Monday, 21 November 2016

Time to get the Christmas decorations up!

Forget the waxwing invasion, the build up of geese and swans on the mosslands, the arrival of great grey shrikes, and forget even the John Lewis Christmas advert, winter truly arrived in the north-west this weekend with the discovery yesterday of that much loved, keenly anticipated and jovial winter character, a 1st winter male desert wheatear on the beach at Lytham St. Annes. All it lacks is a Father Christmas hat and a sack full of presents! All of the desert wheatears I have seen have been in late November or December, and when one finally arrives I know it's time to get the Pogues, Greg Lake and Slade on the car entertainment system. Time to start buying the mince pies, salted peanuts and shed loads of booze for all of the visitors who will never actually call round. Time to dust down the Bob Dylan Christmas CD and start decorating the Christmas tree.

But who needs a new pair of socks or a re-run of the 1974 Morecombe and Wise Christmas special when you're on the beach at the end of November as the sun comes out and you're in the company of such a confiding desert wheatear? I sat patiently and waited, and it quite happily approached to within a few feet, picking flies off the sand, quite unconcerned by my presence or that of the nearby gathering of birders and dog walkers. What a cracking bird! They breed in North Africa and the Middle East, and though described as short distance migrants, they arrive in the UK annually in small numbers. Why they should want to come to the UK for the winter is beyond me.

Year: 255 (Desert wheatear)


This guy really deserves a place on a Christmas card as much as a robin.




I'm not sure if the lower mandible is too long or the upper too short. I suspect the former.

Unlike the familiar "British" northern wheatear which has a white rump and large amounts of white in the tail, desert wheatear has a buffy white rump and only a small amount of white in the tail, which is mainly black. I must say though that I don't recall seeing a desert wheatear with such a buff rump as this.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Fiery goldcrests


I always like to see goldcrests, but the other day at Pennington Flash I came across a pair displaying. They're almost like a different species when they flick their crests, and it's just about the only time I get to see the orange in the males crest. When you see the males crest splayed out like this, almost like flames on its head, you can really understand how the even more orange crested firecrest gets its name. That really must look as though its head is on fire. The photos barely do them justice, but they are the best I could get.




Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Donna Nook seal colony

I'm not sure how many people outside of Lincolnshire are aware of the Donna Nook seal colony, or at least how good it is. Certainly I've been going to the place for over 25 years, but it's only in recent years that I have discovered that there is a breeding colony of grey seals there. Perhaps I just haven't been paying attention, or perhaps it's because I don't usually go in November and December, the months when the seals haul themselves ashore onto the saltmarsh and give birth.

And it's not a case of  viewing them through a telescope or even binoculars, these animals are just a few feet away, some easily within touching distance if the signs didn't warn you against attempting it, and not just for the sake of the seals, but also for your own protection. This might look like a zoo but these are very much wild animals with sharp teeth. Up to last weekend there had been an amazing 550 pups born this autumn, so probably around 1000 adults on the saltmarsh. It's an incredible experience to see them so well.

















I've always liked Donna Nook since I first went there in the early 1990's. On that first visit I was lucky enough to stumble across a group of birders who had just found an isabelline "turkestan" shrike, and then in 2013 lightening struck twice (almost) and I again stumbled upon a group of birders who had just found an isabelline "daurian" shrike. So I consider it quite a lucky place for me. Grainthorpe Haven, where I saw the pallid harrier yesterday is really just and extension of the saltmarsh at Donna Nook, and that bird had barely shown all day until I got there and today it didn't show at all, so again, a stroke of luck to see it yesterday.



A family party of whooper swans flying over Donna Nook.



The re-alignment scheme at Donna Nook  has really added to the place in recent years. It's a similar Hesketh Out Marsh, a newly created flood area for high tides to alleviate flooding higher up the river. When it's not flooded, it's a great wetland for wildlife, and today I saw a distant rough-legged buzzard, male hen-harrier, 50+ twite and 15 whooper swans, plus plenty of waders, little egrets, teal and brent geese.


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Pallid harrier, Grainthorpe Haven

I was working in Lincolnshire today and decided to stay over tonight in Saltfleet, with a view to spending the day at Donna Nook tomorrow. On the way to my accomodation I called in at nearby Grainthorpe Haven hoping to see a pallid harrier which has been in the area for a week or so.

Apparently it had barely shown all day before I arrrived, but right on cue it started hunting shortly after I got there and I watched it for about 20 minutes quartering the saltmarsh. Finally it caught something and dropped down and I didn't see it again. This was my 3rd pallid harrier, following birds at Flitcham in Norfolk last December and in Ayrshire in 2011.

I met another birder who had seen 9 species of raptor today including the pallid harrier. Not bad, I hope to see a few more species myself tomorrow, but for today I had to be content with just two others namely merlin and peregrine. Also today, 1000 dark-bellied brent geese, a couple of hundred pink-footed geese and as usual these days, lots of little egrets.

Year: 254 (Pallid harrier)


There's something about pallid harriers, they're really smart birds, especially the juveniles. This bird showed pretty well through the scope, but photographing it wasn't easy and this photo was taken on my camera at 24x, then it's been cropped quite a lot. Even so I like the photo, and in fact you can see all of the salient features which make this a pallid harrier, especially if I crop the photo even more as below.


Slim with a triangular "hand" compared to hen harrier but not as slim as you might expect from Montagu's, whilst the underwing shows dark secondaries contrasting with pale primaries and orange / rufous underwing coverts and body. You can even see the pale neck collar and dark "boa".



A merlin surveys the waders on the mud with Spurn lighthouse in the background on the other side of the river.


Dark-bellied brent and pink-footed geese.


Little egret.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Long-tailed Duck Pennington Flash

There's been a cracking 1st winter male long-tailed duck on Pennington Flash for the past few days. Found by John Tymon on Saturday morning, it's been showing really well in the bay adjacent to the car park. Also on the flash at the moment an adult female scaup.






Friday, 11 November 2016

The local butcher

Over the past week, perhaps longer, a great grey shrike has taken up residence on Little Woolden Moss at Platt House farm, Glazebury in Greater Manchester. It's been feeding on the local sparrrow population and other small birds, or sometimes dropping into the fields to catch worms or beetles. It was first reported on Monday morning by a local birder, but according to the farmer it has been around for a few days longer than that. Typically it can be very difficult to pin down, mainly because it roams over such a large area, for example I've seen it nearly half a mile from the farm. In four visits so far this week, I reckon I've spent a combined total of about 10.5 hours on site and seen the bird in total for about 15 minutes. Patience is required!

After driving and then walking on Monday, I've cycled from home everyday since. It's only 6 miles on the bike and it's much faster than going in the car, especially early morning on a weekday when the East Lancs is busy and the A574 past Bents and through Glazebury is crawling, nose to tail, and finally you have to park a good 20 minute walk from Platt House Farm. Worth noting at this point that Platt House farm is on Moss Lane, which is private, with no cars allowed.


Great grey shrikes are always cracking, enigmatic birds, but I've never seen one as well as this before so well worth the time and effort. If you have the patience and time to wait it can be confiding, almost oblivious to  your presence, but it can also go missing for two or three hours at a time. This is not only because it roams such a large distance, but also because actually great grey shrikes don't always perch in prominent postions on the top of bushes or bramble as is often supposed, in fact more often than not they are half hidden in a hedge or a tree, as in some of the photos below. I suppose also that if they do catch a small bird, it's such a big meal that they can probably stop hunting for long periods at which time they can become invisible if they are sitting in a hedge


Occasionally it will sit up on wires surveying the ground before dropping down on prey. At these times it's not much interested in what you are doing as long as you don't make any sudden movements or noises. It can be quite difficult to avoid the photo simply being a silhoutte when it's right above you in a bright blue sky.



The prominent pale coverts bar makes this a first winter bird.





It generally shows best in the gardens of Platt House farm and Moss Lodge farm, where it has been hunting the flocks of small birds which include house and tree sparrows, chaffinches, goldfinches and various tits. These next photos were taken at Moss Lodge farm on Tuesday.




It also shows well at times on the aerial of Platt House farm, which is where I first saw it on Monday.


On the walk down Moss Lane on Monday, I spotted these fungus growing in a tree stump. I didn't look too closely and just dismissed them as sulpher tuft, which I have seen a lot of recently. However Ray pointed out that they are actually glistening inkcap.

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