Monday, 28 January 2013

Year listing in South West Lancs

I decided to keep up my recent momentum and do a tour of South West Lancs today to fill in a few gaping holes in my year list (not that I'm keeping one of course). I started out on Plex Moss, where there was a decent sized flock of Pink-feet. Probably about 4000 birds, a very spectacular sight, but nothing new for the year. Then it was on to Birkdale......


For at least the past 5 years, Birkdale has had a flock of wintering Twite. In some years I've seen up to 100, but today I only saw 20. Twite are another of my favourite finches, and if previous years are anything to go by, these will be the only Twite I see in 2013. High tide was approaching, and there were plenty of groups of waders on the beach, and many flying past. I estimated 300 Bar-tailed Godwits, 500 Knot, 1000 Dunlin, 500 Oystercatchers and 3 Grey Plover.

Next stop, Marshside.



I reached Marshside about 30 minutes before high tide, and as usual it was a great spectacle, with birds flying in all directions. There were incredible numbers of Wigeon, easily 10,000, and possibly 4 or 5 times that many. I only saw 2 birds of prey, a Merlin and a Buzzard, but there were plenty of waders in evidence. A flock of Knot formed a swirling cloud, immitating Starlings and there were Golden Plover, Lapwings, Redshank, Curlews, Oystercatchers and Black-tailed Godwits. A flock of finches proved to be Linnets, which were added to the year list about 1 hour after Twite! There were at least 20 Little Egrets dotted around the marsh and about 2000 Pink-footed Geese.

Time for lunch, and then on to Martin Mere.

Mainly Wigeon! This just a small part of the total, with most birds on the outer marsh. Large though these counts for Wigeon may seem, it's interesting to note that in the winter of 1991/92 there were an estimated 100,000 Wigeon on the Ribble.

Martin Mere

There were thousands of Teal on Vinsons, and with them was a drake Green-winged Teal. On the mere there were about 26 Ruff, 300 Whooper Swans and a good selection of ducks, as well as about 4000 Pink-footed Geese on the adjacent fields. Birds around the feeders included Tree Sparrow, Reed Buntings, Chaffinches and Greenfinches. Next to the Janet Kear hide, somebody found a Woodcock on the ground.

Year 117

Two very different game birds (though I'm not sure that they see it as a game...). The cryptic Woodcock and the spectacular Pheasant. One relies on camouflague, the other, errr, doesn't.

Two beautiful ducks, Pintail and (Eurasian) Teal. I think that Teal is my favourite duck, it's wonderfully marked, plus I've got some happy  memories of seeing my first in Tatton Park when I was a youngster. Green-winged Teal is a North American species once regarded as a race of Teal, but now considered a seperate species. It differs from Teal in lacking the gold border on the head, between the green and the red, and in lacking the horizontal white line on the side of Teal. Most distinctive of all however, it has a vertical white line on the side of its breast.

Sunday, 27 January 2013


We walked from Freshfield to the Beach via Fishermans path and then headed north, simply because the wind was blowing a gale from the south west, and walking north seemed easier. We got nearly as far as Ainsdale, before heading inland and joining the coast road. We then walked the cycle route through the pines and back to Freshfield. Hard to believe that just 36 hours ago it put down a foot of snow, yet today felt positively spring like, especially when we were sheltered from the wind.

It was high tide when we arrived, and the sea was nearly up to the dunes, so there were very few birds on the beach, just a handful of Sanderling. There was a pair of Stonechats in the dunes, a few Meadow Pipits and a Kestrel.

I've never seen the dunes so flooded, it must be set to be a bumper year for Natterjacks!

This polypody fern was growing in abundance in the dunes. There are three species of polypody in the UK, two of which grow at Formby, but they are very difficult to identify. I've never seen Common Polypody Polypodium vulgare grow so large, and it's usually on walls, rocks or trees in my experience. Western (or Intermediate) Polypody Polypodium interjectum, is meant to be common on the Sefton coast, and it does favour dunes and calcareous soils, so I'm going to say that this is Western Polypody. The toadstool is, I think, Orange Mosscap Rickenella fibula.


Eccleston Mere

Goosander 3 females
Teal 4
Cormorant 17
Tufted Ducks 10
Pochard 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 drumming
Skylark 1

The thaw has well and truely set in now, and most of the snow and ice has gone, but it was still a pretty chilly start to the day.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Queens Park

Now 30 Fieldfare in Rivington Road feeding on the cotoneaster tree. Unfortunately, unlike Waxwings, they are very nervous, and are constantly being disturbed by traffic.

Although I've seen many Fieldfare passing over the area in Autumn, this is the first time I've known a flock to hang around. Surely there must be a Waxwing any day now!

Eccleston Mere

Jack Snipe 1
Goosander 3 females
Yellowhammer 1
Snipe 3
Nuthatch 1
Pochard 3
Tufted Duck 15
Teal 2
Little Grebe 1
Kingfisher 1
Siskin 60
Lesser Redpolls 10
Goldfinch 60
Fieldfare 1
Cormorant 4

I went down to the edge of the ditch in the SW corner in order to see along it and almost stood on the Jack Snipe. Frustratingly I saw it on the ground about half a second before it flew, but too late to stop myself putting my foot down. If I'd been just that fraction of a second faster, you'd now be looking at fabulous photos of a Jack Snipe! This is the first time I've seen a snipe of any description in the ditch this winter, but I suppose that like the Water Rail, the unfrozen ditch is the best bet at the moment. The Common Snipe flew over the field behind.

Yellowhammer is a good bird at the mere these days, only my 5th record here since the turn of this century.

Year 101

It's not very often I get to Eccleston Mere first, but judging by the lack of footprints in the snow, it seems that I managed it today.

Cormorants and Goosander.

In breeding plumage Cormorants are every bit as spectacular as any other bird. Birds with so much white on the head are quite unusual at the mere, and I did wonder if it might be the continental race sinensis. However, sinensis is said to be smaller than the British race carbo, at times almost to the point of being confusable with a Shag, though there is overlap. This bird looks to be similar size to the other bird in the photo. Apparently the most diagnostic feature (though still not completely reliable) is the angle of the gular patch (throat skin), which is >76 deg and usually >90 deg on sinensis and <65 deg on carbo. Those which fall within the 66-75 deg range are probably unidentifiable and may be hybrids. My photos aren't good enough to be completely certain, but the angle looks less than 90 deg to me, and combined with the large size, may suggest that this bird is actually carbo, probably an old bird. Or perhaps it's just snow on it's head......

There's an interesting article here about identifying sinensis, and a discussion about these particular birds here.

Dunno..... less than 90 deg for sure, but perhaps near enough to 90 to be sinensis?

Friday, 25 January 2013

Eccleston Mere

Jack Snipe 1
Water Rail 1 in SW corner
Snipe 3
Teal 12
Pochard 2
Tufted Duck 8
Gadwall 1 male
Lesser Redpoll 10
Siskin 1
Goldfinch 60
Bullfinch 2
Buzzard 2
Fieldfare 4

10 of the 12 Teal. The bracket fungus is Daedaleopsis confragosa which has the charming English name of Blushing Bracket because it often has shades of pink on the upper surface. It grows on willow sp. (in this case I think it's on Goat Willow Salix caprea) and is a fungus of mid-winter.

Queen's Park

15 Fieldfares today commuting between the park and the cotoneaster tree in Rivington Road. I've watched this tree for years hoping to see a Waxwing, but apart from the occasional Starling and Blackbird, these are the first birds I have ever seen in the tree. Ah well, perhaps this will be the start. Waxwing tomorrow! Earlier there were 10 Redwings in trees around the tennis court, and it's possible they had also been in the cotoneaster.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


I was in north Cumbria today, so took the opportunity to have a drive along the coast near Bowness-on-Solway. I saw one large, fairly distant flock of Barnacle Geese and several small flocks which were much closer. There were also plenty of Redshanks and Curlew, and wildfowl included Wigeon, Teal and Shelduck.

Year 96

Barnacle Geese near Cardurnock.

I was delighted to see this white Barnacle so close. It brought back memories of November 1986, when my friend Johnny Warren and I stayed for a few days with the then NCC Warden Wally Wright, who lived in a cottage on the Scottish side of the Solway. We knew Wally from his time on St Kilda. As you can imagine, staying with the warden of the reserve, who was a local and an ex-wildfowler made for a very interesting few days.

Of particular intertest here though is the comment I made in my note book from 23rd November 1986, when we saw what I took care to describe as a "white phase" Barnacle (rather than alibino or leucistic) with the Barnies at Caerlaverock:

"The white phase Barnacles don't appear to be true albinos (they have black eyes and black barring on their backs). Wally told us that there have been white Barnacles on the Solway for years, and that they are all believed to belong to the same family, and the white is genetic."

In other words, they are not albino and at the time we didn't believe that they were leucistic either. Even back in 1986 I was familiar with leucistic birds, notably amongst the Pink-foot flocks on the mosslands. In my experience leucistic birds looked like washed out versions of normal birds, to varying degrees, but their white bits were never as pure white as they are on the bird in the photo, they were more of a creamy colour.

Of course that comment from Wally was 26 years ago, and the science may have moved on a bit since then. Perhaps there are other theories now, and maybe this is just a leucistic bird after all, but fascinating from my point of view to think that the bird in the photo may be a descendant of that bird I saw way back in 1986!

I notice that Wally is now an MBE and the author of a book entitled "Wildfowlers and Fishermen on the Solway Coast: From Old Photographs". Sounds interesting.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Eccleston Mere

Goosander 3 females
Snipe 12 (including 1 standing on ice in middle of mere)
Siskin 30
Goldfinch 20
Bullfinch 1
Teal 3 males
Pochard 1 male
Tufted Duck 5

Year 95

Pennington Flash

A beautiful snowy start to the day at Pennington Flash. There was plenty of activity around the feeders at the Bunting hide, but apart from perhaps 60 Tufted Ducks, a Goosander and a female Goldeneye, there was not a lot on the largely ice free flash.

Bullfinch and Stock Dove.

Willow Tit.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Nicky Nook

We walked from Garstang to the summit of Nicky Nook and then back to the car via Scorton. We saw about 300 Siskins in two flocks of 200 & 100 in the Grisedale Valley, and in the same area about 50 Lesser Redpolls. On the River Wyre near Garstang there was a pair of Goosander, and on the way home a Barn Owl flew over the M6 near the Parbold junction.

Grizedale reservoir with Bowland beyond from Nicky Nook.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Eccleston Mere

Teal 4
Snipe 1 in the ditch in SW corner
Lesser Redpoll 1
Siskin 1
Goldfinch 20
Tufted Duck 5

Friday, 18 January 2013

Queens Park

Raven 1 flew over.

Eccleston Mere

Water Rail 1 (SW corner)
Snipe 1 flew over
Goldeneye 1 female
Tufted Duck 2
Teal 1 heard
Buzzard 1
Sparrowhawk 1 with prey

Now is the time to catch up with the Water Rail if you've still not seen it yet this year. The ground is frozen and it is now forced to feed in the ditch, the only part of its preferred habitat which remains ice free. I had two good views of it today in the SW corner.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Comments not coming through

Apologies if your comments are not coming through, I don't know what is happening to them at the moment. Some people have no problems others are having big problems. Please bear with me while I try to get to the bottom of it.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Fulmars, Turnstones and Scoter

"It may be winter outside, but in my heart it's spring", or to put it another way, it may be only 16th January and the temperatures may be close to zero, but these Fulmars are already on their breeding ledges. Fulmars can often be seen prospecting potential nest sites very early in the year. I saw two birds flying around the cliffs at Red Wharf Bay in mid December. I recommend Richard Perrys account of the Fulmar in his book "A Naturalist on Lindisfarne".

Anybody who has been to Anglesey will know this classic view of Menai Straits and Menai Bridge with Snowdonia as a back drop.

These Turnstones were on the sea wall at Bull Bay this afternoon. It was a particularly high tide! They weren't just roosting, they were very active and appeared to be feeding, though I'm not sure what on.

On the way home I stopped off at Llandulas to have a look over the sea at the scoter flock. It was a truely awesome sight, there were thousands of scoter on the flat calm sea and more flying around. A telescope was required even for the closest birds, and the flock just stretched away to the horizon. At least 5000 I would say, probably more. Also a few Red-throated Divers, Great crested Grebes and Red-breasted Mergansers.

Year list 88

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Cetacean watching Anglesey

I had one of my best ever cetacean experiences today. I watched a pod of about 10 Bottle-nosed Dolphins quite close inshore and through my telescope. There were at least a couple of youngsters in the pod, and they continually leaped clear of the water. The adults were less inclined to leap out of the water, but when they did, they were even more spectacular, and on several occasions they twisted right over as they breached. I watched them for about 10 minutes as they headed west along the coast. Also with them, at least 1 Harbour Porpoise.

I also found two Black Redstarts today. Unfortunately not as confiding as the Snow Bunting yesterday, but at least I got a couple of photos.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Snow on Anglesey

It was a relatively mild day on Anglesey today compared to many other parts of the country. It was 7'C when I arrived at 10am, and though we did have a few heavy hail showers, most of the time it was dry and virtually windless.

I found two Snow Buntings on the beach, whilst out at sea there were over 60 Red-throated Divers including an impressive flock of 42 in flight. Also 1 Great northern Diver, about 100 Common Scoter and a single adult Gannet. I didn't realise that Gannets could be seen off Anglesey in January, and this must be my earliest ever.

Waders included 4 Greenshank, about 400 Dunlin and lots of Redshanks, Oystercatchers and Curlew. Wildfowl were represented by 5 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, about 150 Wigeon and a few Teal and Shelduck.

I'm not keeping a year list, but if I was I'd be on 81.

Snow Bunting. Beautiful, confiding birds, they see so few Humans that they can be incredibly tame, but I've never seen one like this before. It was so close I couldn't focus on it without using macro! I've had some great experiences with this species, I've seen them singing on the summit of a 4000ft mountain in the Cairngorms, and I once found a flock of nearly 2000 between Wick and John 0'Groats at Christmas 1985. A bit like Waxwings, it's always a good day when you see a Snow Bunting!

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