Friday, 27 May 2016

Wood Warbler at White Coppice

After having gleaned some information from Janice Sutton about the whereabouts of the Wood Warbler she had recently reported on Facebook, I set off for White Coppice near Anglezarke on the edge of the moors with a packed lunch and high hopes of claiming another lifer.

I'd been to White Coppice only a couple of times before in my geocaching days, so I had a rough idea of where I was going.  It's a particularly beautiful little hamlet with a picture book stream running past the few houses that are there. There's also what must be the most picturesque cricket pitch in the UK, being nestled in amongst the edge of the hills and surrounded by trees - it does have a bit of a slope on it though!

Following Janice's directions I turned left at the cricket pitch and headed for the small River Goit, which eventually feeds into the Anglezarke Reservoir.  I crossed a couple of old stone bridges and then headed up into the pine trees.  It wasn't long before I could hear the distinctive call of the Wood Warbler above the chatter of many other woodland birds - some people have likened this to a spinning coin and once heard it is unlikely to be forgotten.   But could I find it? No!

I spent around an hour or so before deciding I would have to go off the track and a little deeper in to the trees if was to be successful.  However, before doing that I met a lady who told me she'd heard a Cuckoo this morning and that this area was also quite well-known for them.  So I decided to follow her instruction about it's location in a small copse a little way up the hill at the end of the woodland trail.

I searched and searched for the Cuckoo but couldn't even hear it nevermind see it, so I decided to have my lunch at the highest point around on the edge of the heather-clad moorland.  As I ate I watched sone sheep gathering around one particular hawthorn tree. This young one seemed to like licking the bark.

I could hear Curlew calling and possibly Redshank and the air was full of Skylark song.  So much so, that when this bird landed in the heather nearby I thought it was a Skylark before realising it was a Meadow Pipit. Even it's flight resembled a Skylark at times. I took a few photos because it was so close to where I was sitting, and then I let it be because it was obviously feeding young and the nest must have been close by.  It's funny how the colours look quite different in a slightly different light and angle.

After lunch I went back to the trail though the pine trees and recommenced my search for the Wood Warbler.  As I walked back down the road to the trail, I came across a pair of Jays, but I only managed to get a shot of one of them.

I was determined not to leave without at least seeing it, even if I didn't get a good photograph.  With any new bird that I haven't seen before my priorities are always:
  • Hear it
  • See it
  • Get a record shot
  • Try to get a decent photograph
After dropping down off the trail path and into the woods I eventually located the bird flitting around the tops of the trees.  It was singing repeatedly and although this made it easy to hear, the vegetation made it hard to see for more than a few seconds. For a long time I thought this was going to be the best shot I'd get:

With a bit of persistence I managed to get a few more a little closer, but it was hard work. The light levels were low under the canopy and the leaves cast a green shadow on everything.

So today I managed the first three of my objectives, and therefore I was fairly happy on the whole.  I've seen better photos from the same location but as with a lot of birding, it's a matter of luck as to whether the bird comes close and gets in a good position for a photograph.  These will have to do for now.

On my way back a cricket match had started so I decided to sit down and finish off my lunch and have a drink. A great day wth another lifer ticked off. All that was missing was the cucumber sandwiches!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Local Tawny Owl Revisited

After having finally seen the Tawny Owl earlier this month when I managed to get some photographs at dusk, I was keen to return in the light of the morning.  So when my wife Sarah 'phoned me up to tell me it was showing at 6:50am this morning, I was only too pleased to sleepily crawl from my bed and get dressed quickly, when normally I might have been a bit grumpy about being woken from my slumbers. Sarah cycles past the site on her way to work on most days and so she has been looking out for the Owl ever since my first encounter.

I hurriedly got all my camera gear together and left the house still half asleep. After three minutes I was sat in a queue of traffic trying to get on to the East Lancs Road like I used to be for the last two years. How glad I am not be doing that any more!  It took three traffic light cycles for me to get through and all the time I was thinking, "I hope it's still showing".

When I eventually got to the site and the bird was sitting symmetrically in the hole in the wall in perfect light I breathed a sigh of relief.  I got out and quickly fired off a few record shots (all of which got deleted later) just in case it moved before returning to my car for a tripod.

And then I had a glorious half hour of shooting stills and video with various combinations of teleconverter.  I favour the 1.4x teleconverter most of the time, but in good light with a tripod and fairly close to a static subject, the 1.7x and 2x teleconverters are all usable.

Tawny Owls are not the most exciting birds to view on video, but it's worth watching for when they just blink or turn their heads!

So here they are, my best shots ever of a wild Tawny Owl, framed nicely by the brickwork of this derelict old building. And please don't ask me where it is, as refusal to answer the question often offends.

Sunday, 22 May 2016


Bowness-on-Solway has become a well-known place to watch the Skua passage from the Irish Sea to the North Sea each year. It's a good 2.5 hour drive from where I live to the Solway Firth and so the timing needs to be absolutely right for it not to be a wasted journey.

After following sightings on the Cumbria Facebook birding group I decided to go for it. Skuas are a bird species which has so far eluded me and I have failed to positively identify any of the four main types that can be seen around the UK coastline.

I often forget how lovely the scenery is on the M6 motorway from Lancaster to Carlisle. Today I took a short break for a coffee at the Tebay Service station - this has to be one of the nicest motorway service stations in the country. The landscape vista from the cafe windows is wonderful and there is even a resident Rook colony to watch whilst you have a snack.

The town of Carlisle with its old castle looks worth investigating at a future date, but today's mission was to find the remains of an old railway viaduct which used to cross the Solway Firth from Bowness to Scotland. These ruins stick out into the Solway and so provide a good viewpoint from which to observe the passing Skuas and other birds.

A flock of Dunlin
After reaching the small hamlet of Bowness-on-Solway I soon found a few birders with scopes parked up and looking across the Firth. A quick chat here revealed that no Skuas had been seen so far this morning and so I carried on making my way to what's left of the railway viaduct. Parking here was difficult but I managed to squeeze in two car space just off the road.

If parking was difficult, that was nothing compared to finding a route through the overgrown vegetation to the end of the viaduct remains. I started on an muddy path sandwiched between high 'hedges' of vegetation and got to the start of the viaduct where there seemed to be no way through. So I dropped down to beach level and ended up waking along clumps of springy salt marsh until I reached the steep stone slope of the viaduct.

My idea was then to walk along the base of the stonework until I got to the end where I could climb the slope to the top. This didn't work because the slope was so steep and difficult underfoot that I kept overbalancing with the weight of my photographic gear.

I decided to climb up the slope and on to the top of the viaduct where I did find a very overgrown path which I decided to attempt. I got stung and scratched as I battled my through, but did eventually come out to a clearing where the rest of the path was a little easier to follow. And lo and behold, who should be there at the end but one Gareth Hughes and his partner as well as another local birder.

I first met Gareth with his dad whilst we were up Pendle Hill looking for Dotteral in May 2014. The Dotterel came so close on one occasion that I couldn't take any photos, so I just lay down and watched as they walked past my lens. Gareth took a photo of me in that particular pose and it's now the one I use on my Facebook page. Thanks Gareth - it's a cracker!

Anyway, that's most of the interesting stuff over and done with, as none of us saw any Skuas at all that day, although we did have a really good chat over the four or so hours we were there together.  The shots that are included in this post are just some I took whilst waiting for the main event which never happened - fortunately some of them are some of the best Dunlin and Ringed Plover shots I have taken, but they don't really make up for the disappointment in not seeing any Skuas.

I took a different route back by staying on the top of the viaduct stonework for as long as possible before dropping down to the base of it when the vegetation got too dense. I also went along the coast road back to the motorway where I saw Oystercatchers and Skylarks as well as taking in the great views around Port Carlisle and Drumburgh.

And when I got home I did my usual thing of looking at the house prices in this area and dreaming that I had a little cottage by the sea. Ah - one day perhaps.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Sparrowhawk on Rindle Road

Just a quick post here to show a single picture of a Sparrowhawk which I took today on a rather uneventful trip down Rindle Road. It's one of the few shots I've got of a Sparrowhawk in flight. For some reason I just don't seem to see them very much.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Black Terns and Waders at Audenshaw Reservoirs

I last visited Audenshaw Reservoirs to see the stunning Kentish Plover which had turned up in April and so, armed with this recent knowledge of how to gain access to this 'permit only' site, I looked forward to smooth and successful trip today. Keep reading to the very end to find out what actually happened in what could have been a disastrous day.

I could see a floating raft of Comic Terns from quite a way off as I made my way in a clockwise direction around No. 1 Reservoir and soon I could make out a few Black Terns flying above them. As they flew closer I could clearly make out the diagnostic white rump.  I could also see that most of the other Terns were of the Arctic variety.

Black Tern Overhead Silhouette

For most of the day they stayed fairly distant as the fed with a dipping action over the water. However, one did come close as it flew over the path between No.1 and No.2 Reservoir but needless to say I wasn't really ready for it and so my camera settings were all wrong.

Black Tern

I counted up to nine Black Terns while I was there but I was told there were fourteen present with them being split between the reservoirs.

Black Tern
I also learnt that these are a species of what are known as 'marsh terns' and so not directly related to the more usual 'sea terns' we see such as the Common, Arctic, Sandwich and Little Terns. Not the best shots, but the best I've got of this species so far.

Once the Terns were too distant for photographs, I moved on to the waders on No. 3 Reservoir where they were actively feeding along the water's edge.  Here I found Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone and Ringed Plover, many in breeding plumage.


Sanderling Hunkering Down
Dunlin in Breeding Plumage

Dunlin in Breeding Plumage

Ringed Plover

Ringed Plover 
Ringed Plover
One-legged Sanderling in Breeding Plumage 
One-legged Sanderling in Breeding Plumage
So now you've got this far I'll tell you what happened at the end of my day here. I went back to see if I could get any better Black Tern shots at No. 1 Reservoir and was soon joined by Graeme Robertson from the L.O.S. We spent a while photographing the Terns, but I didn't get any better shots. When we had finished Graeme realised that he had left his lens cap on the reservoir wall and so he went back in a clockwise direction to recover it. I also realised that I had lost my new waterproof lens cover and so I looked for this on my way back in an anticlockwise direction whilst retracing my steps to the car.

We met up again at the fence through which we had both climbed to gain access to the site. But Graeme was on the other side having climbed through a narrow opening left by one loose fencepost. The two loose fenceposts through which I had climbed earlier had both been mended by replacing the bolts and so I couldn't get out! The workmen (who we had seen doing water sampling at the reservoirs) had done this whilst we were inside knowing full well that I wouldn't be able to get out that way.

I went back to the single fencepost gap through which slim Graeme had climbed but portly me couldn't get through - I started to panic! How on earth was I going to get out? I asked Graeme to take my photographic gear back to the car and passed it to it him over the fence.  As I was doing this another slim birder called Rob Creek turned up and squeezed through the fence. I asked him if there was another exit and at first he thought not. But then he remembered there was a way out which involved going down a grassy bank, climbing over a low wooden fence, walking along a grass verge under a bridge that crosses the motorway and up the bank on the other side. Fortunately I managed to get out that way and within 15 minutes I was back at my car and heading for home. Thanks Rob, you saved my bacon.

Phew! That was close! I never did recover my new waterproof lens cover though, and I'd only had it a week or so :(

Thursday, 5 May 2016

In Search of Cuckoo

The Cuckoos have returned to the Mosses now and so today I went off to find one.  On the way I managed to get these shots of a Wren and a Whitethroat from down Rindle Road near Astley Moss.

Needless to say, I didn't find a Cuckoo anywhere - I never even heard one.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Tawny Owl at Local Undisclosed Location

I've finally got to see this Tawny Owl after many visits looking for it since first learning about its location. These photos were taken in the dying light at around 8pm and so the quality isn't so good.

Needless to say, in the words of Arnie as the Terminator, "I'll be back!".

Monday, 2 May 2016

First Visit of the Year to Doffcocker Lodge

I decided to pay my first visit of the year to Doffcocker Lodge in Bolton this afternoon mainly to see if the Terns had returned and how they were doing.  Here is a selection of shots I got:

I also saw plenty of House Martins, Sand Martins and Swallows, but they are so difficult to capture.