Monday, 24 June 2019

Newburgh Blonde

I called in at the Ythan estuary today hoping to renew my acquaintance with the drake king eider but no sign today. I did however see this blonde bombshell, a fabulous leucistic female eider. A really stunning bird, one of the best looking females I've ever met in stark contrast to the more typical female eider which I find quite an ugly looking bird.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Blue-winged teal, Frankfield Loch

On my way up to Kirriemuir in Angus, Scotland today I called in at Frankfield Loch, Glasgow for a look at a blue-winged teal which has been present for a couple of weeks. My first ever blue-winged teal was at Pennington Flash on 21st September 1996 and I've seen a few since then but this is my first breeding plumage drake. It's a cracking bird, not showing much sign of eclipse despite the tatty looking mallards on the loch.

I wonder if this might be the same bird as that which was at Mellon Charles on Loch Ewe earlier in the year,. That was a bird I particularly wanted to see because Mellon Charles is where I used to stay with my Mum and Dad when we used to visit the area back in the 1980s. There's a few hundred miles between the sites but this bird appeared shortly after the long staying Mellon Charles bird disappeared.  I hope that it is the same bird.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Black-winged Pratincole, Frampton Marsh

I got lucky today and dropped on a black-winged pratincole at Frampton Marsh. I'm working just about 8 miles down the road on a marsh harrier survey and when the bird appeared on Birdguides as pratincole sp. at Frampton I took an early lunch and got there in about 15 minutes.

Fortunately it was best seen over the marshy grassland viewed from the road so I didn't need to spend too much time trying to find it. It performed brilliantly, hawking over the marsh at close range and flying right over our heads a couple of times. A stunning bird as are all pratincoles, it was my first black-winged pratincole since the Martin Mere bird in 1997. Good job I did go this morning, by this evening the morning sunshine had been replaced by persistent rain and surprisingly perhaps given the weather, at 6:15pm the bird was seen flying strongly north and was not seen again all evening.

It was actually a pretty decent day all round at Frampton today, apart from the pratincole I also saw summer plumage black-necked grebe, two Mediterranean gulls, a pair of red-crested pochard, spoonbill, short-eared owl, 100+ avocets, 200 knot, marsh harrier and a variety of other commoner marsh birds.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Steel Rigg and Grindon Lough

Grindon Lough is in Hadrian's Wall country and surprisingly perhaps given its location gets it's fair share of birds. A red-necked phalarope has taken to visiting the place in recent summers and though it was a little distant, a summer plumage female is always worth a look. There has been an American Wigeon here recently as well, but no sign of that today. There were however several dunlin and redshank.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

A few plants from Worms Head

Greater knapweed Centaurea scabiosa was one of a number of beautiful plants in flower on the limestone cliffs near Worms Head on the Gower Peninsula today. Most of the plants were understandably limestone loving species but there was an unexpected surprise.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Llanelli WWT

More spoonbill action today, this time involving four immature birds at Llanelli WWT near Swansea. I know that immature spoonbills are a pale shadow of the adults, compare this bird with the adult from Burton Mere Wetlands in a previous post, yet they do have a certain charm all of their own. I particularly like the black tips to the flight feathers. Also today, at least 11 Mediteranean gulls, adults, 2nd summers and 1st summers, and a dark-bellied brent goose.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

An unseasonable short tailed Long-tailed duck at Frodsham Marsh

A drake long-tailed duck in (nearly) summer plumage on the pool at the western end of No.3 tank was my first at Frodsham in 29 years. Pity it's missing its long tail but still a smart bird and unsurprisingly my first June record of the species.

Little Terns, Pennington Flash

Four little terns at Pennington Flash this morning were a site tick for me. They were flying around mainly in the centre of the flash but occasionally came closer. It was quite interesting to see them flying in amongst the swirling mass of swifts. When you see birds like these at colonies such as Gronant in North Wales, it can be hard to appreciate just how small they are because there is often not much else to compare them with, but here at the flash they looked barely larger than a swift and were certainly dwarfed by their cousins the common terns.

Speaking to some of the other regulars, nobody else could recall such a large flock before. It was a drizzly morning which no doubt is what brought them down at the flash, and typical of the species they didn't stay long, just about 90 minutes, which actually is probably a bit longer than normal. They departed west.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Black-headed Bunting, Flamborough Head

Photo: Black-headed bunting Flamborough Head.

My first holiday abroad was in May 1985 to the resort of Hanioti on the Halkidiki peninsula in North East Greece. It was a birding holiday and we arrived at our hotel in the middle of the night. The following morning we were up at dawn and virtually the first bird we saw when we opened the curtains was a stunning male black-headed bunting. I was hooked! Talk about first impressions, I can't think of a better way to have started my overseas birding adventures and the image of that bird has stuck with me ever since. Whenever I hear mention of black-headed bunting it always takes me back to that moment in Greece in 1985.

Also from that hotel balcony on that first morning we saw red-rumped swallows, cirl buntings, hoopoes, rock sparrows, golden oriole and lesser grey, red-backed and woodchat shrike. In scrub near the hotel we saw many species of butterfly including Queen of Spain fritillary, Southern white admiral and scarce swallowtail. Reptiles included snub-nosed viper, Hermann's tortoise and various lizards. I have lots of happy memories from that holiday and they all come flooding back when I think about black-headed buntings.

Thanks goodness then that my first in the UK did nothing to spoil the memory!

Great Reed Warbler, Wintersett

I've seen a few great reed warblers over the years, initially they were all in Europe but in recent years I've also managed to connect with a few in the UK, including the latest bird which I saw last week at Wintersett reservoir at Angler's Country Park in West Yorkshire. It was a decent enough view on the edge of a reed bed, very much like many a great reed warbler I've seen in the past, but typical of the species it was all about the song, a loud far carrying cross between a reed warbler and a nightingale, with lots of repeated harsh notes intermingled with croaks and whistles. In otherwords it was a standard great reed warbler year tick and not much more.

However today I got the opportunity to go back for a second look, and this time the bird performed much better. For starters it was much closer, half the distance I would say, no more than about 20m away. Best of all it was associating closely with reed warblers which were tiny in comparison. I'm not sure why these birds were associating, perhaps the smaller birds thought that the larger bird was a predator and they were trying to drive it away, but their behaviour didn't seem aggressive. It was almost like watching a young cuckoo being attended to by its surrogate parents or an older child who never grew up still playing with the toddlers. Quite comical almost.

Saturday, 25 May 2019


A young adult spoonbill in all of it's breeding finery at Burton Mere Wetlands today. It's a young adult because it has dark wing tips but in all other respects it's in full breeding plumage and is one of three birds currently on the reserve where they are nest building and looking likely to breed.

What a turn of events this is, way back in 1981 I remember the excitement of being at Minsmere in Suffolk with my Dad and hardly believing my eyes as a spoonbill flew over and landed on the scrape in front of the hide and began feeding, bill in the water and head swinging from side to side.

These days it's hard to convey the thrill of my first ever encounter with the species which at the time was much rarer than it is today, but it's  perhaps even more amazing to recall that my first spoonbill was actually an unexpected bonus of a trip for which the primary reason was to see avocets. Avocets these days hardly raise a birders eyebrow. A week or two ago an avocet at Pennington Flash barely attracted any attention from local birders and I watched it alone in Ramsdales hide and then Horrock's hide, and the species now breeds at several locations in North West England, including Burton Mere Wetlands. Yet back in 1981 if you wanted to see an avocet, East Anglia was your best chance and Minsmere the classic location.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Stilt Sandpiper at Lunt Meadows

An adult stilt sandpiper at Lunt Meadows showed well this morning (despite what the photos may tell you!) and was my 5th following birds at Frodsham Weaver Bends (1983), Bowness-on-Solway (2008), Neumann's Flash (2013) and Cresswell Ponds (2014). It was also my 273rd species in Merseyside and my 311th in Lancashire.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Avocet Pennington Flash

An Avocet at Pennington Flash today was a site first for me. When I arrived at Horrock's hide it hadn't been seen on the spit for a while so after a wait of a few minutes I decided to head round to Ramsdales hide just in case it had moved there. Fortunately it had, and though still a little distant and slightly against the light it was still an excellent view. I watched it feeding for several minutes before it was harassed by a lapwing and flew off high over the trees. I thought that it had gone but then I heard it calling and saw it flying back and it appeared to land again on the spit. Sure enough when I returned to Horrock's hide it was standing on the end of the spit and I watched it for a few minutes more until it sat down for a nap and was lost to view behind the vegetation.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw - a working day on Mull

When I was asked if I'd consider going up to the Isle of Mull to undertake a habitat survey I immediately jumped at the opportunity even though it was only going to be a day visit and would involve two full days of driving. It was just one of those jobs I couldn't possibly turn down. We stayed in Oban for two nights and traveled over to Mull on the earliest ferry and back to Oban on the latest ferry to give us as much time as possible on the island.

Whilst travelling across Mull today we came across this magnificent immature white-tailed eagle eating a lamb on the moors below A Mhaol Mhor. At first it was harassed  by a buzzard and some ravens, but after a while the lambs mother appeared and walked around watching the eagle and eventually walked straight towards it and caused the bird to fly. Unfortunately the lamb was already dead and half eaten and well past the point of rescue and the eagle flew off with it in its claws to finish off its meal. It's hard to know if the eagle had killed the lamb or if it had just come across the animal already dead, but I guess that it hadn't been dead long if the behaviour of the mother was anything to go by.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Oban harbour

Oban, the gateway to the Hebrides, is an attractive town in its own right, with the harbour at the centre of everything, with its colourful fishing boats and impressive ferries. It was from here that I sailed to St. Kilda in a chartered ex-fishing boat back in 1986, and in more recent years I've sailed from here to the islands of Mull and Barra.  Black guillemots breed in the harbour wall and can be incredibly tame, allowing for excellent photo opportunities.

Friday, 12 April 2019

On the banks of the Glaze

Photo: Cowslip
I was pleased to discover a wonderful array of flowers growing along the banks of the river Glaze at Hope Carr today. These included a few of my early spring favourites such as cowslips, wood anenome and butterbur. Meanwhile two Cetti's warblers sing between the footbridge and the road bridge and an over wintering green sandpiper still frequents the muddy banks of the river along with an occasional little egret.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Hope Carr

The leucistic black-headed gull is still being seen on and off at Hope Carr. Migrants are flooding in now, today with 200 sand martins, two house martins, 10 swallows, 10 singing blackcaps and 12 singing chiffchaffs. Last Monday there were two little ringed plovers, and less obvious migrants include a pair of shelduck, five oystercatchers and 39 tufted ducks. The Cetti's warbler is still singing.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Black Guillemots on the Great Orme

Great to see at least five black guillemots off the Great Orme today, a site first for me. It's looking like this species is now breeding on the Orme, which is wonderful news. The Great Orme has always been a top spot for birding in North Wales, but with black guillemots and chough now breeding it's almost unbeatable.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Melanistic Great Tit, Hope Carr

In a previous post I mentioned a leucistic black-headed gull which occasionally visits the sewage works at Hope Carr. At the other end of the pigmentation scale there is a partially melanistic great tit on territory in the centre of the site best seen from the path through the middle. Apart from a much wider black stripe on its breast and belly, it looks pretty much like a normal great tit, just one which has been covered in soot.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Common scoter, Hope Carr

Hope Carr today, a female common scoter was a site tick for me and there was still a green sandpiper on the sewage works. Twelve goosander were on the main lake and 26 tufted ducks across the site.

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