Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Bluethroat at Willow Tree Fen in Lincolnshire

My visit to Willow Tree Fen in Lincolnshire was actually part of the journey down to 'Norfolk and Environs' where I was taking part in the Leigh Ornithological Society's 2017 Annual Winter Trip. However, this adult 1st winter male Bluethroat was such as special bird that it just had to have a post all to itself!

I'd first got wind of the bird a weeks or so ago and, after investigating its location, I decided I could try to see it on my way down to RSPB Frampton Marshes, the first stopping point for our L.O.S. trip.  I didn't know if anyone else in the party would want to see it, but as soon as I mentioned it there was a lot of interest.

Armed with a map and an excellent location description kindly supplied to me by Craig Storton who I contacted through Facebook, we found the location with little difficulty and, as we parked on the road near the bridge leading to Willow Tree Fen, we could see a group of people staring into the reeds along the path up from the bridge, just as Craig had said. After a wait of barely ten minutes or so, out popped the Bluethroat to feed on some mealworms which someone had previously put down for him and we had cracking views for around three to four minutes.

The bird is about the same size as a Robin, with longer legs and a slightly more upright posture. Indeed, like the Robin, it used to be classified as a Thrush, but now is thought to be more akin to the Old World Flycatchers or Chats. Like many birds they are insectivorous, but eat berries in the winter.

This is possibly one of the 'white-spotted' race rather than the commoner 'red-spotted' race although there is still some debate. Bluethroats are usually found on the east coast on passage in spring and autumn. However, there have apparently been records of them at Martin Mere WWT and Marshside RSPB in the past.

The Bluethroat normally winters in North Africa or the Indian subcontinent, but this one has presumably overwintered here in the UK as it's rather early to be seeing one here.

To finish off here's a very short video of the Bluethroat's behaviour on the path where it was it feeding. The crowd were ecstatic as it flew back into the reeds - listen to what I say at the very end of the video :)

The End

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Return to Spurn

I fell in love with Spurn last year when I went to see the Siberian Accentor, a UK mega rarity. I'd never been before and I knew that, if I were to miss out on the Accentor, there'd still be plenty of other birds to see, so it was worth going for it. Well I did see the Siberian Accentor and a lot of other great birds too, but I didn't expect to be going back so soon. However, with a long-staying juvenile female Pallid Harrier still showing from before Christmas and with the prospect of good weather, I decided to make another trip today.

This time I didn't go alone though, as I'd been planning to take my Leigh Ornithological Society friend George Pike out on a birding trip for a while, since he and his lovely wife Angela have ferried me about quite a few times on previous trips.  So off we set at 7:30am to make the 2.5 hour trip to the east coast. Despite George being nearly 10 years older than me, we think alike on many subjects and we had a good chat about many of them on the way.

I'd planned finding the bird's location using a variety of sources, including reports off the internet, Google Maps and an email from Martin Standley whose blog (East Yorkshire Wildlife) I came across in researching the bird. Martin has taken some excellent photos of the Pallid Harrier as well as Hen Harriers nearby, so I contacted him and he very kindly gave me some directions.

My new SatNav, a recent birthday present from my wife Sarah, took us to the little hamlet of Welwick, and then we used some of my Google Map printouts and Martin's directions to reach the parking spot.  A short walk down a very muddy hedge-lined path brought us out on a path over looking the saltmarsh on the edge of the Humber Estuary. There were several birders present already, and after a chat we realised that the bird had last been seen over a hour previously.  We stayed for an hour or so, during which time we had a great view of a male Marsh Harrier, but the Pallid Harrier didn't appear. So, onto the backup plan.

Amazingly George hadn't actually been to Spurn before, and so I decided to show him around the parts I knew with the secondary target bird of a 'Black Brant' Brent Goose which had been showing regularly in recent days. One of the other birders had got a pager report saying that it was showing in the field facing the car park for the Kilnsea Wetland Reserve, so that's where we headed for. On arrival that birder wasn't there, so we assumed that the Brent Geese had flown, which indeed they had.  There were quite a few Curlew and some Redshank in the flooded field where the Brents had been, but no geese.

Brent Geese on the Humber Estuary outside the Crown and Anchor Pub, Kilnsea

After chatting to another birder on the car park who told us about a female Scaup on the Wetlands Reserve which we decided to miss out, George and I set off for the Crown and Anchor pub, where there is a good view over the Humber Estuary and it was here that we first connected with the Brent Geese. On the way I pointed out the new Spurn Observatory which is now based in a normal house as well as a small motorhome campsite which I'd discovered on my last visit. There were a few other waders including Turnstones about, and the Brent Geese gradually swelled in numbers as more of them swam up the estuary. Eventually there must have been about 50-60 of them, but as they were on the water we only had the larger white neck patch to use for identifying it, and we could't pick it out.

Turnstone in the mud outside the Crown and Anchor Pub, Kilnsea

From here I took George down to the Blue Bell Cafe car park from where I picked out two distant Red-throated Divers on the sea, as well as some Gulls and unidentified ducks. We then went on to the Canal Scrape Hide in the hope of seeing a Jack Snipe, but it didn't materialise.  It was quite disappointing really as last time I'd been here I had good views of a Water Rail, drake Gadwall and several other common ducks - today there was only a pair of Mute Swans, some Coot, a Moorhen and three Magpies.  After to talking to yet another birder, we decided to walk round to the canal bank which forms part of the famous 'Kilnsea Triangle' to have a look over the marsh towards the estuary. Here we saw some distant Dunlin, Knott, Shelduck, Curlews and Redshank.

Black Brant Goose in amongst the dark-bellied Brent Geese in a field just outside Kilnsea

After having a bite to eat, we decided that we'd now go back and put some time in at Welwick Marsh to try to track down the ellusive Pallid Harrier.  On the way back we came across a field of 300-400 dark-bellied Brent Geese, so we just had to stop for a look.  I'm really glad that we did, because after five minutes or so I'd located the 'Black Brant' Goose, which luckily was feeding right at the front edge of the herd giving us great views.

Black Brant Goose in amongst the dark-bellied Brent Geese in a field just outside Kilnsea

The rare vagrant Black Brant is a race or subspecies of Brent Goose which is found in North America, Canada, Alaska and Eastern Siberia whereas the dark-bellied Brents are from Russia and Western Siberia. Who knows where this one joined the flock as they migrated through the Baltic to the UK?

Brent Geese taking off from a field just outside Kilnsea

After having good views of them for around ten minutes, the flock suddenly took off. I don't know what spooked them, but I don't think it was me.

Merlin on Welwick Marsh

So now we went back to Welwick Marsh and rejoined some more birders all anxiously looking for star turn.  We spent a good ten minutes or more discussing a distant bird perched on a log. The bird looked quite different as the light changed and we went though Peregrine and a couple of Harriers before eventually settling on Merlin.

Pallid Harrier on Welwick Marsh

There were also at least two Little Egrets on the Marsh and several Carrion Crows. And then it appeared from from the right side of the Marsh - we had a distant glimpse of the Pallid Harrier before it went down into the vegetation. Wth the views we had I couldn't be sure what type of Harrier it was, particularly with Hen Harriers being in the area too, but another birder who had seen them before was very confident that this was our target bird.

Pallid Harrier on Welwick Marsh

Pallid Harrier on Welwick Marsh

Update: I've since had it confirmed that this is indeed a juvenile female Pallid Harrier, having four 'fingers' on narrower wings rather than the Hen Harrier's and Montagu's Harrier's five 'fingers' on broader wings, and having a dark neck collar compared to the Montagu's light neck collar. It also has a rufous breast rather than the Hen Harrier's streaked rusty yellow breast.

Pallid Harrier on Welwick Marsh

It gave us several distant fleeting views, and sat for quite a long time giving us a 'head and shoulders' view but it never came close.  The best photo I got was the very last one I took, but it's nothing to write home about.  Good enough to tick though!

Short-eared Owl on Welwick Marsh

A Short-eared Owl appeared next quartering the marsh, and we hope that it might just fly over the Harrier and send it up, but unfortunately this didn't happen.  A second Owl did appear a little later however and there was a brief moment of apparent conflict between them, but it didn't last long.

Short-eared Owl on Welwick Marsh

We stayed a little longer, but the light was dying fast and so George and I decided to head for Sunk Island where there is a set-aside field that Hen Harriers have been seen in regularly - at this time we thought that we might just see them coming in to roost. The route was a little uncertain and we were never quite sure that we were going in the right direction, but we went past a few of the landmarks which people had mentioned, such as the church and a bridge, so we persevered.

We did eventually get to a field which matched all the descriptions I'd been given and we spent a while scanning it for Harriers. Shortly another birder appeared and so we felt confident we were in the right place.  However, we didn't see anything here.

After about 20 minutes the light had dropped even more, so we decided it was time to make the 2.5 hour journey home. We set off knowing we'd seen our target birds here and had enjoyed a good day out in great weather.

Thanks George, we must do it again sometime!

Monday, 13 February 2017

Pennington Flash Country Park

I haven't been to Pennington Flash much this year and with the prospect of seeing some Redpoll on a sunny day, I went off with high hopes.  On arrival I met up with Charlie Owen in Horrocks Hide, a former Penny warden and well-respected local birder, and we walked round together chatting about birds.

Sixty Redpolls had been reported here last weekend, so with what I thought was a good chance of seeing some, we eagerly scanned the tops of the Alder trees - but nothing!  Charlie knows Penny like the back of his hand having worked there for so long, but even he failed to come up with any today. I did however meet up with a young man called Tom Woolstencroft who was schoolfriend of my daughter, Cathy.

I recognised him from Cathy's school prom photos and I'd recently added him to our L.O.S. Facebook group. I thought it was a bit strange at the time, but when I saw him walking around with quite a decent lens on his camera, I realised that he was a keen photographer and it wasn't strange at all. It's great to see young people getting interested in nature and wildlife and I encouraged him to post some of his photos on our Facebook page and come to some L.O.S. meetings.

So on to Goldcrests then - three had been reported around Teal hide very regularly over the last week or so.  As we approached the area we met Paul Pennington who was on to one of the birds, but it was flitting around the branches of a hawthorn tree (as they do) and quite far off. No good shots to be had here there.

We spent a while in Teal Hide where there a good number of male and female Goosanders and we'd just missed a fairly close snipe which Tom had snapped a couple of minutes earlier. There were also quite a lot of the other usual birds about too.

I thought I'd call in at Bunting Hide on the way back, but when we got there the wardens had just locked it. So Charlie and I parted company and I headed back for the car. Along the way I found another Goldcrest which I attempted to photograph without much luck. Here's the best shots I managed:

I did also get this Robin which was loudly singing in one of the hedges along the route.

Just as I was about to enter the car park I came across a noticeboard on which people had been leaving seeds and nuts for the birds. There was a constant flurry of Long-tailed Tits around it as well as the occasional Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit and another Robin. So I spent some time here photographing the Long-tails.

When I got back to the car and was leaving, I was greeted by an angry lady warden who had blocked my exit with her car because she was waiting to lock up. It was 4:35pm and the locking up time is 4:00pm in winter. I had just hadn't realised was that time as the light was still OK.

She was clearly quite angry and reminded me about the locking up time, several times!  I repeatedly apologised but it didn't do much good.  She reversed her car just enough to lock the barrier, making me do a hard left turn to get around it. I said, "Thanks for not locking me in" as I left, but she wasn't for smiling. Oh dear!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A Trip to Marshide RSPB and the Ainsdale Desert

I went out to Marshside RSPB this afternoon with the aim of catching the high tide later at Ainsdale Beach. The target birds at Marshside were the two Bewick Swans that have been seen over the last few day.  I did see them, but they were quite distant. Apart from these, there wasn't much else about.

And so onto Ainsdale. The title Ainsdale Desert refers to the fact that this glorious beach, which is normally home to several very large Cormorant and Oystercatcher roosts, not to mention 1000s of Dunlin and Knot and many Bar-tailed Godwits, Golden Plover and Ringed Plover not to mention the Gulls and other birds, was pretty much deserted today.

I couldn't believe it when I'd walked half a mile or so and all I had to show for it was a few Sanderling.  There weren't even that many people about, except for a couple of dog walkers sticking to the tideline and putting up the few remaining birds that were there.

Why do they do this? Don't they realise that the birds have to rest after feeding, before going out feeding again.  They really don't seem to think that there's anything wrong with letting their dogs chase the birds, just because they don't catch them.

Just before I left in despair, I did get a glimpse of two Golden Plovers, but they were too far away for decent photos.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Return to Yarrow

The weather has been awful for photography recently and, having a new lens to experiment with, I've been desperate to get out following a very busy January.  With the prospect of just a glimmer of sunshine, I decided on a return to Yarrow Valley Country Park near Chorley today, with the main target bird being the famous Kingfisher which has been posing for everyone it seems, except me!

On arrival I decided to skip my normal scanning of the main lake and head straight for the Kingfisher's favoured location. However, on the way my eye was taken by some Goosander on the lake, and when I counted them I found there to be five males and six females - the most I've ever seen here.  Later on I was told there were actually fourteen of them present.

Although I was first at the railings which overlook the small pool that the Kingfisher frequents, I was soon joined by a couple of the regular local bird photographers who I've seen there before. Today I learned their names, Dave Croasdale and Steve Cook, and they kindly provided me with loads of information about the birds in the Park.  Dave even told me what time the Kingfisher would be appearing and believe it or not he was pretty much correct!

My first shots were far from ideal, with the bird perched on the furthest branch in a dark area near the back wall of the pool and, after catching a very large fish which was probably a common Bream, it proceeded to slap it around quite a bit on its 'eating perch' which was behind quite a few other small branches.  It actually dropped the first fish it caught but here are two record shots of what it got on the second attempt.

After my first encounter I decided I was going to stick it out here for the day or at least until it rained, which the forecast did promise later in the afternoon. The light is never great in this pool, and today the generally dull weather didn't do us any favours. However it did brighten up from time to time.

After it had eaten, the bird would fly away to the river and wouldn't return for at least half an hour to an hour. At times we could hear it calling and there was definitely another bird in the area which we heard and very briefly saw.

I did take a quick walk along the River Yarrow up to the weir to look for the Dippers and Goldcrests on the way, but had no luck there. So the other birds of note today were this gorgeous, almost tame, Treecreeper and a Nuthatch which both were within touching distance as they came to seeds and nuts placed in a tree. I need to go back to get some better shots of these as my new 500mm lens is too big most of the time with the birds coming so close.

The Kingfisher returned quite a few times during my stay here and the best shots I got were on its very last visit for me today. The word is that it will probably soon be mating and it will then fly off up stream to nest and therefore it won't be seen for quite a while. So that's why I 'filled my boots' with shots as they say today.

I'll let this glorious bird have the last word.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Note to Self

Need to write up these trip reports:
  • Wirral with George and Angela - 14/01/17
  • Lunt Meadows - 21/01/17
  • Penny - 21/01/17
  • Black Redstart in Preston - 23/01/17
  • Grey Partridge in Astley - 24/01/17
  • Yarrow VCP 1 - 25/01/17
  • Chorlton WP 29/01/17
  • Moses Gate 01/02/17
  • Ainsdale Beach - 09/02/17

Friday, 3 February 2017

Little Egret at Lunt Meadows

I had a quick trip out to Lunt Meadows today to hopefully capture some Short-eared Owls with my new lens.  The visit turned out to be quite disappointing in terms of bird photography but very useful because I met up with Phil Boardman who gave me some great tips and locations for my forthcoming trip to Mull at the end of March. I'm really looking forward to it now!

The only shots I took of any note were of this Little Egret which at one point almost flew over my head.

I didn't even see an Owl today. Well, that's birding for you!