Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 13/12/15

On Sunday I took my last trip of the year to my local patch, Kings Norton Nature Reserve (I'll be in York over the Christmas break). It was another grey and gloomy day; we seem to have been having rather a lot of those recently. I went out in the early afternoon and conditions became increasingly foggy as the day wore on - by the time I left the visibility was fairly dreadful!

I saw 33 species, of which one was new for me at this site, taking my total after nine visits to 52 species. Here are the highlights!
  • Today's new species was a Pied Wagtail flying over, near Wychall Reservoir.
  • Goldcrests, Goldcrests, everywhere. I keep religiously checking each one just in case of wintering Firecrests, probably a bit optimistic but you never know.... 
  • My highest count yet of Tufted Ducks on Merecroft Pool, 13. A slightly more modest (compared to previous highs) 14 Teal on Wychall Reservoir.
  • A smattering of Siskins in the tall pines on the far side of Merecroft Pool (in back gardens).
Merecroft Pool
Mist-erious Merecroft Pool!
The area behind the dam (HDR).

I was a bit short of time this week so skipped the area not open to the public and the west extension; still managed a fairly respectable list though. After all the recent rain water levels were looking as high as I've seen them so far - my last visit was the first time I'd seen water flowing from Merecroft Pool into the overflow next to the dam, and today the volume of water seemed to have increased slightly:

Lots of water flowing through the nature reserve as a whole, good to see it playing its part in soaking up the rainfall and helping protect the surrounding area from flooding. 

I would probably not risk crossing these now!


Blackbird Great Tit Mute Swan
Black-headed Gull Greenfinch Nuthatch
Blue Tit Grey Heron Pied Wagtail (yarrellii)
Bullfinch Grey Wagtail Robin
Carrion Crow Herring Gull Siskin
Coal Tit Jackdaw Song Thrush
Coot Lesser Black-backed Gull Teal
Feral Pigeon Long-tailed Tit Tufted Duck
Goldcrest Magpie Water Rail
Goldfinch Mallard Woodpigeon
Great Spotted Woodpecker Moorhen Wren

Monday, 14 December 2015

Mere Sands Wood & RSPB Marshside

Bit tardy posting this - I went a bit HDR-crazy on this trip and it's taken me a while to find time to process all the photos!

Last Sunday I was off with the West Midland Bird Club again for our monthly trip. This time we were heading to Lancashire to visit two places new to the Club - Mere Sands Wood and RSPB Marshside.

Mere Sands Wood was first up but before we'd even got there the day was off to a great start with a hunting Barn Owl spotted from the coach en route, hurrah! Upon arrival we first inspected the feeders outside the visitor centre where we found a fairly standard line-up of the usual suspects; this included a nice Nuthatch. We then set off around the reserve which consists of woodland of varying ages surrounding a few lakes; from the hides overlooking the lakes we found various waterfowl including Goosander, Shoveler, Pochard, Great Crested Grebe and plenty of Teal, as well as a Kingfisher nice and close! In the woodland we found quite a few mixed feeding flocks of Goldcrests, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits; myself and a few others also saw a shy Treecreeper. There were also other woodland birds aplenty including Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Mistle Thrush and Redwing. Towards the end of the route as we approached the visitor centre again we also found Bullfinch and Siskin in the treetops, and back at the feeders the cast had expanded to include Coal Tit and three lovely Tree Sparrows. I was well pleased with these as it was a year tick....nice to still have my year list expanding at this late stage!

Mere Sands Wood (HDR).
Mere Sands Wood (HDR).
Mere Sands Wood (HDR).
Mere Sands Wood (HDR).
Mere Sands Wood (HDR).
Mere Sands Wood (HDR).
Mere Sands Wood (HDR).
Mere Sands Wood (HDR).
Mere Sands Wood (HDR).

Next we trundled over to RSPB Marshside; before we'd even got off the coach I'd already spotted a couple of Snipe flying over! The reserve looked very promising with its expanses of marshland peppered with waders and waterfowl; we decided to walk a clockwise circuit down Marshside Road, past the golf course then back towards the saltmarsh and along Marine Drive. We were soon enjoying hundreds of Wigeon, Teal, Black-tailed Godwit, Pink-footed Goose, Lapwing, along with smaller numbers of Grey Plover, Redshank, Golden Plover, Curlew and Snipe. We also saw Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls helpfully in close proximity to aid comparison, and a couple of Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails. The most exciting moment came when we bumped into some other members of our group who had seen a Ross's Goose from the visitor centre.....I tried to dredge up what I could remember about Ross's Goose (North American, white, small and cute like a Barnacle Goose!). We hot-footed it over there and were soon enjoying the goose for ourselves. The RSPB volunteer working in the visitor centre told us it had visited the previous winter too, and that although it was most likely to be an escapee from a collection rather than the genuine article, they couldn't say for sure. It mainly associated with Mallards which suggested an originally more domesticated setting, but didn't have a ring or any other identifying marker to indicate a captive origin. Anyway it was indeed a cute little chap regardless of its origin.

Distant Ross's Goose.
Flock of Black-tailed Godwits.
RSPB Marshside (HDR).
RSPB Marshside (HDR).
RSPB Marshside (HDR).
We ended our day as the sun set watching over the saltmarsh for any signs of hunting owls or raptors; unfortunately we didn't see any but didn't mind too much having already had a fairly splendid day.

Saltmarsh (HDR).
Sunset over the marsh (HDR).
Sunset over the marsh (HDR).

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 08/12/15

On Tuesday (for a change this week, as I'd had a very busy weekend with no local patch time!) I took my weekly visit to Kings Norton Nature Reserve. I'd forgotten that Tuesday is their weekly volunteer day, and when I arrived, encountered a veritable army of volunteers enthusiastically whacking various bits of undergrowth - no wonder I notice new signs of recent habitat management work so frequently on my visits! One of the volunteers turned out to be a former fellow Open University student so it was nice to catch up with him; I had a chat with another volunteer too who had been recording birds on the site for many years.

I saw 36 species, of which two were new ones for me at this site, taking my total after eight visits to 51 species. I'd hoped to reach at least 50 by Christmas so have smashed that target! Here are my highlights:
  • Finally saw a Green Woodpecker - hurrah. The birder I spoke to said he'd not seen any over the past few months either so it's not just me!
  • Another one I'd been expecting at some point - House Sparrows, near to the west end of the reserve adjacent to some houses and back gardens (unsurprisingly) along Wychall Road.
  • A Song Thrush doing what I can only describe as 'tuning up' - it was making some truly bizarre noises, snatches of which sounded like usual Song Thrush song, but most of which just sounded peculiar. Again I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of Song Thrushes around on the reserve generally.
  • Loads of Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests - my walk along the narrowest stretch of the River Rea corridor east of Wychall Reservoir was accompanied pretty much the whole way by these little squeaky fluff-balls. 
  • I heard two Water Rails by Wychall Reservoir. Despite loitering there for ages I didn't manage to see them though!
  • Three Grey Herons on Merecroft Pool.
No Teals this time on the reservoir - they often seem to turn up later in the day, I've had more luck seeing them when I've visited in the afternoon (today's was a late morning/lunchtime visit). Someone told me via Twitter that the Goosanders I'd seen a few times do the rounds of local lakes so the fact that I haven't seen them recently probably just means they've been on other water bodies nearby.

A few wintery scenes from the reserve - it was mostly too windy again for many HDRs: 

Wychall Reservoir (HDR).

House Sparrows on the left, back gardens on the right.

Marsh west of Wychall Reservoir.

Marsh west of Wychall Reservoir.

Marsh west of Wychall Reservoir.

Reedbed west of Wychall Reservoir.

Lovely Teasels.

Blackbird Great Spotted Woodpecker Magpie
Black-headed Gull Great Tit Mallard
Blue Tit Green Woodpecker Moorhen
Bullfinch Greenfinch Mute Swan
Buzzard Grey Heron Nuthatch
Carrion Crow Grey Wagtail Robin
Chaffinch Herring Gull Song Thrush
Coal Tit House Sparrow Starling
Coot Jackdaw Tufted Duck
Dunnock Jay Water Rail
Goldcrest Lesser Black-backed Gull Woodpigeon
Goldfinch Long-tailed Tit Wren

Friday, 4 December 2015

A Christmas Willow Tit

I haven't posted many paintings of late, because I've been working on a 'proper' painting which I've been taking a bit more time over (more on that at a later date), and also have produced a new painting which you can now buy on a Christmas card!

I felt this was a good excuse to paint one of my favourite birds, a Willow Tit. Whilst not exactly Christmassy, they do fill me with wintery feelings, as they are hardy little birds able to survive very harsh conditions due to their awesome food-caching skills! I plan to donate 25% of the retail price of the cards to the BTO, so if you like Christmas, Willow Tits, and raising money to fund bird research, head over to my shop now :o) or if you're likely to see me any time soon and would like to buy some cards, just let me know!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 28/11/15

I was back for my weekly stroll around my local patch Kings Norton Nature Reserve on Saturday. This time it was one of the Friends of Kings Norton Nature Reserve's monthly guided walks; however in contrast to the well-attended previous walk I'd been on, the only other person on this one was the chap leading it, Alastair. Luckily he was happy to still go for a walk despite the low turnout! We started by checking out Merecroft Pool before proceeding along the River Rea path and around the back of Wychall Reservoir and its surroundings. It was good to meet another of the Friends of KNNR - I learnt some more about the site's history and management, as well as some new bits to explore, and also a way in to the area officially closed to the public that doesn't require a key (just a bit of scrambling!).

After last week's Woodcock-based excitement, I was wondering if I might have another similar sighting, or perhaps see some other wintery visitor. I saw 37 species, of which three were new ones for me at this site, taking my total after seven visits to 49 species. 50 by Christmas is looking very doable! :o) I didn't see a Woodcock on this visit, but yet again Kings Norton Nature Reserve surprised me! Here are my highlights:
  • As I'd been hoping, Lesser Redpolls have now arrived for the winter. We had lovely views of four feeding on reed seedheads and perching in the tops of willows around Wychall Reservoir. When I came back along this way a bit later, there were five. Another new species for my patch list.
  • We had pretty much finished our walk when we stopped to watch a flock of Long-tailed Tits pass by near Wychall Reservoir. I then spotted a woodpecker high in a mature willow, pecking away quietly; a look through the binoculars revealed it was a little scrappy-looking fellow with a very stripy back. LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER!! This was another new patch tick and also a year tick - in fact it's only the second Lesser Spotted Woodpecker I've ever seen in my life! As such I was very excited indeed. Helpfully a Great Spotted Woodpecker also appeared nearby allowing us to compare the two. I did attempt to photograph the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker but my results were rather pitiful! However now I know they're there (they? I hope there's more than one anyway), I'll know to look out for them and maybe I'll be able to get a decent photo in time.
  • A flock of Feral Pigeons flying over was the other new species I saw - not so exciting, but still a tick.
  • Siskins have also now well and truly arrived after the brief flyovers I'd had previously. There were a few large flocks around feeding on Alders, mixed up with Goldfinches. Other finch species (Bullfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch) were also in evidence to a greater extent than on previous visits.
  • We heard Water Rail again in one of the creeks leading to Wychall Reservoir.
It was a bit too windy for HDR photos as shown by the first pic below! I took a few other wintery snaps however...

Too windy - a poorly aligned HDR photo!

Loooads of Teasels.
The remains of some kind of umbellifer seedhead I think - these always remind me of exploding fireworks.
Moss & lichen.


Blackbird Great Tit Mute Swan
Black-headed Gull Greenfinch Redwing
Blue Tit Grey Heron Robin
Bullfinch Grey Wagtail Siskin
Carrion Crow Herring Gull Song Thrush
Chaffinch Jackdaw Starling
Coot Jay Stock Dove
Dunnock Lesser Redpoll Teal
Feral Pigeon Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Tufted Duck
Fieldfare Magpie Water Rail
Goldcrest Mallard Woodpigeon
Goldfinch Moorhen Wren
Great Spotted Woodpecker

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 22/11/15

On Sunday I took my weekly stroll around my local patch, Kings Norton Nature Reserve. This time I was not alone - my parents were visiting for the day and we'd planned to go for a walk in the afternoon. I was excited to show them the reserve and also to see if the cold weather (finally!) might bring us any new exciting birds. We weren't disappointed!

I saw 34 species in total, of which two were new ones for me at this site, taking my total after six visits to 46 species. One of the new ones I saw today I hadn't anticipated at all previously and it had me very excited indeed, so here are my highlights:
  • Just after we entered the Wychall Lane entrance heading towards Merecroft Pool, two Mistle Thrushes flew over and landed in trees on the other side of the road. Another new species for my patch list.
  • After this we continued towards Merecroft Pool, and stopped in the open area after crossing the stream. I have found this area productive on previous visits as it's surrounded at its edges by large bushes and trees, which frequently host various tits, finches and other goodies. I was searching these out when I spotted flying overhead a very distinctive shape indeed, almost certainly brought to the area by the colder temperatures. It was a Woodcock! Not only was this a new species for my patch list, it was also a year tick - I very seldom get to see Woodcocks so this sighting pretty much made my day :o) It was flying west, which is the general direction of Wychall Reservoir and its surroundings - lots of lovely potential wintering Woodcock habitat. I wonder if I will see it again?
  • I had my highest count of Teal so far on Wychall Reservoir - 18 this time.
  • Still haven't seen any Siskin actually on the reserve yet despite the numerous tasty Alder cones awaiting them, but I had another single bird fly over near the Popes Lane entrance to the Rea Valley route.
  • I heard a Water Rail calling near Wychall Reservoir - not the squealing call but a more Coot-like persistent squeaky call which I've only recently learned. I've probably overlooked it a few times in the past as a Coot's call!
Pretty much all the Rowan berries have gone from the pathside leading down to Wychall Lane from the Rea Valley route. There were a lot of Blackbirds around in this area, perhaps some newly-arrived from continental Europe - I blame them for finishing off the berries, so much for my hopes of enticing some Waxwings in! At the stepping stones (well, stepping concrete blocks), which seem to have become the place where I assess the water level in the River Rea, I noticed that the flow had slackened somewhat since my last visit, but that it had been sufficient at some point to scour out the edge of the bank, leaving a small chasm between the bank and the concrete base of the blocks going into the water. On Merecroft Pool once again there was no sign of the Goosanders - maybe I've seen the last of them for now. I enjoyed some further HDR tinkerings, as well as photographing an unknown fungus near Merecroft Pool:

Stream near Merecroft Pool (HDR).

The paddocks (HDR).

West end of the reserve (HDR).

West end of the reserve (HDR).

West end of the reserve (HDR).
Mystery fungus growing on bark chips.
We had a lovely walk round in the crisp cold weather and my mum and dad were suitably impressed by Kings Norton Nature Reserve. We continued our day of fun by heading to Cherry Reds for dinner before going to see the marvellous Lau at the the Glee Club. Good times! :o)


Blackbird Great Tit Mute Swan
Black-headed Gull Grey Wagtail Nuthatch
Blue Tit Herring Gull Redwing
Bullfinch Jackdaw Robin
Buzzard Jay Siskin
Carrion Crow Lesser Black-backed Gull Teal
Chaffinch Long-tailed Tit Tufted Duck
Coot Magpie Water Rail
Dunnock Mallard Woodcock
Goldcrest Mistle Thrush Woodpigeon
Goldfinch Moorhen Wren
Great Spotted Woodpecker

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Sandwell Valley - November 2015

On Sunday I was back again for my monthly volunteering stint at RSPB Sandwell Valley. As the weather was extremely windy and a bit drizzly, and there were plenty of volunteers down in the hide for the morning, Alf and I stayed up inside the visitor centre, keeping nice and warm whilst enjoying the view of the feeders and down over the marsh from the giant windows! It was very pleasant indeed; on the feeders it was great to see so many Greenfinches - many of them juveniles so they've obviously had a successful breeding season. We also kept our eyes peeled for Bramblings as a couple had been spotted recently, but alas we couldn't make any of the numerous Chaffinches we saw into Bramblings. Also around were the usual Blue and Great Tits, Bullfinches, and a few House Sparrows, Goldfinches and Dunnocks, as well as a group of Long-tailed Tits passing through at one point.

After lunch we headed down to the hide. On the way I took a few photos:

Secret passage for the young 'uns! (HDR).
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) berries (HDR).

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) berries.

Hedge Bedstraw (Galium mollugo) still in flower.
Down in the hide, Forge Mill Lake was looking very choppy indeed and as a result virtually all the lake's usual residents were sheltering down at the far end in the distance. This included quite a few Goosander, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Mallard, the first Wigeon I've seen this autumn at Sandwell Valley, and just a couple of Shoveler. Along with a small group of Gadwall braving the wind up at our end of the lake, and a few skittish Teal, we've nearly got the full complement of winter ducks in now! Our search for Goldeneye proved fruitless, but they usually turn up when it gets colder.... There were also a few Snipe on the islands and far shore which generally kept their heads down, but occasionally would fly up or scuttle around a bit. One other interesting thing I observed which I'd never seen before was a Magpie caching an acorn - it landed on the island with its cargo and proceeded to peck a small hole in the mud, insert the acorn, then drop a bit of mud back on the top!

Choppy Forge Mill Lake.
Rough waters!
As most of the birds were a bit out of range for drawings and photos, I resorted to the omnipresent Black-headed Gulls to practice my sketching and photography skills; here are my efforts!

Black-headed Gulls.

Black-headed Gulls.
Black-headed Gulls.
Black-headed Gulls.
Black-headed Gull sketch.
Black-headed Gull sketch.
Although I didn't capture any in my photos, a couple of the Black-headed Gulls had partially-developed brown hoods, as though they were developing their breeding plumage. We didn't know whether this might have been related to the recent warm temperatures - I'm not sure what the triggers are for the development of breeding plumage, maybe temperature plays a part, maybe it doesn't.....something I'll have to try and find out more about. Either way, I'm hoping for some more seasonally-appropriate weather soon, and looking at the forecast for this weekend I think I might finally be in luck! Looking forward to seeing what changes it may bring to my birding :o)