It has been pretty good by local standards of late so I am punctuating the Ecuador posts with a Leam Valley round-up. My first good bird of the season came courtesy of a Dunchurch resident who called excitedly on the morning of 28/03 to tell me he had seen a Black Redstart in his garden. The bird had gone but I guessed it may not have gone far and dropped by after work to have a look. It appeared on a rooftop a few doors along from its original address and performed well in the sunshine for about an hour or so before disappearing when cloud cover set in. By that time I had spoken to most of the residents in the small cul-de-sac and whilst they were not unhappy once they knew what I was up to they were not willing for the news to be  made publicly available. In any event the bird was not seen subsequently.

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M Black Redstart, Dunchurch.

An evenings birding along Farborough Bank at Draycote Water paid off on the evening of 30/03 with a Rock Pipit exhibiting a greyish head and mantle, clean underparts with a pale buff wash and extensive whitish edges to the outer tail feathers typical of the Scandanvian form littoralis.

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Rock Pipit, A.p.littoralis, Draycote Wate

Arriving at Draycote Water on the morning of 02/04 I thought it best to try Farborough Bank first and was proven spectacularly wrong when a group of three Black-necked Grebes were found off Hensborough, which had been Dan Watson’s favoured option all along. Still at least we got to see them.

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Black-necked Grebe, Draycote Water.

The long-staying Red-necked Grebe was still present having moulted in to summer plumage and whilst we chatted to Richard and James Knightbridge who were also admiring the grebe fest I picked up two waders over the north shore which turned out to be a summer plumage and a moulting Black-tailed Godwit. These birds spent something like twenty minutes trying to land and so desperate were they to do so that they even tried to put down in the water. Ultimately they were thwarted by the fact that not a single bit of shoreline was left unoccupied by fishermen. After an interesting afternoon checking ‘marginal sites’ I returned to Draycote in the evening to meet up with John Judge. Again I picked up waders over the north shore, a group of five Grey Plovers this time, the largest group I have seen inland. Again they tried to land and again they failed, giving up after just three minutes or so but not before John remarkably managed to get some dot shots in which the black auxiliaries could be seen (if you squinted hard enough) at a range of about 0.5km! The power of the bridge camera demonstrated admirably. A 2nd S Mediterranean Gull at one of the smaller water bodies was the afternoons other highlight.

The following Saturday, nearly a week after the original find the Black-necked Grebes were re-located by John Judge and we were able to confirm that they were the same individuals, one having paler flanks than the others. Dan and I were just cursing our luck on Sunday afternoon having found nothing good and having just discovered that two Sandwich Terns had dropped in to Brandon Marsh less than hour after we left there when I caught a glimpse of something odd in my peripheral vision. ‘What the bloody hell’s that?’ shouted Dan who was already on it and after a brief pause for my brain to process the image I heard myself reply ‘It’s a Long-tailed Duck!’ John Judge and Bob Hazel duly turned out and it is good for them they did as the bird was not present the following day, having returned to Stanford Res. from whence it came. There are now several instances of good birds moving between these sites (the Red-necked Grebe referred to earlier had since travelled the other way) and it suggests that my hypothesised route between the Avon and the Leam (select Leam Valley from the menu bar above) has some validity.

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Long-tailed Duck, Draycote Water.

Checking a hill on the southern catchment of the Upper Leam Valley after work on 13/04 I quickly found a M Ring Ouzel. It was not alone it transpired and the two birds spent the next three days there. I told pretty much any of the local birders I thought may be interested but decided against putting it on-line fearing repeats of the atrocious behaviour exhibited by some photographers when the species was reported from Burton Dassett in 2012. A cracking M Northern Wheatear was in the same field on 14/04, my first of the year.

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M Ring Ouzel, Upper Leam Valley.

I failed to get out on 16/04 which was another mistake, John Judge calling in the afternoon to break the news of a summer plumage Slavonian Grebe at Draycote. All three rarer grebes within a couple of weeks of each other and in full summer plumage. How smart?

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Slavonian Grebe, Draycote Water.

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Slavonian Grebe, Draycote Water.

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Slavonian Grebe, Draycote Water.

A surprise find whilst surveying Pleasance Farm at Kenilworth on 17/04 was a Short-eared Owl whilst a singing Grasshopper Warbler was just 50m or so from where I saw one in 2014 and a Northern Wheatear was only the second I have seen at the site.