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

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Saturday and Sunday 12th and 13th January

Peregrine and prey (c) JR

A very blustery and windy weekend but mild and frost free. Great slabs of low cloud meant that we seldom saw the sun and all the colour seemed to have been sucked out of the moor.
There was still lots to be seen, especially along the path that heads up towards July’s Meadow, where the feeding programme is continuing to draw in large numbers of finches. There are a several game strips further up towards Beckley along the footpath and they too are providing food and shelter for seed eating birds. Should we encounter harsher weather later in the winter their numbers will almost certainly increase. There was a possible sighting of a female Brambling on Sunday but not seen clearly enough to be certain.
Wigeon landing (c) Bark

There is a good mixture of duck species out in front of the first screen including four Pintail, five or six Pochard and several pairs of Gadwall. We have been examining the Teal very carefully as there was an unconfirmed report of a Green-winged Teal. All our careful scoping at the weekend failed to result in our spotting any drake Teal with a vertical rather than a horizontal white stripe.
Pintail from first screen (c) Noah Gins

The regular raptors were seen at the weekend. The male Marsh Harrier was starting to display a little in the stiff wind and there were still two other Harriers present, one an adult female the other a more juvenile looking bird.
Peregrine making off (c) Bark
Two Peregrines had a dispute right over our heads on Saturday. As far as we could tell one of them had caught a Lapwing and the other tried to take it away or had in fact been given it in a food-pass. The unfortunate Lapwing was still not dead, and the strength of the Peregrine was evident in the effortless way that it handled both the gusting wind and its flapping prey.

Wigeon from the hide Above (c) JR    below (c) Bark
The leaky bund on Ashgrave has now been mended and we can confidently expect the water-levels in front of the hide to rise to their planned height. This should mean that we see many more waterfowl from the hide and later on there should be more waders around the margins.
Tail can be a problem in a high wind (c) Bark

The Year-list has started strongly, as always happens, and Siskin, Redpoll and Nuthatch have all been added in the last few days.

Fieldfares (c) Bark

Friday, 11 January 2019

First few days of 2019

Water Rail (c) Bark

The year has started much as it ended with grey skies, low cloud and poor visibility which makes photography a challenge. Despite the less than sparkling weather we got the year off to a respectable start on the first of January with a list of over sixty species for the morning. There was nothing new or especially exciting to see but it was encouraging to note early nesting species starting to show breeding behaviour.

Shoveller and Pochard in breeding finery (c) Bark
A case in point was some typical show off behaviour from a one of a pair of Ravens flying over Greenways, on Saturday what I assume were the same pair feeding together on the ground, with one of them picking up and offering sticks to the other. Red Kites too are calling and appear to be attempting to take possession of the old buzzard’s nest in the oak tree on the eastern side of the reedbed.

Turning up for seed. Yellowhammer (c) Tom N-L Linnet and Bullfinch (c) Tezzer
The feeding programme by the hide is really drawing in good numbers of Linnets, Reed Buntings and Chaffinches. We have not spotted anything more unusual with them other than a couple of Bullfinches and a few Yellowhammers. A Water Rail is also popping out onto the track from time to time to pick up seeds, but its visits are always brief.
Water Rail (c) Bark

On Saturday we saw two Marsh Harriers both our regular male and a female, although three individuals had been seen earlier in the week. We were lucky enough to have the Merlin fly through above the first screen on Sunday, it went over the reeds and then off along the hedge on the northern edge of Greenaways. The male Hen Harrier is putting in occasional appearances first thing in the morning as the starlings are leaving the roost and there was a report late last week of a ring-tailed Harrier. Two Stonechats could be seen out on Greenaways and another lone male was perched at the top of a willow in the northern section of the reedbed.

Our odd hybrid Barnacle Goose family was once again evident on Greenaways. The male is to all intents a regular barnacle Goose and is partnered by a female Grey Lag. With them are six identical offspring that most closely resemble Canada Geese. Yet when you look carefully their physical structure is that of Greylag and the markings echo the Barnacle. I wonder if they will be able to interbreed with other greylags when the time comes or whether they will be sterile.
Barnacle family (c) JR

On Tuesday last week the regular New Year Day survey for Brown Hairstreak eggs was held. Volunteers closely examine the same stretch of Blackthorn hedge. They found sixty-four eggs this year which I was told was a good count. A member of the group who had come back down on Saturday to photograph them very kindly pointed some of them out to us and his macro photographs revealed the astonishing structure of these tiny (full stop sized!) eggs.

Above Brown Hairstreak egg and below Lackey Moth clutch (c) Bark
He also showed us a long string of eggs like a bead bracelet that had been wound round and round a thin twig. These were the eggs of the Lackey Moth, the caterpillars of which live in colonial tents of fine silk and can be seen in early summer. Once again it showed that a trip to the moor can result in our knowing more when we left to that which we knew when we arrived!

Fieldfares: above (c) Tom N-L below (c) Tezzer