30 Dec 2008

Thoughts for the end of 2008

That time is once again upon us. The time of year when birders pack away they’re current year lists and get ready to start all over again in the New Year. Everything seen in 2008 will be history but with so many good birds it seems churlish not to remember some of the star birds and great moments. New Years day will see me doing my own thing and walking off the previous nights excesses by seeing how many species I can see locally. You never know, with a repeat of last year’s performance, I could even end up enjoying a hair of the dog at home whilst watching Brambling and Blackcap in the garden.

So what of 2008? Well I decided to do a ‘Cheshire year list, spurred on by Frank’s record-breaking endeavours of 2005. I ended the year on 227 ( 223 BOU recognised species and three recognised races – Dark-bellied Brent, Blue-headed Wagtail, White Wagtail & ‘Siberian’ Chiffchaff). This year was certainly a good one for county listers with a good number of BBRC rarities if not a ‘mega’. A twitchable Cattle Egret was long overdue and one was duly discovered in the very first month of 2008 on the Wirral followed very soon by another one near Poynton. Other firsts include a potential American Herring Gull at the gull mecca of Arpely tip – it appeared at the same time as record numbers of Glaucous, Iceland, Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls. All picked up by the gull fanatics of Seaforth.

Cetti’s Warbler(s) settled at Neston Old Quay and with a bit of patience showed well for most of the late winter and spring period. Spring proved eventful on Hilbre with their first ever Bluethroat and a flyover Woodlark. Both county firsts for me. A summer plumaged male Black Redstart in the gardens of the old peoples home along Stanley Road was also a county first and was complimented by an autumn bird a post Christmas bird at the same place.

Who can forget Pods amazing discovery of a pair of Black-winged Stilts at Neuamans Flash. I certainly won’t after receiving his phone call at 06.20 on the morning we were due to travel down to Norfolk for Groucho’s stag-do.

Temminck’s Stint is not a major rarity but still a good bird for Cheshire and with record numbers in the UK during the spring hopes were high we’d get one – eventually! It took Steve Menzies to dig one out at Frodsham No. 6 tank.

Next up was Mays Whiskered Tern that graced Inner Marsh far for most of the month. I’ve seen more Whiskered Terns in Cheshire than White-winged Black Terns – one of which appeared over Shotwick Pools with occasional forays into Cheshire in the autumn.

Inner Marsh Farm provided another county lifer when the long staying Merseyside Glossy Ibis decided to pay a visit before returning back to Southport. With a supporting cast of Cheshire’s only Pectoral Sandpiper of the year as well as several Black Terns, Spoonbill and breeding Avocets it was a case of the Carmargue comes to the Wirral. Scarce waders were, well, scarce, so a phone call from Frank just after the last of my daughters wedding guests had departed to say he’d got a Semi-palmated Sandpipier on Frodsham No 6 tank had me scurrying down just before dark and catching up with it and yet another Spoonbill. A good move as the peep buggered off overnight much to the consternation of those that turned up Saturday morning.

As usual sea-watching off the Wirral was only occasionally productive but a couple of Velvet Scoters amongst the 3000+ Common Scoters were a good find by the President of the Wirral sea-watching association. Another county lifer for me but we still failed to find either a Balearic or Sooty Shearwater. A decision has to be made as to whether the articles of association (an empty polystyrene cup) should be changed to incorporate our like-minded brethren at nearby Crosby but the acronym ‘WANC’ sea watching association could be a bit off putting and discourage members who’d then be known as WANCers.

A major highlight of the year was Novembers Rough-legged Buzzard re-found by Mark Turner and was just reward for his persistence in carrying on the search when most of us had given up. Yet another county lifer.

The final icing on the cake was a self found Richard’s Pipit at Parkgate in December (the Dee Estuary is beginning to become a regular winter haunt for this species with a number of December records in recent years) and a small flock of Twite reported at Thurstaston and followed up by a couple of cynical bastards who assume every Twite seen on the Wirral is a Linnet. Am I glad we followed this one up!

So what nationally? The long staying White-crowned Sparrow in Cley was my first lifer of the year and a lucky strike with Lincolnshire’s Audouin’s Gull was one of the major highlights. Especially as it was so frustratingly unpredictable and elusive. Another was catching up with the Blakeney Trumpeter Finch and dragging Mark Payne down there the day before he was due to go on honeymoon. Another bogey laid to rest after not moving fast enough for the Landguard bird and missing the Kent bird by one day. Others include finally banishing the nightmare and catalogue of near misses that was Red-eyed Vireo, catching up with Dark-eyed Junco after contriving to miss Rich Bonsers’ Chester zoo special, almost completing my British Shrike list with both Brown Shrike & Steppe Shrike (all I need now is Long-tailed……) and potential UK firsts in the form of Fair Isles Citril Finch and Cornwalls Alder Flycatcher. I end the year with 10 ‘lifers 4 of which are American passerines.

So what of 2009? I still need to see Lanceolated & Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers so Shetland will be a ‘must’ during the Autumn. A Cheshire Ring-necked Duck or Lesser Scaup has to be a good bet for one of the minor rarities whilst a repeat of Hilbre’s Yellow-breasted Bunting would be well received not least by the Obs Chairman!

Final shot of 2008 - female kestrel Neston Reedbed.

Here's a toast to 2009 and whatever it may bring!

27 Dec 2008

Some post Christmas cheer.

With Christmas now behind us for another year its time to concentrate on the birding - only a few more days until the end of 2008 maybe still time to pick up another goodie in Cheshire? The Staffordshire White-fronts most surely be frozen in at Doxey Marshes and head for the Wirral Riviera. Maybe, maybe not. The Richard's Pipit has resolutely refused to pose for the camera despite trying for it another four times including this morning.

After 3 hours fruitless searching I decided to head up to Red Rocks from where local birder Keith had phoned me with news of a Black Redstart and where Steve Williams subsequently found a Snow Bunting. Both proved to be quite photogenic and we spent a happy hour in the winter sunshine watching these two birds go about their business. Nice to see the Obs Chairman out and about with his camera as well!

The Snow Bunting was equally as obliging though the low sun created lots of shadow. Two good winter birds within metres of each other and all this followed by a bacon butty with the Wirrals premier pelagic skipper and a walk around the lighthouse whilst putting the birding World to rights.

23 Dec 2008

A thought for Christmas.

Ahh, Christmas. The time of serenity and good will to all men (& women!). A time for families to get together and renew old feuds. Please don’t let it stress you out. Just remember:

When you’ve picked yourself off the floor and applied the raw steak to the swelling around your eye after truthfully answering the question ‘does my bum look big in this’, or even worse buying that little black dress she wants in a size XX because you know the size 10 she asked for won’t fit her………………………

When you’ve left the dance floor and realised your David Brent impression has gone done like a lead balloon.

Or when the dogs sick (or worse) after eating the chocolates on the Christmas tree – especially the liquor filled ones.

Or when you finally realise that your mother in-law, like a puppy, isn’t just for Christmas, she’s for life!

Read this prayer written especially for the stressed

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I cannot accept.
And the wisdom to hide the bodies of those I had to kill today because they got on my nerves.
And also, help me to be careful of the toes I step on today as they may be connected to the feet I have to kiss tomorrow.
And, finally, help me to remember…………
When I’m having a bad day and it seems people are trying to wind me up, it takes 42 muscles to frown, 28 to smile and only 4 to extend my arm and smack someone in the mouth.

And when the heat is really on in the kitchen Christmas day take time out with a cold beer and reflect on the fact things could be an awful lot worse……….

It could be you stark b*llock naked with 2 Lbs of sausage meat, an onion and a carrot stuffed up your jacks slowly roasting in the oven.


22 Dec 2008

Whispering death.

No not one of 'the cabin boys' silent but deadly farts but something equally as lethal when in the air. More photo's from Parkgate that I've just got round to sorting out.

Who'd be a rodent out on the marsh with this number of silent but deadly predators hunting all the while. Meanwhile the wintering Pinkfeet provide an atmospheric shot as they move off to roost at dusk.

20 Dec 2008

Twite on the Wirral.

Saturday dawned dank and miserable with the rain that seemed to seep into every orifice. A walk around Stanney didn't reveal much and with Christmas around the corner it was time for the annual booze cruise to the supermarket. Not relishing getting battered and pushed around, by old ladies oblivious to where they push their trolleys, all thoughts of purchasing Christmas spirit was forgotten when Frank rang me to say he'd got the Richard's Pipit at Parkgate and was heading towards Thurtaston where a flock of 12 Twite had been reported Friday.

Meeting in the car park of the Country Park we set off in different directions along the foreshore, soon losing sight of each other in the gloomy mizzle. I picked the right way and after about 1/2 mile suddenly heard a sound we'd all become familiar with on the Shetlands. Twite calling! But where were they? Eventually I spotted them perched on the cliff face but as I rang Frank they flew off.

Luckily we refound them just as Big Al joined us covered in mud and soaking wet after a succesful foray onto the salt marsh for the Richard's Pipit. At least 2-3 Twite were feeding on the strandline. The weather was so wet we couldn't make out what the others were for definite as the optics were completely waterlogged by this stage.

As Sunday morning dawned brighter than had been forecast I decided to try Thurstaston again taking Molly with me for a good run out. Meeting John Jones on the beach we soon found the Twite flock and this time managed to count 13!!
13 Twite posing in a line.
They were quite mobile but gave good views if patient. Al Conlin, founder member of the Wirral Dicks Pip finders club, dragged himself out of bed still suffering from Man-flu to meet us and as we watched the birds we were joined by Roger Wilkinson for whom Twite was a Cheshire tick! The beers on you next time Rog.

Great little birds and a real Cheshire rarity these days. With Al helpfully volunteering to stay out of the way whilst Mrs C cleaned the house for Christmas we retreated to the nearby cafe for a cuppa and a toasted teacake before deciding to make an abortive attempt for the Richard's Pipit again. With a strong breeze blowing any sensible passerine was keeping its head down.

19 Dec 2008

Parkgate revisited

My Richard's Pipit was seen (and photographed) again on the golf course Wednesday by a couple of local birders. It was seen well for about 10 minutes before flying off with Meadow Pipits onto the saltmarsh. It may have also been heard on the golf course Sunday. Armed with this late information I set off to meet Frank armed with the big lens to try and get some better pics.

No sign of the Richard's Pipit despite hanging around until dusk in blustery and squally conditions. Other birds did show well with at least 4 Hen Harriers present along with Short-eared Owl, Merlin & the resident Kestrels. Little Egrets seem to be everywhere these days - including the golf course.

Interestingly the bird above shows a hint of dark wing tips. Shades of Kidwelly anyone?

The female Kestrel posed obligingly whilst hunting invertebrates on the marsh and bringing them back to a favoured perch to munch.

Cheshire birders may have seen the large artificial Christmas tree lit up at night on the Cheshire Oaks retail park just off the M53. It's apparantely the largest of its kind in Europe but looks strangely bare with out the traditional tree topping. News from the S W is that our old mucker Paddy O'Poynton is supplementing his grant and raising funds for his twitching habit by being that topping. The photograph sent to me below by one of his so called friends shows his joyful and triumphant reaction on hearing the news!

16 Dec 2008

Parkgate comes up trumps!

Finally, after much anticipation, this winter period has turned up a good bird on the Wirral. Finishing work early I picked Molly up and headed for Parkgate where I intended to spend walk along the sea wall from the Old Baths to Cottage Lane and then down the Wirral Way and back to the Old Baths in time for the Harrier roost at dusk. The weather was miserable and overcast in contrast with the bright frosty days we've had recently.

My plans changed when a large Pipit flew up off the saltmarsh calling 'shreep, shreep' before dropping down again. Before I'd even had a chance to say 'oh dear, I think that was an example of Anthus richardi' it flew up calling with a small party of Meadow Pipits and circled the golf course before landing in the top of a hawthorn. Fcuk me it was a Richard's Pipit! I managed a couple of quick record shots from a huge distance just to get something as proof! Then I rang everyone I knew who might be interested. Allan questioned me as to whether I'd ruled out Blyth's but 'my' bird appeared bigger than I'd expect a Blyth's Pipit to be and on checking the call it sounded like a Richards! No doubt someone will refind it and prove me wrong...................................

The bird then flew around a bit more before hovering over the golf course and settling briefly on the fairway before getting flushed by a couple of golfers and landing in an area of rough. It stayed hidden from sight for the next 20 -30 minutes suddenly flying off N W and settling on the saltmarsh where it remained hidden and out of sight for the rest of the daylight hours. Superb!

Whilst waiting for the Richard's Pipit to reappear the boredom was relieved by the presence of two Hen Harriers, including an adult 'grey' male a brace each of Short-eared Owls & Stonechats and a single Merlin. A female Kestrel provided a good photo oppurtunity as the light faded.

Nice to catch up with Hilbre regulars John Elliot & Colin Jones along with Scruff the dog. Frank also turned up, as did some of the Sandbach Crewe (Jan & Bob Jones with Robbo) but we couldn't refind the pipit. With darkness falling it looked like it had gone to roost on the saltmarsh. With rain forecast overnight it could still be around tomorrow. It seems that the high tide may have pushed it off the saltmarsh today and may do so again tomorrow.

15 Dec 2008

A quiet weekend.

Another quiet weekend in Cheshire with Saturday a wash out with torrential rain! Sunday morning dawned brighter and a quick visit to Burton Marsh was rewarded with a few Pinkfeet and a ring-tailed Hen Harrier. With Christmas looming the rest of the day was spent putting up lights and decorating trees!

Steve Williams phoned to say he'd got a Waxwing in his West Kirby garden but apart from that the only excitement was a pager message to say there was a possible Booted Warbler in nearby Bromborough. No one seems to know anything about this and as it was already getting dark when the message came through there was no way of getting there! Dusky Warbler anyone?

10 Dec 2008

Another unfortunate disguise.

With the pickings in the UK being a bit lean at the moment certain members of the Cheshire birding scene are taking the oppurtunity to broaden their horizons. This is quite right as how else would you be able to recognise that rare vagrant if you haven't taken the oppurtunity to travel and see them in their own environment? As a seasoned traveller I know how to find my way around a business class lounge and dress so as not to offend the local sensibilities. Its also important to try and blend into the environment and not to draw attention to yourself - especially when sporting expensive optics.

It was with this in mind I advised 'Groucho' Payne on his recent trip to add Corsican Nuthatch to his Western Palearctic list. Unfortunately his lack of geographical awareness meant he thought he was going to Sicily and dressed accordingly................................................

Rumour has it that our friend Paddy O'Poynton (see yesterdays posting) has been seen running around Bristol in his Leprachaun disguise baring part of his anatomy trying to prove he is a hariy arsed birder, in the mould of our hero Pod, whilst singing 'Blue Moon'. A good choice of song considering the current freezing conditions. A distraught local woman forwarded the photo below taken as he tried to nick her tights off her washing line as he'd laddered his stuffing to many socks down them.

Meanwhile Podster himself is still awaiting the men in white coats after he was sent over the edge on reaching the milestone of 500 species in the UK & Ireland and then realising he'd have to do it all over again to reach the only acceptable total of BOU only. He has spent so much time in Ireland this year he's beginning to look like Father Ted.

Please, please let me have something to write about before I lose the plot as well..................

9 Dec 2008

Is this the future of British birding?

A concerned friend, who happens to work in airport security, has sent me this picture of one of the up & coming young UK birders. His face has been disguised to save his Mum any embarrasment but he goes by the pseudonym of Paddy O'Poynton in deference to his allegiance to Irish birding and not the good old BOU. This outfit was allegedly donned as a disguise so he would be taken for a returning Leprachaun when using his season ticket with Ryan Air to twitch the Emerald Isle and not be subjected to the castigation of his erstwhile mentors & (much) elders. To complete the disguise he continually mumbled ' you'll never recognise me now you fekkers' in an Irish accent in an attempt to eradicate his broad Staffs vowels.

As a student somewhere in the deepest corners of the South West he can be found perfecting his disguise by singing 'Danny Boy' whilst quaffing the cheapest rot gut cider he can afford on his student loan.

When approached about this disguise he tried to hide his true reasons for donning such a proposterous garb by claiming he'd been invited to a party and was told to come as him self. Unfortunatley, he claims, the ink had run on his invitation and the S was missing off Self leaving Elf.

When this failed to appease his inquisitor he then claimed he was taking part in a student remake of Mel Brooks classic 'Robin Hood, men in tights'.

You have been warned this is the the future face of British birding. One day he may even sit at the hallowed table of the BBRC!

With unreserved apologies to my Irish mates Paul & Mark!

7 Dec 2008

Even colder weather!

Its been bitterly cold weather again in the fair county of Cheshire. Flying back into Manchester airport Thursday, after trip to France, the peaks were covered in snow but even though we had escaped the snow a heavy frost hardened the ground and turned it white. The first sign of a cold weather movement of birds were the four Ravens feeding in a local stubble field with Carrion Crows. These could be the birds that nested at Shell but could also be Welsh birds forced off the hills because of the cold snap. A good local count of 200+ Lapwings shared a flooded arable field with 30+ Pied Wagtails and things were looking promising for further cold weather movements.

With Christmas shopping taking up most of Saturday morning it was late afternoon before I got out into the field! No sign of the Ravens but masses of Redwings and Fieldfares. Bitterns reported at Moore & Marbury reinforced the notion of a cold weather movement whilst the Dee hosted the highest number of Hen Harriers coming to roost at Parkgate than anytime this century.
Sunday dawned with temperatures at -2 C! Walking towards the woods four Waxwings flew over heading east but declined to stop on the berry laden Guilder Rose bushes! All the ponds in Stanney Woods had frozen over but the lack of other feeding areas had driven a Grey Heron in to try its luck along with a Grey Wagtail. Both unusual birds to see deep in a wood!

The rising sun pierced the frozen wood giving some fantastic atmospheric photo oppurtunities. Meanwhile other birds were a bit thin on the ground with only the Nuthatches being they're usually noisy selves.

With garden chores completed it was time to wander the local fields again in search of something new. The flooded field still held its large flock of Lapwing but suprisingly there were three Snipe out in the open around the edge of a frozen pool of water. I've very rarely recorded Snipe in this area so three was a major bonus. A closer scan revealed another two - making 5. Even rarer! Whilst working my way closer another 3 flew up form where they'd been roosting amongst tussocks in a cow field - 8 Snipe. A patch record.

Although not rare these Snipe made the whole weekend worthwhile. Just finding these and knowing they're part of a cold weather movement keeps the momentum going - one day there'll be a real rarity amongst the commoner stuff. I'll keep looking......................................