29 Jan 2009

Making a Meal(y) of it.

Firstly I can no longer rely on the sympathy vote at home after having the rest of my stitches out and bandages removed. No more peeled grapes for me & no longer making a meal out of my incapacity. As it was forcibly pointed out to me if a rare bird was at stake I'd be there but when it came to helping with the house work I had a bad foot............................

Secondly, in light of recent Earth shattering events in the birding World, I wish to point out no captive birds have been photographed for this blog – hence the crap pictures.

Well would you Adam & sodding Eve it. After drying the camera out and walking around Stanney Woods looking for the Mealy Redpoll (with no luck) I returned home to find another one in the garden! Redpoll’s are normally passage migrants over the house and never stop! This one was ranging between the front of the house and a neighbours garden, feeding in birch trees but was very flighty and for some reason was getting chased off by the local House Sparrows who launched themselves from our laurel hedge everytime it came near. What has our society come to when we now have gangs of delinquent House Sparrows chasing off interlopers on their ‘patch’.

A mission to Hilbre was rudely interrupted by a rapidly encroaching tide and I ended up roosting on Little Eye drying my socks in the winter sunshine until the waters receeded enough to make the crossing and meet up with Degsy in the Obs. Where's Canute when you need him. Still, the enforced stop over gave me a chance of cracking views of the visiting Brent Geese. In total we counted 141 - 138 Pale-bellied and 3 Dark- bellied. There plenty of Cormarants around with a record count last week of 1,700+ - amazing how they get mistaken for geese when flying in formation!

Not to be mistaken with:

Plenty of these:

14+ of these:
One of these:
And 25+ of these seen at Hale. The Cheshire hotspot for Corn Buntings................

25 Jan 2009

Back in the field.

In true Ray Mears fashion medical matters have been taken into my own hands (or feet) and stitches removed using a penknife and a pair of tweezers. Not quite but I'm a bit more mobile after the removal of layers of dressing and managing to squeeze my feet into a pair of borrowed (large) wellies. Deciding gull watching at Arpely was still a step to far I took Molly up to the N Wirral coast for a walk along the seawall from The Gunsites to The Lighthouse. A leisurely meander just before high tide resulted in a single drake Scaup, Red-throated Diver and Common Scoter amongst more numerous Great-crested grebes. A quick look at the rocks below Wallasey Coast Guards failed to reveal any Purple Sandpipers but the nearby beach held a few Sanderling.

Returning home for breakfast we waited for Groucho Payne to arrive beofre setting off to Thurstaston where we hoped we'd get Mark Twite as a Cheshire lifer. Walking down the beach as far as Banks Rd, Heswall we failed to see the Twite but the estuary was teeming with bird life including this Hilbre colour ringed Turnstone.

A pager message saying the Twite were still present but mobile put a spring in our step and we picked the birds up eventually on call as they roosted on the boulder clay cliffs. We watched them for no more than a minute before they were off and we didn't see them again!

Next stop the salt marsh at Red Rocks where we eventually met up with Mr C. A walk of the marsh didn't produce much except for a very smelly wet dog and a number of bird corpses - a result of the prolonged cold snap? We also found a very sick Redshank that offered no resistance as I picked it up. The birds breast bone was painfully sharp through its feathers and it was obviously starving seemingly suffering from some form of diarrohea. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was unusual on the salt marsh and provided a good photo oppurtunity. Highlight was a cracking Short-eared Owl that hunted over the dunes adjacent to the board walk. All in all a good day.

Sunday morning in Stanney Woods was a red letter day! Virtually the first bird found was the male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker drumming on the dead limb of an oak tree adjacent to one of the main paths! I watched it for about 10 minutes before it flew. Great-spotted Woodpeckers were also drumming and the whole wood seemed a live with singing and displaying birds.

A Redpoll calling caught my attention and I tracked it down to the top of a birch tree. A stunning adult male Mealy Redpoll - almost gleaming white in the sunshine and for a moment my heart skipped a beat. Could it be an Arctic? No such luck but a superb bird all the same. The flanks were almost white with no trace of buff and with only a few large sparce streaks whilst the under-tail coverts were similarly persil white apart from a single dark streak. With a finely streaked pink rump it ticked all the right boxes.

And where was the camera? Drying out in the airing cupboard after I noticed yesterday that the Sigma lens had mositure on the inside of the front element! Boll*cks.

20 Jan 2009

I'm officially irrepressible!

Thanks to Jono my names in Birdwatch magazine and I'm officially described as irrepressible! So much so that contrary to official expectations I'm back at work and relatively mobile although the stitches are still in place for another week. The only shoes I can get on over the bandages are my sons size 10 hiking boots!

I even managed a short walk aided by a stick Saturday as the missus drove us to nearby spot where I could hobble without being booged down in mud. The stubble each side of the lane held an impressive number of Chaffinches. We estimated 100 -150 with a single female Brambling amongst them!

The enforced layoff resulted in 16 species of bird being recorded in the garden during the week with a further 10 flyovers! Blue Tits were the commonest species followed by Chaffinch. Suprisingly 2 Coal Tits were present all week and were probably part of the big influx from the continent noted else where in the UK.

No Blue Tits were harmed in taking these photo's and they weren't flushed! I'm on the inside of the conservatory and they're peering in. Unlike some other numpty who allegedly chased a Great-northern Diver around West Kirby Marine Lake in a rubber dinghy I believe. The same guy who decided to sit in the middle of the Hen Harrier roost site at Parkgate before Christmas apparently.....

14 Jan 2009

Normal service will resume as soon as possible!

One………………..two. Oh, and there’s a Coal Tit. Yawn………………..Robin!
Blackbird! Dunnock – new for the day. What time is it? Only 12.00. Chaffinch. Male. Collared Dove. Chaffinch. Female. Goldcrest. Long-tailed Tit. Being house bound sucks! After having an operation on my foot Monday I’m unable to walk or drive for 2 weeks. Purgatory! I’m sat in the conservatory counting garden birds and wondering if the odds of finding a White-throated Sparrow under the feeders is greater or less than winning the lottery. Woodpigeon! Another new species for the day.

It’s reassuring to know I have so many friends keen to enquire as to my well- being. Mr Conlin even offered to come and peel grapes for me! Mind you he did text me asking if he could have my camera if the operation went wrong. Male Blackbird & four Blue Tits together.........

So no more birding for me unless I can persuade Mrs W to drive me up to the Wirral over the weekend for a bit of a sea watch. No more beer either after foolishly resolving not to drink any alcohol for the whole of January. No beer and no birding. As I said, purgatory! At least I’ve proved the latest feeder is Squirrel proof! That fooled the bloody tree rat.

The Cheshire & Wirral Bird Report 2007 dropped on the mat yesterday and a good read it is to, although the Desert Wheatear (a county first) suppressed at Crewe brings back bad memories.

Colin Wells has written an article outlining the history and future plans for the RSPB on the Dee Estuary with a management plant that includes breeding Marsh Harriers in 2011, Bearded Tits in 2012, Bitterns 2013 & Cranes in 2014! Some records are missing such as the Carr Lane Great-grey Shrike on the 21st October and many others haven’t had rarities forms submitted.
One bird that was well documented was Colin Jones’s superb Raddes Warbler along Lingham Lane. Another county first but one that stayed a single day. Other records bring back superb memories such as the Sabine’s Gull found by El PresidentĂ© Conlin at Meols on 1st September resulting in a panic stricken Frank jumping through the broken window of the bus shelter we call No. 1 sea watching hide to try and get on it (he did). Or the Black Kite at Barnston identified by Steve Williams flying over the M53 as a Kite species and then re-found by him & Frank and re-identified as the Counties 2nd Black Kite. I pulled up just as the Kite flew directly over my head, pointed the camera and……………..nothing! I’d left the card at home. Shit, shit, shit. What about the White-tailed Eagle? Panic as I realised Mrs W would have to drive me as we were in her car at the locally famous Leasowe Lighthouse cafĂ© (as famous to local birders as was Nancy Gulls watering hole at Cley). The first and only time she’s driven me on a twitch. I’m sure she was driving deliberately slowly.

And the biggest regret? Deciding to continue on to the office first rather than turning round and go straight for the White-rumped Sanpiper found by Mark Gibson on Frodsham No. 6. Frank went straight there and saw it just before it flew. I missed it by 30 minutes. Jammy git.

The text may be bland but it certainly invokes memories. Wren……… Where's that Sparrowhawk to liven things up a bit?
In recent days things have been hotting up on the N Wirral coast with Glaucous Gull & Cetti's Warbler all being found. My guess is next bird will be an Iceland Gull. With so many around at Arpely tip and Sandbach one's bound to turn up on the Wirral........................................................

10 Jan 2009

Moore fun and games with Larids.

Be jeezus its cold! Cold enough to freeze the proverbials off an alloy primate let alone a group of hardened gull fanatics willing to spend several hours on a Saturday morning gull watching at Arpely tip. With Paul Cassidy, the Moore Nature Reserve warden, arranging access to view the feeding frenzy amongst the detritus from our consumer society we met just after 08.30 and donned hard-hats & high-vis jackets for the short Landrover ride to our viewing point. Looking all the world like clones of Britain’s premier car park attendant ( an in-joke for those who successfully twitched the Alder Flycatcher last year). Amongst the well known faces were Frank ‘ its f*cking perishing’ Duff, Pod ‘I can’t feel my extremities, can you?’ Antrobus, Jono Williams, Jase ‘it was warmer on Shetland’ Atkinson, Steve Tomlinson, John Tubb, Kenny Dummigan, Mark Garner and two more of Seaforths premier gull watching team in Pete Kinsella & Tim Vaughan.
Virtually the first bird seen was an adult Yellow-legged Gull on Birchwood pool when waiting for the stragglers to turn up whilst the feeding frenzy on the tip very quickly produced a 1st winter Glaucous Gull and then a leucistic Black-headed Gull.
The hunt was on…………… Next good bird was a very obliging 2nd winter Glaucous Gull. The days star bird was an adult Caspian Gull spotted feeding right up on the tip face. Eventually everyone got on to it as it gave good views both on the ground and in flight – even giving its characteristic ‘Albatross’ pose.

2nd winter Glaucous Gull.

Iceland Gulls were a bit thin on the ground but eventually Jono picked out a 1st winter Iceland Gull amongst the 20,000+ gulls milling around.

Eventually the cold got to the majority of us and we headed back to the positive balmy environment of the Birchwood hide where a 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull and two adult winter Med Gulls added to my personal tally. A big thanks to Paul Cassidy of Moore Nature Reserve and Waste Recycling Group (WRG) for arranging this authorised trespass.

More locally, but still in Cheshire, I met up with Mark Turner having a crafty fag whilst waiting for Nestons resident Cetti’s Warbler to betray its presence with a burst of song. It called once! A walk out on the marsh duly resulted in a Water Pipit but I had to go a long way out for it! Several Common Snipe, a Jack Snipe, ring tailed Hen Harrier and four Common Partridge completed the haul. Unfortunately it looks as if United Utilities have had a problem with the sewage works and untreated sewage has been flowing out into the stream from their outfall by Neston Old Quay. Not pleasant. Returning inland the Cetti’s frightened the wits out of me by suddenly bursting into partial song before briefly showing itself.

With the Waxwings still present in Warrington I decided a lunch time visit was in order to try and get photographs in sunshine rather than the misty gloom of last Sunday. The Waxwings showed themselves but didn’t land in the berry laden Rowans due to the unwanted attentions of a pair of aggressive Mistle Thrushes.

4 Jan 2009

A birthday treat.

Yep. Its my birthday today. A Capricorn or as Mrs W says a a capricious old goat! A miserable overcast day on the Wirral spent dismantling Christmas trees and lights and putting them away for another year. The gloom was eliviated by Jono ringing me to tell me a flock of Waxwings had been relocated in Warrington town centre. As I happened to be on the way to the municipal recycling centre, to save the embarassment of the curb side collectors refusing to take our hundred weight of empty bottles, I carried straight on!
Despite the poor light I managed a few shots as the Waxwings came into feed before moving off to digest their meal.

A cracking birthday treat. I even had one crap on my hat. Surely a sign of good luck? Hope Mr. C has as much luck on his birthday tomorrow. Have a good day Al. We have exclusive membership of the Wirral Capricorns Richards Pipit finders association!!!

3 Jan 2009

Starting the New Year with a bang!

Staggering out of our New Years Eve celebrations into a warm taxi I paused just long enough to get my first bird of 2009 – a Little Owl calling near the Brook Meadow Hotel at 01.00. Bird number two for the year was a Barn Owl crossing the road in front of us near Capenhurst railway station. The new birding year had begun! Bird number three was a Robin singing on a lamp post outside the house at 02.00.

With plenty of good local birds to catch up with the last few days have been almost non-stop birding. It’s only the 3rd Jan & I’ve already had one UK & one county lifer. I hope this isn’t going to continue like this was the comment from a bemused wife.

A pager message of a probable Glaucous-winged Gull in Teeside didn’t set the pulse racing. It was only a probable and with this species predilection for hybridisation I couldn’t get excited about it. Family commitments on returning from my dawn foray New Years day meant I couldn’t go to Marbury for the superb Hawfinch found by Enid Murphy but never the less enjoyed a cold and brisk walk along the Sandstone Trail. Picking up a few year ticks on the way of course…...

The phones burned hot that evening as we ummmed, aaghhed about the Glaucous-winged Gull. Should we or shouldn’t we? Deciding to go for the Hawfinch with Big Al we had almost arrived when the ‘mega’ alert bleeped on the pager. The gull was no longer a probable but a definite. Within seconds Pod rang; ‘Happy now? I’m going for it’. Deciding to only give the Hawfinch a few minutes Al and I left it & jumped in the Pod mobile and headed up north – much to the chagrin of Mrs W who was informed I’d be a few hours longer than intended cos I was now being kidnapped and forced to go for the GWG!!!

With the bird having last been seen in a ploughed field we started there but soon gave it up and went to look for somewhere with more gulls & eventually ended up at Cowpen Bewley Marsh where a good number of large gulls were roosting and bathing in nearby pools. Time passed and passed again. 2009 was vanishing at an alarming rate and still no sign. After dipping the Kidwelly bird there were a number of people there desperate to grip this one back. Pod had seen the Welsh bird but wanted this one for his English list.

Luckily for us sharp-eyed young Josh Jones got a tantalising glimpse of what could have been the birds head sticking out from a dip in the marsh. Enough to keep our interest. Time ticked away and it looked as if some of the larger gulls were drifting away to roost and Frank Duff and a few others disappeared off to Saltholme Pools to check that area out.

Suddenly someone yelled he’d got it and pandemonium broke loose as we all frantically tried to get on it. It had walked out of a gully exactly where Josh had seen the top of its head! Fair do’s to RBA’s Stu Piner who did the 200 m dash in wellies to let another group of birders know where the bird was only to find out we were already on it. Nice one Stu and much appreciated although no one showed it at the time. Something spooked the gulls and they all flew except the GWG and by now other birders were arriving in droves. Frank got it through my scope as did Archie Archer (shaking so much we couldn’t tell if it was the cold or excitement) and then Paul Hackett. Nice to see the CADOS gull dippers out in force with Dr Wilkinson & Messrs Friswell & King finally connecting with a rare gull and not putting the hex on proceedings! With Bob & Jan Jones arriving late to join the throng it looked as if Cheshire was virtually devoid of birders. Once we’d got Pod off his knees & genuflecting, muttering ‘we are not worthy,’ to Mr Digiscoping himself, we headed home. A great twitch and home by 17.45 for a curry and a few welcome beers.

To my eyes this looks a classic Glaucous-winged Gull and identical to the illustration in the Helmes gull bible. Even the smoky hood and extending dow nthe sides of the breast but leaving a clear white 'finger' between it and the mantle looks spot on. Far better than a dodgy 1st witner bird somewhere on a Welsh estuary or even worse an unidentifiable blob floating on the sea!

Now for the Hawfinch – a county lifer. Deciding the only way was to go and find it myself and not rely on news (as most of the local patch watchers were dispersed around the country) I set off around 09.00 this morning. Taking Molly we met up with Mr Hackett just outside the main gate and low and behold the first bird I clapped my eyes on as we entered the park proper was the Hawfinch showing well but distantly ant the top of a tall tree. A minor twitch ensued as those who’d spent the last hour or so looking for it came running in our direction. With superb organisational skills Paul got everyone on the bird – he should have donned a high vis jacket and held out a jam jar to collect money in…………………

OK boys snap away....Do you like the left or right profile?
Whadda ya mean thats one bl**dy great conk!

With the sun shining on the Wirral it was time for a quick dash to Parkgate for the raptor roost and a quick walk for Molly along the sea wall. Nice to meet Jackie who recognied Molly and then me by a process of elimination. It comes to something when ladies think your mutt is more recognisable than you.......