Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Risley Moss Nature Reserve

I did a quick reccy of Risley Moss today in a vain attempt to see some Woodcock which have been reported here several times, as well as some Short-eared Owls and Snipe.  It seems I got there too early (for once!) as most of these birds show up more frequently at dusk and, as it was freezing cold today, I couldn't bear it more than a hour and half or else my toes would have fallen off.

I had a long chat with a guy called Brian who was quite a character and who gave me a lot of great information about the place.  He's a regular here and he even helps doing some of the land and conservation management in the area.  Whilst we were chatting three Buzzards passed in front of us, and at least 500 hundred Jackdaws passed overhead in the three large groups on their way to a roost somewhere.  But that was all.

I stayed a while after Brian left (it seems early for once as he had to pick up his daughter) and was soon joined by another guy called Dave, who also gave me lots of useful pointers about what to see and where to see it here.

Thanks guys, I didn't see much but I learnt a lot.  No pictures toady I'm afraid.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Birds of Prey at Pennington BGB Event

Although they are captive birds, it was still amazing to get close to such beautiful birds today, especially the owls. at the Pennington Flash Big Garden Birdwatch event. Unfortunately I can't tick any of these! Double-click the pictures to make them bigger.

Common Buzzard 
Steppe Eagle
Snowy Owl
Steppe Eagle
Great Grey Owl
Eagle Owl
Tawny Owl
Long-eared Owl
Eagle Owl
Barn Owl
Snowy Owl

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Big Garden Birdwatch at Pennington Flash

Pennington Flash is holding a Big Garden Birdwatch event tomorrow (Sunday 29 January) with loads of activities including a bird race with a twist, nest box making, birds of prey display, bird ID talks, equipment demos and a walk from Penny to Lightshaw Flash. Please come and support this event if you can.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Pennington Flash Bird Sightings Map

I've created a collaborative map in Google Maps for everyone to record their sightings at Pennington Flash this year.  I've put in a few sightings from previous years to get it started, but these may be deleted if it (hopefully) starts to fill up. I've also included places to take photographs of specific birds. Please feel free to add to any of these lists.

Although you can use this small version of the map to some extent, it is far better to click on the title link below and go to the full size map where you can add your sightings or just look what's been seen there:

It's easy to add your sighting to the map, but you do need a free Google account:
  1. Click on the title link above the map or here to go to the full size map page
  2. Sign in to your Google account - you may need to register first, but it's free.
  3. Click the orange Edit button to the left of the map
  4. Zoom the map to the best size for an accurate position
  5. Right click on the map location of your sighting
  6. Choose 'Add a Placemark' from the pop up menu
  7. Put the bird name and date in the title and select a symbol (key below)
  8. Add a description and any comments as you wish
  9. Use 'Rich text' to add a web link to a picture if you have one
  10. Click on OK to complete the sighting record
  11. Repeat steps 3 to 8 for any further sightings
  12. Click on 'Done' to the left of the map to finish

The instructions (but not the key) are also on the actual map page, to the left of the map.

Please edit the map responsibly and do not disclose the whereabouts of breeding or nesting birds.  If you have any questions or comments, please write in the comments below this post or e-mail me at martyn.jones@yahoo.com.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Garden Sparrowhawk

For the first time in a week I didn't manage to get out of the house today due to the miserable weather. Instead I chose to start work on a new web project for recording sightings of birds in North West England.  You can see an early alpha version of my work so far here or from the link on the right of this page.

I rattled away at the keyboard whilst the rain pelted down outside my patio window. And then, when I got up to give my eyes a rest, I noticed a grey shape sitting on the fence in our back garden.  It was a very damp and sorry-looking sparrowhawk and it was peering down into one of the shrubs.  Fortunately my camera was close at hand, and so I slowly reached for it so as not to spook this sharp-eyed predator.  I felt like the guy in Jurassic Park who slowly and quietly sets up his gun to shoot a Velociraptor just before one came from another direction and got him - "Clever Girl' he says moments before he's ripped to bits!

'I'm stalking in the rain, just stalking in the rain'

Anyway, I quickly set the ISO to 3200 and the aperture to f6.3 to get the best shutter-speed possible for handholding my heavy 500mm Bigma zoom in the gloom. I did manage to fire off a few shots before I saw what it was stalking - a blackbird.  It dived for the blackbird at lightning fast speed but didn't catch it and, with a lot of squawking, both birds shot off over the fence and into a neighbour's garden.  I quickly ran upstairs so that I could see over the fence through an open window, but although I could see that the Sparrowhawk hadn't caught the blackbird, I didn't have a good view for photographs. After a couple of minutes the Sparrowhawk flew off without its lunch and that was that.

'Where's that Blackbird?'

This is the first positive identification of a sparrowhawk that I've made in my garden and I was over the moon to have captured two half decent photos of it, particularly as they were taken through the patio glass.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Highfield Moss, Lowton

Highfield Moss, Lowton

After following a thread on the Manchester Birding Forum for Highfield Moss in Lowton, I decided to ask Nick Isherwood, the main contributor to this topic, if he would show me round the area.  Nick very kindly agreed and we met at 3pm today on Heath Lane, just across the main road from the Moss.

My main aim was to see the two or three Short-eared Owls which Nick had been reporting regularly over the last couple of weeks, and I wasn't to be disappointed.  But even before we got to the Moss, there were birds to be seen in the fields on either side of the public footpath which leads first to the railway line, and then onto Highfield Moss.

The first birds of note were a group of eighteen Golden Plover which flew over us, with some more in the field to the left of the footpath amongst some Lapwing and Gulls also on the ground.  Nick said that he'd never really seen this number of birds in that field before. A Buzzard was also sitting on a fence post on the far side of this field before it took off for the trees.

As we made our way to the railway line (which is part of the famous route over Chat Moss along which Robert Stevenson drove the Rocket in the Rainhill Trials), we saw a group of 20-ish Linnet sitting in a low tree on the field border, followed by a very tame Song Thrush in a shrub on the bank.  Nick mentioned that he'd regularly seen a Corn Bunting singing loudly in the main field last year.

Then down the steps to the railway line and up into a wooded area which eventually opened out onto Highfield Moss.  It was a beautiful late afternoon and the Moss looked fantastic in the golden sunshine.  We decided to walk along the embankment which runs parallel to the railway line and which gives a good viewpoint over the area, and soon we came across Pete Astles (another Manchester Birding Forum member) who was set up with a tripod and waiting for the Owls to reappear. He'd already seen them this evening but they weren't about just then.

Our first view of the Short-eared Owl

Whilst chatting to Pete, Nick got the first glimpse of an Owl sitting in a distant tree on the far side of the Moss.  I took a quick photo in case that was all I was going to see, but as you can see, just about everything was wrong with it!  In fact all my shots here today are no more than record shorts as will later become apparent.

Banking left

Before long we were treated to a flypast by the bird and for the next fifteen minutes or so I stood mesmerised as it quartered the Moss for food.  It would disappear for a while and then come back into view and at times came quite close to us.  I was so taken by this display that I just shot my camera off without paying proper attention to the settings - therefore, most of my pictures are blurred or overexposed.  Nevermind, I'll be back many more times to get a good shot.

Quartering the Moss

Nick then continued to show me round the Moss and on the way we saw the bird several more times. And then a second Owl appeared and the two birds briefly engaged in a bit of aerial 'rough and tumble'.  I'm not sure if it was a serious confrontation  or just being playful, but it didn't last long.

A bit of 'rough and tumble'

After this we carried on around the Moss, with Nick pointing out various places to go.  We did have a distant view of a bird which seemed to be an Owl sitting on a post in a hedge along a field border and this could have been the third bird that's been reported here. And later an Owl flew out of the woods right in front of us before disappearing - this was probably the closest we got to it today, but we didn't have a great view.

On the way back to the car a couple of Pheasants made us jump as they squawked loudly and flew awkwardly away and the Song Thrush we'd seen previously was still in the same place and still as tame.

Sunset over Highfield Moss

A great little place and a fantastic experience to see the Short-eared Owls in flight across the Moss.  Thanks Nick, I owe you one and 'yes', I do think you should write a site guide for the Manchester Birding website - I'm sure many people, like me, will appreciate your efforts.

Note To Self

Phew! I've done quite a lot of birding this last week or so. This is just a quick post to remind me where I've been and what I've seen recently so that I don't forget.

16th January 2012

  • Warton Bank, Lancashire- Great White Egret, Little Egret, Whooper Swans, Curlew, Peregrine, Greylag Geese, Starling, Grey Heron over

  • Lytham, Lancashire - Jackdaw, Redshank, Sanderling (Dunlin), Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Black-headed Gulls

    • Fleetwood and Rossall Point, Lancashire - Eider Duck, Turnstone, Sanderling (Dunlin)

      15th January 2012
      • Dovestone Reservoir and Binn Green - Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Dipper, Mistle Thrush, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Raven over
      14th January 2012
      • Three Sisters Country Park, Ashton, Wigan - Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jays, Reed Bunting, Willow Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Sparrowhawk
      13th January 2012

      • Parkgate, Wirrall - Great White Egret, Little Egret, Hen Harrier

        • Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Wirral - Common Snipe, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Redshank, Shelduck, Canada Geese, Curlew, Mallard

          11th January 2012
          • Rindle Road, Astley Moss - Tree Sparrows, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits, Willow Tit, Yellowhammer, Chaffinch, Woodpigeon

          I may write some of these up in more detail later - or maybe not!

          Tuesday, 10 January 2012

          Chorlton Water Park

          I thought I'd go somewhere new to try my new monopod out.  At 12.45am, it was getting a bit late on this overcast winter's day, but I decided to go out anyway. I chose to visit Chorlton Water Park as there had been reports of fairly large numbers of Siskin there over the last few days.  I used to travel the route from home quite regularly when I worked as a part time youth leader at  Fielden Park Youth Club in Didsbury, but I don't remember having actually ever been to the Water Park before.

          After parking up and finding the water, I chose to walk down a woodland path first, partly because it had started to rain and partly because it looked quite promising.  Well, apart from a Blue Tit popping out of a nest box, a robin singing, a blackbird and a crow, there was not much here and so I climbed the few short steps off the woodland path and resumed my walk on the main footpath.

          I could only see a couple of Goosander, lots of Gulls and Coots and a few Mallard and Canada Geese on the water and so I veered off the tarmac path and up a short rise into the area known as Barlow Tip in search of Alder trees which Siskins particularly like.  But very shortly the ground became waterlogged and boggy and so I soon retreated back to the main path.

          Here I met a man walking a dog and we chatted for a while about cameras, binoculars and the dog.  I was going to ask him if he knew where the Siskins were, but it became evident that he didn't know anything about birds and so I didn't bother.  Another bloke walked past with binoculars around his neck and so I asked him instead, and although he hadn't seen any today, he pointed me in the direction of were he'd thought they'd would be.

          And so, after finishing my chat with the first chap, I set off again along the main path in search of Alder trees and Siskin. On the way I stopped a couple of times to try out my camera on the monopod, firstly for some distant Goosander on the main Water Park and then for a pair of Pochard nestling under the trees which overhang the water.  It was very dark and gloomy and so none of the shots I took today are that good, but I liked the feel of the monopod even though it was still quite hard to keep the camera absolutely still. I hope with practice that the monopod will improve the quality of my bird photos.

          When I reached the Alder trees I had a good look round but to no avail - no Siskins in sight anywhere.  So I continued wallking up the path through the trees until I reached a bridge over the River Mersey, from which I could see a distant pair of Goosander on the river.  I saw this as an opportunity to get some close pictures of the Goosander, as the river is not very wide and they haven't got many places to go on the water except towards me or away from me.  So I slowly walked down the river bank, past a group of seven or eight Mallards without disturbing them, to get as close as possible.

          The birds were bobbing around in front of some rough water and would often dive and disappear fro a while.  I managed to get some shots, but the poor light meant slow shutter speeds and that means blurred images.  They took a ride on the fast flowing current past me and in a matter of seconds were a 100m or so downstream.  I went after them and got a few more shots before they sailed out of range.  It was a shame, because on a bright day I probably would have got some much better pictures - this is as close as I've ever come to Goosander.

          I returned to the Water Park and had another look for the Siskin, but by now the light was failing fast.  So I set off back to the car, stopping in a couple of places to take some more photos of another pair of Goosander and a distant Great Crested Grebe.  Just before I returned to the car park, some headphone-clad idiot allowed his dog to lurch after the Canada Geese and Tufted Ducks which has gathered in what seems like an area where people feed them - not just once but several times.  He did nothing about this and just poured himself a drink seemingly oblivious to this act of wildlife terrorising.  I didn't feel like saying anything to him however, he didn't look the type to take my comments kindly.

          After a quick look at the feeding station where there were a couple of Grey Squirrels, a Long-tailed Tit, a Blackbird and a Robin, I set off for home. It's a good place and I'll be back soon even though I never did see any Siskin today.

          Here's some arty flying gulls pictures with which to end:

          Leucistic Blackbird

          Just as I was trying out my new Manfrotto monopod and tilt head, a bargain bought for £23 off e-Bay, which arrived this morning, another leucistic blackbird appeared in my back garden. It's not Luke, the bird I saw a few times last year, as this bird has a lot more white covering the tops of its wings as well as it's head. This is the second such bird I've seen this week in two different locations.

          I was trying to get some shots of a few Long-tailed Tits and Great Tits that were passing through my feeders when the leucistic bird just appeared out of nowhere.  It didn't stay for long but I managed a couple of better shots than I have of Luke - however the day was quite dull and overcast and so they're not great.

          Now I'm going to have to think of another name!  How about Snowy?

          Saturday, 7 January 2012

          Owl Spotting at Marton Mere, Lancashire

          Sarah and I visited Marton Mere (not to be confused with Martin Mere) in Lancashire today for an event entitled 'Owl Spotting' which was organised by the RSPB and the Ranger Service there. Marton Mere can be accessed in a number of ways, one of which is by entering the local caravan site which borders the Mere and parking at the Ranger's Office there. This is the way we chose, but after waiting for some time for the Ranger to turn up, we wondered if we were in the right place.

          Fortunately another birder turned up (Safraz) who was equally concerned about the lack of activity, and so we set off for one of the hides where we could ask for information. Here we learned that the RSPB flag was flying on the far side of the Mere and that scopes had been set up to view the Owls.  So we set off walking round the Mere on our own in search of the flag.

          When we arrived a large group of people (from Preston RSPB it turns out) had already gathered and they were looking through scopes and binoculars into the trees. Sarah and I couldn't see anything at all with our naked eyes, but we were soon encouraged to look through a scope which had been carefully trained on it's target.

          Unfortunately this is a picture from the Marton Mere Website

          It took a few moments to see what was there, even when it was viewed with the scope - it was an amazing Long-eared Owl, so brilliantly camouflaged amongst the branches that even the experts were having difficulty seeing it.  Apparently these are over-wintering Scandinavian birds and this place has become a regular haunt for them each year.

          After staring down the scope as if you were looking at one of those crazy hidden pictures, you could eventually make out it's 'ear' tufts after a while and then trace these down to a face.  Every now and then an eye or it's beak would become visible through the branches - wonderful. However, it was so well-hidden that most people wouldn't know it was there and wouldn't be able to find it even with a scope.  Pictures were impossible because I couldn't focus on the bird without using the scope.

          After a chat with the two people from the RSPB, Sarah and I moved on to complete a full walk around the Mere. The other birds we saw today included:

          • A leucistic blackbird amongst other blackbirds
          • Magpie
          • Mute Swan
          • Pochard
          • Wigeon
          • Teal
          • Greylag Goose
          • Canada Goose
          • Mallard
          • Coot
          • Moorhen
          • Black-headed Gull
          • Cormorant
          • Blue Tit
          • Great Tit
          • Chaffinch
          • Dunnock
          • Robin
          A really good morning out and a great place to which we'll definitely return.