Sunday, 30 June 2013

Somerset weekend

We've just got back from a weekend camping in Somerset - not at Glastonbury unfortunately, but we had a lovely time nevertheless, staying just outside Wells at Lower Milton Farm; limited facilities, but a a great campsite.

Lower Milton Farm campsite

From my perspective, it was a very successful trip. Saturday started at 5am at Ham Wall RSPB in the hope of seeing the Little Bitterns breeding there. Rather frustratingly, one was seen very briefly in flight by someone else at about 6am, and I thought I'd missed my chance as I was scanning in another direction... It then reappeared about an hour later, spotted by the guy stood next to me. By the time I got on it, it was dropping back into the reedbed and I only had a fleeting glimpse of a brown bird - non tickable views. Mercifully, it reappeared above the top of the reeds a few moments later, and I had flight views of the female Little Bittern for about 5 seconds! However, I was very pleased - another person there had taken three visits to see it, and I'd avoided having to get up early the following morning for another try. A British tick! Other nice birds during the morning included 3 Great White Egrets, a (Great) Bittern, several Cuckoos and a Hobby.

Little Bittern habitat!

Later that day we went to Collard Hill, after Large Blues. The walk from the carpark (at the youth hostel) produced four species of orchids in the meadow (about a dozen Greater Butterfly Orchids, plus Pyramidal and Common Spotted Orchids and Twayblades). On Collard Hill itself we managed four brief flight views of a single Large Blue - unphotographable unfortunately, but my second tick of the day. Apparently, the blues have yet to emerge in any number due to the weather - the National Trust's blog has a daily update on sightings. Several Marbled Whites also graced the steep slopes - a great place for a picnic. We spent the remainder of the afternoon on the marshes at Shapwick Heath NNR.

Pyramidal Orchid
Collard Hill

This part of Somerset is rather wonderful, with plenty to see - too much for a short weekend visit, that's for sure. It would've been nice to explore the Mendips further, but we got a good taste of the Somerset Levels (aka Avalon Marshes) - fantastic to see such expansive habitat.

Shapwick Heath NNR
Shapwick Heath NNR

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Last night and today

I had a fantastic encounter with a pair of Nightjars last night, at a site just south of Retford; I was actually visiting for work, and was please to see these birds; no churring, but plenty of calling and they came and investigated me whilst it was still relatively light. Brilliant birds. A couple of roding Woodcock were also doing fly-pasts, along with some large Nyctalus-type bats - should've brought my bat detector!

Today, a visit to Collingham found the amount of wader habitat on Ferry Lane Lake continuing to expand, and held 12 LRPs, including a fully grown juvenile; I don't think this was bred at this site, and judging from the numbers there must've been a mini influx. Other birds included a juvenile Black-headed Gull (again not locally bred), whilst Mons Pool held 35 Gadwall, single drake Wigeon and Teal, and 2 Great Crested Grebe nests.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Looking for Lampyris

Last night was our annual glow-worming expedition in Sherwood Forest. We managed to find just one, but checking Trevor Pendleton's excellent Eakring Birds website revealed that he only had 6, so I think we should be happy with a successful excursion, especially when coupled with churring Nightjars and roding Woodcock. Always an evocative experience, and a highlight of the summer for me!

Today the only birding I managed was my WeBS count at Girton Pits, followed by a quick look at Ferry Lane Lake at Collingham. There were very few wildfowl at all at Girton, with a single Wigeon on the North Pitt the only duck vaguely of note. However, a Turtle Dove quietly feeding at the northern end of the A1133 Pit was a welcome find.

Turtle Dove

Collingham didn't produce much either, although I reckon it's going to look pretty good for waders fairly shortly. However, on two occasions all the Sand Martins lifted up as a superb Hobby whipped through - fantastic. 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Tricky, and not an Icky!

Last night I twitched the Icterine Warbler at Broom Wood, Tiln (north of Retford), about which news broke that morning. To be honest, I didn't get great views in my 2 hour stint; a brief full-frontal, then an obscured side view, and then a more distant view as it flew up into some large pines behind the plot of young pines and broom it was occupying. It also wasn't singing as well as apparently it had been, with long periods of silence. But hey, I'd seen it. But when talk started last night that the bird was in fact a Melodious Warbler - a bird I need for my British list - I decided that I had to go back and have another look; certainly, photos online suggested its primary projection was on the short side, and comparing Icky with Melody on Xeno-Canto also suggested the bird's song was more like the latter than the former...

So back I went today; the bird was singing much more frequently and I did see it a bit better than yesterday, but with the windy conditions it was generally staying quite low down and out of sight. I grabbed a couple of rubbish photos, but couldn't really get a good look at the key features, e.g. primary projection. At one point, it was singing just a few metres away, but remained invisible!

The song is quite interesting; repetitive, quite Acro-like at times, with apparent mimicry (e.g. Sedge Warbler, Blackbird 'startle' call). I got some good recordings of the wind on my Remembird, but also a few snippets of song, which I've converted to spectrograms (below). Interestingly, I understand it responded to Icterine Warbler song playback when it was first ID'd, but not Melodious, but then did respond to Melodious playback yesterday. But this is all hearsay.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Orchid bonanza

I walked bloody miles today, but managed a nice haul of orchids for my efforts. First, I completed a circuit of the Teversal Trails to check some recent spraying work and to assess the success of the last tranche of scrub clearance completed here. Whilst the site is looking pretty good, keeping on top of the scrub is a never ending task; the amount of ash regeneration in places is scary! 

As usual, I counted the Frog Orchids; after finding two nice strong plants very quickly, locating any more was a real struggle - they are very easy to overlook! This year's count was 6 flower spikes (plus 4 non-flowering plants). Counts in previous years were 6 in 2012, 10 in 2011, 15 in 2010, 17 in 2009, 15 in 2008 and 5 in 2007. So not the lowest ever, but still fairly disappointing.

Frog orchids

After another long walk out along the disused railway line from Vicar Water (and having finished work for the day) I then decided to have a look at a site at Bevercotes Pit Wood that Rob Johnson at the NBGRC put me onto earlier in the week; Dave Wood and Mark Woods had surveyed this site recently and had found literally thousands of orchids, including some goodies, so I had to go and see for myself! 

This was the site of the county's first Siberian Stonechat back in 2009, and I'd forgotten quite how far the walk was. However, it was more than worth it, despite the rain, as there were indeed thousands of orchids. Maybe 10,000, maybe even more? As far as a I could tell, the majority were Southern Marsh Orchids, but failed to find the Northern Marsh Orchids that are present (rather stupidly I'd forgotten my may and the email with the all important grid refs in it...).

Swarms of Southern Marsh Orchids

There were also a few Common Spotted Orchids, and what I took to be D. x grandis hybrids (i.e. SM x CS). Better still were a swarm of 130 Early Marsh Orchids, instantly recognisable by their delicate salmon-pink colouration, and a single Greater Butterly Orchid - and a very fine specimen at that. As far as I'm aware the nearest GBOs are in Gamston Wood and the adjacent verges, not a million miles away, but nevertheless an impressive local colonisation. 

Early Marsh Orchids

Greater Butterfly Orchid

(NB the camera I was using today, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7, has an excellent macro, but hasn't reproduced the true colours of the marsh orchids very well. I tried messing round in photoshop with the colours, but decide to leave things as they were).

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Autumn wader passage begins!

At Collingham Pits tonight, 2 Green Sands flew up from Ferry Lake and then headed south, and a Curlew headed in the same direction. Is this the beginning of return wader passage already..?! Not masses else present, but the number of Tufties had increased to at least 42, and there was a pair of Common Terns present, possibly scoping a nesting site on one of the small islands. 

In addition, the two Coot nests that were left high and dry above the falling water levels (a good metre above!) have both produced 5 chicks between them, and interestingly, both pairs have built small new nests next to the water's edge, presumably as a place to brood their chicks.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Orchids: (almost?) lost and found

After the twitching excesses of yesterday, I had a low-key day in Notts, first completing my late BBS visit up at East Markham (which didn't throw up anything unusual), and then doing a bit of botanising at Gamston Wood in a bid to see Bird's-nest Orchid. I've failed to find this species in previous years, so was delighted to find a single flower spike - a Notts rarity, and an orchid tick!

Bird's-nest Orchid
Bird's-nest Orchid

Nearby, the coppice coup that last year held 57+ Greater Butterfly Orchid held at least 27 today (although this wasn't based on a comprehensive search of the area), plus at least 47 Herb-paris plants, including lots of young ones.

Greater Butterfly Orchid

The adjacent sections of road verge, also part of the SSSI (and which I look after in my day job) held a further 10 GBO's - 5 in their usual spot along a drainage grip, and another 5 on an adjacent section of verge (into which they seem to be slowly spreading - there were only 2 in this spot last year), plus 2 gone-over Early Purples. When the Twayblades, Common Spotted, and Southern Marsh Orchids are added into the equation (the latter a recent colonist in the verges), this brought my orchid tally to six species in the space of less than an hour; not bad!

Flowery grassland in the SSSI verges at Gamston Wood

I then completed my orchid quest with a look at Hunt's Meadow NWT, at Kersall, to count the Early Marsh Orchids. Worryingly, I could only locate a single flower spike, in the smaller eastern meadow, and none in the larger western meadow. Orchids can be fickle, but I read at home that despite being a marsh orchid, this species cannot survive prolonged inundation; the site did feel very wet underfoot, with shallow standing water in places, so I fear that perhaps they're not doing well at this site. 

Early Marsh Orchid
The eastern meadow at Hunt's Meadow

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Mega dash back to the motherland!

A nice relaxed day's birding in Norfolk (as a change of scenery) with Carl was rather changed as we stood on the East Bank at Cley; news had just come through of a Pacific Swift at Trimley Marshes, back in our home county of Suffolk - a species we had joked about finding only an hour earlier as we scanned through the masses of Swifts feeding over the reserve. 

Mindful that this species is normally fleeting in its appearances, we calmly continued out walk along East Bank, had a scan out to sea, and then returned to our car at the visitor centre. And the swift was still being reported... Should we go for it? Taking on the old adage 'fortune favours the bold', we abandoned our chilled out day, and went into twitcher mode, heading straight for Trimley. Frustrated by slow drivers on the back roads behind Cley, the lack ofroad signs in Holt, and the innumerable traffic lights in Norwich, we eventually made it to Ipswich, where the decision was; do we park on Cordy Lane in Trimley as per the pager instructions, or use our local knowledge and park in Levington Marina? The later is a considerably shorter walk, and we duly found ourselves parked up next to the river. 

Looking towards Trimley from Levington - that looks a long way...

The route-march along the riverbank was rather tense, but we arrived at the northern end of Trimley Marshes to discover that the Pacific Swift was still showing well in front of the northern hide, and enjoyed good views of the bird for the next half hour or so amongst lots of Common Swifts. Our gamble had paid off! We took in it's features as it fed over the marshes, and what a bird it was; there is something very sexy about a swift with a white rump! 

Some twitchers

Thumbs up from Carl!

It then vanished, and after 10 or 15 minutes of fruitless scanning a weather front rolled in, sending us running for the nearest hide - already full. All the Swifts had become more distant and had moved higher as the rain lashed down, and there was no sign of the Pacific. After 40 minutes or so there was a break in the weather, so we decided to head back to the car; it would've been nice to see the bird again (which was reported once more when we'd got back to Loompit Lake), but hey, I shouldn't complain!

It was a bit weird being back in Suffolk on such a flying visit, and indeed only a few miles from home (across the Orwell) - I could see Clamp House, and my old patch on Shotley Marshes. Speaking to David Walsh when I got home, I found out that the Pacific Swift had actually flown across the river (i.e. over to Shotley Marshes) at about 1pm, before coming back. Now that would've been a good patch tick!

Rain rolling down the Orwell, looking towards The Clamp

An interesting article about potential Pacific Swift splits on the Birdwatch website, and a finders account of the this bird on Birding Frontiers - the stuff of dreams...

Friday, 14 June 2013

Quail tale

To be honest, there's not too much of a tale to tell; I spent the morning on a section of disused railway line that runs south from Kilvington to the county boundary with Chris from Notts Biodiversity Action Group and Bill from the Est Midlands branch of Butterfly Conservation, scoping some work for the winter as part of the Grizzled Skipper project. We were lucky to see one Grizzled Skipper (I reckon this really will be my last of the year!), as well as finding a single egg, and a caterpillar - the latter was the first I've ever found (and seen, in fact). 

Grizzled Skipper resting on hogweed

Grizzled Skipper egg

We were discussing the works back at our cars, when I heard a Quail singing from the wheat field to the south of Longhedge Lane (Alverton), at SK 791408. It continued to sing intermittently until we departed. I've only actually seen Quail once before; this was a bird a few years ago on Grassthorpe Holme (on the opposite side of the Trent to Girton). It sounded like it was quite close, so I mimicked its song, and to my delight, it jumped up out of the grass (from somewhat further back than it sounded), and flew straight over my head, disappearing over the hedge behind me. Fantastic!

An early finish then allowed a visit to Collingham. There wasn't a huge amount going on on the bird front, but I found a Southern Marsh Orchid growing in the damp area along the footpath on the east side of the Silt Lagoon - the first I've seen here, or anywhere on the site.

Southern Marsh Orchid

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Final Redstart survey of 2013

I just about managed to haul myself out of bed for a final Redstart survey in Sherwood Forest NNR this morning. I only had just over two hours on site, but located birds in 10 locations - 8 singing males, a further silent male, and a female at a nest site. I need to sit down with Carl and have a look at his survey results, but my current estimate is that there were c.15 territories within the surveyed area this year, which ain't too bad. Other birds included Spotted Flycatcher, several Tree Pipits, and 2 Cuckoos. Most bizarre (and gruesome) was a dead Great Spotted Woodpecker, hanging upside down from its feet (still gripping the tree it was in). It looked like it had perhaps been there a week or two, but how on earth did it die..?

A dead Great Spotted Woodpecker...

Nice acid grassland with flowering Heath Bedstraw

This evening, I thought that the downpours might've dropped some waders into Collingham, and this appeared to be the case; no Little Stints or Spotted Redshanks, but 3 Sanderling, as well as a Turnstone (reported this morning) and 3 Dunlin. It seems to have been a very good year for overland passage of Sanderling this year - I've now had a total of 6 at Collingham since mid-May. Also present were c.150 Swifts feeding over the site (maybe double that number), and a Barn Owl, my first of the year here; always nice to see. 

3 Sanderling

Turnstone and 2 Dunlin

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Wader dip number 2

My phone has been on the blink recently (it looses charge rapidly when I try and do anything with it). As a result, I've not been keeping on top of bird news or emails, and hence didn't find out about the Little Stint at Collingham yesterday until the evening, despite a call from Carl about it (I had my phone on silent, to save battery...), and an email from Robin Brace who found. Despite news suggesting it was still present this morning, there was no sign this evening. After the Spotted Redshank I missed last week, I'm just hoping that these birds will be recoverable in a couple of months time!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Birds and butterflies in the sun

Well, I had a lovely day today. I didn't see anything rare or particularly unusual; I just had a nice day pottering around in the sun, without any time constraints. I began at Collingham Pits - my first visit for several days - noting drake Shoveler, c.5 Gadwall and 3 Teal on Ferry Lane Lake, plus single Dunlin and Redshank.  Nearby, there were at least 107 Sand Martin holes in the New Workings at Northcroft Pond and a pair of Shelduck with just one duckling on the Silt Lagoon - it's not looking a good year for this species, with lots of females lacking young.

Garden Warbler 

Mons Pool held a further 33 Gadwall, another drake Shoveler, and a drake Wigeon, with a purring Turtle Dove on Northcorft Lane; still no sign of a second bird purring on Mons Pool island, as in previous year. I then debated whether to go elsewhere (I was thinking about Honey Buzzards at Welbeck), but decided to go to Meering. And lucky I did, as I added two new Patchwork Challenge year ticks - firstly, 2 Red-legged Partridges, and then a Peregrine; both expected, but nice to get them under my belt at last! 


More significant was a pair of Turtle Doves here, indicating that this stretch of the Trent between Langford and Girton continues to be a bit of a hotspot for this species (if a handful of pairs can be described as a hotspot...).

Pair of Turtle Doves

It was also nice to see at least 2 Yellow Wagtails feeding on the wetland area and heading north (in slightly different directions) with beakfuls of insects, but there was no sign of the Oystercatcher that was nesting here last visit. On the butterfly front, a patch of bird's-foot trefoil that was humming with bees held at 10-15 Common Blues and a Brown Argus.

Bird's-foot Trefoil at Meering
One of 92 Southern Marsh Orchids at Meering

After a very late lunch, I headed to Staunton Quary, failing to find any Grizzled Skippers (but hearing Marsh Tit); a quick look at a site nearby also didn't produce any skippers, although I did find a single egg.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Spotshank dip

A voicemail message I picked up tonight, kindly left earlier by Ken Lomas, alerted me to a Spotted Redshank at Collingham Pits on Ferry Lane Lake; however, time wasn't on my side, and I couldn't locate it. But it wasn't a completely fruitless visit - more on that another time though. 

Earlier (at work), I'd met some contractors on site to look at work for the Notts BAG Grizzled Skipper project, and saw 3 Grizzled Skippers in a new location at Flawborough, and 2 at Staunton Quarry. Better still, I found a total of 6 GS eggs (5 on one plant) in areas which were cleared of scrub on Flawborough Footpath last winter. There was also a smattering of Common Blues here, my first of the year. 

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Last Grizzleds of the season?

So, back to reality today; all was fairly quiet on the patch, with a Redshank on Ferry Lane Lake and a Hobby over Meering. Not many young birds around yet other than those belonging to the Greylag Geese.

This afternoon it was good butterflying weather, so inevitably I went out in search of Grizzled Skippers, parking at Kilvington Lakes and walking north along the disused railway line. I was surprised not to find any initially, despite the weather and lots of suitable habitat. However, it was very pleasing to find one in a new location a bit further north - but just the one; is their flight season over already?

Grizzled Skipper

 I saw several other butterfly species, including a pristine Brown Argus and two Small Heaths.

Brown Argus

Small Heath

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Scotland May 2013

With its swathes of quality habitat, spectacular scenery, exciting wildlife and top-notch birding, Speyside is as close to heaven as it gets for me – certainly in this country. It was therefore great to spend the best part of a week there with Miss Baugh and two of our friends, staying in Aviemore. Whilst not a birding trip, I did of course get plenty of birding in, including several early morning starts; is there anything better than being stood in old Caledonian forest with the dew glistening as the sun streams through trees, whilst listening to Crested Tits or a Capercaillie? Not in my opinion. Highlights as follows:

Capercaillie: I was aware of a bird next to a road somewhere in Abernethy Forest, and quickly found out where this was by grilling the first birder I met. I think every visiting birder this spring must’ve seen this bird (not great for this particular individual, but I guess at least it takes the pressure off at other sites), and was shown some crippling photos of it. However, I had two fruitless attempts, then hearing it distantly on the third, but it wasn’t until my fifth visit that I actually saw it. But it was worth it!


Black Grouse: just one bird seen at a traditional lek site near Abernethy Forest. Others heard nearby, although I’m not sure exactly where these were.

A distant Black Grouse

Ptarmigan: three seen close to the path on the walk from the Ptarmigan Cafe up to the summit of Cairngorm, with another visible looking north from the Ptarmigan Cafe.

A pair of Ptarmigan
Female Ptarmigan

Red Grouse: one seen on the hike up Cairngorm.

Looking towards Ben Macdui - there's a Snowy Owl out there somewhere...

Crested Tit: birds were seen and heard at Loch an Eilein, on the south-east side of Loch Gramhna, and at the Caper site.

Loch Gramhna

Crossbills: These seemed rather thin on the ground, and no-one else I spoke to had seen or heard one. However, my favoured spot in Abernethy (Tore Hill) came up with the goods, with birds overhead when I was barely 20 yards from the car. Once I’d found a decent viewing spot, and the birds had settled down, I had some satisfactory views of them feeding on cones in the Scots Pines – but views of what?! Several of them looked heavy-billed, others less so; surely the heavy-billed bird shown below (Crossbill 3) ain’t just a bog-standard crossbeak..? This was a bulky, bull-necked bird - unlike Crossbill 2 below, which had a smaller, more rounded head, and a less eye-catching bill.  I went back for a second look, this time with my RememBird, but only had one fleeting fly-over and failed to get a recording – so I guess I’ll never be sure. 

Crossbill 1

Crossbill 2

Crossbill 3

Osprey: seen almost daily over our accommodation in Aviemore.

Dotterel: I didn’t actually see this species, but heard one calling on our hike up Cairngorm, north of the Ptarmigan Cafe; other, scope-bearing, birders had managed to see two birds on this slope, but I wasn’t too upset having seen the birds at Gringley early in the month.

Ring Ouzel: one in the Findhorn Valley, just before the carpark at the end on a craggy outcrop.

Spot the Ring Ouzel

Slavonian Grebe: I failed to locate this bird on a small lochan near Aviemore, where another birder had seen them recently, so I travelled to Loch Ruthven, seeing 8 super-smart birds on the loch.

Slavonian Grebe

The rather lovely Loch Ruthven

Other nice bits and pieces included Redstart, Whinchat, Hooded Crow, Dipper, Woodcock, Spotted Flycatcher, and Grasshopper Warbler. It was also nice to hear plenty of Willow Warblers, Cuckoos, and see lots of Oystercatchers, and Lapwings (in places – the Highland Wildlife Park was particularly good for the latter!).

Dipper with chick food



The biggest dip of the week was Golden Eagle; with less than two hours available to me in Findhorn, this was always going to be a long shot, and so it proved to be. However, the absence of eagles was very almost made up for by meeting Roy Dennis in the carpark; a conservation legend, and what a nice chap. Another slight disappointment centred on the fact that the Snowy Owl on Cairngorm, last seen on 17th May (near the ski area) , wasn’t pinned down and my chosen guide was unavailable to take me looking for it.

An eagle-less Findhorn Valley

Aside from birds, we saw Red Squirrels, the inevitable Red and Roe Deer, and also enjoyed an evening at a hide (booked through Speyside Wildlife). We were told that Pine Martens were seen more often than not, but by 11.30 it was looking like this was going to be a ‘not’ night, as we’d only seen Badgers by then (nice, but not worth £18 a head!). But then up popped a beautiful little female Pine Marten, which fed for maybe fifteen minutes just yards from us – fantastic!

Red Squirrel

Pine Marten

Not surprisingly, it was a real bind to drag ourselves away from this brilliant place...