Monday, April 28, 2008

Brandon Marsh / Draycote Water

A visit to Brandon Marsh today got me my first Swift of the year [year tick 173!] and a few Garden Warblers [year tick 174!], then I headed off to Draycote Water where I finally managed to life tick a Yellow Wagtail [lifer 213!] [year tick 175!]. It was nice to put that one to bed, let me tell you! They were dead easy too. I spotted them as soon as I set off around the reservoir.

Yellow Wagtail at Draycote Water

At last!

Moments later, I also ticked an Arctic Tern [year tick 176!], which was sitting on a buoy out in the water. I also had my first ever White Wagtail. I wasn't certain about the first probable one I saw, but later on I saw another and this one was closer so I was in no doubt.

Another nice sight was this pair of Great Crested Grebes performing their weed dance.

Great Crested Grebes performing their weed dance

Last, but not least, as I drove home on the A45, I spotted a Hobby [year tick 177!] perched on a bush on the central reservation. A neat way to finish the day.

The Mistle Epistle

I was wrong, none of the eggs have hatched yet. The bird is sitting on the nest again and the Jackdaws seem to have lost interest in proceedings, thank goodness.

My latest concern is that I have only seen one of the thrushes around for a while. More news when it becomes available.

Rain? What Rain?

The Met Office got it all wrong yesterday, but their blunder resulted in an excellent day's birding for yours truly.

I woke early and decided to venture out, thinking that I would call it a day when the rain came over, but it never did. I headed off to Upton Warren first, picking up a juvenile Little Gull [lifer 212!] [year tick 169!], a Mediterranean Gull, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Sedge Warbler, Kingfisher, Dunlin, Snipe and, after much patience, a Reed Warbler [year tick 170!]. These birds were all seen from the East Hide on the Moors Pool. A visit to the flashes got me a Lesser Whitethroat [year tick 171!], a right little beauty!

With the skies still clear and my luck in, I chanced my arm at Holt and Grimley New Workings in the hope of picking up a Yellow Wagtail, another of my bogey birds. I couldn't find one, but I did spot another Dunlin and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers in the flooded field at Holt, plus a few Common Whitethroats at both sites.

I couldn't resist paying a visit to nearby Shenstone on the way back. This is becoming something of a birding mecca for me and I have never come away from there without seeing something of interest. As expected, I saw Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Common Whitethroat, many Wheatear, Linnet, Lapwing, Song Thrush, Sparrowhawk and a pair of Grey Partridge. However, as I made my way up Heath Lane, I heard my first Cuckoo of the year. I wheeled around and spotted a bird flying away from me in the distance. Luckily I was able to get the scope up in time to confirm that it was the Cuckoo that I had just heard [year tick 172!].

I had a go for the local Little Owl as I neared home, but failed to spot it on this occasion. Thanks to Gordon Greaves at Upton Warren for identifying the Mediterranean Gull and giving me a bit of gen regarding the Lesser Whitethroat.

I'm off to Brandon Marsh and Draycote Water today, so with some luck there may be a few more additions to the life and year list today.

The Mistle Epistle

I have a feeling that one of the eggs may have hatched. There was a lot of unsavoury activity around the nest this morning when a couple of Jackdaws showed a little too much interest in proceedings. The Mistle Thrush managed to fend them off eventually, but with an army of at least 30 Jackdaws in the area, I wonder how long they can survive this kind of sustained attack.

It is a little upsetting to watch, but I don't feel I can intervene. Ultimately, nature has to run its course. I will try to have a look in the nest later today to work out exactly what is going on.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Unleashed In The East

I'm back from a family holiday where we spent four nights in Suffolk and three in Norfolk. Whilst this wasn't really a birding holiday as such, there were trips to Minsmere, Titchwell and Holkham, plus a few early morning excursions with my Dad to a few local sites of interest. I won't be doing an exhaustive blog entry, just a summary of all the sightings.

17 April - Lackford Lakes, Suffolk

Egyptian Goose [year tick 149!], Common Tern [year tick 150!], plus Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Common Snipe, Barnacle Goose and all of the usual suspects. A Grass Snake was spotted here too.

Egyptian Geese at Lackford Lakes

18 April - Minsmere

Marsh Harrier [year tick 151!], Mediterranean Gull [lifer 208!] [year tick 152!], Sedge Warbler, Sandwich Tern, Ringed Plover [year ticks 153, 154 & 155!], Bearded Tit [lifer 209!] [year tick 156!], Nightingale [lifer 210!] [year tick 157!].

The views of Bearded Tit and Nightingale were brief and a little unsatisfactory. The song of the Nightingale was unforgettable.


Black-Tailed Godwit at Minsmere

Sandwich Tern at Minsmere

19 April - Barnham Cross Common, Norfolk

A short hop across the county border. We visited this site with the hope of picking up Hawfinch and Woodlark. We got neither, but our early start paid dividends when we flushed a Woodcock [year tick 158!] from the side of the road. The only other birds of note were a Willow Warbler and a Linnet.

20 April - Mayday Farm, Thetford

We had several Woodlark [year tick 159!] starting with one at Mayday farm, a displaying bird fifteen minutes later and a pair when we walked through the forest from the Brandon visitor centre. This is the first time I have heard them sing. So different to Skylark and I feel a bit more clued up on them now.

Woodlark at Mayday Farm

Another Woodlark near Brandon

We had a few Tree Pipits [year tick 160!] near Mayday farm and one on the forest walk too. A Red Kite [year tick 161!] was a welcome surprise, but again we had only fleeting views. Credit to my Dad for spotting it.

At the feeding station next to the visitor centre we had Brambling and Siskin. That afternoon we called back via Livermere, which proved to be a wise decision when we had several Stock Dove, Red-Legged Partridge, a Sanderling [year tick 162!], Greenshank [year tick 163!], Ruddy Duck [year tick 164!], many Shelduck, a Common Tern, more Egyptian Geese and two Dunlin. We resolved to visit this site again the next morning.

21 April - Livermere, Suffolk

Common Whitethroat [year tick 165!], about 20 Corn Bunting, a reasonable flock of Fieldfare and more Linnets. A great little place.

21 April - Weeting Heath

Stone Curlew [lifer 211!] [year tick 166!].

Stone Curlew at Weeting Heath

21 April - Hunstanton

Common Gull, Curlew, Sanderling, presumed Black-Tailed Godwits, Knot, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Fulmar, Turnstone and Avocet. Tricky light conditions made identification a little difficult.

Waders and gulls at Hunstanton

22 April - Holkham

Twite [year tick 167!], Ringed Plover, Egyptian Goose, Sanderling and the obligatory Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were noted. A short walk through Holkham Pines turned up Marsh Harrier, Little Egret, Blackcap, more Twite, and a Grasshopper Warbler was heard, as was Cetti's Warbler and Sedge Warbler.

22 April - Titchwell

Sedge Warbler, Spotted Redshank in breeding plumage, Ruff, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Marsh Harrier, better views of Bearded Tit, Snipe, a few Brambling including a male in full breeding plumage, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Common Gull.

A Black-Headed Gull gives a Ruff a dirty look

23 April - Wolferton

My birthday. Notable for its absence of any decent birding. We tried for Golden Pheasant at the Wolferton triangle early morning and dipped, though we did hear one or two birds calling.

24 April - Snettisham

A very brief visit to the first hide. House Martin [year tick 168!], Wheatear and many waders were seen. A Purple Sandpiper had been reported, but we didn't see it. A Bar-Tailed Godwit was the first definite sighting of the trip. Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers were noted on the way to the hide.

Common Whitethroat at Snettisham

In summary, a really good break with some excellent and unexpected sightings. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks to Sharon and the mums for putting up with all the birding!

The Mistle Epistle

On returning home, I incurred the wrath of the Mistle Thrushes by having a nose in their nest. There are four eggs in there, exactly the same number as when I left last Thursday, so I haven't missed too much.

Whilst away, I was fortunate enough to see newly-hatched Coots, Mallard, Greylag Geese and Robins, so hopefully my thrushes won't be too far behind.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

And The Bogey Falls

No, I haven't been picking my nose again, I finally spotted a Little Owl [lifer 207!] [year tick 148!] last night. I got soaked in the process, but boy was it worth it! I think it is in the best interests of the bird that the location should be kept hush hush, but I will say that it wasn't too far from home. Many thanks to the chap that shared this information with me. I owe you one!

A quick visit to Shenstone and Upton Warren on Monday also added a Linnet [year tick 147!] to the year list. And yes, I know I'm recounting these tales out of sequence, but I couldn't wait to tell you about that owl!

Other birds at Shenstone included Chiffchaff, a single Fieldfare, which caused me some confusion for a few minutes, Yellowhammer and Song Thrush. I didn't manage to find any Yellow Wagtails. I then visited Upton Warren and had more Linnets, plus the usual suspects, including Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Blackcap, Reed Bunting and a Kingfisher on the sailing pool.

On arriving back home, a Lesser Redpoll turned up in the garden. When it returned later on, I was able to get a picture, albeit a rather blurred one taken through the window.

Lesser Redpoll in the garden

The Mistle Epistle

The Mistle Thrushes are still on the nest. The female has now laid four eggs, one each day since Saturday. They are doing an excellent job, seeing off any Jackdaw or Jay that wanders a bit too near the nest. I'm off to Suffolk tomorrow for four nights, then I'm spending three nights in Norfolk, so sadly I'm going to miss out on anything that happens over the next week. I'm sure they'll be alright. The first thing I'll do when I get back is check up on them. Look out for an update on or around 25 April.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Patch It Up

First up, news of another year tick. It came on Friday night at 11:05pm when a Barn Owl [year tick 144!] flew past the house. There was another good spot from the house this afternoon, when another Raven turned up in the field opposite. This time I was armed and ready with my camera and the scope, so I was able to get some better pictures.

Mr Raven enjoys his lunch

What a handsome chap!

This morning I put a bit of time and effort in at two of my local patches, Bittell and Earlswood Lakes. My Dad had seen a Tawny Owl at Bittell yesterday morning and although I suspected my chances of latching onto one were remote, I thought I'd give it a go and see what else I could find whilst I was there.

Things kicked off with a couple of Pheasants poking around in the verges, whilst I took shelter from the torrential rain in my car. Fortunately, the rain stopped after 10 minutes or so and I was able to make my way up the path through the woods. Here I had a Chiffchaff, a Blackcap and a male Bullfinch in quick succession. I couldn't find any Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers today and, needless to say, the owl didn't show.

At the upper reservoir there were many Sand Martins, perhaps a few hundred , though I didn't count them all! A reasonable number of Swallows were also present. Then I picked up a Common Sandpiper [year tick 145!] on the water's edge along the causeway.

Upper Bittell Reservoir

Making my way across the field at the back of the reservoir, I heard my first Willow Warbler of the year, but was unable to locate it. However, as I made my way back to the car I had another in a tree right by the side of the road [year tick 146!]. Other birds of note at Bittell were a Treecreeper, several Stock Doves, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a pair of Green Woodpeckers.

Willow Warbler at Bittell

On to Earlswood Lakes. I spent about three hours here, taking in both pools, New Fallings Coppice and Clowes Wood. Many Chiffchaffs and Great Crested Grebes were noted, a few more Willow Warblers and two or three Blackcaps, plus a female Reed Bunting. Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen again on a couple of occasions, along with Nuthatch, another Treecreeper, several rowdy Jays and more Sand Martins and Swallows. The highlight was the second Common Sandpiper of the day, back at the entrance to the car park.

Great Crested Grebes at Earlswood Lakes

Willow Warbler at Earlswood Lakes

The Mistle Epistle

Time to catch up with my nesting Mistle Thrushes. I finally managed to get a snap of the empty nest on Saturday morning. To my delight, when I took a peek at it on Saturday evening, there was a single egg in there! I'm not sure whether the female has laid any more, but I will try to have another look later today or tomorrow.

My books tell me that they normally lay between 3 to 5 eggs. Mind you, they also say that the nest is a big, loose cup of roots, leaves, twigs and grass, often quite exposed on a tree branch. This nest doesn't really seem to fit that description.

The nest

The heavy rain on Friday night doesn't seem to have caused them a problem. I'll keep a close eye on their progress over the next few days, but then I will be away for a week or so. At least my cat, Barney, will be at the cattery, so that's one less thing for them to worry about!

As I was writing this, I noticed that both birds were in the branches of the tree, so I was able to sneak another look in the nest. Good news! There are now two eggs in there.

I plan to do a bit more birding tomorrow morning, so I will post details of that on my return.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Mistle Epistle

I noticed a pair of Mistle Thrush in the front garden this week and eventually realised that they have decided to nest in the sycamore tree in my front garden, right next to the main road! I'm not sure if this is a wise decision and the nest is alarmingly near the ground, but I will keep an eye on proceedings and provide updates on my usual blog.

I have already taken a few pictures. The nest was little more than a collection of moss and a few twigs yesterday morning, but already seems to have been completed. One of the birds was sat in the nest when I got home from work today, so I was unable to get a picture of it. So long as I can do so without disturbing the birds, I will try to get some more snaps over the course of the weekend.

The sycamore tree

A Mistle Thrush on the nest

Will it all end in disaster? Only time will tell ...

Other news

Very little to report this week. Last week's snow put paid to any serious birding, but I still managed to get to Bittell to see many Sand Martins [year tick 143!] and one Swallow, my first in Worcestershire this year.

Wythall in the snow

I'm planning to go to Earlswood Lakes on Sunday morning, then I'm off to Suffolk on Thursday for four nights, followed by three nights in Norfolk. Whilst there we plan to take in Minsmere, Titchwell and Holkham, so I should come back with some pictures and a few new additions to the year and life lists.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Memories Of Islay

Well, I've woken up to a beautiful carpet of snow here in Wythall, so any birding plans have been put on the back burner for the moment.

I thought I would take this opportunity to post a piece about my trip to Islay a couple of years ago, an event that changed my whole outlook on birding. Writing up this summary brought back some brilliant memories. I hope you enjoy it.

Memories of Islay

In May 2006 we spent a week on Islay, off the west coast of Scotland. At the time the trip was organised my Dad and I were still to be fully initiated in the art of birding. We had both been interested in birds for a number of years, but our knowledge extended only so far as being able to identify the more common species that we had come across in our gardens or during holidays by the sea.

Among our group were Dave Lyons, Dave Thomas and Brian York, all of whom had much more experience than the two of us. Making up the group were Steve Jones, Matt Bailey and David Chalmers. With so many Daves and Davids on board, I will from this point on use nicknames where appropriate. For the record, Dave Lyons is more commonly known as Leapy, whilst Dave Thomas is generally referred to as Ivor.

After an overnight stop on the mainland in Crianlarich, we headed down to Tarbert to catch the ferry on Saturday morning. I remember Brian pointing out a few Guillemots as we waited for the ferry. Birds like this were completely new to me and I was immediately fascinated. Once we were on the ferry we had more new and exciting sightings such as Black Guillemot, Manx Shearwater and Great Northern Diver. I don't think I had a life list at this point, but the names of all these weird and wonderful creatures were duly noted. When I returned home I listed as many as I could remember.

Once on Islay itself, the rest of the party immediately headed off to the open day at the Lagavulin distillery. I elected to stay behind and familiarise myself with the house, which was situated within walking distance of Port Ellen. I remember stepping outside and wandering down the lane, before taking a few snaps of the bay. Later on, I took a walk with Leapy and Brian and recall seeing my first ever Willow Warbler. I remember thinking what a rare bird it must be. I'd never even heard of it!

The view from the cottage

On Sunday, it was my Dad's 60th birthday. We spent the first part of the day at the Bruichladdich distillery, sampling whisky and oysters, along with other local produce. We also paid a brief visit to Loch Gruinart that day. We saw a Sedge Warbler here and more Willow Warblers, one of which was kind enough to pose for the camera. There was a bit of excitement when a couple of the group heard a Corncrake calling in the area, but we never saw it.

Willow Warbler at Loch Gruinart

Birding on Islay

The Monday was a brilliant day that lives long in the memory. It started with a bit of birding by Brian, Leapy and I. A Cuckoo had been heard around the cottage on Sunday morning and after catching up with a few of the more regular species, Leapy thought he'd spotted the Cuckoo perched on overhead wires. Before we could get a really close look at it, it dropped down and disappeared from view.

To his credit, Brian likes to be meticulous about his birding, so politely challenged Leapy as to why he thought it was the Cuckoo. Quick as a flash, Leapy began listing the bird's features. He mentioned its long wings, which projected below the body, the bill, which looked right for a Cuckoo and the barring on its chest, before stating, "And the bloody thing was going 'cuckoo' for heaven's sake!"

After a priceless start to the day like that, surely it was going to be downhill all the way, but no. First up, we paid a visit to the Caol Ila distillery. Dad, Leapy and I were in one car with Script For A Jester's Tear by Marillion blasting out of the stereo, whilst Ivor drove Steve, Matt and Brian. Once at the distillery, we watched several Gannets at close hand, fishing along the stretch of water between Islay and Jura.

After the distillery tour, there was a tasting. Everyone had been given a small number of bottle tops and these could be exchanged for a dram of 12 or 18 year old Caol Ila, or a rather potent cask-strength edition. We duly had our samples and declared the 18 year old as a rather fine drop. It is still my favourite tipple to this day.

The Caol Ila distillery

I remember being outside talking to Steve and wondering where everyone else had got to. It turned out that these token bottle tops meant nothing and they were simply giving the whisky to anyone who wanted it. Consequently, we headed back inside and proceeded to enjoy rather too much of the hard stuff. My Dad and Ivor were driving so we cunningly smuggled an empty water bottle in and filled it with Caol Ila's finest. There must have been about £15 worth of whisky in that bottle by the time we'd finished!

Brian was a little worse for wear when we arrived back at Cairn Cottage, but we had booked ourselves into the Port Ellen maltings tour, so we had to head off once more, this time on foot! After a few more drams, we suddenly realised we were a bit peckish. Right on cue, plate after plate of sandwiches arrived and were quickly snaffled. It was only once we were back at the cottage that Brian realised that his camera was missing. He wasn't sure whether he'd left it at Caol Ila or the maltings, but there was little he could do about it.

That evening we went to the ceilidh at Port Ellen, a traditional Scottish celebration of music, dance and, yes, you've guessed it, whisky! Thankfully, Brian was reunited with his camera here. Someone had found it at the maltings and deduced that the owner might well be amongst the revellers at the ceilidh.

Towards the end of the evening, a chap that looked curiously like Michael Winner stood up and sang a traditional gaelic mantra that seemed to last for about two hours! David Chalmers, being Scottish himself, offered to translate for us. We looked on intently as David told the tale of a man who travelled to Islay and visited Port Ellen, before getting drunk and losing his camera at the distillery. He did it in such a dead-pan style that we were all taken in, right until the point where the story became ever so slightly familiar.

On Tuesday we resolved to do some slightly more intense birding. Having said that, we still visited the Laphroaig distillery via a scenic walk along the coast. Brian, whose nickname is Corky, had not yet seen a Wheatear, but everyone else had. Every time one popped up we'd shout out to Brian, but they seemed to disappear just before he could get his binoculars onto them. In the end, we decided they must be a sub-species, Corky's Wheatear, thus named because Brian was doomed never to see one!

Leapy outside Laphroaig

That afternoon we walked on the Mull Of Oa. It was supposed to be reliable for Choughs, but we didn't see any. I recall seeing Kittiwakes, Fulmar, Ravens and plenty of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. A stunning male Wheatear also presented itself. Even Brian got onto this one!

The Mull of Oa

On the way back in the car, my Dad slammed on the brakes when he spotted something at the side of the road. We thought it was a raptor and immediately fired off a few photographs. The bird took off and we sighed in disappointment as we decided it was just a gull. It was only when we got back to the cottage and I blew up the picture that we saw it was a male Hen Harrier. Seriously bad ID skills all round!

The Hen Harrier that wasn't, then was again!

On Thursday we were finally treated to excellent views of a Golden Eagle as it patrolled the area behind the Ardbeg distillery. Of an evening there would often be two or three people cooking in the kitchen, whilst the others were sea-watching from the comfort of the conservatory. We would often see divers, Eider, Gannets, Arctic Tern and Black Guillemots on these vigils.

Stepping out near the Ardbeg distillery

One evening, Leapy got a diver in his scope, but it was distant. He thought it was a Black-Throated Diver, but I wasn't too sure. I reckoned it was a Red-Throated Diver. Considering my woeful lack of experience, I'm not sure why I chose to disagree with him, but either way, he launched himself into a passionate narrative on the subject of diver identification, which ended with him declaring that the Black-Throated Diver has got a bill like a piece of shit! Whenever we come across divers these days, they are invariably referred to as shit-bills!

After hearing Corncrake at Loch Gruinart earlier in the week, we resolved to go back and have another try. In the end, I think it was just Ivor, Brian, Steve, Leapy and I that made it. As soon as we got there we could hear them calling. One individual appeared to be in a small patch of nettles not too far away. Slowly, but surely, we crept closer and closer to it over the course of an hour. Every few minutes we would hear its cry coming from the thicket, but could we see it? Could we heck as like!

A bit later, a mother and her daughter came by. Brian wasn't too impressed as the girl was making a bit of a racket. She didn't help proceedings by saying that she had seen our intended target a short while ago, even though we suspected it was a load of tripe. Eventually, they disappeared leaving us to stake out our elusive quarry. In the end, we were almost on top of our prey. Somewhat out of character, Leapy was very nearly tempted to trample through the nettles in order to flush it, but thankfully, common sense prevailed and we admitted defeat.

Bidding a fond farewell to Islay

During the trip I picked up 22 lifers, but more importantly than that it made me want to go out and do more birding. Later that year I got some proper binoculars and went halves on a scope with my Dad. I haven't looked back since. My records show that I only had 72 birds on the trip. I'm sure there were more than that, but I just wasn't able to take it all in. When we go back, which we intend to do in 2009, I'm certain that the birding may take precedence over the whisky. But only just!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Never Give Up On A Good Thing

I was bit gutted to miss out on Hawfinch in the Forest of Dean last Sunday. However, I had a day's holiday carried forward from last year and it was a case of use it or lose it, so I booked today off and decided to have another stab at this elusive bird. I thought I might as well make a day of it, so I came up with a return journey that would take in a couple of other decent locations.

It was an early start. I wanted to get on the road at 6:30am and I somehow managed it, despite being a bit bleary-eyed when I awoke. I had a good run down the M5, though I was a little concerned by the patchy fog that I encountered on the way. It was still a little misty when I arrived at Brierley at about 7:40am, but the sun was beginning to poke through and fortunately I was able to see alright.

I didn't have to wait too long to track down a Hawfinch [year tick 141!]. There were a few up in the canopy, possibly up to half a dozen. At one point I had one not twenty feet from me on the deck, but the Chaffinches and Bramblings that they were associating with were very flighty and getting a picture was difficult. In the end, I managed a half decent shot of one in the trees.

Hawfinch at Brierley

I left Brierley at about 9:30am, but not before I'd bagged a picture of a Great Spotted Woodpecker that was having a whale of a time drumming in the trees to my right.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Next stop was Cutsdean, but not for either a lifer, nor a year tick. A Great Grey Shrike has been in this area for a week or so and having bagged my first one in Devon in February, but not having been able to get a decent view of it, I was determined to do better this time.

The first bird of note was a Red-Legged Partridge [year tick 142!], which I was alerted to by its unusual call. Having solved this birding mystery, I returned to the matter in hand. It only took a few minutes to track down the Great Grey Shrike, but in the time it took me to dash back to the car and fetch the scope, the thing had vanished.

There was a moment's panic, then it returned to its perch, where it sat happily for the next fifteen minutes whilst I gorged myself on its beauty. A really excellent looking bird. I have to confess, I did get a bit emotional!

Great Grey Shrike - what a beauty!

Yes, I wept!

I also had a number of Yellowhammers in this area.


On returning to the car, I heard a rustling in the grass next to me. It was a lizard. Then I saw another. I understand that this is what shrikes like to eat, so no wonder the little beauty had decided to make this reptile-rich area its temporary home.

Shrike fodder

Next stop, the Clent hills [well done, Kay!]. I was keen to see what this area was like and the added attraction of a possible passing Ring Ouzel was too much to resist. I had a pleasant walk, encountering some Jays, Nuthatches and a mouse, but on the whole, there wasn't much to see. I decided to move on and as I was way ahead of schedule, I thought a trip to my somewhat neglected local patch, Bittell Reservoirs, would be a fitting end to the day and might bring me a warbler or two.

As soon as I arrived, I had a Grey Wagtail and a pair of Ravens [can't get away from them at the moment!] , but this was nothing compared to what happened as I made my way up the path to the upper reservoir. Firstly, I noticed something fly to my right and I immediately suspected it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. I was right! It took a further second or two to get onto it, but then it slowly made its way up the trunk of a tree just in front of me, allowing me to rattle off some good pictures.

Then another one, this time a female, appeared a little further down the path. Unfortunately, this one disappeared as I was getting the scope set up for some more photos. I couldn't believe it. I've seen three this year now. I wasn't even sure I'd see one at the beginning of the year.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Bittell

And through the scope ...

The upper reservoir was full, so I didn't waste any time scanning it for waders. I heard either a Blackcap or Garden Warbler near the stile, but couldn't get onto it to confirm its identity. It was probably the former, but I wasn't sure. I was a bit disappointed, but I needn't have worried, because on arriving home, there was a male Blackcap in the garden. Only the second one this year! The perfect end to a perfect day.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Raven Mad

There was a bit of excitement yesterday when a Raven turned up in the field opposite the house. It seems that another bird, possibly a Sparrowhawk, had taken a rabbit or other creature and left part of its remains in the field. I noticed a large, black bird having a go at it and immediately sensed that it wasn't a Carrion Crow. Once I had the binoculars on it, my suspicions were confirmed.


Later on, a pair of Buzzards were showing an interest in it too, though they seemed to prefer an area further left of the carnage. I did try to get a few pictures of them, but they were obscured by our sycamore tree, a telegraph pole and a street lamp. Frustrating!

I spent the afternoon and early evening at Upton Warren. A few random pictures follow. Spot of the day was undoubtedly a Jack Snipe at the rear of the flashes.

Teal and Little Ringed Plover

Jack Snipe


Little Ringed Plover