31 Oct 2009

Sign of the times.

Cheshire West & Chester Council, or whatever they're now called, have taken to putting up these signs in areas where fly tipping isa nuisance. I've never understood why anyone would drive to a remote lane to dump rubbish when its probably quicker to drive to the municipal waste recycling centre. One such blighted spot is near me - a quiet rural lane with obviously no camera's or anyhwere to put one!

When the sign was first installed I was pretty sure it wouldn't take long before the hardened fly tippers realsied there was no way there could be a camera anywhere near.

Sure enough I found these yesterday:

Very quiet on the birding front with only the occasional flyover Skylark and three Bullfinches of note over the house. Nationally debate has raged over a Greenish Warbler in Cornwall. Observors on site were quite happy for it to be Greenish but certain people who hadn't seen the bird or photgraphs decided it was a Green Warbler. Luckily sonnogram analysis proved it to be Greenish & not Green leaving a few eggy faces all round.

The local Long-tailed tit population seems to have exploded with flocks regularly visiting the garden. Great little birds but I never seem to be able to get good shots of them as whenever they show well I seem not to have the camera with me.

On a more serious note I had my first Harlequin Ladybird in the garden yesterday. As I brushed against the hedge it must have landed on me and the first I knew was when I felt a painful bite. One ex-Harlequin.

27 Oct 2009

Skylark migration.

A beautiful clear moonlit night last night and I stood outside about 10.30 listening to Redwings calling as they flew overhead. Next thing I knew I was listening to a Skylark! At night? I'd always thought they were diurnal migrants. A quick internet search turned this up:

Night-migrating skylarks (Alauda arvensis) were captured during four successive autumns in France. The study aimed at detecting a possible influence of the lunar cycle on the nocturnal migration of this species. Though nocturnal postnuptial migration of the skylarks can occur during every phase of the moon, main nocturnal movements occurred when the moon was in its waxing gibbous phase. This phase gives the best conditions for migration because from the very beginning of night, it provides the necessary horizon for individuals to navigate and its light allows the use of topographic cues. In addition it allows the species to benefit from optimal conditions of illumination for almost a week.

Checked phase of moon at moment and its waxing gibbous! Just goes to show you're never to late to learn something new!

Just sortedsome photographs out and found this one of the Eastern-crowned Warbler. Unbelievably the golf buggy made it all the way from St Mary's. No wonder it took them two days!

26 Oct 2009

More Eastern Delights and a cold dish of revenge.

What a cracking weekend:

Benitez's brinkmanship strikes again.

And the belief that Torres has messed with the head of the formidable Vidic since taking him to the cleaners in Liverpool's 4-1 win at Old Trafford last season was only underscored by the Serb's ham-fisted attempts to mete out his own form of physical intimidation.

Three times in three games he has failed to survive the 90 minutes against Liverpool and the cruel jibe is already doing the rounds that "trick or treat" children will turn up at Vidic's house on Halloween wearing Torres masks.

Oh yes and the score was 2 - 0 to Liverpool. After all the jibes from my Utd supporting mates about red balloon's they've suddenly gone very coy about responding to texts!!!

Back to the birds - a late decision Saturday night to get up Sunday and travel to the east coast where Red-flanked Bluetail & Dusky Warbler were still present at Bempton / Flamborough resulted in a flurry of phone calls with Pod & Mark accepting lifts.

We arrived at Bempton to find the Bluetail hadn't been seen since early morning. Many people were standing (and a few talking at the top of their voices) around the small feeding station waiting for it to reappear. With limited cover it became obvious within 20 minutes that a) the bird wasn't there & b) it was unlikely to show with all the noise so we split up and searched different areas. A couple of hours later Mark came back to say he'd met someone who'd seen it on the approach lane about 400 m from where it was last seen so we headed that way. Finally catching up with the bird we were soon joined by a massed throng and decided to leave for nearby North Landing.

Unfortunately the Dusky Warbler wasn't playing ball and despite both Pod & I hearing it call and having brief views it didn't show for Mark and we reluctantly left it and went for a pint nearby before driving home!

As an aside, Pod, being a mischevious kind of person, sat in a ditch along the approach lane to the car park at Bempton playing Red-flanked Bluetail call at full volume on his mobile. Mark & I could clearly hear it from 20 m away. Not one person stopped..................Even if they didn't recognise the call you'd have thought someone would have checked it out.
A great weekends birding - Eastern-crowned Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Dusky Warbler and Red-backed Shrike. Amazingly I've now seen Red-flanked Bluetail three times in four years. Not bad for a species that not so long ago was the stuff of dreams and a major rarity.

24 Oct 2009

Eastern-crowned Warbler.

They came from far afield, weapons of choice jangling in the crisp air of an October morning. Slowly they shuffled into position, minds in turmoil, fearing the worst  and waited......................That familiar knot in the stomach as the gloom gave way to dawn on the east coast.  A rag tag army of vastly different ages, sizes, shapes and expereince. Would their quarry still be there? Would they see it? How would they explain to their boss why they weren't at their desks? Umm - what were the identifying features again? What was it called? Anyone see it yet? What was that?. Oh shit, I think that was it'. 'Whose on it?' 'What tree - they're all friggin sycamores with dead leaves'. 'Turn that phone off'.

The story starts on Thursday night when the pager blasted out its mega alert tone- Eastern-crowned Warbler, South Shields. WTF? Apparently initially identified as a Yellow-browed Warbler it was correctly identifed from photo's. Part of me wished the bird would disppear overnight as rearranging my Friday work load was going to be difficult.

Positive news at  first light Friday morning from the shuffling masses meant a rapid reappraisal of the in-tray and by midday we were off. Joined on the M56 by Podster &  Paul Derbyshire we made good time and arrived on site around 14.30 to find a crowd of around 160 well behaved birders peering into Trow Quarry. Expecting to be peering up into the tree tops we were pleasantly suprised to find oursleves looking down into the trees albeit distantly.

Not the best pictures in the World but they show all the relevant features! People had been predicting the arrival of this species to our shores and after poring over weather charts a 'big' bird had been predicted for this autumn. Pod had even commented that he hoped it was somewhere affordable and not on Shetland or the Scilly's. A two and a half hour drive was exactly right! With Allan, Frank & Kendo Nagasaki connecting just before we did and Malc travelling with Fred Fearn poor old Al Orton was left sweating on the Scilly's before reluctantly handing back his golf buggy and managing to grab an ealier flight. Luckily for him & Groucho it is still there this morning.

20 Oct 2009

On the Scilly's with Big Al

Big Al & Mr Powell are on the Scilly's. After last years escapade with the radio Al's creating more mayhem by hiring a golf buggy to get around St Mary's. When news came over the radio of a Cattle Egret viewable from Peninis our hero responded with the immortal line ' where is it in relation to the carrier bag'. Classic!

Nice one lads!

17 Oct 2009

Autumn is here.

Anyway, enough of the last few days frivolity. An early start for Hilbre this morning saw me walking Molly at the unearthly hour of 05.30. Still at least it gave me a chance to note the large numbers of Redwings that seem to be finally moving in our area.

As dawn broke it was apparent there had been a considerable movement of thrushes with brids being reported in their thousands from nearby Seaforth & Red Rocks. Hilbre weighed in with a small but significant number of grounded Blackbirds and Song Thrushes whilst a few finches and Reed  Buntings were also present or flew over. Several days this week there has been a good passage of Skylarks and today was no exception. Star birds were on the sea though with Dr Gavin finding a cracking Slavonian Grebe close into the east side and later relocated off the north end. Steve weighed in with a female type Long-tailed Duck whilst I found a male off the north end.

3-4 Rock Pipits were still present and one posed on top of one of the heligoland traps.

Cracking birds! Brent numbers have built up to seventeen and they performed a fly past for the camera.

Large numbers of Great-crested Grebes and a smattering of Red-throated Divers were on a fairly calm sea whilst small parties of Common Scoter kept passing through. All in all a brilliant days birding on the N Wirral coast.

Meanwhile, closer to home, my local Little Owl has been calling in the early evenings recently and a quick walk across the fields to its favourite roosting tree last night meant I was able to see it fly as dusk fell.

15 Oct 2009

Wanted - trained spotters.

Looks as if 'Scilly season' is once more upon us. Hordes of well intentioned but experineced birders descending on the Scilly's and Shetland and causing mayhem. Their moto must be 'if its seen on Shetland or the Scillies it must be rare'. They're desperate to see those rarities hence the message ' reported Little Bunting is a Reed Bunting' or 'reported Lanceolated Warbler is a Grasshopper Warbler'.  Even worse is the story recounted by The Llama (see: ).

So bad is the situation at the moment that Groucho (temporary a resident on St Mary's) has sent me a photo of the following  'wanted' sign allegedly seen on the wall of the Scillonian Club whilst the daily log was being called.

Anyway, I digress. It has been bought to my attention that I'm  being a miserable b*stard and far from this fair County being a birding desert (in my defence I was referring to a particularly poor day for passerines) I have actually seen 13 county rarities so far this year of which 11 have been on the Wirral.  Of this 13 no fewer than 8 have been County 'lifers'. Of the 13 rarities 6 have been waders!

I suppose its not all bad..................................

13 Oct 2009

Disney looking for town twinning oppurtunity!


Twin towns - a rather strange phenomenon - but one that may be about to become far more popular with news that the ultimate fantasy factory - Walt Disney World in Florida - is on the look out for a town in the UK to twin with

Hmm. I can think of several places - some fairly local! Suggestions please. Where could Florida's fantasy land be twinned with...............................

Goldfinch on the garden feeders taken through a window.

Another early foray to Hilbre today resulted in reasonable visible migration - see Hilbre blog for details. The same applied at home with Skylark, Grey Wagtail, Redwing and Pied Wagtails over the house around midday.

11 Oct 2009

The boys done good. Yankee doodle dandy.

No not a reaction to last nights footall result in Ukraine as frankly the boys done crap.

The weekend started quietly with a few hours spent at Leasowe Lighthouse being unproductive apart from a pair of Sparrowhawks. As the title of the blog says; 'if this was the east coast we'd be knee deep in rarities'. The interaction between the Sparowhawks was interesting with the larger female chasing off the male. Both birds were getting mobbed by the local corvids but only the female retaliated making a pass at a Carrion Crow and forcing it to hit the deck rapidly.

Another early start this morning heralded another trip to Hilbre but not before I'd demolished last nights cold samosa's for breakfast! Unfortuntely the brisk westerlies meant we didn't get much although a Song Thrush was a new arrival on the Island. Back home, with the chores carried out and the rest of yesterdays Chicken Korma in the microwave for lunch, I took a call from Mr Conlin and hesitating only to finish off the scalding curry  set off for the birding deserts of the N Wirral coast. Only this time there was a bit of excitement.............................

A fruitless search along Lingham Lane with Allan & Mark Turner culminated in Al & I going for a cuppa and Bakewell tart at the cafe leaving Mark to explore the pony paddocks alone. All we had to show for our endeavours was a solitary Redwing. 6 Dunnocks, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Grey Wagtail and a handful of finches.

As soon as he pulled up in the car park Al picked up a juvenile Little Gull roosting on the grass with the local Black-heads. Things were definitley improving.

With the healthy theme to the weekends diet continuing and a cup of tea to wash down the tart things were looking a lot rosier when the resident adult Med Gull turnedup to pose for the camera. Leaving Al enjoying his tea sat outside I moved towards the roosting gulls to get close up and personnel with Mervyn the Med Gull.

Suddenly I was aware of a disyllabic call overhead that seemed vaguely familiar. It took a moment for the brain to register I'd last heard that call two weeks ago on Orkney. AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER. One of those 'Oh shit, I hope I'm not he only person to hear it' moments. Not wishing to make a complete pratt of myself I ran over to where Al was sitting. He'd also heard the call and picked the bird up in his binoculars flying away from us. I managed to see it with the naked eye as I'd left my binoculars in the Landrover. For a moment neither of us quite knew what to do but aftera brief discussion the news was broadcast and within minutes a disgruntled Mark pulled into the car park.

With the bird heading off N E it was bound to arrive at the Meersey where it could have ended up going upstream towards Frodsham or out of the estuary towards Seaforth. A quick call to one of the Seaforth crew and about an hour later I had a phone call from Al to say it had been seen briefly on the causeway and all the relevant plumage features had been noted. Sorted.

Finally, continuing the recent theme of late butterflies, this tatty looking Small Copper graced Leasowe Common.

9 Oct 2009

Back to local birding.

A generally quiet week in Cheshire enlivened only some good, if not rare, local sightings. The local arable fields have hosted a number of gulls recently and I routinely check them all for something unusual. Today, amongst the Black-headed & Common variety I found this beauty.

Not a major rarity but a first on this 'patch' and one I'd been hoping for everytime I see a flock of gulls.
Other sightings include these Buzzards - part of a family group of 4 that seem to patrol the fields surviving on dead or dying rabbits (we have another myxamatosis outbreak).

As can be seen from the sky they were immortalised on two separate days! The same sunny Thursday also sprung a suprise in the form of a late Painted Lady.

A trip to Hilbre resulted in a light passage of birds  including Blackbird, Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, Skylark, Greenfinch and one or two Rock Pipits. See the Hilbre blog for more details. No matter - it was a beautiful morning to be back on the Island and see the first Brent Geese of the winter and a flock of Starlings overhead.................

Meanwhile winter Thrushes seem to be a hot topic of conversation. A Welsh correspondence reports the first 10+ over the Great Orme this morning whilst Groucho Payne rang me with the exciting news he'd had none over his mid-Cheshire patch. Despite listening out late at night I've yet to hear any passing overhead although an early morning trip to Stanney Woods (whilst almost still dark) Thursday showed there had been some Song Thrush & Blackbird movement Wednesday night with birds coming off roost as dawn broke.

6 Oct 2009

Thrush movements.

One thing we commented on on our recent Shetland trip was the lack of winter Thrushes. In previous years we've had plenty of Redwings at least but this year only Blackbirds seemed present in reasonable numbers. A quick search of the various observatoy sites in the northern part of the country reveals the same pattern. Fair Isle have had one, North Ron haven't reported any and neither have Heysham or Walney.I can't find any records on Birdtrack either. With a strong northely bias to the winds you'd expect them to be streaming over from Iceland and Scandinavia. The same applies to Goldcrests - very scarce so far this autumn. Maybe birds are moving later due to the mild conditions in their breeding grounds? Interestingly visible migration watchers at nearby Seaforth have also failed to record any Redwings.

Footnote: Gilroy had 200 Redwings over on 4th October! This must be the biggest flock recorded in the UK to date and I wouldn't be suprised if it was the earliest record for Cheshire this year.

3 Oct 2009

Long-billed Dowitchers, Inner Marsh Farm.

A good local rarity x 2!
Luckily they stayed until I got back from Shetland  & I caught up with them Friday.

Back to the reality of mainland biridng with a hide bursting to to the seams - so much so there wasn't room for everyones limbs and arms had to be stuck out of the viewing slots.

The Northern Isles - part 4. Bits & bobs.

With the weather seriously miserable  - gale force winds and driving wind -  we struggled to find any birds at all. Even the commoner migrants seemed scarce. A break in the weather allowed us to bird Bressay for the day. Parking in the car park opposite Noss on the east side of the island we walked down the track towards the ruined croft. Hearing a bunting call I searched the croft and saw a bird shoot off between the buildings. Next minute Mark's calling me over to see a bunting on a dry stone wall - A fine Lapland Bunting. A brief view and it was off. Eventually it relocated back on the track from the car park where patient stalking allowed close views down to a few metres.

Checking every crop field and garden we came across resulted in very little for a lot of effort. However our luck changed when a maruading Merlin put up a field full of pipits and the unmistakable call of a Richard's Pipit was heard. The bird seemed to fly towards the coast but as I walked towards where I thought it had gone it flew back callling over my head and promptly disappeared as only pipits can.

At least the ferry terminal gave photo oppurtunities for snapping Black Guillemot & Eider!

Common Seal enjoying the break in the weather
Meanwhile a phone call from Jase Atkinson got my pulse racing as he had a probable Yankee Thrush on his home Isle of Whalsay. He promised to let us know if it was refound the next morning. Unfortunately for us it wasn't but low and behold the day after we left Shetland a Veery was found a couple of miles away. Nice one Jase.

Our final day was spent searching sheltered areas on the mainland with another trip to Voe to see the Barred Warbler. Whilst quietly waitng for this bird this little fella trundled past looking lost and bewildered and far to young to be out by himself. I think this is one little Hedgehog that won't survive the winter.

Its amazing to see so many Twite when you go to Shetland - they seem to be doing very well here and small flocks can be encountered all over the isles.

As usual the best birds turned up after we'd left with Veery & Pechora Pipit on Whalsay and Red-throated Pipit on Unst. Areas we'd searched the day before produced Common Rosefinch & Barred Warbler! C'est la vie. Next year we may be luckier but we will certainly be back.

2 Oct 2009

The Northern Isles - part 3. Taiga Fly, Taiga Fly, Taiga Fly

Taiga Fly - sung to the tune of that old favourite 'Vindaloo, Vindaloo, Vindaloo'. Managing to get on a ferry (unlike an aborted trip to the Skerries where, as we hadn't prebooked, we weren't allowed on and the ferry sailed empty) we duly arrived at the beautiful old house called The Manse at Tresta were our quarry had been discovered masquerading as a Red-breasted Flycatcher. On the mainland UK this bird would have prompted a twitch of epic proportions. On Fetlar we shared it with about 10 other respectful birders. No one got to close, no one talked loudly & no mobiles went off (most of them had no recepetion). A privilege.








A fantastic little bird and modern technology meant we'd been able to down load an I.D paper from the internet on Mark's phone the previous night and check for ourselves all the relevant features.

The rest of the day was spent exploring Fetlar before the long journey (involving two ferries) back to the Mainland. The excitement was all to much for some people. These youngsters - they can't hack the pace!