Saturday, 31 January 2009

January 31st 2008

Out looking for the Southam Road Barn Owl and in place before first light and rewarded with a flyby Long-eared Owl and Woodcock then a wait till the Barn Owl showed. Draycote Water had first winter Shag and Red-necked Grebe off farborough bank and 3 Great-northern Divers were all out in the centre while toft bay had 16 Goosander, 12 Siskin, Grey Wagtail, 6 Meadow Pipit, Great-spotted Woodpecker and adult Med Gull. Back out with John Judge in the afternoon to do the roost. To think only a few days ago I was on Tanji beach looking at Grey-headed, Slender-billed and Kelp Gulls in 85 degrees and now I’m freezing me crown jewels on hensborough bank in a easterly breezy with 5 layers on and a chill factor many in Gambia have never heard of and apart from adult and first winter Yellow-legged Gull failed miserably to find a white winger. Had met up with Bob Duckhouse earlier who had four Great-northern and one of the two we saw had a different neck pattern to those previously present so we believe it’s a new arrival.


Friday, 30 January 2009

January 30th 2009

Possible start of a cold weather movement with 20 Golden Plover and 2 Bewick's Swan heading south west over garden this morning. Coal Tit on feeders.
Dave picked me this afternoon for coffee and cake at Draycote Water and a chance to catch up with Bob Hazell before we went for a walk along farborough bank. Certainly felt the chilly south easterly wind and very little to report apart from 600 Lapwing floating around and back at the car the over wintering male Merlin flew past in hunting mode. Grandborough Valley was quiet with a few Redwing, Fieldfare and 2 Buzzard - it was that quiet I nodded off - sorry Dave. A Barn Owl has been seen along the Southam Road, north of the Draycote Water entrance so will go looking for that tomorrow - probably one of the Toft Farm birds seeking out new hunting grounds.


Thursday, 29 January 2009

January 29th 2009

Well I'm back from The Gambia and boy this weather is yuk. Had a stunning trip run very efficiently by the family run Halcyon ( in The Gambia who catered to our every need and put a lot of good field craft in to helping me and my friends see 269 species in a week keeping us well fed, watered and smiling. I only needed 26 of those for my world list but some of those were real crackers and difficult to get species so can't praise them enough especially Mustapha our local guide who is a brilliant birder. Will put a report out soon under the 28th Jan blog once I have warmed up and completed me notes.
Had to force me self out this afternoon and made a quick trip to the pond but did not have my heart in it so it was a quick look at the Shag, Red-necked Grebe and Great-northern Diver before rushing back to my fire place. Far as I can tell there's not been any new arrivals so don't think I have missed much.


January 28th 2009

Warwickbirders Holiday in Gambia January 21st to 28th 2009

Our grateful thanks go to everyone at Halcyon for making this the best birding holiday we have had since traveling together since 1999. This Gambian based company normally take no more than six customers at a time and were initially concerned if they could cater for 10 - they did brilliantly and in a very friendly and professional way and its heartening to see the efforts they put in to the local community. Well done.

Richard Mays, Dave Cox, Dave Ludlow, Dave and Cym Basealy, Paul Cashmore, Andy Hale, Sara Hain, Colin Potter, Terry Southgate

Day one
Four of us wined and dined in London while the remaining six traveled overnight meeting at Gatwick for an early morning flight to Gambia. Good tail winds helped us to arrive early at Yundum Airport mid-day and we were met by Claire and some of the Halcyon Gambia staff who soon had us on our way to the Halcyon Gambia compound at Bijilo watching Speckled Pigeons, Hooded Vultures and a Shrika go by. Met by our leader Phil, his parents and the rest of the Halcyon staff then allocated our very spacious rooms. Once refreshed we spent the rest of the day being served drinks, food and enjoying the hospitality, heat, sunshine and exploring the compounds garden, its feeders and drinking pools notching up 35 species, a few butterflies and gecko’s so a great introduction to Gambian wildlife. Evening meal was had outside with Phil going over the week’s agenda and me holding a log call while Gambian Fruit Bats were drinking from the swimming pool in the background.
Highlights were Hooded Vulture, Shrika perched, Mottled, African Palm and Little Swift, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Yellow-billed Shrike, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Laughing, Red-eyed, African Mourning and Vinaceous Dove, Variable, Splendid and Beautiful Sunbird, Red-billed Fire-finch Bronze Mannakin, Purple and Long-tailed Starling and Black-necked Weaver amongst the more common Village Weavers and as this is my second visit to Gambia the only new bird for me so far but very welcome.

Hooded Vulture by Terry Southgate

Red-billed Fire-finch by Dave Ludlow

Day two
After breakfast the morning was spent at a leisurely pace around the Koto Creek, Casino Cycle Track, Lily Ponds and Koto Sewage Farm enjoying a good mixture of habitat. Some of the birds were familiar such as egrets and waders and others easily recognizable from the homework we had done. In the first hour from Koto Creek we notched 40 species with out moving 20 yards from our coach before working the other sites mentioned and all in walking distance so many of the group were ticking lifers all the way helped along by Phil and Mustapha our local guide whose identification and observation skills were second to none
Highlights were Palm-nut Vulture, Senegal Thicknee, Northern Crombec, Blue-breasted and Pied Kingfisher, Western Grey Plantain-eater, Black Egret, Senegal Parrot, Black Crake, African Jacana, White-faced Whistling Duck, Sacred Ibis, Little Bee-Eater, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Spur-winged and Yellow Wattled Plover just to mention a few. Amongst the more familiar birds we found Western Sub-Alpine and OlivaciousWarbler but we failed to identify the grayish warbler with a double wing bar that showed for a few seconds back at Koto Creek. Red-chested Swallow was a tick for me but the bird of the morning has to be the White faced Scops Owl that Mustapha found
Returned to the Halcyon compound for lunch and then out again later to walk the Bund Road and Camaloo Corner. The weather was pleasantly warm and Bund Rd very busy with home bound traffic so you needed your wits about you but the birding terrific with a mixture of estuary, sea, and mangrove birds while Camaloo Corner was on the edge of the mangroves with muddy creeks and scrub.
Highlights were Pink-backed Pelican Grey-headed and Slender-billed Gull, Caspian, Royal and Lesser Crested Tern along the bund Road and Senegal Coucal, Abyssinian Roller, Brown Babbler, Black-shouldered Kite and Giant Kingfisher at Camaloo Corner.
A White Faced Scops Owl was calling after dinner at the Halcyon Compound but could not be seen. 120 species seen today – no ticks for me but I am having a ball.

Blue-bellied Roller by Terry Southgate

Day three
Out early and we were soon parked up by the side of the road looking at Grey Kestrel and Grey Woodpecker before moving on to our destination of Lamin Rice Fields. In a couple of hours we added to our growing list: - Fork-tailed Drongo, Double-spurred Francolin, Northern Black Flycatcher, Black-billed Dove, Vieillots Barbet, African Harrier Hawk, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Hammerkop and Painted Snipe from the 52 species seen. It was then “all aboard the skylark” as Mustapha would say and off to one of Gambia’s best known nature reserves Abuko. The reserve is a mature riverine forest holding some of Gambia’s sought after birds. The crocodile pool has a viewing area.
We managed nearly 70 species adding Green and Violet Turaco, Lesser Honey guide, Little Greenbulul, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Black-rumped Waxbill, Wire-tailed swallow, Fanti Saw-wing, Bearded Barbet, Booted Eagle, Swallow Tailed Bee-eater to the list including four I needed Grey Headed Bristle Bill, Western Bluebill, Yellow-breasted Apalis and Pied Swallow. It was certainly an experience needing sharp eyes and patience so dinner at nearby Lamin Lodge was welcome where on leaving I managed another lifer in the form of Plain-backed Pipit.
Our next stop was Brutfut where Mustapha stunned us in to silence when he vanished only to signal to come quietly in pairs and showed us a roosting Long-tailed Nightjar he had found among the leaf litter. Don’t know how the boy did it? I’m starring at it just feet away and still needed directions to get on to it. Osprey, Dark-chanting Goshawk, Yellow-billed Oxpecker also seen plus a melanstic Gabar Goshawk – a tick. We certainly enjoyed Lamin our chefs cooking and the beers flowed after such a cracking day. Not often I get 7 ticks in a day. Group has now seen well over 140 species since we arrived.

Day four
Out at first light to Bonto Radio Station for Yellow White-eye and Grey-backed Camaroptera and African Green Pigeon in Pirang village before visiting Pirang Shrimp farm which though now closed down use to hold plenty of water but the owners have purposely drained it to keep the birders away so nothing like its former self. Rest of morning spent at Faraba Banta birding in well grown scrub coming up with a White-breasted Cuckoo Shrike and Brown-backed Woodpecker for my world list. Other goodies included Rufous-bellied Roller and Bronze-tailed Glossy Starling. The coach broke down on the way back to our compound so arrived late for lunch then it was out again to visit the coast at Tanji where at long last I finally ticked Kelp Gull.

Black-necked Weaver

For me the next stop was the highlight of the holiday.
We drove to Tujering and walked an area of burnt scrub with new growth and in just 500 yards I had six lifers. Black-crowned Chagra, Red-winged Warbler, Rufous Cisticola, Brown-rumped Bunting, White Fronted Black-chat and Klass Cuckoo plus Senegal Batis, Bru Bru, Singing Cisticola and Copper Sunbird amongst the many species present. Back to the Halycon Compound where we packed for trip up country tomorrow.

Looking for the Cuckoo-shrike

Day five
It was a very early breakfast while the coach was being loaded then a short journey to the capital Banjul to catch the ferry to Barra. This was the first part of what turned out to be a stunning journey and a long day as we transferred up country to Tendaba for a two night stay 150k inland. Tendaba itself is on the south side of the River Gambia so by taking the better roads on the north side we could visit a number of key sites before crossing back over on another ferry at Bambatenda. The harbor was a hive of activity and once loaded the crossing did not take long and added Pomarine Skua to our list.
On leaving Barra we came across our first military stop and advised not to have bins or cameras on display but that went out the window when I spotted a Northern Ant-eater Chat perch on wires by the coach. As we continued inland we were picking up familiar species until passing the village of Minti Kunda where we spotted some vulture’s thermalling and could not have planned it better with Griffon, White-backed and Ruppells Vulture over our heads. Continued on till we reached the Bao Balong Creek where a walk along the causeway produced Purple Heron, Spur Winged Goose, White-winged Black Tern and Yellow-billed Stork amongst many other species. After buying fruit (we had already demolished Lamin & Claire’s baguettes) at Farafenni we continued to Kaur Wetlands with road side stop for Brown Snake Eagle and Exclamatury Paradise Whydah (both ticks for me). At Kaur Wetlands we saw Marabu stork, Spoonbill, African Spoonbill, Knob-billed Duck and two stunning Chestnut backed Sparrow-larks (tick again) before a mis communication meant we left pronto not knowing why.
All was revealed when we stopped at a pool at Njau and as we checked the shoreline Andy’s shout of “EGYPTIAN PLOVER” had everyone running. Four stunning birds and it turned out Phil and Mustapha had received a tip off they were present hence the rush but did not want to say in case they flew and we were disappointed. This Gambian gem was on everyone’s must see list. Smiles all-round. Plenty of birds coming to drink and I added Bush Petronia, Cut-throat Finch and Greater Honey Guide to my ever growing world list.

Egyptian Plover by Dave Ludlow
We returned the way we came re-visiting Kaur Wetlands and Mustapha has eyes like a hawk – spotted 3 Black-crowned Cranes 3 miles away – lousy views but they took off and flew towards us and landed a couple of hundred yards opposite us – another Gambian gem and boy do we have some luck. We also found a Kittlitz Plover among the wader species present.
Arrived at Bambatenda as daylight faded in time for the 7 30pm crossing only to find out when we boarded that the captain was delaying it for 90 minutes so just had to go with the flow. Took the advantage of a enjoying the stars and bats before it clouded over.
Once back on the south side we had 40k of bad roads to get to Tendaba but there is rough and there is gob smacking bum hurting rough. Our driver who has been a hero so far on the trip did everything humanly possible to avoid the ruts and pot holes but one or two had us jumping out of our seat. Arrived at Tendaba two hours late, shattered with our meal ready to be served, so it was grub, beer and bed. To tired for log call but it turned out we had 156 species today and I needed six of them.

Day six
Once we were up, refreshed and raring to go we spent the day in the Tendaba area notching up 115 species – first walking behind the camp near the school looking for coursers then back on the Skylark checking various places in the Kinga West Park while late afternoon we visited Tendaba Airfield and the nearby savanna scrub.
Apart from the courser, two species of Nightjar, a sandgrouse the day was excellent for birds of prey managing 17 species including the one bird I have always wanted to see.

Bronzed Winged Courser by Dave Ludlow
Highlights were Bronzed-winged Courser (tick for me), Short-toed, Tawny, African Fish, African Hawk and Whalbergs Eagle, Four Banded Sandgrouse found by buddy Dave. Two birds that really caught our attention were the Bateleur that I took Terry’s head off for in my frantic rush to get off the coach (tick for me after dipping in 92 and 06) and in the late evening after failing to see Abyssinian Grounded Hornbill we had just got off the coach when Terry shouts “I have a bird being mobbed by two other’s”. He had found a stunning Standard-winged Nightjar (tick) performing towards us where the standards bounced above and behind the body – a very impressive sight and one that gave Phil a thrill. We ended up seeing two males and a female with a male Long-winged Nightjar nearby as we were leaving. We tried for Verreaux’s Eagle Owl but our disappointment was forgotten as we enjoyed the spectacular sight of trillions of stars. Visibility was so good you could put your scope on the sword of Orion and see the gigantic nebular of gas and dust. Stunning.

Day Seven
Another walk around the school with Phil while Mustapha had a well deserved lay in seeing the Bronzed-winged Courser again and a perched eagle that was videoed and identified later as a Western banded Snake.
Rest of the morning spent on a boat trip exploring the balons on the north shore and rewarded with African Darter, Mouse Brown Sunbird, Malachite Kingfisher, White-throated Bee-eater, Goliath Heron (it’s big) and two specialties for the area White-crowned Night Heron and the holy grail of Gambian birding Finfoot.
Unfortunately we were late leaving the camp for the journey back to Bijilo due the camp taking two hours to serve our lunch so Phil had a word with them. Well I think he had several.

African Finfoot by Dave Ludlow
The journey back was dusty and on rough roads but Dave managed to spot Fine-spotted Woodpecker and a few more Bateleur were seen. Made an emergency stop at Bajana for Dave who ran off in to the scrub with the toilet roll while we enjoyed the beautiful sight of a female and 6 male Pintail Snipe. Arrived back at the Halcyon Compound tired and dusty but Claire’s welcoming smile, good food and beer soon put us right. The log call revealed that we had seen 269 species over the last seven days which is very good going and down to the excellent set up Halcyon have to offer and ten birders willing to learn not only about Gambian birds but also its culture.

Day eight
Chilled out in the morning enjoying the compound garden and saying our good byes before our afternoon flight to Gatwick.



Tuesday, 20 January 2009

January 20th 2009

I don’t do hanging round waiting for holidays to start very well, so out early to Draycote Water despite still feeling ish but in time to see the first winter Iceland Gull leaving the roost heading south east down the Grandborough valley. At least 225 Greater Black-backed Gulls remained along with first winter Kittiwake which no doubt had been blown in by the recent series of depressions that have crossed the midland in the last 72hrs and a first winter Med Gull in the field below farborough bank amongst the Black-headed Gulls. The Little Egret was in the sewage farm and the Red-necked Grebe, male Smew and Shag all off farborough bank along with 12 Meadow Pipit. Three Great-northern Divers were out in centre then off valve tower and also seen were Green Woodpecker 2, Kingfisher, 3 Jay, Sparrowhawk and 23 Siskin.
If you see anything at Draycote or in the valley then e-mail me. I like to know what I have missed or a chance to see when I get back. Mark Phillips had a Peregrine perched in the valley on Monday.


Monday, 19 January 2009

January 19th 2009

Not surprisingly I have not been out – still feeling Yuk but the chore of packing for the sunshine cheered me up though last years bikini just wont fit anymore.


Sunday, 18 January 2009

January 18th 2009

Just what I need with 2 days to go before my trip to Gambia. Woke up feeling like death and had to be brought home early by Dave - just can,t get warm so desperately fighting some bug by dosing my self up with every potion known to man kind. Very strong winds and heavy rain last night as the low went through.
Managed to see a distant Barn Owl at Grandborough Fields Farm and the Little Egret re-appeared at Draycote Water when it was in the field adjacent the sewage farm. Interestingly it was showing a light greyish cast on its wings and mantle with a very faint tinge of buff in the bright sunlight so its identification was double checked - yellowish feet ruled out mis-identification with Cattle Egret. Also seen were Red-necked Grebe, Shag, male Smew and Great-northern Diver and just after leaving the entrance the female Merlin flew towards us heading for farborough bank. Before I called it a day we did a quick check of Lawford Heath but only saw 2 Buzzards.


Saturday, 17 January 2009

January 17th 2009

A wet morning looking for owls and waxwing in the valley with Barn Owl hunting the A45 near the turn for Woolscott and a Tawny Owl in Lower Street, Willoughby near the duck pond. As the light improved I retraced my steps back to the Woolscott turn where a large owl had been reported quartering fields yesterday afternoon and found a bedraggled Short-eared Owl resting on fence post before it flew over the A45 towards the prison to hunt and a Little Owl was not far away perched on telegraph pole. A four owl species day and not even 8am. I then went to Nerthercote via Sawbridge using the county road as a short cut. A good search of Sawbridge failed to locate any Waxwing though a Blackcap female and Treecreeper were good birds for this area and the canal below Nethercote had a Kingfisher which is uncommon on this busy waterway. No sign of the possible redstart species (probably Black) that had been reported in the week, just a few Chaffinches and a Sparrowhawk. The feeders at Railway Cottage, Flecknoe had 15+ House Sparrows, 2 Tree Sparrows, Willow Tit and Coal Tit and more searching for Waxwing around Grandborough Fields Farm produced only Buzzard and Raven with Woodbine Farm still having yesterdays 400+ Fieldfare and 50 Redwing, 2 Buzzard and Reed Bunting. Little else seen till I arrived at the junction of Flecknoe Rd / A426 with 2 female Brambling on the smallholding opposite and 40 Stock Dove nearby.
The afternoon spent with John Judge and Hall Brothers for the roost at Draycote Water with the southerly wind becoming stronger. Unusually many were coming in close to shelter from the wind which seem to only to add to the confusion of separating Yellow-legged Gull from white headed Herring Gull. Final totals were 4 adult Yellow-legged Gull and adult winter Med Gull. Also seen were 3 Great-northern Diver, 18 Goosander and Shag.


Friday, 16 January 2009

January 16th 2009

I don’t get it - some folk are putting the Draycote Pink-footed on to there Warwickshire list. I have five records and only one (flock of 16 and 10) in 1995 that has any chance of credibility. Enter any field in Norfolk in winter where thousand hang out with a loaf of bread and they fly off, so how can a single bird that walks up to you asking for Mothers Pride be tickable.
All the regulars still present according to Bob Hazel when we met this afternoon at Draycote Water though me and Dave only saw 3 Buzzard, 200 Lapwing, Great-northern Diver, male Smew, Shag and Red-necked Grebe on our walk out to farborough spit.
Though running out of time we decided to give the valley a quick check and rewarded straight away with Merlin eating prey on a bale of hay next to the Kites Hardwick Golf range. Other sightings included 300 Starling, 400 Fieldfare, 5 Buzzard and possibly 2 Waxwing going over the car near Willoughby.


Thursday, 15 January 2009

January 15th 2009

A grey damp overcast morning with a freshening south easterly wind. New arrivals at Draycote Water were the Oystercatcher flying along hensborough bank and the Dunlin in toft bay. The Red-throated Diver is DEAD – found between valve tower and dunns bay floating 5 yards out snagged on a submerged branch. I tried to retrieve it but the water was too deep and too cold. Hopefully that’s where the wind blew it and not the cause of death. There are still four Great-northern Divers so don’t know where the 4th has been hiding and the male Smew, 2 Shag, Common Sandpiper and Red-necked Grebe were off farborough bank. Little Owl making a less than frequent show these days was on a fence post near the sewage farm and a Little Egret flew across reservoir. The sewage farm its self had Grey Wagtail, 6 Song Thrush, 6 Snipe and 12 Redwing and the Pink-footed Goose was amongst the Canada flock in toft bay. Also seen were Great-spotted Woodpecker, 16 Golden Plover, 3 Green Woodpecker, Jay, 6 Meadow Pipit, 7 Bullfinch, Treecreeper, 12 Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting, 1500 Wood Pigeon, 90 Stock Dove, 15 Siskin and Sparrowhawk.
Patch News - Kevin had a Raven at Coombe Abbey and Corn Bunting on Lawford Heath. While Tim had the first winter Iceland and adult Caspain Gull in the roost at pond tonight


Wednesday, 14 January 2009

January 14th 2008

It’s a rare event to see birders in the valley so two car loads seeking Waxwing must be down to this blog or Draycote being fog bound so I hope you scored – I know I did. In fact I more than scored – I had a hat trick? – First when 16 Waxwing flew from a hedge between Grandborough Fields Road and Grandborough Fields Farm on a footpath that runs from near Grandborough Fields Farm to Grandborough, second when a distant blob on top of a tree near the Railway Cottages turned in to one and finally four at Sawbridge commuting between the back gardens and dodging the interest of the local Sparrowhawk. Sounds good but had to work hard for them in the fog and the cold freezing conditions. Twenty one in valley is more than impressive. Other birds seen included 3 Siskin, 13 Skylark, 15 Golden Plover, Grey Wagtail, 2 Red-legged Partridge and 2 Buzzard.
By the time I got to Draycote Water just after 1pm the fog was finally burning off and that’s when I cocked up big time. I somehow convinced myself that a Pink–footed Goose was a Bean Goose and started getting locals out to see it even though the chances of it being a genuine winter visitor were slim. Unfortunatley some dork put it out nationaly so I bet my name is mud - well thats the last time I tell anyone. It had pink legs so how the hell did I go down the wrong identification path. Luckily Bob put me right and has given me a thousand lines and the donkey outfit to wear.
Rest of the visit was spent in sheepish mode so got some brownie points back when I found the first winter Iceland Gull in the roost before the fog came back. The Red-necked Grebe, male Smew and 2 Shag were off farborough bank, 3 Great-northern Diver out in centre and 15 Siskin in toft shallows but no sign of Red-throated Diver ( some have claimed it alive today and others say its dead - well at least mine was breathing). Also present were 4 Golden Plover and 12 Goosander.


Tuesday, 13 January 2009

January 13th 2009

Brandon Marsh at first light had Barn Owl and the Bittern showed well after flying in from newlands but no sign of Little Egret. Lawford Heath was again quiet mainly Fieldfare and Starling with one Raven over. Draycote Water was even quieter apart from hordes of kodak fiddlers and the “have you seen the” crowd and there's been a big exodus of duck and grebe. One brief sighting of the Red-throated Diver from farborough spit and despite some extensive searching by me and Mark Phillips from hensborough bank it was not seen till four hours later when it showed in toft bay and it did not look to good. It was on the surface with wings and neck resting on the surface calling softly before diving and heading back to centre of reservoir. The Red-necked Grebe was close in and male Smew a little further out, both off farborough bank along with Shag. There seems to be only three Great-northern Divers left with all of them near the valve tower early afternoon. Also seen were 7 Meadow Pipits, Golden Plover, 8 Long-tailed Tit and the hybrid falcon. On the way out a mixed group of finches feeding on alders on the M45 embankment included 15 Siskin, 3 Lesser Redpoll and 10 Goldfinch.
Dave Baseley put me on to 6 Waxwing which flew over his small holding on the Flecknoe Rd so it’s valley bashing for me tomorrow.


Monday, 12 January 2009

January 12th 2009

Up to 9 degrees last night with heavy rain on a strong south westerly wind so it was back to the wet weather gear as I did a quick check on the pond this morning. Male Red-crested Pochard was the most obvious new arrival other wise most of the long stayer’s were present though again I failed to find the male Smew. Surprisingly the Red-throated Diver was close inshore accompanied by a Great-northern Diver near inlet with 2 other GNDs seen and the Red-necked Grebe and both Shags off farborough bank. There were 36 Goosander off draycote bank.


Sunday, 11 January 2009

January 11th 2009

A change in the weather. The night started -2 becoming 4 by the morning with a southerly wind warming up to a 9 by mid-afternoon and the strengthening wind producing rain later.
Out early with Dave this morning trawling the lanes and minor roads of the valley looking for owls and going over wish list for Gambia (9 days to go). No Owls but we did have a Woodcock over our heads against a stunning beautiful orange pink sunrise and a Yellow-legged Gull going south east.
Draycote Water was blustery with 2 Great-northern Diver and Red-necked Grebe off farborough bank but no sign of male Smew. Also seen were the hybrid Peregrine which flew past us as we walked to toft bay, 14 Goosander with a few more on the far side of reservoir and a chat with “Hornets Nest”.
Brandon Marsh was still frozen but a lot more activity as the thaw starts with Shelduck, Buzzard, 2 Raven, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk, Coal Tit, 4 Reed Bunting and a Little Egret on teal pool which did a tour of the reserve before returning to teal pool. Lawford Heath had very little apart from a few winter thrushes and many Starlings.


Saturday, 10 January 2009

January 10th 2009

Very cold (-4.5) with a chill factor to contend with plus poor visibility in valley this morning and a narrow escape from some dork traveling too fast.
No Barn Owls today, Little Owls were near Woolscott and Sawbridge but no sign of the Long-eared on my walk from Sawbridge to Wolfhamcote though I wasn’t disappointed with the Waxwing feeding on apples in Sawbridge village. Also seen were 5 Snipe and Woodcock along with 35 Golden Plover, Sparrowhawk, 20 Fieldfare and 56 Redwing. More Redwing and Fieldfare between Sawbridge and Flecknoe Fields farm plus 2 Raven and another Little Owl at Grandborough Fields Farm. Little else seen apart from Tree Sparrow, 7 Yellowhammers, and 2 Buzzard along the Flecknoe Rd. My fourth Little Owl of the morning was at Kites Hardwick.
Draycote Water was very frustrating, being dull, misty, frost and bitterly cold all day.
Red-throated Diver eventually found between valve tower and dunn’s bay after 5 hours of searching – others had a little more luck.
Great-northern Diver 4 together out in centre mid-afternoon.
Red-necked Grebe off farborough bank.
Little Grebe 30 counted.
Shag 2 first winters, farborough bank and valve tower.
Smew male farborough bank
Goldeneye 35
Goosander 25 male’s 35 females – half came in off the River Leam in the afternoon
Wigeon 180
Pochard 70+
Ruddy duck 2 female rainbow corner.
Siskin 8
Lesser Redpoll 1
Green Woodpecker 3
Great-spotted Woodpecker 1
Common Sandpiper 1 windsurfing area till the sailors came out
Snipe 8
Med Gull adult winter 11:30am inlet, first winter and adult winter in pre-roost 14:00pm toft bay and 2 first winter in fields behind sewage farm 14:00pm (total 5)
Yellow-legged Gull – streaky still hanging around.
Redwing 50+ in plantation between toft bay and sewage farm


Friday, 9 January 2009

January 9th 2009

My usual Friday afternoon trip to Draycote Water in lovely winter sunshine with Dave was cut short by the mist which rolled in at 2:30 Uptil then the birds seen two distant Great-northern Diver, male Smew, 6 Snipe and Red-necked Grebe off farborough bank. Bob Hazell had spent most of the morning at the pond and along with Kevin Grewcock had seen the Red-throated Diver and 4 GNDs while Kevin also managed the male Merlin and a male Blackcap. Weather looks crap for tomorrow morning with a cold night (-3 in garden already) and fog forecasted.


Thursday, 8 January 2009

January 8th 2009

One look out the window and it was back to bed – cold, misty, grey and dull. Surfaced mid morning to Coal Tit and female Siskin in garden. The mist looked as if it was starting to lift so I went to Draycote Water. Well I got that wrong – visibility down to 50 meters and less in places but managed the Red-necked Grebe and male Smew off farborough bank as I walked with Richard Dawkins and Dave Hutton. The muck eventuality lift early afternoon and there seemed to be a lot of duck about and gulls present. Red-throated Diver made a brief appearance off hensborough back and flying around the reservoir near dusk and 3 Great-northern Divers out in centre. The two Shag were off hensborough bank and valve tower and the first winter male Scaup and Jack Snipe remained in biggen bay though the snipe was difficult to see due to the vegetation. Med Gulls roosted early with first winter off rainbow and adult winter reported off toft bank, adult Caspian Gull off draycote bank and adult Yellow-legged Gull and first winter Iceland Gull off dunns bay though the Iceland came in very late. Still plenty of Snipe especially in the surrounding fields with 77 counted including 33 in one field. Other birds seen were Great-spotted Woodpecker, Pochard 70, Goldeneye 34, Goosander 37 and Ruddy Duck 4.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

January 7th 2009

Overnight was minus 5 warming up to minus 2 with a light flurry of snow. Cycling conditions very dodgy as I spent part of the morning working the Cawston estate and struggled to get to grips with the Waxwing flock, 4 possible’s flying over Frewen Rd heading towards the disused railway line.
This afternoon I had another go for the Waxwings eventually finding one perched briefly then went to Draycote Water even though conditions were becoming misty.
New arrivals in the shape of Jack Snipe flying around biggen bay while doing roost, male Brambling country park and first winter Iceland and Little Gull in roost. All the usual goodies still present. The roost from dunns bay had 4 adult Yellow-legged Gull, adult Caspian Gull and two first winters and one adult Med Gull.


Tuesday, 6 January 2009

January 6th 2009 Extra

Could not resist sharing these photo with you kindly sent by Dave Hutton. All taken this afternoon, so just goes to show you never know where the Red-throated will turn up.

Red-necked Grebe by Dave Hutton

Smew by Dave Hutton

Red-throated Diver by Dave Hutton


January 6th 2009

A temperature low of minus 6.7 in my garden overnight and Sawbridge was still -8.9 at first light as I looked for owls this morning in the Grandborough valley so I think it’s safe to say it was bloody cold this morning and the minor roads were dodgy as hell. Still “no pain no gain” or words to that effect crossed my mind as I found a Long-eared Owl half hidden in a thick hedge being mobbed incessantly by Magpie’s between Sawbridge and Wolfhamcote. Alas it was a field length away so no chance of approaching any closer. Earlier I had seen 2 Barn and one Little Owl near Sawbridge.
Draycote Water was cooking on gas!! A stunning visit with Bob and Francoise.
Red-throated Diver still present and showing well but not close.
Great-northern Diver 4 still present
Red-necked Grebe first winter still off farborough bank.
Smew male off farborough bank.
Scaup first winter male in biggen bay.

Whooper Swan – poor record shot - overnight arrival of adult and juv accompanied by juv Mute Swan- all three left 10pm
Shag 2 first winters.
Peregrine a close fly by of a large immature over toft bay.
Merlin male perched two fields back off hensborough bank.
Pintail male off draycote bank.
Goosander 29 female and 18 male
Shelduck arrived just after 10am and spent the day touring.
Med Gull first winter in biggen bay this morning and adult winter in pre-roost.
Green Sandpiper over Country Park.
Common Sandpiper windsurfing area.
Snipe at least 44 due to frozen ground.
Also seen were
Willow Tit, Coal Tit, Buzzard, Ruddy duck 4, Siskin 24, Meadow Pipit 9, Canada Geese 560, Greylag Goose 3, Shoveler 2, Kingfisher 2, Raven and Grey Wagtail.
USEFUL HINT - due to a lot of birders struggling to see Red-throated Diver the best advice I can give is to view reservoir from hensborough bank and sweep between inlet and valve tower - do it slow and continuous and you should be lucky.


Monday, 5 January 2009

January 5th 2009

A light snow shower along with icy conditions overnight made cycling a little cautious this morning.
Returned to Lawford Heath to check out the Yellowhammer flock and rewarded with 67 counted along with 4 Corn Bunting, 5 Reed Bunting and 30+ Chaffinch being harassed by a female Merlin. A Marsh Tit was a welcome find and there’s little open water left due to the big freeze so it was not a surprise to find the semi-resident Shelduck in adjacent field. Also seen in area were Raven 2, Buzzard, 50 Skylark, 23 Linnet, 150 Collard Dove and 4 Red-legged Partridge.
Moved to Cawston Woods where my efforts found Woodcock, 2 Nuthatch, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker and 3 Treecreeper but had to work hard for them.
Back home the extra food put out has finally paid off with 2 female Siskin making it to my feeders.
Draycote Water this afternoon was bright cold with snow flurrys.In addition to the regular Red-necked Grebe, Red-throated Diver, 4 Great-northern Diver, male Smew, and 2 first winter Shag the elusive first winter male Scaup first reported on new years day made an appearance in toft bay. Tried the roost from dunns bay and many of the gull were in close and in excellent light most of the time and managed 4 adults and one first winter Yellow-legged Gull, adult Caspian Gull, adult winter Med Gull and just before I gave up with the temperature dropping to below freezing. A Water Rail was in the eastern corner of biggen bay skulking under the shoreline bushes. Also seen were the Common Sandpiper, Willow Tit, 120 Wigeon, Kingfisher, 6 males and 3 females Shoveler and 18 female and 9 male Goosander.


Sunday, 4 January 2009

January 4th 2009

Again it was a cold, down to minus 4 and the thought of sand sun and savanna in 18 days time just about kept me and Dave warm as we looked for owls in the Grandborough valley. Distant Barn Owl picked in the car headlights as it crossed the minor lane to Woolscott and a Little Owl came out ater we had passed its roosting site for the third time.
Draycote was again the attraction for many birders and most caught up with usual suspects with 4 Great-northern Divers, male Smew and first winter Shag from farborough bank and the Red-necked Grebe off toft bank along with 8 Snipe and 10Goosander (well over 40 reported by others). There were 56 Pochard and 6 Gadwall in gray's barn. Took breakfast at the mobile and afterwards managed to spot the Red-throated Diver towards the valve tower from the café’s decking which saved us a walk out to rainbow corner.
Brandon Marsh had very little open water and was pretty quiet apart from Buzzard, 3 Jay, Treecreeper, 4 Long-tailed Tit, 16 Gadwall and Coal Tit.
The small orchard just east of Wolston village had 55 fieldfare, 40 Redwing and 2 Mistle Thrush while Lawford Heath had 500 Starling, 2 Buzzard, 6 Linnet, 60+ Yellowhammer and a Corn Bunting along with hundreds of Fieldfare and Redwings.


Saturday, 3 January 2009

January 3rd 2009

It was a mind numbing minus 5.6 on the bike this morning on the way to Draycote Water. I arrived just after first light with good light and no wind so the reservoir was like a mill pond. Three 3 Siskin flew over toft shallows while greys barn had 58 Pochard and toft bay still held a number of gulls including first winter and adult winter Med Gull. At least fourteen Snipe accidentally flushed from toft bay and the Red-necked Grebe, male Smew, two Great-northern Diver (3rd GND off valve tower) and Shag immature were off farborough bank. Distant views of Red-throated Diver from hensborough bank until it started feeding and by predicting where it would go next I was able to follow it with Jeff Rankin and Max Silverman allowing them to photograph it with some success. At one stage it surfaced in front of us just yards for a second before diving again.

Red-throated Diver by Max Silverman

Red-throated Diver by Jeff Rankin

Male Merlin over the country park and other sightings included Fox 2 (old male chasing young male), Lapwing 300, 110 Wigeon, 2 Kingfisher, 420 Canada Geese, Grey Wagtail, Buzzard and Ruddy Duck immature.
On the down side the Sailing club has a lot to answer for. A motor dingy went out for no apparent reason and flushed the birds off the point which caused the Red-necked Grebe and Smew to disappear for awhile.
Did the main gull roost with John Judge hoping for a white-winger but although at times the light was good we failed miserable again – and it was bloody cold. Highlight was all four Great-northern Divers together out in centre with the Red-throated not far away.
The café is now closed – luckily the mobile catering unit on site at weekends was doing a tasty egg and bacon batch.


Friday, 2 January 2009

January 2nd 2009

Barn Owl crossed the road at Calcutt at first light and Napton Reservoir also had a Barn Owl still out hunting at 8am along with Water Rail, Goosander female, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail and 6 Long-tailed Tit.
Flecknoe Rd had 2 Raven and Peregrine by the smallholding and Little Owl by the double barns. Only other birds of note were Raven at Grandborough Fields Farm, 2 Tree Sparrow at Railway Cottages, Flecknoe and 45 Golden Plover between Willoughby and the A45.
Draycote Water this afternoon was still productive with 35 Siskin, 3 Lesser Redpoll, female Brambling between toft shallows and M45 with Grey Wagtail, 4 Mistle Thrush, 8 Redwing and Great-spotted Woodpecker in toft shallows. Between the shallows and farborough bank there were 2 male Pintail, female Ruddy Duck, 24 Pochard, 19 Shoveler, 2 Green Woodpecker, Red-necked Grebe, Shag, male Smew, 14 Golden Plover and 2 Great-northern Diver. The Red-throated Diver was still present on the far side and the pre-roost in toft bay held 2 first winter and 2 adult winter Med Gull.
Patch News – Mark Phillips had two Little Owls in valley this afternoon.


Thursday, 1 January 2009

January 1st 2009

Happy New Year – again it was minus 3 overnight.
I spent the morning with Dave joined by Mark and Mason Phillips for an early start looking for owls in the Grandborough valley before moving on to a Draycote Water and Lawford Heath hoping to get 2009 off to flying start. Struggled to see any owls till Calcutt and the two Barn Owls we saw were not exactly co-operative while I only managed poor views of a Little Owl going over our heads and a Tawny Owl heard.
Draycote Water next and despite the cold and poor light the occasion brought out some of Warwickshire’s better birders and photographers which was good to see but unfortunately also plenty of those I have had enough of, the kodak fiddlers, armchair leeches, limp wrists brigade and the “where is it” crew. My resolution for 2009 is not to tolerate them - as Vlad the Impaler would say “fetch me a pencil sharpener”. Unfortunatly Dave kept me on a leash and muzzle.
Red-throated Diver proved to be very difficult to find and even more difficult to follow in the gloom while 4 Great-northern Divers showed well along with 2 Shag, 20+ Goosander, Red-necked Grebe, 16 Shoveler, 80+ Wigeon and male Smew.
Eleven of us joined up for breakfast at the A45 Little Chef where we had Mistle Thrush, a few Redwing, Treecreeper and Goldcrest then on to Lawford Heath but only 40+ Skylark and Buzzard worth noting. Did not have time to go to Brandon Marsh so rest of morning spent looking for Waxwing but no luck – just 3 Siskin. Very little seen in my garden despite putting more food out.