Monday, 21 May 2012

A Courser's a Courser, of course, of course

I knew this would happen.  I haven't gone away just yet, but with a few days to get ready the pager put pay to some of that time, for the afternoon and evening anyway.  That's due to the discovery of a Cream-coloured Courser at Bradnor Hill in Herefordshire.

No silly, not a cream coloured Corsa!

After getting the car (not a Corsa) serviced and fixed up this morning, off I went at lunchtime.  Taking in a most scenic route through Shropshire, down the A49 past Shrewsbury, Church Stretton, Ludlow and Leominster.  Bradnor Hill is west of Leominster, at Kington, almost on the Welsh border.  On the hill there is a golf course.

As you can see it's a beautiful setting.  Very reminiscent of the Marmora's Warbler site of a couple of years ago, Blorenge in Gwent.  The Courser was seen straight away in the rough of the golf course, with an decent-sized audience of admirers already present. Apart the Meadow Pipits that were mobbing it, they weren't too happy.  Other birds around included Skylarks, Buzzards, Yellowhammers and a Redstart.

So there you have it.  But that's definitely it for now, tarrah.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Blue Diamond

Well that's a blog title I wasn't expecting to do today.  I was expecting more of a Sanderling theme, because there's been a few this weekend.  After breaking up from work, until after the jubilee bank holidays, on Friday, the weather conditions looked promising.  A bit of drizzle and an easterly wind.  Let's go home via Uttoxeter Quarry.  Glad I did because dotted around the main gravel pit shoreline were 5 Sanderling, 6 Ringed Plovers and 6 Dunlin.

Onto Saturday.  What did you do on your birthday this year?  Well me, I lived the dream and did some WeBS counts!  The Tad Bay count at Blithfield didn't take too long, and after scans from the causeway and dam, thoughts were turning back to Uttoxeter.  I was also doing the WeBS count here, so lets get it done.

As well as the Mallards, Tufteds, Coots etc.  Sanderling had increased to 10, Ringies to 14 and Dunlin to 12.  Then just when about finishing, a wader flew from one of side of the gravel pit to the other, making a "clip" call.  That's a Turnstone, and so it was.

And if that wasn't enough Sanderlings, Croxden Quarry had another one!  But it didn't stick around for too long.

Today wasn't a particular early start after a few birthday sherberts the night before.  After being informed by Andy that Uttoxeter had a clearout of waders, the plan to was check Branston Gravel Pits instead, blissfully unaware of the discovery at Doxey.  When arriving at Branston, Nick and George Smith (of Clayhead fame!) were leaving.  "We're going for the Bluethroat at Doxey!". 

What Bluethroat, I didn't know.  There was a point somewhere between home and Branston that the RBA pager signal was lost, and I didn't receive the message.  But thank goodness Nick and George were there, Branston can wait for another day.  In the end there was no need to worry, because over a couple of hours the in afternoon the Bluethroat showed brilliantly.

A county tick for me.  I do remember Tittesworth having a Bluethroat but I didn't see it, having seen one at Long Eaton Gravel Pits in Derbyshire, a couple of years or so earlier in the 90's.  1992 that Long Eaton bird, my GCSE year, why I wasn't revising I don't know!!!

And of course, a twitch wouldn't be complete without "The Twitch Shot".  Interestingly enough, on the right is the world's tallest man!

Well, once again, I think that's it from me for a while.  Later this week I'm doing my Michael Palin bit again, off on me travels.  This time, to Cape May, New Joysey.  So we'll see what we can see, and I'll be back in time for the diamond jubilee celebrations.  Tatty bye and toodle pip.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Moor's Got Talent

Avian talent of course.  But as much talent as a dancing dog?  As the Churchill dog would say, oh yes!

I spent most of yesterday on the North Staffs Moors, for the now annual "Can't find a Dotterel on the moors" search.  Actually that doesn't matter quite so much now, after last year's Dotterel at Whitemoor Haye.  And it's a nice part of the world to be in, especially at this time of year.

But while I was up there, I tried one of the areas of woodland that for a while has taken my fancy for exploring.  That is the area around Gradbach.

There's a scout camp round here, dib dib dib, ging-gang-gooly-whatsits and all that.  A search around the wood revealed a Wood Warbler, Redstart, a couple of Pied Flys, Redpoll.  3 Wheatear and a Stonechat in the area too.  Not bad for a first attempt, and definitely warrants further exploration for another day.

Then checking various spots of the moors.  Most of the best looking short grass habitiat appeared to be around Flash, not that there were any Dotterel around.  Other pasture land was looking too long.  But your usual species were around, including Curlew, Lapwing, Red Grouse, Wheatear and a Hobby.

You ain't seen me, right?
Back to Uttoxeter Quarry this morning, plenty of talent around.  2 Hobbies were patrolling the sky, watch out hirundines!  Also present were 7 Common Terns, 2 Dunlin, 1 Ringed Plover, a Wheatear and a good selection of warblers with Sedge, Reed, Garden, Lesser and Common Whitethroat.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Race

Last year, I helped out with a bird race.  That's where you try to see and hear as many bird species as possible, in a chosen county, in a day.  I suppose strictly speaking, it's in a 24-hour period, but from dawn till dusk was enough.  Last time, in the county of Stafford, we got to 105.

A few weeks ago, Mr P Shenton Esq. (Birding For Fun) asked me if I wanted to try another Staffordshire Bird Race for this year.  We had to try of course, but with the cold and wet spring so far, would we get anywhere near 105, never mind beat it?  But Saturday 5th May was the day of choice.

Cannock Chase was once again the day's starting point.  A Tawny Owl flew across the road en route to the first stop.  Then checking various parts of the Chase gave us a good selection of woodland and heathland birds to start the list off.  Highlights included Cuckoo, Redstart, Tree Pipit, Stonechat, Wood Warbler, Common Whitethroat (at last!), a couple of Grey Wagtails and a flock of around 20 Redpolls.

Next was a quick check of Radford Meadows in Stafford, just in case the Crane was still around but just not being reported since the previous weekend.  It wasn't there so no more time was wasted, time to move to Aqualate Mere.  Some useful additions at Aqualate included a particular nut-nibbler sp., Willow Tit, Yellowhammer, R.L. Partridge and this Common Sandpiper on a tree stump in front of the hide.

Returning to Stafford, and to Doxey Marshes.  Singing Sedge Warblers were everywhere, along with a singing Lesser Whitethroat and a pair of Bullfinch (they all count!). 

Last year's race was in the middle of a raging easterly wind.  As a result we did rather well with migrant waders (Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel), but struggled a bit with some of the passerines.  So far this time, we'd done really well on the passerine front.  But with high water levels at pretty much all reservoirs and gravel pits, passage waders were going to be a struggle.  We also had news of the two Black-necked Grebes and a Grey Plover at Drayton Bassett.  For where we're based, further north, that's the one site in the county which is really out of the way to get to.  In reality it's impossible to get to everywhere that you would want to, so the plan was to move no further south than Whitemoor Haye, then work our way north.

Whitemoor Haye was the first of two Trent Valley sites that were checked.  Here we added Common Tern, Redshank, Yellow Wagtail, Tree Sparrow and Corn Bunting.  Onto Branston Gravel Pits, more useful additions included the only Shovelers of the day, plus Gadwall, Little Grebe and a dashing Hobby.

Three more were added to the list at Blithfield.  Which were a Black Tern off the causeway, 3 Common Scoters in St. Stephens Bay and 5 Goldeneye in Tad Bay. After being informed of a Whinchat by the angling club at the dam, it was a pity that it didn't show for us.  By now, with the addition of Goldeneye, we had a list total of 97.

With the evening tour of the north end of the county to come (the moors and Tittesworth), getting to the century shouldn't be a problem, but it still remained to be seen whether 105 could be beaten.  The century bird was a Curlew along Morridge, bats were raised and a round of applause was given.  Other birds also seen included Red Grouse, Wheatear and a wonderful hunting Short-eared Owl.

One of Paul's "guarantee" spots for Dipper and Pied Flycatcher were next.  Which, and sod's law of course, were not playing ball.  Thankfully though, both were found eventually, and on the right side of the Cheshire border!  I think I was being had on all along, trying different areas for these two was just adding to the suspense.

A scan of Tittesworth Reservoir from the causeway, and zooming my scope right up to 60x, a drake Goosander could be seen towards the dam end.  That got our total to 105, equalling last year!  Our "106" bird was Peregrine, not so pesky up here, and our final species of the day was Long-eared Owl.

So that's it, we finished with 107, and not a Sparrowhawk all day!  I would be cracking open the champagne, except with stiff and aching muscles everywhere I've been taking pain killers all day!  I'm getting too old for this.  Well, until next year.  But once again, thanks to Paul for a grand adventure.  And thanks to everyone we met at Blithers and Whitemoor Haye for their help, cheers!