Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Great Northern Diver at Salford Quays

The last few months have seen Great Northern Divers popping up in several places around North West England including Elton Reservoir in Bury, the Marine Lakes at Southport and West Kirby, Audenshaw Reservoir, Castleshaw Reservoir near Oldham and our very own Salford Quays.  I went for the Elton bird in a very windy October and have posted on this one previously, but as the one in Salford promised closer views I decided to have a look.

Parking for free at Salford Quays is almost impossible - the Lowry Outlet Centre car park is free for the first hour but that's not long enough unless you know exactly where the bird is and it's close by. However I did manage to find a spot on the Manchester United side of the Quays in a semi-derelict pub car park called Sam Platt's which is right by the waterside facing Clipper's Quay and South Bay.

I spent 20 minutes scanning for the bird from the walkway near where I parked the car, whilst also scanning for other people looking for it. With no luck at first, I met a couple who said they had seen it briefly on the opposite side of Central Bay near Waterfront Quay, but they couldn't presently see it. After another 15 minutes of scanning and I found it in Central Bay and it seems that it had been swimming in and out of the inlets around here, perhaps sometimes even going through into Ontario Basin.

As I wasn't going to get a good photo from here, I decided to walk round to the Watersports Centre on the opposite side via the Lowry footbridge, where I was eventually rewarded with some close views and some incredible red water reflections, which I thought were very appropriate for the Christmas season.

The red colour is completely natural with no photo-editing, it's just the reflection of the Helly Hanson building's walls on the water.  The position of the sun was just right to get these shots.

Although I never got ridiculously close to the Great Northern Diver, I'm quite pleased with the way most of the shots turned out.  I even used one as my Christmas Card message on Facebook.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Green Cormorant at Pennington Flash

So far I've just about managed to avoid making all the old jokes about this bird's more usual name because this is the first time I've ever had a Shag at Pennington Flash - dammit!  Well Green Cormorant is an alternative name given to the Common Shag due to its greenish feathers compared with the blueish feathers of the Common Cormorant. Both birds are species of the genus Phalacrocoracidae. And, with the prospect of a break in the highly changeable weather we're currently experiencing, I decided to go for the bird this morning as it seemed to be hanging around.

I had already decided to pay the £1.20 for the car park at Pennington Flash for once, not because the free car park would be still locked when I got there at around 8:00am, but because I didn't really want to carry my camera the extra distance it entails walking in the wind and occasional rain.  But when I did get there, there was nowhere to pay - one pay station had been vandalised and the other said it was 'out of use' and to pay in the golf shop. Needless to say, there was no-one in the golf shop either.

Having been stung once for not having a ticket here (although I did have a good excuse and the fine was waived), I wasn't going to risk not paying again, so it was very lucky for me that Jeff, one of the few warden who still works here, turned up and unlocked the 'out of use' pay station.

After displaying my ticket, I set off straight for the prize, which had been showing at Pengy's Hide. This was fortunate as the hides had not been unlocked yet, and Pengy's is one of the few hides without a door.  There was already a birder in the hide, but he hadn't seen the Shag this morning so we chatted for a while before I decided to have a look around the other locations.  Bunting Hide was locked, so I headed for Horrocks' Hide where I knew Bill Harrison and probably Barry Hulme would be painstakingly searching for something of interest - well, they do come everyday and unlock some of the hides before texting the morning's sightings to the Manchester Birding Forum.

As it happens, neither of them had seen the Shag this morning, but there had been a Sparrowhawk around and the long-staying Common Scoter was still about, which Bill showed me through his spotting scope. So after a quick chat with them I popped outside for a quick photo of the distant Scoter before heading off for the Tom Edmonson and Ramsdale's Hides which by now had been unlocked. Unfortunately, neither of these were very productive today, and so I decided to head back to Pengy's Hide and sit it out for the Shag.

This proved to be a good move, because when I got there I was told that the Shag had been showing, and seemed to do an anticlockwise circuit of the pool which included swimming right in front of the hide before heading off into a little bay of reeds and out of sight.  So now it was just a matter of waiting for it to do the circuit again.

I wasn't too long before it showed again through the reeds and then eventually it began the circuit.  At first it swam further away to the opposite bank where it seemed to favour diving in front of some red dogwood, and then slowly it made its way towards us along the bank before popping up right in front of the hide.  It really took me by surprise and as a result my camera settings weren't quite right for the light conditions.  So I'm only partly satisfied with these results (as usual!).

And for those of you who can't resist making a comical answer to the question "What's the difference between a Cormorant and a Shag?" I'll nip it in the bud right now by including a side-by-side comparison with my photo of Cormorant from Orrell Water Park earlier this year:

Monday, 16 November 2015

Great Northern Diver at Elton Reservoir, Bury

The weather has been really atrocious over the last few days and so I've been desperate to get out. However, as I'm mainly interested in bird photography (unless there's a bird about which I haven't ever seen), I don't go out too far in inclement conditions.  I want to go back to the see the Short-eared Owls and Barn Owls at Lunt Meadows, but unless there is a promise of at least two hours of decent light without rain or wind, there's virtually no chance of getting any decent photos.

But this weekend a special bird has been showing at Elton Reservoir in Bury and so, because it wasn't raining and the sun was shining at least intermittently, I decided to go for it.  Elton Reservoir is a place I don't visit much and I'm not really sure why.  It's quite a large expanse of open water, with a boat club at one end and plenty of rough land, fields and hedges around most of it. Perhaps it's because when I made my very first visit there I approached from the wrong side and ended up driving down a potholed road before coming to a locked gate - I then had all the problem of turning round in a narrow lane and retracing my steps and when I did finally get to meet up with the others in my party on the correct side of the reservoir, I was all hot and bothered and not in a good mood.

Anyway, I've been several times since and usually had a good selection of birds.  The last time I came was for a county mega bird, the Little Bittern which I wrote about here.  I've missed several other good birds here including a pair of White-winged Black Terns and an Iceland Gull.  So I decided I wasn't going to miss this one - A juvenile Great Northern Diver in non-breeding plumage.

Great Northern Diver's are seabirds and it's unusual to find them so far inland.  They are spectacular in breeding plumage, but as the nearest place they breed are the loughs of Scotland, we normally only see them like this one, in non-breeding plumage. The last bird I know about that was around these parts was one giving good views on the Wigan Flashes - unfortunately this bird wasn't very well and it eventually died or so I believe.

When I'd first arrived a couple of people were leaving and they'd said they'd been all round the reservoir and not seen the Diver.  Undaunted by this, I decided to make the best of the day and walk round for myself.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent selection of other birds present, including around 30 Great Crested Grebes, 3 Goldeneye, 2 Pochards, a female Shoveler, 2 Mute Swans, a Grey Heron and many of the usual Coots, Mallards and Gulls which are ubiquitous here.

But it would have been easier to find a black cat at night down a coal hole that finding the Diver.  The water was very grey and choppy due to the strong winds and the breaking waves gave hints of white that perfectly matched the bird's plumage colour.  And to make things worse there were more Great Crested Grebes about today than I've ever seen here, as well as the occasional Cormorant.  All these things made locating the bird very difficult and many times I thought I might of spotted it only to realise that it was either the waves in the water, a Grebe or a Cormorant.

However, I was just about on my way home when I spotted it on the opposite side of the reservoir at the boat house end. I quickly dropped my small rucksack off in the car and, carrying only my bins and camera, I scurried round to the spot where I'd seen it.  Isn't it funny how, when you get to the other side, the place you thought the bird was showing is always further away than when you'd looked across the area?  Well that was certainly true today, and it took me quite a time to find it again. The bird was highly mobile and could dive for long periods of time and then reappear quite a distance away, which meant you'd spent ages waiting it for it to surface only to be looking in the wrong place!

But find it I did and when another birder appeared, I complained that I'd spent a good few hours looking for it and when he turned up it just appeared in front of him!  His name was Richard Thew and we had a nice chat about the area as he is local and visits it frequently.  Richard said the bird was behaving a little more erratically now than it had at first, when it would come fairly close to the reservoir wall, especially early in the morning.  I mentioned that a couple of birders had seen it fly off at night, and thought that it might have left for good, but as it has returned today they now think it might be roosting on the smaller Withins Reservoir nearby.

I also had a nice chat with Stephen Wend who appeared with his birding-widow wife and dog shortly after Richard had left.  I managed to put him on to the bird which had now moved to the opposite bank (don't they always?) and I think he managed some decent views through his scope.  Just to be sure I showed Stephen and his wife a couple of these shots on the back of my camera and they seemed quite pleased with that as well as having actually seen the bird, albeit very briefly.

So as usual in birding, persistence pays off, and although my shots are only decent record shots for me, I left happy that the mission was accomplished.  I've also included photos of some of the other birds I saw today throughout this page.

Here's a link to the Manchester Birding Website's map and description of Elton Reservoir: Elton Reservoir and a link the forum sightings page: Elton Reservoir Sightings

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Short-eared Owl at Chorlton Ees

I spent an enjoyable morning on my first ever visit to Chorlton Ees today. An ees is a water meadow or a place liable to flood and this area is so-named because it is part of the River Mersey's floodplain. Following a tip off by Steve Scrimgeour that a Short-eared Owl was in the area, I got some excellent instructions from Gary Edwards via Facebook and found the location much easier to get to than I had previously thought.

After I had parked up around 11am, I soon met Tony Darby on the cobbled road which runs along one side of the rough cow field in which the bird had been seen, and he pointed the areas in which he'd seen it this morning as well as giving me an idea of the layout of the area.  There was a dead tree in the middle of the field and the bird had often been seen in and around it.

After spending a while looking and seeing it only once in the distance when it was chased by two Crows over the tree tops at the back of the field, I decided to move my car and look along a different side of the field. Here I met Tom Dolan and we had a good chat about things until the Owl eventually reappeared only to be chased by Crows high across the field and out of view in the other direction. We also saw a couple of Jays which seemed to be burying nuts in the field and a Common Buzzard also flew over us.

I had a few more views after being joined by Chris Nield and Bill French when the Short-eared Owl was being mobbed by Magpies and whilst I was there spent much of the time just trying to avoid them. At one point it seemed to go down on the ground underneath the tree to do this.

It was also nice to meet everyone (and a few others whose names I did  not get) and this made it another enjoyable experience.  As for the photos, well I'm afraid poor light = high ISO = grainy shots, but hey, what can you do?

Here's link to the Mersey Valley site guide on the Manchester Birding website which includes a basic map of Chorlton Ees : Mersey Valley Site Description

And here's one to the sightings page on the forum: Chorlton Ees sightings

Monday, 2 November 2015

Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve

Lunt Meadows is rapidly becoming THE place to go to see a wide variety of birds.  It's not just the regular Short-eared Owls and Barn Owls - Marsh Harrier and Kingfishers are seen fairly regularly with Hen Harrier and Great White Egret seen occasionally as well as a whole host of more common birds. But today it was the Owls that were calling me.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Rindle Road

Here's the only half-decent shots of a Kestrel I got whilst out on a quick trip down Rindle Road in Astley on a very grey and dismal day today. Sorry about the grainy photos but there was very little light.

I saw:
  • 2 Kestrels
  • 2 Buzzards, one being mobbed by about eight Carrion Crows
  • 2 Jays
  • Both Song and Mistle Thrushes
  • Blackbird, Robin and BlueTit
  • A few Goldfinches
  • Good numbers of Starlings congregating on the telephone wires.
  • Small numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares overhead.
  • Hundreds of Woodpigeons
  • Large numbers of Jackdaws and a few Carrion Crows
  • Loads of Pheasants

Monday, 12 October 2015

Nuthatch at Bunting Hide, Pennington Flash

A trip to Pennington Flash today produced very few decent photographs today, or so I thought. However, when I finally got round to processing them I was quite pleased to come across this one of a Nuthatch, one of very few that were in focus as the bird doesn't stay still for long:

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Ainsdale Beach in October

Ainsdale Beach is one of my favourite places to see wader flocks especially on high tides, and since having my camera serviced and repaired I've been desperate to go there. However, car trouble has prevented me from going very far from home until today, when I decided to risk it.  I was trying to get there about an hour before high tide because this is when the birds are gradually pushed in to the shore, but as it turned out I only managed to get there as the tide peaked.

When I arrived I was very disappointed to discover that the gates to the beach were locked, when every other time I've been in the winter months (October to April) it had been possible to drive on to the beach and park for free.  It wasn't too much of a problem today though, as with fewer people about I could park quite close to the gates.

My main target bird was the Grey Plover as seen here and I managed to get these shots almost as soon as I had arrived. Little did I know that bar some Sanderlings and a few gulls, these would be all the photos I'd get today thanks to a couple of thoughtless dog walkers.

The dog walkers to whom I referred earlier were walking down the edge of the sea putting up large flocks of roosting birds one at a time. They didn't just do it once, but continued walking until four large groups had taken flight before they simply turned round and walked back.  There was absolutely no point in doing this and they could have walked a little further up the beach without disturbing any of the birds.

For the most part they were completely oblivious of me walking a hundred metres behind with a camera and a tripod, but at one point they did turn round and look at me before continuing doing the same thing along the shoreline. I have no problem with dog walkers on a beach as it must be very pleasurable for them, but I do have a problem with those people who disturb the wildlife just because it's there. Thoughtless, mindless, antisocial behaviour by those old enough to know better. Rant over ..... !

Here's the best of the rest ....