Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Pennington Flash

The adult Iceland gull and adult Mediterranean gull were again in the roost at Pennington Flash this evening. 

I sometimes wonder why I bother with the roost, most of the birds come in at sunset when the light is fading fast and they're always distant. It's a race against time, you've got perhaps 20 minutes in wind or rain or icy temperatures to scan through 3000 large gulls in amongst 5000 black-headed gulls. It's a great spectacle for sure, to see so many gulls dropping on to the water and to watch the 2000 strong jackdaw murmuration at Sorrowcow farm, but it's very difficult to pick out anything other than white winged gulls and I have no expectation of picking out a Caspian or yellow-legged gull these days. 

There is always the chance of a glaucous or Kumlien's gull joining the throng, but I only need one dose of this medicine every week or so on a carefully selected evening, I certainly don't need to experience it day after day in all weathers, watching the same birds that I saw last night and the night before, birds which I know that I could see much better if I went to Cutacre CP or a local recycling centre.

Friday, 15 January 2021

Fog, frost and floods

A day of freezing fog at Pennington Flash meant that nothing much could be seen, but as is so often the case, it did seem to amplify every bird call. The thousand or so jackdaws which roost near Sorrowcow farm were still in the trees when I arrived at first light, perhaps reluctant to leave due to the fog, and they were very vocal and set the tone for the rest of the visit. A raven went by overhead, it's presence only revealed by it's loud cronk, redwings "seeped" in the woods and at least one water rail squealed in Rammies reed bed. A Cetti's warbler belted out it's song at the west end whilst robins and wrens were singing all around the flash, undeterred by the freezing conditions. 

From the smallest of birds to the largest, all played their part in the chorus, with the fine calls of goldcrest and long-tailed tits accompanying the horn section which was courtesy of resident Canada geese and visiting Great black-backed gulls, the latter standing in a small group on the ice.

So not much to see today, but still a very pleasant and atmospheric walk around the flash non the less.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Surveying around Glasgow

Photo: Barr Loch, Lochwinnoch RSPB

Today I was surveying in the Glasgow area, including Barr Loch at Lochwinnich RSPB. I've been here before, about four years ago there was a spectacular drake hooded merganser. It was another species of merganser which stole the show today in the shape of two drake smews. Unfortunately they were around a kilometer distant so not great views, but still, I don't see very many drakes so I was delighted to catch up with them. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

South Cumbrian coast

Photo: Curlew.

My first work trip of the year to the coast of south Cumbria and an opportunity to get a few year ticks which otherwise might elude me for a while during this period of lockdown. Quite a decent selection of birds, 150 ringed plover, 300 knot, 200 dunlin, 90 curlew, 50 redshank, 50 eider, 30 red-breasted mergansers and best of all a single jack snipe, in total 13 years ticks and a wonderful day from dawn until dusk.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

The frozen Flash

It started out a beautiful morning at Pennington Flash but the fog came down later. Two wigeon were on the open water at the west end and about 10 goosanders, also a couple of kingfishers. Around 30 Goldeneye, 30 great crested grebes, 20 little grebe and maybe 100 tufted ducks were in the ice free bits around the spit, whilst heard but not seen, Cetti's warbler and water rail. Also 10 meadow pipits on the ruck.

I'm afraid I can't see how the car park can remain open much longer, it was heaving again at 11am with streams of cars arriving all of the time. Plenty of groups of people walking around who clearly aren't one household plus one. Apparently the police helicopter has been over, it wouldn't surprise me at all if they move in and start issuing fines today. I was glad to be home for 12, it's only going to get worse this afternoon.

Friday, 8 January 2021

Pennington Flash gull roost

Adult Iceland gull in the roost again this evening. Almost as impressive as the the gulls, there is a jackdaw roost at the Flash with around 2000 birds.

While I was watching the adult Iceland gull I messaged a friend who was also at the roost but watching from the ruck and he replied that he had seen the bird. However, later in the evening he saw my video and got in touch to say that he had actually been watching a juvenile! He didn't see the adult and I didn't see the juvenile. Just shows how easy it is to miss birds in amongst the hundreds of herring gulls and with the light rapidly fading. 

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Pennington Flash

A bitterly cold morning at Pennington Flash, the coldest day of the year so far resulting in 90% of the flash frozen. A couple of hundred large gulls loafed on the ice and waterfowl congregated on the few remaining areas of open water, including a winter high of 38 goldeneye.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Whooper swans, Pennington Flash

Four whooper swans flew in from the west at 8:30am, circled around and then landed in the west bay.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

The start of another lockdown at the Flash

So here we go again, another lockdown which means that apart from work trips it looks like I'm going to be spending most of my time at Pennington Flash.

Today the dark looking juvenile Iceland gull came into the roost along with about 1000 herring gulls and 200 great black backs. Quite decent numbers but still well short of those before Christmas. 

Earlier there was water rail in the woods on the south side, plus a few other year ticks such as willow tit and treecreeper.   

Monday, 4 January 2021

Observations of a Little Ringed Plover nest

One of the highlights of 2020 for me was monitoring a little ringed plover nest on the yacht club foreshore at Pennington Flash during the coronavirus lockdown between April and early July. Initially taking advantage of unusually low levels of disturbance due to the lockdown, the pair was seen copulating, a nest site was chosen and four eggs were laid in an area which would normally prove impossible as a breeding site due to high levels of human activity. 

However, the easing of lockdown restrictions in May led to the reopening of the yacht club, which resulted in exceptionally high levels of disturbance from both yachting and open water swimming, as people seemed determined to make up for the lost weeks earlier in the year and were present in even higher numbers than those previously seen. 

I watched these birds daily from arrival to fledging and reported on their remarkable story in a previous blog post. However I struggled to find very much written at all in monograph form about the ecology of little ringed plover and as such decided to compile my sightings into a report in pdf format which is available to download should anybody wish to do so. 

To download, simply click on the "Pop out" icon in the top right of the pdf window, then, if you're using a laptop click on the download icon in the top right of the new window or alternatively if you're using a mobile device click on the three dots at the top right and scroll down to "Download". Simple!

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Juvenile Iceland gull, Pennington Flash

Another icey cold gull roost at the Flash today, with very few gulls compared to other recent evenings. No sign of yesterdays adult Iceland gull, but a juvenile did turn up and it appears to be the bird which has been seen regularly at Lower Rivington Reservoir over the past few weeks. A different juvenile has been seen at Cutacre country park at Atherton in the past few days, and the adult was also seen there today, but where these birds go when they are not roosting at the Flash is a mystery.

This juvenile Iceland gull is a lot darker and more coarsely marked than the bird which has been at Cutacre, and the dark mark behind the eye seems to clinch it as the Lower Rivington bird. Also the bill pattern looks different to the Cutacre bird.

Saturday, 2 January 2021

Iceland gull, Pennington Flash

The adult Iceland gull was in the roost at Pennington Flash again this evening, but no sign of the juv. which was seen at Cutacre earlier in the day. Bitterly cold, I had to leave a bit earlier than normal, it really was painful standing there.

Last night there was no sign of any Iceland gulls, but there was an adult Mediterranean gull with an almost complete black hood.

A short video of the adult Iceland gull in the roost at Pennington Flash this evening. It still amazes me what you can achieve with modern phones, this bird was approximately 700m distant at 16:15, quarter of an hour after sunset and it was videod on my phone. Amazing. 

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Iceland gull back for it's fifth winter at Pennington Flash

I was very pleased to pick out an adult Iceland gull at the gull roost tonight. It's probably the returning bird back for it's 5th winter, first seen as a juvenile in 2017. This is the first time the bird has been seen this winter.

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Iceland gull, Rockcliffe, Cumbria

Travelling back from working in Scotland today and in a desire to avoid service stations, I decided to have a quick pit stop at Rockcliffe in Cumbria. There's been a juvenile Iceland gull on the River Eden here for a week or so, and it was showing quite well today in the late afternoon, albeit against the harsh light of the setting winter sun. Perfect timing for my first Iceland gull of the year, it really was bitter today.

In October 1994 I also called in here with my Dad on our way to Caerlaverock to see what was my first greater yellowlegs.


Over the past few years, Musselburgh just east of Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth has become one of my favourite birding places. The main reason for this is the sea ducks. For an inland west coast birder who has to make do with the occasional 1st winter long-tailed duck on the local lake or very distant scoter on the North Wales coast, it's a dream to see velvet scoter close enough to be able to identify them without waiting for them to fly or adult male and female long-tailed ducks in immaculate winter plumage.

A scan over the sea from the mouth of the River Esk will reveal at least 30 or 40 velvets at quite close range and occasionally a few might be really close, so that you can clearly see features which you can only imagine from the majority of North Wales lookouts, such as the white tick behind the eye and perhaps even the white eye ring. If you're really lucky they might be joined by an American white-winged scoter which is very similar to the velvets but with a different bill structure and colour, and an even larger white tick. No such luck today, but I was compensated by another American bird, an adult drake surf scoter. This is a bird which I have seen many times from the North Wales coast, with sometimes up to five birds in amongst the thousands of common scoter which congregate off that coast, but they're always at best distant and I've never seen then as well as at Musselburgh. My first surf scoter was from Llanfairfechan in 1983 and I remember commenting at the time that it looked like a coot in amongst the scoter. It was basically just a black dot with a white forehead. At Musselburgh they are revealed as a strikingly impressive bird, the males with completely black plumage with an orange bill and big white patches on the eider shaped head. Speaking of eiders, several are present offshore.

Long-tailed duck are also present as are goldeneye, wigeon and a few Slavonian grebes. The adult male long-tailed ducks are like a different species to the smudgy and rather oiled looking young birds we sometimes see locally, with sharp black, white, grey and pink plumage and a black bill with a pink band, plus a long tail as well of course! In spring I often see them chasing each other around but not today. 

So far Musselburgh has been a place I've only visited on work trips to the area, which obviously doesn't give me a lot of time, I always seem to be in a rush. When things improve and we get back to normal, I'll have to make a point of staying in the area for a few days to really get to know the place.

Friday, 25 December 2020

Merry Christmas!

Here's an old favourite which I bring out every so often at this time of year, a robin which landed on my apple just as I was about to take a bite and even more remarkably stayed there while I got my camera out! Merry Christmas everybody, I hope you have a good one.

Friday, 18 December 2020

A bleak day on the south Cumbrian coast

Another day sitting and watching on the Cumbrian coast in blustery winds and heavy drizzly rain, it hardly seemed to get light today. It was still an enjoyable day though, eight hours under my fishermans brolly worried that at any minute a gust might rip it from it's pegs and send it tumbling into the sea leaving me exposed to the elements. As I write the mist and rain is so bad that I can barely see Walney Island little more than a kilometre distant. 

The birdings been good, the highlight was a great northern diver which I watched as it tried to swallow a large fish. Later I watched as it lowered it's head in an aggressive manner and swam towards a small flock of wigeon, before diving and then emerging right in the middle of the flock with its wings spread, flushing the wigeon in all directions. I've never seen that before. Other highlights included a grey seal, my first here, and a greenshank.

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Hudsonian godwit - the journey from blocker to a nice Scottish tick

It's been a poor year for birding, I've been very cautious about where I go and who I meet due to being in a vulnerable Covid-19 group and because of this I've been very restricted as to where I was prepared to go chasing birds. You only have to look back through the posts on this blog to see that despite all of the great birds available during the autumn, from Siberian thrush to yellow-bellied flycatcher to rufous-tailed scrub robin, the only really notable entry from me is brown shrike in Yorkshire. Everything else is pretty much local stuff, and not even much of that. However, my job does take me to many great places around the UK, so I've not been completely stuck at home and when I'm away I do get opportunities to get some decent wildlife experiences, e.g. bottle-nosed whales in the Clyde on my way home from Mull of Kintyre in September.

I saw my first Hudsonian godwit (and the first for the UK) at Blacktoft Sands RSPB in Yorkshire in April 1983. For the next 32 years it was one of the few blockers on my UK list until in May 2015 it finally fell when a female was found at Meare Heath RSPB in Somerset, a bird which I also saw. When a 1st winter Hudsonian godwit was reported on the River Eden at Guardbridge, Fife in early November this year, it was a bird which piqued my interest partly because of my fond memories of the species but also because it was a plumage which I had not seen before, plus it would be a nice addition to my Scottish list. However due to Covid-19 I had no expectation of seeing the bird, yes I did have a job nearby in mid December, but surely it wouldn't stay that long? I was wrong.

I'd almost forgotten about it to be honest, it was only periodically being reported in the run up to my visit to Fife, but I made a few enquiries with locals and managed to get some further information regarding the bird and the best places to see it, depending on the tide. 

So today I called in at the Eden Centre at Guardbridge. The centre is currently closed due to Covid-19, but there are viewing screens (thankfully not hides) on either side of the building which are permanently open, and this is where I headed for today. It turned out to be a very nice lunch break stop, there were just three other birders present and all nicely spread out, and the bird was showing as soon as I arrived, on the far side of a channel about 75m away. Although it was a beautiful, bright sunny day, the harsh winter sun to our right rather than directly behind us meant that the light was not as good as it might have been, but I can't complain, it wasn't raining or blowing a gale and I'm told that only in the past few days has the bird started coming this close, having spent much of its stay quite a bit more distant.

The bird was associating with about 30 black-tailed godwits which were also joined by a few knot, dunlin and redshanks. While I was watching the air was full of the calls of waders and ducks, which also included curlew and greenshank, and a couple of times a kingfisher flew past unseen but clearly heard.

Superficially similar to the black-tailed godwits, once you got your eye-in for the bird it was quite easy to pick out even when it had it's head tucked in asleep. The pale supercillium in front of the eye really stands out and is a really good feature for picking it out. It's also smaller than it's cousins and this individual is well marked on it's scapulars, much more so than the accompanying black-tailed godwits, though I'm not sure if this latter feature is true of all 1st winter Hudsonian godwits.

Monday, 14 December 2020

Ring-necked duck, Kilmardinny Loch, Clyde

Ring-necked duck, the duck with rings everywhere apart from on it's neck, is a really smart species. In my opinion it sits proudly in a small, elite group of scarce yet very exciting North American vagrants which also includes the likes of buff-breasted sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper, wilson's phalarope, black brant, green-winged teal and cackling canada goose, not very rare yet very evocative species. 

I didn't have a lot of time today, I just stopped off in my lunch break for a quick look without too many expectations, because there's always the risk with these aythya diving ducks that by midday they'll all have their heads tucked in and be fast asleep. Not today though, all of the diving ducks were awake and chasing each other around and feeding and in amongst them was the ring-necked duck. 

Kilmardinny Loch at Bearsden is only a small loch, and so long as the birds are not asleep, decent views are pretty much guaranteed. Still, they were doing an awful lot of diving and at first decent photos were a challenge, but they were obviously doing a lap of the loch so I just waited 10 minutes and they came right past me. The close up photos are all phone scoped at close range during a period of relative inactivity.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Pink footed geese, Holcroft Moss

The pink-footed goose flock which is spending time feeding just south of Culcheth, viewable from Holcroft Lane, has increased in number this week to around 800-1000 birds. I've spent quite a bit of time looking through them over the past few days but haven't been able to pick out anything unusual since the Greenland whitefront last week, but it's just nice to have the opportunity to watch geese so close to home. They get disturbed quite a lot and move between several fields during the day, often landing out of view, so they can be quite difficult.

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