Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Iceland Gull, Pensarn

I'm on a sphagnum course for a few days at the Rhyd y Creuau field centre, Betws-y-coed, with bryophyte expert Martha Newton. On the way I took the opportunity to call in again at Pensarn, Abergele, in the hope of having another look at the long staying 1st winter Iceland gull. I wasn't disappointed, today it performed wonderfully, giving prolonged views down to 10 feet. Even I was bound to get a decent photo so long as I pointed the camera in the general direction of the bird.

Monday, 30 March 2015

"calidus-type" Northern Peregrine, Lincolnshire

Large falcons are not much better than ducks when it comes to the question of hybrids and escapes muddying the waters of any sighting or identification. However,  raptor expert Dick Forsman has commented on the photos I took of the large falcons near Donna Nook in Lincolnshire on Friday. It turns out that the larger of the two birds is a calidus-type "northern" peregrine. This means that it belongs to either the subspecies calidus, which is an arctic tundra breeding species, or to the north eastern extreme of subspecies peregrinus. The latter can look very like calidus and in some cases may be inseperable in the field.

Since calidus reaches as far west as northern Scandinavia, and the north eastern extreme of peregrinus range is to the north east of China, it would seem logical to me that this bird is more likely to be a calidus rather than a peregrinus, but this is pure speculation on my part. There are intergrades between the two and both are long distance migrants. Dick's comments are below.

Notice how large, long necked and barrel chested the bird on the right seems.

I did wonder if the larger bird was a Saker, it certainly seems to have a pale head.

In this photo you can really see the pale head. However, the diagnostic features which confirm that this is a peregrine are "the broad crossbars on the flanks of this juvenile and very finely marked falcon, as well as its head-markings, which both comply nicely with a "northern" Peregrine (subspecies peregrinus/calidus)" and "....even the wing-formula can be judged from the same image, showing a typical Peregrine-group wing-tip, with outermost primary longer than the third, whereas the Gyr-group (incl. Lanner and Saker) show the opposite, with outermost shorter than third (more rounded wing-tip)".

"Northern" peregrines breed in the Arctic and are larger, longer winged and longer tailed than our resident birds, and do have pale heads and are apparently very aggressive. I don't think I've ever seen a northern peregrine before, so nice to have one confirmed by an expert.

Now to play the waiting game...... how long before this bird becomes an armchair tick for me???

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire

Today I was at Gibraltar Point near Skegness in Lincolnshire. It was surprisingly quiet I thought, with no sign of any passage migrants. Having seen wheatears in St Helens already I would have thought there would have been a few on the east coast, but there were none at Donna Nook yesterday, and none at Gibraltar Point today. Likewise there were no white wagtails to be seen. Still, it was great to be here, even if the stars were the dark-bellied brent geese and avocets.


I counted 38 avocets today.

Tennyson Sands.

I found this smooth newt on one of the footpaths, on its side with its legs in the air. I thought it was dead at first, but I put it in some shallow water on the edge of a pond and after about 5 minutes it seemed to recover and swam off.

Millennium Ridge. This was my first visit to Gibraltar Point since the huge tidal surge of December 2013, and there were signs of it everywhere, not least at the visitor centre which has still not reopened. Millennium Ridge seemed altered as well, it didn't seem as high as I remembered it.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Donna Nook, Lincolshire

Donna Nook re-alignment is similar in many repects to Hesketh Out Marsh or Freiston Shore RSPB, all of them are large areas of former farmland which have been surrounded by a new sea wall to allow the sea in to ease the pressure of rising sea levels on towns higher up the river. It's also called managed retreat, although that name is perhaps not so popular because it implies that we've lost the battle, which if course we have....

Most of the birds today were on the re-alignment scheme, and these inlcuded about 50 twite, 20 avocets and lots of redshank and dunlin.


Assuming that the bird on the right is a peregrine, then this is a photo of two peregrines. I'm not convinced though, it looks a bit odd (and big!) to me. All I can say is the peregrine doing the chasing was going beserk, I've never seen one act so strange. It certainly wasn't pleased to see to bird in front.

Roe deer.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Hodbarrow RSPB

What a different day today, following the glorious sunshine yesterday, this morning was windy and cold with sleet at low levels and heavy snow higher up.

However, yesterdays news of two Slavonian grebes at Hodbarrow RSPB seemed worth investigating, and sure enough I found them easily enough at the eastern end of the lagoon. Also here, 12 eiders and several red-breasted mergansers.

Funny thing is, although red-necked and black-necked grebes occasionally do turn up on passage in summer plumage, I've never seen such a good looking summer plumage Slavonian grebe away from the breeding grounds. Most Slavs I've seen away from Scotland have looked like the winter plumage bird here. Odd how their plumages are so different. Pity the light wasn't better.

It was cold!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Around Cumbria

I had an early start this morning to give myself opportunity to call in again at Dalton Crags on my way "up north" to Cumbria. It was well worth the effort, with two great grey shrikes showing well around the trig point.

This is shrike number one hovering.

 And here is shrike number two!

At Lowick Green I stoppped to take this photo of the Old Man of Coniston  and then noticed that there was a red kite being mobbed by a corvid overhead!

 I didn't notice the pied wagtail until I looked at the photo on the computer screen!

Eiders at Haverigg.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Houghton Green Flash, Winwick

Little ringed plover 4
Wigeon 5
Redshank 1

Year: 158 (Little ringed plover)

Little ringed plover.

Houghton Green flash is being drained out of existance.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Around North Wales

Starting off at World's End near Wrexham today, we arrived at 8:30am, too late for the lecks, but we still saw at least seven black grouse, but failed to see either of the two great grey shrikes which were seen in the area.

The we moved to Glaslyn near Porthmadog, where a female osprey returned to its nest site about three days ago. No sign of the male yet, but we saw the female distantly, patiently waiting on top of the nest. Also in the area, about 40 whooper swans.

Next we headed up to Holyhead harbour on Anglesey for our annual look at the black guillemots there. Two were in summer plumage but one was still retaining its winter plumage. Nearby we saw about 30 pale-bellied brent geese at Penrhos.

Finally we stopped off at Pensarn, near Abergele station. It was low tide and gulls were spread all over the beach for as far as the eye could see, but even so we managed to locate the long staying juvenile Iceland gull.

Glaslyn osprey nest! The nest is in the pine tree immediately in front of the train. The mountain behind is I think Snowdon.

Black guillemot.

Iceland gull. My third of the year.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Spring equinox in St Helens

A solar eclipse on the spring equinox, and how appropriate that it should be accompanied by my first spring migrants of the year in St Helens, two male wheatears. Also today jack snipe, woodcock, four wigeon and a singing chiffchaff.

At first I thought the eclipse was going to be a bit of a let down, with too much cloud in the sky, but actually the cloud was quite thin and acted as something of a filter, allowing me to get this photo.

Totally unimpressed, these wheatears continued feeding as if nothing was happening.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Common Scoter, Black brook

This morning Dave Williams found a drake common scoter on Blackbrook, just south of the A580 road bridge. It was later relocated under the railway arches near the outflow from Carr Mill Dam, which is probably where it originated from. Careless ducks and grebes occasionally go down the water slide into the brook and then don't have enough room to take off and get back. They usually end up being rescued by the RSPCA, who again were called today.

What a stunning bird though. It just goes to show colours aren't everything, and even a completely black duck (admittedly with an orange / yellow bill) can look great.

A black duck in the shadows isn't the easiest of things to photograph!

This grey wagtail put in a cameo performance for the cameras.

It even managed to get on a photo with the scoter!

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