Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Told You!

I said a few weeks ago that I had a suspicion I might latch onto a Tawny Owl this year, and on Friday night I managed just that [lifer 225!] [year tick 210!]. It was 10:00pm and Mrs Reg and I went outside to water the plants. We heard the owl calling, but although it sounded close we couldn't see it. I thought it might be calling from the front of the house so went to investigate, but no luck. However, when I returned to the back garden I suddenly spotted it on top of a tree. One of my favourite sightings of the year so far.

I heard it again on Sunday night, but it didn't show. My impressions of a vole managed to bring a Barn Owl sailing over the house though! I have to say, I feel very fortunate to have these amazing birds so close to home.

On Sunday I also visited Upton Warren. There are some nice birds there at the moment, including a Greenshank and three Black-Tailed Godwits. I managed to spot a Lesser Whitethroat whilst I was there, and a Peregrine was on one of the masts too. As we left I took a picture of a moth in the hide, which has been identified as Dark Arches.


Black-Tailed Godwit

Common Tern at Upton Warren


Dark Arches

A quick visit to Shenstone was fairly unproductive. A Corn Bunting was singing from the wires, but there was no sign of any Quail.

Finding the Silver-Washed Fritillary butterflies in the Wyre Forest a week or so ago has seriously whetted my appetite for more lepidoptery. Whilst at Upton Warren, I got chatting to a couple of chaps who told me that there were some Small Skippers near the sailing club. As we left, they were able to point one out to me. At Shenstone I spotted a few more, and I think I saw a Marbled White, but I wasn't absolutely certain.

Since then I have been looking out for butterflies in the garden and have been lucky enough to spot a Speckled Wood and a Meadow Brown, plus an unidentified blue butterfly.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood

Childhood memories of long hot summer holidays were rekindled when Sunday also turned out to be ... Flying Ant Day! I'm posting a few pictures of these winged critters for your pleasure.

Up, up and away!

Ants with wings - brilliant!

Mrs Reg and I went to Webb's garden centre on Monday and I bought a butterfly feeder - a sponge that you charge with sugar water. So far I have only attracted a few wasps, but hopefully it might bring in one or two more butterflies over the next few weeks. It was only £4.99, so if it proves to be as much use as the proverbial chocolate teapot I won't be too dispirited.

Whilst at Webb's we had a wander through their gardens and I was able to identify a Red Admiral, Peacock and a Small Tortoiseshell. Also, on their small pond I noted a few Banded Demoiselles and a dragonfly, which I think may have been a Brown Hawker. I'm really keen to continue swotting up on butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies as I find them very interesting and I don't like seeing stuff without being able to identify it.

I'm thinking of doing a spot of butterflying at the weekend, so expect more news soon.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Reg The Lepidopterist

A week of mixed fortunes in the world of Reg The Birder. On Monday I decided to revisit the Wyre Forest to see if I could finally home in on a Pied Flycatcher - a disappointing omission from the year list. I was there for the best part of five hours and in terms of birding it was pretty quiet. I knew finding a Pied Flycatcher would be tough and, sure enough, I was unsuccessful. Spring is undoubtedly the best time to see these birds and I think I have to resign myself to the fact that I ain't going to tick one this year. Bummer!

The only birds of note were Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Dipper, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Nuthatch and Treecreeper. Away from the birding I didn't do too badly. I spotted some Silver-Washed Fritillary butterflies, the first I have ever seen, plus what I think was a Gatekeeper and a Comma. I suppose it's an inevitable side product of birding that you begin to look at the other wildlife around. I was also pleased to find a wasps' nest, an ant hill and a Common Lizard.

On Wednesday evening I amused myself by taking some photographs of the amazing cloud formations that appeared over the house as the sun set. The camera isn't too well at the moment, having been infiltrated by sand in Wales a couple of weeks ago, but I am hoping to continue to use it for digiscoping when I'm out birding.

Nice clouds

Finally, last night I caught wind of a Little Stint that had turned up at Bittell reservoir. I couldn't resist popping down there for a twitch and eventually found this tiniest of waders when I was lucky enough to have it fly into my field of view whilst scoping [year tick 209!].

There was plenty of other good stuff at Bittell too, including a Black-Tailed Godwit, two Little Egrets, several Common Sandpipers, a pair of suspected Ringed Plovers and a Common Snipe. I'm sure the site will attract more good waders if the water level remains low, so I'll be keeping a close eye on things during the next few months.

On that front, may I say thank you to those people that have contributed to the Worcestershire Source site over the last couple of months and to Kay Donaghy for her help in keeping the reports up to date. It's been a great success so far and can only get bigger and better with everyone's help. If you use the site and share our belief that birding news from the county should be freely available for everyone's benefit, then please spread the word.

That's enough from me this week. Until next time, happy birding!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Meat On A Stick - Great!

If someone had mentioned the word skua to me a few years ago, I would probably have thought they were talking about a sheek kebab or something. It is only since I began birding seriously that I became aware of these elusive seabirds, and in that relatively short space of time I have never been fortunate enough to run into one - until now!

The story began a week last Sunday. Having arrived in North Wales for my annual vacation with Mrs Reg, we headed to our favourite spot on Criccieth beach - an enormous stone that we like to call our rock. This rock is like an old friend to me and Mrs Reg and I have enjoyed birdwatching from it, sleeping on it, throwing stones at it and doing the Telegraph crossword whilst sat upon it for a few years now. It provides splendid views over Cardigan Bay and down the years has yielded many Gannets, Manx Shearwaters, Ringed Plovers, Turnstones and, a couple of years ago, even a few Purple Sandpipers turned up here.

Anyway, there I was sat on our rock, scanning the sea with my binnies. All of a sudden I spotted something out at sea heading towards Black Rock beach. "I think I've got a skua here!" I exclaimed to Mrs Reg, then continued to watch as the bird was jostled by a few gulls, before landing at the very end of Criccieth beach. I watched it for a bit, but I couldn't positively identify it without the scope from that distance. Sadly, the scope was back at base camp so I had to admit defeat. I contented myself with excellent views of Gannets, which were closer to shore than I have ever seen them before. Blimey, I even managed to get a half-decent pic - something I have never managed before.


I expected that would be the last I saw of that skua and imagined I would have to peruse the excellent North Wales Birding Forum on my return to see if anyone else had latched onto the bird. However, Wednesday saw us back on our rock and this time I was armed and ready with the scope. I began a search of the sea and was very nearly bowled over when what appeared to be the same skua flew into my field of view. History repeating, as Shirley Bassey sang. Actually, I've just checked the lyrics of that song and there's no mention of skuas in there, but you get my drift.

I spent a bit of time looking at the bird perched on the shingle, but it was distant. Even with the aid of the scope I struggled to pick up all the features. I got a few record shots, but as you can see they weren't much help either. When I got back to the bungalow I spent an age going through the Collin's bible, but ended up more confused than a hungry baby in a topless bar!

Skua species sat behind gull

Later that afternoon, Mrs Reg and I dined in Nefyn [that's where Duffy comes from, you know!] then, as it was a pleasant evening, we headed back to Criccieth beach. Once again I had the scope and, almost unbelievably, the skua was sat in the same place again. We decided to head towards the bird in order to try and get better views. After what felt like an eternity ploughing through the shingle, we finally got as close as 30 feet away. Sod's law dictated that I didn't have my camera with me - we had only intended to grab something to eat and head back to the bungalow to put our feet up before Big Brother!

Finally, we spooked the bird sufficiently to cause it to fly out into the sea. Now I had seen it so well, both on the ground and in the air, as well as bobbing about on the ocean, I had no doubt that it was a Great Skua [lifer 224!] [year tick 207!]. The bird didn't appeared to be injured, but it certainly seemed a bit subdued. The only slightly odd thing about it was the way it moved its legs in flight - as though it was trying to get something off them. In fact it was this action that first drew my attention to it. The reason it appeared to have taken a liking to this part of the beach was what looked like a dead Porpoise, which had been washed up on the shore. Nice.

Aside from that incredible adventure, the rest of the birding in Wales was fairly quiet. I had a go for the Grasshopper Warblers in the magic field, but was unsuccessful. I didn't even get to hear them sing. On Friday we headed up to Gronant Beach to see the breeding Little Terns [year tick 208!], which was very pleasant, and we also had a walk up Aber Coed, which turned up three Redstarts, a Peregrine and a few Linnets, but alas no Pied Flycatchers. I might need to return to the Forest of Dean if I want to catch up with these smart birds before the year is out.

Stonechat in the magic field

Other birds noted at Criccieth during the week were Common Scoter, Oystercatchers nesting precariously on the small cliff face, Sand Martin, Rock Pipit and Ringed Plover. Elsewhere, we saw plenty of Common Buzzards and a few Ravens, plus Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Skylark at Gronant.

Oystercatcher on the nest

Manx Shearwaters

On Saturday I had crippling views of Manx Shearwaters, again from Criccieth beach. At one point, one of the birds came right over the breaking waves, something I have never witnessed before. Even Mrs Reg was impressed, and when Dr Who defeated the Daleks later that evening she was impressed all over again, especially when he failed to regenerate into James Nesbitt. Now that would have upset her immensely!