30 Nov 2008

Cold weather.

The weather took a distinctly wintery turn this weekend with sub-zero temperatures locally. Birding Saturday was restricted to watching flocks of Redwings & Fieldfares disappear into the thick freezing fog that prevailed all day. A skein of Pinkfeet passing unseen overhead could have contained a Snow Goose for all I could see. A dismal day and one best spent sat in the conservatory watching the garden birds and a stunning male Sparrowhawk that perched adjacent to the feeders on several occasions.

With news of several Firecrests on the Wirral and across the water in Liverpool Sunday was mostly spent searching local areas trying to find another! No luck at either Rivacre (where I found 3 a couple of years back) or Stanney but plenty of other woodland birds to see.

The Grey Wagtails were elusive along Rivacre Brook but I eventually tracked them down near one of their favourite haunts by the old road bridge.

Mooching along minding my own business with eyes open and ears strained I was pondering why Rivacre doesn't seem to hold any Tawny Owls - their absence in Stanney Woods is probably due to the restricted amount of habitiat but Rivacre comprises several woods separated by the golf course. So, imagine my suprise when coming across this lot as I turned a corner!

A fantastic piece of woodland art but I wonder how long it will be before the local inbreds try setting it on fire.

23 Nov 2008

Death on the Marshes.

With Twite being reported on the Dee Marshes at Burton yesterday I took a trip down with Molly at first light this morning to try and find them. It was a desoltate morning with squally hail showers and high winds making birding difficult.

No sign of the Twite but plenty of other finches and winter thrushes around with the odd Yellowhammer and Skylark mixed in for good measure. No Short-eared Owls this morning but a single Merlin & a huge female Peregrine initially sitting on a post but later causing mayhem over the Decca pools as it chased down and killed a female Shoveller!

Intitially she made several low level pass over the pools flushing all the Lapwings and ducks in one panic stricken flock before choosing her prey and flying it down. She knocked it to the ground and then circled high before landing and devouring her kill out of sight. An awesome display. Hoping for either a stray Bean Goose or Whitefront I scanned the distant flocks of Greylags but managed only a solitary Pinkfoot.

Apart from this mornings trip to the Dee the birding highlights have been a bit slim this weekend. A single Crossbill over Stanney Woods yesterday appears to have coincided with a movement in Cheshire with birds being reported at West Kirby and Delamere.

21 Nov 2008

Owls & Geese

With the days getting shorter I can no longer get any birding done either before or after work! An early finish midweek meant I finally got a chance to visit Burton Marsh and see the Short-eared Owls that are putting on a display for visiting birders this year. It must be getting on for a record year with 20+ being recorded by the RPSB during their webbs counts. Walking Molly between Station Rd & Denhall Old Quay I counted 10 along with Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Kestrel & 2 Buzzards!

Doxey Marshes (suppression capital of Staffordshire) has been hosting a flock of 30+ Eurasian Whitefronted Geese. All they've got to do is fly north and we could see them on their old wintering grounds on the Gowy water meadows. I wish.............................................................

15 Nov 2008

One for the Liverpool fans - a Great Northern Loon.

No not Rooney but more like Christiano Ronaldo. A Great Northern Diver. The Ronaldo of West Kirby Marine lake. Preening and posing. Occasionally diving and when it does it invariably stays down for a long time!

The Hilbre diver looks like its relocated to West Kirby marine lake. A real feeling of deja vu here as one turned up on the same lake about two years ago. With a bit of patience superb views were obtainable for both birders and members of the public. I managed to get down yesterday and for the best part of two hours it was on the opposite side of the lake to where I was but as the sun began to drop almost behind the Welsh hills it came close enough to get some good shots as it posed on the sun dappled water.

It was feeding well catching and eating small crabs but occasionally getting mobbed by marauding gulls - at which point it usually dived. A bit like Ronaldo - the slightest bit of pressure and down he goes.
People seemed genuinely interested although that might have something to do with the location. A great bird to see close up but like that other Manchester Utd player Rooney it really has got a face only a mother could love.

12 Nov 2008

Two-barred Crossbill

A morning meeting in Thirsk allowed me to spend some time at the garden of a certain Mr & Mrs Uruqhart who, for several weeks now, have had a stunning male Two-barred Crossbill visiting their garden feeders. Despite the long hike up the hill to their fantastic house I decided to park by the main road. Sweating like the proverbial Bishop when he first saw the actress in her lingerie I arrived on site to find I'd missed the bird by 5 minutes. No problem though - with fewer people than at the weekend and with them all standing well back it soon reappeared.

I picked the Crossbill up in flight several times on call and it proclaimed its presence before actually arriving on the feeders. No bad behaviour today but the arrival of a bloke who stood behind me next to his wife and then proceeded to give a running commentary, in a loud voice, about the birds on the feeder less than 40 feet away:
'Oh look dear a Coal Tit. Now theres a Blue Tit and a Coal Tit together. Oh and theres a Great Tit. Look dear all three Tits together and now theres a Greenfinch'.

So much for field craft. I had to turn to check and see if the poor women was blind! Taking my leave I stuck a couple of pound coins in the collection bucket and took the long walk back to the car. A beautiful spot and the area was filled with birds - apart from those coming to the feeders there were Brambling, Chaffinch, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting in the surrounding hedgerows.

With my meeting over and Yorkshire bathed in sunshine I took a detour back to the coast to get another, hopefully, closer view of the female Pied Wheatear at Reighton Holiday Park. Once again the bird was fairly distant but just as I'd packed up and was about to leave it flew over my head and landed on a nearby fence. Sorted!

As can be seen its looking pretty grubby after rooting around on the boulder clay cliffs. It looks like this bird has moulted some of its greater coverts hence its age being put as a first winter female. Two cracking birds. Not lifers but well worth seeing since my last Two-barred Crossbill was in the early eighties!

9 Nov 2008

About that Shrike.

An early dart this morning over to a sunny but wind swept Lincs where the Steppe Grey Shrike duly performed despite being harrassed by inconsiderate dickheads who, lacking any form of field craft, were intent on running up to tthe bird wherever it landed and sticking their lenses where the sun doesn't shine! I walked away disgusted at the behaviour of a small minority. If they'd had the patience to wait the bird would have come to them. The day started badly when my sons car refused to start with a flat battery - not something I'd anticipated dealing with at 5 am!!!. That small problem was soon overcome and I arrived on site after an uneventful journey. The Shrike, as they say, was showing its proverbials off and by waiting patiently superb views were obtainable.

A very distinctive bird with very pale plumage tones and a pale lores. It was exceptionally tame which made the disturbance all the more unacceptable. Two or three people were actually running towards it when ever it moved and instead of staying at a reasonable distance ignored anyone who might have been watching it and got ever closer until they flushed it. My car is the blue one in the photo. The bird had landed on the track alongside it and these two proceeded to get closer and closer until the inevitable happened.

Everyone one else stood back and watched from a distance. Such w*nkers give photographers a bad name. I don't think they were birders - they certainly didn't have 'scopes or appear to have binoculars.

From Grainthorpe I made the quick dash over the Humber bridge to Reighton for the Pied Wheatear that showed more distantly on the camp site. No pics of that as I'd filled the camera card with the Shrike and anyway it was pretty non-descript. I'll have to do some research and try and find out why it wasn't an eastern race Black-eared Wheatear!

EDIT: The following photo is an uncropped version of the one above. As can be seen there are no other birders around. They were all stood back (see the shadows). The guy lying down flushed the bird from the path between two groups of birders by getting to close on the inside of the field. When it flew to the cars he then got within a few feet of it before flushing it again.

8 Nov 2008

White(ish) Thrush

I made a decision to miss twitching the Steppe Grey Shrike in Lincs today and go to Hilbre instead. The rationale being that Steppe Grey wasn't a mega rarity and we were still hoping for something big on the N Wirral coast! A decision I may yet regret......

As dawn broke the dedicated Obs crew set off in the Chairmans trusty Landrover for our own magic Island. Full of anticipation! Surely today we'd get the biggie? With a brisk SW blowing a few of the hardier souls decamped from the Landie and walked across Middle Eye checking if the Snow Bunting was still there. It was and we were soon in the Obs with the kettle on the boil.

For a few days now a semi - albinoistic Song Thrush has been present on the Island. With several white primaries and secondaries on each wing and several white tail feathers its a neat looking bird and causes a few heart palpitations when first seen. Imagine the suprise when it was caught in one of the heligoland traps and found to be ringed on Hilbre a few years ago without the white feathers!
The Great-northern Diver put in a welcome reappearance and the Shag count is now two! As the Chairman said your not a proper Cheshire birder 'till you've walked across to Hilbre and had a Shag. Brents numbered 104 ish and the female Eider was still present.

A scan of the Purple Sandpiper flock (16) revealed two colour ringed birds that were at least 6 years old whilst several colour ringed Turnstone and a single metal ringed Oystercatcher were also spotted. Retiring to the warmth of the Obs and breakfasting on Mrs Williams juniors delicious chocolate melting moments the World was put to rights and historical Hilbre birds discussed.

The next foray outside brought a frission of excitment when the Chairman defied his supposed failing eyesight by being the first to spot one of two Short-eared Owls that flew in off the sea and made for the West Kirby shore.

Plenty of visible migration but only one new bird ringed - a female Chaffinch. Still it was great to be out in such a beautiful place enjoying good company and gossiping as only birders can about stringers, dodgy sightings, brilliant past birds and hopes for the future. Now about that Shrike...................................................

7 Nov 2008

Credit where credits due!

The Rough-legged Buzzard was seen flying from its roost this morning allowing those members of the LBO team who unfortuntaely couldn't connect yesterday to get good views before it disappeared off north. Credit is also due to local birder John Coop who originally found it on Middle Eye Wednesday afternoon!

Yesterdays Long-eared Owl appears to have fooled us all and a closer inspection of Colin's photo shows its actually a dark Short-eared. The photo shows yellowish eyes whereas we were all pretty convinced it had amber eyes yesterday evening! It just goes to show............................
Despite nearly the whole Wirral birding enclave being in the field this afternoon and joined by some of the Seaforth Crew there were no new birds picked up apart from two Waxwings found by Mark Turner & Tony Conway at Red Rocks.

With camera to hand 'just in case' it fell to the ever- photogenic local Stonechats to put on a performance worthy enough to warrant pulling over in the Landrover and eating a bacon butty whilst trying to photograph them through the window. Molly of course had her own bacon butty!

With the shutter finger itchy any bird would do and the next photographable avian model was a solitary Curlew stood in the paddocks adjacent to the Lighthouse.

After yesterday's excitement a quieter day today was perhaps the calm before the storm when the biggie gets found tomorrow!

6 Nov 2008

Forget Lapland. Santa lives on Hilbre.

Bloody hell - the Wirral was like Lapland today with all the scarce northern birds around! Looks like my prediction of the weekend came true! Someone was listening.................

Was I dreaming? Did a Rough-legged Buzzard really get found yesterday on Middle Eye and refound today first on Hilbre and then over Red Rocks and the adjacent golf course? I must have had a bump on the head. Either that or something perverse in my nature made me decide to risk getting cut off by the tide and yomp across to Hilbre this afternoon. With Santa's little helpers finding the biggest present of the year so far this morning and with news the Great-northern Diver was still showing I had to go.

Santa's grotto doubles up as the Bird Obs and I found a number of the elves busy at work - Colin, Deggsy, Tony and Kenny Mac were all working away as only elves can do this time of year. Even with Santa Pete away the elves were all work and no play. With no confirmed news of the Rough-legged Buzzard since it flew from Hilbre mid morning it wasn't looking good but I was happy with Great-northern Diver, Shag & female Eider along with good numbers of Purple Sandpiper.

As the light faded Mark Turner rang to say he'd got the Rough-legged Buzzard hovering 100 ft over the golf course and being mobbed by a kestrel. Agghhhhh! Could we pick it up from where we were? Just about. With the others having vacated the grotto and Hi-ho-ing back to the mainland (oops wrong fairy tale. Elves don't hi ho. Thats the Seven Dwarves and Sleeping Beauty was definitely not on the island - even Deggsy having 40 winks couldn't pass for sleeping beauty in the gathering gloom) it was left to Kenny ' I don't twitch' McNieffe to ring the last Redwing of the day and shut up shop. We were chilled. However Marks next call really had us in a panic and we decided to get across to the mainland - fast!

A slight delay on Middle Eye whist I tried to photograph a Snow Bunting (with ISO 1600 and shutter speed of 1/30th second the picture is never going to win any awards) and we were on our way towards Pinfold steps taking the most direct route - route 1 straight across.

Halfway across we were alerted by Colin Jones to the Rough-legged Buzzard hunting over the salt marsh and we picked it up hovering before losing it again 5 minutes later as it dropped down. By now Kenny was saying he could get used to this twitching lark but complaining he was feeling the strain and worried he might pitch over headfirst crossing the salt marsh. I reassured him I'd leave him face up so he wouldn't drown.

Evenually we arrived to join the throng of 6 birders present. The Rough-legged Buzzard continued to perform and the Scandinavian feel to the day was enhanced by the appearance of a Long-eared Owl that perched up allowing everyone to get full 'scope views of this exhausted looking migrant. As the darkness deepened the Rough-legged Buzzard appeared to go to roost in a large pine off the back of the houses along Stanley Road. What a day - Rough-legged Buzzard, Eider, Snow Bunting and Long-eared Owl. A truly Scandinvian experience. Lapland twinned with the Wirral.

Rough-legged Buzzard flying straight towards me at almost 16.30! The light was so bad I couldn't get a focus lock.

As the song says ' things can only get better'...........I predict Red-flanked Bluetail or Pallas's Warbler on the Wirral this weekend!!!!!!!

5 Nov 2008

Birds everywhere!

Well a bit of an exageration but at least theres something new to look at in the County. A long staying Great Northern Diver off Hilbre will have to wait until the weekend although it was seen from Red Rocks this afternoon.

News on the pager of a Black Redstart west of Fort Perch was intriguing. Was this the bird ringed on Hilbre or a different one. Perhaps we'd had a mini fall! Two Black Redsarts in a week.

Deciding to take the circuitous route from the office to Manchester via Liverpool I called in and as I drove along the prom at New Brighton I suddenly saw the Black Redstart disappear over the sea wall in front of me. An extremely flighty and elsuive bird and unringed.

A pre-dusk walk around Stanney Woods last night with Molly revealed a roost of at least 50 Carrion Crows. The first time I'd realised this species roosts communily. It was like a scene out of Hitchcocks 'The birds' with crows everywhere!

2 Nov 2008

Plenty of migrants.

Just in form another spell in the field! After Allan phoned me Friday to say he'd seen a Yellow-browed Warbler at his office near Ellesmere Port boat museum I've spent the weekend searching suitable areas such as the B&Q carpark, the local cemetry, the canal towpath and people back gardens to no avail!

Persistance was rewarded Saturday morning with a superb Waxwing feeding on hawthorn berrys before flying north. Initially picked up on call I watched it from close range for about 5 minutes. Fantastic birds and I never get tired of seeing them. With good numbers beginning to arrive on the east coast we'll hopefully get a few more to provide a photo oppurtunity. As well as searching the less salubrious areas of the area I've also spent alot of time in Stanney Woods and Rivacre Valley. Unfortunately it does look as if the fragile hold the Marsh Tits had on Stanney has been broken as I've not seen or heard one since April this year.

Loads of Redwings must have roosted in Stanney as they arrived in Friday night. The wood was full of them and Blackbirds. With two more Red-flanked Bluetails and good numbers of Pallas's Warblers on the East coast its only a matter of time before we get a biggie!

Finally congratulations to Cheshire legend 'Bluebirder' and his lovely wife Tracy who celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary last week. to help them celebrate this momentuous occasion we met up for a few beers! I was pretty hungover Saturday but still managed to get out in the field before 09.00 - unlike someone who was apparantely so hungover his wife had to ask the hotel if they could keep the room longer cos he couldn't get out of bed.

Yes, it really is the Elvis Presley. He lives!