20 Feb 2017

Mute Swans.

Before my recent travels to New Zealand (business unfortunately) the pond that keeps on giving threw up another surprise when I gazed out of our front bedroom window and saw tow Mute Swans among the throng of Teal, Wigeon and Shoveller that have taken up temporary residence.

They only stayed for an hour then flew off west. A single Lapwing also stayed for a couple of hours and the Wigeon flock reached a peak of 6 birds!

Arriving back home in the dark Sunday morning I was surprised to flush two Woodcock from the middle of our lane. Not something I'd expected to see. With the weather being quite mild it was no surprise to see Blue Tits investigating the nest boxes  I put up just before I went away.

6 Feb 2017

Patch challenge 2017 - new patch and green birding

Now we've moved house I've had to start all over again building up a new garden bird list! For the last few years I've also taken part in the patch challenge where people are encouraged to work a local patch - in my case it's always been 'green' with my house being at the centre of my patch and everywhere accessible by foot. This obviously restricts the available habitat and number of species that can be seen. One of the advantages of our new house is its location opposite a field with a fairly large pond which I'd hoped would attract passing waders and wildfowl. Getting up early and training the scope on this pond at first light to see whats dropped in is becoming addictive! The pond is several hundred metres away but from my vantage point in one of the bedrooms can easily be seen.

Sunset from the house - the pond can be seen just to the left of the telegraph pole

This weekend was no exception and the first new birds for the 'patch' and garden lists were 8 Lapwings that dropped in briefly on to the muddy margin. Unfortunately they didn't stay long but the Canada Geese did and the mll flock contained  single Greylag Goose. Checking out the rest of the pond I was surprised to find a pair of Wigeon!

The distance means no decent photos can be obtained through the DSLR so I'm having to resort to phonescoping!

The next surprise was the sudden appearance of three Shoveller and a flock of Teal. One of the Shovelers was a sub-adult male along with two females. There are Teal on a nearby pond which is surrounded by trees at the back of a private garden so I think these must have been displaced from there.

The next morning was even better. An adult male Shoveller turned up and 18 Greylags dropped in whilst the Teal flock built up to 47!

I'd heard Wigeon before from the house at night but it was nice to get a sighting. I'd heard Coot as well but again, it was nice to get a sighting!

Every couple of hours I'd take a break from working in the garden, grab a brew and check out what else had turned up on the pond! Another nice bird was this leucistic Mistle Thrush that I first saw last year before we'd bought the house.

Whilst watching I also spotted this Brown Hare, an increasingly rare sighting around here, that meandered around for  few moments before setting off through the hedge and into a neighbouring field.

Wit hall the building work and decorating I haven't had a chance to do any ringing in the garden but the feeders I've installed are attracting good numbers of birds with Goldfinches, Lesser Redpoll, Chaffinch and Greenfinch now being regular visitors. I've heard Tawny Owl in the area so took the opportunity, whilst the weather was dry, of hanging a box given to me by Alan H on our large back garden oak along with two open fronted boxes and four tit boxes. I've got two House Sparrow boxes that I'll hang once we've painted the outside of the house.

30 Jan 2017

Dunlin with SCAN

Last Saturday I managed a few hours off from travelling, or house renovations, to spend time canon netting waders with SCAN in Bangor harbour. It was great to see some faces I hadn't seen for quite awhile - including Ros, fresh back from New Zealand.

I detoured on the way to check out a few sites on behalf of Steve for Sundays session so arrived after all the hard work has been done as the team were getting briefed. Within a very short time the nets were fired and we began extracting and processing a good mixed catch of mainly Dunlin, a few Redshank and a few Oystercatchers.

With a large catch and a large team we were split into two processing teams with age, wing length, bill length, total head / bill length and weight being taken for the Dunlin and an extra biometric - tarsus length - for the Redshank. This enable  the birds to be assigned to race and helps our understanding of the origin of these waders using the N Wales coastline in winter. Highlight was a Swedish controlled Dunlin.

Rachel, Amelia & Dorian hard at work processing Dunlin.

23 Jan 2017

More crap bird photos from the window.

More jet lag! No sooner had I recovered from my Australian trip the I was off to Shanghai and eventually arrived home close to midnight Saturday night after 17 hours travelling. Sunday morning broke dull, cold and with sleet in the air. No matter. After being cooped up all week I was determined to work outside in the garden.

The first surprise of the day was a Pheasant that decided to visit the field opposite. I've seen it from the house before but a couple of fields further away. Running back inside I grabbed a quick record shot through the 'scope.

Returning to the garden I noticed a large white blob circling about a field away. Thinking it looked a lot like a Shelduck  Iran back inside, grabbed the binoculars and then spotted aforementioned blob sat on the pond opposite. It was a Shelduck. A new house and patch tick and another 'record shot'.

Whilst looking at the Shelduck a Raven wandered in to view. Another opportunity for a record shot. They're regular but normally to wary to allow me to photograph from outside. This one visited the pond for a bath and spent about 10 minutes washing and preening. By the time I looked back for the Shelduck it had gone!

Singing Song Thrush and Greenfinch were also nice and the Little Owl called briefly late afternoon.

16 Jan 2017

Wet, miserable and jet lagged - birding from the windows.

Wet and miserable - the weather not me! Jet lagged is me. With lots of work going on in the house coupled with bad weather there hasn't been much incentive to go out birding anywhere so I've concentrated on recording stuff in my new 'patch' - most of which I can see from the windows.

Highlights have been up to 60 Teal using a baited flight pond hidden amongst trees i na field opposite the house and the good numbers of gulls, thrushes and wagtails feeding on fields that have just had manure spread on them. Saturday there were at least 300 Redwings and Fieldfares with good numbers of Starlings, Rooks and Jackdaws thrown in

Sunday saw the turn of the gulls. Scoping from the upstairs windows I picked out my first Lesser Black-backed Gulls of the year amongst a throng of Black-headed Gulls, Common Gulls and Herring Gulls. I even tried a bit of phonescoping but the light was dire.

From the front  of the house I phonescoped the Grey Wagtail that hangs around the muddy field entrance.

Not very inspiring photos but great fun moving from the front to the back of the house with the scope seeing what  I can pick out next.

9 Jan 2017

BRT followed by BLT

Returning from Australia I found my self once again jet lagged but going for a rare bird the day after I arrived home. This time a Blue Rock Thrush that turned up in Stowe on the Wold. No photo's as being a complete prat I'd left my SD cards at my daughters place in Australia! Doh. 

Theres been a lot of debate about the origins and age of this bird but as far as I'm concerned I saw no evidence of it ever being in captivity and from the moult contrast in the greater coverts I'd say it was definitely a 1st winter. As to the time of year.......Black-billed Cuckoo in February anyone? Who's to say this bird didn't arrive last autumn and has moved away from the coast to its current location. Innocent until proven guilty I say. I didn't see any abnormalities to the bill or feet and certainly didn't see anything around the legs.

After awhile I headed back home stopping briefly to refuel and buy a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich before having a short snooze on the couch and spending an hour or so patch birding. 

Here's a couple of Blue Rock Thrush that was hanging around the village of Timaru on the Costa Brava near a friends apartment where we were staying a few years ago - they were quite tame and not at all phased by being so close to human habitation.

31 Dec 2016

Review of the year.

I'm siting here writing this on New Years Eve in sweltering heat in Wodonga, Australia where we've spent the Christmas with my daughter Amy, her husband Lachlan & granddaughter Lizzie. I'm surrounded by the calls of Galahs, Crested Pigeons, Eastern Rosella's and Rainbow Lorikeets. The only familiar sound are the House Sparrows cheeping in the yard!

2016 has been a momentous year for many good reasons but many bad. From a personal point of view Jan & I have moved house and now, hopefully, will have a home and garden that the family will get as much enjoyment from as we will when they all come and stay - once we finish renovating it hat is! Any house where you get Little Owls on the roof and Pinkfeet flying over daily has got to be good in my opinion.

One real sad event was the death and funeral of our good friend Pete Antrobus at an indecently early age. He will be sorely missed by all of his family and mates.

From a birding perspective one of the undoubted highlights has been the trip to Australia and the opportunity to band (ring) once  I was here. More locally I found the first Nightingale for Flintshire a couple of hundred metres from my office and on the same day saw the 1st Nightjar on Hilbre for over 40 years! Surprisingly I've seen no new birds for Cheshire this year although there was a retrospective tick when the peep found by Al Conlin several years ago was finally accepted as a Western Sandpiper. All credit to Al for his perseverance!

Our now annual trip to Shetland saw Chris, Fred, Mark and me once again on Fair Isle and we plan to  return again in 2017. Just prior to that trip Fred and I travelled to Shetland for a long anticipated first for Britain - a Siberian Accentor. Who'd have thought when we sat on the plane home that this was the start of an unprecedented influx of 12 birds with over 200 being seen in western Europe this autumn.

This year has also seen the arrival of a few birds I never thought I'd see in my lifetime in Britain - the first of these was a Black-billed Cuckoo on the Western Isles .

This bird has decreased massively in the USA and the last two UK records haven't been twitchable. This bird stayed for nearly a month.

Next up was what could be the UK's first accepted Purple Swamphen that turned up at Minsmere before moving north to Lincolnshire.

The Dalmation Pelican that turned up in Cornwall didn't inspire much enthusiasm but I caught up with it on a trip to Somerset to visit mum & dad. Time will tell whether this will be accepted as a truly wild bird but I don't hold out much hope.

I had to wait a few months until the next new bird but a trip to Scilly to catch up with a Cliff (cheers Fred!) Swallow was well worth the effort. Another major grip back! As was the Dusky Thrush that was found in a Derbyshire orchard. Another bird on my most wanted list. The Chestnut Bunting we saw on Papa Westray last year has been accepted as the 1st record for the UK and was a retrospective British tick.

Hopefully the Blue Rock Thrush currently entertaining the masses in Gloucestershire will hand around until I get back!

Heres to 2017. Time for another beer and check the beef thats slowly cooking n the barbeque!