Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Billinge Hill

Wheatear 2

Swift 3

Chiffchaff 2

Whitethroat 1

Great Spotted Woodpecker 1

Bullfinch 1

Yellowhammer 30

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Clwydian Range

I mentioned the other day that autumn is rapidly taking over from spring as my favourite season, and here's another reason why. We walked part of the Clwydian range from Cilcain to Moel Arthur and onto Moel Famau and the hillsides were covered in the purple flowers of heather. A breathtaking sight!

Billinge Hill

Wheatear 2

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Billinge Hill

Tree Pipit 1 flew over calling

Wheatear 9

Yellowhammer 20

Sparrowhawk 2

Meadow Pipit 20

Willow Warbler 1 singing

Chiffchaff 3 inc. 1 singing

Whitethroat 1

Buzzard 3

Tree Sparrow 10

The were some dramatic skies around Billinge Hill this morning, and lots of heavy rain in the air, though I seemed to avoid it, and the Beacon itself was largely in sunshine. There were more Meadow Pipits around today, though it's difficult to say if they were the result of local movements or genuine migrants.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Martin Mere

Martin Mere today, one Wood Sandpiper on Sunleys marsh with 29 Ruff and a Greenshank, one Green Sandpiper from the Hale hide, Barn Owl from the Harrier hide and Tawny Owl in the box near the United Utilities hide.

I also found this lovely toad. Presumably it's a Common Toad, but I've never seen one so well marked.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Billinge Hill

Another great visit to Billinge Hill. I heard one Tree Pipit fly over and later found another perched on a wire, which allowed me to get a few photos. This is one species which seems much easier to identify when it flies over calling, than when it's sitting silently on a wire! There are also a few Meadow Pipits about, but this is a Tree Pipit because the streaking on the flanks is finer than that on the breast, it has largely white underparts, a shortish hind claw and a relatively stubby bill.

Also today, one Wheatear and at least 10 Swifts.

Bold Moss

Dragonflies seen today: Emperor 1, Common Hawker 3+, Black Darter 2, Emerald Damselflies 20, Southern Hawker 1

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Billinge Hill

Tree Pipit 6 (flew over calling, all heading SW, between 8am and 9am)

Wheatear 1

Whitethroat 1

Blackcap 1 m

Chiffchaff 2

Willow Warbler 2

Swift 1

Buzzard 1

Yellowhammer 5

All these birds were seen around the summit.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Biking around St Helens

Newton Lake

Kingfisher 1

Eccleston Mere

Little Gull 1 2nd win

Buzzard 1

Kingfisher 1

Cackling Canada Goose (not seen by me, reported by JT at 8:14am)

Gadwalll 1 f

The Little Gull just flew through in a matter of seconds at about 10:15am and headed SW towards Knowsley Safari Park and Prescot Reservoirs, where presumably the same bird had been seen earlier (see Andy's blog)

Carr Mill Road

Burnet-saxifrage a few, nearly over

Wrinkled Snail (Candidula intersecta) a few

Billinge Hill

Spotted Flycatcher 2

Wheatear 4


Willow Warblers



Buzzard 1


Queens Park, town centre

Raven 1 flew over heading SW

Despite it's name, Burnet-saxifrage is not a saxifrage, but is a member of the Umbellifer (carrot) family. However this small colony is growing out of the side of a wall, and so is behaving in quite a saxifrage like way! This is the only site I know of in St Helens for the species. It's normally a species of calcareous (limestone) grassslands, and the last place I saw it was in Upper Teesdale! I guess that there must be something in the mortar which allows it to grow here.

Wrinkled Snail at the same site as the Burnet-saxifrage. Once again it is the only site I know of in St Helens for the species. Thanks to Chris Felton for bringing this site to my attention.

St Helens from Billinge Hill

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Friday, 19 August 2011

A time of plenty at Eccleston Mere

Up until quite recently, I used to think that spring was my favourite season, and I still think it takes some beating. However, there is no doubt that autumn is up there, on a par with spring to my mind these days. Yes you could argue that on the calendar at least, there is still a month of summer to go, but in most other respects autumn is here already.

One of the reasons I like spring is because of the flowering of trees and bushes, but right now and for the next couple of months, there is a spectacle of equal magnificence. I heard the other day that English apples are ripening a lot earlier this year, due to the glorious April, and I guess that it must be the same for our wild trees and bushes, because certainly there are a lot of berries about at the moment, and many look ripe already.

There is a lot of bird activity as well. I stood in one small glade at Eccleston Mere for about 20 minutes, with the hazy sun shining through the foliage, and watched a party of tits and warblers foraging for food. Willow Tit (1), Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Great Tits, Treecreeper (1), Willow Warblers (in their almost canary yellow plumage), Chiffchaffs (now in sub-song) and Blackcaps. A magical experience.

A Blackthorn bush with sloes (left) and Hawthorne(right).

I'm told that to make the best sloe gin, you need to pick the sloes in October after the first frost of the autumn. However these looked good to me, and I couldn't resist taking a few and trying my luck early. I'll get some more in October (if there are any left!), just for comparison.

Rowan (left) and Honeysuckle (right)

Guelder-rose (left) and Elder (right).

A nearly 4" long Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar (left) and male Common Darter (right).

Monday, 15 August 2011

Feral Goose flock on Catchdale Moss

The small Canada was on Catchdale Moss this evening, with a huge flock of 503 Canadas, 74 Barnacles, 3 Greylags and 1 Red-breasted Goose.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Cackling Goose Eccleston Mere?

There was a small race Canada Goose at Eccleston Mere this afternoon, with a flock of about 50 Greater Canadas. It was very small, it didn't look much bigger than a Mallard, and unlike it's larger cousins it had a dark breast.

The extreme small size and purply sheen to the breast seem to indicate that this is a Cackling Goose of the race minima, but if anybody would like to offer an opinion I'd be pleased to hear it. We do get the occasional Canada x Barnacle hybrid, but this seems pure Cackling to me.

It was unringed and could fly, despite the dodgy looking wing. It was slightly more nervous than the other Canada Geese it was with, but is still presumably an escape. Worth making a note of though, because the local Canadas often join up with the wild Pink-feet, and can turn up at various goose localities across North West England. The Red-brested Goose from Knowsley Safari park regularly sets pulses racing at Martin Mere in winter.

Big movement of Swifts

A morning working at my computer proved productive. At least 200 Swifts passed the window, in groups of 5-10 birds, all heading south west. I've mentioned before about the frequent passage of birds over my house, always in a south west or north east direction, and this is yet more evidence. If you draw a line on an OS map from the centre of Carr Mill Dam to the centre of Prescot Reservoirs, not only does it go right over the centre of Eccleston Mere, it also goes right through my house, and if you extend it past Carr Mill Dam in the other direction, it goes right over Billinge Hill. Fieldfares, Redwings, terns, gulls, waders, Osprey, hirundines and Swifts, it's amzing how many birds seem to follow this line in one direction or the other. Some I suppose are just moving betweeen the dam, the mere and the reservoirs, but others perhaps are using it as a route to the coast.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Martin Mere

Martin Mere today, a family party of three Peregrines, a juvenile Marsh Harrier, Green Sandpiper, Greenshank, Barn Owl and a Tawny Owl sitting in the owl box near the United Utilities hide (below).

Sunday, 7 August 2011


August is the best time of year for a visit to Formby Point in my opinion. It's still summer and there are some good flowers to see, but there's a distinct hint of autumn in the air, and the wader passage has begun, with many birds still in full summer plumage, and there are plenty of terns and the chance of a passing skua.

The dune slacks hold many great flowers, including Round-leaved Wintergreeen Pyrola rotundifolia (right).

Grass-of-Parnassus Parnassia palustris is locallly abundant and in full flower at this time of year.

Sanderling (left) and Sandwich and Common Terns (right).

Meanwhile on the beach there are large numbers of waders. I didn't have time for accurate counts today, but as a rough guide I estimate 3000 Knot, 2000 Dunlin, 500 Bar-tailed Godwits, 200 Sanderling, 50 Ringed Plover and 50 Grey Plover, many in summer plumage. Also at least 100 each of Sandwich and Common Terns.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Wasdale, Cumbria

We camped for two nights at Wasdale Head, under the shadows of Great Gable, Pillar and Scafell Pikes, and perhaps more importantly, right next to the Wasdale Head Inn! We had a couple of downpours, but generally the weather was excellent for walking, and thankfully was clear (eventually) on the summit of Great Gable. It was pretty poor for birds to be honest, just the odd Wheatear and Raven, or the occasional unexpected Yellowhammer, but the flowers were quite good. There were scattered patches of Starry Saxifrage and Yellow Mountain Saxifrage, though the latter was almost over for the year, as well as Bog Asphodel, Juniper, Golden Rod, Alpine Ladys Mantle, Eyebright and Wild Thyme.

Bog Asphodel and Starry Saxifrage.

Yellow Mountain Saxifrage

The campsite at Wasdale Head.

Scafell Pikes and Wasdale Head from the summit of Great Gable.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Backyard safari

The moth trap can attract some interesting creatures, not just moths!

Antler Moth, the 339th species of moth I have recorded in my little backyard. What a beauty!

Woodlouse Spider Dysdera crocata, a fearsome hunter of Woodlice which it catches by out running them, and the dreaded Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis, a highly invasive alien species which is apparently ousting our native ladybirds. The Harlequin has a whole website dedicated to it's rapid spread across the UK. Click here for more details.

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