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