Friday, 28 May 2021

Blacktoft Sands RSPB

I have a long association with Blacktoft Sands RSPB reserve, going back to the mid 1980s when the place played host to a couple of firsts for Britain, Hudsonian godwit and red-necked stint.

These days I don't go as often as I would like, despite the fact that it's only a one hour thirty minute drive away, little further than Leighton Moss which I consider local. However, this afternoon I was working in the area and decided to call in, hoping for a few year ticks to boost my 2021 list. 

First stop was the Marshlands hide where I found an avocet colony with at least 18 chicks, which included a pair quite close to the hide. Despite being aggressive defenders of their nest when they have eggs, avocets seem really bad parents when the chicks hatch, at times seeming to lose so many youngsters to gulls and other predators that I often wonder how they survive as a species.

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Red-rumped Swallow, Audenshaw Reservoirs

I wasn't going to bother at first because I don't like twitching hirundines and swifts because they're usually gone before I get there. I'm also not a big fan of Audenshaw Reservoirs for a variety of reasons including the often heavy traffic in the area and the difficulty of access, but in the end I decided to go and I'm glad I did because I had nice views of a cracking red-rumped swallow on no. 1 reservoir.

It was only my third in the UK and my first for 11 years, and it was particularly pleasing because it or another individual was present at the same place on 6th May which I went for and more predictably on that occasion didn't see. 

It's also a North West tick for me, bringing my North West list to 372 species. I use the area covered by Birdline North West as my definition of "North West", in otherwords all of the coastal counties from Cumbria to Angelsey plus Greater Manchester. 

Actually when I arrived at the reservoirs I was a bit worried that events were about to follow a familiar pattern, because I couldn't see any other birders and even more alarmingly there were hardly any hirundines, just hundreds of swifts. I don't think I saw more than about 10 swallows in all of the time I was there, even less house martins and perhaps 30 sand martins. However eventually I spotted a small group of about five other birders and they got me onto the red-rumped swallow pretty quickly.

Personally I'm not convinced that this is the same bird as that seen on 6th May. Having looked at photos of that earlier bird and compared them to my photos and other better photos I have seen of todays bird, there seem plumage differences to me, plus on the 7th May a red-rumped swallow was seen at Little Woolden Moss heading south west. I'm not quite sure where this sighting fits in with the others, but the timing would perhaps indicate that it was the same bird as that seen at Audenshaw on 6th, however it's possible that all three are different birds. 

Friday, 21 May 2021

Great northern diver, Pennington Flash

This magnificent great northern diver was on the flash this evening. Not the summer plumaged bird I hoped for but still a great bird especially for this time of year. It was off the car park and probably being kept out of the centre of the flash by the yachts.

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

It's been a while.....

Thirty-seven years, four months and 19 days to be precise, since I saw my last Franklin's gull at Martin Mere. That was an adult winter bird, we waited all day in a freezing hide for it to fly in which it duly did, but only at dusk to roost, so not the greatest view in the world. Today's bird was on the reserve formerly known as Swillington Ings, or St Aidens RSPB as it is named these days, and it was a much pleasanter experience in the May sunshine, with great views of a stunning summer plumage adult which at times was even calling and displaying in the middle of the black-headed gull colony.

It led me a bit of a merry dance though, I headed first to the area known as Ridge and Furrow, itself a decent trek, only to be told that it had just flown off in the direction of the western reedbed which was nearly twice as far. Twenty minutes later I arrived at the distant reedbed to be told that it was now back at Ridge and Furrow! So I headed back and fortunately the bird was still present when I arrived. Its was in amongst the black-headed gulls at a distance of about 50m. A couple of times it flew around but then landed again, but finally it headed off back in the direction of the western reedbed and I decided that was my cue to go. Five minutes later though, as I walked back to the car, the bird flew past me again hawking insects and flew off towards the main lake. It's a big reserve and chasing it is a mugs game. My advice would be go to Ridge and Furrow and wait 

Monday, 17 May 2021

Glossy Ibis, Carr Vale NR

There was a first summer glossy ibis at Carr Vale nature reserve, Derbyshire this afternoon and I was passing so I called in for a look. It's a nice bird and showed well today. The only other time I've been here was for a Sabine's gull in 1996. 

Friday, 14 May 2021

Squacco Heron, Ynys-hir

I was working near Aberystwyth this morning and got lucky with a Squacco heron which turned up at Ynys-hir yesterday evening and was still there at mid day today. I was very lucky actually, it was on show and perched in a tree when I arrived at about 12 noon, I watched it for 15 minutes until it dropped down onto the ground and so far as I know it's not been seen since. Birdguides has just reported that it's not been seen during a 3 hour watch this evening. Squacco heron is a new UK tick for me, it's been a real bogey bird so great to see such a smart individual with full breeding plumes. There's a video of the bird further down the post.

How can I avoid seeing Squacco heron in the UK during a birding career stretching back nearly 50 years you may well ask. Well, for the first 10 years I'd probably never even heard of Squacco heron, then for the next 10 I probably had a series of bad luck and near misses, followed by another 10 years of bringing up a family and adopting the "It's not that rare, I'll see one eventually" attitude before spending the last 20 not too worried because I've got other things to do and I've seen plenty abroad so I'm not travelling hundreds of miles to see one in the UK. Before you know it, 50 years have slipped by.

This brings my UK life list to 436. Could be one or two more if I've missed a split, or one or two less if I've missed a lump, it's all a bit confusing these days!

Also today, plenty of pied flycatchers, redstarts, red kites and a single spotted flycatcher. Also ospreys at Dyfi.

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Ruddy shelduck, Hope Carr

There was a nice drake ruddy shelduck at Hope Carr today, associating with a pair of common shelduck. I say associating, it seemed to be hoping for more than an association with the female and spent most of the time trying to drive away the male. It's a big, aggressive bird and if it continues I don't hold out much hope for the male shelduck, but for now the female seems to be sticking with him and trying to escape the attentions of the new interloper. It was constantly calling during the whole of the 45 minutes or so that I watched.

Ruddy shelduck is not currently on the British list, with all recent records considered to be escapes or from the increasing European feral populations, though there are records of wild birds from the 19th century.  The feral population in Europe apparently wanders in late summer with August and September the best months to see them in the UK. Based on this the species seems about to be added to Category C on the British list. Where that leaves a bird in spring I'm not sure but whatever, it's a great bird which I'm pleased to have seen.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Bempton Cliffs

I was working over near Bridlington today, it was an early start and early finish, so plenty of time to nip to Bempton Cliffs for my annual dose of guano. Not really much new to say, it was exactly as I would expect it to be, lots of noise, lots of smell, lots of activity, seabird colonies are always amazing places, but this one is extra special because it is the largest gannet colony on mainland Britain and the only one in England.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Attempted breeding of Avocets at Lightshaw Flash, Greater Manchester

On the morning of 17th April 2021, a pair of avocets appeared at Lightshaw Flash, having been seen at nearby Bickershaw Rucks the previous evening. Following a prolonged period of dry weather, water levels at Lightshaw were as low as I have ever seen them for the time of year, with a lot of exposed mud and on the first day of their arrival I commented to a friend that it looked good as a potential breeding site, though at this point there was no expectation that they would stay more than a day or two. After all, avocets had only once previously bred in Greater Manchester, at Rumworth Lodge near Bolton in 2011 so there was no reason to believe that they would breed again in the county this year. I put out the news of the birds presence on social media and the Manchester Bird Forum and the birds were reported again by another observer later that evening.

My next visit to Lightshaw was on 19th April when there was no sign of any avocets and I just assumed that they had been passing through and that was the last we would see of them. To my surprise however, two days later on the 21st, the pair were back. Now I was a bit more cautious. I contacted the county recorder and asked his advice regarding publicising these birds. At this stage though there was still no suggestion that they would breed and we agreed that unless I saw specific breeding behaviour, there was no need to suppress the presence of the birds. Thirty minutes later I'd seen them mating and preparing a scrape! A news blackout from Lightshaw now ensued.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Dotterel on the Great Orme

The Great Orme is my favourite place in the World and Llandudno is the place I would most like to live, more than any other place that I have ever been to. I do recognise that in achieving it's lofty status, the Orme has probably been helped by a big dose of nostalgia, memories of days gone by, right from my earliest childhood. 

I've seen lots of great birds here, but in nearly 50 years birding I have always wanted to see Dotterel on the Great Orme, but they've always eluded me for various reasons, until today. Two females were on the Orme yesterday but the weather was shocking, with strong winds and battering hailstone. I decided to risk it and leave it until today when there was a much better forecast. After all, when you're hoping to finally find the Holy Grail, it would be better to find it on a beautiful day.  

I got lucky, the birds decided to stay another day and showed really well, down to 3m at times. In the warm(ish) sunshine I was able to sit and watch them in comfort for a couple of hours. Not that any of my close up camera shots were any good, all of the close up photos in this post were taken on my phone through the scope, only the more distant photos were through the camera.

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