Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Leighton Moss RSPB

Mark Cain and I had been threatening to go out on a birding trip for a couple of months now, but for one reason and another it had always fallen through - however today we actually managed it and Leighton Moss RSPB was the chosen destination.

The main reason for this was because the Bearded Tits have started to be reported regularly on the grit trays once again, probably because their diet is changing from the insects they eat over the summer months back to seed and grain, for which they need to eat grit to help their digestive processes.  Another target bird was the Water Rail which is seen fairly often here and, if we were really lucky, a Cetti's Warbler might be heard or even seen too.

We set off at 7:30am because most people report the Bearded Tits as being around mainly in the early morning before 10am (although I have also now been told that they can actually appear at any time throughout the day).  The motorway traffic was very slow times and the weather was getting increasingly worse on the journey there, despite the forecast suggesting it would be fine.

Marsh Harrier
First stop was the 'Causeway' at Leighton Moss so that we could head straight for the grit trays and the Bearded Tits - we parked in small lay-by and could soon see a small crowd of people gathered for the same purpose as ours.  On arriving at the trays, there were no birds to be seen for 15 minutes or so, and as the weather was dull and damp, Mark and I decided to head for the Public Hide - this turned out to be an excellent decision as will be seen later.

There was not much to see from the Public Hide: a Grey Heron, lots of Coots and Mallards, a Black-headed Gull as well as a few Gadwall and Teal. But unfortunately the Otters weren't around for us today.

However, there was a lone female Marsh Harrier with a creamy head sitting in a dead tree at the far edge of the water. We watched it for a while in the hope that it might take-off and give up a fly-past but the bad weather seemed to be keeping it down.

Whilst we were watching the Marsh Harrier, both Mark and I heard a distinctive bird call just outside the hide and so we both headed for the door with cameras in hand.  Although I didn't recognise the call, I knew it was something worth looking looking for.

Outside the hide, we had a glimpse of a small brownish bird which flew across the Causeway which we thought it might be a Dunnock - but then we heard it call again and it definitely wasn't. We also heard a slightly different call low down in the bushes which Mark thought could be a Bearded Tit, but not being that familiar with their call, I had to take his word for it.  After unsuccessfully trying to find the bird(s), we returned to the hide where I mentioned that a Cetti's Warbler was often reported down here. That seemed to click with Mark and he said he thought that the first bird was indeed a Cetti's.

We heard it again on the other side of the hide and so went off in search of it.  There was also a very nosey Robin and a noisy Wren in the bushes as we hunted for the Cetti's.  We could hear it moving around and now and then would get a brief glimpse of it.  I took out my phone and played a recording of it's call a few times to confirm that this was what we were hearing and this seemed to attract the bird and keep it fairly close.  We also got a couple of good brief views and both added a new 'lifer' to our lists.

After this bit of excitement, we decided not to go on to the Lower Hide as it was quite a long walk and there was nothing much on the water which it overlooks.  So we headed back to the grit trays for another go at viewing the Beardies.  Another group of people had gathered, but still with no success, so after a quick chat we decided to move on to the hides on the salt marshes.

At Allen Hide we saw Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank, two Little Egrets and a crowd of whistling Wigeon.  We spent a long time debating whether we could see a Spotted Redshank or not, and I told Mark that it definitely was one, only to be told by someone later that it definitely wasn't one!  There were also a couple of Curlew and a Snipe, possibly a Jack Snipe according to another birder.

Red-breasted Merganser (showing sawbill)

At Eric Morecambe Hide we saw three Red-breasted Mergansers, two Grey Herons, a Little Egret, some Shelduck, Lapwing, Mallards and Teal.  Another Marsh Harrier also gave us a long fly-past in the distance.

Both these salt marsh hides have been completely replaced and so they are brand spanking new and smell of fresh wood - lovely!

After this, we decided to go back to the grit trays for a quick look, before eating our sandwiches - what a good decision that was, as two Bearded Tits were now in sight.

Whenever the birds took up a decent pose the photographers fired off a volley of shots in the hope of getting just one decent photograph.  it didn't seem to worry the birds as they didn't fly off and must be quite used to the attention by now.
Female Bearded Tit on a grit tray
Male Bearded Tit in the reeds
First of all there was a single female Bearded Tit which doesn't have the black droopy 'moustache' and later came the very distinctive male.  Both were a beautiful creamy brown and white colour and they stayed on the trays for 15 minutes or so.

It was such a shame that each bird had three rings on it (two on one leg and one on the other) but they are being actively conserved here and we have to accept that ringing is part of the strategy for monitoring their progress.

Male Bearded Tit
Male Bearded Tit showing full 'moustache'

A Robin joining us for lunch
So after our second 'lifer', Mark and I headed back to the car for our sandwiches.  Here we were joined by one of the many tame Robins that are always present at Leighton Moss.

I know they're very common, but they're such a photogenic bird and they come so close that I can't resist taking just another photograph.

After lunch we headed for Lillian's Hide via the feeding station.

The feeding station was quite dark today and full of Coal Tits - I've never seen so many in one place before.  There wasn't too much about, but the Chaffinches are always good for a photo.

There were two very well-concealed Common Snipe in the vegetation to the right of Lillian's Hide, some Pochards and Coots and not too much else on the water.  However the highlight was a very brief glimpse of a Water Rail which moved at lighting fast speed into the reeds to the right of the viewing area.

Can you tell what it is yet?
And finally we went down to  Griesdale Hide and Tim Jackson Hide at the southern end of the reserve. I don't often come down here as the sun is not usually well-placed for photographs but I did get a good shot of a female Teal at Griesdale Hide and we could make out a Red Deer stag and two fawns in the bushes to the right of Tim Jackson Hide.

Female Teal basking in the sunshine

So a total of 33 species which I think is quite a respectable total for the day.

A great day out in very pleasant company and I'm already looking forward to the next time I go out with Mark.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

BATH - Pennington Flash Fieldtrip

Today's 'Birds and their Habitats' (BATH) session was a fieldtrip to Pennington Flash in Leigh.  It was a pretty awful day for going out and about, but that didn't deter the intrepid birders from the Whitefield class.  Today we were joined by Barbara from the Ramsbottom class making a total of 12 birders plus Peter.

We got to Pennington Flash at 1:30pm and waited on the car park for everyone to arrive.  This area of the Flash is normally very popular with families who feed the ducks, swans and other birds here and this has caused them to amass in great numbers here.

Amongst the flocks there were Canada GeeseMallardMute SwansBlack-headed Gulls and a large single resident Muscovy Duck (presumably a farmyard bird or escapee) which to me looks more like a goose than a duck.  There was also a small group of Moorhens on the grassy area to the left of the car park and many Coot in the water.

Willow Tit at Bunting Hide, Pennington Flash (Martyn Jones)
Peter decided to go to Bunting Hide first of all as it has been closing early on some days due to staffing problems and we didn't want to miss it.  Bunting Hide is a feeding station and therefore you are nearly always guaranteed a good number and variety of birds there.  One of the specialities here is the Willow Tit, a bird that we have recently been discussing in the class and some people come quite a long way to see them here.

Here's a photograph of a Willow Tit that I took here on a previous visit.

Other birds of note here are the very brightly coloured male Bullfinches, of which only one was seen today - but it did look very smart with it's newly developed plumage after the summer moult.  Sometimes there can 10 or 12 of these birds feeding here, along with the more subdued coloured females.

Chaffinch at Bunting Hide
There are always a variety of titmice at Bunting Hide and today we saw Coal TitsGreat Tits and Blue Tits.  There are also usually a few Long-tailed Tits here (although not strictly one of the titmice Paridae family) but none were seen today.  Male and female Chaffinches were also present as well as a huge party of Greenfinches feeding in one of the cages - there were at least 12 of them and I've never seen so many here at once before. Finally there was a RobinStock Dove and Moorhen bringing the species count to 10 - not bad for a start!

Greenfinch at Bunting Hide
From Bunting Hide we went on to Horrocks Hide, the largest and possibly best placed of all the other hides.  On the way there we had a brief stop to look over the Flash where we saw a Great Crested GrebeTutfted Ducks, four or five Pochard in the distance and some Gulls standing on the coloured buoys.  Peter pointed out that one of them was a Common Gull with yellowish-green legs and white 'mirrors' on it's wing tips but you really needed a spotting scope to see these features clearly. There were also both Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the other buoys.

Horrocks Hide overlooks a long thin strip of land known as 'The Spit', which is the remains of an old railway line that used to pass through this area.  In recent weeks the Spit has disappeared altogether under the volume of water caused by the very heavy and frequent rainstorms, but today a fair amount of it was viewable even though the water levels are generally still quite high.

A typical view of the end of 'The Spit' - Cormorants and Gulls

The Spit is often a great place to see waders, but today there were few if any about - even the normally present Lapwing were missing  The Cormorant numbers are increasing once again after their absence in the summer and there were at least two white-bellied juveniles at the end of the Spit.

There were also a lot of Canada Geese present.  In the pools there were Teal and Mallards, with a Great Crested Grebe in the distance.  Perhaps the best bird to be seen today were four Common Snipe which were distant and very well camouflaged as they sat low amongst the vegetation at the far end of the Spit, only occasionally wading in to the water.  To the right is a photograph I took of a Snipe here from earlier in the year:

Grey Heron at Edmonson's
From Horrocks Hide we went on to Tom Edmonson's Hide and the first bird we saw there was a juvenile Grey Heron.  The rain was starting to become very heavy by now so we were grateful for the shelter.

The shingle scrapes were all but under water and so there was little chance of any waders, but there were Gadwall, Teal and Mallard pairs feeding here as well as a single pair of the large-billed Shoveler.  The drake was just coming out of eclipse and starting to regain it's colour.  There was also a male Cuckoo! Wait ... did I say Cuckoo? Well it was actually Peter's excellent impression of a distant Cuckoo which he started up when I mentioned to Alan that I'd heard a Cuckoo here in the spring. I'm sure he's had many people fooled with that one before now!

Little Grebe at Ramsdale's Hide
After the rain had died down a little, we decided to move on. En route to Ramsdale's Hide a blackbird flew across the path and we could hear Long-tailed Tits in the bushes.  A member of the class was keen to see a Kingfisher here and it didn't disappoint, first by perching on a submerged post at the far end of the pool and then by flying fast and low across the water in a shimmering iridescent bue blur towards the left side of the hide.  Also of note here was a Little Grebe that put in a brief appearance amongst the usuals of Coots and Mallards and some Lapwing were seen briefly overhead. Outside in the trees, more Long-tailed Tits could be heard and Peter said he could also make out a tiny Goldcrest from its call.

Our final call for the day was at Teal Hide, which is a short walk through the trees towards the Golf Course.  On the way Peter stopped us to listen again for Long-tailed Tits and also Willow Tits, and there was also a Robin or two along the path. At Teal Hide the water level was very high and so there was little dry land for waders, as has been the case for most of this year.  There were however, several pairs of Shovelers, some Gadwall and Coots and a Moorhen here. And then it was time to go home.

So in summary, here's a list of all the birds seen today:

Great Crested Grebe
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Canada Goose
Tufted Duck
Willow Tit
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Stock Dove
Grey Heron
Mute Swan
Goldcrest (heard)
Long-tailed Tit (heard)
Little Grebe
Muscovy Duck (farmyard)
Cuckoo (NOT!!)

Some 35 species - not bad for a dull and wet Thursday afternoon.

A great (if a little wet) afternoon out in very pleasant company - now I'm off for some soup and soldiers to warm up a bit - see you next week!

(Reposted with minor changes from an article on my other blog for the 'Birds and their Habitats' class.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Moses Gate Country Park

The sun came out briefly today and so I shot down to Moses Gate where some Goosander had been reported as being very close for photographs.  Also present was a single Pochard, some Great Crested Grebes as well as all the usuals.  Here's the best of what I got:

A very wary Pochard

Female Mallard
Tufted Duck

Black-headed Gull

Female Goosander
Female Goosander

Great Crested Grebe

Female Goosander

Female Goosander

Female Goosander

I chatted with several people today, one of whom was called Steve Palmer if I remember his name correctly. He had a very large grey Neopolitan Mastiff dog with him upon which old age was sadly catching up. Nice to meet you both if you happen upon my blog!