Monday, 25 May 2020

An art gallery full of empty frames.


It may have been a beautiful end to the day at Pennington Flash but for me it was totally depressing. There is no place for wildlife at the flash these days, two more people on the spit today in front of Horrock's hide and in the center of the nature reserve, this is a daily occurrence now. No apparent reason for them to be there, probably just went for a walk but don't tell me that they didn't realise they shouldn't be there, they had to walk past a hide, a "nature reserve please keep out" sign, climb over a fence and wade across a moat to get there. Every other day there are fishermen in Ramsdales, often canoes in Ramsdales, photographers on the spit, photographers crammed together trying to photograph kingfisher nests.  Hides get burnt down, East bay and Lapwing hide the most recent. The car park was so full this afternoon that it was closed to any more cars because they couldn't fit in, I'd love to know how much social distancing was going on but I didn't dare go near the place.

Dog walkers allowing not just one, but two or three dogs to be off the lead and to crash through habitat such as reed beds, scrub and grasslands where skylarks attempt but fail to breed every year. But don't dare ask the owners to control their dogs even if they jump up and bark at you, you're liable to get a mouthful of insults. Occasional fun fairs, iron man competitions, weekly running groups, yachts, organised swimmers going back and too across the flash until 8pm at least last night and from at least 7:30am this morning.

There's no respite, no time or space for wildlife and if wildlife does dare to show its face humans seem to go out of their way to destroy it, either directly or indirectly through selfish arrogance or self entitlement. It's a miracle there is any wildlife at the place. People tell me it does their mental health good to connect with nature, it doesn't do my mental health good, every time I go out I'm reminded of how badly we as a species have failed, how badly we trash everything we touch, how much we've already destroyed and lost, how little there is left and how little most people care. If all you know about are mallards, swans and Canada geese then yes they may appear to be thriving, but if you want to see anything else then you're already very nearly too late.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Pennington Flash, 1st summer Arctic tern 'portlandica'

Today I managed to connect with three of the 11 arctic terns which were on the flash this morning. Of particular interest, one of the three was a 1st summer bird which is a plumage rarely seen in UK since juvenile arctic terns usually head south to the southern hemisphere for their first winter and don't return until they are adults. At one time it was considered so unusual that they were thought to be a seperate species and were given the scientific name Sterna portlandica. Unlike the pristine adults with which it was associating, the 1st summer had a dark carpel patches and although it had a black cap, it's forehead was speckled white.

The only other time I have seen this plumage was when I found a dead bird on Anglesey in 2016. 

Photo: 1st summer 'portlandica' arctic tern
 Anglesey 2016.


Friday, 22 May 2020

Lowton Bird Observatory, Day 60


Lots of bat activity last night, apparently four species recorded over the garden, with common pipistrelle recorded 22 times, soprano pipistrelle twice, noctule four times and this bat which Echo meter keeps calling Nathusius' pipistrelle recorded once. I'm getting this species suggested pretty consistently now, but I'm a bit doubtful given the bats frequency (khz). It's always around 42khz but I thought Nathusius' pip wasn't meant to go over 40khz. Echo meter seems pretty convinced and there is a cluster of records from the Liverpool / Manchester, but I don't think I'll truly believe it until I get one under 40khz.


Pennington Flash


The flash has gone a bit quiet at the moment, this morning I only saw one common tern and although it's a good time of year for wader passage it just never seems to happen at the flash, just the occasional good wader. However highlight today was a grasshopper warbler reeling at the western end. This was in exactly the same bush as one reeled for a few days back in April, but that bird was last heard on 15th April. Even so I guess it's the same bird. Also today three sedge warblers singing.


Thursday, 21 May 2020

Redshank


Great to see a family party of redshank locally today, two adults and four chicks. The light was poor but I'm quite happy with this photo.

Lowton Bird Observatory, Day 59 - A trio of pipistrelles?

Photo: Nathusius' pipistrelle spectrogram.

Encouraged by a beautiful day yesterday I decided to do a bit of bating last night and had the detector out. Most excitingly, I recorded two fly pasts of what Echo meter suggests is Nathusius' pipistrelle, along with the usual common and soprano pipistrelles and at least one noctule. Trouble is I'm not convinced that Echo meter is correct, bat detectors tend to give just an indication of the species rather than identify them with complete certainty. With common and soprano pipistrelle that's reasonably straight forward as it is with noctule, but other species are more difficult. Nathusius' pipistrelle usually broadcasts between 35-40khz, my bat is more like 42khz and until I get a recording under 40khz I don't think I'll ever be completely convinced.

Nathusius' pipistrelle was once thought of as a vagrant to the UK but is now considered a migrant species. This is not just a new species for the garden, it's one I've never recorded anywhere before.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Back to the Cumbrian coast again


Another glorious day on the Cumbrian coast, thank goodness for this job, it really does relieve lock down cabin fever. It's getting quieter now as it does in most places at this time of year as the breeding season gets into full swing.


First up today, a wonderful singing and displaying stonechat. Not a particularly rare bird but although the call is well known the song is not something I hear a lot of so great to hear it today, and even better to see the bird displaying. Nearby both common and lesser whitethroat were singing from the gorse, and a sedge warbler somewhere in the depths of the scrub.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

The easing of lockdown restrictions. Is it the green light?

Photo: Purple heron, Lightshaw Flash
 10th April 2020
The way I look at it is this, if I get the virus today it's just as bad as it would have been if I had got it two months ago. Just because some lockdown measures are starting to be lifted does not mean that the virus will affect me in a different way or that it's any less potent. It's exactly the same virus. The only things that have changed are that there MAY be less of it around in the community which MIGHT mean I'm less likely to come into contact with it and if I do come into contact with it, the NHS MAY be in a better position to help me. But they're both big gambles which I won't be taking. Actually the NHS has not been overwhelmed so far, yet even so around 30,000 people in NHS care have already died. There's only so much the NHS can do for you, even when ICU beds are free and they have the best equipment available. Therefore I'll be doing my very best to keep my distance from anybody outside my household for a long time yet, not only for my sake, but for the sake of my family, friends and everybody I come into contact with, as well as front line workers who are putting their own health at risk.

That doesn't mean I won't be going outside, I've been walking around Pennington Flash virtually everyday since lockdown began for exercise, for the sake of my mental health and because it's my nearest open space. However I take precautions. I walk there early morning when there are less people around and if I see people coming towards me along narrow footpaths I either walk the other way or go deep into the woods until they have past. I don't just keep walking towards them as most seem to do. I always assume that people coming towards me have the virus and have no intention of socially distancing. So I avoid them. In the coming weeks I may well go a little further afield but I will always try to avoid people.

As I understand it, the new guidance is that you can now drive to anywhere in England and it doesn't need to be just for exercise it can be for other reasons such as hobbies so long as you can socially distance and so long as you can get home at night. You can't stay overnight anywhere and that includes camping and sleeping in the car. You can't travel by car with somebody from outside your household because you're only supposed to meet people outdoors and you're supposed to be 2m apart. So for instance there is no law or even guidance that says that birders can't twitch a bird on the east coast, that's up to them, but they are supposed to be socially distancing. Will they travel alone in vehicles, can they get there and back safely in a day, will they stand at least 2m apart when looking for the bird, will they make sure that they don't meet more than one person from outside their household, what happens if the viewing area is small, what happens if the bird is skulking and only shows once every couple of hours, have they considered the length of time they are likely to be in close proximity to other people, have they considered viral load, have they considered the implications of having to stop at a service station or breaking down or having an accident? Hopefully yes to all of these. Personally I won't be going anywhere near a twitch for a long time yet, I don't care what the bird is.

Unfortunately, as I have experienced myself this week, some birders put seeing and ticking a bird over and above any of the considerations I have discussed above. Some people think that their right to be told about a bird and to see a bird is greater than my right to try to protect the lives of others including my family and front line workers. Photographers are the same, even at the height of the most severe restrictions back in April, when driving was only allowed for shopping, work and medical reasons, there was a gathering of photographers from all over the north west to see the osprey on the motorway bridge at Brockholes. For an osprey! I've found two myself just this year, even while I've been in lockdown. This blatant disregard by some birders and photographers for COVID-19 and social distancing guidance is one of the reasons why I'll be avoiding all gatherings of birders for a long time to come. I don't care if they open the hides at Pennington Flash, I'll stand outside the hide in pouring rain before I'll go in with 20 others. It's also the reason why I'll be carefully considering whether or not to put news out about any rarities, county or national, which I might find in the coming weeks.

None of this is meant as a criticism of the way others behave, that's up to them, but I'm scared of this virus and it's possible impact on myself and my family and wider society. We're a long way off being through this and large gatherings of people paying lip service to social distancing does not sound a good place to be to me.

At the start of this pandemic, the New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern gave some good advice to her fellow New Zealanders when she said "Act like you have the virus".  As somebody else said in a less polite way: "Apply common sense & don't be a d*ck.". #COVID-19 #StayHomeSaveLives #SaveOurNHS.

Pennington Flash

Cuckoo 1 calling
Garden warbler 2 singing Tom Edmondson hide and east bay
Cetti's warbler 4 singing Ramsdales, east bay, west end, Sorrowcow
Reed warbler 6 singing inc. west end
Common tern 3

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Pennington Flash

Garden warbler 1 singing east bay
Common tern 2
Swift 50
Shelduck 3
Ringed plover 1 yacht club


Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Another day on the coast

Photo: Eiders.

Another day's work today and it was back to the Cumbrian coast. It was a fair bit quieter than it has been of late, with a moderate north westerly making it feel really chilly. Still, nice to get out of the house and see some different scenery. A lesser whitethroat was singing in a patch of gorse and about 11 eiders put on a fine show on the water below me. Waders were a bit sparse, about 500 dunlin, 80 ringed plover, 200 oystercatchers and a single whimbrel.

Whimbrel with oystercatchers.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

The flash in lockdown

Restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in Pennington Flash being effectively closed to visitors from 24th March 2020 to 12th May 2020. The main entrance was fenced off and the Slag Lane car park closed and visitors discouraged from travelling to the flash. However I live just a 5 minute walk from the place and it is the nearest open space for my daily exercise walk. So most days I had an early morning walk to the flash and stopped briefly at several viewing points along the way in order to record whatever birds and other wildlife might be using the flash during this unique and unprecedented time with very little human disturbance.

Along with the Manchester Bird Forum I took took the decision not to make public any sightings from the flash during this period of lockdown. I hope that readers of the blog will understand and accept this decision. I didn't want to be seen to be encouraging people to drive to the flash at a time when the police were regularly at the entrance turning away people who had traveled by car.

However new advice given by the government on 10th May 2020 means that people can now drive to wherever they like in England in order to take exercise and do other pursuits so presumably that will include the flash. This advice may change in the future and obviously it's up to individuals to make sure that they socially distance and behave responsibly, but in the light of the new advice I can see no reason to not post my sightings from the flash. I make no guarantees that any car parks will be open and I'll be amazed if the hides open any time soon, that's up to Wigan Council!

This blog post is a summary of birds which I saw at the flash during this period. Other birders were also visiting the flash at the time but their records are not included here. 
 

Monday, 11 May 2020

Pennington Flash


Dunlin 1
Sedge warbler 1 singing east bay
Cetti's warbler 2 singing
Redshank 1
Shelduck 1
Swift 80
House Martin 300
Sand martin 80
Swallow 100
Common sandpiper 1
Common tern 2

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Pennington Flash


Hobby 1 over Mossley hall farm
Cuckoo 1 calling
Dunlin 1
Greylag 6
Swift 500
House Martin 100
Sand martin 100
Swallow 100
Coal tit 1
Shelduck 2
Common sandpiper 1
Common tern 4
Little ringed plover 3
Garden warbler 1 singing Tom Edmondson hide
Teal 1 male Ramsdales
Kingfisher 1 spit
Cetti's warbler 4 singing males east end, Westleigh brook, Ramsdales, west end
Kestrel 1 Ruck
Sedge warbler 2 singing males west end

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Lowton Bird Observatory, Day 47


A beautiful day in the garden, the highlight being two house martins which were new for the lockdown garden list and brings the total since lockdown began on 24th March to 51 species. Other highlights today, two rooks, two coal tits, several swift, grey heron and a robin which is making me dizzy going round and round the garden. Obviously feeding young somewhere! Still waiting for a honey buzzard.

About a week ago I added skylark to the list with a bird singing distantly. I've seen these from the garden on passage in the past but this was the first singing bird.


Pennington Flash


Cetti's warbler 7 singing males Cormorant hide, Sorrowcow pond, west end, Ramsdales, Tom Edmondson hide, east bay, Westleigh brook.
Common tern 4
Common sandpiper 1 on the spit.
Sedge warbler 4 singing males, three at the west end, one at Sorrowcow pond.
Swallow 3
Whitethroat 8 singing males
Swift 10
Greylag 6
Garden warbler 1 singing male Tom Edmondson hide




Friday, 8 May 2020

Lowton Bird Observatory, Day 46

Photo: Common pipistrelle spectrogram.
Our resident bat has been flying around for a few weeks now. We see it most evenings while we are watching the telly shortly after sunset flying in front of the French doors and around the garden. To be honest it's usually a good deal more entertaining than the telly and sometimes it's joined by a second bat and we often have them swirling around together for 30 minutes or so. Tonight I decided to get the bat detector out and have a go at identifying it to species and see what else is flying around in the garden after dark.

There are around 17 species of bat in the UK and they all occupy different niches in the ecosystem. Some bats like open spaces, others like woodland and a few like lakes and marshes. Different species also fly at different times, some at sunset and some well after dark.

It's well known that bats use echolocation to find their prey which basically means that they send out sound waves which bounce back to them when they hit their target and this guides the bat to its prey. Species echolocate at different frequencies and these can be picked up by bat detectors which then use this information to identify the species in the form of a spectrogram.

Lightshaw Flash

Cuckoo 1 calling
Lesser whitethroat 1 singing next to the canal
Common tern 3
Cetti's warbler 1 singing
Shelduck 2
Greylag 6
Shoveler 4

Pennington Flash

Sedge warbler 2 singing
Common tern 4
Cetti's warbler 1 singing west end


Thursday, 7 May 2020

Pennington Flash

Black-tailed godwit 1 on the spit scrape.
Common sandpiper 1 spit
Common tern 4
Swallow 3
Swift 50
Sedge warbler 2 singing
Rook 1 over Mossley Hall Farm
Greylag 3
Redshank 2
Mistle thrush 4 Ruck, golf course and near Bunting hide.
Kingfisher 1 Ramsdales
Shelduck 1
Garden warbler 2 singing behind Lapwing hide
Grey wagtail 1 near Horrock's hide

Amazingly rook is a new species for me at the Flash. Who would have thought that it would take me 40 years and I would see 173 species before rook at the Flash? Either I must have just not bothered recording them or perhaps I didn't look properly at medium sized black birds flying over and dismissed them as crows. For a large part of that 40 years I wasn't interested in keeping a flash list so I guess that I probably just didn't bother.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Pennington Flash

Whimbrel 1 heard flying over
Cetti's warbler 7 singing  Cormorant hide, Sorrowcow, west end, Ramsdales, Tom Edmondson, east bay, Westleigh brook
Swift 200
Common tern 7
Common Sandpiper 2 on the spit
Sedge warbler 3 singing
Whitethroat 8 singing
Greylag 3
Redshank 1
Great spotted woodpecker 2 east bay
Garden warbler 1 east bay


Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Pennington Flash

Mediterranean gull 2 adults flew over calling
Swift 100
House Martin 30
Sand martin 80
Swallow 30
Common tern 9
Greylag 3
Cetti's warbler 4 singing males Sorrowcow, Ramsdales, Tom Edmondson, east bay
Common sandpiper 2
Sedge warbler 2 singing males western end
Shelduck 2
Whitethroat 6 singing males
Garden warbler 1 singing male
Goldeneye 1 male


Monday, 4 May 2020

Pennington Flash

Swift 30
Common tern 5
Sedge warbler 3 singing males
Buzzard 1
Cetti's warbler  5 singing males western end, Ramsdales, Tom Edmondson hide, Westleigh brook, east bay
Bullfinch 2
Goldeneye 1 male
Common sandpiper 1
Grasshopper warbler 1 reeling behind Lapwing hide
Garden warbler 1 singing east bay


Sunday, 3 May 2020

Pennington Flash


Common sandpiper 1 at the yacht club
Common tern 5
Grey wagtail 1 male at the yacht club
Shoveler 2
Sedge warbler 3 inc. 1 at Sorrowcow pond
Lesser whitethroat 1 at western end
Whitethroat 2 singing males
Cetti's warbler 2 singing males Sorrowcow and Hey Brook bridge
Goldeneye 1 male

Saturday, 2 May 2020

King Penguin accepted as 6th record for Australia (BARC)


Take a bow king penguin!  It was fairly inevitable but still nice to get news today that the king penguin I saw on Bruny Island, Tasmania earlier in the year with Elaine has been accepted by Birdlife Australia and is just the 6th record for the country away from the breeding colonies on the sub-antarctic Macquarie and Heard Islands which are around 1500km away. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not sure how I'll ever find a better bird than a vagrant king penguin. 1500km is a long way from home for a flightless bird.


Pennington Flash

Photo: Garden warbler
Lesser whitethroat 1 singing west end
White wagtail 1 on the spit
Greenshank 1 Ramsdales then spit
Grasshopper warbler 1 reeling behind Lapwing hide.
Garden warbler 1 singing on the Ruck
Cetti's warbler 5 singing Sorrowcow, Hey brook, Ramsdales, Westleigh brook, east bay
Swallow 20
Sand martin 200
Common tern 4
House martin 30
Sedge warbler 5 singing all west end except 1 behind Lapwing hide.
Shelduck 1
Whitethroat 5 singing
Reed warbler 5 singing
Common sandpiper 1
Redshank 1
Swift 30



Friday, 1 May 2020

Pennington Flash


Greenshank 2 on the Spit
Wheatear 1 male on the Ruck
Common sandpiper 3
Redshank 1
Sedge warbler 2
Shelduck 1
Whitethroat 5
Goldeneye 1 male
Common tern 8
Reed warbler 5 singing
Garden warbler 1  singing on the Ruck
Cetti's warbler 4 singing males at Sorrowcow, Ramsdales, Westleigh brook and east bay
Grasshopper warbler 1 back of Ramsdales
Sand martin 300
House martin 50
Swallow 70
Swift 50

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