Out and About – Grimley Brick and Gravel Pits

The weekend brought some gloriously sunny weather – forget spring, it felt like we had skipped ahead to summer. So we ventured forth, if not very far, to Grimley which is just north of Worcester. Grimley has several old flooded gravel extraction pits, which now form important wildfowl sites for the county. There are 2 main areas – each situated conveniently next to a pub!

The first pit we went to was off Wagon Wheel Lane. The Worcester Birding twitter feed had been full of news that an American wigeon had been spotted amongst our British wigeons. Having never seen a wigeon of any nationality, we hoped to see some. Having said that, it would probably have helped if we’d googled what a wigeon looked like before we set off! All we really knew was that they were ducks, so we snapped photos of anything vaguely duck like.  Fortunately when we got back and studied the photos, it turned out we had seen some of the British ones, although no sign of the elusive American. As with so many birds the male (top) is flashier looking than the relatively plain female (below).

Of course while chasing anything duck like, we inevitably got pics of a few other species. This lucky female Northern Shoveller was accompanied by at least 5 males.

Tufted ducks were bobbing about everywhere. I love the clean lines of the black and white plumage and the bright golden eye of the males.

Another species that was new to us was the Common Teal. We didn’t manage to get very close and from a distance we thought initially these were just mallards, until we spotted the creamy yellow rump. From our distant viewpoint it hadn’t been possible to make out the beautiful red and green plumage on the head, but thanks to the power of the zoom on the computer we could appreciate it back home.

Possibly the stars of the show for us on this trip were the exotic looking Great Crested Grebes – birds that we’d only ever seen on Springwatch before.  We got a fairly close up view of this one, although as with most birds it hid behind twigs to avoid decent photos.

There was a pair though doing what looked like a courtship display on the far side of the lake. They bobbed up and down facing each other. If they’d been a bit closer I’d have tried videoing it, but they were just too far away for that.

Love seemed to be in the air for a pair of swans too. One was already on the lake when another one landed further away. The first one spotted it and hurtled across the water – I thought at first it was an aggressive or territorial thing, but then they started entwining their necks around each other, so I guess they had other things in mind!

After a short pit stop at the Camp House Inn, we headed to the other set of pits nearby. First sight was this heron – I’d never studied one before and hadn’t realised just how large they were. We tried creeping closer to get a better shot, but as we were going across an open field, he spotted us straight away and flew off when he considered we were too close for comfort.

These lakes were clearly popular with a group of cormorants that were perched on fence posts in the middle and in trees. I still find it hard to get my head round seeing what I think of as sea birds this far in land!

As we headed back to the car we spotted some smaller birds. The first is definitely a reed bunting (which proves we are learning something as we didn’t know this before we went to Upton Warren a few weeks ago).

The second is either a chiffchaff or a willow warbler – you can apparently only differentiate them confidently by their song. We weren’t paying attention to the song, but having listened to both of them on the RSPB website, the chiffchaff song seems the more familiar, so this is maybe what we heard. Either way it was a very cute, tiny little bird that bobbed up and down wagging its tail a bit like a wagtail does.

As always while Chris concentrated on the birds, I kept getting side tracked by the insects. There were quite a few large bumblebees buzzing around and the pussy willow was provided much needed sustenance to several, like this Red Tailed Bumblebee.

While trying to get a decent photo of a buff tailed bumblebee, I spotted (no pun intended) this pair of 24 spot ladybirds. They were very small and the grass they were on was waving around in the breeze, hence the less than perfect photo. They were slightly less shiny than other ladybirds and look as if they have a fine covering of downy hairs, which would make them the 24 spot ones  – a new one for me.

When I was looking at the red ladybirds above, I hadn’t noticed at the time that there was a pile of creamy coloured ones right next to them. Again they are not perfectly in focus, as I obviously wasn’t focussing on them as I didn’t know they were there! These ones turned out to be 16 spot ladybirds – another new species.

And finally, because I can never resist a comedy photo – here is the very rare 4 winged duck and a rather splendid pair of owls on top of the Wagon Wheel Inn’s thatched roof.

Hedgehog Housekeeping

Just a short post today with an update on our foster hedgehog Meadow. We’ve had him now since early January and I’m very relieved that’s he survived the winter with us! We’ve been weighing him every fortnight and although he’s lost a bit of weight, he is still a very healthy 800g or so – plenty heavy enough to see him through to the spring hopefully.

Since we last weighed him he has become increasingly active and has presumably decided he’s had enough of hibernation. For the first 2 months our care duties had consisted mainly of checking each day that he had fresh water and food, but while he was asleep, there was little else to do.

Now he is an eating and pooping machine! His food bowl is at best empty every morning and at worst he’s pooped in it! The water bowl is regularly slopped about soaking the newspapers and he has generally managed to poop in every corner of the hutch! So every day he needs fresh food, water and newspapers and a general clean of the hutch. We never see him though (apart from when we take him out to weigh), he’s always buried in the hay when we look in.

Invisible he may be, but since he is clearly very active when we’re not around, I had a go with the old trail camera in his hutch.  There’s not much space to position it without disturbing him, but I managed to get it wedged by the roof out of his way and he seemed blissfully unaware of it. The field of view is pretty small since it is so close up, but I got lots of clips of him doing what he’s good at – eating and pooping and rearranging his bedding. He clearly doesn’t approve of my style of housekeeping (nor does my husband Chris probably, but that’s a different story) as he is constantly dragging the hay and/or the newspapers around to where he thinks they should be.

So below are a couple of stills taken from the video showing him a) eating of course and b) dragging the hay around. Then there is a compilation of video clips taken over roughly a 24 hour period. Note his food bowl starts of clean and full of food and ends up empty and covered in poop and hay! But he’s a little character and we will miss him when we eventually get the go ahead for releasing him in the spring.

Meadow the hedgehog

Out and About – Upton Warren Wetlands

It’s March and we ventured Out and About properly last weekend for the first time this year. We’d joined Worcestershire Wildlife Trust a few months ago and decided to take advantage of this by visiting the Upton Warren Wetland Reserve.  It was so nice to get some fresh air and explore somewhere new. The reserve has a mixture of freshwater and saline pools (the result of previous brine extraction work), which attract a wide variety of birds. The reserve is pretty big, so we only managed to do about half of it on this first visit. It’s a fantastic site though, so we will definitely be back soon to try out the other half.

At the first hide, the Trust people had hung out a few bird feeders and we noticed a lot of small brownish birds that looked a bit like sparrows. Being novices, I had to ask the helpful gentleman who was in the hide with us what they were – I was a bit worried he might just say that they were sparrows, then I really would look clueless, but fortunately it turned out they were reed buntings. I had sort of expected reed buntings to hang about in the reeds and be difficult to see, but I guess why would they do that when there were easy pickings from a feeder?  Top one here is a male and the bottom is the female (at least I think it is, unless it turns out to be an embarrassing sparrow).

reed-bunting

reed-bunting-female

The reed buntings weren’t the only ones using the bird feeders; they had stiff competition from the bullfinches in particular, who in turn had to contend with the greenfinches.

bullfinch-bunting-2

bunting-and-bullfinch

bullfinch-greenfinches

All the dropped seed of course attracted the inevitable rats, including this particularly bold one. Not the most welcome visitor to a bird reserve, but it was interesting to see a rat that close up in broad daylight – a first for me.

We may have been watching the birds, but we were definitely being watched too. This Canada Goose seemed particularly interested in us and came right up close to the hide.

A portly looking moorhen was lazily scanning around for bird seed, while a coot cruised the nearby inlet.

There were quite a few regular mallards about, but then we spotted a duck that looked a bit different. Umpteen blurry photos later, we finally got one good enough to identify it as a Shoveler Duck. Turns out they are fairly common, but it was new to us.

There were a few cormorants about – weird looking birds. Even the RSPSB website describes them as reptilian looking, which seems a tad unkind!

By far the most common birds we saw were these black-headed gulls. At first we thought there were 2 species; but it seems the one with the full black head has already got its summer plumage, whereas the one with just a dark spot behind the eye is in his winter plumage still.

One species we were really pleased to see was the lapwing. We’d only ever seen these on TV (Springwatch most likely) and they are such characterful looking birds, we were really chuffed to find a small flock of them. They were a bit far away to get really good photos, although when they all took off we got a slightly better view.

It was only when we got back home and I was going through the photos of the lapwings that I realised Chris had accidentally caught some snipe in some of the photos too. I’m not sure we can really claim to have seen them, as we hadn’t noticed them there at the time, but at least we’ll know to look out for them next time.

Having lived by the coast for many years, one bird we were familiar with was the oystercatcher – never imagined we’d see them in the middle of Worcestershire though! We heard them at Upton before we saw them – that distinctive, fairly shrill call. A pair landed on a small island in front of us, easily recognisable with their bright red beaks and legs (I do like an obvious bird!) Again they were a bit far away to get really good photos, but later as we walked back to the car, there was one just standing in the field!

Without doubt the most beautiful bird we saw was this Little Egret, which Chris spotted as we walked between hides. Almost ethereal with its pure white plumage, we watched it for a few minutes before it disappeared into the reeds.

All in all we had a great afternoon and although we were only there for a few hours, we still clocked up 18 species of bird, several of which were completely new to us. We heard another birdwatcher commenting that there was “nothing much showing” – he was no doubt much more experienced than we were and probably hoping for something unusual. Sometimes it’s good to be a novice, as we were absolutely delighted with everything we saw – lots of the birds were new to us, so it was all exciting and we were happy just watching what was there. For us there was plenty showing.

Patio Patch

The weather seems to have been interminably grey lately and not at all tempting for venturing out, so I’ve been observing a very local patch – the patio right outside our living room windows. Part of the reason for this focus has been my ongoing battle with our resident wren. I love wrens but this one seems determined to taunt me and thwart my every attempt to get a decent photo. So when I spotted him bobbing up and down outside our patio doors, I thought I’d finally stand a chance. Forty to fifty photos later and I had another large array of blurry shots (admittedly some of the blur may actually be due to the less than sparkling state of my patio windows!) These are the best of a very bad selection.

wren-on-patio-7 wren-on-patio-6

wren-on-patio-5 wren-on-patio-3

Since he returned to the same spot several times, I came up with another cunning plan – leave the trail camera pointed at the patio area. Although he did do his best to avoid the area in front of the trail cam, I did eventually get the few indistinct video clips edited together below.

Patio wren

I tried roping Chris in on my wren wrangling mission. The best he managed was this one of the wren running along the fence (gleefully mocking as he goes no doubt).

wren-running

The upside of my on-going struggles was that I ended up filming quite a lot of other animals on the patio, at least one of which was a surprise. I’d been putting some bird food down (to further tempt the wren), but clearly birds aren’t the only ones partial to bird food. This mouse appeared several nights in a row, making the most of the free buffet. This area is literally right in front of our patio doors, but of course at night we have the lights on inside, so can’t see the mouse outside. It does however explain why our cat is always staring out at night!

mouse on patio video

We’ve always had birds pecking about on the patio for insects, but with the bird food out, their numbers increased. Magpies, blackbirds, starlings, robins, blackcap (female only), sparrows and dunnocks all took advantage of the new food supply there and all got caught on the trail camera. Here are just a few stills taken from the videos.

patio-magpie

patio-starlings

patio-sparrows

Since the birds were getting accustomed to coming closer to the house, it seemed the ideal time to try out something I’d seen on another blog. Wildlife Kate had set up an ingenious feeding platform using just a plastic ladle and her trail camera (For Kate’s amazing blog: http://www.wildlifekate.co.uk/my-blog/4588864364). She got such great photos, I thought I’d have a go.  So with a bit of help from Chris (actually he pretty much did it all) I set the ladle up on a post in the middle of the patio. Kate had got a lovely selection of dainty little birds – for the first few days all I got were hulking great jackdaws, who were really too big and too close for the camera to focus on properly. Still I do quite like some of the photos – after all you don’t often get the chance to be quite so eye-to-eye with a jackdaw.

Eventually the birds did start getting smaller, probably attracted by the flapping of the jackdaws. First came the blackbirds and starlings.

Starling on ladle

Then eventually a great tit, the female blackcap and the sparrows. The sparrows mainly benefitted from all the food the jackdaws tended to knock off the ladle onto the ground beneath; but a few did venture up to feed directly from it.

One final, slightly weird photo of a starling landing. I love the way its wings appear surreally wavy (and slightly nightmarish), presumably because it was moving faster than the camera shutter could cope with!

Thank you so much to Wildlife Kate for her idea of the ladle cam, which was brilliant in its simplicity and yet so effective. Kate’s images are far better than mine and well worth a look, but this is something anyone with a trail camera can try for themselves.

So all in all I managed to attract quite a lot into my patio patch with very little effort. And the real beauty of it all, now that the birds (and mice) are confident coming this close to the house, is that I can watch it all through the patio doors – quite literally from the comfort of my own sofa!