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.

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 stayed with my Mum and Dad when we regularly visited 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.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Bits and pieces from Hope Carr

With the Blyth's reed warbler now fading in the memory, I usually find myself alone at Hope Carr. Not really much new happening at the moment, one or two green sandpipers are occasionally seen, a pair of Mediterranean gulls perhaps, up to six chiffchaffs and every now and again I hear the Cetti's warbler singing. I guess that the Blyth's reed warbler could still be there, but with nobody looking and even I'm spending only around 10 minutes per visit in front of it's favoured bramble patch, it's going to take an amazing stroke of luck to re-find it now.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Lesser Kestrels, Mertola

Lesser Kestrel Mertola

Just an hours drive from the busy Algarve coast is the fabulous walled town of Mertola on the Guadiana river, with its medieval castle and former mosque . It's a very scenic place and there are many good reasons for visiting, but from a birding point of view the highlight is undoubtedly it's lesser kestrels. These beautiful falcons breed in colonies in the town and when I first visited Mertola around 25 years ago, the main colony was apparently in the Convento de São Francisco on the outskirts of the town, but looking over the river  in that direction from our wonderful accommodation, I couldn't see any falcons in the vicinity. Of course it was only February so perhaps there were birds yet to return, but there was certainly plenty of lesser kestrel activity around another building right on the edge of the cliff. with at least five birds present.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Sierra Aracena

Sierra Aracena lies to the north west of Seville and makes for a good stop on our way to Mertola. From a birding point of view it's  particularly good place for black and griffon vultures, and it's place where many woodland species can be found which are perhaps not quite so easy elsewhere, and in the past I've seen lesser spotted woodpecker, woodcock and short-toed treecreeper here.

Today we walked from Alajar following trails to the village of Linares de la Sierra and back, a round trip of about 8 miles. The woodland on this walk is mainly cork oak and there was a colourful understorey of gorse, not the same species that we have in the UK, it was altogether a more delicate plant, more like Petty whin Genista anglica though not that species either. My best guess is Genista hirsuta. Sometimes it's best to enjoy the spectacle and not worry too much a out the finer details!

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Marbled duck and Ferruginous duck, Doñana

After a great couple of days walking in el Rocio we headed for the bright lights of Seville. Of course I didn't take the highway, I chose instead to weave our way in the general direction of Seville via the lanes and tracks which I know so well from many years visiting the area. We saw many great birds on the way, but just as we were about to leave the area, I spotted a night heron roost of about 150 birds. I knew that the ponds in this area often hold red-knobbed coot so I stopped and had a quick look over the first pond we came to. No coots of any description, but right in the middle of the pond a drake ferruginous duck. An excellent result!

Spurred on I stopped at the second pond. This time there were a few Eurasian coots but they were soon forgotten because in the reeds were at least seven marbled ducks! This was a real result. Marbled duck is a very rare species these days, and very difficult to find. Unfortunately they were well tucked into the vegetation and most were asleep, so with time pressing I watched them for 10 minutes before heading back to the car and we shot off for tapas and sangria in Seville. Like I said previously, there's more to life than birds and there are two ways to look at this. You could say that it was an opportunity missed because I didn't hang around for hours waiting for a better photo opportunity of a very rare species, but the alternative viewpoint is that this was never meant to be a birding holiday so to pick up marbled duck on the way was a remarkable achievement and I should be content with that. I prefer the latter way of thinking, it makes for a much easier and ultimately more satisfying life!

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

el Rocio

el Rocio is utterly unique and provides an excellent base, the gateway to Doñana. Of course I've been here many times before, but for Elaine it was her first visit and even as a none birder she was completely blown away by the place.

The best way to approach the town is from the south, you drive through mile after mile of seemingly never ending stone pine woodland until at last you come to La Rocina bridge where suddenly the whole marsh opens up before you with hundreds of flamingoes, glossy ibis, spoonbills, egrets, ducks and waders, with the impressive church in the background surrounded by the white buildings of el Rocio, and apparently wild horses splash through the water. Closer inspection reveals many purple swamphens, spotless starlings, waxbills, Sardinian warblers, azure-winged magpies and depending on the time of year and how lucky you are, white-spotted bluethroats, penduline tits, red-knobbed coot, marsh terns and an array of raptors, plus many more species. All easily viewable from the promenade and if you've selected your hotel wisely, most easily viewable from your hotel balcony. This is top quality birding in an amazing setting requiring a minimum of effort. Of course from el Rocio you can explore deep in to Doñana and for details of how to do this please see a more complete trip report of mine to the area from December 2017 by clicking the following link Southern Iberia including Doñana, rice harvest spectacular.

However the current trip was a mainly walking holiday with birding a secondary activity, so I had to content myself more or less with what we saw in the vicinity of the town and on our walks. Our walk today started at the hotel, went along the promenade and through stone pine woodland.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Apparent influx of Audouin's Gulls, Algarve and Adalucia

Audouin's gull is considered by many to be the most beautiful of all gulls and it's also one of the rarest in world terms, with a population (I think) of about 10,000 pairs. It's strictly pelagic and does not usually occur inland or scavenge on rubbish tips like many other species of gull. Audouin's gull provided me with possibly the highlight of this trip, I've never seen so many in the region before. In Portugal I saw at least 45 individuals at seven sites where I had never recorded them before, from Faro to as far west as Carrapateirra, just north of Cape St. Vincent. Then when we moved towards Doñana and Seville we came across the largest flock I have ever seen away from the breeding sites, a minimum of 148 birds in the marina at Mazagon, Huelva. Some birds at the latter location sported white darvic rings and one of these I was able to read, which has provided me with at least some information as to the origin of these birds, see below. I'm not really sure if these are unusual numbers and if they are, why they should be occurring now, but certainly in 30 years of visiting the area I've never seen so many.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Alvor and Cape St. Vincent

Alvor is just to the west of Portimão in the western Algarve. It's a really good place for birds with a large saltmarsh and impressive board walk, and the town itself is picturesque and worthy of a visit.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Red-knobbed coot at San Lorenzo golf course

Continuing our walk from Praia de Faro, we crossed a foot bridge and then walked back along the edge of the San Lorenzo golf course and through Ludo salinas. As well as a wonderful walk of about 8 miles, it's also a fantastic place for birding, with a wide variety of habitats including beach, ocean, sand dunes, salinas, woodland and best of all a freshwater lake with a hide. From the hide it's possible to see a fine array of typical southern Iberian species depending on the time of year, including purple swamphen, glossy ibis, occasional ferruginous duck, little bittern, spoonbill, azure-winged magpie, waxbill and much, much more. I've been here many times previously so I wasn't expecting any surprises, but in the days leading up to the trip, I'd heard a rumour that there was a red-knobbed coot on the lake, which would be a new Portugal tick for me, so of course I was interested in seeing it.

On arrival in the hide I mentally ticked off all of the usual suspects in a sweep of the lake, but then noticed that the main coot flock of perhaps 80 birds was on one of the fairways at least 400m away. I didn't have a telescope with me and at that range with just binoculars I had no chance. We were staying nearby so I resolved to return at dawn the following morning.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Praia de Faro walk

Praia de Faro is a glorious walk along a lengthy and spectacular beach with the crashing waves of the open Atlantic ocean. Our holiday to this part of southern Iberia always starts here and the walk continues over the footbridge across the saltmarsh, along the edge of the golf course and back to the car via Ludo salinas. Dramatic though the beach is, it can seem a fairly quiet place for birds at times but in actual fact there are plenty of very special birds around.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Hope Carr sewage works

Anybody who cares to divert their attention from the Blyth's reed warbler at Hope Carr, and instead look over the sewage works next door can find some interesting birds. Apart from a 1st winter / female black redstart, up to four green sandpipers are present, also several grey wagtails and lots of pied wagtails and meadow pipits. There is a black-headed gull flock of around 200 birds which occasionally includes an adult Mediterranean gull and a magnificent leucistic black-headed gull. Unsurprisingly both of these gulls regularly frequent the Pennington Flash gull roost, the Mediterranean gull has a metal ring on its left leg and is a probably the female which has been returning to the Flash for years, whilst the leucistic bird is back for at least its second winter.

Given the release this week of an adult ivory gull which was taken into care at Stranraer, the appearance of the leucistic bird at Hope Carr was understandably a heart stopping moment! Even the 3rd winter Iceland gull which feeds at Atherton and roosts at the Flash put in an appearance a couple of weeks ago, leaving yellow-legged gull as the only regularly occurring Pennington Flash gull which I haven't seen at Hope Carr.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Show time! The Return of the Blyth's Reed Warbler

Incredibly, after six days of no-show, the Blyth's reed warbler put in the performance of a lifetime today at Hope Carr! I arrived on site at 9am and expected to be alone. However I immediately spotted Andy who urgently gestured me towards him. The Blyth's reed warbler was just a few feet away and showing amazingly well. Andy had already put the news out and soon we were joined by the original finder, Phil and the three of us watched the bird for 30 minutes or more before we were joined by Ray and Dave. This was Dave's first attempt to see the bird and within 30 seconds he'd seen it and photographed it! The bird continued to show well until at least 2pm when I left, and reports on the Manchester Birding Forum suggest that it was still showing well to at least 4:20pm. No idea where that performance came from today or if it will be repeated tomorrow, although one thought occurs; the bird was feeding actively all day. Perhaps tonight is the night it leaves? Who can tell with this bird.....

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Black redstart, Hope Carr

On days when the Blyth's reed warbler doesn't show there's still plenty to keep me entertained at Hope Carr. Star of the supporting cast over this past week has been a 1st winter / female black redstart which showed well but briefly in the sewage works compound and on the perimeter fence on one afternoon and again the following morning. Chances are it's still around but once it disappears to feed on the ground amongst the various machinery and buildings it's a very difficult bird to spot.

Other highlights have included woodcock, little egret, two peregrines, green sandpiper, up to four chiffchaffs, 40 shoveler, 80 teal, six goosander and a variety of woodland birds including willow tits and bullfinches. In total I've now recorded what I consider to be an impressive 73 bird species at the site in the past two weeks.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Clues to the survival of a Blyth's Reed Warbler in winter

Early in its stay, the Blyth's reed warbler at Hope Carr disappeared for three and a half days during a period of harsh, freezing conditions, the worst of the winter so far, and led to speculation that it had either moved on or more likely died. After all, what could an insectivorous species find to feed on in such harsh conditions? I think that this photo helps answer the question.

The prey item is I think a spider egg sac, or possibly a moth pupa, both of which I guess form a staple part of its diet especially when temperatures are sub-zero and adult invertebrates are inactive. The brambles are probably full of egg sacs or pupa such as this, attached to the bottom of leaves or bramble stems or other vegetation and they don't disappear or die just because of a few freezing nights or heavy snow. For the warbler it's like visiting the frozen food section at the supermarket! I don't know enough about the ecology of reed warblers to know if feeding on egg sacs and/or pupa is just a winter thing or if it happens all year. It would be interesting to know, but I guess that it's not that common or surely more insectivorous birds would over winter? Just as blackcaps change their diet from insects to berries in the winter, perhaps Blyth's reed warblers change from adult prey to pupa / eggs in winter? Actually the thought occurs to me that since this is probably the first ever overwintering Blyth's reed warbler in the UK and possibly even Europe, that this is probably also the first occasion that a winter food item of the species has been recorded in this country / continent. In the afternoon when temperatures rose slightly the bird was also seen briefly flycatching.

The Blyth's reed warbler showed better than ever today in glorious sunshine at Hope Carr, but it's still a difficult bird. Plenty left saying that they only had fleeting glimpses, and even more left without a photo, so I'm happy with these photos from my little bridge camera! The weather forecast for the next two days is for heavy rain / sleet / snow / sub-zero temperatures so it was good to see it feeding up so well today.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

A great couple of days at Hope Carr

Well, I've spent a lot of time at Hope Carr over the past week, probably in excess of 24 birding hours, and most of that has been standing in front of a bramble patch waiting for a single bird to give itself up. It's been an uncomfortable experience standing in mud next to a sewage works in wind, rain, sleet, snow, fog and often in sub-zero temperatures, but it's been well worth it!

After an absence of three and a half days, the Blyth's reed warbler decided to put in another appearance today. I never really believed that it had gone given the weather we have had recently, but I was starting to think that perhaps it was dead. However as predicted, as soon as the first rays of sunshine emerged through the clouds today, the mildest day since last Sunday, a "tak, tak" call was heard from the brambles and shortly afterwards the bird began to show. I arrived on site at 10:15 just as the bird finally showed well for the first time and I saw it very well on and off until about 12:30. For most of this period the bird was very vocal, though for the last half hour or so it more or less stopped calling. Much appreciated by the many birders who finally managed to connect with it.

However it's not just the warbler which has made the past few days so special, there's a decent supporting cast as well. Putting in a regular appearance are two green sandpipers, chiffchaff, adult Mediterranean gulls, tree sparrows, grey wagtails, meadow pipits, 100+teal, 20 shoveler, 30 gadwall and 15 tufted ducks. Even better, on Monday a flock of 9 whooper swans flew over, on Friday a 3rd winter Iceland gull flew over and today a juvenile marsh harrier was added to the list. If I saw that lot plus the warbler anywhere locally I'd be delighted, but when it's just a two mile walk through farmland from my home it makes me think that maybe I should visit more often.....

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Blyth's Reed Warbler, Hope Carr

An unseasonable reed warbler was found on Sunday at Hope Carr nature reserve on the outskirts of Leigh and just a couple of miles walk my home. Even though it was initially reported as "only" a Eurasian reed warbler, it immediately piqued my interest because I don't ever recall hearing of them overwintering before, though with climate change perhaps it does occasionally happen in southern England these days. So it was worth a look anyway I thought, but I also wanted to see it for insurance purposes.... it wouldn't be the first time that a species on such an unusual date was later re-identified from photographs as something much rarer, and thankfully so it proved once again.

I decided to have a look for the bird on Monday, if nothing else it was a bit different to my usual walk around Pennington Flash. I arrived at about 9:30am to find two birders had got there before me and they provided me with two pieces of contrasting news; the first was that the bird had not been seen so far today and the second, it was now considered to be a Blyth's reed warbler, identified from photos and video taken the day before. So my hunch had proven correct, but the main part of my plan was that I should see the warbler which was no closer to happening...... the bird wasn't seen all day Monday.

The weather forecast for Tuesday was pretty grim, snow or sleet showers for most of the day, occasionally heavy. It didn't sound great and the temptation was to stay indoors, especially following the no-show the day before. However I decided that it was worth another look for what would be a new bird for me and I arrived on site at 10:15am, again joining up with two other birders. Today the news was better, they had just seen the bird in a patch of dense bramble. After a nervy 10 minutes without any further sightings, eventually I managed to relocate it in a different bramble patch just as the sun was breaking through the clouds. It showed very well on and off for the next 30 minutes or so and was heard calling frequently with a harsh "tack", quite unlike anything uttered by Eurasian reed warbler.

Apart from the call it's the emarginations on the primaries which help clinch the identification but seeing those was beyond me today and my photos are nowhere near good enough. However others have taken much better photos and confirmed the identification. Finally after it's brief appearance, the sun disappeared for the day and the bird shortly afterwards. A fantastic Greater Manchester tick, a fantastic inland record and a great winter record, possibly the UK's first ever overwintering Blyth's reed warbler.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Return of the yellow-legged gull

This yellow-legged gull has returned to the Pennington Flash gull roost again for the winter. Now an adult in it's 4th winter, it's returned ever year since it was a juvenile. At this time of year adult yellow-legged gulls can be very difficult to pick out when they are on the water like this. Yes they have a darker mantle than the British herring gull and usually a brighter unstreaked white head, but the northern race herring gull argentatus which is quite common at the roost in winter also has a darker mantle and after Christmas many acquire a white head. At the roost I skip past many birds which might be adult yellow-legged gulls but which could be argentatus but I just can't be sure. Yet this bird stands out like a sore thumb. It's a real cracker of a bird, small square head, thick neck, dark mantle, long wings and small mirrors. We did see it standing on a buoy briefly when it's yellow legs were clearly seen.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Returning Iceland gulls

Warrington's returning adult Iceland Gull was back today for at least its 6th winter. It usually frequents an area between Warrington College and Tesco superstore, and often you can see it flying across the A49 or sometimes it might be on a roof, though if it chooses a flat roof it can disappear out of view for long periods. Thanks to John Tymon for alerting me to it's presence today. John first saw the bird as an adult six winters ago, so it's possible that it has been returning unnoticed for a lot longer than that and it's true age is anybody's guess. Why it should keep returning to spend the winter around Warrington town centre is an even bigger mystery, I would have thought that the pickings would have been greater if it joined the throngs of gulls at a local landfill site. Still, it's a beautiful bird and a very welcome addition to the local avifauna.

Click here to see some photos of the bird from last April

John first saw the bird near Decathlon today but it wasn't there when I arrived. I parked up and walked towards the college and found the bird on the lawn in front of the college, feeding alone on worms which it brought to the surface with that strange little dance that so many species of gull perform.

In previous winters this bird has very rarely roosted at Pennington Flash, but an adult appeared in the roost for the first time this winter about eight days ago and has been seen on at least one other occasion since then and may well be the same bird.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Walking in the Lakes

Grasmere, Cumbria
I think that the official term is phased. That's me at the moment. Since I came back from my second trip to Australia, birding in the UK holds no interest to me. Bird guides is uninstalled on my phone and the only news I get is from twitter and the Manchester Birding Forum. Even these I hardly look at. I've not even ventured half a mile down the road to Pennington Flash since I got back, except for one gull roost visit. I have no interest in what might be on my doorstep.

On the otherhand I have been walking in Cumbria on several occasions with Elaine, and how refreshing it is to not take the binoculars or camera, not to care what birds I might be missing and simply enjoy the views....

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