April 2017 - Birding & Wildlife Overview

A month with plenty of birding adventures starting at my local reserve WWT Brandon Marsh.

51 species were seen with the notables of Cetti's Warbler, Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Greenfinch, Jay, Kestrel, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Peregrine, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Sand Martin, Snipe and Water Rail. Seeing a Peregrine is always a thrill and as it made its way through the reserve, everything within the area made for a quick and opposite direction!


A weekend in Dorset is always a good place for early migrants with Christchurch Harbour and Hengistbury Head a good starting habitat for looking for wildlife. Plenty of the usual birds were seen and the sound of Greenfinch were everywhere within the area. Stonechat were aplenty sitting high upon the gorse, there were at least three couples.

The following day was spent at RSPB Arne, my favourite reserve in Dorset, here the total species was 54 , highlights were Bar and Black Tailed Godwit, Brent Goose, Dartford Warbler, Little Egret, Sandwich Tern, Skylark, Stonechat, Swallow, Wheatear and Wigeon. As I always do when at Arne, I spent a great time in the car park area searching for my elussive bird the " Firecrest". Yes as usual, no sightings!

The following weekend I was out with my birding buddies, again up early and in Cambridgeshire for 07:00am and arriving at Paxton Pits Reserve to the sound of superb birdsong.

Within 10 minutes our target bird was heard singing its most beautiful song. The Nightingale is still one of natures most charismatic birds and always a great bird to see in the U.K.


Record shot of distant Nightingale deep within the tree

Here we also saw 51 species, Common Tern, Swallow, Sand Martin, Blackcap and Little Egret being the notables.

Following a morning trying to get a photograph of the Nightingale we left and travelled to Harrington Airfield for a completely different birding habitat. This airfield is an old world war 2 Airfield, which later became a cold war Airfield that stored nuclear missiles back in the 80's!  Notables species seen where Red Kite, Skylark, Swallow, Wheatear and Yellowhammer.

My next days birding was another trip with the Coventry and Warwickshire Local RSPB Group, this time to the premier reserve of RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk. Along with RSPB Arne this is one of my favourite reserves in England. The days total species was an brilliant 76. In addition to the birds, we were treated to views of an Otter feeding within a pool which was no more than 100 metres from the hide we were in.

Of note were Avocet, Barnacle Goose, Bar and Black Tailed Godwit, Garganey, Grey Partridge, House Martin, Kittiwake, Lesser Whitethroat, Mandarin Duck, Marsh Harrier, Mediterranean Gull, Peregrine, Red Legged Partridge, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Sand Martin, Sandwich tern, Sedge Warbler, Stonechat, Wheatear, Whitethroat. The day ended with half an hour scanning for Stone Curlew, two birds were eventually seen, however we were not expecting to see three Whimbrel too! a superb day with our local group.



My last weekend was again spent in North Devon which included my first MARINElife trip to Lundy Island as Wildlife Officer aboard MS Oldenburg. These trips are always full of adventure for many of the passengers that have never experienced the Island of Lundy.

Arriving at the quay early on Saturday morning, I collected my ticket and joined the passengers waiting to board MS Oldenburg. Here I bumped in to Simon Dell MBE who was on board to do a guided tour of Lundy for many of the visitors. Simon and I are so passionate about what I call "Our Island".



During the crossing the birds seen were Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Guillemot, Razorbill, Herring Gull and Swallow.

Once on the Island, I made my way to the Millcombe area to look for migrants, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were all seen. From here, I made my way up and on towards the central track that goes through the middle of the Island.

My destination was Jenny's Cove, so called after the ship wreck of "The Jenny" which was wrecked here with a cargo of Whiskey, sadly none of the said cargo has been seen in many a year. However this area is a haven for sea birds that include Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar, Kittiwake and of course the bird that gives the Island it's name the "Puffin" Lundy is Norse for Puffin.

On the voyage back to Bideford many Manx Shearwater and Gannet were observed, sadly we didn't see a cetaceans this trip.
March 2017 - Birding & Wildlife Overview

The first weekend of March was spent in the great company of my two birding buddies Steve and Gary, up and on our way before it was light we travelled to the Forest of Dean in search of Hawfinch, Goshawk and wild Boar.

Upon arriving we were not alone, as there were quite a few fellow birders scanning the area for these stocky birds.

Our first was seen high in a tall Scots Pine far too high for a record photograph! We stayed for some time hoping that it would decend to to the ground to feed, alas, it didn't. Word from the locals suggested we try a wooded area near a church that could be seen from where we were.

We arrived just as the rain started, then Hawkeye Hobbs caught sight of a raptor high in the distance, an almighty shout was heard as Gary spotted a Goshawk. Tick two of the day for the species we had set out to see. A second Hawfinch made an appearance, again it too was very high in the trees surrounding the church's cemetry.

Returning to our original location we were on the lookout for Hawfinch again, sadly no others were spotted, however as we chatted to a local, he informed us of a Great Grey Shrike in a near woodland and he also gave us directions that turned out to be spot on. As we arrived, it happened again, Hawkeye had it first and we all enjoyed views through his scope.

Leaving here we made our way to a Woodland Trust site called "Fancy View" on route we passed several pools, one of which had a least 30 Manderin Duck rafting on the water. The site over looks a valley which is heavily covered in trees. In the distance more Goshawks were seen. A total of 47 bird species were recorded that day with three very special ones indeed. Evidence was everywhere that wild Boar where in the area, however, none of us were lucky enough to see any!



The 12th of March, I had my first Sand Martin of the year at Brandon Marsh, my local reserve, plus 54 other species during my visit, migration time had started.

On the third weekend of March we had our first trip this year to North Devon which gave me an opportunity to drop by at Fremingtom Pill an inlet off the River Taw Estuary. What an experience it was too with 7 Cattle Egret, 8 Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Greenshank, Kingfisher, Shelduck, Black-Tailed Godwits, Grey Wagtail, hundreds of Redshank and my first Swallow of the year.


 
 
The month ended with a trip with the Coventry and Warwickshire Local RSPB Group to Potteric Nature Reserve, which is part of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. 

As usual, I was in the company of my two birding buddies as well as a few regulars that I know from Brandon Marsh and previous trips. Highlights were Bittern, Black Necked Grebe, Cetti's Warbler, Marsh Harrier and Mediterranean Gull. 
February 2017 Overview

The month started with a Great White Egret and a nice year tick whilst out in Northamptonshire, whilst stopping at Pitsford Reservoir to eat my lunch, I could clearly see this huge Heron from my parking spot.

Garden birds numbers totalled 29 with the following seen either in or going over.

  

Blackbird, Black Headed Gull, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Dunnock, Fieldfare, Goldfinch, Great Black Backed Gull, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Green Woodpecker, Greenfinch, House Sparrow, Kestrel, Lesser Black backed Gull, Long Tailed Tit, Magpie, Pied Wagtail, Robin, Siskin, Song Thrush, Starling, Woodpigeon and Wren.


A trip out to Napton Reservoir hopefully for a year tick of Bearded Tit was disappointing, as the wind was quite strong and therefore any chance of seeing these beautiful birds was very slim, sadly none showed. However, the afternoon was not a complete waste of time as I ticked my first Red Kite of the year, as it gracefully soured over my head towards Southam.

The third week of February I went over to Ireland for a family weekend, instead of flying I booked the ferry from Liverpool with the intention of sea watching along the way. Thanks to storm Doris, the ferry was stuck in port until it passed over! When it finally left the Mersey estuary, the wind had dropped significantly and the expected rough journey was not too bad.

Balbriggan and Skerries provided a good place for a little sea watching, here the birds of note were Black Guillemot, Black Throated Diver, Brent Goose, Common Gull, Common Scoter, Curlew, Dunlin, Eider, Fulmar, Gannet, Guillemot, Hooded Crow, Purple Sandpiper, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Rock Pipit, Shag, Turnstone, Sanderling and the highlight was Iceland Gull, which is a lifer for me. 

 
 
Unfortunately I did not get a photo of the Gull as two over excited young lads on their BMX’s raced past and put all the gulls up, it was never seen again! Other common birds were seen, with the final count being 36.

2nd of December 2016 - Napton Reservoir

It's been quite a while since my last blog due to many reasons, work and laptop issues being the main ones!

Having seen a few reports of Bearded Tit at Napton Reservoir I decided it was time to visit this small reservoir.

As I arrived, a Kingfisher was perched by the bridge that separates the two bodies of water.  Eager to get a photo, I slowly moved towards the bird and raised my camera, looking through the viewfinder I couldn't see it, gone, in the blink of an eye. The joys of trying to photograph birds!

With a few mutterings using Anglo Saxon adjectives to myself I headed towards the far side of the reservoir where I met three birders, two it turned out, I follow on Twitter.

Almost immediately we had sight of six Bearded Tits. These birds really are quite stunning, both the males and females blended in to their surrounding habitat of reed beds and their colours were stunning.

I managed a few record shots from the bank.




 
September 2016 - North Devon - Crow Point, Braunton Burrows and Fremington Pill.

As usual when in Devon, a birding day around Braunton Burrows and Crow Point is a must! I always drive around this area with my binoculars on the dashboard of the car and today paid dividend.

Recent reports of a Wryneck had me heading straight towards the Burrows, upon paying to go through the toll, I was flagged down by a fellow birder as he saw the bins on my dashboard and stopped to let me know that the Wryneck was showing well and where to look for it.

As I walked along the dyke towards the fisherman's huts I met up with two gentleman who quickly had me on to the bird. It was very flighty and came in reasonably close then off it went, then in close again!


Record shots of Wryneck
When the rain is heavy, the surrounding fields flood and quickly fill up, therefore this water needs to drain away. The dyke has a tunnel that lets all the flooded fields water escape in to the Taw estuary, however today we saw that a big hole had appeared near it, since then, I have found out that the dyke is now closed to the public as the whole bank has been rendered unsafe and will at some point collapse? This really is a shame as the walk along the dyke over the years has produced some brilliant birds.

Leaving after this superb tick I made my way to the humpback bridge near Braunton to look for the resident pair of Dippers. The rain had started and as birds do, these two were off up and down the river giving no opportunities of photographs, always great to see Dippers, however they were also in the company of Grey Wagtail and Kingfisher showing off their wonderful plumage.  

Before leaving, a walk along to Tarka Trail to view Wrafton Pond gave up three Spoonbills along with the usual wildfoul.

Next stop was Fremington Pill which leads to Fremington Quay. Parking up, I was soon on to a Glossy Ibis which was in the company of a Little Egret. Over 300 Redshank were busy on the mudflats and amongst them were Greenshank and a first for Britian, Lesser Yellowlegs!

Glossy Ibis


Record of the stunning Lesser Yellowlegs






A great days birding in one of my favourite parts of Britian.
Devon Birding Weekend - 18th to 20th of August 2016.
 
Thursday the 18th of August.

An early start to pick up my two birding buddies Gary Hobbs and Steve Nikols from Nuneaton and then travel to the Somerset levels and our first destination, the RSPB Ham Wall Reserve one of many locations we visited over the weekend.

The weather was very cloudy as we began our route, however upon arriving at the Reserve we were soon baking under a very hot sun.

This was my first visit to Ham Wall, a small reserve but the species seen was very notable, these included, Glossy Ibis, Bittern, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Black Tailed Godwit, Snipe, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Kingfisher, Curlew, Green and Common Sandpiper, Ruff, Swift, Swallow, Lesser and Common Whitethroat, plus many of the usual birds you would expect to see on such a reserve.

Before leaving for North Devon, we settled down to a picnic lunch generously provided by Gary who excelled with a superb pasta meal which got him nominated as master chef for the next weekend away! We left Somerset and made our way west, ensuring that we would make high tide at Northam Burrows before moving on to our  B & B. Our timing was perfect as we arrived an hour before high tide which gave us superb views of the incoming tide and with it, many birds.

The day was topped off with Fish and Chips at Westwood Ho! and a few beers at the B & B.
 
Friday the 19th of August.

After a great full English breakfast we set off from Appledore to Hartland Point for some sea watching and hopefully Butterflies, Cetaceans and Seals. The weather had by now changed to intermittent rain and strong winds. Upon arriving we explored the bay area, here a total of 5 Grey Seals we observed just a few metres off shore. A pair of Raven had the gulls up and circling the cliffs. Out at sea were Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Great Black Backed, Lesser Black Backed, Black headed and Herring Gull, Kittiwake concluded the birds seen here.
Gannet
 Whilst scanning the sea from the Coast Guard Station area a single Bottlenose Dolphin was spotted about half a kilometre out, it was accompanied by several Gannet overhead no doubt chasing the same fish?

Later in the morning Butterflies were also seen as the weather changed to sunny spells, Wall, Specked Wood, Peacock, Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Whites and Painted Lady all made brief passes by our sheltered position on an old wall.

Our next location was Marsland Nature Reserve managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust. The road leading down to the centre was challenging, but we made it and found a place to park. Steve is very much in to Butterflies, therefore spending a few hours here was on our agenda. This reserve is known for its two rare Butterflies, the Pearl-bordered Fritillary and the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary as we got out of the car both species were seen within minutes, tick-tick!

We left after several hours and travelled to Fremington Quay a disused station from the days of steam for an hour viewing the inlet and estuary. Many Redshank, Curlew and Little Egret were the notable birds.

Our last stop of the day was RSPB Isley Marsh, parking at Yelland Quay we took a circular walk along the Tarka Trail, on to the Marsh foot path and around to Instow and back.

Birds of note here were, Grey Heron, Little Egret (33) Osprey, Curlew, Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, Common and Green Sandpiper, the usual Gulls, plus Kittiwake and Mediterranean Gull. Three species of Tern passed by, Common, Black and Sandwich. A Kingfisher flew at great speed past our viewing spot and we were treated to a huge feeding frenzy of Swallows and House Martins over the water. As we made our way back along the Tarka Trail, Buzzard and Raven were high over the surrounding fields and Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Linnet were also spotted.

The first time I visited the Taw estuary there were really good numbers of Shelduck, all along the estuary and the Fremington inlet. Not one single bird was seen which is worrying?
 
Saturday the 20th of August.

Today we were booked to go over to Lundy Island aboard MS Oldenburg, this weekend was one of my MARINElife wildlife officer trips, sadly the poor weather meant that the sea crossing was cancelled! This day has since been called an “Extreme Birding Day” due to the weather and what was found at the end of the day.

Plan B was implemented, a trip across the estuary to Morte Point for some high sea watching. As we made our way up past the church at Morthoe the wind became increasingly stronger, arriving at the highest point, we could hardly stand up! Not a good start to our day as we left after only twenty minutes. A brief stop at the Esplanade at Woolacombe gave views of the resident Stonechats, plus a few Gannet and Oystercatcher passing through.

Next stop was Braunton Burrows and Crow Point. This area is always good for seeing something out of the ordinary and today didn’t disappoint. Firstly we stopped at the weir on the river Caen to look for Dipper, the resident pair were viewed at reasonable distance, however taking photos was not easy as the rain was pouring down! We managed record shots and then moved on to the Burrows and then along the toll road the Crow Point. Notables were Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Curlew, Kingfisher, plus the usual common bird species.
Dipper taken in torrential rain
 
Curlew Sandpiper with Dunlin a distant record
 After a morning and afternoon of severe bad weather we decided to call it a day and head back to the B & B and then out for an Indian meal.  I suggested a slight detour to Northam Burrows for half an hour and then head back. We all agreed and as we arrived the high tide was making its way towards the sandbanks. The weather was still poor with rain and high winds, so we thought a quick look around and then leave.

Steve pointed to a large black and white bird in the distance which as slowly coming closer as the tide came in. Scopes out and on to the bird “Pomarine Skua!  What a great surprise and not expected, however due to the severe weather over the last few days, who knows what may have turned up. A local birder turned up and we soon had him on to it too, a couple of phone calls to his mates and there was soon a convoy of cars, headlights shining and heading our way along the Burrows. We tried to get record shots, however the light was gone and the wind got even stronger!
 
 
Distant and poor weather record shots
 The night out at the local Indian restaurant was abandoned and a take away was ordered as we all looked for decent record shots to send to the local bird recorder. What a fantastic end to a day of extreme weather.

Sunday the 21st of August.

We started the day with another few hours at Northam Burrows before leaving for Exeter in the hope that the Pomarine Skua was still around, as today’s weather had improved and the sun was shining. No luck, however some of the birders we spoke to the night before said it had been seen a dawn. Birds of note were Dunlin, Curlew, Ring Plover, Oystercatcher, Linnet and Wheatear.

Our next location was in the Dawlish area of South Devon looking for Cirl Bunting. Sadly we didn’t see any, we therefore moved on to the RSPB Bowling Green Marsh Reserve. Here we saw 23 species of bird, which included Ruff, Curlew, Black Tailed Godwit, Shelduck, Common and Green Sandpiper. Reports of a Wryneck had us all scanning the trees, however this didn’t show and we left to start the journey back to the Midlands.
 
Another superb weekend with good friends who share a common passion for Birds and wildlife. Our weekend total number of bird species was 113; this was an increase from last year’s trip of 108.

I now look forward to my penultimate Lundy trip in September and I hope the weather stays fine for it, plus plenty more birding trips with Steve and Gary.

Twitter links for more reports and photos.

@nuneatonbirder  (Gary Hobbs)

@nikols_steve  (Steve Nikols)
Saturday the 30th & Sunday the 31st of July 2016 - North Devon



This month’s Wildlife Officer Trip to Lundy Island also began in Ilfracombe, the sun was shining and the crew of MS Oldenburg were soon welcoming the many passengers on board. With me this trip was Ruby, my fiancĂ©e who like me, was looking forward to another excellent trip. Before boarding a young lady, Emma and her husband who have recently attended a MARINELife training day run by MARINELife’s, introduced herself and we chatted in the queue for the ship. Emma is planning to volunteer to do some surveys at some point this year. We also discussed the role of wildlife Officer and I explained what was involved.


After a brief chat on the bridge with Jason the ship’s captain and Vernon the first mate, I began my tour around the upper and aft deck introducing myself to as many interested passengers that I could. Within 10 minutes of leaving Ilfracombe a single Harbour Porpoise made a few passengers run to the port side to catch a glimpse of this small cetacean.


The first birds of note were Gannet, followed by Fulmar and Manx Shearwater. All three species were seen within a mile of the harbour. We soon had sightings of Kittiwake, Herring Gull; Lesser Black backed Gull and a single Great Black Backed Gull.


As the MS Oldenburg approached the Lundy landing bay the first of six Grey Seals was seen. Our afternoon was spent in the wooded area around Milcombe house looking for birds of note, here a Spotted Flycatcher showed itself. Stopping for lunch on the eastern side of the Island, we conducted an hour of sea watching. 

  Looking down to the sea there were many Razorbill, Guillemot, Gannet and the usual Gulls. Numerous Goldfinches were seen, which are now a true success story as they are breeding well throughout the UK. In the surrounding area the gorgeous sound of Skylark was heard and I watched many fly very high continuing their song. Linnet, Meadow Pipit and both adult and juvenile Wheatear were plentiful too.

Juvenile Wheatear
 During our decent towards the landing bay we stopped off to watch a very large shoal of Mullet that were very close to the rocks to the left of the beach. As we expected, a playful Grey Seal soon appeared to start moving through them, it didn’t take any of the fish, which suggests it was already full from an earlier


During the return sailing two separate pods of Common Dolphin thrilled everyone on board. Firstly a pod of 12 individuals, then within 10 minutes 3 more were breaching within 500 metres of the ship.
 
Distant Common Dolphin

 For me, volunteering as a MARINELife Wildlife Officer is always a great privilege as we get to meet some wonderful likeminded people interested in Cetaceans and Birds, however, when you point out Porpoise or Dolphin to passengers that have never seen a cetacean before, it is always a thrill for both them and me!


We arrived in Ilfracombe harbour where the day’s trip concluded, I thanked Jason the captain and his crew for another successful day on behalf of MARINElife and I look forward to my next Lundy Wildlife Officer trip in August.

Birds seen on our trip included, Manx Shearwater, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Lesser and Great Black Backed Gull,, Gannett, Guillemot, Razorbill, Shag, Gannet, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Starling, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, House Sparrow, Wood Pigeon, Swallow, Linnet, Oystercatcher, Skylark, Goldfinchtail, Cormorant, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Wagtail and Cormorant.

Sunday was spent picnicing at Northam Burrows in Appledore a superb open area for watching birds as the tide turns, as it does it brings in many species of feeding birds. Here the birds of note were, Black Tailed Godwit, Littel Egret, Dunlin, Ruff, Oystercatcher, Curlew,Ring Plover, Turnstone, Peregrine, Stonechat, Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Starling, Goldfinch and Linnet.


Saturday the 18th of June 2016 - MARINElife Wildlife Officer Trip to Lundy Island.

This months trip began in Ilfracombe, the morning started cloudy but as we made our way towards Lundy the weather brightened up and soon the sun was shining.

The crew of MS Oldenburg were soon welcoming the many passengers on board. This voyage to Lundy had additional people that were going to the island for a four day MARINELife experience. Two of the party were the organiser Rick Morris and MARINELife’s Patron Maya Plass. 


After a brief chat on the bridge with Jason the ship’s captain, I began my tour around the upper and lower decks introducing myself to as many interested passengers that I could. As usual the conversations were positive and it’s always great to hear other likeminded people’s wildlife experiences.

As the ship left Ilfracombe harbour, the first birds of note were Gannet, followed by Fulmar and Manx Shearwater. All three species were seen within a mile of the harbour. We soon had many Kittiwake, Herring Gull; Lesser Black backed Gull and a few distant Great Black Backed Gull.


As the Oldenburg approached the Lundy landing bay the first of three Grey Seal was seen bobbing effortlessly. My afternoon was spent at Jenny’s Cove scanning the nesting birds, here there was good numbers of Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake.

Before the crossing back to Ilfracombe Rat Island provided a further Grey Seal.


  During the return sailing six rafting Puffin were seen off the port side, much to many peoples delight.   


We arrived in Ilfracombe harbour where the day’s trip concluded, I thanked Jason the captain and his crew for another successful day on behalf of MARINElife and I look forward to my next Lundy Wildlife Officer trip in July.