Sunday, May 29, 2011

Choughed to bits

I went on a few days relaxation to South Wales recently and managed to have some great birding days.On the Tuesday we went to Port Eynon. Walking along the beach we had a good view of the bay with two wheatears, several swallows and whitethroats all over. Very few gulls except for three Herring Gulls and one lesser black-backed. As we watched a common blue butterfly, a whitethroat seemed to grab for it yet somehow missed. three more butterflies joined the first in a dazzling blue dance.
 Several blackbirds, a skylark and two displaying meadow pipits were an added bonus. Then we heard a slightly different pipit song. It was a rock pipit. On our way back to the car rabbits were in abundance as were jackdaws so we were delighted to spot a speckled wood butterfly.   Worms Head was our next destination. More jackdaws, gulls and whitethroats, as well as a curlew, and the view was awesome. I was checking every smallish black crow to see if they were choughs, but up to then no avail. We sat down to take in the view and as we did, we heard the unmistakable call of our rarest corvid. They were right over our heads giving us easy views of their scarlet bills. We decided to return to our vehicle by a slightly different route. A stone chat family feeding was our reward for this on-the-spot change of plan. A visit to Oxwich Bay Hotel for a warm drink encouraged us to come the following morning for an early walk.

Wednesday 0445 setting off in woodland to the sound of chiffchaff and song thrush was a great start. Lots of usual woodland birds, willow warbler, tree-creeper, great spotted woodpecker, goldcrest and the ever present song of blackbirds was terrific. In the distance, quietly at first, but closer and louder we heard cuckoo. this continued for about an hour. We were very close to the reed bed by now so sedge and reed warblers were also adding their two pennyworth. We ended our circuit on the edge of sand dunes and next to a large pond. A cacophony of sound helped us find a heron's nest and just below the top of the reeds a reed bunting said hello. It had been a superb morning, and all before eight-o-clock. A late breakfast, followed by a catch-up on lost sleep was the order of the day. After a reasonable time of refreshment another walk took us into a nearby woodland. More birds added to our list were garden warbler greenfinch and long tailed tit. We paused by a pond surrounded by yellow flag iris and scanned the surface. Here it was odonata that held our interest. Large red and azure damselflies were outdone by two stunning emperor dragonflies. However the sighting of the day left it to almost the last moment. Swimming across the pond was a grass snake. They are beautiful . It must be seven years since I saw my last, and first, one. I continue to be gob smacked by the variety of life in creation. This was another tremendous day.
My final day was curtailed outside by rain but we were able to add nuthatch and swift to our list. I am sure I will return again to South Wales

Friday, May 20, 2011

Delight at dusk

A few Friends of ARUK in the North West met together to view badgers. We shared transport and as we approached the farm on the river bank, scores of sand martins were feeding close-by. We paid the farmer for parking and then made our way up the hill in anticipation of a good evening. Swallows gave us an aerial display and we all started to speak in hushed tones. Once everyone was in the small hide, I scattered some peanuts around the sett entrances, retreated to be with all the others and waited. The quiet glade, illuminated by four lamps and surrounded by huge trees had the appearance of a small cathedral. The woodland choir of chaffinch, song thrush, chiffchaff, blackbird and the occasional tawny owl added to the atmosphere. We did not have to wait for too long as our first badger appeared, shortly followed by a second. We could hear them chomping on the peanuts just in front of us. After about twenty minutes they disappeared but soon returned with two smaller badgers following. The way these were jumping around and generally having a good time made us decide they were juveniles. We had just as much delight watching them, as they obviously did playing. We managed to see three adults and these two young all together. Suddenly a pheasant started calling very loudly which made the cubs shoot back in the sett. It did not take long for the others to join them. By this time it was 2150 and since some had to get up for work the following morning we decided to call it a day. Everyone was thrilled at the good views they had, and I look forward to our next visit in July

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Great weekend in Gower - Friday to Sunday 13 to 15 May 2011

It took me seven hours instead of four and a half to get to the St Madoc's Christian Camp on Gower, because of a crash on the M5 so I was a little tired on the first night. We had a welcome evening meal followed by a talk by Sir Ghillian Prance. He shared some of his experiences in the Amazon in which his study and discoveries demonstrated again the wonderful and interdependent world that God created and sustains. Some of us then went out to set small mammal traps and also some moth traps.
An early-ish start (0630) to check the moth traps and set up the nets for bird ringing. Moths found included cinnabar clinging to the vanes of the trap, heart and dart, triple lines and this wonderful Ermine
   A quick trip to the headland meant a short walk through hundreds of bloody cranesbills growing amongst bluebells and burnet rose. We counted over a thousand oystercatchers leaving a high tide roost to go off to feed. It was then time for breakfast.

 After this different teams were then off for various surveys. We had marine biologists, bird ringers, botanists, folk checking butterflies, surveying transects for non marine birds and  some of us scanning the beach and sea for marine birds. On the beach whilst looking for the birds we discovered some fascinating and some gruesome finds. I understand that the skeleton was a common dolphin.

 After lunch we repeated the exercise and for me it was good to see some shearwaters and a small flock of dunlin. We did have to mess our feet up as we walked along the beach

 On our way back to base, some of us took the easier, if longer route. It meant we missed seeing a grass snake, but were able to find a song thrush anvil and an orchid. Foolishly I had not brought my "Francis Rose" so I was unable to identify the specimen. After tea ( or dinner if you live in the south) we shared many of our findings then out again to check mammal traps, light up moth traps and armed with detectors, search for bats. We did hear common and soprano pipistrelle as well as lesser horseshoe.
First thing Sunday was a repeat of our Saturday net unfurling, moth trap emptying and mammal trap checking. Another quick sea scan revealed little movement. Due to this I decided to follow the botanists who were also examining the underside of various bits of tin or rugs for reptiles. Success !! I saw slow worms, common lizards and the larvae of a glow worm.

 Lunch was followed by a short service where we all thanked God for His amazing creation. More thanks to the Centre staff who had looked after us so well, then homeward bound after a tremendous weekend.
An official report will be published later this year

Monday, May 2, 2011

Less bover with a hover

A few of us who are friends of A Rocha gathered at four-o-clock in the morning at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve. Our first port of call was by the Row just off the reserve where I usually hear woodcock - but not this morning.. We could hear the black headed gulls making their usual raucous call and robins adding their much sweeter trill. It did not take long for the blackbirds to start as well as sedge warbler.
A male tawny owl was heard in the distance and as we passed the end of the Public Causeway a blackcap started up. Flora seen were wild garlic, common dog violet, garlic mustard, Cuckoo pint and early purple orchid. Higher up in a tree we just heard a goldcrest and then as we approached the more open area we spotted a marsh harrier. On through the "blue" gate ( it is now brown) to hear chiffchaff on one side and willow warbler on the other. One of our party asked us to be quiet so we obeyed, thrilled to see a party of about a dozen red deer hinds and heard the drumming of a great spotted woodpecker. By this time we were near the Lower Hide and saw a bird hovering. Some would tell us that only kestrels hover, but they have not seen the kingfishers that I have. The bird we saw was also a "king" of fishers, or perhaps I should say queen, since it was a female osprey. We walked more quickly trying to get a better view but it had flown away. To make up for our frustration, a male marsh harrier decided to hunt just in front of the hide, upsetting the lapwing population. As we continued our circular walk, reed warblers and sedge warblers continued trying to confuse us and reed bunting, tree-creepers, and marsh tits encouraged us. Their alarm calls alerted us to a sparrow-hawk. The public hide also had its plethora of gulls as well as cormorants, pochards, mallards, coot and tufted duck. By this time we had been out for over three and a half hours, so we returned to our vehicles for a flask of hot coffee. It had been a very enjoyable morning.