Sunday, April 26, 2009

Crosstown Traffic

The chance to see whiskered terns at Willington Gravel Pits in Derbyshire was surely too good to resist, wasn't it? Well, not for this birder, although I have to confess to having toyed with the idea on Saturday morning.

I'm not impartial to the odd twitch as regular readers will know, but this year I am trying to avoid anything other than local excursions for rarities. Derbyshire isn't so far away, but I would have had to drive there and back on my own, and the likely throng of twitchers that would greet me as I arrived didn't really appeal either.

Quite aside from all that, I'd planned a new route on the patch, so putting another notch on the birding bedpost would have to wait.

So off I went at 8:00am this morning, sporting a new pair of walking shoes that Mrs Reg had kindly bought me for my birthday, which was on Thursday. In case you're wondering how old I am, let's just say that the entry on my year list that matches my age was a dunnock. Actually, that makes me sound quite young, but I should say that it took me a surprisingly long time to see this relatively common bird this year!

The shoes were great and so was the birding. Two lapwings in the magic field kicked things off nicely, but a common whitethroat that appeared from the hedgerow was even better. I'd felt privileged to see one of these little characters at Earlswood Lakes last week, so to see another was brilliant.

Funnily enough, just a few yards down the road another was spotted across the field. Perhaps not so scarce around these parts then? A singing skylark was noted too, and shortly afterwards a pair of breeding reed buntings were only the second ones I had spotted on the patch this year. So far so good, and I was only about a mile from home.

Weatheroak Hill produced two or three house martins. Swallows were around in good numbers too, and a common buzzard was enjoying the thermals. A detour at this point took me to the bridge that crosses the M42 on Lilley Green Road, where I was pleasantly surprised by my third common whitethroat of the morning!

The birding was put on the back burner for a bit whilst I surveyed the motorway for Eddie Stobarts. Annoyingly, two came past within five minutes, but I didn't catch the names of either of them. You need eyes in the back of your head sometimes. Still, I thought if I'd seen a couple so quickly surely many more would come past if I gave it half an hour or so, but it wasn't to be. A convoy of about 50 to 100 Chryslers was the highlight, which tells its own story.

A bit further down Lilley Green Road I saw orange-tip and green-veined white butterflies, and a blackcap was heard singing, but having walked about three miles I figured it was time to head back. The whitethroat was still in Hill Lane, plus a male yellowhammer, and about five lapwings were now flying around. They seemed very agitated and it didn't take me long to find out why - some of the birds have now successfully reared young. With a bit of effort I managed to spot a chick amongst the vegetation. Great stuff!

Birds Seen On Foot 2009: 75

Distance travelled: 78.3 miles

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hard Habit To Break

I wrote last time that I fancied a break from the patch. As a result, I started to think about where I might like to go in order to maximise the possibility of a rare spring migrant.

Ring ouzel is a bird that I would love to catch up with again, having only had a fleeting view of one in Scotland last year. A bit of research led me to believe that a walk around Wassell Grove might be in order.

Then Shenstone popped into my head - a lovely spot for a bit of birding, and host to a blue-headed wagtail just a few days ago. However, news of an influx of little gulls and Arctic terns began to filter through as the week progressed and I wondered if I should head to Draycote Water, or another nearby reservoir?

The Wyre Forest also appealed, as did Venus Pool - somewhere I have yet to visit, but by all accounts a great place to see tree sparrows and a few warblers. My head was positively spinning. Finally, just before I nodded off on Saturday night, I came to a decision - another walk around the patch!

Yes, it's true - patch birding is addictive. The destination was the same as last week - Earlswood Lakes. I felt that I didn't give the place the time it deserves last time round - it was very much a case of getting my target species and getting out. I wanted to soak it all up a bit more today and I was rewarded with no less than seven patch ticks, which means that I have already hit my target of 75 species for the year!

Mute swan was the first of the patch ticks. I think I may have overlooked them last week, but I put that right today. Several terns were noted too, but as there had been reports of a few Arctic terns at the lakes recently, I had to be careful before calling any of these birds.

The first two I got a proper look at were definitely common terns. Another patch tick! I spied another bird sitting on a buoy in the middle of Windmill Pool. It had good credentials for being the scarcer species, but I was too far away to be certain. I continued my walk and hoped the bird would stay put, as I would be a bit nearer to it on the other side of the pool.

At the back of Windmill Pool I had a common whitethroat, quite a scarce species around these parts and yes, another entry on the patch list and the year list. As I headed back along the pool, I was pleased to see that the bird on the buoy was still present. I had a good look at it from three or four angles and decided I could see enough distinct features to call it as an Arctic tern. All regulation stuff really - tail length, bill colour, general colouring and leg length.

Shortly afterwards, the bird took to the skies, with two other terns in tow. All seemed to have decent tail streamers, but again, categorical identification was nigh impossible. I lost sight of them before long.

The other patch ticks were house martin, grey wagtail and pochard. Nothing exceptional, but welcome additions to the list nonetheless.

Birds Seen On Foot 2009: 75

Distance travelled: 72.3 miles

Upton Warren

No one ever said that blog entries had to run in chronological order, did they? Good. Because this one doesn't.

On Saturday, Mrs Reg and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours at Upton Warren, where there was an abundance of ticks. The first was fellow birder Pete Walkden, who arrived about the same time as us. We really must stop meeting like this - people will start to talk!

Next up was a lifer for me, when I spotted my first ever orange-tip butterfly, closely followed by many more in the nettles alongside the path. Other butterfly species seen included peacock, speckled wood and a brimstone on the North Moors Pool, which seemed to me like quite a good spot. Feel free to set me right on that one though if you wish.

The stars of the birding show were year ticks in the shape of common tern and sedge warbler, and the supporting cast wasn't bad either. Avocet, little ringed plover, oystercatcher, Cetti's warbler, redshank, common sandpiper, snipe, goosander, linnet, wigeon, curlew and reed bunting were all seen, plus I think I heard a lesser whitethroat to the east of the tower hide. There was also a grass snake swimming in front of the hide on the Moors Pool, which Mrs Reg enjoyed immensely.

On the way home I added a few Eddie Stobart trucks to my ever-growing inventory, namely Beverley Anne and Rebecca Phoebe. I haven't spoken much about this filthy habit in the blog this year, but I'm still noting all the trucks I see. I've got 15 so far this year, and a life list of 76.

Also, since Christmas I am a fully fledged member of the Stobart Spotters club. Thanks, Mrs Reg! That means I now have a list of all the trucks out there, plus access to fleet updates via the interweb. As I said, I have 76 trucks on my list, which means I have a couple of thousand left to see!

Perhaps my patch walks should take in one of the bridges over the M42?

You think I'm joking? Watch this space!

Monday, April 13, 2009

8 Mile

Another Sunday, another marathon walk through the patch. Earlswood Lakes was the destination, with a number of species targeted.

On the whole, it was very successful. I picked up my first blackcap and willow warbler around the lakes and in the surrounding woodland. There was a bonus too when an oystercatcher flew over the lakes as I scanned unsuccessfully for common terns and grey wagtails.

Other birds that I had hoped to get included kingfisher, common sandpiper and sand martin, but none were spotted.

Following up a bit of gen given to me by Earlswood stalwart Matt Griffiths, I devoted a bit of time to the area around the Hungry Horse, a short distance from the lakes. This was time well spent, with three linnets in the area - not an easy bird to see on the patch. Also noted were three lapwings, a few stock dove and three swallows. A skylark sang in a nearby field.

I chose to come back home via Lea Green Lane, where I think I spotted two house martins. Potentially another tick, but I wasn't entirely confident about identifying them based on the very brief views I had, so they will have to wait for another day.

The fields that border Gorsey Lane failed to deliver anything better than chiffchaff, another blackcap, common buzzard and a male bullfinch. So much for it being a possible migrant trap then!

An impressive 8.4 miles were added to the total mileage today.

Birds Seen On Foot 2009: 68

Distance travelled: 64.3 miles


A second stab at the local barn owls last night. I had a brief glimpse of one at about 8:45pm, flying low towards the trees on Gorsey Lane, followed by a typical ghostly shriek minutes later.

I'm starting to see one or two bats flying around at dusk now too. As yet, I've not heard any tawny owls in the neighbourhood, but I'm sure they're around and I hope to see one from the garden again this year. It would be a great bird for the patch list.

Next Sunday I'm keen to get out to one or two different sites. I would dearly love to find ring ouzels on passage, plus my devotion to the patch this year has meant that I've not visited some of my favourite places. With some great birds set to appear, I think it's time I ventured further afield and bagged one or two of them.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I See You Baby

Okay, maybe it wasn't exactly shaking its ass, but the little owl that I see from time to time on the patch did finally pose for a few snaps this morning.


I was in the car this morning as I had a limited window within which to do any birding. Having watched the owl for half an hour or more, I paid a visit to the magic field to check on the resident lapwings. I counted seven birds in the vicinity this morning, but there could have easily been more. When they hunker down in the vegetation they aren't always easy to spot.

I've got some proper patch birding lined up for Sunday morning, when I'll be walking to Earlswood Lakes. I'm hoping this will add a few species to the list. I have, however, been able to increase my count for the year by two without leaving the house - well, not unless you count venturing out of the kitchen door into the back garden!

Yesterday evening something told me it was time to start looking for barn owls, which are a fairly regular sight over my garden during the summer. I was finally rewarded just before 9:00pm when an owl flew over. Patch tick number 63.

Then today I happened to glance out of the kitchen window to see a swallow fly over the house. Patch tick 64. The target of 75 patch ticks this year looks to be within reach, but I still reckon I've got some work to do to achieve it. There aren't that many birds that I can guarantee seeing on the patch before the year is out, bearing in mind that I will have to be on foot when I see them. That virtually rules out a trip to Bittell reservoirs, which would otherwise be very productive.

Instead, I have to hope Earlswood Lakes delivers the goods during the next few months. Common tern is a certainty, but I will have to be fortunate to see the rarer Arctic tern. Kingfisher is a definite possibility too, but I've not seen one there this year. Willow warbler, grey wagtail, blackcap and sand martin will be the main target birds on Sunday, but there are others that are gettable with a modicum of good fortune.

Whatever I see, a full report will follow in due course, both here and on the excellent Birds of Earlswood blog.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Won't Get Fooled Again

I was a little surprised to spot a fellow birder on the patch on Saturday afternoon. I was doubly surprised to find that it was Brian 'Uncle Brian' York, one of my birding mentors and a man with a life list as long as your arm. I was intrigued to know what he was looking at - had something special dropped in on my doorstep?

My excitement turned to horror when Brian's first words were, "Where are these cattle egrets then?", referring to my blog entry posted on the first day of April.

Oh cripes! I didn't think anybody would have really believed that three cattle egrets had been resident in Brick Kiln Lane for the last year, and I thought I'd dropped enough clues to indicate that it was a prank. As you can imagine, I felt rotten. Fortunately, Brian hadn't come far to see these non-existent birds. In fact, I think he had simply dropped in on the way back from picking up some new bins for his wife, Pat.

I can only offer my sincerest apologies to them both. Still, it'll give us something to chuckle about when we meet up in the Wyre Forest in early May. I think a bottle of wine might be coming Brian's way that morning!

Lapping It Up

Having bid Brian and Pat farewell, Mrs Reg and I continued around the patch. There were nine lapwings in the magic field, which is the largest number I have ever seen in there. A yellowhammer was heard in the area, and a skylark rose out of the neighbouring fields, climbing to an astonishing height before belting out its unmistakeable song. Another patch tick!

Aside from that, there was little else of note, save for a couple of butterflies. Both remained unidentified, though the first looked like a large white. I do hope I have a bit more success with the butterflies as the year progresses.

A few pictures from the patch follow, all of which were taken through the bins - my new favourite thing!

Snake's head fritillary ... definitely

Wood anenome ... I think


Another lapwing in the magic field

Lapwing in the magic field

Birds Seen On Foot 2009: 62

Distance travelled: 55.9 miles

Mrs Reg Cleans Up

No, I haven't made her do the vacuuming again - I'm talking about the Grand National. We mistakenly thought the race was at 4:30pm, so we switched on just in time to see the field jump the last few fences.

As the horses came over the last, Mrs Reg was surprised to hear the name of the nag that she had drawn in the sweepstake at work. You've guessed it - it was Mon Mome. Cue much excitement and shrieking as her horse romped home by a country mile!

Earlier in the day, we had picked a few names out of the runners. Predictably, mine were faintly bird related - Snowy Morning and Golden Flight. The latter fell at the first and the former finished ninth. Just as well I didn't have a flutter then.

Draycote Water / Brandon Marsh

This morning I paid a visit to Draycote Water and Brandon Marsh with my father. The weather was superb and I don't think I've seen Draycote Water so still. The excellent conditions allowed us to scope two great northern divers on the opposite side of the reservoir from Farborough Bank.

A white wagtail and two yellow wagtails were noted on our way to Toft Bay, where we hoped to connect with the long-staying red-necked grebe and the fairly recently arrived green-winged teal. As it happened, we spotted the grebe along Farborough Bank with relative ease, but the teal proved to be a bit more elusive.

We spent not far off an hour in the hide searching for it. My dad wandered off to see if he could get better views along the road. Not long after he had disappeared, another birder entered the hide. Having given him a customary greeting, I realised it was photographer extraordinaire and old chum, Mr Pete Walkden.

Pete was keen to get some shots of the grebe, which had obligingly drifted into Toft Bay just a few minutes earlier. Sadly, the bird wasn't playing ball and had decided that it was time to have a nap. Resisting Pete's requests to chuck a stick at it to wake it up, I left the hide and joined my dad and some more birders on the bank. The green-winged teal emerged from the willows almost immediately, but remained too distant for any decent pictures.

I popped back into the hide to point Pete in the direction of the bird. Hopefully, he may have got some better shots than I managed. Frankly, he should be ashamed of himself if he didn't!

We didn't spend long at Brandon Marsh, but still managed to see our first willow warblers of the year. Cetti's warbler and water rail were both heard, and we also saw a male blackcap, common buzzard, yet another unidentified butterfly and either a mouse or shrew scuttling across one of the paths in front of us.

Brandon Marsh is a great place to see warblers, as well as butterflies and dragonflies, so I fully expect to be back before too long. I've only connected with grasshopper warbler once before and I would like to see another one this year. If last year is anything to go by, Brandon Marsh could well be the place to do it.

I'll close with a few photos of the red-necked grebe and a record shot of the green-winged teal. Keep an eye on Pete's blog for better pictures of these birds.

Red-necked grebe

Red-necked grebe

Green-winged teal [left] with Eurasian teal

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Thank You

Just a quick entry to say thanks to those that responded to my plea for help regarding the latest additions to the Telescope household ...

Resident coal tit

This picture was taken this morning, so you can see that I have decided not to take any drastic action and tamper with the nest.

Quite aside from what might be better for the coal tits in the long run, somebody on the Birdforum has rightly pointed out that it is an offence to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird whilst it is in use or being built. Any work due to be undertaken on the roof will just have to wait.

As far as I am aware, coal tits have never nested around here before, so I do feel quite privileged to be able to watch them as they attempt to raise a family over the next few months.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Last year it was a pair of mistle thrush. This year it's a pair of coal tits. There are no Telescope Points on offer today, but I wonder if you can work out what it might be?

If you don't know what I'm going on about, I'll put you out of your misery. You may recall that a pair of mistle thrush decided to set up home in our sycamore tree last year, with disastrous consequences. They got as far as laying four eggs, and one even hatched. Within days, however, the chick had gone, and I think some of the eggs had been taken too. The birds eventually abandoned the nest leaving two eggs behind. It was all very sad.

Worryingly, a mistle thrush has been present this past week or so, delivering its fluty song both morning and night from trees near the house. If a pair are going to breed in the area again, I hope they pick a better spot for their nest.

However, on Wednesday night I heard a coal tit in the trees behind our garden. I thought this was great, because although we see these birds quite a bit during the winter, they are less frequent as the year wears on. My joy quickly turned to concern, when on Thursday morning I spotted a pair gathering nesting material from the sycamore tree in the front garden, before making a series of short dashes to the roof near the bedroom window.

Alarm bells started ringing. I said to Mrs Reg that I hoped they weren't building a nest in the gutter. For starters, any heavy rain will probably spell curtains for them. Secondly, we have some roofers coming to do some work in the immediate future - work that involves replacing the gutters. Having carefully assessed the situation this morning, it turns out that my worst fears have come true.

I have a bit of a dilemma - should I destroy however much of their nest they have built so far, and hope that they move on to a more suitable and safe location? The alternative is to leave them be, but then they are at risk of being disturbed much further down the line, possibly when they have young, and little time to start all over again.

Either option seems cruel, but the first one appears to be better for the birds in the long run, even if they might not see it that way.

I really would appreciate some help on this one. I know there are a fair few readers of this blog, and I would be very grateful if someone with a bit of experience or knowledge in this area could advise me of the best course of action.

If I am going to take action, I need to take it fast, so if anyone can help, please add a comment at the foot of this entry as soon as possible.

Thanking anyone in advance for any advice they can give.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


On Monday, Mrs Reg and I paid a visit to Upton Warren. Mrs Reg was keen to have a look at the avocets, and news of a mandarin at the Moors Pool on Sunday morning was also of interest. Sadly, the mandarin had moved on, but the Moors Pool did hold a redshank and a goosander. I didn't see the latter bird myself as the East hide was packed to the rafters. Anybody would have been forgiven for thinking that Wilson's phalarope had dropped in again, but it turned out that Arthur Jacobs was showing a large group of birders around the reserve.

As soon as I heard the mandarin had gone, I decided our time would be better spent at the flashes, though there was still time to see my first swallow of the year on the way back to the car. At the flashes we had the eight avocet, at least a couple of little ringed plover, two oystercatchers, a few snipe, a reed bunting, and a few of the usual suspects, such as black-headed gulls, shelduck and the commoner ducks.

Conditions were ideal for a few photos, a selection of which follow:



Little ringed plover

Common snipe

Common snipe


On the way home, I took the usual detour through Hopwood to see if the little owls were on display. One of my goals this year is to get a reasonable photo of these birds, but so far, they have evaded me. Ironically, when I birded the patch on Sunday, one was in full view, but without the scope I had no chance of snapping it. Sadly, there was no sign of them on Monday, so I'll have to wait for another opportunity to present itself.

Finally, we stopped off in Brick Kiln Lane to see the cattle egrets that frequent the area. As usual, all three birds were showing well.

Wythall's cattle egrets

Can I just say, if anybody is keen to come and see these birds, can they show the residents of Brick Kiln Lane a bit of respect and park sensibly. Last April, some fool blocked the road, bringing Wythall to a veritable standstill.

What Next?

I had planned to visit Earlswood Lakes next Sunday, but having done a bit of research, I think I might be better off waiting until the weekend after, when there is a good chance of picking up a willow warbler there.

Therefore, plans are afoot to venture a bit further afield to look for something that won't be a lifer, but will definitely feel like one. On that cryptic note, I'll sign off.

Until next time, happy migrant hunting!