Monday, October 27, 2008

Groundhog Day

You may recall that I headed down the M40 a couple of Sundays ago to add a scarce duck from the aythya family to the life list. Well, it was definitely a case of history repeating yesterday when I did the exact same thing.

It's funny how things turn out sometimes, isn't it? On the way back from Calvert Lakes after our successful twitch, my Dad and I had been remarking upon the fact that we had now seen most species of duck that regularly turn up in the United Kingdom. One omission, however, was the Ring-Necked Duck, which obligingly appeared at Foxcote Reservoir near Buckingham a few days later.

We simply couldn't turn down the opportunity to go and have a look for it. And when Kay caught wind of our plans she was keen to tag along too. Another pair of eyes to help in our search was more than welcome and after a few frantic phone calls, emails and texts, my Dad arrived at my house at about 8:00am and Kay was dropped off by her other half Max shortly afterwards.

The journey down was notable for a few things. Firstly, at least five Eddie Stobart trucks passed me on the motorway, their names unfortunately eluding me in the mist and rain. Drat! Secondly, my directions had been pulled together rather hastily and we got a little bit lost in Buckingham. After driving around the town a few times until everyone was dizzy, we finally got our bearings and found the reservoir. Well-signed it isn't!

Once in the hide we began our search for the uncommon duck amongst the more familiar species. Kay latched onto a suspect within minutes, but after a careful inspection the bird was dismissed. This happened a few times over the next hour or so, but eventually, the Ring-Necked Duck popped up on the far side of the reservoir [lifer 229!] [year tick 216!]. Once we were on it, it was unmistakeable and we had good views, albeit distant ones, for about half an hour.

There was a good variety of waterfowl on display. Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler, Goldeneye, Northern Pochard and Ruddy Duck were all present. I love Northern Pochards, so much harder than those southern poofters. Also on view were Great-Crested Grebes, Little Grebes, Lesser Black-Backed Gulls, a Cormorant, and what we believed to be an albino Pheasant. I actually thought it was a Little Egret until I had it in the scope.

After a sandwich and a celebratory swig from the hip flask, which Kay politely declined, we headed home. There was a moment of panic when I managed to get my car stuck in some mud, but after a bit of nifty manoeuvring we negotiated our way back to the M40 without too much bother. I had a bit more success with the Eddie Stobarts on the way back - Amy Elizabeth and Maggie were added to the list.

An enjoyable and rewarding morning's birding.

I had planned to talk about my birding at work this week, but the duck hunting has put paid to that for now. However, I will leave you with a picture that I took in the grounds during my break last Wednesday.


I first found this chap on Tuesday, but didn't have my camera with me. I took the camera to work the following day and struck lucky. Being new to butterflying, I have only seen one Comma before, so it was nice to have the opportunity to snap this beauty.

Plans are now afoot to have a go for the Caspian Gulls at Stubbers Green next Sunday, so expect another episode of Eye To The Telescope soon afterwards.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Shore Thing

Reg The Birder became Reg The Builder yesterday. In an effort to put the final touches to the bathroom and kitchen, shelves were erected, mirrors were hung and curtain poles were fixed to walls. I hasten to point out, however, that at no point did my builder's bum put in an appearance, and only one cup of tea was consumed. If I'm to embark on a profession in the building trade, I clearly need to buck my ideas up!

Despite being a virtual prisoner in my own home, I had one eye on BirdGuides during the day to see if anything good was about. When I saw reports of a Shore Lark at Upton Warren later in the afternoon, I initially dismissed it as an error, but a check of the Worcestershire Source emails revealed that this was no blunder. Before heading off to Mrs Reg's mother's for fish and chips and the X-Factor, I called my Dad and asked him if he fancied having a look for the bird first thing in the morning. As you might expect, he didn't need asking twice.

Arriving at Upton Warren this morning, we bumped into Gordon Greaves on our way to the hide and were dutifully informed that the bird was still present and showing well. The hide was pretty full and there were a lot of people coming and going during the hour or so that we were there. Not quite up to Wilson's Phalarope standards of course, but certainly the largest gathering I have seen there since that hallowed day.

Anyway, the bird was indeed showing well [year tick 215!] and I proceeded to take a few record shots, which follow.

Shore Lark

Shore Lark next to a Common Snipe

It was great to see this bird so close to home. Our only previous experience had been at Holkham Beach in February 2007. Having failed to see them when we went to Norfolk earlier in the year, I had abandoned all hope of adding one to the year list, but it seems that nothing can be taken for granted in the world of birding.

We travelled to the Moors Pool afterwards to see if we could train our scopes on one of the Bitterns that arrived recently. Once again, we caught up with Gordon Greaves and with his help, our quarry was quickly located in the reeds to the left of the West Hide, but see if you can spot it in this photograph. Trust me, it's there!

Spot the Bittern

Shortly afterwards, the Bittern became a bit more showy and fortunately I was ready and waiting with the camera.


Great to see such good birds just a short hop down the M42. Here's hoping a few more drop in between now and the end of the year.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Aylesbury Duck ... Well, Nearly

Sometimes, being a Midlands birder can be a tad frustrating. If you're a regular visitor to the BirdGuides BirdMap then you'll be familiar with their system of placing white and grey squares over a map of the UK to denote any bird sightings of note. Sadly, the centre of the map has been somewhat bare in recent weeks. By stark contrast, the south and east coasts seem to have had more squares than a Star Trek convention.

Well, maybe I'm exaggerating somewhat, but that's sometimes how it feels when you're slap bang in the middle of our green and pleasant land. On the other hand, this does have its advantages. When Wilson's Phalarope turns up on your doorstep, it feels like all of your Christmases have come at once. And when you finally make it to the seaside, the treasures on offer can make it feel like your birding in a different country.

That's why I'm not adverse to the odd twitch here and there, and that's why after a hastily drawn up battle plan, my Dad and I headed down the M40 to Calvert Lakes to see if we could find the Ferruginous Duck that has been around for a week or so. Calvert Lakes are about ten miles from Aylesbury as the crow flies, but close enough to excuse the waggish pun that is today's title, I think.

Things didn't look too good when we arrived. It was a bit misty this morning, and the intriguingly titled Crispin Fisher hide faces east, meaning the sun was in our faces first thing. A cluster of ducks formed a flotilla in the centre of the pool, most of which were impossible to identify. Fortunately, a few more were away to our left and these were quickly identified as Pochards. We understood that the Ferruginous Duck might be associating with the Pochards, but we failed to spot the odd quacker out despite a few sweeps of the scope.

A Muntjac passed in front of the hide, a welcome distraction during our surveillance. A few small dragonflies were zipping around too, but only a Rudder Darter was successfully identified. We stuck to our task, however, and over time more ducks made their way into view. Eventually, the Ferruginous Duck appeared as if from nowhere, much like the shopkeeper used to do in Mr Benn [lifer 228!] [year tick 214!].

Ferruginous Duck

Ferruginous Duck with Pochards

Once we were on the bird, we enjoyed good views for a further 15 minutes or more, but there was little else worth hanging around for so we headed off. There was a bonus on the way home when a flying raptor caught my eye. Something told me it was more than a Buzzard and we quickly identified it as a Red Kite, then my Dad spotted a second bird perched on a dead tree. The opportunity to get a decent photograph was too much to resist, so we parked up and went for it. Believe me, this is a great picture by my standards!

Red Kite

A Kestrel also flew into view and perched on the telegraph wires, but my attempts to capture this were sadly blurred and deemed worthy only for the Recycle Bin.

Well, I had thought the birding year was grinding to a halt, but suddenly things are looking up again. Plans are afoot to have a go for the Caspian Gull at Stubber's Green soon, followed by the possibility of the gull roost at Chasewater, and another trip to Wales is on the cards in November.

I've also seen that a couple of Bitterns have turned up at Upton Warren today. You know what? Being a Midlands birder ain't that bad after all.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Birds On Film

I was watching the 1986 British classic Withnail & I the other day. This was only my second viewing and it's been a number of years since I saw the film for the first time, certainly well before I immersed myself into the world of birding.

Anyway, for those not acquainted with the movie, the titular characters head to the Lake District to spend a damp and drink-fuelled holiday in a cottage belonging to Withnail's Uncle Monty. As they emerged from the cottage during one scene, I was pleased to hear the distinctive song of a Redstart burst forth from the television.

Withnail and I

This reminded me of another film that I watch at least once a year, Whistle Down The Wind. This is the one where three kids discover a bearded fugitive in their father's barn and assume he is Jesus. Towards the end of the film, the kids and all of their friends run down a country lane on their way to see the bogus messiah, when all of sudden a Sedge Warbler pipes up. Its rambling warble never fails to bring a smile to my face.

He's not Jesus ... he's just a fella!

Then there's The Great Escape. A whole scene is dedicated to the art of birdwatching here. Donald Pleasance's character, Blythe, waxes lyrical over Bonelli's Warbler and the Masked Shrike, even going so far as attempting to reproduce the song of the former. He then goes on to tell us that the shrike impales his foes on the spikes of thorn bushes. Brilliant!

I expect all birders occasionally indulge themselves in their art whilst watching the telly. It's actually an excellent way to familiarise yourself with the songs and calls of our feathered friends. Eastenders is particularly good for Magpies, whilst Emmerdale often throws a few Chaffinches or Greenfinches into the mix. Any programme set in a decent bit of habitat can reveal any number of beauties. That's whay I like watching stuff like Wainwright's Walks, you just never know what you're going to get, although it's often just a Chiffchaff.

Anyway, if you stumble across any other avifauna captured on celluloid, please drop me a line. Perhaps we could start a list?

Talking of lists, I added a new application to my blog about a month ago - ClustrMaps. This handy little tool tells you who's looking at your blog and where they come from. If you're interested in using it yourself, a search on Google will steer you in the right direction.

Firstly, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people that had visited Eye To The Telescope. I've currently rattled up 287 visits, though I appreciate that not everyone who passes through always stops for long. Maybe some of it is down to people visiting the site to see if there has been an update. Who knows?

Anyway, I was then interested to see that some of my hits have come from the USA, Canada, Brazil and, a bit closer to home, Scandinavia. Wow!

I'm amazed that people outside of Britain are tuning into my tales of me wading through the watery fields of Coombe Hill Meadows, or my doomed attempts to find Pied Flycatchers in the Wyre Forest. Amazed and very, very flattered. Quite how anybody in Hawaii can relate to any of this beats me!

If you are a regular reader of my exploits, please drop me a line. It would be great to know a bit more about you.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Feels Like Devon ... [2 of 2]

Friday - Dawlish Warren NNR

It took us no time to get down to Dawlish Warren on Friday morning. Birding was put on hold, however, as we planned to walk into Dawlish to have a mooch around the shops. Before we set off, we upheld a long-standing tradition and had an ice cream in Dawlish Warren.

It must be said that these are no ordinary cornets. They come with a magnificent spiral of flavoured sauce that winds its way through the ice cream like some sweet helter skelter from heaven. You can choose what flavour sauce you have. I always go for butter pecan, whilst Mrs Reg tends to have strawberry. Only a brave few opt for the blue goo.

Ice creams finished we set off along the sea wall. Despite not intending to do any birding until later in the day, a small group of Turnstones greeted us as we arrived in Dawlish.


We walked down to Dawlish Warren NNR later in the afternoon to try and catch up with some waders at high tide. There was a large flock of Oystercatchers present, but with patience I picked out a few Grey Plover, Ringed Plover and Dunlin. A small party of Brent Geese were in the estuary, plus the usual Greater Black-Backed Gulls and Cormorants. Later, a flock of Curlew arrived, carrying with them a few Black-Tailed Godwits. Apart from a few Linnets and a Stonechat outside the hide that was about it. On the sea itself, a number of Gannets and winter-plumaged Sandwich Terns were spotted, and there were more Dunlin and Ringed Plover on the beach, with a few Sanderling amongst them.

Dunlin with Oystercatchers

Saturday - Bowling Green Marsh / Aylesbeare Common / Woodbury Common

It was impossible for us to coincide our visit to Bowling Green Marsh with the high tide, so our chances of seeing anything really special were greatly reduced. Apart from a Ruff and two Black-Tailed Godwits, there was little else worthy of mention. Further along the estuary I spotted a few Redshank and Greenshank, then another Black-Tailed Godwit, which posed obligingly for the camera.

Black-Tailed Godwit

Black-Tailed Godwit

Yes, you've guessed it ... Black-Tailed Godwit

After lunch we visited Aylesbeare Common where we caught up with many more Dartford Warblers - the place was alive with them. We also saw a few Stonechats, and a party of Ravens and Common Buzzards sailed overhead giving the occasional cronk or mew respectively.

Aylesbeare Common

We then travelled down the road to Woodbury Common. There were less birds here, but during our short walk we saw another large dragonfly that again evaded identification due to its unwillingness to stay in one spot for more than two seconds, then a Fox Moth caterpillar, a Brimstone butterfly [lifer!], a Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and a Common Darter. Not a bad little haul.

Fox Moth caterpillar

Small Tortoiseshell

On Saturday evening we watched The Island on ITV1, starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. Whilst the film itself was largely forgettable, I was glad we watched it for two reasons. The first reason was Scarlett Johansson. The second was that because we stayed up so late we spotted a Badger [lifer!] outside our lodge. Mrs Reg had spotted a few of these when she was here in May, so we had been optimistic about our chances of seeing them during our stay. If only Scarlett Johansson had appeared from the bushes too!

As we waited for the Badger to put in another appearance, a Tawny Owl began calling in the trees outside our lodge. What a great way to end the day!

Sunday - Exminster Marshes / Dawlish Warren NNR

After a fine Sunday lunch at The Swan's Nest near Exminster, we had a walk along the canal to the Turf Lock pub. There were stacks of dragonflies along the path, but identification again proved to be difficult. Ruddy Darter and Migrant Hawker were noted successfully, but I suspect a few potential lifers escaped me.

Further along, a Kingfisher appeared in a tree, presenting me with my first photograph of this species. Don't think it'll be winning me any awards though!

Caught in the act

Migrant Hawker


Once at the Turf Lock pub I spotted a Peregrine way up in the sky over the estuary, then we had superb views of another [or maybe the same one] on the way back to the car park.

Later that afternoon we headed back to Dawlish Warren NNR for another walk around, specifically to try to see some Great Green Bush Crickets. These were tricky to spot amongst the foliage, but with a bit of persistence we managed to track a few down and were able to get some good pictures of them. A Small Copper butterfly was also seen.

Great Green Bush Cricket

Great Green Bush Cricket

Small Copper

We ended up walking to Warren Point where more of the smaller waders were seen, then we trudged the mile and a half back to the lodge. It had been a blazing hot day and we had walked about seven miles all in all. I think I'd had a bit too much sun and went to bed with a thumping headache that night.

We came home on Monday and passed a plethora of Eddie Stobarts on the way back. I won't name them all here, but I will tell you that I have now seen 50 different trucks this year. Woo hoo!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Feels Like Devon ... [1 of 2]

Wednesday - Dunster Beach / Minehead

Wednesday morning saw Mrs Reg and I travelling south for a short break. We were to spend two nights in the Premier Inn at Taunton Deane services on the M5, followed by three nights in Dawlish Warren. It was never going to be an intensive birding holiday, but with trips to the north Devon coast, Bowling Green Marsh, Exminster Marshes and Dawlish Warren NNR planned, I was optimistic about adding at least a year tick to my list.

Frustration set in early on, when a series of Eddie Stobart trucks passed us on the motorway and I was unable to catch the names brandished on the fronts of their cabs. Potential lifers escaping my clutches - and we were barely an hour into our holiday! Finally, we passed one going in our direction and Chloie Angelique was added to my vehicular inventory.

We made good time and arrived at the Premier Inn before midday. Bags unloaded, we immediately set off for Dunster, a small village near Minehead. We had a pleasant walk along Dunster Beach and noted some decent birds. Black-Headed Gulls and Herring Gulls were the dominant species, but we also saw a few Common Gulls, Oystercatchers, sizeable flocks of Linnet, a Wheatear, Curlew and a raft of Wigeon on the sea. As we made our way back to the car, a small flock of waders flew past us. I think they were Ringed Plover.

Next we headed for Dunster itself. There was more frustration as a large dragonfly in the car park evaded identification. I had an inkling that it was a Gold-Ringed Dragonfly, but maybe that was blind optimism on my part. After Dunster, we travelled the short distance to Minehead.

Whisper it in hushed tones, but a childhood passion of mine was trainspotting, so I was pleased to see a steam engine standing in Minehead station. This line forms part of the West Somerset Railway, which runs from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard. We ventured onto the platform for a closer look at the engine and took a few photographs. Funnily enough, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over our heads and I couldn't help pointing it out. If anyone hadn't already earmarked me as a geek, then this moment probably clinched it!


I was also pleased to see this old diesel engine, which curiously reminded me of a dog.


After some splendid chicken and chips we headed back to the Premier Inn.

Thursday - Horner Woods / Allerford / Dunkery Beacon

I was up early on Thursday morning to see if there were any Eddie Stobarts on site at Taunton Deane services, but my search was unsuccessful. After a hearty breakfast we headed back up towards Minehead, stopping off at Horner Woods. We had a short walk along the river and saw a Marsh Tit, Dipper, Goldcrest and a few Grey Wagtails among the more regular woodland species. A beautiful little spot and well worth the visit.

After a cup of tea and a slice of cake in the village of Porlock, we went to the bird of prey centre at Allerford. We turned up about 15 minutes into the flying display, but decided it was worth paying the admission price to catch the remainder of the show. Whilst we were there we saw a Snowy Owl, Eagle Owl and a Saker being flown. The owls were particularly impressive. The wingspan of the Eagle Owl was simply overwhelming.

Snowy Owl

Eagle Owl

Next on the agenda was Dunkery Beacon, to see if we could latch onto a Dartford Warbler. We parked the car and took a stroll across the moorland, but this yielded nothing. I had more luck further down the road, however, finding an immature bird in the gorse bushes. A bit of pishing brought the curious youngster into view, but it disappeared again before I could take a picture. With our tummies rumbling we headed off for a meal back at Dunster, before returning to Taunton Deane.

A good start to the trip, and with Dawlish Warren beckoning there was plenty more to look forward to ...