Sunday, 18 August 2019

A shield bug on the window

It's not often that I post something just because I love the photo, but this is one of those occasions. This shield bug landed on the outside of our window this morning. It almost looks as though it's stuck to the sky but it's shadow gives it away, the blue is the reflection of the sky in the glass.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Nightjar and Buff-breasted sandpiper, Frampton Marsh

Another amazing day at Frampton Marsh. An adult buff-breasted sandpiper was found this morning but proved very elusive all day. The problem with it was that it spent most of its time out in the middle of that grassland in the background of the photo rather than in amongst the flock of waders in the foreground. Even when it occasionally came out onto the mud it was usually around the edges rather than the open mud, so it was quite difficult to pin down and after a brief show it would frustratingly disappear behind some tall grass or rush and not be seen again for a couple of hours. Add to that the relative lack of birders present combined with the chilly strong winds which made viewing quite difficult and very uncomfortable and you can see why it was so elusive. Finally though I caught up with it in the evening when the wind had dropped a bit and saw it reasonably well. Like the commoner pectoral sandpiper, buff-breasted sandpipers are great birds and always exciting and a pleasure to see.

The highlight of the day for me though was something  which I really didn't expect and was, as somebody commented when I told them the story, birding gold. Just as I was arriving at the reserve this evening, I was about 50m from the reception hide when I saw a sparrowhawk chasing something down the road towards me. The bird it was chasing was about the same size as the sparrowhawk, and looked a bit like a kestrel but despite the speed at which the birds were flying  it was at times almost floating like a paper plane on stiff V shaped wings, a really strange way of escaping a pursuing predator I thought.  I instantly knew what it was and I slammed the breaks on, grabbed my binoculars as the pair continued towards me and flew past the car no more than 3m away. I couldn't believe it, it was a female nightjar! An absolutely incredible sighting. Whether or not the nightjar escaped the sparrowhawk I couldn't say because they disappeared behind the hedge, but actually it's strange manner of flight may have helped because it was so unpredictable and allowed it to change direction quickly. The sparrowhawk certainly didn't seem to be gaining on the bird and perhaps the odd flight pattern put doubt in the hawks mind as to what exactly this was that it was chasing!

Despite nightjars being nocturnal, sparrowhawks are listed amongst their potential predators so I guess that they must occasionally accidentally flush them from daytime roosts, especially when the nightjars are on migration as this bird undoubtedly was.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

A few days at Frampton Marsh

Another week working in Lincolnshire, and most of my evenings and any other spare time I have is spent at nearby Frampton Marsh, just seven miles down the road from my hotel. Lots of waders still around, though not the numbers of a week or two ago.  Even so this week I've recorded 20 species of wader, plus spoonbill (10), black-necked grebe and turtle dove. There's a decent passage of yellow wagtails at the moment with at least 30 on the sea wall and nearby saltmarsh, and there are hundreds of sand martins over the reserve.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Little Bustard, Mickletown Ings

Today I finally succumbed to the lure of a little bustard in the UK. I'd resisted the temptation to twitch the New Years Day bird near Bridlington a few years back for reasons I can't remember, but probably because I was under the influence at the time, and I dismissed all thought of travelling to see a male at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire earlier this year because I didn't want to see just a distant head in the long grass through a shimmering heat haze. Other opportunities have been few and far between, often one day birds in remote corners of the UK and little bustard remained a bird which was high on my most wanted list. Yesterdays news of a summer plumage adult at Mickletown Ings near Castleford was just too much to resist.

It's a bird I've seen well in Portugal and not so well in Spain and it's always a major target species when I visit those countries, but it's eluded my British list until today. Yes it would involve an after work drive of 90 minutes in the direction of home and then the same back to Boston where I am based this week, but it was either that or go back for another evening at Frampton Marsh or Freiston Shore. There's always tomorrow for those places I told myself and off I went, 40 miles on the A17 and then 50 miles on the A1 and all of the time knowing that I would have to do the same return journey later. Great stuff....

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Freiston and Frampton sandpiper fest

Just amazing numbers of waders on the Wash at the moment, with Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore leading the way. Headliners are at least four, probably five white-rumped sandpipers between Snettisham in Norfolk and Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore in Lincolnshire, plus the long staying long-billed dowitcher at Frampton which is now in summer plumage. Probably more impressive though are the unprecedented numbers of wood sandpipers, with 21 on the reservoir at Freiston Shore and at least 19 at Frampton Marsh. I've never seen so many in the UK, not even close to this number. This week in total I've seen 26 species of wader between Freiston Shore and Frampton Marsh and that doesn't include non-waders such as spoonbill (11), great white egret (1) and little egret.

Monday, 5 August 2019

X2VA update

In the middle of July I posted a photo of a black-headed gull at Hope Carr with a black leg ring. Today I got a few more details about the gull from Hendrick Trapp, a German ringer. Here's what he had to say:

[It was ringed] as a breeder in the Western Baltic Sea some weeks ago on the island called Riether Werder. [This] is one of the largest colonies of [Black-headed gull] in Germany: just below 10.000 pairs in 2019.

Here are the ringing details: * Black X2VA + metal ring Hiddensee IA 190 780 adult, banded in a breeding colony.

RIETHER WERDER, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, North-Eastern Germany 53°42'00" N, 014°16'00" E

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Caspian Gull, Bolton

This magnificent 4th calendar year Caspian gull was at Cutacre Country Park today, landing on the fence alongside Kennys Waste Management centre and occasionally roosting on land on the nearby country park. It has a really impressive looking bill, if anything perhaps a bit too impressive for Caspian gull and a small head with a small, dark beady eye. It's also quite long legged, slim and long winged. I guess that we'll never know for sure how pure these birds are since they do hybridise with herring gulls, particularly in Germany which is I think about the nearest breeding site and from which many birds which visit the UK are known to originate, but this bird ticks all of the boxes for me. I should mention that there was a Caspian gull at Cutacre on Monday but this is apparently not the same bird and I can't comment on it's identity having not seen it for myself.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Broad-leaved Hellobrine, Pennington Flash

A couple of weeks ago I found a few broad-leaved helleborine growing at the Slag Lane end of the Flash and finally now they're in full flower. The first I have seen here.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

St Helens Bird Report 2006

In 2006 as secretary of the St Helens Wildlife Recording Group I collated over 21,000 bird records from the borough of St Helens submitted by 30 observers and produced the 2006 St Helens Bird Report. It was a mammoth effort by all concerned with records received from 362 days in the year of 153 species from 144 locations. As I wrote in the report, whilst there is always room for improvement, it’s difficult to imagine how a landlocked, industrialised area with no major bird reserves could received much more coverage.

I distributed it to many of the people who had submitted records plus a few others including the Lancashire Bird Recorder, but generally it just sits on my computer gathering digital dust. However I've recently found a way of publishing it on my blog which makes it far more accessible and I thought that I would publish it here. Obviously it's a bit out of date now but it may at least be of interest as a snapshot of how things were all those years ago. With Prescot Reservoirs and Eccleston Mere now more or less out of bounds to birders, we may never see the like of 2006 again.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Glen Coe and Rannoch Moor

In many respects the first hour or two of the journey home from Strontian was possibly the most scenically stunning part of the whole week. The first part of the journey took me along the northern shore of Loch Linnhe to the Corran ferry, a five minute crossing but which cuts out many miles of torturous roads, beautiful no doubt, but not when you already have a seven hour drive in front of you. I then crossed the bridge at North Ballachulish and approached Glen Coe....

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Strontian hybrid - Possibly

After an enjoyable day on Ardnamurchan I made my way back to the village of Strontian and checked in for the night at the Strontian Hotel. I've stayed at some beautiful places during my travels but this is surely amongst the best. What a location, what a view. However despite not booking the place myself, I hadn't arrived here by pure chance.


Photo: The telephone box at Kilmory, Ardnamurchan.
So ignoring the SatNavs advice to take the non-existent Drimnin - Kilchoan ferry I was left with two options in order to get to my job today on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. The first was to drive 11 miles to Lochaline, take the ferry to Fishnish on Mull, drive up to Tobermory and take the ferry to Kilchoan. The alternative was to  ignore the  ferries and drive through Morvern to Strontian and then across Ardnamurchan.   There didn't seem a lot in it especially when you take into account queing up for the ferries so I decided to take the latter option since I'd never been that way before.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Across to Morvern

Such was the late notice for this job that Mull was completely fully booked by the time we got round to booking accommodation and one night on Tobermory was all I could get. I ended up staying on the mainland in Drimnin estate about 11 miles from the ferry terminal at Lochaline which takes you across to Fishnish on Mull. It was a great experience though, all the better for the fact that I'd never been to Morvern before, and such a remote spot.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

A day on Mull

My job takes me to some amazing places and offers me some fabulous experiences. This was my second visit to Mull this year and it's true that if it wasn't for work I probably would not have had opportunity to visit the island even once this year. However the fact that I am actually here working does mean that I can at times be frustratingly restricted in what I can do and where I can go. Imagine for a moment being on Mull and not being able to go to your favourite places and not being able to get to see all of that fabulous wildlife which you know is there and which you might not get another opportunity to see, but you just can't get to it because you're here to work. So close yet so far away. Still, there are opportunities if I can just accept the inevitable compromises.....

Friday, 19 July 2019

Early summer at Hope Carr

Photo: Black-headed gull X2VA ringed in Germany.
With the Blyth's reed warbler now a distant memory I've spent most of my time at Hope Carr birding alone. Early summer has been fairly uneventful though interesting enough for me but nothing exceptional. Birding highlights included a pair of garganey for a few days at the end of May and several sightings of little ringed plover which I suspect bred or attempted to breed somewhere on the sewage works. A single cuckoo was on site at the end of May and around the same time there was a reeling grasshopper warbler present for a few days at least. A barn owl hunting over the beds on 5th June brought my Hope Carr total for 2019 to exactly 100 species for the year.

An adult Mediterranean gull was present on the sewage works on several dates during the period, associating with the small flock of black-headed gulls though not always present. In July the gull flock included a black-headed gull with a black leg ringed, apparently ringed in Germany and also in July there was a small but noticeable build up of herring and lesser black-backed gulls.

I suspect oystercatchers bred on the sewage works, as did grey wagtail and for a while I thought that a pair of ravens might attempt to breed because they were hanging around one of the larger buildings for a week or two. At least one pair of lapwings bred at Hope Carr, with a single chick seen on one of the beds.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Gull-billed tern, Thurstaston

The gull-billed tern at Thurstaston eventually performed very well today, finally showing up at about 15:40 after a four hour wait. It seems to be very much a low tide bird, picking crabs or other invertabrates off the exposed beach rather than diving into the sea for fish as you might expect from a typical tern. In fact for the past two days it has gone missing for long periods over the high tide and must either just sit out the tide somewhere or perhaps even moves inland or hunts over the saltmarsh. Also today three Mediterranean gulls flew down river, two adults and a juvenile.

It was just a beautiful day at a great location in good company. Great to watch the ebb and flow of the tide and the calls of the curlew alone were worth the visit!

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Widdybank Fell

Photo: Scottish Asphodel on Widdybank Fell.

Photo: Mountain Everlasting, a male plant.

Cronkley Fell and Widdybank Fell lie on opposite banks of the River Tees just a few miles west of Middleton-in-Teesdale at Upper Teesdale. These fells are blanketed by peat bog and are home to an array of flora and fauna associated with this type of habitat, and birds include golden plover, redshank, curlew, short-eared owls, merlin and black grouse. However where the rocks do break through those interested in the geology will find that it is a unique rock which is found nowhere else in Britain. Sugar limestone is a crystalline limestone formed by metamorphism of the rock and it is largely thanks to this that the area is renowned as one of the finest botanical sites in the UK and certainly the best in England.  Here a variety of limestone loving species such as the very rare and fabulous spring gentians can be found, in places growing abundantly in close proximity to typical acidic loving bog plants such as common cotton-grass and the rare Scottish asphodel. Similarly this area is no respecter of altitude with plants such as yellow mountain saxifrage and alpine bistort often growing alongside more typical lowland species such as sea plantain. This week I've been working just 3 miles from Widdybank Fell and the opportunity to spend lunch breaks and evenings in this wonderful area was just too good to be missed.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Oxford inverts

A cloudy but warm day near Oxford today produced a decent array of inverts including a few beautiful demoiselles. Also a good selection of butterflies, hoverflies and beetles, amongst many other things!

Monday, 24 June 2019

Ythan Dread and a Newburgh Blonde

If Carlsberg did dreads.... today I called in at the Ythan estuary near Newburgh, just north of Aberdeen 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.

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