Sunday 22 March 2015

Somerset Levels Tour 20-03-2015

Today saw us at the RSPB reserve Ham Wall in Somerset for a full day tour.

An early start produced several Booming Bittern, just coming into full voice now, also several Water Rail calling around the reserve.

Another bird heard was the explosive song of the Cetti's Warbler. It seemed like one was in every small scrubby area and after a little wait we soon had some fantastic views as one sat calling out in the open.

Several flocks of Sand Martins were overhead with the biggest flock totalling 100+ birds, but they soon moved on.

Small groups of Redwing were also on the move quickly flying from tree-top to tree-top as they passed.

Goldcrest, Song Thrush and Blackbird were found in the small wooded area along the footpath.

Then followed a 45 minute break to watch the Solar Eclipse we had good views as it just about managed to shine through the clouds.

Moving on to the first large area of open water, we soon spotted a fine Male Pintail feeding in the shallows, upending several times showing off its fine pintail from where its name comes from. Also seen were a few Pochard, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Mallard and Shoveler and several Grey Heron flying in and out carrying nesting material over to their nesting area.

Moving down the path to the next viewing platform, several more Bitterns could be heard booming away, some of them very close to the path. Also a Kingfisher flashed past us as we crossed a ditch.

At the next platform, two Marsh Harriers were spotted displaying to each other, almost sky dancing you could say!

By now the temperature had started to rise and the sun was shining. We heard a couple of newly arrived Chiffchaff singing and a superb Long-tailed tit's nest was found.

As we moved on a Sparrowhawk dashed by into the reedbed putting up some Snipe and Lapwing, but it did not look like it was hunting. Six Buzzards could be seen on the thermals above us being mobbed by the Sand Martins as they flew by.

Out at the back of the reedbed two Great White Egret were feeding with a couple of their smaller cousins, the Little Egret, closer in. Several Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch, and Wrens could be heard as we made our way back along the pathway and a Great Spotted Woodpecker could be heard hammering into a tree trunk in the distance.

At our final stop before lunch we found both Great Crested and Little Grebes feeding in the shallows. Checking the edges of the reedbed, a single Snipe showed well giving great views through the telescope revealing its brilliant camouflage. Suddenly all the waterbirds lifted off the water making a tremendous noise. A quick scan across the water found the reason why as an Otter swam out of the reedbed and crossed the channel in front of us - a quick sighting, but just to see one is a real bonus. (We did find it again about ten minutes later but it had moved right down the far end of the reedbed.)

After a quick lunch break we moved over the road to the Shapwick Heath nature reserve where more Bitterns were booming along with more flocks of Sand Martins overhead.

Sitting at the edge of the reedbed for 15 minutes, we watched several Bumble Bees and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies making the most of the sunshine, a sign that spring has arrived.

At our final stop we found a fine male Marsh Harrier standing on the ground in front of the hide. It stayed around for a good time before flying off over the hide giving some wonderful views as it went by.

Back at the now famous Starling Roost sight we waited to see how many birds would show up as the big numbers had now moved away. Several groups of up to a thousand birds came in and flew around before dropping into the reeds. A few more flocks came in but dropped down in a different area - in total about 25,000 birds came in - still a good spectacle to watch.

Other things of interest seen included Marsh Frogs, a Female Toad with her mate attached to her back walking across the pathway, and several Roe Deer.

A lovely leisurely day spent at a wonderful reserve with some fantastic wildlife sightings. DT

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Watching the spectacle of bird migration

One of my passions has always been watching birds migrating. Not looking for the first swallow, but things like the first meadow pipit going over my garden in the Autumn - odd I know!

I never really thought about doing this in a particularly structured way, I would occasionally go to the top of a hill and sit and watch, but this never really seemed that successful.

In 2011 I moved to Whitley Bay in Northumberland and lived about two miles from the local bird club's seawatching hide - brilliant! This seemed a chance for some more structured migration watching. Not long after moving there the bird club had a talk on 'vismig' by a chap called Keith Clarkson. Keith is now the RSPB's Senior Sites Manager at Bempton Cliffs, but in his late teens and 20's he lived in Sheffield and had Redmires Reservoir as his local patch. Redmires is on the moors above Sheffield, as you can imaging being a reservoir its in a bit of a dip. Keith used to count the birds and regularly get the same number of meadow pipits flying around and didn't think much of it. Then one day he saw a flock of c200 meadow pipits on the deck in their favoured spot, as he walked rounds he counted a steady flow of meadow pipits passing him from the direction of this spot and he thought it was these birds leaving the area. When he returned there there were still 200 birds there....hmmmm. He watched the area for an hour or two and realised meadow pipits were arriving from the north, stopping to feed for a bit in this spot them moving on... The penny dropped on what was happening, the birds were migrating by effectively doing short hops from 'service station' to 'service station'.

meadow pipits taking a breather on migration

That was c40 years ago and since then visual migration has become a popular past time, with thousands of people all around the world recording their sightings. In Europe we use a website called Trektellen. I originally set up Seaton Sluice as a watchpoint on here and had amazing days of 1000's of duck, geese, swans and seabirds streaming by. The site is still updated by watchers there, but now I am living in land-locked Wiltshire, I watch from a local hilltop called Morgan's Hill. I have had some really interesting days with 100's of chaffinch, thrushes and woodpigeon piling through! Please take a look but I warn up, it is addictive! (NA)

Woodpigeons overhead
Fieldfare passing by


Monday 9 March 2015

BTO Winter WeBS survey.

Winter WeBS survey.

I did my final BTO Winter WeBS survey at The Cotswold Water Park at the weekend.

Wildfowl numbers were down on the two previous counts which would have been expected given all the fine weather over the last week.
A nice count of 65 Wigeon feeding on the grass at the edge of one of the larger lakes proved to be the highest count.

There are still as few Goosander and Goldeneye about but numbers have dropped compared to last months count.

A great find was a Red-breasted Merganser (red head) feeding on small fish at the edge of the lake.
A good sign that spring is in the air with lots on Song Thursh calling from the tree tops. DT.

Monday 2 March 2015

Every day is a school day when watching nature.

At the weekend I was out surveying again. It was approaching last light and I was sat watching a barn owl hunting the grassland and scrub on the next ridge when I saw a movement in the grass below, a small bird flew up and landed on a parsley stem, a female stonechat, then the male appeared. Most of the time you see pairs of stonechat in the winter, holding a winter territory to feed in. I then saw another two, hmmm that's reasonably unusual, I sometimes see that number together in an animal penning where there tends to be more insects, but still pretty unusual. Hang on a minute, there are more than that....a sweep with the telescope picked up 17 in an area no bigger than 25 metres by 25 metres! At one point there were eight in the same bush! I've never seen anything like that before.

A read up in my bird books suggests that this has been recorded on the odd occasion, but usually on passage, but not what you expect to see in Wiltshire in February! I couldn't get a picture of the birds, but here are a couple of pictures of a male and female taken earlier in the winter on the Marlborough Downs. (NA)