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Tuesday 27 April 2010

No Kingfishers! - A Day On Our Boat - 27th April, 2010

Today we had our first day of the year out on our boat. We took a short run down the River Trent, and then up the River Soar, before returning to base again. Previously it's been a rare day that we've not seen Kingfishers - but none seen today. I am already concerned that the hard winter has taken its toll.

Just down from from our marina is Sawley lock. On the lower side of the lock, Sand Martins nest in the masonry. It's great to see them, but almost impossible to photograph them as you can't really hang around in the water by the lock. As we passed, the Martins were busy, and this one popped its head out of the crevice just at the right moment!

Sand Martin

We did not see any birds of note during our cruising this day, but I find that I see birds from a different perspective when on the water, and they seem more confiding too. It's a bit like the way that birds do not seem so worried when you drive past in your car, but with a car people tend to get upset if you pootle along at 20 MPH, whereas no one gets upset if you dawdle along in your boat at 2 MPH! - or even stop!

Mute Swan

Grey Heron
(I confess to digitally removing a Red Bull can from beside the feet of the bird in the above image!)

Pied Wagtail (male)

Speckled Wood

Greylag Goose

Canada Goose

In 2009, on a couple of occasions, we saw a large Red-eared Terrapin in the River Soar, south of Ratcliffe lock. This day we had another sighting in the same general area. This beastie was at least 20 cm (8 inches) across! I'm not sure if it's the same one we are seeing each time. Today's sighting looks somewhat different to last year's (see images below). If these are different terrapins, and there's male and female, there could be trouble ahead!

Red-eared Terrapin - on 27th April, 2010

Red-eared Terrapin - seen on 1st June, 2009

Monday 26 April 2010

Our First Babies - on 26th April, 2010

In a recent post I mentioned that the Blackbirds in our garden were busy feeding young. Well today two young from one pair fledged. Both parents were very attentive, offering encouragement and morsels for reward when successful flights were made. I just love those ear tufts! - Aaaahh!


I hope these birds continue to be lucky - their first stroke of luck was a week ago when my wife noticed our neighbour about to take a chain saw to the Leylandii in which the nest was. She managed to stop him in time!! Much as I'd love these trees to come down, now's not the time.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Birds & Butterflies on Cannock Chase - 23rd April, 2010

I found time, and the right weather for a much wanted return visit to Cannock Chase. My main objectives were to get some more, and better, shots of Bullfinch (particularly female) and to try and find Dartford Warbler. In the first, I was reasonably successful. The latter objective was not achieved, however, partly for reasons that are rather upsetting for me and for the local ecology, as I will explain later.

On my way to the Chase I noticed four Buzzards wheeling around in the sky near Edingale. I stopped my car to observe, and immediately put up another Buzzard from a nearby tree. Camera out quickly, but it rapidly joined the other four. Suddenly a sixth took off from the field behind the hedge, against which I was standing. This one, however, did not fly away from me immediately, but did a couple of circuits towards me before going off to join the others!


On arrival at Cannock Chase, I set up my chair-hide in front of my car at the feeding station. The Bullfinches were quite cooperative, and would have been more so, but I had a seemingly endless stream of people who wanted to come and talk to me, either standing beside my hide, or even standing in front of it talking to me through the front aperture. It was very pleasant chatting away, but there were many missed opportunities! The Willow Tits didn't show whilst I was there.

Bullfinch (female)

Bullfinch (male)

Yellowhammer (male)

There were plenty of the more common birds around, and I took a few shots of some - well, it's all good practice!!


Coal Tit

Long-tailed tit

Great Tit

Pheasant (male)

After spending a few hours at the feeding station, I met up with a local birder who walks his dog on the Chase on a daily basis, we set off to see if we could find Dartford Warbler in his most favoured area for this bird. Alas, virtually no birds of any description was seen, possibly due to them skulking to avoid the Hobby that was hunting in the area (record shot below). The walk was not a wash-out however, as there were Green Hairstreak butterflies in profusion. For those not familiar with these butterflies, they are a brilliant green on the underside but brown on the upperside. In flight they look quite dull but when they settle (which they usually do with their wings closed) you see the brilliant green. In a couple of my shots below, you can just detect the brown top surface in places.


Green Hairstreak

After this walk, I set off in my car to the other area of the Chase that is known for Dartfords. Earlier I had seen some distant smoke, and been a little worried about what might be happening. I arrived at the second Dartford location to find fire engines and rangers vehicles in attendance. I was told that this was the worst fire that they had had in years and, although they could not forbid me to enter, they advised I didn't. It seems that the whole of the Dartford location had gone up in flames. I'm sure that the birds will have escaped, but a valuable bit of Dartford habitat seems to have been lost. Cannock Chase is, I believe, right at the northernmost limit of their range, which makes this even more saddening. I came home with a heavy heart.

Owl Update - on 22nd April, 2010

I have been a bit worried about my Little Owl site No. 02, near Packington, since I discovered that someone had broken into the derelict barn and made a bit of a mess of things, and I had not seen the owls for a while. However, on 21st I stopped here after dark and heard a LO calling, and shortly after an owl arrived. I also heard another LO calling way over to the west (it sounded far enough away to be coming from a different site). Having satisfied myself that at least one of my owls was OK, I set off for home, stopping instinctively at a tree approximately 1 km north. Two LOs seen within a couple of minutes!! This made site No. 10! Only 93 more sites to catch up with Paul Riddle - but that's probably 123 before you read this!!

Anyway, the next day I decided to try and get some photos from this site. I stopped in Packington to investigate a reported LO site, but could not locate where the owls were. However, I did see Buzzards. It is not that long ago that a Buzzard was a remarkable site in these parts. Now it is a rare day that I go out without seeing one - usually more. However, just of late, I seem to be seeing them in groups quite frequently. From beside where I parked my car, five were wheeling about together.


I arrived at my site No. 02 and one of my birds was sitting there - unfortunately the shot was directly into the bright evening sun!

Little Owl - near Packington (my LO site No. 02)

From here, a public footpath leads directly westwards, and I set off to try and find evidence of the owl that I'd heard calling the previous night. There were plenty of potentially good trees but no owls were seen - possibly because of the Buzzard that was very prominently in the area.


Having drawn a blank here, I returned to my car (Owl had disappeared and guy noisily mowing the lawn nearby) and went off to sit it out by the site found the previous night. After it got fully dark, and no owls seen or heard, I gave up and went home!

More Garden Birds - on 21st April, 2010

I had another hour in my chair-hide in the garden, before our evening meal. Nothing very exciting happened, but it is always nice to be this close to 'one's own birds'. Mrs Blackbird seems to have broken a wing feather and chewed it off. As soon as I came in for the meal, a pair of Greenfinch arrived (rather rare in our garden)!! - Oh well!! The poorly Collared dove seems to have disappeared. He's either recovered so that he looks like the rest, or succumbed to his ills - I fear it's the latter.

Blackbird (female)




House Sparrow (male)

Monday 19 April 2010

Incoming Warblers - on 19th April, 2010

Today I went off to Claymills, near Burton upon Trent, for another of Dave Scattergood's excellent birdwalks which he does on behalf of East Staffordshire Council. I miss-judged the time and arrived three quarters of an hour early, so took a short walk along the canal bank. I soon found several Willow Tit (probably up to six, but I had four in view at one time) Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were also around. This was to turn out to be a bumper day for warblers!

Willow Tit

Willow Warbler

At 10.00 Dave arrived to lead the group, and after a small diversion to try and see the Willow Tits (which had gone!), Dave took us off on a circular walk for about two and a half hours. Dave found us (amongst other things) Blackcap, Sand Martin, Gadwall, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat (these last two were a 'first of the year' for many - and the Lesser was a 'lifer' for me - hence me publishing poor 'record' shots) plus Comma buttefly. It was, not, however, a day for good photography, with many of the birds being distant or elusive! I seem to have several shots of birds departing!

Mistle Thrush


Lesser Whitethroat

After Claymills, I set off for Willington Gravel Pits - somewhere I've only been a couple of times before. I arrived to find three birders straining to see a Lesser Whitethroat in the hedge. Further on there were a couple of male Blackcaps, but it had clouded over by now, and my photos were pretty grim. There was also a distant Treecreeper ('record' shot below). On arrival at the third platform, the very distant Whimbrel was pointed out to me by one of the local birders (they really are a very friendly, and amusing, bunch of guys here - thank you). Goosander were also seen (also very distantly). A few Orange Tip butterflies and another Comma were around, but not photographed. On the way back to my car, I did manage a few shots of Blackcap and Chiffchaff (the specks in the first Chiffchaff image are mozzies, which were also out in force!).



Blackcap (male)