Friday, 20 April 2012

West Midlands Mega!

Thursday 19th April 2012

With the mini-influx of Black-winged Stilts  into our country at the end of last week (with single birds in Dorset, Lincs and Rutland), it was hopeful that one might rock up in the region at some stage. My money was on Staffs last weekend, particularly after the Rutland bird took flight last Friday evening, but alas it went the wrong way and ended up in Lincolnshire instead.

I was buried in reports at work yesterday afternoon when I picked up my phone and saw the following text from Martyn:

'Mega 2 BW Stilts Clayhangar...........'

I think my response went something along the lines of *#£**#**%£!!!

I tried to carry on working and remain calm, but got increasingly agitated when eventually the iPhone notifications started to arrive (sort it out Birdguides!). It wasn't looking good with me 2 buses away from home (through rush-hour Brum) and Martyn also trapped at work and with other commitments to attend to.

These were too good a bird to miss locally though, so I managed to slip away about 4.00pm. Despite this, nail-biting traffic jams ensued and Martyn was also stuck on the motorway. Would we dip? Of course Martyn had seen the Croxall bird in 1991, but this would be a significant regional tick for me. It's fair to say I was rather tense.

Thankfully the journey from Great Barr to Pelsall was a far more straightforward jaunt. Wellies were in order (expensive ones for the welly connoisseurs, of course) and a swift but muddy trudge and scrambling a couple of barbed wire fences in an effort to catch up with the crowd.

Thankfully we arrived in time for about 10 minutes worth of crippling views of this pair of Black-winged Stilts (first West Midlands county record) as they fed on the swag. They soon took flight and were lost to view, although they did return before nightfall - see Clayhangar Blog for full details of yesterday's events.

The crowd reassembled to scan the islands of the main pool to see if the birds could be relocated - they weren't. Oystercatcher, 2 Common Tern and 2 Goosander were present.

Above images appear courtesy of Mark Rayment

A most enjoyable twitch and great to see so many familiar faces.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Signage of Spring

Saturday 14th April

Early morning at Croxall GP, signs of migration were at last underway with stuff beginning to appear despite the almost constant northerlies we’ve been having. A single Common Tern and a female Wheatear were notable arrivals and there was a very visable passage of hirundines, with large numbers of Sand Martin pushing through north, joined by smaller numbers of Swallow.

Wader ‘action’ however, was fairly predictable with 6 Oystercatcher, 4 Little Ringed Plover, 1 Ringed Plover, 1 Snipe, a Curlew feeding in the field and a couple of Redshank.

A Short-eared Owl livened the morning up as it emerged up from the small pits by the river. 2 Little Egret here too.

The next part of the day I cannot talk about, for it involves trespass, scarcities and suppression....

H&S warning - in a stark 1970's stylee
These days of course, you don't have to worry about children falling into quarries or gravel pits or electocuting themselves on pylons as they're all too busy sat at home stuffing their arteries with saturated fats and numbing their brains with playstation games.

Most notably, the sightings from that part of the day included a Ruff (presumaby male) and 2 more Wheatear.

On to the more legitimate site of Blithfield (provided you have a permit of course).

There was a stonking adult male Redstart feeding along hedgerows below the dam. Also a total of 4 Wheatear - 3 in fields below the dam and a further bird at the Beechtree Point.

Ten Acre Bay contained some less hard-hitting safety advice than that observed earlier...

A warning that was duly ignored by 2 Oystercatcher, 2 Little Ringed Plover and a year tick of Common Sandpiper. Paused for some photos here.


Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Sheltering from the deluge in the Tad Bay hide we observed a large mass of hirunidines in the bay, including around 10 House Martin. Also of note here c20 Goldeneye, Shelduck and a Tree Sparrow.

Big news in the region on this day of course, was the Pallid Harrier that flew through Belvide observed by Steve Nuttal and a few others.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Easter Weekend Stuff

Had a trundle around Sutton Park on Good Friday morning, birding-lite. Main purpose really to get a bit of practice with my camera.

Herring, LBBG and BHG on Longmoor Pool
Herring Gulls (adult and 3rd cy) on Longmoor Pool

A Mipit in a tree - monster hind claw showing
Carrion Crow

Notable were 2 Common Buzzard, 3 Grey Wagtail, 4 Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, a Swallow over Powell's Pool and singing Blackcap and Chiffy.

Saturday I met up with Martyn for a Staffs Day, however not before we perused a couple of ghetto birding sites once again. I’ll not say much on this matter, as birding around derelict buildings and canals is not everyone's cup of tea. We were slighty surprised to see a female Blackcap in Buddelia in the Jewellery Quarter, but then even more surprised to find a Willow Warbler in subsong at the side of a Digbeth canal. Also noted a pair of Grey Wagtail.

Later in the morning we arrived at Radford Meadows, where the Common Crane showed well, but fairly distantly, providing me with a regional tick. Very occasional Cranes are recorded passing through the region, but a twitchable Crane in Staffs is a very good bird. This Crane arrived on 5th April and is presumably the same bird that was at Kingswood earlier that week. At the time of writing the bird is still present. Also here an elusive pair of Garganey that only provided one all too brief swim-past view and a Wheatear.

Staffordshire Crane - image courstey Martyn Yapp

Elusive Garganoids - image coutesy Martyn Yapp

The temptation of Ring Ouzel on Berry Hill was all too much and we were soon on the road to this Stoke-on-Trent migration hotspot. Two had been reported here this morning, but this remaining single male was more than enough. We enjoyed fine views although the bird was at one point needlessly flushed from its favoured slope by some pretty clueless birders who saw fit to walk through it. This is a great spot for migrating birds, however there was nothing else around of any note, everything else (including that mornings Wheatears) had apparently all passed through.

The day ended with a visit to Gailey Reservoir. Noted here 13 Swallows, 3 Oystercatcher, 1 Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Reed Bunting and 3 Little Grebe.

Easter Sunday and Monday I spent some time around south Warwickshire haunts Draycote Water and BrandonMarsh.

At Brandon Marsh, waders included 2 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Redshank, 4 Oystercatcher and 15+ Common Snipe. Hirundines were now in large numbers and these included 3 House Martin, c20 Swallow and larger numbers of Sand Martin.

A Willow Tit was noted and Blackcaps, Chiffys and Willow Warblers and Cetti’s Warbler could all be heard belting out song all around the reserve. There was also an early Reed Warbler in the Gorse Pool reedbed, which gave occasional subsong but did not show. Water Rail was also heard. 10 Common Gull were on the reserve on Sunday.

Willow Warbler - image courtesy Mark Rayment

Some Coot violence was witnessed from Carlton Hide, when a Coot tried to disturb a female on the nest. Her mate returned quick as a shot and proceeded to attempt to drown the infiltrator, grabbing it from from the back of it's neck. Facinating, but brutal bit of bird behaviour there.

Draycote, as it has done in previous years provided me with first sightings of Yellow Wagtail with single birds on Farnborough Bank on the 8th and one in Toft Bay on the 9th. 2 Little Ringed Plover and a lone female Goldeneye were also in Toft. The rainy stormy conditions produced 2 Arctic Terns in the middle of the res with around 200 Black-headed Gulls and 20 or so Common Gull. Also provided a thorough soaking to finish off the weekend with.

Great Crested Grebe

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Somerset & Gloucestershire

Saturday 1st April

Down to Somerset and Gloucestershire with fellow West Mids region bloggers Martyn and Richard. A few quality birds tempting us to make the journey down the M5.

First we visited the 2 Long-billed Dowitchers at Meare Heath on the Somerset Levels. We arrived around 8.00am and were instantly furnished us with very good scope views of the two Dowitchers (lifer 286). 

Image courtesy of Richard Powell -

The same lagoon also contained a Great White Egret, Bittern, 4 Ruff, 23 Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank. Spring migrants included a singing Willow Warbler and a Sedge Warbler was also heard. Blackcap & Chiffy firmly established just about everywhere now. Bitterns booming and Cetti’s belting out from the reedbed behind us. Not at all a bad way to start the day.

Next, Chew Valley Lake. The long-staying Spotted Sandpiper was being a bit of a pain, having just wandered into the far corner along with a Green Sandpiper and becoming totally hidden from view. We proceeded to the dam area where we watched a female Long-tailed Duck, as it associated with Tufted Ducks. Here also a Raven over and a Gypo Goose. Sand Martins were noted with around 10 here, and high above Herriot's Bridge a ball of seemigly hundreds of hirundines were in the air.

Back at Herriot’s Bridge the Spotted Sand still did not seem to be playing ball, but thankfully it soon flew from the far corner onto some rocky islands where at last decent scope views were obtained. The bird had some subtle spotting to it’s flanks.

LBBG at Chew Valley Lake

 The final portion of the day was spent in Gloucestershire. After a quick look for a Cattle Egret that we didn’t see at Lydney, we were all anxious to connect with the Bonaparte’s Gull at Newham, on the bank of the Severn. Although we had just missed the bird, it was only across the road feeding in a field with Black-headed Gulls and was commuting between the mudflat and it’s feeding field. We all had excellent and prolonged views of this diminutive gull, my personal favourite bird of the day. 

Bonaparte's Gull at Newnham, Glos
We finished off with a curry, such has become the tradition. Maybe I should introduce a ‘curry corner’ to this blog?

Urban Quest & Tame Valley

The day began with a little ghetto birding. No reason, nothing at all to see, well unless...

I will attempt a post soon about Black Redstart and why this is such an iconic bird for me, but for now please read Martyn Yapp’s mission statement. I would add that whilst some of the traditional sites have been smartened up beyond Black Redstarts taste, other areas are falling into disrepair and there is just so much suitable habitat within the West Midlands conurbation. The truth is out there...

Whitacre Heath, Warwickshire

From urban squalor on to rural Warwickshire in search of another scarce breeder. A single male Lesser spotted Woodpecker has been reported from Whitacre Heath NR, even in the last few weeks, alas not today. Noted were 15 or more singing Chiffchaff, a Willow Tit and both Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker.

Shustoke Reservoir

The fine drake Scaup was still in residence, today on the small fishing pool at the back, along with c60 Tufted Ducks and the odd Pochard.

Drake Scaup - image courtesy Kevin Groocock

Also of note at Shustoke, the first Swallow of the year, always a welcome moment of any birding year. Other signs of spring were evident, including 2 Great Crested Grebes locked in a weed dance and the now omnipresent singing Chiffys. A further 57 Great Crested Grebe were on the east side of the res. It was nice to meet Birding Medic Kevin Groocock

Nearby c20 Sand Martin were noted from Broomey Croft at Kingsbury WP.


Coton was a bit hard work really. Of note only a Redshank and 3 singing Blackcap.

Middleton RSPB

Finally, a trudge around Middleton RSPB. Trudge is probably the right word. A place with lots of potential and yet the RSPB don’t seem to have found the funds to quite finish off the ambitious project they began. Funny that, they don’t seem to struggle with finding money to build eyesores on the north Norfolk landscape...

A hide would actually be welcome here. But just a nice, solid, wooden one please, that can actually be used for birding.

Oh yes, birding - noted were 2 Oystercatcher, Little Ringed and Ringed Plover, 1 Goldeneye, 2 Redshank and 3 Hares.

Time to go home and prepare for a Sunday twitchathon.