Saturday, 30 August 2014

June & July - The Upton Warren roundup

June & July 2014
With the grip of the summer doldrums in place, birding took a far more relaxing approach, and with that came a fair bit of local general wildlife watching, navigating across from our avian delights, to our inverts, and to our plantlife, and I rather enjoyed it.

Upton Warren I look as one of the most productive, and educational sites in Worcester, and what better to do during the quiet summer months than keep track of the breeding birds, and enthuse about them to locals and semi-interested day visitors!

The major news from this summer at Upton Warren has been the successful hatching, and subsequent raising of a massive 10 Shoveler chicks, the first time the species has bred at Upton Warren since 1947. A truly remarkable occurrence, and hopefully this years bumper success will promote breeding in future years.

It is still even possible to see these local superstars (which made local newspapers, radio shows and possibly even the local TV news) as I write this in the dying days of August. They may even stay around for the rest of the winter now?

As always, the first returning waders of the year are making an appearance, and Green Sandpipers were typically on time, with some spanking adults dropping in for extended stays on the flashes, often showing superbly from the hide. In the two 'J' months, I had a peak count of 10, but this increased further in August which will be covered in an upcoming post.

For the 3rd year running a ringed Common Sandpiper made an appearance for a few days, showing how site faithful some species can be, particularly waders!

And the first few Common Snipe started to appear in the channels adjacent to the hide at the flashes, typically showing well out in the open as migrant birds often do.

 A juvenile Ringed Plover dropped into the flashes in front of me one evening, which proved incredibly productive!

It could often be see within the same scope view as a number of Little Ringed Plover, but sadly all of these were raised elsewhere, with all the earlier chicks having been predated.

Wader wise my personal counts peaked at, Avocets- 45, Little Ringed Plovers-8 and Common Sands- 5 and up to 21 Curlew. Oystercatcher raised 4 chicks and Lapwing were also present, but Lapwing being quite scarce and hard to come by, but occasional counts of up to 30 were seen as the autumn flock built up.

Gulls have been high on the agenda, and there has been an almost continual presence of Mediterranean Gulls throughout the summer as a few 1st summer birds have been loitering around with the Black-headed Gulls. The Little Gull remained for some time also, but had disappeared by mid July.

Towards the end of July, I was lucky enough to locate the first juvenile 'Med' Gull of the year in the flashes roost, on the same evening as the Ringed Plover. The roost also held 2 2nd summer Common Gulls that night, so I certainly was kept entertained. 

Away from birds, it was a very poor year for Orchids around the site, with only 2/3 Bee Orchids flowering, and around 30c Common Spotted. Pyramidal was unfortunately not see this year, but it is quite normal for Orchids to flower in some years and not the next.
My undoubted butterfly highlight were 2 White-letter Hairstreaks that were present when I looked adjacent a small colony of them. A recent colonist to the reserve and a pleasure to see.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

An Eagle and Stilts!


What has this spring been like! Hot, muggy, you'd think you were in the Mediterranean, and I'm sure the birds did too!

With the appearance of a mobile but long staying Short-toed Eagle, multiple breeding pairs of Black-winged Stilt and now we hear of successfully fledged Bee-Eaters, it has been a summer to remember, whether you take that as a good or a bad thing.

Needless to say though, with a 3rd for Britain now touring much of the south coast, and one as highly impressive as a stunningly pale Short-toed Eagle, it wasn't too hard a decision to take up an offer and head down with a car full of the Next Generation Birders!
After a quick check of Sheepwash before catching my train, I then met up with Espen in Birmingham New street, before catching out next train out to Rugby for our base for a few hours, at Matt, our drivers house.
I have been on a twitch with both of these guys a few times previous and I have never missed a bird, so optimism was high (Baikal Teal, Ivory Gull). With our train having being cancelled, we arrived in Rugby fairly late on, and following a few preparation tasks, we chose to stay up and drink coffee rather than suffer the horrible feeling of  grogginess you get after only a hour or so sleep.

But, in the early hours, we started on our way down, and the miles passed...

Our final stop before heading for the current location of the Eagle in Ashdown forest was to pick up Josie from her house, which rather remarkably gave us our first bird of the day as we could hear a NIGHTJAR churring from the road outside the house!

With that bonus, we continued on, and before long the sun started to rise, illuminating the sky in red and purple.

It was a increasingly long and nervous wait as we pulled off the main roads and turned into small, overgrown forested road as we arrived near Ashdown, and then a large area heathland appeared from behind the tree's and the Gills Lap carpark appeared in view.

We set up our scopes and camera gear and waited....

A TURTLE DOVE purred from the opposite side of the road, one of the species I had hoped to catch up with on this 'southern' expedition, and following some fairly regular calling, 2 Turtles then flew up the road giving stunning views as they flew past with one in pursuit of the other. My only Turtle Doves this summer!

With the bird obviously not roosting in the open as it had done on a couple of occasions, we chose to have a look around, where we were entertained by a number of Tree Pipits, Garden Warbler, Stonechats and a colony of Heath spotted Orchid. All nice stuff, but upon returning to the crowd we only grew more anxious, there were now a large number of cars and birders present.

With it just starting to warm up, with a few of the suns rays beaming down on the heath, a shout from behind us had multiple people scanning onto a huge bird of prey which had just appeared over the ridge of tree's. Bright white, massive, but very distant, but no doubting this was the 2nd summer SHORT-TOED EAGLE!

A mass exodus of the car park followed as all the twitchers moved down the road to the opposite end of the heath, and soon enough, still distantly, the Eagle could be seen perched up on the tops of a few tree's!
A Woodlark on a tree next to us was almost ignored, but soon after the eagle took flight and flew along the heath, giving much better views, showing what a truly stunning bird it was!

It dropped onto multiple treetops, where a few digi-scoped images were possible, despite the distance.

The bird hunted back and forth over the heath, dropping down out of sight and at one time came up with a Snake, and proceeded to eat it on the wing!
Me and Espen lost the others, so we decided to move our viewpoint back towards the carpark as the bird was flying that way, but unfortunately, after a brief hovering session at closer range, the bird then moved to the other side of the heath where we watched it distantly in our scopes.
Having been watching the bird for nearing 3 hours, we agreed to head off to our next location, to a newly formed RSPB reserve where a pair of Black-winged Stilt had raised 3 chicks.
Even in its very early stages, you can see this reserve has huge potential, with the ever present Avocet's being on most of the pools, and Little Egrets dotted around. We moved our way onto the shingle beach, where numerous Sandwich, Little and a single Common Tern were flying. 6 Mediterranean Gull were also moving back and forth before an altogether bigger bird flew over as a rather impressive RAF C-130 Hercules flew over the reserve and out to sea!
We continued along, and a party of Lesser black backed Gulls flew low over and area of dense sedge and weedy grass, and in doing so, up flew a strikingly black and white bird as one of the adult BLACK-WINGED STILTS flew up to mob them, and it was soon joined by its mate as they chased off these unwanted visitors, proving beyond doubt that they were still caring for chicks in that dense foliage! We just couldn't see them.
Elated at this brief, but very good flight display we waked up to a estuary mouth a little further up, which gave us a nice wader showing, with Little ringed, Ringed and Grey Plover all being present, alongside Lapwing, Dunlin, Turnstones, Redshank and a single Bar-tailed Godwit! We were also treated to some outstanding Little Tern flypasts here as they flew within 30ft of us as they headed back out to sea!
Away from Avian highlights, 4 Clouded Yellow butterflies were seen, including one which flew out to sea, but non of which landed for a photo.
We returned back to where we saw the Stilts, and enjoyed a few further brief views on the deck and in flight but with us all starting to tire, we decided to head somewhere where we could sit down and get some rest, so we dropped in Pagham Harbour.

Birdwise it was all a little 'samey', but also present here were a number of Little Terns, Sandwich Terns and again a single Common Tern, all of which were appreciated as  they flew across the waves of the sea.

With us all now fairly birded out, and with a still long drive back ahead of us, we decided to head back, after what was a great, but very tiring day.

Note to self- Always go to sleep before you go on a twitch, even if just for a short time!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Creatures of the night: Take 2

After having such a great time out looking for Nightjars a couple of weeks previously I quickly took an opportunity to head to the same site again in the hope for the same selection of birds. Feeling somewhat indebted to the generous deed from Liz, Rob and Luke back in April in a journey up to the Mynd for the Dotterel flock I was quite happy to return the favour and show them the location of some of our nocturnal species.

A pre-dusk walk around the same location followed before moving over towards the Nightjar site, and during so managed to find a number of Tree Pipits and a singing male Garden Warbler. Similarly to last time, a number of Cuckoo were partaking in their namesake and 'Cuckooing' regularly, and Willow Warbler were the most common warbler.
Our first target of the trip had failed to show which wasn't a huge surprise, but again with the light fading it was time to move onwards, and in doing so a surprise followed as 2 Mallards were roosting on the edge of the heather and gorse.
We arrived with time to spare, but soon our first Woodcock of the evening appeared, and then another, both roding in wide circles over the extensive heathland. A few gave a repeat performance of last time and flew straight over our heads. With the precursor event underway, and the horizon turning various shades of red and orange it wasn't long before one of our main targets piped up, and the same 'squeeky gates' from the pine plantation were the first indication that the LONG-EARED OWL'S were now active, but as last time, deep within the impenetrable wall of coniferous trees.
And then the NIGHTJARS piped up, first a brief chur like last time, the occasional contact call, and then the male started churring properly, and the reasons for his efforts were obvious, he was chasing a female!

Both birds were flying about us, the male in pursuit of the female, showing off his white flashes like the poser he was. He followed her every move, and they gracefully hawked moths and other flying insects from across the clearing.

(video from my previous visit)

With the light now getting very low, we took our leave,  but having walked only a hundred feet or so to the other side of the plantation, Rob spotted a silent shape flush of the path behind an area of trees. It flew down the side of the plantation where it was joined by another, which was hunting low over the heather bank opposite us. It was a pair of LONG-EARED OWLS! And actually showing well!

One sat on a fence post quite distantly down the track, flying off to hunt at the opposite end of the plantation, but the other flew in towards us and dropped into the low vegetation giving jaw dropping views of these elusive birds despite the low light. Once in the scope, the long ears were obvious as it sat on its catch, a minute or two passed, and following stare off and a few bobbing movements, this bird flew off low into the plantation, rounding off yet another great evening out looking for birds of the night!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Savi's in the bag!

With the continued presence of the Savi's Warbler at Newport Wetlands, and with it being only an hour and a half down the road it was worth the effort (It takes that amount of time to reach some midlands sites, never mind south Wales!)
Sadly however, with it having been around for a number of weeks, it had become much more elusive, and that proved so true!
Hours were spent standing adjacent to the area the bird had been seen in, and there was very little activity. Bearded Tits could be heard 'pinging' from many stands of reed around us, and brief flight views proved a welcomed distraction to what was rather a tedious wait.
As I said though, hours passed, and there was still nothing, the only hope resting on the fact the bird had been heard very early that morning! Time dragged on, a few Little Egrets flew past but it was hard to keep staring at a seemingly empty patch of reeds.
Eventually I cracked, and walked off, and I continued on, and still, saw very little. But eventually a couple of long tailed birds could be seen flicking across the tops of the reeds, and as I was standing behind one of the screens, a Bearded Tit flew in  and dropped down on the edge of the reeds, showing very well!
I had left my scope back at the crowd which was just down the track, so I only had my bins to take photos. But still, I managed a few photos which are my first of the species!

Feeling quite happy with that, I trudged back to the crowd.
A bird started moving in the reeds below us, and then it happened!
It reeled!
The dry wooden rattle rang out for a short time, and then it went silent, as it slowly moved through the reedbed, where it could be seen as it slinked its way back into the depths of the reedbed! And that was it, 3 hours for less than 10 seconds, not particularly satisfying considering views other people had been getting, but non the less, it was the SAVI'S WARBLER! Finally!
Another significant time followed, but still it steadfastly refused to show, so it was time to head back to the car. However, one last decent find was a singing Lesser Whitethroat along the track back to the visitor centre.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Gull watching and wader chicks!


With both of the Gulls from the previous Gull watching session having lingered, I again took the opportunity to drop in and have a look. It didn't take long to stop the 1st winter LITTLE GULL feeding over the open water.  It steadfastly refused to land however, but that meant that the gorgeous black 'w' pattern was showing, which is always a treat!
It dip-fed constantly, but not wanting to hang around for too long, a scan across the islands, and a check on the Orchids and I moved to the flashes as news have came out of a couple of chicks that had hatched.

News had emerged that an LRP chick had hatched a single chick, and it was showing very nicely on the flooded grassland in front of the hide. These little bundle's of fluff always put a smile on my face, and it was great to watch it scurrying about in the short grass with parents in close attendance!

The parents were as vigilant as possibly can be, but it came as no surprise to hear that a few days later the chick was sadly predated by a large gull, a common fate to many of the LRP chicks in the county. Needless to say, productivity is generally low.

On the south shore of the flash, the 1st summer Mediterranean Gull was sleeping among the young and non-breeding flock of Black-headed Gulls, but it did eventually wake up, have a brief wing stretch, showing off its brilliant white underwing, and then fly off south.

5 Shelduck were dotted around the Flashes, and a male was escorting a single chick around, which is a very unusual occurrence on site, as they rarely breed. Despite protecting the chick in close attendance, he seemed to have sadly 'lost' the other chick which was swimming around on the 3rd flash being attacked by Black-headed Gulls. Both of the chicks were still alive and kicking by dark however and the Black-heads had calmed down. Interestingly, or sadly given your point of view, it was only the 1st summer Black-headed Gulls that were attacking the chicks, the adults being pre-occupied in 'other' activities. It suggests that the young bird's (which usually disperse through the summer) which have stayed on and around the reserve are more mischievous, and hence have been causing a fair amount of disturbance, which is quite sad.

It was good however to see the first returning flock of Teal to the site, with 6 being present. A singing male Garden Warbler was singing nearby, which is an unusual bird to have on site, and it looked very fond of an area of blackthorn.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Sheepwash Mega's!


It's not very often I 'twitch' Sheepwash, but with news of a 3rd record for the site paddling about on the pool, it was time to get moving.
Despite seeing them on every patch visit I was still going to travel across to Great Bridge to look for a male Mandarin Duck that had been found that morning.
From the raised track, it took a while scanning, but eventually, sitting on a half sunken log below the overhanging trees on the west shore was a stunning drake Mandarin! It was fairly distant, and combined with them being common on my patch I didn't try to get many photos other than a quick record shot.

Mark then appeared, and after scanning around, we decided to head over to the mound and as we reached the top, I heard a brief 'reel' from the riverside vegetation. Immediately I knew it was a 'locustella', but it quickly went quiet, and following a very long wait sitting next to the large area of reeds and small plants, it finally piped up again, and reeled briefly a number of times, but still refused to show! But at least it was certain it was now a GRASSHOPPER WARBLER!

Not a bird I had thought I would find at the park, as they're aren't too many dotted about in urban Birmingham.

With a last look at the main pool, an explosion sound flushed the still present Mandarin, and it flew off east, but after a few minutes it returned and dropped onto the 'mud bank'. Sadly, I was on the opposite side of the pool again, and similar to before, I didn't have the willingness to try to find a closer viewpoint, but I took a couple more photos.


Monday, 4 August 2014

Gull watching in June!

So it is the first day of June, and I'm heading out to look at Gulls!

It was straight to the Moors Pool as immature Little and Mediterranean Gulls had been seen on and off for some time. 
And it didn't take long for the 1st summer LITTLE GULL to show itself, and as always, hawking for insects low over the north end of the pool in a similar fashion to Marsh Terns.

I always enjoy seeing the smallest of the worlds Gulls, and I was even happier when rather than being on the opposite side of the pool, the bird dropped in to rest on the islands. Interestingly, the bird had a rather 'full' hood, different to the majority of 1st summer Little Gulls I see.It was also interesting to see those very vivid orange/pink legs, which looked rather comical in comparison with the surrounding Black-headed Gulls.

And within that Black-headed Gull flock was also a similarly young aged Mediterranean Gull. Typically worn and grubby, it just slept on the edge of the island for almost the entire time in the hide.
When it did wake however, it revealed a very vivid and very heavy orange bill, standing out like a sore thumb.

At a couple of times, the bird could be seen snoozing in the same scope view as the Little Gull, which was a nice sight on an inland pool.
At least now I cane take solace in the fact that in only another 5 months I can go back to looking at Gulls properly!

Friday, 1 August 2014

Nightjars be Churring!

It was as I was driving back through mid-wales I got a message asking if I wanted to meet up in a few hours and want to head off to look for some heathland specialities. With the weather looking as good, and as calm as it was, it looked a perfect evening for Nightjars, which would be our main target.

I had barely sat down back at home before I was on the move again, and I then went onto meet Mike, Mike's son and Jarad before continuing on. We had planned to arrive well before when the Nightjars would be churring, so went and checked out some habitat nearby.

Immediately upon stepping out the car, a sweet melody was ringing out from a lark high above us, proving to be my first Woodlark of the year. I was not expecting to find this species on this visit, as, despite them singing 'almost' year around, their main time to sing is early morning, so to have one singing at around 7pm on a calm sunny evening was unexpected.

Infact, I do think that Woodlark may be one of my favourite of all songs, perhaps even more so than Skylark, the notes and phrasing create a superb liquid sound that is very pleasant on the ear!

3 Tree Pipits were also singing away at various points around our walk but as the sun started to head down towards the horizon though, it was time to move our location. Soon after the sound of roding Woodcocks filled the air, silhouetted by the red sky. They were passing over at frequent intervals, and at one point 3 birds were up chasing each other at the same time!

We stood on a raised track some distance from a pine plantation, a likely location for a roosting Nightjar, but we were intrigued by a variety of 'squeaky' noises originating from said plantation, it didn't take long for us to figure out that it was juvenile LONG-EARED OWL'S, and there were at least 2 of them calling from in front of us. Sadly though, they proved impossible to see, so we went back to our task in hand.

But as we stood it got darker, and darker, and darker, and then a brief snippet of a distant Chur had me and Jarad having heard out first NIGHTJAR of the evening!
We moved out position, back onto the track on which we had walked through, and soon after, we were treated to stunning flight views of a male NIGHTJAR as it swooped around us, showing off his bright white tail corners and primary spots. We got literally binocular filling in flight views until it moved off towards the opposite side of the clearing.

But then it flew back in, and perched right on the edge of a Poplar tree adjacent to the track, and right out in full view, giving what can be described as no less than stunning views! Despite having been 'mocked' for carrying my scope across the heathland, it came in handy now, and I was able to scope it as it perched up, and churred his heart out until we decided to leave!

What an experience!What a way to spent a summers evening! Absolutely stunning!