Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Two American Golden Plovers, Lunt

Shortly after I left Lunt on Sunday after having seen the adult American Golden Plover, it was amazingly joined by a second bird! I called in today on my way home from work and both were present again. A bit distant but great to see never the less.

Going off the extent of the black on the face I would say that the left hand bird is the first bird and the one I saw on Sunday, however the black bars on the flanks of the right hand bird look very similar to a photo I took on Sunday before the second bird dropped in.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

American Golden Plover, Lunt

Nice to see a cracking adult summer plumage American golden plover at Lunt today. I saw the adult at Marshside about a week later than this last year and that was in partial summer plumage but it wasn't as nice as this bird. All the same, I wonder if this might be the same individual? All of the other American golden plovers I have seen have been juveniles, which is ironic because all of the Pacific golden plovers I have seen (in the UK) have been summer plumage adults.

Apparently after I had left it was joined by a second bird and then both flew off north and so far they have not been seen again. However it was thought to have gone last night but it returned, and today I watched it fly off high to the west until it was little more than a dot and I'd almost given up on it it, but it turned and came back and landed again on pump house pool, so it may yet return.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Pied wheatear upgraded to Eastern black-eared, Fluke Hall

I called in at Fluke Hall near Pilling last Tuesday (3rd) with Ray for a look at the female wheatear which had been present for a few days. It was initially identified as an eastern black-eared wheatear which would be a new UK tick for me, but was then re-identified as a pied wheatear, apparently due to the pale fringes to the mantle feathers. Then somebody mentioned that they hybridise freely in eastern Europe where their ranges overlap so that threw another spanner in the works. A sample of it's DNA was collected in the form of a faeces and was sent away for analysis, but it turns out that faeces have only a limited value for extracting DNA and the species are so similar anyway that DNA might not be conclusive, plus the hybrid potential makes it even more difficult. Confused, yep well me too.

However after being present and showing well at point blank range for 10 days allowing loads of excellent photos to be taken, it turns out that after all of the confusion it can actually be identified from a photograph, though unsurprisingly not one of mine. There are photos on the web which show that some of its mantle feathers have a white base which apparently proves that it is eastern black-eared because pied never shows this feature.

Great news for me, it brings my UK total to 432 and means that I had a UK tick on three consecutive days last week, western Bonelli's warbler (Lands End), brown booby (Lizard) and eastern black-eared wheatear (Fluke Hall), though none of these birds were full lifers.

Exactly how the white base to the mantle feathers rules out a hybrid especially since the bird apparently has other features which suggest pied wheatear (e.g. remember the pale fringes to mantle feathers??) is way beyond me, but perhaps I shouldn't worry about that. Now we just have to see if the wise people at the BBRC accept the record.

Friday, 6 September 2019

The ebb and flow of tides on the North Wirral coast

Where's the year gone? It's Leach's petrel time already. This evening I adopted a different approach to seeing these enigmatic seabirds, instead of standing for hours in one spot looking through a shaky telescope, I went for a pleasant evening stroll from Leasowe lighthouse to the Gunsite car park with just my binoculars, and the story behind it is a tale of two tides.

I suffer from high levels of anxiety which at times can be quite disabling and can lead to stress and ultimately depression. The problem is that the symptoms of anxiety can lead me to make poor decisions. I've given up jobs in the past because of it, literally just walked out. It can also be positive though, I probably wouldn't be doing the job and leading the lifestyle that I have today if it wasn't for anxiety driving me on.

Anyway back to this evening. I started off at New Brighton, standing on the beach sheltered behind Perch Rock. Reports were coming in of petrels all around Liverpool Bay, from Blackpool to Llandudno and many points in between. I'd been there alone for about half an hour and still hadn't seen a petrel or any other seabird, but I told myself that logically it was only a matter of time. However logic doesn't always come into it. Road signs were going up all along the promenade informing me that there was a rally this evening and that I must move my car by 17:00 or risk it being towed away. High tide was 17:30 so I knew that I'd have to go elsewhere eventually. Then there was the place I was standing. I was standing there because it was a sheltered spot, but it's a beach and eventually the tide will probably force me to move. And being behind Perch Rock meant that I couldn't see what was on the otherside. Perhaps there were all sorts of birds going past which I couldn't see. I was aware of two high tides approaching, one physical and in the real world, the other metaphorical and in my mind. Anxiety levels were kicking in.....

Now if I'd been with somebody else I would probably have stuck it out, but being alone with my thoughts convinced me that it was time to move on. I drove down the promenade to the first lifeguard lookout and sheltered behind that for a while. However I was in the same situation that I'd been in at Perch Rock except that I wasn't on the beach. A guy in hi-viz put up a sign right next to me as if to further emphasis the need to move my car at 17:00. Another birder carrying just binoculars came up to me and asked me what I had seen. "Not much" was my answer. He had just had a walk along the beach and seen three Leach's Petrels on the tideline at point blank range 15 minutes before I got there, but in his words "it's all gone quiet now". Why did I bother coming here? I could have been at home now with my feet up enjoying a cup of tea and listening to Test Match Special, instead of which I'm an hours drive from home (through Liverpool in rush hour), I'm cold, my back's aching, my scopes shaking in the wind and I'm getting hungry. I'm just not enjoying this. Both tides had now covered the beach and there were dark clouds overhead. Stress starting to overflow and the first signs of depression kicking in........

I moved again, this time I was heading for Leasowe gunsite car park. Unfortunately I missed the turning and ended up at the lighthouse car park. This was the final straw and a big wave came over me. "F*!# it I'm going home!". I'm referring to a wave of depression of course, and I call it a wave and not a cloud because clouds tend to float over and stay longer and the effect is gradual, whereas waves arise suddenly and wash over you and are gone just as quickly as they came. You can either emerge from the soaking feeling strong and immovable or you can lose your feet and be sent hurtling into the rocks. When I crash into the rocks, that's when I make poor decisions.

So what's it to be? Go home annoyed and depressed and spend the night miserable and feeling sorry for myself or stay and try to get something out of the evening? But I still had the physical ailments, the cold, the aching back and I was hungry, plus there is nowhere to shelter from the wind at the lighthouse and my scope would be shaking and the views would be poor at best. I knew that in my current frame of mind I wouldn't last long. Then a chink of light made me pause and stopped me starting the engine to leave. A compromise came to my mind.

Ditch the scope, forget about it. Go for a walk from the lighthouse to the gunsite about 1.5 miles to the east. If that other guy could see three petrels at point blank range on the tideline, why not me? So that's what I did. I had a pleasant evening stroll along the beach and managed to see three petrels really close in, one coming within 3m of me. These are wonderful birds and we are so lucky to see them like this in the north west. And as each petrel went past both tides receded a little more. High tide was now behind me and the waves had eased and parts of the beach were emerging and the sun was coming out. Anxiety levels were almost non-existant, my aching back which is partly caused by anxiety was not aching anymore, I wasn't cold due to the walk and I'd forgotten that I was hungry.

It could have been a different story of course, if I hadn't seen any petrels what then? Well that would have been disappointing, but just like the real tide the metaphorical tide always recedes. I would still have had a nice stroll on the beach, got some exercise and would not have had the physical discomfort I had earlier. I would still have made something of the evening. Failure and disappointment do not drive my anxiety, if they did I wouldn't be able to twitch a booby in Cornwall. My anxiety is driven by far more subtle, powerful and devious demons than that, and yes high tide will approach again and soon, but there is always a chink of light and most of the time I manage to find it.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Chasing boobies in Cornwall

Photo: Brown Booby, Kynance Cove, the Lizard.
News of a brown booby in Cornwall earlier in the week which was a first for Britain piqued my interest but unfortunately (depending on your point of view) when news of the bird first broke I was about to board a plane to Inverness and then drive over to Applecross in northern Scotland for work, a good 780 miles from where the booby had been seen. I had no choice therefore but to forget about it for a few days, by which time I reasoned that it would surely be gone.

I wasn't too concerned at this point because reports suggested that the bird was a bit hit and miss, occasionally it would be seen really well, but often it was distant and the multitude of immature gannet plumages seemed to be causing more than a little confusion. Positive reports were often being overturned when the observers had time to reconsider, and conversely there were also negative reports turning positive as other observers, probably desperate, tired and not wanting to admit defeat, pieced together bits of distant sightings and adopted the "what else could it have been?" attitude.

Ray and Dave tried for it on Wednesday while I was stumbling around in a boulder field looking for ptarmigan but unfortunately they didn't see it. However on Saturday it showed better than ever and we took the decision to try again, and this time I was able to go with them. We set off from home at 10pm on Saturday evening and drove through the night, arriving at Gwithian Towans beach on St Ives Bay at 5:30am on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

A day at Applecross

Photo: Black-throated divers in Applecross Bay.
A quick day visit to Applecross for work today, but I was able to get in at least some birding in at either end of the day. Early morning it was dull and drizzly, especially at the top of the Bealach mountain pass but by evening it had cleared up quite nicely and the views over Skye especially were simply stunning. I spent about three hours in the evening wandering over boulder fields on Sgurr a'Chaorchain and had to be content with the views since the ptarmigan were not for showing, but still, not a bad way to spend the evening. On the way back to my hotel at Achnasheen I encountered an otter crossing the road.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Southern Hawker

Southern Hawker in Oxfordshire today.

The next two photos are a mature male southern hawker at Hope Carr in early September.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

A shield bug on the window

It's not often that I post something just because I love the photo, but this is one of those occasions. This shield bug landed on the outside of our window this morning. It almost looks as though it's stuck to the sky but it's shadow gives it away, the blue is the reflection of the sky in the glass.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Nightjar and Buff-breasted sandpiper, Frampton Marsh

Another amazing day at Frampton Marsh. An adult buff-breasted sandpiper was found this morning but proved very elusive all day. The problem with it was that it spent most of its time out in the middle of that grassland in the background of the photo rather than in amongst the flock of waders in the foreground. Even when it occasionally came out onto the mud it was usually around the edges rather than the open mud, so it was quite difficult to pin down and after a brief show it would frustratingly disappear behind some tall grass or rush and not be seen again for a couple of hours. Add to that the relative lack of birders present combined with the chilly strong winds which made viewing quite difficult and very uncomfortable and you can see why it was so elusive. Finally though I caught up with it in the evening when the wind had dropped a bit and saw it reasonably well. Like the commoner pectoral sandpiper, buff-breasted sandpipers are great birds and always exciting and a pleasure to see.

The highlight of the day for me though was something  which I really didn't expect and was, as somebody commented when I told them the story, birding gold. Just as I was arriving at the reserve this evening, I was about 50m from the reception hide when I saw a sparrowhawk chasing something down the road towards me. The bird it was chasing was about the same size as the sparrowhawk, and looked a bit like a kestrel but despite the speed at which the birds were flying  it was at times almost floating like a paper plane on stiff V shaped wings, a really strange way of escaping a pursuing predator I thought.  I instantly knew what it was and I slammed the breaks on, grabbed my binoculars as the pair continued towards me and flew past the car no more than 3m away. I couldn't believe it, it was a female nightjar! An absolutely incredible sighting. Whether or not the nightjar escaped the sparrowhawk I couldn't say because they disappeared behind the hedge, but actually it's strange manner of flight may have helped because it was so unpredictable and allowed it to change direction quickly. The sparrowhawk certainly didn't seem to be gaining on the bird and perhaps the odd flight pattern put doubt in the hawks mind as to what exactly this was that it was chasing!

Despite nightjars being nocturnal, sparrowhawks are listed amongst their potential predators so I guess that they must occasionally accidentally flush them from daytime roosts, especially when the nightjars are on migration as this bird undoubtedly was.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

A few days at Frampton Marsh

Another week working in Lincolnshire, and most of my evenings and any other spare time I have is spent at nearby Frampton Marsh, just seven miles down the road from my hotel. Lots of waders still around, though not the numbers of a week or two ago.  Even so this week I've recorded 20 species of wader, plus spoonbill (10), black-necked grebe and turtle dove. There's a decent passage of yellow wagtails at the moment with at least 30 on the sea wall and nearby saltmarsh, and there are hundreds of sand martins over the reserve.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Little Bustard, Mickletown Ings

Today I finally succumbed to the lure of a little bustard in the UK. I'd resisted the temptation to twitch the New Years Day bird near Bridlington a few years back for reasons I can't remember, but probably because I was under the influence at the time, and I dismissed all thought of travelling to see a male at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire earlier this year because I didn't want to see just a distant head in the long grass through a shimmering heat haze. Other opportunities have been few and far between, often one day birds in remote corners of the UK and little bustard remained a bird which was high on my most wanted list. Yesterdays news of a summer plumage adult at Mickletown Ings near Castleford was just too much to resist.

It's a bird I've seen well in Portugal and not so well in Spain and it's always a major target species when I visit those countries, but it's eluded my British list until today. Yes it would involve an after work drive of 90 minutes in the direction of home and then the same back to Boston where I am based this week, but it was either that or go back for another evening at Frampton Marsh or Freiston Shore. There's always tomorrow for those places I told myself and off I went, 40 miles on the A17 and then 50 miles on the A1 and all of the time knowing that I would have to do the same return journey later. Great stuff....

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Freiston and Frampton sandpiper fest

Just amazing numbers of waders on the Wash at the moment, with Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore leading the way. Headliners are at least four, probably five white-rumped sandpipers between Snettisham in Norfolk and Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore in Lincolnshire, plus the long staying long-billed dowitcher at Frampton which is now in summer plumage. Probably more impressive though are the unprecedented numbers of wood sandpipers, with 21 on the reservoir at Freiston Shore and at least 19 at Frampton Marsh. I've never seen so many in the UK, not even close to this number. This week in total I've seen 26 species of wader between Freiston Shore and Frampton Marsh and that doesn't include non-waders such as spoonbill (11), great white egret (1) and little egret.

Monday, 5 August 2019

X2VA update

In the middle of July I posted a photo of a black-headed gull at Hope Carr with a black leg ring. Today I got a few more details about the gull from Hendrick Trapp, a German ringer. Here's what he had to say:

[It was ringed] as a breeder in the Western Baltic Sea some weeks ago on the island called Riether Werder. [This] is one of the largest colonies of [Black-headed gull] in Germany: just below 10.000 pairs in 2019.

Here are the ringing details: * Black X2VA + metal ring Hiddensee IA 190 780 adult, banded in a breeding colony.

RIETHER WERDER, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, North-Eastern Germany 53°42'00" N, 014°16'00" E

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Caspian Gull, Bolton

This magnificent 4th calendar year Caspian gull was at Cutacre Country Park today, landing on the fence alongside Kennys Waste Management centre and occasionally roosting on land on the nearby country park. It has a really impressive looking bill, if anything perhaps a bit too impressive for Caspian gull and a small head with a small, dark beady eye. It's also quite long legged, slim and long winged. I guess that we'll never know for sure how pure these birds are since they do hybridise with herring gulls, particularly in Germany which is I think about the nearest breeding site and from which many birds which visit the UK are known to originate, but this bird ticks all of the boxes for me. I should mention that there was a Caspian gull at Cutacre on Monday but this is apparently not the same bird and I can't comment on it's identity having not seen it for myself.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Broad-leaved Hellobrine, Pennington Flash

A couple of weeks ago I found a few broad-leaved helleborine growing at the Slag Lane end of the Flash and finally now they're in full flower. The first I have seen here.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

St Helens Bird Report 2006

In 2006 as secretary of the St Helens Wildlife Recording Group I collated over 21,000 bird records from the borough of St Helens submitted by 30 observers and produced the 2006 St Helens Bird Report. It was a mammoth effort by all concerned with records received from 362 days in the year of 153 species from 144 locations. As I wrote in the report, whilst there is always room for improvement, it’s difficult to imagine how a landlocked, industrialised area with no major bird reserves could received much more coverage.

I distributed it to many of the people who had submitted records plus a few others including the Lancashire Bird Recorder, but generally it just sits on my computer gathering digital dust. However I've recently found a way of publishing it on my blog which makes it far more accessible and I thought that I would publish it here. Obviously it's a bit out of date now but it may at least be of interest as a snapshot of how things were all those years ago. With Prescot Reservoirs and Eccleston Mere now more or less out of bounds to birders, we may never see the like of 2006 again.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Glen Coe and Rannoch Moor

In many respects the first hour or two of the journey home from Strontian was possibly the most scenically stunning part of the whole week. The first part of the journey took me along the northern shore of Loch Linnhe to the Corran ferry, a five minute crossing but which cuts out many miles of torturous roads, beautiful no doubt, but not when you already have a seven hour drive in front of you. I then crossed the bridge at North Ballachulish and approached Glen Coe....

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Strontian hybrid - Possibly

After an enjoyable day on Ardnamurchan I made my way back to the village of Strontian and checked in for the night at the Strontian Hotel. I've stayed at some beautiful places during my travels but this is surely amongst the best. What a location, what a view. However despite not booking the place myself, I hadn't arrived here by pure chance.


Photo: The telephone box at Kilmory, Ardnamurchan.
So ignoring the SatNavs advice to take the non-existent Drimnin - Kilchoan ferry I was left with two options in order to get to my job today on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. The first was to drive 11 miles to Lochaline, take the ferry to Fishnish on Mull, drive up to Tobermory and take the ferry to Kilchoan. The alternative was to  ignore the  ferries and drive through Morvern to Strontian and then across Ardnamurchan.   There didn't seem a lot in it especially when you take into account queing up for the ferries so I decided to take the latter option since I'd never been that way before.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Across to Morvern

Such was the late notice for this job that Mull was completely fully booked by the time we got round to booking accommodation and one night on Tobermory was all I could get. I ended up staying on the mainland in Drimnin estate about 11 miles from the ferry terminal at Lochaline which takes you across to Fishnish on Mull. It was a great experience though, all the better for the fact that I'd never been to Morvern before, and such a remote spot.

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