Monday, 30 September 2019

Great White Egret, Hope Carr

A great white egret was a new species for me at Hope Carr today. It must have flown over the sewage works and straight over my head because I only noticed it when it was flying away from me. It landed on one of the pools for a few minutes out of view and then took off again and flew over the tall trees adjacent to the main lake allowing me just the briefest opportunity to take this poor photo. Once over the trees I couldn't see it anymore and though I suspected that it might have landed again on site, I couldn't relocate it. I also had two other site year ticks today, with a female wigeon on one of the pools and a small passage of skylarks over, bringing my Hope Carr year list to 103 species.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Red-necked Phalarope, Marshside

Dave contacted me this morning regarding a red-necked phalarope which he had just found at Marshside, Southport. He also mentioned an amazing count of cattle egrets and since I was eager to see both I headed out that way just before lunch. It's always a pleasure to see any species of phalarope, but red-necked in particular is a special bird. Not a common bird either, there was a time when I'd actually seen more Wilson's in the UK than red-necked but Wilson's records have dried up a bit in recent years whereas red-necked just about keeps trickling through. This was actually my second red-necked phalarope this year, following an adult summer plumage female near Hadrians Wall in late spring. Even so, in 40+ years birding I've seen more pectoral sandpipers than red-necked phalaropes which is surprising perhaps given that the former is a transatlantic vagrant from North America whereas the latter is a European breeding bird with a few pairs still clinging on in Scotland.

Cattle Egret flock at Marshside

Cattle egret numbers just keep on growing in the north west, with Marshside seemingly a hotspot for the species. My previous best was eight a couple of years ago, but today there were nearly double that  number with 15 birds in amongst the cattle at the back of the marsh, easily my best ever UK count of the species. Cattle Egret is a cosmopolitan species which I've seen just about everywhere I've been from Florida in the US, to southern Europe, to Australia but not New Zealand. However the Australian birds are now usually considered a separate species, our birds are western, the Australian birds are eastern cattle egrets. Portugal and Spain are the places where I have seen most cattle egrets, with flocks of up to 200 in some places.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Pectoral Sandpiper, Mythop

Pectoral sandpiper juvenile at Blackpool Wake Park today. A quick count of the records in my database reveals that this is the 23rd Pectoral sandpiper I've seen in the UK, plus one at Werribee western treatment plant, Melbourne, Australia last year. Locally I saw one at Hope Carr in 1999 but I've never seen one at Pennington Flash.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Two American Golden Plovers, Lunt

Shortly after I left Lunt on Sunday after having seen the adult American Golden Plover, it was amazingly joined by a second bird! I called in today on my way home from work and both were present again. A bit distant but great to see never the less.

Going off the extent of the black on the face I would say that the left hand bird is the first bird and the one I saw on Sunday, however the black bars on the flanks of the right hand bird look very similar to a photo I took on Sunday before the second bird dropped in.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

American Golden Plover, Lunt

Nice to see a cracking adult summer plumage American golden plover at Lunt today. I saw the adult at Marshside about a week later than this last year and that was in partial summer plumage but it wasn't as nice as this bird. All the same, I wonder if this might be the same individual? All of the other American golden plovers I have seen have been juveniles, which is ironic because all of the Pacific golden plovers I have seen (in the UK) have been summer plumage adults.

Apparently after I had left it was joined by a second bird and then both flew off north and so far they have not been seen again. However it was thought to have gone last night but it returned, and today I watched it fly off high to the west until it was little more than a dot and I'd almost given up on it it, but it turned and came back and landed again on pump house pool, so it may yet return.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Pied wheatear upgraded to Eastern black-eared, Fluke Hall

I called in at Fluke Hall near Pilling last Tuesday (3rd) with Ray for a look at the female wheatear which had been present for a few days. It was initially identified as an eastern black-eared wheatear which would be a new UK tick for me, but was then re-identified as a pied wheatear, apparently due to the pale fringes to the mantle feathers. Then somebody mentioned that they hybridise freely in eastern Europe where their ranges overlap so that threw another spanner in the works. A sample of it's DNA was collected in the form of a faeces and was sent away for analysis, but it turns out that faeces have only a limited value for extracting DNA and the species are so similar anyway that DNA might not be conclusive, plus the hybrid potential makes it even more difficult. Confused, yep well me too.

However after being present and showing well at point blank range for 10 days allowing loads of excellent photos to be taken, it turns out that after all of the confusion it can actually be identified from a photograph, though unsurprisingly not one of mine. There are photos on the web which show that some of its mantle feathers have a white base which apparently proves that it is eastern black-eared because pied never shows this feature.

Great news for me, it brings my UK total to 432 and means that I had a UK tick on three consecutive days last week, western Bonelli's warbler (Lands End), brown booby (Lizard) and eastern black-eared wheatear (Fluke Hall), though none of these birds were full lifers.

Exactly how the white base to the mantle feathers rules out a hybrid especially since the bird apparently has other features which suggest pied wheatear (e.g. remember the pale fringes to mantle feathers??) is way beyond me, but perhaps I shouldn't worry about that. Now we just have to see if the wise people at the BBRC accept the record.

Friday, 6 September 2019

The ebb and flow of tides on the North Wirral coast

Where's the year gone? It's Leach's petrel time already. This evening I adopted a different approach to seeing these enigmatic seabirds, instead of standing for hours in one spot looking through a shaky telescope, I went for a pleasant evening stroll from Leasowe lighthouse to the Gunsite car park with just my binoculars, and the story behind it is a tale of two tides.

I suffer from high levels of anxiety which at times can be quite disabling and can lead to stress and ultimately depression. The problem is that the symptoms of anxiety can lead me to make poor decisions. I've given up jobs in the past because of it, literally just walked out. It can also be positive though, I probably wouldn't be doing the job and leading the lifestyle that I have today if it wasn't for anxiety driving me on.

Anyway back to this evening. I started off at New Brighton, standing on the beach sheltered behind Perch Rock. Reports were coming in of petrels all around Liverpool Bay, from Blackpool to Llandudno and many points in between. I'd been there alone for about half an hour and still hadn't seen a petrel or any other seabird, but I told myself that logically it was only a matter of time. However logic doesn't always come into it. Road signs were going up all along the promenade informing me that there was a rally this evening and that I must move my car by 17:00 or risk it being towed away. High tide was 17:30 so I knew that I'd have to go elsewhere eventually. Then there was the place I was standing. I was standing there because it was a sheltered spot, but it's a beach and eventually the tide will probably force me to move. And being behind Perch Rock meant that I couldn't see what was on the otherside. Perhaps there were all sorts of birds going past which I couldn't see. I was aware of two high tides approaching, one physical and in the real world, the other metaphorical and in my mind. Anxiety levels were kicking in.....

Now if I'd been with somebody else I would probably have stuck it out, but being alone with my thoughts convinced me that it was time to move on. I drove down the promenade to the first lifeguard lookout and sheltered behind that for a while. However I was in the same situation that I'd been in at Perch Rock except that I wasn't on the beach. A guy in hi-viz put up a sign right next to me as if to further emphasis the need to move my car at 17:00. Another birder carrying just binoculars came up to me and asked me what I had seen. "Not much" was my answer. He had just had a walk along the beach and seen three Leach's Petrels on the tideline at point blank range 15 minutes before I got there, but in his words "it's all gone quiet now". Why did I bother coming here? I could have been at home now with my feet up enjoying a cup of tea and listening to Test Match Special, instead of which I'm an hours drive from home (through Liverpool in rush hour), I'm cold, my back's aching, my scopes shaking in the wind and I'm getting hungry. I'm just not enjoying this. Both tides had now covered the beach and there were dark clouds overhead. Stress starting to overflow and the first signs of depression kicking in........

I moved again, this time I was heading for Leasowe gunsite car park. Unfortunately I missed the turning and ended up at the lighthouse car park. This was the final straw and a big wave came over me. "F*!# it I'm going home!". I'm referring to a wave of depression of course, and I call it a wave and not a cloud because clouds tend to float over and stay longer and the effect is gradual, whereas waves arise suddenly and wash over you and are gone just as quickly as they came. You can either emerge from the soaking feeling strong and immovable or you can lose your feet and be sent hurtling into the rocks. When I crash into the rocks, that's when I make poor decisions.

So what's it to be? Go home annoyed and depressed and spend the night miserable and feeling sorry for myself or stay and try to get something out of the evening? But I still had the physical ailments, the cold, the aching back and I was hungry, plus there is nowhere to shelter from the wind at the lighthouse and my scope would be shaking and the views would be poor at best. I knew that in my current frame of mind I wouldn't last long. Then a chink of light made me pause and stopped me starting the engine to leave. A compromise came to my mind.

Ditch the scope, forget about it. Go for a walk from the lighthouse to the gunsite about 1.5 miles to the east. If that other guy could see three petrels at point blank range on the tideline, why not me? So that's what I did. I had a pleasant evening stroll along the beach and managed to see three petrels really close in, one coming within 3m of me. These are wonderful birds and we are so lucky to see them like this in the north west. And as each petrel went past both tides receded a little more. High tide was now behind me and the waves had eased and parts of the beach were emerging and the sun was coming out. Anxiety levels were almost non-existant, my aching back which is partly caused by anxiety was not aching anymore, I wasn't cold due to the walk and I'd forgotten that I was hungry.

It could have been a different story of course, if I hadn't seen any petrels what then? Well that would have been disappointing, but just like the real tide the metaphorical tide always recedes. I would still have had a nice stroll on the beach, got some exercise and would not have had the physical discomfort I had earlier. I would still have made something of the evening. Failure and disappointment do not drive my anxiety, if they did I wouldn't be able to twitch a booby in Cornwall. My anxiety is driven by far more subtle, powerful and devious demons than that, and yes high tide will approach again and soon, but there is always a chink of light and most of the time I manage to find it.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Chasing boobies in Cornwall

Photo: Brown Booby, Kynance Cove, the Lizard.
News of a brown booby in Cornwall earlier in the week which was a first for Britain piqued my interest but unfortunately (depending on your point of view) when news of the bird first broke I was about to board a plane to Inverness and then drive over to Applecross in northern Scotland for work, a good 780 miles from where the booby had been seen. I had no choice therefore but to forget about it for a few days, by which time I reasoned that it would surely be gone.

I wasn't too concerned at this point because reports suggested that the bird was a bit hit and miss, occasionally it would be seen really well, but often it was distant and the multitude of immature gannet plumages seemed to be causing more than a little confusion. Positive reports were often being overturned when the observers had time to reconsider, and conversely there were also negative reports turning positive as other observers, probably desperate, tired and not wanting to admit defeat, pieced together bits of distant sightings and adopted the "what else could it have been?" attitude.

Ray and Dave tried for it on Wednesday while I was stumbling around in a boulder field looking for ptarmigan but unfortunately they didn't see it. However on Saturday it showed better than ever and we took the decision to try again, and this time I was able to go with them. We set off from home at 10pm on Saturday evening and drove through the night, arriving at Gwithian Towans beach on St Ives Bay at 5:30am on Sunday morning.

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