Monday, 30 April 2012

A turn for the worse....

The Leicestershire drought conditions have taken a big turn for the worse since my last blog post (well, in the eyes of the Environment Agency's PR department at least) with the Soar at Jubilee having well and truly burst its banks. A quick trip to Jubilee an hour ago to ease the pain of revising palynology discovered this fact with the patch well and truly underwater. I went round to Clarence road in the end to see if anything had dropped into the flooded meadows near the packhorse bridge but there wasn't much about (its because I brought the camera out today of course).

View from Jubilee carpark

View from roadbridge looking at Jubilee


Looking towards Narborough Bog

After all this flood related excitement I thought I'd go and see if any Wheatear were still lingering at Grove Park. I did wonder whether the brighter weather today might have cleared them out but they were still present in force. At least ten were confirmed (8 males) but I suspect the true total might have been a touch higher than that.

Saturday, 28 April 2012


It was only in my last post that I outlined my current patch tactic of not taking the SLR to the patch in the hope of tricking rare onto my patch list and it only took three visits until it paid off in spectacular style!

After listening to Leicester beat Leeds I felt a quick patch visit was in order (three days in a row now *shudders*) and made my way down to Jubilee and quickly became aware that the river had risen slightly overnight and most of the grassland was now rather soggy, requiring wellingtons. I had no wellingtons so instead got wet feet as I made my way down to the river. Just as I was setting up the scope for a grill of the pool I noticed something porpoising along the far bank of the river towards me. Things generally never porpoise up the river so this grabbed my attention rather quickly and I soon realised "oh my god, its an Otter". Yes, an Otter! Win! This was a tick of epic proportions too - I'd never seen a wild one anywhere before so to get one on my pitiful excuse of a patch was truly astounding. Seemed like a big male too as it slowly worked its way upstream along the far bank down to a range of about 5 metres, didn't seem to notice me at all.

Unfortunately however, the decision to not bring the canon backfired in truly spectacular fashion at this point as instead of a chance to photograph (albeit in terrible light) a big fat male Otter at close-range I had to make do with a picture taken with shaking hands on the galaxy - in terrible light:

Yes, the photo is craptastic, but its still a patch Otter!
After it worked its way past me and neared the confluence with the Sence it seemed to notice my presence and promptly disappeared, never to be seen again. I stood well back from the confluence for a while and watched to see if it re-appeared but it wasn't to be. But nevermind, still an experience I won't be forgetting in a hurry!

Oh and birds....there may have been birds, but I was too busy Otter hunting to pay attention to such trivalties!

EDIT: The presence of this Stock Dove on the lawn this morning alerted me to the fact that I had forgotten the species on the garden list which I have now amended.

DOUBLE EDIT (I need to stop doing this):

Shortly after I finished this blog post I got a text from Skev alerting me to a "Wheatear fest" at Grove Park and thought it would be rude not to go and see them as one of the main reasons for my patchwatching over the last few days has been the chance of a Wheatear - tantalising totals are being reported everywhere at the minute. And so I joined Skev and Dave Gray at Grove Park and saw 11 juicy Wheatears with minimal difficulty. Very nice although my attempts at photographing them went down much worse than Rid managed earlier, bit jealous on that front!

Friday, 27 April 2012


As I'm currently being murdered by work birding trips have had to take a back seat recently.....well I say that, its more like im restricting myself to not travel very far or spend a huge amount of time birding at the minute. Still, I've managed to nip down to the patch for an hour for the last two days running - if I keep this up I'll qualify as one of those dedicated patch worker types....can't have that. Either way, a quick timing of the journey down to patch today concludes it takes about 90secs to get there, it would be rude not to really! The canon was not bothered with for either sortie as im working with a new tactic of not taking the SLR in the hope that murphys/sods law will strike and produce something rare - it always happens when you're not prepared! So this is why all photo's in today's post are of the phonescoped/crap variety.

Anyway as for birds

A single Oystercatcher was on the pool yesterday and I heard it a couple times today but couldn't see it anywhere, it was probably on one of the other pools that you can't see from Jubilee:

One of (im assuming) the Common Sandpiper from the other week was also pottering around the pool today but I didn't see it yesterday:

Another Little Egret (or more likely the same recurring bird) was on the pool too today before pretending to be a Cattle Egret for a while:

And this Swallow was the first I've actually seen this year that wasn't flying!

And then, best of all, as I was walking back towards the car-park this afternoon wondering why a Blackbird was making a most un-blackbirdish noise at the top of a tree, a shout behind me from a couple of birders I had been chatting to a few minutes previously alerted me to a lovely Peregrine flying over! Patch tick!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Tales of the unexpected.....

Isn't unexpected birding the best? Like a when normal day is turned into sheer havoc by an absolutely spiffing Black-winged Stilt at Rutland, for example. Occasions when you're out in a totally non-birding situation and see something not exactly rare but completely unexpected are also rather satisfying too. Like glancing upwards whilst walking through Manchester and seeing a Peregrine - also very nice. Or something like what happened to me this evening, I shall set the scene;

You've just been subjected to several hours of Minitab (If you know what this is, you will feel my pain. If not, don't google it under any circumstances, you're better off without it) related torture in the computer labs of Newton building and you leave, bleary eyed, at 1.30am. You have nothing to look forward to on the drive back to Leicester except the dulcet tones of Capital fm and the chance that the wet roads might liven things up by trying to murder you.
Just as you drive over the county border and into Leicestershire you see a Tawny Owl alight from a roadside tree and give pretty satisfactory views in the headlights as it flies away, not bad. Not bad at all when you realise this is first you've actually seen this year. What's more, the roads are much drier the further you get from Shithampton, very nice indeed! Then to make things even nicer, you see a Barn Owl gliding gracefully across the road just a few miles further on, again giving nice headlight views, this decision to stay at uni so long wasn't such a bad idea, you think.

Im going to stop blathering on in this strange style now anyway and just say the Barn Owl sighting was just the beginning of one of those night-time drives that occur now and again where every single nocturnal creature imagineable tries to throw itself under your wheels, clearly bored of life. There was so much about that I even took a slight detour past some Owl sites to see what else I could find. In total I saw 4 owls (Two Tawnies, One barn owl and one bird that was either another barnie or possibly an asio but I didn't get a good enough view), one Muntjac, a billion wabbits, two Foxes and a Badger. I think the owl count alone beats my previous best of owls seen whilst driving that route at night by a smashing 3 whole owls and I'm pretty sure I'd never seen a badger either before (unless you count dead ones, I've seen loads of those).

Friday, 20 April 2012


Ah yes, timing. Timing can be the maker or breaker of us all.
In the recent case of several midlands counties being named as drought regions, this was exceedingly bad timing; it basically hasn't stopped raining since. This makes the authorities look inept and authorities dont like looking inept. In this case I can feel a sort of empathy towards the bungling decision makers that run this country however. The empathy is brought about because until this recent period of rain it has been horribly dry and although it has been the subject of much hilarity all this rain may not change much. Afterall, one period of rainfall is unlikely to be sufficient to replenish surface and groundwater stores of water back to "normal" levels - particularly in the case of aquifers which have a very slow re-fill rate. So, it is entirely likely that this rain won't fix anything for the better and will only cause the Environment Agency and others to be called bunglers and nancys and pooboys. The Governments decision back in the 70's of not constructing a national water grid on the grounds that it was too expensive is looking more and more a foolish decision as current Governments are being faced with the same proposals now but at a much larger cost. Can Governmental plans to spuff a big, fat, wedge of cash on a train-line between London and Birmingham (destroying many valuable habitats in the process, I might add) be justified when basic problems such as provision of water are not at the standards expected of one of the more developed nations? I think not.

Anyway to stop the ranting there an example of good timing was my decision to go down to Jubilee this afternoon in the middle of a moderately intense shower. As Skev mentioned on his blog yesterday, all this weather knocking around means any number of migrants might be forced to drop onto the patch and thus onto my patch list. And so I waited until it was nicely pissing it down and then went for a lookie at the patch to see if anything had dropped in. Two Common Sandpiper was exactly the sort of thing I was after and two common sands was exactly what I got! Would have been nicer if they had been greens and thus a patch tick but this is only my 2nd or 3rd (yes, im terrible with records) record of them on patch so no complaints really. They swiftly flew off towards the other (out of view) pools though, highlighting the benefits of good timing! A text was sent out anyway to Sir Skev Markington on the off chance they came back and turns out they did, how nice of them! House Martin and Blackcap were also new for the patch yearlist and two pairs of Tufted Duck were on the pool - new since the last visit.

Anyway to make up for the lack of photos so far have a couple of the current Leicestershire drought conditions:

EDIT: been meaning to do this for a while but have only just got around to it - my profile now has a contact email - its if you would like to get in touch about anything. As you may have surmised this isn't my personal email account but I will check it regularly and try to respond to everything that isn't ludicrous/idiotic/on fire.

EDIT #2: and I've just added a new page at the top which is the current garden list, I'll do the patch one next but lets not get carried away with this listing lark, thats the first proper bird list I've ever written!

EDIT #3: I must be gravely ill as I've just got back from visiting the patch for the second time in one day! Shocking behaviour! In my defence it did look for all the world like the heavens were going to open, noah-style and so would be an ideal time for a juicy migrant to drop into Jubilee. In the end the rain passed by Jubilee and although I got one of the Common Sandpipers from earlier the only things new (or things I missed earlier - this is more likely) was a Little Egret and Grey Wagtail around the pool and a spanking male Reed Bunting along the river. Oh yes and probably the same Fox that Skev saw yesterday was cruising around looking for something to menace. A quick look at the newly christened "Owl and Snipe field" (never seen either species in this field but I reckon I will if I start/keep looking) across the road from Jubilee produced nothing but that shall not deter me from checking the field again regularly.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The good, the bad and the ugly

Yesterday I had a pretty miserable day on the birding front. I dipped Skevs Wheatear at Jubilee and then, eschewing the chance to go and see the Ring Ouzels at Timberwood Hill, I made the choice to go and find my own Ring Ouzel at Croft Hill instead. I did this because of previous urges to find my own birds and Croft Hill is a good shout for one at this time of year. Too bad I didn't drag myself up there until mid afternoon when the hordes of dog walkers had turned the place into a birdless wasteland.
So that brings me to today

The good (or should it be bad?): After not seeing any Ouzels yesterday I quickly settled for looking at other peoples today and so pootled off to Thornton res. where three birds had been reported a couple of hours previously. But they were nowhere to be found upon arrival. Bugger, I checked the whole Markfield arm too.... twice! The visit was rescued (cue the good bit) from being a total washout by a lovely close encounter with a pair of Goldcrest which just occasionally sat still long enough for a couple of images to be taken:

The bad (or should it be good?):
After this It would have been rude not to carry onto the Timberwood Hills area to actually try and see some Ring Ouzel this time as these birds had been present for a couple of days and happily they were quickly found once I parked up at the correct spot, thankfully bagging me a full-blown life tick! Yes, this really does highlight my status as a birding novice but somehow I'd just never seen one before! Last spring in the days before blogger I visited Beacon Hill twice and Burrough Hill a few times specifically on the hunt for them but never got lucky and saw one. Other current "bogey" birds you may wish to poke fun at me about also include any Skua, Corncrake, Lesser pecker, Montys Harrier, Wood Warbler and most species of Petrel!
Oops I've been waffling, back to the bad bit. The bad bit refers to the attempts at photographing Ring Ouzel using a smart phone at a considerable range. Undeterred, the Galaxy SII was cranked up to a beefy 4x zoom and bagged this delightful image:

I think I should at least get a bonus point for getting all three in the same a blackbird for comparison, like.

And the ugly:
No, no, no, this doesn't refer to the arrival of John Hague who briefly joined me watching the Ouzels, it refers to the attempt at photographing one of the three Wheatear that were also present in the same spot as the Ouzels. You might want to shield your eyes....

Aaaaargh my eyes, it burns, it burns!

Friday, 13 April 2012

The anxious wait...

Was exactly what I had to contend with this afternoon when news broke of the Black winged Stilt at Rutland. It would have not only been a big, fat, county tick; it was a bigger, fatter, UK tick! I've seen the little devils before in France on roadside salt pans but never one before in good old blighty so I was rather eager to see this one. But because Amy was here and because her train back to Sheffield wasn't until 4pm I had to sit around getting increasingly rage-filled at the prospect of missing it!

I needn't have worried, Amy was dropped off at Leicester station promptly at 3.40pm and then I drove like a complete arse calmly and sedately over to Rutland where long legs was quick to show once Dunlin hide was entered. Isn't it nice when things go to plan!?

Cue terrible photographs - scope views were generally excellent and it afforded one beautifully close fly-past, the tart.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


As the post title suggests things have happened for the second time today.

Firstly (or should it be secondly!?), I saw my second patch Little Egret at Jubilee yesterday but I won't bore you with an image of it as all attempted shots were truly aweful. Nothing much else about apart from the lingering Oystercatcher, no patch hirundines or warblers besides chiff yet....

Never fear though, keen reader, as I do have a shoddy image to share with you below taken today at one of Pauls Little Owl sites out in the Desford(ish) region...sorry about the vague locations but one can never be too careful in the breeding season! Anyway, this was actually my first sighting/image at this site after a few fruitless searches but it was more importantly my second chance to photograph two owls together!
This was never going to go well though - the owl tree in question is an old Horse Chesnut smack bang in the middle of a grassed field and although there is a footpath that runs close to the tree, any attempts to approach the site on foot would surely be met by the owls quickly "doing a bunk". So I had to make do with distant shots from the car and thus the results weren't great.

Nevermind, still looks a likely breeding site for this year!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Its 3am and...

My drunken perusal of the internet has unearthed this gem, one particular reader of this blog may enjoy this more than others......

Just the one...

Image of any value taken today. But in my opinion its one of the better ones I've managed with the new camera so far so i'm quite pleased to be fair. I actually managed four owls today, one of which was at my newly discovered site which indicates the bird is indeed in residence, it certainly looked at home in the entrance to the tree cavity. I did get a few more images of this fella but I wont post them as they're almost identical to the last post. The "new" image however is from one of Pauls sites out near Lutterworth:

I'm most pleased about this because I can see its feet - I somehow often struggle to get the whole owl in view!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Finding stuff....

Oh how I could have kicked myself this morning. As I hadn't done much birding recently today had been earmarked for a tour of a few sites in Leicester that I hadnt visited in a while with the hope of finding something nice. Recently I've noticed a definite change in my birding habits - a couple of years ago when I was relatively new to the hobby I was more than happy to decide where to go birding on the basis of what was being reported on the LROS page, there were many species I hadn't seen in the county and many more birdwatching sites that I'd never visited before and this news service simplified matters on where to go and what to look for. Now as I'm a touch more knowledgeable about birding in Leicestershire I've been becoming increasingly eager to find my own birds rather than go and look at other peoples. Now, im not talking about stringy, one-observer reports of Short toed Larks, more like finding my own Ring Ouzel or GG Shrike.
So that brings me back to the wanting to kick myself bit - as mentioned above I had planned to get up and out nice and early this morning to visit a few sites, one of which was Swithland reservoir. So imagine my annoyance at 11.45 this morning (the snooze button got abused) when the news broke of a summer plumaged Black necked Grebe at Swithland. That should have been my Grebe!
Annoyed, I vowed to not go and see the Grebe even though I'd never seen a summer plumaged one before and went to Brascote Pits instead to find something else. In the end I didn't find much at the pits themselves besides a new lake since the last time I visited and four Oystercatcher but that was about it.

New Lake at Brascote Pitts, this used to be some promising looking passerine habbo!

The real star of the show however was found en-route to the pits when a familiar looking blob in a roadside tree had me slamming on the brakes in a rather unsafe fashion and turning around for a second look. I was glad I did.

This was certainly a new and previously unknown site for me and after a quick correspondance with Paul Riddle it became clear that it wasn't one of his known sites either. I found something! Jackpot!

After a look at Thornton res. where Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin found their way onto my year list I got lost on the way home and whilst scanning the surrounding countryside with the scope to find my way home I saw this, dont know how it happened really, it was all a blur: