Saturday, 30 April 2016

Wood warbler and Dotterel

First stop today was Ford Green nature reserve in Staffordshire to see (but sadly not hear) a wood warbler. This was almost a good phot, but not quite!

This male dotterel was near Broomhead reservoir in South Yorkshire, with about 30 summer plumage golden plover. I don't think I've seen such a pale dotterel in spring before.

One of at least six black-necked grebes we saw at Woolston Eyes today.

Woolston Eyes Number 3 bed. I first visited Woolston Eyes in 1984 and for 10 years it was the nearst thing I had to a local patch, visiting almost daily at times. Today was my first visit to the place in nearly 20 years!

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Monday, 25 April 2016

Kentish plover, Audenshaw Reservoirs

There was a wonderful male Kentish plover at Audenshaw reservoirs this evening, only my fourth ever in the UK. Previous birds were at Arnold's marsh, Cley (1983), Hickling Broad (1987) and the returning wintering bird at Fleetwood / Knott  End which I saw three times between 1993 and 1996. All of the previous birds were females, so this was my first male in the UK.

It was a fair trek from where we parked the car to the far side of reservoir 3, probably a good 20 minute walk at a decent pace, and when we joined the small group of watching birders, the plover was about 100m away. However it was walking towards us in that stop/start way that ringed plovers have and eventually it walked right up to us. By this time the light was beginning to go, but it was still a great close view of a stunning little bird.

Also this evening two little ringed plover.

Year: 206 (Kentish plover + greenshank and swift in South Wales on Saturday).

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Pennington Flash

Common whitethroat 1 singing in brambles and scrub near footbridge over canal
Common tern 3

Also lots of willow warblers, chiffchaffs and blackcaps.

Year: 203 (Common whitethroat + Lesser whitethroat on Anglesey earlier in the day)

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Pennington Flash

A single common sandpiper from Ramsdales today, also a Cetti's warbler singing at the western end, the first time  I have heard one here. Also two reed warblers singing.

Year: 201 (Common sandpiper)

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Great grey shrike, Marshside

Some great birds today, great grey shrike at Marshside, drake smew at Lunt Meadows and male redstart, channel wagtail, three yellow wagtails and 20 white wagtails at Carr Lane Pools, Hale. Not a single year tick for me though, which is one of the draw backs of being on 200 in the middle of April!

Great grey shrike.

These greenfinches were not pleased to see the shrike!

Spot the redstart!

This shelduck x ruddy shelduck hybrid was on Hale shore.


Saturday, 16 April 2016

Birds and Bryophytes in North Wales

I was at the Great Orme for 7:30 this morning in the hope of picking up a migrant or two. Unfortunately the weather was far from ideal, with a brisk north-easterly making it feel cold and very uncomfortable. The birds seemed to agree and there were few about. However I did manage to get onto a ring ouzel thanks to a friendly local birder and also three wheatears. Choughs were everywhere, I counted at least 10 birds, and great to see them doing so well on the Great Orme these days.

With migrant passerines at a premium, I decided to spend the rest of my time looking through the scoter flock off the north end of the Orme, where I knew that there had been velvet and surf scoters seen recently with an impressive 10,000 common scoter. Looking through such a distant flock required the scope to be on 60x magnification and with a north easterly wind coming in off the sea and straight into my face it wasn't going to be easy, but eventually I managed to find a reasonably sheltered spot where I was able to hunker down and have a good look through the flock with minimum discomfort and minimum scope shake.

However uncomfortable and difficult it might be, watching a distant feeding flock of scoter is one of the great birding experiences in my opinion, they're just an awesome spectacle. Sometimes the whole flock flies 100m like a giant shadow over the water, before dropping down, and then the back birds take up again and fly to the front, and they keep repeating this, almost as if none of them want to be at the back. Occasionally while I watched the wind dropped for a few moments and the scope stopped shaking and if this happened to coincide with a few thousand birds in flight, it offered me the best opportunity to pick out velvet and surf scoter, the velvets with their white secondaries standing out for miles, whilst the surf scoter looked like a giant coot in flight.

Then I had to leave. I was on my way to Pensychnant nature reserve near Conwy, for a bryophyte workshop run by CIEEM. This was a much more sheltered location and in the afternoon even felt vaguely warm. A bonus here was a recently arrived pied flycatcher.

Year: 200 (Ring ouzel, velvet scoter, chough, pied flycatcher). So that's 200 up for the year. This time last year I was on 184, and in 2014 (my best ever year) I was on 201.

Nice to get a photo of a chough with no rings on!

Ring ouzel.

Part of the scoter flock. This is the ultimate scope job! I scanned the sea three times with my binoculars and even though I knew that they were there, I didn't notice the flock of 10,000 scoter! Only when they all flew and I could see what looked like a shadow moving over the water did I realise where they were.

I was pleased to find this beautiful rue-leaved saxifrage Saxifraga tridactylites growing on the limestone pavement. 

Looking over the Conwy estuary towards Pensychnant, with the snow covered mountains of Snowdonia behind.


Eurhynchium striatum

Isothecium myosuroides

Metzgeria fruticulosa

Plagiochila aspleniodes

Friday, 15 April 2016

Haydn's Pool, Northwich

Garganey 2 (m&f)
Reed warbler 2 singing mm
Sedge warbler 1 singing m
Raven 1 flew over

Also, on Wednesday evening at Pennington Flash, common tern.

Year: 196 (Garganey, reed warbler & common tern)

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Ibericus or collybita?

So here it is then, for a bit of fun, my comparison of two chiffchaffs, one at Higher Penwortham in Lancashire, the other at Telford, Shropshire. Both were originally identified as possible Iberian chiffchaffs Phylloscopus ibericus, but seemingly only one bird, the Telford individual, has passed the test and is now generally accepted as an Iberian chiffchaff, with the Lancashire bird now consigned to the status of  an atypical common chiffchaff, P.collybita.

I went to see the Lancashire bird on Sunday evening in relatively dull conditions and a moderate breeze, and I saw the Shropshire bird on Tuesday in sunny conditions and a light breeze.

The song and the call are the two most important ways of separating the species. Here I'm going to concentrate on the song, but the call is just as important, with P.ibericus having a down-slurred 'wee-uu' as opposed to the instantly recognisable 'hweet' of P.collybita.

A typical P.ibericus has a song which is completely different to the familiar 'chiff-chaff' song of a typical P.collybita.  However the song of both species can be variable and a small number of P.collybita sing in a way which in the field can appear quite similar to P.ibericus. In such cases a recording and a sonogram of the song might be the only conclusive way of separating them. Here are the songs and sonograms of the Lancashire and Telford birds. I've included two recordings of the Lancashire bird because both are a bit too brief:

So far as I know, the sonograms are conclusive. Based on analysis of the sonograms, the Lancashire bird is P.collybita, the Telford bird is P.ibericus. End of story. Probably....

This is the Lancashire bird, photographed on a dull evening. The supercillium is not as distinct as it should be for P.ibericus, but there is a supercillium. There is only a faint eyestripe, it should be stronger in P.ibericus, but again the eyestripe is present. Notice the yellow in the supercillium, especially in front of the eye. This is a feature of P.ibericus. The leg colour is dark in P.collybita but paler in P.ibericus, though not as pale as the legs of willow warbler. A bit hard to be sure about the leg colour in this photo, probably quite dark though. There is clearly yellow on the flanks as there should be in P.ibericus.

This is the Telford bird, apparently a classic P.ibericus. Bear in mind that it was a much sunnier day, but you can see  that it has a distinct supercillium, yellow in front of the eye and a strong eyestripe. Not much sign of yellow in the flanks though, which is a feature of P.ibericus, in fact the Lancashire bird appears to have more yellow in the flanks than this bird. Ear coverts are somewhat paler here than on the Lancashire bird, emphasising the supercillium and eyestripe. Not much in it though.

So which bird is this? It's the Lancashire bird, but notice how pale looking, almost white the underparts are, and notice the pale lemon yellow undertail coverts and supercillium, both features of P.ibericus, though perhaps not as distinct here as they should be. However, the eyestripe is also not very distinct, consistent with this bird being P.collybita.

The Telford bird, very pale underparts, lemon undertail coverts. Where have we seen that before? A much more distinct supercillium and eyestripe than the Lancashire bird though. Also look at the leg colour, not obviously paler than the legs of the Lancashire bird, especially given how much better the light conditions were on the day.

So what's the conclusion? Well the sonogram says that the Lancashire bird is  P.collybita, the Telford bird is P.ibericus. End of story. Except that I heard the Lancashire bird call and it called like P.ibericus and NOT like P.collybita.That's as much a fact as the sonogram results.

Somebody asked me for my opinion on the Lancashire bird and I said that if it was a new bird for me I would not count it, simply because I would want my first to be a bird which was as far as possible beyond doubt, but given that I have now seen three definate Iberian chiffchaffs in the UK, the Lancashire bird will stay on my list as a possible. Personally, rather than call it an atypical common chiffchaff, I'd be happier calling it a dull, atypical Iberian chiffchaff. But I can't argue with the sonogram results. If you get chance, go and see both. Even if you believe that the Lancashire bird is P.collybita, it's surely worth a look (and listen) to help appreciate the pitfalls of identifying a potential P.ibericus. Despite not being reported now, the Lancashire bird was still present up to at least 13/04/2016.

Below are a couple of videos of the Telford bird.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Iberian chiffchaff, Telford

With the the controversial "Iberian" chiffchaff at Higher Penwortham still fresh in my mind, this evening I decided that it might be a good time to check out the universally acclaimed genuine article at Telford for comparison. It certainly looks the business, with a much more distinct supercillium than the Lancashire bird and crucially the correct song! Both of them are great birds though and very educational. I'm in the process of preparing a blog post to compare the two, but bear with me, it's a busy time of year.

Year: 193 (Iberian chiffchaff). My third Iberian chiffchaff in the UK, the previous two were within a week of each other in 2010, at Poterric Carr in Yorkshire and Wentwood Forest in South Wales.

The bird was doing a circuit. First it started singing in the wood, then it appeared low down in this hawthorn bush still singing, and then made it's way to the top of the bush, before finally flying to the top of a birch tree and singing away for about 3 minutes. Then it flew back into the wood and went silent for 10 minutes before repeating.

This is perhaps more willow warbler like than a typical chiffchaff.

You can see a video of the Telford bird here, and a second video here.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Iberian chiffchaff? Higher Penwortham, Preston

I went to see the possible Iberian chiffchaff at Higher Penwortham this evening. It's a controversial bird, some say it's Iberian, others say it's just an ordinary chiffchaff with a very odd song. I'm no expert, but I think that the photos fit Iberian, albeit perhaps a rather dull bird. Note especially the yellow in front of the eye. The song is also a pretty good fit, though perhaps not perfect. Put it this way, it might not quite fit Iberian but it's even less like a normal chiffchaff! Atypical Iberian chiffchaff might be the best description! Uploading the recording of the song is proving a challenge. I've managed to put it here but you'll need to be registered with bird forums to access it. Hopefully I'll be able to make it more easily available later tonight.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Whixall Moss

It was a beautiful sunny morning at Whixall Moss, we started off on the road to Morris Bridge overlooking the flooded fields at a fine selection of birds. On arrival there was a spoonbill actively feeding close to the road and this took most of my attention for the first 15 minutes or so, though I was peridodically called away to look through a scope at a stunning Channel wagtail or one or two green sandpipers. After about half an hour, the spoonbill flew up and over our heads to land much further away on the opposite side of the road. It then adopted a more typical spoonbill position, tucking its bill under its wing and having a nap.

Later we had a walk across the moss itself, in the hope of spotting an adder, but no sign of any today. However we did find a smart  jumping spider, Salticus cingulatus.

Year: 189 (Spoonbill, green sandpiper)

I think the European spoonbill is the nicest of all the spoonbills, most of the other species look a bit grotesque to me.

The black wing tips indicate that this is a 1st winter bird. Adults would have white wing tips. Adults would also have yellow on the "spoon" and breast, and a crest.

Not a bad garden tick!

Maybe not as stunning as some of the Australian jumping spiders, but not a bad looker non-the-less. This  is Salticus cingulatus. Apparently quite scarce in the UK, the NBN map shows a dot on Whixall moss, but not many other places in the North West / West Midlands.

One of the commonest sphagnums we saw during our brief visit to the moss was this, Sphagnum cuspidatum.  Of interest here is the fact that this is both the green and pale forms of the species, and you can see where they meet there is some overlap. Interestingly the pale form doesn't just get gradually greener, there is very much a dividing line between the two, almost as if they are two sepreate species. However if you look closely, some of the capitulums (the head of the sphagnum) have bits of pale and bits of green.

Morris Bridge on the Shropshire Union Canal.

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