Friday, 21 September 2018

Warwickshire phalarope influx


It's that time of year again when grey phalaropes start turning up all around our coasts, but I didn't expect to see my first of the year in deepest inland Warwickshire, and I was even more surprised to see my second the following day in the same county! The first few photos here are of the second bird a juvenile which showed very well at Charlecote, a National Trust property near Stratford-Upon-Avon, whilst the final three photos are of the first, a bird at Napton Reservoir near Southam.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Pallid Harrier and Semi P on the Fylde


A couple of cracking birds on the Fylde this week, and this juvenile pallid harrier in particular is a stunner. Yes I saw the Dunsop Bridge bird as well, and as stunning as that bird undoubtedly was, a displaying adult male pallid harrier no less, it wasn't as beautiful as this juvenile.The photo just doesn't do it justice, the unstreaked body and coverts were bright gingery / orange in colour, contrasting with the dark boa and pale collar, with pied primaries and tail, making this one of those rare occasions when the juvenile is a more beautiful bird than the adults.  We waited for two hours in force 6 winds which made it really uncomfortable, but the bird eventually flew and was seemingly unaffected by the wind as it hunted for several minutes across the field right in front of us,  a simply breathtaking bird.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Marsh warbler conundrum


This Acrocephalus warbler was at Tide Mills in Sussex on 6th September 2018. It's a marsh warbler, but opinion is split, with some considering it a reed warbler. It's superficially a difficult identification, especially for birders too concerned with "warm brown hues" at the expense of all other features, and in this blog post I'll explain why.

It's a marsh warbler for many reasons, but not least because it called several times while I was watching it. On all occasions it's call was a hard tongue clicking note, similar to Blyth's reed warbler, which is sometimes described as a sound similar knocking two pebbles together. Reed warbler does not give these clear cut, hard single notes. At no point did it utter anything like a reed warbler call. Unfortunately this is obviously something which you can't judge from the photos and you need to take my word for it. If you're in the reed warbler camp you'll probably just ignore this vital piece of evidence, however you really shouldn't.....

In 2015 a very useful article was published in Scottish Birds on the identification of 1st winter marsh warbler, and it is this which I have largely referred to throughout this blog post.

Scottish Birds (2015). Marsh Warbler in first-winter plumage - SBRC identification criteria, M.S. Chapman. Available: https://www.the-soc.org.uk/files/docs/bird-recording/sbrc/Marsh-Warbler.pdf. Last accessed 09/09/2018.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

A few late August highlights from Pennington Flash


An eclipse drake garganey and at least two juvenile Mediterranean gulls were the highlights at the end of August and both are very predictable birds for this time of year. No less predictable is the continuing and alarming decline in waders. At the time of the Sabine's gull which was as recently as August 2015, there were two or three green sandpipers present throughout the month while in August 2013 it was possible to see six or seven green sandpipers at the Flash. In August 2018 there was a single bird on the 1st and another for a couple of days in the middle of the month, and that's it for green sandpipers this August.

In fact all waders have declined at the flash in recent years. It's now a red letter day if you find a dunlin or a redshank at the flash, and double figure counts of either are almost unheard of these days. Even common sandpipers are not that common. The peak month for common sandpiper is July, but this year we had just one or two birds where in previous years there have been close to double figures or more. On the 8th July 2006 I saw a flock (yes a flock) of 28 common sandpipers at Prescot Reservoirs in St Helens, and on the same day there were a further 12 at Eccleston Mere, imagine that at the Flash these days! It's cause for celebration if you see one now. Wood sandpipers are the stuff of legend these days.

Friday, 10 August 2018

The dreary flows and an exciting crane


The highs and lows of birding, I drove back from Melvich to Inverness today and started off driving past Forsinard RSPB in the Caithness flow country, a place which I had been looking forward to seeing, but which I found dreary, overrated and disappointing, not a bit haunting to me, which is how I often hear it described. I find this a bit surprising since usually I love blanket bog. I guess that since I'd just spent a week surveying near Melvich, the last thing I needed was another vast expanse of birdless M17 Trichophorum cespitosum – Eriophorum vaginatum blanket mire. Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood.

However fortunately much better was to come. Just a couple of miles south of Brora a common crane flew over the A9 right in front of me and quite low down. It was torrential rain at the time and it looked like it was trying to land. I was able to stop but it had disappeared behind a small hill and I couldn't relocate it. I drove on to the next parking spot and jumped out of the car, again in torrential rain, and spotted it in the distance, flying away from me but again looking like it was trying to land. Once more I got in the car and drove on another 1/2 mile past a few wheat fields until I could see a grassy field in the distance. I guessed that this is where it might be and pulled into a gateway to view the field. Sure enough the bird was in the field allowing me to fire off a couple of photos before it flew again, and this time I lost it for good.

It reminded me of a famous incident a few years ago when there was a much rarer Sandhill crane on Orkney which eventually flew south and was followed a good way down the east coast of Scotland by birders.


Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Bettyhill


Mountain aven Dryas octopetala, I reckon that I could easily make a case for this being my favourite plant, and what finer location to see  it in than at sea level at Bettyhill, with the beautiful Torrisdale beach as a back drop?

Bettyhill is a famous botanical site on the extreme north of Scotland in the county of Sutherland, and is particularly noted not only for its rare flora, but also for mountain plants which here occur right down at sea level such as these mountain avens.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Orca!


I knew that orca had been sighted in the Caithness area in the days before I left home for a week in the far north of Scotland, thanks to a series of messages being posted on the "Caithness and North Sutherland Cetacean sightings" Facebook group, but catching up with them was always going to be a challenge. They seemed pretty wide ranging, often going north into the Orkney archipelago as well as all around the coast to the west and south. I resigned myself to the fact that they were just the stuff of dreams, something to look out for while I was in the area, but not a serious proposition.

The town of Lossiemouth is on the most northerly point of the south coast of the Moray Firth near Inverness, and it can be hard to believe that from here there is still enough land left in the UK for you to be able to drive north for another four hours, but that's exactly what I was faced with today as I left my hotel and started my journey to Melvich on the extreme north coast of Scotland.

When I set off I had no intention of looking for orca, they were something I might look for on another day, today was just a day of travel. However, soon I received news that a family party of seven orca had been seen passing Duncansby Head near John o'Groats and later they were seen feeding to the north of Freswick Bay. Would they hang around? It seemed the perfect day for viewing, with good light and relatively flat calm seas with just a light breeze, so I decided that it was just too good an opportunity to miss and I set my SatNav for John o'Groats.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Full list of birds seen in Australia - June to July 2018

This is a full list in alphabetical order of species seen on the holiday, 4th June - 7th July 2018 with location and maximum number of birds seen at each location in brackets.In total, 206 species of which 105 were new for me.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Freckled Duck, Herdsman


It’s a bit hard to explain why I should be so pleased to see six freckled ducks at Herdsman Lakes today. After all, they’re far from the most colourful bird I’ve seen on my travels around Aus, in fact to be honest they’re quite ugly looking ducks compared to most. I can sum it up best like this; freckled ducks are birders birds, or perhaps more specifically I should call them wildfowl enthusiasts wildfowl, because not all birders are enamoured by ducks. I count myself as a wildfowl enthusiast, in fact I’d go as far as to say that wildfowl are my favourite group of birds, so it was especially pleasing to see freckled ducks sharing the same reedy pool as the even more bizarre musk duck, with their odd lobes and strange display, and blue-billed ducks with bills so blue as to be straight out of a kids comic book. An Australian a scene as any you could imagine! All three species are endemic to the continent.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Rottnest


A great end to my holiday to Australia, glorious sunshine and light winds on Rottnest island, Western Australia. The island is probably most famous for its Quokkas but there is a lot of other good stuff here as well and I managed 2 new bird species for the holiday, red-capped robin and western whistler. The latter is a fairly recent split by the IOC from golden whistler and the new species is more or less endemic to WA. Also today impressive numbers of banded stilts on the salt lakes, over 1000 I estimate, and good numbers of white-fronted chats and silvereyes.


Herdsman and Lake Monger, Western Australia

Yellow-billed spoonbill
Herdsman Lake and nearby Lake Monger are in Perth and are an essential first stop for any birder visiting Perth. Between them today they produced ten lifers for me starting with yellow-billed spoonbill not far from the visitor centre at Herdsman. In total I saw six spoonbills, and most were in breeding plumage, with black plumes in their wings, as you can see in the photo above.

Moving on, the lifers came thick and fast, next was a much sought after buff-banded rail, followed by red-winged fairy-wren, splendid fairy-wren, yellow-rumped thornbill, western gerygone, Australian reed warbler and perhaps most pleasing, a flock of 25 Carnaby's black-cockatoos.

Apart from the lifers, there were good numbers and variety of other birds with 200+ purple swamphens, pink-eared ducks, swamp harriers, musk ducks, singing honeyeaters, silvereyes, grey teal, Australian shoveler and a stunning spotted pardalote.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Bits and Pieces from the Southern Eyre Peninsular

White-browed babbler
My last day in Port Lincoln so it seems like a good time to tidy up a few loose ends which may have not appeared elsewhere in this blog, starting with white-browed babbler which I saw at Tulka just a few kilometers south of Port Lincoln. Restless mistle thrush sized birds, there were three of them hoping around at speed quite oblivious to my presence.


Monday, 2 July 2018

Murray Point, Port Lincoln


Just south of Port Lincoln racecourse lies Greyhound road, which leads to Murray Point, an area which offers some of the best birding I have found in the vicinity of Port Lincoln. At low tide there is plenty of exposed mud and sand for shore birds, which include banded and white-headed stilt and red-necked avocet, whilst the scrubby areas inland hold more birding gems, in particular rock parrot. These cute little parrots might not be as colourful as some of their cousins, but they're my favourite. Offshore there are four species of cormorant including the south coast specialty, black-faced, as well as double figure counts of hoary-headed grebe and Australian pelican, whilst the impressive Pacific gull patrols the shore line. The common tern here is crested, but others include fairy and Caspian.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Whalers Way, Southern Eyre Peninsular


Rock parrots, tawny-crowned honeyeaters, emus, western grey kangaroos, Humpback whales, southern right whales, New Zealand fur seals and stunning views over the Great Australian Bight, this really is the wildest and most incredible place


If the world was flat then this is where the edge would be, this is the eastern end of the Great Australian Bight. If you set out in a boat and headed in the direction that we are looking here, west over the sea, it would be 1300 miles before you next hit land and when you did, it would be the same country just the other side of the bay. The scale of the place is phenomenal. In truth, in a flat world it seems almost like this is the opposite edge of the world to the Outer Hebrides, which have a similar feel and a similar sense of vastness. And the wildlife here just adds to that sense of being on the opposite edge, a group of kangaroos hop away as you approach, an emu appears on the ridge ahead, rock parrots fly up from your feet and a group of whales are blowing out at sea.


Which monster lives in this cave?

Friday, 29 June 2018

Mikkirra Station, Southern Eyre Peninsular


At last I've seen some wild koalas, at Mikkirra Station near Port Lincoln! It's a well known spot for koalas on the Eyre peninsular and they get used to people coming to admire them, but this isn't a zoo or safari park, there's no cafe or visitor center, these are wild animals which are free to come and go as they please. They're not looked after in any way, other than like any nature reserve, their habitat is maintained.

Also at Mikkira, emus and a western yellow robin, which was particularly pleasing since at Noosa I also saw eastern yellow robin, which is a different species. Similarly, the kangaroos in the photo are western greys, whereas those in Queensland are eastern greys.

Monday, 25 June 2018

The weird display of the musk duck in Louth Bay


Musk duck is generally a bird of freshwater, but occasionally can be seen on the sea in sheltered bays outside the breeding season. There are currently at least 10 musk duck offshore from Tod's river estuary in Louth Bay, just north of Point Boston. They're a bit distant for photography but they're showing well through the scope. They really are the weirdest duck with the weirdest display. Imagine a giant, black ruddy duck with a huge bill and a enormous fleshy lobe hanging under the bill and neck. The display is amazing, the lobe is extended, the tail held erect with feathers spread like a fan while the feet splash jets of water behind! An amazing experience!

Pink-eared ducks, Billy Lights Point


Up to 13 pink-eared ducks are currently on the reservoirs at Billy Lights Point, Port Lincoln. Really smart birds!


Saturday, 23 June 2018

Coffin Bay National Park, Southern Eyre Peninsular

Port Lincoln Parrot

The town of Coffin Bay lies to the west of Port Lincoln and is more or less at the eastern extremity of the Great Australian Bight, that huge bay which sits at the southern end of the continent and stretches west 1500 miles to Esperance.

Adjacent to the town is a National Park with the same name, a place of wild seascapes, huge sand dunes and mile after mile of mallee scrub, a place where emus and kangaroos run alongside the vehicle and where dolphins, whales and great white sharks can be seen offshore. A truly fabulous and exhilarating place, seemingly on the edge of the world.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Lincoln National Park and Sleaford Mere


I've been visiting Martin Mere Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust for over 40 years, since just before it opened in fact, in 1974. One of the highlights of my visits has always been a walk around the collection to see the strange Cape Barren Geese. With a comical appearance due in part to a blob of green "putty", as my Dad used to call it, on top of the bill, they are an aggressive goose, running headlong at anybody who comes close to their pen, and they are a bird which I never thought that I would see in the wild. Until that is, Josh sent me a photo of one recently which he had seen in a National Park near Port Lincoln in Southern Australia. Finally today I visited the area with him and we came across a flock of 47 birds near Sleaford Mere on the edge of Lincoln National Park, and later we saw two birds on the rocks near Donnington Island.


A first look at Port Lincoln, South Australia

Pacific Gull, Port Lincoln
I must admit to being a little unsure as to what to expect from Port Lincoln when I was travelling here. I assumed that moving from the tropics to South Australia in the middle of the Australian winter might be a bit of a shock to the system. I also assumed that the town might be a little more industrialised and less touristy than some of the other places that I had called home over the past few weeks. Finally, it was likely to offer a quite different suite of birds to those I was used to further north.

As usual I was up at dawn. Josh had to get to work early so I had breakfast with him and then prepared to head out. Before I did so however, I had a quick look from our apartment and immediately added two birds to my Australia list which were just about as far apart on the spectrum of Australian birds as you could imagine. The first was a blackbird, an introduced species here, brought by the early Europeans to make them feel more at home.

The second was a major target species of the holiday, an adult Pacific gull landed on the roof opposite. At this point I should mention, we're staying on the marina and the roof opposite is only about 50m away but is on the other side of the main channel out of the marina.

Coming from the UK where I can often expect to record 10 species of gull or more at the Pennington Flash Gull roost, it seems a little odd to me that the there are only three regularly occurring species of gull in Australia, and one of those only started breeding in the mid 20th century. I mean I know that Australia is a remote continent but you'd think that gulls would be about the best placed of all birds to reach it and colonise. Other seemingly less likely species are here, osprey, cattle egret etc. Even the sea bird mecca that is New Zealand fares little better when it comes to gulls.


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