Friday, 24 May 2013

Birding the Avalon Marshes and Chew

What a way to finish April! With a trip down south into the stunning county of Somerset to visit the recently publicized birding hot-spot of the Avalon Marshes
Neil Duggan (@NeilDuggan80 on Twitter) had again offered the trip, and i gratefully accepted, knowing of a whole host of amazing birds present in the area at the time. Pied Billed Grebe, Black winged Stilt, Whiskered Tern, Woodchat Shrike, as well as all the residents. It'd be a good day!

Arriving at the parking spot as Ashcott Corner, nestled between two fabulous extensive reedbed reserves, one owned by the RSPB, Ham Wall, the other by the Natural England, Shapwick Heath NR we took the unanimous decision to head straight to the 2nd viewing platform on the RSPB side. The walk up was incredible, as only a few meters onto the reserve we had already clocked Cuckoo, Marsh Harrier, and numerous Cetti's Warblers!
Our walk along the track was constantly, and i do mean CONSTANTLY followed by Cetti's Warblers, with easily 15 counted in the time we were on site, and that was only the Ham Wall side, they were everywhere!
A Grasshopper Warbler briefly reeling near the first Platform.
At the 2nd Platform, we were informed the Pied Billed had been heard singing a little earlier, but to cut it short, we didn't see or hear it throughout our visit, which was a huge shame.
But then again, there were loads of amazing birds.
3 Marsh Harrier were hunting the reedbeds, one of which was a stunning male. But here is one of the females.

Initially, we could only pick up 1 GARGANEY, but as time went on, it became apparent that there was infact 4! All of which were drakes, and all looking absolutely stunning! Even despite the distance, i managed a couple of shots which i am happy with.

After a bit, someone called out they had two 'pale' Sandpipers, and upon getting onto them confirmed that 2 WOOD SANDPIPERS were hunting the margins. The distance was around the same to that of the Garganey's, but with a Sandpiper, it was a fair bit harder to get a picture, but i tried, and i got a few in which you can tell is a Wood Sandpiper, you just have to trust me.

Do you see it?

As can be seen with the direction the scope is facing, every decent bird was tucked up in the far right hand corner, exactly where the Stilts had been the previous day, but had now departed.

At least 4 BITTERN were around, 2 of which were seen. One of those flypasts gave stunning views for around 30 seconds as it flew the entire length of the pool. However, the true birder i am, i chose to savor the moment rather than grab the camera. So here is the distant bird:

Added to this, an amazing supporting cast was present. 5 Little Egret flew through, as did single Ringed Plover and Dunlin. A male Yellow Wagtail was on the islands and another Cuckoo was heard calling.
Conscious of the time, we headed back to the car, stopping at the 1st Platform again as a giant white bird was sitting there!
This was one of our targets, so was great to see up so close, its green lores and black bill contrasting to the plain yellow of the Grimley bird.

The bird strode around in the shallows while i took some footage. But again, we had to move on.

A very last minute decision to head onto Shapwick heath to check the first pool was rewarded almost immidiatly with another stunning flight view of a Bittern, of which again, there were at least 4 birds. The others 'booming' from within the reeds. 2 WOOD SANDPIPER were present on the mud as we arrived, much closer than the Ham Wall birds, so the scope went up immidiatly  but once up, i aimed the scope, and there was nothing. A few seconds later i was informed they had flown...
A female Garganey was picked out among the ducks. Wader wise, 62 Blackwits were stunning to see and a lone Dunlin.A Little Egret was also hunting the shoreline.

We had received news that the Woodchat Shrike was showing again near Chew Valley Lake, so we decided to drop in there before Neil had to head back to his sons Cricket match.

Pulling up, we walked to the crowd, and what i did not expect to see was a WOODCHAT SHRIKE perched up on the hedgeline just on the other side of the fence, a mere 30ft away! Initially obscured, the bird emerged in full view, and gave absolutely unbelievable views as it dropped down onto the gate to feed. Is there anything to say other than Wow!

We had literally scope filling views as the bird perched on the hedge, occasionally dropping down to the floor (which was even closer than the hedge) to feed.

With our out and out highlight of the day seen, we decided to head back, where i was dropped of at Upton Warren to have a quick look there before i headed home. The flashes was quite bar the usual, so i headed to the Moors, which had 2 Dunlin and a Green Sandpiper. Not too much longer after the Dunlins flew out north. Vismig!

All in all, a total day tally of 98 Species, so close to breaking the 100 barrier!
An awesome days birding, despite bad behavior of the 'rares' that didn't cooperate!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Day listing at Upton Warren

Well OK  not a full day, but as we had gotten away from the gardening job early, we arrived at Upton around 3, and stayed until dark, in total picking up 69 species.

Walking around the North Moors Pool i was rewarded when i heard a GRASSHOPPER WARBLER singing from within the reeds adjacent to the track. Needless to say, after some time the bird didnt show, but i had a nice time sitting watching/Listening to Cetti's, Sedge and Reed Warbler, Not a bad start!

A Garden Warbler was showing on the Causeway.

Moving down to the East hide, i was immidiatly greeted by a stunning ARCTIC TERN, a nice pale bird, which flew around low over the pool briefly while we were battered by heavy rain before flying off south and dropping onto the Sailing Pool. A Water Rail was showing to the right of the hide, as was 2 Common Snipe.

I picked up two Falcons flying towards me, and as they sped past the hide i saw red under-tail coverts and shouted HOBBY!
We had great views of the birds as they gained height on a thermal just to the north of the Pool, and they flew around for a few minutes before flying off in the direction of Upton Warren Village, My first Hobbies of the year! 2 Green Sandpiper were showing in the 'Seasonal pool'.

Moving down to the flashes, i paused briefly at the Sailing Pool and had views of the Arctic Tern as it hawked the pool with the Swallows and Martins. I even tried for some photos.

May i just say, Digi-scoping a flying Tern is hard!

On the Flashes itself, 5 BLACK-TAILED GODWIT'S graced the shallow waters, all showing varying signs of summer plumage. All seemingly of the 'islandica' race due to their very vivid orange tones. The two birds in the center of the photo are simply stunning!
Despite having been around for a protracted period of time, the birds were actively feeding, and therefore it didn't come as a surprise to hear that they flew off the same night

A few Common Sandpipers were also showing, including one down in front of the hide.

To end the day, the 3rd Hobby for the day flew through the flashes late in the evening, before ending up circling over the Sailing Pool, visible from the platform on the back of the hide.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Highlights from late April

A early morning stomp around the patch was rewarded in the form of stunning views of the pair of Mandarin Duck (The long staying pair) which were feeding in paddocks on the riverbank. At least 2 Willow Warbler were singing, as were 4 Skylark. 2 Lapwing continued to show. A few Starlings were also showing very well in the sunlight.

Later that same day, i received news that the male Ring Ouzel was still showing near the lakes at Earlswood, and being just down the road, i't be a shame not to drop in. So once i had finished my jobs for the day i decided to have a short walk down the road, across the Causeway, down the side of Windmill pool to the paddock along the Gypsy lane, to be greeted almost instantly with a view of a stunning male RING OUZEL. couple of birders appeared, and i had a quick look though one of their scopes (Thankyou) and get a couple of pictures.

A stunning adult male, a jet black bird, with possibly the largest white blaze you can get slapped on the front! Stunning!

A trip into my 'Undisclosed' woodland was incredibly rewarding. A male PIED FLYCATCHER was singing in the same spot as last year, and was giving great, but brief views. Personally however, my highlight goes to, after a total of nearly 30 hours searching, i finally caught up with 2 LESSER-SPOTTED WOODPECKER as while listening to the males high pitched Green Woodpecker like song, i managed to pick up the female in my bins as she fed on a dying/dead silver birch tree, her pecking could be heard. A true moment of elation! All that time finally come good!
The Tawney Owl as usual was sitting on his tree.

But i was surprised when a Water Rail emerged in front of me adjacent to one of the pools, in late April!

An afternoon visit to Sheepwash was rewarded greatly! A little rain before the end of my lesson certainly helped Sheepwash, and there were actually some decent birds around! I was again surprised when scanning through the Gull flocks on the rocks, the 2nd summer YELLOW-LEGGED GULL re-appeared after a week of not being seen. As a matter of fact, it was almost a week to the hour!

I grabbed a few Digi-binned shots before the bird was flushed by a dog jumping into the water, the joys of urban birding. 2 Common Sandpiper were around the pool, one sharing the rocks with the Gull, the other on the other side of the pool.

 Moving on to the other side of the canal, i imminently picked up a stunning male Wheatear on the lower slops of the mound, which i gladly took a few pictures of! My first at Sheepwash! Walking up to the 'top' i was amazed when as i walked around, Wheatear after Wheatear appeared in front of me, and after around 30 Minutes, i was certain i had at least 8 birds scurrying around the mound! Awesome!
At least 3 of the birds seemed to be of the Leucorhoa race, better known as 'Greenland' Wheatear!

With a backdrop of Dudley Castle

Thursday, 16 May 2013


Its been a slog, but by today it really felt as if summer was in the air! Birding in a T-shirt, and with many summer migrants, it was just so great to be out!

With it being a Friday we were somewhat limited time wise, but as we were heading past Shenstone on our way to the Grimley Pits we decided to drop in for a quick look at the Redstart hedge.
And guess what!


And nothing less than a stunning adult male Redstart!


Moving onwards we next dropped into the 'flash' floods at holt, which proved to be quite eventful!
We had dropped in looking for Yellow Wagtail, and i was incredibly happy to pick up 4 of these stunning bright yellow characters, 3 of which were males!

One of my favorite summer migrants, i love to catch up with them, and it is always a happy moment when you do finally catch up with them for the first time in the year. However, i was also shocked by the sheer number of 'alba' type Wagtails that were present, with around 30, of which most seemed to be of the continental 'White' Wagtail variety.

A single Ringed Plover also happened to be my first of the year as it fed on the flooded ground.

Moving on ward to Camp lane, we stopped at the north end so we could scan the edges well. The earlier reported flock of 10 Ringed Plover, yes 10! was still present, and at one point i had all 10 in the scope at the same time. As you would expect, the muddy edges at Grimley was looking superb for waders, and it continues to prove good!
3 Common Sandpiper were also very mobile around the north end, and 2 Redshank were feeding on the 'middle section'.
My first Common Whitethroat of the year, a male, was showing in the hedge between the road and the pool.

It was only when i scanned the far fields did i start to think we were in the middle of something special! A flock of 100+ Wagtails was feeding in the fields on east side, of which around half were of the White Wagtail variety! 50 White Wagtails!!
Obviously Wagtail movement had been very strong today, and it just so happened large numbers had dropped into the fields to feed. 9 Yellow Wagtail were feeding within the flock, and the rest were made of Pied Wagtails, but a flock of 100+ wagtails moving its way along the field is something!

All in all, a nice couple of hours!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Sheepwash YLG

An afternoon after college visit to Sheepwash was rewarded by a cracker of a 2nd summer YELLOW-LEGGED GULL. I originally picked the bird out as 'interesting' on mantle shade from the opposite side of the pool, obviously paler than 'Graellsii' LBBG's which it was with, but also a shade or two darker than nearby Herring Gulls of nominate race. I rushed around the the viewpoint overlooking the rocks, and was pleased to see the bird still sitting there, and looking like a superb YLG!

Just look at that bill, an absolute beast of a bird.

At around 5pm the bird flew off, revealing it to be fairly distinctive in flight also, and very different to either Herring or LBBG. The bird was a very obvious Black tail band contrasting to white tail base and a nice 'saddle' contrasting to retained 1st year Secondarys and Primarys.

3 Shoveler were still 'hanging on', as were 5 Goosander (1 DRK). A Common Sandpiper was around the edges of the pool while the woods seemed to be heaving with Willow Warbler song

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Birthday Birding

For the weekend, me and my Girlfriend had chosen to spend my 18th birthday in Liverpool, and it was a very enjoyable weekend.

As you would expect, the Bins came with me, and luckilly, we had a room overlooking the River Mersey, and therefore i often had chance to scan to see what was about, and i ended up seeing some decent birds!

Within the first hour of being in the Hotel, i had clocked a adult LITTLE GULL flying around the River, also 10c Kittiwake (they followed the Isle of Man ferry into the River) and 2 Shelduck. Later than evening while walking back from a beautiful Birthday Steak in Albert Dock, a Redshank was showing on the mud.

Again, most birding was done from the Hotel window. The highlight being a stunning drake GREATER SCAUP which floated out on the outgoing tide past the Hotel, truly unexpected, and a great addition to the list. A Turnstone also flew through, as did a Kittiwake, 3 Shelduck and a Redshank.

After a brief shopping session in Liverpool, where i bought the stunning 'Birds of Cheshire and Wirrel' atlas it was time to head back home, which was livened up somewhat when just after Penkridge, a stunning CUCKOO flew low north over a field adjacent to the Train!
And that brought the weekend to and end, which was a shame, because Liverpool is a place i enjoy immensly. A Nice city, with a beautiful girl and a few decent birds to boot, whats to complain about?

Monday, 13 May 2013

Migrant hunting.

I decided to head back up onto Sedgley Beacon early morning to see if the Ring Ouzels were still around. After 1 1/2 hours it was clear there was no sign after lapping the top of the hill about 3 times, so i decided to head back, but while walking i saw a bird pop up on the scrub in front of me and perch on top of one of the dead stems.

Another decent bird for this urban site, 2 Ouzels and a Stonechat in 2 days. Pretty decent for a location where no reports come from!

The bird was on show for some time before being flushed by a dog walker at which point i decided t leave aswell.
3 Sand Martin flew over north also, as did 10 Meadow Pipit

Friday, 10 May 2013

I actually found a bird!

Its not very often i can say that!

Sedgley Beacon has been an area that i thought had amazing promise to produce some migrants, as i have commented on the blog all the way back in the winter. So, with it being into April, and with the first spring migrants starting to arrive, it was a perfect opportunity to head up this under watched high point to find some birds!

The Beacon hill, on which stands a tower stands at a rather daunting 666ft above sea level, and is one of the highest points in the Midlands! There is nothing hellish about up here though (apart from the constant streams of dog walkers and Chavs in the area), and the habitat consists of basically short grass and general scrubby area's, a very limited habitat around the area. On the NW side however there is a fairly large 'hawthorn valley' on top of the old quarry which looks decent for migrant passerines, if only it was on the east coast!

It was just while walking down the first slope towards the 'plateau' that i noticed another birder in the distance staring down into the valley! As we approached he waved us over, obviously he had something decent!
Ring Ouzel!
He'd just had a bird perched up in a tree in the valley but had flushed by walkers. He was unsure as to where the bird went, so we decided to swap numbers and split up, he continued into the Valley and I went up onto the top of the hill and 'around the back'. Just as i rounded a bush however, i noticed a 'Blackbird' running the edge of the hedgeline away from me. Bins up. ITS GOT A WHITE BREAST!


As expected, the bird imminently dropped into cover, and went elusive, and that's how it stayed the rest of the day!
Calling Paul back around, he came up, and on discussing the bird, we came to the conclusion that the bird i saw was a different bird as mine was an obvious male! It also had fairly obvious white speckling on its head, which his bird did not.

Over the next couple of hours we had brief views of the original bird, with a fully black head as it moved around between hawthorns. After some time scouting the area, i stopped at a field that backs onto the hill, and found that the 'white speckled' Ouzel was showing. Paul had yet to see the bird by this point, so again, called him over, and the bird duly disappeared! We gathered in the spot though, as the bird only flew into a nearby hawthorn, but the bird didn't show again for some time!
I looked at the other end of the field, and was happy when i picked up a 2nd RING OUZEL at the other end of the field, some distance away! But enough to prove that there were two birds up here as they were both in the same field, at opposite ends, at the same time. To give you the impression, here is a couple of 'record' shots i got.

I had to leave for a bit, but returned after an hour or so with the scope, but from this point onwards, failed to get any decent views of the birds, only getting brief, or flight views.

However, a couple of stunning birds, and great to have had then only 15 minutes walk form home!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Staffordshire comes good!

Neil Duggan text me on Saturday asking if i wanted to venture into Staffordshire with him looking for a Little Gull that had been seen on one of the regions reserviors. Natrually, i replied with a yes, and soon plans were made for the day.

Starting off on the patch, we tried to get Neil Mandarin Duck. They shouldnt have been too hard so we had a short walk along the river. It was only on the walk back however that we picked up 2 Mandarin Duck, both drakes swimming into the near bank further downstream! I was fairly surprised with this, as these were obviously not the pair that had been knocking around. We paused briefly to watch them, when i heard a familiar call, and 2 more Mandarin Duck flew over our heads and landed around the small paddock, the regular pair!

We had a quick look at both 'sets' of birds, before heading onward to Gailey.

Upon hopping out of the car, i soon picked up the two Eurasian White-fronted Goose that had been around the pool for some time. A scan around the pool didn't reveal the Gull, so we moved to the raised area in between the two pools, and waited. 2 Gadwall were showing at the far end of the fishing pool. The highlight though was when suddenly we were surrounded by 4 Sand Martin which came from nowhere, and started hawking the water. Oh how i have missed you guys!

At 9:40, i picked up the LITTLE GULL flying in from the west, which then dropped onto the fishing pool, and we had decent, but not very close views. 

Heading off, it was next Cannock Chase, but, in par with each visit this year, it was pretty much dead up there, which was a shame.

The usual Roe Deer were showing very well from the car!

So we decided to move away for a spot of twitching. A Sandwich Tern had been seen at Blithfield, but our hopes were not high (they don't usually stay around long!), but decided to head anyway.

A series of road closures led us on the Blithbury- Abbots Bromley road. We picked up a Swan flock in a roadside field, and managed to stop briefly to have a scan, and in doing so, picked up a stunning adult WHOOPER SWAN!
Obviously we couldn't
 stay long parked where we were, so i put my camera to my bins and got some very bad, but confirmation photos showing the extent of yellow on the bill (If its size was not enough to go on).
Needless to say, we were very happy by now!

Arriving at Blithfield, to our immense surprise, we soon found the SANDWICH TERN as it sat on a boyd, before giving us superb views as it hunted along the Causeway!

Just to show how close it came, here it is taken at around 4x zoom!

3 Sand Martin were flying around, and 20c Wigeon were on the water. We counted a huge flock of 104 Great-crested Grebe, easily the most i've seen at one time.

Neil had to head back now, but we decided to drop into Sandwell valley to locate a few birds which are rare in Worcester. We found 3 Ring-necked Parakeet before moving to the old visitor centre, and immidiatly found 3 WILLOW TIT on the feeders. An incredibly rare bird in Worcester now!

It was only at this point i scanned towards the main lake, and i had one of those 'whaaaaat....' moments as two Egyptian Goose stood on the main island! Gypo Goose at Sandwell!, That has to be a bloody rare bird in West Midlands county! Camera to the scope!

Considering i had only seen my first Gypo a few weeks before, it came as a huge surprise to find a pair loitering on the island at Sandwell. Not a bad little addition to the day!

I was dropped off at Upton Warren, which had a reward of 2 Barnacle Goose, completing a nice little trio of 'plastics' for the day. In all seriousness though, Barnacle Goose is one seriously good looking goose, and yet another decent addition to the day list!

A couple of Snipe were also showing, which rounded off a decent day!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Ring Ouzel, 4th time lucky!

We had a short time to spare between the Saturday morning activities and the afternoon gardening job, so, as it was on the way, we again, for the 4th time dropped into Stone to look for the Ring Ouzel. I'd only had very brief views of it a couple of days previously, so I wasn't completely satisfied.
We first arrived at the usual drop in spot on the road, and scanned the hedgerow, which only contained a Blackbird, but I picked up two photographers posing purposefully behind their camera's, so I had an idea that the bird was showing on the other side of the hedge. Walking up along the public footpath behind the paddock, I paused to scan the hedgerow from a distance, and in doing so saw that the RING OUZEL was showing in full view only around 30ft from the Togs!
By the time I had reached the stile, the bird had moved off a fair bit, but it still gave great views.
With the sun behind us, you could see the pale edges to many of the underpart feathers, and the pale edges to many of the primary feathers, contrasting to the very black base colour.
And, as you would expect, that white blaze on the front stood out like a beacon!

I also managed some video footage of the bird.

Eventually, the bird moved further up the hedgerow being chased by one of the local Blackbirds!

And to finish, a jingle.
"Ring Ouzel, Ring Ouzel,
Its just a Blackbird with a white breast"