Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Cotswold Water Park - 29th December 2015

Luckily we booked great weather for this trip, we did a circular walk at the Western end of the Cotswold Water Park. We soon picked up some movement in the tops of the alder trees by the car park, this turned out to be about ten siskin busily feeding on the tiny alder cones. A great start!
We headed towards the lakes and we were soon watching about 90 red-crested pochard feeding and displaying on the first lake. Just as we were heading off we spotted a pale bird diving at the back of the lake that turned out to be a male goosander whom we watched diving for several minutes. We were also lucky enough to see tufted duck, coot, mute swan and cormorant here.
As we wandered on along the river Thames we saw a few redwing, fieldfare and long-tailed tit busily feeding in and on the hedgerow bushes as well as a very showy female great spotted woodpecker. The next bird was a real stunner – at least four bullfinch sitting at the top of a bush in the sun feeding on buds, one of the best views I’ve had of this relatively secretive bird.

Female bullfinch

We concentrated on a couple of lakes next, checking the duck and saw good numbers of wigeon, gadwall and goosander as well as a fair few goldeneye displaying.

We worked our way through the woodland and soon reached some more lakes where we had our first common pochard, great crested grebe and mallard. We also picked up a surprisingly well hidden grey heron hidden in a tree. The next birds found were a couple of little grebe feeding along a lake edge.

Grey heron - not being very stealthy...

As we worked our way back towards the car park we saw more redwing feeding as well as a pair of Mistle thrush hunting for invertebrates on the grassland. The next sighting was of bits of a signal crayfish left on the bank by a mammal, most likely an otter.

All in all a very productive trip! (NA)

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Wet Water Park

Yesterday another trip to The Cotswold Water Park and today it lived upto its name.

WIth the forcast looking ok we set out finding Red crested pochard on the first lake with a couple of tufted duck mixed in also a lone pochard.

Moving along the path a couple of goldcrest showed well with several great and blue tits in toe.

This is when the rain moved in with several prolonged spell of heavy rain, soaked but still undetered we carried on picking up a couple of very confiding chiffchaffs chasing each other around a small bush on the lakes edge.

At the next lake three male goosander were found through the gloom as we look out over the lake.

Next we headed for the shelter of the hides and with patient were rewarded with fantastic views of a kingfisher fishing from both high and low branches, after about ten minutes and about four attempts he final caught a small fish and flew off out of sight.

Next stop the cafe for a hot drink and a bacon butty!

The afternoon had started to brighten up so off again to check some of the larger lakes, we soon added several duck species to the list with Shoverler, gadwall, mallard and wigeon all being seen at close range.

Moving to an area of overgrown vegetation we saw a small flock of birds moving along the top of the seeding plants and with closer inspection turned out to be a charm of goldfinches also mixed in we picked out half a dozen redpoll which moved closer to us giving some superb views of this tiny bird.

At our final stop we enjoyed a fantastic sunset watching the rooks and jackdaws flying noisily in to roost for the evening.

Other birds of note include both great spotted and green woodpeckers, redwing, fieldfare, little grebe, bullfinch, three little egrets and a sparrowhawk dashed across the lake.

Just goes to show don't let the rain put you off nature still goes about its business. DT

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Bright and not so breezy at CWP

The forecast suggested it was going to be a sunny and windy day for yesterday's trip to the Cotswold Water Park. Fortunately there was a lot of the former and very little of the latter.

We started off in near still conditions and were soon watching three female goosander at the far end of the first lake. Some farm machinery started up and it spooked the birds, who flew to our end of the lake giving great views in the morning sun. The birds were hunting as a group, diving in formation. A cormorant gatecrashed the party by landing right in the middle of the three birds - much to their disgust!

A look around the trees where we were produced a flock of at least 20 siskin feeding in the alders and coming down to the ground to drink from puddles only a few metres from us - brilliant! Amongst the trees thrushes were busily feeding with redwing, blackbird and song thrush seen.

On the next lake we checked we were greeted by the sight of 59 red crested pochard initially feeding and then displaying in a cauldron of bubbling water and frantic calling. A site pretty much unique to the Cotswold Water Park in the UK. A few tufted duck and a pair of goosander, including a splendid male were also feeding on the lake.

male goosander

We were lucky enough to see a number of smaller birds working through the hedgerows on the next section, these included robin, dunnock, bullfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch and a group of long-tailed tit.

Perhaps the highlight of the walk was found whilst watching a pair of goldeneye. I saw a movement in the bottom of the hedge we were stood near, it was a weasel looking out of a hole in the bank! He disappeared down the hole, then reappeared and repeated this a couple of times. He then built up enough courage to run towards us a few feet, fear got the best of him and he returned to the sanctuary of the hole. A few seconds later he was out again to rush forward and grab a dead field vole and rush off along the hedgerow base. Presumably we surprised him as we arrived. A special sight indeed!

As we continued along our route, we added coot, moorhen, gadwall, wigeonmute swan and great crested grebe to our list. We also spent some time picking through the gulls with black-headed, common and lesser black-backed being seen.

We then headed through a stretch of woodland where we picked up treecreeper and great spotted woodpecker. The treecreeper especially putting on a great show of tree climbing acrobatics!

We were soon out into the open again, where we saw a grey heron and a very vocal green sandpiper. At our next lake we found a nice flock of pochard feeding with tufted duck. There were also a couple of little grebe fishing along the edge of one of the islands and we saw the first mallard of the day dabbling along the edge of the same island. On a stretch of grassland we had great views of a fieldfare, mistle thrush and a green woodpecker busily hunting for their respective food.


Our next interesting find were the remains of a signal crawfish that had been the lunch for an otter.

Along the edge of the next lake we finally saw a wren, a species that had proved elusive. We also found a few chiffchaff hunting through the hedgerow bramble and ivy. We picked up our last duck species of the day - a flock of teal. Further sightings of bullfinch, redwing and song thrush took us to lunchtime.

After lunch we concentrated on one site where we were lucky enough to see a two kingfisher, one of which had a feeding post a few metres from us. We saw him catch two fish in about 30 minutes. We also had views of kestrel and buzzard here. A great day out! (NA)

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Brambling alert!

Over the last month or so I have been getting a regular trickle of brambling over the site where I watch for migrating birds (see previous blogs for more info!). There are many more than last year which suggests their European wintering sites have not produced sufficient food this year.

They have been passing by in flocks of chaffinch, so I've been expecting to find chaffinch with the odd brambling back at my flat where I am surrounded by both finch's preferred winter food source - beech trees and their seeds beechmast.

However I have not been seeing any chaffinch, let alone a brambling, which means the beech trees here and after a subsequent check of other beech trees in the area, they have not produced much fruit this year.

This week I have been surveying farms and was hoping to find the elusive finches feeding on the farmland. Bingo! I've seen well over 100 brambling and several hundred chaffinch feeding in wildbird covers planted for them. But as the winter progresses the chances are these birds will head to gardens, especially in February, March and April - so keep your eyes peeled!

Here are a couple of pictures to help you - the first shows the orange chest and the white belly, the second shows the bright white rump! (NA)

Brambling from the front...
...and from the back.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A weather-filled Cotswold Water Park

The Cotswold Water Park is fast becoming the place to be! Another trip today and is often the case when asked if they've been there before, people say 'well, I've driven through'past it'.

The great news is more people are now going there and finding how great it is.

Today's trip was a little different to others recently, due to the impending arrival of Storm Barney the trip was split into two halves, with a walk to start with, then heading to an area with hides to shelter from the forecast rain.

The first part had us walking along tracks with mature hedges and ranker areas of vegetation, perfect for a number of bird species to feed in and on.

We were soon looking at some lesser redpoll busily feeding on rosebay willowherb plants. They were soon joined by a charm of goldfinch. Other birds seen feeding along this stretch included redwing, robin, dunnock, blackbird, song thrush and chaffinch.

We soon reached our first lake where there were a pair of red crested pochard, the male was diving to gather weed and bringing it to the surface for the female to eat.

Male red crested pochard
We carried on to the next lake where we saw a variety of waterfowl including wigeon, gadwall, mallard, coot, moorhen and mute swan. A few cormorant were resting on some rocks drying their wings. A little egret was flying along the lake, no doubt looking for a sheltered fishing spot.

We even managed three types of grebe, with great crested, little and red-necked all being seen.

There were lots of smaller birds moving along the hedgerows ahead of us still, we saw a number of long-tailed tits with great tit, blue tit, as well as a few goldcrest and an elusive treecreeper.  At one point we had a flock of at least eight bullfinch busily feeding on rosehips.

Female bullfinch
 The ever vigilant long-tailed tits warned us to the presence of a sparrowhawk passing overhead.

On to our second site, where had a number of kingfisher fly-bys and managed to track him down a couple of times sat fishing on the far side of the lake.

On a bird table we were lucky enough to get great views of a male bullfinch, a coal tit and a male reed bunting.

Male reed bunting 

 In the bushes nearby we had excellent views of a goldcrest picking away at food items. A great trip! (NA)

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Surprise Garden Visitor

Looking out of the window today a wonderful surprise sat on the garden fence post.

A fantastic Sparrowhawk. DT

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Cotswold Water Park re-re visited

Two morning walks at Cotswold Water Park (CWP) this week.

Day one
The better of the two days according to the forecast, so we had a decent walk looking at a variety of habitats.

At our first lake of the day we were lucky enough to see a CWP speciality, red crested pochard. Also nearby were northern pochard to allow a comparison of the two.

Almost the first thing we saw was a couple of lesser redpoll feeding on the track ahead of us - a great start!

As we reached our next lake we were met by a herd of mute swan, over 50 of them feeding on the weed. The weather has been so mild and dry that the pondweed has grown longer than normal, coupled with relativity low water levels, the mute swan  are taking advantage of being able to reach the weed in a big way.

There was also a nice selection of gulls species present including common, lesser black-backed, herring and black-headed. We also picked up a cormorant having a rest on some rocks and a few wigeon loitering near coot, ready to pinch any weed the coot bring to the surface.

A little further up the lake there was another flock of birds, this time of great crested grebes, about 45 of them, mostly sleeping but a great chance to look at various stages of plumage and behaviour.

As we worked our way on down the lake, we saw a number of bullfinch, fieldfare, redwing and long-tailed tit working their way along the hedgerows. We also heard a single chiffchaff calling, most likely one arriving for the winter rather than one still heading south. We also picked up a hunting sparrowhawk thanks to the long-tailed tits and their siren like alarm calls.

We picked up a few more wetland species on the lakes as well with moorhen, mallard, tufted duck and red-necked grebe all being seen well.

We reached the hide for a well deserved sit down and had great views of a number of the species we had already seen as well as adding little egret, grey heron and gadwall to our lists.

On the way back we saw a lot of the same species, but managed to see a red-necked grebe next to a great crested grebe which gave us a great chance to compare the two species.

Great crested at the back, red-necked at the front

Finally we saw a skylark battling into a headwind as we reached the car park.

A very enjoyable day! (NA)

Day two
With a less than favourable weather forecast, we decided to go to a site with a few more hides.

There were again plenty of fieldfare and redwing around the area. From the hide we had great views of a kingfisher, sat on a tree branch. It seemed to be his favourite perch as he would leave and return, staying there for several minutes.

Kingfisher (taken at another site in Wilts)

Other birds seen whilst here included cormorant, grey heron and bullfinch.

The weather was looking a little brighter, so we had a walk around the lakes, we managed to see a cracking male lesser redpoll with a lovely pink breast.

We also saw our second sparrowhawk in two days again thanks to those ever helpful long-tailed tits.

All in all a very enjoyable couple of days. (NA)

Monday, 9 November 2015

Windy Durlston

A recent visit to Durlston Country Park.

With the weekend weather not looking too good we decided to give Sunday a go as this looked like the best day.

Arriving early at the park a lovely Fox greeted me at the driveway into the park.

Two swallows passed overhead has I walked up to the visitors centre and a Blackcap was sat in a small bush.

With the wind being strong we kept to the routes which gave us most shelter, several large flocks of small birds were flying around and overhead, these were Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Meadow pipits, Linnets with good numbers of Brambling and Siskin mixed in with them, also a group of about 20 Skylarks passed over.

In the small tree area we searched for Goldcrest and soon found about 10 birds busy feeding above our heads giving some fantastic views of this tiny bird.

A look out to sea produced several Gannets going passed their white wings showing up well against the dark blue sea, also a small flock of Common Scoter flew passed with a few Guillemots racing across the top of the waves. On the cliff we found a shag resting out of the wind.

The local Kestrel was making the most of the wind hanging in the sky without flapping for several minutes - how I wish I could do that!

Two Ravens flew passed at very close range again giving some fantastic views.

Next stop the local cafe for a well earned hot drink.

After lunch well headed out for the afternoon with the wind a little less than this morning we again took the coastal path. Looking down into one of the sheltered caves we found a Black Redstart sat out on a rock, you could see it flicking its stunning red tail as it waited for a meal.

Several gulls were seen which included Lesser black backed, Herring, and a couple of Great black backed with a few Kittiwakes flying passed further out at sea.

Walking through the trees again the Goldcrests were still busy feeding and a Tawny owl Hooted, also overhead a group of 10 Redwing calling as they went.

We spent the last half an hour sat looking out to sea and was rewarded with a fine Peregrine Falcon fly past at close range,

A fine example of not letting the weather conditions stop you from going out, the wildlife is still around sometimes you just have to work a little bit harder to find it a very rewarding day. DT

Monday, 2 November 2015

Cotswold Water Park

Today we had two morning trips booked in the water park, so I took the opportunity to get out at first light to check on an area that is good for Otters.

Certainly well worth getting up for as within ten minutes of arriving an Otter swim along the far side of the lake and climbed out and ran along the bank giving some excellent views, with Kingfisher and Cormorant fishing on the lake this turned out to be a worth while detour.

Tour one (DT)
I decided to run the tour around a couple of the larger lakes as there had been an influx of waterfowl. Whilst walking along the footpath several small birds flew into the top of the tree line, there was a mix of Reed buntings and Goldcrest as well as a couple of Redwing.

First scan down the lake we could see a lot of birds that seemed to be in the middle area of the lake so decided to move onto a better view point.

Scanning the lake we soon found several Great crested grebes fishing in groups as they chased the fish into the shallows, as normal they were being harassed by Black-headed gulls looking for an easy meal.

There was a nice mix of duck on the lake with several Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, smaller numbers of Pochard, Red crested pochard, well over 75 Mute swan and a male Goldeneye.

Further down the lake we could see a few more Grebe and on closer inspection these turned out to be Red-necked grebes a fine bird to see at close range on an inland lake, in total four birds were found.

A quick stop at one of the hides produced a Water rail working its way around the edge of the reed bed, and two Sparrowhawks whizzed over the water to near by trees.

On the walk back several groups of Redwing and Fieldfare could be seen and heard flying over head with a few Skylark mixed in, also a Little egret flew from the far bank and 50+ Lapwing dropped down onto the far island. other birds seen included Bullfinch, both Green and Great spotted Woodpeckers and a single Stonechat.

female stonechat

Tour two (NA)
Even in the car park where we started our tour the bushes were alive with birds, it took us 15 minutes to get to the road. The stars were a flock of c30 siskin that were roaring around the trees and occasionally landing long enough for us to see them through the telescope. Other birds seen at this stage included long-tailed tit, treecreeper, blue tit, chaffinch, great tit, robin and wren.

We headed down a quiet lane and were quickly looking at a flock of 13 red-crested pochard sitting in the middle of the lake, we managed to find a pair of tufted duck feeding quietly at the back of the lake.

We carried on down the lane seeing and hearing more robin and wrens, as well as blackbird and song thrush.


We then reached a point where we crossed the river on a footbridge and started to see many small birds again. Lots more long-tailed tit, several goldcrest, fieldfare and redwing were all over the place. We then heard a rabbit squealing, which can pretty much mean one thing, its being attacked by a stoat - and so it proved to be. Nature at its rawest.

We carried on and had some great views of redwing, song thrush and dunnock. At the next lake we saw a distant great crested grebe, more tufted duck and a fair few coot. There were also a few black-headed gulls in their confusing white-headed winter plumage.

The next lake had loads of duck on it, new species for us included gadwall, shoveler and wigeon.

The next lake had great views of cormorant sat in a tree roost with their wings out drying. There were also a number of pochard feeding and sleeping here.

All in all a very enjoyable trip!

After meeting up to discuss our tours we decided to head out to a disused airfield to see what was about.

A rather good decision as we had fantastic views of a kestrel and merlin hunting over the area along with a wonderful sunset.

Male merlin having a wash

Another great day out in the countryside DT/NA

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Autumn tour on The Somerset Levels

An early morning start on the somerset levels to watch the starlings leaving their roost site.

The birds left the roost site in five different waves each containing about twenty thousand birds, total estimated birds in excess of one hundred thousand. With winter drawing in this number can expand ten fold to well over one million birds making a fantastic winter spectacle.

The morning exodus can be better than watching them come back into the reedbeds for the evening roost.
After the starlings leave a couple of Marsh harrier's normally patrol the area looking for any dead or injured birds that make an easy meal.

Also perched in a nearby tree a lone Peregrine falcon always a good bird to catch up with.

Heading back along the track a couple of Bittern flew over the reedbeds on their way to feed in the nearby pools these turned out to be the only sightings of the day.

After a quick break we ventured out along the main track back into the main reserve area checking the top of the reeds as we went, after a little time we could see a couple of small birds perched at the top of the reeds which turned out to be two Bearded tits a superb male and a female always good to see these lovely little birds. Further along the track overlooking one of the pools a Kingfisher was found which soon flew out and hoovered above the water looking for small fish, no luck on this occasion.

Three species of owl seen and heard on the day included a Barn owl sat sunning its self outside a nest box, a Short eared owl passing through high being chased by a couple of crows and a Tawny owl calling from inside the wooded area.

With autumn well underway a few flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare could be seen flying over head.

After lunch we spent more time looking for Marsh harrier's so sat at a good viewpoint and waited for the birds to pass, it was not long before two birds could be seen quartering the reed beds just to our left giving fantastic views in the afternoon sunlight, a total of five different birds were seen throughout the day.

Other birds seen included Little and Great white egret, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Little grebe, Reed bunting, various duck species.

With the days shorter now we stayed on to watch the Starlings come back into the roost a truly wonderful end to another glorious day in Somerset. DT

Friday, 30 October 2015

A funny old Autumn...

Mind you , it seems like they all are now!

At this time last year I hadn't seen any fieldfare and very few redwing. This year I have seen 1,000's of each passing over. Initially they were heading north, now they have reverted to what is the usual direction of southwest.

The run of north-easterly winds seemed to be to the redwing's liking and they left Scandinavia in big numbers, but they ended up too far south, so have been working their way back to northern UK to where they usually start their winter visit. The Fieldfare seemed to miss this and have mostly been heading south.

Chaffinch and Brambling have started to arrive in decent numbers from the Continent as well. They are heading southwest as well, hunting out beech woodlands to feed on the beech mast, once this is gone they will start to appear in gardens and fields looking for other food.

Keep an eye on your bird feeders for siskin this winter. There have been good numbers heading south from Scotland where they seemed to have a great breeding season. There's nothing like a male siskin to bring a bit of colour to a winter garden. He still looks great in this picture from a rainy day in June this year! (NA)

Monday, 5 October 2015

2nd October - Cotswold Water Park

Having left home to go to the Water Park for this trip in thick fog and thinking to myself, 'the fog is usually a lot thick there than elsewhere' I was pleasantly surprised to find that it cleared as I reached the first lake.

That has to be a good sign and so it turned out to be.

We started off with a look at some hedgerows laden with fruit, hoping to see some migrants and the first thing we saw was exactly that, a migrant hawker dragonfly.  We saw a number of birds busily hunting food, including chiffchaff, blackcap, chaffinch, long-tailed tit and bullfinch. Overhead grey wagtail, meadow pipit and pied wagtails were migrating south.

As we reached the lakes we saw a variety of waterfowl including great-crested grebe, cormorant, lesser black-backed gull, coot and tufted duck. We then noticed a smaller grebe with some coot, it was a juvenile red-necked grebe. An unusual site at an inland site!

a distant juvenile red-necked grebe

We carried on and had great views of a flock of shoveler as well as teal, gadwall, pochard, mallard, moorhen and a little egret.

As we continued back to the car park we picked more birds feeding in the hedges including song thrush, blackbird and treecreeper. A great morning's walk! (NA)

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Somerset Levels

On 25th September we had a trip to the Somerset Levels.

The weather was clear and still, giving near perfect conditions!

We started off with a walk around Shapwick Heath where we almost instantly started to near bearded tits pinging from the reedbeds. They were our constant companions for the next half an hour or so, we must have seen over 50 birds flying around and feeding on the reedheads. We even had a particularly inquisitive juvenile land on the track-side docks about 20 metres from us.

There were very decent muddy margins which hosted two ruff, a green sandpiper, four snipe and a black-tailed godwit.

black-tailed godwit

Well, I say four snipe, a carrion crow flew over the area where the snipe were and forty flew out!
We had a great opportunity to compare little egret with great white egret as well, the latter dwarfing the former. While all this was going on we had four sightings of bittern in flight, one of which flew right over us. Great stuff!

As we walked around we were able to do a lot of duck comparison between many species including mallard, teal, gadwall, shoveler, tufted duck and pochard. We also had excellent views of little and great crested grebe, as well as all too fleeting ones of marsh harrier, kingfisher, lesser redpoll and siskin.

In the afternoon, we spent  most time trying to get better views of marsh harrier and any views of cetti's warbler and water rail, we must have heard twenty each of the latter two but no decent views sadly.

We did however have fantastic views of an immature male marsh harrier quartering the reeds for about 15 minutes - brilliant!

immature male marsh harrier

All in all a very enjoyable day! (NA)

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Looking for the Brown Hairstreak Butterfly

Today I spent a few hours looking for the Brown Hairstreak butterfly.

Not an easy task but one made easier if you know where to look.

These butterflies are on the wing from Late July until September and like Woodland, woodland edges, scrubland and hedgerows where blackthorn are presant. The butterfly is rarely seen as it lives at tree-top height. The female is more often seen than the male as she descends to lay her eggs.

Female Wings Open

Female Brown Hairstreak

After about an hours searching we found a female on the underside of a branch and a total of seven eggs also found. The eggs are white and laid tight in at the join of a blackthorn twigg.

This butterfly is not common and declining. The decline is exacerbated by annual mechanical hedge cutting, which destroys the butterfly's eggs.DT

Also a Brown Hairstreak Egg

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Balearic shearwaters

Recently I helped with a survey being run jointly by MARINElife and the RSPB. The idea was to have people onshore looking out and others on boats looking inshore and further offshore to count all seabirds and cetaceans and in particular balearic shearwaters and bottle-nosed dolphins.

On a global scale, balearic shearwater are one of the most important species of bird that we get on and around the UK. The population is thought to be no more than 25,000 birds and of these only 2,500 pairs actually breed.

balearic shearwater - they are much browner than the more common manx who look black and white
I was on one of the boats off Portland Bill, we saw between five and seven shearwaters, we thought a couple might have doubled back hence the range. Great stuff!

Another balearic, showing how stiff-winged they are

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

An afternoon around The Cotswold Water Park

First stop Blakehill farm as a rare Woodchat Shrike had been reported.

Within ten minutes of parking in the car park I picked out the bird perched on top of a bramble bush, the bird was making short flights down to the ground searching for insects and when it found something it would return to the top of a bush to eat it, the bird is a Juvenile making its first migration journey.

Other birds seen included three Wheatears sat on the fence posts and three Yellow Wagtails searching the ground for food.

Looking skywards produced four Buzzards using the thermals to gain height and a Hobby also flew over.

A good start to the afternoon.

Next stop Waterhay several Blackcaps feeding on the blackberries also a couple of Lesser Whitethroats with them.

Walking around the reserve we picked out several Chiffchaff moving through the trees along with Blue, Great and Long tailed Tits.

On the water the number of waterfowl has started to increase with good numbers of Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Red crested Pochard seen.

Three Common Tern were fishing around the lake two adults and a juvenile.

Stopping at a view point overlooking the water a couple of Green Sandpipers flew in along with a Common Sandpiper and two little egrets, over in the trees two Sparrowhawks were chasing each other around.

Stopping for a break at one of the hides we could hear curlew in the distance and within a few minutes 20+ birds flew over us.

On the return journey we found both Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker and a couple of Jays feeding on the ground.

A short but pleasant afternoon around my local area. DT

Friday, 21 August 2015

Late summer tour on the Somerset Levels

With the summer drawing to a close we set out with added interest of what we might see today with the autumn migration now well under way.

Our client today had never seen a Bittern so with all the latest breeding success here on the Levels we know we had a good chance of finding one today.

As we started off you could tell we would have to work harder today to find the birds as there was very little in the way of bird song coming from the trees and bushes.

At our first stop a Great White Egret was seen lurking about in the reedbed, the reedbeds are now very tall which made it difficult to see much else around. We moved on to another vantage point and found a Barn Owl sat outside of its nest box enjoying the early morning sunshine.

Next stop would prove to be better as the reeds had been cut back to give better views of the muddy margins and pools.


Several Lapwing and Little Egret could be seen flying in and out of the pools, with a few Mallard and Gadwall sat resting on them.

As we were admiring the many butterflies which were on the wing I saw a shape fly out of the reedbed to my right, Bittern just what we hoped for, it did not stay in the air for long before dropping down into the reedbed but we still had a wonderful view. This was one of four Bittern sightings throughout the day with one bird flying in over our left shoulder again giving a great view as it drifted away to the far side of the reserve. (one happy client!)

As we decided to head for another location a small bird flew in and landed on a dead tree not to far away, and on closer inspection was a Spotted Flycatcher doing what they do so well dashing out from the branch and snapping flies out of the air!.

Next it was back for a spot of lunch.

After lunch we headed for the scrape area which is very good for waders if the water levels are right. Today we were in luck with eight different waders out on the waters edge, five Green Sandpipers, two Wood Sandpipers very easy to identify when they stand next to each other, also two Ruff, two Greenshank,Snipe and Redshank with 50+ Black Tailed Godwit and 25 Lapwing. Also Little and Great White Egrets which help to show the size comparison between the two when stood close to each other, also a female Gargany with the many ducks sat around the edge of the small island.

We stayed on into the evening and was rewarded with a female Marsh Harrier hunting over the reedbed all in all another great day at one of my favourite places.DT

Total Bird species 66
Total Butterfly species 10

Friday, 14 August 2015

My favourite time of the year...

I'm a big fan of the Autumn, I love the fast changing colours in the woodlands, the fresher nights and the birds on the move.

In an around the Cotswolds we have birds from here heading to their wintering grounds, birds passing through, using the area as a service station and birds coming here for the winter.

Virtually all the swifts have gone from where I live on the edge of the Marlborough Downs, I saw a single bird hunting over the houses last night.

There are birds starting to pass through as well, I've recently seen a few redstart catching flies from fencelines and soon we will have meadow pipits passing over.

I am planning to start checking for migrating birds more regularly from tomorrow, by heading to the hills and seeing what is flying over.

It is very addictive! If you fancy coming along, let us know! (NA)


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

In Search of the Large Blue Butterfly

Over the last few weekends I have been visiting the Gloucestershire nature reserve of Daneways Bank hoping to find the Large Blue Butterflies.

This butterfly became extincted in the UK in 1979 but has now been successfully re-introduced at a few sties across the UK with Daneways being one of them.

The Large Blue is one of the most enigmatic butterflies, whose remarkable life cycle involves spending most of the year within the nests of red ants, where the larvae feed on ant grubs.

The butterflies at Daneways seem to favour a couple of places so I concentrated my search over these two areas, on my first visit I could only find one butterfly but with the conditions not being that great I know that I would need to return again in a few days time.


Next visit and the weather almost perfect I started out very hopeful, and not too long into my search a couple of butterflies flew passed me and landed a few feet away. A slow approach and you could soon see that they were Large Blues, further searching found around six to eight individuals some allowing a few photographs. So all in all a good day!.


My next visit about ten days later and again I only found one butterfly so over the course of about 25 days it looked like their season was over for another year.

This reserve is a wonderful place for butterflies and during my searches for the Large Blues I recorded 16 other species.DT




Monday, 13 July 2015

Marlborough Downs on 10th July

This was a tour on the amazing Wiltshire Downs to look for a mixture of wildlife including plants, butterflies and birds.

We were still in the car park when we saw the first of many butterflies for the trip, namely ringlet, marbled white, meadow brown and large skipper.

Male marbled white

As we walked away from the car park we were pleased to see a female southern hawker dragonfly; there is very little water in the area so this beauty must have been building up her strength by feeding on the rich wildlife on the downs before heading back to a water source to breed. The song of meadow pipits and skylarks surrounded us from this point until we pretty much finished our walk.

Upon reaching the first bit of downland, we found more butterflies and were able to compare small and Essex skipper as well as seeing small heath, common blue, green-veined white and small tortoiseshell. Our attention switched more to the ground to check out the plants and we were not disappointed! As we worked our way across we recorded marsh helliborine, pyramidal orchid, fragrant orchid, common-spotted orchid, common twayblade, wild thyme, yellow rattle, squinancywort, chalk milkwort and my personal favourite - round-headed rampion. Great stuff!

Marsh helliborine

We then headed out into a piece of farmland to look for birds and in particular corn bunting. We were not disappointed as we soon found a male busily singing from a elder bush. There were also a good number of yellowhammer and whitethroat to add to the ever present skylark and meadow pipits.

Male corn bunting

All in all a very enjoyable trip with much to see! (NA)

Monday, 22 June 2015

Nature tour in North Wiltshire

I recently lead a nature in North Wiltshire, mostly aimed at birds but with a fair smattering of other species as well.

We started off with some warbler song comparisons, with particular emphasis on garden warbler and blackcap, we also heard chiffchaff, whitethroat, dunnock and reed bunting at this stage.

We soon started to see a number of dragonfly and damselfly species with downy emerald, emperor, four-spotted chaser and black-tailed skimmer being the dragonflies present as well as the following damselflies: azure, large red, common blue, blue-tailed and red-eyed - a decent number for this time of year!

Whilst walking along the edge of the lake I saw a funny-looking stick in the water, when I looked at it, it swam away! It was an adult otter, we all managed to see it before it slipped under the water.

As we carried on we saw a number of butterflies including small copper, common blue and brown argus.
small copper
common blue butterfly

We then turned our attention to plants and we lucky enough to see a number of burnt-tip orchid, as well common-spotted, southern marsh, early marsh, green-winged and all sorts of hybrids between the different species.

The highlight for the group was the last bird we saw, a female cuckoo working her way down a fence-line watching for nesting birds - an all too rare sight these days in Southern England, although we did hear three males calling so perhaps a better year for them?

All in all a great trip with a great variety of nature encountered! (NA)

Friday, 5 June 2015

Somerset Levels Tour

A recent tour on The Somerset Levels with our aim of seeing Bittern and Marsh Harrier.

Well the day did not disappoint, within the first few hours we had sightings of at least ten Bittern, with the highlight of three birds chasing each other around which gave good views on the size comparisons of the different sexes. The male is much larger than the female and the birds in the air showed that a single male bird was chasing two smaller females.

Next we waited for the Marsh Harriers to show to see if we would be lucky enough to see a food pass, this is performed when the male bird comes in with prey and passes it to the female in mid air. We soon noticed a bird coming in from our left hand side and on closer inspection it was a male bird, as it came closer you could see that it was carry a prey item in his talons so we hoped this would be the time. As the bird came closer it called and the female came up out of the reedbed and followed the male for a short distance before they both rose upwards with the female bird below the male, with expert precision the male let go of the food and the female caught it in mid air. Wow what a sight and so lucky to see it so close how wonderful to see how aerobatic these birds are. Over the course of the day we were lucky enough to see a further two food passes.

Some other highlights included a fine male Kingfisher sat fishing from a low branch, Fifty Black-tailed Godwit some showing their fine summer plumage and Two male Garganey on one of the small pools.

A truly wonderful experience with the local wildlife. DT

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Cotswold Water Park trip - 27th May

An afternoon trip to look at all types of nature, but particularly flowers.

We did well with orchids seeing southern marsh, green-winged, early marsh, common-spotted and some burnt-tip that were not fully out. Here's a picture I took a week or so ago of some showing just how fantastic they are!

burnt-tip orchid
We also saw a number of other interesting plants including common milkwort, pignut and pepper-saxifrage.

There were many insects on the wing that day including common blue damselfly, azure damselfly, blue-tailed damselfly, red-eyed damselfly, four-spotted chaser, down emerald and lots of common blue butterfly.

Birds were also still in evidence with the following mostly being heard or seen: nightingale, sedge warbler, willow warbler, blackcap, garden warbler, chiffchaff, reed bunting and common whitethroat.

With lots more seen beside it was a great afternoon! (NA)

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Durlston trip

I recently lead a trip to Durlston Country Park, the weather forecast showed the country covered in sunshine, oddly though Swanage was cloudy. This turned out to be sea fog that had rolled in due to the warm air and cool seas.

This of course did not dampen our spirits as we concentrated on bird ID by song and call as well as looking at the many plants to be seen here at this time of year. We were able to compare a number of warbler species including blackcap, willow warbler, chiffchaff and whitethroat. We were able to also compare a number of other species including blackbird, robin, wren, dunnock and a very loud song thrush. 

As we worked our way through the scrub linnet, stonechat and meadow pipit were heard and seen. But the stars of the show were the orchids; early purple, early spider and green-winged. Here are some photos taken on a sunnier day at the same site.

Early spider orchid
Early purple orchid


Green-winged orchid

After a spot of lunch in the castle, we carried on to look at the seabirds nesting on the cliffs. The fog lifted a little, so we were able to see various species including guillemot, razorbill, cormorant, shag and fulmar. We were lucky enough to see a young raven on one of its first trips away from the nest, working out what its wings and legs were really for as it stumbled along the cliff edge. We also had great views of a female kestrel who had decided it was not a day for hunting, more of a day for relaxing on the cliffs.


 A very enjoyable day, finished off with a lesser whitethroat calling from the scrub by the car park - great stuff! (NA)

Sunday, 17 May 2015


I recently lead a tour to the Cotswold Water Park, one of our warblers and nightingales tours.

Right from the start we were listening to two male blackcap singing against each other.

At the first lake we reached we saw a nice selection of waterbirds, including several fine male tufted duck as well as having a reed warbler singing to our left and a sedge warbler singing to our right, perfect for comparison.

As we carried on along the Thames we were lucky enough to see a splendid male bullfinch picking at the willow buds!

Everything went a bit mad after this - we had a garden warbler singing from both the left hand side and right hand side of the river, we tried to see the one to the right and looked straight at a lovely male reed bunting, so we tried the one to the left, he was just behind a dead tree I was using as a visual guide, more distraction as a treecreeper sneaked up the dead tree! Needless to say the garden warbler slinked away.

We were just heading away when we nearly jumped out of our skin as a cetti's warbler fired an opening salvo from about a metre away in a bush.

Chiffchaff were regularly singing on our route and we saw a male soon afterwards.

We next had the perfect chance to compare a blackcap and a garden warbler as they were singing from adjacent bushes, the differences were noted by everyone. The first of three cuckoo started to call from the back of the lake we were stood by. Great to hear one again.

Another cuckoo seen by me in Wiltshire

At the next lake we saw a pair of red-crested pochard, as well good numbers of common tern and black-headed gull.

We finished our walk at an area of scrub where we could hear every warbler we had already heard plus willow warbler, whitethroat and lesser whitethroat. We were also lucky enough to hear at least three nightingale singing against each other and we were stood in the middle! A fitting end to a brilliant walk. (NA)