Sunday, 27 June 2010

Self Preservation Society

Oh, out of the World Cup but deservedly so. Don't see any point in pointing the finger at the players or manager, but just a sad reflection on the state of our "wonderful" English Premier League.

Anyway. Yesterday I was itching to get out and do some birding. On the whole it's all a bit quiet at the moment, but there were the seven Avocets at Branston Gravel Pits to have a look at. Three of them being juveniles.

It's interesting to know where they may have come from. Logic would dictate that they're from Upton Warren in Worcestershire. A well-known site for a few pairs of Avocets these days, where they appear to have left early due to disturbance by foxes. You might say a bit of self preservation society for these Avocets.

But if they are from elsewhere. One thought I have is that there are so many inaccessible gravel workings all along the Trent valley, heading into Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. It would be easy for them to go un-noticed.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Three Shirts on My Line

I've had a day off today. I booked it months ago for the England v Slovenia game. I had wondered for the last few days whether it was worth bothering, but we've won, hurrah. Bring on the second round.

I did check Uttoxeter Quarry this morning. In addition to all the usual suspects, the main highlight was a Black-tailed Godwit, which has been around for a few days now. Also lots and lots of pollen, so I didn't stay all that long.

As for the blog title. Well, I was most saddened to hear of the passing of the "Bard of Timperley" and all-round musical genius, Frank Sidebottom.

Don't know what Little Frank is going to do now. Frank did have a World Cup song going, called "Three Shirts on My Line". This clip, found on Youtube, appears to be Frank's last ever performance.

It's a completely original song, doesn't remind me of anything I've heard before. Especially the line "It's gone next door, it's gone next door, me football, me football's gone next door". But anyway, as England are through to the knockout stage, let's do it for Frank. You know we should, we really should.

Thank you.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


Just a bit of fun. Here at Powell Towers I'm suffering from two fevers. Hay Fever and World Cup Fever! I will get over to Uttoxeter Quarry at some point, but birding may be a little limited for a bit.

One of my highlights of the World Cup so far, apart from the sound of the Vuvuzelas of course (I'd rather listen to them than some of the foul-mouthed chants you get in football grounds here!), was the alternative commentary provided by Chris Moyles, during the New Zealand v Slovakia game. Usually I find Chris Moyles an annoying git, but I actually quite enjoyed this. Some highlights can be seen here, complete with theme tunes, jingles and not knowing the player's names.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A Welcome in the Hillside

Sunday 13th June, Blorenge, Gwent, 8:15 - 10:00.

If a twitchable bird looks like being a long-stayer, then I don't mind biding my time for a bit, to let the masses past first. The Brown Shrike in Staines was a little extreme for that though, I did leave it for nearly two months!

I wasn't going leave the Marmora's Warbler that long of course. I did want to go yesterday, but I've had a bit of a sore foot the last few days. Just a bit of ligament damage but not easy to walk on. As a result I've been on the phone to Fabio Capello to give him the bad news. My trusted left peg would be of no use at the moment!

After a Saturday of ice packs, anti-inflammatory pills and watching the World Cup, my foot wasn't too bad by the Sunday morning. So it was off in the car into deepest Wales. To Blorenge, a few miles away from Abergavenny.

After parking up and a short walk down the hill to the Marmora's Warbler's territory, the bird was showing well straight away. During the course of my visit, it was continually flying onto various bushes to sing, never really staying very long. Everyone was treated to quite a few display flights, and the bird was also seen carrying nest material into a gorse bush. Good luck with that!

But what a lovely spot the Marmora's Warbler has chosen as a territory, although it is way off course, but I would imagine habitat not unlike, from it's usual Mediterranean islands. Plenty of other birdlife on the hill side as well including Whinchat, Wheatear, Stonechat, Tree Pipit, Cuckoo and loads of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks.

With mission accomplished, back in the car and off home to more of the World Cup. In fact, the car park at the top of the hill, with the masts and a warbler from the Med, kind've reminded me of the Foia mountain in Portugal. I did have a quick look around the masts for a few Rock Buntings, but there was no sign.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Another White-winger!

I wasn't going to post a blog for last weekend. Mainly because on the Saturday I didn't do any birding. I desperately needed some new tyres for my car.

As for Sunday, I was out birding but it was rather quiet. Best I could manage were 5 Ringed Plovers at Uttoxeter Quarry. Later in the day I gave Whitemoor Haye a try, just on the off-chance of a calling Quail. Didn't hear anything resembling that, but it was pleasing to see and hear a few Corn Buntings jangling away.

But thankfully, a good bird turned up on the Monday, in the form of a White-winged Black Tern at Belvide Reservoir, presumably the same bird that was found in Shropshire the day before.

It was only a fortnight ago when I was watching large flocks of White-winged Black Terns in Poland. But knowing how gorgeous they are at this time of year, I can't get enough of them, so zoomed off to Belvide after work. My first visit to Belvide this year actually.

On arrival the bird spent most of it's time flying around the eastern end of the reservoir, from the Scott hide. Then after a while the bird rested to preen on the north shore. The tern also sparked a "coincidal-impromptu-mini-birding-bloggers-meet", as over the course of the evening the Blurred Birder and Archie Archer also paid visits to the Scott hide. Good to meet and chat once again.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Witamy w Polska, Part II (Bialowieza Forest)

A few birding stops were made when travelling between Biebrza and Bialowieza. The main highlights were a lake that held at least 7 White-tailed Eagles, soaring above and doing a spot of fishing. We also checked a sand quarry for a nesting pair of Bee-Eaters. No sign of those unfortunately, but only a few Bee-Eaters remain in Poland anyway, not really a bird I was expecting to see.

We then reached the town of Bialystock, where there are some fishing pools. It also a popular stopping-off point for other groups of birders, by far the largest numbers of birders seen. And with good reason. At the edge of a Black-headed Gull colony, we managed to find a Great Reed Warbler and a Little Bittern.

As you would expect, the numbers of nesting Black-headed Gulls are also attractive to nesting Grebes, for the protection they get from predators. So it was pleasing to see summer-plumaged Black-necked and Red-necked Grebes, in addition to Great Crested Grebes. We were also treated to wonderful views of a male Penduline Tit, in the middle of constructing his nest, then singing above it in order to attract a mate.

The accommodation at Bialowieza really was lovely. Quite a new guesthouse but in the style of an old hunting lodge. It also had a singing River Warbler in the garden and a calling Corncrake in the adjacent meadow. A first attempt for Pygmy Owl in the evening was unsuccessful, although there was a Nightjar and plenty of roding Woodcock.

The first full day in the Bialowieza forest began with an early start in the strict reserve, which can only be visited in the accompaniment of an official guide. On the whole I found the strict reserve rather difficult for viewing. The forest is untouched by man and is rather inpenetrable (the vegetation and the light) as a result. However, if you want great views of Middle Spotted Woodpecker, then this is the place to go.

There was also a gorgeous male Collared Flycatcher in the same spot as the woodpecker nest hole. But other than a Marsh Tit nest hole, and the sound of a drumming White-backed Woodpecker (so we were told), there wasn't that much else to see within the strict reserve.

The walk back to the guesthouse takes you through the palace park, the old palace being the Russian Tsar's equivalent of Balmoral. We did also see greater range of woodland birds. Not Middle Spotted Woodpecker or Collared Flycatcher, granted. But there were Lesser Spotted Eagle and Honey Buzzard overhead, a nest site for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Common Rosefinch, Serin.

During the afternoon, the woodpecker-fest contiuned! You'll probably realise that all the guides have sussed out nest sites for the main Woodpecker species. They did have a nest site for White-backed Woodpecker, but unfortunately their nest site was taken over by Starlings. As a result, White-backed Woodpecker was a struggle, but we did latch onto Grey-headed Woodpecker:

And Three-toed Woodpecker:

Other highlights during the afternoon were good views of Thrush Nightingale (at last!) and River Warbler, the only Stonechat of the trip, and more Golden Orioles, Icterine Warblers and a Barred Warbler. Another dip of Pygmy Owl in the evening, but in truth I was so tired by now after a 5am start, my mind wasn't really with it by then.

The second full day was a struggle to add any more birds onto our list. The main priority still being Woodpeckers. But again, no sign of White-backed, and Black Woodpecker gave us the slip during the day as well. In fact, the best sighting in the forest during the day was a Wild Boar.

Part of the day was spent at Lake Siemanowka, to the north of the Bialowieza Forest. New birds onto the list here were Caspian Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Little Tern. But the most entertaining view here was of a Hoopoe, flying low over the water and carrying a large Bee or Beetle in it's bill. That was until the bird dropped the insect and onto the water's surface. Incredibly, the Hoopoe then hovered, tern like, over the water, grabbed the insect back off the surface and carried on it's way. Brilliant!

The last evening in Poland was spent with one more try for Pygmy Owl. It didn't happen again, but at least we found out why. There was a Tawny Owl in the vicinity, which we had good views. Quite wisely, if there's a Tawny Owl in the area the Pygmy Owls will be lying low. We also had good views of the Corncrake in the meadow next to the guesthouse, using my torch.

We had some time to spare before heading to Warsaw for the flight home, and this was spent wisely. We had excellent views of a male Red-breasted Flycatcher, and on the way back, we got one of these!

An excellent view of a Roller sat in a roadside tree. After a couple of minutes the bird took off to perform it's wonderful display flight, going high in the sky and, quite literally, rolling from side to side as it flew down. What a great end to a most enjoyable trip.

North-east Poland is an area that I have wanted to visit for quite a long time now, the Biebrza Marshes and Bialowieza Forest certainly didn't disappoint. Let's hope these wonderful habitats will continue to be looked after as they are now.

In fact Poland as a country I thought was really lovely, obvious that it's economy and it's people are doing well for themselves. Everyone I met were really friendly and welcoming, in stark contrast to the rather miserable experience I had at a McDonalds on the edge of Banbury, for a bite to eat on the evening drive home. But I won't go into that.

But to quote Dave Gosney in his "Finding Birds in Poland" book. This is the real Poland, don't miss it.