Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Saturday and Sunday 2nd and 3rd February

Drake Pintail (c) Bark

Several days of low temperatures and some snow brought a real taste of winter to the moor. Both Saturday and Sunday were the finest kind of winter days clear, sunny and brilliantly lit, the only downside a bitter nagging wind.
Path to the second screen
Surprisingly, despite the low temperatures overnight, the main lagoons had not frozen completely, and the wildfowl were either paddling around in the open water or sitting rather disconsolately on the ice.
Waiting for the thaw (c) Bark
It was reassuring to see that those birds more vulnerable to severe cold had made it through the cold snap unscathed. On Sunday morning after a hard frost we heard at least three different Cetti’s Warblers calling from the reedbed and the bridleway.
Both Stonechats (c) JR
The very confiding Stonechats at the second screen continued to entertain and enchant. On Saturday they had been joined by a Pied Wagtail that was flicking along the edge and just over the surface of the water and picking up diving beetles, as far as we can determine from the pictures.

with food

Pied Wagtail        Top two (c) Bark      lower (c) JR
Some observers had noticed that several times one or other of the Stonechats had stolen the insect prey from the Wagtail. On Sunday morning they were hassled by a Robin that chased them from perch to perch, clearly regarding them as competitors for limited food.
Male Stonechat (c) Bark
We saw no Golden Plovers at the weekend but there were several smaller flocks of Lapwings both on and off the reserve. As we arrived on Saturday morning a larger flock was flushed by what looked to be a male Peregrine but not the one we have been seeing fairly regularly, as it had a full complement of feathers on its left wing.
With a return to warmer weather this week we fully expect Golden Plover and Lapwing numbers to rise again as they feed on the wet fields. We should see the first Curlew of the new year in the next week or so.
A drake Goosander was reported last Wednesday from the first screen, sadly it did not linger, probably because of the dearth of fish in the southern lagoon. Eleven Pintail were on the same lagoon on Saturday and flew over our heads at the screen they looked stunning against the clean blue of the sky in the crisp sunshine.
Pintail (c) JR

The finch flock is still growing, although more slowly, but does feature a few more Yellowhammers now. It is interesting to notice just how familiar the birds have become with the feeding process. Where they would normally flush right off, they now come in and land just as we have gone past with the seed spreader.

Buntings and Finch by the hide (c) Bark
The only thing that does clear them out is the presence of the Sparrowhawk, and after it’s been through it usually takes them about fifteen minutes to re-settle and resume feeding. Once again the Water Rail is out in the open on the path and can be seen picking up fine seeds in its long bill, which must be a bit like trying to eat peas with chopsticks.
Water Rail in the snow (c) JR
On Ashgrave our small herd of Fallow Deer has now swollen to nine including a particularly well antlered stag.
Fallow Deer Stag Ashgrave (c) Noah Gins

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Saturday and Sunday 26th and 27th January

Female Stonechat (c) Bark

Saturday was unseasonably mild, grey with a hint of drizzle in the air. By Sunday things had changed and it was much colder, brighter and extremely windy. Heavy overnight rain had given way to sunshine and a bitter face-numbing wind.
Noke Sides Goldies and Lapwings (c) JR

Red Kite (c) Bark
On Saturday morning at the second screen a male Peregrine flew over low heading out over the flood field. It was recognisable as the same bird we had seen last week as it is missing a couple of secondary feathers from its left wing. It flushed a small flock of fifty or sixty Lapwings. They flew up and went higher and higher with the Peregrine circling beneath them until they and the raptor disappeared into the low cloud. We thought we had seen the last of them until a few moments later we spotted the Peregrine and a single Lapwing breaking out of the cloud. The raptor was now above its hapless quarry and stooped on it five times unsuccessfully until on the sixth try it struck and the two birds tumbled groundward together disappearing onto the Pill Field. It was a dramatic demonstration of the dynamic, daily battle between predator and prey, but one that we are rarely privileged to witness.

Male Blackbird, Female leucistic female and Songthrush (c) Bark

On Sunday morning there were at least ten Blackbirds feeding along the bridleway seven of them were males and one of the females was an unusual partially leuchistic individual, with white markings either side of its face. There were also a number of Fieldfares and two Song Thrushes picking over the molehills along the track.

Flying Linnet (c) Bark        Mr And Mrs Reed bunting and Water Rail (c) JR

At the hide there were even more finches present than there had been last week. Linnets still outnumber the Reed Buntings and the supporting cast of Chaffinches and Goldfinches. The Water Rail is becoming much bolder as it creeps out of the grasses lining the ditch to pick up the seed, provided that there are already other birds out there feeding. Moorhens too are cashing in on the bounty.
Moorhens cashing in (c) Bark

There was plenty to enjoy at the second screen. The Bullfinch flock came very close, still gleaning the desiccated blackberries from the brambles. They sometimes hover as they try to pick the dried fruits from the thinnest and most difficult to reach stems.

Bullfinches (c) JR
A pair of Stonechats has taken up residence just to the left of the screen and are picking food off of the surface of the water. They are offering superb photo-opportunities, although while we were there on Saturday, we only saw the female.

Female Stonechat (c) JR      male Stonechat (c) Tom N-L
A Wren in the bramble beside the screen gave us very close views, but despite hearing the Cetti’s Warbler typically we failed to see it.
Wren (c) Bark
Create the habitat and wildlife will find it....how it made it from Scotland I don't know.
Walking back towards the first screen there were now perhaps fifteen hundred Golden Plover and several hundred Lapwings out on Noke Sides facing determinedly into the wind. I tried to go through them to try to find the Ruff that had been seen on Friday or perhaps to see if I could find a smaller paler individual Golden Plover that a visitor had reported seeing on Friday. The birds were restless and flushed easily making any kind of rigorous search difficult and by now the cold was biting and so we headed off, it might be worthwhile checking them out properly in the next few days, providing they are in a suitable spot and the weather is a little more clement.

Massively under-rated Blue Tits at the second screen (c) Tom N-L

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Saturday and Sunday 19th and 20th January

Sparrowhawk (c) Bark

A weekend of two very different days. Saturday grey, drear and eventually very damp and drizzly. Sunday was in complete contrast. It started cold and frosty with just a hint of low mist as the sun rose orange through the bare branches of the Roman Road oaks, a bright sunny morning followed.

Birdwise not too much has changed since last week. Bitterns are once again showing frequently. On Sunday we saw two different individuals, one flushing from the ditch beside the bridleway and flying out into the small reedbed in the middle of Greenaways, the other coming from a small ditch on the closes and flying across to land in the reeds on northern edge of the field.
Bittern heading across Closes (c) JR

The hide is offering plenty of interest from the finch flock feeding on the seeds alongside it, this flock is getting bigger all the time.

Chaffinch and Reed Bunting (c) JR
When we arrived back at the hide on Sunday morning after a visit to the screens we wondered where all the birds had gone. Then we noticed a male Sparrowhawk sitting motionless on one of the fenceposts…..as well as offering feeding for the smaller birds it also creates a feeding opportunity for raptors!
Panic (c) Bark

Out at the screens the ducks were concentrated around the small unfrozen leads of water but by mid-morning most of the ice had gone. Wildfowl numbers are still significantly below those that we would expect at this time in the winter. Water levels are still below target after the dry autumn and early winter and this will be significant a factor.
Ducks in the open water (c) JR

Along the trail to the second screen there was a party of eight or so Bullfinches feeding on the desiccated blackberries that are still clinging to the brambles. It seems extraordinary that enough sustenance can still be found in these tiny seeds.

Blackberry feeding Bullfinches (c) Bark
Despite the cold we heard three different Cetti’s warblers calling from the reedbed and the ditch beside the bridleway. A Short-eared Owl was seen last week hunting across Greenaways in the mid-afternoon.
Chilly Robin (c) JR
The most significant change on the moor over the last two weeks has been the collapse of the Starling roost. Numbers fell from approximately fifty thousand birds last weekend to barely five thousand by Friday, the numbers halving daily. Please let anyone you know who might be considering a visit that the spectacle is over now until the autumn. We don’t fully understand why this has happened, but it may well be to do with the depletion of feeding opportunities in the surrounding countryside. It will have a positive effect on the health of the reedbed and the quality of the water in the lagoon. To improve the water quality the RSPB are circulating the water out onto Greenaways to dilute and dissipate the chemical effects of all those starling droppings every night.

Teal are coming closer to the hide as we are putting some feed into the water (c) Bark

The raptors attracted by the roost are still present, however. There was a report of a ring-tailed Harrier yesterday and a Merlin was seen chasing a Snipe across the MOD land. Peregrines are attracted by the Lapwing and Golden Plover flocks and Kestrels are drawn by a healthy population of small mammals. The regular pair of Marsh Harriers are still haunting the reedbed sometimes spending long periods of time perched in bushes surrounding the lagoons.
Brilliantly camouflaged Snipe (c) Bark