Monday, 28 May 2007

Beeley Moor - Derwent Reservoir - Matlock Forest

The day began as a scouting expedition, a chance to check out a few birding areas that may well become our local haunts when we manage the move into Derbyshire. First mark on the map was Beeley Moor, a few miles north and east of Matlock. It's one of the lower expanses of the Peak moorland, so not all moorland species are present. What we did see were plenty of Curlew and Linnet, charming enough on their own, and interestingly enough Willow Warbler were around - across the whole moor there might not be more than two dozen small trees and shrubs thinly scattered, otherwise it's vast heather, still the warblers were at home.
The moor itself is a designated wildlife sanctuary so access is limited and some of the best birding can be made from parking the car in a lay-by and watching from there.

The second leg of the day took us up to Derwent Reservoir which was fairly busy with holiday weekenders. Again fairly quiet of birds, several pairs of Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper were nice enough to turn up every couple of hundred yards. Perhaps the highlight here was in the car park, where family groups of Siskin were omnipresent on the niger feeders. That is #156 for my year list as I somehow failed to find any during the second half of winter.

The wind tunnel of Derwent seemed to have a constant flow of passing hirundine.

Then late in the evening, we're talking 10pm, we found a lay-by overlooking a clearing in a wood near Matlock. We'd read there's potentially Nightjar to be found there. No luck, however we did see roding Woodcock, a special sight and #192 for the life list. Their call is memorable enough in itself, a sort of croking frog that hiccups, what hen Woodcock would fail to be impressed?

All in all, not a bad day, and it's Plan B for the Nightjar - Sherwood Forest in a weekend or two, a more certain prospect by all accounts.

Video 1 - Siskin on niger feeder

Video 2 - Siskin on niger feeder

Both those hand-held-digi-scoped videos courtesy of the girlfriend, sometimes it takes a woman's touch.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

May is the month for...

...visiting gladed woodland, such as the at the RSPB's reserve at Coombes Valley (east Staffordshire).
Primarily because the Pied Flycatchers are showing. This one was a lifer for me and what a lifer! In the one hide overlooking a small pond he was closely attending to a nestbox, hardly more than five or six yards left of where you sit. I doubt I've ever seen fewer birds from any other hide, still for me this one still remains one of the very best.
Seemed all the female were on eggs, as we only saw male Pied Flycatcher, at least six different birds.

The other species Coombes Valley is famous for at this time of the year is Redstart. They were fewer, or at least more elusive. The best showing was a male hawking for flies on the island in the small pond. The only flycatching of the day, and it wasn't from any of the flycatchers.

Other notables were a pair of Raven being mobbed by Carrion Crows. The size difference so remarkable that at first it appeared to be a Buzzard being guarded away. Great and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker showed only very briefly up among the leaves, though Nuthatch was much more accommodating and even let us see a courtship routine in which one bird fed the other. And in the car park a still very dull chested Linnet gave off a five minute performance of its song.

Beautiful bluebell woodlands made the walk a delight.

With plenty of light left in the day we realised Dove Dale was good for a shot on the way home, and thus we detoured, arriving around five, by which time the big Bank Holiday crowds were melting away.
What we hoped for were the Dipper I'd promised the girlfriend. We hadn't found any at Coombes Valley, indeed it seemed unlikely anyone would spot Dipper there when the paths only cross the brook rather than running along it. Anyway, along the Dove we found our target, four or five of them that have clearly been emboldened by the masses that walk along the river during the warmer months. Fantastically close views, within ten yards of that bobbing underwater feeding technique. We even heard their song, a bizarre gurgle, a mixture between the throat warbles of a Blackbird and twisting versus of Reed Warbler. Nothing else quite like it.
Elsewhere on the river we found a Mallard with 17 very young ducklings, a record I defy you to break, and a Goosander with 6 of her own. Close views of her too, the sort you just don't get in the Winter.Red-legged Partridge were also around.

At the end of the day the count came up to just 50 species, some real crackers in there though.
Birds thrill again!

Video 1 - Pied Flycatcher singing
Video 2 - Pied Flycatcher singing

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Carsington again

Had another free day so again got dropped off at Carsington Water by the girlfriend on her way to work (halves the bird-miles you see). For the ten hours spent there I found 64 species, not too shoddy for a reservoir shared with sailing and fishing interests.That Grebe is still playing fetch.

Best birds were the migrants (if no much hoped for Black Tern), a Whimbrel movement is on nationally with one bird present at Carsington, tricky IDing job too since the head markings weren't as prominent as should be, eventually the RSPB guy in there with me agreed it was a 1st-year bird rather than short-billed strong-eye-striped small male Curlew. Also showing in the distance of the middle waters was the odd Arctic Tern with the Commons. Difficult call at that range, I know some people who just call them 'Comics', so I was mainly going on the proportions of the bird - the wings on the Arctic look forward set compared to the Common which have them in the middle. Decent bird on such an inland site.
A Common Sandpiper was about too, plus a few Little Ringed Plover, a Curlew that apparently pops down once a day from the hills to bathe, Raven probably nesting, and the regular summer warblers. And the Great Northern Diver is still there! Getting ever more elusive though, all day I got only the briefest view of a bird that was far from shy back in November when it first appeared. Now we're into May, it really ought to think about moving on.

Best moment of the day however went to showing some kids the Curlew through my scope. Their grandparents were already doing a decent job enthusing about the birds, and when the wader flew in with its extravagant bill, it was the natural thing to call them over. The small kids seemed genuinely impressed.
Great birding karma I can tell you!

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Paxton Pits

Down Cambridge way for business I tagged along with the girlfriend so that we could make a day out of it, including a saunter around Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, with a number of target birds in mind. Number one was the Paxton speciality, Nightingale, indeed the reserve is probably the best place for them in Britain with 20+ calling males already arrived.

During our last visit there late in the season the birds were only shrieking the occasional alarm call and my girlfriend felt rather disappointed, not really understanding the acclaim of the Nightingale. This time I'm pleased to say they were in fantastic voice, just listen to the video (below). Best visual sighting was the occasions when a fairly small brown bird flew away from the bushes and the song stopped.

Other best birds of the day were the 4 Hobby that passed above, hawking for insects at high altitude for a while in the early afternoon, and my first Garden Warbler of the year [#150]. Attracted first by the Blackcap-like-call that doesn't quite sound right, it is really difficult to impress anybody who hasn't seen one just how plain they look. Speaks a lot that the most significant marking on the dull brown bird is a dull grey patch behind the ear. Other warblers showed well too, Reed, Sedge and Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat too.

Paxton also has a very large Cormorant colony, 160 pairs so I'm told.

On the way back up the A1 a brief detour to Rutland and a pull in on the A6003 that overlooks the Osprey nest in Manton Bay, where we saw the male bring in a late fish supper.
That pair are now incubating eggs which is great news, particularly since neither has bred before.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Brief update

Bluebells are in good bloom down at one of our local woods. The woodland itself is getting a bit too thick of leaf to see very much now, so most birds were only heard, like Blackcap, Song Thrush, and crying Buzzard above.

Earlier at the pit was a nice passage Wheatear, a richly ruffous female at that. Most likely a leucorhoea/northern race bird, sometimes called Greenland Wheatear since that's where they breed - some of which may even be destined for mainland North America. Despite their longer journey they seem to come through a little later that the British race.