Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Leach's Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) - Wilstone Reservoir, Herts. 28/09/09

Leach's Storm-Petrel

Late afternoon I received news through the Bucks birds yahoo group that a Petrel had been found at Wilstone Reservoir in Hertfordshire, it soon became clear that it was in fact a Leach's Storm Petrel and a species that I had never seen before. I gathered my bins, scope and camera and headed out of the door hastily, already nearing 5:30pm I left home and headed off to Wilstone Reservoir.

Arriving at the reservoir I soon headed up the car park steps and off towards the jetty on the Northern side, in the distance a few birders could be seen viewing the water and over the lake a huge flock of Gulls were departing northward. I hoped that the Petrel wasn't amongst the Gulls and being chased off from the reservoir.

When I reached the North bank the Petrel was sat quietly on the water near the jetty, preening and stretching it's wings every so often. I was surprised to see it sat on the water and expected it to be flying over the reservoir in the distance so to see it so close was fantastic. It slowly drifted away from the North bank and out towards the centre of the reservoir taking flight a couple of times only to land a few metres from where it took off. Whilst watching the Petrel it didn't come under any harassment and although it seemed a bit lonely it looked comfortable. All the Gulls had gone by now and it remained on the water amongst the huge rafts of Coot where it slowly made it's way across the lake. As I left at 19:10 it was back over near the jetty on the North Bank.

Petrels spend most of their time at sea and are rarely seen inland, only returning to rocky coasts to breed and then only at night to avoid predation from larger Gull species and Skuas, if any of you have been to Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire in summer you will have no doubt seen Manx Shearwater carcases strewn around the island which have succumbed to attacks from Gulls, it's no different for Petrels! During strong Autumn winds a few storm-driven Petrels are blown inland where they are sometimes found on large bodies of water, reservoirs and large lakes. They are rarely seen at the same site for more than a day and often leave during the night, sadly some die through exhaustion or predation.

Wilstone Reservoir

Monday, 28 September 2009

American Black Tern (Chlidonias niger surinamensis) & White-winged Black Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus) - Farmoor Reservoir, Oxon. 29/08/09

I headed off to Farmoor today in hope of catching up with both juvenile White-winged Black Tern & the much rarer juvenile American Black Tern that had been found and identified by Oxfordshire county recorder Ian Lewington whilst watching the White-winged black Tern. The news of the White-winged broke Friday early afternoon and being unable to get to Farmoor I decided to head over on Saturday, later Friday evening news then broke of the American Black Tern being present so it was perfect timing for the Saturday visit. After finding my Thames Water permit and reading up in my copy of Helms "Terns of Europe & North America" about the ABT I was looking forward to the following day. Saturday arrived and I headed off towards Oxford and Farmoor Reservoir, the weather being warm and sunny worried me a bit in case both Terns had departed but arriving in the car park I was greeted with birders leaving Farmoor and telling me that both Terns were still present.

I made my way to the causeway stopping to watch a couple of Yellow Wagtails by the water treatment works before heading off towards between the reservoirs. Crossing the causeway I met the Berkshire gang who were just leaving, Marek Walford, Ken Moore, Brian Bennett et al let me know the ABT was still present and often perching on the barley bales on the waters surface on F1 reservoir, we said our goodbyes and I hurried off across the causeway to a multitude of birders, scopes and cameras.

Both terns were feeding in tandem and wherever one went the other seemed to follow, they spent long periods flying back and forth in the south-west corner of F2 occasionally coming to the edge of the causeway before heading back out to the south-western corner. Another friendly face arrived in the shape of Berks birder Richard Crawford and after a few pleasantries we decided to walk the causeway and round to where the Terns were in the south west of F2. When we finally made it to our destination the terns were flying in front of us but still some way out on the reservoir, we got some great views as both birds then flew towards us before heading back over to F1 reservoir. We circumnavigated the reservoir and Richard headed back towards the car park leaving me to head back to the causeway for another look where I met another familiar face in Adam Bassett. We got some good views and finally the Terns came to rest on one of the floating bales where they stayed right up until I got my camera out, I managed to get a distant shot moments before they took to the air. They were later joined by a European Black Tern and continued to follow each other across the two reservoirs when I left.

The American Black Tern is only the 5th record for the UK and without doubt the rarest bird to have be found at Farmoor, a magnificent find by Ian Lewington. Both Terns remained until the evening of September 3rd 19:50 when after coming under repeated attacks from Black-headed & Lesser Black Backed Gulls they spiralled up in to the sky and headed off South East.To view some excellent photos of both Terns visit the log book on the Farmoor Birding website.

Shardeloes, Bucks. 27/08/09

Spotted Flycatcher

A quick afternoon visit to Shardeloes this afternoon produced the following

Passing the cricket pitches 6 Swallows wheeled overhead often making low level sorties to pick up insects off the grass.

The lake held the usual variety of common species, The 3 juv Great Crested Grebe are doing well but still being fed occasionally by their parents which remain nearby, 8 Little Grebe, 1Ad & 2 juv Mute Swan, 12 Black-headed Gulls. The Canada Geese (40+) seemed to be moving back in numbers to the lake after spending much of the summer along the River Misbourne by Kennet Farm

Heading along the footpath on the southern edge of the lake a Chiffchaff was feeding on insects in the hedgerow, I stopped to take a look a soon noticed something out of the corner of my eye, turning as quickly as I could I spotted a Spotted Flycatcher darting down to the ground and back in to the hedgerow where it sat in full view. It stayed still long enough for me to grab a few photos and then continued to "flycatch" around the hedgerow returning to a few favoured perching spots. It continued to feed from the bushes for over 30 minutes giving great views and was then joined by another, they really are fantastic birds to watch up close. Whilst watching the Flycatchers 2 Chiffchaffs and a juv Common Whitethroat made an appearance and a Common Buzzard flew over.

Great Crested Grebe Family 26/07/09

Juv Great Crested Grebe 27/08/09

I attempted to try and digiscope the Spotted Flycatchers again but with there now being two it made it very difficult as they often broke off from feeding and chased each other round the bushes and out of sight. I waited patiently and eventually was extremely lucky to get them close together in the same bush, pulling my jacket hood over my head to shield the sun and to see what I was taking a photo of I suddenly could hear a loud humming getting louder and closer. Looking skywards and over the tree line an Avro Lancaster bomber appeared shortly followed by a Spitfire and Hurricane, a very impressive sight to say the least, even better to have a scope handy to watch them cruise across the sky and out of sight. I believe they are a part of the RAF Battle of Britain memorial flight group. I wouldn't have mentioned it but the Lancaster does have a Rolls Royce MERLIN engine!

Avro Lancaster

After doing a bit of research on the Lancaster with the help of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avro_Lancaster and http://www.raf.mod.uk/bbmf i found out that the flight group had been on a display flight to Torrington, Benson and Clacton. Avro Lancaster PA474 "City of Lincoln" which was built in 1945 is one of only two Lancasters that remain in flying condition today from a total of 7377 that were built, the other is owned by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.

The paint scheme for PA474 is periodically changed to represent notable Lancasters, and the aircraft is currently flown as EE139 Phantom of the Ruhr, a Lancaster that flew 121 sorties, a so called "ton-up" Lancaster and bearing the codes HW-R on the port side and BQ-B on the starboard side.

A WWII bomber that will be most remembered for the film "The Dam Busters" recounting 617 Squadron's daring raid on May 16, 1943, to destroy dams in Germany's Ruhr district with Barnes Wallis's bouncing bombs.

I did manage a quick photo as it flew past but the Spitfire and Hurricane were gone before I could zoom in. I've been prety lucky with rare Avro bomber sightings having seen the only flying Avro Vulcan XH558 when it flew over our old cottage in the Hambleden Valley 10th July 2008.

Avro Vulcan

Make Kennet Meadows a Trust

Many of you may well have visited the Theale Area, Berkshire at one point or another, You may well visit during Summer to hear Nightingales or perhaps you twitched the Laughing Gull, whatever the case the area needs our help.

During the last 30 or so years the Kennet area has come under constant threat from building or business plans despite being on a flood plain, it has a rich diversity of wildlife and is an extremely important area for wintering ducks and during Summer the declining Nightingale. A petition has been started to secure the area and make it a trust to protect it for the future. It's takes minutes to complete the petition and could help save the area from further development, to sign the petition click on the link below.

Make Kennet Meadows a Trust

Kennet Meadows lies between Reading and the M4. It is beautiful and sometimes magic, the flood-plain of the River Kennet, a haven for wild-life – one of the best nightingale sites in England, it is enjoyed by nature-lovers, anglers, boat people, ramblers, cyclists, and by many local residents as a quiet peaceful place within easy reach of their homes.

Every five years or so, starting in the early 1980’s, Kennet Meadows has been under threat, whether from gravel companies or from builders. The latest, from a consortium led by Prudential’s property arm, PRUPIM, who wanted to build 7500 houses there, suffered a major setback when, following yet another campaign for local people, the Department for Communities and Local Government took it out of the South-East Plan because of the flood risk it posed to the area and to central Reading.

This petition, following a resolution from veteran Kennet Meadows campaigner Pete Ruhemann to Reading Borough Council, which received all-party support, seeks to end the threats to Kennet Meadows by putting the area into a Trust to be managed for the benefit of local people. Please give it your support. This is a dream whose time has surely come.

Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris) - RSPB Otmoor, Oxon. 25/06/09

News broke that a Marsh Warbler had been found at RSPB Otmoor and having never seen or heard this species I was soon heading off to Oxfordshire to hopefully catch up with it. Reading some of the posts & messages on the local Yahoo groups before I left it was clear to see that this particular bird was a master of mimicry imitating a number of species with it's song.

Arriving at the reserve I headed off along the path towards the second screen, after a 10 minute walk I met a couple of people heading the other way, they looked a bit dejected and I enquired if they had seen or heard the Marsh Warbler, "no" they replied "and we've been hear for sometime and not heard a thing". I was a bit confused as I'd recently read on one of the Yahoo groups that it was still present and singing well, I headed off along the path and after 5 minutes had arrived to find a single gentlemen standing quietly looking at the reeds, as I approached him a cacophony of furious rich song belted out from the reeds by my side and it was clear to hear that the Marsh Warbler was still present. I'm really not sure how the people I met on the pathway could have missed it, it out-sung everything in and around the reed bed and continued almost non-stop most of the afternoon. Although the weather was very warm a continued breeze blew across the reed beds parting them with a delicate swaying motion and often giving me the chance to look through them, a few Reed Warblers could be seen flitting about amongst the reeds but little else.

The Marsh Warbler continued singing non-stop for most of the afternoon but i still hadn't seen it, I can only put this down to the breeze blowing across Otmoor which kept the bird lower down in the reeds, eventually it did stop singing and appeared briefly next to me in the top of the reeds, with the reeds swaying and the weight of the bird at almost the top of the reed it started to bend which in turn sent the Marsh Warbler flying back in to the reed bed and out of sight.

It was getting late and I wanted to miss the Oxford traffic and was just packing my scope and camera up when a bird flew across the path and in to the hedgerow next to me, I knew it was the Marsh Warbler and started unpacking my video camera again. Sure enough the Warbler burst in to song again with me standing right beside it, I found a small bench near the hedgerow and sat down to listen, without the wind brushing the reeds it was so much clearer and I managed to get quite a good recording of it. When I finally did leave I met Adam Basset on his way along the footpath and had a quick chat, Adam had really good views of the Marsh Warbler later on as it perched in the reeds. I was disappointed not to get a chance to digiscope it but you can't have everything.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

A Sad Summer For Our Swallows.

Very sad news from our nesting Swallows, when we moved in they had a brood on the go and it wasn't long before the chicks could be seen peering over the nest. I was very excited as I hadn't been up close to a swallows nest for many years, I guess back in the late 70's and early 80's they were common to see and a bit taken for granted so having a pair nesting in the barn here was a great lift, especially after leaving the Kites, Buzzards and Owls at our previous cottage in Skirmett near Hambleden behind.

We left the Swallows to bring up their young until one morning I opened a separate part of the barn up and found a young bird sat on my mower handle, it soon took flight and shot past me and out of the door. It was soon circling above calling to it's parents who started feeding it on a TV aerial. They could often be heard calling to each other and this continued for 2 or 3 days until it disappeared, there were also no signs of any other young. A week or so later the adults moved to a nest a foot or so away and began again, I'm unsure if they built another nest or whether they tided up last years nest and it was by luck that I found it tucked out of the sight behind a roof beam. They were carrying in lots of feathers so I knew it wouldn't be long before they attempted another brood. I checked the first nest and found nothing inside but the walls and beams were covered in droppings and I even managed to find a few egg shells on the floor. My thoughts were that the first brood must have had more than one chick from the mess and egg shells.

I kept my eye on the new nest and was delighted to hear the begging calls of young Swallows coming from the new nest, peering up from a safe distance I could see 3 chicks leaning over the side of the nest and everything seemed to be going well. The parents were constantly bringing in food and in a timed 10 minute spell the parents made at least 17 or 18 visits to the nest in poor weather so they seemed to have everything under control. Then disaster strikes when a week or so later my girlfriend peers over the stable door to see how they're getting on, she noticed something laying on the floor in the hay and came to tell me something was wrong. I have to say I was very concerned when I looked down and found a Swallow chick laying in the hay, it was dead but with no signs of wounds or flies, maggots, disease etc. I then decided to get a ladder and check the nest and to my horror found all 5 chicks were dead, 1 on the floor and 4 in the nest, varying sizes with the largest being the individual that was found on the floor of the barn. The parents seemed very devoted and were always busy catching food or sitting on the chicks, I really cant figure out what happened as the nest was in a secure position with plenty of protection from any predators, perhaps a lack of suitable insects to feed the chicks during the wet weather? a very sad outcome from two broods. The adults remained for another week and then left.

TABCG Nightjar Walk 03/06/09

Okay it's been awhile and there's a lot to catch up with and none better place to start than the Theale Area Bird Conservation Group Nightjar walk in June. Let's face it we all love the summer when it does finally arrive and the prospect of warm light evenings and plenty of Crepuscular activity and there's none better than the nightjar.

These strange nocturnal birds that hawk insects at night have succumbed to large habitat loss across Europe and are RED Listed due to their decline in numbers, they are seldom seen at day due to their cryptic grey/brown plumage which gives them ideal camouflage when sat motionless on the floor. Their favoured habitats include heathland, moorland, woodland and conifer plantations with clearings. Because they are incredibly elusive it's often best to listen at dusk in early summer when "churring" males can be heard as they try to attract a mate, it's actually a bit freaky the first time you hear them as the call sounds very mechanical and a bit eerie. I remember as a boy going with my late father to a couple of locations in the Stoner Valley area and listening to them churr away, it was very exciting as a boy and memories like these will always stick with me. Sadly over time the Nightjars stopped returning to this little haunt of theirs and it was sometime until I got to hear and see them again, this time it was with the TABCG on the first of many Nightjar walks I have done with them.

The area around Theale has a good number of suitable locations to try and attract Nightjar and the yearly walk never fails to impress, each year we seem to getter better sightings and very close views. On a number of occasions we have had them hover near us or fly just in front of us before they disappear in to the failing light and begin to "churr". It doesn't end there either as the resident Woodcocks put on a good show as they continually rode above us throughout the evening and there's always a chance of Tawny Owls, Badgers, Deer and now Glow Worms!

To view the Theale Area Bird Conservation Group website click TABCG

The video clips were filmed this year (2009), look out for the Woodcock passing overhead at the end of the Nightjar clip, it's dusk so don't expect miracles!