Sunday, 4 September 2011

Belvide 3rd September 2011

On Saturday I went to do some bird watching over at Belvide Reservoir.

There was a ringing session in the morning but I couldn't make this. I had been working overnight and needed some sleep before setting out.

Despite missing the first Meadow Pipit of the year for the ringing group I still had a very enjoyable day.

During the day a group of the Belvide regulars took part in a friendly "day listing" competition against Upton Warren in Worcestershire. Basically you go around compiling a list of all the birds your team sees on your respective sites during the day and the team with the biggest list wins. They were up at the crack of dawn (when I was still working) and had finished by dusk (when I was at home having a nice tea).

In total the Belvide crew saw 90 bird species whilst Upton Warren could only muster 78. For the full list go to:

As I wasn't participating in the day listing I was able to roam the site in a more leisurely manner. My trip to the dam at the front of the Reservoir was rewarded with close views of either a female or juvenile Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe).

Oenanthe oenanthe

However, I didn't get those close views without a little fieldcraft and a lot of luck.

I happened across the Wheatear as I was walking along the dam. I didn't even see it at first until I flushed it by nearly stepping on it! It then flew across to the controls for the sluice gate.

Wheatear on sluice gate platform

 As you can see, even with a 400mm lens I wasn't close enough. I went somewhat awkwardly into a crawl on my hands and knees with my binoculars and field guide bag still around my neck. I realised this wasn't going to work so I lost the bag and the "bins" and lay down flat on my belly. This was better but it still took me some time to shimmy closer to the bird.

A little closer.

Whilst the bird in the photos above isn't filling the frame I like the overall effect of it sitting on the fence. Click on the photos for a bigger picture and you will see what I mean.

Now I was getting a little too close without any cover and the bird flew off. Luckily it dropped down just the other side of the sluice gate so I was able to creep up to this and use it as cover. My next two photos were taken whilst I was poking my head around the corner.

The other side (@100mm)

Much closer (@400mm)
I am very pleased with the photos but my arms were stinging quite a lot from all the cuts and grazes by the time I got home. A useful tip is to make sure you cover your arms if you intend to crawl along on you belly for any length of time! Also try not to do it with a belly full of food.

A little later I went around what is known as Gazebo Bay and found a male Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) dragonfly sunning itself on a bench. It didn't seem to mind me sharing its bench too much and I managed to take some good photos of it.

Sympetrum striolatum

Sympetrum striolatum
Red-veined darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii) is also present at Belvide and the male is differentiated from the male Common darter by blue on the lower eye rather than a yellowy green (as in the Common darter above), red veins on the front part of both the fore-wing and hind-wing, yellow at the base of the hind-wing and a yellow to orange pterostigma (red in Common darter) strongly outlined in black (see

Ruddy darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) is also somewhat similar but has completely black legs ( This Common darter has a yellow line running the length of its legs which is diagnostic (

In case you were wondering what a pterostigma is (I know I was) then I have labelled it here for you:

Pterostigma = in this case a red marking
towards the tip of the wing.

After photographing the Common darter the leading edge of a weather front passed overhead, bringing to an end to the good light conditions my camera had been enjoying.

The poor light didn't stop me firing off a couple of photos of Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) though.

Aix galericulata
This duck species is originally from eastern Asia but the magnificence of the male duck in breeding plumage has made it a popular bird for people to keep in wildfowl collections here in Britain. It has since escaped captivity to set up a feral breeding population within Britain.

Mandarin is quite uncommon in Staffordshire and the West Midlands. "The new Birds of the West Midlands" by the WMBC estimates the West Midland region (as defined in the book) population to contain c100 individuals.

This male duck is lacking its stupendous summer plumage and is in what is known as "eclipse plumage". However, I still find this much toned down bird quite beautiful in its own way. Many birds must shed/moult their worn feathers after the breading season and ducks are no exception. As ducks moult they become flightless for short length of time. They are unable to fly because they moult their flight/wing feathers in one go.

Other types of bird moult their feathers sequentially so that they can retain the ability to fly.

To give male ducks a greater chance of surviving this flightless period they swap their bright breading plumage for a more cryptic plumage, which often closely resembles that of the female.

Open wing of Mandarin
In the photo above you can see the open wing of the Mandarin as it flexes and stretches itself. The black feathers towards the tip of the wing (known as the primaries) look quite long compared to the white tipped feathers towards the inner wing (known as the secondaries). I don't have an intimate knowledge of duck moult but it looks like this bird has nearly finished growing its new flight feathers.

 You can see another example of eclipse plumage in the photo below.

Male Mallard in eclipse plumage
 on the left and female in the centre.