Sunday, 10 May 2009

A Badgerlicious, Hobbytastic, Ottercamposity kinda day

Well, who'd have thought it? We started out at a quarter to five of the Saturday morning clock, and wound our way smoothly to Somerset, in order to run the second of three wader surveys. We arrived safely, sorted the paperwork, and set off in our separate directions...

A short while later I was staring down the muzzle of a loaded badger; primed and ready to strike. We faced each other. The tension was palpable. Gingerly, it reached forwards, snuffed delicately at my ankles, then turned and ran like hell. The danger passed, I heaved a sigh of relief and began my survey.

The badger, on it's approach run...

and again, just prior to ankle-sniffing activity

Anything after that would be an anticlimax, but having confirmed the presence of at least two and perhaps three pairs of Lapwing on site, and the wholly scientific 'shedload' of Yellow Wagtails (a bit more than a fair number, but fewer than a whack), we left with pleasure to explore the marvels of Shapwick Heath, part of the Avalon Marshes project. The weather was better than forecast, and the birds were carolling their usual abuse at each other; we rapidly picked off a selection of migrants, including some very smart Garden Warblers. The dragonflies were also emerging: Four-spotted Chaser, Hairy Hawker (not a street trader, though it should be), Large Red, Blue-tailed, Azure and Variable Damselfly, and Banded Demoiselle all on show, and in the background, the introduced green frogs - whatever they are, be it pool, edible or marsh frog - were doing their level best to deafen us. The show belonged to the Hobbies, however. Everywhere we looked, there was a Hobby. And another. Another beyond that... and so on - we finally cracked when we looked up and saw a flock of 39 Hobby hawking for insects above our heads, with another 6-10 easily visible in a quick scan of the surrounding countryside - it just couldn't get any better than that...

Yellow Wagtail. A male. Just part of the consignment.

Shapwick Heath. It's Hobbytastic.

Finally, Otters. Shapwick is now well known as a site to see otters, so there's reference aplenty to otter-watching in the logbooks in the hides. This, however, deserves special mention...:

Oh yes...

Top notch, whoever you are...!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Bank holiday birds and bits

A quick roundup and some photos for the weekend of the May bank holiday.

Saturday. Up early to go ringing at Na's site on the moor-edge with Judith; caught some of the usual suspects for the site - Tree Pipit, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Yellowhammer and so on, but better was a pair of Song Thrushes, recaptured just over a year after they were first ringed. One had been ringed on-site, the other at Na's winter site, about a kilometer away. Nice to see some interchange between sites like that, even if it's pretty small-scale.

Adult Whitethroat

Sunday. Up early for a wander at Challacombe in the morning - partly to nose round a barn for our polterabend, and partly for some birding. The former was successful, provided we shovel some, erm, manure first. That'll be a fun task for those concerned! The strong NW wind argued against too much birding, so we took a hike and met friends for a picnic instead. That was fine, as we found up a pair of Dipper, a smart male Grey Wagtail wagging his way along the riverbank and a male Cuckoo singing away from the treetops. We then watched him fly across the valley to a clump of gorse, and emerge milliseconds later with a small bird in hot pursuit! Most entertaining...

Monday. Up early (notice a pattern here, folks?), we returned to Challacombe for a ringing session. We struck gold in a number of respects, with singing Redstarts, Garden Warblers and Cuckoos everywhere (maybe that's a minor exaggeration, but still...). Ringing turned up the goods as well - recapturing a female Redstart which was ringed as an adult there last year and no less than five Willow Warblers, two from last year and three from the year before last - not bad going for wee birds like that.

Adult male Redstart in my grubby mitt; photo by Na.

Bird of the day had to go to a cracking male Redstart who turned up in the nets, but sighting of the day came as follows:

We knew of a Dippers nest under a footbridge over the brook, so headed down there to check on the state of it - there were four eggs the week before, apparently. Judith and Na lowered themselves into the water to crawl under the bridge, when I noticed this, climbing the wall about a metre away from them:

...which then disappeared into a small hole in the bank, like so (memo to self: remember that, and don't go poking around in Dartmoor walls!)...

Adder, courtesy of Na's mobile phone - good thing one of us had a camera handy, eh?!

...and when we got to the nest, it was empty. Circumstantial evidence, I know, but it ain't half suggestive!

I'll sign off with another rather fine early-morning view from the house.