Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Otmoor, Foxcote and a Suburban Surprise

Otmoor RSPB

Visited Oxfordshire over the weekend and spent a fair bit of time exploring Otmoor RSPB. A place with potential, however many species here could well be in trouble given the current low water levels, particularly if this warm dry spell continues.

Still a bit early in Spring for most migrants, however up to 10 Chiffchaffs were singing, a Little Ringed Plover was new in on Sunday and 4 Redshank were present. Also noted were 2 Little Egrets, Marsh Tit, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer and Great Spotted Woodpecker. A fairly predictable selection of dabbling ducks were present; alas scanning through these failed to produce a Garganey. There was no shortage of Red Kites, nonetheless always stunning birds to see. Up to 6 in the air with over 10 Buzzards at one stage on Sunday. Also Sparrowhawk and Kestrel.

However, the most impressive sight by far was the large numbers of amorous toads, including a ball of 20 or more toads locked in a mating frenzy in the ditch and also smaller groups getting jiggy just about anywhere and everywhere around the approach to the reserve.

Filthy dirty toads - image courtesy of Mark Rayment

Toad porn

 The feeding station offered some dude photo opportunities.



Foxcote Reservoir, Buckinghamshire

The second time I have visited Foxcote. I twitched my first ever Ring-necked Duck here in 2008...memories. The only Aythya present on Sunday however, were a number of Tufties, including a slightly dodgy, hybridy looking female and a few Pochard. I do like this place though and the hide affords good views of the reservoir.

Noted here: 6 Goldeneye, a solitary Oystercatcher, 2 Green Sandpiper, Common Gull, 6 LBBG, 1 1st-w GBBG, Green Woodpecker, 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Pied Wagtail and Bullfinch.

Wherever possible from now on, I will try to include hyperlinks to information on places I have visited.

Suburban Birding

This was the first thing I saw on Monday morning when I drew back the curtains.

To say I was surprised was an understatement, the gardens here in this part of Great Barr in Brum are completely cut off from any farmland and surrounded by roads. I rushed to fetch my camera, mainly to ensure I hadn’t gone mad. The Red-legged Partridge had scarpered down the garden upon seeing me, but then fed happily for the next 20 minutes or so, eventually wandering close enough for me to get a reasonable record shot through the window. Not a bad garden tick at all and a nice surprise to begin the working week.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Yellow-browed warbler in Worcester

Sunday 11th March 

Warndon, Worcestershire

The third time I've twitched suburbia in the last month. This time the bird on offer was a Yellow-browed Warbler, which was first reported Saturday morning. This would be a regional tick for me.

We got on to the bird quite quickly, as it was fly catching in silver birch in the ex-Worcs recorder’s garden. The Yellow-browed Warbler was then lost for about 30 minutes, but we were keen to get further views. It was eventually relocated along the cycle path, as it worked along the hedgerow very quickly.  A female Blackcap was also here.

At the time of writing the bird is still present. Well worth the trip into Worcs if you havent already been.

Next up, a spot of raptor watching at an elevated spot above the Wyre. Quite a bit of time was invested in this, but it was perhaps still a little chilly for anything really good. Birds noted up to 20 Buzzard, 3 Sparrowhawk and a Raven.

Trimpley Reservoir

It was now 1:00pm, not an ideal time of day to be looking for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. But it was worth a go. Or maybe not.

The usual Mandarins were on the river, providing a reliable but plastic year tick. At least 3 pairs were noted. Better were a party of 6 Goosander. I do love a nice sawbill.

Also noted 2 Marsh Tits and Nuthatch. Great (but no Lesser) Pecker calling. 7 Great Crested Grebes on the reservoir.

Also a sighting of this...

Severn Valley Railway - Image by Martyn Yapp

Upton Warren

Last stop of the day. I was a regular here at one time and cut my birding teeth here to some extent. I was therefore quite saddened really that it seems to be going through a bit of a dry patch and certain species have been lost to the reserve.

Only 4 Avocet were on The Flashes (apparently the earlier numbers had moved off quickly perhaps due to a lack of food). Also 3 Oystercatcher, 2 pairs of Bullfinch,  30 Fieldfare, 1 Redwing and a Treecreeper.  A first winter Herring Gull and 2 LBBG were on the Moors Pool. Many Reed Bunting and a GS Woody visited the feeders.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Ochruros meets Ochruros

Some regional birding was in order this weekend. One county simply won’t do for a number of West Midlands birders; hence ‘the region’ – the quad county area of Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire and the West Midlands as covered by West Midland Bird Club. These four landlocked counties can be hard work at times, but our region can also be very rewarding and holds some surprisingly diverse bird life.

Saturday 10th March – Staffordshire

Upper Longdon, Cannock Chase

A Staffs day with Martyn Yapp which began at Upper Longdon, a new part of The Chase to me. We located the Great Grey Shrike in the valley before long and followed it back up to its favourite stump where we got great views and some poor record shots.

This Shrike is one of two birds that have wintered in the county. There were also a good variety of other birds on offer – a male Stonechat, Crossbill and Redpoll over, Reed Bunting, a nice flock of around 30 Brambling feeding in the larch on the opposite side of the road, Siskin, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk.

Blithfield Reservoir

Here we joined forces with Richard Powell, who had just partaken in the Blithfield WeBS count.

It will not come as a great surprise to anyone to learn that I’m quite fond of Black Redstarts. Phoenicurus ochruros (hence the title of this blog) is my most favouritist bird and I was keen to get it on my year list.

The immature male Black Redstart (present since 17th December) was around the dam tower and it sang a little from here. It was a mobile bird and we feasted our eyes on the little beauty again around the sailing club. This pleased me greatly.

Well nothing else could really compete with that, but other birds noted here included a flock of c60 Wigeon in 10 acre Bay, 23 Cormorant, 5 Grey Heron on the sewage works, Grey Wagtail heard calling and a 1st winter Great Black-backed Gull.

1st winter GBBG - photo coutesy of Martyn Yapp

Branston Gravel Pits

On to Branston where a Staffs mini wader passage was occurring with 1 Knot, 4 Ruff, 5 Ringed Plover, 6 Green Sandpiper and 2 Redshank. Also here a pair of Pintail, an immature White-fronted Goose, 22 Golden Plover, 19 Curlew, 1 Little Egret, Shelduck and Little Grebe. We also encountered a number of other birders here (unusual for a Staffs GP).

Wader action in Staffs - image coutesy of Richard Powell

Croxall GP

Another Gravel Pit, which can be very good at times, but sadly very quiet today. The only birds of note were c15 Goldeneye, 3 Oystercatcher, 7 Redshank and a single Snipe.

On the way home we quickly checked the field at Whitemoor Haye. The most interesting thing seen here were people trying to land flying machines in windy conditions and making a right pigs ear of it. Not many birds of note apart from a feeding Mute Swan herd, c60 Golden Plover and 2 Fieldfare.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Catch Up Post #1 - Hants and Dorset Weekend

Sat 25th February

Calshot, Hampshire

Today was to be a day of filthy dirty twitching and it began here in this Hampshire suburb. News of the Spanish Sparrow first broke on 9th January, however a small number of hybrid sparrows residing in the area prove the bird has clearly already enjoyed at least one breeding season here.

Seeing this bird is not difficult at all, provided you look at the right time of day (the bird usually shows first thing and then mid-afternoon). Arriving on site early we had the bird showing very well at close range within a few minutes.

 Spanish sparrow - lifer no 282

However that there was some evidence that the locals were beginning to find birders a little tiresome...

Hawkhill Inclosure

Sparrow sorted before breakfast; next stop was just a few miles away for the Dark-eyed Junco in the New Forest.

Unfortunately this bird was not nearly as accommodating as the Sparrow and a lengthy wait ensued. Common Crossbills showed well in bare trees. Siskin, Coal Tit and Goldcrest were noted, Great Spot drummed, Green Woody called, a couple of Buzzards thermalled, an endless stream of Reed Bunting and Chaffinch visited the feeding station, a tumbleweed drifted across  the scene, but Junco still not come. 

Because of the sporadic nature of this Junco’s previous appearances I was fast losing faith that it would show. Around 12 Dartford Warblers nearby provided a welcome change of scenery and a year tick. A couple of Stonechat were also present in the gorse.

The Dark-eyed Junco did eventually appear after 2.00pm, frustratingly at first feeding in the undergrowth, but eventually revealling itself properly on it's favoured log (lifer 283).

Following Junco viewing we went back for seconds on the Sparrow which showed once again and could be seen and heard belting out Spanish chirpings from deep within the hedge, although this was sadly no good for further photographs. At least one of the male sparrow hybrids was also noted.

Sunday 26th February

Portland Harbour

A scan of the harbour water revealed an impressive 10 or so Black-necked Grebes, 1 Slavonian Grebe, Great-crested Grebe and around 20 Red-breasted Merganser. Could not see a Red-necked Grebe which had been previously reported.

Following this, there was a visit to Portland Bird Observatory, which was quiet on the bird front but it was great to meet the warden and check out the place as I will be staying here soon. Great bookshop here too.

Radipole RSPB

The main target bird was Glossy Ibis, which I’m embarrassed to say was still missing from my list. As part of the recent influx, one had been knocking around here but had been elusive and continued to be elusive (i.e. invisible) throughout our visit, despite some sustained watching from the North Hide.

This is a great little reserve to visit though, although being so central to Weymouth it can be rather busy with non-birding folk and general dudeyness. Nonetheless birds noted here included 2 Iceland Gulls (1st & 2nd winter), 6 Med Gulls, 2 Stonechat, Little Egret, Marsh Harrier, 2 Kingfisher excavating a nest hole, Cetti’s warbler, Water Rail, c20 Snipe and Sparrowhawk.

 Iceland Gull

Tufted Duck, often overlooked, were very obliging in some nice sunlight...

Swineham GP

Another chance of Glossy Ibis here and this bird was on show immediately from the private road. Tart out of the way - lifer 284. I  have to admit I enjoyed watching this bird far more than I’d anticipated. Iridescent sheen showed up well in the afternoon sun, not that this is at all evident in my photo...

Notice the Glossy Ibis was wearing bling – a cream coloured ring reading 3T7, indicating that it was ringed in Donana and spent some time in Devon before coming to Dorset.

A most enjoyable three tick weekend.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Tripping and Dipping in North Wales

Here goes...

Saturday 3rd March, 2012
A day out birding North Wales with Martyn and Richard.

Morfa Nefyn

The plan for the day had been based around a couple of potential ticks for some of the crew, one of these being Surf Scoter, our target bird in this location.

After a 4.45am start and a cookie-fuelled journey we arrived here around 8.00am. The wintering female Surf Scoter was nowhere to be seen, despite a thorough scanning of the bay. In fact, there were no sea duck present at all, which was a worrying sign.

Gannet, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and Shag were all readily available in the bay; seabirds a welcome sight for tired midland eyes. Also present here were Rock Pipit and Raven.

Time to cut our losses and move on.


The whole trip had been a bit of a risk in the twitching stakes as there had been no news on either bird. We were now on the look out for our second target, an immature Rose-Coloured Starling that had been reported earlier in the week, but not for a few days now. Thankfully, the risk payed off this time as Rose-Coloured Starling was easily located amongst a small Starling flock a top a local house.

This was a very scruffy-looking bird undergoing moult, but nonetheless a very welcome addition to my life list (lifer 285).

Rose-Coloured Starling, Holyhead
Image courtesy of Martyn Yapp

Around the harbour we saw Guillemot, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, but disappointingly no Black Guillemot on this occasion.

South Stack RSPB

Although the seabird colony is by no means back in full swing, it was pleasing to see a considerable number of Guillemots taking up their places on the ledges, with a smaller number of Razorbills and Fulmar also present. Much too early for puffin yet. 

 Not suitable for faint-hearted RSPB members

 Guilles on ledges

We were pleased to connect with a fine pair of Chough on the roadside fields and also in the way of corvids a few Raven were about.

The plan had been to bird Anglesey for the rest of the day guided by Martyn, who has a seasoned knowledge of the area, however before we decided our next move, he received a pager message which changed our course of action...

Llandulas, Colwyn Bay, Conway

...Three drake Surf Scoter reported here this morning. Still needed by myself and Richard and kind of on the way back to the midlands, so here we were.

Well thousands of Scoter were also in the bay here. We gave it a hell of a good go, but to no avail with the vast majority of them staying extremely distant and gradually disappearing further out to sea.

The bay also held 30 plus Red-throated Diver, c20 Red-breasted Merganser and many Great crested Grebe.

After a couple of hours of staring at black dots, a gull roost forming in the bay late afternoon provided a welcome distraction. This contained two adult Med Gulls and an albino Common Gull. A quick Google took me to these two Welsh Forum links, which indicate this very interesting looking bird has been knocking around since at least 2007:

Really enjoyed the day, despite the lack of Surf Scoter.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Back once again.....Welcome to Eye of Ochruros

After a long hiatus and some gentle persuasion, I have at last decided to return to the blogging fold. It’s something I’ve been toying with for quite some time, but I wanted to make sure the time was right.

At the turn of the year, I decided it was high time to push my life list up a bit (towards the 300 notch) and generally get out and about a bit more. So I’ve been putting this into action, with a bit of filthy dirty twitching (Yellowthroat in South Wales, Spanish Sparrow etc) and some trips away (Norfolk and Hants/Dorset). My recent adventures have furnished me with plenty of ‘material’ to get this new blog rolling, so I will aim to bring this up to date over the next week or two.

I will be getting about the mighty West Midland Bird Club Region (West Mids, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire and have some exciting trips away planned (Portland in May). No doubt there will also be a few more twitches within a reasonably specified distance.

I bird because it makes me happy to be outdoors connecting with nature, I am always learning about birds and also because it’s great fun. This is often due to the people as well as the birds. I do not take myself too seriously, like to have a laugh and have met some fantastic friends through birding.

I hope you enjoy reading Eye of Ochruros.