28 Aug 2008

More dodgy ducks than Hornsea Mere.

Yet more dodgy ducks have turned up in Cheshire whilst I was in Sweden on business. Yet more 'Ruddy' Shelducks! Cheshire has more dodgy ducks now than the infamous Yorkshire mere in the title..........the one that has 'annual' Redheads that no one else sees.

Anyway, some people say they're Ruddy Shelduck and some say they are hybrids. Time for a quick look me thinks. A quick trip down to Winterley Pool near Crewe was in order. Time for the old two bird theory. Actually its the two pair theory. Groucho took tomorrows sandwiches and threw them out to the motley collection of ducks that appeared from the nearby overhanging trees and it was instantly apparant there were two 'pairs' of 'Ruddy Shelduck'. One pair a definite hybrid pair shown below:

These were 40 -50 % bulkier than the other pair that looked as if they could be 'purer'. These were much more wary and didn't come as close as the bulkier pair. However, close examination of the photo shows the tips of the primarys have been neatly snipped!

About the only pure bred bird we saw here was a Kingfisher.

25 Aug 2008

A Bank holiday weekend in Cheshire

The weekend started with a BBQ at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB laid on for the 'volunteers' who help with work both at the reserve and wardeining Neston reedbed. A good night was had by all and it gave us 'vols' the oppurtunity to look around the newly acquired fishing pools and recently planted reedbed. When all the planned work is completed the reserve is going to be pretty spectacular with a new wader scrape also being planned!

Saturday afternoon was spent walking around the local area. Highlight being an adult Med Gull with Black-headed & Common Gulls following a plough. A good local sighting.

Sunday saw me back at Inner Marsh Farm early afternoon in the hope a Spotted Crake might be around. No chance but plenty of other photo oppurtunitys with a very showy Common Snipe and a typically elusive Water Rail in front of the hide.

The Snipe spent the best part of an hour probing the mud infront of us but was partially obscured by Mares Tails alot of the time.

Other waders were a bit thin on the ground with three Green Sandpipers and a Greenshank to distant to photogrpah on No. 1 lagoon. Fewer Black-tailed Godwits were around with only a small number visible from the hide.

Star bird however was the juvenile Hen Harrier that flew through causing mass panic before hunting the fields adjacent to Shotwick sailing lake. A beautifully marked bird with really rufous underparts.

A quick check of the fields adjacent to Marsh Farm was the final destination of the day and a good sized flock of Pied Wagtails were found catching insects distubed by the sheep. Amongst them were four Yellow Wagtails! All flew off when a marauding Hobby passed overhead being mobbed by the local Swallows & House Martins!

21 Aug 2008

Grip back!

See that little counter to the right of the blog giving my list totals? Well its just gone up by one! Audouin's Gull - oml, nfi, utb. Call it what you will its now officially on my British list. Not withstanding a little help from Al Orton. Good on yer mate. Working in Brigg gave me the opportunity to try again today for the Audouin's even though it wasn't seen yesterday. After spending the day nervously checking the pager whilst at Brigg yesterday I decided to give it a go after my meeting first thing this morning and duly arrived on site at 10.30 to find I was the only birder present!

I spent 3 hours trudging up and down the beach with nothing but a couple of Arctic and a single Pomarine Skua to show for my efforts. Gasping for a drink I headed back to the car to find a group of birders stood on the dunes. They told me of a White-winged Black Tern at 'nearby' Covenham Reservoir so I decided to go there and try for a picture.

20 miles up the road and Al rings:

'You got it mate?'.
'Got what?'
'The Audouin's, its back on the beach'

Holy sh*t - I hadn't got the pager message!!! A quick U turn and I was charging back burning rubber down towards the Wolla Bank car park. I'm out the car and running. Forget the 'scope its binoculars only!
There's one birder present and he knows nothing about it. A quick phonecall & it transpires I'm at the wrong car park. 2 minutes later in a cloud of dust and with brake discs glowing I'm sprinting down the beach where two birders were standing watching the gull. Kindly letting me use their scopes I watched the gull for awhile before heading back to get my camera. Never since my quondam days playing rugby have I ever felt so physically sick as after that sprint in jeans, boots and on sand!

So there it as - after the disappointment of Monday, grip back! Who dares wins! Perfect views of a perfect bird. None of this ticking dodgy gulls miles out to sea for me. For once I made the right decision. Eventually a few other birders turned up and with the twitch now numbering 8 people the Audouin's decided to fly leisurely back out to sea and I headed for home with the CD player on full blast with the succesful twitch anthem of Greendays Jesus of Suburbia rattling my dehydrated brain in my skull.

My apologies to the picnicing couple who had their sandwiches covered in flying dust and sand and their fresh air contaminated by smouldering brake pads in the car park!

Glossary: oml - on my list, utb - under the belt, nfi - no further interest or words to that effect.

19 Aug 2008

Audouin's causes mass hysteria and hallucination.

B*gger. Missed yesterdays Audouin's Gull by 20 minutes as it flew off to sea after spending most of the morning and afternoon loafing on a beach near Chapel Point Lincs. The third time I've d*pped this species! Despite much searching we couldn't refind it.

Pod dressed for a typical British summer. A kid asked him if he was a goblin to which he replied 'feck off, I'm not a goblin I've got a headache'.
Paul McKenna must have been performing at nearby Skegness as many people present must surely have been hypnotised to think Herring Gulls were Audouin's.

The team of Pod, Groucho and yours truly split up to search the beach after ensuring we had mobile contact. Seeing a small group (6 birds) of gulls partially hidden by a dip I walked towards them. Three Herring Gulls, a Common Gull and two Black-headed Gulls were flushed by a lady walking her dog along the strandline ( I didn't have a problem with that). Next minute a breathless birders asking me if I'd seen the Audouin's as I was looking right at it! Hmmm.

Later, as birds came to roost on the sea the shout went up that someone had got it. Groucho was first in the sprint across the sand. Forget the 'Lightning Bolt' and his 100 m gold medal - you should have seen us run in boots, fleece, coat and scope over shoulder. Another Herring Gull - a 3rd summer with a dark. bill. By now we were getting very despondent but carried on looking. Another yell. Another Herring Gull. We walked away to check out some distant gulls leaving a group of birders still umming and aghhing over this bird!

Unbelievably the news came out on the pager after dark that the bird was present at 06.45 - the same time as I was accosted by the above birder..... Even more unbeleivably, given the weather, people were swimming in the sea. The local off licence sells a good line in beer for the birder who uses their scope to check out the local talent.

I should have brought some back for the Wirral seawatchers who enjoy nothing more than watching the scantily clad female joggers passing along the sea wall at Leasowe.

Leaving well after dark we arrived home in Cheshire at 01.00 am this morning. I sat in the front with Pod whilst Groucho took his beauty nap in the back.

17 Aug 2008

A tern for the better.

Sunday saw the Wirral sea watching team meeting in the Meols hide and spending a happy few hours scanning the sea and the large flocks of waders and terns on the foreshore. At least 3 Arctic Skua's were seen harrasing the terns fishing off shore - including one nice pale phase bird that looked decidedly bigger than the two dark phase also present.

Mr Conlin was first to get his name on the finders list with a fine Black Tern roosting amongst its commoner bretheren. Mr Duff was next with an Arctic Tern whilst I weighed in with a juvenile Little Gull.
News from Ian Barber of a female Red-crested Pochard at Sandbach had me scurrying off to pick up Malc, aka Le Donis, Curtin before setting off for the short trip to the Flashes. Another species for the Cheshire year list.Saturday afternoon was spent in horribly windy conditions at Frodsham with Groucho Payne who excelled himself by finding the first of two Curlew Sandpipers amongst the Dunlin / Ringed Plover flcok on No. 6 tank. Two Sanderling were also present but no Black -necked Grebes although we did find one juvenile later on the Weaver. The grotty Ruddy Shelduck hybrid was also still present.

More locally a Hobby caused the usual havoc amongst the House Martins near the house this morning -100 metres from the last sighting. Few warblers seem to be remaining with Blackcap, Common Whitethroat and Chiffchaff being the only ones although Frodsham still has both Reed & Sedge Warblers seemingly feeding young.

15 Aug 2008

The two bird theory

It always happens. 'But there must have been two birds'. There have been several reports recently of a Ruddy Shelduck on Frodsham No 6 tank consorting with the local Shelducks. The problem is theres a couple of hybrids knocking around as well. A report of a Ruddy Shelduck comes out. I ring Frank. Its a hybrid. Still the news comes out. So armed with the camera I set off to try and photograph this 'thing' to determine once and for all. See for yourself.................

There is a real (escaped) Ruddy Shelduck knocking around- theres one been knocking up the local Shelducks (or vice versa) but all the reports from Frodsham seem to relate to this hybrid. Or is there conspiracy theory at play? Others see a Ruddy Shelduck but no hybrid. We see a hybrid but no parent......................

Apart from this horrible looking thing No. 6 played host to a couple of Black-necked grebes and a good variety of waders with partial summer plumaged Knot & Sanderling amongst the commoner Dunlin, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwits and Ringed Plover. A single Common Sandpiper was heard but not seen. Also of interest here was a flock of at least 100+ Common Swifts witout a Pacific or Little amongst them.

Locally theres been little about. The highlight of the week being a Hobby scything through the Hirundine flock over Lea Manor farm and a singing Yellowhammer in the same area. Apart from that I've resorted to try and photogrpah 'our' garden House Sparrow flock that have now grown to about 20 after a succesful breeding season. When not on the feeders they congregate in our laurel hedge.
The garden Blackbirds have just fledged their second brood and the whole family is busy stuffing themselves stupid on my Rowan Berries. At this rate there won't be any left for this years Waxwing invasion.

11 Aug 2008

Shear exhaustion.

What a trip! Leaving Cheshire around 10.00 pm the team of Mark Powell, Jase Atkinson, Al Orton & me arrived in a dark Penzance in the wee small hours and sorted our kit out before joining the queue to board the old flat bottomed puke bucket known as the Scillonian III for a 14 hour seabird bonanza. We were prepared for the worst - high winds had raised the swell and the forecast was at 4 -5 m! We met up with Mike & Rob Stokes from Shrewsbury and Dan Pointon (from anywhere he can cadge a lift!) on the quay before settling down on alongside one of the lifeboats!

Unfortunately the swell caused numerous cases of seasickness and one guy fell and smashed his face against the deck meaning we had to divert to the Scilly's to get him to hospital. Another poor wretch left the boat here suffering from a panic attack brought on the sheer terror of being surrounded by 200+ honking birders.
Sitting peacefully minding my own business I was aware of something whistling past my head - someone had puked up just along the rail and the wind had whipped it down the side narrowly missing me. A lady behind us just sat and puked between her feet and didn't bother moving. This was going to be a fun trip! With so many people on board getting to see all the birds was going to be difficult and within a short space of time we realised extra height was going to be a distinct advantage so clambered up to a position just in front of the funnel. The motion here was even worse but we were sheltered from the flying diced carrots and worst of the spray. Although further from the birds we had a better view than the majority on deck.

A Wilson's Petrel was spotted by the bridge based spotting team and in the ensuing rush fifty birders were almost crushed. This bird didn't linger - probably put off by the overpowering stench of vomit, obviously not as attractive to a discerning Petrel as rancid chum, and was seen by only a few. Plenty of Storm Petrels were gathering to gorge themselves on this feast and combined with the swell & diesel fumes from the funnel (a major disadvantage of our eeyrie) even us stalwarts began to feel ever so slighly queasy.

Big Al getting some shut-eye

Fatigue setting in after no sleep, no food and carbon monoxide posoining from the funnel behind!
Here's a video taken from our lofty perch. It ends rather suddenly as we crashed into an almighty trough that nearly had me over the side!

A couple of Cory's Shearwaters and a single Sooty Shearwater broke the monotony of 800+ Storm Petrels and good views were had of two Great Skua's and two Arctic Skua's in the melee of churned up water and feeding birds in our wake.

Our drowsy state was broken by an announcement over the tannoy 'Great Shearwater in the wake'. Instantly, like the fully trained Special Forces we are, the team grabbed binoculars and got straight on this mythical Southern Hemisphere bird. Awesome. For the next hour it casually cruised in and out of our wake. A lifer for Mike!

This was one bird I really wanted to see again and I wasn't disappointed!
Climbing down from our perch only when land was in sight again we retired to the bar for a swift drink before staggering ashore and driving to our accomodation in nearby Hayle. A few beers followed by a swift curry and at long last we were able to sleep.

Today dawned and we spent a short while, on the recommendation of a local birder, seawatching off Godrevy Point were 3 Balearic Shearwaters were picked in the strong westerly passage of Manx Shearwaters.

Planning our route home via Chew Valley lake were we found the unringed male Ferruginous Duck we arrived back in Cheshire at 17.00. A very tiring trip. Some good birds but a bit disappointing in the numbers apart from Storm Petrels, Fulmars & Gannets!

As a foot note a big thanks to John and his merry band of chum(mer)s. A great job and after seeing him at work on the Joe Penders Sapphire I still don't know how he manages to munch sandwiches whilst chumming.............................

8 Aug 2008

Colour ringed Black-tailed Godwit

Just had some feed back from Dr Jenny Gill involved in the colour ringing project. The bird photographed below at IMF has certainly been around a bit.

02.08.03 - ringed as juvenile. Terrington, the Wash estuary, Norfolk, E England
16.06.04 Burnham Overy, Norfolk, E England
19.11.04 Kirton Marsh, Boston, Lincolnshire, E England
12.04.05 Cley, Norfolk, E England
14.04.05 Cley, Norfolk, E England
08.09.05 Snettisham, the Wash estuary, Norfolk, E England
17.09.05 Snettisham, the Wash estuary, Norfolk, E England
25.02.06 Welney, Ouse Washes, Norfolk, E England
05.03.06 Welney, Ouse Washes, Norfolk, E England
08.04.06 Leidschendam, Zuid Holland, W Netherlands
12.09.06 Two Tree Island, Leigh on Sea, Essex, E England
09.10.06 Two Tree Island, Leigh on Sea, Essex, E England
24.10.06 Two Tree Island, Leigh on Sea, Essex, E England
14.08.07 Freiston, the Wash estuary, Lincolnshire, E England
25.10.07 Medway estuary, Kent, SE England
08.07.08 Dee estuary, Cheshire, NW England
21.07.08 Two Tree Island, Leigh on Sea, Essex, E England


Stop press: President of Wirral Sea Watching Association kidnapped.

El Presidente and skipper of the good ship 'Miss Molly' was allegedly kidnapped last night and forced to leave the Wirral and watch as a White-winged Black Tern gracefully flew over the dog turds at Crosby Marine Park. The perpetrator of this heinious crime turned up at the victims house in a white Landrover on the pretence of helping move a filing cabinet. El Presidente went quietly and was later returned unharmed. He left a clue that he hadn't gone of his own free will by not taking his binocualrs. Investigators are treating it as a case of 'twitch and run'.

Mean while another founder member of the society, Cabin Boy Kenny, rumoured to be deported from Cornwall last weekend, could be found incarcerated at Fort Perch last night in the hope the above tern would show itself from the right side of the Mersey.

His deportation occured whislt apparantly suffered from a mild form of tourettes syndrome brought about by eating a dodgy pasty, consuming to many pints of guinness and suffering from over exposure to the combined effects of chum and sun. He was on a fact finding mission to investigate claims of ultra rare Petrels off the Scillys. His illness manifested itself in the form of yelling 'slut' to anything wearing a short skirt! This didn't enamour him to the accompanying kilt wearing Scot.

On another note a new song is about to take the birding World by storm. Sung to the tune of 'Ten Green Bottles' it goes along the lines of:

Ten Green Sandpipers reported on No. 1, ten Greensandpipers reported on No. 1
If one Green Sandpiper should accidently fly there will be nine Green Sandpipers reported on No.1.

All members of the WSWA and sister society the GOA will be singing this with gusto in a force 5 on the Scillonian III Sunday.

7 Aug 2008

Reality is an illusion caused by lack of alcohol

Back to reality after the exotica of Tenerife. No more daily jugs of Sangria or ice cold beers for breakfast, lunch and tea! Time to get down to some 'proper' birding. Hmmm. Not much around locally although a short drive to Frodsham on Sunday with Molly resulted in a moulting adult Curlew Sandpiper amongst the roosting waders on the Weaver. Mainly though it was dire with the only other signs of autumn passage being three Common Sandpipers and three fly over Yellow Wagtails.

Nice to see the local Ruddy Duck population has escaped the 'expert' shot of the hunters employed by DEFRA. I wonder what else they've shot whilst they had the oppurtunity - they shot a pair of Greater-black backed gulls at this site two years ago. This male was busy displaying to a nearby female. They're not known as stiff tails for nothing.

Even though autumn migration has officially started some birds are still busy raising young. This is one of several broods of Tufted Duck on the Weaver.

More locally good numbers of Tree Sparrows and House Sparrows are now congregating on recently harvested barley fields whilst a Nuthatch was a welcome addition to the garden list feeding on sunflower hearts.
Were off to Cornwall Saturday to join the Scillonian III for a day long pelagic starting Sunday morning (weather permitting). Ahh, the smell of chum and vomit! The wind directions not looking good for seawatching off the Wirral but a slight N W blow tomorrow might bring in an early Leach's Petrel into the Mersey mouth over high tide.
Theres been a record influx of Two-barred Crossbills into the UK over the last few weeks. Mostly in the Northern Isles. Hopefully some will remain until our Shetland expedition at the end of September and even better one may turn up in Cheshire as they gradually filter down through the country.

2 Aug 2008

The 5 S's - Sun, sea, sand, sangria & cerveza

Lets go to Tenerife on holiday said Mrs W back in April. Quickly agreeing the next few months had me feverishly scouring the available literature for sites to see the various Canary Island endemics and sub-species before we left. Using the ‘Birdwatchers Guide to the Canary Islands’ by Clarke & Collins as well as information provided by Rich Bonser on his website. I planned my trips around the three days on which I’d hired a jeep. It wasn’t really a birding holiday but I can’t lie and burn on a beach all day so I usually get out by myself for a few trips.
Tenerife was scorching hot – like the landscape the temperature was almost igneous! As well as the birds(!) there were plenty of reptiles around. Lizards abounded – many of them positively ancient and wrinkled in their Speedo’s. What is it with elderly continental gentlemen and their Speedo’s.
Since the early part of the year a Tri-coloured Heron had been present around the Playa de las Americas and Los Christianos area but despite intensive searching over three days in blistering heat it couldn’t be found. This bird was a first for the Western Palearctic and was remarkably tame throughout its stay. With the increased number of tourists during the summer holidays its probably moved on or to another Island.
Around the hotel complex Spannish Sparrows abounded although photographing them was no easy matter. One has to be very careful where one sticks ones telephoto lens!!!!! Sitting on the seafront at night with a cold beer allowed good views of Cory’s Shearwaters – they appeared to be attracted by the bright lights. Bertholets Pipits could be found almost everywhere there was a bit of derelict land. Theres a lot of this around Tenerife......

Everywhere we went the local Canaries race of Chiffchaff perfomed their unmistakable but slightly odd sounding song – a bit like Jonathan Ross they couldn’t’ sing their ‘C’s’ so they sounded more like ‘whiff, whiff, whaff, whaff……

A trip into the mountains to visit Mount Teide (3718m) allowed me to plan a visit to the Las Lajas picnic site. This is one of the easiest sites for Blue Chaffinch and sitting quietly enjoying our picnic in the shade of a pine we enjoyed superb views of this stunning bird as several individuals came to drink at the water taps laid on for human visitors. Here I also saw the local races of Goldcrest, Blue Tit and Great-spotted Woodpecker whilst the trip up through Vilaflor saw us screeching to a halt for Rock Sparrows on the wires!
Mount Teide is impressive but again the heat was oppressive. We’d intended to get the cable car to the top but the queue was about 2hrs. Sod that – we went to a bar instead. Still we did manage to drive up to an impressive altitude of 2,200 m.
One of my other hobbies is diving. I don’t get many opportunities but a fortuitous encounter in a local Supermarket saw us piling into the jeep and heading towards El Puertito where I had booked a dive whilst the others snorkled. This proved to be one of the outstanding experiences I’ve ever had. The bay is frequented by up to six Loggerhead Turtles who interact with the divers in an amazing way. They’ve learnt to gulp in the air expelled when you breath to save them having to surface to breath and actively seek out divers! The first I knew one was around was when something bumped into my air tank. Next minute I’m eyeball to eyeball with a 1m long turtle that gulped air from my spare regulator and allowed me to stroke it. Awesome. There are very strict rules for divers at this site. You do not harass the turtles – they will come to you. Once it had filled its lungs it sped off.

Leaving this site we headed towards a quiet beach and encountered the first Southern Grey Shrike of the trip perched on wires. Movement in a nearby sun-parched field turned out to be a small party of three Trumpeter Finches. Further scanning revealed a small covey of Barbary Partrides.

An early start was needed the next day as I wanted to visit the Monte del Agua laurel forests to try and see the two endemic species of pigeon. The track was being dug up to lay drains but I managed to drive down and blag my way past the surprised local workforce. 3 hours later I’d got at least three Bolles Pigeons and a single Laurel Pigeon. These birds are extremely hard to see well and most of the views were flight views above the forest canopy only.
The nearby Erjos Ponds were completely dry but proved to be a good spot for Plain Swift and numerous finches & warblers. Several tintillon Chaffinches were amongst good numbers of Canarys, Linnets & Goldfinches. The scrub also held Sardinian & Spectacled Warblers. Eventually heading back to our hotel I stopped at Santiago del Teide where yet more Rock Sparrows could be seen.

Our final full day saw me catching the bus into Los Christianos and walking back to our hotel near Adeje along the seafront in a final search for the heron. No success but good views of Whimbrel & Turntstone. Several times I’d seen small flocks of Black-capped Parakeets flying over but not seen them perched but managed to locate a feeding flock in Los Christianos. I’m not sure of the status of these birds as ‘tickable’ species but they were pretty spectacular anyway.
A brilliant holiday and an ideal way to combine some good birding with a bit of R & R. As the title says – the five ‘S’s’ – cerveza sounds like it begins with an S.

I saw a total of 42 species in my week on the Island including single Barbary Falcon, numerous Kestrel,s Common Buzzard, Yellow-legged Gull & Blackcap! Besides the turtles & lizards other animals seen included Algerian Hedgehog & Rabbit.