Birding the Upper Leam is slow going. If you scroll through the checklist which can be found by selecting Leam Valley from the menu above and opening the PDF file I like to think it looks pretty good, but you have to realise that these records come from a period of some 60 years or so (though most of them post-date the eighties when I first started birding here). Including the recent run I reckon there has been about eight top drawer local rarities in the last four years or so. The S airflow in the first week of April followed by a period of E and NE winds resulted in something of a local bonanza which began with the Ring Ouzel which featured in my last blog post. Since then I have been out on breeding bird surveys every day which has rather hampered my local birding but it came good in the end.
I narrowly missed an Ad. M Montagu’s Harrier which spent several minutes giving excellent views in the vicinity of Napton Res. on 16/04 and was identified from photos after it had drifted E. What was presumably the same bird was at Kilvington Lakes, Notts. later that afternoon. This represents the second record for the Upper Leam.
The following afternoon I received a phone call from Matt Willmott. Matt is a Land Management Advisor for Natural England and as such his job literally involves the establishment and maintenance of working relationships with landowners interested in joining or already in the Higher Level Stewardship scheme. This scheme creates habitats for a range of species including a suite of declining farmland birds. For the last five years Rainsbrook Ecology have been surveying target species associated with arable farmland on six HLS farms in Warwickshire which are in agreements brokered by Matt. This work does result in us finding birds on private land. In such instances we have no choice but to abide by the wishes of the owners if they do not wish the information to be released and access permitted. In the case of my survey farms we have been told that our permission to carry out the work is conditional on us keeping quiet about any rare birds we discover in the process. So far this has mostly involved species such as Great Grey Shrike, Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl and Common Quail. The two ‘monster’ exceptions have been a Little Bunting and a flock of six Eurasian Dotterel photos of which can be viewed in the photo galleries here under Leam Valley-Spring (the thumbnails in the galleries need attention but the photos come up OK). The latest shocker was not on one of our survey farms but the owner is a HLS agreement holder and was unwilling for us to release the news that his wife had seen a Eurasian Hoopoe on their bird table. I found this somewhat odd (the bird table bit) and was even more shocked to discover that the bird had been hanging from a peanut feeder in the manner of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. I searched the immediate area, which was fairly discrete, with no joy but did pick up a Western Marsh Harrier moving E across the Leam. It was a 2nd cy. bird, uniformly brown but for some paler feathers in the upper wing coverts and with no pale feathering visible in the crown which may suggest a M though if so it had not replaced the central tail feathers.
Western Marsh Harrier Upper Leam Valley
Western Marsh Harrier Upper Leam Valley
After an hour or so checking the surrounding area, all of which was pretty suitable habitat, I returned to the farm to be told that ‘if you had just stayed here you would have seen it’. I guessed that the bird would probably be feeding along the edge of the driveway which ran through two sheep paddocks and so I parked, using the car as a hide and waited. Within a few minutes there it was foraging along the roadside. The ‘car as hide’ trick paid off handsomely.
Eurasian Hoopoe Upper Leam Valley
This represents another second record for the Upper Leam though it seems likely that there have been more which remained unfound.
The supporting cast included a White Wagtail at Napton Res. on 13/04, Whinchats at Woolscott on 15/04 and Napton Res. on 16/04 and Tree Pipits at Napton Res. on 17/04 and Woolscott on 19/04 where there were 3 Northern Wheatear on 18/04. A Little Ringed Plover was back at the only remaining breeding locality in the area on 06/04 where there were two pairs of Northern Lapwing and 6 Common Snipe, a Common Greenshank was at Toft Farm on 08/04 and a Common Sandpiper was at Napton Res. on 15/04.