Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Please can we do it again?

Well that's the end of that then. My final tally for the year was 259 species in the UK, smashing my previous best of 245, set way back in 1983. I had an incredible 12 UK lifers in 2013 and ended the year on a tantalising 397. Surely I'll join the 400 club in 2014??? To put it into context, the previous 12 lifers took me over four years to get!

Highlights in 2013 included White-tailed Eagle, Great Shearwater, Baikal Teal, Parrot Crossbill, Two-barred Crossbill and American Buff-bellied Pipit. An incredible spell in June saw me watching singing Greenish Warbler, White-spotted Bluethroat and Common Rosefinch on consecutive weekends all in the North West! December was even better, a month which is normally very slow produced three lifers (Baikal Teal, Parrot Crossbill and American Buff-bellied Pipit), and my second Ivory Gull.

In July Elaine and I went camping to the Hebrides on what can only be described as the holiday of a lifetime. In our little two man tent, we set out with the intention of spending five nights on Mull, but after that we just went wherever the weather looked best and wherever our fancy took us, catching seven ferries and two boats to visit 12 Hebridean Islands, and spending a total of 12 nights under canvas. There were too many highlights to list them all here, but they included being serenaded to sleep by up to five calling Corncrakes at our campsite at Balranald, North Uist, and finding two rarities for myself on consecutive days, Buff-breasted Sandpiper on Bernaray and Great Shearwater following the Harris to Skye ferry.

So how could the year list have been bigger? Well, I missed several species which really I should have seen if I had been serious about getting a big list in 2013. Long-eared Owl, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Greenland Whitefront, Nightjar, Common Crane, Egyptian Goose, Golden Pheasant, Crested Tit, Ptarmigan, Capercaillie, Dotterel and really I should have gone to the east coast at the beginning of September, when a run of easterly winds would probably have brought me Red-breasted Flycatcher, Barred Warbler, Wryneck and Icterine Warbler. When I did finally go to the east coast in October, I was unlucky to miss (by one day) Long-tailed Skua, Sooty Shearwater (ouch!) and Sabine's Gull. Finally there were several mega rarities I could and probably should have gone for in England or Wales, for example Great Snipe (Spurn), Orphean Warbler and Bridled Tern. So with a bit more luck and / or effort and / or money and / or time, I could have added another 25 species to the list without having to resort to Shetland or Scillies or big league twitching, but I'm not complaining! I didn't dip on much in 2013, and when I did I usually succeeded at the second attempt.

In total I visited 214 different sites across the UK at which I saw at least one species of bird I considered worth recording in my database. This compares with 120 sites last year! Although I didn't do as much birding in St Helens when compared to recent years, I still managed to visit Eccleston Mere on 144 occasions, or once every 2.5 days, and still managed to record 103 species at the mere, just two less than my best ever year.

2013 was my best and most enjoyable birding year ever. I don't intend to keep a year list in 2014, but I'm hoping it will be just as enjoyable........

!!!! Happy New Year to all readers of this blog !!!

Pennington Flash

Slavonian Grebe 1
Goosander 40
Kingfisher 1
Bullfinch 1 male
Goldeneye 10

The Slavonian Grebe was in Ramsdales Bay. It was my third Slav at Pennington Flash.

Goosanders in Ramsdales.

Ramsdales Bay

Slavonian Grebe.

Eccleston Mere

Goosander 1 female
Goldeneye 3 (2males, 1 female)
Pochard 5 (4 males, 1 female)
Tufted Duck 11 (8 males, 3 females)
Little Grebe 1 juv.
Snipe 5
Buzzard 1
Pink-footed Goose 200 flying over Catchdale Moss

The Goosander was my first of the winter on the mere.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Broomhead Reservoir

At least six Two-barred Crossbills flew over, This was the only sighting I had of them, and was very disappointing considering I'd gone there in the hope of seeing a male, which I missed earlier in the year.

Audenshaw Reservoirs

Black-throated Diver 1 juv.
Goldeneye 3
Goosander 2 (m&f)

It was a struggle to stand up at times in the wind, it was dull, it was rainy. Not surprising therefore that this is the best photo I could manage of the Black-throated Diver, only my third in the North West. The first was also at Audenshaw Reservoirs on 18th January 1987. The second spent most of February 1996 on Prescot Reservoirs, but did commute to Eccleston Mere and even Taylor Park. At least the photo clearly shows the white patch at the back of the bird.

Pennington Flash

Goosander 30
Willow Tit 1
Tufted Duck 170
Pochard 30
Goldeneye 10

No sign of the Slavonian Grebe first thing. It was relocated on the canal later, but I'd long since left by then.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

More from Denhall Lane

American Buff-bellied Pipit 1
Siberian Chiffchaff 2
Common Chiffchaff 1
Wheatear 1
Merlin 1
Fieldfare 20
Stonechat 4
Raven 2

Whatever your views of twitching a rare pipit, not once but three times over Christmas, including getting there for first light on Christmas morning itself, it's surely hard to deny that the general birding at Burton Marsh and more specifically Denhall Lane is better than anywhere in the North West at the moment, and it's just a pleasure to be there.

Not only do we have an American pipit sharing the place with a couple of Siberian Chiffchaffs, they are also in the unlikely company of the latest ever Wheatear in Cheshire by some 32 days, and a Common Chiffchaff! Add to that the usual saltmarsh birds, including Pink-footed geese flying over, Merlin hunting the small stuff, flocks of Lapwings and Teal, Stonechats, Little Egrets fishing, Curlew calling, and the anticipation of a passing Hen Harrier or  Great White Egret, both of which are in the vicinity, and it's easy to see why on a beautiful sunny winters day, to the accompaniment of cackling Fieldfares, the lure of Denhall Lane is too much to resist, however many times I've been recently.

Today, at the third attempt I finally got the prolonged, close views I have yearned of the American Buff-bellied Pipit. I saw it between 8:45 and 9:30, then it went missing for nearly three hours, before returning to the tidal wrack at the end of Station Road and showing very well in the excellent sunlight, and it was still showing when I left at about 13:00. It's actually a cracking little bird, and easily separable from Meadow Pipit, in fact it's much more like a Water Pipit.

The Wheatear might be the latest in Cheshire by 32 days, but it's my latest by just one day, having previously seen one over Christmas a few years ago near Scarborough.

Still not going to win any awards, but this is my best and favourite photo of the American Buff-bellied Pipit. I particularly like its open-faced appearance in this picture. It has this friendly appearance because unlike Water Pipit, which is very similar, Buff-bellied Pipit has pale lores (i.e. the area between the eye and the bill). Water Pipit has dark lores, and this gives it a more aggressive appearance, almost like it's frowning. This is one of the key identification features which makes this an ABBP. Notice also the small bill compared to Water Pipit.

Here it is alongside a Meadow Pipit. Don't be fooled by people who tell you to look for a bird which is paler than Meadow Pipit. To my eyes it's darker.

A few other things to note - 1) it is much greyer than the Meadow Pipit which appears brown, 2) compare the mantle (back) of each bird. Meadow Pipit is very streaky, ABBP is much less streaky and is largely dark grey, 3) Look at the two wing bars on the ABBP. Meadow Pipit has pale wing bars, but they are nowhere near so pronounced, 4) Not particularly obvious on this photo, but the ABBP has a much more pronounced supercilium and moustacial stripe. Dare I say that you can even see the ABBP's buff belly on this and the next photo?

This photo shows the birds mantle quite nicely. Dark grey and only lightly patterned (definitely not streaked like Meadow Pipit).

The dark, triangular malar patch (below the moustacial stripe on the side of the throat) shows up well on this photo. This is one of several features on this bird which has led some people to question if it is actually Anthus rubescens japonicas, or Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit rather than American Buff-bellied Pipit. SBBP is sometimes considered a separate species and would be a first for Britain if confirmed. Other features which point towards SBBP include the exceptionally white wing bars, (usually not quite so white on ABBP). Is it a coincidence that there are two Siberian Chiffchaffs on the same tidal wrack???

Siberian Chiffchaff. There's actually a second bird to the right of the obvious one, but only its leg is in focus!

Fieldfare sunning itself.

Looking back towards Denhall Lane from the track to Decca Pools. I've never seen it so busy. Apart from the birders there was a constant stream of cyclists and about 30 ramblers went past.

Decca Pools with Moel Famau in the background.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Blurry pipit at Denhall Lane

American buff-bellied pipit 1
Wheatear (northern) 1
Meadow pipit 40
Stonechat 2 (m & f)

It was difficult enough to stand up in the gale force south-westerly wind at Denhall Lane, let alone find a buff-bellied pipit in amongst all of the meadow pipits. My plan was to sit in the car and wait for the bird to come to me, but on arrival I spotted another birder who seemed to be intently watching something from the (private) road to Burton Point, so I abandoned my car and set off towards him. Good job I did, because he was watching the ABBP, and we had good views of the bird, though only through the binoculars, the scope being a definite non-starter in that wind. And they were the only sightings I had of the bird, I stayed until 12:30 and then headed home. There have been no further reports all afternoon.

Anthus rubescens (ssp. caligo???).......Nearly there, nearly there. I reckon if I go every day from now until the end of January I might just get one in focus. It's getting better though, and if I can get one with it's head in focus tomorrow I might just Photoshop it on to this one. Look at it this way though, this photo captures the atmosphere of today. It's a photo of the wind.... Not sure what the problem was on Christmas Day though. Probably just nervous excitement!

Yes I will be there again tomorrow, the forecast is for much lighter winds.

Catchdale Moss

Pink-footed goose 500 in fields behind The Stanley Arms.

Eccleston Mere

Snipe 1
Goldeneye 1 female
Tufted duck 6
Bullfinch 1

Very, very quiet......

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

ABBP and a Sibe at Denhall Lane

American Buff-bellied Pipit 1
Siberian Chiffchaff 1 - 2
Chiffchaff 1 - 2
Wheatear (Northern) 1
Stonechat 2 (male & female) 2
Meadow Pipit 50

UK Life 397, Year 259 (American Buff-bellied Pipit)

The perfect gift from Santa, the Buff-bellied Pipit was again on the tidal wrack, between Denhall Lane and Burton Point, the first time it's been seen since Sunday morning. I was surprised how much it stood out once you got your eye in for it, though it was quite difficult to pick up at times, disappearing in amongst all of the debris, and constantly being flushed by dog walkers and cyclists. Eventually at about 09:45 a walker flushed the whole flock and they flew up and scattered and I was unable to relocate the ABBP.

I suspected there might be a good chance of relocating it today, because the forecast was for the first decent morning since Sunday. The winds and the rain have been so bad recently to make birding in Denhall Lane very difficult (I know, I was there on Monday!).

Also on the tide wrack today, a Northern Wheatear and two Stonechats, whilst on the bramble at the side of the road, Siberian Chiffchaff, Common Chiffchaff and a third bird which looked somewhere in between.

Siberian Chiffchaff. Notice the patch of green in the wing making it very reminiscent of Bonnelli's Warbler. Having watched this bird for several minutes, it was quite startling to see the Common Chiffchaff sit alongside it, and see how different they were. The Common Chiffchaff appeared very brown, with buffish underparts, whereas the sibe appeared almost silvery in comparison. I'm sure that the bird at Middleton earlier in the year wasn't this pale. A cracking bird!

The tidal wrack, looking towards Burton Point.

Unfortunately this was the only clear shot I got of the Buff-bellied Pipit. I'm sure that you're all convinced by this! Apart from the fact it kept disappearing into the debris of the tidal wrack, it actually stood out quite well when on show, and could be picked up quite easily through binoculars.

Unlike the accompanying brown Meadow Pipits, it stood out as being a more grey looking, slightly larger bird. It had a much plainer, greyer back than the Meadow Pipits, though it was obviously faintly streaked when viewed through the telescope. What particularly stood out through the binoculars were the two white wing bars and distinctive facial pattern, with a very distinct supercillium and moustacial stripe. Although in themselves not definitive, this combination of features combined with the overall grey/ brown plumage made it easier to locate when scanning through the Meadow Pipits. Through the telescope the pale lores and complete pale eye ring could be seen clinching the id.

It was moving around all of the time, often disappearing and occasionally flushed by walkers or cyclists, so it was difficult enough to get onto with the scope, let alone take good photos with my equipment. I was more concerned with seeing all of the critical features to confirm the id to myself.

I think I heard it call a couple of times, though I'm not certain. If it was the bird, it had a harsher,  singular "zeet" call, rather than the typical "seet, seet, seet" of Meadow Pipit. Interestingly, I actually heard the same call when I was there on Monday morning, and saw a larger greyer looking pipit in flight, but couldn't relocate it in the wind and rain. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Eccleston Mere

Goldeneye 2 (male & female)
Tufted Duck 6
Cormorant 2

Very quiet this morning. Might try again later.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Eccleston Mere

Snipe 7
Siskin 25
Lesser Redpoll 3
Teal 4
Goldeneye 1 male
Little Grebe 1
Kingfisher 1

Denhall Lane, Dee Estuary

Siberian Chiffchaff 1
Chiffchaff 1
Stonechat 2 (male & female)
Little Egret 3
Meadow Pipit 10

A bleak morning at Denhall Lane, a bitterly cold wind and heavy rain at times, didn't help in the search for the Buff-bellied Pipit along the tide wrack. There were lots of Meadow Pipits on show, a few Linnets, and on the fence a pair  of Stonechats. Best of all, in the bramble just a few feet in front of me, a Siberian Chiffchaff flitting around with a common Chiffchaff for comparison. A cracking bird! My second Sibe Chiffchaff this year, following one in Middleton, Greater Manchester in February.

Oh well, at least if the pipit gets relocated I've got plenty of opportunity to go back over the next few days..

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Ivory Gull on the Humber

A day which started at Sherwood Forest, ended at Patrington Haven on the Humber. There has been a mini invasion of Ivory Gulls recently, and todays juvenile was about the fourth or fifth this month. It wasn't a new bird for me, I saw an adult at Black Rock Sands in North Wales about 10 years ago, but it's a species which is always worth making an effort to see. It's been spending most of its time on the estuary, but two or three times a day has been coming to feed on dead fish provided by birders. Being a High Arctic species, it's not familiar with the threats from Humans and has been very approachable.

Not today however, at least not while I was there. Certainly it was very close in flight, but very reluctant to land and feed. Still, I had some outstanding flight views of the bird, and eventually it landed on top of a pumping station and showed really well.

Also on the estuary today, at least 5000 Golden Plover, Merlin and 100 Bar-tailed Godwits.

Year 258 (Ivory Gull)

Ivory Gulls are very odd looking gulls, more dove like than gull.

The Humber.

Parrot Crossbills, Sherwood Forest

I arrived at Budby Common, Sherwood Forest at 8:30am, to be greeted with the cheerful news that the Parrot Crossbills I was hoping to see had just been seen on the ground drinking from puddles but had flown off seconds before I arrived on the scene. Great! I'd left home at 6am to get there for first light, because I knew that they were generally being seen early morning, and yesterday, for example, they put in just one appearance at 9am before going AWOL for the rest of the day. My mood wasn't helped by the fact that I'd been delayed by not one, but TWO roads closed, including most annoyingly, the M60.....at 6:30am on a Saturday morning! Unbelievable! One of the local birders didn't help, by informing everybody as they arrived that he didn't expect the birds to be seen again all day. If I heard him say that once, I heard it a million times. SHUT UP!

Anyway, he was proved wrong, because after about an hour a flock of 14 crossbills flew into a nearby tree, and the combination of huge bill, large head and stocky appearance confirmed that we were indeed in the presence of Parrot Crossbills. All crossbills are impressive birds, and this has been a great year for them, with plenty of commons and the biggest eruptions for years of Parrot and Two-barred Crossbills.

UK Life 396, Year 257 (Parrot Crossbill)

Male Parrot Crossbill. There's an interesting discussion here on the bill size of the Parrot Crossbills in the UK this year. Some of them seem on the small side for the species, whilst others are spot on. This bird actually had a heavier bill than it appears in the photo, I think that its head is slightly twisted towards us here giving it a false impression. Look at the size of its head though, and it's bull necked, stocky appearance.

As a keen botanist, it's impossible to be so close to the Major Oak and not pay it a visit. This tree has a girth of 10m, and is estimated to be between 800 - 1000 years old, and was just a five minute detour from the footpath to the Parrot Crossbills.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Martin Mere

Marsh harrier 1 female / juv.
Whooper swan 1000
Ruff 80
Wigeon 1000
Teal 300
Shelduck 300
Tree sparrow 20


Whooper swans.

Eccleston Mere

Water rail 1 in ditch on west side
Siskin 80 in wet wood
Snipe 10
Goldeneye 3 (2 males, 1 female)
Tufted duck 4
Kingfisher 1
Grey wagtail 1
Nuthatch 1
Goldcrest 1

The Water rail was in the ditch between the outlet and the south west corner. It didn't seem too bothered by my presence, and I just walked alongside it for a couple of minutes. Unfortunately it was too dark in the ditch for a decent photo, and it didn't stay still for long enough. It was very vocal, squealing away most of the time I was watching it.

The siskins were an impressive sight in the woods, one of the largest flocks I've seen at the mere.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Eccleston Mere

Snipe 9
Goldeneye 1 male
Pochard 2 males
Tufted duck 3 (male & 2 females)
Siskin 2
Cormorant 3
Black-headed gull 200
Common gull 30
Lesser black-backed gull 2
Herring gull 50 (mainly flying over)

Denhall Lane, Dee Estuary

American wigeon 1 male
Wigeon 200
Teal 200
Pink-footed goose 300 over

Year 256 (American wigeon)

I'm still picking up year ticks with surprising regularity, I don't want this year to end. The American wigeon showed really well in the early morning sunshine, it's green mask looking almost iridescent.

I've always had a soft spot for Denhall Lane, it was one of the first places I went to on the Dee many years ago, and the walk from here to the Decca pools is probably my favourite part of the Dee.

The views are at their best here as well, this is Moel Famau from Denhall Lane.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Tanners Lane, Hampshire

This morning I was at Tanners Lane for first light, on the Hampshire coast, to have a last look at the brents before I returned home this afternoon. There was a decent sized flock of about 800 birds, but no sign of the black brant that was reported from here two days ago. It's always a great experience to watch brents though, and this was a place I've never been to before, with good views over the Solent to the Isle of Wight and the Needles, so it was well worth the effort. There were also plenty of waders, in particular dunlin and grey plover.

Most spectacularly, while I was watching the brent goose flock, they suddenly flew up in terror as a goshawk appeared from nowhere and briefly chased them. Awesome! I've never seen any bird of prey chase geese before! Ironically, the name goshawk comes from the Old English name "goose hawk", but I'm not sure if that is because of its size or its habit of preying on geese. I found at least one photo on the internet of a goshawk eating a brent goose.

Last week it was pale-bellied brents in Ireland, this week it's dark-bellied brents in Hampshire, but wherever they are, brents always present an impressive spectacle.

A view over the Solent to the Isle of Wight and the Needles.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Lepe Country Park, Hampshire

Lesser yellowlegs 1
Redshank 2
Ringed plover 30
Dunlin 20
Turnstone 30

Year 255 (Lesser yellowlegs)

Lesser yellowlegs and Redshank. Guess which is the yellowlegs....

Ringed plover and Dunlin.

A supertanker in the Solent at dawn.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Hayling Island and Langstone Harbour

I took a minor detour off the A27 and drove the mile or so to Hayling Island, and ate my lunch overlooking Langstone Harbour. It was a gloriously sunny day, and the light was perfect, allowing me excellent views of 500 Dark-bellied brent geese, 50 Red-breasted mergansers and a nice selection of waders, including Greenshank and Grey plover.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Worthing pier

I nipped down to Worthing Pier for the last hour or so of daylight today, in the hope of seeing the probable Pacific Diver which has been there for the past couple of days. No luck with that, and I didn't see any species of diver, but I did at least see a Red-necked grebe from the end of the pier, along with at least 100 Great-crested grebes, 10 Red-breasted mergansers, a Little egret and some Turnstones.

Worthing pier.

I was treated to a wonderful sunset from the pier.


Giant Puffball

I found this puffball growing in a field near Bognor Regis today. From the size of it I assume it's a Giant puffball Calvatia gigantean, but they are usually white. However, it's probably just an old specimen. It was about the size of a size 4 football.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Eccleston mere

Goldeneye 1 male
Willow tit 1
Pink-footed goose 200 flew over
Teal 1 male
Tufted duck 8 (3 males, 5 females)
Kingfisher 1

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Baikal teal, Crossens marsh

Baikal teal 1 male
Long-tailed duck 1 juv.
Wigeon 5000
Golden plover 500
Little egret 10
Peregrine 1
Merlin 1

At last today I got the opportunity to see the Baikal teal which has been at Banks / Crossens marsh for a week, and what a great bird it was. I think that we must have had better views than most this week, because though I initially started out on the bank at Banks, it soon became obvious that the better views were to be had from Marine drive. Here it was no more than about 75m away, the light was good (quite sunny this morning) and we were sheltered from the wind so the scope could be used on maximum zoom to see the finer details.

It was almost like it was intermediate between a Wigeon and a Teal, in plumage, size and it's feeding action. I didn't see it graze the grass like a Wigeon, but neither did I see it much in open water like a Teal, rather it always seemed to stick to the edge of the water. It had a head and breast which were clearly from the Teal family, yet a body which could easily have belonged to a Wigeon. Despite some initial doubts about it's parentage last week, it seemed to me to be a pure Baikal teal. The only doubts I had on seeing the initial photos were head shape (which appeared too round) and the lack of black line on the face. However, today I could clearly see that the head shape was spot on, with a little bump at the back, and the black line is now starting to appear on the face, presumably as the bird moves towards full breeding plumage later in the winter.

A really stunning bird, in a great location, it's the fifth for Britain.

UK Life 395, Revised Year 254 (Baikal teal)

I'm quite pleased with these digi-scoped photos, taken at about 40x magnification. You can clearly see that the black line on the face is starting to appear, and if anything it was even more obvious on the other cheek.

What are you all doing over there? It's here, right in front of us! Birders watching from Banks.

Wigeon, teal and Baikal teal at Crossens marsh. This photo is taken at 12x magnification without the telescope, and the Baikal teal is almost dead centre, on the edge of the water, facing left. It's more or less in exactly the same position as the digi-scoped photos at 40x (above). What a difference the telescope makes!

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