Wednesday, 30 September 2015


It was a beautiful day in Dumfries-shire,  cloudless, sunny and warm, and not a breath of wind. Imagine that on the last day of September in Scotland! I called in at Caerlaverock this morning on my way to yet more bat surveys this evening, in the hope that the barnacle geese would be back. I was surprised to find only a few hundred here, but the main influx of 20,000 can only be days away surely.

Pink - footed geese are here in good numbers, nearly 5000 on the reserve today, but star of the show was a bittern which has been seen from hides along the Avenue for the past few days. This was my first bittern in Scotland, in fact my first outside England. I've never seen them abroad. It was an excellent view feeding in shallow pools in front of the Camberley hide.

The bittern did a lot of creeping around in the rushes.

Barnacle geese.

Actually, I'd probably have swapped all of my photos of the bittern for a chance to get some decent photos of this heron, but it was much to far away to have any hope. Not only did it strike up this fantastic pose whilst sunning itself, it also hunted in a way quite unlike any grey heron I have seen before. It submerged it's whole body so that only its head was sticking out of the water. Surely it can't have been hunting fish in this way because being so far under water it wouldn't be able to move fast enough. I suspect it may have been hunting dragonflies, of which there were plenty about today. In fact the bittern was also seen to take a dragonfly.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Autumn on the mosslands

Can you have an Indian summer in September, I thought it had to be October. Nearly there then, in two days it will be an Indian summer.Whatever, it was a glorious day on the mosslands, and I saw my first pink-footed geese of the autumn with 2000 feeding in a field and lots of small flocks flying over all day. Still quite a few butterflies around, especially speckled wood.

Pink-footed geese.


Common darter.

Small tortoiseshell.

Speckled wood.

It's the flowering season for common reed and it grows in many ditches all across the mosslands.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Pectoral Sandpiper, Burton Mere Wetlands

I spent my lunch break at Burton Mere Wetlands today watching a Pectoral Sandpiper on the main scrape. As usual from the reception hide viewing was dificult, quite distant, against the sun and through the glass, but it could have been worse, viewing is much better from the Inner Marsh Farm hide, but if it had been there I wouldn't have had time to walk all that way and see the bird. Pec sand is one of my favourite waders and it was great to see my first of the year. According to my records, this was my 17th pectoral sandpiper but my first at Burton Mere.

Year: 258 (Pectoral Sandpiper). This time last year I as on 275.
I'd like to say that this was the bird from Burton Mere today, but unfortunately no, it didn't show this well! This is an adult from Swillington Ings in Yorkshire last June. Todays bird was a juvenile with prominent white scapular and mantle "V's".

Saturday, 26 September 2015

White-winged black tern at Red Nab, Heysham

We set off for Wirral but hadn't even reached Queen's Drive in Liverpool when we received news of a white-winged black tern at outfall 1 of Heysham nuclear power station. Despite having already seen two white-winged black terns this year we decided that this was a better option than Wirral and I turned the car around and headed north. Just as we approached the Lancaster junction on the M6, we received negative news, the bird had apparently gone missing. Disappointing of course but we decided to press on regardless.  Many times in the past we've pressed on despite negative news and it often proves worthwhile because negative news is often put out a bit prematurely, and so it proved today. After parking up near the Ocean Edge caravan park we started to walk and passed two birders coming back who had just seen the bird, which obviously raised our spirits.

When we got to outfall 1 we found that we were the only birders present, but we saw the bird almost immediately, a moulting adult. It performed well, feeding around the outfall before flying 100m down the coast and landing on Red Nab in amongst the high tide wader roost. It stayed here for about 30 minutes and then headed back to the outfall and began feeding again.

Despite the very close proximity of the power station, this is actually a really nice place, especially Red Nab which is an excellent place for watching roosting waders.

This is my favourite photo of the bird flying in amongst the wader roost. I can't decide if I prefer this long narrow version or the chunkier version below. I think that perhaps long and narrow is better when you click on the photo.

The wader roost at Red Nab.

One of four Mediterranean gulls on the rocks.

The tern was found by Pete Marsh who arrived for a second look shortley after we got there. Apparently white-winged black tern is a first for Heysham. While we were talking to him, this kingfisher flew onto the rocks and is the first recorded at Heyham this year. Pity it's not a little closer but too close would spoil it in my opinion, because I love the colours of the rocks and the seaweeed on this photo. There's something different about seeing a kingfisher on the coast, almost like it loses its plastic toy appearance which they can sometimes have when they're sitting on a purpose made perch in front of a hide full of eager photographers. Suddenly when you see one on the beach, they seem much more wild and authentic!

Heysham nuclear power station.

Bits and pieces at Leighton Moss

We had a decent afternoon at Leighton Moss, with great white egret from the Public hide, water rail, marsh tit and marsh harrier the star birds. Also some nice views of redshank from the Eric Morecombe hide.

Redshanks on the Allan Pools.

Water rail.

A distant great white egret.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Watching Balearic Shearwaters, Strumble Head

Balearic Shearwater 2
Sooty Shearwater 1
Manx Shearwater 50
Gannet 100
Kittiwakes 100s
Sandwich Tern 20

Harbour Porpoise 5

I'm starting to feel like a local here now, this was my third visit this month. I had a load of bat stuff to do late afternoon and into the evening in the area, so I had an early start this morning in order to get in some seawatching first.

I was particularly hoping for another look at some Balearic shearwaters. You know what it's like, you see a new species then read up a lot on it and learn quite a bit about it and then you know what you really need to be looking for in order to identify it. Then you want a second look in order to see all of the relavent id features that you missed first time! I wasn't disappointed today, I was the only birder present for large parts of the day, and I managed to find two Balearics which showed very well at quite close range showing all of the features that I had hoped to see. The first had chocolate brown upper parts and generally pale brown under parts, except for the dark brown armpits and undertail coverts. It's belly was clearly pale brown. I'd call it a classic Balearic shearwater, in otherwords exactly as I expected one to look. This bird was associating with a small flock of kittiwakes and for a while it landed on the sea. Thanks to the bright autumn sunlight and the sheltered location of the seawatching bunker, it was an excellent view at 60x through the telescope. It had poor demarkation on its head and neck, the darker brown on it's head and nape simply blending into the paler brown on its face and throat, unlike a typical Manxie which shows more contrast and is  starkly black on top and white below. A great individual!

The second bird was more Manxie like in its appearance, darker on top and white below. The dark armpit was not as extensive but was still there and it had the pot bellied appearance of Balearic. It also flew in a different way to Manxie but I'd be hard pressed to describe that! Perhaps more flappy and front heavy. Read the literature if you want the full description! Anyhow, nice to add the species to my self found list and within reason I'd now be quite confident in calling Balearic shearwater on a seawatch, which is what I wanted to achieve from the day.

Interesting to note that in the bright sunlight, some of the Manxies (possibly young birds?) looked quite chocolate brown above, with darker wing tips so that's a bit of a trap to watch out for in future.

The sooty shearwater was a bonus, also at quite close range, longer winged and much darker, including a dark belly. It was a  disappointingly poor day for cetaceans with no Risso's dolphins today, and it took about 4 hours to see the first harbour porpoise, but when they did appear in the tide race they were a decent view, providing good entertainment, at times almost leaping out of the water.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Appleton Reservoir last week

Plenty of dragonflies about, including migrant hawker, common darter and several pairs of ruddy darter.

The first wigeon I have seen at the reservoir this autumn, an eclipse drake.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Success and failure in Yorkshire

Our first stop today was at Nosterfield nature reserve in North Yorkshire to look for a juvenile woodchat shrike which has been present for about six days. We got onto the bird straight away, but it was a bit distant, miles too far for photography. However after about half an hour it landed on a fence which ran perpendicular from where we were standing, and gradually it made it's way down the fence until it was reasonably close and a good view through the telescope.

Year: 255 (Woodchat shrike)

This was about the best photo I could manage today.

The shrike was joined on the fence by a couple of willows / chiffchaffs which were not happy by it's presence and mobbed the bird.

I keep having a go at digiscoping but I can never get it right.

News of an eastern subalpine warbler at Flamborough Head had us heading east, but unfortunately we didn't manage to see this very elusive bird. Still, a nice location on a lovely day, and we did manage to see a little owl which was a year tick (Year: 256) and a late swift.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Risso's dolphins Strumble Head, Pembrokeshire

It was a beautiful, calm day at Strumble Head today with flat turquoise seas, perfect for cetacean watching. I'd gone to the headland specifically to look for Risso's dolphins which are regularly seen here, with up to four reported over the past day or two. Almost immediately I saw several harbour porpoise close inshore, and looking a little further out I spotted a couple of common dolphins jumping out of the water. Finally, after a search of around a couple of hours, I spotted the tall falcate dorsal fin of a Risso's dolphin. Then I saw that there were three other animals close by. They feed on squid deep under water at night, and are apparently  usually seen moving slowly on the surface during the day, but these were anything but slow today. They crashed through the water at pace, often changing direction suddenly as if chasing something, almost killer whale like in their behaviour and with their tall fins. They can't have been hunting, so perhaps they were just playing. Then one jumped completely out of the water and I could see it's white head and face, and I could see the diagnostic scratch marks along its body. I watched them for several minutes as they jumped again, before they vanished and the sea was calm again. A tremendous experience.

On such a calm day I wasn't expecting to much sea bird activity, but I did see a fly-by grey phalarope and at least four black terns, but apart from that just a couple of Manx shearwaters and no skuas.

Year: 254 (Grey phalarope)

Cetacean watching at Strumble Head.

This pale juvenile buzzard really had me excited for a bit.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Pennington Flash

Little egret still showing from Ramsdales hide this evening, then flew to the spit. Kingfisher also from Ramsdales and two wigeon from Teal hide.

Saturday, 12 September 2015


It was one of those days at Spurn. The weather was apparently perfect for a fall, south easterly winds for three days leading up to the weekend, a weather front moving across the country bringing heavy rain overnight clearing into a nice sunny day by lunchtime Saturday, perfect for finding tired birds feeding up after a long journey. Surely there must be lots of migrants at Spurn today? Wrong! The flaw in the reasoning was that nobody remembered to tell the birds how perfect it was and they didn't show. Ok, we did see about five whinchats, three redstarts, four pied flycatchers, a single lesser whitethroat, two swifts and a couple of wheatears, but lets be honest, there was more excitment at Fairhaven Lake on Thursday. Even the ortolan and red-backed shrike which had been there the day before were gone.

On the way to Spurn and later on our way home, we called in at Sunk Island in the hope of catching up with the long staying black stork, but despite it being present and showing well early morning, there was no further sign all day and we left disappointed.


Friday, 11 September 2015

Pennington Flash

A little egret showed well from Ramsdales hide today, whilst on the golf course there was a probable white wagtail feeding in amongst the gulls.

I'm fairly confident that this is a white wagtail, black head contrasting sharply with it's pale grey back, but there appears to be a few dark patches on it's back, or perhaps that's just the wind ruffling it's feathers.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The first wave arrives at Fairhaven Lake

The onset of south easterly winds today provided a mouth watering prelude to what most birders hope might be good fall conditions over the next  few days, with the discovery of a wryneck and at least one barred warbler in a willow tree at the north end of Fairhaven Lake. Telescope views were required to truely appreciate the birds, but in the good light they showed very well on and off, though occasionally disappearing for periods of up to 30 minutes.

This was my third wryneck in the North West, following birds at Seaforth in 1997 and Sutton Manor, St Helens in 1996, but it was my first barred warbler in the region, bringing my North West list to 359.

Year: 253 (Wryneck, barred warbler)

Wrynecks can show exceptionally well right out in the open at times.

Although at other times they can be very skulking.

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