I’ve not done a lot of birding this year: a new family member who keeps me happily preoccupied with public transport on many of my weekend days off, an exceptional workload, and a period of ill-health saw to that. But today, my last day of birding for 2011, was a great ending which has enthused me for the year ahead, in which I shall undoubtedly see a lot in January and then hardly get out again until December!
This morning I headed out with Andy Pryce to see the Glaucous Gull at Weld Rd again. Andy was on the bird within seconds of getting out of the car: it was showing well feeding on a mound of shrimp detritus deposited by a local shrimper. But the weather was foul, and after a while we headed off, firstly to Crossens Inner by way of Dawlish Drive. Here we quickly found seventeen Barnacle Geese and counted 4 Eurasian White-fronted Geese by the time the mother of all hailstorms forced a retreat! There were probably more, but the weather was evil.
Plans to head for the American Wigeon found by John Aitchison yesterday on the Douglas close to Hesketh Out Marsh were re-evaluated given the weather and the lack of shelter out that way, and as we were both carrying WWT membership cards that hardly ever get used we took the less-(fool)hardy option and headed instead to Martin Mere.
Here, the expected huge numbers of Whooper Swans made for fair viewing, and a Hen Harrier was a pleasant early surprise. From the Janet Kear Hide the stars of the show were four brown rats, until a Sparrowhawk whizzed past the feeders scaring off half a dozen Reed Buntings, before a Marsh Harrier gave great close views in the field beyond. As we arrived in the Harrier Hide there was more Marsh Harrier action (a different bird) and the huge numbers of Wigeon and Teal caused Andy and I to joke that we would probably find our own yankee bird, whether an American Wigeon or a Green-winged Teal. And sure enough, it took only a few minutes of scanning the huge numbers of ducks with my bins before I spotted a near-vertical light stripe on the breast of a teal, having found what turned out to be Martin Mere’s first Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis) of 2011.
Thanks to Andy for shooting the video ~
Finding that the new cafe at Martin Mere doesn’t sell beer, unlike its predecessor, was a bit of a disappointment, though: what are zoos today coming to?! Good job I had some Glenmorangie in the hipflask.
This 1st winter Glaucous Gull ~ Larus hyperboreus ~ has been at Birkdale, Merseyside, since around 20th December 2011. It’s feeding well but has a gammy right leg and lies down for long periods (as you will see) … let’s hope it makes it. I caught up with it today – it was very, very windy, and in the video you can see Godwits almost getting blown over! – so the film is exceptionally wobbly and serves merely as a record.
Sometimes seen around the car park at Weld Road, I found it a few hundred metres further down towards Ainsdale, past Taggs Island, in with a large wader roost at high tide. I also had an adult Med Gull, a handful of Twite, several jack Snipe, and some glorious wader sights at what was a very high tide – 9.5m with the wind right behind it. Great mid-winter birding. Sublime guitar playing on the video by Tony McManus replaces the horrible wind noise captured by the Nikon P5100 that I shot this on, through a Swarovski ATS80HD.
Photography was even harder due to the very high winds, but here are a couple of record shots …
Warm April continues, although my own birding opportunities have been a bit limited, but the month began with a fine trip through North Wales with Andy and Bones that included Black Grouse lekking, dozens of Crossbills and Redpolls, a Purple Heron and some Choughs. A couple of visits to Marshside had been relatively disappointing as it’s starting to feel a bit like an Avocet petting zoo at times, and on Easter Monday, despite an early start and plenty of Reed and Sedge Warblers, the lack of Wheatears and anything else of note in and around the old sandplant caused the three of us to jump back in Andy’s car and head once again for the Fylde. The roads were clear early on, and it took less than forty minutes to catch up with a Lancs-first Short-toed Lark. The video’s pretty grim, given the heat-haze and my general indifference to getting it right, but it’s a nice record.
At Hesketh Out Marsh on the way back Whinchat, White Wagtails, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Willow Warbler, and then back to Marshside for, er, nothing else.
Andy P and I arrived at Moore at first light yesterday, full of hope for a day of Willow Tits, Woodpeckers, and White-winged Gulls. Four hours later, despite a few GSW, and even with the knowledge that if we could get round to oversee Richmond Bank we’d find a lot of good gulls including Caspian, Glaucous and Yellow-legged awaiting us, we changed tack and headed for Pennington Flash. Willow Tit was rapidly becoming this year’s bogey bird and if there’s one place it’s a cert …
And sure enough the Bunting Hide at Pennington, where the feeding station is almost within touching distance, turned up trumps, with an apparent Willow Tit amongst more than a dozen Bullfinches and a pair of Stock Doves coming to feeders. It was too close to digiscope! I watched it for a long time, though: flighty, but very close to. Andy got some pics (see below) but with the ‘scope set up I just managed to frame the Bullfinches and a Reed Bunting on a table further away.
It was later as we walked round the rest of the site that doubt about the Willow Tit crept in, as we both heard the clear and seemingly unmistakeable call of a Marsh Tit. We didn’t manage to get sight of the bird, but the call was distinct and prolonged. Had we mis-identified the Willow Tit? Did we mis-hear the Marsh Tit?
I went back through it in my head for hours afterwards, but I’m sure we didn’t: I’d been paying particular attention to the bib, the matt black crown, and the hue of the light underbelly … And later on, with the benefit of Andy’s photos, there’s no doubt about the Willow Tit.
So Willow Tit and a possible Marsh Tit made it a good day, after all. Moore will undoubtedly be a delight on a future visit and those gulls may well have me back very soon, but yesterday it just felt like it wasn’t going to be our day for seeing any of our targets.
Saturday morning saw Django and me in Andy Pryce’s car before first light heading off to Fairhaven Lake near Lytham for a squint at the Red-Necked Grebe that’s been there for most of the past week. We found it almost immediately, very close to us in the easterly corner of the lake. The sun was not fully up and the light was poor, and my optics as ever were filthy so the usual apologies for my photos and videos ~ Andy’s are better and are on his flickr page. Here you can make do with mine, and this bit of video
We took the short trip from there to Lytham Crematorium, where 7 Ring-necked Parakeets were putting on a good show. Plenty of Redwings here, and drumming by a GS Woodpecker was followed shortly afterwards by the sight of two birds in apparent display flight. Huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese – certainly a couple of thousand or more airborne at the same time in the fields north of the crematorium grounds – may have been worth a better look, but we opted to head up the coast road.
A short seawatch at Little Bispham was very productive: a large flock of Eiders, perhaps forty birds, with Scoter, distant Auks, and a couple of Red-throated Divers were readily seen. But the freezing on-shore breeze and rising tide encouraged us to carry on to somewhere for wader-watching, and we were soon at Cleveleys.
What at first seemed to be four Turnstones on a rocky groyne turned out to be three Turnstones and a Purple Sandpiper, birds which scurried off to join another Purple Sandpiper with some Ringed Plovers higher up the beach as the tide rose. A tightly huddled flock of over two hundred Sanderling with several Knot was close to the water’s edge and scuttling from the larger breaking waves and thoughtless dog-walkers.
Up the road in Fleetwood this Great Northern Diver was showing far better than this photo would suggest. It was distant, and dived frequently, but frozen fingers were starting to eat into the will to endeavour for as long as perhaps the bird deserved. Still, whilst it was underwater feeding there were plenty of Red-breasted Mergansers to look at, as well as a few Redshanks and huge numbers of gulls to scan on the various dock building roofs.
After superbly fresh and inexpensive fish and chips by the docks had warmed us up a bit we decided not to go looking for the Red-Breasted Goose also on the Fylde, but headed to Marton Mere for the remaining daylight hours. No Bittern, but seven Long-Eared Owls showing very well and even moving and preening a bit, together with a calling Cetti’s Warbler, a Whooper Swan, some raptors and plenty of wildfowl, including my first Gadwall this year, rounded off another great day’s birding this year. 2011 has given me my birding mojo back!
There were some very enjoyable birding days in December. Early in the month, being on leave from work, I was visiting Hesketh Park in Southport almost daily, and the Marine Lake from time to time as well, during the first big freeze. The latter brought regular sightings of a 1st winter drake Scaup and plenty of Goldeneye, as well as the leucistic female Red-Crested Pochard that has been around the area for a while. But it was Hesketh Park that proved quite a revelation, with plenty of sightings of Nuthatch, Treecreeper, GS Woodpecker and Red Squirrel, as well as overflying Little Egrets, Curlews, etc. But when not one but two Firecrests turned up and hung around for several days, with one of the birds hanging on for at least a further week, it was a great payback for hours put in. Even today there was such a sizeable gathering of Goldcrests in the crepuscule that it’s still worth having a further scan to see if the bird is still around.
One Sunday morning watching the Firecrest with Bones, John A et al led to meeting up with Andy Pryce, who was kind enough to give Bones, me and Django a ride afterwards to Hesketh Out Marsh, where the greatest reward was a big flock of Bramblings as well as the usual raptors (and a Little Owl on the roof of one of the nearest barns.) And then once the snow set in for Christmas week, Andy and I went to Mere Brow on Christmas Eve to follow up on reports of the Waxwing seen there. We had no joy with these, but the huge flocks of winter thrushes and some great views of a Barn Own in superb light made for magical midwinter birding.
27th December saw Bones, Django and me jump aboard the first X2 bus of the morning heading to Preston, having already had a Woodpecker in Hesketh Park from the bus stop. An earlier trip up there in November, whilst it turned up plenty of Waxwings, saw us dip on the 1st winter Iceland Gull in the docks and we fancied another go at it as a starting point to a day of, we imagined, birding by bus. The X2 is a great bus, and it was notable that Stagecoach largely kept it running throughout the cold weather at times when the Arriva Southport wimps had long-since downed tools! Only Sefton Council’s competence (in keeping the Formby bypass unsafe!) caused part of the journey to be suspended. Anyway, it was a fine plan: X2 to Preston Railway Station, then 88C from across the road to Pedders Way.
The bird wasn’t immediately visible when we arrived, so I wandered to the nearby bacon butty and tea van, and had barely placed the order when Bones picked up the bird in flight. It settled further down the dock, but shortly after the butties were served it relocated near to where we were stood and, despite the bitter cold, the camera worked well enough for a bit of video although the stills were very disappointing.
Job done: back on the 88C, just four mins to wait at the station and we were hurtling back south exactly 2 hours after we left. We got off at Holmes and spent an hour or so on foot enjoying the winter thrushes and Whooper Swans around Holmes and Mere Brow village, before being tempted into the Legh Arms as we made our way back towards the X2 bus stop at the roundabout there. A phone call from John A enquiring if we were still out, and if so did we fancy heading to Hesketh Out Marsh met with a double affirmative, and we were enraptured by raptors including 2 Marsh Harriers, a ring-tailed Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, at least 3 Merlin, a Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine, and entranced by the huge flock of Tree Sparrows and Bramblings with Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting and large numbers of Linnet. We had an eye out for Lapland Bunting too but didn’t pick any out. The fading light brought a Barn Owl and another Marsh Harrier. It was another superb day though, and a fine way to whet the appetite for making full use of dawn to dusk on New Year’s Day.
Bones, Django and I took the first X2 bus of Sunday into Preston, meeting Pete Kinsella on board. Preston has had a spate of good birds in recent days with an Iceland Gull on Preston Docks, and large numbers of Waxwings, which had also been seen by the docks. So to the docks we went, and with the gull having been reported whilst we were en route things were looking good.
However the Iceland Gull didn’t show after 9.30 until around 3.20pm, by which time I was devouring a roast dinner and a few bottles of Sancerre back in Southport Lots of people turned out to look for it though, with plenty of familiar Marshside faces: Neill’s certainly got some good photos of the gull on his facebook page, and it was good to see Mike Stocker without any limbs in plaster! It got very cold though, and Bones and I got a pint sat outside the Ribble Pilot pub with Django ahead of what would have been an early dart, when a familiar noise caused me to turn away from the dock to see this little lot of Waxwings, 20-odd altogether, feeding close by in berry-bearing trees. Later that afternoon apparently 200+ birds gathered just a few streets away, in Euston Street.
With a Firecrest just up the road at Freckleton that would have been quite easily reachable by bus too had I had the whole day to play with, the north shore of the Ribble was on good form today. Plenty of Long-eared owls at Marton Mere, too.
Took the train to Smithy Bridge nr Rochdale early this morning, and managed to locate the Pied-billed Grebe on Hollingsworth Lake that’s been around for a week or so before it got too busy.
Way back in the dim-and-distant past I worked as a tour manager for some bands I really liked, including Cheikh Lo, and Afro Celt Sound System. Simon Emmerson of Afro Celts has always been a man involved with musical developments that have interested me too, and it was no surprise to find he’s something of a birder as well, with a keen interest in birdsong. These days he’s involved with the team behind Sound Approach to Birding, too. Check out this mix he put together for Folk radio UK.
Trolls having been exorcised, it was good to head back to Marshside after a lengthy change of routine. A Wheatear in the sandplant, vast flocks of Goldfinches and Starlings, Mipits seemingly on the move, and a Short-eared Owl way off over Crossens Outer were early highlights. A liberal sprinkling of Little Egrets, and a Goldcrest in the bushes by Sandgrounders, then down to Nel’s where five Spotted Redshanks were close in, and later on four Greenshank dropped in.