30 Nov 2009

Hung over.

Not much birding this weekend on account of a major birthday celebration and party for my lovely wife! Spent all day Saturday moving furniture, cleaning, putting up decorations and generally acting as Cinderella whilst the party girl went and had her hair done etc etc.....................

Sunday was spent tidying up after the masses had departed but I did manage a couple of quick trips out for Grey Phalarope.

A couple of hours spent exploring the stubble resulted in the usual suspects but included a single grey Wagtail & 20+ Pied Wagtails on a damper part of the field. At least 2 Yellowhammers are also still present amongst the Chaffinch flock.

Even better was a new garden tick! A Barn Owl sat on the conservatory roof hissing before flying off over t he roof tops towards the cow pastures. Very Harry Potter-ish!

Now a quick plug - I'm giving a talk for the Cheshire & District Ornithological Society at the Caldy Centre, Chester this Thursday from 19.30. Entitled 'A Chehsire Birders Year' it'll include loads of photographs from Cheshire as well as a few surprises from further afield. All welcome I belive and the entrance fee is less than the cost of a pint!

See you there.

22 Nov 2009

A horrible wet weekend

At least Friday afternoon was fine and I finished work in time to walk Molly along a sun lit lane flanked by stubble fields. The farmer has left the barley stubble for the winter and will plant it again in the spring. It just shows how such actions can result in local increases in bird numbers. The Chaffinch flock is getting bigger and now includes at least 2 Yellowhammers and 2 Reed Buntings. Another Yellowhammer flew that direction over the house at 10.00 am this morning. Great birds to see locally.

The rest of Friday afternoon was spent ringing at a private site on the Wirral where the highlights were this female Great-spotted Woodepcker and a Jay. Enough wounds to need the contents of a whole bottle of TCP later that evening...........................................................

Unfortunately the good weather didn't last and Saturday proved to be windy and wet. When the weathers this bad there's only one place to go birding in the Wirral -  Hilbre. So, accepting Mark Turner's offer of a lift we were on the Island a few hours before high tide with the benefit of being able to retreat into the Obs if the weather threatened  badly. First bird we saw was a Fieldfare leaving Hilbre and Heading towards Middle Eye. A good omen. Other grounded passerines included a male Blackcap and two Song Thrushes whilst Mark picked out 4 drake Scaup flying out of the estuary.

Fortified by hot teas and Holly T's excellent bacon sandwicheswe braved the elements for the seawatching hide. A steady stream of birds included two very photogenic immature Shags that spent most of the time close to the slipway, 3 Red-throated Divers, a handful of Guillemot's, Great-crested Grebes and good numbers of Common Scoter. Passerines were represented by small parties of Starlings coming in low off the sea. 

As the tide ebbed waders became more active and a total of 7 Purple Sandpipers were counted including this individual  - luckily I had water proofs on as to get these close shots I had to crawl on my belly over the wet rocks at the north end. Cracking little birds.

The Grey Seals were also very keen to get in on the act at least 4 indivuals bobbing around off the slipway. Mother and pup or amorous male and smaller female?

Fortified by more tea and no less than two packets of Chocolate Fingers we vacated the Obs in darkness and set off back towards West Kirby. A thoroughly enjoyable day despite the weather.

Sunday dawned as wet as Saturday so after a brief walk along the lanes the rest of the day was spent Christmas shopping. Hence another festive Robin.

15 Nov 2009

Don't mention the Turtle Dove!

The best laid plans and all that came to nought when Saturdays Rufous Turtle Dove in Aberdeenshore was re-identified from photo's as a Turtle Dove. Not that I was relishing the thought of travelling overnight to the far reaches of these Islands!

Birding Saturday was interrupted by almost perpetual rain meaning my attentions were focused on local stuff between the storms. Sunday was much better and a walk around the local stuble fields was rewarded with some good local birds - 3 Yellowhammers a Reed Bunting and a couple of Tree Sparrows amongst a large Chaffinch  & House Sparrow flock was a good start. The stubble has attracted a large flock of feral pigeons / doves and the local Sparrowhawk is making inroads into this avian equivalent of a 'ready meal'. All good stuff with a large flock of Fieldfares dropping in for good measure.

Plenty of other birds around to keep the interest up with flyover Linnet, Skylark, Grey Wagtail, double figures of alba Wagtails and large numbers of Meadow Pipits milling around - some flying straight through and some on the stubble.

An afternoon spent raking up leaves in the garden (and depositing them under the hedges as hiding places for invertebrates during the winter) got the blood pumping and my reward for the endeavour was a late afternoon stakeout with Molly for our local Little Owls. Sure enough as the light began to fade two beady little yellow eyes peered out from the owls hollow tree.

11 Nov 2009

Game for a Lark.

A timely trip to Liverpool and a text from Pete Kinsella had me scuttling over to Weld Road where the weekends Shorelark was still messing around on the beach. A 1/4 mile walk lugging the camera was worth while as the horny little devil showed extremely well - at one point running towards the assembled throng of six people!

A rare bird in the N West & only my 4th sighting in the region! Still yet to see one in Cheshire although I'm pretty sure one will be seen soon  at West Kirby and will unfortunately depart before I can get there!

This stray waif seems to be part of a national influx with small parties turning up all along the east coast from Lincolnshire to Kent.

10 Nov 2009

Brents and thrushes.

The Hilbre Brent flock is building up nicely with 100+ birds - including the Irish colour ringed bird. Not bad considering this flock is a fairly recent phenomonen. Brents are the most charismatic of geese and their call brings back memories of going to see my first ones on the Essex coast in the early 70's.

The Hilbre birds certainly provided a spectacle  in the early morning light Sunday morning.

A small overhead passage of birds was noted with the best probalby being a flyover brambling calling with amongst a flock of Chaffinches that came in off the sea. A few Robins were grounded wit hsingles of both Blackbird and Song Thrush. Purple Sandpiper numbers are slowly increasing as are Turnstone with at least one Hilbre colour ringed bird being present.

Leaving Hilbre before high tide it was a toss up whether to go north to Southport to see a Shorelark that had been discovered the previous day or join Allan at the lighthouse and try and find our own birds. The lighthouse and the promise of a cuppa and an apple pie from the cafe won!

Thrushes were very much in evidence with 50 -60 Blackbirds around the Lingham Lane / pony paddocks area along with smaller numbers of Song Thrushes - including 6 together in one paddock. The only other sign of winter movement were good numbers of Meadow Pipits and a single female Blackcap.

A few Mistle Thrushes were also knocking around with 6 -7 together in another paddock and one bird along Lingham Lane - as was the semi-resident Grey Wagtail.

All in all a good day - especially if you include the possible Jack Snipe flushed from a flooded pond margin and a possible Water Rail heard deep in a reed mace choked pond. No sign of any Snow Buntings reported at West Kirby though...............

1 Nov 2009

Ring-necked Duck in Cheshire

A phone call from Mark Payne alerted me to the fact a Ring-necked Duck had been reported in Cheshire on Astbury Mere near Congleton. A Cheshire 'lifer' for me and only about the 3 - 4th record I think.With the long staying Staffs bird a few miles down the road having seemingly moved on this morning it was felt this was the same bird! Grabbing the camera I set off to pick up Mark and phoned Podster & Malc to see if they wanted a lift. Pod was on the way back from Norfolk but Malc joined Mark and me and we were soon standing alongside a windswept Astbury Mere.

The bird was soon located albeit distantly with the Aythea flock and we walked around the edge of the mere for better view.

To me the head shape looks wrong! Mark checked the photographs of the Staffs bird on Surfbirds and the last one posted in late Ocotber showed the same pale patch around the ear coverts. The bird is clearly not in full breeding plumage and rather than being an adult we reckoned it was a first winter male. Hopefully the longer crown feathers will develop during the winter (if it sticks around) resulting in a more usual head profile. This bird caused a lot of head scratching when it first turned up at Westport Lake before expert opinion finally decided it was a Ring-necked Duck & not a hybrid. The bill pattern is spot on for  RN Duck - its just the head shape that's worrying.........................

Menawhile, garden birding whilst nursing a hangover after two consecutive nights on the p*ss, paid dividends when a Chiffchaff alerted me to its presence by calling. It spent an hour in the garden - mainly in the thick of a Fuchsia bush - before flying off. The call was slightly strange - reminiscent of a juvenile Chiffchaff, whislt the plumage was certainly cold grey / brown. One of the eastern races???

Plenty of activity on the feeders and I narrowly missed an awesome shot of the male Sparrowhawk that, completely unaware of my presence, flew in in at hedge height and landed on a post about 3 metres away. Unfortunately as I lifted the camera he lifted his wings and shot off.

Great views of the resident Blue Tits eating the pulp from Hawthorn berries. It craned its neck round to look at me when it heard the camera shutter.