Wednesday, 24 June 2015

March 2015- Alpine Swift, YBW & RND

A lot of uninspiring 'patchworking' of multiple sites was very similar to the latter of last month. A Little Grebe and Water Rail remained on Patch on 1st. 
It was brightened up with a very unexpected site first at Parkes Hall Reservoir on 4th though, when a drake Shelduck was present. Something I didn't expect at all while heading out for an evening walk!

The first highlight of the month came on 6th, when news emerged late evening of a Yellow-Browed Warbler at a sewage treatment works just outside Sedgeberrow, near Pershore. It was in county, so it wasn't too hard a decision to head over there the next morning. It didn't take long to get out first views. A really smart winter gem!
It seems as if these things are now yearly in Worcestershire, which is an anomaly compared to the track record of other midlands countys.

Cracking views were had as it initially used the barbed wire fence adjacent to the sewage beds as a launching post before dropping down to feed on the pans. As it warmed up, insects became more active, and the bird followed them out into the trees, and it spent the latter half of the visit feeding up higher in the trees.

It wasn't exactly far to Ashleworth Ham from here, and with the sporadic appearances of a drake Green winged Teal we gave it a go. Sadly no yank Teal, but a top class list of winter birds. A very good variety of dabbling ducks, and a very good flock of Common Gulls. It didn't take long for my curiosity of the Gull flock to materialize, and it took a matter of seconds to locate one of my targets, a Mediterranean Gull, a rather pretty 2w bird, but soon more Common Gulls flew in, and with them, an adult Mediterranean Gull, Nice!

A Red Kite flew low over, which added another unexpected bonus to the day.

On the 8th,a Barnacle Goose joined a few Canada Geese on the patch. Interestingly, a bird also appeared around this time 2 years ago. Similarly, the both stuck around for some time, and this bird became a permanent fixture of the patch for a number of weeks.

Sometimes in birding you have surreal moments that you simply can't begin to comprehend what just happened, and the 9th March was one of those days. A fairly typical day, a number of lectures, and just a bit dull weather wise. Nothing in the slightest to get exited about right?

With lectures over, I was out into the courtyard and out of reflex the first thing I did was look to the skies, a couple of Feral Pigeon, typical... But as I glanced up, the unmistakable shape of a Swift rose up from behind the building opposite me!!
A Swift in March is always going to hit the 'PANIC' button, more so for the fact I didn't have my bins in hand and I couldn't see any sort of plumage details on it due to the white sky. It was merely a silhouette, but instantly it was obvious it was big and bulky. A few seconds, a couple of flaps, and it was across the top of the building and towards the Church/town centre.

Other than the certainty it was a Swift, which one?!?

Wanting to get people looking to the skies, a panicked tweet went out on my twitter and texts sent to all locals who may be in the area (including a number who were working in the office buildings around me!) in the hope it would be picked up/ people would run out of work.

Minutes of anxiety followed, I now had bins in hand and was scanning the skies, please tell me that wasn't it! As a gut feeling I knew it was an Alpine, but I just couldn't say it with that view.
A minute turned to 5 minutes, 5 turned into 30.

I was now standing around the opposite side of the church, facing towards the town, skies darkening by the minute. And then there it was, 35 minutes after I first saw it, a large Swift came cruising down the road below the height of the buildings, initially with its wings tilted showing its upperwing, then banking to show me its underside, with its huge white belly patch. ALPINE SWIFT! Absolute frigging MEGA! I watched it until it disappeared behind a building and I ran to get a better viewpoint, tweeting about its reappearance as I ran (hence the barely comprehensible message). The first birder arrived only 5-10 minutes after this, and as they arrived so did the rain. And  that was that. It disappeared. Did it roost before the rain? Did it push off ahead of the weather system? Who knows. I stuck around until after dark, and spent most of the next day looking, but nothing, the skies above Wolverhampton returning to the Feral Pigeons and F-15s.

With my enthusiasm levels up high, it didn't take much effort to wake up early on the 14th and get out on patch, and I was in for yet another treat. The Barnacle Goose was still around, but I was anxious to check the quarry, and it was a good job I was, because as I arrived I picked up two waders on the mud at the far end of the flood. RINGED PLOVERS!! Getting the scope on them, I then realised that there were infact 3 waders, a pair of Ringed Plover and a Dunlin! Absolutely mega patch birds! They fed on the mud for around 30 minutes, before taking flight, climbing high and flying off north. Exactly what I had been waiting for when the quarry flooded last autumn!

A late evening visit to Upton Warren that evening gave me a showy Redshank and a Green Sandpiper, the former being a species I don't see regularly at the site anymore.

The next morning (15th) I was out on patch again, and I again found a good number of decent patch birds, with the highlight being a drake Teal, which came off the 'Wigeon lake' at Blackstone. A Snipe also flew out from the edge of the pool and the Water Rail scurried along the edge of the willows. 2 Yellowhammer gave me a flyover and it was a 3 goose day, with Canada, Barnacle and a flyover flock of 3 Greylags.

On 17th, I journeyed over to Sandwell Valey RSPB to meet with a couple of Uni friends. A few hours of walking around Forge Mill and the RSPB area gave us a few nice birds. My First Little Ringed Plover of the year, a flock of 20 Barnacle Geese, 3 Parakeets and a Jack Snipe in the marsh.
Perhaps the most unusual addition being a Harris Hawk, which repeatedly flew over the RSPB area.

I have been watching Parkes Hall regularly, to not much reward, however on the 18th, a Red Kite flew south over Tenacre Fields. The first in the area for me!

After a fairly standard patch walk on 21st, and working in the afternoon, I was able to drop into Upton Warren flashes for the roost. All pretty standard stuff until late on when a superb adult summer Mediterranean Gull dropped into roost. What a looker!

With news having emerged that a drake Ring-Necked Duck had turned up at Priorslee Lake, Shropshire the previous day, we journeyed up there the next morning. News hadn't been released so we were going in blind but it was great to see on arrival that the bird was still present, and showing increasingly well as the morning progressed. Much better views compared to my previous (and only other) RND in the UK, a very distant bird on the Ouse Washes.

On our success we took a punt to go looking for a specific species, and a while later we were out searching. Not really hoping for much due to it getting towards mid morning it was somewhat shocking to find our targets within a few minutes of leaving the car, and we were soon getting crippling views of 3 Woodlarks, with a 4th singing off in the distance! You really couldn't have asked for much better, feeding in short grass right next to (and often on) a public footpath. Easily the best views I had managed of this species to date!

It then went quiet for a few days, visiting my usual local sites for not a huge reward. So instead I used the lull to practise some digiscoping skills, and this Chiffchaff obliged.

With the month coming to an end, and with migrants arriving, I journeyed over to Ryders Mere with a friend on 26th. Originally we had planned to drop into Stubbers Green but the Brent Geese had flown off, and following an uneventful stop, we carried on to the Mere. A good selection of birds were present but we knew out main target was on the marsh so we walked over there. It didn't take long before the female Garganey flew past us, and over the next hour we had a number of brief views. We walked to check elsewhere, but while doing so I saw a duck in the distance briefly which circled the Marsh. "Looked like a Mandarin" I thought to myself, but given the view it wasn't even worth calling.

We however walked back past the Marsh, and instantly there on the water was a drake Mandarin! Apparently only the 3rd site record and a couple of local patchworkers were soon on their way to twitch it! As we waited for them to arrive, the Garganey flew in, and swam about with the Mandarin for a while, before swimming off into the rushes. We stuck around until the first birder arrived, but as he approached, the Mandarin had flown. It seemed to drop down again in the distance, so following a brief search, the bird was refound on a 'puddle' at the north end of the site. Job done. Everyone was happy.

I was back in the home county on the 28th and again it was time for a roost session at Upton Warren. Again quiet until another Mediterranean Gull, this time a 2s dropped in to roost. Equally as stunning as the adult the previous weekend. Those primarys are just... Wow!

The last birding day of the month was spent on patch, and my effort was rewarded with a very good view of a female Merlin, which barrelled through the Quarry as I was unsuccessfully trying to find a few waders. I wonder why with this bundle of anger and feathers bombing around. Needless, a very good patch bird, and I left the patch very happy that day.


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

February 2015

Long time no see yet again!

Slipping further and further behind as ever, but I still do intend to catch up with myself

The month started with the usual work party and Upton Warren on the 1st, where the standout highlight was 13 Jack Snipe and 18 Commons. A fairly low total for Common Snipe but a half decent count for the Jacks.

A mess of local birding followed, without seeing very much, including regular failed attempts at gulling around the Stubbers area, which returned no reward. So it was gratefully received on 7th when a day out was offered in south Wales, with a whole host of scarcities to keep up occupied. First of was the stunning Little Bunting at Forest farm country park, which showed superbly throughout the visit. Perhaps too well!

Due to the awkward position for digiscoping I often had to go to the furthest point away in the hide, which meant I was looking through a fence for most of the time, but the bird performed admirably!

 After our fill, and wanting to avoid the increasing crowds, we moved out from the country right into the center of Cardiff for the regularly returning drake Lesser Scaup, which was located without too much fuss swimming about with a large group of Tufted Duck. Having chosen to reside at the furthest point away from the viewpoint, and with strong and cold winds, we didnt stay around long, moving onto Newport RSPB.

The RSPB site itself was very quiet, a good number of waders on the estuary being the saving grace, featuring Grey Plover, Bar and Black tailed Godwit. A quick tea break led us to see Peregrine and Kestrel from the Cafe, which signalled the start of a bit of a raptorfest!.

Moving around to the Goldcliff Pools, we quickly located the wintering Spotted Redshank, a few Pintail etc. All was quiet untill from over the top of the hide can a raptor. Dropping low over the water in front of us a white rump gleamed. Ringtail Hen Harrier!!

She gave a good show for a couple of minutes, hunting around the pools, before drifting off over the seawall back towards the RSPB center.

While following it in the scope it dropped down, and while trying to pick it up again, another raptor appeared, another Harrier! But this was 4th raptor species in only 15 minutes, a juvenile Marsh Harrier! But no, it wasn't to end there, a male Sparrowhawk bombed past the hide only seconds after. With 5 species of Raptor on show in a matter of 30 seconds (Marsh, Hen, Buzzard, Sprawk and Kestrel) it was pretty good going. With most of the birds having gone into hiding, we left the hide, and while talking to a local birder about the enduring raptorfest, our 7th raptor species in 30 minutes appeared, as a female Merlin zoomed past us!! What a way to spend half an hour!

To finish the raptor extravaganza, we decided to take in some Owls, and an hour or so later, we were watching 4 Short-Eared Owls hunting over a weedy field, often at point blank range! But it didn't end there, a quick scope job of 3 distant raptors proved them to be Red Kites, Raptor species number of for the day, a superb days winter birding!

The very next morning, and I was out again, this time heading north into Cheshire, looking for my 2nd yank in 2 days. Heavy fog shrouded us as we arrived at New Brighton, and visibility was very restricted. We perserveered however, and after an hour or so, decided to try our luck with the Snow Buntings down the road, to return back to the marina later.
The Snow Buntings didn't prove too hard to find, as a pair shuffled about on the Wallsey end of the beach. Not wanting them to bother them too much in the cold weather we moved off, and then we heard that the Laughing Gull had just been refound. Perfect.

 A minute drive back down the road, a trudge across the beach out to the lighthouse, and there in the still thick fog was the 1st winter Laughing Gull, standing out like a sore thumb. Good views were had as it ran about on the beach with the Redshanks and Turnstones, but the fog did prove very annoying.

However it was great to watch it flying around etc, showing off extremely well just how dark its plumage was! 

A bonus 6 Purple Sandpiper out on the breakwater was a nice addition, but with limited time, and as the previous day, the freezing wind, it was hard to stay out too long.

We retreated to Burton Mere RSPB, almost entirely to see the roosting Long-Eared Owl, which was showing superbly on the track to the IMF hide.

A Spotted Redshank overflew the site when we checked the scrape, but it was otherwhys fairly quiet, particularly when compared to my last visit here!

Checking West Park revealed that Med Gull PNU9 was still present, with its hood becoming increasinfgly prominent on the 9th, with it last been seen on the 17th.

With the Water Pipits having returned to Doxey Marshes, it would have been rude not to visit, hence on a dreary 11th, i was stood scanning Pipits and Wagtails. Once reaching the right location, it didn't take too long to locate a Water Pipit, and by the time I left a few hours later, I was confident that there were at least 2 on show, with probably more.

The 'resident' 2 Barnacle Goose were often flying around and a good variety of wetland birds was present, including 10 Goosanders, 4 Little Egret and at least 6 Water Rail. A number of Stonechats were flicking around near the Water Pipit site, and some great views of Cetti's Warbler were had.

A patch visit on 15th revealed 2 hard to find patch birds, with both Little Grebe and Water Rail being present, both of which went on to stay around for a few weeks. A good flock of 119 Lapwing were also in the quarry.

The 21st saw my annual trip over to Draycote Water. Despite having a good number of good birds, we managed to dip the drake Smew, but a couple of hours getting wet, cold, and hailed upon proved worthwhile with a Black-Necked Grebe, a flock of 25 Tree Sparrows and the Greylag Goose flock containing a pair of White-Fronted Goose and a Pink-Footed Goose.

The last birding trip of the year took me to North Wales, where an early morning drive around the mountains saw us seeing a lekking flock of 22 Black Grouse! Very good, but distant views were hard in the breezy conditions, but it was great to watch them strutting their stuff on the grassy slopes.

2 Red Grouse, and a flyover flock of 3 Crossbill were the only other notable birds present in this very hostile, cold place!

A seawatch from Old Colwyn included the expected masses of Common Scoter, including a partially leucistic bird, but we failed to find any Surfs. We did however find 3 Velvet Scoter, with a nice cast of 7 Red-Throated Diver and 10 Red-Breasted Merganser. A flock of 5 Whooper Swan flew west far our at sea, which proved for a rather awesome, if random sight!

With a showy Iceland Gull being up the road it wasn't a hard decision to go take a look, and from the car as we pulled in you could see the bird, down on the sand, being thrown copious amounts of bread by a couple of photographers. I wasn't going to complain, as within a minute I was getting views like this. Absolutely stunning!

A drake Red-Breasted Merganser was showing well on the same tidal pool, until it and the Iceland Gull was flushed by a rampant Dog, much to everyones annoyance.

 A check of the Scoter flock proved difficult, with distance and increasingly strong wind proving a problem. Needless to say, no luck here either.

With a few hours still remaining of daylight, and on the way home, we dropped into Venus Pool, where a Ringtail Hen Harrier had been hanging around. We had seen it briefly just north of the site on the drive down, but it proved elusive once we reached the site, and having given it a really good time, we only saw it once briefly for a matter of 20 seconds. We were however entertained by a large flock of winter Finches/ Buntings, which included around 100 Yellowhammers, 15 Reed Buntings and a flock of 17 Corn Bunting. The latter a very good record for the site!