Thursday, 20 July 2017

Mid Summer birding

The best things about mid Summer birding is the big screaming flocks of Swifts over Newark. They're always difficult to count, but the biggest count visible from my garden has been 55, in two groups. Love 'em!

Aside from another stint on car park duty at the Bee-eaters, my only other birding has been a few patch visits. There have been a few waders, most notably 5 Black-wits on 15th (with singles on 9th and another tonight), the first few Common Sands (2 on 14th and 2 tonight), several Green Sands, a high count of c.10 Oystercatchers (on 14th), and a juv LRP (not bred here). At least 220 Coot were across Ferry Lane Lake and Mons Pool on 14th.

On the breeding bird front, one of the two pairs of Great Crested Grebes on Mons Pool has managed to hatch a chick on the third time of trying (having been flooded out twice), whilst the second pair abandoned there nest for some reason (they were on their second try). The three remaining Kestrel chicks have fledged, and there are two Tufted Duck families around too (with a total of 10 ducklings). 

Wildfowl have also provided a little interest of late, with an eclipse drake Pintail last night bettered by a Garganey tonight, which appeared to be a juvenile rather than a female. Also present tonight was a brief juvenile Yellow-legged Gull which flew off shortly after I scanned onto it (amongst a group of LBBGs and BHGs, plus a single Common Gull). 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Bee-catchers and butterflies

It's always interesting when non-birding friends and colleagues ask me about a particular bird - "do you know about the Bee-eaters at East Leake?" (or Bee-catchers in one case!). Well yes, yes I do - I didn't act fast enough on the Sunday night (unlike some), but was down there first thing on Monday morning, eventually enjoying somewhat distant views at about 6.30am. Today was my first crack at seeing them again. First of all though, I had a four hour shift (6-10am) in the carpark, but this was rewarded with a fly-over by four of the Bee-eaters heading south, and then two returning north a bit later. Amazing really, to be stood in a field in south Notts and for that to be happening. I then wandered down to the viewing point and had very satisfactory views of two, then four birds perched up and hawking for insects (not that you'd think so from my pics). 


Back home, and whilst attacking some unruly shrubs in the garden, I became aware of a familiar call, but one I couldn't instantly place. A chunky passerine then appeared overhead, flashing large white wing patches, and the penny dropped - a Hawfinch! Quite what this was doing flying west over Newark in mid July, or where it had come from, I have no idea. 

Yesterday, and I had an enjoyable afternoon on the patch. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but the Lapwing bonanza at Mons Pool continues, with at least 12 young birds in 7 broods on Mons itself, or in the fallow fields to the west and north, ranging from a couple of days old to fully grown. Here too there were three cygnets with an adult Mute Swan (good as I though the nest had failed), a female Gadwall with 6 duckings (with another with 5 ducklings elsewhere). There were also signs that for some birds, summer was over, with 6 Green Sands and 9 Teal present.

The non-avian highlight of the week was a Purple Emperor in Cotgrave Forest. The origins of this species here are undoubtedly questionable, which slightly takes the shine off them for me, but still great little creatures to see, along with a bonus Silver-washed Fritillary and two Purple Hairstreaks. I also had a work visit to Freckland Wood near Newstead, which spports another species of dubious origin - Marbled Whites, at least 25, plus 100s (maybe 1000??) Ringlets - there was literally one every metre. 

Purple Emperor
Silver-washed Fritillary

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Settling in for the summer

It's fair to say that things have been a bit slow going on the patch over the last couple of weeks, with everything settled in for the breeding season. One species that isn't breeding is Turtle Dove; it's now the longest day, and I still haven't heard one, so I think it's safe to say that they're lost from the site, which is a real tragedy especially as there were three purring as recently as two summers ago. 

On a more positive note, Lapwings are having a good year, with three broods out and about (totalling 8 young), and at least a further three adults on nests; the fallow field north of Mons Pool has produced all of these. The first young Little Egret has also appeared. However, last year's success for Coots and Great Crested Grebes on Ferry Lane Lake hasn't been repeated, with just one young grebe visible tonight. A single Mute Swan cygnet is also present. Finally, there is a brood of 4 young Kestrels in a nestbox, and a Barn Owl is busy ferrying voles in the direction of Langford Lowfields. 

And I almost forgot the non-breeding highlight of tonight's patch visit - two 2cy Spoonbills! These flew south along the western side of Ferry Lane Lake just before 8, and are a nice addition to my patch list. These are undoubtedly the two that flew north over Langford on Monday; perhaps they've been on Mons Pool?

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Lizard

Our week in Cornwall at the end of May/start of June seems like a long time ago already. The Lizard is one of those places that every naturalist should visit, and I wasn’t disappointed. There is some fantastic heathland and maritime grassland habitat, and even as a non-botanist I spent some time searching out and identifying some of the peninsular special plants (including several which occur no-where else in Britain). A few pics of these below.

Coastal grassland
Broomrape sp.
Upright Clover
The Lizard Point
Goonhilly Downs
Wild Chives
Early Marsh Orchid (incarnata)
Trackway near Goonhilly Downs
A  nice little damp patch
Windmill Hill Farm
Marsh Fritillary habitat at Windmill Hill Farm
Windmill Hill Farm
Thyme Broomrape at Kynance
Prostrate Broom
Flowery turf at Kynance
Gone over Spring Squill
Spring Sandwort
Hairy Greenweed
Kynance Cove
Spotted Cat's-ear
Early Purple Orchid
Fringed Rupturewort
Western Clover
Long-headed Clover
Rough Clover
Caerthillian Cove
Hairy Bird's-foot Trefoil
Grassland at Caerthillian Cove - clover central
A pool near Goonhilly Downs
Lizard Downs
Church Cove
Ivy (?) Broomrape
Wild Clary

The birding was generally sedate, although the fact that we found ourselves in the most southerly part of mainland Britain at the end of spring wasn’t a co-incidence. I spent the week with my ears pricked for the sound of a Bee-eater or Serin overhead, but had to make do with a self-foundRed-footed Falcon - and a dodgy kite. The only other birds of note were 2 Chough (in flight at Lizard Point) and three Red Kites, plus several Cuckoos.

The only picture I could get of a Chough

Other wildlife included a couple of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries on the coast between Kynance and Caerthillian, and a Slow-worm at Windmill Hill Farm; the latter site also supports a Marsh Fritillary colony, but I couldn’t find any (not helped by sub-optimal weather).

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

The Lizard is one of only two places in the UK where the rock serpentine occurs (part of the reasons the area is so botanically-rich). The other place is Unst, where I’ll be in just over three months time! But before that, our next trip is to South Africa, which will be a bit different from Cornwall I’m sure...

Elegant Tern

I couldn’t twitch the Elegant Tern last weekend, as my parents were up visiting. Luckily, it has done the decent thing and hung around, so come Saturday morning I was out of the house by 3.20am and on the road. Arriving just after 7, the good news was the bird was still present, having been seen a bit earlier. After a bit of cooking in the morning sun, the Elegant Tern appeared in flight low over the tern island, before dropping back out of sight almost immediately; a few minutes later he was up again, had a bit of a fly around, and then landed on a muddy island in the main channel with some Sandwich Terns, where he then proceeded to do a bit of displaying – which didn’t go down well with some of the Sarnies! He then had another fly around before dropping back into his favoured spot on the tern island. Other birds included a Little Gull, Med Gulls, Little Terns and a Peregrine.

Elegant Tern

Leaving Pagham Harbour just before 9.30 (a bit later than I’d envisaged), I took advantage of being near the South Downs, and pulled in a couple of orchid sites on the way home. This was less successful than the tern twitch. At Chappett’s Copse in Hants, the Sword-leaved Helleborines were already well-over (as I thought they would be), as were the White Helleborines (which I’d thought may still be out). Furthermore, the Fly Orchids were also mainly over (although a couple still looked ok), and the Bird’s-nest Orchids also looked past their best, whilst the Broad-leaved Helleborines were yet to flower. Not good timing! However, this was only the second time I’ve seen Fly Orchid so it wasn’t a complete disaster, and SL and W Helleborines will go on my list as ‘non-flowering’...

Fly Orchid

On to St Catherine’s Hill in Winchester; a superb chalk grassland site – definitely one of my favourite habitats, beautiful and flowery and gently baking in the strong midday sun. Here I was having a half-arsed look for Musk Orchids. I know from experience that looking for small green orchids is difficult even when you know where exactly they should be (Frog Orchids in Notts), and it transpired that there was way too much south-facing downland for me to cover without better directions, so after a nice hour wandering around l gave up. This wasn’t a complete write-off though, with several Marbled Whites, and small numbers of Meadow Browns, Small Heaths, a couple of Common Blues and a Large Skipper (I was a bit surprised there weren’t more butterflies around, even if we’re in the ‘June gap’). 

St Catherine's Hill

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Fantastic falcon

I got up early this morning with the aim of hunting down the Kite I had yesterday evening. However, there was thick fog, and it remained that way until mid morning.Once it looked like clearing, we went up to Goonhilly Downs for a walk across the heath. This produced three Red Kites drifting south, but nothing more unusual...

After lunch, we made a visit to Windmill Hill CWT reserve just south of Ruan Major on the Lizard, to go and look for the Marsh Fritillaries. This was quickly aborted when a small falcon appeared out of the sun over head, swung round to the north, and then bombed off south. I had bins-views of it for a few seconds, realising it was a 1st summer male Red-footed FalconAfter yesterday's Kite, I knew I needed a photo of this one, so as it passed back overhead I fired off four shots on my bridge camera (which always struggles to pick up flying birds), before dashing back to the car for my scope. The bird was still off to the south when I returned a minute later, but it then flew east, gained height, and circled off into the distance.

Checking my photos, I was furious to see that they looked pretty useless. Lack of phone signal meant I couldn't put the news out anyway, so we sat and waited for an hour and a quarter to see if the bird would reappear, which it didn't. Arriving back at our rental cottage, I had a quick look at the pictures on my laptop, and was rather relieved to see that at least one of them was in fact vaguely passable as record shot! 

1st summer Red-footed Falcon

Postscript: The bird was subsequently seen later in the day at Kynance, just a short flight away for a falcon, by Ilya McClean (who I think patches locally).

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Kite fright

Having left the scorching Midlands on Friday, we find ourselves in Cornwall where temperatures are struggling to scrape 15C and today, after a morning at the Lizard (seeing my first English Choughs, plus some rare plants), the afternoon was a washout. So this evening I had a trip out to Goonhilly Downs to see what I could see or hear (Nightjar and Cuckoo, and some more rare plants, as it turned out).

However, my arrival was somewhat delayed as, leaving Mullion at just after 8, a raptor flew North across the road in front of me. It was a kite, looked dark, and lacked the gangliness of Red Kite, or so it appeared. I managed to do an emergency stop in a well-placed layby, and jumping out of the car, had tail-end views of the bird for 5-10 secs. With thoughts that it was going to be a young Red Kite, I noted it was uniform dark brown above, with a paler panel across the wing-coverts, and lacking any rufous on the tail, which had a minimal fork in it... The underwing looked good too, with a subtle paler panel on the primaries lacking significant contrast with the secondaries. Hmmm.

It then dropped out of sight, and I spent the next 40 minutes driving around and scanning from various vantage points, but couldn't relocate it. Feeling like I needed to articulate my frustration, I tweeted (perhaps risking being called a stringy b*stard!), which RBA promptly picked up and put the bird out as a 'probable'. It's going to be added to the 'one that got away' list, unless I manage to track it down again over the next four days. Although if I'd seen it on the continent I would've happily ticked it off...

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The week gone

The last week on the patch has been fairly uneventful. The waders have dried up (although the habitat at Mons pool hasn't - it's still looking good for a Sanderling or Temminck's Stint...), and the Turtle Doves haven't reappeared - yet (will they this year?). After Sunday's visit I took advantage of the good weather, and went looking for Grizzled Skippers around Kilvington Lakes and Flawborough Footpath, with some success. One spot, on the disused railway line running between the North and East Lakes at Kilvington held around 9 individuals, with small numbers elsewhere. I also encountered two Dingy Skippers on my travels; I think this is the only location in Notts where both Grizzled and Dingy Skipper fly together - at least naturally (i.e. they haven't been released). 

Grizzled Skipper

As I approached Kilvington in my car, I almost wrote off a large bird to the west as a gull. However, it soon became apparent that it was in fact an Osprey, cruising south. I sped round to the parking spot next to the viewing screen in anticipation of the bird flying past, but after a bit of scanning realised the bird was heading north now, being harassed by one of the local Buzzards, which was a bit of a shame.

Osprey (left...)

Yesterday (Monday) a site visit in the north of the county allowed me to return via Girton Pits to do my WeBS count. Best was of course the now-resident Cattle Egret, looking very smart and actually fairly close among the sheep next to North Pit. 

Cattle Egret at Girton Pits

Whilst there, news broke of what sounds rather like an Iberian Chiffchaff at Spalford Warren - just a stone's throw away. A quick call to county recorder Andy Hall for any further details (like where exactly it had been seen) revealed that the report actually related to a sighting from 3 weeks previous, and that the observer had been back recently and not found the bird. And with the only clue to the birds location being that it appeared to have been in a cherry tree, I decided to carry on with my WeBS... but I might go and have a look tomorrow (even though it's got to be a long shot now). See Very frustrating that this bird didn't decide to stop 2 miles short at Besthorpe or Collingham Pits!