Monday 22 April 2013

Kittiwake in Staffordshire

A trip to a blustery Alvecote Pools after work failed to produce anything special other than a single male Yellow Wagtail on Mill Pool. Whilst I was there I bumped into Sean Allison who told me about an adult Kittiwake he had found in Tamworth yesterday. With a bit of time to spare before the football started I decided to head down to Borrowpit Lake to see if it was still present. 

Upon arrival it was actually the first bird a stumbled across, showing down to just a few metres off the sea cadet jetty. As with the nearby Shustoke bird, this individual seemed quite at home mingling with the resident Canada Geese and Black-headed Gulls picking up morsels of food at the waters edge. Also present were 8 Common Tern, a male Sparrowhawk and a singing male Blackcap.

Kittiwake (adult) - Borrowpit Lake, Staffordshire
Photo by Sean Allison

If you are interested in paying this bird a visit it is best to park at the bottom of West Street in Kettlebrook.  Then take the track that runs parallel to the metal fence of the Sea Cadet building. Cross the road and head through the gate onto the nature reserve section of the lake. This will save you paying to park in the Snowdome car park. For more details just click on the Location option in the red box below.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Wood Warbler in Warwickshire

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is now a bit of an elusive enigma in my part of the World. They used to be heard on a regular basis and occasionally glimpsed down at Alvecote Pools but now they are very hard to come by indeed. As such I decided to start the day down the road at Ladywalk Nature Reserve, one of the few places where this species clings on locally.

Along the main track down to the reserve the air was thick with warbler song. A Common Whitethroat was heard near the entrance and Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap were very much in evidence. Whilst carefully searching the mature willows for woodpecker activity I heard a sound that you are very lucky to encounter in Warwickshire. It was the shivering trill of a Wood Warbler! This is a species that had eluded my County list until as recently as April 2008 when I connected with the bird that Dave Hutton found at Seeswood Pool near Nuneaton (see photograph below). To finally find one of my own in my home County was long overdue, especially considering I have located several in Staffordshire including two on the wrong side of Alvecote Pools.

Wood Warbler - Seeswood Pool, Warwickshire - April 2008
Photo by Dave Hutton

Eventually after a frustrating wait, I managed to enjoy the odd decent view of this stunning new arrival from sub-Saharan Africa, as it actively fed around a clump of silver birches. I quickly communicated the news to local birders, a few of which managed to see it throughout the day if they were lucky. Unfortunately the bird was highly mobile and extremely elusive. To add to the frustration it only gave a weak rendition of it's sub-song very occasionally. Pinning the bird down was made all the more difficult by several Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers passing through the area.  

Wood Warbler - Ladywalk NR, Warwickshire - April 2013
Photo by Bob Duckhouse

I then made my way around to the hides where a male Greater Scaup was found with a small group of Tufted Duck. Other species of note included a pair of Goosander, a Little Egret, a Little Ringed Plover, 2 Oystercatcher, 3 Common Redshank and a Common Sandpiper. A Cetti's Warbler was also heard in song occasionally. Around the feeding station a pair of Lesser Redpoll was nice to see amongst the good numbers of Reed Bunting.    

A snoozing Greater Scaup (male) - Ladywalk NR, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer
Little Egret - Ladywalk NR, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

During the early part of the evening I decided to nip down to Alvecote Pools for a quick mooch around. Initially not a great deal was happening other then a nice mixed flock of hirundines - 26 Swallow, 15 House Martin and 2 Sand Martin. Patience is the name of the game with any inland patch though and I eventually received some reward. Firstly a single Little Ringed Plover dropped in on Mill Pool followed shortly afterwards by 7 Yellow Wagtail, all handsome males. Then, just as I was heading back to the car a large raptor loomed slowly towards me, an Osprey. The bird glided low over Mill Pool before slowing down and surveying the water beneath it. It hovered over the north side of the lake for a while. In my mind I urged it to snatch a fish but the Osprey had other ideas. It continued it's migration in a north westerly direction.  Yet another great day of birding in North Warwickshire.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Spring Migrants in Warwickshire

Seckington Straw!

A glorious spring day broke in style with my first local Blackcap of the year singing just outside the bedroom window as we awoke. After breakfast it was then time for a short walk around the farm to check out my favourite set-aside field. My landlord has been spreading cow muck around this field all winter and it has been a great place to keep an eye on, especially after I found a LITTLE BUNTING in it last November.

Yellowhammer (male) - Seckington, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

A quick visit yesterday evening produced an impressive 21 Northern Wheatears and there could have been even more. This is the highest total I have ever had in my home County, all together in one locality. Despite another thorough search I failed in my quest to find a Ring Ouzel but I did see my first Yellow Wagtail of the year along with a single Grey Partridge.

Northern Wheatear (male) - Seckington, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer
Northern Wheatear (male) - Seckington, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

With pretty clear skies overnight I knew that most of the birds would have moved on but we still managed to find at least 10 Northern Wheatear along with 2 Yellow Wagtail. A single Fieldfare appeared rather confused and looked relatively out of place but a pair of Common Whitethroat continued the springtime theme. There were also around 10 Meadow Pipit, 4 Skylark and a scattering of Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting.

We then decided to head south and twitch a male Ring Ouzel at Earlswood Lakes near Solihull. A Common Tern was my first of the year as it passed over Windmill Pool and a Common Sandpiper was flushed from the bank as we walked around to the southern end. Initially there was no sign of the elusive upland thrush however it eventually did show feeding around the perimeter of it's favourite horse paddock albeit a little distantly.

Ring Ouzel (male) - Earlswood Lakes, Warwickshire
Photo by Vince Garvey
I finished the day down at the patch at Alvecote Pools. Around Mill Pool the Common Shelduck numbers had reduced to 6 birds but the Gadwall numbers remained pretty high at 36 individuals. A trio of Northern Shoveler were fresh arrivals. Over  at Upper Pool a Common Sandpiper was spotted and 4 Yellow Wagtails fed busily around the water's edge.  A fine day indeed in Shakespeare's County.

Yellow Wagtail (male) - Alvecote Pools, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer
Yellow Wagtail (female) - Alvecote Pools, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Alvecote Pools SSSI

An early evening trip produced 14 Common Shelduck on Mill Pool along with a Little Egret and a single Common Sandpiper. Over on Teal Pool there were 2 Common Redshank one of which carried colour rings with the following combination: blue over black on left leg and pink over blue on the right leg. I will submit the combination to Euring and try and find out the bird's origins and wanderings. Unfortunately there was no sign of the pair of Common Redstarts in the Teal Pool hedge today.

Common Redshank (colour-ringed)
Alvecote Pools, Warwickshire

Sunday 14 April 2013

One Good Tern Deserves Another!

Arctic Tern - Shustoke Reservoir, Warwickshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

With a nice, mild south-westerly wind blowing in I decided to take a trip to Shustoke Reservoir this morning rather than hit the local patch. The hope was to connect with an Arctic Tern, a Little Gull or maybe even a Black Tern if I was lucky. Upon arrival a distant Arctic Tern could be seen feeding down at the east end, an excellent start. After sheltering from a brief downpour, Dave Hutton, Steve Valentine and I decided to head around the reservoir in a clockwise direction for some better views.

Kittiwake (second winter) - Shustoke Reservoir, Warwickshire
Photo by Steve Valentine

Whilst making our way around, the long staying Kittiwake could be found showing exceptionally well as usual in the north west corner. A pair of Raven battled against the wind as they passed over and a scattering of Swallow and Sand Martin struggled through. It was then on to the extreme eastern end where we at last managed to enjoy some superb views of the Arctic Tern. It is always a real privilege to be in the presence of such a remarkable animal. As all keen birders are aware this most graceful of species witnesses two summers every year and flies over 44,000 miles per year to do so. It is amazing to think that a couple of months ago this bird would have been mingling with penguins and albatrosses down in the Antarctic region. 
Arctic Tern - Shustoke Reservoir, Warwickshire
Photo by Steve Valentine
Arctic Tern - Shustoke Reservoir, Warwickshire
Photo by Steve Valentine

After watching the football I then made my way down to Alvecote early this evening in a mission to bag myself a Yellow Wagtail or two. Despite a thorough search of all the likely spots I failed to find any. A total of 8 Eurasian Wigeon were still present on Teal Pool along with a Common Snipe. Over on Mill Pool there were 12 Common Shelduck, 22 Gadwall and 18 Common Teal.  A number of hirundines passed through including 5 Barn Swallow, 10 Sand Martin and a single House Martin. I was just heading back to the car when I heard a call you only tend to hear whilst birding around the coast. Somewhere high above me was a Sandwich Tern and frustratingly I could not see it. After what seemed like ages, a tern suddenly appeared out of nowhere and conveniently landed on the tern raft on Mill Pool. This is a very rare species indeed down at the patch and is pretty hard to come by in the whole of Warwickshire. Needless to say I was thrilled to bits with my find.

Sandwich Tern - Alvecote Pools, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Sunday 7 April 2013

Kittiwake & Bearded Tit in Warwickshire

Whilst away birding on the south coast on Friday for a few days, I received a text from Tom Perrins to advise that Steve Haynes had found a Kittiwake at Shustoke Reservoir. This is a species that I have only every encountered passing through the local patch during appalling weather conditions. My sightings have always been fleeting in Warwickshire so when Tom mentioned that this particular bird was showing down to a few feet then I was just a little bit envious.

So two days later I visited a somewhat calm and bright concrete basin on the outskirts of Coleshill not at all positive that the bird would still be present. Despite a good scan from the car park, initially there were few gulls around, just the odd usual Black-headed Gull. I was just about to head back home when all of a sudden a stunning second winter Kittiwake appeared from nowhere and landed right in front of me.  

Kittwake (second winter) - Shustoke Reservoir, Warwickshire.
Photo by Adam Archer

It then noticed a few 'duck feeders' further around the reservoir and promptly flew over to investigate. There it raided the resident Mallard flock in order to secure a few tasty morsels for itself. At this point I was joined by Dave Hutton and we both managed to run off a few photos for fifteen minutes before it began another circuit of the reservoir.

Kittiwake (second winter) - Shustoke Reservoir, Warwickshire.
Photo by Adam Archer

Whilst we were admiring our lost pelagic wanderer, news came through that a KILLDEER had dropped in at a reservoir up in Lancashire! As Dave needed this rare American wader for his British List he was itching to get up there and asked if I would be interested. Why not?  We headed up the M6 only for the bird to fly off as we approached Walsall. We promptly turned back around and headed back south only for the bird to return as we got back to Coleshill. It was a case of de ja vu as we once again steamed back up the M6.  Needless to say the bird flew off for a second time but we carried on regardless.

We eventually reached Alston Wetlands near Preston at around 1.15pm and there was still no sign of the KILLDEER. On site there were around 20 Lapwing, a single Little Ringed Plover, a pair of Oystercatcher, a trio of Common Redshank and the odd Curlew. As the bird had flew off to the north west we decided to give the nearby fields a grilling. Whilst we were doing this though I received a text message from Kay Donaghy. Her and Martyn Yapp had just stumbled across a female Bearded Tit on the Staffordshire/Warwickshire border and better yet it was showing exceptionally well. This is a species that leaves a glaring hole in my County List. We took the decision to head back south, the KILLDEER could wait.

Hardly prime Bearded Tit habitat!

At around 4.30pm we arrived back at Dosthill Lake and hurried around to a tiny pool just north of the waterski complex. Within a few seconds we were both enjoying incredible views of a stunning female Bearded Tit down to just a few feet, in fact some of the best views of this gorgeous species that we have both ever had in Britain. The bird continued to feed well around the small patch of phragmites where Dave managed to secure some excellent photographs. Moral of the story, sometimes it pays off to stay local and enjoy your birds instead of being tempted to chase those pesky MEGA rarities.

Bearded Tit (female) - Dosthill Lake, Warwicksire.
All photos by Dave Hutton

Saturday 6 April 2013


We were not really expecting to connect with a major rarity from across the Atlantic Ocean that had taken up residence in a small corner of this remarkable collection of wetland nature reserves.  We were pretty content just to stroll around in the sun and soak up a little more of the long, overdue spring. News of a smart PIED-BILLED GREBE had originally filtered through way back on the 16th February when we were over 800 miles to the north looking for a PINE GROSBEAK on Shetland. I had been tempted to make the journey down here long before now, however a combination of the dire weather and the elusive nature of the bird had put me off a little.

We arrived at Ashcott Corner at about 2.00pm, snaffled a few sandwiches and knocked back a quick beverage in the nearby pub. It was now time for a bit more birding. We decided to start off at Shapwick Heath NNR and we were glad we did. Almost immediately we picked up an adult GREAT WHITE EGRET foot paddling and feeding away in a shallow corner of Meare Heath. Just this small section of flooded peatland alone was a pretty impressive sight.  A single Little Egret and a few Grey Heron were also feeding in the area. Other highlights included a pair of Pintail amongst the Gadwall, Common Teal and Northern Shoveler. In addition there were 3 Little Ringed Plover, 38 Black-tailed Godwit and a single Common Redshank. With the large quantities of walkers and birders milling around we thought it wise not to bother with the hide overlooking Noah's Lake so we headed back east.

Ham Wall RSPB, Somerset
The area to the right is where the PIED-BILLED GREBE lives!

On the walk over to Ham Wall RSPB numerous Chiffchaff and Cetti's Warbler could be heard in song and a Kingfisher showed nicely perched up in the afternoon sunshine. From the first viewing platform a Bittern showed briefly as it slowly stalked past a cutting in the reedbed. A second Bittern then showed well in flight behind us. A great start.  We then continued onwards to the second viewing area where almost immediately I heard a strange 'grebesque' type call emanating from a reedy area of the main lagoon to our right, 'c c c cow-cow-cow-cow' went the bird. Luckily I have an American birding application on my iPhone and I quickly played back the call to myself. My suspicions were confirmed, it was the sound of a PIED-BILLED GREBE. We then crossed the drainage ditch and found a couple of other birders staking out the area from where the strange sounds were coming from.

Judging from the glum expressions of those present, the rarity was obviously not playing ball. It looked as though we were in for a long wait. The bird continued to call on and off but frustratingly it remained well hidden amongst the phragmites. After about forty five minutes though, there was a slight movement in the water and there it was in all it's glory, a stunning summer plumaged PIED-BILLED GREBE. It had a curious look around it's territory, threw it's head forward to call and then promptly headed back to the safety of the vegetation. A glimpse of the bird could be seen every now and then for a while before it scrabbled towards us across the pool and attacked a rather shocked looking Coot
Photo by Jon Hall
Photo by Gary Thoburn

The bird was obviously in no mood to tolerate any nonsense from the resident water birds and angrily swam around actively seeking confrontation. This was good news for us though as it was completely unaware of us standing just a few yards away watching the drama unfold. Once it had cleared it's patch from any potential invaders it then started to focus on us birders. On several occasions it sunk stealthily like a miniature submarine only to pop up a bit closer to the bank and study us with just it's head showing. It was a remarkable thing to witness and one of those birding memories that stays with you forever. 

Photo by Jon Hall
Photo by Gary Thoburn

On the way back to Ashcott Corner we heard at least three booming Bittern. Other highlights included a 3 Pintail, 70 Northern Shoveler, 48 Common Teal, 22 Eurasian Wigeon, 4 Common Pochard, a Water Rail, 6 Ruff and 2 drumming Common Snipe.

Special thanks to John Hall and Gary Thoburn for the use of their excellent photographs. Please click on their names to be taken to their own websites.

Thursday 4 April 2013

Eurasian White-fronted Geese & Little Gull in Staffordshire

Eurasian White-fronted Geese - Gailey Reservoir, Staffordshire.
Photo by Karl Sargent
With nothing much going on in my native Warwickshire I decided to head north into Staffordshire to see what was about this afternoon. The first location was Gailey Reservoir where the pair of Eurasian White-fronted Geese were quickly spotted rested on the bank of the sailing section. These winter visitors from Arctic Russia have been present in the area since 4th February when they were found by Ian Moore. A Little Egret also dropped in along the same bank briefly before heading off north-east. Other species around this section include a 72 Tufted Duck, 5 Pochard and 2 Little Grebe whilst 12 Grey Heron were present around the heronry.

Little Gull (1st winter) - Gailey Reservoir, Staffordshire.
All photos by Adam Archer

Over on the fishing section there was initially no sign of any Little Gulls amongst the 400 Black-headed Gulls despite a thorough scan from the causeway. After a while though I caught a glimpse of a distant first winter bird in flight in the extreme north east corner. Battling against the bitterly cold northerly winds I took a stroll down to where the bird had been present only for it to have disappeared by the time I got there. Other species included 5 Northern Shoveler and 22 Cormorant.  As I reached the relative shelter of the fishing lodge I gave the area one last scan but to no avail. I was just about to move on when I noticed a small gull more or less under my nose. There just a few yards away was a smart looking first winter Little Gull picking morsels of food from the surface of the choppy water.  The bird continued to show very well indeed until I took the decision to thaw out in my car.  

A scattering of snow at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.
I then moved on to the frozen wasteland of Cannock Chase for my second visit of the week. Despite a wind chill factor that had to be experienced to be believed, I enjoyed a couple of hours hiking around with no sign of the usual fair weather mountain bikers and dog walkers. The highlight and quite a surprise was a fantastic ringtail Hen Harrier passing through with a supporting cast of Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Raven, 2 Woodlark and 24 Lesser Redpoll. I will keep the exact locations to myself in order to protect scarce breeding birds.