Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker painting for KNNR newsletter

Since I adopted Kings Norton Nature Reserve as my local patch last October, I've made contact with various lovely people from the Friends of Kings Norton Nature Reserve and their committee. Recently their Chairman Phil Evans asked if I would mind writing an article for their next newsletter about my birding experiences so far at the reserve. Of course I was happy to contribute - it would be a nice opportunity to put something back into the reserve that I have already got a lot of enjoyment from.

Phil asked me to provide some photos with the article I wrote; although I've got plenty of scenes of the reserve, I don't really have any good ones of birds I've seen there, so I decided to do a painting instead of my favourite sighting at KNNR so far - Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. It's done in my usual preferred medium of watercolours; I'm pretty happy with how the woodpecker himself has turned out, but I am not so good at backgrounds (I've had less practice, and find them so much less interesting to paint than lovely birds!). I kind of ran out of time a bit so the tree trunk isn't looking as good as I would have liked! I think I could probably improve it with a bit more work but the newsletter deadline is here so the image and article have been sent off, and I am a bit more excited about starting on the next painting to be honest :o)

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker watercolour painting.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 23/01/16

On Saturday afternoon I was back for my weekly jaunt around my local patch, Kings Norton Nature Reserve. The weather was warmer than on my two previous visits; would I see more springtime-type activity from the birds as a result?

I saw 33 species, a bit down on my last couple of visits but there were still some lovely sighting nonetheless :o) Here are the highlights!
  • Kingfisher! I'd only seen one here once before, on my very first visit, perched in the middle of Wychall Reservoir. Adrian (who has also recently adopted Kings Norton Nature Reserve as his local patch) had had more sightings than me and told me a certain spot to check - the edge of a reed-fringed pool just about visible from the path, west of Wychall Reservoir. I was heading over there from the West Extension, hoping to see a Kingfisher....however before I'd even got that far I saw one (a male) perching on a twig overhanging the River Rea, just past the weir. He flew off after a little while, and I continued on. I soon relocated him in the spot that Adrian had told me about, hurrah!
  • I started at the West Extension this time around, and it was pretty productive. I found at least two Lesser Redpolls feeding on the ground upon the seedheads of fallen willowherbs and umbellifers; they were very quiet and unobtrusive and although I only saw two for sure, I think there may have been a few more in there.
  • Also in the West Extension, four Stock Doves feeding on the path in the open grassland area, being closely watched by a cat who slunk off after a while.
  • Some nice views of Jay this time, in the West Extension again.
  • Just two Goosanders on Merecroft Pool this time; no Shoveler or Little Grebe, maybe because the weather had warmed up?
  • A pair of Grey Wagtails, one of them very loudly singing, on the shore of Merecroft Pool.
  • Seven Teal on Wychall Reservoir.
Four Stock Doves; cat slowly losing interest.

I also met another member of the Friends of Kings Norton Nature Reserve who was walking her dog near Merecroft Pool; it was nice to chat to her about the reserve, and she showed me another part of the reserve that I'd never worked out how to get into before - a field next to the paddocks where there is a bird feeding station, among other things.

Here are a few more photos - HDR is great for making cloudy skies look extra-dramatic!

The West Extension (HDR).

The West Extension (HDR).

The West Extension (HDR).
The West Extension (HDR).
The West Extension (HDR).

Blackbird Great Tit Magpie
Black-headed Gull Grey Heron Mallard
Blue Tit Grey Wagtail Moorhen
Bullfinch Herring Gull Robin
Carrion Crow House Sparrow Song Thrush
Chaffinch Jackdaw Starling
Coot Jay Stock Dove
Dunnock Kingfisher Teal
Goldcrest Lesser Black-backed Gull Tufted Duck
Goosander Lesser Redpoll Woodpigeon
Great Spotted Woodpecker Long-tailed Tit Wren

Friday, 22 January 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 16/01/16

I took my weekly trip to my local patch, Kings Norton Nature Reserve, last Saturday afternoon. This time I saw or heard 40 species, smashing my previous record of 39 on my last visit! Nothing I hadn't already seen here before; here are the highlights:
  • Very frustratingly, I heard what I'm 98% certain was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming several times, and calling once - but I couldn't see it! It was coming from the vicinity of a large Willow next to Merecroft Pool, at the edge of the paddocks. I'm not awfully familiar with the drum and call of LSW having heard it so infrequently, but the drumming was certainly much less deep and resonant than I would expect to hear from a Great Spotted Woodpecker. It matches well with recordings I've listened to subsequently. Plus if it had been a GSW I think I would probably have been able to see it, given that they are so much bigger!
  • The male Shoveler was still present on Merecroft Pool.
  • Stock Doves were also once again more in evidence than on most previous visits.
  • After losing its mate and being AWOL last week, one of the Mute Swans had returned.
  • No Goosanders on Merecroft Pool, but I did see three fly over.
  • A Little Grebe was still present on Merecroft Pool.
  • I caught a very brief glimpse of a Lesser Redpoll, where I have seen them before - eating seeds from the Phragmites seedheads around Wychall Reservoir.
  • Four Teal on Wychall Reservoir. 
  • I heard a green Woodpecker from Popes Lane.
  • Lovely singing Treecreepers in the West Extension.
  • Roosting Redwings settling down for the night in the West Extension.
  • Another mammal encounter, also in the West Extension - a smashing Fox who regarded me for some time before setting off on a patrol of the reserve perimeter, all the while keeping one eye on me!
Merecroft Pool just visible through the trees (HDR).
Probable location of the drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - the tallest Willow on the right (HDR).
The Shoveler.
This Coot seemed happy to pose for photos.
I nearly missed out the West Extension again as the light was failing and I was getting a bit cold, but I'm very glad I didn't neglect it this time. The Treecreeper sightings were the best I'd had so far here, I think there were two birds and it was lovely to hear them singing. The Fox was great too, he was just sitting there out in the open, watching as I emerged from the trees. He was quite distant and the light was too bad for photos, so I attempted a couple of (slightly shaky) videos instead!


Blackbird Green Woodpecker Moorhen
Black-headed Gull Greenfinch Mute Swan
Blue Tit Grey Heron Nuthatch
Bullfinch Herring Gull Redwing
Canada Goose Jackdaw Robin
Carrion Crow Jay Shoveler
Coal Tit Lesser Black-backed Gull Siskin
Coot Lesser Redpoll Stock Dove
Dunnock Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Teal
Goldcrest Little Grebe Treecreeper
Goldfinch Long-tailed Tit Tufted Duck
Goosander Magpie Woodpigeon
Great Spotted Woodpecker Mallard Wren
Great Tit

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Sandwell Valley January 2016

On Sunday I was back for the first time this year for my monthly volunteering day at RSPB Sandwell Valley. We started the morning with an enjoyable half an hour watching the feeders from the warmth of the visitor centre, where alongside the usual suspects the highlights were the occasional Willow Tit, Coal Tit, Reed Bunting and Song Thrush; it was also good to see such high numbers of Greenfinch, which seem to have well and truly bounced back after their populations here were decimated by trichomonosis a few years ago.

It was then time for my stint down in the hide and I had wrapped up well in preparation. It was rather chilly! We were on the lookout for a female Smew which had briefly spent some time on Forge Mill Lake the previous day, but sadly she didn't show up again. No Goldeneyes either despite the freezing temperatures! We made do with a couple of Wigeon, some Shoveler, Pochard, Goosander, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Lapwing, as well as the ever-present Black-headed Gulls. There was also a Grey Wagtail and a Pied Wagtail around, and a nice group of Snipe sheltering by a large willow stump at the end of one of the islands, which I attempted to draw:

Snipe sketch.
The female Oystercatcher also put in an appearance, having first returned to the reserve in December, a couple of days before New Year - around a month earlier than her usual return date! We know it's the same one every year as she only has one foot. We did see one more unusual visitor to the reserve - a Great Black-backed Gull.

The female Oystercatcher.

Great Black-backed Gull.
I went back up to the visitor centre to eat my lunch and warm up; luckily there were enough volunteers in the hide that afternoon for me to stay in the warm for the rest of the day! We continued to watch the feeders and there was quite a bit of excitement when a Fox appeared underneath them and swiftly dispatched a Rat that had been eating fallen birdseed! This Fox has been seen taking out Rats in this fashion a few times - it seems he has become quite skilled at it. We saw him again, although he didn't catch a Rat the second time. It was amazing how he just seemed to be able to appear out of nowhere!

Fox with his tasty Rat prize.


Friday, 15 January 2016

Winter marvels at Rutland Water

On Sunday it was the first West Midland Bird Club trip of the new year, to our usual January destination of Rutland Water. As always we were on the lookout for Red Kites from the coach in the vicinity of Kettering and Corby, and we saw good numbers of them patrolling the roads and surrounding fields! A nice surprise also was two groups of Grey Partridge in the fields from the coach.

Our first stop was at the dam end of the reservoir to look for anything that might be out on the water. There had been reports of a Great Skua, Great Northern Diver, Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes recently but we didn't have much luck with those, perhaps because there were quite a few small fishing boats out on the water. We did see plenty of Goldeneye, Great Crested Grebes, Wigeons, Cormorants and a Little Grebe but that was about it!

View near the dam (HDR).
Then it was off to the main nature reserve at Egleton. We started with a look out over the lagoons from the viewing gallery in the visitor centre, finding plenty including Pintail, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Lapwing, Black-headed Gull, Stonechat, Linnet and Stock Dove. More excitingly there was a Great White Egret, the first of a few we would see that day (or maybe just one very mobile individual?!) sneaking along at the back of one of the lagoons. 

Great White Egret.
There was also a gull provoking much discussion; as it resembled a Herring Gull but with mucky yellow legs some had suggested it might be a Yellow-legged Gull. I'm not a gull fan particularly but its small dark eye and very white head dredged up something about Caspian Gulls from the depths of my brain. I couldn't remember what colour their legs were but with the help of Andy H's ID app we ascertained that it was indeed a Caspian Gull, hurrah.  

View from the visitor centre (HDR).
We then headed off around the reserve, and from the various hides (the names of which I can never remember!) we added to our lists Greylag and Egyptian Goose, Shelduck, Snipe, Curlew, Redshank, Little Egret, and Goosander. There were also gulls aplenty - Herring, Lesser and Great Black-backed, and Common. In the woods and bushes around the lagoon and field edges we found Siskin, Redwing, Fieldfare, Goldfinch and Long-tailed Tit among others. Another of the day's highlights was two lovely redhead Smew in the corner of one of the lagoons; they were perfectly lit by the low sun, which illuminated their deep crimson crowns in a most pleasing manner.

View of the reserve (HDR).
View of the reserve (HDR).

We ended the day as we normally do, looking out for Barn Owl hunting over the marsh as the sun set. Sadly there was no sign of one this time - in the past we've often seen one, but perhaps it's not around any more. We did enjoy watching the various waterfowl, waders and gulls coming into roost though, and one birder (not from our group) helpfully pointed out a first-winter Mediterranean Gull to us. We also had two more Great White Egret sightings - the same bird as earlier, or a different one/s? And it was as always lovely to watch the changing light and cloud patterns as the sun set. All in all we'd had a good day and my year list is looking fairly respectable already, with a few species I don't always get every year :o)

Great White Egret again.
Changing light over the reserve (HDR).
Changing light over the reserve (HDR).
Changing light over the reserve (HDR).

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 09/01/16

On Saturday morning I was back at Kings Norton Nature Reserve for my first visit of the year, and it was a good'un! In a nice change from a lot of my recent visits it was sunny and fairly cold so I was hopeful that I might see a few more 'cold-weather' species than on previous occasions.

The birds came thick and fast as soon as I entered the Rea corridor from Westhill Road and I had quite a hefty list before I even got to Merecroft Pool, before continuing on to Wychall Reservoir and finally skipping the West Extension as I'd run out of time (I was hungry so had to go home for lunch!).

I saw a smashing 39 species, the most I've ever seen in one visit! And of these, three were ones I hadn't seen previously here. Here they are, along with other highlights:
  • Finally, Canada Goose - inexplicably absent from all my previous visits, these had now appeared on Merecroft Pool.
  • One solitary male Shoveler feeding furiously! This was also on Merecroft Pool and as the Friends have informed me they are not regular there, was almost certainly brought by the cold weather.
  • A Little Grebe, also on Merecroft Pool. I was expecting to see one somewhere sooner or later somewhere on the reserve.
  • More cold weather arrivals - seven Goosander, the highest number I've seen yet, on Merecroft Pool. There were five very smart males and two females.
  • Finally saw a Treecreeper, having only heard one previously. This one was in ivy-covered trees over the stream, seen from the cul-de-sac road off Wychall Lane between Wychall Reservoir to the east and the Rea Valley route to the west.
  • Stock Doves were much in evidence, in comparison with previous visits when I have struggled to find them. I saw a pair in trees while walking along the Rea Valley route from Westhill Road, then a pair again twice around the Merecroft Pool area. It may well have been the same pair three times!
  • Three Grey Herons around Merecroft Pool. They will hopefully be showing signs of breeding activity soon on the island.
  • A flock of around 35 Redwings in the trees and hedgerows surrounding the Paddocks.
  • At least three Coal Tits, one of which was feeding on Alder catkins in adorable fashion!
  • A Bullfinch having a bath! The spot in which he was bathing seemed to be a favoured spot for such activities as I saw a few species having a splash.
  • Not a bird, but I also found loads of what I think are probably Muntjac hoofprints, along the muddy paths through the area behind and to the west of Wychall Reservoir.
Muntjac footprints.
Muntjac footprints.
It was also nice to bump into and chat to another birder, Adrian, who like me had recently adopted KNNR as his local patch. It'll be great to have more eyes around this underwatched reserve and more records on Birdtrack! I spoke too to a few visitors who were interested in what I was doing, although there aren't usually many birders around at KNNR it is very popular with local people and it's good to see people out and enjoying their local nature reserve.

I didn't see any Teals on Wychall Reservoir, it was probably a bit too early in the day as they normally seem to be there later. It was also sad to see that the Mute Swans were absent from Merecroft Pool - I'd heard from the Friends of KNNR that one of the pair usually on the pool had sadly died, so maybe its partner had flown off somewhere to try and find a new mate.

I had fun trying out my new zoom lens - most of the birds I photographed were a bit too far away for any particularly outstanding photographs but it's good for record shots, and a lot better (and lighter!) than the manual zoom lens I was using before.


Smart Goosanders.

Little Grebe.

Goldcrest peeping out!
Here are a few other scenes of the reserve.

British Waterways Meadow (HDR).

Debris at the stepping stones on the River Rea (HDR).

One of my favourite views of KNNR! (HDR).

I love Alder catkins and cones.


Blackbird Goosander Mallard
Black-headed Gull Great Spotted Woodpecker Moorhen
Blue Tit Great Tit Nuthatch
Bullfinch Greenfinch Redwing
Buzzard Grey Heron Robin
Canada Goose Grey Wagtail Shoveler
Carrion Crow Herring Gull Song Thrush
Chaffinch Jackdaw Starling
Coal Tit Jay Stock Dove
Coot Lesser Black-backed Gull Treecreeper
Dunnock Little Grebe Tufted Duck
Goldcrest Long-tailed Tit Woodpigeon
Goldfinch Magpie Wren