Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Heaton Park

Today I went birding in Heaton Park, Manchester for the first time with fellow 'Birds and their Habitats' class member Alan Flavell.  Alan is a superb photographer and he volunteered to show me a few places in the park where good photographs can be taken.  He has his own Flickr site here: Alan Flavell's Flickr Site

After calling for Alan in Whitefield, we drove to Heaton Park and entered via St. Margaret's Gate.  Our first stop was for the main reason I wanted to visit the park - Alan knows a spot in the woods where Jays are very tame and will come down to feed on monkey nuts right in front of a photographer.  It was a cold but very sunny November day, and the prospects for some decent shots seemed good.

As we were walking I remembered that the last time I was here was Boxing Day 2004, the day of the great Indonesian Tsunami - it was a snowy day here and we'd come to the park to go sledging down the usually grassy but now snow-covered slopes.  Unfortunately on this day, my daughter Cathy hurt her leg by sledging into a tree, and we didn't didn't know it was broken until the following day when she couldn't walk on it and had to crawl across her bedroom floor!  A day we'll never forget for all these reasons.

Armed with a load of camera gear and a bag full of nuts, Alan and I marched off into the woods in search of the Jays.  After finding a good location for photos, we set up our gear and Alan threw a few nuts around the fallen tree trunks and mossy stumps that make such attractive perches for photographs.  It wasn't long before there was some activity, with squirrels and Magpies appearing from all directions and a couple of Jays up in the trees.

During quieter moments the Jays would approach in stages, gradually getting lower in the trees until finally diving on to the ground to pick up a monkey nut or two.  After a few failed shots at trying to get them as they went for the nuts when they moved far too quickly, I decided the best approach was to get them in the trees just before they made their final approach.

Later we tried a few other places in the woods as we chased the sunshine which filtered through the trees and we finally settled on a good spot where we had up to four Jays all coming down to within three metres.  This was phenomenal for me -  in the past I haven't been able to get anywhere near a Jay which is normally a very skittish bird. But here they were so tame!

Everything was going well until a dog appeared chasing squirrels, with the owner not far away.  It was quite annoying because the lady could see all our gear and knew what we were doing, but she continued to let her dog run freely across our field of view instead of putting it on a lead. I'm afraid that sort of behaviour is what gets dog owners a bad name. Anyway, she eventually took the hint and we managed to get a few more shots.

After this enthralling encounter we walked down to an area known as the 'Dell' where a Mandarin Duck had been spotted recently.  We didn't see it today but on the way there we met someone who told us that there was an escaped Harris Hawk sitting in a tree with a dead rat in its talons.  After looking around for a while and thinking we'd missed it, a couple of people called us over to see it sitting in the branches.  They didn't know what it was an so we told them and then spent a good fifteen minutes or so taking photos and chatting with them.

It was difficult to get a good shot of the bird because there were a lot of branches in the way and the light wasn't great here, but these are my first ever photos of a Harris Hawk in the wild, escapee or not.

Our last port of call for the day was the main boating lake.  On the walk to the lake Alan pointed out a couple of places where a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker has been seen, but we didn't see it today.  I also recognised a small play area that Sarah and I used to bring our kids to when they were younger and I told Alan that my son Robert had first learnt to ride his little bike without stabilisers on the gently sloping park road here.

On the lake there were a few distant male and female Goosanders, a Cormorant, a Grey Heron, a few Moorhens and Coots, a Greylag Goose, some Lesser Black-backed and Common Gulls and a few hundred Black-headed Gulls as well as all the feral white geese, Canada Geese and pigeons. It was packed with birds near the cafe, which probably provides a useful source of food for them.

Here we met the same couple who had shown us the Harris Hawk, and after talking to the cafe manager, they had been told that the Harris Hawk was known to be in the park and attempts were being made to recapture it - but not today.

I had a great time out and about with Alan at Heaton Park, and it's always really good to visit new places with someone who has local knowledge.  I'd never have expected Jays to be so tame and I learnt a few tricks about getting good photographs of them such as using monkey nuts to entice them down from the trees.

So thanks for that Alan, and I'm already looking forward to our next birding trip somewhere.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Warrington Waxwings

I've got loads of catching up to do on this blog having been to Morecambe, Penny, Rindle Road amongst other places recently.  However, this afternoon I went to Milner Street in Warrington where Waxwings have been reported over the last few days, and here's some photos to be going on for now:

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Morecambe Bay and Leighton Moss

This week's 'Birds and their Habitats' session was a full day fieldtrip to Morecambe Bay and Leighton Moss RSPB in Lancashire. There was a high tide at about 11:30am and so we had hopes of the birds being pushed inland giving us closer views than usual. After a fairly misty and murky start in Manchester, it turned out to be a wonderful sunny November day in north-west Lancashire.

Curlew, Oystercatchers, Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gull and Knot

Some members of the class shared cars and drove up together from Whitefield Library whilst others made their own way there. We all met up on the pay-and-display car park near the stone jetty at Morecambe at about 10:45am, where we started the day with some good views of OystercatchersKnotRedshank, four Curlews, a couple of Herring Gulls, some Black-headed and Herring Gulls and later a single Shelduck.

Same again with the addition of a Shelduck and some Herring Gulls

We then walked along the promenade southwards towards the pier in search of Rock Pipits which Peter had seen earlier in the week.  Unfortunately we didn't see any but we did come across a small flock of Turnstones at the water's edge on the way to the pier.  For a short while there was also a single Redshank in with the group.

Turnstone - one of the few not hunkered down

A single Redshank amongst the Turnstones

A small group of Turnstones

As there was nothing much about near the pier, we decided to move up the coast to Morecambe 
Yacht Club where there is an excellent platform on stilts which is great for viewing the Bay.  From here we could see some male Eider Duck and Red-breasted Mergansers a short distance out to sea as well as more OystercatchersCurlew and Lesser Black-backed Gulls along a breakwater.

Black-headed Gulls

Female and Male Goldeneyes

Female Red-breasted Mergansers 
Male Red-breasted Merganser
Pink-footed Goose flypast ?
We then went in search of Scaup along the stretch of shoreline near the Broadway Hotel.  Eight or so Scaup have been seen here fairly regularly but today was a no-show for us.  However there were some good close views of male and female Red-breasted Mergansers here as well as a male and female pair of Goldeneye. There were also some much closer views of Oystercatchers and Curlew at one of the smaller breakwaters.

Oystercatchers roosting along with a Curlew and a Common Gull


Herring Gull amongst the Oystercatchers

Curlew standing on one leg
A nice little combo !

Oystercatchers going for a dip in the sea
Our final stop at Morecambe was in a small car park at the northern end of the Bay. Whilst eating our sandwiches we had some great views of two female Eider Duck, a single Little Egret, some Black-tailed Godwits, many Lapwing, a few Wigeon, a single Pochard some more Redshank and a lot more Oystercatchers with a couple of Mute Swans flying past us. The light was wonderful here.

Little Egret in amongst the Oycs
Black-tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers, Redshank and a Little Egret 
Mute Swan flypast
Herring Gull, Eider Duck, Black-tailed Godwit and yet more Oycs

Two female Eider Ducks

A male Wigeon separating two females

After lunch we made our way up the coast through Hest Bank and Carnforth (home of the famous railway station featured in the 1945 film 'Brief Encounter') to Leighton Moss RSPB.  Our first stop was at the Eric Morecambe salt marsh hide which has been newly refurbished - well completely rebuilt in actual fact.  Unfortunately there was very little about here and the hazy afternoon sun made viewing difficult.  We did see a Little Egret, two distant Greenshank and perhaps a Spotted Redshank as well as some Teal and a single Snipe.

Female Teal
After this we made our way to the Public Causeway at Leighton Moss in the hope of seeing some Bearded Tits.  We gathered in the usual place by the grit trays and although we did hear them 'pinging' once or twice, the birds didn't show for us today.  However, on leaving the grit trays we got our first brief but distinctive call of a Cetti's Warbler.

Male Shoveler on the edge of the reed bed at the Public Hide

On the way to the Public Hide we heard a Water Rail squealing like a piglet and also a very tame Robin was posing for photographs and even came a sat on one lady's hand.  From the hide we could see ShovelersMallardsCootsMoorhensCormorantsPochardMute Swans and Gadwall.

One of several very tame Robins along the Causeway

On the way back from the hide there were still no Bearded Tits showing, but the Cetti's Warbler let rip again with a really loud series of calls - we couldn't see it anywhere though.

Cormorants, one hanging its wings out to dry

From here we went back to the feeding station behind the RSPB Visitor Centre, stopping on the way to see perhaps 50 to 80 Siskins along with a few Goldfinch high up in one of the Alder trees along the route. At the feeding station there was a Marsh Tit and a Great Spotted Woodpecker as well as the usual ducks.

Siskin in Alder tree

It was now about 4pm and the sun was going down, so we split into two groups for the final event of the day - the Starling roost. One group went into Lillian's Hide whilst the other group went back to the two benches along the high point of the woodland walk on the way to the Causeway from the Visitor Centre.  Some Blue Tits and a Coal Tit could be heard in the trees behind us as we looked across the reserve from this panoramic vantage point and quite a crowd had gathered by now.

A male Marsh Harrier hunting
After waiting in anticipation of the roost, both groups were rewarded with great views of this amazing natural spectacle.  The Starlings seem to appear in smaller groups from various directions and meet up to form a swirling smoke-like mass of birds over the water.

They would twist and turn a while before diving down in to the reed beds.  Whilst we were here, we also got a distant but nice view of a male Marsh Harrier and heard another Water Rail squealing as if someone had stepped on its foot.

There were also a couple of male Pheasants in the field just in front of us and nine Cormorants roosting in a tree on the far side of the water.

Cormorants roosting in a tree
The Starling roost probably lasted around half an hour with periods of activity and then lulls and when there seemed to be no more birds flying in, we decided to call it a day.

It was a fantastic way to end what had been a great day out.  The total count of birds either seen or heard was 77 species for the day - Wow! Thanks must go to Peter for arranging the fieldtrip and to the drivers for the transportation.