Monday, 17 January 2022

Snow Goose and Snow Bunting

This morning the snow goose was on Downholland moss with about 1000 pink-footed geese and later flew to Plex Moss.

The snow bunting flock just north of Southport pier has now increased to six birds.

Sunday, 16 January 2022

Chasing geese on the Sefton coast

The Richardson's cackling goose which was found on Banks Marsh by Stuart Darbyshire just over two months ago, could so far best be described as either elusive or distant. What a surprise then that it should turn up today on the saltmarsh at Marshside, 200m south west of the RSPB car park near the old sandwinning plant, and show at a distance of little over 100m.

It rounded off a fabulous day of goose watching on the Sefton coast.

What a stunner this bird is! Somebody said to me that it was a good job that it was with pink-feet so that you could see how small the bird is because otherwise you might mistake it for a Canada goose! I can't agree with that, it's nothing like a Canada goose. Short necked with a tiny bill, it's just a beautiful bird.

Saturday, 15 January 2022

Black Grouse lek

It was a cold and frosty morning with not a breath of wind and since I was in the area I thought that I would take a slight detour and visit a black grouse lek in North Wales. I arrived about 20 minutes before sunrise and almost immediately saw grouse at the lek site. I watched them from the car for the next 30 minutes or so and counted at least 15 males.

I love watching these leks, the air is full of hissing and cooing noises and the birds run around the lek site chasing other males. There's private battles going on everywhere until eventually for some reason not obvious to me one will turn tail and run with it's opponent in hot pursuit. That's not the end of it though, one or both birds often spot other birds and join battle with them. I don't know how the winners are determined, but presumably it's obvious to the usually unseen females.

Glossy Ibis, Cheadle Hulme

This spectacular immature glossy ibis was in a field at Cheadle Hulme.

Thursday, 13 January 2022

Caspian Gull, Redgate recycling centre

Great though it is to see a Caspian gull at long range in the roost at Pennington Flash in the last few minutes of daylight, it's quite refreshing to visit a recycling centre and see one well in bright sunlight for prolonged periods. I can understand that birding at a tip might not be everybody's cup of tea but I think that it's worth spending some time watching these birds at close range so that when I do see one come into the roost I'm confident about what I'm looking at. 

The 1st winter bird currently at Redgate recycling centre in Gorton, Manchester is a really magnificent bird, with a gleaming white head, distinctive dark neck collar, long legs, classic pear shaped head and long black bill. Quite unmistakable. 

At the tip it's also possible to observe the birds behaviour. Caspian gull has a diagnostic "albatross-posture" whereby it opens it's wings and raises it's head when long calling, as can be seen in these photos. Apparently herring gull never does this, that species always calls with it's wings closed.

What a bird, classic long legs, pear shaped head and long black bill.

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Todd's Canada Goose, Banks Marsh

Sometimes when a bird is described as "distant" I think, yeah, what they really mean is they can't get frame filling photos, but it's still going to be a decent scope view. Very often this holds true, but when we talk about "distant" at Banks Marsh, believe me, we mean "distant".  In places the geese can be nearly 3km distant, though usually most are between 1 - 1.5km. They're often also feeding in amongst long grass so that the best you can  hope for is a view of their heads when they stand alert as some perceived danger approaches. Add to that the difficulties that the weather can present and the relative lack of observer coverage on week days and it's little wonder that birds such as the Todd's Canada and Richardson's cackling goose can go missing for a couple of weeks. Today I spent from 9:15 to 14:00 at Banks and in that time I was the only birder north of Old Hollow farm.
However, I did manage to find the Todd's Canada goose with a couple of thousand pink-foots during one of my excursions south of Old Hollow. The bird was with about 1000 pink-feet at a distance of about 1.2km (about three quarters of a mile). Fortunately it's a really distinctive bird, unmistakable being very dark and nothing like the feral Canada's. It's also worth noting that it never associates with the other Canadas, it's always with the pink-footed geese. Also with the flock about 12 barnacle geese. 

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

1st winter Caspian Gull, Pennington Flash

A cracking 1st winter Caspian gull came into the roost again at Pennington Flash this evening following it's first appearance yesterday. I love this plumage, it's really  distinctive.

Friday, 7 January 2022


The three people who most influenced my life long passion for wildlife were my Dad, Peter Scott and Richard Perry. My Dad of course started it all when I was little more than a toddler, but not by buying me a pair of binoculars because actually he didn't, we shared binoculars until I was about 16. No, it was more to do with the way in which he loved wildlife that influenced me.  He wasn't really interested in seeing any one species, it was the overall spectacle that he enjoyed. He could quite happily walk out on a saltmarsh without binoculars because it was the wild, wide open spaces that he loved, with skeins of geese flying over as curlew and redshank called all around and wigeon flew up whistling as a harrier quartered the marsh. He also liked to experience all of this alone, feeling that he couldn't connect properly if he was distracted by others. Needless to say he didn't do twitches or bird watching groups, he'd rather be out on the marsh all day with not another person in sight.

Peter Scott was probably the nearest my Dad had to a hero. They'd both served in the second World War in the navy on MTB's (Motor Torpedo Boats) and Peter Scott's paintings perfectly captured the landscape view that my Dad had of nature, with the emphasis very much on evocative scenes rather than the individual bird. To my Dad he was a kindred spirit and in my youth Peter Scott's books were on the bookshelf and his paintings on the wall and they heavily influenced my view of wildlife.

At some point in my mid-teens my Dad gave me a copy of "At the turn of the tide" by Richard Perry a highly evocative book about coastal and in particular saltmarsh birds, and this book reinforced my love of wild places. The close proximity of Martin Mere allowed me to see many of these species close up and the nearby Ribble and Dee estuaries allowed me to experience the wild landscapes that my Dad loved so much. This was all neatly tied together by the fact that Peter Scott was head of the Wildfowl Trust, the organisation which owned and managed Martin Mere. I was a member of the Wildfowl Trust many years before I joined the RSPB.

Little wonder then that I grew up loving wildfowl and waders in wide open places and even though I turned out a slightly more sociable creature than my Dad, still I prefer to be alone and if I do go on twitches I tend to pick and choose depending on where the place is.

It was another of Richard Perry's books that first led me to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in the early 1980s. "A Naturalist on Lindisfarne" was published in 1946 and is an account of the birds that he saw during his time on the island in the 1930s and early 1940s.

The pale-bellied brent geese which winter in Ireland and western parts of the UK including Hilbre and Anglesey, breed in Arctic Canada. On the south and east coast of the UK the wintering flocks of brent geese are dark-bellied birds from Arctic Russia. The birds which winter on Lindisfarne are pale-bellied birds from a third population which breeds on Svalbard (formerly Spitzbergen).

In the nineteenth century the wintering flock on Lindisfarne was predominantly pale-bellied birds, but by Perry's time in the mid 20th century this had changed due to hunting on their breeding grounds which had caused the pale-bellied birds to decline and the brents on Lindisfarne were now almost exclusively of the dark-bellied race. Since the 1950s a further change has taken place and following a recovery of the Svalbard population, the majority of brents currently wintering at Lindisfarne are again of the pale-bellied race. Lindisfarne is in fact the only regular wintering place in the UK for this population of brent geese. 

Why the dark-bellied race should apparently increase and then decline almost in tandem with the fortunes of the pale-bellied birds I'm not sure. It would almost seem like the pale-bellied birds were out competing them, but it may just be a coincidence. Whatever the reason, these geese were the main reason why I wanted to visit Holy Island today.

In total I saw about 1500 brents today and they're just a wonderful sight and sound. Their enigmatic "r'rot, r'rot, r'rot" calls are the background music to a visit to any east coast saltmarsh. I could watch these birds all day today and tomorrow, and I can well understand why my Dad wanted to be alone in these wild places.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

Eastfield and Fisherrow

Eastfield is little more than 1km from my apartment for the week at Fisherrow harbour and I spent the day birding here. Nothing new to report but more great views of seabirds, ducks and waders.

I started off just after sunrise at the harbour. Lots of red skies in the early daylight, beautiful to see but also a precursor of a cold weather system moving in from the west bringing with it the threat of snow to the west of Scotland. No snow here on the east coast today but after the calm and gentle start the wind picked up and it was bitterly cold.

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Fisherrow to Gullane Point, East Lothian

Another great day in East Lothian, spent mainly at Fisherrow and Musselburgh, but also including a short dash to Gullane Point to see three drake (two adult) surf scoters. Four species of scoter seen today including the American white-winged scoter which has been a bit hit and miss recently. Also at least 40 drake long-tailed ducks, two Slavonian grebes, red-throated diver plus eiders and variety of waders. An adult Mediterranean gull was surprisingly a Scottish tick for me!

The white-winged scoter has been distant recently but it's still identifiable given good light and no more than a gentle breeze. It's one of those birds which when you're looking for it seems almost impossible at distance, you'd think it's only subtly different to velvet, yet when you see it it stands out as being obviously different. It has a different jizz, it often holds it's head forward unlike velvet and it's more bull necked. It's head profile is more like an eider whereas velvet has a concave bill, it's blacker than velvet, with a pink bill not orange, with much less colour on the bill and a much more distinct white tick behind the eye. Imagine how easy it is to pick out a drake surf scoter in good light, likewise that white tick really stands out on a white-winged scoter, but you need good light. If it's dull and windy it's a struggle unless it's closer in.

Goldeneye, Musselburgh

It was a beautiful day in East Lothian today and one of the greatest pleasures was to watch goldeneye displaying on the river Esk at high tide.

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Taiga bean geese, Slamannan Plateau

Both species of bean geese are pretty scarce visitors to the UK and before today I'd only ever seen taiga bean geese singularly in amongst flocks of pink-foots on the Lancashire mosslands. However just south of Falkirk is the Slamannan plateau, an upland area of improved grassland, juncus pasture and bogs, rising to a height of around 170m. This area holds over 50% of the UK population of taiga bean geese, around 200 birds.

I called in here in November but failed to see any bean geese, however today was a different story. First stop  was on the B803, Bank street just before the Primary school at the village of Slamannan. It's a nice raised up spot and gives great views over the fields below. Straight away I spotted a flock of 18 taiga beans and a little closer 10 whooper swans. Then I took the minor road west, about a mile north of Slamannan and came across a second flock of around 59 taiga's. 

There are also at least 200 pink-footed geese in the area, but apart from a couple of individuals with the larger of the two bean goose flocks, they didn't mix today, which I was quite pleased about, because it was nice just to experience a more or less pure flock of beans.

Ring-billed Gull, Strathclyde Loch, Glasgow

The long staying ring-billed gull is back for another winter at Strathclyde Loch and as always it makes for a good pit stop on the way north. Today it was off the first car park just before the sailing club and showed very well although the the light was very harsh.

Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Hilbre Island

I had a quick walk over to Hilbre Island this morning with my two sons, the first time all three of us have been over together for a good few years. Highlight for me was the sight of two ravens playing on the wind at Middle Eye.

I didn't do a full count of the brent geese, but there were at least 300 pale-bellied birds as well as two dark-bellied.

Monday, 27 December 2021

Bewick's Swans, Frodsham Marsh

A family party of four Bewick's swans on Frodsham marsh today, off Lordship Lane, were my first for four years and brought my 2021 year list to a nice round 250 species. They've really declined over the past couple of decades, at one time they outnumbered whoopers at Martin Mere with 500 there as recently as 1997 and my record count was 818 in 1990. Even more impressive, when I visited Welney in Norfolk in 1990, there were 2000+ Bewick's swans. I doubt there are 2000 Bewick's in the whole of the UK these days. It's a real shame, they're such lovely petite swans.

The best place to view these birds is from the footbridge over the M56, accessed from Smithy Lane, Helsby.

Also today, 20 whooper swans and three marsh harriers.

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Belted Kingfisher, River Darwen, Roach Bridge

Finally! Since I last saw the belted kingfisher at Redscar Wood on the River Ribble on 25th November, I've looked for it on eight subsequent occasions prior to today, three times at the original site, three times along the canal at Withnell Fold, and twice here on the River Darwen. I've drawn a blank on each of these occasions. I even called in here at Roach Bridge on Monday and left an hour before BirdGuides reported that it was just 1km upriver. 

For a while it looked like I might miss out today as well, the bird was seen this morning up to 11am but then flew high upriver before I arrived and was not seen again for three hours. Would it return? There seems to be no certainty with this bird and on past form it might have gone missing for another two weeks and then turned up at a completely different location. 

However eventually it did return and I felt that it was only fitting given all of the effort that I have put into relocating this bird that I should at least be rewarded with the excitement of finding it for myself when it reappeared today..... and when I did spot it, what a sight it was! A belted kingfisher flying down the river towards me with a large fish in it's bill, slate blue upperparts with a white belly and a dark band across it's chest. Totally unmistakable! It perched up for 30 seconds on an overhanging branch before flying again and calling, landing in a tree on the other side of the river. 

A couple of minutes later it was back again, this time perching on a dead branch in the middle of the river, where it proceeded to eat its fish before flying back to the cover of the tree.

I watched it on and off for the next 30 minutes or so until finally it flew back upriver and perched high in a dead tree about 0.5km away. It stayed here for a few minutes before flying down to the river and I lost it behind the vegetation. I stuck around for another half hour but the light was now going rapidly so I packed up and left. 

I saw it for longer and closer on the Ribble but it was against the light for long periods, and I was too concerned with getting photos to really appreciate the bird. Today I made an effort to try to spend more time watching it. Both were great experiences though.

The track to the field might not be as bad as the fabled (and over exaggerated) death slope on the Ribble, but it is now getting very muddy and slippy and it would be easy to end up on your backside. Wellingtons are definitely recommended. I can't rule out going again because when there is such a fabulous bird locally you can't see it too many times in my opinion. However the farmer has now introduced a £10 entry charge to access his field, which I don't mind paying once, but when you've already seen the bird twice it's not so great. So if I do go again, I might just view from the bridge which is where I would really like to see it and it's free!

Videos of the bird below...

Monday, 20 December 2021

Waders on the Ribble at Redscar Wood

I had decent couple of hours birding on the Ribble at Redscar Wood today, with a nice little array of birds. On one of the shingle banks there were three redshanks, two green sandpipers and a common sandpiper, the latter being surprisingly only my second ever in December. Two little grebes fished in the middle of the river and a kingfisher from the far bank, where there was also a grey wagtail. Overhead a couple of skeins of pink-foots flew past totaling about 150 birds. In the woods there was a good selection of birds calling including nuthatches and goldcrests.

Friday, 17 December 2021

Birding insanity in Lancashire

It's now just over three weeks since I saw Lancashire's belted kingfisher at my first attempt. I just turned up at Redscar wood on the banks of the Ribble and after a scramble down a slippy bank got onto the bird immediately and watched it for about the next hour as it perched in various trees and bushes and flew around calling. Fabulous views of a fabulous bird and a great experience. 

Twenty three days later and the slippy bank now seems the easy bit, the hard bit is the bird actually being present in the first place. I've tried to see it again on another six occasions and discounting an incredibly brief possible sighting of the bird on 7th December, I've failed every time.  Not that anybody else is seeing it, all three sightings recently on the Leeds / Liverpool canal have been by non-birders. However one of them took a photo of the bird and there is no doubt that it is the belted kingfisher.

So I just keep looking, I'd go again tomorrow if I could get away with it but Elaine already thinks I'm insane. I'll wait until she's distracted by work on Monday and slip away again for another search. I'm sure that when I do see it the experience will be so much the better for all of the pain I've endured recently.

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Brief encounter with a yank at Banks

I spent another day trying to get a better view of the Richardson's cackling goose at Banks but there was no sign today. It's probably still in the area but so many geese are way out on the saltmarsh, well out of scope range even at 60x. Still, it was a good day with two short-eared owls, three merlin, four peregrine and two great white egrets, plus all of the usual waders and wildfowl. 

I must have walked several miles back and forth along the sea bank. It was a generally dull and at times murky day, which was part of the problem when searching for the cackler, but in the morning there was a little sunshine and during one such period I saw three golden plover flying towards me. They flew right over my head and then banked away and turned back over the marsh and far away. As they turned the sun caught their underwings and I was delighted to see that one of the birds clearly had a grey underwing and axillaries which contrasted nicely with the much whiter underwings of the European golden plover. It was either an American or Pacific golden plover, with the former much more likely and in fact there have been a couple of sightings on the Ribble earlier in the autumn. 

Unfortunately I was unable to get a decent photo of the bird. The photo above is the yank and the photo below is the European. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get the birds in the same photo, however both photos have been lightened to the same amount and you can clearly see how much the white stands out on the European bird.

Monday, 13 December 2021

Red-breasted merganser, Banks marsh

A drake Red-breasted merganser on one of the pools on the saltmarsh at Banks marsh this morning was a very unexpected visitor. Also today a pale-bellied brent goose with the pink-footed geese, plus two barnacle geese. I didn't see the cackling goose but it is still around.

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