30 Aug 2009

Strewth mate, its a Pom.

With a strong westerly blowing and our spiritual leader at Bridges of Ross for his annual bit of craic it was left to Frank and me to uphold the honour of the Wirrals seawatching tradition on Friday evening. Full of expectation we scanned the restless horizon from the Gunsites car park. Nothing. With enthusiasm severly waning a solitary Gannet was all we had to show for our endeavours until David King and his CADOS stalwarts Roger & Don rang to say they'd got a Pom Skua heading into the Mersey from Perch Rock. Panic ensued as we shot off for the short journey to New Brighton only to get half way there when David rang again to say it was on its way out!

Stopping the cars by the Coastguard Station Frank jumped out whilst I tried to untangle my tripod legs from the rear seat belts. A bellow from Frank had jumping out in quick time to see a full adult Pomarine Skua complete with the only cutlery the average couch potato or Utd fan will ever be able to use in their lives!!! Fantastic - a scarce bird on the Wirral. As we watched it disappeared out to sea only to reappear again chasing a gull. Unfortunately the camera (and my binoculars) were still in the Landrover and by the time I'd retrieved both the bird had flown to far away. Nice one David.

Carrying on watching from the same vantage point for another 30 minutes paid dividends with 2 Arctic Skuas beating into the wind and a solitary Manx Shearwater heading the same way.

With the tide ebbing a few waders started to appear and a small flock including Redshank, Sanderling, Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit made a nice group photo.
Satisfied with the result and freezing cold we headed for home only to reconvene Saturday night back at the Gunsites were despite our best efforts in appalling weather all we found was a single Arctic Skua and a group of 13 Manx Shearwaters. Still it did give us all a chance to gossip and catch up on local news.

Once again I returned home with hair full of sand and optics salt encrusted. During the day news of an American Black Tern at Farmoor Reservoir Oxforshire didn't fill any of us with much enthusiasm as this race has yet to be recognised as a full species even by the American Ornithological Union. However, with not much else to entertain us Frank & I made the trip Sunday and caught up with this strikingly different looking bird alongside a Black Tern and White-winged Black Tern. It certainly looked different but I do wonder how an abberant Black Tern can be ruled out.

Finally, just to prove not all this weekends photographic efforts were as monochromatic & crap as the ones above, an in focus photo of a Herring Gull at Leasowe.

More locally alarm calls from the local House Martins whilst mowing the lawn Saturday caussed me to look up in time to see a Hobby chasing and catching one unfortunate individual before departing to enjoy its meal.

28 Aug 2009

Frodsham - they should have gone to spec savers

A quick trip to Frodsham on the way back from working in Runcorn gave me an oppurtunity to catch up with the two Black Terns found by Frank Duff on No. 6 tank. Hoping to photograph them I was a bit disappointed when they resolutely refused to fly any clsoer than the middle of a wind swept lagoon.

No waders about but a good passage of Sand Martins passing through. I estimated 5 -600 birds in an hour. Two Buzzards enjoyed the stiff breeze and hung hovering facing into the wind to disprove the often quoted theory that a hovering Buzzard must be a Rough-legged...............I'll wait with anticipation at the next posting on Bird Forum claiming Rough-legged Buzzard from the M56!

The title of this post is a reference to the not so sharp shooters employed by DEFRA to rid the area of Ruddy Ducks. At least 30 birds were present today including this brood of 6.

Still at least they've got the winter to practice.

25 Aug 2009

New website launched -

For those confused by rare Emberizidae - should answer all those questions!
Simples - even for a Meerkat.
(Y B Bunting found and photographed by Jase Atkinson Sept 2009 Whalsay, Ortolan by me!)

23 Aug 2009

Ashes to ashes.

With a week dominated by the build up to the decisive Ashes test against the Aussies birding was relatively slow but enlivened by a smattering of Yank Waders and some good seawatching off the S W coast. Two members of the Wirral Seawatching Association (touring division) scored with Great Shearweater, Sooty, Balearic and numerous Skua's.
A trip to RSPB Conwy to collect some old Cheshire Bird Reports from local birder Julian Weldrick was timed to perfection as 5 juvenile Red-crested Pochard had materialised the previous evening. Wary and unringed they remained distant.
Locally things were very quiet. Two trips to Hilbre resulted in a Green Sandpiper and the first returning Bar-tailed Godwits! Whilst waiting at West Kirby for Steve and the Landrover Saturday morning a screeching heralded the flypast of a Ring-necked Parakeet that eventually settled in trees opposite Morrison's for a couple of record shots.

Walking the local patch was enlivened by winged insects seemingly more numerous than the avain fauna. A Small Copper was a local rarity but eclipsed by what I think was a female Red-veined Darter. A phone call to Groucho Payne who checked his extensive library for the relevant I.D features had me convinced. The same recently cut field of Rape also hosted a Migant Hawker and an Emperor Dragonfly as well as the Small Copper.

Sunny weather obviously meant these insects were more active but I wonder whether they were recent migrants given the southerly bias to the winds over the previous couple of days. I'd not seen any Dragonflies in the area this year.

The sunshine also gave a young Blackbird the oppurtunity to top up its tan beneath our Laurel hedge and it enjoyed catching some rays long enough for me to sneak up and take a few papparazi style shots.

On the final crucial day of the ashes with England poised to take control Mark Payne phoned early and persuaded me a trip to Martin Mere for a Wilson's Phalarope would be a good idea. Unfortunately the bird had better ideas and eluded lots of birders by its very un-phalarope behavious of hiding in long grass. Views were always distant and this was as good as we got.

With the ashes duly won its now time to start crowing to the Aussie son inlaw. As a nation we may not win much but at least we've won a rugby World cup and got to two finals and we've got the ashes back after the 5 - 0 drubbing in the last series.

16 Aug 2009

Inner Marsh Farm. Part 2.

Another brief visit to IMF before going away for the weekend resulted in good but distant views of a Marsh Harrier that spent most if its time quartering the woods at the back of the reserve. Still plenty of waders around with 5 Ruff causing some 'confusion' by a couple of birders who thought the larger male was a Greenshank and made mutterings to that effect as I explained the differences to a young family just starting birding.

After we'd watched the Marsh Harrier for a good 40 minutes they also proclaimed there was supposed to be Marsh Harrier around but they hadn't seen it. I didn't see the space ship that whisked them away to another planet. Either that or they went back to their balcony on the Muppet show.

Another interesting bird was this Stonechat that posed photogenically on a Reed Mace stem right in front of the hide.

With visitors from foreign parts (Austria) with me all last week there wasn't much oppurtunity to get out but whilst wining and dining at a local hotel nearby I discovered a pair of Tawny Owls in the rounds and an intriguing glimpse of two 'Black - capped Tits' from the restaurant during breakfast. Unfortunately they weren't close enough to identify but I'll certainly be checking them out for either Marsh or Willow. Either would be a very good record in this part of Cheshire.

At long last our mate Jonathon 'Statto' Williams has completed his move to France where he begins a new life and new job. Good luck Jonno and we look forward to hearing all about breeding Black Woodpeckers, Little Bitterns and the like.

Saddest sight of the week was a dead Red Kite on the outside lane of the M6 toll road heading south on the way to Kent Friday morning.

10 Aug 2009

Inner Marsh Farm

A beautiful evening in a virtually deserted hide at IMF last night. Highlights were two very photogenic Wood Sandpipers that spent most of the time moving around the edge of No.1 lagoon and giving superb views as they, occasionally, walked infront of the hide. With Green Sandpier, Ruff, Water Rail, Yellow Wagtail and Marsh Harrier also present it made for a fine couple of hours birding.

The two Green Sandpiper present were less obliging.

The Ruff were a bit more so:

Whilst the beligerent Water Rail dashed out from deep cover to chase away anything that strayed into its small patch of mud and juncus.

9 Aug 2009

August and migration has begun.

A busy week at work meant I wasn't able to get out much during the week but did manage a short visit to Frodsham on the way back from Birmingham Thursday evening. No waders on No. 6 tank but plenty on the Weaver with a moulting adult Curlew Sandpiper being the best one. This bird was a moulting adult still with a lot of red in its plumage and was probably the same bird found by Frank Duff last weekend and subsequently seen again on the 4th August.

Autumn passage has begun with Willow Warblers being caught and ringed on Hilbre. A flyover Yellow Wagtail Friday morning was another migrant and wader numbers are beginning to build up with good numbers of Dunlin & Ringed Plover being seen and the first returning Whimbrel being recorded.
On the topic of migration it was interesting to note a female and juvenile Whinchat at Frodsham Saturday. Joined by Mark Payne and his hound 'Ronnie' we searched No. 6 tank in vain for waders (apart from some very distant Dunlin & Ringed Plover) as high tide approached. Were these locally bred birds or passage migrants? A flyover Yellow Wagtail was probably a local bird.

Star bird was the Barn Owl that suddenly appeared alongside the Landrover and conveniently landed in a tree as I jumped out with the camera. Closer examination of the photo's showed it was ringed but the number is unreadable.

A hike to the Weaver, closely accompanied by Ronnie and a swarm of Horse Flies, resulted in good numbers of waders including an adult Curlew Sandpiper - a different bird from the midweek one - and a leucistic Dunlin.

A Sunday afternoon jaunt to West Kirby with Al Conlin for a spot of high tide wader observation was a bit disappointing becuase of the heat haze. Small parties of summer plumaged Grey Plover and Dunlin were interspersed with larger numbers of Oystercatchers. Two adult Gannets were the only pelagic species of note. There were very few terns which made the counts from a mile down the road even more incredible - especially as they included a juvenile Roseatte Tern!!!

More locally things are still quiet. A singing male Yellowhammer and a Hobby taking a juvenile Swallow have been the avian highlights although butterfly numbers continue to provide winged interest.

3 Aug 2009

Back to work and the one that got away.

I've just returned from a fantastic week in Tenerife. Not much birding done but still managed to see a good selection of species including stunning views of Cory's Shearwater and Storm Petrel from the high speed Rib taking us to the various dive sites........................... hence the lack of birding! Unfortunately a high speed rib and DSLR camera's don't mix so the camera was left back in the hotel room. A trip to view cetaceans was planned and I was looking forward to getting shots of the Cory's but a stiff breeze meant it was cancelled. Wimps! They've obviously never experienced pelagics off the S African Cape.

Imagine finding one of these little beauties under your bird table. Stranger things have happened!
A flock of about 20 Spannish Sparrows inhabited the hotel complex and came to dust bathe in the flower beds late afternoon. Also present were the ubiquitous Collared Doves and I can't make my mind up if these are African or European. Anyone got any thoughts?

I managed to pass my advanced diving course whilst away. The last dive was at a place called Elpetito where a number of Green Turtles reside and interact with the divers. We even had turtles nibbling our fingers! With my advanced diving qualification I can now get to Hilbre when the next rarity shows up even when the tides in.

Arriving back in the UK was a bit of a shock after enduring + 34 C temperatures all week. A walk around the local area with Molly Sunday afternoon produced a single singing Willow Warbler in Stanney Woods, indicating return passage has begun and good numbers of Tree Sparrows with 100+ House Sparrows at Leigh Hall Farm. A single Yellowhammer sang nearby. Butterflies were very much in evidence with a fresh batch of Painted Ladies seemingly just hatched. A short visit to Frodsham No. 6 tank was a bit early for the high tide wader roost but a single juvenile Black-necked Grebe was some consolation. Also present was this lonely looking duck - the one that got away.

Meanwhile a very bored looking Molly watched proceedings from a lying down position in the long grass.