Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Pennington Flash

What a difference a bit of sun makes! I've gone from Siberia on Monday to the Canaries today! The Canaries today being represented by a glorious flock of 60 Siskins in the Alders at the western end of the flash. A breathtaking sight!

Equally breathtaking, three kingfishers chasing each other around, glowing first electric blue and then bright red in the bright sunshine, depending on the angle of flight. After chasing off the apparent intruder, the pair sat in a bush and took it in turns to dive into the water with a loud plop and then emerge with fish.

Other birds today included 2 Goosander and several Goldeneye, but no sign of yesterdays reported Scaup.

Eccleston Mere

Mute Swan 1 adult
Tufted Duck 11

Rainford Mosslands

Shelduck 2 Old Coach Road. The first Spring migrant!
Lapwing 6 displaying Dairy Farm Road
Skylark 5 singing Dairy Farm Road

The Old Coach Road at Clare's Moss.

Kirkby Moss

Shoveler 2 males
Shelduck 2
Gadwall 3
Teal 52
Little Grebe 2
Mute Swan 2 adults

So close yet so far. I can't think of anywhere in St Helens which looks so good for waders.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Siberian Chiffchaff Middleton

It's always exciting to see a "Sibe" and today was no exception. I decided to call in at Wince Brook Nature Reserve at Middleton, Greater Manchester, in the hope of seeing the Siberian Chiffchaff which has been at the site for at least 3 weeks. The directions were good, and I was able to find both the reserve and the birds favourite buddleia growing over the brook with relative ease. There were a few Goldcrests in the bush when I arrived, and after about 5 minutes a Chiffchaff flew in and raised the pulse rate, but alas no, it was too brown, and it was clearly a Common Chiffchaff.

There was certainly a Siberian like nip in the air, so after about 15 minutes I went for a short walk in an attempt to stop myself freezing to the spot. On returning to the buddleia, I immediately spotted another Chiffchaff, and this time the grey / brown upperparts and a distinct supercillium, combined with white underparts and olive brown wings, making it slightly reminisant of Bonelli's Warbler, confirmed that I was indeed in the presence of a Siberian Chiffchaff.

It then proceded to perform extremely well, I watched it for about 30 minutes as it flitted around the buddleia, no more than about 10 metres from me. It called a couple of times in a quite different way to the happy hweet of Common Chiffchaff. It was more like a mournful peep!

Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita tristis is a race of Common Chiffchaff, breeding north and east of Khazakhstan. I'm not sure why Iberian Chiffchaff is now considered a seperate species, yet Siberian isn't, but it's probably only a matter of time before it gets split. Why a tiny bird from the other side of Kazakhstan would want to overwinter by the side of a brook in Greater Manchester is even more perplexing. For more information on Siberian Chiffchaff, click here.

Also seen today, Kingfisher and 2 Teal.

Revised Year List 138 (Chiffchaff)

Siberian Chiffchaff and Sparrowhawk.

Pennington Flash

Goosander 5
Goldeneye 8
Bullfinch 20

Goosander, male and female

Red Bank Road, Billinge Hill

Brambling 2
Chaffinch 100
Fieldfare 30
Yellowhammer 30

No sign of Little Owl, but lots of very promising looking buildings.

Eccleston Mere

Tufted Duck 8
Pochard 1 male
Lesser Redpoll 1
Black-headed Gull 300
Common Gull 50
Reed Bunting 1

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Rainford Mosslands

Brambling 1 with 200 Chaffinches near Brown Birch farm, Old Coach Road
Raven 2 Old Coach Road
Pink-footed Goose 2000 on Simonswood Moss. The European White-front was seen with them this morning, same place as last week.
Fieldfare 30 Clare's Moss, Old Coach Road
Linnet 30 Dairy Farm Road
Buzzard 2 Dairy Farm Road

Year 136 (Brambling)

Eccleston Mere

Snipe 1
Kingfisher 1
Lesser Redpoll 1
Tufted Duck 11

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Sampling in the Conwy Valley.

After another cold start it was a beautiful day in the Conwy Valley, though the stronger breeze made it feel a good deal chillier than previous days. We spent the day sampling on the River Conwy. Following yesterdays mammoth 15 hour session, we decided to take it easy today and cut the day short after 12 hours!

Two of the sampling stations in the Conwy Valley.

At Tal-y-cafn I saw a Red Kite, my first in North Wales. The dragonfly nymph is Four-spot Chaser.

Near one of the sampling stations I came across this large Willow Bracket Phellinus igniarius. The moth is Pale Brindled Beauty.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Haemopis sanguisuga

It was an even colder start to the day. We worked long into the night drift sampling from a local stream, it was a 15 hour shift today!

The largest species of British leech, Haemopis sanguisuga, otherwise known as the Horse Leech, can grow up to 15cm long. We found this specimin in Llyn Geirionydd yesterday. According to the NBN Gateway, this species has been recorded in St Helens, at Carr Mill Dam. It is not capable of piercing Human skin, or the skin of any mammal.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Bdellocephala punctata at Llyn Gerionydd

It was a chilly start in the Conwy Valley, but temperatures soon warmed up and it was a glorious day to be out and about. There is a wonderful display of Snowdrops in the local woodlands.

We collected samples from Llynn Geirionydd, and amongst the many invertebrates we found was this impressive flat worm, Bdellocephala punctata which in North Wales is found under stones in only two lakes, one of which is Geirionydd.

Amazingly despite the sub zero temperatures, this Dotted Border moth was active. The damselfly larva is Large-red Damselfly.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Freshwater ecology at Rhyd-y-creuau

I'm away with Edge Hill University for a few days this week, at Rhyd-y-creuau Field Studies Centre at Betws-y-coed. It's a freshwater ecology module for BSc students and we're studying mainly freshwater invertebrates of lentic and lotic ecosystems.

Highland Cattle at Cors Bodgynydd.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Silverdale and Leighton Moss

I took a break from the madness of the year list, and we headed up to Silvedale for one of our favourite walks on a glorious February day. We walked from Crag Foot (near the car park for the saltmarsh hides at Leighton Moss), through ancient woodland and up and over the back of Warton Crag to Leighton Hall and then down across the causeway to Leighton Moss visitor centre.

After lunch, we crossed the golf course and made our way to Jack Scout, via Woodwell and Gibralter Farm. From Jack Scout we followed the road around, past Jenny Brown's point and crossed the saltmarsh at Quaker's Stang to return to the car.

Green Woodpeckers were yaffling at Leighton Hall.......... year 135.

You get some fantastic views of Leighton Moss on this walk.

Snowdrops are now in full flower.

Waxwings still Rivi Road

I only had chance for a very quick look today, and saw just 8 birds still present in the cotoneaster on Rivington Road at 16:50. However there had been at least 24 birds present earlier in the day. Thanks to Chris Gregson for sending me these superb photos of the birds. What with Fieldfares in January and Waxwings in February, the cotoneaster is starting to look a bit bare!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

European White-fronted Goose Old Coach Road

You know it's been a good day when you can't decide if Waxwings on your doorstep are the highlight! This afternoon I decided to get the bike out for the first time this year, and headed off down the bypass. I bumped into Damian in Dairy Farm Road, who told me that there was a large flock of Pink-footed Geese in the fields where Dairy Farm Road joins the Old Coach Road. He was right, I would estimate easily 3000 birds. The sun was against me so I tried to outflank them by going down the farm track / public footpath to the right of the field and they didn't seem particularly worried, and most just carried on feeding. Eventually I got into a good position and scanned through them.

I always find scanning through a settled flock of Pink-feet to be quite a relaxing experience, their soft chunnering is quite reassuring and calming. Then one looked straight at me and it had a white forehead. Surely a White-front? However some Pink-feet can show quite a lot of white and I wanted to see more to be sure. I needn't have worried, after a minute or two it walked into full view and I could clearly see black barring on its belly, and the sharp contrast of the black on pale brown made this a European White-front rather than the darker Greenland White-front. Excellent, only my second ever European White-front in St Helens.

Year 134

European White-fronted Goose with Pink-footed Geese.

The flock coming in to land, Old Coach Road. Green Lane, Catchdale Moss.

Waxwings Rivington Road, Queens Park

To say I was gutted to hear about 50 Waxwings in the Cotoneaster at Queens Park Primary School in Rivington Road on Thusrday, while I was on Anglesey, would be the under statement of the year! Not having a garden, this tree is the nearest I can possibly hope to having Waxwings in my garden. So this morning I've walked past the tree about 5 times in the hope that  they would be there again, and on the first four occasions was disappointed.

Then finally, at 10:45 I opened the front door on my way out again, and immediately I could hear them, and there they were, 38 of them high up in the Poplar trees next to the tennis courts in Queens Park! I grabbed my camera and went and stood near the cotonester. After about 10 minutes they flew down and began feeding, but not before they briefly landed on the wires to allow me to get a photo. They were in the Cotoneaster for about 2 minutes, and then flew back up to the Poplar trees.

I returned home and tried to get them on my house list. I could see them from my front door, I could see them from an upstairs window and I even found a cotoneaster berry on my front step! That's good enough for me, they're on my garden list!

I saw them again at 12:30 after they had been missing for an hour.

The distant photo of the birds in the tree is interesting, because it's exactly the same tree that the Fieldfares used to perch in when they were in the cotoneaster last month. I know there are a lot better photos than these on the internet, but bear with me, I've been watching this tree for 20 years without sight nor sound of a Waxwing in it. If anybody wants to send me a better photo of these birds which they don't mind me using here I'd really appreciate it, and obviously I'd fully acknowledge it. Thanks to Peter for the tip off.

Eccleston Mere

Water Rail 1 in ditch in SW corner
Snipe 4
Goosander 1 female
Siskin 30
Lesser Redpoll 2
Goldfinch 20
Kingfisher 2
Tufted Duck 8

A surprisingly cold start to the day left part of the mere iced over.

Friday, 15 February 2013


With the naked eye you would think that there was hardly a bird on the sea, but that couldn't be further from the truth. On Tuesday I said that there must be 10,000 Common Scoter, but today a fellow birder put it at around 40,000. I'll go with 20,000, but whatever the actual figure, it's an awesome spectacle, yet one which very few people outside the birding community know even exists. Just look out towards the wind farm, the sea is black with ducks.

I started out at the beach car park and then drove up to the more recognised viewing spot at Llysfaen Station Road which is slightly further away from the flock, but higher up and offering much better views. Most of the birds are on the water, but the flock is constantly active, with many small groups of 100 or so scoter flying around all of the time. Then in one of the greatest birding sights I have ever experienced, a huge group took to the the air, maybe 5000 birds, they flew low over the water, circled round a few times and then landed again. As they flew the bright afternoon sunlight picked out at least 10 birds with white wing bars which contrasted sharply with the birds jet black plumage - Velvet Scoter. Still no sign of any Surf Scoter, but it's hard to be disappointed with a spectacle like this!

Also on the sea today, at least 10 Red-throated Divers.

Church on the edge of the cliff

Llanbadrig church, on the east side of Camaes Bay, is well worth a visit if you've not discovered the place yet. You get great views over Cemaes Bay, including Wylfa nuclear power station, and it's one of the most spectacular locations for a church that I ever come across, positioned right on the edge of a sea cliff. There were about 20 pairs of Fulmars of on the cliffs and 3 Ravens and 10 Jackdaws, but the prize bird was a pair of Choughs, bringing my year list to 133.

Another Black Gullemot? No, this is a winter plumage Guillemot. Llanbadrig church on the edge of the cliff.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Slavs and tysties

Early morning I had a quick drive over to Holyhead. First stop was Llyn Penrhyn near RAF Valley in the hope of seeing the long staying Long-tailed Duck. There was no sign of this bird, but there was about 100 Shoveler and 50 Pochard.

Next I headed over to Beddmanarch Bay, and almost immediately picked out a couple of Slavonian Grebes in amongst the displaying male Goldeneyes. Then I had a scan around the bay and counted 107 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, at least 400 Bar-tailed Godwits, 100 Curlew and a few Wigeon.

Finally I went to Holyhead harbour in the hope of seeing Black Guillemots (in Shetland known as tysties). I failed to see any in the new harbour, but there were at least 7 in the old harbour.

Later in the day I called in at Cemlyn Bay and saw a couple of Gannets and a Red-throated Diver.

Year 132

Harbours are great places to photograph, they're always colourful yet industrial looking. Holyhead harbour is the best place in the UK outside Scotland for seeing Black Guillemots. I love this photo of two tysties dwarfed by the harbour!

Black Guillemot and Beddmanarch Bay.

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