Monday, 15 May 2017

Spotted Sandpiper at Belvide

It has been a while.

With the stresses of uni now being a thing of the past, free time for writing for enjoyment has came about. So why not start with today!

I don't 'subscribe' to notifications for many people on twitter, I struggle to cope with the sound of constant notifications, however I have followed Steves @BelvideBirding account for a number of years. As one of the foremost birding sites locally, and with now regular visits during the summer months due to bird ringing, the updates have proved first class.

 Just 2 weeks ago, a notification popped up 'Belvide mega', and a few hours later, following a couple of successful meetings, I was standing next to the small reedbed that held a singing Great Reed Warbler. Great! 3 hours later, staring at reeds to not even get a glimpse of it!
Needless to say however, a first record for the site, and a 2nd for Staffordshire. Surely a contender for bird of the year already?

Roll forward to today. [15/05/17] And there it is again. 'Belvide mega'. This time, Spotted Sandpiper.
I have put off twitching this species for a while, as with Rose-coloured Starling, it is a species that seeing them in their 'typical' plumage in the UK means their drab winter/ juvenile clothes. Interesting non-the-less, but a little below par for what can be stunning birds.
A quick text to Steve confirmed a summer plumaged adult, and I was on my way to Belvide a few minutes later. Twitching has dropped off my radar recently, so dropping everything to go and see it felt like spreading my wings a little. (feel free to mock me for that comment).

For anyone who knows Belvide, the walk to the west end is not for the faint hearted, the midlands equivalent to the trudge along the Blakeney shingle or the point at Spurn. In reality, the walk is only around 1.5 miles, childs play when considering I walked 8km in search of a Pallid Harrer last week (and didn't even see it!). However, at the end lies one of my personal favorite hides, the Hawkshutts hide. Being right next to some superb muddy shoreline, the views from here are often crippling. If coincided with an evening visit, with the light behind you and the reserve completely to yourself, it makes for some great birding.

A 'brisk' walk got me to the hide in record time, only even beaten by the occasions I have acquired the 'belvide bike', entering the hide to see the 'yankee Common sand' running straight towards us.

What a time to arrive!

For the next 2 hours, phenomenal views were had of a 'spotty' Spotted Sandpiper as it ran back and forth along the shoreline in front of us. Being a mere 40ft away on occasions, it was the best views many have had of this species on this side of the Atlantic. In this plumage, truly unmistakable! Stunning!

A great bird at a great reserve, found by a hardworking patchworker, bringing valuable points towards their Patchwork Challenge score. However, on a final note... Upton Warren still thrashed you on the all dayer...


Monday, 14 November 2016

Broad-billed Sandpiper- Newport Wetlands

Sometimes, twitching is one of those pasttimes where either things go completely right, or completely wrong, and today was one of those days.
With news of a Broad-billed Sandpiper having been found on the Friday at Goldcliff pools, South Wales, it didn’t take too strenuous a decision as to where to head on a planned day out the next day.
With spring blooming, what better way could a calm morning be spent than standing in a Gloucestershire woodland, with the sound of Nightingales reverberating through the sun dappled vegetation. With one bird singing deep within the vegetation behind us, away from prying eyes, further music to our ears. The Sandpiper had just returned onto Goldcliff for the tide!

Being around 40 minutes away, we were in a good spot.
We drove southwards, pulled up near the entrance track for the pools to be greeted with hoards of smiling faces “Still there, showing well” repeated with reassuring certainty. “Asleep on the islands, it won’t be going anywhere”. It took a mere minute to walk to the platform the bird was showing best from….
All the waders were gone.
“Peregrine literally just flushed them, they flew off towards the estuary…”
And that was that, gone. No sign. Slight compensation was offered with one of the Little Stints crawling around on one of the shingle islands, but at this time, it all seemed a little dire. The tide was still high, but after an hour, it was clear they weren’t coming back. We walked out to the seawall with a vain hope.  After only a few meters, a Short-Eared Owl flew across the path in front of us, very low before suddenly somersaulting towards the floor. Firstly I thought the bird had dropped onto prey, so we changed position to get another view. We moved a couple of meters before the bird came into view, and it was clear something more disastrous had happened. The bird had collided with an electric wire and was lying stunned among the vegetation. A couple of local birders arrived, who contacted the site rangers and vet, who quickly came to check the bird out.
 (After being collected and looked after for a short while, the bird recovered and flew off strongly)
With no sign of a wader flock, and a view of a perched Peregrine looking rather smug with itself, we decided to head for the RSPB reserve. However, we left with a grand plan, till the next tide!
A particular corner of the reserve has previously resulted in good views of Grasshopper Warbler and it didn’t take a long time before our first was heard reeling away. Luckily, the bird was singing from an area of nettles right beside the path, and soon we got our first view. Over the next 5 minutes, a few more brief views were had, until the bird climbed to the top of a nettle bed and started reeling in full view. Crippling!

Good views of ‘gropper’ have been something that has proved difficult for me. So to finally have one showing so well was fairly exciting!
After exploring the site further, finding other reeling Groppers, we moved back down towards Goldcliff pools. We stopped around half way along through to view from a hide overlooking an extensive area of marshland. A Glossy Ibis had been seen on/off here for quite some time, but it often proved elusive, and hadn’t been seen in nearly a week! We tried however and it proved we were in luck. While walking along the field edges towards the hide, a number of migrant Redstarts flicked out, their rusty tails glowing in the sun. In total, we found 4 flicking around this small area, feeding and chasing each other throughout the time in the hide.
After a short time, a dark bird emerged from among the dense vegetation before quickly dropping down, a couple of seconds in the bins was enough to confirm the Glossy Ibis! A couple of further views were had, and soon a number of wannabe Sandpiper twitchers appeared to make the most of the dip. For the next 30 minutes, the bird wandered in and out of the tussocks. Once we had moved back to the car however, we struck lucky, the bird had wandered into view, and was significantly closer!  

With the day now progressing, and the tide soon to be on the rise, we moved back to the Goldcliff Pools. A summer plumaged Spotted Redshank was giving good views among the Redshanks, and a party of Whimbrel flew over. Small flocks of waders were arriving off the estuary, dropping onto the shallow pools in front of us.
The stunned Short-Eared Owl from earlier in the day was now hunting the long grass around the edges of the pools, flying closer and closer until it flew past the screen a mere few meters away.

The bird dropped onto a nearby fencepost, where it scanned for potential prey.

The bird took off soon after, but as it did so, a birder scanning the incoming waders asked for others to get onto this bird…
All scopes changed direction and there it was.
A superb summer plumaged Broad-billed Sandpiper!

That bird that had caused so much pain earlier in the day had just made a group of birders elated! Its striking black and white plumage, its humbug head pattern, its massive bill. Celebrations were shared as we all enjoyed this eastern wader.
The bird waded around with a mixed flock of Dunlin and Redshank, often in far deeper water than the rest of its short legged cousins. This however, meant it was ‘slightly’ closer than the rest of the flock, but it was still fairly distant at the back of the pool. With our target acquired, and having watched it for some time, we decided to head back north towards home.

The early dip perhaps improved the day significantly, without having missing the bird, we perhaps wouldn’t have spent so much time in the area, seeing so many species and having such great views. Sometimes, things do just work out. This time, for the better!

Monday, 8 August 2016

Spring migrants on the patch

With April underway, the amount of time I spend on patch dramatically increases. Sometimes entire days are spent walking the tracks, scanning the hedges and fields to uncover all of the incoming avian delight of summer.
As always, a huge dose of optimism is needed to pull you through, after all, my patch does consist of a river, a number of fields, hedgerows and small blocks of woodland in the middle of the country. Not exactly prime migrant habitat. Despite this, combine a bit of favourable weather and a lot of optimism, and all those hours pay off, and this spring can certainly claim to have been one of my best.
It all kicked off on the 2nd April. Sudden southerly winds have forced an obvious passage of migrants into the country, however I was still resting at home until I picked up a tweet from Rob C saying he had just had an Osprey fly north over Grimley. For those not local to Worcestershire, Grimley is about 10 miles due south of my patch along the river, so in theory, anything seen flying north here would probably end up on my patch. Despite this theory however, nothing ever has, but I still went out regardless, walking to the end of the road, setting up my scope and scanning in a S/SW direction.
Light drizzle made standing motionless seem a little futile, however the determination of a number of Sand Martin flocks to move north despite the weather gave me a boost to keep going. After about 30 minutes however, my hope was starting to dwindle. My quick calculations showed the bird really should have flown over by now. At 10:55am though, while scanning over the church near Arley Kings with my bins, I picked up a large, and very interesting bird. I knew instantly that this was the Osprey, however much lower than I was expecting. The bird dropped below the treeline while I drew my scope in that direction, and a few seconds later it re-emerged.
It was distant, probably nearing 2km however with the scope I could quite easily see the distinctive shape and flight pattern of an Osprey. The bird continued to move north, before starting to circle over Stourport town centre, just over 1km from where I stood. A couple of record shots of this momentous occasion were needed, so the camera was grabbed, and a few photos taken as the bird continued to circle.  It circled out of view behind the Moorhall marsh woodland, and that was that, not to be seen again.
However, having just seen my first ever patch Osprey, I was ecstatic! 

It wasn’t too hard to draw my optimism to get me out on patch the next morning. A patch first always has that effect. Half the walk had been completed and other than a few expected birds, I was struggling to find much. I had just covered Lickhill meadows and was just arriving next to the river when I looked up into the bright blue sky to see 2 birds of prey circling above me. One was one of the local Buzzards, however the 2nd, directly above me immidiatly hit the paic button. Flying less than 100f above me, gleaming white was another Osprey! Litterally frame filling views were had until I decided to try to improve on my record shot of the day before, at which point the bird decided it had had enough of lingering around, and started flying off north, gaining height as it did.

Conidering I have birded this site for 15 years without a hint of an Osprey (although a number of locals have seen them flying over while I have been away from patch) to have 2 birds in two days was ludicrous, and gave a great start to what turned out to be a great spring on patch.
I had been searching for Wheatear as the Osprey flew over, so it was a relief when on the return leg of my walk, a pale ‘blob’ out on a a distant field gave itself up as a male Wheatear. A great start to spring!
For a couple of weeks, activity died down again, however it hit back with a vengeance on the 17th. A bright and sunny day, with light winds, and lots of birds moving. Hirundies and Pipits were flying about, Phylloscs flicking about everywhere. I had just made it out onto Lickhill Meadows before another bonus bird appared, with my first Yellow Wagtail of the year bouncing overhead calling. By the end of this walk, this day proved to be my best ever day on patch for this species. A rattling Lesser Whitethroat gave itself away near the quarry before an obvious, and regular ‘huit’ sound emerged from the ‘Redstart hedge’. It didn’t take long to figure the first Redstart of the year had dropped into the patch. Soon great views were had of the bird sitting in the hedgerow, glowing red, blue and black.

I spent a while watching as the bird sang softly from the hedgerow, flicking down to feed from the floor. It was stopping and waiting which gave me another bonus when a distant, but obviously large Accipiter prove itself to be an immature Goshawk, flying south along the ridge. Over the years, this species has become almost expected on patch at this time of year, with juveniles moving around to find a secluded woodland away from their parents. The bird, as usual, flew straight through, without showing any signs of stopping.
From the air, a number of Yellow Wagtail calls alerted me to a small flock flying over, and from this flock, 3 birds peeled off and dropped down to feed from the paddock inhabited by a pair of horses. Over time, these horses have come to know me, and so regularly approach. This time however, and for the first time in my patch history, a pair of Yellow Wagtails were exploiting the numerous flies around the horses, and so as the horses moved towards me, so did the Wagtails, until the views I had were nothing short of crippling!

With time getting on, I continued down the track towards the old quarry field, now reverted back to pasture. The short grass here, combined with extensive muck spreading had obviously given rise to large numbers of insects, and a quick scan across the field broke another patch record, with a single flock of 5 Wheatear being present on the field. 3 males were looking absolutely superb as they mingled among pipits and Larks in the grass.

My list the end of the day included Goshawk, 11 Yellow Wagtail, Redstart, 5 Wheatear and 2 Lesser Whitethroat. Not bad for a little patch of land in the corner of Worcestershire.

The last patch visit to the moth took place on the 24th, and the pace of earlier in the month continued. I had again reached the Quarry, the favoured area for migrants on patch when I heard the distinctive ‘huit’ call of a Redstart from its namesake hedge and as I walked towards it, I was struck by another bird which flicked up on top of a pile of cut branches. The boldness in the way it perched proved it was a Chat species without need for my bins. However upon raising them, a bold white supercillium and orange throat secured the identification in milliseconds, my very first patch Whinchat! Not very often I manage to find 2 new patch birds within a few weeks of each other.

The bird favoured one of the scrubby paddocks for much of the remainder of the day, despite flying off strongly on a couple of occasions. While waiting for the bird to re-appear, a quick look over the Gull flock in the quarry revealed a very out of place 1st winter/summer Great Black-backed Gull, another scarce bird on the patch! This didn’t hang around long, obviously not enjoying the company of many of its smaller LBBG cousins.
Once again, the hedges and fields were alive with birds, with Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, a pair of Redstart and plenty of Lesser Whitethroats. What more could you want from a few hours on patch!

What a way to conclude a month of birding the patch!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Great Grey Shrike in the Forest of Dean

It turned out that a day journeying to the next county below us in Worcestershire was a good move bird wise. Having seen 2 Penduline Tits during the morning we spent the rest of the say wandering around in the stunning Forest of Dean, looking for a couple of birds in particular. At least 2 Great Grey Shrikes had made the forest their winter home, and one bird in particular had been known to show fairly well on occasions.
With a vague location and a will, we searched, and soon we managed to find out location. Atop one of the scattered dead trees, a familiar white shape sat sentinel. What we had been looking for.

The bird continued to show well as we watched, watching from its high perch before it eventually dropped down to the ground, flying back up with a Mouse almost the size of the bird! With a quick flick of its head, the rodent was dispatched and the bird flew off to cache its food at its larder.

The real Butcher Bird!

In the hour we watched the bird, it then went onto catch a Wren, flying up into a nearby tree to impale it, and then devour it in front of us. An awesome sight and something I have never had the privilege to watch before!

Gloster Penduline Tits!

Having found a female Penduline Tit a couple of autumns previously I was in no real rush to travel across the country to see another. The bird our crew had found though, was a rather dowdy young bird, probably female, so if a male turned up it may tempt me out to see another in the UK.

Generally as a winter visitor to the UK most records relate to bird arriving in singles or small groups in the SE of the country, so it was a shock to find that not one, but 2 male had found themselves flicking about the bullrushes on a flood storage area just outside Gloster! What more can you ask for?

So early on a freezing January day (and I do really mean freezing!), I journeyed down with Rob to check out these stunning visitors. A large crowd had accumulated even before dawn, but due to the birds habit of flying off not too long after dawn, it was no surprise.

A while was spent staring into a seemingly empty patch of bullrushes which the birds frequented until the fingers were feeling numb and then a familiar call started to sound from within the rushes. 'Almost' Reed Bunting like, however not quite, and upon my attention being drawn, soon our targets were sighted and flicking about low down in the dense vegetation.

The sun had still yet to rise, but as it did, the birds became more visible, spending more time moving up the stems. With some patience, and the temperature rising slightly, excellent views were had of these two stunning birds. After 2 hours though, our fingers were about to drop off, and so we decided to head off.