Monday, 14 May 2018

Iberian Chiffchaff, Thurstaston

I seem to be putting a lot of video on here at the moment, but it's justified. It's hard to fully appreciate yesterdays dawn chorus at Pennington Flash without hearing it and seeing the wonderful blue skies, and today if I just posted a photo of the Iberian chiffchaff at Thurstaston on Wirral it would be difficult to truly appreciate how different it is to our more familiar chiffchaff.

At one time Iberian chiffchaff was a real bogey bird for me, but in recent years I've seen several, and each one seems to show better than the last. The Thurstaston bird is a beauty, constantly singing and showing very well.

Birkenhead Docks

I've heard a lot about Birkenhead docks recently, so called in for a look today. It's quite an impressive place with a decent common tern colony. My maximum count today was 44 birds.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Too Posh to be a Punk

The background to our Australian jaunt.

When I was a teenager in the late 1970’s I used to be a punk. Not the safety pin, spiky haired, foul mouthed, spitting Sex Pistol type, rather I was the down trodden factory working Clash type. Just a normal teenager of the age to be honest. Bored and low paid during that grim rundown period, wondering how it was that I came to be in the position I was in and how I could ever get myself out of it. Opportunities seemed none existent and a job then was a job for life we were told, and that seemed more like a threat than a promise. A fellow Clash fan once told me I was too posh to be a punk. I’m not really sure how he came to that conclusion. Apart from the fact that I didn’t have a strong accent (which he mistook as talking posh) and I never felt the need to swear and I didn’t live on a council estate, I thought I fitted the role pretty well.

Dawn Chorus at Pennington Flash

It was a breathtaking dawn chorus this morning at Pennington Flash, I stood in one spot and could hear at least nine species of warbler singing and managed to get this video of a garden warbler. How many other species can you hear in the background? I've managed to hear at least four other species of warbler. Also today a drake wigeon on the flash, at least four Cetti's warblers singing and seven common terns.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Glossy Ibis, Pennington Flash

There was a glossy ibis in front of the Teal hide at Pennington Flash this afternoon. It's one of those very cosmopolitan species, along with the likes of osprey and cattle egret, which I've seen all over the World including Florida and Australia. Back in December last year I also saw an amazing flock of 10,000 in Donana, Spain. Still, it's always special to see a new bird at the patch.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Draycote Water

I'm working in Warwickshire at the moment, and staying in a hotel near Draycote water. Up until about two weeks ago I'd never been to the place, but with work being mainly at dawn and dusk, I've started having a walk around it most days. It's a 5.5 mile walk and takes about three hours at birding speed. Highlights so far have been nice views of a few migrants, including yellow wagtail, Arctic tern, garden warbler and lesser whitethroat, as well as juvenile Iceland gull in the roost one evening.

Arctic tern
There was a huge passage of Arctic terns yesterday, with 100+ at Draycote and lots more at other midlands reservoirs, including an incredible 250+ at Carsington in Derbyshire, but apart from a few stragglers such as this, they seem to have largely moved on now.

Cherry red bill, nice short legs, white cheeks contrasting with grey underparts, pale primaries and tail extending beyond wing tips. What more could you ask for in an Arctic tern?

Male yellow wagtail

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Possible Eastern Common Tern, Pennington Flash

Possible Eastern Common Tern Sterna hirundo longipennis, Pennington Flash 22/04/2018 - Photo © John Tymon
A text from John Tymon alerted me to the presence of a black billed tern at Pennington Flash today. It was a grim morning, pouring with rain from about 9am until noon and very dull. I was hoping for a roseate but John's message didn't suggest that species and when I arrived at the hide the bird was sitting on the spit and just looked like a common tern with a black bill. Except that there were differences. The bill looked a bit too fine, black with perhaps a hint of crimson at the base, the legs were long and black or very dark red and it's underparts were greyish contrasting with very white cheeks. This last feature was even more obvious when it flew, at which time its common tern like primary pattern could be seen. The bird was so dark and it flew in such marsh tern like way that for a moment we even considered and then dismissed whiskered tern.

Click here for a video of the bird in flight

However it was obvious that it wasn't a marsh tern, but what was it?

Monday, 16 April 2018

Possible grey-bellied brant, Banks marsh

Preparations for our now imminent departure to Aus combined with a desire on my part to work as many hours as possible before we go have been somewhat all-consuming in recent weeks and have prevented me from doing much birding. However news of a possible grey-bellied Brant on Banks Marsh just north of Southport peeked my interest and with an unexpected free day today I decided to go and have a look.  Grey-bellied brant is a bit of an enigma, nobody really knows what it is or how to identify it, and even less people have actually seen one. Actually, that doesn't include me, I have seen grey-bellied brant before and it's already on my UK list having seen one at Dundrum, Northern Ireland about five years ago. For what it's worth, this blog post contains a few of my thoughts on the Banks Marsh bird.

Monday, 9 April 2018

The grey willow at the bottom of the garden

At the bottom of the garden we have a self seeded grey willow tree which is probably now at it's full height of about 6m tall. It dominates the garden, it's a beautiful tree much nicer than the ornamental trees which adorn most other gardens in the neighbourhood, and at this time of year it has glorious yellow flowers which are an important source of pollen for early flying insects. It's a real joy to behold and good evidence if any where needed that you don't have to rip out all of the natives and replace them with aliens in order to have a beautiful feature in your garden. Not bad for a free gift from nature.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

The last icy blast of winter

Spring might be all around us now, with 200 swallows and 1000 sand martins at Pennington Flash yesterday, and today there was a chorus of at least three singing willow warblers, 15 chiffchaffs, five blackcaps and three Cetti's warblers, whilst at other local sites today there were also little ringed plovers, yellow wagtails and common terns, yet even so, the bird of the day was a hang over from winter. The stunning yet often elusive adult Iceland gull was again in Warrington town centre and showed well on top of the roof of a retail unit. A beautiful bird, it really is brilliant white and has a smart red orbital ring. One of the best Iceland Gulls I've ever seen.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Woodpigeons bathing

I was working near Martin Mere today, so during a break took the opportunity to call in. The weather was pretty awful, but I still managed booming bittern, Mediterranean gull, barn owl and a few avocets. Perhaps best of all, I watched two woodpigeons bathing at close range on the car park. Really smart birds when you see them well, apart from preening and splashing around in the puddles, these birds habitually raised their wings and held them up for up to 30 seconds at a time. I assume it was some kind of bathing / cleaning ritual but I'm not really sure what they were doing.

Monday, 26 March 2018

An unfamiliar song

One of the unexpected pleasures at this time of year is hearing the unfamiliar song of redwings. There are plenty of these winter thrushes passing through our area at the moment on their way back north to their breeding territories in Scandinavia and perhaps a few in Scotland. Mossley Hall farm at Pennington Flash has held a decent sized flock all winter and today I found another flock of around 100 near Haydock. The woodland they were in was full of their song, a really special moment on a warm, sunny, early spring day.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Intertidal surveys

Foulney, Roa and Walney Islands
Sometimes in amongst a plethora of mundane surveys which are bread and butter in the life of the ecologist, I hit the jackpot and something special happens. A full two weeks surveying estuarine birds not only from the ground, but also from the air certainly falls into the special category. It may seem boring and repetitive at times and if I wasn't being paid to do it, I certainly wouldn't chose to sit in the same spot for two weeks through all weathers in the middle of winter to observe the movements of birds on an  estuary. However, given that I am here, it's a great opportunity to learn so much about the way in which the estuary works. and to watch the interaction of the birds with each other and with the tides.

Fortunately my day up in the helicopter coincided with the nicest day of the two weeks!

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Iceland Gull, Warrington town centre

There's been an adult Iceland gull knocking around Warrington town centre for a few winters now, usually around the college and I've had a few failed attempts myself to see it. John Tymon saw it on Thursday morning on Tescos car park, and again early this morning, so I decided to have another go at seeing it. I saw it flying almost as soon as I arrived, but it landed on the flat roof of Linde, opposite the Premier Inn on the A49 and was completely out of sight. I hung around for a while and eventually it flew across the road and landed in full view on the roof of Warrington Business School, where it stayed for about 10 minutes before flying back to Linde.  Unfortunately when it's on Linde roof, you wouldn't even know that there is a bird there let alone what species it is, it's just completely out of view.

As often seems to be the case at this time of year, all of my photos seem to be dull and grey, and of gulls or other black and white birds! Stick with it, all will change soon.......

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Beauty in the beast at Pennington Flash

So the "Beast from the East" arrived today and what a beautiful and dramatic day it was.  Bitterly cold for most of the day with an easterly wind which cut right through you, but wonderful squally snow showers and bright blue sunshine made it the best day of the year so far.

We might still be in the grip of winter but Mediterranean birds abounded at the flash today, the highlight being two pristine adult Mediterranean gulls which didn't seem to care about the cold and were displaying right outside Horrock's hide, with a third adult on the spit. Another species of gull more at home in the Mediterranean, the regular 3rd winter yellow-legged gull still harasses the coots for mussels, whilst three little egrets flew over the spit which held two snipe and four oystercatchers. Male goldeneye were displaying on the flash and several goosander drifted past.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Mediterranean Gull on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, Leigh

There's been a cracking adult Mediterranean gull on the Leeds-Liverpool canal  for the past two weeks, between Leigh bridge and the Atherleigh way. This is undoubtedly one of the birds which roosts at Pennington Flash, but it shows a bit better here!

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Overdosing on the hooded crow in Ashton

A few more photos of the hooded crow in Ashton-in-Makerfield. In bright sunlight such as today the pale grey in its plumage looks almost silvery, in fact it's a really smart bird.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Glaucous gull, Hollingworth Lake

For the past week or two there has been a very obliging juvenile glaucous gull at Hollingworth Lake, near Rochdale in Greater Manchester. I've put off going to see it for a number of reasons, not least because I don't like the place and the traffic can be very bad in that area, but also because I didn't really want to see the bird surrounded by the massed ranks of photographers no doubt trying to feed it meal worms or fish and chips or some such thing. However having heard one or two encouraging and reassuring reports, today I finally succumbed, and when Elaine announced that she'd liked to go for a walk, I suggested Hollingworth Lake.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

A week at the roost 27th January - 2nd February 2018

Caspian gull - © John Tymon

Another week at the Pennington Flash gull roost and not much has changed except that gull numbers have gone down considerably, especially the larger gulls. The Caspian gull is still around, seen on four out of seven nights and the Mediterranean gull was seen most nights. The Iceland gull has become very intermittent, only seen on three nights this week and even the yellow-legged gull has become unreliable and a bit more difficult.

When the Caspian gull does appear it can come in quite close and sometimes relatively early, as can be seen from John Tymons excellent photos here. Although at a distance its bill still seems quite dark, in fact at close range it now has a distinctly pink base.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Hooded crow, Ashton-in-Makerfield

This morning I called in for another look at the hooded crow at Ashton-in-Makerfield. It was my first visit to the site since last Wednesday when I had a run in with a photographer which left me a bit disillusioned and depressed. I didn't even leave my car today, I simply pulled up at the side of the grass, with the sun behind me, put the window down and waited. After a few minutes the bird duly obliged and landed just a few metres from my car and I was able to take a few photos without chasing it or causing any disturbance. Eventually it was inevitably flushed by a photographer who decided to walk straight across the grass towards it, at which point the bird flew up into the trees and I left. No doubt this chap got some half silhouetted shots of a bird looking down from a tree, appearing harassed and afraid, which he's probably filed away under the heading wildlife photographs. Meanwhile, I'll have to content myself with these photos of the bird on the ground, looking relaxed and natural.

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