Thursday, 24 March 2016

Sandwell Valley March 2016

On Sunday I was back volunteering at RSPB Sandwell Valley, for the first time in a while due to being ill last month. It was nice to be back! In the morning Alf and I mooched in the visitor centre, chatting to visitors and regulars and enjoying the birds through the giant windows looking out onto the feeders, and the marsh and Forge Mill Lake beyond. Several Lesser Redpolls had been visiting the feeders lately and we enjoyed them particularly, as well as the usual suspects including a Willow Tit which put in a brief appearance, a Coal Tit, a few Long-tailed Tits, a Song Thrush down on the ground and a smart male Reed Bunting.

Mr Reed Bunting.

We also spotted a few Wigeon join a Shoveler down in the marsh, and a pair of Stock Doves flying around. At lunchtime Alf and I headed down to the hide, where we were joined a little later by Ian. After the previous very chilly day we hadn't exactly been relishing the prospect of sitting in the hide for several hours, but luckily the weather was considerably perkier than forecast and in fact we enjoyed a pleasantly cosy afternoon! Before we'd even reached the hide we startled a Snipe out from the edge of the marshy pool next to the path leading down to the hide; the first of a few we saw that afternoon, winter hasn't quite left us yet. In a similar vein there were still 17 Goosander on Forge Mill Lake and a scattering of Teal; and I STILL haven't found my first Chiffchaff of the year! Conversely, the Little Ringed Plover which has already been present on and off for around a month was bobbling around on the islands bringing cheer to us all, the Great Crested Grebes were busting some moves out on the water, and a pair of Coots were trying their hardest to build a nest in their usual spot in front of the hide. We also heard the noisy resident Rose-ringed Parakeets squawking away, saw several Buzzards hunting over the golf course, and enjoyed a Kingfisher whizzing past.

We were quite busy with visitors most of the afternoon, but I managed to grab a few minutes for some sketching too, as well as a bit of messing around with my zoom lens!

Great Crested Grebe dramatically silhouetted - that's my excuse for the terrible lighting anyway!

Sketches of Canada Geese.
Sketches of Canada Geese and Little Ringed Plover.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 19/03/16

On Saturday I was back again at my local patch for a spot of birding! I saw 37 species in all; no new ones today.....STILL no sign of my first Chiffchaff of the year, they really are taking their time! Here are my highlights:
  • I was standing beneath a tree when I heard a strange and unfamiliar noise - a lovely burbling song with both raspy and sweet notes. I scanned the branches above and spotted the culprit - a Jay! It was singing so quietly I would not have heard it if I hadn't been standing right underneath. I've only ever heard their harsh loud RASP of a call so it was great to hear the Jay's more sensitive side in its song! Even better, in the vicinity were two more Jays, and I watched the three of them chase each other around for a while. Perhaps these antics suggest they are thinking of nesting nearby....
  • Siskins, Siskins, Siskins. I've never seen so many on the reserve, they seemed to be everywhere I went!
  • I saw three Buzzards soaring over from the Rea Valley route near Westhill Road.
  • Five Tufted Ducks on Merecroft Pool.
  • There were several Redwing feeding on the ground behind and to the west of Wychall Reservoir. I've seen them here before, along with other thrushes - I think they are eating the seeds that have fallen to the ground from reed seedheads.
  • Four Teal on Wychall Reservoir.
In contrast to the previous week, today felt like I'd gone back in time a month or two into the depths of winter! It was cold and grey, there was no sign of the Great Crested Grebes or any butterflies, and instead the Siskins and Redwings gave the birding a distinctly wintery flavour.

I'm afraid I wasn't feeling very inspired by the gloomy weather so only took a couple of photos! Hopefully my next trip will be a bit more spring-like :o)

Merecroft Pool (HDR).
View from the dam at the north end of Merecroft Pool (HDR).

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

Monday, 14 March 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 13/03/16

Yesterday I was back at my local patch, in glorious springtime weather! It was very sunny and mild, and I really was hoping that today would be the day that I found my first Chiffchaff of the year. However it was not to be, but I didn't mind at all as three of the 36 species I saw were new ones for me at this site, taking my patch list up to 60! Here are the highlights:
  • The first new species I heard (but unfortunately didn't see) was a Reed Bunting, in the reeds and scrub to the northwest of Wychall Reservoir.
  • It was another raptor-tastic day thanks to the clear, still conditions. My second new species was Peregrine - a pair soaring very high up, seen from the River Rea path near Westhill Road.
  • The final new species I saw was one I'd been expecting for a while, as it is on the Friends of Kings Norton Nature Reserve's logo and I was starting to wonder where it had got to! It was of course Great Crested Grebe - a pair had arrived on Merecroft Pool and were engaging in their lovely courtship behaviour. I guess they spent the winter on a larger water body somewhere else. I saw them do the full dance - upright on the water, presenting bits of water weed to one another. I just caught the end of it in a short video, in which there is also lots of head-waggling:
  • More raptors - a maximum count of five Buzzards over the reserve, and a Sparrowhawk too.
  • A Treecreeper on Popes Lane.
  • Seven Tufted Ducks on Merecroft Pool - I wonder if any are resident and will stay all year round?
  • Five Teal on Wychall Reservoir.
  • Superb views of a Muntjac Deer in the area behind Wychall Reservoir - it saw me coming but I managed to stop a sufficient distance off so that it didn't scarper straight away, but instead had a good look at me before sauntering off.
  • My first butterflies of the year! A Peacock basking in the sun, and also a Small Tortoiseshell not on the reserve, but on my walk home.
  • Loooooads of frogspawn in the pools behind Wychall Reservoir.
Spring was well and truly in the air! I saw lots of birds getting paired up - no mixed tit flocks any more, even the Long-tailed Tits have abandoned their usual family groups to check out potential nest sites with their mates. There's nothing else like it, and now I'm feeling super-excited for the coming spring and all the delights it will bring!

Behind Wychall Reservoir (HDR).

Behind Wychall Reservoir (HDR).
Behind Wychall Reservoir (HDR).
Behind Wychall Reservoir (HDR).
Lovely Great Crested Grebe pair.
Peacock butterfly warming up.

Blackbird Great Crested Grebe Moorhen
Black-headed Gull Great Spotted Woodpecker Mute Swan
Blue Tit Great Tit Peregrine
Bullfinch Grey Heron Reed Bunting
Buzzard Herring Gull Robin
Canada Goose House Sparrow Song Thrush
Carrion Crow Jackdaw Sparrowhawk
Chaffinch Jay Teal
Coot Lesser Black-backed Gull Treecreeper
Dunnock Long-tailed Tit Tufted Duck
Goldcrest Magpie Woodpigeon
Goldfinch Mallard Wren

Friday, 11 March 2016

Red-backed Shrike painting

Here's a painting I recently completed of a super-cool bird, the Red-backed Shrike. I did this one to submit to an exhibition; alas it was not selected to be exhibited but I enjoyed doing it a lot. It was a nice opportunity to choose whatever subject I fancied, and also to experiment with incorporating more of a background, something I'm trying to get better at. I am trying to keep my backgrounds relatively simple, so that the main focus is on the bird and also because I find them much less interesting to paint! I am however envious of artists who are able to place their bird subjects within the context of a marvellous landscape....I think there is a balance to work towards in my own paintings between the bird and its surroundings; I don't think I quite achieved it just yet in this one.

Red-backed Shrike watercolour painting.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 05/03/16

I took my weekly stroll around my local patch on Saturday. I saw 39 species in all; no new ones, I'd been hoping maybe for my first Chiffchaff of the year but no sign yet. Surely my next trip will be the one! As on my last visit, the weather was cold but fairly calm with sunny spells; good raptor weather again. Here are my highlights:
  •  AMAZING views of a Water Rail feeding out in the open, in the wet area across the path from the south end of Merecroft Pool! I don't often venture down here as it involves crossing a sea of mud (I may be exaggerating slightly, but not much) but thought I'd give it a go this time. As I came round the corner I spotted two lanky birds in the water and thought 'it'd be great if one of those was a Water Rail - been a while since I saw one here'. Looking through my binoculars they were both revealed to be Moorhens, doh. But then I saw another bird at the far end of the pool and this one definitely was a Water Rail! I managed to sneak forward a few paces to sit on a large log, and watched the Water Rail feeding for around 20 minutes around the fringes of the pool, occasionally disappearing behind vegetation before reappearing again.
  • A large flock of Goldfinches with several Siskins among them, in the same place as I've seen them previously - the large bushes betweet British Waterways Meadow and Pinehurst Meadow.
  • Multiple female Sparrowhawk sightings throughout the reserve - the same one several times, or more than one individual?
  • A Buzzard over the Merecroft Pool part of the reserve.
  • I heard, but didn't see, a Green Woodpecker near Wychall Reservoir.
The Water Rail was difficult to photograph through the vegetation but I didn't want to get any closer in case I scared it off. These are my best efforts!

View full size to find the Water Rail!
View full size to find the Water Rail!
The Water Rail was at the far end of the pool over on the right (HDR).
There was a lack of wildfowl this week - no sign of the Mandarin Duck, no Goosander or Shoveler, and only two Tufted Ducks on Merecroft Pool and two Teal on Wychall Reservoir. I guess most of them are heading back to their breeding grounds now, but hopefully soon there'll be an array of new species arriving for the spring! Despite the recent cold weather there are plenty of signs of spring around the reserve; it was looking especially nice today in the sunshine.

I got a good photo of the Mistletoe this time.
British Waterways Meadow (HDR).
British Waterways Meadow (HDR).
Pinehurst Meadow (HDR).
The West Extension (HDR).
The West Extension (HDR).

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

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 27/02/16

On Saturday I was back for a wander around my local patch. This time it was with the Friends of Kings Norton Nature Reserve for their monthly guided walk, so there were a few of us. It was good winter birding weather, calm and cold with sunny spells especially later on.

Here are my highlights; I saw a smashing 42 species in all, of which one was a new one for me at this site, so I've now seen 57 species in total at the reserve.
  • This week's new species was a Cormorant, which was clearly thinking about landing in Merecroft Pool as it circled around several times overhead, before deciding not to and flying off.
  • Mr Mandarin was still there and this time I had the right camera lens! It helped that he also came very close; he's been associating with the Mallards as Mandarins often do, and as we stood on the bank the Mallards approached us no doubt expecting to be fed. The Mandarin was in tow and followed them onto the bank before walking right up to us, albeit looking a bit confused. No sign of any ring on his legs so I think it's safe to say he's a wild bird and not an escapee from a wildfowl collection.
  • Wintery vibes with lots of Redwings and Siskins much in evidence across the reserve.
  • A Green Woodpecker flew up from the grass as we entered the West Extension from Popes Lane.
  • We saw two Buzzards, one being mobbed by gulls over the West Extension and another soaring further off. I also saw a Sparrowhawk hunting near Wychall Reservoir.
  • Only one female Goosander on Merecroft Pool this time, but eight Tufted Ducks and also seven Teal on Wychall Reservoir. 
  • A Treecreeper in the trees by the River Rea, seen from the footpath leading towards Wychall Lane going towards Merecroft Pool.
  • Not a bird, but a fleeting glimpse of a Muntjac Deer disappearing into the undergrowth in the West Extension. I've only seen their hoofprints here previously so it was nice to see the creature responsible!
The Mandarin Duck.

The Mandarin Duck.
I also spotted some Mistletoe growing on the reserve which was slightly unexpected; I didn't get a very good photo of it but as it's not going anywhere I will try and take a better picture next time! Here are a few scenes of the reserve that I did get.

Just behind the dam at the north end of Merecroft Pool. (HDR)
British Waterways Meadow. (HDR)
The River Rea. (HDR)
The River Rea. (HDR)

An ancient and defunct contraption which presumably used to control water levels in the River Rea, seen from Wychall Lane! (HDR)

Blackbird Great Spotted Woodpecker Mandarin Duck
Black-headed Gull Great Tit Moorhen
Blue Tit Green Woodpecker Redwing
Bullfinch Greenfinch Robin
Buzzard Grey Heron Siskin
Carrion Crow Grey Wagtail Song Thrush
Chaffinch Herring Gull Sparrowhawk
Coal Tit House Sparrow Starling
Coot Jackdaw Stock Dove
Cormorant Jay Teal
Dunnock Lesser Black-backed Gull Treecreeper
Goldcrest Long-tailed Tit Tufted Duck
Goldfinch Magpie Woodpigeon
Goosander Mallard Wren

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Redditch Starling murmuration photos

Last Friday I left work a bit early to go and check out the Starling murmuration in Redditch, just south of Birmingham. This flock of Starlings has been gathering every evening over the town centre prior to roosting in a stand of Leylandii next to a multi-storey car park. This means that you can get amazing views of the murmuration (along with a generous sprinkling of Starling guano) from the top of the multi-storey car park - it's car park 2 of the Kingfisher shopping centre for anyone interested in visiting. The Starlings started to gather around 17:00, and finally all poured into the Leylandii at around 18:00. I'm no good at counting flocks like this but there were easily thousands of birds there; not the largest flock but I hadn't seen a proper murmuration before so my mind was still fairly blown! There were quite a few people watching too, many of them non-birders - it was great to see everyone getting so excited about this natural spectacle! I took loads of photos; view them full size for the full impact. There are also quite a few videos on YouTube of the roost. The Starlings will start to disperse for the breeding season soon so get down there quicksharp if you want to see them!