Sunday, 31 March 2013

River Lune, Cockersands and Condor Green

Eider 15
Red-breasted Merganser 2
Goldeneye 35 on the River Lune at Condor Green
Wigeon 100
Black-tailed Godwit 200
Grey Plover 16
Knot 300
Redshank 300
Pink-footed Geese 100
Stonechat 1

Pink-footed Geese over Cockersands Abbey and Brown Hares.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Marshide and memories of Minsmere

In 1980 I visited Minsmere in Suffolk with my Dad, in the hope of seeing Avocets for the first time, based on information gleened from John Gooders book "Where to watch birds". We stayed in Walberswick, and at the time it seemed a remote and wild place and it was a great adventure. We achieved our goal, and had the added bonus of also seeing our first Spoonbill, a bird I never expected to see. It was all very much a Richard Perry "At the turn of the tide" experience. Over the following years if ever I wanted to see Avocets I needed to follow pretty much the same routine, and a visit to East Anglia was required.

My first Avocet in North West England was at Frodsham in 1985, followed by one at Heswall in 1994 and then two at Seaforth in 1998. Three sightings of four Avocets in the North West in my first 28 years birding! By 2003 they were breeding at Marshside, Martin Mere and Leighton Moss. Today there were 60 Avocets at Marshside.

There was just one Spoonbill at Marshside today, yet considering that back in 1980 Spoonbills hadn't bred in the UK for 400 years, their rise has been equally spectacular, and they now breed in Norfolk in good numbers, though the initial break through was here in the North West.

When I arrived at Marshside the bird hadn't been seen, so I decided to walk north up the road and very soon spotted the Spoonbill feeding in a ditch. Fortunately it eventually came quite close and I sat there alone on the bank, basking in the early spring sunshine, and watching this amazing, tropical looking bird feeding at close quarters. Just to remind me that I was actually at Southport, a flock of 1000 Pink-footed Geese flew over and I lay back for a moment and watched them fly across the bright blue sky, whilst on the marsh, a Merlin perched on a log, waiting its moment.

It's always interesting watching Spoonbills feed. Their bill is obviously highly evolved to allow them to catch prey, yet whoever designed it seems to have forgotton that the bird needs to swallow the prey once caught. Today I watched the bird catch at least a couple of sticklebacks, and the process of moving the fish from the tip of its spatula bill to it's mouth seemed fairly tortuous to me. I once watched a Spoonbill eat an eel, but only after the eel had coiled itself around the birds bill for about 20 minutes.

Year 149 (Avocet, Spoonbill)

Marshside with Blackpool behind. In the foreground a little Egret, whose rise has been even more meteoric than either Avocet or Spoonbill, but that's a story for another day......

Eccleston Mere - The return of a few old friends

Water Rail 2 (1 in Alder Carr, 1 in ditch about 50 yards away, both showing well)
Willow Tit 1
Chiffchaff 4 (2 singing, 2 calling)
Great spotted Woodpecker 4 drumming
Teal 2
Goldeneye 1 female
Gadwall 3 (2 males, 1 female)
Tufted Duck 15
Kingfisher 1
Siskin 2

A wonderful day at the mere, a beautiful warm sunny day. Both Water Rails were seen very well. The first was walking along the ditch away from the south west corner, and I watched it for about a minute, following it along the ditch. The second was about 2 minutes later, and was in full view for 15 seconds under the Alder Carr.

In the south east corner I came across a Willow Tit. I'd started to get a little worried about the species having not seen one at the mere for a few weeks, so this was a very welcome reunion!

In the woods at the far end of the stream two woodpeckers were drumming at each other!

This bat was flying in full sunlight at 15:45. From the size, I think it's probably a pipistrelle sp, though it was flying over the water and Daubenton's Bat is common at the mere. Daubenton's is a typical species of still water. I assume that the bat had emerged from hibernation in the warm sunlight and decided to feed while it had the opportunity. Probably a good idea, it's still well below freezing at night! I never would have believed that I would be able to capture such a good photo of a flying bat with my camera!

A brief video of the bat.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Eccleston Mere

Gadwall 5 (3 males, 2 females)
Goosander 2 females
Goldeneye 1 female
Tufted Duck 15 (11 males, 4 females)
Kingfisher 1


The snow may have largely gone from lowland St Helens, but it was still very much in evidence today on the Sandstone Trail at Peckforton, and a beautiful scene it was, with bright blue skies and the wind reduced to a gentle breeze, it was a much more pleasant day than most we have experienced recently.

This is a place I used to visit with my parents when I was a young  lad, and I saw my first Pied Flycatchers and Great Spotted Woodpeckers here in 1974. Too early in the year for Pied Flies at the moment, but we saw a Great Spot in almost exactly the same tree as my first all those years ago. Also today, several Buzzards and a few Ravens, as well as a nice selection of woodland birds.

Birch Polypore

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Berrington's Lane

Willow Tit 1

Great to see that despite the new golf course, there is still habitat for Willow Tits.

Drifting on Billinge Hill

It's amazing what a difference a bit of altitude makes. I climbed the south face of Billinge Hill from Red Bank Road and it was quite tough going, with the snow up to my knees at times, and the approach roads were piled high with snow that had been pushed aside by the snow ploughs (which were still in operation this morning on Crank Hill).

No sign of the mythical Little Owl or Grey Partridge, but there were several Yellowhammers and a Brambling by Red Bank Farm.

Eccleston Mere

Teal 7
Tufted Duck 15
Goldeneye 1 female
Lesser Redpoll 4
Kingfisher 2

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Reed's Moss

Raven 2
Snipe 9
Oystercatcher 2
Fieldfare 2
Skylark 20
Buzzard 3

Eccleston Mere

Oystercatcher 2
Lesser Redpoll 10
Siskin 10
Gadwall 2 (male & female)
Teal 3
Goldeneye 1 female
Tufted Duck 16
Pochard 1 male
Coal Tit 1
Nuthatch 1

Oystercatchers are a typical sign of spring at the mere, but they usually just fly over or land in the nearby fields. It's not very often you see them landed on the bank like these birds.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Springtime at Eccleston Mere

Lesser Redpoll 14
Siskin 12
Gadwall 3 (2 males, 1 female)
Goldeneye 1 female
Snipe 5
Grey Wagtail 1
Tufted Duck 12

Welcome to spring!

Redpolls were showing well today, feeding on the ground and allowing quite close approach. There is a small flock of 4 Siskins and 2 Redpolls which seem to stay apart from the other finches.

Deciding whether or not you have a Common Redpoll in a flock of Lessers is not always easy! There were two or three birds today which looked "mealy" to me, including the bird in the foreground of these two photos, but it's hard to be sure. If anybody has an opinion on these birds, please let me know.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Moel Famau - Foel Fenlli

Spectacular views from the summits of Moel Famau and Foel Fenlli today, and not just the scenary, the skies were good as well! I think that the snow covered mountain is Snowdon, but if not, its certainly somewhere nearby!

Black Grouse

We called in at a well known Black Grouse site today. It was a bit late in the day for leking, but even so we saw and heard one bird.

Year 147

Eccleston Mere

Oystercatcher 2
Chiffchaff 1 singing
Lesser Redpoll 5
Siskin 20
Tufted Duck 29 (21 males, 8 females)
Gadwal (male and female)
Nuthatch 1 calling
Grey Wagtail 1
Goldcrest 6
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2 displaying

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Surfing Llanddulas style

I'm not renowned as a great dancer, and people passing by on the A55 below Llysfaen Station Road, Llanddulas, who happened to glance up, would be forgiven for being a little startled. A lone figure with a telescope pointing towards a seemingly featureless, birdless sea was apparently jigging around, waving his arms in the air as if in some insane celebration. Surely he was intoxicated said one passer by, whilst another concluded that he must have disturbed a wasps nest.

Yet the truth was much more unlikely. Six times since Christmas the crazed dancer had held a lone vigil, staring at the same piece of sea, 6 times he had meticulously looked through 20,000 tiny black dots which he insisted were Common Scoter, as if searching for some unseen quarry. Occasionally he would twitch a little, the only indication that he had picked out a Velvet Scoter, but on each of the previous visits he had left feeling a little disappointed.

Even today, he had been there for 90 minutes and seen nothing new when a passing heavy rain shower convinced him to pack up and go. But this time he didn't go. He waited for the shower to pass and then had another look. Still nothing new. Finally, after another 30 minutes he decided that he was just going to point the telescope in a random direction, identify every bird he could see in the view and then go.

Immediatley he saw it, a black dot with a white square on the back of its head. He looked closer. There could be no doubt, he had found what he most desired. A drake Surf Scoter! The celebrations began, a legend was born....

The offshore wind farm from Llanddullas, with a seemingly birdless sea in the foreground, yet actually there are thousands of birds in this photo. Look more closely...

Todays Surf Scoter was my third in the UK, but my first for many years, and was actually quite a decent view, on a largely flat calm sea. All scoter are wonderful birds, and Surf is particularly wierd! There are some great photos of Surf Scoter here. My joy today was in part because I've tried so hard to see one this year, and also because it completed a wonderful afternoons birding. Also at Llanddulas today, at least 2 Velvet Scoter and 3 Red-throated Divers. Year 146.

Conwy RSPB

Firecrest Year 145
Red-breasted Merganser 4
Little Egret 1

On any other day the Firecrest would be the star attraction no doubt.....

Hawfinches at Llanbedr-y-cennin

The Conwy Valley is one of the most beautiful parts of North Wales, and Llanbedr-y-cennin is one of the few places I know where you can see Hawfinches.

It was a spectacular experience. I stood in the church yard with Hawfinches all around me, yet hidden from view in the densely foliaged Yew trees. I knew they were there because they were ticking at each other like Robins, and occasionally one or two would fly between the Yews, large finches with short tails and thick bills. Suddenly the ticking rose to a crescendo and 10 birds flew out of a yew and away over the field. Yet still there was more ticking close by, and then I spotted a bird in full view at the top of a tree. It stayed there for 5 minutes before it and another 3 birds flew off, following the others. Overhead a pair of Red Kites displayed.

Year 144

Friday, 15 March 2013

Porpoise watching on the Welsh Riviera

If you believed the weather forecast you'd never go out of the house! Yet another glorious day on Anglesey, not particularly cold, little more than breezy and sunny all day after about 10am.

We had some free time this morning, so headed over to Bedmannarch Bay. There was still at least one Slavonian Grebe and several Goldeneye, as well as at least 90 Pale-bellied Brent geese here and another 26 in Penrhos Bay.

Pale-bellied Brent Geese in Bedmannnarch Bay and Cemlyn Bay.

Flat calm waters, ideal for watching Harbour Porpoise. There were at least 2 porpoise in the bay for a good couple of hours. What was the weather forecast again???

Shag and Stonechat.

Oystercatchers and Sea Spleanwort.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The ghost of the cliffs

I had an early morning stroll along the cliffs near the hotel today. It was a morning to really raise the spirits, bright blue skies and flat calm seas. A couple of Harbour Porpoise broke the surface every now and then, whilst out at sea the occasional Gannet drifted past at a leisurely pace, and small flocks of auks scurried here and there. Fulmars floated along the cliff tops in a silent, ghostly way, and Meadow Pipits were parachuting down all around me. Great stuff!

Later we saw 3 Black Resdstarts on a private site and 2 Black Guillemots at Point Lynas. There has been another Black Redstart on Point Lynas, but we only had time for a quick look over the bay for the Black Guillie's.

Raven. Now that's what I call a bill!

Plenty of Fulmar activity around the breeding ledges today. They are fantastic fliers.

Black Redstart, one of three seen today. I thought about cropping this photo, but I quite like the rock formation so I decided to leave it as it is.

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