Friday, 27 February 2015

Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB

I returned to work this week after injuring my leg four weeks ago.  I can't say I was really looking forward to it as I'd got used to being early-retired again without the pressures of the daily work ritual.  It's not that I don't like my part-time job, but the journey to and from work each day is a real pain - it takes me an hour and half each way to do a 35 minute trip and it's traffic jams and stop/start all the way. So I was really looking forward to going out somewhere today on my day off and Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB is the place I chose.

The main reason for coming here today was to see the Long-eared Owl which has been around for a few weeks now.  I didn't doubt that I was going to see it, but the main question was how good a view would I get.

The bird has been seen by many people over the last three week including birders, photographers and the general public.  However it seems that some people are just not satisfied with the view they get, and they have to get even closer.  Apparently, some members of the public have even thrown things at the bird in an attempt to make it fly. This type of behaviour from whosoever is just not on - the birds' welfare and protection is paramount and all those who perform such selfish acts should consider their actions and think about whether or not they did the right thing.

When I at arrived the Burton Mere Visitors' Centre I quickly asked if and where the Owl was showing and then made a bee-line for its location. The bird had recently been flushed by the aforementioned people from its original position close to the Inner Marsh Farm Hide to a new location a little further down the path.

When I arrived another bird photographer pointing his lens at the bird, so locating it was quite easy.  It was only 15 metres or so off the path and 3-4 metres off the ground. However, from a distance it did look like it was actually part of the tree!

I spent quite a while here trying to get a decent shot without leaving the path.  Although this is the closest I've ever been to a Long-eared Owl and it wasn't particularly deep in the vegetation as they so often are, there were quite a few annoying pieces of bramble criss-crossing it's face most of the time as well as leaves with spots on that sometimes looked like the bird's eye. And to cap it all, the bird hardly moved at except for the very occasional bit of preening.

After a couple of hours here I went off to the Inner Marsh Farm Hide, a few hundred metres down the path. Here I saw Teal, Shoveler, Coot, Moorhen and Mallards and that was about it.  I didn't stay too long as a bloke sat down next to me and started eating a large biscuit in a very crinkly package that made a lot of noise. I moved on quickly grumbling to myself.

On my way back I stopped at the Owl's roosting place again, but all that had changed was that there was now a different group of people looking at it - the bird hadn't moved an inch. So the shots you can see here are the best I could do today under the prevailing circumstances and, with everything considered, I am fairly satisfied with the results. Incidentally, a Goldcrest also put in a brief appearance in the same bush as the Owl, but there was no chance of getting a photograph of it.

On my way back to the car we were treated to a fly-over by a couple of thousand Pink-footed Geese which were flying up the estuary towards the sea.  They made amazing fractal-like patterns with their overlapping v-shaped flight formations.  I'll put a couple of photos here later, but none of them do justice to the spectacle - you had to be there to appreciate how wonderful it was.

I picked up a pair of Wrens on the marshy land crossed by the boardwalks and several Grey Herons flew over me on their way to a Heronry in the tall trees bordering the reserve. On my way down to see the Owl I'd heard a Green Woodpecker yaffling in the trees near the mere, so I had a look for it on the way back, but I didn't see or hear it again.

I also stopped at a couple of the feeders hoping to see some Siskin (which have been very scare this year) somewhere, but all I saw were Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit and a Brown Rat feeding on the seed droppings under a feeder.

I decided to go home via Denhall Lane where I could have something to eat in the car whilst looking out for Short-eared Owls and Hen Harriers on the saltmarsh. I was also hoping to see a Great White Egret and after a short while I did.  At one point a Little Egret landed alongside the Great White which looked huge in comparison.  There weren't any raptors around though which was a little disappointing.

So I'd had a pretty good day on the whole - funny how seeing just one bird can make your day and your trip worthwhile.

Friday, 20 February 2015

High Tide, Cottage Lane on the Wirral - 20/02/15

With the prospect of a 10.3 metre high tide and fair weather today, I set off for the Wirral just before 9am this morning. After doing a bit of research last night, I decided to try a different part of the coastline than last time, a mile or so further north than Parkgate down a small road called Cottage Lane.  I and many others were expecting a raptor-fest but yet again it didn't really happen.

I arrived in good time and there were only a couple of other birders that were present, which was in total contrast to the madness that is Parkgate on one of these days.  From my vantage point on the old sea wall I could see the many car windscreens glistening on the 'old baths' car park there in the intermittent sunshine.

The first view of a distant raptor was that of a Merlin sat on some driftwood branches on the edge of the saltmarsh. As the tide came in the driftwood became surrounded by water and the Merlin was replaced by a much larger Peregrine Falcon, at first low down and then later sitting on top of the dead branches. It remained here for a very long time even when totally surrounded by water and was eventually joined by a Carrion Crow sitting almost alongside.

The water didn't seem to make much progress for ages and then suddenly around 11:40am it started to flood in at some speed and did reach the sea wall here.  This was great because I've never seen it come this far in before. Small flocks of Redshank, Oystercatcher and a few Godwits were on the move now, being displaced at the water's edge by the incoming tide.  There were also plenty of ShelduckTeal and the odd Canada Goose on the water and quite a few Little Egrets started to pop their heads up and fly. A skein of about thirty Pink-footed Geese also flew up the estuary making their trademark 'wink-winking' call.

As I was looking at a very nice Grey Heron through my scope, I spotted a Short-eared Owl flying low against the tideline - it was a fleeting glimpse that no-one else in my little group of birders picked up on.  It was quite a while before another appeared and it may have been the same bird.  In this second view the bird was on the ground and looking round - it had pretty long 'ear' tufts for a Shortie and it had those wonderful staring eyes.  It was possibly sat on some prey as it flew off not to return.

However the best bird for me today was my first ever Water Pipit, thankfully pointed out by another birder as I'd never have spotted it myself.  It was in amongst a whole crowd of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and even a couple of Rock Pipits all feeding on the marsh.  Today was definitely the day of the Little Brown Jobs: I've never seen so many Reed Buntings, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits feeding in one place.

Just before I left and whilst I was busy trying to get at least a decent Reed Bunting photo, a Kestrel landed on a vole or mouse not five metres in front of me and flew off before I had chance to photograph it.  I've got a couple of blurred shots of it flying away carrying something - typical.

And that was pretty much it for today, no close views of Owls, no Hen Harriers or Great White Egret for me, but not bad to come away with a Lifer.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Red-throated Diver at Fairhaven Lake

I'm still more or less 'birding from the car' and so today I returned to Fairhaven Lake at Lytham in Lancashire.  You may remember from my previous post about the Great Grey Shrike and Drake Scaup (ha-ha, as if) that I spent quite a lot of time here as a child because my Grandad used to live only half a mile away in the Ansdell area of Lytham.  I occasionally used to stay with him over the summer holidays and he would sometimes take me crown green bowling at the club where he as a member. Anyway, I digress ...

Birdguides and the North West Birding Facebook group were showing that a Red-throated Diver was present on the lake, and as it's such a great place to get good photographs without having to walk more than a few hundred yards from the car, I decided to go for it today.

More of a report will follow later, but for now here are some of the best photographs I took:

Monday, 16 February 2015

My First Half-Decent Goldcrest Photograph

This photograph isn't that great (although some people on Facebook seem to like it), but it's historic for me!  It's the first half-decent photograph of a Goldcrest that I've ever managed to take.

You see, Goldcrests are bogey birds for me - I rarely ever see them and never normally get anywhere near as close as this when I do.  I was driving slowly with my windows down on Rindle Road near Astley Moss (in a town you'd suspect me of kerb-crawling, but not here) and it just caught my eye in the bushes.

I stopped the car immediately, reached for my camera and for once the bird did not fly away. I didn't have time to think about settings and just shot four quick photos from inside my car, before it did disappear deeper into the bushes.  It was greatly underexposed when I looked at it on the back of the camera, but that's better than the other way round - at least you have got something with which to work.

After a bit of post-processing, this was the best of the four shots and I quite like it because it pretty much captures the essence of the Goldcrest.  As a photographer, you always want a better shot, but this one will do me for a while - well at least until tomorrow.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Find a Lamp Post ....

Find a lamp post and you will very often find a Kestrel just leaving it ....

This was the only decent photo I got after a failed attempt to to Burton Marsh Wetlands to see the Long-eared Owl which has been causing a bit of a stir there recently.  I was also going this part of the Wirral to check out my motorhome after it been looked at for loss of coolant and before embarking on a longer trip to Dumfries and Galloway.

But it wasn't to be, because after an enjoyable 19 miles down the M6 and M56 motorways in brilliant sunshine, the engine coolant came on and I had to pull over to check it out.

There was no way that I was going to continue on the motorway now and so I decided to head for home through Warrrington, stopping to let the engine cool down and refill with water a couple of times.
One of the places  I stopped was at Rixton Clay Pits where I had a quick look round, but nothing much was showing apart from four Shoveler on the water, a Common Buzzard which exploded out of the trees, a Cormorant landing and a few Blue Tits and Great tits in the woods.

On my way back to the car I noticed some Starlings and Mistle Thrushes in a field and when I looked closer there were also two Fieldfare and a single redwing in amongst them. I tried to get some photos but they were a bit to distant.  Whilst doing this a Kestrel spooked the winter Thrushes which all took off for the trees. I followed the Kestrel down the main road as it had landed on a lamp post, but as I got near it took flight as they nearly always do - and that's the story of this photo.

As  made my way back to the car I also spotted a couple of distant Buzzard, some Long-tailed tits, a Robin, some Goldfinches and two blackbirds.  It just goes to show that in some areas birds are all around you, even when you are not looking for them.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Long-tailed Duck at Crosby Marina

I'm kicking off my resumption of posting with one of the North West's star birds this winter - the long-staying female Long-tailed Duck at Crosby Marina.

I'll write a brief report shortly

Friday, 6 February 2015

Snow Buntings on Wallasey Shore

Here's a few shots of the very confiding pair of Snow Buntings in winter plumage which I took in front of the Harvester pub on Wallasey Shore, just a mile or so down the road from New Brighton Marina where I saw the Laughing Gull earlier today.

It's great when you get out of the car and can pretty much instantly see where the bird is, usually due to the array of birders and photographers all camo-ed up and pointing their scope and long lenses in the same direction.  This was the case today, so I didn't have far to hobble down the promenade to get to the birds.

There were two birds, a male and a female Snow Bunting, but getting a photo of both of them in focus was quite challenging.  Here's my best effort at that:

These two have been around for a few days now and it's probably due to the fact that someone has been feeding them - there was clear evidence of seed on the small concrete slope which runs down to the beach.  A big thank-you to that person, whoever you are!

A cracking pair of stunning birds, easy to approach and in good light - what more could a bird photographer want?  Well maybe just a male Snow Bunting in breeding plumage, but that would be rude to ask wouldn't it?

You're Having a Laugh

Here are my photos of the Laughing Gull which has been showing so well at New Brighton Marina on the Wirral:

There are so many photographs of this particular bird on the internet now that I guess we all had the last laugh didn't we?

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Little Owl at Banks in Lancashire

Following my road traffic accident I couldn't walk very well at all, so I needed to find places to go birding without walking very far or even leaving the car at all.  Banks in Lancashire was the first place I chose, because I could get close and take photos of this wonderful Little Owl from inside my motorhome.

Here's a short video I made at the same time:

Here's a short video slideshow I put together from these images which I've called 'The Many Faces of the Little Owl':