Monday, 25 June 2007

Monty Harrier's Flying Thrilled Us

In defiance of the weather we headed out for the Montagu's Harrier viewpoint mentioned on Birdguides, and for all the rain I think we deserved the treat. The RSPB have a small camp set up in a lay-by on a quiet farm road and the nest site is in a wheatfield opposite so for such a rare breeder the views while not exactly close aren't very distant either. Both male and female showed very well, and just before leaving they decided to show off with an aerobatic mid-air food exchange, which made the 90 minutes between sightings well worth the wait. Truth be told they don't strike me as the most stunning of raptors, still their long-winged proportions and buoyant flight make for interesting observation, and the rarity does give them that 'wow' factor.
According to the guestbook we were among almost 80 visitors up until 3pm when we departed.
I know it's probably a lot further off for most other people, nonetheless if you can get there it's certainly one of the bird events of the year in Britain and made #197 for my life list.

Being remote farmland the secondary species are pretty decent too, a pair of Marsh Harrier were busy in the field opposing field, a Barn Owl quartered over a high bank in broad daylight and making occasional appearances on the telegraph wires was a calling Corn Bunting.

And for the sake of posting a bird picture... ...a very dodgy digiscope of the Corn Bunting taken in far from ideal conditions.

Now that harrier flight I mentioned. Here's an extract from the most comprehensive book on British birding folklore, Birds Britannica by Mark Crocker and Richard Mabey, in which they quote John Walpole-Bond's take on it,

"The normal flight of all these birds is very low, exquisitely easy, usually leisurely and always lovely to look at. They generally proceed by a series of three of four limp, if deliberate, flaps followed on the instant, each instalment, by a brief but beautifully buoyant glide, wings half-raised the while; frequently when hunting, do they quarter again and again the same section of their beat, floating methodically to and fro, hither and thither, light almost at the air itself."

That pretty much sums it up for me.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Rutland Water in June

Had the chance for a brief stop-off at Rutland Water a couple of days ago. It's always good value there and pretty quiet in the middle of the week too. I made for the Egleton Reserve side since that's where the greatest variety of species congregate, even if the Lyndon Reserve can boast its Osprey Nest.
71 species wasn't bad and I'm certain nowhere near as many as there are actually on site. Osprey aside, the birds of the day were the drake Garganey feeding in the shallows, and the Turtle Dove purring in a willow tree beside the path, #161 and #162 for my year.There was added spectacle as one hide overlooks a small stretch of lagoon favoured very much by the Common Terns. Little more than 5 yards from the hide they would splash down after fry.

Video One - Splash Down!

Video Two - Wait for it, wait for it...

Okay, a rather distant record shot I admit, undeniably Garganey though.

The Manton Bay Ospreys on the left here. Their diary says they currently have two chicks on the go, one-to-two weeks old. Must have been rough for them these past couple of days.

There was a 'probable' Sqaucco Heron reported the previous day, though no signs during my time there. I spoke with a couple of other birders and they feel the same way I do, somebody probably mistook a Barn Owl in flight. It happens, especially during an influx.

As ever, it was worth starting off early on any north-south journey through the midlands, if it gets in time at Rutland Water.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

River Trent Martins

Took a trip down to the river at the weekend to watch the hirundine colonies. There's a rather grand house above the bank that's crammed with House Martin nest cups, and it's a real treat to be able to stand on the pavement and watch the busy work of feeding chicks at close quarters.
Very cool that the owners don't mind the mess, I've known people to mindlessly knock down the mudcups as soon as they're built.

Meanwhile on the sand cliffs of the riverbank hundreds of Sand Martins excavated homes in a colony that's older than I am. In parts you stand at the water's edge little more than 10 yards away from the activity. The adults will watch you as they fly in, but seem so utterly confident in their aerial ability and the inaccessibility of their nests they'll just breeze by, seeming to look back at you with curiosity rather than alarm. Very nonchalant stuff.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Sherwood Forest Country Park NNR

Note the pale-dark-pale leading edge to the wing, classic Woodlark.

So we found a gem of a place, our only National Nature Reserve in the county - Sherwood Forest Country Park, a spacious mixture of ancient broadleaf woodland, conifer plantations and open heathland, all on the sort of sandy soil favoured by some pretty remarkable birds - not least of all Nightjar.

We began on Friday night with a guided walk led by one of the park rangers. It's a real treat when a chap like that shares specialist knowledge of his working patch - like showing us a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest that would be difficult to find during any regular visit. The walk started at 8:30. Above half a dozen Woodcock were roding throughout, meanwhile Tawny Owl chicks were branching although well hidden in the foliage, and from one of the plantations a Long-eared Owl chick begged and begged... and begged and begged for food with that distinctive 'squeaky gate' call.

Top of the bill was Nightjar and around 9:30 we edged onto the heathland where their chirring came to ear. We stopped overlooking a known territory and waited for action. That call was certainly loud enough but no bird yet visible, so the ranger used a nifty little trick. He slapped the back of his hand three times in quick succession which apparently imitates the wing-slapping part of the male's display flight. This obviously piqued the Nightjar and soon it was up against the skyline, the wafting butterfly flight and all. By now it was getting very dark and the walk headed back across the heath. Happily I spotted another Nightjar for the group, a swiftly flying female that had such strange head-long proportions in direct flight.
Some locals watching from a gate-post told us that there aren't as many Nightjar these days, which would be a shame if true.

Impressed by all of this the girlfriend and I couldn't stay away and made a visit the next day to retrace our steps and orientate a route for ourselves. The reserve is only 10 miles from home so we could make the place a regular spot.
In the daytime the birdlife was very different, a change from the nightshift species, some specialists too. Tree Pipit was very numerous, my first. Previously I'd always carefully listened to Meadow Pipits hoping to hear something different, but when a Tree Pipit does give you its splendiferous chorus you can't really mistake it for anything else. Cuckoos called throughout the day and we followed a male down a bridleway, jumping out of our skin when we flushed it from undergrowth beside the path only 5 yards ahead.
The other distinctly notable bird was the Woodlark, pictured above, again flushed from a path and very bold it was too, sitting for several minutes in the tree above us.

Again we heard the Nightjar's chirr though much earlier in the day, around 6:30 in the afternoon, still in fairly strong daylight at this time of the year. It was seemingly responding to our hand-slapping. Yes, it really works!
What else? Jay, Yellowhammer and Linnet, were nice birds.

The Common.