Saturday, October 27, 2007

Draycote Water in Autumn

We couldn't decide between Salcey Forest and Pitsford, so opted for Draycote Water in Warwickshire instead, on the basis someone had reported a Snow Bunting there at the start of the previous week. On arrival we checked the bird sightings book. There was a report of a Horned (Slavonian) Grebe. Knowing our luck it would have headed off first thing.

We set out anti-clockwise on this our second visit to the reservoir to see it from a different perspective. The reservoir itself was teeming with fishermen on boats and offshore, so what waterfowl there was had been pushed back into three or four areas of the reservoir.

Halfway round we met a chap who asked if we'd seen the Grebe as it had flown from where he'd been watching to the area we were headed away from. No such luck. We decided to press on though feeling that we'd probably missed out.

We got to the tower, where it had been spotted the previous day, and up it popped, at the back of a group of Tufted Ducks, which was a result!

As you be able to tell from the pictures, the light was poor, with the skies very overcast, but we were still delighted to see a Horned (Slavonian) Grebe for the first time, and to be able to photograph it:

You can just make out the very bright red eyes. The bird was very busy, regularly diving. This time it emerged with a small fish (click on the pic for a closer look):

It must have spotted something close to the surface of the water, as it ran across the surface, first from left to right, followed by a short dive:

Then from right to left though this time faster, using its wings to drive it on:

We watched it for about five minutes then left it be. Further round we spotted this very lightly coloured Little Grebe, we presume a first winter?

There were too many fishermen on the water, crowding out the birds and the temperature was much lower than we'd planned for but seeing the Slavonian Grebe made our morning!

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, October 20, 2007

third week running ...

... well we had to go back didn't we? Two frosts on the bounce though suggested any half sensible southern-European bird would be well on its way south by now.

Pitsford, first thing, was shrouded in a deep fog, with visibility down to just a few metres. We walked up the Scaldwell Bay and checked out the mud spit from the hides, but no waders, in fact we didn't see a single wader all day (Lapwings don't count!). The spit was dominated by Canada Geese, Cormorants and Black-headed Gulls, with the odd Wigeon completing the complement.

As a fortnight ago, the most commonly heard land birds were the flocks of tits, together with the singing Robins. We encountered a number of mixed flocks but some more homogeneous groups, including a small group of Willow Tits, this one extracting a seed from a cone (click the picture and you'll see what I mean):

The West Hide, approaching halfway around and 1.6 miles before the Walgrave Hide (assuming a clockwise walk) is the perfect spot for a tea break. In the early morning light, the steam from the tea appeared as waves of individual particles, which was something I've not seen before. In the bushes to the left of the hide a flock of Long-tailed Tits were foraging, which included frequent passage in front of the hide to the trees on the right hand side. In amongst these tits though, a lone, ringed Chiffchaff stood out (again worth a click):

As we drank our tea there was quite a commotion as a group of Wigeon chased each other around the (Walgrave) Bay. We couldn't see what they were, as they landed then took off again on the far-side, then headed out of view, but the fun (and noise) continued; shortly after they came in to land in front of the hide:

At least twice on the way around the nature reserve we passed through small flocks of Goldcrests, a tiny bird exhibiting the same behaviour as the Firecrests we'd seen recently in Madeira, a very busy insect-hunt along small branches in their chosen tree. You can tell by the size of the sloe berries in the picture just how small these birds are. This Goldcrest is showing its characteristic head-stripe:

This shot, taken later, shows another bird in profile:

All around the reserve we encountered Redwings, many more than last week, and unless we kept flushing the same groups around, the most we've seen at Pitsford before. Virtually every cluster of 'berry' trees and bushes contained them:

Called Redwings, spookily, because of the red markings along the wing edge. Entering the last hide, clockwise, on the reserve we flushed out a Wren, which had being doing something with or to the nest set just above the entrance. There were few birds in the Holcot arm of the reservoir, a few Great-crested Grebes, Wigeon, Pochard, Coot, Gadwalls, etc. I snapped this Black-headed Gull, showing its winter plumage as it landed on the water (it almost looks like it's dancing):

Having completed the walk around the nature reserve and along the causeway we dropped off our coats and collected our lunch and set off round the public section. There are many fewer birds on this side, due both to the substantially reduced habitat and the increased human activity, however the south side has seen a number of the less common birds over recent years. Our walk didn't reveal much, we spotted this Great Spotted Woodpecker (the second of the day) in the penultimate wooded copse on the anti-clockwise walk:

Finally a Starling, perched atop a tree as we approached the causeways for the second time, showing its colours really well. The double-loop, figure of eight walk is approximately fifteen miles all told and was another great experience of Pitsford, but we've decided weather and studies permitting, to try out Salcey Forest next weekend:

When we got back and checked out Mike Alibone's rare bird web page ( there was a report of six Bewick Swans landing in the Scaldwell Bay that morning, four of which took off and landed in Walgrave Bay. Was it these four swans we saw landing, with the short necks, long looking beaks and general colouring?

Maybe we'll have to go back to Pitsford next week and have another look...?

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Oooh oooh oooh

We'd promised ourselves another walk around the nature reserve at Pitsford and decided for Saturday morning as it's the quietest part of the weekend. When we got to the car park there were only a few hardy joggers about.

The weather defied the forecast and was stuck between light drizzle and something a bit wetter, without making up its mind so photography was going to be tricky.

On the way up to Scaldwell Bay we saw at least three Stonechats, mostly perched atop reeds by the waters' edge. In the Scaldwell Bay we saw at least five (Northern) Pintail ducks, including this group of three, the drake is easily distinguished by the very white neck and dark head:

Right in front of the next hide, I snapped this Ruddy Duck female, diving for food (there were a good twenty Ruddy Ducks on the reserve):

Also in plentiful numbers, alongside the Teal, Wigeon, Pochard and Tufted Ducks, were a number of Gadwalls, including this drake:

and this juvenile, note the orange beak colourings:

We stopped in the West Hide to finish our tea, disturbing a small flock of Redwings on the way in, they were feeding in the berry trees by the hides, and watched this Little Grebe splash across the water in front of the hide, before settling to a more sedate passage:

Beyond the West Hide, and in the area between Scaldwell Bay and Walgrave Bay the Herons were quite agitated. They were calling much more than normal and there were many more visible than we normally see. Helen spotted it first, there was a bright-white Heron sized bird, with a yellow beak and black legs. As the light was bad and the bird was constantly on the move, being harassed by the Herons, it was very hard to get a decent photograph but I did manage one as it took off:

From this picture coupled with the size of the bird and the reaction of the 'locals' we knew it had to be a Great White Egret, a rare but annual vagrant to Great Britain. We've never seen one before. Seeing this bird here at Pitsford was very very exciting. It's certainly the rarest bird we've seen both in Northamptonshire and at Pitsford and it validated our decision to go out in quite lousy weather. I managed another snap of the bird settled but out of focus before it was off again, heading back into the bay area and away from us:

Having confirmed by double-checking the photos with the images and the description in our field guide we decided we had to let the Northants bird group know as we knew how badly we'd want to know! We don't have any 'bird report' type contact details, and as the bird was almost exactly halfway round the nature reserve, we decided to route-march to the fishing lodge to let them know first then headed back along the causeway to the car, covering approx. 3 1/2 miles in an hour. What an exciting morning!

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pitsford at the start of Autumn

Pitsford today was absolutely bursting with life, as busy and as noisy as we've ever seen it. Walking around the nature reserve today was actually uplifting, with the all the noise, commotion and activity literally at every turn.

The numbers of Tufted Ducks, Wigeon and Black-headed Gulls exceeded anything I've seen at Pitsford before. There were also plenty of Pochards, Coots and Mute Swans too. We must have passed by at least eight flocks of tits too, with the species intermingled.

At last too there is some mud, now the water level is receding due to the reduced rainfall levels and the good people of Northampton's ongoing water consumption. On the first mud spit we spotted this eclipse plumage (Eurasian) Wigeon:

Whilst watching the Wigeon and checking out the huge numbers of other birds I spotted this wader land on the spit. It stayed hidden for quite a while but eventually waded along the spit. I'm pretty sure it's a Green Sandpiper (thanks Dave!), a first for us:

Not only was Pitsford alive with bird-life but there were plenty of mammals too, loads of grey squirrels, rabbits, etc. This muntjac deer gave us a start though as it crossed the path in front of us less then five metres ahead heading into cover on the reservoir side of the path:

I'm pretty sure we'll be back (weather permitting) next weekend, this time to do the double-loop again, with fingers crossed for some more waders!

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Madeira holiday

The last holiday of the year was a short trip to Madeira. The views are mostly stunning:

The birds are limited in variety but closer than in the UK, this Common Tern showing winter plumage, a sight you won't see in the UK:

There's lots and lots of lizards, lizards everywhere in fact:

The complete blog for this and other foreign trips is and will be on, which I started earlier in the year to accommodate our trip to Yellowstone.

Labels: , , , ,

Garden update - September 2007

A belated garden update. The juvenile Green Woodpecker is still a regular:

And this Wren joins the Robins as the only birds singing regularly now:

You can see from the above and below photos that the hedge has had a fantastic first year. We planted the whips on January 6th, all of them between 12 and 18 inches. The tallest is already over 8 feet high. The many trees are flourishing, and the 'commando planted' Pseudoacacia (i.e. probably not quite on our land but we hope the council put a Tree Preservation Order on it before they notice!) is also going from strength to strength. I had to jump the fence and hack back the brambles and nettles from around it twice during the summer but it's now taller than they achieve so shouldn't need too much help next year.

We've had a tree surgeon round to look at taking some dead wood off of the Lime Trees. He suggested we should lay down the hedge sometime next year, which will probably mean another year before the hedge is a substantive border and habitat but will mean a stronger and bushier end result, so we've decided rather than aggressive pruning over winter, we'll lay it down after next summer's growth.

We lost three rabbits to myxomatosis this year, the last died in the garden so I had to bury it (along with a pigeon and a collared dove, two of the recent cat kills), but one at least has survived, probably due to the supply of food and the lack of predation. The youngsters therefore should have some resistance. It was quite grim watching rabbit after rabbit succumb.

The most recent addition to the garden bird list was a (Common) Pheasant, so we're comfortably over 30 species in the garden (or above it!).

Labels: , , , ,