Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Crossbill central in Shropshire! Parrot, Two-bar and Common!

As many of you may know, one of my favourite stalking haunts this winter has been in the outlying woods in the Wyre Forest, most of them being on the Shropshire side.

As well a currently surveying Birds of Prey populations in the area, i have also been rooting through the many flocks of Crossbill, of which there have been plenty, and the woods around Postemplain in particular were holding large numbers. It was with this in mind i visited during the morning to try and locate the long staying TWO-BARRED CROSSBILLS which are present, and it didn't take long to hear them calling in the distance. Saying that though, i didn't see them for a further 3 hours following this as i became somewhat distracted...

Anyone who follows any sort of bird alert network would be aware of the fact that 3 Crossbill species are present in our landlocked nation this winter, with abnormally high numbers of Two-Barred, Parrot and to a lesser extent Common Crossbills. And like many this winter, i have been out searching the pine and larch woods in search of any of these gems.

And it turns out i was about to hit the jackpot.

Having worked through the main flock of Common Crossbills, i came across a small 'splinter' flock of 10 birds feeding high up in a pine tree.  Raising my bins and then WHAM! "Look at the bill on this bird!"

On one of the lower branches of the tree, away from the other 9 Common Crossbills stood a huge, beefy looking bird that had got a pine cone pinned to the branch with its foot.

After further looking at the bird through the scope, it became obvious that the heavy bill was not just an illusion due to the angle! It really did have a huge bulbous bull! Both the upper and lower mandible were much larger than the Commons, and as it moved about, it became clear the the bird was also much bigger, both in size and overall proportions. A heavy neck led onto a large head, which was rather 'flat topped' and square.

Was this my prize for searching through the Crossbills this winter?. Had i finally found a PARROT CROSSBILL!

Further observation only made me more confident, it just seemed to match everything i would expect a Parrot to look like, so with that in mind i passed on the news that a probable Parrot Crossbill was showing around Postemplain, and tweeted a picture from the back of the camera, and soon after the responses started to flood in and all said it was a Parrot!
After about 30 minutes, the bird took flight with its Common companions, and despite staying around for much of the remainder of the day, i couldn't re-find it.

While searching however, one of the male TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL landed on a larch not too far away, and i had cracking views as it perched up, calling its head off and flashing those giant white wing bars!

With the day coming to a close, and many of the Crossbills having disappeared, it only took a call from Jason K saying that he had just relocated the flock of CORN BUNTING at Shenstone to get me moving.

A short while after, and i was enjoying 3 of these refined beauties as they sang in the evening sun! Absolute bliss, and a great way to finish the day!


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Yellow-Brow finally comes out to play!

The amount of time i have spent in Uffmoor Wood has been unreal. And it was all for no reward. It is probably one of the most dead woods i have ever been in, and not to mention the fact that it is a very shady area to be hanging around in, particularly early morning and late evening.

And it was exactly the latter that i was doing today. I had been walking around at the far end of the woodland for a couple of hours, with nothing more than a few Goldcrests to show for it! 

With the light fading, i walked down one last time heading north along the furthest track, and walked down the steps at the end until i reached the stream. Finally, there was some bird activity here, and a decent flock of around 7 Goldcrest were frantically feeding before they were dropping into roost in the adjacent Holly bushes. 

Sensing the opportunity, i thought it would be worth spending the last dying 10 minutes of light searching for the elusive little Siberian gem here. A short time later, a bird caught my eye as it dropped from the top of a holly covered tree trunk down into a section of the holly adjacent to me. A second after, it jumped out onto a branch no more than 15 feet away from me, and there stood a bright yellow supercillium and double yellow wingbars! THE YELLOW BROWED WARBLER!

Any bad thoughts were immediately overridden as i savoured close views of this stunning little bird after so much effort to try and see it, that long supercillium contrasting to the darker eyestripe below! The mossy green upperparts contrasting to the silky white underparts and yellow legs! What a Stunning looking bird!
It really does make seeing birds so much better when you have put a large chunk of time trying to find them!

Like the Goldcrest's, soon after, the Warbler flew into the area of adjacent Holly, and didn't re-emerge, probably heading off to roost, and with that, we chose to beat a hasty retreat!

You don't want to be in Uffmoor in the dark!


Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Thrashing Warwickshire- Hume's Warbler, Waterbirds and a Sparrow

With the sun shining, and spring truly been in the air i was getting a little worried. All of our wintering birds would soon be getting an urge to head back north to their breeding grounds, and time was fast running out to find them!
With that in mind, the decision to head to one of the bigger of the regions reservoirs was taken!

It has been such a long time since i had visited Draycote Water, it has been rather 'quiet' for a very long period but this winter it really has pulled in a few goodies!

Heading along the M42 it would have been rude to have not dropped into Hopwood on the way over, and the GREAT GREY SHRIKE was soon located feeding in its usual spot near the fenceline, distant as ever.

Not too much longer after, we were pulling into the car park atop the hill overlooking the huge expanse of open water that is Draycote. Actually it was almost the exact spot that we parked on my very first visit! Much to my approval however, the weather was far nicer, and not freezing cold as you expect with this place, and soon i was walking around to Rainbow corner in bright sunshine!

It was while scanning a large flock of Tufted Duck and Goldeneye from on of the fishermans car parks i picked up a small, pale duck at the back of the flock. A few seconds after and it was in my scope, and i was able to confirm that i was watching the rather pretty 1st winter male LONG-TAILED DUCK in the distance.

Moving a little further around, we were treated to great views of a few of the large numbers of Goldeneye, many of which were displaying and calling loudly from very close in to the shore, regardless of the huge numbers of walkers and screaming children! What stunning ducks!

Walking even further around, we were soon adjacent to the LONG-TAILED DUCK, and we were treated to absolutely stunning views of this seaduck as it happily swam about with the Tufted Ducks and Coots! Surreal!

As regular readers will know, my previous experience of 'LTD' as they are affectionately initialised to, was of a female bird which was so far away it was nothing more than a dot in the scope, so to have one this close was amazing, and i truly savoured every second!

Walking a little bit further a single bird sitting atop the hedgeline proved to be a TREE SPARROW! A bird that is now sadly very rare within my home county of Worcester, and therefore it was great to catch up with one of these stunning red-heads! It sat up on the hedge for a minute or so before it flew off into the adjacent fields! It really is hard to imagine that i used to get this species in my urban garden just outside Dudley! How long ago that seems now, as now i perhaps only see a couple of these birds a year!

With this corner of the reservoir being very productive, i was reluctant to leave, but soon we headed off around onto Farbourgh bank, and about half way along a small flock of Goldeneye appeared, and while scanning them as they flew in a 'white' duck was tagging along with them. I was shouting out SMEW as a stunning looking adult drake flew in, which was greeted by some odd looks from some walkers by, but luckily the bird then went onto drop onto the water just in front of us!

A little bit of swimming.

Followed by a little bit of a stretch

And then one of the motorboats from the sailing club approached, and soon after sent the bird flying a long distant to the north shore of Toft bay!

For the sake of complete-ness, we continued up the bank until the point where we could scan into Toft bay distantly, the Smew was located with the same flock of Goldeneye, and further scanning revealed the last 'target' of the day when the GREAT-NORTHERN DIVER swam across, preened and flapped on the far side of the bay. Having had decent views of many 'Great- Northerns' this year, i chose to turn back to the car.

With a fair bit of daylight still left, we chose to drive over to Coleshill to get some views of the HUME'S WARBLER, which was showing well upon arrival, meaning i could properly study its plumage. I later moved up to the road bridge where i was treated to amazing views of this stunning Leaf Warbler as it fed in tree's down to about 15ft in front of me, where i tried to get some digi-binned pictures before it dropped into denser vegetation! 

While standing here, the similarly long staying Siberian Chiffchaff was calling, and also showing briefly in tree's on the opposite side of the road, further adding to the warbler interest of the site! And even more than that, as i was trying to relocate either of the warblers a small flock of 9 Redpoll flew in and landed upon a silver birch in the centre of the clearing, and when i got on them, was struck by 4 very bright, icy couloured Mealy Redpolls! A little further scrutiny revealed each of those 'pale' 4 also had nice white wing bars. One in particular was particularly pale, and really was a looker! We stuck around until the light started to fade, but both warblers refused to show, but the Redpoll's stayed on view, but somewhat more distantly.

What a day in the midlands! As i have said before, i can't remember many winters where birding has been this good around the midlands, with decent birds present all over the place! Lets hope it continues into the spring, summer and autumn!

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Around and about

One of my surprises this winter has been the regular occurrence of a flock of Goosanders on the pool behind my Dudley house. It varies from a few to numbers in the low teens daily, but they have been present almost every day, which is a huge surprise considering i have never seen anything other than Mallards and Grey Wagtail on there previously!

Today, there were 9 present.

A total of 5 Goosander flew past me towards the Reservoir as i walked across Mons Hill, but upon reaching the reservoir they hadn't landed, so presumably had been flushed off by the fisherman on the edges.

As some of you may be aware, here in Worcestershire we have had some decent flooding, in fact the worst for quite a few years, and this meant i was unable to get out on patch for a few weeks as it was underwater, so at the earliest opportunity, with the river dropping, i headed over to check out the flooding, which was fairly extensive.

Sadly, there were few birds about around the limited areas i could visit. However a TEAL was calling from within the Woodland (which should in fact mean 'flooded' woodland) where the Finch flock usually feed but this was surrounded by water and inaccessible. 
Good numbers of Pied Wagtail were around the receding floodwater though, with around 30 seen, with a singe 1st winter Grey Wagtail intermixed. A 1st winter Cormorant showing characteristics of the 'Siniesis' race was present on one of the floods. The gular pouch looked about the right angle, but it was just a little to far off to be certain.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Red-Flanked Bluetail in South Gloucestershire

A very hard and bird-less day. Most of it was spent looking for the Yellow-Browed Warbler in Uffmoor wood. After an age looking at very little we left with an hour or so left of daylight, where we headed to Upton Warren, which other than 30 Pochard and 10 Curlew it was very quiet!

The Upton Warren work party was highlighted by 4 Jack Snipe that flew out of the sedge as we checked the perimeter fox proof fence . Additionally, 20 Common Snipe flew out but other than these the mind was focused on getting the tasks done!

It was somewhat surreal to hear the news that late on the previous night, a Red-flanked Bluetail had been found. Two things stood out, we are still gripped in the depths of winter, and possibly more impressively, the bird had somehow found its way to a small valley in South Gloucestershire!

After checking the location of Marshfield, it became clear that the bird was only just over an hour away along the M5, just outside Bristol. 

Waking up the next morning, news came through that it was still present and i was somewhat annoyed, with Tuesday being my day off and having little work to do.

Luckily, while still lying in bed, the benefits of social media became apparent, and i was contacted by a fellow twitterer asking if i wanted to join them as they were heading down. And they only live just down the road from Dudley.

A short while later and we were on our way, the sun shining, and the bird still showing!

A short walk from the country lane down the very picturesque Shire Valley to the small stream where the bird was feeding followed, and we were soon greeted by a fairly large crowd of twitchers.

And there it was, a stunning 1st winter male RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL flitting around the base of trees on the stream edge!
Occasionally the bird would pause briefly on the adjacent fence, where i was actually able to get a couple of Digi-scoped shots.

Annoyingly, many of the crowd did not take the birds welfare into account, and it was incessantly harassed up and down the stream, leaving me quite annoyed. I chose to stand in the one place and wait for it to appear in front of us, and while doing so, Vern appeared, and waited also, with similar feelings to me. After the bird had been forced into the garden of the adjacent farmhouse, the crowd spread out, and luckily, when the bird returned it landed directly in front of us. Unluckily however, the crowd soon converged as i pointed the bird out to my companions, and we had a few minutes viewing before the bird was again pushed up the stream.

At this time, we were in prime position, and i was able to admire this really quite stunning looking bird. Having a behavior somewhat intermediate between a Robin and a Flycatcher, it was very active, and was constantly flicking and opening its tail, occasionally flycatching off the fenceline to catch an insect, showing of that characteristic blue tail.

Red-flanked Bluetail is a species almost exclusively tied to Autumn passage (with the exception of a few spring records), so for one to be found wintering in the country was unprecedented, with it being the first occurrence of an overwintering bird in Britain! Somewhat happily, as i write this in early March, the bird is still present, and one has to wonder if it will stick around long enough for some of that beautiful summer plumage to emerge, it is a male after all!
We can hope!