22 February, 2014

Grimley Birding

Following on from yesterday's Med Gull success (this bird turned out to a different individual from that reported earlier at Chapter Meadows), I headed straight down to Grimley this morning for some hopeful early season wader migration. The Pits themselves have been desperately quiet this winter, and apart from a small increase in Wigeon to 41 birds, nothing new was evident.

It was refreshing to hear a more varied mix of birdsong in the farmland, with both Linnet and Chaffinch blasting out full song, and a half-hearted Greenfinch giving it a go too.

At the nearby Grimley Old Workings, the River Severn has receded to leave an attractive looking half-mile stretch of water-logged, muddy field. It didn't take long to locate a group of 5 Green Sandpiper feeding on the mud, and a low-flying Buzzard flushed out 4 Common Snipe from the stubble, followed five minutes later by another 15 birds. Lapwings were present in healthy numbers, and I'd be damned if the nearby 300+ strong Gull flock didn't contain an interesting bird or two- for someone with a scope.

A sudden distinctive piercing wader call had me looking to the sky just in time to watch a pair of passage Oystercatcher drop onto the nearby Island Pool, where the two loud-mouthed birds shouted at each other for a while, before falling asleep on the bank.

A decent session on the patch was made even better when at least five Brambling appeared amongst a large flock of Goldfinch, feeding along a footpath south-west of Grimley Camp House Inn just before sunset. This rather stunning male was amongst the group...

This equally stunning Scarlet Elf-cup Sarcoscypha austriaca was the non-avian highlight from the day, found on a rotting tree branch in a small area of woods near the Old Workings. This uncommon winter fungi favours moist, damp condition and is thus more often encountered in the West of the country. 

21 February, 2014

Local Med Gull

We've had a decent movement of Gulls through Worcestershire in the past couple of days, with a brief adult Kittiwake in Pershore on Tuesday, and a good dusting of Mediterranean Gulls mingling amongst Black-headed Gulls on the floods. I do like a good Med Gull, and only this evening was planning for a weekend of grilling the patch in the hope of bagging one of these local beauties, when a report came in of an adult present in a flooded meadow half a mile away, earlier in the afternoon.

With light fading, I headed across town to a flooded area of the Severn, and after a while of scanning through endless Black-headed Gulls in a number of fields, the pure-white adult Med walked into view- I say 'the', but there could well have been more mixed in amongst the flocks in the fading light. Lovely jubbly.

Surely one of the smarter looking gulls- adult winter Mediterranean Gulls stick out like a sore thumb amongst the smaller Black-heads. 

15 February, 2014

Overwintering Hemiptera

Before catching the train back to Worcester the other week, I whipped out the sweep net for the first time this year and unleashed a wrath of sweeping fury on the garden conifer, in the hope of picking out some over-wintering Hemiptera.

It was surprisingly successful, with plenty of Empoasca and Zygina leafhoppers discovered. The latter is a tricky genus to separate, but with the help of Tristan Bantock, a few interesting species were singled out...

Empoasca vitis, identified by that transparent stripe down the side of the forewing. Possibly the commonest leafhopper in the garden at present. 

Balclutha punctata

Zygina flammigera

Zygina angusta

This one is probably Zygina schneideri, but the genus is so variable that it would be hard to say for sure without a closer examination.

A real corker of a leafhopper, and one of the more distinctive species- a male Zyginella pulchra 

Idiocerus vitreus 

Considering the relatively low number of species currently in their adult stage- and the ease at which they can be caught- now is the perfect time of year to get your head around this great bunch of insects.

13 February, 2014

Worcester Floods

Whilst Surrey and Somerset continue to receive the majority of national flood news coverage, Worcester has slowly but surely been disappearing below the River Severn- which has risen to a ridiculously high level even by its large standard.

Being used to the comparatively 'tame' River Thames, the concept of large-scale flooding is pretty new to me, so I took the bike for a spin to inspect the local watergeddon, whilst paying a visit to my local patch- the Camp Lane Pits at Grimley...

The Camp House Inn, a small pub on the edge of Grimley, is now accessible only by boat. Funnily enough, a big banner across the front of the pub stresses that they are still 'OPEN'... presumably for the local Swans. 

Flooded fields in Grimley. The river would usually be somewhere way off in the distance to the right of the image. 

The northern end of Grimley village hasn't been able to avoid the flood water either...

The Camp Lane Pits themselves were fairly quiet on the bird front, but a smart female Goosander was on the main lake amongst low numbers of Gadwall, Pochard and Tufted Duck, before it flew off high north late in the afternoon.

The bird took off and showed what appears a red colour ring on its right leg. Cool... 

One of one Meadow Pipits on site today. 

These shots of the floods were taken a few days ago in Worcester. The river has since risen another half metre of so, and has almost completely cut off the University from the city centre. Madness!

The mouth of the River Amazon.

Whilst it may look like a lake, this is usually a race course.

A minor tap malfunction at the Vue Bar. 

Worcester's main road bridge...

This road leading up to the Uni is now impassable...

A dead end...

12 February, 2014

Red Grouse in the Pennines

Whilst in Durham, we headed up higher into the North Pennines in the hope of finding Red Grouse. Snow was covering much of the high ground making the birds easier to spot, and one obliging individual in particular made its presence quickly known- flying in out of nowhere and displaying beautifully at close range...

Having travelled up with two dedicated pan-species listers, there was no chance we were heading back south without having a search around the upland streams for invertebrates. Seth picked out the high-altitude beetle, Nebria rufescens, whilst Bill took back a few Isotoma springtails for examination. A nearby stone wall held a population of the fingernail-sized Rock Snail Pyramidula pusilla...

The miniscule snail, Pyramidula pusilla

A stream high up in the Pennines, the perfect spot for some rare upland invertebrates.

11 February, 2014

Durham Birding

After hearing that dedicated pan-species listers Seth Gibson and Bill Urwin were heading up past Worcester for the Yellow-rumped Warbler in County Durham, I jumped on the bandwagon and joined them for the long-distance twitch.

We met in Worcester at 3am, and arrived in the small village of Upper Shincliffe just before sunrise, joining the increasing crowd of scopes and binoculars waiting for the bird to show.  A Willow tit showed well in the hedgerow before the Yellow-rumped Warbler finally made its presence known; calling a few times and eventually skulking through the vegetation by the side of the road to feed on fat balls left out for it. Views were often obscured with the early morning sun glaring into our faces, but every now and then the bird would perch briefly in nearby trees, showing the colourful yellow rump and flank which characterise this rare American warbler.

The crowd was building, and the bird disappeared again into a nearby garden, so we headed off into the Pennines for some less rushed birding. Bill knew a few reliable sites for Black Grouse, and sure enough we were treated to gorgeous views of over fifty birds throughout the rest of the day. With the sun shining and snow settled on the distant mountains, the upland landscape looked absolutely breathtaking- one couldn't help but take a few snaps...

I haven't seen Grey Partridge for years, so to be able to watch three of the beauties feeding by the roadside was a real privilege...

We headed higher into the mountains next for Red Grouse, but I'll save that for another blog post. Many thanks go to Bill for being the designated driver (and for somehow resist the urge to indulge in a pint of ale when the rest of us couldn't hold out any longer!), and to Seth for organising the trip. A cheers also goes to the local finder for allowing news of the bird to go public- although after the rest of the day spent in the stunning Pennines, I'd almost completely forgotten that we'd seen the warbler!

09 February, 2014

Hume's Leaf Warbler, Warks

In full twitching spirit, I caught the train into Warwickshire yesterday morning to hook up with the long-staying Hume's Leaf Warbler that has taken up temporary residence in a business park North of Coleshill. The bird had been on my 'eyeing up list' for a while, and whilst I was hoping for some nice views of this rare Asian vagrant, in reality it was an elusive little bugger which very rarely strayed into view for more than a few seconds; frantically feeding through dense bramble cover along a dirt track.

During a few more prolonged views in the afternoon, the warbler eventually showed off some arousing wing-bars, but it was call that really gave away the bird's presence; the two notes being more disjointed (disyllabic to be fancy) than the otherwise almost identical Yellow-browed. Like the Redwing recording the other day, this one is of rubbish quality, and I apologies in advance for all the squelching...

The warbler has only been here for a few weeks, but it's already been leaving its mark on the local area. This was a nearby bridge, covered in Phylloscopus gang signs...

No doubt there will be more gang friction between this bird and the local Chiffchaffs as its stay continues, especially with a Siberian tristis type Chiffchaff apparently hanging about too.