Sunday, 28 February 2010

Stormy Weather?

Saturday 27th February.

A little bit of forward-planning was done this morning. It involved buying a new pair of walking boots in Hanley, in readiness for the onslaught (I hope!) of spring.

I took the trouble of driving past the entrance of the Potteries Museum on the way. There was an unbelievably long queue of people waiting to get in. All of them to see, of course, The Staffordshire Hoard. I'm really not a history expert or enthusiast, but if it wasn't so popular I wouldn't mind having a look at the hoard myself. But I'm not prepared to queue for hours in order to see it.

Anyway, the new boots were bought, back to birding. You know when a season is running out of steam? Well, winter is definitely running out of steam round these parts! At both Brookleys Lake and Uttoxeter Quarry, there was a large drop in duck numbers, other than Goosander at the latter. But everything else really, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Mallard, Wigeon, you name it. Not even a Scaup to be found, what's going on there?

On the bright side, it should hopefully mean that it won't be too long to wait until the first few spring migrants arrive during March. Chiffchaff, Little Ringed Plover, Sand Martin, Wheatear, that kind of stuff.

After that damp squib, I thought I try driving up into the moors to look for some raptors. Which was a bad mistake as all I managed to find was thick fog. So that brought an early end to the day's birding.

Sunday 28th February.

For the last few days, the weather forecast predicted the edge of a large storm hitting our area, passing up from Portugal, Spain and France the previous day. With that in mind, plus fewer duck to work my way through yesterday, Blithfield was the place to be for some blown-in seabirds.

Err, well, that was the cunning plan anyway. And it was a very good plan, except the storm just didn't materalise! D'oh!!!!

In a three hour stint at Blithers, starting off at the dam produced a few Goldeneye and an impressive-sized flock of 25 Stock Doves (I know, that's a sign it's a struggle!), single Shelduck and Curlew around the causeway, and 3 Pink-footed Geese and 14 Goosander in Tad Bay.

Also around the dam was this. It looks like a pub or restaurant somewhere has lost one of their boards, and has ended up around the dam's overflow!

Two courses for a tenner, that's good value isn't it? I don't think I'll have the soup though, too watery! Boom boom. No? Oh never mind.

With the non-appearance of the storm, don't know what to do now. Didn't see much point in staying around Blithfield, so I decided to try the moors again, and to Swallow Moss.

Still plenty of patches of snow around up here, and looked like there was some fresh stuff heading towards Buxton. Other than a Kestrel, no sign of any other birds of prey like Hen Harrier or Short-Eared Owl. One can only imagine that the harsh winter has taken it's toll on their prey species up here.

But there were a couple each of Red Grouse and Red Deer. There was also a pellet on a fence post. Finding another use for those sandwich bags you can buy to put your butties in (I use them quite a lot actually, they are good), picking the pellet up and breaking it up, I assume it must've been made by a Red Grouse, or possibly a Pheasant. It consisted entirely of seed husks and small stones. Obviously using the stones to, well, separate the wheat (or whatever plant it came from, heather presumably) from the chaff.

I've had enough of winter now. I want spring.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

More of the White Stuff

Birding's been a bit restricted this weekend due to snow.

Saturday 20th February.

There was a heavy snow shower at home on Friday night. Even though it only lasted half an hour the snow stuck all night, and took a while to thaw in the morning. While waiting for the snow on the roads to clear a bit, I took a walk around a local wood, Huntley wood.

I managed to find a mixed tit flock, 4 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Bullfinch, Redwing, Fieldfare. But nothing more exciting than that.

But at least the snow had cleared, so over to Brookleys Lake. It was most pleasing to find two female Scaup together. One of them is definitely a new arrival anyway, I think it's the bird on the left here.

Admittedly it's an awful picture, but that left one has more of a pale cheek patch, seems to have a darker back as well. So I say two females, but just wondering if this one is more of a juvenile than an adult female? I dunno.

Also present were 72 Mandarin, 3 Goosander, 36 Tufted Duck, 8 Pochard and an old friend, the Pochard x Tufted Duck hybrid. This is now the third site I've seen it over the last month, after Blithfield and Uttoxeter Quarry. At least here at Brookleys it was close enough for a photo or two.

Over to Uttoxeter Quarry until dusk, where Andy and I had another magnificent Goosander roost, a record-breaking 61 birds! In addition were 3 Oystercatcher, 2 Curlew, 5 Snipe, 1 Shelduck, 93 Tufted Duck, 21 Pochard, 22 Teal, 75 Wigeon, 2 Great Crested Grebe and an impressive Coot count of six! A Barn Owl started hunting just before it got dark, always great to see.

Sunday 21st February.

Oh no, three inches of snow outside my front door! Why couldn't this happen in the week? Never mind birding for now, can I get to the supermarket?

Most of the snow thawed quite quickly actually, and with shopping done, just another check of the quarry. Not a huge difference to yesterday really, except for a drake Goldeneye, 113 Greylag Geese and my aythya hybrid friend! Ever get the feeling you're being followed?

Monday, 15 February 2010

Happy Pink-Feet

Saturday 13th February.

Blimey, where do I start this time? Well, at the beginning I suppose. A very good place to start, as they say in "The Sound of Music".

First port of call was Park Hall Country Park, in the Weston Coyney area of the potteries. Which didn't last very long due to the lack of Long-Eared Owls in the usual roost tree. If they're not in that tree then I don't really know anywhere else to look, so that scuppered that. A nice view of a Little Owl in Hulme Quarry though.

Blithfield was next. Four Pink-footed Geese were with the Greylags in Tad Bay. More Pink-Feet, can't get away from them at the moment. I then duly rang the pager company to inform, who then decided to put it out as 12 birds! What's all that about? You trying to get me into trouble? I'll be strung up in Stansley Wood Court for that, it wasn't my fault guv!

Feeling that today wasn't going to be my day, I headed over to the patch, that being Uttoxeter Quarry. Where there was a very showy Little Egret, first one I've seen here during the winter.

Also here were a couple of species that I think are the real harbingers of spring, or at least a sign that winter is coming to an end, 2 Oystercatcher and 2 Curlew. But all in all, not the best day's birding I've ever had.

Sunday 14th February.

Let's see if I can get a better day in, starting off at some sites near to home. There is a farm near to my house where I've seen Tree Sparrows in winter before, so thought I'd give that a try first. And oh yes, three of the little beauties were there, lovely jubbly!

But an even larger surprise were a pair of Goosander at Croxden Quarry! Which doesn't get many mentions on this blog, mainly due to the lack of birds, and I really do mean that! Not a lot around Hales Hall Pool either. But there was this sign which, to me, didn't make much sense. In fact, if "That's Life" was still on the telly, I'd send it to them.

So does that mean there's a fishing match on or not? And if there is a fishing match on, are they allowed to catch any? If not, then what's the point? If it's too hard I can't understand it!

It's a stage of the year where I really don't know what to do with myself birding-wise. I don't want to go driving around to chase birds all the time. But on the other hand it would be nice to birds you don't see all the time. So with that in mind, I thought I'd try Doxey Marshes in Stafford, to try for Water Pipit.

Even though I work in Stafford, I do check Doxey sometimes during my lunch break but I don't enough time to cover the whole site. So it's good to be able to go there and take my time. And to see a Water Pipit, I certainly needed it! It took while a while for one to appear, wandering out of the sedge and to the water's edge of the scrape near to Boundary Flash.

Whilst waiting for any Pipits to appear, I scanned through the nearby flock of Canada Geese. Ooh, what's that? Oh no, not more Pink-Feet! Yep, two more Pink-footed Geese were there, are they following me around or something?

I shouldn't complain though, just recently it's about the only scarce bird I'm finding. Although I was impressed with this picture I took, below and to the left of the Pink-Foot is a Canada Goose with two heads!

Mission accomplished at Doxey, with an added bonus, now what do I do? I could've easily travelled further south to Chasewater for the gull roost, but decided to stay closer to home (this is Local Birding after all!) to Uttoxeter Quarry.

That Pochard x Tufted Duck hybrid that Martyn, Kay and I found at Blithfield the other week is now here. It's a smart looking thing, and he's definitely got his eye on a female Pochard, well it is Valentines Day after all. However, I still can't turn it into a Lesser Scaup.

Andy and I also had a excellent Goosander roost this evening, with a record count of 50 birds! A magnificent half-century, which was reached with a four to long on, time to raise your bat for the applause. Or in less cricketing terms, the final four flew in at the top left-hand corner! But that was a better day than yesterday anyway.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Woodcock Parade and a Dip in the Surf

Saturday 6th February.

You know, sometimes birdwatching can be dead easy. Take this morning for example. I opened my front door and loading the car, I could hear the call of geese getting nearer. Knowing the high-pitched squeaks in there among more conventional goose-like calls, straight away I knew they were Pink-Feet.

So binoculars at the ready, here they come. Right over my house, they just kept coming, more and more of them! When they all eventually passed over, I opened the gate at the side of my house and into my garden to and try and count them. At least 300 were there, just one of many large skeins that passed over North Staffordshire this morning.

When studying the map at christmas time, I discovered a stretch of water by the River Dove, east of Ellastone next to Calwich Abbey. I was going to go the Albion's game against Port Vale, but seeing as we had some decent weather for once, I decided to finally check the place out, just to see if the lake is accessible.

Looking on Google Earth, it looked like there may be a path down to the lake, where there is a bridge. However, this is what Google Earth picked up on:

It's not really a path is it? And with a very large gate in front of the bridge, and an unwelcoming chain attached to it, this isn't going to work. Not without asking the landowner's permission anyway. Still, the reccy mission was done. On the footpath, heading towards the abbey itself was this wonderful carpet of Snowdrops.

As for Calwich Abbey, it's not in the best of nick. Obviously Griff Rhys Jones didn't discover it for "Restoration" a few years ago, unlike Bethesda Chapel.

Onto more familar places. The female Scaup still at Brookleys Lake, and some really good counts at Uttoxeter Quarry. Including 6 Pink-footed Geese with the Greylags and Canadas, 3 Oystercatcher, 23 Goosander, 148 Wigeon, 16 Pochard, 87 Tufted Duck.

I eventually bumped into Andy (he of "Birds, Beer and Rock n Roll" fame) with Mad Malc, and told me of the Woodcocks he found flying over Woodhead Pool, just outside Cheadle, the previous evening and were trying again this evening. That sounds interesting I thought, so I joined them.

On arrival at Woodhead Pool, a Kingfisher fished and a pair of Goosander flew over. Then 5pm arrived, Sports Report (da da, da da, da da, da da, da da da da da, da daahhh), time to get my little digital radio out.

I bought it last year so I could listen to The Ashes at work, but it has it's uses out in the field. Such as listening to the dulcite tones of James Alexander Gordon reading the football results. "Burton Albion 1, Port Vale 0". Oh yes, happy days!

Then just as it almost dark, a Woodcock flew over our heads, leaving the woodland and out into the nearby fields to feed during the night. Then another one flew over, and another! We had three Woodcocks in the end, "The Woodcock Parade" (similar to Harry Hill's Badger Parade) if ever I saw one!

Sunday 7th February.

There are quite a few gaps to fill in the old British list, Surf Scoter is one such bird. So the news of three drakes seen off Colwyn Bay the previous day was too tempting. They were seen from by the Rainbow Bridge. Sounds rather colourful, but in reality:

I worked out when high tide would be, during the afternoon, and made my way there in time to arrive for the rising tide. When scanning the sea with the scope, it didn't take long to realise that there were, quite literally, thousands upon thousands of Common Scoters out there. A really impressive spectacle, I've never seen so many!

Which then begs the question, where on earth do you start? Is it best to look through those on the water, or try and find some patches of white on the duck in flight? Not an easy task, especially as most of the duck were rather distant.

I gave it all afternoon. Eventually some of the Scoters did get closer with the incoming tide, but the vast majority stayed put out there. In addition to the Common Scoters were Red-Breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebes and 3 Red-throated Divers. But alas no Surf Scoters, or Velvet Scoters either.

Never mind, Surf Scoter will just have to wait for another day. As a wise man from Radio Derby used to say, if you don't buy a ticket, you can't win the raffle.