Sunday, 28 February 2021

Dusky warblers Ainsdale

This morning I got the opportunity to take my daily walk at Ainsdale. There's been at least one dusky warbler reported from here for about 3 months, and on 15th February two were seen together. This is the first time that I have been able to get here legitimately, due to it not being particularly local, or at least not local enough for me to feel comfortable about making the journey.

I arrived at about 9am and started the tough slog across the dunes. At this time of year the footpaths are flooded often above welly height and the slacks are large, almost like lakes in places and long detours away from your planned route are often required. It's a maze of footpaths, a place where you can very easily go wrong, especially if you're looking for a tiny, wide ranging, unobtrusive and skulking bird which is a mile or more from where you parked the car with the preferred habitat of ubiquitous hawthorn scrub and in all likelihood there will be no other birders around to help, the bird having been present for three months after all.

I got lucky today though, because as I approached it's favoured area I spotted two other birders clearly looking for the bird. As I approached them, at a distance of about 50m, one of them waved to me and started pointing to my right. Almost immediately I saw it, a dark chiffchaff like bird moving secretively around from hawthorn to hawthorn but fortunately for me it was coming closer and eventually went right past me at a distance of about 3m. Jackpot! No chance of a photo, I didn't even get the camera out it was just too quick and too skulking. Then it flew about 20m and I lost it. I had heard only the faintest of calls from the bird but it had been a decent view, albeit for just a few seconds. My impression was of a bird with dark brown upperparts and dark grey underparts, with a distinct pale supercillium.

I hadn't expected to see the bird so easily and it was far too early for my appointment nearby so I hung around for an hour or so hoping for better views, but I couldn't find it again. The original two birders had gone to be replaced by two new arrivals plus Andy, the original finder of the birds and we spread out in the hope of relocating the it, but without success. In the end I decided it was time to leave and I started walking back towards the car. 

I hadn't gone more than 50m when I heard a loud, harsh, 'tek, tek, tek' in the bush right in front of me! Surely not? Yet sure enough there it was, a dusky warbler flycatching out in the open about 2m away from me. I had incredible views of it before remembering my camera. It was still very difficult to photograph, permanently on the move and always behind vegetation which the camera always seemed intent on focusing on before the bird, but I did at least manage one photo. It looked different than the earlier sighting though, paler on the ear coverts and there was more contrast between the upper and under parts. I didn't think too much about it at this stage, until the bird flew into a bush behind the other two birders who had their backs to me and who were looking in completely the wrong direction. I whistled them and turning one indicated that they were watching the dusky warbler in a bush in front of where they were standing. Yet I could see and hear one in the bush behind them! Clearly two birds were involved. My bird moved closer to the other birders but apparently didn't join up with the other bird, but for a short while they were in the same area. As far as I know this was only the second time that two birds had been confirmed here.

Then I could put off the inevitable no longer. My impending appointment beckoned and I had to face the long slog back to the car. I was well and truly knackered when I got back, I recommend walking at a brisk pace through the dunes in winter as a decent form of exercise!

Friday, 26 February 2021

Beddmanarch Bay

Anglesey for work today provided me with a great opportunity to visit Beddmanarch Bay, and what a beautiful day it proved to be. Birding highlights were great northern diver, Slavonian grebe and at least 200 pale-bellied brent geese, plus a lot of waders as the tide retreated. Spring is really in the air now, with a chiffchaff singing in the woodland and plenty of lesser celandine and snow drops in full flower.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

A few days at Lightshaw Flash

A few signs of spring at Lightshaw now, shelduck and oystercatchers are back, and grey partridge are suddenly a lot more obvious as they strut around with their chests puffed out in a kind of mini leck. Their harsh calls might not be the most beautiful but they are amongst the most enigmatic, the sound of summers which are now largely a distant memory.

Teal are displaying on the flash, tufted ducks chase each other around both on the water and in flight, and other ducks include four wigeon, 10 goosander and singles of drake pintail and 1st winter male pochard. On the fields off Lightshaw Croft Lane two curlew were present today and skylarks are singing bringing hope and anticipation.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

The Rainford mosslands

The mosslands are full of life at the moment with plenty of signs of spring in the air. Skylark song is everywhere and the jangling song of corn buntings can still be heard in a few places, in fact most of the resident species are in full song, claiming the prime breeding spots before the migrants return. The first wheatear was reported back in the country today and soon we'll start seeing them here also. Shelduck and oystercatchers have started appearing, species which usually breed on the mosslands in small numbers, and brown hares chase each other around the fields. If you're lucky you might see the males boxing.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Pennington Flash

A beautiful morning at Pennington Flash, no sign of the Richardson's Cackling goose, apparently it's not been seen since Monday. For the sake of it's credibility I hope that it's never seen again, or if it is, it's with 30,000 pink-feet in Scotland. Best today, 12 displaying Goldeneye, 2 pochard and 41 greylags.   

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Pink-feet in the snow, Clyde

A spectacular fall of snow overnight left everywhere looking very white this morning. A flock of 600 pink-footed geese flew over and landed in a nearby field and gave some decent, atmospheric photo opportunities. 

Monday, 8 February 2021

Hogganfield Loch, Clyde

After a day working in the Glasgow area I decided to spend the last hour or so of daylight having my daily walk at nearby Hogganfield Loch on the edge of the city. As you might expect from an open space right in the middle of a large conurbation, it's busy with a packed car park and plenty of people around. 

Apart from the fact it's about the closest place to where I was working for a walk, I'd gone because I knew that there was a decent selection of birds on the loch and I managed to see red-necked grebe, redhead smew, juvenile Iceland gull and 1st winter drake scaup. However, I wasn't expecting whooper swans, and they really stole the show. I was amazed to see around 20 of them coming to bread on the packed car park, in amongst the mute swans and mallard. To see wild whoopers so tame really made me think that perhaps there is hope for the Richardson's cackling goose currently on the car park at Pennington Flash!

This bird looks to have a smaller more rounded head than the bird at the top of the post which gives it the impression of having a larger bill. I wonder if the top bird is a male and this bird a female?

A small selection of whooper swan heads from Hogganfield Loch showing the variation in bill patterns which is said to be as unique to the individual as a human fingerprint. Peter Scott created a chart of many of the whoopers that visited Slimbridge in the early years. Apparently Bewick's swans show even more variation, but I no longer see enough of them to put together a collage of heads.

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Penny cackler

Well the inevitable has happened, the Richardson's cackling goose turned up today at Pennington Flash with the Canada goose flock. Initially this morning it clung onto some credibility by staying down at the Slag lane end, but by this afternoon it had succumbed to temptation and moved onto the main car park with it's larger cousins. This is still the same bird as that seen on the Ribble estuary in January and there's still the remote possibility that it arrived with pink-feet and then joined up with feral Canada geese and is just moving around with them, but eating grain on the main car park at Pennington Flash is never a good sign.

It's credibility rating goes something like this, when it was on the Ribble there was 30% chance it was wild, at Lightshaw 10% chance, at the Slag lane end 5% chance, eating grain on the car park 1% chance. The only hope now is that somebody can get a feather and we can send it away for DNA analysis which will prove it's origins either way. I suppose it could also fly to Norfolk which would push it's credibility up to 100%!

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Cackler still present and correct at Lightshaw

The Richardson's cackling goose was still present at Lightshaw Flash this morning, although now it has joined up with the Canada goose flock. It's amazing to see it alongside it's giant cousins and apart from the size you can really see how dark it is, especially on the breast. We also had a good look at it through the telescope and it's clearly unringed. 

Whilst on the balance of probability it's still most likely an escaped bird, it was last seen on the Ribble estuary in January and it is unringed, so it's probably about as good as it's ever going to get for a genuine wild cackler in Greater Manchester. I suppose if it joined up with a pink-foot flock on Little Woolden Moss it would look a bit more convincing, but there were plenty of pink-footed geese on the Ribble when it was there, as well as quite a few Canada geese and even a couple of barnacles. Easy to imagine a wild cackler flying onto the Ribble estuary with pink-feet and then mixing with feral Canada's on the marsh. Some of the Canada's then fly off to Lightshaw Flash and the cackler decides to go with them. It's just as likely as any other scenario you can come up with. When was the last time you saw an unringed Richardson's cackling goose in captivity?

In further developments this evening, it now appears that this is the same cackler that was at Hatfield Moor in Yorkshire on 12th December last year. Now if only we could trace it back to Scotland....

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Richardson's Cackling Goose, Lightshaw Flash

This afternoon a small cackling goose was with the greylag flock at Lightshaw Flash. I reckon it's most likely Richardson's due to a combination of size, colour, lack of chin stripe and bill shape. Also note the diffuse white collar, very faint but it is there. Richardson's is classed as part of the Cackling goose complex and is a separate species to the common feral Canada goose.

I guess it's most likely an escape but interestingly the bird was associating with greylags rather than the Canada goose flock two fields away, and obviously occasional wild bean and whitefronts do associate with greylags, so who knows? Also I watch this flock of greylags pretty regularly for this very reason, just in case a wild goose joins up with them. This is the first time I've seen this bird and it was not with them yesterday.

In an interesting development this evening, I have been contacted by Stuart Derbyshire who birds the Ribble Estuary and finds lots of interesting geese there. It appears that the Lightshaw bird is the same as one which he found at Longton Marsh on 15th January but which has since gone missing (see photo at the bottom of this post). Of course this doesn't prove its provenance either way but it's an interesting movement.

Monday, 1 February 2021

Lockdown, a catastrophe for wildlife

The sickest joke of all these days is when I hear people say that nature has thrived during lockdown. No it's not, get real. Just because a flock of semi-domesticated goats wander the streets of Llandudno or a feral goose nests in an unusual location or a load of people with more time on their hands than normal have suddenly started noticing nature, it does not mean that all is well in the natural world. 

The truth is lockdown has created a massive problem on a scale the like of which I've never seen before. Everywhere is overrun with people and dogs, and precious few of them have any respect for the places they're visiting, or any clue about the damage that they are doing. Even on days of bad weather Pennington Flash is heaving with people, and they're everywhere. They don't even stick to the footpaths, they or their dogs crash through wildlife habitat and flatten it, creating new footpaths where wildlife used to live. Ground nesting species such as skylarks and meadow pipits have no chance at Pennington Flash these days. In summer people walk through the tiny part of the nature reserve that remains, canoeists feel free to go into Ramsdales flushing everything and anglers fish on the spit or in Rammies reedbed. It's horrible to see, Pennington Flash is not a great wildlife haven, it's a wildlife disaster area.

And here's another example today. Two cyclists trespassing at Lightshaw Flash and flushing everything on what is meant to be a nature reserve. How dare they! There are precious few places left which are true havens for wildlife these days, but I thought that this was one of them. How dare these people pollute this place with their presence.

God help Lightshaw if it ever gets added to the proposed Greater Manchester National Nature Reserve, for which a condition of funding will no doubt be to make it more accessible. Lightshaw Flash is far better off a well kept secret. These cyclists are just the forerunners of an army which is waiting to descend. They make a track through what was once impassible vegetation and before you know it there'll be dog walkers going that way letting their dogs run off the leash, throwing sticks into the water for them to retrieve and creating ever wider footpaths around the site. When that happens wildlife at Lightshaw is doomed, it will just become a smaller version of Pennington Flash, overrun with people and dogs, and where wildlife is represented by coots, mallard and Canada geese. 

I despair, yet apparently the majority of the population think that lockdown is good for wildlife, and the myth is even perpetuated by certain respected wildlife presenters on the telly. I know that everybody is desperate for some good news stories these days, but things need to be said as they truly are, not glossed over just to make people feel good. Lockdown is a catastrophe for wildlife and probably the final nail in the coffin for some species and certainly for some nature reserves.

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