Thursday, 22 October 2020

Brown Shrike? Johnny Brown's Common

I've been really trying to avoid twitching over the past few weeks because it just doesn't seem the right thing to do at the moment. However, when I got a last minute job near Doncaster today, I realised that it was just about five miles down the road from Johnny Brown's Common and decided that I may as well call in for a look at the stunning adult male brown shrike which has been present for a few days. Actually it's not really on the common, it's on the edge of an arable field and since I'd only been to the site once before I wasn't really sure where to park or how to then get to where the shrike was. However eventually I found my way to the bird and found a small group of about 15 birders watching it, all suitably socially distanced.

To be honest it proved a bit of a pain this morning, spending most of its time very low down in a hawthorn bush and often hidden from view by branches and tall vegetation. The wind didn't help either, blowing the vegetation around constantly, and though the photo above may make it look like the shrike was easy enough to see, in truth it was hidden behind the vegetation as much as it was in view. All of this made focusing on the bird a nightmare and as such I'm very pleased with the phone scoped photo I managed to get. A couple of times it flew out of the bush flycatching before returning to the same perch.

There are some great, sharp photos of this bird all over the internet at the moment, both perched and in flight, showing all kinds of features yet even so there's a debate about the identification. Most people seem to favour brown shrike, but that might be down to wishful thinking rather than a good knowledge of the identification features, for example, how many adult brown and adult Turkestan shrikes have most birders seen and are they aware of the subtle differences? 

Turkestan shrike is of course one of the two species which used to be called Isabelline shrike, the other being durian. Interestingly nobody seems to be saying that this bird could a durian shrike so obviously adult durian and Turkestan can't be that similar visually even though they used to be classed as the same species, whereas brown and Turkestan must be very similar. Ultimately we may have to wait for the lab results of a DNA sample before we know if it was a good day or a great day!

I've seen two Turkestan shrikes but never brown so guess which side I'm coming down on? Go brown! Either way being an adult male it's a cracking bird and well worth seeing.

Assuming that it is brown shrike, this takes my UK life list to 435. 

It was certainly a nightmare trying to focus, particularly when I was doing it on my phone through the scope.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Todd's Canada goose, Linwood Moss, Clyde

I was scanning through a flock of pink-footed geese and whooper swans on Linwood Moss near Paisley today, and came across this dark breasted Canada goose. It seems pretty good for Todd's Canada goose Branta canadensis interior, e.g. large size, dark breast, thin neck, long bill and is it my imagination or is that cheek patch a little less white than on the nearby feral birds? What more do you want? In some ways it would have been nice if the feral Canada's hadn't been there, but it's not unusual for vagrant Canada's to mix with feral birds and at least they are a good comparison species, especially for breast colour and size. 

You can clearly see on more than one photo that the Todd's is a bit smaller than the feral birds with definitely a narrower neck and  a longer body. None of these features individually are conclusive of Todd's, but combined I think they make a pretty strong case. Perhaps the upperparts could be a bit darker, but these are phone scoped images on a dull day at distance so it's not easy to be sure. Notice also the fringes of the upperpart feathers which are clearly narrower and darker than on the adjacent feral bird.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Knot Pennington Flash

Photo: Knot.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Pennington Flash. It's handy having it on my doorstep because I can easily walk it from home so it's a cheap option and if I'm not working I can visit day after day after day which is ideal for a local patch. On top of that I've got a connection with the flash because I've been visiting it for 40 years and so have a decent list and a good knowledge of the place. 

However in truth I've never really liked the place and in recent years that feeling has grown stronger as the habitat has deteriorated and people have slowly but surely trashed the flash. It's a shadow of what it once was.

During the Covid-19 lockdown in March and April it was perfect and I walked around every day. This period was extended through May and into July as I monitored a little ringed plover nest at the yacht club, sometimes visiting three times a day. However outside of this period I hardly visited at all and today was my first visit since 30th July. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Bearded Vulture update

Over the past week or two the bearded vulture which was present for a couple of months in the Peak District has moved south and has been seen at several places including Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Lincolnshire, Bedfordshire and most recently Kent. At the time of writing it's still in the UK but it is hopefully on the verge of crossing the Channel and heading back into Europe. 

Further update -15/10/2020: the bearded vulture was seen gaining height at Beachy Head, East Sussex and at the second attempt headed out over the sea, hopefully on it's way to France and then the Alps.
Meanwhile, the question regarding exactly where it originates from has finally been answered thanks to a couple of feathers which were found back in the Peak District at Crowden. It turns out that it is a wild bred bird from the French Alps and therefore originates from that release scheme. However, the Vulture Conservation Foundation which is the group involved in re-introducing these birds to the Alps has considered the Alps population to be self sustaining since 2006. What is not clear at the moment is the status of the birds parents and grandparents - were they wild bred birds or released birds? I guess that the answer to this question will determine exactly where on the British list this bird sits. VCF have stated that "Full results will be published as soon as possible, once they are finalized". Click on the link below for more details.

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Twite on Hilbre Island

After all of the rain and unsettled weather of the past week it was a joy to be out on Hilbre Island today and take in some of the wide open views and wonderful scenery. The Pale-bellied brent goose flock fed mainly on the whaleback near the northern tip of the island, but best of all, a flock of 15 twite near the obs building was an island tick for me. Always a pleasure to be here and everytime I come I wonder why I don't visit more often.

Monday, 5 October 2020

#vismig at Formby Beach

At the moment I've no interest in thrashing around in bushes in some extreme corner of the UK looking for migrant birds, but I did experience some even more impressive visible migration at Formby today. We were walking along the beach and saw at least five red admiral butterflies fly in off the sea! A remarkable sight. I'd love to know where they originated from. 

Birdwise, nothing too exciting to report, the expected waders which are always a pleasure to see, plus about 800 common scoter on the sea.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

A classic Martin Mere October day!

A glorious, crisp, sunny day and a huge flight of recently arrived pink-footed geese come waffling in to land, looking every bit a Peter Scott painting, their enigmatic calls filling the air with a deafening crescendo. Up to 18,000 have been on the reserve recently and they are a truly breathtaking spectacle. A Wilson's phalarope spins energetically on Sunley's Marsh in front of the Ron Barker hide, the first whooper swans are back for the winter, flocks of lapwings and ruff are gathering on the Mere, teal and wigeon numbers are increasing by the day and a Merlin shoots across in the distance. Nothing much to report here, just a typical October day at Martin Mere.

"Err, just go back a bit," I hear you say, "what did you say was spinning energetically on Sunley's Marsh?". A Wilson's phalarope, a North American wader which has been present for about three days, and what fabulous little bird it is. They've become a lot scarcer in recent years and this was only my 9th ever, but amazingly four have been at Martin Mere in autumn, and three of  those were in October. Todays bird followed others in 1990, 1991 and 2009! As I said, a typical Martin Mere October day.

What is not typical though, is that if you want to go to see this spectacle, you need to book your entry to the reserve in advance and through their website, even if you are a member. Numbers of visitors are being restricted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. When you get on site, numbers allowed in the hides are also restricted and you must wear a face mask inside.

After I'd been to Martin Mere I headed onto the Fylde, to a flooded field near Lytham, where there has been a couple of pectoral sandpipers and a little stint. I always love seeing pec sands, they're another North American wader and one of my favourite birds.

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