Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Creatures Of The Night

A quick update before I set off for Wales in just a few hours. My birding over the past week or so has mainly continued to consist of excursions into the back garden either side of Big Brother. A week last Friday I was fortunate enough to spot the Barn Owl again as it flew silently across the front of the house.

On Tuesday night, I focused my attention on a local bat roost. Between 9:30pm and 10:00pm I counted just under 60 presumed Pipistrelle bats emerging from their sleeping quarters. I'm sure many more came out after I had called it a night, but it was a little chilly, it had started to spit with rain and, more importantly, Big Brother was on!

Also that evening, a Curlew flew over the house, which I think is the first one I have ever seen from the garden. In a similar vein, there was a moment of birding magic at work earlier in the day. A large bird caught my eye as I pretended to slave over my keyboard. My immediate reaction was Buzzard, which are relatively common in Wythall, but then I realised it was something much better - a Red Kite! I caught sight of the forked tail just as it disappeared from view, the final piece of evidence that I needed to clinch its ID. My work colleagues wondered what I was up to as I leapt from my chair and pressed my nose against the glass. They remained a little non-plussed even when I explained the enormity of the situation, but what do they know?

On Friday evening, I had not one, but two Barn Owls over the back garden, then last night Mrs Reg is convinced she heard a Tawny Owl outside. Despite watching and listening for over half an hour, I didn't see or hear it. Mrs Reg thinks it was close - she heard it despite the bedroom windows being shut. Sounds like another one has slipped through my fingers. Damn!

A report from Wales will appear upon my return next week.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Whin Some, Lose Some ...

On Saturday I headed to Wales for a few days and took the opportunity to catch up with a few species that aren't so easy to see in the Midlands. My first port of call was the moorland between the villages of Llangynog and Bala. As you may know from previous blog entries, this is one of my favourite sites and I was able to add a Whinchat [year tick 202!] to my year list on this occasion.


That evening we went to have a look for the Nightjars near Penrhyndeudraeth. Although we were able to hear them, they didn't show for us, which was a shame. Whilst we were waiting for the light to drop, we also heard a Grasshopper Warbler, but this too proved elusive. I did, however, see my first ever Slow Worm, which delighted me no end.

Slow Worm

On Sunday we spent the day on Anglesey. At South Stack we were lucky enough to see Choughs [year tick 203!] and Puffins [year tick 204!] as well as the usual Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars and Kittiwakes. The Puffins weren't terribly easy to find as I understand there are now only about five pairs that nest there. Patient scanning of the water eventually reaped dividends, however. Attempts at a photograph weren't terribly successful, but the best of a bad bunch appears below, along with a few snaps of the Guillemots.

South Stack

Guillemots at South Stack

And a few more ...


On to Cemlyn Bay, which up until recently was renowned for its tern colony. Unfortunately, many of the birds have been predated in recent years and the number of birds present was significantly low. Sandwich Terns and Common Terns were pretty easy to see, and I thought I saw at least one Arctic Tern, but I wasn't absolutely sure. After an ice cream in Beaumaris we headed to Fedw Fawr to see Black Guillemots and managed to pick up a couple on the water [year tick 205!]. Great birds.

Monday's birding comprised of a walk up the lanes in the evening, with a view to seeing Grasshopper Warblers in the 'magic field', as I like to call it. A Spotted Flycatcher on the way was a bonus. Once at the 'magic field' we were able to hear the birds, but apart from what I think was the briefest glimpse, we failed to see them. I wasn't prepared to add a tick to the year list based upon the quick view that I had had, but it was nice to know that they are still there. I think there were at least three birds singing that evening. On the way back to the bungalow we heard a distant Tawny Owl and witnessed reasonable numbers of what I presumed to be Pipistrelle and Noctule bats.

On Tuesday we put in a bit of time looking for Pied Flycatchers near Tan-Y-Bwlch. Unfortunately, the closest we got was the bird pictured below. However, whilst walking around the surrounding woodland we heard a Wood Warbler and a female Blackcap, plus a few other more common woodland species. On the way back we stopped off at Pont Croesor to see the Ospreys. I have to say, I wasn't actually certain I could see them on the nest, but I did see a Red-Breasted Merganser and a pair of Grey Wagtails on the river, which was nice.

False alarm!

Red-Breasted Merganser

Finally, we paid a visit to Criccieth. There were about a dozen Gannets fishing closer to the shore than I have ever seen them before. Having gorged myself on these beauties, I turned my attention to a thorough scan of the water and had good views of many Manx Shearwater [year tick 206!] a little further out to sea.

All in all, a few nice spots. I'm heading back there for a week's holiday soon, so I might be lucky enough to catch up with a few of the species that we dipped on then.

Owl Update

Owling in the garden has continued since I got back home. Last night my patience paid off when a Barn Owl ghosted over the house and came to rest in my alder tree. It was a magical moment and it inspired me to sit up until well after midnight hoping for another sighting, or maybe even a glimpse of a Tawny Owl, but I didn't strike lucky.

Worcestershire Source

My absence coincided with a flurry of reports to the Worcestershire Source blog, which you can read here. A big thank you to Kay for looking after the site so capably whilst I was away. Things appear to be gaining momentum and so long as everyone continues to provide us with news, we will keep reporting it. Thank you to everybody who has contributed sightings so far.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Owl Season

Big Brother returned to our screens last Thursday. Whilst I acknowledge that this programme is the televisual equivalent of marmite, Mrs Reg and I are big fans. The return of the show also heralds the arrival of those long, hot summer nights, which usually results in a bit of owling for yours truly.

Last year I had several sightings of a Barn Owl from the garden and I would like to be able to do the same again this year. As you might remember from an earlier blog entry, I year-ticked this bird from my bedroom window at the beginning of April, so I know they are definitely around.

Owls are therefore well and truly on the agenda for the next few months. In fact, I paid a visit to a local site on Sunday and enjoyed good views of a Little Owl, which is pictured below. The photo is courtesy of Pete Walkden, who joined us on Friday for the Nightjar mission. More of Pete's work is available on his website here.

Little Owl

Last night I decided to stay up late and kept a lonely vigil from my study for an hour or so. A few distant Tawny Owls were heard, but the spot of the night came in the guise of a Muntjac deer, which trotted up the pavement opposite my house just after midnight. I have seen these small deer in the field opposite the house during the autumn once or twice, but seeing it on the pavement was a bit surreal.

Shortly afterwards, a Fox appeared and relieved himself in my front garden. He hung around for five or ten minutes, then disappeared. I called it a night at 12:30am. I hadn't seen any Barn Owls, but I will be repeating the exercise in a week or two's time so I hope to strike lucky then.

Twycross Zoo

I also paid a visit to Twycross Zoo yesterday. I thought it would be nice to post a few pictures from the trip here too, though I hasten to add that I have not added any of the birds to my life list! On the way there, however, I did manage to add no less than 5 Eddie Stobart trucks to my Eddie list!

Hover your cursor over the pictures for my usual selection of inane comments.

Marmot - you either love them or hate them!

I think these are Ural Owls

A Crowned Crane

Storks of some kind?

Another Stork

A Macaroni Penguin. Bellissimo!

Meerkat on lookout

Quick! Before it runs away!

Quite a big pen for a female House Sparrow!

It's us again!

Startled Cattle Egrets

I'm off to Wales on Saturday where I shall be looking out for Pied Flycatchers, Grasshopper Warblers, Manx Shearwaters, Puffins, Black Guillemots, Roseate Terns, Choughs, Little Terns and Whinchats for the year list. When I get back I shall post a trip report here. Until then, happy birding!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Searching In The Dark

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black ...

There you go, a bit of culture on Eye To The Telescope. That's a quote from Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas. What's that got to do with birding I hear you cry. Well, not much to be honest, but I did go birding on Friday evening, just as the sun was passing over the yard arm. Whilst that would normally be the prompt for a malt whisky or a gin and tonic to appear, on this occasion it signalled a bit of Nightjar spotting on Cannock Chase.

An impressive crew were present, in fact Mrs Reg even came along for the trip. We arrived at Springslade Lodge at about 7:20pm and were joined by Kay, Max and Pete about twenty minutes later. We had a short stroll around the surrounding area for a bit, then headed back to the cars and met up with Staffordshire birders Richard, Andy and Jim at about 8:30pm.

As I said earlier, the prime objective was to find some Nightjars, but whilst we were waiting for the sun to drop we enjoyed good views of a Hobby, plus a few Cuckoos. Finally, at about 9:40pm I heard my first Nightjar. Minutes later we had tracked them down and watched them perform for half an hour or so [lifer 223!] [year tick 201!].

Other birds of note that evening included a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a few Willow Warblers, Linnet, Yellowhammer and a roding Woodcock. A good evening was had by all and it was nice to meet up with a few more Bird Forum regulars.

Sadly, the failing light rendered the names of a few Eddie Stobart trucks unreadable on the journey home, but I wasn't complaining. I hope to see more Nightjars in Wales next week, plus one or two other things. A day on Anglesey is planned, along with trips to a couple of good local sites. A full report will follow upon my return.

Worcestershire Source

If I may, I would like to make a shameless plug for a new blog that I have set up. Following the disappointing news that the excellent Worcester Birding website was to become subscription based, I and few others felt duty bound to try to continue providing a free reference point for sightings in and around Worcestershire.

On Wednesday I therefore took the bull by the horns and created Worcestershire Source. Hopefully, in time this will grow to become the place to catch up with any important birding news from the county.

Any site of this nature relies upon input from others and all reports, articles, information and feedback will be welcomed. If you wish to report any sightings or news, or just provide your comments regarding the site, please email accordingly.

If you like the site and support the initiative, please add a link to it from your own blog or website and spread the word!

The web address for Worcestershire Source is

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It Must Be Christmas

Well, maybe not, but it doesn't really feel like summer at the moment either. My cryptic title this week actually refers to that festive standard 'The 12 Days of Christmas'. As you will remember, the words of the song tell us that on the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two Turtle Doves. Putting Mrs Reg aside for a moment, my true love is birding and although it may have actually been the second day of June, as opposed to Christmas, it did indeed bring me two Turtle Doves [year tick 200!].

The aforementioned Mrs Reg was having her hair done yesterday morning, so I decided to take advantage of the situation and venture out in pursuit of the bird that would nudge my annual tally up to the magic two hundred. I decided upon a visit to Throckmorton, which I understood was pretty good for Turtle Doves, but I have to admit I didn't really know my way around this area despite it not being too far from home.

Armed with only a printout from Google Maps, a can of Diet Coke and a packet of Mr Porky's pork scratchings [plus my binnies, of course!], I headed off, spying a Green Woodpecker flying across the A46 on the way, the first bird of note of the day.

I arrived at Throckmorton and was concerned to find there weren't really many places to park the car. I actually drove through Throckmorton, then found a spot at the side of the road. I knew I needed to head for Throckmorton Tip, which was back in the direction I had come from so I started walking and began birding, mainly with my ears. I noted a few Stock Doves and a Whitethroat along the way. A Blackcap was also singing from the trees and bushes.

After half a mile or so, I stopped to answer the call of nature. As luck would have it, I had chosen an excellent spot to relieve myself, as no sooner had I begun walking again, I heard a Turtle Dove calling from the trees to my right. I stopped and looked, but quickly realised that I was going to be fortunate if was to see the bird from the road. I had spotted a public footpath leading away from the road and although it didn't seem to be heading in exactly the right direction, it looked worth a punt. After negotiating a muddy area at the start of the path, noting an abandoned washing machine in the stream [shame on you, flytippers!] and heading down the path for a minute, I suddenly heard the bird calling right above me, followed by another behind me, but I still couldn't see them. Then I caught a bit of movement and saw something fly above me. Almost certainly the dove, but not sufficient evidence for a tick.

Then I saw a small bridge that crossed the stream. I headed across it into a meadow and made my way to the bushes on the other side. Only then did I finally clap eyes on my quarry. The dove flew from the top of a tree and landed in another, affording me some reasonable views. I heard a third bird calling from this area too, so I would imagine that there are at least a couple of pairs breeding here. A good bird to see relatively close to home.

Back at the car I celebrated in fine style with my Diet Coke and Mr Porky's pork scratchings. The last time I sampled these porcine delights, I cracked a tooth, but I'm pleased to say that my dentures survived the ordeal this time!

The Year So Far / Scottish Crossbills

Having notched up 200 birds for the year, now seems like a good time to take stock of the birding year so far. I have to say, I am feeling very relaxed about the whole thing. Having got off to a good start this year, 200 was always my target and I am resisting the urge to set myself any further goals other than enjoying my time in the field.

I will probably squeeze another 20 birds or so out of the year, but I won't be chasing numbers for the sake of it. It's been a phenomenal year up until now and I don't want to spoil it by becoming fixated on the wrong sort of goals.

I thought it might be worth providing an update on the assumed Scottish Crossbills that I found in Scotland [where else!] last month. Feedback from other birders suggests that you can't really be completely happy with the identification of these birds unless you have sonograms of their song and calls to analyse. Well, I don't generally carry around sophisticated recording equipment with me so I suppose I can never be absolutely sure about this one, but I am happy to keep it on my list.

What really makes me chuckle is these people who say it is impossible to separate Common Crossbills and Scottish Crossbills in the field, but when you present them with a photograph, they immediately say they are looking at a Common Crossbill. Come on, lighten up guys! I abhore stringing as much as the next person, but with a species like this I think you just have to be as happy as you can be under the circumstances, else you would never be able to tick it, would you?

Okay, rant over! I'll provide more birding news when it is available, which may be sooner than you think!