Tuesday 31 March 2009

Rutland But No Ospreys

If Saturday was Winter, Sunday was Spring. The winds had dropped and the sun was shining, though when I left the house I had to de-ice the car's windscreen. After the disappointment of missing the osprey at Draycote, I had decided to go see some at Rutland, as apparently 3 were already back.

The path to the hides was still showing the signs of the wet day before, though it was drying out in the morning sunshine, but the air was filled with midges and mozzies. Horrid things and there were billions of them. Huge clouds of the vampiric beasties. No wonder the swallows have already returned - yes, what a welcome sight that was. A pair, buzzing around making the most of the early season flies.

Along the path was what turned out to be one of the volunteers for the reserve and he'd clocked a lone osprey miles up in the sky with his scope. With hindsight I should have been more nosey and asked for a view...

From the hide the lake was like a mill pond, and I had some really good views of Egyptian geese and also some decent views of shelducks, which seemed to be laughing at each other with their strange warning calls. One of the Egyptian geese had also taken a shine to the osprey nest, and was peering out of it. Not sure what the osprey will think of that when it decides to move back in! Also around were gadwell, various gulls, pied wagtails, a little egret, wigeon and some goosanders.

In a way it was good that the ospreys didn't show, as it encouraged me to visit the other side to explore the rest of the reserve. There has been some significant work done there too, with new lakes and hides constructed. Making the most of the mounds of earth left from this, was a pair of wheatear. Lovely to see in the sunshine, posing on the top and keeping a watchful eye on my movements.
In the older lagoons, I managed to see teals, redshanks, little ringed plovers, grey herons, a lone female goosander, swans and the other usual stuff like moorhens and coots. At the visitor centre I managed to spot some goldfinches, tree sparrows and a lone siskin, though it didn't return when I had got the camera rigged up for it.

Arriving home for the Sunday roast, I was slightly miffed to see on the internet that a female osprey had returned to the nest at 4:50pm. Typical. Oh well, there's always next time...

Return Of Winter

Saturday started badly and went downhill from there. Up early I was down at Harbury to get my car serviced. Unfortunately, the garage had managed to lose my booking so it was a wasted trip. Not what is needed on a cold and windy day when staying tucked up in bed would have been perfect.

Being in the area, I headed over to Draycote (why is anyone's guess as it's always cold and windier there) and wandered / was blown along the path to the hide. Sat inside, at least I was out of the wind, though not much was about. No sign of the red necked grebe which was what I had hoped to see. Remember I said it got worse? Well, in came another birder who asked if I'd seen it. Seen what? Oh, there was an osprey over here earlier. Argh!! What a gutter.

Back to the visitor centre I thought I spotted the grebe, larking about in amongst the breakers, but by the time I got close enough for a shot, it had vanished off into the choppy waters. I cursed my luck and headed home for some lunch.

The afternoon brought another birding trip, this time to Marsh Lane near B'ham airport. With the clouds gathering, I opted to head to the Oak Hide, as it offers views of the feeders, the marsh and also one of the lakes. On the feeders were masses of chaffinches, a few greenfinches and pleasantly a few tree sparrows. One of these days I'll attempt to rig up some perches by these feeders as at the moment, photo opportunities aren't great.

On the lake there were shelducks, redshanks, teals, gadwells, mute and black swans and a few little ringed plovers, scampering about. At the back of the marsh I could see snipe mooching about too. Not bad... Then I looked at the sky to the north. Black. Oh dear.

The temperature plummetted as the storm clouds moved in, and within moments the hide was being battered by a horrendous hail shower, so heavy that it obscured the railway line behind the lake. I had to close the hide hatch on the one side, as it was blasting in, and suddenly Draycote seemed warm! A pair of shelduck faced the hail head on, and seemed to be eating the ice as it fell. Some teals tried to fly off and were forced to make emergency landings just past the marsh as it was impossible to fly in!

Fortunately it was over in 10 mins, and the sunshine returned to melt the layer of ice on everything. A lone snipe appeared in front of the hide, giving me a chance for a couple of shots, whilst it surveyed the icy ground. As the sun got warmer, the marsh got busier, with more snipes creeping out of the reeds, poking about in the waters.

A glance to the once more darkening skies twisted my arm into heading back to the car, and home to a warm mug of tea. Not a very enjoyable day out!

Wednesday 25 March 2009

A Mooch Round Upton Warren

Just a quick entry to say I popped over to Upton Warren on Sunday to see the Avocets. Must have heard I was coming because they stayed about as far away as possible on the Flashes. Plenty of time to see them over the coming months though. Did get some reasonable views of a little ringed plover and redshank, and there were a few oystercatchers going back and forth from the fields to the lakes.

Not a lot on the Moors at the mo. Met up with Pam and the gang (again!!) and we watched a wren building a nest, occasionally pausing to sing his heart out. Heard a Cetti's but didn't see one.

Then on the way home I detoured to see the little owl, which gave me its usual glare before flying off across the field. Irritable Owl Syndrome, I believe it's called...

Monday 23 March 2009

Dipper Country

One of my targets for this year was to get some shots of dippers in better light. To date, all shots had been taken in the gloomiest of conditions, under the shadow of overhanging trees and foliage, with the birds usually keeping a fair distance from me. And with either tall, steep banks or very muddy ones, getting to the right angle to get anything decent has been nigh on impossible.

Derbyshire had been suggested to me on numerous occasions by those in the know, and a couple of emails later (thanks Dave & Robert), I was sure of the spot to aim for, at a location called Lathkill Dale. A fair distance away, but the forecast for Saturday looked very promising, so another early start was in order, and by 8:30am, I was walking down the steep road to the riverside.

Following the directions suggested to me, I had a very pleasant wander alongside the river, with the first birds of note for the day being a pair of mandarin ducks, which didn't like the look of me and flew off before I could get close enough for a shot. Shame, such vibrantly coloured birds.

Various tits and finches were zipping and bobbing amongst the trees, and the hearty calls of wrens filled the air with their song. As with all such beauty spots, there were the inevitable dog walkers, but not that many at the time of the morning, fortunately. It is also one of those places where having eyes like a chameleon would help. Keep one eye on the river for birds, and the other on the path, so you don't stumble over. I tried to keep my eyes on the river as much as possible and soon spotted the first dipper.

Calling out, a blur of dark brown and white rocketed past, a few feet above the water. And it wasn't long before I could see another, stood on the opposite bank, its white bib reflecting in the mirror-like water. Bobbing, it gave me one or two looks before belting off downstream. Continuing my walk, I encountered a pair of grey wagtails, floating across the water, in their own distinctive style, landing on a scree, to potter about in search of small grubs.

At the waterfall though, I had better luck. There was a pair of dippers and they kept leaving and returning, allowing the folks there to get some decent shots of them. I initially followed them upstream, which led to the similar conditions as I'm used to, though these birds weren't shy, and I was at one point less than 15 feet from them, in full view too. They just bobbed, dipped and went about their business. Great birds to observe.

Returning to the falls, I decided to wait and see if they'd come for a show. The light was starting to go (the high, wooded valley sides don't help!) so it had to be soon. They didn't disappoint, with one landing right on the edge of the falls, to mooch about in the moss and weeds. They must have terrific grip and balance not to be washed away, given the currents and their size, but they take it all in their stride.

With the shade from the trees and the increasingly cold breeze blowing up, I opted to call it a day, and stroll back to the car. The camera hanging from my neck got the usual attention from other folks, one telling me about a slow-worm he'd just been observing. What an inappropriate name. They move like lightning and aren't worms. Wish I'd seen one - not seen any for donkey's years. What I did see though, were more dippers, one sat only a few feet from a couple enjoying a picnic on the riverside.

If only the ones in Somerset were so bold! Still, a great day out in beautiful scenery, and another mission accomplished.

Monday 16 March 2009

Garden Birding

Birding was somewhat limited over the weekend due to a gathering of friends from all over the UK, for much amusement, a touch of beer and a great gig. So I kept my birding very local on both days.

Saturday I found myself sat in a deckchair on my parents' patio, with their cat as company, hoping to see the blackcap that Dad has managed to get several shots of. With the March sunshine on my face, in the suntrap there, it was pleasantly warm, which made up for the lack of the star! A no show, but I did get to see long tailed, blue and great tits, dunnocks, robins, starlings, wood pigeons, magpies (building a huge nest), goldfinches and a fair few house sparrows. Also over, was a passing male kestrel and a very distant buzzard.

Sunday started in a balti house and after a short sleep, I ventured into my own garden, firstly sprinkling seed out before clambering into the hide. Nothing. Not sure why I bother sometimes... So I got out, and bizarrely a pair of blackbirds arrived. Setting up a deckchair next to my hide, I sat out for a few mins, and a few more visitors arrived, though not coming too close. Then I caught sight of a bright pink bird... the male bullfinch. Excellent!

Climbing back into the hide, I crossed my fingers and hoped. It paid off. Down he came, along with his mate, and they sat in the cut back shrubs whilst alternating to and from the sunflower seed feeder. They are such beautiful birds and make me wonder why I go out sometimes when I know they're around.

Aside from these jewels, I also watched a pair of starlings, acrobatically assaulting the feeders and suet blocks. In the sunshine, their colours are stunning - such striking looking birds.

And the local robins came out to play, ending up on my camera as usual. Who can resist a posing robin? Gallery is being updated now, and I'll add more pics to this blog later this week. Was supposed to be getting an early night tonight. D'oh!

Monday 9 March 2009

Hunting Bittern

Sunday started with a hangover - a rare lads' night out at the Peacock, and a skinful of Davenports IPA. By about 10am, the sunshine had gone and it was raining, and I found myself sat in the lounge, boots on but not laced up, looking out at the weather, and wondering if it was worth the bother of going out. Why not? Nothing better to do, other than Spring Cleaning. Upton Warren was the target, after reading that one of the bitterns had still been seen there on Saturday.

Looking chilled to the bone, Pam, Emma and the gang were just getting ready to move elsewhere, and they also confirmed the bittern had been seen, but not by them. The hide looked full, but I wandered in anyway. Within minutes of me entering, 2 of the chaps left (must change my aftershave!) but that left me with a mate, and the search for the bittern.

Took a while, but when we did see it, it was worth it. Initially we caught glimpses of it fishing in one of the channels, and it is very interesting to see how they hunt.

Herons hunt by stalking their prey, standing over the water, almost motionless, suddenly striking violently to catch it. Little egrets walk around in the water, swishing the bed with their feet, disturbing small fish etc which they then pick out, much like the herons.

Bitterns are quite different. When fishing, they seem to put their beak half into the water, almost as though they're drinking (what I previously thought), and wait patiently for a fish to get swim close enough to strike. They also eat frogs and toads, much to the dismay of the breeding ones, in front of the hide. I had got some pics of them, but it was fantastic to watch the bittern approach.

Firstly it got within range, and then stood still, but lifted its head up. Then, with its head still, it made its neck move in a wave-like manner, presumably immitating the reeds, Doing this, it then moved in for the kill, and in the blink of an eye, nailed one of the toads. But not without a fight! It had to flip it and get a better grip, with the toad's leg flailing desperately against the bittern's head and eye. Disappearing into the reeds again, we missed it consume the poor toad, but we did see the bittern wander off, back to the reeds again, to its favoured fishing spot.

So I was very glad I bothered to go out, as I witnessed yet another wonderful birding moment.

Whitacre & Kingsbury

After Friday's Spring-like sunshine, Saturday was supposed to be gloomy, so it was a pleasant surprise to awaken to sunshine. Reading about siskin and redpoll being seen over at Whitacre Heath tempted me over that way, but not this time into the woods. No, the birds had been seen at the car park feeders, so I could be sat in comfort for once.

Parking alongside the feeders, there were a few birds already around, including blue and great tits, chaffinches, robins, dunnocks and a few reed buntings. It's a good spot for photos actually, as the sun is behind you, and lights up the branches of the tree and the ground. Whilst waiting for something "good" to arrive, I decided it'd be rude not to photo the reed buntings, as they're such well marked birds.

Alas it wasn't to be my day for the target birds, as I saw neither siskin nor redpoll. However, I did get to see several greenfinches, which despite being present in my garden, have managed to avoid the aim of my lens to date.

A couple of hours sat in the car were enough to move on, and over to Kingsbury Water Park. I've not been there for a while, and wanted to have a nose at the Middleton Hall RSPB reserve too, as well as Richard's Meadow. The latter is apparently good for hen harriers and short-eared owls, though only sheep were present when I was wandering through it.

In fact the whole area seemed pretty quiet on the bird front. There were a few gulls on the lakes at the RSPB bomb site - that's what it looks like! And along the canal were a few long-tailed tits, and a great spotted woodpecker, but all at a distance.

What wasn't at a distance, and disturbingly close to the new reserve, were American Mink. Caught sight of one swimming along the edge of the canal, causing the water to froth as the fish leapt out of its way. It surfaced with a huge fish in its mouth, and, as I followed along the other side, made its way along the water's edge to somewhere it could eat in peace. Undeniably cute in their appearance, I hope the RSPB have some traps ready, because they're a real pain the **** for conservation.

Monday 2 March 2009

Bramblings & Black Redstart

Saturday was set aside for another day over at Worcester Warriors, where they hosted London Wasps. We expected Wasps to wipe the floor with Worcester, with their squad of top players, including some current and ex England stars, but the Warrior's defence was superb. Scoring the only try of the game, Worcester then stole the show and the points with a brilliant drop goal seconds before the end.

Sunday would be the birding day, and the sun shining through the curtains managed to encourage me out of bed, despite having a hangover from the day before, and out on to the road. Targets for the day were bramblings and perhaps if I had time, the firecrest and black redstart.

Several bramblings have been seen at the feeders at Belvide, so that's where I headed, dodging the potholes down the country lanes, and eventually finding the car park. Mooching through the woods, I bumped into a couple of 'togs, stationed by the woodland feeders, hoping for a shot of the nuthatch, though the gloom and spots of rain weren't helping! It took me about 5 seconds to guess that one of them was Martyn, one of the chaps I "chat" to on the forums, and after some introductions, I left them to it, and headed down to the waterside.

Along the path were a few lesser redpolls, though they wouldn't allow me near, and soon flew even further away when another birder came along. Nice to see though. In the hide, there was just enough room for me to squeeze in, but no-one had seen the bramblings.

Plenty of other stuff around though, such as tree sparrows, dunnocks, robins, pheasants, blue, great and long tailed tits, nuthatches, chaffinches and several noisy greenfinches. Out on the lake were numerous tufted ducks and a few goldeneyes. The clouds had also parted, and the sun was providing a bit of early spring warmth.

Just as the hide emptied, the first bramblings appeared. Straight into the caged feeder though, and when they left, it was via a dense bush. Someone needs to prune that a bit, I reckon! Over the next couple of hours, the bramblings came and went, frustrating us each time by their reluctance to pose for a shot. The only saviour was a male, who chose to feed off the grass beneath the feeder for a few moments, though the light had just deteriorated to vex us further.

After one more visit, the slight breeze had started to chill my cockles, and I decided it was time to head back to Warks, to aim for the other birds.

Stopping first at Hams Hall, I was disappointed not to see the firecrest, though a calling chiffchaff cheered me up, and I had a pretty close encounter with a goldcrest. Long tailed, blue and great tits were seemingly everywhere, and down on the river side, a pair of grey wagtails bounced off the bank to catch flies.

So over to Coleshill, for the black redstart. And a bit of luck. The gates were open, and there were two 'togs already inside, so locating the bird was easy. what followed was me creeping ever closer to the bird, which bobbed on various perches, occasionally flying off, though it did allow me very close at times. A delightful bird, lit up beautifully in the sunshine and a very good end to a day's shooting.