he had seen earlier in the day at Dosthill. Although at the back of the flock the gull showed well in the 'scope. Alan described all the features of Caspian gull which were clearly visible and I felt more confident I would be able to id the bird for myself given similar views. At about 4.00pm the Caspian gull flew off to the North east and did not return by dusk. Shortly afterwards an adult Yellow legged gull dropped in to what was now a small roost. It was great to compare the features I had just seen on the Caspian gull. I'd like to think I was at last getting to grips with Gull ID but maybe I'll just keep on struggling and hope that theres somebody around who really knows what they are talking about.
For further analysis of the Coton Caspian Gull see Alan Dean's excellent website :

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Nice weather for Ducks ?

Tuesday 10th November 2009

Its a stupid expression isn't it, why would ducks 'regard' persistant rain as nice. It cant be nice to fly in it. In fact heavy rain and bad weather generally must contribute to many of the sightings of unusual ducks on Midland reservoirs as birds seek respite from the elements.
Anyway I waited till the rains had eased before I ventured forth. Alvecote first stop where I was met by a couple of Stonechat. The group of Red crested Pochard with 3 drakes and 4 ducks were at the southern end of Mill pool.

After a brief look round the Coton/Lea Marston area I moved on to Shustoke reservoir where there were 3 Common Scoter, a drake and 2 ducks. They stayed in the centre of the reservoir. At 2.00pm they took off for no apparent reason. They flew round the reservoir several times gradually gaining height until lost to view. The light was poor throughout the day so it took considerable skill to obtain any sort of photographic record of the days highlights!

Common Scoter, Shustoke reservoir

Saturday 7 November 2009

Water Rail at Brandon Marsh

Water Rail, Brandon Marsh N.R.

Water Rail

Saturday 7th November 2009

It was a lovely day, lets be fair. I had hoped the Purple Sand might stay at Draycote but the sky at dawn was as clear as a piece of blue paper with no writing or drawing on it so I opted for a wander round Brandon Marsh. I heard a couple of Cetti's and a Willow tit but didnt see a great deal except the tamest Water rail you could hope for. Even when a fellow photographer contrived to slide down a bank and barely manage to avoid a watery end, the bird continued on its way around the small pool. The long staying Greenshank was on East marsh but I was too late to see the Bittern flying over Newlands or the Sparrowhawk bathing in front of Carlton hide.

Friday 6 November 2009

Purple Sandpiper at Draycote Water

Purple Sandpiper, Draycote Water : Photo taken by Dave Hutton

Purple Sandpiper : Photo taken by Max Silverman

Purple Sandpiper with Dunlin, Draycote Water :Photo taken by me with a very small camera!

Friday 6th November 2009

It had been a difficult journey fom the depths of deepest Somerset. We had foolishly let the Sat nav take the strain and it simply wasnt up to it, guiding us through the back streets of Bristol rather than find the quickest route to the M5 via Glastonbury. Anyway we finally gave up on the Sat nav and just followed signs to the M5. On approaching Stratford I picked up a text from Dave Hutton via Tom Perrins that there was a Purple Sandpiper at the overflow at Draycote Water. After assuring Jan that she needed a break and that the cafe latte from the van was as good as anything Italy had to offer we made the slight detour to Draycote. Purple Sandpiper is a huge bird for Warks. well worth getting a few dirty looks for. I met Francoise, Bob Hazel and Max Silverman on the way in. They tried the old 'it flew off 10 mins ago' routine but I wasnt having any of it. I was surprised though that there was no one at the overflow when I got there. I quickly located the Sandpiper in company with 4 Dunlin, but it was frustrating having no bins or scope let alone camera with me. Finally Kevin Groocock arrived who kindly let me use his bins as did Steve Haynes when he arrived shortly afterwards. It was a cracking new Warks tick for me so Im very grateful to Max for finding the bird, Bob H for Id-ing it, Dave Hutton and Tom Perrins for putting the news out and Kevin Groocock and Steve Haynes for helping me to see it properly. I tried to take a few photos useing Jan's compact camera but as you can see with limited success.


Welcome to Venice !

Grand Canal

Ist - 5th November 2009

Jan and I teamed up with Gail and Ciaran in Somerset to travel to Venice from Bristol for the flight to Venice's Marco Polo airport. The water bus from the Airport took us across the lagoon to the Rialto bridge via the Grand Canal, the main thoroughfare through the city. The scene beyond the Rialto bridge was my wow moment of the trip as the canal, flanked by impressive buildings was alive with activity with boats of every description plying their trades. Our hotel was small but comfortable and ideally situated between St Marks square and the Rialto bridge. The old city with its canals, bridges, narrow streets and medieval buildings was all around us. Even off season in November the streets were busy with tourists mainly Japanese and French. The street sellers were doing a brisk trade in umbrellas as the heavens opened on the Tuesday of our visit and we took to the board walks as a high tide meant flooding in several ares including St Mark's square. It all added to the uniqueness of the place as we did the touristy bit.

Eating out was very expensive and I thought value for money was hard to find. It was great fun nonetheless, despite the weather. Quote of the week was probably ' the front of the church is round the back '


Yellow legged Gull - Piazza San Marco

1st - 5th November 2009

Venice isn't noted for its bird life and so I didnt expect to see much in the way of bird life particularly as I had no optics with me. The old city of Venice is on an island, one of several on a salt water lagoon. The city's airport is on the mainland right next to the water so to get to Venice you have to take a water bus (13 Euros) across the water but passing mudbanks and uninhabited weedy areas. Birds observed on the 2 crossings were: Black headed Gulls, Yellow legged gulls, Grey Heron, Turnstone, Hooded Crow, Stonechat, Cormorant, Great crested Grebe, Starling and Marsh Harrier. Apart from Feral pigeons, Starlings and Gulls birds were few and far between in the city a few Blackbirds and House sparrows were the only other birds seen.