Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Staffs Birding

This is a bit of a belated entry as I've either had no signal or have been too pooped to blog.

Last Thursday I walked out from Alrewas where Muriel was moored to visit Croxall Lakes, a Staffs Wildlife Trust Reserve. There are 2 lakes formed originally by sand & gravel extraction, some grassland & the River Trent which forms the Northern border. Some work has recently been carried out re-profiling the river to improve the variety of habitats, and the excess soil used to make more shallows & larger reed beds around the lakes. There are also 2 hides, which came in useful when the heavens opened. So much for June! Still, I had a very pleasant wander & saw my first Pochard & Little Egret of the trip. There were a couple of rafts with lots of Black-headed Gulls & a couple of Common Terns, both with young. Very cute! I also saw a couple of nesting Reed Warblers around the edge of the lake, my first Cinnabar moth of the year, and a new plant for me... Biting Stonecrop, which formed a nice yellow mat.
The main lake. The National Memorial Arboretum is on the other side

Cinnabar Moth
A mat of Biting Stonecrop
Biting Stonecrop
On the way back to the boat I walked through the National Memorial Arboretum, where I saw my first Garden Warbler of the trip.

By Sunday we had moved a short way up the canal to Fradley Junction. I then discovered that there was another birding area, Whitemoor Haye, which was actually closer to Alrewas than Fradley Junction, but still withing striking distance. So, I set off to explore, not really knowing much about it. I'd done a bit of searching on Birdguides & a couple of blogs, but wasn't entirely sure where I was going apart form the fact that there was a flooded gravel pit with edges that are still good for waders, and some lanes with a few interesting residents. Well, I found the lanes & was really happy when I found several Tree Sparrows & a Little Owl from the same spot, that was two new birds for my Year List. It appears someone has been feeding the sparrows as there was still some seed at the base of the hedge. I also found Tree Sparrows a bit further up the road where they appeared to be nesting.

Distant Tree Sparrows & a Yellowhammer

A lovely Little Owl
I had less success with the flooded gravel pit. I found one used by an adventure school for water sports, but I don't think that can be the one referred to on the blogs. I could see there was another pit behind a large bank, but couldn't find a way in, well not a legitimate one anyway. There were a few places where the barbed wire had been bent back & one section of fence had been burnt, but there were also lots of 'Keep Out' signs & warnings. I decided I was happy with my lot & headed for home. I'd walked a smidge under 8 miles by the time I made it back to Muriel & was ready for a sit down & a brew!

I'm not impressed with Staffordshire's footpath maintenance, but they do have some pretty poppies!

I think not!

Colourful fields
Year List now on 194 + 2 sub-species

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Near Miss

I'm writing this from Muriel's stern whilst watching a Common Tern fishing beside us! Lovely!

I've had two sorties away from the boat to do a spot of birding. On Sunday I risked life and limb to have a look at Swarkestone Lake. I didn't expect to find much as it's mainly a boating lake, but an Osprey did happen by a week or so ago, so I thought I'd go & have a look. Not being a member of the sailing club I could only see it from the roads, the main one crossing the extremely long Swarkestone Bridge which has 17 arches & is just under a mile long. It was built in the 13th Century so unsurprisingly isn't very good at handling 2 way traffic. Most of the pavement is only about a foot wide, in places even less than that, so I spent much of my time dodging wing mirrors.  I was lucky to get out of there alive, so wasn't surprise that I didn't see many birds!
Too add insult to near injury, there wan't even a very good view of the lake!

Swarkestone Bridge, some drivers think the 40mph speed limit is a target
I couldn't face the walk back across the bridge so took the long route, circuiting the lake via the lanes. Much more pleasant & I even managed to pick up a Year List bird...a Lesser Whitethroat was skulking in the bushes beside the River Trent. What's more, I only got rained on once!

Bearing in mind that it's virtually impossible to go for any rareties at the moment as I can only get to places by canal & foot at 4mph (max), I almost managed a twitch yesterday. As we were pootling along from Swarkstone to Willington, I checked Birdguides and found that a Little Gull had been seen at Willington Gravel Pits earlier in the morning. By the time I got there it was lunch time & there was no sign of it. However, I had a very pleasant afternoon in the reserve which I didn't even know existed before my 'twitch' to the Red-footed Falcon earlier this month. Even then I didn't go into the reserve as the falcon was on the other side of the River Trent at the time. As ex-gravel pits go, it was very picturesque. I had fantastic views of Reed Warblers that were only a few yards from one of the viewing platforms & making lots of noise, especially the few times that a Hobby flew over. If only I'd had my Canon with me! I also saw my second Lesser Whitethroat of the year. A local birder then showed me another way out of the reserve that took me directly onto the canal bank. Handy. And not a drop of rain all afternoon!

Willington Gravel Pits, a Derbyshire Wildlife Trust reserve
Year List now on 192 + 2

Friday, 8 June 2012

A Red-footed Falcon & a pudding tick

We've been up on Muriel near Loughborough since Tuesday evening, but the weather's so dire we haven't ventured out of the marina yet. However, the silver lining to the black clouds is that we still have access to the van, so we popped out to Willington in Derbyshire on Wednesday in search of a Red-footed Falcon that had been there for a few days. It was lashing it down as we drove there, but miraculously it stopped when we arrived. It was a half hour walk along the bank of the River Trent to the spot where the Falcon was perched in a tree. Another first for me for the UK as well as an addition to the Year List. There were a few other birders & a couple went marching right up towards it, which was totally unnecessary. It flew off but whether they actually spooked it or it was off for a spot of hunting I don't know. Luckily it stayed in the vicinity, giving great views as it flew about & perched on various trees. We watched for quite a while before heading back to the van. As soon as we reached it, the heavens opened again. Made a pleasant change to time it just right.

Red-footed Falcon watchers, some better behaved than others
Yesterday we decided to treat ourselves to a meal in The Boat House, the marina's cafe. Whilst having my cheesecake, a Common Tern landed on the tiller arm of the boat moored beside the building. Another year tick without even the aid of my bins!

View from the cafe, which briefly included a Common Tern
Year List now on 191 + 2