Monday 17 September 2012

Blue-winged Teal x Northern Shoveler hybrid in Northamptonshire

Whilst sunning myself at relatively dead Middleton Lakes RSPB news of a BLUE-WINGED TEAL came through from Daventry Reservoir. Having not seen too many examples of this American species in Blighty, I decided to travel the short distance over the border into Northamptonshire to take a look at it. Upon arrival the bird had not been seen for over two hours but after a quick scan from the dam I managed to pick up an interesting looking duck in the distance feeding amongst the vegetation. Typically as I moved further down near the cafe for a closer look the bird quickly swam out of view into the sanctuary of Lovell's Bay. My immediate reaction from the brief glimpse was that it did resemble a BLUE-WINGED TEAL but there was definitely something not quite right about it. I needed an even closer look.

Blue-winged Teal x Northern Shoveler hybrid
Daventry Reservoir, Northamptonshire.

As I approached the small crowd that had gathered around the other side of the bay, there were already whispers of it looking more like a hybrid than a pure BLUE-WINGED TEAL. With the bird now showing reasonably well the bill looked a little too large from the side profile. When viewed head on however the spatulate bill looked much more like that of a Northern Shoveler. As it lifted it's head there was also a large amount of orange on the underside of the bill, again suggestive of Northern Shoveler. There was also a hint of orange along the cutting edge of the bill. In addition, the pale loral spot was not too obvious and neither was the pale eye-ring. The open wing was viewed very briefly and this seemed to look good for BLUE-WINGED TEAL but I unfortunately I failed to get any shots to confirm this.

Blue-winged Teal Northern Shoveler hybrid
Daventry Reservoir, Northamptonshire.

With Lee Evans on site the disappointment of 'dipping' a local rarity was made a lot more bearable with his entertaining outbursts of "Someone's dumped their duff duck!" and "The bloody thing can't even fly!". He was even heard to shout "This place is cursed!", no doubt in reference to both this dodgy duck and last year's 'Greater Greenlegs' debacle.

More images of this 'educational bird' can be found here

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Wildlife at 'The Cottage' - Spring & Summer

Well that seems to be it folks. The 'great British summer' is well and truly over judging by the strong north-westerly winds currently hitting the side of our exposed little, cottage as I write these words. With the nights now drawing in I thought I would share some of the wildlife highlights from our small corner of North Warwickshire over the past few months.

Bird Sightings

On the 2nd April our first male Yellowhammer of the year was heard singing. Despite our rural location this is unfortunately quite a scarce breeding bird in the Seckington area. Around this time the resident pairs of Red-legged Partridge and Grey Partridge became more noisy, trying to out call one another during dawn and dusk. The odd Skylark was also far more vocal and first few pairs of Mallard started to arrive looking for potential nest sites. On the 10th the first Chiffchaff appeared in the churchyard. On the 14th the first Swallow arrived and a single Lapwing passed through. On the 21st the first pair of House Martin appeared. Around the same time the resident Little Owls started to get more active and showed well from the kitchen window at times.

On the 1st May the first few singing Blackcaps arrived around the garden and on the 8th I was awoken by a particularly obliging Garden Warbler. On the 10th the local pair of Tawny Owl started calling again much to the agitation of the Little Owls. On the 12th a pair of Coot arrived on the small farm pool as did a pair of Moorhen. On the evening of the 14th whilst driving back from Alvecote, a magnificent Short-eared Owl flew over the lane just south of the village. A quick call to Nadia at home resulted in her grabbing her binoculars and rushing outdoors in order to add the species to our garden list. On the 18th the first Hobby of the year showed an interest in the growing flock of hirundines and on the 25th a stunning Red Kite circled the village for twenty minutes in the heat of the afternoon. On the same day our first two Yellow Wagtails of the year passed overhead.

A pair of Grey Partridge hide in the pasture next to the garden.

To our surprise the first Common Swift of the spring did not appear until the 5th June, on the same day a Song Thrush appeared on the other side of the village, alas another local scarcity. On the 9th June more late migrants started to appear at long last with both singing Common Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat heard from the garden as were two Reed Bunting. On the same day five Lapwing passed through and a small family party of Linnet appeared. Sightings of young passerines were few and far between throughout the month but at least two broods of Mallard ducklings fledged, one of which from a neighbours beetroot patch.

Going into July the most successful breeding species seemed to be the local populations of Jackdaw and Starling with a few broods of House Sparrow and Stock Dove appearing mid month along with a family of Pied Wagtail. A juvenile Coal Tit was a surprise around the feeders on the 7th. A few large gatherings of Common Swift gathered to feed over the cereal feeds throughout the month, often as a storm was approaching. Unfortunately this declining species no longer breeds in the village since the steeple in the local church was renovated in the early 1990's.  During the latter part of the month a rather noisy pair of juvenile Tawny Owls hung around our house for a few weeks, after no doubt being driven off from their parents breeding territory nearby.

Little Owl - A daily sight or sound around 'The Cottage'

Going into August it was evident that both Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Green Woodpeckers had bred successfully nearby, with juveniles of the former appearing at the feeders nearly every day at some point. On the 4th of the month after an evening downpour it was evident that there had been a fall of common migrants. I was thrilled to find a juvenile Common Redstart in the garden next door followed by a second around the edge of a nearby cow field. The best was yet to come though. Whilst washing the dishes I happened to glance up to see what I initially though was another perched on the garden fence. Imagine my delight when I lifted my bins to find a juvenile BLACK REDSTART sitting there. Luckily it hung around the house on and off for the rest of the day feeding in the car park and even in the guttering of the cottages at one point. The neighbours were pretty impressed with their rare visitor as was Nadia who managed to rush home from work to see it. 

On the 15th of August  a couple of juvenile Common Whitethroat and a juvenile Blackcap hung around the garden for most of the day gleaning insects from the rose bushes. On the same day a juvenile Willow Warbler also appeared often perching up to dry off on our washing line after feeding in the damp vegetation.  Towards the end of the month a couple of Hobby became a regular sight over the garden. Some impressive aerial displays were witnessed as they tried unsuccessfully to grab the odd hirundine. As the fields nearby were harvested good numbers of Rook moved into the area to feed and the odd Raven made a welcome return to the area too. The first young Little Owls also appeared at this time from the two or possible three breeding pairs we have around the village.

Butterfly & Moth Sightings

To be honest the butterfly situation around the garden is hardly worth mentioning. Other than a few Holly Blue, the odd Brimstone, a few Small Tortoiseshell and a late influx of Peacock and Red Admiral it has been a pretty desperate. The wet summer weather has no doubt had a huge impact on our moths too however we have still enjoyed a varied selection, some of which are posted below.

For my 40th birthday Nadia bought me a moth trap, an item of equipment I have always wanted but never got around to buying. I always thought they were really overpriced for what they are but now I have been bitten by the 'moth bug' I reckon they are worth every penny.

Easily the most numerous species over the summer was the Dark Arches followed by the Large Yellow Underwing and the Common Footman. There were also good numbers of Heart & Dart during July which were replaced by huge numbers of Common Rustic throughout August.  

Leopard Moth
Just a single specimen on 5th July.
Buff Arches - 9th July 2012
A scarce moth with just three records this summer.
Buff-tip - 9th July
Just seven individuals were recorded throughout July & August.
Poplar Hawkmoth - 28th July
Never numerous but quite regular around 'The Cottage'.
Elephant Hawkmoth - 25th July
Just five records of this stunning species throughout the summer.
Swallow Prominent - 25th July
Just six records throughout the summer.
Garden Tiger - 27th July
Only two individual were trapped at the end of July.
Ruby Tiger - 1st August
Just three individuals were trapped early during August.

Just over 80 different species of macro moth were recorded throughout July and August with another 20 or so identifiable micros, not a bad haul considering the monoculture of cereal fields that surround us for miles. Other highlights included a single Drinker on the 20th July, a July Highflyer, a few Early Thorn and a Coxcomb Prominent on the 5th July, a Lesser Swallow Prominent on the 28th July and a trio of Yellow-tail on the 25th July.  There were also several Burnished Brass during early to mid July, good numbers of Silver Y throughout both months and a single Plain Golden Y on the 15th July.

Mammal Sightings

We are quite lucky in that we seem to have healthy numbers of Brown Hare around Seckington. Adults are seen on a regular basis from the kitchen window all year round but quite a few leverets were noticeable around the end of June and the beginning of July. The odd Red Fox is occasionally seen prowling at dawn and dusk and judging by the amount of road casualties, Badger must be numerous in the area although not spotted as yet around The Cottage.

We also have a thriving population of Hedgehog around the village with up to three adults coming to feed around the garden at night throughout the summer. One very tame individual seems to arrive earlier in the evening, often in broad daylight to secure the best treats at the base of the bird feeders. Towards the end of August a number of tiny youngsters also appeared.

Moving onto bats, we have a pair of Common Pipestrelle around the garden during warm, still evenings and at the very end of August we were invaded by a small group of Noctule Bats. These monsters show really well before dark dive bombing Dung-flies over the cow fields next to the garden.    

adult Hedgehog around the bird feeders in broad daylight.
juvenile Hedgehog in the dark.

Saturday 8 September 2012


Last Monday evening Josh Jones tipped off The Black Lark Around Night Club (a little Facebook group of cutting edge birding degenerates) that a juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher down in Dorset might be something a little more interesting and a whole lot rarer.  Upon seeing the original images on the Brett's Goosey Ganderings blog it appeared that the bird in question possessed tertials which seemed to show a certain degree of barring. The bird definitely warranted closer scrutiny and the following evening it was confirmed as a SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER.

I can hardly believe it has been nearly thirteen years since I travelled up to Cleveland to see Britain's first ever specimen of Limnodromus griseus.  Even more remarkable though is the fact that it has taken the same number of years for the second one to turn up.  With such a large space of time between appearances, most of my birding pals still needed this American wader for their lists and so I decided to join a few of them on their jaunt down to the south coast.

After the long drive through fog, murk and mist we finally hit a sun-drenched Lodmoor RSPB reserve near Weymouth at around 10.00am.  Luckily for us, the target bird had decided to wave goodbye to it's elusive nature and was a whole lot more obliging than it had been over previous days. After a quick stroll along the western route of the reserve we picked up the rarity immediately as it stood roosting between a pair of probing Common Snipe.

juvenile SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER - Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset
Photo thanks to Aidan Brown

Even with the bird in 'standby mode' it was relatively easy to rule out Long-billed Dowitcher with the fine light conditions showing up the buff barring in the dark centres of the tertials nicely. It's 'longer billed' cousin shows tertials with completely dark centres framed with pale edging in juvenile plumage. A similar degree of barring can also be found in the inner greater coverts and the inner median coverts in juvenile SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER. There is an over-lap in bill lengths between the two species however we also noted a warm wash to the breast and a very dark cap with rufous streaking on this particular bird. Juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher should show a greyish breast and the crown should not be as dark and prominent. It should also fade into grey on the rear area of the crown.

After a while the bird began to become more mobile as it was disturbed by several other bird species however it always stayed pretty close to the accompanying Common Snipe. The bird also flew a short distance on several occasions however none of us heard it call when it did so.  Also on this part of the reserve there were 5 Ringed Plover, 2 Oystercatcher, 4 Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper,  and Green Sandpiper. Several Sandwich Terns also flew in to rest amongst the small flock of Black-headed Gull as did an adult winter and a first summer Mediterranean Gull.

After watching the bird for over ninety minutes the rest of the group started to get twitchy. There was talk of us having to drive up to east London for a juvenile BAILLON'S CRAKE! All of our party still needed this for Britain except me. To be honest I was actually quite relieved when news filtered through that it had not been glimpsed since first light. Instead we headed over to the Isle of Portland for our second American treat of the morning. In a small ornamental garden in the middle of Easton a beautiful, yet slightly worn MONARCH butterfly had been spotted feeding on a Buddleia.

male MONARCH butterfly - Easton, Isle of Portland, Dorset
Photo thanks to Dave Hutton

Upon arrival, this king of migration showed well feeding amongst the numerous Red Admirals, often chasing them off from his favourite food source. There was also a single Painted Lady butterfly, my first of the year and a few Silver-Y moths taking advantage of this temporary source of nectar. It is amazing to think that this insect could have crossed the huge expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Over a number of generations this remarkable creature migrates the entire length of North America from as far north as Canada down to parts of Mexico. This particular individual can be sexed as a male by the spot called the androconium in the centre part of it's hind wing. On the photograph above they can just be seen about half way down, on either side of the abdomen.

male MONARCH butterfly - Easton, Isle of Portland, Dorset
Photo thanks to Dave Hutton

We then headed down to Portland Bill for a quick look around the area. With not a great deal of excitement out at sea we turned our attention to a spot of land based birding. There were few highlights other than a curious Little Owl peering out at us from amongst the boulders of the Bird Observatory quarry. There were also at least a dozen Northern Wheatear, a family party of Stonechat and a mass of Silver-Y moths in the area. Before heading back to the Midlands we made a quick detour back into Weymouth for a top notch fish and chip dinner. The Sea Chef on King Street comes highly recommended.

Portland Bill - Isle of Portland, Dorset

So another enjoyable day out with the crew consisting of Rich Challands, Stevie Dunn and Mike Feely, our driver for the day. Cheers Mike!  Also great to see Steve Richards and his lovely wife Paula down at Lodmoor RSPB too.

The crew at Portland Bill!
From Left to Right - S Dunn, A Archer, R Challands & M Feely

As usual there was plenty of good humoured banter flying around throughout the day however quote of the trip goes to Mike 'Mikipedia' Feely with the following: "Arch, please can you shut your window, the pressure difference in the cabin is interfering with my hearing!" You would have thought he was piloting Concorde over the Atlantic rather than driving a VW Golf down the M5!

STOP PRESS:  Today, Britain's third SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, another juvenile was found on Tresco, Isles of Scilly.


Previous records of this species in Britain are as follows:

1999 - Aberdeenshire - juvenile at Rosehearty from 11th to 24th September (relocated to Cleveland).
1999 - Cleveland - juvenile at Greenabella Marsh & Greatham Creek from 29th September to 30th October (same as Aberdeenshire).
2012 - Dorset - juvenile at Lodmoor RSPB from 3rd September to present.
2012 - Isles of Scilly - juvenile on Tresco from 9th September to present.