31 Jan 2011

Scaup, Hilbre and the Big Garden Birdwatch.

A leisurely trip to the Island Saturday after the high tide saw a Landrover full  with a complement of Obs members and one of the honorary canine members!

A small group of 3 Teal messed about in the gutter for a while before being disturbed and further out 3 female Goldeneye were way beyond the point of being disturbed by either people, horses or out of control dogs.

Star bird though was this drake Scaup that come close into the west side before drifting further out. its unusual to see them so close to shore and normally its a definite 'scope job.

This weekend was the Big Garden Birdwatch organised by the RSPB  and I did my bit sat in the conservatory Sunday afternoon for an hour - armed wit hthe camera just in case. I recorded a credible 23 species in the allotted time including the first Siskin of the year to drop in - others have flown over but not stopped to feed. I managed a couple of shots through the window.

Also as obliging was this Collared Dove. Normally they are very skittish but this one stayed long enough for a close up!

30 Jan 2011

Little Brown Jobs and one big one!

Dull overcast days don't make good photo's. Plenty of birds around locally with the stubble fields attracting good numbers of finches a smattering of Reed Buntings and now lots of  corvids. At least 200 Rooks & Jackdaws have descended on the area in the last week. perhaps the (slightly) milder weather is causing the leather jackets to stir?

They are very wary and as soon as they see someone coming down the lane they're off! Anyway, back to the Little Brown Jobs:

I haven't visited my local 'secret pool' by the recycling centre for awhile but called in last Thursday. Amazingly a Bittern flew up from the edge of the reeds and dropped quickly back into cover somewhere towards the Shell refinery. That's the problem with this site. If you walk to the waters edge to view everything soon disappears. A return vigil Friday using the Landrover as a hide was unsuccessful as far as Bittern watching goes but there were good numbers of wildfowl on this small pool including this group of displaying Teal - the males lifting their bodies out of the water and tucking their bills into their chins showing off in front of the unimpressed females.

Deciding to check the gulls out on the Gowy tip I walked Molly along a footpath leading from Povey Lane to the Gowy to view the operating tip face. Thousands of gulls milled around as the rubbish was bulldozed into piles.
No gulls were roosting on the nearby fields so I drove towards the landfill site entrance and managed to find a closer view point. My efforts were rewarded with first an adult Yellow-legged Gull and then an immature Iceland Gull! Result and a week of reward for watching some seemingly unpromising local areas.

26 Jan 2011

Foggy, damp & cold

Sums up the weekend end really. Plans to go to Hilbre over the high tide were aborted Satrurday due to the fog so we ended up in Delamere looking for a Smew rumoured to be present on one of the fishing lakes near Nunsmere. We couldn't see 50 m! Plan B involved a quick trip to Hilbre after the tide for a couple of hours but it was pretty quiet with only a re-trap Blackbird and a single Malt enlivening proceedings.

Sunday wasn't much better - still foggy and dank with moisture dripping off all the vegetation. A small flock of Reed Buntings provided local interest and the usual Robin posed for photographs. I'm pretty pleased with this one as the camera was hand held at 1/40th second shutter speed and F5.6.

17 Jan 2011

Not such ugly ducklings.

With record numbers of wild swans on the nearby Shotwick fields and a sunny afternoon it seemed churlish not to take a closer look after work Friday afternoon. A flock of Bewicks were loafing around fairly close to the main road on a flooded field and gave pretty good views in the afternoon sunlight.

After the swans there was just time to take a walk along the Shropshire Union canal to check an ivy covered tree for roosting Tawny Owls as a mate had seen three fly out of the same tree late one evening last week. No owls but a Jack Snipe and several Common Snipe were flushed from a boggy field and several Redpoll were seen feeding in the tops of canal side Alders.

Forsaking the dubious delights of looking through a chain link fence in appalling viewing conditions for Britain's 'first' Slaty-backed Gull in Kent (judging by the bitching going on a national bird forum about who didn't or did claim / see the bird) I took a brief trip to Hilbre Saturday where the, albeit windy, tranquility contrasted sharply with reports coming from down south. Just like Kent the birds weren't playing ball but it was a much nicer place to be!

With a dramatic increase in the temperature - from -10 C a couple of weeks a go to a balmy +13 Sunday some species have been fooled into thinking springs here. Robins and Great Tits are singing away in the garden whilst Greater-spotted Woodpeckers are drumming in Stanney. Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush were also singing in the woods and it was good to hear (and see) Treecreepers also singing.

The Redpoll flock was typically elusive and I didn't get a good enough view to check for the Mealy although a friend saw it well last weekend. Interestingly I spoke to someone who lives close to Stanney who had a Tawny Owl calling in their garden recently.

14 Jan 2011

Garden Reed Bunting.

A nice surprise in the garden.

9 Jan 2011

Return of the cold weather.

Snow returned to the area midweek but luckily didn't last two long. The cold weather meant the local pond froze over briefly and the Moorhens returned to the garden.

Another good garden bird so early in the year (but not totally unexpected considering the movement between the Dee marshes and elsewhere) was a flyover Canada Goose.
As usual the feeders are proving a magnet for the local birds and they're queueing up as I'm refilling them. These Long-tailed Tits couldn't wait and piled onto the fat feeders whilst I was still refilling.

With the high tide on Hilbre falling just after midday Mark Payne & I decided to go and stay over for a seawatch. A good move! As seems to be the norm these days there were few birds on the flooding tide and most of the movement occurred on the ebb.Strong winds meant the sea was pretty choppy compared to recent week. There were plenty of Red-throated Divers, Great-crested Grebes and Common Scoter moving along with small numbers of both Guillemot & Razorbill. Mark proved his worth by first finding a Great Northern Diver and then yelled he'd got a Slav Grebe off the north end. Eventually finding the bird we both virtually simultaneously realised we were looking at an adult winter Red-necked Grebe! We watched the grebe for around 20 minutes before it swam north out of sight.

Despite searching around Little Eye and Middle Eye each side of the tide we didn't see the Shorelarks that had reportedly been seen off West Kirby and flown towards Little Eye. Two Obs members working the salt marsh looking for the previous nights Avocet also failed to see any Shore Larks. A bit like the Bermuda triangle - first last years Buff-breasted Sandpiper & now two Shore Larks. Gone in a puff of air!

A search of the wader roost at high tide produced 5 separate colour ringed Turnstones the oldest being this bird ringed in the winter of 2004 /2005 and roosting on Lion Rock.

With lots to do around the house Sunday I  didn't manage to make Hilbre but just after midday wandered across to Inner Marsh Farm in search of the elusive Green-winged Teal we'd missed just before Christmas. Success - but distant. A pretty grotty looking bird that looks to have a number of juvenile feathers still.

As well as the Teal a female Marsh Harrier put in a brief appearance before dropping down into vegetation on the new part of the reserve.

All good stuff for a winters afternoon. Before reaching the hide I heard Golden Plover calling and a scan soon picked them up as they wheeled around over a field full of winter thrushes and Lapwings. Luckily they flew straight over the camera before heading out towards the marshes.

A fantastic end to the first week of January!

5 Jan 2011

Happy New year.

2011 started with milestone birthday for me and the chance to try out a new camera. As usual not I didn't do much on New Years day but a walk along the seafront with the family and of course Molly produced a few good birds with Brambling, Hen Harrier and Pinkfooted Goose all being seen. We also had a Brambling near the house and I managed a quick record shot before it flew off.

Stanney Woods was the next port of call on the 2nd and a Woodcock was present along with the Redpoll flock - including at least one Mealy. A phone call from Chris Williams had me hurrying home for a rapidly arranged trip to Hilbre after the high tide. Amazingly, on the way to pick him up, I spotted 3 Waxwings in a tree adjacent to the M53 motorway! A good move and an ideal way to blow away some of the cobwebs. The 3rd saw us back on Hilbre in the dark as we decided to stay over the tide and do some seawatching. Our efforts were rewarded with good numbers of both Scaup and Goldeneye along with the more regular species including a solitary male Common Scoter.

As usual the Brents kept us entertained and there are quite a few juveniles amongst the flock and they stick around in family groups as the photo's below show.

Good views of waders were obtained as we drove on to the island as the tide flooded and I managed a sequence of shots of a Curlew eating a Periwinkle  - I'd never associated Curlews with eating mollusc's before, especially still in the shell!

Passerines were scarce but a few Song Thrushes and Robins passed through with 4 Song Thrushes dropping in at the north end around midday.

Purple Sandpipers numbers are relatively low but as usual the birds show pretty well.

Not all work at the Observatory involves recording numbers and species in the cold.  Energy levels have to be kept up so the occasional fry-up is in order - the 3rd was no exception with the Chairman keeping his troops fed with bacon, cranberry & brie rolls before braving the cold again.