Monday, 31 December 2012

The end of another year

The end of a very exciting 2012! This was the year that I walked away from a 27 year career in I.T., I graduated from Edge Hill University with an MSc in Conservation Management, I spent much of the year working for the university as a research assistant studying saltmarsh invertebrates, I got a job surveying upland breeding birds with the BTO and I ended the year working as a freelance ornithologist.

Holidays included a week in New York, a week in the Pyrenees, a week in Barcelona and a long weekend to Anglesey, and my survey work included three weeks in the North Pennines and Yorkshire Dales, two weeks on Anglesey, a week at Betws-y-coed, a week in Pembrokeshire and a few days in the north east of England.

Despite the weather, I still managed to get in a walk with Elaine most Sundays, and during the year we walked in the Lake District, North Wales, Yorkshire Dales and the Pennines, and I did more cycling than ever before, clocking up just under 2500 miles in the year.

I had one of my best ever years for birds, not in terms of my UK year list perhaps which ended up around 200 species, but certainly in terms of quality. I finally managed to see Lammergeier in the Pyrenees, whilst in the UK I found American Black Tern at Eccleston Mere (only the 5th ever in Britain) and I found the first Welsh Rough-legged Buzzard “for many years” on Anglesey. Even better, I managed to get photographs of them both to prove it! Hard to imagine topping those two birds unless I move to the east coast! I also twitched two species which were new for me, Little Swift at New Brighton, and Semipalmated Sandpiper at Hoylake.

I had fabulous views of Otter, Badger, Roe Deer (in St Helens), Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Common Dolphin and Harbour Porpoise. The high alpine, flower filled meadows of the Pyrenees were a real eye opener and one of the highlights of the year, and I managed two visits to Upper Teesdale, perhaps the best botanical site in England. I saw more gentians this year than is good for anybody, and certainly more sedges!

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot, I also got divorced and celebrated my 50th birthday.

It’s hard to imagine 2013 being quite so exciting, but with a new job about to start in the New Year, there's every possibility that it will be!


Happy New Year and good birding to everybody who reads this blog! Let's hope that it's a good one!



Sunday, 30 December 2012

Eccleston Mere

Lesser Redpoll 30
Siskin 15
Goldfinch 50
Goldeneye 1 female
Tufted Duck 7
Great crested Grebe 9


It was a lovely, bright and relatively mild start to the day at Eccleston Mere. Several Robins and a couple of Wrens were singing, and even a distant Mistle Thrush joined in with the festive chorus. Very much a feeling of early spring in the air, though perhaps we better not get too carried away just yet! The finch flock is a great sight at the moment, in the alders by the stream.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Eccleston Mere

Great crested Grebe 9
Goldfinch 40

Back to being very quiet again.

Rainford Mosslands

Pink-footed Goose 800 over Dairy Farm Road in flocks of up to 200. 200 over Old Coach Road.
Lesser Redpoll 1 Dairy Farm Road feeding in field, 1 Old Coach Road feeding in field.
Siskin 20 Dairy Farm Road feeding in field.
Buzzard 1 Dairy Farm Road.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Eccleston Mere

Peregrine 1 mobbing Raven
Raven 1
Goldeneye 1 male
Lesser Redpoll 6
Goldfinch 40
Grey Wagtail 1
Tufted Duck 5
Cormorant 4
Canada Goose 200
Barnacle Goose 1
Greylag 1

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Moore

Smew 1 female

There was a decent number of woodland birds and a nice selection of ducks at Moore today. The Smew was on Birchwood pool.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Formby beach

We had a nice walk along the beach at Formby today. Despite the relatively large numbers of people and dogs on the beach, there were still quite a few birds, including a lot of gulls which were feeding on the tideline. I saw some of the larger gulls eating starfish. Waders included about 200 Dunlin, 10 Sanderling and a few Oystercatchers. There were about 20 Common Scoter offshore, but star bird was a 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull.


I don't think that the Med Gull is in this picture, but I'm happy to be proved wrong!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Eccleston Mere

Grey Wagtail 1
Tufted Duck 7
Goldfinch 30

A very quiet morning at the mere.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Eccleston Mere

Goldeneye 1 female
Siskin 7
Goldfinch 60
Tufted Duck 5
Cormorant 4
Great Crested Grebe 8

Leighton Moss

I saved an apple from my lunch to eat on the way to the public hide. Just as I went to put it to my mouth, this Robin came and landed on it! I was a bit startled, and the Robin flew off and landed on a fence post, so I held out the apple and the Robin flew back and started eating it. It did this about four times, before it spotted a juicy worm in the grass and reverted to normal. Amazing.


I thought you were supposed to be a meat eater??


Also at Leighton Moss today, a fantastic, close view of a male Bearded Tit on the causeway, two Marsh Harriers and several Water Rails heard.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Hadrians Wall

I've been working in the North East of England for the past couple of days, and my preferred route to that area is always M6 to Carlisle and then A69 to Newcastle. I like this route because it's usually very quiet on the roads and scenically beautiful. The M6 goes through the Howgills and the Lake District, whilst the A69 goes through Hadrians Wall country. On my way home today, I decided to call in at Housesteads, the most impressive Roman Fort on the wall.

The weather was pretty grim in that part of the World today, as it often seems to be when I vistit the area, but it was all the more atmospheric for that! What a place for the Romans, on the very edge of their empire.


The granery at Housesteads and Hadrians Wall.


The wall varied in height and strength along it's length, and the Romans often used natural features in the landscape, such as the cliffs here at Steel Rigg. After the Romans left Britain, much of the wall was pulled down and used for other buildings. What is left is probably only about half the original height.

It can be a decent area for birds, but it was a bit quiet today, though there was a nice flock of Fieldfares, a few Snipe, and a few Coal Tits in the woodland around the visitor centre (which was closed).

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Pennington Flash

Bullfinch 25
Willow Tit 2
Goosander 10 (8 males, 2 females)
Goldeneye 5
Pochard 11

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Eccleston Mere

Snipe 1
Goldeneye 1 female
Siskin 40
Lesser Redpoll 2
Goldfinch 60
Little Grebe 2 juvs
Tufted Duck 6
Buzzard 1


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Waxwings Lowton

Eight Waxwings landed in a Hawthorne bush in a Lowton garden today as I looked out of the kitchen window! They stayed for a few minutes, allowing me to take a few photos.


Waxwings are often found in gardens, but this is a scene I particularly like! 16th December and the washing is on the line with Waxwings in the tree behind and another bright blue sky for background!



Amazingly this is the second time I have seen Waxwings in this Hawthorne bush, the first was 2 years ago and involved just a single bird.

Later I had a walk to Pennington Flash and saw a very confiding Water Rail from Pengys hide, as well as two drake Goosander on the flash.

Eccleston Mere

Siskin 60
Goldfinch 50
Water Rail 1 in SW corner
Snipe 3
Bullfinch 1
Tufted Duck 2
Little Grebe 1 juv.

I need to start thinking of some new words, I'm starting to over use the word "glorious", but quite honestly that's exactly what it was yet again today. I think the weather since August has been great. The finch flock in the alders along the stream was a great sight, the Siskins glowed yellow like canaries in the bright sunlight with a beautiful blue sky behind them, and the Goldfinches hung like natural Christmas decorations from the branches.

In the south west corner, the Water Rail scurried away from me into hiding in a bramble patch. This is the first time I've seen it in a few weeks, presumably it's the same bird, but it's being elusive this winter. Perhaps it's because there is so much water around, it has plenty of choice and can therefore keep away from the path when feeding.



Saturday, 15 December 2012

Old Coach Road



We had a nice walk along the Old Coach Road this afternoon. Very quiet for birds though, just a few pipits, wagtails and Chaffinches. Didn't see or hear a single goose.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Rough-legged Buzzard Anglesey

On Wednesday I found this magnificent juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard near Cemaes Bay on Anglesey, and managed to get a few photographs to confirm the identification. Pale Common Buzzards are often confused with this species, and this is apparently the first confirmed Welsh record of Rough-legged Buzzard for many years. There are a number of features which clinch the identification such as longer wings than Common Buzzard, very pale underwing, black carpal patch, dark belly, pale head, pale leading edge to the wing and pale tail with dark band. Also it hovered quite a bit, as you can see on one of the photos. Common Buzzards are very variable, and can show most of these features, but not all at the same time.

It's always worth carrying a camera with you (as I also found with the American Black Tern). I'm not sure that I would have been completely believed if I hadn't got the photos to prove it!

I've submitted this record to the Anglesey recorder (Steve Culley who originates from St Helens), and he has agreed with the identification and passed the photos onto the Welsh rarities committee.

As if that wasn't enough, I also found 3 Black Redstarts, 1 Waxwing and a Long-eared Owl (roosting on sea cliffs), as well as a Water Rail running down the road in front of the car, and lots of other great birds, including a Light-bellied Brent Goose which had been ringed at Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland and had previously spent most winters at Havre de Regnéville in Normandy.

A wonderful birding experience in glorious, if slightly chilly weather!




Monday, 10 December 2012

Eccleston Mere

Snipe 2
Siskin 2
Lesser Redpoll 5
Goldfinch 50
Little Grebe 1
Great Crested Grebe 9
Buzzard 1
Pochard 1 male
Tufted Duck 6


Male Siskin on Alder.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

More Waxwings

About 15 Waxwings flew over St Helens Junction railway station at 11:30 this morning as I waited for a train. I didn't see them land, but there was a small flock reported in Baxter street a few weeks ago, so it may be worth a look in that area.

Eccleston Mere

Snipe 2
Lesser Redpoll 20
Siskin 1
Goldfinch 50
Bullfinch 1
Teal 3 females
Tufted Duck 7
Kingfisher 1

Eccleston Mere has always been a good place to see Redpolls, and I'm pretty sure that a pair or two still breed, but even so 20 is a decent size flock by recent standards.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Graduation Day

Saturday was graduation day at Edge Hill university, and here's a photo of your's truely looking like I'm auditioning for the next Harry Potter movie! Life's certainly exciting at the moment!


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Watching Harriers

In the last few hours of daylight on a beautiful winters day, I watched three Hen Harriers hunting over fields. The light was perfect and the birds were as close as I have ever seen harriers. There were two females and a male, and they were quartering over fields which contained an impressive selection of species, including a Barn Owl, an adult Mediterranean Gull a flock of 350 Lapwings, several Golden Plover, Woodpigeons, Red-legged Partridge and gulls.

The ghostly grey male flew with a larger brown female, and the two rose briefly into the air together almost clasping talons before continuing the hunt. Both birds had a white rump, but it was much more obvious on the darker female. The third bird kept its distance, and I did wonder if it might be a young bird. At one point the female left the male and flew towards me over a ploughed field, it’s owl like face pointing directly down, oblivious to everything as it searched for prey. I couldn’t see any Red-legged Partridge on the ground, but I knew they were there, because one by one they flew up in panic as the harrier approached. Occasionally the bird would swerve towards a fleeing partridge, the barring on the raptors tail standing out in the bright winter sunlight, but I didn’t see it make a kill

For three hours I watched the fields, and saw the harriers several times, each time at quite close range. Of course I’ve seen harriers many times before, but this was different, this was the first time I have really watched their hunting techniques, and it was a privilege to see them so well. Meanwhile, in the background a Barn Owl hunted along the ditches in broad daylight, and up to eight Buzzards soared over the distant woodland. A wonderful afternoons birding.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Eccleston Mere

Goosander 1 immature male?
Teal 2 females
Kingfisher 1
Siskin 2
Goldfinch 80
Cormorant 15
Jackdaw 250 coming to roost on the island at dusk.



Walckenaeria acuminata



One of the reasons I like the linyphiidae (money spiders) is that the males often have modified heads which carry one or more pairs of eyes, which makes them look very strange. Walckenaeria acuminata is one of the more extreme, with all of its eyes on this ridiculous stalk! In real life, the spider is about 2mm long.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Waxwings Haydock

Thirteen Waxwings in Andover Road, Haydock (near Costco) this morning. Considering the huge numbers of Waxwings in the country at the moment, it's about time that we had a flock in St Helens. Let's hope that they stay for a few days. There are still plenty of berries on their favoured tree.




Eccleston Mere

Goosander 1 female
Teal 3 females
Tufted Duck 6
Goldfinch 50
Buzzard 1

Cut Lane / New Cut Lane

Brambling 2 or 3 with 100 Chaffinches in Cut Lane
Fieldfare 25 New Cut Lane

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Eccleston Mere

Snipe 3
Lesser Redpoll 20
Goldfinch 100
Bullfinch 3
Little Grebe 1
Tufted Duck 5
Cormorant 10


Red sky in the morning......

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Rainford Mosslands

Brambling 1 Old Coach Road (New Cut Lane), 2 Catchdale Moss, Green Lane.
Linnet 20 Catchdale Moss, Green Lane
Tree Sparrow 2 Mossborough Hall Lane
Fieldfare 20 Old Coach Road, 5 Mossborough Hall Lane
Redwing 50 Old Coach Road
Pink-footed Goose 100 Old Coach Road



Male Brambling on Catchdale Moss. This is a regular site for Brambling.

Eccleston Mere

Goosander 1 female
Lesser Redpoll 15
Goldfinch 50
Bullfinch 4
Kingfisher 1
Tufted Duck 8
Cormorant 10
Canada Goose 100
Greylag 1
Barnacle Goose 1

Friday, 30 November 2012

Jack Snipe and a record count of Teal, Eccleston Mere

Jack Snipe 1
Snipe 1
Teal 31
Little Grebe 2 juvs.
Great Crested Grebe 10
Siskin 5
Lesser Redpoll 1
Goldfinch 50
Goldcrest 4
Treecreeper 1

It was a cold yet beautiful start to the day at Eccleston Mere. The Teal flock was the largest I have ever recorded at the mere, the previous best being 23.

No doubt about the star bird though, a fantastic Jack Snipe in the fields adjacent to the mere. I've searched long and hard for this species at the mere over the past 23 years, and at long last today it paid off. A great flight view at close range! This brings my Eccleston Mere total to 161 species.



31 Teal.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Eccleston Mere

Snipe 4 in fields adjacent to the mere
Little Grebe 3 juveniles
Great crested Grebe 11
Buzzard 1

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Cetacean watching Anglesey

I was on Anglesey for the first three days of this week. The weather was grim on Monday, with lots of rain and strong winds, but by Wednesday it had cleared up quite nicely. I saw a decent selection of birds, including 4 Waxwings, adult Mediterranean Gull, several Red-throated Divers, Eider, Little Egrets, Common Scoter and lots of waders.

Highlight though was the cetaceans, with several Bottle-nosed Dolphins, a pod of about 20 Harbour Porpoise and best of all, a Common Dolphin which lept completely out of the water right behind a Red-throated Diver I was watching in the telescope. A memorable experience!


I like this combination of photos. One looks wintery and stormy, the other looks almost spring like! Hard to believe that they were taken on the same day and little more than 5 miles apart! That's the British weather for you!


Notice that each of the three boats has an accompanying gull!


It was a beautiful end to the day, the colours were fantastic. That's the moon behind the boat by the way, not the sun!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Formby Beach

It was a beautiful afternoon to be on the beach, and we almost had it to ourselves. No vast numbers of waders, but a nice selection of Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Knot, Oystercatchers and Curlew. In the woods we managed to see a single Red Squirrel.




Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover.

Eccleston Mere

Teal 3 (male & 2 females)
Tufted Duck 5
Cormorant 7
Goldfinch 50
Siskin 2

Just a brief stop at the mere today to see if the overnight winds and rain had brought anything in. The entire Goldfinch flock, with a few Chaffinches and Siskins, was feeding on the ground on the west side of the mere. No sign of any Mandarins, in fact the whole place had a very different feel about it!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Mandarin spectacular, Eccleston Mere

Once again the late risers missed the best part of the day! It was a beautiful, calm, crisp morning at Eccleston Mere and my reward for making the effort was one of the best sights I have ever seen on the mere.

You may recall that back in September, when the American Black Tern was around, there was a flock of 11 Mandarins on the mere for one or two days. Well today, presumably part of the same flock was back, this time consisting of 9 birds. Unlike the September version, today they were in pristine breeding plumage, and courting was very much what they had on their minds. Seven of the flock were males, two were females, one of which seemed paired up with a male and was left well alone by the other males. The second female however was not so lucky! She was definately fair game, and the remaining six males chased her everywhere, splitting their time between displaying to her and trying to drive away each other. They kept flying around the mere, circling the island, then landing in the water and displaying, tipping their heads back and raising their tails, with their sails erect as they called. They charged at each other like lecking grouse, and even flew up out of the water and hurled themselves feet first at their opponent. Then they would take off again and circle round, before landing and starting over again. Breathtaking! A really spectacular sight, and a great experience!

Where they have been since September is hard to say. I've not seen any reports from Knowsley Safari Park, Carr Mill Dam, Taylor Park, Ravenhead or anywhere else which mention more than a couple of birds at any one time. Mandarins are most active early morning, and then spend most of the day under overhanging vegetation, so I suppose that despite their spectacular and unmistakable plumage,there is an outside chance that they could avoid being seen somewhere. Whatever the answer, let's hope they're here to stay. I did wonder whether the waterlogged woodland at the south end of the mere with it's associated dead trees was starting to look attractive to this tree hole nesting species.

Mandarins are of course an introduced species in the UK, one of the few examples of an introduction which doesn't seem to affect our native wildlife. In fact, declines in the species natural range mean that the UK now holds an important percentage of the population.

Other birds seen today, a Woodcock flushed from woodland at the end of the stream, 5 Snipe in the fields adjacent to the mere, 2 Bullfinches, 10 Siskin, 50 Goldfinches and 10 Goldcrests.






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