Sunday, 28 June 2015

Assynt and the melodious warbler

Playing catch-up again on the blog, partly due to a week away in Sutherland, partly due to a sudden rush of other commitments, including finishing-off my breeding bird surveys for the year, and (yawn) DIY.

Sutherland, or more specifically Assynt, was wild, majestic, awesome...also quite cold and predominantly drizzly.  Never mind, some good weather enabled a trip to Point of Stoer and great prolonged views of Risso's dolphin - about eight adults and two youngsters.  Our visit coincided with David Haines conducting a WDCS shorewatch survey and it was interesting to learn that a small group of these dolphins inhabit the northern part of The Minch, sightings of the youngsters are not too frequent though, so a good record for the survey.  He also recorded common dolphin, harbour porpoise and basking shark that day!
Risso's dolphin leaping
Risso's dolphin
Point of Stoer Lighthouse
The mountains of Assynt are really impressive, Suilven in particular stands out rather majestically.  It is a very long walk to the summit and back but well worth it.  A few ring ouzels were about the mountains but we didn't connect with any eagles. 
Stac Polliadh from the direction of Suilven
View towards Cul Mor
It was quite nice to return to warmer climes, and by Thursday I was able to catch up with the RSPB wading bird survey in the Cherwell Valley, which again produced curlews, and a brief view of a barn owl with prey.
barn owl with prey
By Saturday I even had time to catch up with the melodious warbler currently in residence near Marsh Lane Nature Reserve in Warwickshire.  A great songster, showing well defending his willow bush territory from all-comers (especially other warblers).  The melodious warbler does not breed in the UK, but it's range extends to northern France, so is a potential colonist as climate change progresses.
male melodious warbler, as the ad says, doing what it says on the tin (singing beautifully!)

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Middleton Lakes: Staffordshire's first avocet chicks growing well

The first pair of avocets to breed at Middleton Lakes RSPB nature reserve (just south of Tamworth) are doing very nicely so far.  A second pair are still incubating a clutch of eggs.  Inland nesting avocets are nothing new, but they indicate the quality of shallow lagoon habitat now established here. Watching the adults and chicks feeding with their distinctive scything motion, it is hard not to think that a new colony will establish here very successfully. 
one of the parent avocets
avocet chick feeding
two of the four chicks
The reserve was alive with activity today, the noisy colonies of black-headed gulls scattered across the lakes have chicks of all ages - some small and fluffy, others already taking their first tentative flights.  Common terns were taking food to chicks hidden amongst the gull colony.  A brood of little ringed plover chicks wandered around one of the pool edges, enjoying the early summer sunshine. Lapwing, redshank and oystercatcher have also raised chicks this year, but I only managed to spot one lapwing fledgling. Two common sandpipers I had assumed to be late migrants surprised us by mating.  They are right on the edge of their (largely upland) breeding range here, surely they won't stay to breed?

Plenty of gorgeous banded demoiselles damselflies were on the wing around the River Tame and the various back-waters that link the river to the lagoons, a single red-eyed damselfly among them.  A few butterflies too, including an orange-tip.  Our total of bird species for the day edged towards the seventy mark - other highlights included cuckoo, kingfisher, shelduck with seven ducklings and a couple of dunlin.
orange hawkbit