Birding in Bewdley

Since the New Year I’ve been suffering (rather pathetically even by my own low standards) from the flu, but by last Sunday I’d finally had enough of my sick bed and was keen to get out and see some wildlife. While spluttering round the house, I’d kept seeing on Twitter that there were lots of Hawfinches in the UK this year and that in particular there was a group of them in Bewdley, which isn’t far from us. People were still tweeting sightings of the Bewdley birds there on the Saturday so we set off on Sunday with fingers crossed.

Bewdley is a lovely little town, right by the river Severn. We’ve passed through it a few times on the way to the Wyre Forest, but never stopped before. So this time we parked down by the river and set off to find Jubilee Gardens where all the Hawfinches were apparently hanging around waiting for their photos to be taken. Since there’s never any guarantee of spotting your target species, we always take photos of other things as we go and the Severn was full of birds as we walked along the towpath.

There were quite a few of these small pretty gulls, several of whom seemed content to perch on the bollards. A quick check on Google when we got home later confirmed they were Black Headed Gulls – in their winter plumage though, so no actual “black heads”.

Another bird that we more commonly associate with the sea is the Cormorant, but there was at least one happily paddling up and down the Severn in Bewdley. It was totally undeterred by the Canada Geese that not only outnumbered him, but were much larger too. The Cormorant faced down at least one goose to get the resting spot he wanted near the steps.

We found Jubilee Gardens tucked away behind the riverfront houses. It is really a small park completely surrounded by the town of Bewdley, but with some large mature trees and a small pond.  There were plenty of small birds flitting around, including a small flock of the lovely long-tailed tits.

A splendid Grey Wagtail was patrolling, with tail wagging, up and down near the pond. I always have to think twice about these, not to call them Yellow Wagtails, despite their obvious yellow colouring.

We knew we’d found the right spot though, when we turned a corner and were confronted with at least a dozen birders with cameras/binoculars/telescopes all pointed up at some of the tall trees. Clearly I’m not the only one who follows the reports on Twitter! There were also a few other, slightly bemused looking, non birders trying to enjoy a Sunday stroll through the gardens and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Anyway we followed the direction all the lenses were pointed in and sure enough there were a small group of Hawfinches, high up in the trees. They may have been distant glimpses, but we had found our first ever Hawfinches. Their powerful beaks were clearly visible even from a distance and they are have to my mind quite quirky, curious faces. We spent about an hour pottering round the gardens, hoping they’d come lower down. Not surprisingly, given the large number of people staring at them, they chose to remain high up in the trees. So these were the best shots we managed, but they are at least recognisably Hawfinches.

I don’t think we’d ever have spotted them on our own, but the combination of helpful Twitter feeds (thank you @WorcsBirding) and of course a large flock of Twitchers made it possible. We just need the equivalent combination for some Waxwings now!

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.

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.