Brandon Marsh Blog part two

So, the reason why I often find myself disappointed with Brandon Marsh is because on my first visit there I was spoilt with fantastic views of kingfishers and a hobby from the Carlton Hide.  I haven’t seen a hobby there since and it’s a while since I spotted a kingfisher there (I have in fact seen both of these at Daventry Country Park).  The Carlton hide should offer fantastic views of waders and water birds.  But it doesn’t.  Last time I went the bird count was similar to that at the Teal Pool Hide – aka nothing.  So I was set for disappointment when I opened the shutters (there was no one else there).  But, today, my view was filled with house martins and swallows darting about in front of the hide, chasing insects over the reed beds, twittering to each other and performing aerial acrobatics.

Carlton Hide


View from the Carlton Hide

I saw another whitethroat at close range and saw my first black cap of the year – a male (I’d heard plenty, but not seen any so far). There were reed or sedge warblers about – I think sedge and I got a good view of a female reed bunting darting about in the reeds – as they do I suppose.  There was a cuckoo up here too, although I still couldn’t see it and it sounded some distance away.

In the last few years they have extended the reserve, the latest addition being some screens up at Newlands, overlooking more of the reed bed.  Or at least that was what was there last time, now they have a new hide!

Ted Jury Hide

The Ted Jury Hide

These are the views left and right through the screens:

Ted Jury Hide-2 Ted Jury Hide-3

But when I went in and opened up the shutters, oh my, what a view, it nearly took my breath away:

Ted Jury Hide-4There was a constant burble from the house martins hunting in the reed beds in even larger numbers, but there wasn’t a lot else that I could see.  Still, it is early days and these things tend to take some time to settle down.  I waited a while in case an osprey turned up – after all they’d kindly erected a platform for him to land on, but not surprisingly, he didn’t show.  Still there were plenty of house martins and sand martins to keep me mesmerised.  I realised that the sand martins were much easier to differentiate than I thought, even at speed (theirs, not mine).  They don’t have the white rump that their cousins the house martins have and they also make a very different sound, more squawky than the tweeting of the house martins.  I hate to say it, but a hobby would have had good hunting round there today.

I worried about getting back before they closed the gates, but couldn’t resist going towards one of the hides and out towards a different part of the reed bed in the hope that I might find a Cettis warbler as I’ve heard them round that side most years.  However, on this occasion they disappointed and I didn’t hear anything.   I wandered further along and met a couple of gentlemen who were going the opposite way and told me that there was always a grasshopper warbler singing in the nearby marshy areas if I just stopped and listened.  A grasshopper warbler – that would be a lifetime first for me.  Although, going by my sedge / reed warbler dilemma the chances of me actually recognising it were close to zero.  Still I stood and listened.  And, I heard a sedge warbler or was it a reed warbler.  I waited and then I heard it, very faint, but definitely, something that really did sound like a stridulating grasshopper.  Amazing – what a day.

I didn’t hear it again, although I wandered along the path by the reed bed.  I did hear other warblers and, some sounded less scratchy than the sedge warblers I’d been listening to and they didn’t seem to stop to start again.  Hearing them side by side I am pretty sure that I did hear a reed warbler, so, although I still haven’t seen one, I have now heard one.  After all, the whole point of warblers is their song.

Today was all about the birds

I have had a love-hate relationship with Brandon Marsh for many years, but whenever I am feeling at a loose end or a bit grumpy then I plan an afternoon over at the reserve.  Today was one of those days as I paid a traditional holiday visit to what is really a giant reed bed with some other watery bits.

I was greeted by three swallows flitting across the entrance way, shards of summer against an leaden and cloudy sky – perhaps these were a positive portent for the afternoon.  I started with a traditional stop at the Badger Tea room – no badgers and not really much cake either, so just a hot chocolate for me.  The tea room was noisy but all conversations blended into a general hubbub.  There were two large tables of people, I don’t think they were connected, one populated by older, mainly male visitors to the site, the other younger and with more than one token woman.

There were no birds to be seen on the feeders outside, but as only the nut feeder had any contents this was not really a surprise.  I downed my hot chocolate with more speed than the £2.20 cost deserved but I was eager to go out birding.   It was a bit cold and breezy, although the sun did come out at times (as did a bit of rain) so today was all about the birds and I had no expectation of seeing any insects.

At the start of my walk, the sound of the cement works pretty much drowned out everything, even the most vociferous of chiffchaffs.  I was briefly distracted by what I thought was a Volcuella Bombylans (or bee mimicking hoverfly) sitting on the dragonfly ID board and doing a not very good impression of a bee, but it stayed no time at all, so I am not one hundred per cent convinced.  A little further on greylag geese honked in numbers to drown out the cement works and then I heard the whisper and rustle of the wind in the just opening leaves of the tall poplars.

I headed to the main set of hides and suddenly came across a carpet of violets which was a bit of a surprise; round the corner there was a bank of primroses still in full flower.  I bent down to take a photograph of a cuckoo flower and heard, just twice, cuckoo, cuckoo off in the distance.  How appropriate!

cuckoo flower


Cuckoo Flower

There are still long tailed tits contact calling, a really comforting sound from what is probably my favourite bird (although on another day I might have to admit that a red kite is in fact my actual favourite).

Whilst I was looking at what were probably the holes made by some species of mining bee, it was too cold for them to venture out,  I happened to look up briefly and got a cracking view of a whitethroat in the tree in front – my first for the year.  It then darted off into some nearby scrub, but started singing at me.  I also heard a sedge warbler.

mining bees


Mining Bee Holes?

The first proper stop that I made was at the Teal Pool Hide.  I usually wander in just in case there’s something interesting on the pool outside the windows, and every time I usually find that there are actually no birds at all, not even dull ones.  Today there was a family of mallard; mum and ten or eleven chicks.  I should have been able to count them, but they kept zooming and careening about.

teal pool hide


View from the Teal Pool Hide – note the lack of teal or other birds

I often describe Brandon Marsh as an all or nothing place – today it had almost all.   There were some ringed plovers patrolling the edge of the water.   One of them looked a little different to the others, it had more black on it and, on closer inspection (using the magnificent zoom capabilities of my telescope) I discovered that it had a black tip on the end of the orange bills.  Likewise, the zoom also showed a distinctive eye ring on the other birds – so that would be one Ringed Plover and several Little Ringed Plovers. They were quite active and flew about the different islands.  They also looked quite tiny compared with the redshanks that were wandering around in the slightly deeper water as well as along the shore (I love the whistling of the redshanks).  Whereas the ringed plovers spent their time looking along the shoreline, the redshanks stuck their head in the water up to their eyeline.  The sandpipers (common or green, no idea which) wandered along the mud, bobbing away, but not getting in too deep.  There were also lapwing and oystercatchers on the islands, possibly nesting.  A sleeping oystercatcher kept one eye on proceedings and a white butterfly wandered past – the sun must have come out.

Sand martins were there in abundance, zooming about and checking out the two sets of nests that have been provided for them – this is the only place I’ve seen sand martins – I hope they do well.  There were a couple of terns near the tern raft – but the raft was occupied by two sleeping greylags – apparently they hand’t read the tenancy agreement.

There was a reed warbler singing outside the hide making his presence known.   It would make brief flights upwards into the air, chest puffed out, wings back, then plummet down into the reeds and slowly climb up one of the stems and sit warbling away for ages.   I can’t tell the difference between reed and sedge warblers and thought it sounded like a sedge warbler – shows how much I know.  Someone recently told me that reed warblers just don’t stop singing.   I always think of sedge warblers as being more scratchy and reed warblers being more rounded in their song.  There was a man in the hide with an expensive camera lens who got some great shots who said it was a reed warbler.  Later on he admitted he couldn’t remember whether it was the sedge or reed warbler that had the eye stripe – it is the sedge warbler and this had an eye stripe – I still have never seen a reed warbler!  But at least I was right about the song – it was scratchy and he did sometimes pause for breath.


 Wild Violet – so very pretty

There’s a lot to be said for staying local.

Whilst the idea of staying local has many opportunities of expression in the world of sustainability, I am talking about nature watching.  I have a fondness for the Brandon Marsh nature reserve near Coventry and sometimes go over there for a treat  – especially when it is my birthday.  I think the fondness stems from my first sighting of a hobby there which chased dragonflies across the front of the Carlton Hide.   So, as I had some days off work I decided to pop over there, telescope at the ready for a bit of birdwatching.

Whilst in the past I have seen a little egret there and last year got great views of cuckoos, if I am honest, every time I’m asked ‘how was it?’  I always haverot answer ‘it was very quiet’.  When I look at the sightings page I see other people have spotted bitterns, redpoll, water rails – I don’t expect to see them myself (although the bittern is something I would dearly love to see).  So, I wonder why I go.  I think it is partly for the hot chocolate and cake – an additional treat that I allow myself from the tea rooms there.

I think I might have been too early in the year, but I have to say it was quiet there on my recent visit.  I did see oystercatchers, but other than that, there were goldeneye, gadwall, shoveller ducks, nuthatches and the usual gulls, crows and a chiff chaff.  Not bad, but with the exception of the oystercatcher I can regularly see all of the others at Daventry Country Park.  (I’ve also seen hobbies chasing birds and a little egret there as well)  I did see some bees that I wouldn’t see in Daventry, but that was about all.  And, as for the hot chocolate and cake – the usual array of homemade cakes wasn’t on display and the price had gone up.

I think I’ll stick to birding in Daventry in future – and maybe take my camera along to look for insects instead next time I’m tempted to Brandon Marsh – they also are home to some fantastic demoiselles!

Clarke’s mining bee

I went to Brandon Marsh recently to see if I could see anything different bird-wise and so, armed with telescope, sound recording gear and small digital camera off I went.  Birding was pretty much a wipe out unfortunately (see additional post), but as I didn’t have my macro lens with me I was bound to see something I wanted to photograph.

I noticed my first small bees of the season (buff-tailed bumble bee and honey bee notwithstanding) – there were quite a few buzzing about and they seemed to be nesting in small holes in the ground – therefore they must be mining bees.  In fact, one nest site was on a path to a hide and I was worried I might stand on some.  I have seen a couple of mining bees before (ashy and tawny) and despite the fact that these were red in colour they were neither of the above.

IMG_1496It looked at first as though there might be two different types as there were some that were much paler in colour, but they did seem to be sharing the same nesting sites and holes, and I therefore concluded that they must be males to the red coloured females.  Sexual dimorphism (where there are visible differences between the males and females) seems to occur quite often in bees.


Unfortunately I got the ID wrong on these, but was corrected by a lovely iSpot member.   These are the male and female Clarke’s Mining Bee (Adrena Clarkella).  According to the BWARS site they are often the first solitary bee out in the spring – sometimes as early as February and continue flying until May.  They like pollen from Willow – hence the large number around Brandon Marsh I assume.  They built their nests on a sandy slope – presumably to catch the sun.  The bees seem fairly tame – so I think that next time my macro lens will come with me to try and get some better shots.  Now that I’ve seen it once I hope I’ll be able to recognise it the next time.

Hunting Damselflies

Normally when I visit Brandon Marsh nature reserve I take my ‘scope and go looking for birds.  However, in the Summer this path usually leads to disappointment, so yesterday I decided to go armed with my macro lens and go looking for insects, particularly damselflies.

I did get a good shot of damselflies a couple of weeks ago with my compact camera whilst on a lunchtime stroll, but I hoped to be able to get something a little better when armed with my ‘proper’ camera.  In some ways I was disappointed, the damselflies were ever so jumpy, as soon as you moved they were off.   Also, there were areas which looked perfect for other insects, but they were just not there, all those obliging umbellifers at the side of the path, and they were empty (I found the same problems at the Country Park this afternoon).

However, I did achieve what had become an unconscious ambition.  For the last year or two, mainly as a result of my macro photography I have developed an interest in insects.  The increase in the size of our pond has added damselflies and dragonflies to the list that was previously populated by butterflies and bees.  As a result, and, through viewing various nature programs, I have always wanted to see a demoiselle, a type of damselfly.  Particularly, a Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx Splendens).  You may be wondering what I am talking about, but these are particularly beautiful damselflies, that flutter like butterflies and sparkle in shades of green and blue.  They are truly beautiful (in fact there is a Beautiful Demoiselle, but I think the Banded is prettier).  I never thought that I would see one, but they are apparently present at Brandon Marsh.

To cut a long story short, I got a brilliant birthday present, and had been at Brandon just long enough to drink a hot chocolate and wander a few hundred yards onto the reserve before one tantalisingly zipped past – I got just enough of a glimpse to realise what I had missed.  Then, no more, but some beautiful emerald coloured damselflies which did not seem to want to stay still – it was going to be one of those days.

On my way back from the furthest of the hides I decided to risk going the long route back through an area which is usually too boggy to try – and, despite all the dry, hot weather, it was still muddy in places.  My walk was rewarded, Banded Demoiselles were there in numbers.  They were also pretty nervous and any movement or the slightest breeze sent them fluttering up.  Getting a photo was difficult, and I apologise for the poor quality, but I think you will agree that these are lovely insects (unless you are my mother, who doesn’t like any form of nature apart from blue tits, robins and some butterflies).  I have since discovered that the green damselfly is in fact the female Banded Demoiselle.

Winding Down

After a bit of a hectic week (if only by my standards) I decided that Friday would be a day for doing the things in life that make me happy. This inevitably means photography or birdwatching and definitely a good walk. So, once more, I combined the two into one trip and spent an hour at Ryton Organic Gardens looking for a good photo opportunity and some inspiration for my flower garden, followed by an hour at Brandon Marsh.

I took a few photos that I quite liked, but I am not sure that I obtained much inspiration. Many of the flowers were still looking good, but I am not sure how much will be there in a couple of months time. There was also a fair amount of clearing being done, preparing the vegetable beds for Winter. The apple trees look as though the harvest will be a good one, ready for their Apple Day on 5th October, but, unfortunately I don’t have room for an orchard.

Brandon Marsh always seems to be an all or nothing place, and this week was closer to nothing. I didn’t have my ‘scope with me and was reliant on a small pair of binoculars, which meant that I probably missed quite a bit of what was on offer. However, no matter what the state of the bird population there it is always a relaxing place to walk around. The trees are starting to change colour and the Viburnum Opulus (Guelder Rose) were full of berries.

There were lots of lapwings and gulls about, and a red kite had been seen earlier (maybe that was responsible for the expensive glassware on show in the Carlton hide?), but there was a bit of a dearth of birdsong in the woods. I shall have to have a wander to the Country Park to check on the state of things there (any excuse for a walk!).

Brandon Marsh

On the way back from Ryton I called in to Brandon Marsh nature reserve to see if there were any insects or flowers about that would present a photo opportunity (for that read: I had a camera and no binoculars or scope with me).

I wasn’t expecting much in the way of birdlife, Brandon is often an all or nothing place but I was hopeful of some damselflies.   What was there?  Well, not much, one elusive dragonfly and some comma and white butterflies amongst the brambles with nothing overly exciting from a botanical point of view.  From an ornithological point of view there seemed to be more birds about than normal at this time of year when many of the areas are completely empty.  The highlight were green sandpipers and oystercatchers (the latter easy to recognise even without optical gear).  

I became more hopeful when I reached the Carlton hide which is usually deserted, but on Saturday was filled with birdwatchers and photographers.  However, I think they were there in the hope of seeing and photographing a kingfisher or hobby rather than because of something that was actually there.  The massed ranks were satisfying themselves with shooting (in a photographic sense) a heron that seemed to be posing for them.  Not having the patience to wait for a bird that may or may not turn up and not having a gigantic lens requiring a sherpa to help move it I wandered off to look for other things.

 I had to satisfy myself with this photo of a different heron.

Cetti surprise.

I stopped in at my favourite reserve, Brandon Marsh, today on my way home from a trip to Coventry. It was the first time in quite a while that I had been and I was looking forward to it.
Although the weather was definitely on the chilly side and I was only there for about an hour I had a fantastic time.

It is a good time of year to go birdwatching, the summer visitors are here, but the trees are only just coming in to leaf so they can’t hide in the way they will be able to by the time May comes around. Hence I managed to get some really good views of several chiffchaffs; as always I heard them before I found them. There were also lots of blackcaps about, still in groups, although I assume this will no longer be the case once they have paired up and have territories to defend.

Also of note were a large number of swallows, sand and house martins, and a solitary and somewhat cold looking common tern, probably wondering just what he was doing back already. I saw a family of coots, which I thought was quite early, do they breed earlier than other birds, or is it just that they leave the nest soon after they are born? The parents were busy herding them into the reeds when a heron flew over.
I also got some good views various waders and ducks and spent quite a bit of time watching lapwings continuously mob a crow – I assume they are nesting there.

The highlight for me though was my first sighting of a Cetti’s warbler. I heard a bird singing very loudly and had no idea what it was (to my mind it even beat the wren as top noisy bird), and turned round and saw a little brown job (LBJ) behind me. I didn’t know what this was at the time, but resolved to check it out when I got home. I kept hearing these birds all around the reserve (when they could get a word in past the chiffchaffs), and luckily one kept singing when I was in a hide with a couple of birdwatchers who knew their stuff and they told me that this was a Cetti’s warbler, but that they were difficult to see. On getting back I checked the bird books and yes, you’ve guessed it, I did indeed get a fantastic, if brief, view of a Cetti’s. For anyone who is interested here is a link to the RSPB website where you can listen to the sound of a Cetti’s warbler (Cettia Cetti).

I also saw the obligatory kingfisher as I was rushing back to the shop to buy some more sunflower hearts to replace those my garden friends have diligently thrown over the garden – sorry Nick, you’ll see one eventually.