Sunday, August 31, 2008

Just Call Me Dr Foster

Yes, I'm afraid I have been to Gloucester again, though I did manage to avoid stepping in a puddle right up to my middle. I did tread in plenty of goose poo, however, as my destination was WWT Slimbridge.

Mrs Reg was out with her mother, which meant that I had a day to myself to do as I pleased. I hadn't been sure where to go, but when a Kentish Plover was reported from Slimbridge on Saturday, my mind was made up very quickly. The chance to finally life tick a Yellow-Legged Gull also helped to clinch the deal.

It was rather foggy as I headed down the M5 past Upton Warren. I couldn't help wondering whether the mist might have resulted in a mega wader dropping in over night. I managed to put the thought to the back of my mind, but made a mental note to text Kay later on to see if anything good had turned up.

I had a good run down the motorway, noting a Sparrowhawk over the carriageway near the Tewkesbury junction. It only took about 50 minutes to reach Slimbridge, just enough time to play the new album by Sigur Rós. If you think you've never heard any of these Icelandic naval-gazers' music, think again, because the BBC are always using it on their documentaries and stuff.

I resolved to head to the Holden Tower first of all and was quite prepared to put in a long spell of patient birdwatching, mainly because I thought it was my best chance of ticking the Kentish Plover if it showed up and also because I thought a Yellow-Legged Gull or two might present themselves on the estuary.

There were a number of good birds in the water near the hide. Namely Black-Tailed Godwits, three Knots, a Dunlin, a Ringed Plover and a couple of Snipe. Also present were a number of Teal and a few Meadow Pipits. Over the course of the next few hours I noted Goldfinch, Whitethroat, Curlew, Common Buzzard, Peregrine and the second Sparrowhawk of the day, and the first one I have ever managed to photograph.


I tried to sort out the gulls on the edge of the estuary and could make out Greater Black-Backed Gull, Herring Gull and Black-Headed Gull quite easily. I had a few contenders for Yellow-Legged Gull, but at that distance could never have been completely happy, assuming that they were Lesser Black-Backed Gulls instead. Although I was enjoying myself, it was beginning to look like I wasn't going to get a year tick, let alone a lifer. To amuse myself I concentrated on trying to add as many species as I could to my Holden Tower list. It wasn't long before I had added Cormorant, Shelduck, Canada Goose, Oystercatcher, Grey Heron, Little Egret, feral Barnacle Goose, Moorhen, Woodpigeon, Mallard, Feral Pigeon, Coot, Rook and Mute Swan to the list.

Eventually I decided to head off to a couple of the other hides, spotting Chiffchaff, Blue Tit, Swallow, Greenfinch, Long-Tailed Tit, Blackcap, Greylag Goose and Jackdaw on the way. From the Zeiss Hide I saw a Kingfisher, which I hoped to photograph, but it disappeared never to return. I took some consolation by getting a decent picture of a Grey Heron that was present.

Grey Heron

From this hide I also spotted Raven and Kestrel, but generally it was pretty quiet, so I went to the South Lake where I thought there may be one or two more waders to look for.

I was surprised by the number of birds on the South Lake. There were many Redshanks, a few more Black-Tailed Godwits and lots of Lapwing. A lady present stated that there was a Spotted Redshank amongst the flock too. I decided to have a quick look at the other side of the lake, primarily just to add Tufted Duck to my list, but noticed a gull with a suspiciously dark mantle out on one of the little islands.

I was really sure it was a Yellow-Legged Gull, but it was sitting down and I felt I needed to see the legs to be absolutely certain. The bird wasn't playing ball, however, so I decided to refer to the Collin's book and see what other features might clinch the bird's identification. When I finally took my nose out of the book and put my eye back to the scope I couldn't help laughing, because the gull had stood up and was stretching its legs out behind itself - and they were as yellow as yellow can be [lifer 227!] [year tick 212!]!

And stretch ...

Yellow-Legged Gull

Yellow-Legged Gull

I got the Spotted Redshank shortly afterwards, then headed back to the car for lunch, unable to believe my luck. I had planned to go back to the Holden Tower afterwards, but I decided it probably wasn't worth it as I didn't think I'd see much else, so I headed for home.

Spotted Redshank

I had thought Slimbridge might have yielded a few butterflies, but the only ones of note were Speckled Wood and Red Admiral. I will probably be out again tomorrow morning, so I am thinking of another trip to the Wyre Forest in the hope of photographing a Silver-Washed Fritillary.

A full report will follow in due course.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Circus Comes To Town

Quite a bit to catch up on today. Last Sunday I visited Draycote Water with my Dad in the hope of getting him some Yellow Wagtails for his life list. We spent about an hour there, observing the usual suspects, plus a Ringed Plover on the shingle outside the visitor centre.

Knowing that a Yellow-Legged Gull had been seen recently, we latched onto a gull flock in the neighbouring fields. Most of these were Black-Headed Gulls, but there was one character that stood out. I suspect it was simply a Herring Gull whose mantle had been rendered a darkish grey colour by the damp weather, but we were keen to get a look at the bird's legs before jumping to any conclusions. Despite some very patient watching, the bird never revealed its undercarriage, but just as we were about to pack up, about half a dozen Yellow Wagtails appeared from the same area as the gulls and settled on the banks of the reservoir, so my Dad got his life tick.

Mission accomplished, we headed to Shustoke Reservoir, where we had planned to meet up with Kay and Max. Once we were all there we had a short walk around the water's edge. Apologies if you have already read about this on Kay's blog by the way.

I enjoyed Shustoke, though we didn't have time to explore it fully. There was nothing unusual there in terms of birding, but we spotted a few butterflies including Meadow Brown and Speckled Wood. Best of all were these Common Darters that we found near the smaller pool. Here we also had a Common Blue damselfly, the picture of which comes courtesy of Kay and her new camera.

Male Common Darter

Female Common Darter

Common Blue Damselfly

Today I have been to Upton Warren with Mrs Reg. This was quite productive. The walk to the flashes produced Speckled Wood and Green-Veined White butterflies, whilst from the hide itself we saw Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Common Snipe and a Sparrowhawk, along with the more usual sightings.

On the way back to the car I spotted what I believed to be a Migrant Hawker dragonfly. Now, I'm new to all this, but I'm fairly sure I saw that distinctive golf tee mark on the little fellow's back. It didn't sit still long enough for me to get a snap, but again, I think this is typical Migrant Hawker behaviour. As usual, I am quite happy to be shot down in flames by anyone who thinks differently. I also noted a pair of Banded Demoiselles.

Common Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper

Three Snipes

The Moors Pool also produced some nice sightings. There were a few Ruddy Darters near the entrance to the East Hide, then we enjoyed good views of a Hobby hawking over the pool. Several Common Terns were also present. All of a sudden the terns went mad, mobbing what I initially thought was a Common Buzzard. A quick check through the binnies and I realised I was looking at a female Marsh Harrier! I know Kay has seen one at Upton Warren before, but these birds are few and far between in the Midlands. Excellent work.

Oh, and if the title of this blog entry confused you, just look up the scientific name for Marsh Harrier and all will become clear!

We made our way back towards the car park, hoping that the bird might still be lingering, but we didn't spot it again. Instead we headed to McDonalds for lunch, then paid a visit to Shenstone. I'm always telling Mrs Reg what a great place this is, but typically today it was very quiet. I did snap a Corn Bunting on the wires and we heard Grey Partridge, but that was about all.

Corn Bunting and Magpie at Shenstone

On the way back up the M42 we spotted several groups of people at each junction, looking as though they were waiting for something to come past. Intrigued, Mrs Reg and I found a suitable spot from which to look, parked the car and commenced our unusual vigil. We didn't know what we were looking for, but I had a feeling that once it came we would know.

After about 15 minutes, I spotted a convoy of Subarus coming up the motorway with their headlights on. We watched and waved at them for what seemed like an eternity. A quick search on Google has revealed that they were taking part in a record-breaking tribute to the late rally driver Colin McRae. An odd way to end the day, that's for sure!

Subarus - thousands of them

Until next time, happy birding!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I Twitch And I Salivate

Yes, it's true, I did a spot of proper twitching this week, but no salivating despite the headline. I'm afraid I'm quoting again - this time it's the lyrics to Myxomatosis by Radiohead, from their criminally underrated 2003 album Hail To The Thief. Okay, trivia over - let's get back to the birding!

First of all, I should say that I like to think of myself as a birder first and a twitcher second. For me, twitching isn't quite as satisfactory as birding, but sometimes you have to accept that you have to do it if you want to see the best birds.

It was a strange set of circumstances that led up to me venturing out on Friday when I normally would have been at work. My cat, Barney, became ill during Wednesday night and we had to cart him off to the vets first thing on Thursday morning. I'm pleased to say he's on the mend now, but as the vet wanted to see him on Friday morning again, I decided to book the day off work. Birding chum Kay had suggested meeting up this weekend and she was keen to twitch the Stilt Sandpiper that had turned up at Coombe Hill Meadows earlier in the week.

I agreed that it would be nice to catch up, but regardless of whether there was any news of the Stilt Sandpiper on Friday morning, I was keen to head off to Coombe Hill Meadows anyway, as the Red-Necked Phalarope at Frampton On Severn was also in my sights and only a short hop down the M5 if I didn't strike lucky.

Kay had already seen the phalarope, so sensibly only planned to head my way if there was positive news regarding the sandpiper. She settled in at Upton Warren with other half Max, and friends Richard and Dean. I expect they were watching that pager with baited breath!

Still with me so far? Excellent ... then I'll continue.

I arrived at Coombe Hill Meadows just before 11:00am. I was glad I'd taken my wellies as it was extremely muddy. There were a number of butterflies and dragonflies along the canal and in the meadows. I took a picture of this butterfly thinking it was a Large White, but it turns out it is actually a Green-Veined White, which is way better in my opinion.

Green-Veined White

Next up, I managed to snap this Southern Hawker. I've seen a few of these recently.

Southern Hawker

Just before I got to the hide I noticed this little fellow.

Ruddy Darter

Not being too hot on dragonfly identification, I hazarded a guess that it was a Common Darter, but when I got home and looked into it further, I suspected it was actually a Ruddy Darter. This has since been confirmed by a couple of people with more experience than I have. That's not actually very difficult though!

Once in the hide at Coombe Hill Meadows it was down to the serious issue of trying to find the Stilt Sandpiper. The hide was fairly quiet when I arrived, but within an hour or so it was pretty full. There was no positive news about the bird, but there was still plenty to look at including a Wood Sandpiper, four Little Egrets, a few presumed Little-Ringed Plover, one or two Green Sandpipers, a Wheatear and a Curlew, plus one or two other things.

I gave up on the Stilt Sandpiper after about an hour and a half, relaying the negative news to Kay via text. After another trudge through the mud, narrowly avoiding going arse over tit on at least two occasions, I got back to the car, had a munch on my BLT sandwich and had a quick nibble on a decidedly melty Snickers bar. Being out in the field rarely involves fine dining and today was no exception.

At this point Operation Phalarope came into action. I successfully negotiated Cheltenham and got back onto the M5 south - easier said than done, arriving in Frampton On Severn about 20 or so minutes later. I was pleased to find the miniscule pay and display car park half empty [or half full depending upon how you look at it] and took the brave decision to finish my sandwich and tackle the Snickers bar again. Once I had cleaned myself up, I set off down the towpath.

I was pleased to see another birder once I got to the correct spot. From what I had heard, finding the phalarope was going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack, or a Little Stint at Bittell if you prefer! The other birder was very friendly and helpful, and confirmed that he had seen the bird a short while ago. Within a short space of time he managed to locate it again and I got onto it fairly easily [lifer 226!] [year tick 211!]. It wasn't as far away as I had thought it might be, but a decent picture was out of the question unfortunately.

There were other good birds to be seen, but I didn't really have time to look at them properly. Amongst them were Greenshank, Redshank, Common Snipe, a pair of Ravens and a Hobby. The other birder mentioned Wood Sandpiper, but I didn't see it. I think there were a few Black-Tailed Godwits there too.

I headed for home, but decided to try for a Red-Crested Pochard at Pirton Pool on the way back. This turned out to be a disastrous decision. I hadn't planned this part of the day too thoroughly and I basically ended up driving round and round Pershore until I got dizzy. I lost count of the number of times I either went over or under the M5! I did eventually find Pirton, but could see no pool. It was probably a plastic duck anyway. At least that's what I kept telling myself as I desperately tried to find my way back to the M5 before the traffic got too bad.

I didn't manage to get out on Saturday. This dragonfly did turn up in the garden, however.

Southern Hawker (again)

As far as I can see, it is another Southern Hawker, but I'm always happy to be corrected when necessary. It perched on our roses for well over an hour. When temptation finally got the better of me, I poked it and it flew onto the lawn, scaring Mrs Reg who fled into the kitchen. Another poke saw it fly off and land on the patio. It seemed a bit of out of sorts, but when I wasn't looking it must have flown away because I couldn't find it again.

I love dragonflies, me.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Life's A Beach

I have been pretty much glued to the Olympics for the last week or so. As a result, the only decent birds I've seen have all been playing beach volleyball.

I have spotted the odd thing from the window at work, however. This week a few Cormorants put in an appearance, probably commuting between Bittell Reservoir and Earlswood Lakes, or something like that.

I've also had a few forays around the grounds during my breaks. I'm lucky enough to work in a building surrounded by water, woodland and fields. In fact the place has just gone up for sale. If I had a spare hundred million, I might even be tempted to put in an offer!

A couple of weeks ago I spotted a Raven flying over, which went on to mob a Buzzard that had settled on the roof of one of the buildings. It shows that if you keep your eyes peeled you can see some good birds right on your doorstep.

Only yesterday, a flock of four birds caught my eye flying past our house. I immediately thought they were gulls, but their tight formation made me wonder if they were perhaps Curlews, but I couldn't really be certain as literally seconds later they were gone. I think a Green Woodpecker flew over the house yesterday morning too.

This splendid beast turned up in our garden yesterday afternoon. I was a bit puzzled as to its identification, but after consulting Kay for her opinion, we think it is a female Common Hawker [update: it is in fact a Southern Hawker - thanks Andy]. It perched on my fir tree long enough for me to grab the scope and camera - my first snap of a dragonfly. Hopefully more will follow.

Southern Hawker

A stroll around the lanes yesterday was pretty bird light, but I picked out a few Stock Doves amongst larger numbers of Woodpigeon and Feral Pigeon in the fields adjacent to the A435. On the butterfly front, I successfully identified Speckled Wood, Hedge Brown, Meadow Brown, Large White and Peacock. Better still, earlier in the day I noticed my first ever Small Copper on our front lawn. This butterflying is addictive!

Right, time to get back that beach volleyball ...

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Calm Before The Storm?

It's been a bit quiet on the birding front recently. The weather has been pretty rotten too, which has resulted in a lack of enthusiasm for getting out and about. Hopefully the autumn passage will start in earnest soon, following the false dawn that we experienced a couple of weeks ago. Rest assured fellow birders, once those Curlew Sandpipers start turning up at Upton Warren, I'll be there with the best of them. Until then, I have had to amuse myself with a few butterflies in the garden. Pictures follow.

Hedge Brown

Hedge Brown

Holly Blue

Whilst things are a bit slow, the test series and the Beijing Olympics are proving to be a useful distraction, and I have also taken the opportunity to begin working on my music again. If you fancy listening to some of the stuff from my last album, head over to MySpace and check it out, but please accept my apologies for the appalling sound quality - something that I aim to put right on any future releases!

Well, if you don't see me at Upton Warren in the next few weeks, maybe you should look out for me on Top Of The Pops instead!