Saturday 31 May 2014


SHORT-TOED EAGLE (second-summer)
Morden Bog NNR, Wareham, Dorset.
Photo by Chris Bromley

Following a week of emotional exhaustion and heartache over my dear old nan being admitted to hospital, today was supposed to be a day of rest and relaxation. Jules Allen had kindly offered to take Dave Hutton and I on a trip to Devon where we could soak up the sun, admire a few birds and help put our stresses and strains to the back of our mind for a short while. The best laid schemes of birds (not mice) and men hey?

For a Spring trip we had a relatively late 7.00am start but within a few hours we had found ourselves at Newport Wetlands RSPB reserve in Gwent. The first target for the day was a singing SAVI'S WARBLER and within a few minutes of arriving there it was, reeling away at the edge of the phragmites bed. I have heard quite a few of these elusive locustella warblers up and down the length of Great Britain however this was only the second I have actually seen following a showy bird up at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve in May 2003.

An atmospheric shot of the singing male SAVI'S WARBLER
Newport Wetlands RSPB, Gwent.
Photo by Dave Hutton

Other species included a drake Garganey in flight, several Pochard, a distant Marsh Harrier and a squealing Water Rail or two. There were also several Cetti's Warbler, a scattering of Lesser Whitethroat and the odd 'pinging' Bearded Tit. With the SAVI'S WARBLER becoming increasingly quiet and elusive it was time to make a move out of South Wales. As we made our way east towards the Severn Bridge though, the MEGA alert on my pager wailed away providing us with an exciting nugget of rarity information. A SHORT-TOED EAGLE had allegedly been present perched up in a tree at Morden Bog earlier on in the morning before flying off towards Poole Harbour. 

For a nanosecond we contemplated amending our plans and heading down into Dorset. Since suffering the distress of not being on the Isles of Scilly during that fantastic year of 1999, I had more or less accepted that I would never see a SHORT-TOED EAGLE in Britain. I knew at some stage I would pull back all the other rare goodies which that infamous year provided, but there was almost no chance I would ever add such a magnificent raptor to my British List. With that in mind we continued our journey south, down through Somerset and into Devon for the next leg of our trip.

Following a near death experience with me lying fast asleep on the back seat, Jules practicing an emergency stop and me becoming painfully wedged in the footwell behind their seats, we finally arrived at Bowling Green Marsh RSPB at Topsham. Our main target here was a diminutive first summer ROSS'S GULL, an enigmatic species of the high Arctic. Unfortunately though there had been no sign of this rarity for well over a hour. After scanning the reserve for a while we decided to scour the Exe Estuary instead. With the tide out there was a good chance we could relocate the bird feeding out on the mudflats, and to his credit Jules did just that within a few short minutes.

The key features of the bird could just about be distinguished as it plodded around distantly in the mud, but I was far from satisfied. I craved far better views of such a fantastic rarity and so we made our way around to Exton village.

'In Search of Ross's Gull' at Exton railway station.
Photo by Dave Hutton

From the railway station platform we had the ideal vantage point overlooking the Exe Estuary. There were some bemused looking train passengers wondering what we were up to, but undeterred we managed to locate the ROSS'S GULL once more as it extracted morsels of food from the rich estuarine surface. This time the views were much improved, especially when it flew around with the larger Black-headed Gulls as a comparison. I had only seen this species once before in Britain when we twitched an adult bird on the Plym Estuary back in February 2002. Other species in the area included plenty of Little Egret, around 70 Black-tailed Godwit and a single Whimbrel.

The varied flora of Dawlish Warren NNR, Devon.
Photo by Adam Archer

It was then time to head down to the coast. After a hearty meal of fish and chips in Dawlish we scooted around to Dawlish Warren to have a quick mooch around. There was no sign of any Roseate Terns along the beach but we did see our first Sandwich Terns of the year fishing offshore. Other than a pair of Stonechat and a nice family of Linnet there was not much else going on and so we decided to call it a day. 

As we pulled out of the car park just before 5.00pm though, another pager message came through that nearly caused me to suffer a cardiac arrest. As for my other co-birders though, they seemed to exude an unbelievable attitude of nonchalance. Perhaps they had not heard me correctly the first time..... "THE SHORT-TOED EAGLE IS BACK!" I yelled. We were just seventy miles away from Morden Bog and this pair of twonks showed about as much excitement and enthusiasm for it as I would watching an England football friendly. To be fair to them both, after the initial shock had dissipated they did not need much coaxing for us to head out east as fast as Jules's Skoda could carry us.

For nearly two hours we all suffered the most stressful of journies. For every caravan we got stuck behind though, for every lorry that meandered its way along with only a care for its fuel efficiency and for every silver-haired coffin dodger that pulled out in front of us, we received one positive message on the pager. It was still there, it was still there..... IT WAS STILL THERE! With the weather continuing to become increasingly overcast and as every fraction of a degree that the temperature dropped, it improved the chances that the mighty, serpent scoffing, raptor would remain in situ. Then again, what if it was mobbed by an angry corvid or what if an over eager photographer got too close and spooked it? Mary mother of God, the tension was unbearable.

Forgive me but the next stage of events is a bit of a blur. I remember us driving along the road that cuts through Morden Bog and noticing out in the distance a line of birders perched up high along a ridge in the middle of the open heathland. I also remember the delighted faces of several birders who we met coming back in the opposite direction. "It's still there!" they all repeated. Both physically and mentally exhausted, we too finally made it up to that very same ridge. A kind fellow quickly ushered me over to his scope so I could have a peek and there it was, glaring back at me with its piercing golden eyes, Britain's third ever SHORT-TOED EAGLE

SHORT-TOED EAGLE (second-summer)
Morden Bog NNR, Wareham, Dorset.
Photo by Chris Bromley

Although quite distant we enjoyed some fabulous views of the bird as it carefully surveyed the area from its perch in a favoured pine tree. Occasionally the eagle would move a little as a Magpie and then a Jay flew in to check out the rare visitor from southern Europe. It was obviously well settled though and no doubt intended to use that particular tree to roost in overnight. As we admired the beast for over a hour the occasion was made even more atmospheric with Dartford Warblers singing and Cuckoos calling in the background. It was one of those ultimate birding experiences that will stay with us for as long as we live.

Morden Bog NNR, Wareham Forest, Dorset.
Photo by Adam Archer

Saturday 24 May 2014

Garganey at Middleton Lakes RSPB

A view of North Pit at Middleton Lakes RSPB.
Photo by Adam Archer

'Nice weather for ducks', as the saying goes. After studying the weather forecast I thought it wise to head off to Drayton Bassett early before the worst of the rain hit. The plan was to have a thorough scan of Jubilee Wetlands and then take shelter in the hide before the predicted downpour. 

At the Canal Screen there were a number of Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover utilising the scrape there that tends to remain flood free during wet weather. Elsewhere on Jubilee Wetlands though it was a different story with just the odd plover, 2 Shelduck and 6 Shoveler. From the River Screen my attention was drawn to a small duck that was fast asleep on the far side. Following a quick head shake from the bird in the light rain, my initial suspicions were confirmed, it was a female type Garganey. Unfortunately the bird remained both asleep and obscured so sexing it with any confidence was difficult.

As I searched through the swifts, martins and swallows I then heard the distinctive dry, rattling display call of a drake Garganey. I assume it had flown in from elsewhere around the reserve unless it had been hiding asleep amongst the vegetation. It promptly swam over towards the other Garganey but failed in its quest to impress her (or him). Looking pretty disappointed with itself it too tucked its head under its wing and decided to have a nap.     

Garganey (summer plumaged male) - Middleton Lakes RSPB
Photo by Adam Archer

As the rain became heavier I took a brisk stroll around to 'The Lookout' to dry off. As with Jubilee Wetlands, the water levels on North Pit were quite high and still rising during the few hours I was there. Unfortunately there was not a lot to see however a single Sanderling flew around for a while but soon continued its migration northwards. Other species included 2 Shelduck, a pair of Oystercatcher, a few more Little Ringed Plover and unfortunately a drake Teal with an injured right wing.

Talking of injured wildfowl I was concerned to see a couple of scumbags with guns make a brief appearance in the corner of North Pit near the reserve border. One of them had binoculars, looked straight at me as I sat in the hide and made a sharp exit. I had heard shots earlier but had assumed it was just from the gun club over the other side of the river at Dosthill. Maybe they thought that because of the adverse weather conditions there would be no birders out and about. I reported the matter to the reserve warden who in turn got in touch with the police. Hopefully that will be the last we see of them on site.

Thursday 22 May 2014

Mothing in North Warwickshire - Part 2

I took a chance last night with just a short trapping session in our garden. According to the Met Office there was a broad front of heavy rain arriving from the east. I calculated that it should hit our neck of the woods between 2.00am and 3.00am, so I set the old alarm clock accordingly. By 3.00am I had 'potted' my catch, returned the equipment back to the shed and slipped back into bed for a few hours of shut eye. Just as my weary head hit the pillow, the heavens opened. Perfect timing.

Gold Spot - Dordon, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Gold Spot - Dordon, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Highlights inside the trap included another Lime Hawkmoth, my first ever Gold Spot (above), a splendid Small Elephant Hawkmoth (below), a Peppered Moth, a Scorched Wing, a male Buff Ermine, 10 x Brimstone Moth, a Bright-line Brown-eye, 6 x Heart and Dart, 5 x Flame Shoulder, 4 x Spectacle and an Iron Prominent. As I was processing the haul, a late comer to the party bombarded me from behind, whacking me on the back of the head. The perpetrator was one of my favourite moths of all, a Buff-tip. As it landed on the table in front of me I quickly scooped it up, potted it and packed it away.

Small Elephant Hawkmoth - Dordon, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Small Elephant Hawkmoth - Dordon, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Scorched Wing - Dordon, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Buff-tip - Dordon, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Buff Ermine (male) - Dordon, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Iron Prominent - Dordon, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Peppered Moth - Dordon, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Sunday 18 May 2014

The Pectoral Sandpiper at Middleton Lakes RSPB

It was a late start at Middleton Lakes RSPB this morning due us having Nadia's brother, sister-in-law and our beautiful baby niece Ellie in tow. Not a great deal was spotted in the mid-morning heat other than a couple of Little Ringed Plover and Common Redshank. Unfortunately we missed a couple of snazzy male Ruff in their fine breeding plumage on Jubilee Wetlands and it was way too hot to walk Ellie all the way over to North Pit to see a female Ruff. We decided to head back home for a while and I would make my way back down to Drayton Bassett later in the day.

Around tea time I received a text from the self proclaimed 'Voice of the Tame Valley' Tom Perrins stating that him and Julian Allen had located a probable Pectoral Sandpiper feeding around North Pit. A few minutes later the identification was confirmed and I wasted no time in getting on site.

Yellow Wagtail (male) - Middleton Lakes RSPB, Staffordshire.
Photo by Dave Hutton

Whilst undertaking the long stroll around to the new Lookout Hide a few Oystercatcher and Common Redshank could be seen defending their territories from a marauding Carrion Crow or two and the confiding Yellow Wagtail was found again singing from his usual perches. Upon entering the hide the scarce Nearctic wader could be seen feeding out in the middle of the pit thanks to some excellent directions from Andy Hale

This was my first ever Pectoral Sandpiper for the Tame Valley area after missing the last spring bird on Fisher's Mill Pit on the 26th May 2002 (PD Hyde). This particular individual was initially misidentified as the LEAST SANDPIPER that had been present for the previous few days. There have also been further records of this species in the autumn on 2nd October 1999 (J Allen & AG Williams) and the 30th September 2011 (many observers).

Other birds on site included 22 Ringed Plover, 8 Little Ringed Plover, a single Dunlin and a couple of singing male Grasshopper Warblers, one of which showed tremendously well as we made our way back to the car park. It was a great finale to a fantastic weekend of sunshine, birds and insects, all within a few miles of home.

Grasshopper Warbler (male) - Middleton Lakes RSPB, Warwickshire.
Photo by Dave Hutton

Saturday 17 May 2014

Hairy Dragonflies & Dingy Skippers at Alvecote Pools SSSI

The Hairy Dragonfly clings on at this small pond at Pooley Fields NR.
Alvecote Pools SSSI, Warwickshire.

After no sightings at all of the locally rare, Hairy Dragonfly at Alvecote Pools during 2013, I was over the moon to discover via Warwickshire Dragonfly Group that a single specimen had been spotted earlier on this week. With the time of year being right and the weather conditions being ideal for picking out this elusive insect, Dave Hutton and I decided to pay my patch a visit this afternoon. After a quick stroll, we arrived on site to find at least three Hairy Dragonfly quartering their favoured sun-drenched stretch of water. There was also the odd Large Red Damselfly and Red-eyed Damselfly on the wing but unfortunately all three species were quite distant as they favoured the far side of the pool. 

We then made our way around to the east side of the spoil heap to search for butterflies. Here there were around a dozen Common Blue in evidence along with a trio of highly mobile Dingy Skipper, seeking out the limited number of Common Bird's Foot Trefoil flowers on site. Day flying moths included the odd Burnet Companion amongst the butterflies and a single Silver-ground Carpet along the Coventry Canal.

Dingy Skipper (male) - Pooley Fields Nature Reserve,
Alvecote Pools SSSI, Warwickshire.
Photo by Adam Archer


For the Hairy Dragonfly site it is best if you park carefully near Alvecote Priory along Robey's Lane just south-east of Alvecote village. Walk over the canal bridge and head east through the metal kissing gate and along 'Miner's Walk' past the interpretation board (the railway line will be to your left). Keep walking for about ten minutes and you will see a pool on your left called Polluted Pool. Keep walking and after a few minutes you will arrive at a small pool to your right with three concrete fishing platforms. As long as the weather conditions are suitable you will see Hairy Dragonfly from any of these platforms however the last one you will come to seems to be the best. 

For Dingy Skipper and other butterflies continue along 'Miner's Walk' through a second metal kissing gate and towards the M42 motorway. The Dingy Skippers tend to favour the ditch between the south-east side of the spoil heap and the motorway however they can be found at a number of sites around the area of the nature reserve. Easier access for those unable to walk too far is via the visitor centre car park at the end of Pooley Lane just off the B5000 in Polesworth.

For the exact location of the Hairy Dragonfly pool please click on the 'Location' link below:

It's Hotting Up at Middleton Lakes RSPB

With the clear windless skies and the temperature hitting the 25 degrees centigrade mark, it was never going to be a great day for fresh migrants at Middleton Lakes RSPB today. Not surprisingly the only waders present were the usual potential breeding species like Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover and Redshank.

It was however a great morning for singing warblers with plenty of Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler in evidence. There was also the odd Willow Warbler, Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Cetti's Warbler marking out their territories.

With it being pretty quiet and the heat haze disrupting the views, Dave and I turned our attention to looking for insects instead. A few stunning, fresh Small Copper butterflies had emerged and could be spotted along the dusty tracks around the main pools. Better still though were our first Banded Demoiselles of the year. There must have been at least forty individuals zipping around the vegetation alongside the River Tame.   

Banded Demoiselle (male) - Middleton Lakes RSPB, Staffordshire
Photo by Adam Archer

The highlight of the morning though was a showy male Yellow Wagtail singing along the ditch that skirts the wheat field to the west of Jubilee Wetlands. It would fly off occasionally in order to mark out its patch, however it would eventually return to its favourite singing posts near the track. This handsome fellow was often too engrossed in belting out its tune to be bothered by a few birders loitering around admiring it.

'Bird Hogger' Dave Hutton gets in the way of my perfect shot again!

Western Yellow Wagtail (male) of the race flavissima.
Formerly known as 'British Yellow Wagtail'
Photo by Adam Archer

Western Yellow Wagtail (male) of the race flavissima.
Now known in Europe as 'Yellow-crowned Wagtail'
Photo by Adam Archer

During the slow stroll back to the car park a Cuckoo was heard calling from the direction of Dosthill Nature Reserve. My first Hobby of the year was also spotted as a pair of birds hawked for insects above the canal near Fisher's Mill Pit. It was time to grab a bite to eat and continue in our quest to find some more interesting insects later this afternoon.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Mothing in North Warwickshire - Part 1

As a lazy 'moth botherer' this was the first trapping session of the year for our little section of North Warwickshire. The conditions seemed to be ideal but by the time I went to bed there was not a great deal going on around the trap. A quick glance through the bedroom window at various times throughout the night provided a curious Tawny Owl and a number of pesky felines but activity around the enticing vapour mercury bulb itself was minimal. I awoke at 4.00am the following morning disappointed to find meagre pickings, however what we lacked in quantity was more than made up for in quality.

Star of the Show: Puss Moth
Although fairly common, this is a species
not readily attracted to traps.
Photo by Adam Archer

The undoubted highlight was a gorgeous Puss Moth snuggled in around the outer corner section of the trap. Other firsts for the garden included a Alder Kitten and a male Pale Tussock. A Lime Hawkmoth was also nice to find as we do not seem to attract that many individuals of this stunning species. Other highlights included a male Muslin Moth, a Spectacle, a male Oak Hook-tip, 3 x Flame Shoulders, a Mullein, 2 x Barred Straws and 6 x Brimstone Moths.

At this time of the year our dairy products do not seem to last very long as there is not enough room in the fridge for anything else other than drowsy moths!

Alder Kitten - Dordon, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Lime Hawkmoth - Dordon, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Pale Tussock (male) - Dordon, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

Tuesday 6 May 2014

A 'waderfest' at Middleton Lakes RSPB

A view of North Pit from the new 'Lookout Hide'
Photo by Adam Archer

With a Temminck's Stint being reported at Middleton Lakes this morning I decided to drop in on my way back from Cannock Chase. Unfortunately there was no sign of the semi-rarity, however there was a grande selection of other shorebirds to admire. On Jubilee Wetlands my second Wood Sandpiper of the year at this site showed well along with a pair of Common Sandpiper. On my hike around to North Pit I stumbled upon not one, but two Whinchat, a species that is unfortunately hard to find in the region these days. A couple of Northern Wheatear also showed quite well.

Northern Wheatear at the edge of North Pit
Photo by Adam Archer

From the 'Lookout Hide' a Little Stint could be found scampering around with a flock of around 20 Dunlin and winter plumaged Sandering. A Bar-tailed Godwit was also feeding on North Pit where a drake Goosander could also be found. Other species included a Little Egret, 2 Oystercatcher, 18 Ringed Plover, 6 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Redshank, a first-summer Little Gull, 100+ Common Swift and 2 Yellow Wagtails.

Bar-tailed Godwit on North Pit.
Photo by Adam Archer

A couple of Hobby were also present before I arrived and after I left the site a Whimbrel passed through this evening. The 'Minsmere of the West Midlands' is really starting to attract those sought after waders and long may it continue.

Summer Visitors on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire

A typical view of The Chase.
Photo by Adam Archer

A stroll around a couple of areas of Cannock Chase this morning produced a mass of summer migrants in the sunshine. At the first site a Cuckoo showed quite well when it was not being mobbed by Tree Pipits and Linnets. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker made a brief appearance and a drake Mandarin was also a nice surprise on one of the small woodland pools nearby.

Cuckoo on The Chase.
Photo by Adam Archer

At the second site a couple of male Wood Warblers attempted to 'out sing' one another as they tussled like kids over the same small patch of woodland. Out of twenty five square miles of forest and thousands of deciduous trees to choose from they insisted on scrapping over the same few. Then again I was not complaining too much as they were so engrossed in their territorial dispute to notice me sat just a few yards away. Despite a thorough search I failed in my quest to locate any Pied Flycatchers or Redstarts, an excuse to head back next week though I suppose. 

Prime Wood Warbler habitat.
Photo by Adam Archer

Thursday 1 May 2014

The BONAPARTE'S GULL in Warwickshire

BONAPARTE'S GULL (adult summer)
Marsh Lane Nature Reserve
Photo by Dave Hutton

The day began with a pretty stressful morning. The hassle and expense of having a new gas boiler fitted, working from home and the lure of a possible weekend charter flight to Fair Isle were all taking their toll on my fragile mental state. Then sometime around mid-morning the panic levels increased even further. I received a text message from Dave Hutton to say that an adult BONAPARTE'S GULL had just dropped in, down the road at Marsh Lane Nature Reserve near Hampton-in-Arden.

I knew that this rare visitor from across the Atlantic Ocean could continue its migration at any time but with a few urgent phone calls to make there was no way I could leave the house until lunch time at the very earliest. With the bird still present during early part of the afternoon though I abandoned the heating technician and blasted my way down the M42. Luckily Dave Hutton was still on site to direct me to the area where the bird had last been seen and almost immediately there it was! 

BONAPARTE'S GULL (adult summer)
Marsh Lane Nature Reserve, Warwickshire/West Midlands.
Photo by Dave Hutton

During my fleeting visit to this excellent reserve the BONAPARTE'S GULL could be found hawking for insects over Railway Pool with a small flock of Black-headed Gulls. The bird showed incredibly well from Oak Hide and very occasionally it would rest either on the water or on one of the many islands. It could be picked up in flight by its slightly smaller size, the pale panel to primaries on the underwing, the black hood and smaller dark bill in comparison to the accompanying Black-headed Gulls. Every now and then you could even spot the distinctive bright-coloured legs as it passed by in flight.

A nice comparison shot of both species in summer plumage.
Black-headed Gull (left) and Bonaparte's Gull (right).
Photo by Dave Hutton

This was only the third BONAPARTE'S GULL I had seen in Britain following an adult winter bird at Millbrook, Cornwall way back in February 2002 and an adult summer individual at Heysham, Lancashire during last July (see HERE). It was therefore a most welcome addition to both my Warwickshire list and my West Midlands regional list.

Please note that access to this private nature reserve is strictly by permit only. On special occasions like this however there is usually a volunteer on hand to relieve you of your £4.00 entrance fee. Further details regarding access, directions and membership can be found by clicking on Marsh Lane Nature Reserve.

The BONAPARTE'S GULL in the West Midlands Region

This diminutive gull breeds across the subarctic taiga zone of North America from western Alaska to Hudson Bay. Unusually for a gull, it nests mainly in spruce trees and tamaracks and very rarely on the ground. During the winter it can be found along the Atlantic coast from Virginia southwards, along the Gulf coast inland to southern Missouri and south down to northern Mexico. It can also be encountered along the Pacific coast from Washington south to central Mexico.

BONAPARTE'S GULL (adult summer)
Marsh Lane Nature Reserve, Warwickshire/West Midlands
Photo by Max Silverman

By the end of 2012 there had been 197 accepted records of this species in Britain with a further 65 records over in Ireland. Despite the trickle of records through the 1990's and the fact it has become more regular in Britain, the species had evaded the region for over 18 years. It is therefore a welcome and long overdue visitor to the West Midlands. If accepted this will be the first record for the former West Midlands county and Worcestershire has yet to attract this species at all. All records for Warwickshire and Staffordshire are as follows:

2014 - West Midlands - Marsh Lane Nature Reserve - adult summer on 1st May.
1996 - Staffordshire - Blithfield Reservoir - first-winter from 27th to 30th April. 
1994 - Staffordshire - Blithfield Reservoir - adult from 4th to 6th October.
1992 - Warwickshire - Draycote Water - first summer on 24th May only.
1991 - Staffordshire - Westport Lake - first-winter on 24th December only.
1990 - Warwickshire - Kenilworth - first-winter from 10th to 28th March. This same bird was also present at Draycote Water on four dates between the 18th and 29th March.

BONAPARTE'S GULL (adult summer) with Common Terns
 Marsh Lane Nature Reserve, Warwickshire/West Midlands.
Photo (record shot) by Adam Archer

Special thanks to John Oates for initially finding the bird, to Dave Hutton and Max Silverman for the fantastic photos and to the regulars and volunteers of Marsh Lane Nature Reserve for allowing birders temporary access to the site.