Thursday, 31 December 2015

Raptor Fest to end the Year

I was back at Flitcham in Norfolk today for another look at the pallid harrier. It was a beautiful day in East Anglia, cloudless and perfect for flying raptors, and indeed I quickly got onto hen harrier, merlin, sparrowhawk and buzzard, but the star attraction was not for playing. After a long nervous wait, eventually the bird showed briefly, and then a few minutes later again, this time for longer. It was a bit more distant than on Boxing Day, but the  light was perfect, allowing me to get a good look at it and I was particularly impressed today by its rufous underparts in the morning sunshine. Then it disappeared and was not seen again.

So I didn't get the fantastic views which some lucky people have had, but at least I've seen it well on both occasions I have visited. There have been days when it hasn't showed at all, and even today it only showed very briefly and plenty of people left without seeing it. If it sticks around for the rest of the winter I may get opportunity to try again, especially if it moves back into Lincolnshire. Trouble is, having seen it twice, I must be due a dip soon!

Tuesday, 29 December 2015


I took my camera out with no battery today! Doh! So none of the usual frame filling works of art that I normally post here. Just a couple of photos from my phone of Rimmers Marsh and Crossens Marsh at Marshside, Southport. There were two scaup on Fairclough Pool on Rimmers Marsh, at least one of which was a first winter male and I think that the other was probably the same, just not so far advanced in its moult. I could certainly see faint vermiculations on its back. Meanwhile on Crossens marsh, a great white egret, peregrine, merlin and lots of pink-footed geese. Earlier at Lunt Meadows, two short-eared owls showed well.

Fairclough "Pool" on Rimmers Marsh, looking more like a lake following the recent downpours.

Crossens Marsh.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Birding on the Conwy Coast

We had a great day birding on the Conwy coast today. We started at Conwy RSPB where we had four sightings of firecrest, all from the wooden bridge. Then we moved onto the Little Orme via Penrhyn beach.

On Penrhyn beach today there was a very obliging twite which has been around for a few days. Also here a couple of rock pipits.

After a short, steep climb we eventually made it to the top quarry on the Little Orme.There have been up to five black redstarts here over the past few weeks, but we had to be content with a single smart looking male. My fifth black redstart of the year following a complete blank for the species last year! Also on the Little Orme, a single chough and an adult peregrine, plus ravens and fulmars.

The top quarry on the Little Orme. We met a birder here who told us he was going to do a sea watch from the Little Orme because he still needed red-throated diver for the year. He should have come with us to Colwyn Bay......

The common scoter flock was as impressive as ever from Colwyn Bay promenade, with at least 5000 birds today. It was a real struggle because the light wasn't the best, but eventually we managed to pick out a drake surf scoter. Not a lot else on the sea but we did see several red-throated divers!

Including this one! It was right next to the promenade, almost too close for photography. It seemed pretty healthy and dived a lot.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Pallid Harrier, Flitcham, Norfolk

Fortunately I had to drop my son off in Lincoln today, so had the perfect excuse to abandon the North West! It was torrential rain in Lowton when we left and then all the way along the M62 to the A1 and probably well beyond. Driving conditions were dire on the motorway, with spray white outs at times, but eventually we came to the A1 and headed south, and after about 10 miles the rain stopped and by the time we reached Lincoln the sky was bright enough to even suggest some watery sunshine. After a short stop in Lincoln I pressed on alone, south east into Norfolk, and arrived at Flitcham near King's Lynn at about 12 noon. It was cloudy and quite mild, a little breezy, but bright with no hint of rain.

I was hoping to see the juvenile pallid harrier which has overwintered this year on the east coast, and has been seen in a number of places so far, including Donna Nook and Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire, and Wareham Greens, Snettisham and now Flitcham in Norfolk. 

It had been seen about five minutes before I arrived but had disappeared again, making me curse the road block and diversion that had delayed me near Sleaford. Daylight hours are precious at this time of year and a bird like a harrier can sit on the ground for hours on end if it's recently fed or if the weather takes a turn for the worse, and it was already midday. However I needn't have worried, after a wait of 45 minutes, I picked up the bird flying towards me. My first impression was of a long tailed falcon, but I was expecting this, since Montagu's harriers can look very falcon like, and pallid is similar size and jizz, though perhaps a little broader winged.  Upperparts were chocolate brown with a long tail and white crescent shaped rump. I could clearly see it's distinctive facial pattern with a pale collar on a dark neck and I had a decent view of the birds underwing pattern. 

Unfortunately I spent so long watching it through the scope that by the time I decided to try some photos it had moved a lot further away. This was my second pallid harrier, but it was as good as a lifer since the first was from a moving train!

I hung around for another hour or two and managed to get a second look at the bird, and then decided it was time to make tracks. From the radio reports I was getting, it sounded like I would be entering a disaster area back in the North West, with 220 flood warnings and the centres of Leeds and Manchester flooded, and even a sink hole in the M62 westbound causing long traffic delays and the East Lancs flooded and closed near Leigh! I avoided the M62 and took the Woodhead Pass over the Pennines, a slower route but not too bad on a Boxing Day evening, and at least it avoided the chaos on the motorway.

Also at Flitcham today, peregrine, red kite, buzzard, sparrowhawk, grey partridge and two Egyptian geese.

Year: 269 (Pallid Harrier)

At least you can make out that it's a slim ringtail harrier!


Thursday, 24 December 2015

Ainsdale Beach

I had a walk along Ainsdale beach this afternoon with my son. Unsurprisingly perhaps the beach was deserted, hardly even a dog walker to be seen. The tide was on the ebb and there were thousands of gulls on the tideline and large parties of waders, mainly bar-tailed godwits, sanderling and knot, but also plenty of dunlin, curlew and oystercatchers. It was blowing a south-westerly gale, but the sky was mainly blue, with just the occasional threatening black cloud passing by. In fact it was a tremendous experience and a pleasure to be there.

Bar-tailed godwits.

Strange how this one godwit was in full summer plumage, yet I didn't notice a single other bird with any traces of red. I'd go so far as to say that this is perhaps the finest example I've ever seen of a summer plumage bar-tailed godwit. I wonder if this birds moult is just out of sequence. Will it be in non-breeding plumage when the other birds are in summer plumage? Surely it can't stay in summer plumage right through to the end of summer. Surely it will need to moult before then to replace it's feathers? Dunno, but it's a cracking looking bird.


Sanderling and knot (mainly).

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Pymoor, Cambridgeshire

The village of Pymoor is on the Ouse washes, on the the opposite side of the New Bedford River and Hundred Foot Washes to the RSPB reserve at Purles Bridge, and it's a really impressive place for birds. On the southern outskirts of the village I found a flock of 300 whooper swans feeding in an arable field, while just to the north I came across a spectacular flock of well over 1000 golden plover with about 500 lapwing. These were the birds I had come to see.

It was blowing a gale, with periods of heavy rain which made searching through the flock difficult, not just because it was almost impossible to keep my scope steady, with rain on the lens a constant problem, but also because the birds were hunkered down and not moving for long periods. I even resorted to using a small corrugated iron hut on the edge of the  field as a improvised hide to shelter from the wind, but it was too low down being little more than 3' tall, meaning that I had to kneel down inside it so that all I could see of some birds was the tops of their heads.

However the flock did occasionally fly up, and wheeling around they would sometimes fly over the river and look as if they were leaving, before returning again and settling on their favoured field, where they would run around for a while feeding. After one of these flights they landed near to the road, allowing me to use the car as a hide, and although viewing was still difficult, with the added problem that the light now beginning to fade, it was at least a little easier. Eventually I hit the jackpot and found what I was looking for, a grey looking plover with a dark cap, distinct pale supercillium, and slightly longer legs than the others. An American golden plover, present for about it's third day. A tremendous experience, I love days like today, perhaps not the greatest views of an individual bird but a great spectacle of the flock and far from spoiling the experience, the elements made it even more memorable!

Year: 268 (American Golden Plover)

Juvenile American Golden Plover. I'd like to say that this is the bird I saw at Pymoor, but it's not. This bird was found and photgraphed by Mattius Ullman at Donana, Spain, in 2007. I was fortunate enough to arrive on the scene just minutes after he had found it and he kindly pointed it out to me.

Golden plover.

Whooper swans.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Pitsford Reservoir, Northamptonshire

I was in Northamptonshire this morning doing a pre-construction badger survey for a solar farm, and then this afternoon I moved over to Cambridgeshire, near Peterborough, ready for a couple of bird surveys tomorrow. On the way I called in at Pitsford Reservoir and found the long staying red-necked grebe in Moulton Grange Bay. While I was there somebody found a pair of smew in Holcot Bay which was an unexpected bonus.

Year: 267 (Red-necked grebe).

Red-necked grebe (note the yellow bill).

Drake smew.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Green-winged teal and Long-eared owl

We made the most of yet another dark, dismal and ultimately wet day. We started at Frodsham and managed to get straight onto the drake green-winged teal in amongst the hundreds of Eurasian teals. Then we went to Burton Mere Wetlands where we saw a decent selection of birds, including long-eared owl, green sandpiper and water rail. Not a bad day in the end, albeit another sunless day.

Spot the green-winged teal!

Long-eared owl.

Water rail.

Green sandpiper.

Mottled umber.

Winter moth.

Burton Mere Wetlands.

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