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)

Monday, 16 November 2015

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 14/11/15

Just a quick one-hour wander around my local patch this weekend, in the small window on Saturday afternoon between the rain finally stopping and the daylight running out. As a result I only saw 26 species none of which were new, but I still had a few highlights:
  • Approaching the paddocks I saw something large on one of the fence posts, which turned out to be a Buzzard. With not many people passing through due to the bad weather the Buzzard obviously felt fairly OK about mooching around in open fields near to the path. It flew on to a more sheltered spot as I walked past but I saw it again later in a different field.
  • Another Buzzard flew over as I reached Merecroft Pool, and landed in the top of a large tree. At first I assumed it was the same one but it had a lot less white on its breast; I confirmed it was definitely a different individual after it flew off west and I then saw the first Buzzard again still in the paddocks. So, nice to see at least two Buzzards using the site!
  • Wychall Reservoir was looking very busy, with quite a few Teals and Mallards settling down for the night. Difficult to count how many as it as already quite dark by the time I got there!
  • The Jackdaw roost was well advanced, lots of Jackdaw noise but they'd stopped flying around and were clearly settled in. The longer I looked the more Magpies I realised were there too, roosting alongside the Jackdaws.
I didn't take any photos this time either due to the dreadful light! Hopefully next weekend I'll be able to get there for a bit longer, in better weather and earlier in the day.


Blackbird Grey Heron Nuthatch
Black-headed Gull Herring Gull Redwing
Blue Tit Jackdaw Robin
Bullfinch Lesser Black-backed Gull Song Thrush
Buzzard Long-tailed Tit Teal
Carrion Crow Magpie Tufted Duck
Coot Mallard Woodpigeon
Goldcrest Moorhen Wren
Great Tit Mute Swan

Monday, 9 November 2015

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 08/11/15

Yesterday afternoon I took my weekly trip to my local patch, Kings Norton Nature Reserve. I'd been looking forward to it particularly as I was feeling a bit gloomy after faring pretty dreadfully in a psychometric test I'd done that morning as part of a job application! So although the weather was rather grey, drizzly and windy I knew a change of scenery and looking at birds wouldn't fail to cheer me up :o)

This week I saw 32 species, two of which I hadn't seen previously on the reserve. These were:
  • Stock Dove - one flying over while I mooched around Wychall Reservoir.
  • Siskin - as I'd been hoping with winter supposedly on the horizon (when is it actually going to get cold?) - heard one fly over near the horse paddocks. There are quite a few patches of Alders around so hopefully I'll see some on the reserve itself before too long.
I've now seen a total of 44 species on the reserve over four visits.....I'm hoping I might be able to reach 50 by Christmas! Inexplicably I STILL haven't seen any Canada Geese.....also according to the Friends of KNNR I can apparently also expect to see Great Crested Grebe on Merecroft Pool, and I'm sure I read something about Gadwall somewhere too - maybe one of the information boards. Some of the reed-fringed pools towards the west end of the reserve look like plausible Little Grebe habitat, they are quite small bodies of water but there are many of them. The reeds make it difficult to see anything so I'll have to listen out. I'm also surprised not to have heard or seen Green Woodpecker yet, as I've heard them from our house only a mile up the road, and seen them while walking to work (admittedly in the opposite direction from KNNR).

Other highlights from this visit included:
  • Nine Teal on Wychall Reservoir.
  • Three Goosanders on Merecroft Pool. At least one was definitely a male coming out of eclipse, he was looking a bit patchwork with a darkening head!
  • Four Grey Herons around Merecroft Pool.
  • Song Thrushes galore - I've noticed they have been easily found on all my trips so far, hopefully this is a good site for this declining species. Will be interesting to see how many singing males there are in spring.
The water levels in Wychall Reservoir and along the River Rea were noticeably higher than on previous visits:
The River Rea - the concrete area in the foreground was high and dry previously. I did not attempt the stepping stones this time!

I also had fun trying to take a few autumnal pics using my smartphone and hand lens of Spindle berries (the BEST autumn berry) and an unidentified fungus growing on a dead tree stump (I need to get better at fungi ID). Here are my best efforts:

Spindle berries (Euonymus europaeus).
Spindle berries (Euonymus europaeus).
Unknown fungus.
Unknown fungus.
By the time it started to get dark, as hoped for I was indeed feeling in much higher spirits thanks to the distraction provided by some nice patch birding. Hurrah!


Blackbird Great Tit Mute Swan
Black-headed Gull Grey Heron Redwing
Blue Tit Grey Wagtail Robin
Buzzard Herring Gull Siskin
Carrion Crow Jackdaw Song Thrush
Coot Jay Stock Dove
Dunnock Lesser Black-backed Gull Teal
Goldcrest Long-tailed Tit Tufted Duck
Goldfinch Magpie Woodpigeon
Goosander Mallard Wren
Great Spotted Woodpecker Moorhen

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Magical Malvern Hills!

Having free time after completing my degree is marvellous :o) I went birding TWICE at the weekend, good times! After visiting my local patch on Saturday, on Sunday Chris and I went down to the Malvern Hills; I was hoping to maybe see the Ring Ouzels and Snow Buntings that had recently been reported there. 

The weather was very foggy throughout most of the journey there but luckily cleared as we approached Great Malvern. We headed straight up Happy Valley; although this is not the most interesting route up the hills and is also rather steep in places, it's where Ring Ouzels are frequently spotted around this time of year. It's thickly wooded at the bottom but starts to open out as you ascend, and it's around this zone where there are quite a few Rowan trees - hence the attraction for migrating thrushes.

Near the bottom of Happy Valley (HDR).
Heading up Happy Valley (HDR).

Delicious Rowan berries.....if you are a bird! (HDR)
We stopped to inspect a likely-looking Rowan tree not far from the path, which was the same one I found a flock of Brambling in two autumns ago. It's clearly a favoured spot as it was immediately obvious that it was jammed with Redwings stuffing their faces, along with a couple of Fieldfare. A few minutes of further scrutinity revealed a male Ring Ouzel, hurrah! We watched for a while and saw him fly around, being joined by another individual and landing in a few different spots before returning to the Rowan. NICE. We continued to the top of the valley where we stopped for lunch, and saw three Ring Ouzels fly past. It was so warm at our lunch spot that I heard a few grasshoppers rasping in the grass behind us.

It wasn't until we reached the ridge of the Hills and the view to the west opened up that we realised the entire surrounding landscape in all directions was covered in fog. The Malverns were like an island in the middle of a sea of cloud; it was impossible to tell how far away the ground actually was! Hopefully these photos will give some idea of how it looked although they don't really do it justice:

Chris, bemused by the abundance of fog.

Foothills on the western side rising through the fog.

Foothills on the western side rising through the fog.

Foothills on the western side rising through the fog.

Great Malvern being engulfed around its outskirts by the fog.
In search of Snow Buntings, we walked over the top of North Hill and circumnavigated it, but by that point I think there was too much disturbance and we saw no buntings. We did however see a Red Admiral flying over the summit - further evidence of how warm it was - and a pair of Stonechats on the eastern slope. 

On North Hill (HDR).
What with the Ring Ouzels (my first seen in the Malverns) and the mad weather we had had an excellent trip! I attempted a final two HDRs while we were waiting for the train back - Great Malvern station is one of my favourites :o)
Great Malvern railway station.

Great Malvern railway station.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 31/10/15

I took my weekly trip to Kings Norton Nature Reserve on Saturday morning, this time for a slightly different experience to my previous solo visits. The Friends of Kings Norton Nature Reserve run a monthly guided walk and it was this I was heading to! I was looking forward to meeting some of the Friends and learning a bit more about the reserve. The best bit of the walk turned out to be gaining access to areas which aren't open to the public - all the exciting-looking damp habitat in the heart of the reserve that is visible but out of reach from the Rea Valley path! 

Bird-wise I saw or heard 33 species, which included 4 I hadn't seen on previous visits, taking my total to 42. The new ones this week were:
  • Herring Gull - a juvenile and a subadult on Merecroft Pool.
  • Grey Heron - one on Merecroft Pool, one by Wychall Reservoir and one at the western end of the reserve near Wychall Road. Possibly the same one three times, but a couple of the Friends of KNNR members told me that there was a small Heronry on the island in the middle of Merecroft Pool, and that they regularly saw multiple individuals around the reserve.
  • Treecreeper - heard but not seen near Merecroft Pool.
  • Goosander - four redheads on Merecroft Pool.
Four Goosanders on Merecroft Pool. This is why I need an autofocus zoom lens.
Grey Heron by Wychall Reservoir.
Other bird highlights included a Fieldfare flying over with several Redwings, two Skylarks flying over, and a Magpie and Carrion Crow helpfully drawing our attention to the female Sparrowhawk they were mobbing.

Here are a few more pics including more HDR experiments!

The River Rea (HDR).
The River Rea (HDR).
Swan Mussel (Anodonta cygnea). These live in Merecroft Pool.

Merecroft Pool.
A few Ivy (Hedera helix helix) flowers still out.
Cut-leaved Crane's-bill (Geranium dissectum) still flowering.
Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) berries - a relative of tomatoes and the berries do remind me a bit of mini tomatoes.
Some recent wetland creation at the west end of the reserve.

What the above hole will probably look like in a year or two's time.
As mentioned above, the best bit of this visit was getting to see the large chunk of the reserve that is out of bounds to the public. This means that habitat can be created that otherwise wouldn't be allowed in a public area due to health and safety issues, and that it is minimally disturbed by people. There were loads of small ponds, scrapes and marshy areas with precarious raised paths running through them; also plenty of Willows at various life stages. The whole area can apparently flood when water levels get very high, and plays a part in protecting the surrounding housing from flooding at such times. I'm looking forward to checking it out in summer; I'm not sure it's got quite a big enough area of suitable habitat for Reed Warbler but you never know. Going to keep my eyes peeled for Reed Buntings too, and it looked like ideal Willow Tit habitat but they are so scarce round these parts nowadays that I think that would be an unlikely sighting indeed. Not that that will stop me looking!

A moody HDR of the wetland area!
Lovely stuff.
I've been thinking about what else I might expect to see as winter starts to take hold over the next few weeks. Hopefully Siskin and Redpoll - in fact on the afternoon of the same day we were out in the garden of our neighbours' house carving our Halloween pumpkins when I saw two Redpolls fly over, hurrah! Maybe I might see Brambling too? Fingers crossed...... I'll end with a photo of my spooky pumpkin!

It's meant to be a Raven!


Great Spotted Woodpecker
Mute Swan
Black-headed Gull
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Grey Heron
Herring Gull
Carrion Crow
Song Thrush
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Long-tailed Tit
Tufted Duck