30 Jan 2013

Another inland goodie - Slavonian Grebe

A Slavonian Grebe turned up on Astbury Mere, Congleton on Monday but I couldn't get away - until today. Astbury has a good record of turning up scarce / rare birds and over the past few years I've seen Ring-necked Duck, Great Northern Diver and today, Slav Grebe. Probably the best views I'll ever experience in Cheshire and much easier to see than bobbing around in the sea off Hilbre.

What a poser and never more than 20 metres away from the bank in a relatively sheltered part of the mere.

The last one I saw in Cheshire was a distnat summer plumaged bird last year on the Lapwing Lane pools.

What else will turn up on one of our meres this winter? How about a nice male Velver Scoter for those who've not been fortunate to see them off Hilbre.

28 Jan 2013

The tide is high but we're going on.......

The tide is high but we're going on - sounds just like a Blondie tune. High tides over the weekend meant a busy one for me. Friday started the ball rolling with a trip to Richmond Bank with Mark P where, in near blizzard conditions, we grilled the gulls looking for something unusual. After three hours of numbing cold we gave up but not before finding a juvenile Glaucous Gull, a 1st winter Caspian Gull and four Yellow-legged Gulls amongst surprisingly few argentatus & aregenteus |Herring Gulls a smattering of Lesser & Greater Black-backs and a few Common Gulls - including a very long winged dark individual that could have come from somewhere much further east.

A warming brew back at mine and we headed off to Parkgate for the raptor roost. We didn't stay long. Snow and freezing winds put us off but we did see the Great - white Egret and a lovely male Hen Harrier.

With heavy snow Friday evening I was pretty sure the planned trip to Anglesey for some wader ringing with the SCAN group would be off. Setting off early Saturday morning whilst the snow ploughs were still busy it soon became apparent that the snow was very local and once I'd cleared Cheshire it was a beautiful sunny day. Unfortunately the waders didn't play ball but it was still a great day to be outside.

PP Gannet shot in driving spray!

Sunday saw Al Orton and me on Hilbre early to cover the high tide period. A force 8 WSW resulted in some pretty good bird movements with the highlights being Black-throated Diver, 48 R T divers, 2 adult Little Gulls, hundreds of Great-crested Grebes, good numbers of Common Scoter, 3 adult Gannets and of course the waders................................. Who could resist the Purple Sandpipers getting blown sideways by the wind.

 Posing on a rock.
 Ops a bit windy.
 Blown off

24 Jan 2013

Computers and divers

Technology. You can't live without it yet hate it all the same. Computers definitely fall into the 'hate' category. With failing mother boards, hard drives and dodgy Windows updates I've spent more time having various computers fixed since Christmas than out birding! Don't even mention Windows 8!

Still, having to collect my wife's computer from Manchester after the latest mishap, enabled me to call in at Marbury to see the juvenile Great Northern Diver that had taken up temporary residence the previous day. A call from demon lister, Al Orton, confirmed it was still present so I grabbed the camera and called in briefly. Very briefly as it turned out. When I arrived the diver was showing pretty well. It then caught a large roach and proceeded to struggle eating it before succeeding and moving to the opposite side of the meal to digest its meal. After 20 minutes it showed no signs of moving and the cold drove me back to the car.

Good to catch up with a few people there I hadn't seen for a while and fellow Foot-it competitor Pete Antrobus who'd limped from home with gout to add it to his January total.

Tuesday I got back from a trip to Yorkshire early enough to walk down to Stanney Woods as the sun was out. No sooner had I started my circuit when two things happened. The phone went and a tit flock appeared. Holding one piece of technology in each hand I multi-tasked scanning and talking at the same time. When.............Bloody hell its a Lesser Spot. Guess which peice of technology I dropped. Great views of male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker as it moved through the trees with the tit flock.
Lesser-spotted Woodpecker territory........

20 Jan 2013

Snowy weather

We got some snow this weekend. After bitterly cold midweek weather the temperature rose just enough for us to cop a load of the white stuff! Plenty of birds around and the garden feeding station was busy with the star birds being a female Brambling that showed up Friday afternoon along with at least 4 Blackcaps. One of which I managed to catch and ring. The BTO are doing a survey on wintering Blackcaps and hopefully I'll catch a few more to help contribute to the information they're collating. There was plenty of fat on it and its obviously thriving on the fat balls, apples and sunflower hearts they seem to be preferring.
As well as the Brambling there are good numbers of other finches with  Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Siskins, Greenfinches and a solitary male Bullfinch!

Deciding to spend some time on my 'foot-it' January list I wrapped up and took a six mile hike around the local fields trying to add a few more species to the total. I managed four new species - Skylark, Raven, Kingfisher and Greater Black-backed Gull.
Sunday dawned cold and with the threat of more snow in the air but the intrepid team of Hilbre obs members were undeterred by such conditions and were rewarded with some good sightings - two flocks of Scaup were logged totalling 32 birds in total. Both flocks were on the water and visible at the same time so we know we haven't double counted.

Unfortunately the weather wasn't conducive to good quality photos. A real shame as 'Thumper', Hilbres moost famous resident, posed well to prove he's still alive!


Waders put on a good show with at least 12 Purple Sandpipers at the north end where a solitary Grey Plover was hanging around with a small flock of Knot. A Common Seal was also logged. This species is becoming increasingly common off Hilbre and are much cuter looking than the Atlantic Greys.
Finally, as the snow came down again, there was time for one more brew and a good record of a Skylark that landed briefly during the blizzard and then moved off south as it cleared a bit..

Just as we were leaving a group of walkers flagged us down as one of their number had fall and badly and possibly broken her collarbone. She was in shock and cold but we managed to bundle her into the the back of the Landrover and Chris rang the coastguard to ensure we had an ambulance waiting for us on the foreshore. All in a days work for the Obs members!

16 Jan 2013

Marbury Bittern

Bittern showed pretty well at Marbury this afternoon when I called in on the way back from Stockport.
Bitterly (almost a pun!) cold though and I didn't stay long enough to see if there were 1 or 2 birds coming in to roost.

14 Jan 2013

Tits go AWOL

Another ringing session in Barry's Burton garden this weekend as part of John's project on Blue & Great Tits. The problem is the tits didn't play ball! For the first time the number of finches caught exceeded the number of tits. This begs the question where have they all gone? Have the increased finch numbers driven them away, have they died or is the weather still reasonably mild enough for them to be finding sufficient natural food without coming to the feeders? Only time and our next planned ringing session will tell.

A great day though and the chance for me to ring my first Brambling - thanks to Johns wife smuggling her house keys into his car thereby locking herself in the house meaning John had to go and let her out. its good when a cunning plan comes together..............A cracking 2nd calendar year male.
We caught an impressive six finch species with Goldfinch being the most numerous followed by Lesser Redpoll, Siskin & Chaffinch.

 Photo courtesy of Barry Barnacal

One of the  2nd calendar year Redpolls was interesting as it appeared to have lost half of its tail at some stage so half was juvenile and half was adult.

2nd calendar year female Redpoll showing adult type tail (rounded) on left of photo and juvenile type (pointed) on right.

A great day although very cold and despite the lack of tits we still ringed around 90 new birds and re-trapped around 40. Using this data along with the number of same day retraps we can estimate the total population of birds using Barry's garden - an incredible 500 birds -using a statistical analysis devised by my old University lecturer Mike Hounsome along with Chris Du Feu known as the Du Feu method.

Photo courtesy Barry Barnacal.

Sunday was bitterly cold and slightly misty but a good sized tide encouraged us to go over to Hilbre for a bit of a seawatch and undertake the WeBs count. A good day all round with Red-throated Divers, Common Scoter's, Guillemot, Razorbill adult Med Gull, Rock Pipit and a Shag being recorded along with good numbers of Turnstone's (including 5 colour ringed birds from previous years) and 12 Purple Sandpipers and over 230 Brent Geese.

Tits and a Shag - what more would you want in a blog post?

12 Jan 2013

Footing it across the stubble.

A 'mega' local find whilst undertaking the' Footit' challenge  - a Water Rail flushed from a flooded juncus filled corner of a local field where I regularly get Snipe & Jack Snipe - no Snipe but a single Jack Snipe. The local farmer has left 2 fields of Barley stubble and a field of Maize stubble over the winter and the Barley in particular attracts good numbers of finches and buntings.

 Barley stubble
Maize stubble

Sure enough a large mobile flock of Chaffinches was spotted on the opposite side from the lane but I gradually worked my way round to them and picked out at least 2 Brambling's with them. Also present were 3+ Yellowhammers and 5+ Reed Buntings. Great stuff!

All good fun and I feel I'm gradually losing the pounds piled on in Australia!

Aspen plantation.

9 Jan 2013

Footing it January challenge

I've accepted the challenge set by Mr Reeder et al to see how many birds I can see locally on foot during January. See here for details:

My 'patch' boundaries are shown in the map below & I reckon I can get 63 species on foot in this area in January  - with a bit of luck!

After arriving back from Australia early Saturday morning I soon felt the need to stretch my legs after the long flights. A quick walk around the nearby estates produced a flock of 40 + Waxwings and there were 2 more visible from the house on Sunday.

Jet lag meant I was up early Sunday and took the opportunity to walk to Stanney Woods in the dark to get there at first light with the idea of looking for a Woodcock before to many people got there. Sure enough after a thrash round in the depths of the sodden wood a single Woodcock flew up in front of me and pitched down again under a Holly tree. A good start!

3 Jan 2013

Christmas down -under

We arrived in Melbourne in the early hours of Sunday 23rd December and had to wait until 5 am Avis to open to collect our hire car. The 3 1/2 hour journey north to Wodonga, on the banks of the Murray River, passed uneventfully and we were soon safely with Amy, Locky & baby Lizzie.

A wonderful Christmas day was spent with the Murray clan in scorching temperatures and for the rest of the trip we alternated between barbeque's, swimming, shopping, gardening, baby sitting and dog walking.

The dog, Rugby, gave me a reason to get up before it got to hot and take him for a good walk across the wooded hills behind the house. Every morning we were greeted by the sight of a herd of Kangaroo's including the dominant male who occasionally took an unhealthy interest in the dog and wasn't prepared to back off. We did......................

He was a big mean looking Roo and stood taller than me. They have a reputation of being able to cause severe damage with their lethal hind claws and I wasn't going to take the risk of finding out if he'd back down first.

Meanwhile some of the herd did their best 'three bears' impersonation as they watched events with interest.

Bird wise I had fun trying to remember the names of those I'd seen on previous trips and identify the new ones.

 Crimson Rosella - male

 Crimson Rosella - female
Diamond Firetail
 Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike

 Double-barred Finch
 Dusky Wood Swallow
 Eastern Rosella
 juv Red-browed Finch ( II think!)
 Straited Pandalote
 Yellow-faced Honeyeater
Yellow-rumped Thornbill.

A great trip and we'll be sad to leave for Melbourne and our plane home later tonight. I've seen around 6 World 'lifers' on the trip - not bad for a non birding holiday! I found it easiest to try and grab a record shot and then identify from the comfort of an air conditioned house than fumble around with a field guide all the time in the heat. I'm now beginning to recognise a number of the commoner birds on call. We are already planning our next trip.