Saturday, 31 March 2012

Friday, 30 March 2012

Eccleston Mere

Mute Swan 3 (ad & 2 juv.s)
Chiffchaff 3 singing
Blackcap 1 singing

Eccleston Mere

Mute Swan 2 juv.s
Chiffchaff 3 singing
Tufted Duck 8
Cormorant 1

Will there be any Sand Martins this year?? My bet is Saturday, when it clouds up a bit......

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Old Coach Road

Curlew 2 near Brown Birch Farm
Chiffchaff 3 singing
Tree Sparrow 5
Oystercatcher 2
Buzzard 2

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Eccleston Mere

Kingfisher 1
Chiffchaff 3 singing
Mute Swan 3 (ad & 2 juv.s)
Buzzard 2
Reed Bunting 3

Billinge Hill

Willow Warbler 1 singing in trees just south of the beacon near the road. Only the 5th Willow Warbler I have ever seen in March.

Chiffchaff 5 singing
Yellowhammer 20
Grey Partridge 2

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Eccleston Mere

Chiffchaff 3 singing
Blackcap 1 singing

The good weather has done nothing to increase the passage of migrants. Still very quiet at the mere, and all around the mosslands. Perhaps everything is just passing through. Perhaps we need some rain!

Queens Park

Raven 1 flew over north east.

The Old Man of Coniston

The fantastic weather inspired another visit to the Lake District today, and this time we headed for the south Lakes and the Old Man of Coniston. On it's eastern flank (the side which faces the village of Coniston), it's not particularly attractive close up, having been blown to pieces by the slate mining industry, but there are great views from the summit, and we were particularly impressed by the walk along the ridge above Dow Crag, where the views included the Isle of Man, south west Scotland and Snowdonia. I think Ireland as well, but perhaps that was my imagination!
The birding highlight of the day was the singing and displaying male Wheatears, already on territory here, despite the fact that their migration period on the coast and in St Helens has only just started.


Looking north from the summit of the Old Man


The summit of Dow Crag (left) and the Old Man (right)


Scafell Pikes from the summit of Dow Crag.


The Isle of Man from the summit of Dow Crag

A visitor from the seaside

There is lots of Danish Scurvygrass in flower at the moment, all along our roads. It's really a seaside plant, but is common on patches of bare ground on roadsides due to winter salting, often growing around the base of lamposts. The photos were taken near the traffic lights at the Waterside at Carr Mill Dam, but the plant can be found all along the East Lancs and Rainford bypass, and probably lots of other roads as well.



Sunday, 25 March 2012

Eccleston Mere

Oystercatcher 2 flew over
Chiffchaff 4 singing
Kingfisher 1
Buzzard 1

Billinge Hill

Oystercatcher 2 flew over beacon north east
Chiffchaff 4 singing
Lesser Black-back Gull 200
Meadow Pipit 15 mainly heading east
Grey Partridge 2

Still not much migrant activity.

Orange Underwing and a couple of butterflies

There were at least six Orange Underwings flying at Clare's Moss Plantation today, and at least two of them were flying quite low. One even landed and allowed me to take a couple of poor photos.




This photo shows the underwing quite well.


Small Tortoiseshell


Peacock - always worth a photo!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Eccleston Mere

Chiffchaff 4 singing
Tufted Duck 21
Great crested Grebe 12
Shoveler 1 male

Rainford mosslands

Chiffchaff 2 singing Old Coach Road, 1 singing Dairy Farm Road, 2 singing Berringtons Lane
Oystercatcher 1 Berringtons Lane
Yellowhammer 2 singing Old Coach Road, 10 Dairy Farm Road, 10 Berringtons Lane
Corn Bunting 1 singing Dairy Farm Road

Catchdale Moss

Golden Plover 2
Oystercatcher 1
Lapwings displaying

Friday, 23 March 2012

Eccleston Mere

Chiffchaff 5 singing males

Billinge Hill

It was a lovely morning on Billinge Hill, the weather seemed perfect for a fall of spring migrants, except that it is perhaps a week or two too early. However, despite the light south easterly breeze and slightly foggy conditions which hid the coast and the Welsh mountains, the only migrant I could find was a singing Chiffchaff.

About 500 Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew over, all heading south east, in groups of around 30. It would be tempting to conclude that they were migrants, but since two of the largest LBBG colonies in the UK are at Ward Stone in Bowland, and Walney Island at Barrow, south east would seem an odd direction for them to be heading. Perhaps it was just a local movement from a roost site to a local tip.

Other birds included 15 Tree Sparrows, 10 Yellowhammers, 12 Meadow Pipits and about 10 Skylarks.

Old Coach Road - Orange Underwing alert!

This time of year is the flight period for the day flying Orange Underwing moth. Look for them flying high, usually around the tops of birch trees, and usually seen best around midday on bright sunny days.

Today there were about six flying around Clare's Moss Plantation adjacent to the Old Coach Road. They are pretty difficult to get close to because they tend to stay high up, but a few years ago I found one landed at Clare's Moss and took the photo below.



One Corn Bunting singing at Clare's Moss, two Yellowhammers nearby, five Tree Sparrows flying near Brown Birch farm. No sign of any migrants today.

There were a couple of Peacock butterflies on Clare's Moss, my first of the year.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Old Coach Road

There was a cracking male Wheatear in the horse paddocks on the junction of the Old Coach Road and Mossborough Hall Lane today. I saw it at 8am and it was still present at 3pm. This is the second earliest Wheatear I have seen in Britain.

Also in the area, two Shelduck, two Chiffchaffs and two Buzzards.




A few more spiders




The fearsome, large jawed, Pachygnatha clercki. This is a male because it has the large swollen palps. It's about 8mm long in reality.


If the chap below is looking a bit nervous, it's because the fearsome, muscley creature with the big jaws is his date! Erigone longipalpis.


This is the palp of a male Centromerita bicolor. It's about 0.5mm long.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Clwydian range

We had a nice walk in the Clwydians today, generally in the Moel Arthur area. Plenty of Ravens and Buzzards, some of which were displaying, plus a few Stonechats.


Coltsfoot, one of my favourite spring flowers.


Looking towards Penycloddiau from Moel Plas-yw.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Holcroft Moss

Plenty of Hare's-tail Cotton Grass in flower on Holcroft Moss at Culcheth today. Earlier, I heard my first Chiffchaff of the spring at Risley Moss.


Thursday, 15 March 2012

A few money spiders

Who could not love the Linyphiidae family of spiders? Otherwise known as "money spiders", there are about 300 species in the UK, varying in size from about 1.5mm to 4mm. They are identified by a number of features including the shape of the carapace (head) in the males, the number of dorsal spines on the tibia, the presence or otherwise of trichobothria (long hair like setae) and the position of the trichobothria on the metatarsus. However, the clinching id features of mature animals are the genitalia. The male genetalia are the swollen boxing glove like palps, and these are unique to each species, particularly the shape of the palpal tibia. The female genetalia is the epigyne which is again unique to each species. The photos below are amongst my first efforts to photograph spiders. The largest spider here is about 3mm long in real life





The above two photos are both male Silometopus ambiguus which has particularly impressive palps.


This is underside of a female Oedothorax fuscus.


The epigyne of Oedothorax fuscus. Compare it to the quite diffferent epigyne of Erigone longipalpis (below).

Monday, 12 March 2012

Rainford Mosslands

Raven 1 flew east over Green Lane, Catchdale Moss
Yellowhamer 20 Old Coach Road
Corn Bunting 1 singing Clare's Moss, Old Coach Road
Buzzard 2

High Street, Golden Eagle and Common Frogs

It's very difficult to put into words what a gloriously beautiful day it was on Riggindale Crag and High Street in the Lake District today. Absolutely ideal for walking, there wasn't a breath of wind until we reached the very summit of High Street, it was cloudless and warm enough to walk in a T-shirt. I don't think I've ever experienced a more perfect day in the Lake District.
According to the Met Office, the weather on the peaks was the result of a "significant temperature inversion", which basically means that it got warmer the higher you climbed rather than colder which is the norm.
We were lucky enough to see the resident Golden Eagle, but perhaps the stars of the day were the hundreds of spawning Common Frogs, some of them on Riggindale Crag itself.
After our walk we headed to a pub at Askham and then had a walk along the River Lowther, where we saw three Dippers and a Goosander.




Riggindale Crag and High Street. It was cloudless, and so still that the water was like a mirror.


Looking up Riggindale Crag towards High Street.


Looking towards Helvelyn from the summit of High Street.


There were lots of Ravens today, with one soaring flock consisting of 15 birds.


Common Frogs in a pool on Riggindale Crag at a height of about 600m.


How do they survive in this place, 600m up and surrounded by cliffs on all sides? Goodness knows what the temperature might fall to in the winter.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Rainford mosslands

I biked it around the Rainford Mosslands this afternoon. At Inglenook Farm a Peregrine hunted Starlings and Lapwings in spectacular fashion, stooping at them from a great height, and at fearsome speed, but I didn't see it take any. Elsewhere there were plenty of Lapwings displaying and Skylarks singing, but otherwise it was fairly quiet.

Eccleston Mere

Mute Swan 1 juv.
Tufted Duck 5
Kingfisher 1

Lots of resident species singing, Wrens, Robins, Dunnocks etc., but no sign of any migrants yet. Won't be long though if it stays as mild as this and the winds stay in the south.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Hesketh Out Marsh and Crossens Marsh

It was back to Hesketh Out Marsh and Crossens Marsh this morning, to bring in the pitfall traps. Once again we were very lucky with the weather. Plenty of bird activity, but nothing that you wouldn't expect. Lots of Skylarks singing, Redshank and Curlew calling, the occasional Little Egret and lots of Shelduck and Teal. What more could you ask for? A wonderful experience!


Hesketh Out Marsh, looking towards the breach.


Ready for action at Crossens Marsh!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Eccleston Mere

Not much to report in the way of birds at the mere today, but one of the anglers had just caught this impressive Pike. Apparently this is by no means the largest Pike in the mere. It looks pretty fearsome to me!




Hesketh Out Marsh close up

Over the past few months I've been involved in a study of invertebrates at RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh and Crossens Marsh, on the Ribble estuary. The study involves the use of pitfall traps to catch insects and other invertebrates at the two sites, and these are then taken back to the lab where I identify and count them, so that a comparison can be made. Today we went out to set the traps in order to get some more samples.


This is the "bus shelter" hide at Hesketh Out Marsh, and is about as close as most visitors can get to the marsh.


However, armed with the necessary permission, relevant wading gear and collecting equipment, we headed out into the centre of the marsh.


Saltmarsh may seem like the sort of habitat which has remained unchanged since the dawn of time, one of the last wild places untouched by the hands of Man, but Hesketh Out Marsh is actually a vision of the future rather than an image of the past.

Up until 1980, this was indeed saltmarsh, but then a sea wall was built around the land, and it was converted to farmland. In 2006 the RSPB bought the land and breached the sea wall, allowing the sea to flood in again, which in turn allowed the saltmarsh to begin to return. The photo above shows the breach, which has now been made much wider than it initially was, by the actions of the sea. Not only does this provide a great new habitat for many saltmarsh creatures, it is also a form of managed realignment in the face of rising sea levels due to climate change.


This photo is also taken next to the breach.


Using a special tool, we sink pitfall traps into the ground, to catch ground dwelling invertebrates. The catches are usually dominated by spiders, ground beetles, rove beetles (staphs), water beetles, water bugs, amphipods, woodlice and springtails.


A lid is placed over the trap, using the two sticks to leave a 10mm gap. This is to stop larger creatures getting in, such as small mammals. The area is covered by the sea on spring high tides, which means that we are only able to set the traps during neap tides, since they need to be left out for a few days.


The sea really carves out the land, and at the moment Hesketh Out Marsh is a very dynamic and changing place.


It was a glorious day to be out on the marsh, with the calls of Redshank never far away. Shelduck were calling and chasing each other across the marsh, and the song of Skylarks filled the air, heralding the arrival of spring!

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