Saturday, 29 August 2015

BRAMPTON VALLEY 29/08/15

My birding day didn't start until late, very late in birding terms. I had to get some essentials for my bike. A decent waterproof cycling jacket and trousers for the wet days ahead. I don't mind getting caught in near tropical downpours, you ain't a proper cyclist until you've ridden in the wet. Yet I am getting wet a lot. Which ruins the day.  Whilst shopping I was seriously tempted by a bike brake disc conversion kit, seriously tempted, sick and tired of ye 'olde brake block set up, serious fade in the rain, bigger stopping distance in the wet, horrible squealing after rain and mud jamming up between wheel rim and pads....another day perhaps.
So my birding itself started at the quarry about 4:30'ish (told you it was late), bugger all but Chiffchaff and 3 scrotum's and motocross bike so didn't hang around. So made my way to the dam wall at Pitsford, again unusually quite so ventured down via Merry Tom lane to the Brampton Valley and the vintage railway line. Here's my route a 7.1 mile long detour.
Someone's been  chopping down the elderberry bushes just at the start of pathway from the crossing where's their normally Goldfinch and Blackcap, so not much here. There was an adult and two juvenile Greywagtail at the iron bridge that I photographed earlier in the year. Spotted the Barn Owl in a very distant tree and it never came hunting whilst I was there, though it did look healthy but no young that I could see. On the map is the number 2 on the pathway it's the crossing between the two fields (gates) over the railway line where I promptly skidded to halt as I heard a quail, definately a quail in the bean field. Couldn't see it but it was close it didn't call again and had me wondering...a bit late in the year for one (isn't it?). But you don't mistake a quails call. But there was a lot of activity in the hedges that caught my attention. In fact everywhere I looked something of interest in good'ish numbers was flitting about in the hedgerow and on the tracks.
I counted 5 separate Lesser Whitethroat adults mostly and one juvenile.
Lost count/interest in the most numerous (chiffchaff) when I heard calling and coming towards my way.  Whinchat,  out from the bean field 4 in total, this dodgy incoming Whinchat.
 And this Whinchat, scruffy individual and image wasn't much better.
I counted at least 6 Yellowagtails but with fading light not sure of ages/sex but as I was tracking them I caught a red flash in the corner of my eye, this exact location last year I had a 'red flash' and a Redstart however there's numerous Robins along here. I waited for another cyclist to pass who flushed it up. Thought it was,  lol, but a Female Redstart.
So that's one in the spring and one in Autumn both by pedal power. Still the female looked bang tidy like. In fact there's a scruffy one too and I think a third but definitely two.
I heard a Cetti's Warbler which has to be the furthest I've heard one from the Nene Valley, I could hear it calling all the way along the meandering river and up to the station obviously the 19:30 to Northampton.
In the rapidly fading light I caught glimpse of three what I initially thought were Wood Warbler but obviously the fading light played tricks as it was three Willow Warblers, can't grumble.
The other bird weirdly of note was Chaffinch quite common all Finches along this section normally well represented actually so to see so many was perversely 'notable' as there was loads flitting around as were the flying red ants. Hopefully the 'starts will be around in the morning yet it's the Whinchat's that roll over and add an extra tick on my "Birds on my bike list", slowly creeping to 120.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Good bye John Finlayson....

I was quite chuffed to roll over to 110 on my cycling list for the county with this marvellous looking duck.
I was at home about to update my Birdtrack app when I noticed my Gmail was flashing to let me know John Finlayson had posted on his blog, Birdtrack can wait I thought. I hadn't seen a blog post from John for a while and assumed he was on holiday so was keen to see what he had been up to.
Sadly it was actually his family posting to say he had unexpectedly passed away on Friday. To say I was gutted is understatement. I'm actually tearful as I write, surely not John I kept saying to myself.
John was truly a top bloke. Unlike most of the people whose blogs I read I'd met John quite a few times out and about. Only once up at his patch of Titchmarsh where I first met him and he showed me round the reserve showing me all the best places, what I could expect to see etc. Not many people willingly show you around a reserve so comprehensively and thoroughly. I'd meet him a few more times mostly at Summer Leys but he really did birdwatch his local area so didn't see him at Summer Leys too often. But when he did visit he always come over for a friendly chat and laugh. We'd chat for ages about camera's, camera settings and the positives about birding.
 His enthusiasm for photography was infectious. As was his love of nature and for me he also had a passion for planes. As did I so we always had something to chat about when we met.
My last time I saw John he remarked how he loved reading my blog (told you he had a sense of humour). I mentioned he should do a blog about too and especially Titchmarsh. He wasn't convinced but I pointed out hardly anyone writes about the reserve and other blogs seem to be about the same places. He wasn't sure he was able to do the technical bits but I briefly showed him how on the smartphone and pointed out if I  could anyone can do it, he laughed. A few days later I had a new follower it was John and he was blogging about Titchmarsh amongst other things.

I really do wish I had seen him a few more times before he sadly passed away. A great birder, photographer, Blogger and someone I was always pleased to see,  a true gent. YOU'LL BE MISSED BY MANY.
R.I.P JOHN.

Monday, 24 August 2015

THIS AND THAT AND SOME WADERS TOO

I'm really struggling to compose a blog post at the moment. A multiple combination of weather, work and woes have culminated in little birding. The times I've gone out has resulted in very little about. I'm not a bird snob and will point my camera at most stuff even if it's just practice shots. Yet I'm struggling.
The Little Owl's at the quarry have been keeping their heads down emerging just as gets the wrong side of 'bad light'/darkness or as the sun rises going to roost. Two main reasons the female Sprawk seems to be fond of the juvenile on one visit I was setting up (getting the camera out of the bag) when the juvenile popped down onto the rock a nano second later the sprawk was right behind it, the juvenile taking cover in between the gaps/crevices and the sprawk frantically grabbing at luckily thin air it flew off empty talon, Phew! The juvenile Buzzards (two nearby nests) are currently getting pushed away from the nests and again the Little Owl (both adults and juvenile) seem to be tempting targets for them. It is however providing great low flyby's when the weather plays ball.
The quarry so far has been a bit of a let down this Autumn, the flower meadow didn't really materialise like last year resulting in fewer Butterflies. I was hoping after the good'ish spring migration to see some Wheatears/Whinchat/Yellow Wagtails/Redstart but so far nothing. Last year even saw drop in Green/Common Sandpipers....nowt so far! However plenty of scruffy looking Chiffchaff still linger but not much else, I still live in hope on this weird site though.
I did catch this dubious record shot one evening on the way home, I actually from afar thought it was a swift and only realised at the last moment what it actually was, BUGGER is the censored version of what I said taken at the top of Spectacle Lane/Moulton College
Probably the best species I've seen since my last blog post, a definate bonus that left me chuffed to bits.
A Wren on the log pile was pleasant


I've given Brampton Valley a bit of a wide berth, shooting season has started, one particular landowner seems to be using a Howitzer this year, at least that's what it sounds like it even reverberates around the dam end of Pitsford reservoir some mile and half away not sure if he's shooting pheasants or elephant's!
Pitsford reservoir has been my second home with my bike, there was this very bizarre struggle off the dam wall
I say bizarre as the fish was still alive, just. Occasionally flapping yet the gull managed to drag it ashore. There was plenty of that horrible blue/green algae so perhaps the fish had been struggling for oxygen making it prime target for predation? It struggled for easily 10 minutes or so but even the crows got in on the action once ashore.
There was some distant waders including Ringed Plovers and Common Sandpipers the odd Yellow Wagtail and this ringed Grey Wagtail the angle of me at the top of the dam wall meant I didn't take too many images (horrible point of view/angle).
So off I cycled to the causeway and join in what feels like the M25 for cyclists. Some like me are just enjoying the views and pleasant cycle, slowing down for walkers and joggers but there are SOME who've I've termed 'NAZI-CYCLISTS' not due to any right wing leanings but their attitude. A 'get out of my way at all costs' and 'I'm going to cycle at speed like an absolute hooligan, forcing people off the footpath' type attitude/stance. I'm all for going fast, trust me it's a real adrenalin rush but adrenalin can be addictive and like junkies they have a really selfish attitude to getting their 'high'. I wouldn't be to bothered but the vast majority turn up with bikes attached to cycle racks which in turn are attached to cars. I really don't get the point in driving 4 to 5 miles only to cycle a couple of miles, someone please tell me the point as I'm bemused/confused. None of them park in the Pay 'n' Display carpark opting to block up the causeway instead. So they don't even contribute to the upkeep of the reservoir pathways but yet act like the own the pathways! Rant over.
I got to causeway not much was there at first, plenty of Lapwings and a handful of Starlings.
Lapwing
Juvenile Starlings.
 A juvenile Common Tern.
The skies were getting darker and the promised rain of the biblical type was on its way when I got the next two treats sadly I was at the wrong end of the causeway when these 4 Godwits flew over. They knew the rain was coming too I reckon.
 And just plain made a mess of this incoming Ruff. I did see the Great White Egret but was on the farside of the reserve and forgot my bike lock otherwise I would've ducked the biblical rain shower in the hide rather then getting wet, perhaps I need a bike rack for my car lol. Still I did dip out on the Wood Sandpipers but yet managed to roll over my "birding by bike" list to 109 just 11 shy of my target of 120, I'll get there I hope.

I will leave you with this phone camera shot taken at the brewery today, juvenile Mallards taking their first swim in one of the drains on the yard, made me smile sorry about quality: rain+phone=crap


Sunday, 9 August 2015

OSPREY, KITES & BARN OWL'S

Two days in one blog such is the quality of the images, seriously out of practice.
FRIDAY: Not lot before my shift ended I was watching from the office windows huge flocks of gulls hawking all over the industrial estate. The advantage of the upstair offices I could see two massive plumes of insects in the distance towards Duston/St.Crispins. When I went outside I was covered in flying ants. By the time I got home it was getting overcast but needed to check out the Barn Owl site. It hadn't been seen by anyone for over a week, including myself. The railway line was heaving with a variety of small birds hawking the flying ants. Apart from good numbers of common species there was the additional Willow Warbler, Chiff-Chaff and Blackcaps sadly no flight shots, light was awful and shutter speeds to low. Saw three Treecreepers then heard a pair of Nuthatches. Which was launching off the phone lines. Got a record shot of one on the ground. 
 Not much better but in a tree, a beautiful call though.


It was getting both dark and late and no sign of the Barn Owl. For me I had some concern about it's nest. Firstly both Mr.Z and I had only ever seen one bird, secondly the nest box is not your typical box. It's a plastic drum similar to those blue metal drums chemicals get transported in. Just with a small aperture cut out and perch nailed to the top. It was likely the adult bird had taken the young to a natal site away from the box but I was a bit concerned due to the plastic material maybe the young couldn't get out.
Then I saw the Barn Owl. It's came from a totally different direction (from the general direction of Brixworth) and was quartering the course of the river. It caught something and sat in a tree near where Mr.Z and I saw the farmer in the 4x4 and kids on motorbikes (sorry that bit was for Mr.Z). The Kestrel started to call but weirdly perched on the owl box, where it didn't move from.  I watched the owl eat it's catch, it soon started to hunt again, it wasn't hunting with the same urgency and perched up in the small tree in the middle of the above picture
I'm no expert when it comes the Barn Owl behaviour and their young. So not sure if they continue to feed the young for a while after they leave the nest or if they're left to fend for themselves? However it didn't share it's catch and up until I left at 21:45 it never went back to the box.
SATURDAY: I was a bit gutted to read that 400+ Dunlin dropped into Holowell reservoir all but a few miles from my location on Friday, I should've read my twitter feed lol. I was also a bit gutted that since using my bike for birding my year list was stuck on 100 species. I needed some migratory waders or small birds. So rather suicidally opted to ride from Northampton/Brampton Valley/Maidwell/Cottesbrooke and on to Welford Reservoir.  About 17 miles (34 in total).
I turned off the cycle path at he bottom of Hanging Houghton and followed the track towards Cottesbrooke. Got a Kestrel, Whitethroat but the most interesting thing was the management of the fields (Leaf scheme) which had a good variety of butterflies and other insects and sadly this

 A snap shot of the fields. It looks good and given the size of the farmland a positive.
I got to the sawmill just outside Cottesbrooke and had to stop. It wasn't for the Treecreepers, Nuthatch, Blackcap nor numerous juvenile Blackbirds but the Redkites, eight in total 4 juveniles and 4 adults. The light was from the side but still very close and low

On I went along the road that leads from Cottesbrooke to Hasslebeech, I turned off towards Naseby oh dear, big mistake/big hills it almost killed me. You know you're in trouble as you cycle up a hill and a Blackbird hops (not flies) past you.....I  chuckled to myself. Ignore the time I did not switch the tracker off when I stopped, honest. Note the heat and elevation

I eventually got to Welford and no sooner had I sat down I got stung by a wasp, bastards. I hate them. Wish this helped out
Last time I was here I was in my car so on my bike list couldn't include the Osprey nor Pintail. But I soon added a new bird to the bike list, right down the far end near the dam separating Sulby/Welford Reservoir, so crap long distant record shot, Osprey number 101 for the list
It never came closer but did visit a few times during the visit. I was soon onto bird 102, a Common Sandpiper, a juvenile?

Sadly,  new bird wise,  not much else. I was really hoping perhaps for a few more waders. I did see a Kingfisher, Linnet and Goldfinches but no Yellow Wagtails which is bit unusual but a little early too. But the reservoir is one of my favourite locations for Housemartins and Swallows over water.
Housemartins

 Juvenile Housemartin
 Even chasing off a solitary Swift.
 
Juvenile Swallow
The cycle back was uneventful, I opted to cycle back from via Hasslebeech as I fancied the hill I avoided on the way to Welford the maximum speed listed below should give an indication of the steepness and reason I avoided it, 34mph is quite an adrenaline rush I can tell you  and also explains why I didn't see much bird wise (eyes shut lol)  apart from after the hill and two Spotted Flycatchers just outside Cottesbrooke unbelievably I hadn't seen one this year so now my "Bike List" is 103 now. I'm aiming for 120+

Friday, 7 August 2015

JUVENILE LITTLE OWL

I'm not sure this is a juvenile, I'm sure Richard or Paul will let me know.
 It sadly was taken Thursday evening after the sun was obscured by the big earth mound on the quarry, in another words crap lighting. Birding the last few weeks has been in short supply for me lately, well I should actually say bird photography. I've done a fair bit of birding of sorts...let me elaborate and please stick with me.
I was working for a company called Norbert Dentressangle, a French haulage company, I never mentioned them on here to be fair, however we've been taken over by an American haulage firm called XPO and now I'm working on the Carlsberg brewery contract.  So currently getting a lot of training including at the brewery itself, where I got two Parakeets whilst on a ciggy break in the smoking shelter. However my place of work is actually on Swan Valley. Here's a quick map, not sure after seeing a Google Maps car recently why their aerial maps are so out of date.
A quick key to map: 1) is where I'm actually based. The map doesn't show the trees surrounding the warehouse. I've already seen a resident Buzzard which was a much needed welcome distraction from work and a Kestrel too. I've heard plenty of common birds and warblers too. In fact for an industrial estate which is more heavily built on then the (out of date) map suggests for example number 4) has not only warehouses but a new Housing Association estate in poor taste called Dragonfly Meadow...yeah maybe once. But it does has have some fascinating areas and wildlife on it Number 5) also more warehousing in fact the three roundabouts to the left of '5' to be more precise between the middle roundabout and top one is where I photographed a Barn Owl many years ago and blogged last year, it's listed on the left "weirdest  place you've birded"  Popular Post section  Number 6) Short eared Owls. Due to the concrete and flood plain area there's plenty of ditches like number 3) I've actually seen more Sedge Warblers here then I have in more rural locations also A LOT OF Pied Wagtails on the way home I stopped counting at 20, we even have one nesting in the truck wash which struts it's stuff on the trailers catching passing insects. Plenty of Chiff-Chaff and Whitethroats too. Number 2) is a lake where I've seen both adult and juvenile Kingfishers and occasionally a Canda/Greylag hybrid. I've seen Tufted Ducks too. But the best bird got me a slight telling off from our county recorder and with just reason.

Now to be fair I didn't think anyone had this as their patch. And I tweeted my sighting as it's a schedule one bird (I think) and thought it needed 'recording' and thought it was a wader on passage and not a breeding local wader. I was stood at the bus stop and could hear a very close Little Ringed Plover it was stood on the pavement a few feet away from me, no-one else about 15 other people!  even looked up from their smartphones. So I grabbed my smartphone to get a video of it (that close!) but typically it scurried off back to what I should've realised was it's breeding area, I've subsequently heard more then one bird, but also school kids riding bikes and playing football on the breeding site. I understand why I shouldn't have tweeted it's exact location (Street name and all) and been smart enough to have spotted a not so obvious but ironically perfectly/acciendental created breeding habitat in an industrial/urban setting. But given the bird, the location and what happened to the Barn Owl' s habitat I think it would make for an interesting story,  ie progress/loss of habitats and how we should 'leave' some established wild areas in place on these big grey areas but I'll leave that to better writers. I found a Greenshank near number 3 too, I even found a small party of Yellow Wagtails further away behind Cosworth's/Storton GP. Seen a Peregrine and even saw a juvenile peregrine sat on a overhead gantry at Junction 15a of the nearby motorway! Definately an interesting area.