184 – Wood Sandpiper∗
Yesterday I visited two nature reserves in the Midlands – Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve near Coventry, and the RSPB’s reserve at Middleton Lakes near Tamworth. I’d been to Middleton Lakes on two previous occasions, but Brandon Marsh was a first-time visit.
Brandon Marsh is a 220 acre nature reserve operated by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is located adjacent to the River Avon and is near the village of Brandon, a few miles east of Coventry.
I arrived at the reserve just in time for its daily opening time of 09.30 am. We’ve been having a lot of hot weather of late, and the temperature was already about 28°C as I stepped out of the car and made my way onto the reserve.
There are seven hides at Brandon Marsh, and I began my visit by making my way towards Steetley Hide, which overlooks the ‘Kingfisher Pool’ at the Eastern end of the reserve.
The undulating path leading to the hide took me on a superb walk through some fairly dense woodland, and past several large pools. I could hear birds singing all around me, and caught occasional fleeting glimpses as they flitted from branch to branch. At one point I identified a Jay in the trees directly above my head, but alas, it was gone before I could bring my camera lens to bear on it. At another point I stopped to listen to some wonderful birdsong somewhere nearby. I used the app ‘Warblr’ on my iPhone to identify the bird as a Wren, and made a mental note to really try to get to grips with learning to recognise a lot more bird-songs as an aid to their identification on occasions like this when they are unable to be seen directly.
On entering the hide, I found myself looking out on a large pool with an island in the middle. There were high reeds all around and lots of trees and shrubbery. An obvious Kingfisher perch had been set up overlooking the pool and I got into conversation with a fellow-birder as we sat and waited, hopefully, for a sighting of a Kingfisher. After some forty-five minutes, however, we still hadn’t seen one. I had managed to capture a few shots of a Common Buzzard flying lazy circles overhead, and had a brief sighting of a Grey Heron as it relocated just out of my sight beyond the island in the pool. At this point I decided to try my luck at another hide. As I descended to the foot of the stairs leading from the hide, I paused briefly to try to take some photographs of a beautiful Banded Demoiselle damselfly that was flitting-about in the shrubbery just by the path.
I next visited the ‘Mick Taylor/River Pool Hide’ and then the Teal Pool Hide in quick succession. I was aware of the ever-increasing heat and that I wanted to visit as many hides as I could manage in my half-day visit to Brandon Marsh, so didn’t stay long in any of the hides. The Teal Pool had completely dried-up, so I crossed-over into the adjacent East Marsh Hide which overlooks the main lake of the reserve (East Marsh Pool). Here, at last, I began to see large numbers of birds. Present were a good many Lapwing, assorted ducks, (some with ducklings in tow), and a number of Common Tern were flying back and forth over the lake, some catching fish to feed to their young, which were sitting on the central island making raucous calls to their parents.
I also visited ‘John Baldwin Hide’ and ‘Wright Hide’, both of which also overlook East Marsh Pool. I tried to capture some images of Common Tern in flight, (with limited success!), but the real interest for me at ‘Wright Hide’ was the presence of a single (rather distant) wader, which I initially mis-identified as a Spotted Redshank, but later realised to my delight was infact a Wood Sandpiper – a species I had not previously ever seen, but had been hoping to spot for some time. I took a number of shots of this marvellous little wader before it eventually flew-off.
By this time it was midday; I had been on the reserve for two and a half hours and I was absolutely parched! With the temperature now around 32°C, I made my way back to the Visitor Centre and gulped-down a cold drink before deciding to drive the 25 miles or so to visit my second reserve of the day – the RSPB reserve at Middleton Lakes.
Looking back at my records, my two previous visits to Middleton Lakes were: last July (almost a year ago to the day) and then in March of this year. During last July’s visit I saw, and photographed far more bird species than I did on this occasion – I put it down to the birds having the good sense to stay out of sight on a really hot day!). And on my March visit, it was so cold that several of the ponds were completely iced-over. My ‘headline’ experience on that day was a prolonged sighting of a Water Rail that had been forced, by sheer hunger, to visit the area around the bird feeders in the extreme conditions – what a difference four months can make!
On arrival at Middleton Lakes today I was ‘greeted’ by a wonderful Common Whitethroat that was singing it’s heart-out at the top of one of the trees next to the beginning of the trail. I managed to snatch several quick photos of the bird before it disappeared.
I next visited the feeders near the Heronry, at the start of the Woodland Trail. There was no sign of any Herons today – the breeding season must surely be over for them by now in July(?). I caught a brief glimpse of a Nuthatch on one of the tree trunks by the feeders, and the other birds present were Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch and Blue Tit, with a couple of Mallard scrabbling-about below the feeders for any seeds dropped from above. However, the leaf-canopy above the feeders was quite dense thus making photography difficult, so I decided not to linger too long here today and began to make my way up the path leading to the lakes.
Just at the start of the path that leads into the Wetland Trail, there is an old farm with a large field adjacent to the path. As I surveyed the field, (where I had spied a couple of Redwing on my previous visit), I noticed some huge Guinea Fowl grazing the grass today. Although these were, infact, another new species for me to have photographed today, the bird can’t be included in my Bird List as they are domesticated birds rather than wild ones. As I walked further up the path loads of Speckled Wood butterflies flitted about me in the strong sunshine.
Moving further-on up the path, I stopped briefly at Fisher’s Mill Pool. Back in March when I stopped here, I took photographs of a very tame Nuthatch which was feeding on seeds that someone had very-thoughtfully left on a tree stump. Today, alas, there was nothing about in such strong sunshine, other than some very large Dragonflies darting-about above the water’s surface.
Indeed, I carried-on all the way up to the West Scrape viewpoint today, hardly seeing any birds at all!
As I made my way back down the path towards the car-park, I photographed a beautiful Comma Butterfly sitting on the path at my feet. At least the Lepidoptera at Middleton Lakes hadn’t let me down today!
All in all, however, I had to concede that I’d had a successful day’s birding – one new species for my Bird List at Brandon Marsh, and a few great shots of the Whitethroat near the car-park at Middleton Lakes. Despite the heat, I’d walked about six miles and had some great excercise as well. Roll-on my next Bird outing!
∗ My 183rd new bird was a Raven – I photographed it whilst on a family outing rather than on a Birding Trip – hence no blog post about it.