Thursday, 6 May 2021

Attempted breeding of Avocets at Lightshaw Flash, Greater Manchester

On the morning of 17th April 2021, a pair of avocets appeared at Lightshaw Flash, having been seen at nearby Bickershaw Rucks the previous evening. Following a prolonged period of dry weather, water levels at Lightshaw were as low as I have ever seen them for the time of year, with a lot of exposed mud and on the first day of their arrival I commented to a friend that it looked good as a potential breeding site, though at this point there was no expectation that they would stay more than a day or two. After all, avocets had only once previously bred in Greater Manchester, at Rumworth Lodge near Bolton in 2011 so there was no reason to believe that they would breed again in the county this year. I put out the news of the birds presence on social media and the Manchester Bird Forum and the birds were reported again by another observer later that evening.

My next visit to Lightshaw was on 19th April when there was no sign of any avocets and I just assumed that they had been passing through and that was the last we would see of them. To my surprise however, two days later on the 21st, the pair were back. Now I was a bit more cautious. I contacted the county recorder and asked his advice regarding publicising these birds. At this stage though there was still no suggestion that they would breed and we agreed that unless I saw specific breeding behaviour, there was no need to suppress the presence of the birds. Thirty minutes later I'd seen them mating and preparing a scrape! A news blackout from Lightshaw now ensued.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Dotterel on the Great Orme

The Great Orme is my favourite place in the World and Llandudno is the place I would most like to live, more than any other place that I have ever been to. I do recognise that in achieving it's lofty status, the Orme has probably been helped by a big dose of nostalgia, memories of days gone by, right from my earliest childhood. 

I've seen lots of great birds here, but in nearly 50 years birding I have always wanted to see Dotterel on the Great Orme, but they've always eluded me for various reasons, until today. Two females were on the Orme yesterday but the weather was shocking, with strong winds and battering hailstone. I decided to risk it and leave it until today when there was a much better forecast. After all, when you're hoping to finally find the Holy Grail, it would be better to find it on a beautiful day.  

I got lucky, the birds decided to stay another day and showed really well, down to 3m at times. In the warm(ish) sunshine I was able to sit and watch them in comfort for a couple of hours. Not that any of my close up camera shots were any good, all of the close up photos in this post were taken on my phone through the scope, only the more distant photos were through the camera.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Bonaparte's gull, Upton Warren

Upton Warren is a place I've been aware of since 1983 when Bill Oddie mentioned it as his local patch in his "Little Black Bird Book", yet remarkably perhaps despite birding all over the country during the following nearly 40 years, this was my first ever visit to the place.

I was working just seven miles away and virtually had to drive past it on my way to the motorway so when news broke that there was a 1st winter Bonaparte's gull on the reserve it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.  Thankfully the bird showed immediately and well as it hawked around the lake very like a little gull. This was my 8th Bonaparte's gull in the UK and my 6th in the past eight years, but only my second 1st winter bird. My first ever encounter with the species was a 1st winter bird in Cardiff almost 25 years ago to the day.

Friday, 23 April 2021

South Cumbrian coast

A fairly quiet day on the south Cumbrian coast today, five wheatears spent the day on the rocks just below me, a couple of skeins of pink-footed geese went over, a handful of Sandwich terns fished the channel and the highlight, five whimbrel were on the mudflats.

Perhaps most interesting to me though were the dog-violet species on the bank next to my perch. I'm pretty sure that most of them were heath dog-violet especially because of the yellow / pale green spurs.

Saturday, 17 April 2021

Avocets, Lightshaw Flash

Two avocets at Lightshaw this morning were both a year tick and a site tick for me. They're probably the same birds which were at Bickershaw yesterday evening. Also today at least three black-tailed godwits and two redshank. Yesterday there were still two wigeon and a couple of little ringed plover.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Under the cliffs of the Great Orme

The seabird colonies on the Great Orme are not as awe inspiring as many other places around the coast of the UK, but they are still impressive non-the-less. Today I sat myself down in my favourite quiet place on the edge of a cliff and spent an hour or so immersing myself in the sights and sounds of this wonderful place. 

There's plenty of activity at the moment. Most obvious are the kittiwakes, they are scattered across the water and their calls fill the air, one of the most beautiful of all of the gulls. Guillemots and razorbills fly to and from the cliffs with whirring wings, while fulmars are quite the opposite and glide past without a flap. Out at sea gannets are passing by now and I find their plunge diving as impressive today as it was when I saw my first in Gairloch Bay in Wester Ross, way back in the early 1980s.

Friday, 9 April 2021

White-winged scoter, Fisherrow, Musselburgh

Photo: American white-winged scoter (left)
with velvet scoter, Fisherrow, Musselburgh.

Wow what a bird! My photos may not show it but the American white-winged scoter at Musselburgh is just magnificent. On my way home from working in Scotland today I called in at Fisherrow harbour near Musselburgh for my fourth attempt to see this bird since it turned up here almost exactly three years ago. Just four days before the first covid lockdown in March last year I was here and convinced myself that I had seen it but on reviewing the sighting recently I decided to remove it from my list because there was too much doubt in my mind.
Unfortunately the bird has been very hit and miss this winter, it's been seen for a day or two but then gone missing for a week. However it had been seen two days ago and though it subsequently wasn't reported yesterday I decided that it had to be worth a look seeing as I was in the area anyway.

I started off at at Joppa just west of Musselburgh because that's where the bird had last been seen and where it seems to have been reported most often this winter. However I soon gave up here because most of the velvet scoter were away to my right and were slightly against the light on this bright sunny day, so I decided that Fisherrow would be a better bet.

I walked out to the mouth of the harbour at Fisherrow and started to scan from there. It was bitterly cold in the brisk northerly wind which also made the scope shake quite a bit, but at least the light was perfect. 

I've said before that for a west coast inland birder who is used to seeing velvet scoter either in grotty  1st winter plumage on a local reservoir or as dots miles away out to sea off the North Wales coast it's just a joy to see them so close at Musselburgh, where you can easily see the males yellow bills and the white patch behind the eye. Of course views like this are pretty vital when trying to see an American white-winged scoter for which the subtleties of bill shape and colour are key to the identification.

I was alone and at first it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, there were small groups of scoter scattered across the sea and many of them too far out for me to have any chance of picking out the star bird. Fortunately one group of about 30 velvets was a good bit closer than the rest and I decided to trust to luck and concentrate on these. Even now it wasn't easy, my hands were like blocks of ice, the wind was shaking the scope and the birds kept disappearing for periods in the swell or frustratingly kept diving before I could get a good look at them. Miraculously I spotted it straight away, a brute of a scoter, large headed and bull necked with a large white tick behind the eye, surely that was the bird, but then it was gone, all of the flock had dived. A minute later they popped up a little to the right but then dived again before I could get a good look at any. I wasn't completely convinced at this stage but I'd seen enough to make me forget the more distant birds and concentrate on this flock. 

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Spotted Sandpiper, Croy

The long staying spotted sandpiper at Croy Shore in Ayrshire is now really living up to it's name. When this bird first appeared here last autumn it was a spotless 1st winter bird, but now it looks very like an adult which is presumably what it will be when it completes its moult. 
It's such a wonderfully confiding bird and I'm so lucky to be working close by giving me the opportunity to see it. If you just sit and wait it will walk right past you within just a metre or two.

There's obviously plenty of  food on the beach with invertebrates such as this crab plentiful in the rock pools and flies and bugs in amongst the masses of washed up and rotting kelp. 

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Garganey and swarms of sand martins at Pennington Flash

The pair of garganey which commutes between Lightshaw and Pennington Flash was today at the latter and showing well just off the spit near the still closed Horrock's hide. Also today around 3000 sand martins and my first house martin of the year. Lightshaw was pretty quiet, just the now regular four black-tailed godwits.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

Common sandpiper Pennington Flash

A common sandpiper was at Pennington Flash yacht club this morning, amazingly my earliest ever in the UK by 3 days. Offshore at least 1000 sand martins. 

I continued my walk to Lightshaw but the only thing of note there was a single black-tailed godwit. No sign of the recent garganey.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Lightshaw and Pennington Flash

Photo: Marsh marigold.

Migration is in full swing now, taking advantage of the good weather and southerly / easterly winds. Several willow warblers and blackcaps were in full song at Lightshaw and Pennington Flash, and a couple of swallows were at both places. There were hundreds of sand martins over Pennington and two whooper swans passed over heading north. Highlight was a pair of garganey at Lightshaw, probably the same birds as at Pennington last week.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Buntings and violets on the Great Orme

I had an early morning visit to the Great Orme today on my way to a job in the Conwy Valley, hoping to see the lapland and snow buntings which have been present for a few days. It took a while, but eventually I found a female Lapland bunting just north of the cairn. What made it so difficult was the fact that the bird was so approachable, I only found it because I saw it fly in and land. Once on the ground it virtually disappeared and wouldn't fly even if you walked quite close by. 

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Early spring migrants at the Flash

Almost three weeks since their first arrival at Pennington Flash, today I finally caught up with sand martins for the year, with a flock of around 100 off the ruck this morning. Also today a pair of garganey and a black-tailed godwit in Ramsdales and two little ringed plover.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

The south Cumbrian coast

Six shoveler were a site tick for me in south Cumbria today, a sure sign of spring, and 18 whooper swans flew over heading north. Otherwise not much sign of migration at North Walney today.

Monday, 15 March 2021

Spotted sandpiper, Croy

Another week and another trip to Scotland for work put me within striking distance of this wonderful spotted sandpiper on the beach at Croy. It was first seen for a few days in mid-October last year, but then went missing until the end of January. I've been keeping my eye on it for a few weeks but despite numerous work trips to Scotland this year I've not really been close enough to justify it, until today.

It's an incredibly confiding bird and these were easily my best ever view of the species. I stopped to photograph the grey wagtail at the bottom of this post and suddenly saw the sandpiper walking behind it. It looked tiny amongst the rocks on the shoreline. It just kept coming closer and closer and eventually walked right past me at a distance of about 2m! In fact it didn't just rush past, it was feeding and going back and forth as it walked, not concerned by me at all.  

It's a 1st winter bird but is starting to show a few spots and presumably will be in full adult summer plumage within another few weeks. A really smart bird.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Green sandpiper at the horse paddocks

There's been a green sandpiper knocking around the horse paddocks for a while, perhaps all winter, but it's not always around and probably also spends a lot of time on the nearby brook or even some of the flooded fields or ponds further down the valley. Anyhow today I finally caught up with it on the same fields that the little ringed plover were on yesterday, though the plovers themselves were nowhere to be seen. Much less activity around the floods today, with a single shelduck about the best.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

First little ringed plover of the year at the horse paddocks

This is the first of what will probably be a series of posts from a site that I am going to refer to as the horse paddocks. It's a place which is just a 10 minute drive from home but which has a surprisingly decent selection of birds. However it's not a place which I want to attract too much attention to so I won't be giving out any more information than this as to it's exact location.

This was my second visit of the spring and it came up trumps with my first little ringed plover of the year with male and female birds present. This is my earliest ever record of the species in the UK, beating the previous record by five days.

Also today in amongst the 200 or so black-headed gulls, two cracking summer plumaged Mediterranean gulls. In summer plumage this has got to be the most beautiful of all gull species.

Yellow-legged gull at the horse paddocks

While I was looking through the gulls at the horse paddocks today, I came across this gorgeous summer plumaged large gull at the back. Clearly it's a big bird and it's far too dark to be a British herring gull Larus argentatus argenteus but it's also quite a lot paler than the nearby lesser-black backs.

In the field my immediate reaction was yellow-legged gull, and this seemed to be confirmed when I looked at the photos later and saw that the bird had yellow legs. Notice also that it's quite slender looking bird with long wings.

However this wing pattern had me confused for a while because yellow-legged gull is meant to have a black tip to primary feather p10, but in this case it appears to be completely white, which made me consider first Caspian gull and then yellow legged omissus-type herring gull L.a. argentatus. It doesn't quite fit either of those species though, either in wing pattern or jizz and further research reveals that actually some male yellow-legged gulls can have an all white tip to p10 (Olsen 2018).

Also, on closer inspection p10 does appear to have a black notch near the end and after a discussion on the facebook group Western Palearctic gulls, the general consensus is that this is indeed a yellow-legged gull, and a very smart individual at that.

Monday, 8 March 2021

Snow bunting, Winter Hill

There's been a cracking male snow bunting on Winter Hill for a couple of weeks, hanging around the trig point. It was surprisingly elusive today, but I did get some decent views of the bird. To me it looks like an adult male in winter plumage and most likely of the race P.n. insulae. My photos aren't that great, but it's a male because it has white lesser and median coverts, black tipped white primary coverts and square edged black centered scapulars. It's insulae because it has black tipped white primary coverts and in the field I saw clearly a brown rump with dark centers to the feathers.

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Dusky warblers Ainsdale

This morning I got the opportunity to take my daily walk at Ainsdale. There's been at least one dusky warbler reported from here for about 3 months, and on 15th February two were seen together. This is the first time that I have been able to get here legitimately, due to it not being particularly local, or at least not local enough for me to feel comfortable about making the journey.

I arrived at about 9am and started the tough slog across the dunes. At this time of year the footpaths are flooded often above welly height and the slacks are large, almost like lakes in places and long detours away from your planned route are often required. It's a maze of footpaths, a place where you can very easily go wrong, especially if you're looking for a tiny, wide ranging, unobtrusive and skulking bird which is a mile or more from where you parked the car with the preferred habitat of ubiquitous hawthorn scrub and in all likelihood there will be no other birders around to help, the bird having been present for three months after all.

I got lucky today though, because as I approached it's favoured area I spotted two other birders clearly looking for the bird. As I approached them, at a distance of about 50m, one of them waved to me and started pointing to my right. Almost immediately I saw it, a dark chiffchaff like bird moving secretively around from hawthorn to hawthorn but fortunately for me it was coming closer and eventually went right past me at a distance of about 3m. Jackpot! No chance of a photo, I didn't even get the camera out it was just too quick and too skulking. Then it flew about 20m and I lost it. I had heard only the faintest of calls from the bird but it had been a decent view, albeit for just a few seconds. My impression was of a bird with dark brown upperparts and dark grey underparts, with a distinct pale supercillium.

I hadn't expected to see the bird so easily and it was far too early for my appointment nearby so I hung around for an hour or so hoping for better views, but I couldn't find it again. The original two birders had gone to be replaced by two new arrivals plus Andy, the original finder of the birds and we spread out in the hope of relocating the it, but without success. In the end I decided it was time to leave and I started walking back towards the car. 

I hadn't gone more than 50m when I heard a loud, harsh, 'tek, tek, tek' in the bush right in front of me! Surely not? Yet sure enough there it was, a dusky warbler flycatching out in the open about 2m away from me. I had incredible views of it before remembering my camera. It was still very difficult to photograph, permanently on the move and always behind vegetation which the camera always seemed intent on focusing on before the bird, but I did at least manage one photo. It looked different than the earlier sighting though, paler on the ear coverts and there was more contrast between the upper and under parts. I didn't think too much about it at this stage, until the bird flew into a bush behind the other two birders who had their backs to me and who were looking in completely the wrong direction. I whistled them and turning one indicated that they were watching the dusky warbler in a bush in front of where they were standing. Yet I could see and hear one in the bush behind them! Clearly two birds were involved. My bird moved closer to the other birders but apparently didn't join up with the other bird, but for a short while they were in the same area. As far as I know this was only the second time that two birds had been confirmed here.

Then I could put off the inevitable no longer. My impending appointment beckoned and I had to face the long slog back to the car. I was well and truly knackered when I got back, I recommend walking at a brisk pace through the dunes in winter as a decent form of exercise!

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