Saturday, 25 July 2020

Long-billed dowitcher, Marshside

I had an excellent morning at Marshside, with a summer plumage long-billed dowitcher on Polly's pool, as well as common sandpiper, several ruff, little ringed plover and a merlin over the saltmarsh and a flyby cattle egret. This evening there was a whimbrel in front of Sandgrouders hide.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Comet Neowise over the back garden

With feet firmly planted on my lawn I added the comet Neowise to the garden list last night. It may be 64 million miles away and traveling at 144,000 mph but distance doesn't matter, I was standing in the garden so it's on the list.

Apparently this comet was only discovered on 27th March 2020 which is slightly alarming!

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Bone Crusher at Cutthroat Bridge

Ok so this bearded vulture turned up in the UK about four weeks ago having previously been seen in the Channel Islands, Belgium and the Netherlands. It was seen sporadically in various places until last weekend when it was finally pinned down in the Peak District near Ladybower Reservoir. It was roosting on a rock in a valley which was about a two hour walk from the nearest parking spot, uphill and across a blanket bog, and that's assuming that you could get parked because there was so little room. As if that wasn't bad enough, the bird often left the roost at dawn, around 5.45am, so if you wanted to be guaranteed to see the bird you needed to be there before it flew which meant starting walking at about 3am, with most of the walk more or less in darkness. Not an appealing thought.

Apart from the hardships involved in getting to the roost site, initially it didn't appeal to me because although nobody disputes that it's a wild bred bird, it most likely originates from a release scheme in the Alps and will probably only appear on the British list as Category E, i.e. an extremely dodgy tick. It's also one of the tattiest looking birds I've ever seen with amongst other things an almost none existent tail, which in my opinion is one of the main assets of a bearded vulture. Sure it's a big bird with a wingspan of around 2.75m, but size isn't everything and besides it's only six months ago I was watching wandering albatross with a wingspan of 3.5m.

However..... over the past week or so I've watched a steady stream of respected friends and birders being drawn to the bird and almost without exception reporting back in glowing terms, obviously seeing something in the bird which I didn't. Perhaps one reason they are going is for an insurance tick, because nobody actually knows for sure where the bird originates from. The Alps may be favourite but the Pyrenees can't be ruled out at the moment and if it's from there then the bird would be elevated to the heady heights of Category A, i.e. a genuine wild bird and a bona fida tick. But how will we ever know? Well all it needs is a feather. Apparently DNA extracted from a feather can pin down exactly where the bird is from. Just yesterday somebody found a feather which was at first thought to be from the vulture, and although some doubt now seems to surround this particular feather, it was a close shave. Surely it's only a matter of time before such a tatty looking individual sheds another feather? Perhaps after the bird leaves somebody will examine the area around the roost site and strike gold? Perhaps when it's soaring overhead and being mobbed by ravens it will drop a feather? So imagine ignoring a bearded vulture on your doorstep because you think it will be consigned to Category E and then after it's gone finding out from a feather that it was from the Pyrenees. Bit of a sickener I should imagine, so in an effort to avoid that scenario, I decided it was time to join the party.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Diary of a Little Ringed Plover nest

During the coronavirus lockdown in April and early May 2020, a pair of little ringed plover took up residence on the yacht club foreshore, in an area which looked likely to provide very suitable breeding habitat. The male was seen displaying and eventually the pair were seen copulating.

Little ringed plover are listed in schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), and as such it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb them at, on or near an ‘active’ nest. With this in mind I am deliberately not saying exactly where these birds nested and though regular readers of this blog will have a pretty good idea, the chances of the birds returning to breed next year in the same location is negligible with no coronavirus lockdown in place.

It was clear that the birds were taking advantage of lockdown to breed in an area where they would otherwise not be able to breed due to high levels of disturbance. As long as lockdown persisted they could probably nest successfully in the area, but by the beginning of May restrictions looked likely to be lifted slightly and I was concerned that a resumption of yachting and swimming might lead to a level of disturbance which the birds would not be able to tolerate and would lead to either the accidental destruction or  abandonment of the nest. Little ringed plovers like to nest in stony areas adjacent to water with very little vegetation yet despite this the nests can be very difficult to see even at close range. Nests can be crushed by people or vehicles who don't even know that they are there.

I felt that the least I could do would be to make the yacht club aware of the situation and see if they could restrict access to the area around the nest and ask members to keep dogs on a lead. As I result of this I emailed the commodore of the club who proved to be very understanding and keen to help.

Fencing was erected around the nest using just pins and barrier tape and signage put up to inform people about what was happening. By the beginning of June yachting and open water swimming had begun again in earnest and by the end of the month sometimes up to 100 people or more were present on or around the foreshore or in the water, and on other days yachts and trailers were parked up everywhere. Open water swimming then continued daily until the end of the period with at times up to 60 people in the water and at least as many either waiting to enter or watching, and over 80 cars on the yacht club car park. Yet despite very high levels of disturbance all around the fenced area the pair miraculously managed to hatch 4 chicks. As is usual with the species the chicks were running around in the immediate vicinity of the nest within hours of hatching, and by the following day they were venturing further afield, often outside the fenced area along the whole length of the foreshore and most people were oblivious to them.

In fact this lack of visibility was one of the biggest problems which I encountered and one which I didn't anticipate. Despite the fact that there were signs up saying that birds were nesting within the fenced area most people I spoke to seemed to think that they weren't there because it just looked like a pile of stones with no vegetation where it would be impossible to not see a bird sitting on its nest. Yet the nest was there and the birds were sitting. Then when the chicks hatched, they were also virtually invisible at first, being little more than the size of the stones and the same colour, and when they crouched down they just disappeared.

After the first week only one chick remained, with the other three chicks possibly picked off one by one by a kestrel. Around this time the family's behaviour changed and especially in busy periods they started spending a lot of time in the area where the yachts were parked.

Twenty-four days after hatching the last remaining chick took it's first flight. By this time the female had abandoned her parental responsibilities and was nowhere to be seen. The juvenile remained on the foreshore with the male for a few more days, even occasionally still being brooded, until it was last seen on day 29 after hatching. 

This is my diary of the events. For most of the period I did not have access to the yacht club and all of my viewing was done from a vantage point outside the perimeter fence at a distance of approximately 115m. The majority of photographs and the videos in this post were taken from this position, especially those at the start. I actually found this a better place to view from, rather than inside the yacht club because it was slightly raised up and the birds behaved more naturally.

On only a handful of occasions up until about the middle of June did I enter the grounds, usually if I thought somebody was getting too close to the nest and keeping the adults off the eggs or there was a dog nearby off the lead. When the chicks were about a week old I was given access to the club which enabled me to observe the family when they started using the yacht parking area and from about the third week in June I did start to enter the club more regularly and was able to sit and watch the birds at a distance of about 50m.  

This diary is about the birds, their behaviour and their remarkable resilience, it is not about people. I have nothing but praise for the efforts of the yacht club and the organisers of the open water swim, and when I mention disturbance, it is not intended as a criticism of the individuals, rather I am trying to show how resilient to disturbance the birds were.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Hooded Crow, Walney Island

This hooded crow has been knocking around the estuary at the north end of Walney Island for at least a couple of years and I see it pretty regularly. An individual is also regularly reported from South Walney but I can't say for sure if they are the same bird, in fact in my opinion it's highly unlikely that they are.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Mull of Galloway

The Mull of Galloway is the most southern part of Scotland and is about 25 miles from both the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. It has relatively small but impressive sea bird colonies, including guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmar, shag and a few puffins and black guillemots. About 5 miles offshore lies Scar rocks with a gannet colony comprising about 2500 pairs.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Balcary Point, Dumfries and Galaway

We had a nice walk at Balcary Point today, with small numbers of guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes on the cliffs, also a few black guillemots on the sea, as well as a bottle-nosed dolphin.

On the cliff top walk I found a few specimens of Dyer's greenweed Genista tinctoria, also a single grass of parnassus and a small clump of bog asphodel.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

LBO - Day 99, Lunar Hornet Moth

Well here's something I wasn't expecting to see this morning! We stepped out of the front door to begin our walk and immediately found a lunar hornet moth on the ground! I took it into the garden and put it on to the willow tree. A first for me, and something I'd long hoped to see. The second species of clearwing in the garden this year. 

It's been a good weekend, I've had two additions to the lockdown garden list (is that still happening?). Yesterday morning I had a hobby over the garden and in the afternoon a linnet on next doors aerial. I've seen hobby over previously but linnet is a full blown garden tick.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Pennington Flash, sea ducks and hirundines

Photo: Two drake scaup.
A hectic morning at the flash as my lonely vigil at the yacht club was constantly interrupted by news of other birds which were being seen in the pouring rain. Two drake common scoter in the middle were joined by two drake scaup, then a family party of Egyptian geese turned up, a curlew flew over, then somebody spotted an odd looking and very pale tern which required attention and finally a curlew flew over heading south. Meanwhile a common sandpiper was on the yacht club shoreline and hundreds of sand martins were landing to take grit off the foreshore. Quite an exciting morning. Then I returned in the afternoon to find that the 1st summer arctic tern from yesterday was back.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Arctic tern and common scoter, Pennington Flash

This cracking 1st (or possibly 2nd) summer arctic tern was on Pennington Flash today. It's not a plumage I see very often so nice to get a few decent photos to enable me to have a good look at it. Also today a nice 1st summer drake common scoter, three common sandpipers, two common terns and still a few hundred each of sand martin and swift.

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