Friday, January 21, 2011

Hurry . . . while stocks last!

Hot off the press - the Co-op is currently selling Tunnock's Caramel Wafers (Birders in Boxers confectionary of choice) at the bargain price of £1 a packet - that's down an incredible 49p.

As you can see I have taken advantage of this generous offer
and completed all my packing for next weekend's trip to Norfolk.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Year on the 'Patch'

Back in late 2009, Geth took on his new 'patch'. Somewhere he could occasionally go birding without his Dad - can you really blame him? Unfortunately for him, he couldn't get rid of his Dad that easily, because I took a liking to his patch too, and often accompanied him - well, I did if he wasn't getting up at the crack of dawn.
This patch is a pretty hefty one. It consists of all of the Forest Farm / Glamorgan Canal Nature Reserve and the land bordering it; the River Taff all the way up from Whitchurch to Tongwynlais and, on the other side of the river, the Taff's 'flood plain' to the east of Radyr. To cover the whole lot thoroughly takes about 5 hours. Geth has visited the patch almost once a week since he began - and many of those visits have been for the full 5hrs!

The Glamorgan Canal

There's a nice variety of habitats within the area we cover so we also see a nice variety of birds but, to add a little spice to each visit, Geth - ever the lister - likes to daylist every visit. His current record is 52, set during the cold weather last December. And apparently he missed a few easy birds that day so he's confident he can better that total! As a natural progression from daylisting, we decided that during 2010 we'd yearlist the patch. I have to confess that Geth put in a lot more effort than I did - but this is how we got on.

The undoubted highlight of the first winter period was the Bittern that turned up at Forest Farm. It turned up late in 2009 and hung around for a couple of months. A 1st for the site I think? Photographers came from all over Glamorgan to photograph it, spending many hours in the hides waiting for it to show. Amongst them a certain Andy Rouse, to whom Geth nonchanatly asked "How much does your camera cost?" "Oh, about £15 thousand", he cooly replied. If only Birders in Boxers own 2010 Glamorgan Photographer of the Year - Jeff 'Randy Grouse' Slocombe - had bought his camera and big lens by then. His would have given Mr Rouse a run for his money! The photo below is by Richard G Smith:

A Little Egret hung around for a few days but the only other highlight during this period was a pair of Teal - a female on the canal and a male in front of one of the hides. A very scarce bird on the reserve, these had undoubtedly appeared here as a result of cold weather displacement. Up to 6 Teal were again seen at the end of the year during the very cold December - but these were all seen on the R Taff.

The rest of winter was pretty quiet - all the woodland birds you'd expect really - as well as up to 6 Common Snipe, up to 6 Water Rail and several Reed Buntings from the hides. There were as many as 14 Goosander on the river and fly-over Lapwings and Skylarks were nice additions to the list. But we were disappointed not to find a Brambling, which are almost annual at Forest Farm.

But things soon picked up again in early spring when Geth 'discovered' the Radyr Flood Plain - on the other side of the Taff. I'd always fancied the look of this area but didn't know how to get there! But the Boy Birder wasn't going to let that stop him and found a way in! It's a nice piece of habitat - rough grassland, plenty of scrubby bits, loads of brambles, two cricket pitches, a nice long hedge and a mature tree-lined river bank.

A nice scrubby bit of the 'Radyr Flood Plain'

For the local bird recording purposes I call this area the 'Radyr Flood Plain', but Geth soon christened it 'The Scrub', and it was to prove a cracking area for birds throughout the year.

With summer migrants piling in we soon found Garden Warblers, Common Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Chifchaffs. Reed Warblers bred in Forest Farm and Geth gripped me off by finding (surprisingly) the only Sedge Warbler of the year. Passage Common Sandpipers joined the Dipper, Kingfishers and Grey Wagtails on the river, while overhead there were good numbers of hirundines and Swifts. We were delighted when a female Kestrel hung around The Scrub for a few weeks but, even though a male Kestrel put in the odd appearance, they didn't breed.

The cricket pitch - good for Pied Wags, Mistle Thrushes and passage Wheatears.

We then had to wait until the autumn to get our list moving again - and it was The Scrub that turned up trumps. Several passage Wheatears hung around the closely cropped cricket pitch and in the bushes nearby we dug out a couple of Common Redstarts. Meadow Pipits and Linnets began to arrive but the best was yet to come. On one of his solo visits, Geth found a Pied Flycatcher in trees along the riverbank below Tongwynlais - and he hasn't let me forget it!

Radyr Weir - good for Dipper, Common Sand, Grey Heron and migrating Salmon.

November came and we were beginning to run out of species we thought we might get. A late night visit, creeping around the houses near the Canal, finally added Tawny Owl to our list. And then December and it's freezing weather arrived. Geth went down to the patch more regularly, leaving seed and fruit out for the birds. His good deeds were rewarded when he finally found a male Brambling at Forest Farm and a Stonechat at The Scrub.

Desperate birds allowed close approach during the cold weather

We were well aware that such awful weather could bring in a few unexpected birds so between Christmas and the New Year we were down there almost every day. And on the 27th we got lucky. In one 5 minute spell we added Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Coot to our list - all undoubtedly brought in by the weather and all seen on the R Taff above Radyr Weir. The Wigeon and Tuftie were new for our patch life list too.

No amount of snow was going to stop Geth from birding!

And those were our last three patch ticks of 2010. We ended the year on 84. Our patch life list is now 86 (in addition to the 84 we saw in 2010, I've seen Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Lesser Redpoll there in the past - and I'm not counting the Wood Duck!).

What did we miss/what might we see in the future? Well, as I write there have been records of Marsh Tit and Shag (!) from the Glamorgan Canal during 2011. The Marsh Tit record is a welcome return. Historically the bird was recorded occasionally at the site but one hasn't been seen there for many years. (Yes, we have been looking for it but we've dipped so far). The Shag would be an incredible record to say the least. But, it comes from a credible source who has submitted a description to the County Recorder. Watch this space! But, if it's accepted it could only ever be considered a 'one off' record.

More realistically we were disappointed not to see Lesser Whitethroat or Spotted Flycatcher in 2010. Surely we should see one of these come the spring/summer? The Scrub should provide us with one or two other migrants too: a Grasshopper Warbler, a passage Whinchat, Tree Pipit or Cuckoo perhaps? Even a Yellow-browed Warbler! (God know I tried hard enough to find one there last year). Historically there have been records of both Firecrest and Jack Snipe at the Canal.

And of course, there's the Taff. A Green Sandpiper was recorded a mile or two up river last autumn, and I've heard that a Goldeneye has been seen on the Taff at Llandaff this winter. We could get lucky with some other wildfowl. We've had Canada Goose on the river so what about a Greylag Goose next? I can't believe we're getting excited over possibly seeing a dodgy Greylag! And talking of dodgy, I'll finish off with . . . .

One bird on the Canal that we didn't tick in 2010!!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Staying local

Would have loved to have gone down to Dawlish today with Geri,Kevin and Mike Hogan but with other stuff to do in the afternoon I thought I'd stay local with a morning stroll down to the sewage works where during the winter a pair of Goosander can sometimes be found on the adjacent River Llynfi,a nice photographic challenge.
There were lots of woodland birds around and a scavenging tit flock of Blue,Great and Long Tailed carried nothing more interesting with them.
A couple of Ravens and Common Buzzards passed overhead but there were no Goosanders to be found today although four different very vocal Dippers and a couple of Grey Wagtails were nice to see.
As I walked back to the car I managed to get some shots of an unusually photogenic Treecreeper on the edge of the damp woodland adjacent the access track.
These birds can be devilishly difficult to photograph so I was pleased to get some reasonable images in quite good light.
I re-parked the car at the Tylers Arms and strolled up through Darren Woods in the hope of a possible LS Woodpecker,no such luck today but lots of other woodland birds including a nice Nuthatch pecking seven bells out of an acorn it had wedged in a groove in the branch of an Oak tree.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Black Mountains Kite Feeding Station,Llandduesant

Myself and Teresa needed to ckeck on the caravan up at Llangors after our "arctic" December and with the camera gear in the back of the Jeep we called into Llandduesant on the way home for the afternoon feed which throughout the winter period takes place at 2.00pm.
There were approx 60 kites and 6 Common Buzzards present with the usual crows and it was also nice to bump into and chat with John Roberts of the Welsh Kite Trust who was carrying out a count and noting wing tags.
The old pub has been renovated and turned into a really nice visitor centre/shop and cafe and we both enjoyed a crackin' cup of hot chocolate before making our way home.

Forest of Dean + Slimbridge:Sun 2.January 2011

With Kevin and Geri heading for Portland and in Wayne's absence Peter "Pedro" Morgan joined myself,Dan and "The Twitchmeister" for a day out in Gloucestershire with the main target species being Hawfinch in the Forest of Dean and the 1st winter female Lesser Scaup which had been at Slimbridge for just over a week.
Our first port of call Parkend church failed to produce any Hawfinches and a visit to Cannop Ponds saw us dip for the first time ever on Mandarin Duck which appeared to have relocated due to the "big freeze".
Our next stop at Speech House did eventually produce a couple of single sightings of Hawfinch and Peter ticked off a "lifer",my only view was of the rear of the bird as it flew away from it's perch at the top of a tree.
Birding was hard work and we moved on to Slimbridge which was as usual over-run by "Joe Public" and after much confusion over captive birds we did eventually locate the female Lesser Scaup which performed well for the camera in horrible light and snow.
A quick visit to the Rushie Pen also enabled me to get a couple of photos of Bewick's Swan albeit annoyingly through glass.
I also managed to get some "stock" photos of close up common species whilst the other lads went off to successfully locate the redhead Smew on the South Pool.

The light for photography had been abysmal all day much to mine and Peter's annoyance and with snow coming down for much of the time at Slimbridge we headed for Aust Warth with the light fading in the vain hope of catching up with a hunting Short-eared Owl.

Conditions were hopeless and after about 45 mins and no sign of a SEO we had back over the Severn to Wales.

Both birding and the weather had been hard work but I think we had all enjoyed our day out.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Waun Y Gilfach Feeding Station,Llangynwyd

After an uneventful morning searching for the Great Grey Shrike north of the old Baverstocks Hotel on the Heads of the Valleys road and a fruitless call in to Eglwys Nunydd Reservoir I parked up for an hour by the feeding station at Waun Y Gilfach plantation just outside Llangynwyd on my way home and in dreadful light conditions managed to get a few nice shots of some common woodland birds coming to the feeders without even leaving the car !!
Certainly brightened up an otherwise dreary day especially when a party of Long Tailed Tits dropped in whilst doing a feeding circuit.