Thursday, 28 April 2016

Woolston Eyes & RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands

On Sunday I was off out with the West Midland Bird Club for their monthly coach trip, this time to two destinations towards the northwest - Woolston Eyes and RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands. It's been a while since I blogged about a trip with WMBC, as I missed the March one, and got ill just after the February one so never got around to writing a blog post!

Our first stop was Woolston Eyes in Warrington where we were looking forward to seeing the reserve's speciality of Black-necked Grebes, a very rare breeding bird in the UK. Woolston Eyes has at times held up to a third of the UK's breeding population! Although the weather was rather on the manky side, we were soon keeping cosy in the various hides around the site and enjoying smashing views of the grebes.

Woolston Eyes.
Black-necked Grebe record shot (with a bonus whizz-by Swallow).
As well as the snazzily-plumaged Black-necked Grebes, we also saw two Mediterranean Gulls in tip top breeding plumage, Common Gull, plenty of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins whizzing about and quite a few ducks including Teal, Pochard, Shelduck, Gadwall and Shoveler. There were a few Reed Buntings around and I had a brief but satisfying view of a Reed Warbler - my first of the year. Elsewhere on the site we'd been hoping for a Grasshopper Warbler and maybe a Lesser Whitethroat but there was a marked lack of warbler action, possibly due to the cold, wet and windy weather. We did see some lovely patches of Ground-ivy along the path leading into the reserve:

Ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea).
Luckily by the time we got to Burton Mere the weather had improved considerably. We enjoyed the walk down to the main reserve through some stunning Bluebell woods!

I couldn't decide which photo to use so I've used nearly all of them. Ha!
I hadn't visited this reserve before and it turned out to be a good'un. On the wetlands we enjoyed a smorgasbord of waders, including Oystercatcher, Avocet, Lapwing, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Spotted and Common Redshank. The Dunlin and Spotted Redshank were in their full summer plumage, and many of the Godwits were pretty much there too.

Black-tailed Godwits busily feeding; some in full summer plumage, some in winter, and some inbetween!
In one of the fields a lone Barnacle Goose was loitering, and we spotted whatever you call a Little Egret breeding colony (an egretry?) in some of the trees. We heard but didn't see a Cetti's Warbler, and walked through a lovely field of sheep and lambs to the viewpoint to spot a couple of Wheatears! I also spotted a new plant to try and identify:

I think this is Three-cornered Garlic (Allium triquetrum).
The view from the viewpoint.
Another great day with the bird club, with lots of lovely year ticks :o)

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 23/04/16

On Saturday I was back at my local patch for a very pleasant wander in the spring sunshine. This time my partner Chris came with me for a bit - he is not so into birds as me, but wanted to see what this place is that I keep going to every week! As a result I heard but did not see a few species, as Chris isn't too keen on stopping and loitering for ten minutes to try and catch a glimpse of an elusive bird :oD I saw/heard 36 species in all, of which one was new for me at this site, taking my patch total to 63. Here are my highlights:
  • Today's new species was, as anticipated, Blackcap - hooray. I didn't see them but I heard a couple in different parts of the reserve.
  • Chiffchaffs all over the place now - I lost count of how many I heard. Must try and do a proper count next time!
  • A very fleeting glimpse of a Reed Bunting flying away from me in the area behind Wychall Reservoir.
  • Willow Warbler singing near Merecroft Pool.
  • I heard Green Woodpecker yaffling somewhere in the area behind Wychall Reservoir.
  • Treecreeper - again, heard but not seen in a few parts of the reserve.
  • Quite a few Orange Tip and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies about. 
I bumped into fellow KNNR patch birder Adrian too, who had heard a Whitethroat singing briefly in the area behind Wychall Reservoir. Unfortunately it had stopped by the time I got there but maybe I'll find it next time. I was also on the lookout for some plants for my Identiplant assignment about the Ranunculus family, and this combined with the nice weather meant I ended up taking LOADS of photos!

British Waterways Meadow (HDR).
Bluebells by Merecroft Pool. So beautiful, I'm hoping to get some better photos before the flowers are gone.
Bluebells by Merecroft Pool.
Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa). Needed this one for my assignment!
Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa).
Something's killed a Magpie. My guess would be a Fox, or possibly could a female Sparrowhawk take on a Magpie?
Close-up of Magpie feathers.
Around the back of Wychall Reservoir.
Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae).
Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae).
Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae).
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus).
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), another one I needed for my assignment!
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) (HDR).
I'm excited to say that the Friends of Kings Norton Nature Reserve have asked me to lead their Dawn Chorus Walk on the 7th of May, starting at 05:30am at Burmans Drive (opposite Wychall Park Grove), should be good!


Blackbird Goldcrest Magpie
Blackcap Goldfinch Mallard
Blue Tit Great Spotted Woodpecker Moorhen
Bullfinch Great Tit Mute Swan
Buzzard Green Woodpecker Reed Bunting
Canada Goose Greenfinch Robin
Carrion Crow Grey Heron Song Thrush
Chaffinch Herring Gull Treecreeper
Chiffchaff House Sparrow Tufted Duck
Coot Jackdaw Willow Warbler
Dunnock Lesser Black-backed Gull Woodpigeon
Feral Pigeon Long-tailed Tit Wren

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Sandwell Valley April 2016

On Sunday I was back volunteering at RSPB Sandwell Valley once again. The hide was well-staffed by volunteers in the morning so Alf and I went for a ramble around the reserve, our first in a while! Before we set off though we had a few nice sightings from the centre, mainly of birds on and around the feeders. The place is teeming with Lesser Redpolls, even more than last time, I don't think there have ever been this many here before - usually sightings are restricted to the occasional small flock around the Alders in the reedbed. Some of the males are by now looking very nice in their breeding plumage - like they've been eating raspberries rather messily! The other usual friends were also around, including Reed Bunting, Bullfinch, Coal Tit and Chaffinch. I also saw a Rook fly over which was unusual - they are normally found more around the farmland in the wider Sandwell Valley. A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly also landed briefly on the Marsh Marigold growing in front of the window.

On our walk Alf and I heard our first Blackcap of the year near Kingfisher Corner. We also saw many of the usual suspects on Forge Mill Lake and the marsh including Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Grey Heron, Gadwall and Teal. Our best sighting of the day came when we were walking along the bank overlooking Forge Mill Lake; I spotted a Yellow Wagtail busily striding around one of the islands in the lake! This was a reserve tick for me as Yellow Wagtails never stick around here for long and I've always missed them in previous years. Hurrah! I also took some photos of a few plants that we saw during our walk.

Not quite sure what this is - going to wait for it to flower.....
I love the sun shining on willow catkins!
Not 100% sure but I think this might be Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor).
At lunchtime we headed down to the hide, enjoying some more nice sightings on the way down:

A Willow Warbler singing over our heads.
First Orange Tip of the year.
Down in the hide the fun continued! The Common Scoter which had been around since Wednesday was still present so we enjoyed watching him, constantly diving, staying under for several minutes, and only resurfacing for a few seconds before the next dive. As well as that, there were also three Greylag Geese present - slightly unusual visitors to the reserve, usually the Canada Geese have the monopoly. Still a few wintery ducks around - some Shovelers and Goosanders. There were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers, and loads of hirundines - I had my first Swallows and Sand Martins of the year (having had a pair of early House Martins in the Lake District a couple of weeks ago). Overhead we had a few Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk. A Fox casually walking along the opposite bank also entertained us and flushed a couple of Snipe!

Distant Fox.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 09/04/16

On Saturday I took my weekly trip to my local patch, and ended up getting rather soggy. The 10% chance of rain forecast manifested itself as several heavy showers of rain and hail, interspersed with drizzle! Although this led eventually to me curtailing my visit after a couple of hours (I had to rescue my poor laundry from the garden too) I still had a few nice sightings.

I saw 34 species in all, no new ones this week - still no Blackcap, I think the weather was subduing a few songsters as I also barely heard any Chiffchaff song. No Willow Warbler either - I think the one I saw last week was just passing through. I had an interesting online conversation about it with another birder who brought to my attention Northern Willow Warblers (subsp. acredula). The bird I saw was very grey, so grey that I had had to watch it for quite some time and make sure I saw and heard it sing before I was convinced it was definitely a Willow Warbler. Its song was also rather on the subdued side compared to the Willow Warblers I am used to hearing. These are both characteristics of the Northern subspecies, I found some more info here and some nice comparison photos! So possibly that is what I saw...

Here are my highlights:
  • Yet more lovely Jay action - three again near British Waterways Meadow, and one of them singing - yay!
  • I heard four Chiffchaffs singing or calling - most of them fairly briefly.
  • Two Buzzard sightings - one flying over Wychall Reservoir, and another low over the Paddocks being mobbed by Carrion Crows in the rain.
  • I was walking through the trees in the West Extension when a Great Spotted Woodpecker suddenly popped out from behind a tree trunk at ground level just next to the path - I don't know who was more surprised, her or me!
  • Always worth looking up when you hear all the small birds panicking - upon hearing Long-tailed Tit alarm calls I peered through the trees and saw the silhouette of a female Sparrowhawk drifting over.
  • Four Teal still on Wychall Reservoir. I didn't count the Tufted Ducks on Merecroft this week as by this point my efforts were becoming hampered by rain!
Here are a few photos - I didn't take so many this time as I was trying not to let my camera get too wet...

The Peafields/West Extension (HDR).

Primrose (Primula vulgaris) bank behind Wychall Reservoir (HDR).

Primrose (Primula vulgaris) bank behind Wychall Reservoir (HDR).

Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) just starting to flower.

Weir on Wychall Lane (HDR). There is so much Wild Garlic around here, it's going to look brilliant when it all flowers!

I'm away at a music festival next weekend so there'll be a gap in my visits. Surely I will find a Blackcap at the reserve the following weekend!


    Blackbird Great Tit Nuthatch
    Blue Tit Greenfinch Robin
    Bullfinch Grey Heron Song Thrush
    Buzzard Herring Gull Sparrowhawk
    Canada Goose House Sparrow Starling
    Carrion Crow Jay Stock Dove
    Chiffchaff Lesser Black-backed Gull Teal
    Coot Long-tailed Tit Tufted Duck
    Dunnock Magpie Woodpigeon
    Goldcrest Mallard Wren
    Goldfinch Moorhen
    Great Spotted Woodpecker Mute Swan

    Wednesday, 6 April 2016

    Kings Norton Nature Reserve 03/04/16

    On Sunday I was back at Kings Norton Nature Reserve, wondering what new patch ticks the spring would bring me today! I saw 39 species, and one was new for me at this site, taking my patch total to 62. Today's new species wasn't the one I was expecting though....
    • Having not seen a Blackcap yet this year, and after fellow KNNR patch birder Adrian told me he'd had one a few days ago, I was expecting to find one today. I expected in vain! Instead I found a Willow Warbler, my new species for the day, singing in the trees at the top end of Merecroft Pool. I think this is on the early side for this species, to see one before a Blackcap seems quite topsy-turvy to me! However I was very pleased to find it, hopefully more will appear in the coming weeks (along with some Blackcaps).
    • Chiffchaff explosion! There were at least five singing this week compared to last week's two, fairly evenly spread throughout the reserve.
    • Lots of Jay activity. I watched one pair determinedly chase some Magpies away for quite a while, perhaps they were too close to a potential or actual Jay nest. I also enjoyed hearing more Jay vocalisations that weren't the usual harsh RASP, including at one point mimicry of a Buzzard call.
    • At least three Treecreepers singing throughout the reserve.
    • Still a few Siskins about.
    • Also still ten Teal sitting at the back of Wychall Reservoir, surely they'll be off soon.
    • Buzzards flying at various points over the reserve; also a high flying Peregrine seen from the Merecroft Pool part of the reserve.
    • Only two Tufted Ducks today on Merecroft Pool.
    • Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies.
    Here are a few photos from my visit. You may notice that I state the binomial name (the Latin) for each plant, that is because I am trying to learn these! :o)

    Peacock butterfly.

    Robin in poor light.

    Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta).

    Just a female Mallard, but I don't think I've ever seen one quite so high up...

    Zoomed out for some context.

    Variation in Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) flowers.

    Variation in Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) flowers.

    The Peafields/West Extension (HDR).


    Blackbird Goldfinch Moorhen
    Blue Tit Great Spotted Woodpecker Nuthatch
    Bullfinch Great Tit Peregrine
    Buzzard Greenfinch Robin
    Canada Goose Grey Heron Siskin
    Carrion Crow Herring Gull Song Thrush
    Chaffinch House Sparrow Stock Dove
    Chiffchaff Jackdaw Teal
    Coal Tit Jay Treecreeper
    Coot Lesser Black-backed Gull Tufted Duck
    Dunnock Long-tailed Tit Willow Warbler
    Feral Pigeon Magpie Woodpigeon
    Goldcrest Mallard Wren

    Monday, 4 April 2016

    Kings Norton Nature Reserve 25/03/16

    A bit tardy posting this, as I've been on holiday in the Lake District last week. However just before that I took my weekly trip to Kings Norton Nature Reserve. The weather was brilliant, mild and sunny, and I had high hopes that today I would finally get my first Chiffchaff of the year....

    I saw 40 species in total, of which one was new for me at this site, taking my over patch total to 61. Here are my highlights...
    • Today's new species was indeed a Chiffchaff, finally! I started my wanderings this week in the Peafields/West Extension and heard a Chiffchaff singing in an inaccessible thicket there - I couldn't see the bird. Then I bumped into fellow KNNR patch birder Adrian who said he had also had one near Merecroft Pool; I found this one too towards the end of my walk, singing and calling, and I managed to see him too. Spring is here!!
    • However, there were also many wintery birds still around. Surprisingly there were three Shoveler on Merecroft Pool, the highest number we've had all winter.
    • I also counted six Teal on Merecroft Pool, looking super smart in the sun.
    • There were a few Siskin still about, and a couple of Redwing in the Peafields/West Extension area.
    • Only one Great Crested Grebe on Merecroft Pool today, hopefully its partner will soon return.
    • I had a nice view of a singing Treecreeper along the narrow part of the Rea Valley route.
    • Ten Tufted Ducks on Merecroft Pool.
    • Two Buzzards over Wychall Reservoir, and also a Sparrowhawk near Merecroft Pool.
    • Another new butterfly for my KNNR list, a Brimstone patrolling the edge of the Peafields/West Extension.
    I saw plenty of evidence of birds thinking about breeding, including several species carrying nesting material, and both Blue and Great Tits investigating a nestbox. I also took lots of photos this time! The Friends of KNNR have asked me to contribute a few photos to be printed as cards for selling at events to raise funds, so I was trying to produce some card-worthy images. I'm not sure I succeeded but it was fun trying!

    The Peafields/West Extension.
    The Peafields/West Extension.
    The Peafields/West Extension.
    The Peafields/West Extension.
    The Peafields/West Extension.
    Primrose (Primula vulgaris) flowering on the bank next to Wychall Reservoir.
    Mute Swan portrait.
    Mute Swan. Weird light.
    Tufted Duck.
    Tufted Ducks.
    Merecroft Pool.
    Tufted Duck.
    Tufted Ducks.


    Blackbird Great Tit Redwing
    Blue Tit Greenfinch Robin
    Bullfinch Grey Heron Shoveler
    Buzzard Herring Gull Siskin
    Canada Goose House Sparrow Song Thrush
    Carrion Crow Jackdaw Sparrowhawk
    Chaffinch Jay Stock Dove
    Chiffchaff Lesser Black-backed Gull Teal
    Coal Tit Long-tailed Tit Treecreeper
    Coot Magpie Tufted Duck
    Dunnock Mallard Woodpigeon
    Goldfinch Moorhen Wren
    Great Crested Grebe Mute Swan
    Great Spotted Woodpecker Nuthatch