Monday, 31 October 2016

Hesketh Out Marsh and Marshside RSPB

I had a trip out to the Ribble Estuary this afternoon before realising that putting the clocks back on the weekend was going to make it a short visit - the light started dying around 2:30pm but for a brief spell we had golden sunshine and almost no wind.  I didn't manage to get many shots as there wasn't that much to see and none of my target birds put in a appearance.

I started by looking for Curlew Sandpiper, American Wigeon and Marsh Harrier at Hesketh Out Marsh. I think I had a brief view of a Merlin as it flew over the car park, but although there were plenty of birds about, none were my targets.

I'd been told that a Curlew Sandpiper was showing in one of the pools, and so I spent a long time looking at a very distant small wader, which in the end turned out to be a late Dunlin, possibly of the Alpina race as it had a long bill.

The only decent shot I got here was this one of a Linnet.

A marvellous charm of Goldfinches briefly appeared on the barbed-wire fence too, but I didn't get a good shot - damn that depth of field thingy!

I then moved on to Crossen's Marsh, north of Marshide RSPB where I got my best photo of the day. These Golden Plovers looked stunning in the dying light - the golden hour was very early today.

Then I went on to Sandgrounders Hide at Marshside RSPB when there was only this Little Grebe and Teal of note.

I did call in at Lunt Meadows on the way home in the hope of seeing at least a Barn Owl, but nothing was showing and light quickly faded.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Another Lifer at Leighton Moss RSPB

I went to Leighton Moss RSPB today in search of another lifer - the American Wigeon. However, before I started my quest I called in to see the famous Leighton Moss Bearded Tits.

More photos and text to follow ....

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB and Parkgate

Well, I thought the three Cattle Egrets at Marshside last week were a good record, but with five of them reported at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB this week, well I just had to go to see them.  When I first arrived the vegetation had just been cut and most of the birds had been flushed from in front of the Visitors' Centre. The Cattle Egret were in the long grass with the cattle and I couldn't really see any of them. In fact I couldn't really see much of anything!

Then a single Marsh Harrier gave a brief but good view from the Visitor's Centre and flew off in the direction of the old Inner Marsh Farm hide. So I decided to go for a walk down to the new hide in the hope of getting better views of it from there. On the way down I heard a Cetti's Warbler calling in the reeds along the footpath along  with hundreds of Pink-footed Geese flying overhead as indeed they did for much of the day.

There was not much to see when I got to the hide except for a distant Green Sandpiper which flew off when I tried to photograph it. However I did see this Kestrel being mobbed by a Lapwing of all things!

So then I went back to the Visitors' Centre in the hope of getting better views of the five Cattle Egret together, which eventually I did. The cattle had moved out of the long grass by now and the Egrets had moved with them before eventually flying off to an island to do a spot of preening.

Here they are all together - it was quite difficult to get them all in one shot with a 300mm prime lens.

The closest views were from inside the Visitors' Centre and so these shots had to be taken through the glass window as they don't open in here.

As I was watching the Cattle Egrets, two Marsh Harriers appeared and were sometimes involved in chases. They looked to be both female, with one perhaps a juvenile or immature bird.

When they had gone I decided to go down to Denhall Lane to eat my lunch where I saw absolutely nothing! From here I moved on to the old baths car park at Parkgate where I had been told a grey male Hen Harrier was frequently being seen. I was told that the bird generally comes into roost between 3pm and 4pm and so I was in good time to see it if it appeared. 

Arriving at about 2:45pm, I waited a good hour along with three other birders before it eventually did appear. I only managed a couple of record shots but I had a great view through my scope. The photographs are good enough to clearly see what the bird is and I also saw a ringtail Hen Harrier whilst I was there.

Grey male Hen Harriers are rarely seen nowadays as they are persecuted by landowners and gamekeepers who wish to protect their grouse and so-called sport of driven grouse shooting.  If things carry on like this these glorious birds will be driven to complete extinction in England - this surely can't be right, can it? A petition to ban driven grouse shooting which received over 22,300 signatures will soon be debated in Parliament and we await the outcome. Read about it here: 

This Little Egret is probably the best photograph I took today, but I did see some good birds.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Whoopers are back at Martin Mere WWT

I paid a quick visit to Martin Mere WWT this afternoon mainly to see the Whooper Swans which have now arrived back on their Autumn migration from Iceland. Up to 2000 return from their breeding grounds every year to spend winter here along with an estimated 20,000 Pink-footed Geese.

Around 300 Whooper Swans are currently present and there seem to be a few family groups with plenty of cygnets around. Naturally they are very noisy, especially around feeding time.

There was even a Black Swan present today which is said to have appeared with the Whoopers. Black Swans originate from Australia and any that are seen in the UK are usually escapes from collections which have become feral birds.

However, some Black Swans are said to have also been seen in Iceland and so the origins of this particular bird are uncertain. I don't care whether I can tick it or not, it's still a magnificent beast and with a neck like that it could probably do some serious damage.

A very nice surprise was to see ten or twelve Ruff picking up the seed scraps after the swan feed. At first I thought there were a few Redshank in there too, as they showed quite a variety of leg and bill colour. But on closer inspection they proved to be definitely all Ruff.

But the day was a day that really belonged to the Whoopers, so I'll let them have the last word.

Monday, 17 October 2016

My First Ever Visit to Spurn

You can tell that I've only been birding for a few years because, quite surprisingly, this was my first ever trip to the Spurn area.

Some people that I know have been going almost religiously every autumn for the last 30 or 40 years - it really is a Mecca for birders when the time and conditions are right.

The annual autumn bird migration on the east coast of the UK has been amazing this year, with many rare birds been blown in by the strong easterly winds we've been experiencing.

We've had a few on the west coast too and this took my eye off the ball with some of the great birds being seen on the other side of the country. But the excitement that one mega rare vagrant created was too much to ignore, and so I really had to twitch it.

The bird was a Siberian Accentor which had been giving good views in Easington, north of Spurn Head for a few days. With reported crowds of up to 600 birders all questing up to see the bird, I didn't want to go on the first few days. I decided to wait and see if it hung around until after the weekend, and luckily it did.

I used a combination of Google Maps, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust map of Spurn (shown above) and the Spurn Bird Observatory map of Easington from their Facebook group page to find my way around.  I first parked in the old disused bus depot behind the White Horse pub in Easington as recommended on the Spurn Twitter feed and Facebook page and then walked up Vicars Lane to see the Siberian Accentor.

I first saw it near a skip in the old school yard facing the gas terminal car park at the end of Vicars Lane.  A kind birder let me look at it through his scope and I had a great view, but what I really wanted was a photograph. So hurriedly I unpacked my camera and whilst I was doing so it flew off into the gas terminal compound. It spent the next hour or more flitting around under the metal fence only occasionally giving a complete view. The above photograph is taken looking through the wire fencing which borders the compound and this makes it look a little blurred. Whilst I was there I met up with Tony Conway and his gang and we had a good natter about recent sightings in the area.

Whilst waiting for the Siberian Accentor to return to the skip area where the best views were had, I also saw a Spotted Flycatcher and Chiffchaffs as well as Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks in this area mainly along the gas terminal fences. There were armed police regularly patrolling the area in cars due to the gas terminal being a potential target of a terrorist attack. After a couple of hours of trying to get a better photograph, I decided to move on.

I first went to Sammy's Point which overlook the Humber Estuary to look for Ring Ouzels. The bushes along the roads to Sammy's Point are alive with birds - Redwings, Fieldfare and lots of LBJ's. Sammy's Point had a car park at the end of Humberside Lane and here I met up with Tony again who was just leaving and he told me where they had been seen in previous days. Unfortunately, he hadn't seen any, but I saw two a little while later. He did however mentioned that another mega rarity was in the area - an Isabelline Wheatear.

The muddy shoreline had many wader species including Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank and Ringed Plover and the fields to the left of the free car park were where I saw Ring Ouzel, Northern Wheatear, Redstart, Robins, Fieldfare and Redwing.

I'm told there can be lots of other good stuff down there, especially around the hawthorn hedges, but it was very windy today and so I decided to leave venturing further until another time.

From here I went to the free car park just past the Blue Bell Cafe. I just drove past the Kilnsea Wetland Reserve as nothing much had been reported there recently - I'll investigate this area next time. At the car park I was told there were distant Black Redstarts in the Sandy Beaches caravan site next to it, but I didn't look for them. After talking to another a birder I decided to do two sides of the area known as the 'Triangle'.

I started by backtracking and parking in the Crown and Anchor pub car park as it wasn't busy. There were reports of Pallas' and Yellow-browed Warblers in and around the car park but I didn't connect with any. However, in the hedge outside the car park I did get the faintest of glimpses of a Firecrest, along with a record shot which is far to poor to show even here! It was another lifer for me though.

From the Crown and Anchor I returned to the Bluebell Cafe and turned right to go on to the Canal Scrape in the hope of seeing the reported Jack Snipe, but I didn't see it. As well as the usuals there was a Water Rail, a drake Pintail and a Rock Pipit. I decided not to walk along the shoreline path as it was still very windy and people hadn't seen much, but I will do next time.

Finally, I went back to Easington to see the Isabelline Wheatear in a ploughed field facing Easington Beach, just past Easington Beach Caravan site.

On the way back in to the town I found the twelve Tundra Bean Geese in a stubble field on Seaside Road which someone had mentioned earlier in the day.

I then went back to have another look for the Siberian Accentor - well it was a mega rarity! It had moved to another side of the gas terminal compound and was still flitting around under the fence making viewing very difficult. And then, all of a sudden it flew out from the compound and onto the road barely two metres from me and several other photographers. The atmosphere was electric as we frantically snapped away. I had really great views but unfortunately my camera settings were all wrong and so the shot below is the best one I got. And then, almost as quickly, it flew off and away into the trees.

On my return I saw the two reported Shorelarks on the grass and path which borders the beach and a Woodcock also flew out of the longer grass near the cafe at about 5:30pm. The light was rapidly dying by now and so I decided to head for home.

On the same day the following birds were reported as being seen in the area: Bearded Tits, Radde's Warbler, Glossy Ibis, White-fronted Geese, Brent Geese, Grasshopper Warbler, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylarks, Little Egrets, Stonechats, Reed Buntings and even a Hawfinch.

What a magical place - can't wait to go back!

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Serengeti Comes to Southport

I've seen a single Cattle Egret before at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB on the Wirral, but how about three together in a field in Merseyside? More text to follow later ...