Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Pennington Flash

Cetti's warbler 6 singing males
Goldeneye 15
Sand martin 300
Little egret 1

Lowton Bird Observatory, Day 8

Boom! A siskin flew over at lunch time, also four oystercatcher, two buzzards, a sparrowhawk and a few gulls over. That's kick started the list which I was just thinking seemed to have stalled.

The sun came out mid afternoon and it was quite warm for about an  hour or so during which time we had five buzzards and a sparrowhawk riding the thermals together and finally today I managed to scope a chiffchaff in a tree at the other end of the street.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Pennington Flash

Cetti's warbler 6 singing males
Garganey 2 male & female
Little egret 4
Black-tailed godwit 1
Redshank 1
Sand martin 300
Goldeneye 15

Lowton Bird Observatory, Day 6

Great excitement today when I discovered that we also have a front garden. Why was I not told earlier. Turns out that if I scope down the street from the front room I can see great tits in a distant neighbours conifer. Surely only a matter of time until I also see a coal tit there?

Other than that not much has changed, four buzzards over head and a sparrowhawk through the garden, plus small parties of gulls passing over, usually from south to north (north is towards the flash).

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Lowton Bird Observatory, Day 5

An early morning goldcrest and a few flyover lesser black backed gulls got the day off to a good start. Still waiting for an osprey! Perhaps today....

Quite a few gulls late afternoon heading for Pennington Flash from the south in ones and twos, probably totaling 50 lesser black backs, 20 herring and 100 black-headed. Highlights were two fly over lapwing, cormorant and a chaffinch. Regulars include 30 goldfinches, two goldcrests, 30 jackdaws 10 greenfinches and single buzzards and sparrowhawks. Not a great return for several hours birding but hopefully things will improve if the weather changes a bit.

Pennington Flash

Best of the bunch today at the flash, pair of garganey still, also one black-tailed godwit, one redshank and about 200 sand martins. No sign of yesterdays black-necked grebes. A much cooler and breezier day than of late.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Pennington Flash

My dash to the flash today produced three cracking summer plumage black-necked grebes, a pair of garganey still, little egret, three black-tailed godwits and around 50 sand martins. It was a beautiful spring morning.

It's quite an interesting way of getting exercise this, I power walk at the beginning and end, and while I'm at the flash I power walk between viewing places. In otherwords it's several short, sharp bursts of exercise. Google it, it's a highly recommended way of exercising. Good job, because I can't do it any other way these days 😃. I get home feeling physically fit and healthy, whilst at the same time keeping my mind active and my mood positive. Even better, I can then spend an hour writing this blog! The days just fly by!

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Lowton Bird Observatory, Day 3

Photo: Long-tailed tit.
Another glorious day at the obs but the only new additions to the lockdown garden list so far are adult herring gull #26 and adult great black backed gull #27. Still, I've managed 20+ species so far today but I can't help but feel that these bright blue skies are not helping the list. Certainly it's nice to sit outside for most of the afternoon but I get the feeling that most of the birds are passing over very high and mainly out of sight. Trouble is I can't honestly say that I want the weather to change, yes it may bring more birds but then I'll be stuck in the house most of the day.

So that's 27 species for the garden since lockdown began three days ago but my full garden list currently stands at 44, with stand out species being waxwing (twice), hobby, shelduck, common tern and pink-footed goose.

Finally, in the evening we saw our resident common pipistrelle bat for the first time this year.

Pennington Flash

At least four Cetti's warblers singing at the flash today including a very showy individual.

The rise of Cetti's warbler in the UK has been remarkable and almost as explosive as it's song. My first Cetti's was in 1983 at Radipole in Dorset, which for a long time was the stronghold for the species in the UK and virtually the only place you had any chance of seeing one. The UK breeding population at the time was in single figures. Twenty years later in 2003 I saw only my seventh Cetti's at Titchwell in Norfolk and my first in North West England was as recently as 2008 at Wigan Flashes. It took another five years for me to hear a Cetti's at Pennington Flash in 2013 but since than the species has become well established to such an extent that it is now largely ignored by most birders as they walk around the flash.

Ignored that is until one chooses to show itself. Cetti's warbler is notoriously skulking and even now I might only see a handful of birds well during an entire year. Thankfully though it has an explosive and unmistakable song which betrays it's presence even if the bird isn't on view. Today I got lucky and came across two males having a dispute which seemed to keep their minds focused on each other and they seemed almost unaware that I was standing next to them!

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Lowton Bird Observatory, Day 2

Photo: Starling.
The song of my garden blackcap heralded the start of another glorious day while I ate breakfast this morning. It does my heart good to hear this song and he couldn't have timed it better given the current circumstances.

Three new garden ticks today since we went into lockdown, #23 grey heron, #24 long-tailed tit and #25 robin. A glorious day, I've been sat in the garden most of the afternoon. At least three buzzards soaring overhead, blackbirds, robins and dunnocks singing and plenty of blue tits, goldfinches and house sparrows, as well as at least two peacock butterflies.

Pennington Flash

A flying visit to Ramsdales hide early morning produced the hope for goods in the form of a pair of garganey resplendent in their summer plumage. I have seen them earlier than this at other places in the past, even once in February at Martin Mere, but this is the earliest date I have seen them at the flash. Of course I can't go into any of the hides because they're all locked, but there is a viewing slot at the side of Ramsdales.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Lowton Bird Observatory, Day 1 - Sand martins and singing blackcap and goldcrest

Ok, prepare for the ride of a lifetime as I take you through the ups and downs of birding in my back garden in Lowton. Prepare to be amazed at the diversity of species that occur in a plethora of habitats and jaw dropping scenery, but please remember that twitching is not allowed at the moment so even though you might be really jealous about the birds and other wildlife which I see, please stick to your own garden and don't call round to see anything which I report here.

The day started well with the now regular blackcap singing from one of the bushes in the garden. This bird first started singing on 9th March when it was a new species for the garden and I had expected it to be gone by now but two weeks later it's still here and its song is getting ever more lustful by the day. However I didn't really start proper birding in the garden until lunchtime, by which time temperatures were rising and three buzzards rode the thermals and a goldcrest sang from next doors conifer.

The highlight of the day was a flock of 10 sand martins which were not only a first for the garden but also my 5th earliest ever date for the species.

The deserted flash

So now I've got Pennington Flash almost to myself, except for the birds. I've only got about 45 minutes to see as much as I can before I must head back home to meet the criteria of the COVID-19 restrictions, but it gives me some exercise, helps me avoid cabin fever and allows me to at least keep half an eye on what's happening at the flash during these unique times of virtually no human disturbance. Who knows, I might just see something good! I'm going to report what I see here because some people may be interested and if it helps anybody get through the day even for a few minutes it's worth it, but unfortunately I won't be reporting any national or county rarities which I may see until they have either gone or the restrictions are lifted.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Perthshire and Midlothian

Photo: Meall Ghaordaidh.
Thanks to work I'm still just about managing to get to some wild places and see some beautiful scenery and I must admit it's very good for the soul. This morning I was working high above Glen Lyon on the opposite side to the northern slopes of the mighty Ben Lawers in Perthshire. This place has a very remote feel with high mountains and remote moors still covered in snow, and even drifting over one of the roads which forced me to turn back and find another route up the valley.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Green-winged Teal, Crossens Outer Marsh

I managed to find a green-winged teal on Crossens Outer Marsh at Marshside today. I was at the wildfowlers pull in scanning through a flock of meadow pipits and pied wagtails, a flock which also contained water pipit and my first white wagtail of the year, when I scanned past a vertical white stripe! I was delighted to add green-winged teal to my self found list, but I didn't really think too much about it thinking that they were quite regular at Marshside. I've since found out though that they have become much rarer than I imagined and this was the first of the winter, and last winter there was only a single one day bird.

Stockpiling fresh air and wide open views

In these grim times when self isolation and social distancing are terms which are now used in everyday conversation, when the shelves are cleared of toilet rolls and pasta, when we all live in fear and view everybody else with suspicion, especially if they dare to cough or clear their throat, a fresh breeze and the wide open vistas of Banks Marsh on the Ribble Estuary provide wonderful therapy.

This morning I walked from Crossens pumping station to Old Hollow farm and back, enjoying the song of the skylarks, the bubbling of curlew, the whistling of wigeon and the music of an orchestra of wild geese. Early spring flowers such as lesser celandine and coltsfoot were in bloom and a peacock butterfly drifted past. Spring is certainly in the air!

And actually the geese with their enigmatic calls are just as much part of this time of year as anything else, with numbers always building in March as birds from further south start to head north. This is the time of year for seeing unusual geese and today on the marsh in amongst 8000 pink-feet there were Greenland and Russian whitefronts, grey-bellied brant, Todd's Canada goose and barnacle geese, plus a Tundra bean goose which I didn't see.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Grey-bellied brant, Banks Marsh

Back in April 2018 I reported seeing a grey-bellied brant on the Ribble at Banks Marsh and the same bird is back again for its third winter. Any species or subspecies of goose is worth a look and this bird is a real cracker.

Obviously with the brents there are dark-bellied and pale-bellied races, and these races are not just separated by how dark their bellies are, their upper parts also differ, with dark-bellied having uniformly black upperparts whilst pale-bellied have browner upperparts with feathers pale fringed giving them a more scaly look. Black brant and grey-bellied brant differ in the same way, with black brant more akin to dark-bellied brent and grey-bellied more akin to pale-bellied.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

A host, of golden daffodils, at Arnside

We have a favourite walk which starts on the promenade at Arnside in Cumbria and takes us along the coast and around the headland to Far Arnside and then back over Arnside Knott to the car. It affords us some spectacular views over Morecambe Bay in the first half of the walk whilst the second half is dominated by the the Kent estuary and the mountains of the Lake District. Scarce and even downright rare wild flowers and invertebrates abound here and if you search this blog you will see other reports of mine from Arnside relating to Teesdale violet and rare spring sedge, Scotch argus and dark-red helleborine, High brown and dark-green fritillariesMaidenhair fern, and lots of posts about hoverflies.

Yet surely one of the most beautiful sights of all occurs in March when the daffodils are in full bloom. Perhaps it's because as yet they lack competition and shine like a beacon from the shadows, or perhaps it's because they bring joy to my heart as one of the earliest harbingers of spring, but whatever the reason, these wild daffodils are one of the highlights of the year for me. They're quite small and delicate when compared to the more robust and vulgar cultivated varieties which threaten our natives with extinction through hybridisation, but no amount of human interference and creativity has yet produced a cultivated daffodil to compete with the originals.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Early morning on the Great Orme

Following my talk to Bangor Bird Group yesterday evening I decided to stay over in Llandudno rather than face the nearly two hour drive home. I spent the night at the Chatsworth Hotel on the promenade for the princely sum of £20 and was rewarded by a beautiful sunrise and a glorious morning the following day.

The Great Orme is one of my all time favourite places and Llandudno would be my number 1 place to live if I got the opportunity. I parked at the West Shore and was walking by 7:30am, my route taking me over the limestone pavement to the Cafe, then around the coast back to Llandudno.

I've always enjoyed birding on the Great Orme and these days it seems to get even better, with choughs and black guillemots both colonising in recent years. Today I saw about eight of each.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

A snow bunting snow ball at Red Wharf Bay

In the last hour of daylight I arrived at Red Wharf Bay on Anglesey hoping to see a snow bunting which had been reported. Little did I know that it would prove such an educational bird.

I've seen snow bunting here previously, in fact one year I found a couple. Those birds were the typical race which occurs on the west coast, Plectrophenax nivalis insulea which breed in Iceland, Faroe Islands and Scotland and have brown rumps.

When I finally connected with today's bird I was blown a way by what a cracker it is, a real snow ball of a bird. The first thing which struck me was that it's clearly an adult male, very black and white (and note the extensive white primary base). However I didn't think much more about it, daylight was fading rapidly and I was due to give a talk to Bangor Bird Group an hour or so later so I returned to the car and ate my sandwiches.  It was whilst I was in Bangor that it was pointed out to me that the bird is of the race P.n.nivalis which breeds in Arctic Europe and Arctic North America.

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