Monday, 8 August 2016

Spring migrants on the patch

With April underway, the amount of time I spend on patch dramatically increases. Sometimes entire days are spent walking the tracks, scanning the hedges and fields to uncover all of the incoming avian delight of summer.
As always, a huge dose of optimism is needed to pull you through, after all, my patch does consist of a river, a number of fields, hedgerows and small blocks of woodland in the middle of the country. Not exactly prime migrant habitat. Despite this, combine a bit of favourable weather and a lot of optimism, and all those hours pay off, and this spring can certainly claim to have been one of my best.
It all kicked off on the 2nd April. Sudden southerly winds have forced an obvious passage of migrants into the country, however I was still resting at home until I picked up a tweet from Rob C saying he had just had an Osprey fly north over Grimley. For those not local to Worcestershire, Grimley is about 10 miles due south of my patch along the river, so in theory, anything seen flying north here would probably end up on my patch. Despite this theory however, nothing ever has, but I still went out regardless, walking to the end of the road, setting up my scope and scanning in a S/SW direction.
Light drizzle made standing motionless seem a little futile, however the determination of a number of Sand Martin flocks to move north despite the weather gave me a boost to keep going. After about 30 minutes however, my hope was starting to dwindle. My quick calculations showed the bird really should have flown over by now. At 10:55am though, while scanning over the church near Arley Kings with my bins, I picked up a large, and very interesting bird. I knew instantly that this was the Osprey, however much lower than I was expecting. The bird dropped below the treeline while I drew my scope in that direction, and a few seconds later it re-emerged.
It was distant, probably nearing 2km however with the scope I could quite easily see the distinctive shape and flight pattern of an Osprey. The bird continued to move north, before starting to circle over Stourport town centre, just over 1km from where I stood. A couple of record shots of this momentous occasion were needed, so the camera was grabbed, and a few photos taken as the bird continued to circle.  It circled out of view behind the Moorhall marsh woodland, and that was that, not to be seen again.
However, having just seen my first ever patch Osprey, I was ecstatic! 

It wasn’t too hard to draw my optimism to get me out on patch the next morning. A patch first always has that effect. Half the walk had been completed and other than a few expected birds, I was struggling to find much. I had just covered Lickhill meadows and was just arriving next to the river when I looked up into the bright blue sky to see 2 birds of prey circling above me. One was one of the local Buzzards, however the 2nd, directly above me immidiatly hit the paic button. Flying less than 100f above me, gleaming white was another Osprey! Litterally frame filling views were had until I decided to try to improve on my record shot of the day before, at which point the bird decided it had had enough of lingering around, and started flying off north, gaining height as it did.

Conidering I have birded this site for 15 years without a hint of an Osprey (although a number of locals have seen them flying over while I have been away from patch) to have 2 birds in two days was ludicrous, and gave a great start to what turned out to be a great spring on patch.
I had been searching for Wheatear as the Osprey flew over, so it was a relief when on the return leg of my walk, a pale ‘blob’ out on a a distant field gave itself up as a male Wheatear. A great start to spring!
For a couple of weeks, activity died down again, however it hit back with a vengeance on the 17th. A bright and sunny day, with light winds, and lots of birds moving. Hirundies and Pipits were flying about, Phylloscs flicking about everywhere. I had just made it out onto Lickhill Meadows before another bonus bird appared, with my first Yellow Wagtail of the year bouncing overhead calling. By the end of this walk, this day proved to be my best ever day on patch for this species. A rattling Lesser Whitethroat gave itself away near the quarry before an obvious, and regular ‘huit’ sound emerged from the ‘Redstart hedge’. It didn’t take long to figure the first Redstart of the year had dropped into the patch. Soon great views were had of the bird sitting in the hedgerow, glowing red, blue and black.

I spent a while watching as the bird sang softly from the hedgerow, flicking down to feed from the floor. It was stopping and waiting which gave me another bonus when a distant, but obviously large Accipiter prove itself to be an immature Goshawk, flying south along the ridge. Over the years, this species has become almost expected on patch at this time of year, with juveniles moving around to find a secluded woodland away from their parents. The bird, as usual, flew straight through, without showing any signs of stopping.
From the air, a number of Yellow Wagtail calls alerted me to a small flock flying over, and from this flock, 3 birds peeled off and dropped down to feed from the paddock inhabited by a pair of horses. Over time, these horses have come to know me, and so regularly approach. This time however, and for the first time in my patch history, a pair of Yellow Wagtails were exploiting the numerous flies around the horses, and so as the horses moved towards me, so did the Wagtails, until the views I had were nothing short of crippling!

With time getting on, I continued down the track towards the old quarry field, now reverted back to pasture. The short grass here, combined with extensive muck spreading had obviously given rise to large numbers of insects, and a quick scan across the field broke another patch record, with a single flock of 5 Wheatear being present on the field. 3 males were looking absolutely superb as they mingled among pipits and Larks in the grass.

My list the end of the day included Goshawk, 11 Yellow Wagtail, Redstart, 5 Wheatear and 2 Lesser Whitethroat. Not bad for a little patch of land in the corner of Worcestershire.

The last patch visit to the moth took place on the 24th, and the pace of earlier in the month continued. I had again reached the Quarry, the favoured area for migrants on patch when I heard the distinctive ‘huit’ call of a Redstart from its namesake hedge and as I walked towards it, I was struck by another bird which flicked up on top of a pile of cut branches. The boldness in the way it perched proved it was a Chat species without need for my bins. However upon raising them, a bold white supercillium and orange throat secured the identification in milliseconds, my very first patch Whinchat! Not very often I manage to find 2 new patch birds within a few weeks of each other.

The bird favoured one of the scrubby paddocks for much of the remainder of the day, despite flying off strongly on a couple of occasions. While waiting for the bird to re-appear, a quick look over the Gull flock in the quarry revealed a very out of place 1st winter/summer Great Black-backed Gull, another scarce bird on the patch! This didn’t hang around long, obviously not enjoying the company of many of its smaller LBBG cousins.
Once again, the hedges and fields were alive with birds, with Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, a pair of Redstart and plenty of Lesser Whitethroats. What more could you want from a few hours on patch!

What a way to conclude a month of birding the patch!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Great Grey Shrike in the Forest of Dean

It turned out that a day journeying to the next county below us in Worcestershire was a good move bird wise. Having seen 2 Penduline Tits during the morning we spent the rest of the say wandering around in the stunning Forest of Dean, looking for a couple of birds in particular. At least 2 Great Grey Shrikes had made the forest their winter home, and one bird in particular had been known to show fairly well on occasions.
With a vague location and a will, we searched, and soon we managed to find out location. Atop one of the scattered dead trees, a familiar white shape sat sentinel. What we had been looking for.

The bird continued to show well as we watched, watching from its high perch before it eventually dropped down to the ground, flying back up with a Mouse almost the size of the bird! With a quick flick of its head, the rodent was dispatched and the bird flew off to cache its food at its larder.

The real Butcher Bird!

In the hour we watched the bird, it then went onto catch a Wren, flying up into a nearby tree to impale it, and then devour it in front of us. An awesome sight and something I have never had the privilege to watch before!

Gloster Penduline Tits!

Having found a female Penduline Tit a couple of autumns previously I was in no real rush to travel across the country to see another. The bird our crew had found though, was a rather dowdy young bird, probably female, so if a male turned up it may tempt me out to see another in the UK.

Generally as a winter visitor to the UK most records relate to bird arriving in singles or small groups in the SE of the country, so it was a shock to find that not one, but 2 male had found themselves flicking about the bullrushes on a flood storage area just outside Gloster! What more can you ask for?

So early on a freezing January day (and I do really mean freezing!), I journeyed down with Rob to check out these stunning visitors. A large crowd had accumulated even before dawn, but due to the birds habit of flying off not too long after dawn, it was no surprise.

A while was spent staring into a seemingly empty patch of bullrushes which the birds frequented until the fingers were feeling numb and then a familiar call started to sound from within the rushes. 'Almost' Reed Bunting like, however not quite, and upon my attention being drawn, soon our targets were sighted and flicking about low down in the dense vegetation.

The sun had still yet to rise, but as it did, the birds became more visible, spending more time moving up the stems. With some patience, and the temperature rising slightly, excellent views were had of these two stunning birds. After 2 hours though, our fingers were about to drop off, and so we decided to head off.

Monday, 25 July 2016

The Hinksford Hoopoe!

The unexpected appearance of a stunning Hoopoe in late November 2015 was certainly a great way to liven up yet another dreary winters day in the midlands.
In fact, I first heard of the bird at around midnight when a post appeared on an unassuming group on Facebook. The poster simply posting a few photos of the Hoopoe they had found at Wall Heath, West Midlands! A couple of messages were sent to a friend who lives a mere few hundred meters from the location and I awaited dawn.
Soon, the bird was located, and I then quickly headed on down to see my first Hoopoe in the UK, a mere few miles from home!

I joined a growing crowd of appreciative observers and the bird preformed admirably, feeding in the short weeds and grasses on the site of the ex-quarry. Most local birders reacted quickly to the news (and rightly so!), however few of us imagined the bird would stay on to spend the entire winter with us, hanging around until well into March. Due to a mild winter, the bird survived well

The bird continued to draw in admirers throughout its stay, and often preformed superbly, although towards the end of its stay the bird could occasionally become elusive as it fed out of view among very dense weeds on the western side of the quarry.

Being only a few miles from home, and me passing through Wall Heath at least twice a week, I dropped in a number of times to admire this very out of place Mediterranean waif.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Red-Footed Falcon at Chatterley Whitfield!

One of the biggest surprises of July 2015 was the appearance of a young Red-Footed Falcon in Staffordshire. The 1st summer male chose a small horse paddock adjacent to an old coilry site, and often gave simply mindblowing views- Often assisted (perhaps wrongly) by provisioned feeding by photographer for better photographs.

The bird was first located while I was away on university fieldwork in the Lake District however when we arrived back, I caught the first train up to Stoke- with my suitcase in tow- to attempt to see the bird. I have only seen one previous RFF in the UK, a stonking full adult at Lakenheath, so I was very hopeful to catch up with this one. Luckily, the Clipsons came to the rescue, and picked me up from the station. A short drive later and we were soon enjoying crippling views of what was a superb Falcon!

As soon as we arrived, the bird was showing well, doing its best to not fall of the overhead wires in the fairly strong winds.

As time went, the bird still resided in its paddock, gradually becoming more and more tame, and then the controversy started. Firstly, two men pulled up in a van and attempted to catch the bird, provoking a response from the Police who suggested the immediate cessation of feeding by photographers. Most duly obliged, but the story of this bird didn't end there.

The bird vacated Staffordshire, and then moved over to Linconshire, where it resided at a small nature reserve for a while, continuing to provide good views to a host of appreciative audiences. The bird departed, and the story seemingly ended...

And then the eventful journey of this amazing falcon came to a catastrophic end, when news emerged that the bird had sadly been found shot in Cambridgeshire soon after it departed Linconshire. This sparked a fully justifiable wall of outrage on many social media sites, and the bird made regional and national news outlets. The bird that had caused so much joy and ended its journey by a seemingly random act of persecution. Funds were raised by conservation companies to aid the identification of the criminals however as yet, there has been no result of this, nor the police investigation. Only time will tell.

A superb bird, which met a fateful end.