Monday, 29 March 2010

Separating the Wheat(ear) from the (Chiff)Chaff

That's a terrible blog title, but it's all I can think of at the moment.

Saturday 27th March.

Following the Blurred Birder's successful twitch of the Cheadle Brent Goose first thing in the morning, we decided on a yomp up the Weaver Hills. Not a huge selection of birds to be seen, but to be expected. But we did find 3 Wheatears amongst the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, 2 Ravens and 4 Buzzards.

Onto Blithfield next, where there was a real mix of seasonal crossover species. Another Wheatear below the dam, a smart male:

Freshly arrived Chiffchaffs back and a female Brambling in Stansley Wood, a flock of Sand Martins in Blithe Bay, 5 Pink-footed Geese still in Tad Bay and 16 Goldeneye around the reservoir. But perhaps the biggest surprise was a Common Tern between Beech Tree Point and the causeway. Definitely the first one back in the midlands, in the whole country perhaps?

Seeing your first "Commic" Tern of the year is always a bit of a headache, remembering the differences between Common and Arctic Terns. Takes a bit of raking of the old grey matter to remember the differences at distance, especially when you haven't seen any since about September.

The evening was spent with my dad celebrating his birthday. Admittedly I did have to put up with watching Andrew Lloyd Webber's new search-for-a-star-type-show-thingy. Although I am impressed that this time, his lordship has decided to do a musical based on Blizzard of Ozz, except that none of the contestants resemble the "Prince of Darkness" himself:

Sunday 28th March.

If I could've mustered up the energy to drive to The Lodge in Bedfordshire today, I would've done in order to twitch the Two-Barred Crossbill. A bit bushed after an early start and late back home yesterday. Still, Easter is on the way, fingers crossed it will stay around until Good Friday at the earliest.

After the success of finding a couple of Avocets at Branston last week, I thought the Trent Valley gravel pits, between Burton and Alrewas, warranted another check.

And it was a good start at Croxall, in the form of a Ruff. Most of the time asleep amongst the Redshank.

Also at Croxall were 22 Goldeneye, 1 female Pochard, 13 Redshank, 3 Oystercatcher, 2 Shelduck, 1 Chiffchaff, as well as 3 Ringed Plovers at Whitemoor Haye. As for Branston, typically, a lot quieter this time. Best I could manage was 4 Curlew, Little Egret and 3 Red-legged Partridges.

Roll on the Easter bank holiday.........

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Brent Goose

Wednesday 24th March.

Another humdrum Wednesday morning turned into a bit of a mad dash around, due to a text from Mad Malc which read "Brent Goose at Brookhouse Pool". Wow, I've got time for a quick look here, on the edge of Cheadle, before I have to drive to work.

And only time for one picture, as it decided to walk behind some tall dead vegetation. Looking at the picture on my camera during my lunch break, it did surprise me how pale it looked, although everything looks a bit pale. It must be due to my camera increasing the lightness, somehow during the gloomy morning, because it was definitely a dark-bellied Brent.

But that's a real bonus of bird to find locally, hot on the heels of the Brent at Uttoxeter Quarry and Hales Hall Pool in Cheadle last winter.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The boys are back in town

Saturday 20th March.

As the late great Phil Lynott, of Thin Lizzy, used to say, guess who just got back today:

In addition to that, also at Uttoxeter Quarry first thing were 2 Sand Martins passing through, 1 Green Sandpiper, 4 Oystercatcher, 26 Wigeon. Following that, it was back home, pick up Andy and Mad Malc, and over to Albert Village Lake to see if we could see the possible Mew Gull (of the race Brachyrhynchus, a scrabble winner if ever I saw one) that has been around.

The rain, which was falling all the way there, thankfully stopped when we arrived. There were plenty of gulls around at this time, but that was nothing compared with the hundreds upon hundreds of gulls that took off from the nearby tip and onto the lake. Like a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock film!

A short while later the bird was located around the island in the lake, then led us on a merry dance as it moved from one side of the island to the other. Despite some enthusiatic claims of the bird, it was eventually refound and gave good views.

Now what I'm not going to do is give a full explanation on such lines as "I think it's a Mew Gull (or not one) because of this, this, this and this" because I can't, unlike one or two people who were at the lake. However, this bird is noticeably different to the other Common Gulls around it.

Whatever it is, it's an interesting bird to go and see, plus Albert Village lake is a great place to study gulls in general. When it comes to birding, you never stop learning and the best way of educating yourself is to go out and see these things.

And with that, plus the fact that it was starting to rain quite heavily, we made a dash for the car and headed into the Trent Valley. Incredibly, by the time we reached the parking spot for Branston Gravel Pits the rain stopped again. We were really lucky with the rain today. I also had another spot of luck, by finding two Avocets!

And just to prove there were two, and I didn't mistake one for a Black-headed Gull, here's a poorer picture:

Also around were a Little Egret, Green Sandpiper, 3 Redshank, 21 Shelduck, 38 Teal. The rain started as we got back to the car, and with that it ended a successful day's birding.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Is it spring yet?

The news of the first Wheatears and Little Ringed Plovers arriving in the country is always exciting. Time to find one or two of my own, or that was the plan anyway.

Saturday 13th March.

Well it didn't happen today, not at Uttoxeter Quarry. But there was 6 Curlew, 6 Oystercatcher, 1 Green Sandpiper, 8 Snipe and 27 Goosander. The two female Scaup also remained on JCB south lake in Rocester.

The next idea was to head over to Tittesworth Reservoir to have a look at the Kittiwake, found in the morning. On the way, driving through Swallow Moss I bumped into the Blurred Birder. Martyn had already been to Tittesworth and no sign of the Kittiwake.

So I had a think as to where else we could go, in order to add some year ticks to Martyn's list. As Dipper wasn't on there, I suggested Ecton Bridge in the Manifold Valley, not far at all from Swallow Moss.

I have seen Dipper here a few years ago but never really tried since. No sign today though. But it did remind me how spectacularly beautiful the Manifold Valley is, I must explore it further soon.
We didn't have much success checking a few other spots on the moors. On parting company and a short drive around the moors, I could feel a rather large headache coming on. I don't suffer from headaches that often, but I just wanted to get home at this point, so didn't check Tittesworth in the end. And of course, typically, it turned out that the Kittiwake had returned during the afternoon.

Never mind, but I must admit that I were doing a serious year list, I would be kicking myself at this point.

Sunday 14th March.

Headache gone after a good night's sleep. And as for birding locally, very little change to Saturday. No spring migrants, the only difference being a Redshank at Uttoxeter Quarry. That's about as good as the weekend got for birding I'm afraid. I did take some pictures though.

But that's one quiet weekend out of the way, bring on the migrants!

You may have noticed, reader, that this blog has featured the Eurovision Song Contest in previous years? It's not going to happen this year because Pete Waterman has written this year's song, whatever it is.

That man ruined my childhood. Well, not really, but the amount of hours of his "Pap Music" in the late Eighties that was churned out and I had to endure, left me mentally scarred. Thank goodness the likes of Guns 'n Roses and Metallica were around at the time.

Instead of that, I'm very excited to find out who will win "The K Factor" (items of knitting) on Harry Hill's TV Burp. The contenders are:

Winston Stimpson:

Tommy Trundle:

Harry Hill Meerkat:

Bessie's dog blanket:

But my money is on Peter the Duck:

Monday, 8 March 2010

Jack Snipe gets Baaaahh'ed

Saturday 6th March.

A shorter day's birding today, due to a wardrobe malfunction in the week. Thankfully my trousers split at home and not in the office, that would not have been a pretty sight!!!

But once the new trousers were bought, a well-furrowed birding path was taken. Brookleys Lake was still looking quiet so up to the Weaver Hills, for the first time this year.

Walking towards the trig point, I noticed a bird that jumped up slightly so not to get trampled on by a flock of sheep. It's a Snipe, but with a short bill and a dark back, that's got to be a Jack Snipe. I knew where it landed but completely out of view once the sheep had passed.

Gradually creeping up on the bird it eventually took off, it obviously knew it's presence was given away. Silently, with the obvious braces on the back, white underneath. A definite Jack Snipe, crackin stuff! Also present were a Curlew and 3 Skylark.

Onto Rocester next, and a pleasant surprise of the two female Scaup on JCB's south lake, as seen up the top there. The same pair that were at Brookleys a fortnight ago, but where were they last week?

Finishing off at Uttoxeter Quarry. A nice number of Curlew building up now, with a count of 16 birds. Also 6 Oystercatcher, 3 Snipe, 1 Green Sandpiper and 20 Goosander.

Sunday 7th March.

To make up for yesterday, a full-on day's birding with Andy. And what a gloriously sunny day it was too!

The morning was spent covering various spots on Cannock Chase. Including Freda's Grave (Factoid: Freda was a Dalmatian!):

And the still disappointingly small Glacial Boulder:

If it was a boulder like these then I'd be impressed, although Penguins are optional:

But anyway. We had cracking views of Green Woodpeckers and Yellowhammers, Ravens cronking away overhead, Siskins and a distantly calling Crossbill. We also found a pair of Stonechat, not easy to come by after this winter.

After a McDonalds break (mental note, double cheeseburgers are actually pretty good value!) obviously we had to check our patch of Uttoxeter Quarry next. Birds seen that were different to yesterday were a drake Gadwall and a female Pintail. Another check of JCB south lake in Rocester produced one of the female Scaup, the scruffier one on the right pictured above.

The day was completed with a drive up into the North Staffordshire moors, where eventually we were treated to excellent views of a hunting Short-eared Owl.