Sunday, 18 March 2018

Sunday March 18

I woke up to snow. Only a few centimetres but it was still snowing. The roads to Morton Bagot were likely to be tricky, so I wimped out. Arrow Valley Lake didn't seem such a bad substitute given its recent run of decent birds.

Spring-time in Redditch
I did a circuit in the teeth of a biting north-easterly. The 128 Black-headed Gulls hunched on the lake's surface facing the gale were mainly in summer plumage. Surely if I kept scanning them I would eventually find that something exciting had joined them. Sadly the best I could do was an adult Common Gull, my second here this year.

Common Gull
The Oystercatchers were still present, but with the sailing club now open they were flying around all over the place. At least five Little Egrets, a Shoveler, seven Cormorants, and 16 Great Crested Grebes formed the supporting cast.

At least there was some visible migration to see. Flocks of thrushes periodically flew west, and I estimated 20 Redwings, and 15 Fieldfares. Also two Meadow Pipits headed east, my first of the year.

Spring is definitely on hold.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Friday March 16

Note to self: Check your phone for messages in the morning.

This morning I didn't and it wasn't until late morning, when I was at my parents' house in Brum, that I noticed Mark had texted me with news of a Redshank in front of the sailing club at Arrow Valley Lake.

I visited in mid-afternoon, but was not surprised to find no sign of it. The only noteworthy birds were at least 130 Black-headed Gulls.

I am not sure how rare Redshank is at the lake, but to find any wader there (beyond Oystercatcher and Common Sandpiper) is a rare event so I suspect I've missed a biggy.

Never mind, this evening I found a littly (making my own words up now) in the form of my first White-shouldered House Moth of the year in the kitchen.

White-shouldered House Moth

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Thursday March 15

I've made a couple of visits to Arrow Valley Lake since the Slavonian Grebe departed overnight.

The first was on Saturday and was pretty unremarkable. Today's visit was a bit better. It had rained in the early hours and remained pretty dull for most of the morning. The temperature remains fairly mild, but is forecast to plummet over the coming weekend.

The highlight was the presence of at least two, and probably more, Chiffchaffs in one small stretch about halfway down the east side of the lake.

Arguably more unexpected was a Skylark which flew west, the second occasion I have seen one here this year.

At least three Grey Herons are now sitting on their nests on the island, and I was pleased to note that a pair of Oystercatchers has returned following the false start in early February. Four Shovelers remain but there was no sign of any Tufted Ducks.

I counted eight Little Egrets on the island, the same number as last winter. Typically they weren't grouped close enough together to get a particularly interesting shot, although I did get them all in. I preferred a couple of photos showing the sub-groups of five and three.

Today's hoodwink bird came as I was trying to photograph a Reed Bunting (not very successfully). A sharp call heard twice may have been a Brambling. Unfortunately I was under trees and it may have been flying over and the sound was rather faint. I didn't see it, and decided not to count it.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Thursday March 8 - Slav Grebe day

I had been intending to visit Arrow Valley Lake anyway, but on checking my phone when I got up I found messages from Mark I, and Neal D advising me there was a Slavonian Grebe there. By the time I was ready to leave the house though, the weather had deteriorated.

So I arrived in heavy driving rain and sleet. As a result I decided on an anti-clockwise circuit so that I wouldn't be looking into the worst of it. Half way round I was still grebeless and the only birder I had met was Nick from Headless Cross who told me he had been told the bird was as far away from the visitor centre as you could get, i.e where we were standing and seeing nothing.

We started to back track, and finally in the distance I saw a grebe flying towards us before it dropped onto the water surface. I hurriedly scoped it and confirmed it was the bird. Slavonian Grebe.

We marched closer and some photos were taken, but with the weather still terrible I decided to go home for a cup of tea, to return when it brightened up. As it happened there was only just time for the drink before the rain stopped and the sun came out. I returned and got some better shots.

Although slightly obscured by blurry foreground reeds this is my best attempt
I am not sure whether this species has been recorded here before, but I can't remember any records. It spent a short time sleeping but was generally just swimming about, sometimes preening, and occasionally making short flights when harassed by Great Crested Grebes and Black-headed Gulls.

As with any twitchable bird, it attracted a trickle of admirers, and gave me the chance to catch up with friends I hadn't seen in years.

I did record other birds while I was there, but the only ones to stand out were a squealing Water Rail, and four Tufted Ducks.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Sunday March 4

I wasn't planning to post anything here today, but sometimes birds just appear in front of you. Like today.

Before I go on, I should mention that my trip to the paper shop yesterday produced two Hawfinches, one a male. Unfortunately I hadn't taken my camera. Meanwhile the bird feeding was being appreciated by all the usual suspects, my favourite being the Fieldfare which continues to stand on the front step waiting for an apple to be thrown out. He's practically a pet. Also, a Cormorant from the back window was an unusual addition to the "seen from the garden" year-list which even I'm not sad enough to keep...except in my head.

Anyway, I was just putting the finishing touches to my other blog, Morton Bagot birder, when I looked up to see a male Blackcap swinging from the fat balls.

I have to say that I was thrilled. In many previous years this would not have been an unusual sight, but last winter I really struggled to see any. Until this lunchtime I had drawn a complete blank for the 2017/2018 winter and I was resigned to waiting for the spring influx.

I almost added another year tick on the way back from Morton Bagot. Roadworks are currently diverting me to the other end of Alders Drive, which is the northern border of this patch. On the dual carriageway I spotted a Kestrel which kept pace with the car before veering off as I approached the island (from where I would be allowed to tick it). But I couldn't see it.

What a daft game Patchwork Challenge is. I love it though.

Friday, 2 March 2018

March 2 - Some patch gold

It has been quite a morning. There was more snowfall overnight but it had stopped by dawn. The morning was cloudy and cold with a stiff easterly breeze, strong enough to upset our empty bin and blow it several yards.

I chucked more apples on the lawn after noticing that the Fieldfare outside the front door had eaten his apple and seemed to be wondering what was for afters.

I was determined to see some hard weather movement, and eventually I was rewarded with first three, and then one more, Lapwings heading west. At around 09.30 I spotted a familiar dumpy shape fly into the top of an oak on the opposite side of our road. It was annoyingly hidden by branches but soon flew out confirming it was a Hawfinch.

So by 10.30 I decided it was time I went birding. Arrow Valley lake was the obvious choice of venue and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the car park wasn't too snowbound, and the lake itself was largely unfrozen.

Initially it seemed that there had been increases in numbers of some species; 21 Cormorants, five Goosanders, 163 Black-headed Gulls, and 23 Shovelers. A single male Tufted Duck and a Little Egret were also familiar residents.

Cormorant - sinensis race
The bitingly cold easterly was having the effect that many birds were sheltering against the eastern bank of the lake, and also on the eastern side of the island. It was here that I spotted a pair of Teal sleeping among the vegetation.

I have recorded Teal here before, but didn't see any last year. Not all the birds on the lake looked concerned about the weather. A pair of Great Crested Grebes did an impressive mating ritual, both carrying weed as they rushed together. Although I was reasonably quick with the camera I was dismayed to note that in the frame neither was still carrying the weed.

Next came one of those moments that birders sometimes have (well I do anyway), a possibly really good bird that you just can't nail. A passerine was flying hesitantly across the lake, occasionally looking as though it was trying to land on the water. It looked like a dark grey-brown pipit. Perhaps a Rock Pipit, there was only the tiniest hint of white in the outer tail. It kept on flying and I lost sight of it behind bankside vegetation. I thought it had been heading towards the visitors centre (closed for the day) so I couldn't get access to where it may have ended up.

I met Mark Islip coming the other way, and told him about the bird. All we could see were Dunnocks searching desperately for food, and I was sure it hadn't been one of them. As it turned out, the search for the mystery bird was to have an unexpectedly good outcome. From the opposite bank I could see a few small passerines on fishing platforms, and although I suspected they too were Dunnocks, I was curious enough to retrace my steps. Just past the duck-feeding platform I met a guy with a long lens. He was another Mark, and while we were chatting I spotted a small wader in among a flurry of Black-headed Gulls. I got on it, shouting "wader!" and then "Dunlin", as that was what it was, to the bemused photographer. The bird made a sharp exit and I watched as it disappeared behind trees, heading north-west.

This was obviously a patch tick for me, but I soon discovered it would have been a patch-tick for Mark I, who has been coming here regularly for a lot longer than I had. He took it well, but I felt rather gutted for him. By then we had another good bird to look at. A first-winter Common Gull had flown in, and had had the decency to stick around.

Common Gull
Finally, having watched Dunnocks, Robins, and a Moorhen at close quarters due to their need to find food over-riding their fear of me, it was a relief to discover a bird which had just found his dinner.

Song Thrush with Garden Snail
I got home just before the next bout of snow set in. So its back to watching the garden for the rest of the day.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Mostly March 1 - and entirely in the garden

The beast from the east has arrived. Well actually its snowing, its very cold, its not as bad as the snow in December.

While I was at work, Lyn picked up my camera and made me quite envious as she reported the return of a Fieldfare, and more significantly for our garden, a large thrush in the apple tree. She photographed it.

Mistle Thrush
I am struggling to recall whether I have ever seen a Mistle Thrush actually in our garden. They occur sparingly in the surrounding area.

This morning I chucked out more apples, topped up the feeders, and sat back to enjoy the show. The birds did not disappoint.

Particularly significant were the pair of Greenfinches on the feeder (we rarely see them), and the Goldfinches (not often on the feeder), a further 25 flew over.

Sadly for me, there has been no return of the Mistle Thrush and no obvious visible hard-weather movement, apart from 10 Fieldfares going west.