Sunday, 29 April 2012

Write off a patch at your peril!

A week ago, I was convinced that I would by writing Uttoxeter Quarry's spring birding obituary by now. All the rain has left it full to the brim. But thinking it wouldn't attract any spring passage waders, the last few days have been to the contrary. Not sure if I'm pleasantly surprised or slightly amazed.

Last Wednesday had a large passage of Arctic Terns and Little Gulls across the midlands. By the time I got down after work there were no sign of either, but there were 2 Bar-tailed Godwits feeding in a field! One of them in almost full summer plumage. A repeat visit after work on Friday revealed the "bi-bi-bi-bi-bip" call of a Whimbrel passing through. It's always a good day when you hear a Whimbrel! And in between, Stevie Fair Isle Turner had a Sanderling, so this wader action has cheered up me no end, it's not a lost cause.

Before checking again yesterday, the first idea was to check an area of farmland in Cheadle, next to the JCB factory, which was good for Whinchat last year. En route are the pools next to Blake Hall Fishery, which had a Brent Goose a couple of years ago. As daft as it sounds, I thought, with the conditions I'd better check if some poor unsuspecting wader had found itself here. Well there was one!

It's a Godwit, but it's fast asleep.

Eventually, a straight bill with lots of yellow on it was revealed, meaning this was a Black-tailed Godwit, brilliant! Also 3 Wheatears in the surrounding fields here, and two other Wheatears in other bits of Cheadle farmland.

Back to Uttoxeter Quarry.  More usual wader fayre was on offer this time, such as 4 Common Sandpipers, a Ringed Plover and a summer-plumaged Dunlin.  But continuing the run on Wheatears, 22 of them was a site record count for me.  And I thought that was good, until I heard about the numbers on Berry Hill, which was heading towards 90.

Finishing yesterday off at Blithfield. The drake Green-winged Teal showed well straight away, viewed from the Newtonhurst Lane end of Tad Bay. And a fine specimen it looks too.

Five terns were off the causeway, certainly a couple of them looked good for Arctic Terns if not all of them, not always easy to tell at distance. Below the dam, a Yellow Wagtail and only (!) seven Wheatears were present.

And Blithfield is all I've done today.  With the weather being so foul, at least it's easy to view from a hide or scan the deep end from the car.  The only real change was the increased number of terns.  16 was the highest count from the Beech Tree Point hide towards the causeway.  Taking the time to scrutinise them, I think there was quite an even split between Arctic (9) and Common (7) Terns.  The Green-winged Teal was still in Tad Bay too.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

One of those wet droughts

Last week, the whole of the midlands was declared an area of drought, joining most of the south and east of England. It must some kind of fiendish plot, because ever since then it just hasn't stopped raining!

As you can see the River Churnet here, at Oakamoor, is looking very full. Which doesn't bode well for the water levels at Uttoxeter Quarry, which even yesterday were noticeably high. The Churnet flows into the River Dove at Rocester. Since last autumn the quarry company, in their wisdom, dug into the bank of the Dove to allow water to flow into the main gravel pit. At the same time they have a pump working all the time, to pump water out again at a slower rate than it's flowing in.

This situation was always my fear for this spring. I'll still be checking the place of course, but perhaps it provides an opportunity to explore other places? Or maybe the thought of missing something at the quarry will put me off? There are areas of woodland in North Staffs that I've always thought are worthy of exploring in the spring, but never had the time to do so. We'll see, but today was a look around some more familiar woodlands.

A walk through Dimmingsdale provided 2 singing male Pied Flycatchers. Also plenty of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs here.

A single, and very smart, male Redstart had returned to Swineholes Wood, along with a stack of Willow Warblers. Finishing off with a walk through Cotton Dell in Oakamoor, this Dipper was along the stream, escaping the torrent on the Churnet.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Splendid Stilts, and the first few Terns

On Thursday afternoon whilst at work, a quick check of the pager mentioned 2 Black-winged Stilts at Clayhanger Marsh in the West Midlands. Having to get there from home at 5:30 would've been just too far. But being in the office in Stafford, it's half an hour nearer already, so lets have a look.

As it's another new place on me, a look on Google Maps surprised me to learn that's its the same way as you would go to Stubber's Green, so that's easy enough. After parking up, walking past Ryders Mere and along the raised embankment path towards the marsh, the Stilts came flying over my head! As illustrated in this artists impression. Can you tell what it is yet?

They did descend and it looked as if they were going to land somewhere on Ryders Mere. But by the time of retracing my steps and returning to the lake, no sign of them, preparing themselves to move to Leighton Moss the next day. But there were 2 Common Terns on the mere, first ones of the year for me. So all in all, a rather lucky twitch that one.

Onto today. Starting at Uttoxeter Quarry, all the rain in recent days have pushed up water levels considerably. The first sight of that was a bit soul destroying actually, it could be a tough old spring. I blame this drought we're having!

But anyway, the shining highlight was the first Common Tern of the year, along with a Common Sand, 6 Goosanders and flyover drake Mandarin.

Where else would you go next to lift your spirits? Branston Gravel Pits of course! Most of the bird action occurred on the sandy pit, which yielded 7 Ruff, 4 Green Sand, smart males of Yellow Wagtail and Wheatear, and a Water Rail showed well for a short time.

It's been a funny (peculiar) couple of weeks for weather, with non-stop north/north-westerly winds and frequent showers. Obviously that hasn't stopped birds like the Terns making it here, and the Stilts of course. But it's definitely delaying some of the passerines. For example, I would've thought there would be quite a few Whitethroats around by now, not seen any yet. It'll happen though, they'll get here.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Shocking Behaviour

Not much to report for today really. Nice to get two more Uttoxeter Quarry year ticks this morning, in the form of Blackcap and Yellow Wagtail.

Over at Blithfield. 3 Wheatears and a Common Sand on the dam. A drake Pintail, one female Pochard, 10 Goldeneye and 2 Goosanders in Tad Bay.

But it's sad to report, one of the hides in Tad Bay has been desecrated.

Well I'm shocked and appalled. It's anti-social behaviour rearing it's ugly head once again. A few sheep end up having a night out on the lash, in those 24-hour Baahs (groan!!), this is what happens. But thankfully, it's nothing that a couple of hours in the oven, and some mint sauce, can't cure.

Or alternatively. If you're ever visiting a bird hide that could be accessible by sheep, make sure that when you leave, the door's shut eh?

Monday, 9 April 2012

Gadzooks! Methinks tis Common Scoter herewith

There, if the "Ooh it's a....." series is a bit dull sounding. Those geezers got away with the "Now That's What I Call Music" albums for long enough though, are they still in existence? In the end they shortened it to "Now", so perhaps I should've shortened by blog series of self-found surprises to "Ooh!".

As today (Easter Monday) is a complete washout, I'm glad I checked Uttoxeter Quarry yesterday. If it was a calm sunny day I don't think I would've bothered. After checking on Good Friday and Saturday there hasn't been much to shout about, apart from a few White Wagtails and a couple of Wheatears.

But with a drizzly Easter Day morning, I'd better go and check. A scan of the main gravel pit revealed a group of Coots together. "That's a good idea, I'll count the Coots". Except one of the Coots had yellow on the front rather than white. Drake Common Scoter!

It seemed to enjoy the company of Tufted Duck and Goldeneye for a while, before settling down to sleep. Also around were quarry year ticks in the form of Common Sandpiper, Willow Warbler and House Martin. In the end it was quite difficult to tear myself away!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Easter Crane!

Last Monday evening a little bit of frustration ensued. Why's that? That's because a Common Crane was found on the edge of Cannock, and even though it didn't hang around for very long, there would've been no chance to get to see it in time because there was just not enough daylight.

But anyway, it's Easter time. A time to get a few jobs done around the house, like getting the washing done on a Thursday evening. Well that didn't happen because, as if my prayers were answered, the Crane had been refound at Radford Meadows in Stafford.

And even better there was just enough daylight left to get over from home. Just! But it did involve some "Chariots of Fire" running along the canal towpath to where the Crane was. Well, until I got fed up of running. All for this view in the descending gloom!

As well as the pair of Garganey present, it was entirely the right thing to do in case the Crane would move on first thing the next day. Or was seen at the time, get a little agitated when a Fox was roaming the meadows.

But as luck would have it, the Crane was still present today. So after helping with the Blithfield WeBS count this morning, and alas no sign of yesterday's Red-necked Grebe there, it was back to Radford Meadows for seconds!

This Crane is obviously a fan of the Wayne's World films. We're not worthy!!

Monday, 2 April 2012

A Grand Day Out in Zomerrrzet and Glaaarstershire

Right, better catch up this weekend's fun and jollity. Sunday was the day out, but Saturday morning was a walk round Uttoxeter Quarry.

A cool breeze and a little bit of drizzle in the air when leaving home. Could be good for some hirundines, and by jimminy it was. The first Swallows of the year were in, six of them along with around 50 Sand Martins.

Also LRP's back in, 3 Green Sands, 7 Goosander and 4 Goldeneye.

Onto Sunday, and a big thank you for being invited and made welcome. Despite the thought of a really early start filling me with dread, it's much appreciated. The main targets were two species which, although not lifers, were still birds that I haven't seen for a very long time.

The first port of call were the two Long-billed Dowitchers on the Somerset Levels, King Arthur's fabled land of Avalon! Never birded Somerset before, usually for me it's somewhere to drive through along the M5, or watch the Albion receive a thrashing at Yeovil Town! When arriving at the Ashcott Corner car park and the walk along Meare Heath, what have I been missing out on!

The Dowitchers were happily feeding away on the drained lagoon here, along with 23 Black-tailed Godwits, 4 Ruff, Redshank, Lapwing, Teal, Shoveler, Pochard and Gadwall.

Also on the lagoon was a Great White Egret, the dark colour in the bill fooled me a bit, but no mistaking it for a Little Egret when it took off! Plenty of warblers around too, including Cetti's, Chiffchaff and freshly arrived Willow and Sedge Warblers. The reedbeds contained a few boombastic Bitterns, and luckily one decided to show itself.

But what a place! I'm sure the Somerset Levels have many more great spots to try, but onward through Glastonbury (with it's Tor and rock festival) and Wells (with it's baby-eating Bishop!) to Chew Valley Lake.

Stopping off first at Herriott's Bridge for the Spotted Sandpiper. It was a pity that the bird had decided to wander off right into the far corner of the bridge wall here. Viewing was very awkward on the small pool side of the bridge, very similar to the conservation pool at Tittesworth actually.

Over on the dam, the female Long-tailed Duck was still present with Tufted Ducks, although looking towards sun, digiscoping wasn't easy. Returning to the Spotted Sand, it had moved onto an island on the pool. But again, looking towards the sun, easier to see through the scope but impossible for digiscoping.

The final stop was through Bristol and over the first Severn Bridge, to Newnham on the the Severn Estuary. Another really lovely spot.

The first-winter Bonaparte's Gull was still present, alternating between a rest and paddle on the edge of the river, and flying over the fields to the west with Black-headed Gulls, hawking on insects.

Even when in flight the Bonaparte's was quite distinctive, more reminiscent of Little Gull. Then back on the river it provided good comparisons with the Black-headed Gulls, and also in the company of Common Gulls.